Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Equity for Who? Comment on Fairfax County Proposal to Delete Six Miles of Planned Bike Trails

High Voltage Power Lines Along Huntley Meadows
Park Boundary
(Click to Enlarge)
Huntley Meadows Park is a wonderful community asset.  I volunteered in the park for about five years checking blue bird nesting boxes for eggs near Hayfield as part of an attempt to bring them back.  I've enjoyed the park with my kids, sent them to summer camps there, jogged in the woods, and spent time there pondering nature.

The community bravely and correct beat back and effort to run highway through the park when I was in high school.  I have been a life member of the Friends of Huntley Meadows for nearly a decade and also secured them corporate financial support in the past.

Map Showing Current Comp Plan and Possible Trail
Realignments to Minimize Wetland Impacts
(Click to Enlarge)
However, this month, the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will be voting on a proposal to remove two potential bike and walking trails along the boundaries of Huntley Meadows Park on utility easements from the County's Comprehensive Plan.  I support the existing proposed trails, oppose both removal amendments and would like to hear from constituents about the issue to communicate their concerns to County leaders.  You can provide your comments below.

A Little History
After being farmed for 200 years, the land for the park was consolidated in the early 1900's and conceived of as George Washington Air Junction and landing area for Zeppelins.  After the developer went bankrupt, the federal government acquired the property and used it for submarine communications and pavement testing - there are still pavement test loops in the woods accessible from the west entrance.

Utility Corridors Through Huntley Meadows Park
(Click to Enlarge)
In 1959, the Washington Gas Company trenched a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay to provide natural gas service to our area.  In our community, the pipeline runs from Kingstowne, along Greendale Golf Course, across the northern boundary of Huntley Meadows Park after entering at the intersection of Telegraph Road & South Kings Highway, crossing behind Vantage, Stoneybrooke, and Woodstone, down Lockheed Boulevard and through Mount Vernon Square, along the edge of Hollin Hills and then under the Potomac River (red line on the right).  It is mowed annually.

In 1968, the Virginia Electric Power Company installed high voltage power lines that run from Hayfield Secondary School, along the boundary between Fort Belvoir and Huntley Meadows Park, and then along the Park's southern boundary with several hundred houses to a substation behind the Petco in Mount Vernon Plaza (yellow line above).  Last year, Dominion rebuilt the entire line using 100 foot towers after I intervened to allow for public input for taller towers due to neighborhood complaints and concerns raised by Huntley Meadows park activists supporters.  The right-of-way is spayed with herbicide every three years to kill all trees.

After the land was acquired from the U.S. Department of Transportation in 1971, transferred to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1975, the original 1978 Huntley Meadows Park Master Plan called for a perimeter trail around the park in the same areas.  You can view the original master plan by clicking here.  

2014 Fairfax County Master Bike Plan
Showing Northern Trail
(Click to Enlarge)
However, the trails remained in the Comprehensive Plan with language added nearly 30 years ago suggesting they be reconsidered and the Fairfax County 2014 Master Bike Plan still contains the Northern Trail as a recommended bike corridor (see map at right).

A Changing Vision and Needs in the U.S. 1 Corridor
In the last thirty years, Hybla Valley has transformed along with Fairfax County's land use vision for the U.S. 1 Highway Corridor, promotion of transit, parks and active transportation such as cycling.

The Commonwealth funded the U.S. 1 Multimodal Study.  The Final Report recommended that U.S. 1 be transformed by adding 80,000 new residents supported by a two stop Yellow Line extension to Hybla Valley,  a 14-mile bus rapid transit to the Woodbridge VRE and a massively different land use plan designed to get residents out of cars and onto transit, bicycles, or walking.  In March 2018, Fairfax County enacted it as Embark which also contemplated connecting the area using the areas natural assets with a series of interconnected "Ecological Spines."  The March 2018 adopted text also stated the following under "Guiding Principles":
       c.    Enhancing pedestrian and bicycle access to parkland, where appropriate, for recreation and the enjoyment of nature. 
        d.    Creating places that encourage walking and biking as part of everyday activities, including shopping, accessing schools, libraries and other public facilities; and, traveling to work. . . .   
        b. Encouraging multimodal transportation usage by providing a well-designed and publicly accessible network of complete streets that integrate transit, pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular connections within the CBCs and to adjacent neighborhoods. 
U.S 1 has also become much more diverse since 1991 with communities that are not as connected to our community institutions.  The children population has also exploded in our area as older residents move on and families with children move back in.

Possible Trail Interconnections
(Click to Enlarge)
Constructing 7-10-foot wide bike trails across these utility corridors would create interconnections between Hayfield, Woodlawn, and Hybla Valley that do not exist.  They would enhance the promotion of new development in the U.S. 1 Corridor and facilitate intra community connectivity. I would support the trails with some minor alignment adjustments shown on the first map above.  I also envision these trails connecting to a trail down Little Hunting Creek, under U.S. 1 to the Gum Springs Community Center to safely connect all of our residents to robust assets.  The map at the right shows how they could be connected via a trail under U.S. 1.

Most importantly, in the short term, they would provide desperately needed recreational assets to the west side of U.S. 1 where residents today have virtually nothing.  Today's children in Meadow Woods Apartments (on Lockheed Boulevard), Audubon Estates (800 mobile homes behind Home Depot), Murraygate Apartments (behind Gold's Gym), or those living in Janna Lee or Sequoyah, have nowhere to safely ride a bike, or go for a walk or run and enjoy nature.  Anyone who lives along the G.W. Parkway can attest to the value the Mount Vernon Trail brings to daily life.

Dominion Resources and Fort Belvoir have both indicated they have no objection to a trail through these properties.

Concerns Raised by Friends of Huntley Meadows

Opponents to this concept have raised several objections which I will respond to below:
  • The identified areas are too wet for a bike trail.  While it might be easier to imagine this in what has become the wettest year in the history of area weather record keeping, characterizing six miles of potential trail as all being "too wet" is obviously an over-simplification - the staff report indicates wetlands on only 20% of the route and that could be significantly mitigated through relocating the route.  The proposed trail crossing near Dogue Creek traverses wetlands, but anyone who has ridden the Mount Vernon Bike Trail through Dyke Marsh or the brand new Prince William Trail through Neabsco Creek is familiar with trail technology that can circumvent this area.  Nearly the entire southern trail would be built under a high voltage power line that was just rebuilt with taller 100-foot towers without incident.
  • A path would threaten certain rare or uncommon species (not protected endangered species).  Huntley Meadows is currently criss-crossed with walking trails - many of which extend into and through very sensitive areas (as does the Mount Vernon Bike Trail).  There are also dozens of informal trails currently all over this area.  No one has proposed elimination of these trails due to threats to species.  The primary Huntley Meadows pond itself was recreated by a county-constructed dam after beavers abandoned the area in 2012. 
  • One segment runs near historic George Washington's boundary trenches.  First, a new trail would provide access to these historic resources so that our area residents could actually see them.  Moreover, anyone who has visited a Civil War Battlefield has seen trail technology that avoids and preserves trenchworks.  Moreover, five years ago, Fairfax County constructed a trail on Gunston Road, located Native American artifacts, excavated the site and continued construction.  These are not insurmountable challenges.  
  • There are unexploded munitions in the Fort Belvoir segment.  Unexploded munitions can be located and removed during the construction process if they are encountered.  
  • There is no money to build these trails.  These trails have not been constructed because our local government has not requested the money or prioritized construction.  Fairfax County has access to hundreds of millions of dollars of transportation monies over the next decade that could be allocated to this project along with developer proffer dollars that will come as U.S. 1 redevelops.  
Fairfax County Staff Report Deficiencies
Fairfax County's staff report, largely echoes concerns raised by community advocates before the report was issued.  It also has numerous deficiencies:
  • It says all of the Northern trail is "forested" - The trail would largely run in a 30-foot natural gas pipeline easement that is regularly mowed.  
  • There was zero mention of the 1959 natural gas pipeline that crosses the park on which the northern trail would run.  
  • It had no cost projections.  
  • It had no real analysis of how interconnectivity would be enhanced by creation of these trails.  The proposed trail "alternatives" pose significantly greater risk to cyclists, simply propose that cyclists ride on designated roads and pedestrians walk on sidewalks, and involved significant elevation changes.  It also had no mention of how the proposed trail would integrate with the Embark U.S. 1 Comprehensive Plan changes adopted only a year ago.  
  • Most disturbingly, there was no analysis of the equity aspects of this project - even after I made repeated requests to the County Equity Officer to engage in this issue.  
    • Construction of this trail would connect thousands of lower income underserved families to recreational assets such as the Gum Springs Community Center, the George Washington Recreation Center, Mount Vernon Woods Park, Muddy Hole Park, and the entire Hayfield Community. 
    • There was no mention of these complete lack of any actual pedestrian access to Huntley Meadows Park - the largest park in Fairfax County - from the east side of the park.  The only access is via a vehicle driveway which has no sidewalks leading to it - only gravel shoulders - leading to its entrance, and the park has no official access along nearly 9 miles of its perimeter - much of it where the most diverse residents live.    
    • This was shocking to me in light of the County's recent adoption of its "Equity Resolution" designed to ensure that racial and economic equity are taken into account in all county decision-making processes.  
    • In fact, no public hearings were held along the west side of U.S. 1 except an event at Groveton ES attended by virtually no one who lives on the Highway and none of the communities along the west side of U.S. 1 were consulted during the public hearing phase on this proposal. 
    • It was very clear to me that this was a process engineered to promote a status quo envisioned in the early 1990's. 
A Time for Fairness
The communities along U.S. 1 have been ignored for too long and deserve the same access to natural resources the rest of Fairfax County's residents currently enjoy.  The children who live on the western side of U.S. 1 deserve to have some type of safe access to a patch of publicly owned grass such as Muddy Hole Park, Mt. Vernon Woods Park or Gum Springs Community Center to kick a ball or ride a bike.  They also deserve just as much access to Huntley Meadows Park's natural assets as people who commute their by vehicle from the east side of U.S. 1.  Just because these communities do not know how to engage in the Comprehensive Plan process or reach out to County staff does not mean their well-being should be steamrolled.  

Deletion of these projects is directly contrary to the transportation and land use objectives set forth the Embark U.S. 1 plan adopted only one year ago and are contrary to the current park master plan.  While I fully recognize that not everyone will agree with me, construction of trails on utility easements along the park boundary next to hundreds of houses with some slight adjustments to minimize wetlands impacts will not adversely affect the park - especially the central areas that are enjoyed by most people today.

Please comment on this project using the link below and I will share your comments with the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.  


  1. Say No to Trail Removal - sign the petition here:

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