A plan to add a third lane to Sudley Road between Grant Avenue and Godwin Drive is drawing criticism for its process and substance, with some saying the design will create a more hostile environment for vulnerable road users on foot and bikes.
Designs for the $8.4 million project, which was approved by the City Council as part of its Capital Improvement Program, have not been finalized. But bike and pedestrian advocates are saying widening the road with 12-foot vehicle lanes will increase speeding and fail to enhance the city’s bicycle infrastructure.
In public comment to the council, Allen Muchnik, who heads the advocacy group Active Prince William, criticized what he called an “abysmal public process,” with no input requested until May, when 90% of the engineering was completed, per city staff, which plans to have the full plans completed by July.
“Despite providing much-needed and long-delayed pedestrian facilities, [the design] fails to make Manassas more livable, equitable, or sustainable, because it prioritizes excessively fast travel in motor vehicles over safe, pleasant and effective non-auto mobility,” Muchnik said.
City staff say new signalized crosswalks at Stonewall Road and Grant Avenue, as well as plans to complete the sidewalk along Sudley, will improve pedestrian accessibility in the area, next to a proposed mixed-use regional activity center near Novant Health UVA Health System’s Prince William Hospital.
Deputy City Manager Brian Foster also said that the city wanted to hold a public meeting on the project last year, but that it was postponed because of the pandemic. The project first appeared in the city’s capital project plan back in 2000, meaning it was no secret to residents.
“Obviously, you can still bike through there. But I recognize that it’s heavier traffic, more lanes, it’s probably not as conducive to cycling as if you had a dedicated bike lane or shared-use path, but clearly it’s better for pedestrians,” Foster said. “We’re going to fill in the gaps in the sidewalks; you’re going to be able to cross safer.”
In 2015, the City Council endorsed applications for SMART Scale funding from the state for the project. Through that process, the federal government is contributing $7 million, while Prince William County is providing $1 million for work at the city-county line to add a connection for the planned Route 28 bypass.
But Muchnik says that the city isn't doing enough to improve pedestrian infrastructure on Sudley. With three highway-width travel lanes, he says cars will inevitably speed just feet from the 4-foot sidewalk. Meanwhile, the designs include no additional street lights or shading.
"The design also lacks bus stops and bus shelters, except to preserve one mid-block bus shelter opposite the hospital. This project will not add or upgrade street trees, street lighting, street furniture or bus stops. Those were not considerations," Muchnik said. "The added lanes ... will make crossing Sudley Road longer and more treacherous than if those lanes were not added."
In his remarks to the council, Muchnik also argued that the city is missing an opportunity to improve bicycle access. The city's own 2019 Transportation Master Plan recommends adding an on-road bicycle path on Sudley, and a corresponding matrix said a bike lane from Grant Avenue to Godwin would be the second most impactful improvement the city could make to its bicycle network.
Finally, Muchnik said, the stretch of Sudley Road doesn’t have a congestion problem. His group is proposing that the city repurpose the additional travel lane for a dedicated right-turn lane and bus/bicycle travel lane or narrow the three travel lanes to make space for a bike lane.
Foster said that city staff may consider making the sidewalk a shared-use path for bikes and pedestrians. He added that the city has heard frequent complaints about congestion on Sudley, and that with the Route 28 bypass – which would connect with Sudley at the county-city line – more would be expected.
Lance Kilby, the project manager for the city, said the project would ease congestion in front of the hospital.
“Obviously it’s a good project that would help the community … with congestion. It’s also right in front of [the hospital] there, so the community’s going to benefit from that perspective,” he told InsideNoVa.
And ultimately, while the city is working to add more bike infrastructure, Foster said, the project’s main focus is to ease vehicle travel.
“We are looking at all aspects,” he added. “We’re doing all that we can to improve the connectivity for bikes and pedestrians … We’re taking all the comments to see what changes might be made.”