A long walk, thwarted

Maybe it was Wayan’s recent car-free (CarFree? Car-Free? Sin Coche?) postings, maybe the ten-plus miles I walked while in Chicago, but whatever the cause I found myself in the old terminal of Washington National with my bags and a thought. Why not walk home?

Now, it’s not as much of a walk as it sounds – I wasn’t pondering a stroll back to Loudoun county. My car was in a driveway in Crystal City, so it was two miles at the outside and my bag was on wheels. It’s a fairly flat neighborhood, so what the heck?

The details of my trial are below the fold, but if you want the upshot it’s this: in the end, I took the metro.

Anyway, did I say heck? Maybe hell would be a better word. Because apparently nobody wants you to walk out of the airport. A novel by one of my favorite authors, Donald Westlake, has a segment where the protagonist tries to walk to the airport and discovers there doesn’t seem to be any pedestrian path in, and the only place to walk is along the side of the congested road. He’s in New York, but Washington is no better. Unlike the lead in that book, who packed lighter and had more confidence in the condition of his soul, I elected not to walk along the grass of a crazy-busy road.

So I set out from the terminal, first crossing over the road used by the buses and taxis. There’s a sign indicating where the bus to the metro and other terminal are, but no clear signage about anything else. I figured I could see the metro, though, and any walkways would be likely to over that way. Off to the left is the GW Parkway and that’s not going to get me where I want to go, though there’s the infamous running paths along it. So I trot (artistic license: no actual trotting was done with my 50lb roller bag and 10lb laptop bag in tow) across the road and walking up the sidewalk.

Once you’re across that way and walk through a tunnel under another road you finally get some signage about how to get to the rental cars in one direction and the metro and other terminal in the other. So I figure I’ll try in the direction of the rental cars. Once I cross that street I discover there’s no sidewalk over there and nowhere to go but in the garage. Okay, maybe I can get to the other side of the garage.

Nu-uh. Closest I manage is the exit, which is close to where I want to be, but again – no sidewalk. Clearly I’m not the only person using this route, however, as there’s a path worn into the landscaping. But it’s up a 45 degree slope and at the top is a railing and a road, nowhere to walk even if I could lever my bag over that chest-height rail. Clearly some airport employees are coming in and out that way, however. With the advantage of a gods-eye view I can see now there’s a sidewalk over there on the other side of the road but no way to get to it. You can also see why people jump that rail – if you stay on it past that point it dead-ends in a parking lot.

So I reverse my steps, bath through the garage and back up in the direction of the metro. I’m getting discouraged at this point and by the time I’m at the door entering to where the metro is I’m about decided to pack it in. I could head off to the left where the garage is but I’m envisioning another experience where I find myself facing a fence and a St Bernard’s worth of dead-weight I’d have to lever over it. So I give up and head into the Metro, which I don’t need to save me any distance but will put me somewhere that I can actually walk in relative safety.

Looking at the satellite view now, I think I made the right choice. I could have walked through the garage and then an outdoor lot but it looks like at the perimeter I’d have to get over a fence just to dash across a street to get to something resembling a sidewalk.

It might be an interesting project sometime to go back and give it another stab without all the luggage in tow, just to see what I could manage. All in all, however, I’d call this try a failure.

5 Comments so far

  1. Wayan (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 10:13 am

    Lucky you didn’t think of exiting the airport on a bicycle or you’d be telling your story from your one-free-call jail cell.

  2. Paulo (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 11:00 am

    Huh, you know, I’ve walked from the airport to Crystal City. Once you can find the exit and underpass to the Mt Vernon Bike Trail from the back of the airport parking garage, there’s a path on the way to Gravelly Point that forks off from the Trail and goes into a long tunnel under the GW and comes out by a fountain just a block from the Crystal City Metro station. I’ve seen runners from Crystal City using it to get to Gravelly Point.

  3. Don (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 11:40 am

    Yeah, I’m sure once you find a way it it’s doable. I just found it an interesting – if frustrating – experience to try to do on a whim.

    Partially I was motivated by the fact that I like to walk, partially my potential switch to mass transit to get to work, partially the discussion about being carfree of late. And since I started thinking about it I’ve started noticing more and more all the impromptu paths in landscaping, particularly places where there’s no existing sidewalk.

  4. WFY (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 12:32 pm

    I often see airline personal on the MVT.

    Overall, signing on the assorted trails needs to improve. The Custis Trail probably has the best, while the MVT is among the worst.

  5. Eric (unregistered) on September 20th, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

    I walk to and from the old terminal to fly Northwest all the time. It’s easiest to do (and best signed) if you try it first from Crystal City — walk south along Crystal Drive from 23rd Street, on the left side of the street. As you pass the volleyball park on the left, the sidewalk ascends up alongside the exit ramp to VA-233 (the official number for the roadway leading from US-1 in CC to the airport). Follow the sidewalk to the traffic light on the far side, and you should see the first sign pointing you to the terminal — you walk along a marked path or sidewalk past a couple of parking lots, cross the airport roadways at a light with a crosswalk, then head down a short hill (stairs or a ramp). This puts you near the garage from which the taxis are released to the terminal. At this point you can see the old terminal, and by heading to the left, the sidewalk leads you up and around to the right, to the front door of the ticketing area.

    It takes 12-15 minutes from the intersection of 23rd and Crystal Drive.

    The description that Paulo gives above is the best way to get to the new terminal, by the way. Again, it’s easiest to do by starting in Crystal City the first time, so that you can spot where in the garage the underpass leads (it’s the same place where the bike racks are, I believe).

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