Every three or four months, another pedestrian is hit along Arlington Boulevard just east of Seven Corners, one of the region's riskiest crossings.

The toll has been climbing for more than a decade, as residents of the largely immigrant neighborhoods that line the corridor dart from the apartment clusters on one side of the road to the shopping centers, restaurants and bus stop on the other.

Now highway engineers have come up with a simple, if graceless, solution: a half-mile of chain-link fence along both sides of the highway, with Jersey barriers down its spine.

As envisioned in the preliminary proposal by the Virginia Department of Transportation and Fairfax County, the fences would funnel walkers to one crossing point on either side of the busy highway, forcing them to walk along a road that lacks complete sidewalks and to scale a flight or two of stairs leading to a proposed $2.6 million pedestrian bridge.

A VDOT spokesman calls the plan "a foolproof way to eliminate what has been a serious safety problem."

But the proposal, similar but more extensive than pedestrian barriers erected in other older suburban areas that faced the same problem, is considered by some an act of desperation that sacrifices pedestrian convenience and neighborhood appearance for the sake of drivers' convenience.

"It's the Berlin Wall approach," said John Z. Wetmore, a Bethesda-based pedestrian advocate who produces a national cable show called "Perils for Pedestrians" and runs the Web site www.pedestrians.org.

"For the same amount of money, they could put in several crosswalks with pedestrian signals," he said. "But that would slow traffic. And the same engineers who don't think anything of making pedestrians go 10 minutes out of their way start worrying when a driver has to wait more than 90 seconds to go through a light.

"You can go for the Soviet aesthetics with concrete barriers and chain-link fences, or you can spruce it up with a landscape architect, but it's the same function: keeping people from going where they want to go."

Adding crosswalks would slow traffic too much, said Nassre Obeed, the road engineer working on the bridge and barriers. The complexity of the roads and the volume of traffic -- more than 50,000 cars a day -- make crosswalks impractical, he maintained. The thoroughfare consists of three lanes in each direction as well as service roads on both sides.

"It is very difficult to control traffic," Obeed said. "You can't just put crossing after crossing."

Similar stretches of roadway have caught the attention of transportation planners elsewhere. Along stretches of Richmond Highway in Fairfax County and Veirs Mill Road in Montgomery County, for example, the blend of population, bus stops and shopping centers has led to a higher-than-average number of 911 calls.

Lori Gillen, Montgomery's pedestrian coordinator, said that earlier this year, workers put up a chain-link fence in front of Northwest High School after a student crossing there was killed Jan. 9.

"It's human nature to find the shortest distance between two points," Gillen said. "It always seems a shame to me to put up fences, but it's hard to know what else to do sometimes."

The Arlington Boulevard situation has been under review for more than a decade. Early on, federal and state highway officials sponsored a study by Virginia Commonwealth University. In an 80-page report released in 1994, researchers linked pedestrian accidents over the previous seven years -- which resulted in five deaths and injuries to 27 people -- to a lack of sidewalks and the location of bus stops, among other things.

Eight years and more than 25 pedestrian accidents later, the main bus stop on the stretch of road is still in a spot that encourages dangerous crossings, and the north side of the road still largely lacks sidewalks.

Pedestrians "seemed as if they were running the gantlet and appeared genuinely relieved and had accomplished a feat upon reaching the other side," according to the report. "For instance, a female pushing a baby stroller . . . crossed the westbound lanes. Once she reached the median, the female turned the stroller parallel to the traffic to keep from being struck while waiting for the eastbound lanes to clear."

Today, little seems to have changed.

"It's very scary," said Marta Arevalo, 33, clutching her 2-year-old daughter's hand after dashing across the road to reach the bus stop last week. "The cars come so close, you feel the wind push you back."

Had they been hit, accident investigators likely would have blamed them for not being in a crosswalk: Traffic studies show that up to 85 percent of accidents involving pedestrians are the pedestrians' fault.

Indeed, several signs in the area forbid pedestrian crossings. The signs direct walkers to the stoplight and pedestrian signal at Patrick Henry Drive, more than a quarter-mile from where Arevalo crossed. In some spots, pedestrians must walk a half-mile to cross the road legally.

"That's too far," she said. "Look how far that is."

Wetmore said: "They put up the signs and blame accidents on the 'stupid' pedestrians. No one stops to think about the bigger picture: It's about bad design."

Although critics call the proposed solution ugly and ham-handed, few dispute that it would probably reduce injuries: A less-extensive chain-link fence was installed a few years ago west of Seven Corners, and the number of pedestrian injuries there has dropped significantly, officials said.

Given the cost, it is possible that the bridge and fence will never be built. Planners had predicted a price tag of about $1.4 million, most of which is already allocated, but the full cost now appears to be more than twice that, according to internal VDOT reports.

"There has long been a desire to have a pedestrian bridge there," said Fairfax Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason). "The problem always was where would you put it and how would you fund it."

The possibility of no change does not sit well with some pedestrians.

"They have to do something," said Derlos Martinez, a 31-year-old restaurant worker who must cross the highway every day to get from his apartment to his job. "It's crazy out there."

A plan to improve the safety of pedestrians who cross Arlington Boulevard in the Seven Corners area would include an elevated bridge but also more barriers to prevent people from crossing illegally.