Report: High speeds, few crossings endanger pedestrians on Route 7 in Bailey’s Crossroads

Pedestrians cross Route 7 at Glen Carlyn Drive in Culmore (photo by Sonya Breehey)

For residents of Bailey’s Crossroads, particularly the Culmore area, crossing the street is no small feat.

In some spots along Route 7, it means surviving six lanes of traffic traveling at 40 miles an hour without the refuge of a median or sidewalk, or walking two blocks to reach the nearest crosswalk. Limited street lighting creates an added danger at night.

It’s a corridor built for cars, moving an estimated 24,000 vehicles per day, even though residents of the surrounding, predominantly Spanish-speaking, neighborhood frequently travel by walking, bicycling, or bus, a new report says.

“We have folks who are relying on those means of transportation, but we’re not doing anything to make it safer for them, and we know it’s a problem area for vulnerable road users,” Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia advocacy manager Sonya Breehey told FFXnow.

Released on Friday (June 10), the report was developed by the nonprofit coalition and the immigrant advocacy organization CASA as part of an ongoing campaign to improve the safety of Route 7 in Culmore for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized travelers.

A survey of 202 residents found that 91% of female respondents and 80% of male respondents walk more than once a week. 63% of women and 38% of men said they walk every day — much higher than the 9% daily walk rate reported in the D.C. region prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walking, bicycling, and transit use among Culmore residents (via Coalition for Smarter Growth)

According to the report, 67% of survey respondents said they don’t feel safe walking, bicycling, or getting to transit, compared to about 10% who said they felt safe or very safe.

While crime was highlighted as a top concern, traffic-related issues included inadequate lighting, drivers not following the 40 mph speed limit and other rules, a lack of continuous sidewalks, insufficient bicycle lanes or paths, and pedestrian signals not allowing enough time to cross the street.

Pushed by the advocacy campaign, which started in response to a fatal pedestrian crash in December, the Virginia and Fairfax County transportation departments are looking at possible safety improvements on Route 7 between Glen Carlyn Drive and Glen Forest Drive.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has finished collecting data for a speed study that’s expected to be completed this summer, according to VDOT spokesperson Ellen Kamilakis. Options currently being evaluated include sidewalk connections, pedestrian signal improvements, and new pavement markings.

While details for most of the proposals aren’t available yet, signal upgrades are being considered at the Glen Forest, Charles Street, and Glen Carlyn Drive intersections.

“The sidewalk design concepts are currently being developed, as are pavement markings,” Kamilakis told FFXnow by email. “…There will be a community meeting at some point this summer to share all of the specifics when they are fully developed.”

Though she supports the proposed safety measures, Breehey says they could take years to implement. In the meantime, VDOT and the county should make some more immediate changes, like the temporary barrels that were recently erected in the Arlington area of I-395 in response to erratic driving.

In addition to recommending that the Route 7 speed limit be lowered to 25 mph in Culmore, the Coalition for Safe Growth and CASA report suggests altering pedestrian signal timings, creating midblock crossings where there are long distances between crosswalks, and installing jersey barriers to connect Magnolia Avenue to an existing sidewalk in front of Bakersfield Rugs.

The issues on Route 7 are a consequence of a road system that prioritizes moving drivers over safety, according to Breehey. Just in the past month, Fairfax County has seen pedestrians killed in crashes in Annandale, Oakton, and Lincolnia.

“VDOT needs to redesign these roads so that they’re safe for everyone who uses them, whether they’re walking, biking, or driving,” Breehey said. “…We need them to act faster, to find solutions now before more people are killed.”