Neighbors are frustrated by a lack of safety improvements in recent years in Oakton’s Blake Lane corridor, where a driver struck three pedestrians, killing two, earlier this month.
At a virtual community meeting last night (June 23), many people who live on and close to Blake Lane expressed anger at state and county officials for what they describe as inaction despite extensive advocacy efforts. One resident said they’ve been asking for improvements since one particularly bad crash 20 years ago.
“There’s a lot of anger and frustration in our community right now,” said one neighbor. “…There’s anger that we’ve been warning VDOT for years how dangerous this road is, and we’ve gotten a lot of signs but don’t feel like we’ve made much progress other than that. If we don’t address this, more people are going to die. I’m sure of it.”
Hosted by Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, the meeting saw police, transportation, and schools representatives discuss potential solutions to help make Blake Lane safer near several schools, including Oakton High and Mosaic Elementary.
Vehicle speed, lack of safe pedestrian crossing areas, and educating young drivers are the big concerns that local agencies and residents hope to address.
The 18-year-old driver involved in the fatal June 7 crash was charged with involuntary manslaughter Tuesday (June 21). Police revealed that he was driving 81 miles per hour in a 35-mile-an-hour zone.
There have been 114 crashes on Blake Lane since 2017, according to data presented by the Fairfax County Police Department. Six of them involved pedestrians, and two crashes involved bicyclists. While 31 resulted in injuries, the June 7 crash is the only one that has been fatal.
Just over a quarter — 31 crashes — involved a “young driver,” between the ages of 15 and 20 years old.
Where Blake Lane intersects with Five Oaks Road, where the June 7 crash occurred, there have been 12 total crashes since 2017, including two involving pedestrians and four involving a young driver.
The county and state officials proposed potential measures but cautioned that many permanent changes are subject to reviews, audits and studies.
The FCPD said it is monitoring Blake Lane more recently, issuing 139 citations since June 7, most of them for speeding and failure to obey signs. After the crash, the department also installed temporary speed signs to let drivers know how fast they’re going.
Police are also considering a pilot program to add speed cameras in highway work and school zones, including near Oakton High School.
However, that program needs to be developed and approved by the Board of Supervisors, said FCPD Capt. Alan Hanson, and there’s no current timeline for when the speed cameras may be installed.
Fairfax County Public Schools said it will review all bus stops and routes students use to walk to them in the coming weeks. It noted that while Blake Lane has a considerable amount of traffic, students’ routes to the bus stops along the road were previously determined to be safe.
Based on recommendations made in April 2021, the Virginia Department of Transportation has added signage to reflect an “additional $200 fine” that the county imposed last year for speeding on Blake Lane, added 30 pedestrian warning signs, and installed a high-visibility crosswalk across Blake Lane at Kingsbridge Drive.
The department plans to add more high visibility crosswalks — for example, at Blake Lane and Bushman Drive — refresh markings, and cut back vegetation for better visibility.
However, VDOT engineer Gil Chlewicki noted that they’ve already evaluated adding a traffic signal at certain intersections and determined it was not warranted.
While the Blake Lane and Five Oaks intersection is actually below the statewide average for crashes, it is in the top 5% as a pedestrian safety risk. VDOT is committing to do a “road safety audit” on the intersection, but that will take time.
Some changes being considered include reducing the width of the travel lane, Chlewicki said. That would help vehicle speeds and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. More flashing pedestrian crossing beacons and even roundabouts are also possibilities.
One resident criticized VDOT and the county’s transportation department for not focusing more on basic road maintenance, such as cutting down vegetation or getting rid of loose concrete.
Officials called maintenance a “challenge” since they have 10,000 miles of roads to oversee and are constantly understaffed.
FCPS and the police will also review how they are educating students on the dangers of reckless driving and vehicle speed.
“This is the third crash this year where young male drivers have made poor decisions…which led to fatalities,” Hanson said. “Clearly there’s an opportunity…to do different programs and education that unsafe decisions can lead to tragic consequences.”
Another FCPD officer suggested that might include showing photos of this fatal crash to students as a deterrent against speeding and not being distracted.
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