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Morning Poll: Should Fairfax County’s major roads have lower speed limits?

Cars head south on Richmond Highway in Penn Daw near the Groveton border (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Driving on Richmond Highway in Fairfax County could get a little slower, potentially by the beginning of next year.

Virginia Department of Transportation staff said last week that the speed limit should be reduced from 45 to 35 mph along a 7.31-mile stretch of the roadway from the Capital Beltway at the Alexandria border to Jeff Todd Way in Mount Vernon.

The recommendation came from a year-long speed study prompted by concerns about the safety of the corridor, which saw two fatal pedestrian crashes in the span of a week earlier this July. The study found one 1.5-mile stretch that had a 75% higher crash rate than Virginia’s average.

According to the National Safety Council, speeding contributed to 29% of all traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2020. Research suggests 10 mph can make a significant difference in the risk of severe injury or death that pedestrians face when hit by a vehicle.

Several states, including Virginia, have moved in recent years to lower speed limits on local streets, but about 60% of pedestrian deaths occur on major, non-interstate roads. In Fairfax County, speed limits in corridors like Richmond Highway and the also-treacherous Route 7 range from 35 to 45 mph even in increasingly urban, populous areas.

Though VDOT staff said reducing Route 1’s speed limit is expected to have a “minimal” impact on traffic, some community members at last week’s virtual meeting worried it might exacerbate congestion and cut-through traffic. Notably, the study recommended maintaining the 45 mph on the road through the Fort Belvoir area.

Others questioned the effectiveness of lowering the speed limit without robust police enforcement and other safety measures, such as added crosswalks and protected sidewalks. A recent report from the nonprofit Smart Growth America argued that driver behavior is more influenced by how roads are designed than posted speed limits.

How do you feel about lowering the speed limit on Richmond Highway and other major roads in Fairfax County? Is it a necessary safety improvement, or do you think other approaches should be considered instead?

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