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SCOOP: Fairfax County may explore ‘turn calming’ to improve pedestrian safety at intersections

A Route 50 intersection in Middleburg has a reduced turn radii and mountable apron to help slow traffic (via Fairfax County Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways Committee)

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay plans to introduce a board matter next week that would direct county staff to analyze a road safety measure called turn calming.

The measure would direct staff to look at cities like Portland and New York City that have established turn calming programs, as recommended in a March 1 letter from the county’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways (TSB) Committee.

McKay plans to introduce the matter when the board meets Tuesday (March 21).

“When it comes to pedestrian safety in particular, we need every possible tool in our tool box,” McKay told FFXnow.

After a year that saw a high number of pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County, the TSB wrote to McKay endorsing a turn-calming program as one way to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the county.

A turn calming program would make alterations to intersections with the goal of bringing down vehicle speeds during turns and reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities.

In an addendum to the letter, the TSB points to an education campaign, physical improvements such as “hardened” center lines, and other strategies as “essential components” of a turn calming program.

Shawn Newman, who represents the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling on the TSB, says turn calming would push transportation planners to rethink how intersections are designed.

Right now, many right turn corners in the county are designed so that cars can make them at “a relatively high rate of speed,” he explained.

“A simple fix such as bumping the corner out a bit and making it closer to a 90-degree angle will force vehicles to slow down and be more careful on the turn,” Newman said. “Left turns can also be made safer by extending out the median to again force vehicles to slow down and drive more carefully.”

According to the TSB committee’s letter, intersections were the location of 54, or 45%, of the county’s pedestrian-involved vehicular crashes recorded in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Crash Analysis Tool between 2015 and October 2022.

“Intersection-related accidents are likely due to several factors that would be addressed by a turn-calming program: many drivers are traveling at too high a speed through intersections, cut corners and accelerate through intersections, and have limited awareness of potential presence of pedestrians,” TSB Chairman Kenneth Comer wrote in the letter.

The TSB letter comes after the Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed a Safe Streets for All program in May 2022. The letter identifies a turn calming program as the “most promising” step to prioritize along the county’s major arterial roads in addition to the program’s recommendations.

“It’s good that they passed that…but it hasn’t accomplished its goal yet,” Newman said. “The streets are not safe yet.”

VDOT maintains practically all of the county’s public roads, so the state agency would have to be involved. If the measures work, McKay says he would fight for them to be implemented.

“I don’t want to spend any resources on things that don’t statistically work,” McKay said.

The TSB letter also recommends the county resist any efforts by VDOT to remove a crosswalk at the Braddock Road and Kings Park Drive intersection in West Springfield, where a pedestrian was killed in December.

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