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Afternoon rush-hour traffic clogs up Dolley Madison Boulevard at the Ingleside Avenue intersection in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County could be taking some notes from New York City and Portland as it tries to turn back the surge of recent pedestrian fatalities.

The Board of Supervisors directed the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on Tuesday (March 21) to review turn-calming measures from other jurisdictions, discuss options with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and come back to the board’s transportation committee with an analysis of how that can be implemented.

“Over the past several years, this Board has taken significant steps to prioritize pedestrian safety,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Despite these efforts, there were still sadly 32 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County on our roads in 2022, the highest number since consistent statistics started being collected in 2010.”

As FFXnow reported last week, FCDOT’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways committee (TSB) delved into the issue and asked the Board of Supervisors to prioritize additional safety measures along major arterial roadways throughout Fairfax County.

“The first is a turn calming, like in New York, San Francisco and Portland,” McKay said. “These programs can reduce turning speeds and thus pedestrian fatalities.”

Left-turn calming aims to reduce turning speeds, eliminate sharp turns, and create “hardened centerlines” that use rubber speed bumps to slow drivers.

McKay said county staff’s report on turn-calming should also include an estimate of the cost.

The second item is a request that no crosswalk at the site of a pedestrian fatality be eliminated unless there is a compelling reason to do so.

The question of eliminating crosswalks took some board members by surprise until Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw explained that the TSB letter references the planned elimination of a crosswalk at Braddock Road and Kings Park Drive in West Springfield.

Walkinshaw explained VDOT intends to move the sidewalk to a safer location.

“The plan is to eliminate that entire signalized intersection and move the crosswalk to a different and safer location, where it’s separated from the turns from Kings Park Drive onto Braddock Road,” he said.

Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that, in addition to turn-calming and prioritizing crosswalks, the county also has an ongoing speed camera pilot program.

“I would also note that we are doing our speed camera pilot, which is also getting underway,” Alcorn said. “It underscores that this is really a tough problem…We need to look and see what else can we do to make our streets safer.”

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Outside 1st Stage in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors got a first look last week at a new plan that it hopes can help turn the county into a hub for the arts.

At an economic initiatives committee meeting on March 14, Fairfax County Arts Committee Chair Leila Gordon said the new Master Arts Plan shows that some of the county’s revitalization zones — like the one in the works for downtown McLean — need to do more to prioritize the arts and add more supporting facilities.

“Beyond what are traditionally characterized as ‘major arts venues,’ the County needs multiple other support facilities and spaces to complement existing arts venues,” a presentation on the plan said.

Those arts-supporting uses include creating residential zoning for live/work studios, more small-scale venues, and better temporary use of vacant facilities.

Supervisors at the meeting shared positive feedback on the plan, but many had individual areas they wanted to see more fully explored.

“We’re not doing public art well in this county at all, regardless of how many times we’ve tried to do it,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “On Richmond Highway they’ve had some success with some murals, but trying to get permits for murals and trying to explain to the planning and development department that this is not a sign…that’s a wonderful way to grab people really quickly.”

Gross said as the process goes on, she’d like to see more public art worked into the plan.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik expressed hope to see more descriptions of how art uses should be managed and governed.

“We can build the spaces, we can permit the spaces, we can transform the spaces, but I think the question is…place-based governance,” Palchik said. “We are a large county. We have a lot of initiatives as well as priorities. We can build all the spaces we want, but they have to be run, they have to be activated, they have to be managed.”

Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said the arts across Fairfax County are currently plagued by waste and unequal distribution, two topics he hopes to see the plan tackle.

“There’s also a lot of waste in the arts,” McKay said. “When props are done, they’re trashed. When costumes are done, they don’t get stored. I know there are a lot of private arts organizations — dance schools are familiar with this — that spend a lot of money on props, a lot of money on costumes, and when the show is over, they go in the trash.”

McKay said the Master Arts Plan is a chance to organize the local arts community and get organizations on the same page when it comes to sharing resources. McKay said he hoped to see a “huge inventory” of items that can be recycled across multiple shows. From the county leadership side, that may involve financing storage space.

“One thing we should be looking at in terms of facilities [is] if the county can provide a centralized warehouse of arts materials,” McKay said. “There is quite a bit of waste in the arts and it doesn’t need to be that way. A lot of high school theater groups do the same rotating shows but a lot of times, they’re starting from scratch for props, and finding out they’re discarded from another school that did the same show. That can be very costly.”

McKay also said part of the plan should focus on distributing arts venues around Fairfax County, noting that many arts spaces are being built where there is already an abundance of facilities.

According to a draft plan, there are several potential venues in the works, including proposed arts centers at Reston Town Center and in downtown Herndon, but a lack of funding is cited as an obstacle in multiple cases.

“Unfortunately where [there’s] the greatest art advocacy is where there are already facilities,” McKay said. “There are parts of the county that just don’t have the same access. Looking at that through gap analysis is going to be really important.”

The plan also notes that cost and availability limitations lead many organizations in Fairfax County to use venues not intended for arts programming, like schools or churches, or to go outside the county.

The Master Arts Plan for cultural facilities is under review and will be fully released sometime this spring. A broader Public Art Master Plan is scheduled for completion in early 2024.

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Java Loco is opening a location at Graham Park Plaza in West Falls Church (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Alexandria-based cafe Java Loco is coming to West Falls Church.

The cafe owners have filed for a permit to modify the interior of a 1,368-square-foot suite in Graham Park Plaza (7263J Arlington Blvd).

Java Loco launched in 2013 and has since expanded to a handful of locations around Northern Virginia. The cafe offers a wide variety of coffees — including Italian espresso and Vietnamese coffee — along with smoothies, bubble tea and sandwiches.

Java Loco anticipates opening the Graham Park Plaza location this spring, but no exact date has been determined yet, according to Federal Realty, which owns part of the shopping center.

“The menu concept will be the same as the Mount Vernon location,” Federal Realty said.

Staff at another Java Loco said the West Falls Church location is likely to open sometime around the end of April.

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Wine and a dish at Alta Strada Mosaic (photo via Alta Strada Mosaic/Facebook)

Several Fairfax County restaurants are joining in Spring Wine Fling — a nearly two-week stretch of wine and dinner specials on offer around the region.

The special is set to run from Monday, March 20 through Friday, March 31.

Across Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia, restaurants will offer a $55 dinner with an appetizer, entree and two one pairings. Each restaurant has their own selection of wine pairings with certain entrees.

In Fairfax County, participating locations include:

The event is being organized by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), the trade organization that also puts on the region’s biannual Restaurant Week.

A full list of participating locations can be found on the Spring Wine Fling website.

Photo via Alta Strada Mosaic/Facebook

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Army headquarters at Fort Belvoir (via Fort Belvoir/Facebook)

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors is no stranger to renaming things, from roads to magisterial districts. But now, the board is leading a push not to rename a site associated with slavery.

In a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (March 7), Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck raised the topic of Fort Belvoir’s potential renaming. The base is named for the Belvoir plantation that once occupied the site.

In a final report last year, a Department of Defense Naming Commission recommended that Fort Belvoir be renamed. According to the Association of the United States Army:

One final matter involves Fort Belvoir, Virginia, named for a plantation that once occupied the land. Belvoir has ties to the Confederacy but was not named in 1935 in direct commemoration of the South. The commission was not given authority to rename Fort Belvoir, which was previously known as Fort Humphries, but the commission believes it should have a new name. The report “strongly encourages” the defense secretary and Army secretary to review the history of the installation, noting it was the site of the celebration of Confederate Memorial Day.

While Fairfax County and other localities have routinely renamed locations, the Fairfax County History Commission expressed concerns about the Naming Commission’s report for a few reasons, from questions about historical inaccuracies to uncertainty about the effect on how Black history should be represented at the fort, according to Storck.

“Any action taken by the army should be transparent, based on evidence, and include local community and stakeholders,” Storck said. “Removing the name Belvoir may reduce the likelihood that these stories of the enslaved African Americans and free Black residents who lived on the base will be told.”

Storck proposed that the Board of Supervisors recommend the Fairfax County History Commission’s report be sent to the Secretary of the Army and the Naming Commission Historian voicing their concerns. The proposal was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said concerns about the renaming came up in a recent meeting with the base commander. Whatever the ultimate decision is, McKay said the process around the name change should be more transparent and should involve Fairfax County.

“I had an opportunity to sit down with the base commander for quite some time and this was the subject of conversation,” McKay said. “I know it’s created a lot of angst for Fort Belvoir. I think it’s important as this consideration is being made — not by the county — but that county input is part of the decision process.”

A public affairs officer from Fort Belvoir told FFXnow that any consideration of renaming the base will be open and transparent and the Fort Belvoir leadership has already started moving forward on renaming four streets honoring Confederate leaders:

The Naming Commission encouraged the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army to review the relevant historical facts and consider renaming Fort Belvoir. The Army will begin an open and transparent process to consider renaming the installation.

The redesignation of Beauregard Road, Stuart Street, Lee Road, and Johnston Road fit within the legislative mandate of the Naming Commission. Fort Belvoir has already begun consulting with the local community, through the Fairfax County History Commission, to recommend name changes for the four streets currently named after Confederate leaders.

In October 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III concurred with all of the Naming Commission’s recommendations, including redesignating nine Army installations with names that are rooted in their local communities and that honor American heroes whose valor, courage, and patriotism exemplify the very best of the U.S. military.

Fort Belvoir is standing by to assist in that effort as requested.

Photo via Fort Belvoir/Facebook

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A bag of fentanyl pills (via DEA/Flickr)

Fairfax County could be getting more money from opioid settlements, funding that local leaders said is desperately needed to stem a growing crisis.

Opioid Task Force Coordinator Ellen Volo spoke to the Board of Supervisors’ Health and Human Services Committee at a meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 28).

“Across the state, there’s been a shocking increase in overdoses in the last couple of years,” Volo said. “We’ve seen an increase across all ages locally as well.”

Opioid overdose deaths in Fairfax County (image via Fairfax County)

Volo said Fairfax County has seen a concerning increase in youth overdoses. Nearly all of them involved fentanyl.

The report to the Board of Supervisors said fatal and non-fatal overdoses for youth trended higher in 2022 compared to previous years.

Opioid overdoses for teens and children ages 19 and younger (via Fairfax County)

The report also indicated that 6 out of every 10 counterfeit prescription pills in a Drug Enforcement Agency test contained a lethal dose.

Volo said Fairfax County’s focus is on expanding substance abuse treatment facilities.

“The big bucket of work has been enhancing and expanding substance abuse treatment for youth,” Volo said. “When you look at the nation, certainly the region as well, there is a scarcity of appropriate treatment options.”

Volo said a regional, multi-pronged approach is needed to build capacity for substance abuse treatment, but Fairfax County has hit some stumbling blocks along the way.

“It’s been difficult to find providers of detox and residential service,” she said. “We’re working to establish partnerships. It’s ideal to have this capacity in the region and in-house.”

For the opioid settlements, Volo said the situation is “very fluid” in terms of how much money is available, but it’s clear that the funds must be used for abatement purposes.

In the near-term, Fairfax County should apply this spring to the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority to fund detox and treatment services at a regional level, Volo said. The county should also launch a survey to gather local and regional input on substance abuse treatment services and other opioid resource needs.

In the October 2023 to April 2024 time frame, Volo said the county should undergo an internal process to organize requests for funding to opioid-related projects and an Opioid Settlement Executive Committee will vet the proposed projects.

County leaders said the help can’t come soon enough.

“We lost a 17-year-old student in my community last summer,” Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said. “We’ve heard consistently [there’s a] need for additional treatment service, for inpatient and outpatient services, but the outpatient ones are critical.”

Photo via DEA/Flickr

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Fairfax County Connector in Reston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax Connector could be free for all children ages 12 and under.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s current policy is kids under 5 years old do not need to pay a fare. The new policy would extend that to all children under 12.

Older children can already get a free student bus pass: all Fairfax County middle and high school students can ride on all Fairfax County routes and some Metrobus routes for free between 5 a.m.-10 p.m. with a student bus pass. The transportation department said in a presentation the change would “close a gap” in the county’s fare-free policy for kids.

Those children would still obviously need to be accompanied by a fare-paying adult to receive a free fare.

In a presentation, the Department of Transportation said there are several potential benefits to the change.

  • Closes the gap in fare-free travel for children between ages 5-12
  • Increases accessibility and removes barriers to travel for parents. Especially beneficial for trips to access medical or social services
  • This change will help children become acclimated to using public transit from an early age thereby creating increased transportation alternatives

FCDOT is collecting feedback on the proposed change until next Friday, March 10.

The policy change is scheduled to be presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on April 11. If approved, it would take effect on April 30.

Fairfax Connector launched a pilot last month allowing low-income riders to get half-price fares.

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A worker conducts a COVID-19 test for sick visitor at Fairfax County Government Center site (courtesy Fairfax County Health Department)

This month marks the third anniversary of the first Covid case in Fairfax County, and the Board of Supervisors has voted to bring the state of emergency to a close.

The emergency declaration that has been in place since March 17, 2020 officially ends today (Wednesday).

The declaration provided increased flexibility and resources to address public health issues. The county said in a release there will be no direct impact of the declaration ending on the county’s operational responses, which were already scaled back in December.

The county’s relaxed policies on outdoor dining and using speakers for activities will continue until March 2024.

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Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads was partially closed after a fatal pedestrian crash in December (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The traffic safety advocacy group Fairfax Families for Safe Streets (Fairfax FSS) says the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is primarily to blame for Fairfax County’s high pedestrian fatality count last year.

The Safe Streets Report compiled by Fairfax FSS examines the crashes that resulted in 32 pedestrian fatalities and 53 serious injuries in 2022. Like the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) earlier report, Fairfax FFS found that the county saw a dramatic increase in fatalities and serious injuries last year from any other year going back to 2010 — the first year where data is available.

The median count for pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County was 13, but there were over twice as many in 2022.

Pedestrian crash fatalities in Fairfax County (image via Fairfax Families for Safe Streets)

Fairfax FSS lays the blame at underfunding for pedestrian-focused projects in its report:

Years of underfunding of critical projects and lack of sufficient attention to pedestrian safety in new projects and development has led to increasing systemic risk for pedestrian safety. Safety is more important than speed. Particular attention is needed to provide safety in identified high risk corridors. While we applaud increased commitment for future funding, the proposed levels are insufficient to reduce today’s risk.

Most of that frustration was directed at VDOT, which controls the majority of the county’s roadways.

According to the report:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), as the primary agency with authority for road infrastructure design and maintenance throughout Fairfax County, bears significant responsibility for the safety of pedestrians. The high number and increasing trend of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries indicates that VDOT has not sufficiently prioritized pedestrian safety, lacks an understanding of the current risks to pedestrians, and/or has operationally failed a basic safety responsibility. Fairfax FSS requests VDOT leadership evaluate its culture, organizational structure, and operations to ensure that pedestrian safety is appropriately elevated and integrated throughout VDOT.

The report also said Virginia’s criminal code is too lenient on drivers who crash into and kill pedestrians. Of the 32 pedestrian fatalities in 2022, only five crashes saw the drivers charged with a felony. One case was finalized, with the driver pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Four others remain pending.

Four drivers were charged with misdemeanors. One was reduced to an infraction, one was found not guilty, and another was abandoned without prosecution. The last case remains pending. One driver was charged with an infraction.

“The report also highlights the lack of consequences in Virginia’s criminal code when drivers who crash into and kill pedestrians (many of whom had the legal right of way in a crosswalk) receive de minimis financial fines, no points and rarely jail time of any sort,” the release said.

Fairfax FSS said local residents should expect more from their local and state elected officials when it comes to pedestrian safety.

“Each pedestrian fatality and serious injury is preventable,” the release said. “Our local and state elected leaders along with transportation officials need to demonstrate a greater level of commitment and urgency in implementing comprehensive and effective solutions. Making greater investment today will save lives tomorrow.”

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Fairfax County Parkway (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County Parkway is one of the main arterial routes through western Fairfax County, but staff say it’s due for an overhaul.

At a recent meeting of the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee, Department of Transportation senior planner Thomas Burke laid out some of the changes recommended in a recent study of the Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield parkways.

The study looked at 35 miles of the corridor broken up into five segments. Notably, it evaluated transit and multi-modal transportation along the parkways, rather than just vehicle traffic.

On the multi-modal front, Burke said one key takeaway was that the current bicycle and pedestrian facilities were inadequate.

“There was a lot of support in the community for enhancing bicycle and pedestrian experience on the parkways,” Burke said. “Right now, there’s one trail on one side of the parkway and a few gaps.”

Burke said the first priority should be plugging those gaps to have one contiguous trail running from Reston to Fort Belvoir.

“We took it another step based on community feedback,” Burke said. “Why don’t we put a trail on the other side so you don’t have to cross a six-lane highway to get to the shared use path, especially if you don’t need to cross it because origin and destination are on the same side?”

The county is looking at potential changes to the Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield parkways (via FCDOT)

On the other hand, Burke said there isn’t enough demand for transit along the parkway for that to make sense as an emphasis for any sort of parkway overhaul.

“We took a transit look as well: transit is an interesting challenge for the parkways because there’s not a lot of density or employment centers,” Burke said. “There’s a lot of low-density areas and not a whole lot of jobs.”

Burke said the study similarly didn’t find as much demand for the high-occupancy vehicle options seen on other roadways around Fairfax County.

“For decades we’ve had HOV recommendations for most of the parkways,” Burke said. “From Franconia-Springfield — where the Metro is — up to Route 7, all has little diamonds signifying there will eventually be HOV…But we did not find a lot of demand.”

Burke said the study considered both 2+ and 3+ HOV lanes, but found low demand for either option.

The study also looked at road widening, with earlier staff recommendations saying parts of the parkway should be increased to eight lanes. But for the most part, Burke said the study found six lanes was sufficient for the northernmost sections of Fairfax County Parkway.

At the southernmost point of the study, where the Franconia-Springfield Parkway connects to Richmond Highway, Burke said the study recommended increasing the roadway to six travel lanes in parts. Just north of that section, where Fairfax County Parkway connects to Beulah Street, Burke said current plans to increase the parkway to eight lanes overshot the mark, and the road only needs its current six lanes.

Burke noted that this study is looking at long-range transportation improvements. Any of those changes, particularly the widening, could take 10-30 years to implement.

In parts, Burke said there was some community resistance to widening the parkways, and before Fairfax County goes forward with widening in those sections, there should be additional research and analysis.

A pair of virtual meetings to discuss the changes are planned for Wednesday, March 1 at noon and Thursday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m.

Image via Google Maps

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