Safety, access, and equity are among the top priorities for Fairfax County residents when it comes to envisioning the future of transportation in the area.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation released a draft report on Aug. 31 for its ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, which will combine and update the county’s Bicycle Master Plan and Countywide Trails Map into an overarching plan for amenities to support walking, cycling, and other self-propelled modes of travel.

The draft comes after the county conducted a dozen virtual community conversations with residents this past spring to learn more about their concerns and desires.

The county also received public input from 1,474 virtual community survey responses, 1,217 comments on a virtual barrier and destination feedback map, and 537 comments on virtual planned trail, bikeway network, and complete streets map.

The feedback informed the draft report, which proposes a general framework for the ActiveFairfax plan with four goals:

  • Access and connectivity
  • Safety and comfort
  • Livability and health
  • Equity and social justice.

Access and connectivity refers to the goal of providing “a well-connected, multimodal transportation network that offers safe, convenient, healthy, sustainable and affordable mobility options for Fairfax County,” according to the draft.

Objectives under that goal include a focus on planning, implementing, and maintaining a network of safe and comfortable sidewalks, bikeway, trails, and streets that link residential and commercial areas.

The “safety and comfort” goal encompasses efforts to minimize traffic injuries and fatalities with an emphasis on active transportation users, including by pursuing policies and incentives that reduce vehicle trips and travel speeds.

Addressing livability and health will “advance public health, sustainability and the quality of life by providing inviting sidewalks, bikeways and trails that encourage frequent usage,” the draft says.

In order to achieve this goal, the draft proposes providing a variety of educational and promotional programs and events to promote active transportation modes, as well as applying best practices to street designs, including adding wider sidewalks and ensuring bicycle facilities are available for a variety of ages and abilities.

Finally, the goal of addressing equity and social justice aims to “provide a multi-modal transportation system that prioritizes the needs of the most vulnerable road users including communities of color, low-income communities, small children and their caregivers, youth, people with disabilities, and older adults.”

This fourth goal’s objectives include adhering to the county’s One Fairfax policy when developing or evaluating active transportation policies, programs, facilities, and practices. It also means making sure the public engagement process for transportation policies and projects is inclusive so that everyone’s needs are adequately addressed.

The county’s transportation department will host two virtual community meetings to further discuss the draft’s vision, goals, and objectives. The meetings will be held Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m., and links to sign up for each are available on the county’s site.

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Around noon on June 12, a pedestrian trying to reach a pathway by Dogwood Pool on Green Range Drive in Reston was nearly hit by a vehicle, because the trail was blocked by parked cars.

Three days earlier, another driver failed to yield and sped through a left turn at the Westpark and Galleria Drive intersection in Tysons, almost colliding with a person who was using the crosswalk.

Those are two of more than 350 “near miss” traffic incidents that community members have reported to Northern Virginia Families for Safe Streets (NoVA FSS) since the advocacy group launched a survey on June 17 to collect data on dangerous roadways across the region.

Developed with the help of Virginia Tech graduate students, the Near Miss Survey allows walkers, bicyclists, drivers, and other road users to report instances where they came close to getting into a crash or accident but were fortunate enough to avoid it.

The resulting map highlights specific incidents as well as hotspots that are especially accident-prone, with the goal of helping local transportation and public safety officials see what areas need their attention and how they can improve policies and infrastructure to make streets safer.

“It gives people an opportunity to report on areas that might be dangerous,” Phil Kemelor, the Mason District board member for Fairfax Families for Safe Streets, said. “Just because it doesn’t result in a specific accident like with someone getting hit or killed, it’s still something people should know about.”

While the survey is still new, some trends have already emerged. Unsurprisingly, there tend to be more incidents at times with more traffic, such as the afternoon rush hour, and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks is the most frequently reported issue.

The near-miss survey map of traffic incidents across Fairfax County (via Northern Virginia Families for Safe Streets)

Kemelor notes that the reported incidents haven’t been weather-related, since they’ve all occurred during clear conditions, and they are rarely one-time issues.

“Those reporting the incidents cite multiple occurrences at the locations mentioned,” he said.

The Near Miss Survey project grew out of conversations between NoVA FSS founder Mike Doyle and Tom Sanchez, who teaches urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech.

As a capstone requirement for the master’s program, graduate students take a year-long studio class where they work on a project with a client from the community.

For the 10 students who took the class during the 2020-2021 academic year, that client was Families for Safe Streets, which began in the City of Alexandria in 2017 and has since added Arlington and Fairfax chapters.

Sanchez says the idea of collecting near-miss data appealed to the class, because there was no existing source for that kind of information, even though a split second could be the only difference between a close call and a tragic collision. Read More

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