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A new trail would connect to the Herndon Metro Station (via Town of Herndon)

With the opening of phase two of the Silver Line expected in October, local governments are preparing public services to connect efficiently to the new stations.

In the latest initiative, the Herndon Town Council is poised to approve a $410,000 contract to build a new trail connection to the Herndon Metro Station. The proposal is set for a vote at a council meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).

The 8-foot-wide asphalt trail would run from Worldgate Drive through the existing Metro station pavilion entrance, according to the town’s Deputy Director of Public Works John Irish.

Irish noted that the project has been long in the works as part of the county’s capital improvements plan for years.

“We’ve spend years trying to get easements to construct this,” Irish said.

The project was bid out to A.P. Construction, LLC. The trail would be open to pedestrians and bicyclists. A timeline for construction and completion was not immediately available.

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VDOT has redesigned a circuitous Village Road pedestrian median in Reston (photo by Colin Mills/Reston Accessibility Committee)

(Updated at 6:10 p.m.) Community pressure about a circuitous and convoluted pedestrian refuge at Village Road in Reston has prompted a redesign.

Reston Association voiced its concerns about the “horrible initial design” of the refuge island in a letter to state and local transportation officials, according to RA spokesperson Mike Leone. The letter, along with community pressure, led to the rebuild and redesign effort.

VDOT has added a new access point and sidewalk.

“It is RA’s position that the changes/redesign are much better than the original design,” Leone wrote in a statement to FFXnow.

Construction crews are “almost finished with reconstruction, but it’s not yet turned over to us for inspection and acceptance,” VDOT spokesperson Ellen Kamilakis told FFXnow.

After FFXnow’s sister site, Reston Now, reported on the issues with the refuge in January, the Reston Accessibility Committee — a working group created by the Reston Citizens Association — submitted an assessment of the site to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn in February.

“In addition to the poor sidewalk design, our assessment cited the narrow ramps, the misalignment of the crosswalk buttons, and the fact that the Village Road crosswalk was behind the stop line for the traffic signal,” the committee said in its summer newsletter, released on Saturday (July 30).

RA’s Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee, a citizen advisory committee that reports to RA, also flagged concerns about the refuge.

“Pedestrian navigability and safety were our chief concerns especially with the near proximity of the new Lake Anne House,” the committee said. “The Board agreed and sent a letter to  VDOT strongly urging redesign.”

While the redesign is a significant improvement over the previous iteration, MTAC’s chair Mike McDermott said that some issues still remain.

“While we are glad that corrections have been made, we do feel that pedestrian facilities should be present on all four legs of this signalized intersection,” McDermott wrote in a statement to FFXnow.

The previous design was so flawed that some pedestrians cut through the middle or skipped over the refuge entirely. Other concerns included narrow ramps and misalignment of crosswalk buttons.

The new design completes the sidewalk by turning into a loop and realigns the crosswalk  buttons. The vehicle stop line for the Village Road signal was also moved back behind the crosswalk.

“RAC supports the attempt to remediate the design and make the design safer and more accessible for everyone,” the Reston Accessibility Committee said in its newsletter. “There is still room for improvement, however, and we encourage all parties to continue exploring design changes to make it even better.”

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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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Construction on the bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Capital Beltway in Tysons will take slightly longer than anticipated.

The Virginia Department of Transportation says the first phase of the project — which will eventually connect Tysons Corner Center and the McLean Metro station via Old Meadow Road — is now expected to be completed this fall, behind the previously advertised summer 2022 timeline.

“No particular reason,” a VDOT Northern Virginia spokesperson said when asked what led to the delay. “But summer weather certainly doesn’t adhere to our timetables.”

VDOT has spent more than half a decade now working to provide a crossing from Tysons East over the Beltway (also known as I-495) for bicyclists and pedestrians, initially unveiling concept plans for a trail along Route 123 in 2017.

However, community members quickly raised concerns about the potential safety risks of at-grade crosswalks on ramps at the I-495/Route 123 interchange, prompting officials to pivot to the current bridge and shared-use path proposal.

Construction began on the bridge in August 2021. With this first phase, the project is also adding a 10-foot-wide path from the bridge, which leads to Tysons One Place, to the Old Meadow and Provincial Drive intersection.

The path will eventually be extended all the way to Route 123, but VDOT is still in search of funding for that phase of construction.

“VDOT continues to work to identify additional funding sources for Phase 2,” VDOT Northern Virginia Communications Coordinator Mike Murphy told FFXnow by email.

The first phase carries an estimated construction cost of $13.4 million, a price tag fueled in part by agreements for property easement and right-of-way acquisitions. VDOT says the cost hasn’t changed with the delay, despite inflation and supply-chain issues driving up construction costs nationwide.

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The county could ask a developer to pay $1.65 million to find a safer crossing at Wiehle Avenue (via Fairfax County)

A developer-proposed solution for a new crossing at Wiehle Avenue at the eastbound Dulles Toll Road ramps in Reston is officially off the table.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously yesterday (Tuesday) to consider a different proposal for the controversial crossing, which was the subject of vigorous debate during the approval of TF Cornerstone’s Campus Commons project.

Community concerns about the safety of an at-grade crossing led to the formation of a study group that identified several options for the crossing. Not one member of the group — which met 15 times between December 2019 and August 2021 — supported the developer’s suggested overpass options or an at-grade crosswalk. Most favored an alternative crossing through an underpass — which comes with a hefty price tag.

With a deadline looming to make a decision on the proffer, the board has officially decided to ditch the developer’s proposed options and explore what Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says will be the most appropriate pedestrian crossing option.

Alcorn says a final decision on the crossing will come after the county completes a corridor study of Wiehle Avenue between Sunrise Valley Drive and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. The study was approved in September of last year and will begin six months after phase two of the Silver Line opens.

Yesterday’s board matter formalizes language that the board will not support the developer’s proposed overpass options. The developer will either construct the crossing ultimately selected or provide $1.65 million as laid out in the proffers.

So far, the county has hinted at pursuing a “high visibility” at-grade crossing.

In his board matter, Alcorn said the proposal should “address documented concerns raised by the community…to ensure that this improvement is designed to be aesthetically pleasing, highly efficient, safe and accessible for all users.”

The Campus Commons matter was initially deferred last month for clerical changes and the refinement of legalese.

The vote comes nearly three years after the board approved the Campus Commons project, which will transform an aging office park at 1900 and 1902 Campus Common Drive into a 1.3 million-square-foot development.

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A utility pole appears to be down in a roadway where a crash occurred in Oakton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 11:45 a.m.) The 18-year-old driver in the Oakton crash that killed two Oakton High School students earlier this month has been indicted.

A grand jury indicted Fairfax resident Usman Shahid on involuntary manslaughter charges Tuesday morning (June 21), Fairfax County Police Department said in a press release. Shahid is expected to turn himself in later today (Thursday), police said. More information on bond will be available then.

The department’s Crash Reconstruction Unit determined that, on June 4, Shahid was driving a 2018 BMW south on Blake Lane at a “high rate of speed” when he struck a 4Runner in the intersection, continued traveling south, and struck three high school students on the sidewalk. The car continued down Blake Lane and struck a utility pole.

Two of the pedestrians died, and the third was seriously injured. Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said at a press conference that she is now recovering at home.

Shahid and the front passenger of the car were transported to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Two passengers in the rear seats of the BMW fled the scene, police said at the time.

The police investigation suggests that Shahid was driving around 81 mph when his car first hit the 4Runner, Davis said.

Davis said the BMW passengers have been identified. While noting that they shouldn’t have fled the scene, Davis said the passengers have cooperated with the investigation, and police don’t anticipate pressing charges against them.

“This is a tragic incident that could have been avoided, and our hearts break for the families of these two young girls,” Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said in a news release. “…I am committed to working toward accountability in a manner that promotes healing for the families involved and the wider community.”

Shahid faces two counts of involuntary manslaughter, both felony charges that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years of jail time, according to Descano.

The crash prompted renewed calls for safety improvements on the Blake Lane corridor. A meeting is scheduled for tonight with stakeholders that will be livestreamed to Supervisor Dalia Palchik’s Facebook.

“Slow down, slow down, be a defensive driver,” Davis said. “There’s nothing so important you have to jeopardize your safety and the safety of others by getting some place 30 seconds faster.”

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Pedestrians cross Route 7 at Glen Carlyn Drive in Culmore (photo by Sonya Breehey)

For residents of Bailey’s Crossroads, particularly the Culmore area, crossing the street is no small feat.

In some spots along Route 7, it means surviving six lanes of traffic traveling at 40 miles an hour without the refuge of a median or sidewalk, or walking two blocks to reach the nearest crosswalk. Limited street lighting creates an added danger at night.

It’s a corridor built for cars, moving an estimated 24,000 vehicles per day, even though residents of the surrounding, predominantly Spanish-speaking, neighborhood frequently travel by walking, bicycling, or bus, a new report says.

“We have folks who are relying on those means of transportation, but we’re not doing anything to make it safer for them, and we know it’s a problem area for vulnerable road users,” Coalition for Smarter Growth Northern Virginia advocacy manager Sonya Breehey told FFXnow.

Released on Friday (June 10), the report was developed by the nonprofit coalition and the immigrant advocacy organization CASA as part of an ongoing campaign to improve the safety of Route 7 in Culmore for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized travelers.

A survey of 202 residents found that 91% of female respondents and 80% of male respondents walk more than once a week. 63% of women and 38% of men said they walk every day — much higher than the 9% daily walk rate reported in the D.C. region prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walking, bicycling, and transit use among Culmore residents (via Coalition for Smarter Growth)

According to the report, 67% of survey respondents said they don’t feel safe walking, bicycling, or getting to transit, compared to about 10% who said they felt safe or very safe.

While crime was highlighted as a top concern, traffic-related issues included inadequate lighting, drivers not following the 40 mph speed limit and other rules, a lack of continuous sidewalks, insufficient bicycle lanes or paths, and pedestrian signals not allowing enough time to cross the street.

Pushed by the advocacy campaign, which started in response to a fatal pedestrian crash in December, the Virginia and Fairfax County transportation departments are looking at possible safety improvements on Route 7 between Glen Carlyn Drive and Glen Forest Drive. Read More

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(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) The community is starting to rally to support the families of two Oakton High School students who died after a car struck them on a sidewalk Tuesday (June 7).

A GoFundMe was created for one of the students, identified as Ada Gabriela. As of this morning (Thursday), the fundraiser had raised over $60,000 to help the family cover funeral expenses and other costs, surpassing its goal in less than a day. Another GoFundMe that went live Thursday has collected more than $13,000 for the other student who died.

In another effort, a member of the Oakton High School crisis team is collecting gift cards to restaurants and grocery stores for families of the victims, according to a Facebook post.

Bouquets of flowers lined the sidewalk yesterday (Wednesday) at the corner of Blake Lane and Five Oaks Road, where the students were walking when an 18-year-old driving a BMW hit them, Fairfax County police said.

Police say they believe the 18-year-old was driving at a high speed when he struck an SUV, which caused the car to ricochet into a group of three Oakton High School students. Two of the students died, and one is in critical condition at the hospital.

The GoFundMe page says Ada Gabriela was one of the pedestrians that died, and her cousin was also struck and is recovering with bad injuries.

“I thank all of you and ask you to keep my family in prayers, god bless,” the organizer wrote.

Police said the BMW’s driver and front-seat passenger were transported with non-life-threatening injuries to the hospital. Two other occupants of the BMW fled the scene, police said.

“Details of the investigation will be presented to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney to determine the appropriate charges on all parties involved,” police said yesterday in a press release. “Once charged and arrested, the identity of the BMW driver will be released.”

Oakton High School Principal Jamie Lane sent a letter to families and staff about the car crash.

“We are devastated to learn this news and are grieving the loss of these students,” the letter reads. “Our deepest condolences extend to all families impacted.”

The school had a crisis team present Wednesday for students and staff who needed to talk to a professional as they process the news, the letter said. The letter also pointed to resources such as the CrisisLink Regional Hotline, at 703-527-4077, where someone can also text “NEEDHELP” to 85511. The hotline is available for support after hours.

“As students process this difficult news, teachers will have the utmost flexibility regarding attendance and the completion of final exams and/or culminating activities scheduled for this week,” the letter said.

Oakton High School’s last day of school is tomorrow (Friday). Seniors graduated last Friday, June 3.

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Update at 5:35 p.m. — Two of the three teenage pedestrians that were struck in a crash in Oakton this morning have died from their injuries, Fairfax County Police said. The three pedestrians that were struck were Oakton High School students, police said.

Earlier: Five juveniles were transported to the hospital this afternoon (Tuesday) after a car crashed into an SUV, then ricocheted into a group of three teenage pedestrians and a utility pole in Oakton, Fairfax County police said.

The three pedestrians have life-threatening injuries and the driver and front passenger of the car were transported with non-life-threatening injuries, Maj. Eli Cory said at a press conference. Rear passengers in the car — a white BMW — fled the scene, he said.

Just before noon, the BMW was traveling southbound on Blake Lane while a green Toyota 4Runner was traveling northbound. The 4Runner waited for the three teens to cross the roadway and then started to turn onto Five Oaks Road.

“The BMW, which we believe was traveling at a very high rate of speed, made impact with the Toyota on the front driver’s side of the vehicle, that caused the initial part of the crash to occur,” Cory said.

The white BMW then struck the three pedestrians and hit a pole before coming to a rest down the street, Cory said.

Officers were directing traffic this afternoon through the intersection, which had debris scattered around the south side of Blake Lane.

The toppled wooden utility pole was downed onto Blake Lane. A Dominion Energy truck arrived on the scene around 1:30 p.m.

Safety at the intersection is becoming a growing concern of some residents, including Nancy Degrendi, who lives nearby on Five Oaks Road.

Though she wasn’t present when the crash occurred, Degrendi could hear helicopters circling the neighborhood and came out to see what had happened after learning that there had been a crash from WTOP.

She says the intersection sees a lot of people walking to and from the nearby Vienna Metro station and Oakton High School, which had released students three hours early today. Mosaic Elementary School is also just half a mile away.

Traffic can be particularly tough in the mornings, when Degrendi takes her son to a nearby private school. In addition to worrying about vehicle speeds, she has complained to the Virginia Department of Transportation about northbound drivers making U-turns on Blake Lane.

“This intersection is becoming more and more of a problem,” Degrendi told FFXnow.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

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Little River Turnpike at Oasis Drive in Lincolnia (via Google Maps)

An 18-year-old Alexandria woman died over the weekend from injuries sustained in a fatal hit and run in Lincolnia last month, the Fairfax County Police Department announced yesterday (Monday).

The driver of a 2007 Honda CRV struck Daniela Bonilla Betancourt when she was crossing Little River Turnpike in a crosswalk near Oasis Drive on May 22, police said. Officers responded to the crash around 10:23 p.m. and she was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

According to police, the driver was traveling westbound, while Betancourt was crossing from south to north.

“The driver struck Ms. Betancourt in the roadway and did not stop to assist or render aid,” Fairfax County police said in the press release. “As detectives were investigating the crash, Abraham Lincoln Samuel, 21, of Springfield, notified the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications of his involvement in the crash.”

Police have charged Samuel with felony hit and run. The case will be presented to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for additional charges, police said. Preliminarily, alcohol does not appear to be a factor.

Betancourt’s death marks the eighth pedestrian fatality in the county this year. At this point last year, there had been seven pedestrian fatalities.

Photo via Google Maps

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