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.
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.
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.”
Work has begin on a new pedestrian bridge at Sugarland Run Stream Valley Park, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Slated to be completed by the end of the summer, the bridge replaces a span that was removed 15 years ago between Heather Down Drive and Eddyspark Drive.
Once completed, the structure will connect the neighborhood along Heather Down with the Sugarland Run Stream Valley Trail.
Construction will begin in early March, according to FCPA.
Crews will demolish and remove any remaining structures associated with the earlier bridge and construct 10-foot-wide connecting approaches to the bridge.
The project, which is funded through 2020 park bond funds, costs roughly $740,000.
The trail, which is roughly three miles long along the main end, runs from Sugarland Road to the Town of Herndon.
(Updated at 10:45 a.m. on 2/23/2023) Fairfax County is seeking federal funds to complete a cycle track on Sunrise Valley Drive.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the board unanimously approved a $13.5 million grant funding request for the project.
The county plans to reconstruct Sunrise Valley Drive to include a one-way separated bicycle lane in each direction from Carta Way to Edmund Halley Drive.
“[The] plan [is] to add raised bike lanes within the existing curb by narrowing the existing travel lanes and medians to improve bike access to Innovation Station Metro, Herndon Metro and [the Reston] Town Center Metro,” Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokesperson Robin Geiger said.
The project is expected to cost around $24 million, including roughly $10 million that has already been secured.
“Sunrise Valley Drive is a challenge for pedestrians and bicyclists due to conditions such as wide intersection and high vehicular volumes,” county staff said in a memo.
With additional traffic expected with the opening of phase two of the Silver Line late last year, the county is eyeing ways to improve safety.
The county is seeking funds through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) discretionary grant program.
RAISE targets programs that result in major local or regional impacts, particularly passenger transportation, intermodal and road projects.
(Updated at 9:55 a.m. on 2/15/2023) A groundbreaking for a new Washington & Old Dominion Trail bridge over Wiehle Avenue is set for next month.
The event, which was originally scheduled for earlier this week, was postponed due to the unavailability of some elected officials.
The new bridge replaces an existing at-grade crossing. Only minor roadway, sidewalk and median changes to Wiehle Avenue are planned at this location.
The project — which has been in the works for years — will boost bicyclist and pedestrian access near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. The bridge will include a gravel path and asphalt trail.
The project will be completed in spring 2024, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.
Dominion Energy Virginia completed the relocation of transmission facilities in August 2021. An AT&T line was one of nine utility facilities to be relocated.
In a statement to FFXnow, Fairfax Alliance for Bicyclists (FABB) President Bruce Wright lauded the county for proceeding with the long-needed project. He encouraged the county to take one step further by managing detours and trail use at night:
One of the most dangerous road crossings on the W&OD Trail is at Wiehle Ave. Trail users must cross 6 lanes of Wiehle Ave traffic at an unsignalized crossing that is very close to the busy Sunset Hills Rd intersection. There are four southbound travel lanes, including a left turn lane. Where crashes have occurred, cyclists headed eastbound cross the first three lanes when the left turn signal changes. Motorists in that lane proceed through the signal and may not see cyclists or pedestrians crossing the adjacent lanes, and a crash occurs…
While there are only two northbound lanes, motorists can be approaching the crosswalk from three different directions and will often not yield to trail users. When they do yield, there is very little stacking space and cars can be backed up into the Sunset Hills intersection. The median refuge is not very wide which further complicates the crossing.
The new bridge will be a great benefit to W&OD trail users who will be able to safely cross Wiehle without having to stop or rely on motorists to yield to them. Motorists will benefit as well as they will not have to stop for trail users very close to a signalized intersection. Our only concern is how well the W&OD Trail and Wiehle Ave sidewalk/trail detours are handled. There needs to be safe, convenient 24/7 access for trail users. The W&OD Trail is officially closed at 9pm but many people need to use the trail given there are few safe alternatives at night. While we understand that there may be times at night when the trail will need to be closed, it should only be for brief periods after 9pm. If trail users must cross Wiehle at the Sunset Hills intersection, the pedestrian signal timing needs to be extended.
A spokesperson for FCDOT said information on the project was still being updated.
Correction: The bridge was previously expected to be finished this fall, but the timeline has gotten pushed back after a delayed start. H/t to Adam Rubenstein.
Fairfax County is adding speed cameras to monitor drivers around schools for the first time.
The photo speed-monitoring devices will be installed near eight schools across the county tomorrow (Friday) as part of a pilot program approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in December, the county announced today.
Here is where the cameras will be located:
- Kirby Road near Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean
- Old Keene Mill Road near Irving Middle School in West Springfield
- Franconia Road near Key Middle School in Springfield
- Stone Road near London Towne Elementary School in Centreville
- Sleepy Hollow Road near Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Lake Barcroft
- Silver Brook Road near South County Middle School in Lorton
- Soapstone Drive near Terraset Elementary School in Reston
- Rolling Road near West Springfield High School in West Springfield
Oakton High School isn’t in the initial lineup, but a camera will be added on Blake Lane near Sutton Road in the future, the county says.
A crash that killed two of the school’s students and left a third seriously injured last June was a major factor in convincing county leaders to adopt speed cameras. Police said the driver — an 18-year-old who had just graduated from the school — was going 81 mph when he hit the students on Blake Lane at the Five Oaks Road intersection.
The pilot will also bring a speed camera to the construction work zone on Route 28 near Old Mill Road at the edge of Centreville. Crews are currently working to widen the road.
“The goal of the Speed Camera Pilot program is to improve the safety of our roads, protect pedestrians and motorists and prevent accidents,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “This program, in coordination with the Police Department and Fairfax County Public Schools, is a critical tool to deter dangerous behavior and ultimately save lives. As you drive in our neighborhoods and school zones — the message is clear, please take a moment to slow down.”
The county says thousands of drivers were seen exceeding the speed limit by over 10 mph during a survey of five school zones last year, suggesting that speeding “is prevalent” in those areas.
During the first 30 days of the pilot program, drivers caught speeding will receive a warning. After that, fines of up to $100 will start to kick in for any drivers who exceed the speed limit by 10 mph.
Traffic safety, particularly for pedestrians, has emerged as a top priority for both the county’s elected officials and the police department this year after fatalities surged in 2022. The Board of Supervisors is also pushing for Fairfax County Public Schools to install cameras on its school buses, asking earlier this week why a program hasn’t already been implemented.
“We continue to see motorists traveling at speeds well above the posted speed limit and too many crashes are occurring in our county as a result,” Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said. “This program provides a great tool to help reduce speed, deter pedestrian crashes, and keep our communities safe.”
Local drivers got an introduction to speed cameras in Fairfax City, which launched them in school zones last year. Programs are also in the works in Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church.
The Fairfax County Police Department is doubling down on traffic enforcement and awareness efforts after a rise in pedestrian fatalities last year.
At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors safety and security committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Police Chief Kevin Davis stressed that the department is focusing on education and enforcement, with pedestrian safety as a primary mission.
The police department recorded 24 pedestrian fatalities last year, a five-year high — though there were fewer pedestrian-related crashes overall (153) than in 2018.
That count doesn’t include crashes on state highways, which are reported by Virginia State Police, or on the Dulles Toll Road, which is enforced by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police. Per state data, Fairfax County had a total of 192 crashes involving pedestrians, 32 of whom were killed — by far the most since at least 2010.
Deputy Chief of Police Bob Blakely said the rise in pedestrian fatalities is “very concerning.” The police department is also reminding officers about prevention and awareness by refreshing training, reminding officers and sharing information internally, he said.
“Our number one coal it to reduce crashes. If we reduce crashes, we reduce fatalities,” Blakely, adding that it’s not to write tickets.
Each month, the police department hopes to focus on specific traffic safety initiatives with targeted public-facing campaigns and awareness months around the year.
The police department will resume Road Shark — in which officers are assigned to high-traffic areas for enforcement — on June 4 through June 18.
Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk asked the department to consider focusing on more pedestrian-safety campaigns throughout the year.
Davis noted that while overall crashes are lower now than in 2018 and 2019, the number of citations rose by 6,000 between 2022 and 2021. In line with national trends, the FCPD saw significant dips in the number of warnings, citations and crashes during the height of the pandemic.
The department issued roughly 115,000 citations in 2018 and 2019 compared to between 49,000 and 56,000 in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross encouraged the police to provide information about the consequences of speeding and disobeying traffic laws.
“People think it’s a black hole, that nothing happens,” Gross said.
Davis said that it can be easy to raise awareness about high-profile incidents and more challenging to provide information on how individuals were adjudicated.
Law enforcement and county officials hope the addition of speed cameras — a pilot program that will begin this year — will help reduce speeds in highly problematic areas.
“This is going to really effect behavior in those localized areas,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.
But Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said that part of the solution may lie in pursuing societal change: limiting the speeds at which vehicles can operate.
Reflecting on how seat belt usage factors into crash injuries and deaths, Walkinshaw said state and local officials should monitor some federal efforts and technologies that control the speed of cars.
“There is not reason that cars need to be traveling more than 100 miles per hour,” Walkinshaw said, adding that electric vehicles can be even more problematic with high speeds and performance.
He conceded that he may not be very popular amongst the car hobbyist crowd.
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said high speeds in low-speed areas continue to be problematic.
“That’s the area where I have so much concern,” Palchik said.
FCPD says it also hopes to work with Fairfax County Public Schools to provide educational resources to new and future drivers in classrooms.
Photo via VDOT Northern Virginia/Twitter
A new report from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) found a “startling increase” in the number of pedestrian fatalities in Northern Virginia last year.
Along with the increase in pedestrian fatalities, DMV found a smaller increase in overall traffic-related fatalities in the region.
“In 2022, 56 pedestrians were killed as a result of crashes in the Fairfax region, compared to 37 in 2021,” the DMV report said. “This is an increase of 51%. Overall, based on preliminary numbers, there were 203 traffic-related fatalities in the region in 2022, a 3% increase compared to 2021.”
Crashes increased by 4% throughout Virginia last year.
A report compiled by the Traffic Records Electronic Data System (TREDS) put the number of total traffic fatalities in Fairfax County at 65, with 4,922 injuries.
Last year was the deadliest year for Fairfax County pedestrians in over a decade. With 32 deaths, the county was the site of over half of the pedestrian fatalities in Northern Virginia last year.
“We provide this data to give folks a look at what’s going on right now in their communities,” acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford said in the release. “We hope drivers will be motivated to make a change and put a stop to the behaviors that we know contribute to these devastating crashes. Each of these numbers represents a real person and many are people in your community.”
“We provide this data to give folks a look at what’s going on right now in their communities. We hope drivers will be motivated to make a change and put a stop to the behaviors that we know contribute to these devastating crashes,” said Acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford.
— Jordan Pascale🎙️ (@JWPascale) January 19, 2023
A proposed shared-use path on Haycock Road over I-66 is among several pedestrian and bicycle projects in the West Falls Church Metro station area that the McLean Citizens Association believes Fairfax County should prioritize for funding.
The organization, which routinely weighs in on issues affecting the greater McLean area, approved a resolution on Wednesday (Jan. 4) endorsing 19 projects recommended by an advisory group that the county convened to study the West Falls Church Transit Station Area’s (TSA) active transportation infrastructure.
“We believe these projects will improve access to the West Falls Church Metro station and area schools, and will likely be cost effective,” Glenn Harris, who chairs the association’s transportation committee, said.
Released in November, the advisory group’s final report backed community complaints that the area is congested and unsafe to travel for those not in cars, proposing 20 projects that could help address those issues in anticipation of future development.
In its resolution, the MCA board of directors highlighted seven pedestrian projects that it says deserve “rapid identification and allocation of funding for placement” on the county’s Transportation Priorities Plan:
- Pathway improvements along Haycock Road from Great Falls Street to the Metro Access Road
- A sidewalk along Redd Road to Idylwood Road and related improvements, including a crosswalk, to provide safe access to Lemon Road Elementary School
- A pedestrian refuge on Idylwood Road near Lemon Road Elementary
- High-visibility crosswalks at the Pimmit Drive and Leesburg Pike intersection
- A mid-block crossing on Haycock Road near Casemont Drive with flashing beacons
- Pedestrian improvements at the Westmoreland Street and Haycock Road intersection
- A crosswalk on Great Falls Street at Moly Drive
The Haycock pathway improvements would consist of a new shared-use path that’s at least 8 feet wide. To make room where it passes over I-66, the road could be reduced from two southwest travel lanes to one, according to MCA board member Bruce Jones.
“The pedestrian walkways along the bridge are woefully deficient and dangerous, in our opinion,” Harris said. “But as I understand it, there’s some consideration to narrow the lanes on the bridge to allow for a wider pedestrian infrastructure without the need to actually rebuild the bridge.”
Though estimated to be one of the more expensive proposals in the report, the project is one of two that MCA has advocated for in the past, along with the Redd Road sidewalk.
While the board gave its support to all four proposed bicycle projects, it didn’t endorse one pedestrian project that would add a pathway from Idylwood Road to the Metro station through or along the railyard.
According to Harris, county staff told the advisory group that the project could cost over $10 million, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority had “expressed considerable concern” about the path as a potential security risk for its railyard.
“Given the limited amount of funds that are currently allocated, we don’t think that it makes sense to be funding this particular project, particularly when WMATA has expressed concerns, if not outright opposition to the project,” Harris said. “The available funds should be used for the other projects.”
Launched in late 2021, the West Falls Church Active Transportation Study served as a follow-up to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a plan allowing more mixed-use development around the Metro station.
The West Falls development in Falls Church City is under construction. Plans for over 1.8 million square feet of development on the Metro station property and Virginia Tech’s nearby Northern Virginia Center are being reviewed by county staff.
The Board of Supervisors accepted the study report on Dec. 6 and directed staff to incorporate its recommendations into the county’s active transportation plan.
Image via Google Maps
Talks are underway to design a street-level crossing across Route 123 at Tysons Blvd, a daunting challenge that would — at least in theory — improve access to Tysons Corner Center for pedestrians, bicyclists and others.
Fairfax County, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Macerich, the mall owner and developer, are currently hashing out an agreement for the crossing as an alternative to the existing pedestrian bridge that links the mall’s plaza to the Tysons Metro station on the other side of Route 123, also known as Chain Bridge Road.
“We’re not there yet, but we are diligently working to find the best and safest street-level crossing there as well, because just that bridge is not the best way to have a crossing,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said when sharing the news at last month’s World Day of Remembrance ceremony honoring pedestrians killed in vehicle crashes.
Exactly what a safe Chain Bridge Road crossing might look like remains to be decided.
According to Palchik, the discussions began in the wake of 74-year-old Annandale resident Filadelfo Ramos Marquez’s death in a crash on Dec. 30, 2021.
At the time, police noted that Ramos Marquez wasn’t using a crosswalk when he got hit by the driver of a 2010 Toyota Camry going south on Chain Bridge. However, the closest crosswalk to the mall is two-tenths of a mile to the south at International Drive. Reaching it means crossing a bus entrance for the Metro and multiple gas station driveways on a narrow, sometimes uneven sidewalk.
The Metro walkway isn’t particularly convenient either except for those actually planning to take a train, and it’s not open 24 hours a day like it was supposed to be, Palchik told FFXnow.
“We’re still figuring that out,” she said when asked what a safe crossing would look like. “I think VDOT has one idea of what it would be, we have one idea, Macerich has another idea.”
Palchik says the crossing should include a pedestrian refuge in the middle of Route 123 so people at least have a place to stop, and lights will “definitely” be needed. Right now, the Tysons Blvd intersection only has traffic lights to direct vehicles with no signs or signals to indicate pedestrians might be present.
A VDOT spokesperson confirmed the department “is planning pedestrian enhancements due to the volume of pedestrian traffic and proximity to transit,” but no design details are available yet since the project “is still in early stages.”
VDOT also said Macerich is planning to modify a part of an intersection at the mall. When asked about its plans, a spokesperson for the real estate developer directed comments instead to Palchik’s office and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, which didn’t respond to an inquiry by press time.
The developer’s proposal to replace the now-vacant Lord & Taylor store with a mixed-use tower was revised again last month to include “a grand portal” through the tower that will better connect Tysons Corner Center’s elevated plaza to the street below.
The mall’s next phase of development will also include a 10-foot-wide trail from the Metro bus bays to International Drive, according to the updated application filed with Fairfax County on Nov. 21.
The proposed staircase and additional streetscaping were added in anticipation of a future street-level crossing at Tysons Blvd, the Washington Business Journal reported.
Acknowledging that congestion can be a concern on Chain Bridge, both going north to the Capital Beltway and south toward Vienna, Palchik says a safe, more accessible crossing is still necessary, as walkability remains a challenge in Tysons.
“We do want to continue to build that as an urban city and core, and that means people walking [and] rolling across not just internal streets, but Route 123 and Route 7,” Palchik said.