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More sidewalks might be coming to Lockheed Blvd near Hybla Valley in an effort to create a better, safer connection to Huntley Meadows Park.

Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay introduced a board matter on Tuesday (Aug. 2) calling for a portion of the leftover fiscal year 2022 budget to be used to fill a gap of about 1,500 feet of sidewalk on Lockheed Blvd leading up to the county-operated park.

Right now, there’s no sidewalk to the main entrance of Huntley Meadows Park. Adding one would make the 1,500-acre park safer and more accessible, the board matter says.

“I believe it is important that we fill that gap as soon as possible,” the board matter reads. “Not only would this make for a safer route for residents to get to Huntley Meadows, but it would also create a safer connection to the nearby Hybla Valley Elementary School.”

The school is less than a 10-minute walk from the park, but without a consistent sidewalk, the route there is inaccessible and unsafe. McKay acknowledged that student and pedestrian safety are top of mind after recent crashes.

“The idea that elementary school kids would have to cross a busy street not at a signalized intersection anywhere in two different places from the school to the park, which is a natural treasure of Fairfax County, seems to me not the message we want to be sending,” McKay said after reading the matter.

Extending the sidewalk and adding safer entrance points is not a new ask. In May, a local pedestrian and bicyclist safety organization called for protected bike lanes on Lockheed Blvd near the park.

Located less than a mile from Richmond Highway, Huntley Meadows Park is the largest park operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority. Established in 1975, the park has forests as well as open freshwater wetlands that have been described as a “waterfowl-filled oasis.”

There are trails, a picnic shelter, a visitor center, and a historic early 19th-century house once owned by George Mason’s grandson.

Lusk noted that the neighborhood and nearby school have one of the highest rates of students on free and reduced lunch in the county.

“Many residents [here] rely on public transportation or they are walking or biking as their primary form of transportation,” said Lusk.

Additionally, the new North Hill development and park are under construction less than a mile away from Huntley Meadows. Phase one could be completed later this year, and overall, it could bring over a thousand more residents to this portion of the Richmond Highway corridor.

The question, of course, is money. The board matter requests that the project be considered for the 2022 carryover budget, which will get a public hearing and vote on Oct. 11, but there was some debate about the project’s priority.

“We all have lots of projects that we want to put forward. We might want to have some criteria,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “We all have pedestrian projects that we are anxious to get done. Last time we looked there were a thousand [projects] on the list, so the carryover [budget] may not make a dent in that.”

Images via Google Maps [1, 2]

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Fairfax County is expanding an increased fine zone and installing more road signs along Blake Lane in an effort to discourage speeding and make the road safer after a fatal crash in June.

The Board of Supervisors approved a plan yesterday (Aug. 2) to put up several safety-oriented road signs in the Blake Lane corridor, including five “Watch for Children” signs and “$200 Additional Fine for Speeding” signs.

One “Watch for Children” sign will be placed on Steve Martin Drive, between Five Oaks Road and Blake Lane, while another will go near the Lidenbrook Street and Blake Lane intersection. Three more will be installed on Kingsbridge Drive near Blake Lane.

The county will pay the combined $1,100 needed for the creation and installation of these signs, which should be in place in about two to four weeks, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik’s office says.

Drivers who break Blake Lane’s 35 mph speed limit will now face an additional $200 fine between Sutton Road and Route 29. The county already approved an enhanced fine on a 0.8-mile stretch of the corridor from Jermantown Road to Sutton last year.

The $500 needed for the new signs to Route 29 will be paid by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

A “prompt installation” of all the signage is expected, but a county spokesperson was unable to provide a more exact timeframe for when all the signs will be up.

The signs come after two Oakton High School students were killed on June 7 while walking on a sidewalk near the intersection of Five Oaks Road and Blake Lane. The driver who hit them was allegedly going around 81 mph and has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The signs are part of the county’s Residential Traffic Administration Program (RTAP) that “works directly with communities to decrease the impacts of traffic and enhance safety in area neighborhoods.”

For signs of this nature, particular criteria need to be met. For the $200 fine, it must be a road with a local or minor road with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less and have at least 600 cars per day, with 85% of them driving at least 10 mph over the speed limit.

“Watch for Children” signs can be installed at neighborhood entrances or locations with “an extremely high concentration of children.” This includes playgrounds, daycare centers, and community centers.

Besides signs, the program can also install traffic calming measures, cut-thru mitigation, and through-truck restrictions.

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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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The scene of a crash that injured six people in Oakton (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Neighbors are frustrated by a lack of safety improvements in recent years in Oakton’s Blake Lane corridor, where a driver struck three pedestrians, killing two, earlier this month.

At a virtual community meeting last night (June 23), many people who live on and close to Blake Lane expressed anger at state and county officials for what they describe as inaction despite extensive advocacy efforts. One resident said they’ve been asking for improvements since one particularly bad crash 20 years ago.

“There’s a lot of anger and frustration in our community right now,” said one neighbor. “…There’s anger that we’ve been warning VDOT for years how dangerous this road is, and we’ve gotten a lot of signs but don’t feel like we’ve made much progress other than that. If we don’t address this, more people are going to die. I’m sure of it.”

Hosted by Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, the meeting saw police, transportation, and schools representatives discuss potential solutions to help make Blake Lane safer near several schools, including Oakton High and Mosaic Elementary.

Vehicle speed, lack of safe pedestrian crossing areas, and educating young drivers are the big concerns that local agencies and residents hope to address.

The 18-year-old driver involved in the fatal June 7 crash was charged with involuntary manslaughter Tuesday (June 21). Police revealed that he was driving 81 miles per hour in a 35-mile-an-hour zone.

There have been 114 crashes on Blake Lane since 2017, according to data presented by the Fairfax County Police Department. Six of them involved pedestrians, and two crashes involved bicyclists. While 31 resulted in injuries, the June 7 crash is the only one that has been fatal.

Just over a quarter — 31 crashes — involved a “young driver,” between the ages of 15 and 20 years old.

Where Blake Lane intersects with Five Oaks Road, where the June 7 crash occurred, there have been 12 total crashes since 2017, including two involving pedestrians and four involving a young driver.

Crash statistics for the Blake Lane at Five Oaks intersection (via Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Facebook)

The county and state officials proposed potential measures but cautioned that many permanent changes are subject to reviews, audits and studies. Read More

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Officials are proposing adding bicycle lanes and crosswalks to Farmington Drive and Fordson Road, which are in two highly trafficked areas south of the Beltway.

On Farmington Drive, the lanes and additional shared street markings would go between Telegraph Road and Edgehill Drive bordering Jefferson Manor Park and near the Huntington Metro.

On Fordson Road, new bike lanes are being proposed for the short segment of the road in Hybla Valley that connects Mount Vernon Plaza to Richmond Highway. The shopping center recently gained a 3,200-square-foot parklet.

New crosswalks across Fordson Road at Cyrene Blvd and near the entrance of the McDonald’s at the shopping plaza are also being suggested.

This would restrict “most” on-street parking south of Cyrene Blvd, the county notes on the project page, though on-street parking will remain intact north of the road.

All of this is set to be discussed with the community at a virtual meeting next week (June 15). A recording of the meeting will be posted afterward, and community feedback will be accepted until June 29.

Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokesperson Robin Geiger says these types of measures are recommended by the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan and adding bike lanes can help slow down car traffic.

“The [roads are] wide enough to accommodate additional transportation infrastructure,” she wrote to FFXnow in an email. “Wide travel lanes can also lead to higher travel speeds, which is a safety concern for drivers, as well as cyclists and crossing pedestrians.”

The project only needs to be approved by District Supervisor Rodney Lusk, who is expected to make his decision in the coming weeks after the public comment period.

The proposed projects are part of the county’s annual maintenance, repaving, and striping of roads. Every year, FCDOT identifies roads that could be improved by additional safety measures like crosswalks, bicycle lanes, and shared street markings. The county collaborates with VDOT, which does the actual work and funding of the projects. The work begins in April and concludes in November.

However, these two projects were not part of the original collection of roads that were set for new safety measures this year.

The Farmington Drive and Fordson Road projects had originally been slated for consideration next year, but a lower bid on the paving contract allowed them to be possibly moved earlier.

If approved, the roads will be repaved between September 2022 and June 2023, so it still could be a full year before the new bicycle lanes and crosswalks are completed.

VDOT was not able to provide more information by publication on how much street parking would be lost with the addition of bike lanes to Fordson Road as well as the cost of both projects. Geiger did say the addition of bike lanes and crosswalks are just “making minor adjustments to the striping.”

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Morning Notes

A Japanese maple tree on Church Street in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Heat Raises Risk for Outdoor Activities — “The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a special weather statement for early season heat for Friday, May 20, through Sunday, May 22. Temperatures will rise into the 90s this weekend for the first time since last fall, with Saturday forecast to be the hottest day.” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

FCPS Teacher Arrested on Child Porn Charges — “A 28-year-old middle school teacher from Springfield faces two felony charges of possession of child pornography…At the time of her arrest, Kristine Knizner was employed by Fairfax County Public Schools as a teacher at Irving Middle School in Springfield. She had previously been a teacher at Key Middle School in Franconia.” [Patch]

School Bus Crashes at Inova Fairfax Hospital — “Two-vehicle crash involving a Fairfax County School bus on the 3300 block of Gallows Rd @ 5:53pm. Two students were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Bus driver & the driver of the other involved vehicle have non-life-threatening injuries.” [Allison Papson/Twitter]

Natural Gas Tank Explodes in Springfield — “Approximately 6 PM, units were dispatched for a cylinder tank in natural gas vehicle that exploded/ruptured in 6800 block of Industrial Road in Springfield. Fire in vehicle extinguished. No hazard and no reported injuries.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Metro Eyes Late Summer to Restore Troubled Trains — “Amid a leadership shakeup at Metro, the transit agency says its plan to restore its long-sidelined 7000-series rail cars by late this summer remains on track. Late Thursday afternoon, Metro submitted a formal return-to-service plan aiming to safely bring back a limited number of 7000-series rail cars, and Metro’s safety watchdog…gave the plan a green light.” [WTOP]

Project Near West Falls Church Metro Begins — The City of Falls Church broke ground yesterday (Tuesday) on West Falls, a major mixed-use development that, in its first phase, will bring five buildings totaling 1.2 million square feet to the former George Mason High School site. It’s the biggest project in the city’s history and will eventually be joined by development from Metro and Virginia Tech. [Washington Business Journal]

Couple Thankful After Reston Fire Station Baby Delivery — “It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for Isabelle Ahearn and Ray Qasimyar, after Ahearn went into labor early Tuesday morning and wound up delivering her baby in the parking lot of a Fairfax County fire station.” [ABC7]

Colvin Run ES Teacher Turns Basketball into Education — “P.E. teacher Patrick Noel had started his first year, a virtual one, at Colvin Run Elementary School during the pandemic. He says during his breaks, he would perform trick shots and share them with his students, ultimately presenting them on Tuesdays and dubbing it Trick Shot Tuesday.” [ABC7]

Vienna Adds Street Beacons — “Vienna has two new sets of Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons! The LEDs flash with high frequency when activated to improve pedestrian safety. Check out the new RRFBs at the intersection of Courthouse Road SW & Glen Ave SW as well as Beulah Rd NE & Creek Crossing Road NE.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 87 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:54 am and sunset at 8:20 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A crosswalk on Graham Road at Strathmore Street (via Google Maps)

A 2021 law gave hope to Fairfax County officials looking to lower speed limits in residential and business neighborhoods.

However, the Virginia Department of Transportation has said the law — which gave localities the authority to reduce speed limits from 25 to 15 mph — conflicts with other state rules, according to the Virginia Association of Counties.

“That bill was signed into law,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said during a board meeting on Tuesday (May 10). “Lives are at stake here.”

Noting safety concerns, he asked the board’s county executive, attorney’s office, and Director of Transportation Tom Biesiadny whether the county should pursue a legal challenge to VDOT’s interpretation of the law.

“Following adoption of the bill, VDOT opined that it had determined that legislation does not apply on streets that are in the state highway system, which essentially includes all roads within Fairfax County and other counties that do not maintain their own roads,” the county said in a March legislative report.

VDOT was unable to immediately respond. The department does acknowledge that school divisions and local governments can jointly approve changes to reduce school speed limits from 25 to 15 mph.

Legislative efforts to address the conflict stemming from the 2021 law have stalled or been stricken, according to the county’s legislative report.

The comments came as the Board of Supervisors approved a Safe Streets for All program, which will establish an interdisciplinary task force, develop policy, and make recommendations for improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

So far this year, 49 pedestrians have been injured in Fairfax County crashes, according to VDOT data.

Photo via Google Maps

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The intersection of Gallows Road and Cottage Street in the Dunn Loring area (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County has a new plan that will guide efforts to make streets safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and others.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is slated to endorse a Safe Streets for All Program at its meeting today (Tuesday).

“The purpose of the Safe Streets for All Program is to improve transportation safety in Fairfax County, particularly for active transportation users,” county staff said in a board packet. “The program framework includes systemic education, policy, planning, programmatic and design strategies.”

The plan identifies nearly 70 objectives for improving active transportation, which includes bicycling, walking, and other non-motorized forms of travel. According to a county survey, one in four people feel the county’s current multimodal network is unsafe.

Last year in Fairfax County, 181 people were injured and 14 pedestrians died due to vehicular crashes, according to Virginia Department of Transportation data. So far this year, six pedestrians have died.

With the board’s endorsement, the county is poised to start seven initiatives:

  • Establish an interdisciplinary task force
  • Create at least one staff position to run the program and monitor performance, growing staff capacity as needed
  • Require every transportation-related project, from studies to capital projects, include an active transportation expert on the consultant team
  • Prioritize maintenance and active transportation capital improvements along high-risk corridors and routes to major activity centers
  • Develop a Safe Streets for All policy prioritizing human safety for planning, designing and operating county roads
  • Train staff on best practices for planning and design of safe streets
  • Create an interactive web map to collect safety concerns from residents

Staff have recommended dozens of other objectives, from funding for transit projects to reducing speed limits to 15 mph in residential and business areas.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation previously suggested that funding for those proposals could be included in the next budget cycle for fiscal year 2024, which would start on July 1, 2023.

Photo via Fairfax County

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The New Braddock Road intersection at Singletons Way (via Google Maps)

Another serious crash on New Braddock Road in Centreville came on Monday (April 4).

According to Fairfax County police, a Kia traveling west on the road sped past Route 28’s six lanes of traffic, injuring two people and causing them to be entrapped.

The crash happened around 1:50 a.m. when the vehicle hit an embankment, went airborne, and traveled through a strand of trees, a police officer said in a court document. The impact tore the engine away from the vehicle.

Both the 42-year-old driver and her passenger were taken to the hospital with significant injuries, the officer said. Emergency room staff found two glass smoking devices in the driver’s clothing, and a male passenger suggested alcohol and drugs may have been involved, according to the officer.

The driver said she had no recollection of the crash or events leading up to it and denied drinking alcohol or using drugs, according to the court document.

Singletons Way intersection scrutinized

Monday’s crash was the sixth so far this year on New Braddock Road and the second resulting in injuries, according to data from a Virginia traffic crash database.

Of 20 crashes recorded on the road in 2021, 13 were between Route 28 and Montiero Drive, and all four incidents resulting in injuries occurred in the area of the intersection at Singletons Way, raising concerns about safety among community members.

One crash on the evening of Oct. 9 at that intersection caused six injuries.

Others involved a driver under the influence of alcohol on July 21 at 8:17 p.m., where two people were injured, and a distracted driver at 10:15 a.m. Jan. 26 of this year near the intersection, according to the database.

When asked about mitigation and prevention efforts, Fairfax County Police Department said there weren’t initiatives currently happening there, but traffic enforcement units at the station would assess the intersection.

“Our commanders constantly look for feedback from the community to help us allocate our resources,” police said in a statement.

VDOT said police would have more information about specific crashes, but a spokesperson said she would check with traffic engineering staff.

A community member on the social media site Nextdoor said police are aware of the problem. Residents were discussing the safety of the New Braddock Road and Singletons Way intersection.

The state traffic database indicates that speed was a factor in some crashes at the intersection in 2019 and 2020, but that wasn’t the case last year or this year so far at that particular intersection.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation did not return a request for comment by publication time.

Photo via Google Maps

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Fairfax County is developing a program to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety (staff photo by Scott Fields)

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation intends to pursue funding next year to expand a budding program to improve street safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other forms of active, or non-motorized, transportation.

The money would be used to hire a program manager and implement priorities, such as speed reduction measures and improved road design standards, FCDOT Active Transportation Engineer Lauren Delmare told the county Board of Supervisors at its transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (March 1).

If funding is approved in the fiscal year 2024 budget, which would take effect on July 1, 2023, it would formally establish the Safe Streets for All Program that the board directed staff to develop in January 2020.

“Some of these priorities will require additional funding for studies, maintenance, or capital improvements beyond the Safe Streets for All program funding,” Delmare said. “…Others may require additional funding or staffing if the board wants to increase the speed of implementation.”

Among those priorities are the creation of a complete street policy and design guide as well as efforts to reduce vehicle speeds that could include speed limit changes, street design updates and public education.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who chairs the committee, asked if the county could address vehicle speeds using a state law adopted in March 2021 that authorized local governments to reduce speed limits in residential and business districts to between 15 and 25 miles per hour.

However, the Virginia Department of Transportation determined that under the current law, localities can only reduce speed limits on highways if they fall in residential and business districts.

A bill seeking to let localities lower speed limits by up to 10 miles per hour on all highways in their jurisdictions failed in the House in February, FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny told the board.

“So, we might be decreasing the speed of implementation of that particular item, unfortunately,” Alcorn said.

More immediately, the transportation department could develop a policy for the program, prioritize active transportation capital projects in high-traffic corridors, and create a dashboard to collect and monitor community members’ safety concerns.

Current ongoing strategies for the program include safety campaigns, reducing conflicts and prioritizing active safety through design such as repaving roads.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to make its decision on these recommendations in May.

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