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A driver lost control of their vehicle earlier this year on Spring Street (Photo by Stephanie Frye)

Town of Herndon officials are studying improvements to the Spring Street area in response to residents’ concerns about walkability and safety.

After completing a speed study in September, Town Manager Bill Ashton II said the town has installed a speed sign between Wood Street and Bicksler Lane. The town plans to conduct a follow-up, three-day study in the first week of November to determine the impact of the sign.

The move comes after residents expressed concerns about walkability and crashes in the area.

Other improvements could be on the horizon, Ashton told the Herndon Town Council at a meeting on Oct. 11.

Town officials are also looking into traffic patterns on Alabama Drive to determine the feasibility of changes there.

“We are very cognizant of the fact that this is part of a larger transportation network,” Ashton said at the meeting.

Among the changes being contemplated on Spring Street is a three- or four-way stop sign. Town staff determined that Wood Street is the most appropriate place for the stop sign, but the town will have to remove two crepe myrtle trees that would block the sign.

“We are assessing what we are going to do when we move those crepe myrtles,” Ashton said.

The town will also move a 25 mph speed limit sign that’s covered by trees north closer to Bicksler Lane.

After a few months, the town will address other needed improvements, including striping crosswalks.

The town also plans to work with a traffic engineering and consultant to study cut-through traffic patterns on Locust Street. Another study is also in the works on pedestrian use of Nash Street.

Ashton said the town could leverage Safe Routes to School funding, a federal program, once it resumes next year.

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Steve Steiner, a 73-year-old cyclist who lives in Reston’s Hunters Woods neighborhood, nearly lost his life when he was cycling from Leesburg nearly four years ago.

Steiner was hit by an SUV that was turning right through a red signal onto Fairfax County Parkway at the exit for the Dulles Toll Road. Despite trying to veer to the right, he was struck by the car, suffering a concussion, several broken ribs and other serious internal injuries, he said.

“An incident like this buries deep into your psyche and your brain,” Steiner said.

The crash resulted in $100,000 in medical expenses and months of recovery — an ordeal that he hopes no one else has to face.

Steiner spoke yesterday morning (Tuesday) at the launch of a countywide campaign called “Take a Moment” that aims to eliminate traffic-related deaths and injuries. Fairfax County officials hope that the communications campaign will encourage residents, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians to take a moment to pause before making decisions on roadways and paths.

The county also plans to commit $100 million over the next six years for pedestrian safety efforts in the county — a figure that includes $25 million in carryover funds.

“It’s so important that we mention this is a team effort and not just an effort of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors,” said Jeff McKay, the board chair.

The press conference took place at a busy intersection in Reston where a pedestrian and cyclist bridge is currently under construction at Wiehle Avenue.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that tackling traffic issues is particularly important given the expected opening of phase two of Metro’s Silver Line this fall.

He said the pedestrian bridge currently under construction remedies issues with a particularly “challenging” area of Wiehle Avenue. Work is expected to wrap up by the beginning of 2024.

To date, 13 pedestrian have been killed in crashes and accidents on county roadways — despite crashes overall being reduced by more than 400, according to Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis. The number of pedestrian fatalities is three more than this time last year.

“It deserves our constant attention,” he said.

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A new county-supported study is recommending pedestrian and bike-friendly improvements in the Huntington Metro corridor, including more crosswalks, wider sidewalks, additional lighting, and increasing shared-use paths.

At a virtual meeting tomorrow (Sept. 14) night, a Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) study – “Huntington Metrorail Active Transportation Study” – will be presented to the public that looked into the pedestrian and biking conditions within the Huntington Transit Station Area (TSA).

The Huntington TSA covers an area bordered by North Kings Highway to the south, Huntington Avenue to the north, Telegraph Road and Jefferson Manor Park to the west, and Richmond Highway to the east.

As the study points out, the area is continuing to grow in density.

“The Huntington TSA has been transitioning from low density to mid density for decades and will continue to become denser,” it reads while providing a list of new developments and projects that will contribute to the growing population in the years to come.

Along with that, the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit is expected to create a “greater need” for pedestrian access and safety in the corridor when the system opens within the next decade.

While considering all future conditions and projects up to 2045, the study concluded generally that the corridor is “uncomfortable” for pedestrians and bicyclists. That’s due to a prevalence of narrow sidewalks, lack of bike lanes, high speed of traffic, and the far distance pedestrians have to go to cross major roads.

“Almost all of the analyzed roads were deemed highly uncomfortable for pedestrians… due to narrow sidewalks, large crossing distances, and high speeds,” reads the study. “It is also worth noting that areas around community resources such as Mt. Eagle Elementary School and the Huntington Community Center are also highly uncomfortable due to sidewalk quality and a lack of pedestrian scaled lighting.”

Three intersections are particularly worrisome due to the crossing length exceeding 400 feet.

These include Huntington Avenue between Biscayne Drive and Foley Street, North Kings Highway between Telegraph Road and Jefferson Drive, and North Kings Highway between Fort Drive and Fairhaven Avenue.

There are also no official bike lanes in the Huntington TSA.

To rectify these issues, the study recommends a number of fixes and solutions.

At the intersections with long crossing lengths, it’s suggested that “high visibility” crosswalks be added with crossing warning signs and pedestrian refuge islands.

Where pedestrian crossings currently exist in the Huntington Transit Station Area (via Fairfax County)

There are also suggestions for implementing for a number of roads the concept of “Slow Streets,” where traffic speeds are lowered and entry points are closed to traffic to create a safer space for pedestrians.

In terms of costs, the study notes that “improving sidewalk quality” is a lower-cost option than adding new or widening sidewalks. The highest cost options are changing road diets, adding new bike and pedestrian facilities, like shared use paths, or subtracting traffic lanes.

Overall, the study recommends potential options for individual streets with a focus on lower and medium-cost options.

For example, on Monticello Road in the Jefferson Manor neighborhood, the recommendation is to fix the “cracked and failing” sidewalk and widen it to 8 feet in some places plus adding more lighting. On North Kings Highway, the recommendations include new traffic signs telling traffic to stop for pedestrians, restricting truck traffic with signs, a new crossing location at Fairhaven Avenue, and a high-cost option of removing traffic lanes on Jefferson Drive.

Besides this study, a number of other planned infrastructure improvements are found in other county-supported plans, including a 10-foot wide path along N. Kings Highway and Huntington Avenue, narrowing travel lanes on N. Kings Highway to allow for wider sidewalks, installing more barriers, lights, and crosswalks, and installing a beacon crossing signal in front of Mount Eagle Elementry School.

Throughout the county – and region – car crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists have continued to be a major and tragic problem. In July, a woman was killed by the driver of a car who hit her while she was crossing an eight-lane section of Richmond Highway included in this study.

There have been 10 fatal crashes involving pedestrians on Richmond Highway since 2017.

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A driver lost control of their vehicle last month on Spring Street (Photo via Stephanie Frye).

(Updated on Sept. 13 and Sept. 14 to clarify an accident account and add attribution) Increased redevelopment in the Town of Herndon’s transit-oriented core may come with a price: increased concerns about road safety in quiet neighborhoods designed for low speeds, town officials say.

Late last month, a Jeep flipped over on Spring Street, hitting a tree right in front of a home. The driver reportedly lost control of the vehicle, police said. 

A series of crashes in the area have prompted the creation of a neighborhood coalition that is calling on the town for change. Most of the residents are in and around Spring Street.

At the forefront of that effort is Stephanie Frye, who claims she was almost struck by a drunk driver in the middle of the day while walking her dog on the sidewalk of Spring Street in downtown Herndon. 

She said a police officer told her the driver was going nearly 60 mph on a street where the speed limit is 25 mph. The driver crashed into another car and ended up on the frontward of a home on 651 Spring Street, destroying a concrete pillar on the site, she says.

The Town of Herndon said that there is no record that the individual was going nearly 60 mph on the road, according to a town spokesperson. The police department’s police report characterizes the incident as a DUI.

Since that May 2018 incident, Frye and other residents asked town officials to make the area safer. 

Part of the problem is cut-through traffic. Many drivers seem to be using Spring Street to avoid Elden Street and the Dulles Toll Road. 

The regularity of seeing a car on its side in a ditch, a road sign at a 30 degree angle from being hit, cars flipped onto their roofs, car mirrors and other parts scattered in front yards, fresh tire marks on the sidewalks, cars crashed into town establishments has become a regular occurrence,” Frye said.

But of the four crashes that happened on this stretch of Spring Street from Elden to Van Buren streets this year, speed was not even a contributing factor, according to a spokesperson for the Herndon Police Department. 

In two crashes, the drivers lost control of their vehicles. The third incident was a hit-and-run in which a car took out the sideview mirror of a car parked on the shoulder. The fourth accident was attributed to a driver who did not have the right-of-way. 

“These have been the only four accidents over a twelve month period in that portion of Spring between Elden and Van Buren,” said police department spokesperson Lisa Herndon. 

In April, residents compiled a list of incidents and mitigation measures to the town after a car crashed into a crepe myrtle on the side of the road. 

Four months later, a Jeep took out the same tree as it careened onto its roof. 

A seven-day speed study conducted by the town in mid-May found that speeds were below state standards that trigger changes to engineering traffic controls. Average speeds ranged between 28 and nearly 27 mph. 

“The town is looking at the accident and assessing the area,” Kelly Garrone, a spokesperson for the Town of Herndon, told FFXnow.

Ideas include further reducing the speed limit to 15 mph, trimming trees to make sure speed limit signs are visible, adding speed camera on Grace Street near the school zone, and adding speed cushions in particularly problematic areas. They have also suggested making residential streets for “local traffic only” and upping police enforcement. 

The stalled redevelopment of Downtown Herndon — which is on pause — and the start of service for Silver Line Phase II will likely bring more cars, town officials have noted in previous town meetings The town has several major projects in the works to add relief to area streets.

Residents wonder if it may be too late before a casualty takes place.

This isn’t the first, and certainly not the last accident that has occured on Spring Street that could have killed one of our neighbors,” Frye said.

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Fairfax County school bus (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools has made several bus stop changes in the Oakton area after conducting a safety review of the Blake Lane corridor.

Announced today (Friday), the school system has moved 22 stops away from Blake Lane in response to safety concerns after a driver hit three Oakton High School students at the Five Oaks Road intersection on June 7 — one of the last days of the 2021-2022 school year.

Two of the students died, while the third was hospitalized with significant injuries.

The changes will be in effect when the 2022-2023 school year launches on Monday (Aug. 22).

“Our community cares deeply about student safety, and we are grateful for their continued advocacy for increased precautions along the Blake Lane corridor,” said Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board. “Moving these bus stops will enhance student safety while local and state partners continue working together to mitigate speeding and other traffic concerns in the area.”

Frisch says the stops have been relocated so that no students will have to wait on Blake Lane, but six stops will still be on the roadway, where side streets lack the capacity for the bus to turn around:

In the past, these students have waited on Blake Lane until the bus stops 50 feet from the intersection. Beginning the first day of school, August 22, students will assemble and wait for the bus on the side street and at least 50 feet away from Blake Lane, not on Blake Lane itself. When the bus arrives, the driver will ensure all traffic is stopped and motion the students to approach the stopped bus to board. In addition, the Office of Safety and Security (OSS) will recommend the installation of marked crosswalks on the intersecting side streets of Blake Lane as part of a VDOT safety review.

Fairfax resident Usman Shahid, the alleged driver in the June crash, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. A new graduate of Oakton High School, he was driving 81 mph in the 35 mph zone when he hit the students, who were on a sidewalk, police said.

With residents pointing out longstanding safety issues on Blake Lane, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted earlier this month to expand the area where drivers face an additional $200 fine for speeding. The county is also looking at acquiring more “Know Your Speed” devices and introducing speed cameras near schools.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik plans to assemble a Blake Lane Safety Community Advisory Group, Frisch says.

A list of the bus stop changes for this year can be found below. Read More

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Safety and operational improvements are under construction at the Backlick Road and Leesville Blvd intersection in Springfield (via VDOT/Twitter)

Work is underway on traffic signal and crosswalk improvements at a heavily used intersection in Springfield, the Virginia Department of Transportation announced yesterday (Wednesday).

Drivers and pedestrians at the intersection of Backlick Road and Leesville Blvd will see a number of changes intended to improve the site’s safety and functionality:

The traffic signal upgrades include new mast arm poles, foundations, wiring, electrical equipment, high-visibility signal backplates and signs. Also, drivers on Backlick Road will have flashing yellow arrows for left turns to Leesville Boulevard and the office park.

Pedestrians will have four new crosswalks with Accessible Pedestrian Signals at the intersection, as well as two new pedestrian islands on Leesville Boulevard. Other pedestrian improvements include American with Disabilities Act (ADA) curb ramp upgrades and installations.

In the works since August 2019, the project carries an estimated cost of $700,000, according to VDOT’s webpage. The funding came from the Virginia Highway Safety Improvement Program.

Located north of the I-95 and I-495 interchange, the intersection averages about 30,000 vehicles a day on Backlick Road and 4,000 on Leesville.

Construction is expected to be finished next summer.

“Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are reminded to use caution when traveling in active work zones,” VDOT said in its news release. “Be alert to new traffic patterns, limit distractions and follow detour route signage.”

Photo via VDOT/Twitter

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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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