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Fairfax County will evaluate the cost of removing hills on Lee Chapel Road after multiple fatal crashes (via Pat Herrity/Twitter)

With its lone survivor still hospitalized, this month’s crash that killed two teens on Lee Chapel Road has spurred Fairfax County to step up its efforts to address long-standing concerns about the safety of the key Fairfax Station th0roughfare.

During its meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed transportation staff to develop a cost estimate for a project that would widen the two-lane road to four lanes and eliminate hills that limit driver visibility along a roughly 1-mile segment between Ox Road (Route 123) and Fairfax County Parkway.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity originally proposed the project in 2017 after a 19-year-old died in a crash at the same intersection with Fairfax County Parkway in 2015. However, no funding has been identified yet.

A petition calling for safety improvements on Lee Chapel Road now has over 13,500 signatures. Herrity met the two South County High School students behind the campaign on Monday (Jan. 23), he told the board.

“There’s a lot of community support for doing something,” he said. “Unfortunately it takes a tragedy.”

Unanimously approved, Herrity’s board matter also asks staff to look at more immediate ways to improve the roadway’s safety, such as adding streetlights and clearing shoulders on the adjacent parkland.

According to preliminary state data, there have been 245 crashes and 149 injuries on Lee Chapel Road since 2010, including the fatal crashes in 2015 and this past Jan. 10. Also the site of a 2005 crash that killed an 18-year-old who had just graduated from Hayfield Secondary School, the road has proven especially dangerous for young, inexperienced drivers.

The victims of the fatal crash on Jan. 10 were all South County High School students. Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle, the two teens who were killed, were 16.

Detectives have determined that the 2019 Lexus IS350 was traveling at 100.7 mph when it veered off the road, becoming airborne for about 130 feet before landing on its roof, the Fairfax County Police Department reported last night.

“Fire and rescue personnel extricated one victim, who was taken to a nearby hospital; she remains hospitalized,” the FCPD said. “The driver and the rear passenger, of the Lexus were declared deceased at the scene. The passenger in the backseat was not wearing a seatbelt.”

In the wake of the crash, Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) will host a virtual town hall on road safety at 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30. Read More

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Columbia Pike between Backlick Road and Tom Davis Drive (via Google Maps)

A stretch of roadside along Columbia Pike referred to as a “disaster” in a recent meeting — near where four people were struck by a driver last year — could be getting some safety-focused upgrades.

On Monday (Jan. 23), Fairfax County presented plans for a “Complete Streets” overhaul for a section of Columbia Pike from Backlick Run to Tom Davis Drive. The project involves the construction of a new 6-foot-wide sidewalk and a high-visibility crosswalk at Tom Davis Drive, along with ADA-compliant curb ramps and a 6-foot-wide strip of landscaping.

In terms of “Complete Streets” projects, the Columbia Pike one is fairly limited in scope: it only affects the southern side of the street and doesn’t include any bicycle upgrades. Staff emphasized that what was presented was just the first phase.

Area of improvements planned for Columbia Pike (via Fairfax County)

“[This project] has been discussed for a long time,” said Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross. “It looks simple on paper, but when you look at the various land use parcels that need to be included it becomes a much broader kind of proposal. I am anxious to learn what the design is going to look like now…Now we’re really getting down to the nitty gritty so some decisions can be made.”

The Complete Streets project will also cut down on the number of curb cuts — areas where vehicles cross over the sidewalk to get in and out of parking. While limiting vehicle access can be frustrating for retail along a street, Gross said the reduction in curb cuts shouldn’t impact businesses too severely.

“Right now it is chaotic for pedestrians and vehicles alike in that section,” Gross said. “There are too many curb cuts. It really shouldn’t affect access to businesses because there will be other curb cuts available. The basic idea is much safer for everyone.”

James Albright, a member of the county’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways Committee, said he was excited to see improvements coming to Columbia Pike.

“I appreciate this project because this sidewalk is a disaster. It’s not safe,” Albright said. “This has been an area of concern.”

But Albright also expressed concern that the county was doing nothing for cycling along Columbia Pike, with no additional bicycle facilities planned as part of the overhaul.

Turner acknowledged that bicycle lanes were not proposed as part of the phase 1 improvement. Transportation Planner Nicole Wynands said Columbia Pike is a relatively narrow, four-lane road without much wiggle room to include bicycle lanes.

The project is currently scheduled to continue design through summer 2025, with construction running from 2026-2027.

Photo via Google Maps

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An impromptu memorial on Blake Lane for the two Oakton High School students killed in a crash last June (photo by Amy Woolsey)

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.”

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Optical speed bars intended to slow down drivers have been installed on Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax Station (via Pat Herrity/Twitter)

Calls for safety improvements on Lee Chapel Road in Fairfax Station have resurfaced in the wake of last week’s car crash that killed two teens and put a third in the hospital.

As an online petition urging Fairfax County to prioritize regular maintenance and new safety features surpassed 12,000 signatures, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity — who represents the area — met with state and county transportation staff to discuss short, mid and long-term options for addressing long-standing safety concerns.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) also attended the meeting yesterday (Wednesday).

“Both VDOT and County staff came to the meeting with ideas for improving the safety of the road and will be working to address the feasibility and timing of these potential improvements including those recommended by residents,” Herrity tweeted, adding that another meeting will be held next week.

A key connection between Lorton via Route 123 and the Burke/Fairfax Station area, Lee Chapel Road has been the site of 243 vehicle crashes since 2011, resulting in 148 injuries and two deaths, according to state data.

That includes the fatal Jan. 10 crash, where a sedan veered off the road while going over a hill approaching the Fairfax County Parkway intersection, according to police. The crash killed 16-year-old South County High School students Ariana Haftsavar and Ashlyn Brotemarkle, who were identified publicly by family and friends.

Started by classmates of Ariana and Ashlyn, the petition says local residents have been questioning the road’s safety for years, noting that a 19-year-old died in a crash at the same intersection in 2015.

“The solution for this conflict is to keep the road maintained regularly by doing something big like putting in safety features to something small like filling in potholes,” the petition says. “Safety features include signs that blink when you are to slow down at turns, road lights, safety signs before the road starts, and guardrails.”

After the last week’s crash, the Virginia Department of Transportation added “optical speed bars” on the road last Friday (Jan. 13). The striped markings are thought to reduce speeds on curves with an optical illusion that makes drivers aware of how fast they’re going.

“We are saddened to hear of the loss of two of our community members,” VDOT said in a statement. “As is customary, we allow time for the police department to fully investigate the crash to determine the facts, circumstances, and cause. Once we receive the finalized police report, our Traffic Engineering group will perform a safety review of the location.” Read More

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A project set to place affordable housing for seniors along Richmond Highway (Route 1) has cleared another hurdle.

At its final meeting of the year on Dec. 7, the Fairfax County Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a plan amendment to allow a six-story, 70,000-square-foot affordable, independent senior living facility with a “community-serving” ground floor at 6858 Richmond Highway.

The development will be next to the Beacon of Groveton apartment building and about a half block from the Beacon Center, a retail area with a Giant, Lowe’s, and other stores. It will be also about a half-mile from a Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit station, which could begin operating around 2030.

The roughly half-acre site in Groveton was previously approved for “office and retail uses” in 2004, per the staff report. Right now, it sits essentially undeveloped as an “interim park space” with a sign out front noting its availability.

The proposed plan amendment won’t change the previously approved density or height of any possible development, only the allowed use.

With this go-ahead from the planning commisision, the plans to build this affordable, senior living facility along Richmond Highway will now go to the Board of Supervisors. A public hearing is set for Jan. 24, 2023, with rezoning consideration likely not until May.

The facility is not expected to be open to residents until at least 2027.

The plans didn’t get much pushback from commissioners, who noted the need for more of this type of facility in the county.

“There’s a significant shortage of independent, senior, affordable [housing] throughout the county,” said At-Large Commissioner Candice Bennett. “For folks who are trying to stay in their community and near family…preserving enough options so folks can stay in their community, I think, is going to be important. I’m excited to see this plan amendment come forward.”

Mason District Commissioner Julie Strandlie recalled how important it was to her family to live nearby when her grandma, at 102 years old, needed a facility of this nature.

“It’s really important to have many of these types of facilities for families in as many communities as possible,” Strandlie said. “Because with traffic and the time commitment, it’s really difficult to get to that facility to see your loved one as often as one would like…I hope there will be more facilities like this throughout the county.”

However, during the public hearing, one member of the community shared concerns about building another development along the already congested Richmond Highway.

An area resident for three decades, the neighbor said he’s a caregiver for his elderly parents, and the traffic is so bad, he does not feel safe letting his dad walk along Richmond Highway in the evening. Read More

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The intersection of Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) and Tysons Blvd outside Tysons Corner Center (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

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.

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A sign urging drivers to “take a moment” has been placed at the Oakton High School road exit (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) Fairfax County will introduce speed cameras to school and construction zones early next year.

At a meeting last night (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved amending the county code to establish a pilot program that will install 10 automated photo speed cameras in school and construction zones around the county.

The program is intended to “increase safety for some of our most vulnerable road users, that’s school children and roadway construction workers,” Fairfax County Police Department Traffic Division Commander Alan Hanson told the board.

The cameras will “hopefully” be installed in nine school zones and one construction zone by Feb. 1, staying in place for six months, Hanson said. Enforcement will begin when drivers go 10 miles over the speed limit with fines escalating to a maximum of $100.

Signage identifying speed camera locations will be placed within 1,000 feet of each camera, per state code, with the locations also being posted on the county’s website.

“We’re not trying to trap people,” Hanson said in the county press release.

The 10 locations for the cameras have been chosen, but county officials plan to do a final walkthrough to confirm the placements before they’re publicized, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s office says.

The schools were chosen by the FCPD based on input from Fairfax County Public Schools about where community members have reported issues and data collected by traffic safety officers. For the work zone camera, the department is still working with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to choose between two possible locations , but it will likely be a highway with a long-term construction project.

“There will be a grace period as everyone gets accustomed to the cameras and begins modifying their speeds,” a spokesperson for McKay’s office told FFXnow.

Each camera will cost about $3,000 per month, according to the press release. Adding in associated signage and other equipment, the total cost for the pilot program is around $180,000.

Speeding has become a huge concern, particularly around schools after a teen allegedly driving 81 mph struck and killed two Oakton High School students on Blake Lane in June. A third student was seriously injured. Residents had been seeking safety improvements, including speed cameras, in that area for years.

A pilot work group found that almost 95% of drivers in the school zone at Springfield’s Irving Middle School were driving 10 mph or more above the speed limit during a morning sampling period done last year.

“In the five school zones surveyed, hundreds and sometimes thousands of drivers exceeded the speed limit by more than 10 mph during the sample period,” the county said.

There have been at least 25 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County this year, per state data, making 2022 the deadliest year in more than a decade. Read More

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m. on 12/5/2022) Even with one month left, 2022 is the deadliest year for Fairfax County pedestrians in more than a decade.

Through October, vehicle crashes have killed 22 people on streets and highways in the county — the most since at least 2010, the earliest year in Virginia’s Traffic Records Electronic Data System (TREDS). The previous high came in 2018 and 2019, when there were 17 fatalities each.

The state data doesn’t appear to include the teen who died last Wednesday (Nov. 16) after being hit while crossing Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads.

The teen was among the almost two dozen people represented at Oakton High School on Sunday (Nov. 20) by electronic candles and empty chairs covered by shroud-like white sheets. A Fairfax Families for Safe Streets (Fairfax FSS) volunteer read their names in a hushed cafeteria for the community group’s World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims ceremony.

“We have experienced many more tragedies than we are able to name individually today,” Fairfax FSS volunteer and board member Chris French said, noting that the list didn’t include 18 non-pedestrians killed on county roads or people who survived crashes but still suffered physically, financially and emotionally.

Started by European nonprofits in 1995, World Day of Remembrance is commemorated on the third Sunday of every November as an occasion to mourn those lost and a call to take action to prevent future losses. FFS also had events in Alexandria and Arlington.

Fairfax FSS urged local and state officials to make safety improvements throughout the area, especially in corridors known to be dangerous to pedestrians like Columbia Pike and Blake Lane — where two Oakton High School students were killed and a third was seriously injured in June.

  • Installing automated speed enforcement at all schools
  • Deploying proven safety measures around schools and activity centers, such as rapid flashing beacons, HAWK or pedestrian hybrid beacons, and lighting at unsignalized crossings
  • Implementing a dedicated safe routes infrastructure plan for all Fairfax County schools
  • Implementing speed management solutions on all high injury and multilane arterials, for example, speed feedback signs, road diets
  • Improvements to pedestrian signals and timing for pedestrians to cross high traffic streets safely
  • Installing crosswalks and accessible ramps to all approaches at signalized crossings

Speed cameras likely coming

Fairfax County is moving to make that first demand at least a reality. Spurred in part by the fatal Oakton crash, the Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a speed camera pilot program after a public hearing on Dec. 6. Read More

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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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A sign warns drivers on Blake Lane to slow down (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Police Department could begin using cameras to catch speeders in nine school crossing zones and one highway work zone as soon as early 2023.

The proposed photo speed enforcement pilot program was presented to the Board of Supervisors at a public safety committee meeting Tuesday (Oct. 4).

The work zone included in the pilot would be on Route 28, while the school placements have not been finalized, FCPD Capt. Alan L. Hanson, the police department’s traffic division commander, said.

Drivers caught going at least 10 mph over the speed limit would receive civil penalties, according to the presentation. A maximum penalty of $100 could be incurred for exceeding the limit by at least 20 mph.

A working group including several county departments recommended a six-month pilot program, Hanson said. Their work came after a 2020 state law passed permitting jurisdictions to use speed cameras in school and construction zones.

The draft ordinance authorizes FCPD use of the devices and outlines the fine structure. Photo speed enforcement would aim to reduce the number of people speeding and bring down the number of crashes in and around school areas, Hanson said.

“We’re not trying to entrap people, what we’re trying to do is maintain or gain voluntary compliance,” he said.

Multiple supervisors emphasized that the initiative is not designed to bring in revenue. Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said he doesn’t believe residents will see the program as a money grab, but the board could also avoid this perception by making a plan for what to do with any excess revenue.

“I say plow them back into pedestrian and bicycle safety in and around our schools,” he said.

The state law only enables cameras in designated school crossing and highway work zones. This limits the county’s ability to use them around Blake Lane, where safety concerns have been particularly urgent after an allegedly speeding driver struck and killed two Oakton High School students in June.

The county has already increased fines for speeding and routed school buses off of Blake Lane in the wake of the fatal crash. Read More

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