Fairfax County is looking into adjusting its signage rules to allow for brighter and bigger electronic signs.
Casey Judge with the county’s Zoning Administration Division presented the proposed changes during a Board of Supervisors land use policy committee meeting on May 16.
The changes include increasing the maximum brightness for nonresidential districts to 300 nits (a unit that measures the brightness a sign is emitting) at sunset. Current regulations require electronic signs to automatically dim to 40-100 nits at sunset.
The changes also includes requiring sign permit applicants to submit sign specifications.
In addition, the three existing application processes that the county currently has for nonresidential areas could be consolidated into one process.
“This does mean that all sign applications would go to the board for approval rather than the current [comprehensive sign plans],” which only need to be approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, Judge said.
Proposed modifications for electronic display signs with special exceptions include increasing the number, height, and size of freestanding signs, allowing building-mounted electronic display signs, and increasing the brightness to 600 nits.
Last May, while discussing the matter, county staff told the committee that the existing rules are old and that businesses wanted to be more competitive. Judge also suggested that easing the application process could be helpful to businesses.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, the committee’s vice chair, questioned how the county is handling the convergence of “what’s a sign and what’s a display.”
“These things that we have traditionally dealt with as signs are being used in other means, or for other purposes,” Alcorn said.
Judge said a standard has been added that focuses on traffic safety and overall placemaking effects as part of the electronic display signs.
“I do hope that that standard can help guide our staff when they’re making that analysis to ensure that we’re looking at size and location, more so than the content in making our recommendations,” Judge said.
Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw questioned the proposed increase from 100 to 300 nits, which he called pretty significant.
“That’s really in response to research looking at other jurisdictions that have much higher nit level limitations and it allows for those higher definition screens that we’re seeing,” Judge answered.
Judge said the county is seeking authorization and public hearings later this year.
The speed limit on Richmond Highway (Route 1) has been permanently lowered through much of Fairfax County.
Starting next Tuesday (May 23), the legal limit will be reduced from 45 to 35 mph along a roughly 7-mile stretch between the Alexandria City limits at the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Jeff Todd Way/Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, the Virginia and Fairfax County transportation departments announced yesterday (Monday).
The departments said the change is designed “to optimize safety and operations for pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers and transit users” along a corridor that routinely sees devastating crashes.
Just this year, there have been at least 102 vehicle crashes on the Fairfax County section of Richmond Highway, injuring 75 people, according to state data. Prior to 2018, the total number of crashes consistently topped 400, peaking at 508 crashes in 2012.
The Virginia Department of Transportation recommended in July 2022 that the speed limit be lowered after a year-long speed study found crashes occur more frequently on Richmond Highway than other primary highways in Northern Virginia, on average.
“The team also found that Richmond Highway between Buckman Road/Mount Vernon Highway and the Alexandria southern city limits had a higher incidence of pedestrian [and] bicycle crashes and speed-related crashes compared to other sections of Richmond Highway,” VDOT said.
However, the study recommended maintaining the existing 45-mph speed limit in the Fort Belvoir area from Belvoir Road to Jeff Todd Way. That 0.75-mile stretch had a lower crash rate, though about 50% of vehicles still exceed the speed limit, according to VDOT.
At a public meeting last summer, some community members raised concerns about the lower speed limit increasing congestion and questioned how effectively it’ll be enforced, but VDOT officials said the study indicated the change will have a “minimal” impact on traffic and allow tougher penalties on drivers who violate the limit.
Even a small decrease in vehicle speeds can lead to fewer serious crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A 5-mph reduction from 40 mph, for example, will produce an estimated 34% reduction in crashes with injuries.
Signs showing the new speed limit will be placed along Richmond Highway on May 23, VDOT said. A final report on the speed study is expected to be finished around the middle of this year.
Some Restonians are calling on Fairfax County to invest more funds into transportation safety upgrades in local schools, particularly within the South Lakes pyramid.
In a March 30 memo to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, Hunter Mill District School Board Representative Melanie Meren flagged specific, problematic areas that may need more crossing guards, signage or physical upgrades and a comprehensive evaluation of crossings and bus stops.
“The safety of our students and community members is paramount and as you know all-too-well throughout Fairfax, residents have experienced transit-related deaths, incidents and close-calls,” reads the memo, which was first reported by WTOP.
Their hope is that concerns and considerations will be incorporated or inform the ongoing update to Reston’s comprehensive plan. A document resulting from over-two-year-long effort is expected to go before the Board of Supervisors later this year.
Tentatively, a staff report on the draft comprehensive plan created by a task force assembled by Hunter Mill District Walter Alcorn is expected sometime this month.
In a statement to FFXnow, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay emphasized that bicyclist and pedestrian safety is a top priority of the county.
The Board of Supervisors takes the issue of traffic safety seriously, especially pedestrian and bicycle safety. Which is why we have committed $100 million for infrastructure improvements, $25 million of which has already been allocated. We have launched a speed camera pilot program that in 30 days issued over 1400 warnings to drivers and is expected to issue many more once all potential violations are processed. We are exploring our options with red light cameras and other types of photo enforcement as well.
Reston Association’s Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee (MTAC) has scheduled a virtual town hall for 6:30 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss pedestrian safety near Reston schools.
“As Reston’s citizen advisory committee on various forms of transportation modes throughout the community, MTAC would like to hear from members on their experiences, concerns and suggestions about transportation in Reston,” RA said in a newsletter last Friday (May 5).
A breakdown of the concerns raised by Meren is below: Read More
To the relief of Bailey’s Crossroads residents, some traffic safety improvements are in the works for the often harrowing area where Columbia Pike and Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) meet.
Perhaps the most urgent change will be the addition of a pedestrian hybrid beacon at the crosswalk across Columbia Pike at Tyler Street — the intersection where a driver hit and killed Justice High School student Lesly Diaz-Bonilla in November.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved an allocation of $920,000 to fund improvements at the intersection on April 11 as part of a $25 million slate of pedestrian safety projects planned throughout the county.
In the wake of Diaz-Bonilla’s death, over 1,000 residents signed an in-person and online petition calling for a reduction of the speed limit on Columbia Pike from 35 to 25 mph and other changes to the intersection, according to the Bailey’s Crossroads & Culmore Place-Based Initiative (PBI) Coalition, a community initiative led by George Mason University.
“This is a daily route to school for many children, including my own, and a route to work for many of us in Culmore,” resident Laura Doughty said in a press release from the coalition. “The lack of safety features for pedestrians coupled with the high-speed traffic makes it extremely dangerous for those of us who walk in the community everyday.”
Just 17 years old, Diaz-Bonilla had dropped off a younger sibling at a bus stop in front of the Barcroft View Apartments when a sedan crashed into her shortly before 9 a.m. on Nov. 16. After the crash, community members said they’d raised concerns about the intersection’s safety for years.
A report released last summer found that high vehicle speeds, incomplete sidewalks and limited crossings make Bailey’s Crossroads dangerous for pedestrians, particularly along the major corridors of Columbia Pike and Route 7.
A pedestrian hybrid beacon requires vehicles to stop if a pedestrian is present and pushes an activation button. A rapid flashing beacon with a pedestrian refuge island could be considered at the Tyler Street crosswalk instead if a hybrid beacon “is not feasible or warranted,” county staff said in a list of the safety projects that the board approved.
The April 11 vote also designated $1.9 million for a sidewalk on westbound Route 7 in front of the Liberty Gas station at 5930 Leesburg Pike in Culmore. A pedestrian was killed there in December 2021.
By press time, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation hadn’t returned a request for comment on when the projects will be implemented.
So far, the county has allocated about $30 million out of the $100 million that the Board of Supervisors pledged to spend on active transportation safety projects over six years, starting in 2022.
The inclusion of the Bailey’s Crossroads improvements in the latest package is the result of advocacy by residents, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations that have united around the need for safer streets, PBI Coalition program manager and Fairfax Families for Safe Streets Board of Directors member Katie Wilson said.
“The PBI Coalition will continue building these pipelines between local residents, organizations, and county leadership to amplify resident voices and ultimately work in partnership to build a community where all thrive,” Wilson said.
The City of Fairfax is moving forward with a plan to make the Chain Bridge Road and Eaton Place intersection safer.
After some debate at an April 11 meeting — and an alternate motion was proposed and failed — the Fairfax City Council ultimately voted 4-2 in favor of a redesign to the intersection, which is just outside Oakton near the Fairfax County border.
Changes planned for the intersection include a new sidewalk on the west side of the road, a new traffic signal, and more.
“Improving this intersection, which serves as the northern gateway to the city and connects travelers to the Northfax area, is a top priority for the city,” the city said in a release.
The City of Fairfax received $10.7 million in funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) to evaluate the project and confirm the congestion reduction benefits.
According to the city, the redesign will include:
- Converting the west side service road to one-way inbound from Chain Bridge Road
- Constructing a new exit for Cobbdale vehicular traffic via a new traffic signal (being installed by VDOT) north of Eaton Place
- Constructing a residential sidewalk on the west side of the western service road to enable consolidation of the school bus stops
- Constructing a separate shared use path on the west side service road between the new traffic signal and Eaton Place, to extend the shared use path being installed by VDOT north of the new signal
- Implementing a buffer management plan on the west side buffer to remove dead trees, remove vines from healthy trees, and add supplemental vegetation
- Closing the service road access points from Eaton Place on the east side of the intersection
- Converting the single left southbound left turn lane from Chain Bridge Road to Eaton Place to two lanes controlled by a restricted green arrow (versus allowing lefts on green)
At the city council meeting, Councilmember So Lim said she was torn between the original plan and alternatives suggested by staff.
The proposed design would separate the shared-use path and sidewalk, while staff’s alternative combined the two elements.
Ultimately, Lin said the city had to go with the most safety precautions possible for a project like this.
“I was really torn between alternate plan number one or the recommended plan, but I think the safety of the bikers and pedestrians has to be a priority,” Lim said. “Right now, there may not be many bikers or pedestrians, but once we create a shared use path, that will be here to stay. I have to make a decision, not just about today, but how it’s going to be five or ten years from now. I’m going to support the original plan.”
According to Fairfax City, Chain Bridge Road sees approximately 39,000 vehicles per day, and the Eaton Place intersection “experiences significant congestion and safety concerns.”
“The intersection is a critical component of the regional transportation network, with access ramps to I-66 located just north of the intersection,” the city said in its news release. “The intersection has been the site of many traffic accidents, including fatalities.”
Construction on the improvements isn’t expected to start for another two years, the city says.
It’s repaving and restriping season once again, with public meetings coming later this month on proposed projects that would add bicycle lanes and improve crosswalks.
April marks the beginning of an annual process that ends in November with hundreds of miles of roadway being repaved and restriped by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
In Fairfax County, more than 1,700 miles of roadway are expected to be repaved this year. The work often leads to new bike lanes, shoulders, crosswalks, signage, and street markings.
The program is “an opportunity to increase driver, bicyclist and pedestrian safety with road and crosswalk improvements while minimizing the financial investment in restriping work,” the Fairfax County Department of Transportation says on its website.
The first virtual public meeting hosted by VDOT and FCDOT will come on April 17 at 7 p.m. and cover proposals in the Hunter Mill and Providence districts.
One plan would add bicycle lanes on Glade Drive between Sunrise Valley Drive and Reston Parkway in Reston by narrowing the driver travel lanes.
In addition, upgrades are proposed at Monroe Street and Monroe Manor Drive in Herndon. This could include “marked crosswalks, high-visibility crosswalks and/or crosswalk signage,” the county says.
After a proposal for Ellenwood Drive was discussed at a separate meeting in February, the Providence District could get more bicycle lanes at four spots in the Merrifield and Annandale area:
- Executive Park Avenue between the Red Cross building and Prosperity Avenue
- Gatehouse Road between Telestar Court to Gallows Road and, potentially, Gallows Road to Williams Drive
- Williams Drive between Eskridge Road and Arlington Blvd and potentially between Arlington Blvd and Pennell Street
- Willow Oaks Corporate Drive between Williams Drive and Gallows Road
The lanes would be added by narrowing travel lanes or “repurposing underutilized parking lanes.”
Upgrades are also being considered for the intersection of Willow Oaks Corporate Drive and Professional Center Access Road in Merrifield. This could include marked crosswalks, high-visibility crosswalks, and additional signage.
Comments on projects in both districts will be accepted through the close of business on May 1.
Most of the proposed projects in those districts would also add bike lanes and improve crosswalks.
While all repaving and restriping work is set to begin soon and conclude by November, exact work dates for each project will be available “approximately ten days prior to work beginning.”
If the repaving requires parking to be limited, signs will be posted at least three business days in advance. Parked cars, basketball hoops, and garbage cans may need to be moved to accommodate the work.
In general, work hours will be limited to “outside of rush hours” with crews typically on-site in neighborhood streets on weekdays between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. However, on interstates and some primary roads, work might happen overnight to limit the impact.
Residents should expect construction vehicles in their neighborhood during the project, and the county is asking motorists to “be alert to temporary traffic patterns.”
(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Fairfax County transportation planners are considering the possibility of adding a traffic beacon to the intersection of Sunrise Valley Drive and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) near Robert Fulton Drive in Reston.
(Correction: This story previously said the beacon is being considered for the intersection of Sunrise Valley Drive and Wiehle Avenue.)
Robin Geiger, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) , said that the project is in the early phases of planning.
“There is no specific timeline but the team is continuing to prioritize projects over the new few months to be included in the remaining $70 million the Board of Supervisors approved for active transportation projects,” Geiger said.
The board has committed to spending $100 million on projects that improve road safety or accessibility for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized travelers.
One of thousands of projects that are being considered by the county, the Sunrise Valley and W&OD project could be considered for funding this fall. FCDOT is considering adding beacons to the area because of the “historically elevated rate of bike crashes, likely because the W&OD trail is a popular bicycle route,” Geiger said.
Geiger said it is unclear what kind of signal would be installed.
Because of the speed limit, traffic volumes and lane configuration of Sunrise Valley Drive and the regional trail, a rectangular rapid-flashing beacon is not recommended based on state guidelines and national best practice, according to FCDOT.
County planners advise that a pedestrian hybrid beacon may be more appropriate, but more traffic analyses are required because of an adjacent signal at Robert Fulton Drive.
Last month, the county narrowed its list for $25 million of the pledged active transportation project funding. Planners combed through more than 2,000 possible projects to develop a draft list of priorities that’s set to be approved by the Board of Supervisors today (Tuesday).
Construction is currently underway on a pedestrian bridge for the W&OD Trail over Wiehle Avenue.
Photo via Google Maps
The Board of Supervisors directed the Fairfax County Department of Transportation on Tuesday (March 21) to review turn-calming measures from other jurisdictions, discuss options with the Virginia Department of Transportation, and come back to the board’s transportation committee with an analysis of how that can be implemented.
“Over the past several years, this Board has taken significant steps to prioritize pedestrian safety,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Despite these efforts, there were still sadly 32 pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County on our roads in 2022, the highest number since consistent statistics started being collected in 2010.”
As FFXnow reported last week, FCDOT’s Trails, Sidewalks and Bikeways committee (TSB) delved into the issue and asked the Board of Supervisors to prioritize additional safety measures along major arterial roadways throughout Fairfax County.
“The first is a turn calming, like in New York, San Francisco and Portland,” McKay said. “These programs can reduce turning speeds and thus pedestrian fatalities.”
Left-turn calming aims to reduce turning speeds, eliminate sharp turns, and create “hardened centerlines” that use rubber speed bumps to slow drivers.
McKay said county staff’s report on turn-calming should also include an estimate of the cost.
The second item is a request that no crosswalk at the site of a pedestrian fatality be eliminated unless there is a compelling reason to do so.
The question of eliminating crosswalks took some board members by surprise until Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw explained that the TSB letter references the planned elimination of a crosswalk at Braddock Road and Kings Park Drive in West Springfield.
Walkinshaw explained VDOT intends to move the sidewalk to a safer location.
“The plan is to eliminate that entire signalized intersection and move the crosswalk to a different and safer location, where it’s separated from the turns from Kings Park Drive onto Braddock Road,” he said.
Hunter Mill Supervisor Walter Alcorn noted that, in addition to turn-calming and prioritizing crosswalks, the county also has an ongoing speed camera pilot program.
“I would also note that we are doing our speed camera pilot, which is also getting underway,” Alcorn said. “It underscores that this is really a tough problem…We need to look and see what else can we do to make our streets safer.”
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.
Don’t be surprised if you notice more cops on the road in the coming days.
The Fairfax County Police Department wants its officers to make their presence known this week with a “Road Shark” campaign intended to crack down on and deter aggressive and unsafe driving behaviors, such as speeding and distracting phone usage.
Joined by the Virginia State Police, which will also participate, the police department officially launched the first, week-long phase of the campaign yesterday (Monday).
“Traffic safety is community safety,” FCPD Deputy Chief for Operations Robert Blakley said outside the county’s Public Safety Headquarters. “…This offers us the opportunity to remind everybody to look down at that speedometer, set their mobile phone down and pay full time and attention to the conditions around them to increase traffic safety on our roadways.”
First introduced in 1999, Road Shark was supplanted over the years by other programs, but the FCPD has decided to revive it after the county saw an alarming increase in pedestrian fatalities last year.
There has been an increase in reckless driving throughout the county, including at the meet-ups of car enthusiasts that have become popular around the D.C. region, according to Blakley.
Already this week, police broke up an informal car meet on Willard Road in Chantilly after getting reports of “several cars driving recklessly,” the FCPD said in a Facebook post:
When officers tried to stop the cars from leaving, a 2001 BMW struck two marked Fairfax County Police cruisers. Officers took the 22-year-old driver into custody. He was charged with two counts of attempted malicious wounding of law enforcement, two counts of hit and run, driving while intoxicated and no operator’s license. He was held without bond. Thankfully, no officers or community members were hurt.
Blakley said the police department doesn’t have an issue with car meets, but participants should “respect the rules of private property and the laws on public highways and drive in a manner that’s safe and responsible and not going to get someone hurt or even killed.”
For the Road Shark campaign, officers have been instructed to be vigilant throughout their daily shifts for traffic violations, including speeding, distracted driving, school zone-related issues, and attempts to run red lights.
The campaign will particularly focus on locations known to see frequent crashes and other safety issues. Blakley pointed to Fairfax County Parkway and Popes Head Road in Fairfax Station as an example.
Though enforcement is a major component, officers won’t necessarily issue more citations or warnings, Blakley said. Instead, the FCPD hopes that its increased visibility in the community — including having crime prevention and traffic safety officers work with local schools — will lead people to adjust how they drive.
The campaign will be conducted in four phases during this year, with this week marking the first phase.
“The majority of people who drive too fast or maybe make an unsafe lane change, they’re probably distracted or not intending to drive aggressively,” Blakley said. “…When we engage in high-visibility enforcement — lots of police, lots of blue lights throughout the area — it causes us to remember. ‘I’m going to watch my speedometer, I’m going to pay attention.’ And that’s really the goal of this whole campaign.”