Fairfax City is starting to refine its plans to add bicycle facilities on University Drive.
The project will “implement bicycle facilities on University Drive between Layton Hall Drive and South Street, with shared lane markings through the center of Old Town and bicycle lanes to the north,” according to the city’s website.
It will serve as a link to other multimodal projects currently underway in the area, such as the partially built George Snyder Trail, Chloe Ritter, the city’s multimodal transportation planner, told the Fairfax City Council at a meeting on Oct. 24.
“It connects to the bike lanes that are already existing on University Drive, south of Old Town. It connects to The Flats — the apartments that recently opened,” Ritter explained. “It really brings together a lot of the multimodal projects that we’ve been working on in connecting everything together.”
“The measures of evaluation that we looked at were bicycle and pedestrian safety, vehicle safety traffic operations, transit operations, property impacts implementation, and cost,” Megan Waring, a transportation engineer for the consultant, said at the council meeting.
She said ultimately, the firm recommends a two-way stop and a removal of the northbound, right-turn lane at the intersection, which will be condensed. Waring said that change allows for a pedestrian island that will improve safety.
“It allows us to have bike lanes as we’re coming up and down University, as we have kind of that steep incline or decline, depending on which way you’re traveling,” she said.
Tightening the intersection would also enable it to accommodate an added crosswalk, giving it a total of four. The crosswalks will also be closer to the intersection.
“So, we’re moving the people, the bikes, and the cars all to a location that’s more centralized, so that all users are able to see each other and make safe passage through the intersection itself,” Waring said.
The recommendations also call for adding a median refuge island, a protected space in the center of the street that facilitates bicycle and pedestrian crossings.
Waring said, together, the recommendations would reduce bicycle and vehicle conflicts, improve pedestrian crossings and maintain transit and vehicle operations. Read More
Planning officials in the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia fear proposals to change Virginia’s transportation funding system could significantly reduce state funding for smaller transportation projects for cyclists and pedestrians.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board has been reviewing the state’s transportation funding process, SMART SCALE, which has been in place for the past seven years.
Some of the proposals being considered by the board include favoring larger transportation projects over smaller ones, lowering the number of applications local governments and planning organizations can submit and reducing the weight given to land use in applications.
Significantly, many bike and pedestrian projects could go unfunded under the proposed changes. According to data collected by a working group made up of Virginia’s Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, which advises state transportation leaders, and several consultants, 75% of the bike and pedestrian projects recently funded through SMART SCALE would have gone unfunded under the new rules.
“We certainly think there’s a lot of focus on highway road expansion statewide and no focus on climate change impacts with this approach,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
Trip Pollard, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center and leader of its Land and Community Program, said he’s concerned the proposed changes to SMART SCALE will harm the state’s ability to meet its goals of reducing air pollution and protecting the environment.
“Staff is doing some great work on this and there are some good reasons for some of these changes, but cumulatively, I definitely don’t agree with them,” Pollard said. “I think it really fundamentally shifts where the money is going to go.”
Other changes attempt to evaluate projects over a longer time scale. For example, the working group is recommending that the Commonwealth Transportation Board consider adding to the application process a project’s congestion benefits 10 years into the future and forecast the economic value of a project.
“What we’re doing here is trying to get at the metrics that better show us the value so that we can apply that in our scoring system,” said Transportation Secretary Shep Miller at the board’s Sept. 20 work session.
Making room for larger projects
One of the most controversial recommendations made by the working group, which has been reviewing the SMART SCALE proposals since March, is for Virginia to expand its definition of “high-priority projects,” or projects that have a regional or statewide significance.
Currently, state law defines high-priority projects as those that “reduce congestion or increase safety, accessibility, environmental quality or economic development.”
The working group is recommending adding to that list projects that include “new capacity highway, managed lanes, new or improved interchanges, new or improved passenger rail stations or service, freight rail improvements, high-capacity fixed guideway transit, transit transfer stations, and new bridge.”
Planning leaders from the Shenandoah Valley and central Virginia, however, worry that expanding the high-priority designation could edge out other, smaller kinds of transportation proposals by weighting decisions against them. That could force local governments to find other sources of funding. Read More
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation is ready to take a hard look at the future of Gallows Road.
The department will introduce a Gallows Road Multimodal Study with two public meetings next week, seeking feedback on enhancing mobility and safety along the major road between Tysons and Annandale. It will also give an update on the current travel conditions.
According to FCDOT communications head Freddy Serrano, the study is needed to address various transportation and connectivity challenges in the Gallows Road corridor.
“[Those include] pedestrian and bicycle facilities, limited mobility options, traffic conditions, and barriers created by I-495,” he said. “It aims to explore opportunities to mitigate these barriers and improve multimodal mobility between the planned land uses on the east and west sides of the interstate.”
Serrano says the goal is to find solutions and improve accessibility for everyone who uses the corridor, while supporting planned development.
Merrifield in particular is poised for growth. This spring, the county designated proposals to redevelop aging buildings in the area as top priorities for review, and plans to convert former Inova office buildings into live/work units recently raised concerns about traffic backups at the Gallows and Gatehouse Road intersection.
“Additionally, the study is essential for securing funding and planning for transportation infrastructure projects that align with the goals of the comprehensive plan and accommodate future development,” Serrano said.
The study stems from a comprehensive plan amendment that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved in 2019, opening up the Merrifield Suburban Center to more mixed-use development. With the vote, the board also directed staff to:
- Conduct a comprehensive study of multimodal transportation opportunities
- Study the barriers to connectivity in the Merrifield suburban center created by I-495, and opportunities to mitigate the barriers
- Develop a funding plan for the transportation infrastructure improvements recommended in the Merrifield suburban center comprehensive plan.
The study started late last year, and it’s expected to wrap up by 2024.
“Overall, the study aims to improve transportation infrastructure and connectivity within the Merrifield suburban center and along Gallows Road to support sustainable development and enhance mobility for residents and stakeholders in the area,” Serrano said.
The first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19. at 7 p.m. and will be virtual. A second meeting will be held in person at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road) on Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m.
Comments will be accepted until the end of the business day on Friday, Oct. 6.
Local officials are in the midst of developing a data-driven way to prioritize and implement spot transportation improvements throughout Fairfax County.
The spot improvement screening program, which was discussed at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ transportation committee meeting on July 18, lets the county identify priority locations for new transportation improvements, especially along intersections.
The program also intends to prioritize safety as a metric to evaluate transportation.
So far, the county has identified 287 projects as high priority out of a total of 3,966 reviewed locations. Roughly 46% of the spots already have a planned project nearby, according to the county.
The Dranesville District had the most spots, but the majority of them were categorized as “low priority.” The Franconia and Mason districts led the way in terms of high-priority spots.
Underway since 2021, the county’s methodology prioritizes safety while also considering equity and the multimodal nature of the area, Fairfax County Department of Transportation staff said.
The county is in the midst of finalizing locations for each district. Evaluation and implementation is contingent on approval by the Board of Supervisors.
FCDOT staff recommend focusing on high priority locations and working with the Virginia Department of Transportation to strategize funding for projects. Staff also suggested further narrowing spots where there are no programmed safety-related projects.
If approved, the spot improvement program could get renewed every three to five years.
While the full list of possible spot improvements was not released at the meeting, Vanessa Holt from FCDOT’s traffic engineering section said that public input will be solicited on projects.
“Our program recommendations include focusing on the high priority spot locations,” Holt said.
At the meeting, supervisors asked staff to consider other elements in their evaluations. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn suggested incorporating near-misses, camera data from VDOT, and other data points into the prioritization process.
“I really like the process, the drivers being data-driven,” Alcorn said.
The program, which is not yet funded, is different from the county’s active transportation program, which sets aside $100 million for improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized travelers.
Board Chairman Jeff McKay also emphasized that not all traffic fatalities are linked to road safety issues.
“Unfortunately, we do have fatalities in some corridors of the county. It’s not a road design issue at all,” McKay said.
He also added that the proximity of other projects to prioritized spot improvement locations shouldn’t automatically downgrade a project from the list. Instead, the location may be a strategic area to kill two birds with the same stone.
Others like Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity noted that funding for these projects may not be available for several years, resulting in the need to manage public expectations about implementation.
Holt acknowledged that the public’s feedback is critical as the process moves forward.
“We recognize that data analysis is not perfect when we have that human element in transportation safety,” Holt said.
Reston Museum will take a deep dive into the history behind street names, Reston’s transportation system and the road to accessibility at a special event on May 10.
Called “This Way to Reston,” the program will kick off at 7 p.m. at Reston Community Center Lake Anne. Although the program is free, registration is required. Programming is supported in part by RCC.
Presenters will include museum board member Caren Anton, a museum board member; Mike McDermott, chair of Reston Association’s Multimodal Transportation Advisory Committee; and Colin Mills, project director of the Reston Accessibility Committee.
Reston Museum Executive Director Alexandra Campbell noted that transportation has played a major role in Reston’s history, influencing the community’s master plan in 1962, community volunteerism, and the area’s live, work, and play philosophy.
“We look forward to sharing historical photographs of this history and learning from Mr. McDermott and Mr. Mills on the Reston modes of transportation today,” Campbell wrote in a statement.
The event comes as Reston’s master plan undergoes a major revision. Fairfax County is expected to release a staff report of its recommendations on a draft master plan update sometime this month.
Some transportation projects on the horizon have sparked excitement among the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors over potential transit improvements.
Visualize 2050 is a federally-mandated long-range transportation plan with an emphasis on projects that adhere to new emission reduction goals.
In a meeting of the Board of Supervisors Transportation Committee earlier this month, staff said the county has six projects it’s considering adding to Visualize 2050. The projects have to be considered regionally significant.
- Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
- Orange Line Metrorail Extension
- Yellow Line Metrorail Extension to Hybla Valley
- I-495 Southside Project
- I-95 Counterflow Express Lanes
- Seven Corners
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said the inclusion of Route 7 BRT is a positive step, helping take the project from the conceptual stage to something being actively planned.
“I think it’s really exciting that we’re considering this and I would support BRT 7, “Palchik said. “It brings dedicated bus lanes. We’re talking about reducing congestion and using these roads to more easily have multimodal. I think it’s not super helpful when buses get stuck in traffic for people to give up their cars and opt for the bus.”
The Route 7 BRT proposal would eventually connect Tysons to Alexandria on a new route designed to prioritize public transit. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said she’s hopeful districts between the two major stops will also benefit.
“Certainly Route 7 BRT will go all along Route 7, coming from Alexandria [in one direction] and Tysons [from the other],” Gross said. “I’m hoping that [Mason District] can be the golden spike.”
Elsewhere in county planning, Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk advocated for Metro’s Yellow Line extension down into Hybla Valley.
“That’s in alignment with what we’re doing with bus rapid transit and our Embark Richmond Highway study,” Lusk said. “The goal is that we eventually get to the extension of that Metro line. I just want to advocate for that and put a plug so that it can be considered.”
County staff said there will be two public meetings on the Visualize 2050 plan in April before the project works its way through the bureaucratic process, eventually heading to plan adoption sometime in December 2024.
Fairfax Connector could be free for all children ages 12 and under.
The Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s current policy is kids under 5 years old do not need to pay a fare. The new policy would extend that to all children under 12.
Older children can already get a free student bus pass: all Fairfax County middle and high school students can ride on all Fairfax County routes and some Metrobus routes for free between 5 a.m.-10 p.m. with a student bus pass. The transportation department said in a presentation the change would “close a gap” in the county’s fare-free policy for kids.
Those children would still obviously need to be accompanied by a fare-paying adult to receive a free fare.
In a presentation, the Department of Transportation said there are several potential benefits to the change.
- Closes the gap in fare-free travel for children between ages 5-12
- Increases accessibility and removes barriers to travel for parents. Especially beneficial for trips to access medical or social services
- This change will help children become acclimated to using public transit from an early age thereby creating increased transportation alternatives
FCDOT is collecting feedback on the proposed change until next Friday, March 10.
The policy change is scheduled to be presented to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on April 11. If approved, it would take effect on April 30.
Fairfax Connector launched a pilot last month allowing low-income riders to get half-price fares.
At a recent meeting of the Fairfax County Planning Commission’s Transportation Committee, Department of Transportation senior planner Thomas Burke laid out some of the changes recommended in a recent study of the Fairfax County and Franconia-Springfield parkways.
The study looked at 35 miles of the corridor broken up into five segments. Notably, it evaluated transit and multi-modal transportation along the parkways, rather than just vehicle traffic.
On the multi-modal front, Burke said one key takeaway was that the current bicycle and pedestrian facilities were inadequate.
“There was a lot of support in the community for enhancing bicycle and pedestrian experience on the parkways,” Burke said. “Right now, there’s one trail on one side of the parkway and a few gaps.”
Burke said the first priority should be plugging those gaps to have one contiguous trail running from Reston to Fort Belvoir.
“We took it another step based on community feedback,” Burke said. “Why don’t we put a trail on the other side so you don’t have to cross a six-lane highway to get to the shared use path, especially if you don’t need to cross it because origin and destination are on the same side?”
On the other hand, Burke said there isn’t enough demand for transit along the parkway for that to make sense as an emphasis for any sort of parkway overhaul.
“We took a transit look as well: transit is an interesting challenge for the parkways because there’s not a lot of density or employment centers,” Burke said. “There’s a lot of low-density areas and not a whole lot of jobs.”
Burke said the study similarly didn’t find as much demand for the high-occupancy vehicle options seen on other roadways around Fairfax County.
“For decades we’ve had HOV recommendations for most of the parkways,” Burke said. “From Franconia-Springfield — where the Metro is — up to Route 7, all has little diamonds signifying there will eventually be HOV…But we did not find a lot of demand.”
Burke said the study considered both 2+ and 3+ HOV lanes, but found low demand for either option.
The study also looked at road widening, with earlier staff recommendations saying parts of the parkway should be increased to eight lanes. But for the most part, Burke said the study found six lanes was sufficient for the northernmost sections of Fairfax County Parkway.
At the southernmost point of the study, where the Franconia-Springfield Parkway connects to Richmond Highway, Burke said the study recommended increasing the roadway to six travel lanes in parts. Just north of that section, where Fairfax County Parkway connects to Beulah Street, Burke said current plans to increase the parkway to eight lanes overshot the mark, and the road only needs its current six lanes.
Burke noted that this study is looking at long-range transportation improvements. Any of those changes, particularly the widening, could take 10-30 years to implement.
In parts, Burke said there was some community resistance to widening the parkways, and before Fairfax County goes forward with widening in those sections, there should be additional research and analysis.
A pair of virtual meetings to discuss the changes are planned for Wednesday, March 1 at noon and Thursday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m.
Image via Google Maps
The clock is ticking for Fairfax County and the D.C. region to adopt a new transportation plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
This past June, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) approved Visualize 2045 — a regional transportation plan that runs through 2045 and must be updated every four years, as mandated by the federal government.
At the same meeting, it voted to include greenhouse gas emission goals in the next plan, targeting cuts of 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.
Now, six months later, Fairfax County is already preparing to submit its segment of that plan with those emission goals in mind, but the process will be slightly different from previous years.
Presented at the Board of Supervisors transportation committee meeting on Tuesday (Jan. 31), Visualize 2050 will include “zero-based budgeting,” meaning all localities have to resubmit their transportation projects for consideration to ensure they adhere to the new emission reduction goals.
Before, most projects automatically carried over from one plan to the next, though projects could be added or taken out if needed, Fairfax County Department of Transportation planner Malcolm Watson explained to the supervisors.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who’s on the TPB with Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, noted that the board has had a “lively discussion” over the last few years regarding the emission goals.
“There’s been…quite a difference of opinion on the climate change stuff, particularly between the inner jurisdictions and the outer jurisdictions,” Alcorn said. “We are kind of right in between.”
County staff have identified 33 projects they expect to be part of the transportation plan and will need to be resubmitted under the new standards. Projects currently “in development” include Reston Parkway improvements, a new Dulles Airport Access road from Chain Bridge Road, and a widening of Frying Pan Road from Sully to Centreville roads.
Most of those projects are expected to be completed between 2025 and 2040.
There are 25 projects that could be exempted from the emission standards because they are already funded or under construction. Those include the Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit system, an I-495 overpass at Tysons Corner Center, and the $237 million Soapstone Connector.
Watson cautioned that the lists may change as projects get taken off and added, depending on priorities, the new emission goals, and other factors.
Next month, the TPB will issue a “call for projects,” and the lists will be officially published for public review.
“This will officially kick off Visualize 2050,” Watson said.
The county board ultimately will have to vote to approve the project lists over the summer before they get submitted to the TPB.
The hope is that by December 2024, the TPB will approve Visualize 2050, and the new emission goals will become the norm, making Visualize 2055 perhaps a bit less labor-intensive.
Photo via Fairfax County
As the Virginia General Assembly convenes this week for its 2023 session, local lawmakers hope to pass bills highlighting campaign finance reforms, raising teacher pay, paid sick leave, and other issues.
Members have been allowed to pre-file bills since November, and Fairfax County’s delegation held a public hearing on Saturday (Jan. 7) where community members shared their thoughts on what should be prioritized.
Members have until Wednesday morning to pre-file bills.
Facing a divided General Assembly, with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats holding the Senate, local representatives likely won’t see all of their bills become law, but here are 12 proposals worth noting:
Campaign finance reform
- Limit political donations to $20,000: Introduced by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), SB 803 would prohibit individuals from making a single donation to anyone vying for state office for more than $20,000.
- Prohibit contributions from public utilities: Also filed by Petersen, SB 804 would prohibit candidates from accepting contributions from any public utility company. Petersen has introduced versions of this bill before but hasn’t succeeded in getting it passed.
- Prohibit personal use of campaign funds: The potential new law HB 1552, introduced by Del. Marcus Simon (D-53), would ban candidates from using campaign funds for personal use, something that’s already prohibited in many other states.
- Alternative learning assessments in schools: SB 819, pre-filed by Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), aims to allow each local school district “to use any nationally recognized, research-based assessment or screener” as an alternative to Virginia Department of Education-approved tests. This comes after new state-proposed history standards were rejected by the Board of Education in November. Revised draft standards were released Friday (Jan. 6).
- Higher teacher compensation: Del. Kaye Kory (D-38) is co-introducing HB 1497, which calls for state funding to be used to compensate public school teachers at or above the national average. Currently, the average pay for teachers in Virginia is about $7,000 below the national average.
- Unattended firearms in motor vehicles: SB 901, introduced by Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37), would make it illegal to leave a firearm unattended in a motor vehicle unless it’s locked up in its own compartment or container.
- Prohibit warrants for menstrual health data: SB 852 would prohibit the issuing of warrants for the search and seizure of any device containing digital information related to menstrual health data. Filed by Favola, the bill addresses fears from some that period-tracking apps could be used against someone considering an abortion.
- Paid sick leave for health care and grocery store workers: Introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), SB 886 would require health care and grocery store employers to provide paid sick leave. As noted in the bill, current law only requires paid sick leave for some home health care workers. A version of this bill passed the Senate last year but failed in the House.
- Treatment for “problem gambling“: With sports gambling now legal in Virginia, Del. Paul Krizek (D-44) is proposing HB 1465, which would establish a committee to help “reduce the negative effects of problem gambling.”
- Bars insurrectionists from holding public official: Del. Dan Helmer (D-40) is introducing HB 1562 to bar those “convicted of participating in an insurrection” from ever holding a position of “public trust.”
- ASL interpreters in courtrooms: Surovell’s SB 814 lets the court appoint a certified American Sign Language interpreter itself for the courtroom.
- No arrest for assault on law enforcement in mental health emergency: HB 1561 from Del. Vivian Watts (D-39) exempts individuals from being arrested or prosecuted for assaulting a law enforcement officer if they’re experiencing a mental health emergency. A study done last year showed that about 10% of those charged with assault on law enforcement officers had a history of mental illness.
- Pedestrian signals apply to bicycles and scooters: Favola’s SB 847 calls for pedestrian control signals to also apply to those riding bicycles, mopeds, electric bikes, scooters, and all other forms of electric motor transportation. A companion bill is being filed by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) in the House.
Photo via Doug Kerr/Flickr