Newsletter

Morning Notes

Fairfax Connector Offers Metro Alternatives — With Metrorail service limited throughout the rest of the week, Fairfax Connector is reminding commuters that it offers express service to the Pentagon or downtown D.C. from five sites, including the Vienna Metro station on route 698. [Fairfax Connector]

Proposed Redistricting Maps Now Available — “The Board of Supervisors authorized a public hearing on Nov. 9 to consider proposed redistricting plans…There were 64 plans submitted in total by the board-appointed committee established to recommend new maps and the public, and these plans may be reviewed through an online dashboard.” [Fairfax County Government]

International Earthquake Drill Coming Tomorrow — “Every year, ShakeOut Day is the largest earthquake drill ever…What we do to prepare now before the next big earthquake will determine how well we can survive and recover. ShakeOut will occur in houses, workplaces, schools and public spaces at 10:21 a.m. local time on Oct. 21.” [Fairfax County Emergency Information]

County Opens Graham Road “Traffic Garden” — Fairfax County recently introduced a traffic garden near the Graham Road Community Center in West Falls Church to promote traffic safety education. The facility features an intersection with crosswalks and two-way lanes, mimicking real-life street conditions so kids can learn the rules of the road free of hazards. [Fairfax County Health Department]

Wolf Trap Accepting Grant Applications from Local Arts Teachers — “The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts is accepting applications for this year’s Grants for High School Performing Arts Teachers Program. The grants are available to teachers across the D.C. area. The grant application deadline is Nov. 15, and grantees will be named in December for the 2021-22 school year.” [Patch]

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Metro is no stranger to safety challenges.

Last week’s train derailment in Arlington was just the latest in a long history of perilous, occasionally fatal incidents that have plagued the D.C. region’s primary transit system, from track fires and smoke-filled tunnels to the Red Line crash that killed nine people in 2009.

While no injuries were reported from the derailment, the ensuing investigation disrupted rail service on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines throughout the week.

Initial findings of that investigation are now in, and they could be a devastating blow to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s campaign to lure passengers back after the COVID-19 pandemic sent ridership tumbling last year.

Metro pulled nearly 60% of its fleet out of operations Sunday night (Oct. 17) after the National Transportation Safety Board uncovered wheel axle defects on multiple 7000-series trains, which were introduced in 2015. The federal agency reported today (Monday) that these issues have occurred at least 31 times since 2017, including twice on the derailed car before it actually went off the tracks.

With use of the 6000 trains already suspended due to recent car separations, Metro was left with just a few dozen trains today and reduced service to just one six-car train every 30 minutes, resulting in crowded trains, platforms, and buses.

While WMATA hasn’t announced its upcoming service plans yet, it seems like a safe bet that the challenges facing the transit system won’t be solved overnight.

How will Metro’s safety issues and new service limitations affect your travel plans going forward? If you were a regular rider, will you continue that habit or seek alternatives when possible?

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Adrian Lund, the former president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (via the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security)

The former leader of an insurance industry-funded nonprofit aimed at reducing highway deaths was seriously injured in a crash that took the life of a 29-year-old woman on I-95 earlier this month.

Adrian K. Lund, 72, retired from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2017 but has been listed as a trustee of a U.K. charity called Towards Zero Foundation, which works internationally to try to end all road fatalities and advance other safety efforts.

On Aug. 7, Lund, a McLean resident, was driving a 2020 BMW 540i southbound on I-95 in Springfield near the Old Keene Mill Road exit, south of the Beltway, around the time that 29-year-old Reston resident Stephanie D. Garcia made an illegal U-turn on the highway, according to Virginia State Police.

Police provided the following details:

Garcia was also driving a BMW, a 2016 228i, and was in the I-95 Express Lanes when the vehicle ran off the left side of the interstate and made the U-turn in the shoulder.

Based on witness accounts, the BMW then stopped on the southbound shoulder facing north. It then pulled back into the Express Lanes and struck Lund’s vehicle head-on.

The impact of the crash, which occurred at 6:59 a.m., caused Garcia’s BMW to spin around and strike the Jersey wall, and Lund’s vehicle overturned and came to rest on the right shoulder.

While Lund was wearing a seatbelt, Garcia wasn’t and was thrown from the car. She was taken to Fairfax Inova Hospital, where she died from her injuries the following day on Aug. 8.

Police said yesterday (Thursday) that they are still investigating the crash and awaiting a final report from a medical examiner.

Lund spent over three decades of his career at the Arlington-headquartered Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. He took on the role of president in 2006 and testified before a Congressional commerce subcommittee in 2017 on truck-related deaths.

IIHS spokesperson Joe Young said staff were aware of the crash, and he believed Lund left the hospital, where police said he was treated for serious injuries, shortly after the crash.

Young said last week that he learned from staff that Lund was recovering at home.

Lund has continued to advocate for safety efforts and regularly shares news about related issues on Twitter.

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If you’re passing a cyclist or group of riders in a vehicle, you’ll soon have to change lanes a lot more.

A new law going into effect July 1 will require drivers to switch lanes if they can’t maintain three feet of distance when passing cyclists.

The Fairfax County Police Department says this means motorists may have to cross double yellow lines, imploring people to “share the road.” Police told Tysons Reporter that they hope people will abide by the new legislation and help keep everyone safe on roadways.

“I think it’s going to be huge in the long run,” Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright said Monday while stopping during a bicycle ride on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. He acknowledged that the change may require some education.

Wright says the new law means that vehicles will generally need to shift lanes, because lanes in the state are typically 11 or 12 feet wide.

“In effect, almost every lane in Virginia will require a motorist to safely pass,” he said.

The state law was adopted in February after General Assembly legislators removed a provision that would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs like a yield sign.

Some states, including Delaware, allow the so-called “Idaho stop” for bicycle riders. Like Virginia, Washington, D.C., considered the stop-as-yield measure but also declined to adopt it.

The new law also ends a requirement for cyclists to file into a single lane when being passed.

Tensions between cyclists and drivers played out on the county police department’s Facebook post about the issue. Several people noted cyclists should obey traffic laws, too.

Wright says those online arguments between cyclists and drivers are similar to honking as well as dangerous behaviors on the road.

“There’s so much animosity, and it’s aggressive,” Wright said.

Some people on social media questioned whether double yellow lines should ever be crossed.

Current law already allows drivers to cross double yellow lines when passing others, including cyclists, skateboarders, and scooters. Another provision involves giving enough distance to mopeds, animal-drawn vehicles, and more when drivers pass them.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety is a persistent concern in Fairfax County, where seven pedestrians and two cyclists have died in car crashes so far this year. Whether these new laws help alleviate those issues remains to be seen.

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Getting to and from Metro stations can be a harrowing experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and the Fairfax County Planning Commission and others want something to be done about it.

The planning commissioners have called on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to require Metro, the state and county transportation departments, and more to “work immediately” to make safety and accessibility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists to transit stations.

“This is a call for action by the public to improve pedestrian/bicycle access to metro stations as envisioned in the comprehensive plan,” Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said when introducing a motion during the commission’s meeting on May 19.

The measure calls for numerous changes, such as:

  • Providing wide sidewalks at intersections within walking distance of transit stations,
  • Making turns on roads tighter at intersections to slow traffic down,
  • Providing a “double ramp” for people with disabilities instead of single ramp that’s currently in use directing pedestrians to the middle of intersections,
  • Avoiding extra turning lanes at intersections with high volumes of pedestrians
  • Providing closely spaced street trees between curb and sidewalk areas to protect pedestrians.

The motion passed, with 10 members voting for it and at-large member Timothy Sargeant, abstaining. Sargeant did not respond to a message seeking comment on why he voted that way.

“Failure to act will cause pedestrian access to continue to be ‘significantly challenged’ and ridership on the metro station to be reduced,” Carter said.

He introduced the motion during the commission’s discussion on whether to approve changes to the mixed-use Reston Gateway development being constructed near the upcoming Reston Town Center Metro station, but he noted that the issues seen there could apply to other locations as well.

Supervisor Walter Alcorn, whose Hunter Mill District includes the Reston Gateway project, agrees that the main crosswalk serving the Reston Town Center station is not pedestrian-friendly.

“The rail project used cookie-cutter designs,” he said, adding that a walkway over the road has been proposed but could be years away from coming to fruition.

When touring the area a couple weeks ago, Alcorn asked the Fairfax County Department of Transportation to identify short-term improvements to occur before the station opens, which isn’t expected to happen until early 2022.

“I want to make sure riders can readily get to the stations on day one and every day thereafter,” he said.

Pedestrian and bicyclist advocacy groups expressed support for the commission’s call for change.

Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling President Bruce Wright says some progress has been made to improve safety, but numerous deficiencies remain. The Greensboro station in Tysons, for example, not only lacks access from Gosnell Road and Westpark Drive, the roads are outright dangerous, he says.

Read More

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Monday (April 19)

  • ACT/SAT and College Admission in the Time of COVID (Online) — 6:30-7:30 p.m. — The Princeton Review is hosting a free online Zoom session to discuss what it takes to get into college during the time of COVID-19. Attendees must register to receive the Zoom link. FCPS warns that students shouldn’t register with their FCPS email address.
  • Blake Lane Community Safety Meeting (Online) — 7-8:30 p.m. — As a follow-up to a community meeting in January, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik will provide updates on safety improvements in the Blake Lane corridor. The live stream will be available via Zoom and Facebook Live. For the agenda and more information, visit the calendar event on the Fairfax County website.

Tuesday (April 20)

  • Earth Day 2021 — The Fairfax County Park Authority will celebrate Earth Day with volunteer activities from April 20-22. In addition, the agency’s social media accounts will post fun facts, tips, and programs in line with this year’s theme of “Together, We can Restore Our Earth.” For more information, contact the Public Information Office at [email protected] or call 703-324-8662.
  • A Gambling Man Launch (Online) — 7-8:30 p.m. — Author David Baldacci is kicking off the release tour for his new book “A Gambling Man” with this virtual launch event hosted by Bards Alley in Vienna with “Miracle Creek” author Angie Kim. Tickets are available for $5, or a $30.74 ticket also gets you a hardcover copy of Baldacci’s novel.

Wednesday (April 21)

Thursday (April 22)

Saturday (April 24)

  • Prescription Drug Take-Back Day — 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Falls Church Community Center (223 Little Falls St.) — National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is a day when the public can return expired, unused, or unwanted pills and patches. The program is free and anonymous. Liquids and needles are not allowed. Vape pens and other e-cigarette devices will be collected without the battery in them. More information can be found on the U.S. Department of Justice website.

Sunday (April 25)

  • Spring Open Air Market — 12-5 p.m. at the Windover Building (243 Church St. NW) — The Vienna Arts Society is holding an open air market where local artisans and food retailers will sell various goods, ranging from hand-painted glass from Sovereign Treasures to pastries from Pourie-Mourie. The first 250 visitors will receive a free shopping bag.
  • Virtual Afternoon Tea: Six Degrees (Online) — 3 p.m. — Join a conversation at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria about the theory that everyone is six or fewer social contacts apart. Learn how to find links to famous relatives. The lecture is $12 per person, and there is an optional tea box for an additional $24. Register online, and for more information, call 703-941-7987.

Photo via Tysons Partnership/Facebook

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New crosswalks and other facility upgrades are coming to Shrevewood Elementary School in Falls Church, thanks to state grants that will fund road safety improvement projects in Fairfax County.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday (March 9) to accept $1.5 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation for three projects in the county’s Transportation Alternatives program, which focuses on infrastructure improvements that support walking, cycling, and other non-motorized forms of travel.

The Shrevewood Elementary project is part of VDOT’s Safe Routes to Schools initiative, a federally funded program intended to make it easier and safer for students to walk or ride their bicycles to school.

For the project, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation plans to add three new crosswalks outside of the elementary school (7525 Shreve Road):

  • a marked crosswalk across Shreve Road at Fairwood Lane to the west
  • a marked crosswalk at the school’s eastern driveway that will cross the bifurcated portion of Shreve Road
  • a crosswalk across Virginia Lane at Virginia Avenue

The project also entails the addition of new connections to existing sidewalks and paths, curb ramps, curb extensions, and school crosswalk signs and markings.

FCDOT says these changes will improve access to Shrevewood from neighborhoods to the north. Shreve Road currently has no marked crosswalks within a half-mile of the school despite its proximity to many pedestrian and bicycle facilities, including the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, which runs parallel to Shreve Road and Virginia Lane.

“I know my community at Shrevewood Elementary will be thrilled to hear this,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said during the board meeting.

The Shrevewood Elementary project is part of a broad effort by transportation officials and community advocates to improve the safety of Shreve Road, particularly in the wake of a vehicle crash in 2019 that killed a pedestrian.

VDOT added two temporary, flashing beacons at the W&OD Trail crossing on Oct. 28, and a report with recommendations for additional short-term and long-term improvements in the Shreve Road corridor came out in late December.

Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board, thanked Palchik and the other county supervisors for accepting the VDOT grant funding to move the Safe Roads to Schools project forward.

“The new signage, ground markings, and crosswalks coming to the Shrevewood community will help keep students safe and give parents peace of mind when their children walk or bike to school,” Frisch said.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board approved a $560,000 Safe Routes to Schools grant for Shrevewood Elementary in October. The grant requires a local match of $140,000, which will come out of Fairfax County’s Fund 40010 for county and regional transportation projects, according to county staff.

As part of the vote on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors also authorized FCDOT to accept $160,000 for a Safe Routes to Schools project at Orange Hunt Elementary School in Springfield and $780,000 to add a sidewalk, crosswalk, and curb ramps on Columbia Pike between Backlick Road and Tom Davis Drive in Annandale.

The three projects will collectively require $375,000 in county funds to match the state grants. Design work will commence once county staff sign project agreements with VDOT.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain, image via Google Maps

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The Virginia Department of Transportation published its final report on ways to improve the safety of Shreve Road in Falls Church yesterday (Monday).

Now available to view online, the Shreve Road Corridor Study report focuses on two miles of roadway between Route 29 (Lee Highway) and Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) that have had recurring issues with pedestrian and bicyclist safety, including a fatal crash involving a pedestrian and an impaired driver in 2019.

After that crash, local residents formed the Shreve Road Community Working Group to advocate for improvements to address speeding, safety, visibility, and drainage concerns.

The group identified the curve southwest of Oldewood Drive, Shrevewood Elementary School, the Washington & Old Dominion Trail crossings, and the curve between Chestnut and Hickory Streets as areas of particular concern on Shreve Road.

VDOT officially launched its study in March and presented some preliminary recommendations at a virtual public meeting on Oct. 7 that it says was attended by approximately 70 people.

Based on feedback from the community, VDOT’s study team has issued four short-term and six long-term final recommendations, which are listed in order from highest to lowest priority:

Short Term

  • Add pedestrian beacons to W&OD Trail crossings
  • Incorporate pedestrian median at Fairwood Lane into Safe Routes to School project
  • Add and upgrade Shreve Road pedestrian connections
  • Install optical speed bars and implement vegetation management

Long Term

  • Advance roundabout alternative near Shrevewood Elementary
  • Advance chicane design at Pioneer Lane
  • Coordinate potential bicycle speed treatments for the W&OD Trail
  • Develop a neighborhood gateway near Route 29
  • Consider an urban cross-section between Route 7 and Gordons Road
  • Potentially revisit mini-roundabouts at Pinecastle Road and Buckelew Drive

VDOT says its team received the most comments about recommendations related to Shrevewood Elementary and the Pinecastle/Buckelew intersection. The reactions to its roundabout proposals were roughly evenly split between people felt favorably and people who opposed the ideas. Read More

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While it may be tempting to throw caution into the wind as 2020 winds to a close, local and state police are emphasizing the need for people to drive safely during the winter holidays, when alcohol-related crashes often spike.

Data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office shows that the Commonwealth has recorded more fatalities from traffic crashes related to speed and drunk driving so far this year than in all of 2019, the Virginia State Police reported on Monday (Dec. 21).

“Virginia is on pace to have more total fatal traffic crashes in 2020 than in 2019,” VSP Superintendent Col. Gary Settle said. “…Overall traffic crashes in Virginia this year are down significantly. This means each crash has been deadlier – deadlier because of speed, alcohol, distractions, and individuals not wearing seatbelts.”

The increase in deaths from crashes comes even as the COVID-19 pandemic kept many people off the roads and confined to their homes.

According to toll operator Transurban, traffic on the Interstate 95, 495, and 395 Express Lanes was down 80% in April – when Virginia had stay-at-home orders in place – compared to that same time period in 2019. While traffic has gradually increased since then, it remained 39% below 2019 levels as of November.

Police say that drunk-driving related fatalities and crashes typically go up nationwide during the holidays.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 839 people were killed in drunk-driving crashes in the U.S. in December 2018. 285 of them died during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period, the VSP says.

The Fairfax County Police Department’s traffic division steps up its patrol for people driving the influence every year with an annual campaign against drunk driving that runs from the end of November to the new year.

“Although this campaign only runs until January 1, we are fortunate enough to have a dedicated DWI Squad to continue enforcement throughout the rest of the year,” the FCPD said in an email, adding that Virginia DMV recorded 336 alcohol-related crashes, 215 injuries, and seven deaths in the state from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15, 2019.

Health officials have been discouraging people from attending parties or gathering with people outside their immediate household, but for anyone who decides to travel during the holiday season, the Virginia State Police has some recommendations:

  • Plan ahead. Designate a sober driver, call a friend or family member, or use a cab or public transportation.
  • If you know someone has been drinking, do not let them drive. Arrange an alternative, safer way home.
  • Call police if you see an impaired driver on the road. Dial #77 to contact the nearest VSP emergency communications center.

State police will also have new grounds to crack down on distracted driving in the new year. It will be illegal to use a phone or other handheld communications device while driving on highways in Virginia starting on Jan. 1.

“Virginia State Police is urging every motorist on the road this holiday season to be responsible, obey the traffic laws, ditch distractions, and wear a seatbelt,” the VSP said in its news release. “Whether heading to the grocery store, the post office, or delivering gifts to family and friends, choose to do it safely and do it responsibly.”

Photo via FCPD, map via Virginia DMV

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Santa will once again grace Falls Church City with his presence this December, but he will have a lighter sleigh in tow.

The City of Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department announced on Nov. 19 that its Santamobile – a fire truck festooned with colorful string lights and other decorations – will not distribute candy canes and safety literature when it tours the area this year due to the health risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Due to the current pandemic, our event coordinators have decided that although we will still have Santamobile this year, it will be modified to avoid in-person interaction, in order to protect the safety of our staff and the public,” the FCVFD said.

As in previous years, the Santamobile will first set out on Dec. 15 with stops in each of the city’s neighborhoods over the next four nights before venturing into neighboring Fairfax and Arlington counties. Each night will go from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and the last day of the event will be Dec. 23.

Here is the Santamobile’s current schedule for its tour through Falls Church City:

  • Dec. 15: South of W. Broad Street in the St. James Cemetery and Virginia Forest neighborhoods to Seaton Lane and S. Oak Street south of the Tripps Run bridge
  • Dec. 16: North of W. Broad Street, including Little Falls Street
  • Dec. 17: South of W. Broad Street from the Tyler Gardens and Virginia Forest neighborhoods south of Seaton Lane as well as streets north of the Tripps Run bridge
  • Dec. 18: The Little Falls neighborhood and streets east of Washington Street, including the Madison Park and Whittier Park neighborhoods
  • Dec. 19: Broadmont neighborhood and streets on the north side of Hillwood east of Cherry Street

A map of the vehicle’s planned routes can be found on the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department’s website at fallschurchfire.org/santamobile.

“Please note that routes are subject to change based on road conditions including parking, traffic, and construction,” the FCVFD says.

Any changes to the Santamobile schedule will be posted to the FCVFD Facebook page, which will have a link to a SantaTracker. The department says questions about the Santamobile should be directed to [email protected], not its fire station.

The FCVFD says that the Santamobile will not be able to respond to requests for private drive-by visits.

In addition to bringing holiday cheer to families around the city, the annual Santamobile serves the function of raising awareness about fire safety, according to the FCVFD.

This year, the department’s public education team is asking community members to fill out an online survey about what safety presentations might be most useful to them. The survey can be found on the FCVFD website at fallschurchfire.org/public-education-survey.

Photo courtesy City of Falls Church

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