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.

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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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Flashing beacons have been installed at the Washington & Old Dominion Trail crossing on Shreve Road in Falls Church, offering a glimmer of hope that bigger changes are coming to a road that has been plagued by safety and traffic issues for years.

The Virginia Department of Transportation added two solar and battery-powered flashing yellow lights to existing yellow bicycle-and-pedestrian warning signs facing each direction on Shreve Road on Oct. 28.

The new beacons are temporary, intended as a “second warning” after drivers pass permanent warning beacons that can be found several hundred feed prior to the crossing, according to VDOT spokesperson Kathleen Leonard.

Operational around the clock, the temporary flashing beacons were installed to quickly address concerns about bicycle and pedestrian safety on Shreve Road. Community members have been particularly adamant about the need for improvements since a female pedestrian was killed in a crash in August 2019.

“This is a positive safety development for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists accessing the Shreve Road corridor,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said. “The flashing light will improve visibility and operate on solar and battery power.”

Palchik also announced on Wednesday that a more substantial change for Shreve Road is closer to fruition with the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s approval of a Safe Routes to School grant for Fairfax County’s proposed Shrevewood Elementary School project.

With the Safe Routes to School grant, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation plans to add three new marked crosswalks:

  • Across Shreve Road at Fairwood Lane
  • Across Shreve at the elementary school’s eastern driveway
  • Across Virginia Lane at Virginia Avenue

Each crosswalk will include connections to existing sidewalks and paths, signs, markings, and curb ramps and extensions.

According to FCDOT, Shreve Road currently has no marked crosswalks for over half a mile that provide access to the school from northern neighborhoods and the W&OD Trail, despite an abundance of pedestrian and bike facilities along the road and many nearby streets.

The Shrevewood project was driven by the community and has gotten support from the school’s parent-teacher association and principal as well as the Falls Hill Civic Association and other homeowners’ and civic associations, according to FCDOT communications head Robin Geiger.

Geiger says the project has not been developed enough for a timeline to be established.

By improving safety, Safe Routes to School aims to encourage students to exercise instead of taking cars to school. About 30 percent of Fairfax County’s elementary and middle schools take part in the program.

“These improvements will help students become more physically active and healthy and make Shreve Road safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike,” Providence District School Board representative Karl Frisch said.

VDOT is currently exploring additional safety improvements along Shreve Road through its Shreve Road Corridor Study, which launched earlier this year after months of advocacy by the Shreve Road Community Working Group.

With the National Park Service considering improvements to the W&OD crossing, VDOT’s study team is refining its recommendations based on public input after presenting them at a virtual public meeting on Oct. 7.

“At this time the study does not set construction dates for any of the alternatives,” Leonard said. “The purpose of this study is to develop proposed improvements that localities can pursue for funding, and to consider including in their comprehensive plans.”

Photo via Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Facebook

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The Virginia Department of Transportation is now soliciting public input on its draft proposals for potential safety and operational improvements on Route 50 until Oct. 30.

The Route 50 Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions (STARS) study centers on the three miles of Arlington Boulevard between Jaguar Trail and Wilson Boulevard (Route 613) in the Falls Church area of Fairfax County.

Released in an online presentation on Oct. 13, the proposed improvements include:

  • Pedestrian enhancements at Jaguar, Allen Street, Graham Road, Woodlawn Avenue, Annandale Road, the area between Marshall Street and East Tripps Run Road, and the Thomas Jefferson Library area
  • Turn lane improvements at Allen, Graham, and South Street
  • Access management improvements throughout the corridor, including a widened median in the Thomas Jefferson Library area, and extended medians at Allen, Graham, Annandale, and the area between Marshall and East Tripps Run

VDOT says its proposed improvements are primarily designed to reduce pedestrian crashes and improve safety without making significant changes to the roadway. Possible costs range from $2.5 million to $12 million depending on whether they would require any construction.

VDOT launched the Route 50 STARS study back in June 2019 and held a public information meeting on Oct. 21, 2019. An online survey conducted last October drew 962 participants, who identified traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, and travel time reliability as their top three issues with Route 50.

According to VDOT, Route 50 sees over 50,000 vehicles a day on average, and drivers often experience delays during peak hours, especially at the Graham Road and Annandale Road intersections. It also features 10 pedestrian crosswalks and 12 bus stops, while accommodating 60 Metro buses per day during the work week.

The annual crash rate on Route 50 is 32% to 43% higher than the average rate for the other primary highways in Northern Virginia.

“While they were not a large percentage of the reported crashes, pedestrian crashes accounted for many of the fatal crashes and severe-injury crashes in the corridor,” VDOT said in its video presentation.

VDOT had planned to present its initial draft recommendations this past spring, but limitations on large in-person meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic led the department to delay the presentation and deliver it virtually instead.

Community members can provide input on the recommendations by taking an online survey or sending comments to VDOT by email at [email protected] They can also be mailed to VDOT traffic engineer Bobby Mangalath at 4975 Alliance Drive, Fairfax, VA 22030.

A report with the study’s final recommendations is expected to be released this coming winter.

VDOT emphasizes that the purpose of the study, which has a cost of $280,000, is to give Fairfax County options to consider when making funding requests and developing its comprehensive plan, but no decisions will be made on which projects, if any, will be implemented.

Staff photo by Catherine Moran, image via VDOT

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The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) unveiled suggestions for ways to address speeding and safety concerns on Shreve Road in Falls Church during a virtual public information meeting on Oct. 7.

Possible improvements range from minor alterations, such as optical speed bars and vegetation management, to potentially complex projects, like Shrevewood Elementary School roundabouts.

Led by VDOT and the consulting firm Kittelson & Associates, the Shreve Road Corridor Study team emphasized that its goal is to give the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County options to consider, not to make decisions on funding or construction.

“This is a planning-level study,” VDOT transportation planning manager Amir Shahpar said. “The purpose of this study is to develop proposed improvements for localities to apply for funding for some or all of the recommendations.”

VDOT launched the Shreve Road Corridor Study on Mar. 25 in response to the advocacy efforts of the Shreve Road Community Working Group, which formed after a woman was killed in a hit and run at the intersection with Hickory Street in August 2019.

The study focuses on the two-mile section of Shreve that connects Route 29 with Route 7. That stretch averages up to 10,000 vehicles a day, according to VDOT, raising concerns about traffic speed and pedestrian and bicycle safety in the surrounding neighborhoods.

To address the Hickory Curve, the study team proposed adding optical speed bars, enhanced signage, and other means of slowing traffic ahead of the curve; moving the pedestrian pathway; clearing vegetation to improve visibility; or creating a barrier curb and gutter.

VDOT also considered installing additional guardrails to shield pedestrians from motorists but found that they are “not warranted” for that particular location, Kittelson engineering associate Amelia Martin says.

Options for improvements outside Shrevewood Elementary include building roundabouts or removing the street median, but the area’s topography, the presence of utilities, and other factors would make those complicated undertakings. Read More

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