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The Virginia Department of Transportation will build a shared-use path on Old Meadow Road and a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over I-495 (via VDOT)

The Virginia Department of Transportation has selected Shirley Contracting Company to build a bridge and shared-use path along Old Meadow Road, providing a crucial connection from Tysons Corner Center to the McLean Metro station over I-495.

The contract was awarded in June but has not been finalized yet. VDOT project manager Abraham Lerner confirmed that construction is still expected to start this summer.

“At this time we do not have a specific date when the construction of the Tysons Old-Meadow Road project is expected to begin,” Lerner told Tysons Reporter by email. “We need to finalize the administrative processes related to getting the contractor under contract…We will reach out to the community prior to starting construction work.”

Based in Lorton, Shirley Contracting is an affiliate of Clark Construction, which has been involved in numerous other projects in Fairfax County, including the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line project.

The project will provide a bridge over the Capital Beltway for pedestrians and bicyclists, who currently have no easy way to cross the interstate at the Route 123 interchange. It will also involve the addition of a 4,662-foot-long, 10-foot-wide trail along the west side of Old Meadow Road.

Construction will unfold in two phases due to the availability of funding, according to Lerner.

The first phase will introduce the bridge and a portion of the shared-use path up to the Provincial Drive intersection. Construction will be supported by $8.5 million in funding and is expected to be complete in the summer of 2022.

The shared-use path will then be extended to Route 123 during the project’s second phase, which will begin construction once “additional funding becomes available,” VDOT says.

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A Vienna-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting young wrestlers is encouraging residents to take a self-guided walking tour of the town this week for Mental Health Action Day.

The Eric Monday Foundation announced yesterday (Tuesday) that it has partnered with the Falls Church marketing agency Focused Image and the construction technology company RPG Squarefoot Solutions to create a walking map of the Town of Vienna for a “Take It to the Streets Walking Challenge.”

Starting Friday (May 21), community members will be able to pick up the poster-sized maps from Vienna Inn (120 Maple Ave. E), Greenheart Juice Shop (208 Dominion Rd NE), and Social Burger (350 Maple Ave. W).

“Walking can do wonders for your mental health. It improves your self-perception, sleep and helps to reduce stress and anxiety,” the foundation said in a press release. “We challenge you to get out with your family and friends and on each walk highlight the streets on the map until you have walked every street in this town!”

The challenge is part of the Eric Monday Foundation’s plans to participate in the first-ever Mental Health Action Day, which will be tomorrow (Thursday).

Boasting more than 500 nonprofits, companies, government agencies, and other organizations as partners, Mental Health Action Day is a nationwide campaign organized by MTV Entertainment Group as part of its new “Mental Health Is Health” initiative, which launched in April to promote the destigmatization of mental health conditions.

Spurred by reports of more people experiencing psychological challenges like anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mental Health Action Day encourages people to take action to address mental health issues, whether by seeking counseling or other services for themselves or by advocating for systemic changes to make it easier for people get access to mental health resources.

In a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in August, 40.9% of respondents said they had symptoms of at least one mental or behavioral health condition, including anxiety or depressive disorders, increased substance use, and trauma or stress related to the pandemic.

10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide within the 30 days prior to completing the survey, with rates especially high among young adults, Hispanic and Black individuals, caregivers, and essential workers.

“Though more people than ever are comfortable discussing mental health, finding effective resources, and knowing how to get help remains a challenge,” the Eric Monday Foundation said.

In addition to organizing the “Take It to the Streets” Walking Challenge, the foundation is participating in Mental Health Action Day by urging people to sign its Take Down the Stigma pledge, a commitment to talk openly about mental health, get educated, and show compassion by listening to people’s stories and paying attention to the language people use.

The foundation also marked Mental Health Awareness Month by hosting a parent education seminar and raising a Take Down the Stigma banner over Maple Avenue that includes the PRS CrisisLink hotline (800-273-TALK) and textline numbers (“CONNECT” to 855-11).

“We are honored to have our Town and its businesses participating in Mental Health Action Day by highlighting and bringing awareness to #takedownthestigma,” Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert said. “The Town of Vienna is a welcoming place for all people and the Take to the Streets Challenge encourages us to come together, get some exercise with friends and family and support the mission of the Eric Monday Foundation.”

Vienna Inn owner Marty Volk says he was glad his business could do its part to support the foundation, which is named after a former James Madison High School wrestler who died in 2009 at 21.

“We are all about supporting the community and happy to be able to play a role in the important efforts of the Eric Monday Foundation and their mental health mission,” Volk said.

Photo courtesy Eric Monday Foundation

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Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts launched an immersive, GPS-enabled public art exhibit today that aims to merge the musical and natural worlds.

Ellen Reid SOUNDWALK is a soundscape experience designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid to enhance the experience of walking through Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

“As winter melts into spring, I find myself at long last filled with optimism,” Reid said. “Re-framing parks musically has been a wonderful challenge, and Wolf Trap is a perfect setting for this piece.”

Guests can access Reid’s music, which was composed specifically for Wolf Trap’s landscape, through a free app that triggers different soundscapes as they move along the mile-long route through the trails and woods around the national park. There are also musical “Easter eggs” hidden around the park for guests to find on their walk.

Performed by musicians in the SOUNDWALK Ensemble, including Reid on a synthesizer, the music changes based on the path and pace that each individual takes, so no two experiences are the same.

Wolf Trap Foundation President and CEO Arvind Manocha says the nonprofit co-commissioned the project to welcome patrons back to Wolf Trap “for their first musical experience in over a year.”

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we wanted to give our community a special opportunity to experience the beauty of music and nature in a safe and socially distanced manner and to re-engage with Wolf Trap as we, with the National Park Service, celebrate the coming of summer,” Manocha said.

SOUNDWALK was also commissioned by the New York Philharmonic, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and The Mann Center for the Performing Arts in association with The Fairmount Park Conservancy and Britt Festival Orchestra.

Wolf Trap partnered with the National Park Service and Visit Fairfax, Fairfax County’s official tourism organization, for the project and received some local funding from the Virginia Tourism Corporation.

The installation will be open to the public for free from sunrise to sunset through Sept. 6.

Wolf Trap National Park will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Filene Center this year, but plans for the upcoming summer season have not been announced yet. Live, in-person performances have been on hold since spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though the park has offered some virtual shows throughout the past year.

Photo via Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts/Facebook

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The Town of Vienna is funding a sidewalk project that aims to make the town a little more pedestrian-friendly, but walkability remains a big topic throughout the car-heavy Tysons area.

With coronavirus shutting down most international travel, more emphasis was put on traveling by foot around neighborhoods. In Tysons, that led to temporarily closing a section of Tysons Blvd last year to accommodate more pedestrian traffic.

At the northern end of the area, McLean is also in the process over updating some of its busted sidewalks to help make walking around downtown less of a chore.

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The Fairfax County Department of Transportation will host a series of virtual discussions next month for community members to share their thoughts on walking, bicycling, and other modes of travel that don’t involve getting inside a car.

The community conversations are intended to give county staff insight into people’s travel habits and areas where the county could improve bicycle and pedestrian access or facilities as part of FCDOT’s efforts to develop a new ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan.

“Community input is critical to the success of this planning effort,” FCDOT spokesperson Anna Nissinen said in a statement. “We want to hear all perspectives, from families biking and walking within the community to individuals who use scooters and bike share as part of their commute. This is the only way to create a comprehensive and functional plan that truly supports the needs of the community.”

12 online meetings have been scheduled, starting with an evening conversation for Mason District residents on April 8. The meetings focused on the Tysons area include:

There will also be a meeting in Spanish on April 15 at 7 p.m. and two “Lunch and Learn” sessions at noon on April 13 and 23.

A recording of the event and the presentation will be available on the ActiveFairfax webpage for anyone unable to attend a meeting. There is also an online survey for community members to share their perspective on barriers to non-motorized travel, potential trail and bicycle network improvements, and other topics.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed FCDOT to review its plan for active transportation — defined by the county as “self-propelled, human-powered travel” such as walking, cycling, or using a scooter or wheelchair — in January 2020.

Launched last summer, the project is divided into two phases. First, FCDOT is developing a vision statement laying out the county’s goals, evaluating existing conditions, and creating a plan for a systematic safety program. Then, the department will come up with recommendations, including potential comprehensive plan updates and project and policy prioritization.

Local officials have been looking at ways to enhance Fairfax County’s bikeability and walkability, particularly in urbanizing areas like Tysons and Reston, to improve safety and reflect people’s evolving travel habits.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board’s most recent Regional Travel Survey found that the number of bicycle trips in the D.C. area has doubled over the past decade, though the amount of daily walking trips has remained steady.

“The plan will establish a vision and a roadmap for implementation of safe, convenient, and enjoyable streets, sidewalks, bike facilities, and trails in Fairfax County for people of all ages and abilities,” Nissinen said. “The plan will support livable street design through the development of a transportation network that connects people to where they live, work, play, learn and take transit.”

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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Updated at 11:45 a.m. — The fatality and crash numbers in this article from the DMV reflect statistics for Northern Virginia, not just Fairfax County as previously stated. The Fairfax County Police Department says that the county’s fatality and crash rates are much lower.

With 38 pedestrian fatalities, 2019 was the deadliest year in the last decade to walk in Northern Virginia, according to Virginia DMV data.

The number of deaths dropped to 29 in 2020, but the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and county transportation officials are still working on strategies to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety with a countywide initiative.

“Unfortunately our incidents of pedestrian fatalities and crashes continue to be at unacceptable levels,” FCDOT bicycle and pedestrian program manager Chris Wells said during a transportation committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday). “Due to a number of factors, those numbers are trending up — not just in Fairfax, but in Virginia and across the United States.”

Bicycling is safer, but crash rates are still high: 216 crashes in 2019, and 157 in 2020.

Wells added that certain portions of Fairfax County’s population are disproportionately affected by pedestrian crashes, a trend that has been documented nationwide.

The county hopes to reverse these statistics. Wells told supervisors that FCDOT and VDOT have recently improved walking and cycling conditions by programming head starts into signals for pedestrians, re-striping four-lane roads as two-lane roads, and installing rapid-flashing beacons for crosswalks without lights.

VDOT awarded FCDOT $1.2 million last year to install nine more flashing beacons, bringing the county’s total to 17, Wells said.

VDOT also has a pedestrian safety action plan for improving safety along particularly dangerous corridors. In Fairfax County, the highest-priority roads are Columbia Pike, Little River Turnpike, Richmond Highway, Lee Highway, Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, Braddock Road, and Ox Road.

Officials said that work on roads in Fairfax County is a lengthy process compared to other jurisdictions, because VDOT owns the roads.

“They’ve really stepped up this year to help us to advance pedestrian safety in a way that we have not seen in years past,” FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny said.

Looking ahead, supervisors suggested introducing better lighting and longer crossing times at mid-block crosswalks. They are also still interested in reducing speeds in the county.

FCDOT officials said a multiagency group, including transportation officials and attorneys, is working through the logistics of speed cameras. Meanwhile, VDOT is preparing to examine where speed limits can be lowered.

Fairfax County has also been experimenting with closing street lanes to provide more room for walking and cycling. A pilot project that closed one lane on a half-mile section of Tysons Boulevard to motor vehicles ran from May 29 to Nov. 23 of last year, and a partial lane closure on Government Center Parkway has been in place since Aug. 31.

Chart and map via Virginia DMV data dashboards

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As the Tysons plan reaches its 10-year anniversary, Supervisors John Foust and Dalia Palchik spoke candidly to the McLean Citizens Association last night (Wednesday) about some of the challenges facing the Tysons plan today.

While many of the issues were Tysons-specific, they are also challenges the entire region faces as Northern Virginia becomes more urbanized:

  • Walkability
  • Schools
  • Affordable Housing

For some of these, the recent pandemic has both brought the issues into focus and helped present new opportunities.

“One of my favorite topics is walkability,” Palchik said. “[We’re] looking now at how we make Tysons more walkable.”

Palchik pointed to a recent success in temporarily closing a section of Tysons Blvd to allow for more cycling and walking. Palchik pointed to it as a step in the right direction, but said it also took a lot of work to make it happen.

“It took a month to get Fairfax and the Department of Transportation to agree on a location,” Palchik said. “I hope to see more flexibility to create a sense of place.”

Palchik pointed to the planned pedestrian and bike bridge going over the beltway as another upcoming walkability success. Tysons is also slated for more investments to connect the blooming city’s street grid.

“Sometimes, new streets can feel in conflict with existing conditions, but [we’re] trying to make it more walkable,” Palchik said. “Change can be hard, but we’re looking at the upsides and really listening.”

Palchik and Foust both repeatedly praised the foundation of the Tysons plan, but said there are things that need tweaking.

“One issue that continues to bother me is the fact that we don’t have a plan for delivering school facilities in Tysons yet,” Foust said. “We have gotten a proffer of land for an elementary school. That’s an issue that’s going to head up, going forward.”

Palchik said the county needs to be more flexible on how schools are built, for example, building smaller schools with less grade levels than traditional elementary, middle, and high school models.

“We’ve been working on proffers, because the county can’t buy land,” Palchik said. “We’re looking at being more flexible, knowing this area is urbanizing. Can we get five acres? Can portions of development be dedicated to classrooms?”

Foust said another issue that’s really been prevalent during the pandemic is the lack of affordable housing in the area.

“Our challenge is delivering housing for 80% below and 60% below [Area Median Income],” Foust said. “We’re working on that challenge to increase the amount of housing that is truly affordable.”

COVID-19, Foust said, has hopefully helped to highlight the role essential workers play.

“COVID, if nothing else, has opened up our eyes to who is truly our essential workers, and they’re not the people making the income that can put you in a luxury apartment in Tysons,” Foust said. “They’re the kind of people working in the department stores and grocery stores, the service providers, and they deserve to live in the community where they work.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Monday Morning Notes

Tysons-based Credit Union Raises $585,000 for Military Veterans — “The PenFed Foundation joined over 75 community and business leaders to raise over $585,000 to support veterans and the military community at the 17th annual Military Heroes Golf Classic on Monday, September 21st.” [PenFed]

How Substantial Park Requirements May Challenge Walkability Goals in Tysons — “Parks can create what urban theorist Jane Jacobs called “border vacuums.” Border vacuums are long stretches of monotonous space separating potential destinations.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Behind the Scenes of Library Book Selection — “Have you ever imagined what goes into the library’s decision to buy a book? Collection Services is the department at Fairfax County Public Library that selects and orders library materials.” [Fairfax County]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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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!

Tuesday (Sept. 15)

  • Mayor @ Your Service — 7:30 p.m. at Vienna Town Hall (127 Center Street S.) —  Mayor Laurie DiRocco will have a presentation and conversation about Town programs and initiatives, Vienna history, or other topics of interest, the website said.

Thursday (Sept. 17)

Friday (Sept. 18)

  • Mayor’s Walk –9:30 a.m. at Vienna Town Hall (127 Center Street S.) —  Walk and talk the town with Mayor Linda Colbert.
  • Vienna Virtual Bingo Fun (Online) — 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.– Join Town of Vienna’s Program Coordinator, Kathy Blevins, for a fun hour of bingo through Zoom, the website said. Email [email protected] to register or call 703-255-7801 for more information.
  • Sunset Cinema: Moana (Reservation Required) –7:45 p.m. at Cherry Hill Park (312 Park Ave.) — Sunset Cinema returns with the showing of “Moana.” This event is limited to 20 families in a reservation system, the website said. To register, use this website.

Saturday (Sept. 19)

  • Falls Church Farmers Market — 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at City Hall Parking Lot (300 Park Ave.) — Enjoy fresh, local produce, meat, dairy, flowers & plants, honey, music, and so much more at the Falls Church Farmers Market, the website said.
  • Vienna Farmers Market –8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Vienna Community Center Parking Lot (120 Cherry Street SE ) — Sponsored by the Optimist Club of Greater Vienna, the Vienna Farmers Market features approximately 30 vendors from across the region offering locally sourced fruits, vegetables, and homemade eats, the website said.

Photo via Falls Church Farmers Market/Facebook

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Northern Virginia is rolling back COVID-19 restrictions on businesses as residents are under a “safer at home” recommendation. As the weather continues to warm up and more people head outside, people are finding limited transportation options.

Silver and Orange Line stations west of Ballston are currently closed for summer work. Meanwhile, work is underway to revamp I-66 with lane closures and 30-minute stoppages in the Vienna area.

In late May, staff photographer Jay Westcott captured what transportation looks like now in Tysons: cyclists and pedestrians along the W&OD Trail in Vienna and closure signs at the Tysons Corner Metro station.

Westcott spotted a dog named Cora watching her owner Chad exercise in the parking garage at Tysons Corner Center. He photographed Leesburg Pike, almost empty of cars, by the malls and empty parking garages around Tysons.

Let us know how you’ve been getting around Tysons and if the pandemic has impacted your transportation choices by commenting below.

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