Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Archive for the ‘Central Fairfax’ Category

Getting across the street

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on November 10, 2009

Rte 7 ped

Route 7 near Seven Corners has many pedestrians, no sidewalks and no safe crossings

If you live in Fairfax and want to walk or bicycle to the 7-11, your job or to your child’s school, chances are you will have to cross a major road. To bicycle to our son’s elementary school, we have to cross both Route 236 and Route 50, plus a busy secondary road, Jermantown Road. During peak hours Route 236 and 50 have many turning vehicles and short walk cycles. The crosswalks are poorly lit, increasing the risk of collisions with pedestrians.

But these crosswalks are still a lot safer than on many other arterial roads in Fairfax County. Twenty two pedestrians were killed on Route 1 between 1995 and 2005, according to a 2008 report by the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Eleven pedestrians were killed on Route 7.  A lot of people live along these streets, and many of them don’t drive. Yet the streets lack sidewalks, lighting and safe crossings.

Virginia ranks last among states in spending on pedestrian and bicycle projects per capita, according to a report released yesterday by Transportation for America and the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership. The report,  Dangerous by Design: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths (and Making Great Neighborhoods), looks at pedestrian spending and safety, using a “pedestrian danger index” that computes the rate of pedestrian deaths relative to the amount of walking the residents do on average. For safety, the Washington area ranks 32nd among the largest 52 metro areas  (with 52 being the least dangerous) — better than many Sunbelt areas that have been mostly built in the age of the automobile, but worse than Virginia Beach and many comparable metro regions.  A 2008 report by the Coalition for Smarter Growth ranked Fairfax as the most dangerous county in the region for pedestrians, based on the same pedestrian danger index.

Fairfax County  recognizes the problem and is investing millions of dollars in better pedestrian design on its most dangerous roads. Earlier this year the $8 million Patrick Henry pedestrian bridge opened on Route 50 near Falls Church. But this may not be the best design solution.  Steven Offutt’s great post on the bridge showed that most pedestrians still cross on the street. Ultimately, the street itself has to be made more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.

Making these roads complete streets that are safe and convenient for all users will require a major overhaul of VDOT’s current approach. VDOT does have a policy requiring routine accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists as part of any major road construction and maintenance project. But sidewalks and bike lanes, however important, are only parts of complete streets. There are many tools such as bulb-outs, pedestrian refuge islands, express bus lanes and tighter curb radii that would correct the balance toward pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users.

There is no better place to use these tools than at Tysons Corner. If we don’t build complete streets on Routes 7 and 123, the success of transit-oriented development at Tysons will be limited. Will VDOT and other agencies involved in the redesign of these roads show more flexibility in making them pleasant and safe for walking and bicycling?


Posted in Bicycling, Central Fairfax, Fairfax Boulevard, Fairfax City, Transportation, Tysons Corner, VDOT, Walk to school, Walking | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Superblocks about to tumble

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on July 9, 2009

Two large vacant retail spaces suggest future redevelopment is not far off at Jermantown Plaza and the nearby shopping center once anchored by Home Expo

Few places are as existentially lonely as a parking lot of an over-the-hill shopping center. I spent a recent afternoon scouting out the area around the in-transition Fairfax Center and Jermantown Plaza shopping centers, located on both sides of Route 29 west of Kamp Washington. Both owned by A.J. Dwoskin and Associates, these shopping centers have lost key tenants and their parking lots are vast asphalt deserts. Across Jermantown Road is industrial space and the Ted Britt Ford dealership; Britt is apparently interested in redeveloping his property. The Waples Mill homes, a very well maintained mobile home community behind Fairfax Center, has also been eyed for redevelopment. Much of this area is in play over the next few years — and it’s an eight-minute bike ride from our house.

Some neighbors had their pitchforks ready at the intimation of redevelopment of Waples Mill Homes as part of the Fairfax County Area Plans Review process several years ago. The fact that this area straddles the Fairfax City / County border makes land use even more complex. But redevelopment of Jermantown Plaza could relieve traffic problems by creating more connecting roads between Route 29 and Lee-Jackson Highway, and extending the Government Center Parkway to Jermantown Road. And with the pleasant Morrison Townhomes complex on Stevenson Road, and the development of the Ridgewood mixed-income apartments and condominiums near 29 and Ridge Top Road, we have something to build on.

I’ll miss Bloom, but these it’s time to carve these superblocks into something much finer and more functional.

Posted in Central Fairfax, Fairfax Boulevard, Fairfax City | Leave a Comment »

A more livable central Fairfax

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on June 30, 2009

Dirt is getting cleared big-time for the mixed-use Ridgewood project in Springfield. Ridgewood will include affordable homes — a big plus especially in a location within walking and bicycling distance to Fairfax County Government Center — stores, parks and office space, and all parking will be structured and embedded inside the site. Residents will be able to walk to a lot of amenities including the nearby Wegman’s and Fairfax Corner. The project will also extend Government Center Parkway, adding another important link in the road network.

All good. Kudos to developer KSI, Springfield District civic leaders, Planning Commissioner Peter Murphy and former Supervisor Elaine McConnell for getting the project through. The land use in this area is getting better. Now, will our obscenely auto-oriented roads in this area follow suit?

The central Fairfax/Government Center area is studded with overly wide roads that are difficult and unpleasant to cross by foot or bicycle on. Route 29 is unbikeable unless you are extremely brave and willing to risk right hooks from motorists who barely slow down into their turns. Government Center Parkway and Monument Drive are ridiculously wide, with far more capacity than needed for the volume of cars they handle.  In classic Tysons-Cornerish land use planning, the wildly popular Wegmans Supermarket lacks dedicated pedestrian access; even residents of the nearby condos on Ridge Top Road and Monument have no direct pedestrian or bicycle access.

Two large vacant retail spaces suggest future redevelopment is not far off at Jermantown Plaza and the nearby shopping center once anchored by Home Expo

Two large vacant retail spaces suggest future redevelopment is not far off at Jermantown Plaza and the nearby shopping center once anchored by Home Expo

Currently the whole is less than the sum of its parts, but one hopes that with more creative land use such as exemplified by Ridgewood the impetus will grow for multi-modal improvements on Route 29, Waples Mill Road and other current car sewers. Along with VDOT, another big factor here will be land use decisions made just over the border in Fairfax City. Just two (admittedly long super-suburban) blocks from Ridgewood are two underperforming Fairfax City shopping centers along with a trailer park that has long been eyed for redevelopment. Part of this area — the Jermantown Shopping Center may become part of the city’s Fairfax Boulevard overlay district. So there is a lot that could happen over the next decade to build on the momentum for a more livable central Fairfax. But we have to start taming those roads.

Posted in Central Fairfax, Fairfax City, VDOT | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »