Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Archive for the ‘Neighborhoods’ Category

Who’s dodging the issue?

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on July 29, 2009

Say “transportation” to the editors of The Washington Post, and count how many times they say “money.” In today’s paper, the Virginia gubernatorial candidates are drubbed both on the front page and in a long editorial for “dodg[ing] the main issue” allegedly underlying Virginia’s “transportation mess” — the need for new sources of money.

Northern Virginia”s media establishment, elected officials, and VDOT are sounding this theme ad nauseam to inspire the political courage that they know will be needed to raise taxes. But when it comes to transportation in Northern Virginia, prudence and common sense are a lot more important than whatever courage — or foolhardiness — it takes to try to raise taxes in a time of such pronounced fiscal stress.

The fundamental issue behind Northern Virginia’s transportation mess is land use, not money. Take decades of shortsighted, uncoordinated land use and transportation decisions, add spectacular growth, and you gets lot of traffic — and few alternatives. Most of the homes built in the area are in enclaves with limited outlets to main roads. Transit stations are isolated along major roads or interstates, distant from stores, homes, and offices. The places where people shop are located along arterial streets that were putatively designed as “limited access” through-roads, and were not supposed to handle so much development.

The Post chides Governor Tim Kaine for not building the political will for new transportation funding from the very beginning of his candidacy. Kaine certainly tried — and failed — to get new transportation funding. But Kaine also stressed the importance of tying transportation with land use. Transportation funds should reward, and leverage, good land use planning.

Yes, we need new sources of revenue for transportation in Northern Virginia. Raising the gas tax is long overdue. But  more money will not dig us out of the hole we’re in unless we tie transportation investments to better land use planning. Under Kaine and Secretary Pierce Homer, VDOT has made good steps by establishing new policies encouraging interconnected streets and measuring the traffic impacts of new development.

Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates don’t need to sidestep the issue. They can tell voters about sensible, and inexpensive options to address Northern Virginia’s land use and transportation challenges.

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Posted in Taxes, Transportation, VDOT | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Get over the Dillon Rule

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on July 1, 2009

Fairfax County leaders often invoke Dillon’s Rule when they are painted into a corner. The county’s authority is narrowly defined on matters such as land use and taxation, so the story goes, and Richmond is tying their hands. Now the Washington Post reports that Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin and the Board of Supervisors are considering broadening local powers by changing Fairfax’s status from a county to a city. By becoming a city, Fairfax would obtain broader powers to tax itself for things such as transportation improvements — sidestepping the horrendous political gridlock that has bedeviled the Kaine Administration over transportation funding.

I don’t understand the intricacies of Dillon’s Rule and home rule states, but I do know that our neighbor Arlington County has been one of the country’s innovators for smarter growth. If the main issue is getting more taxing authority, especially concerning transportation, I’m closer to the rabid libertarians — deeply suspicious that government will do good things with the extra money. Poorly coordinated transportation and land use decisions, exemplified by the debacle that is Tysons Corner, and not a lack of funding, are at the root of our traffic nightmare.

Posted in smart growth, Taxes, Transit, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Let’s get over the hump

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on June 16, 2009

Today’s Washington Post reports the latest brouhaha in a Montgomery County neighborhood over the “vexing issue” of speed humps. But speed humps are not the best solution for people trying to reclaim neighborhood streets for their children and the community. Unfortunately, in too many instances — including in their neighborhood I live in — they are practically the only tool being used for traffic calming.

Speed humps have been installed on one of the major roads in our neighborhood, but they’ve done little to deter motorists from blowing through the stop sign at the hill bottom where we live or disregard pedestrians and bicyclists waiting at the marked crosswalk that joins the two ends of the Westmore/Warren Woods  path. Spot enforcement by Fairfax City police has done far more to alter motorists’ behavior.

Of course, enforcement is expensive, and with the budget crunch these spot checks may become less frequent. I’m all for engineering solutions. But speed humps are a poor tool for taking back the neighborhood. They are punitive, but they don’t really do anything positive for the neighborhood. What about squaring off the wide curb radii at neighborhood intersections like mine? How about installing in-street crosswalk signs at common crossing locations? Or using other tools, both engineering-wise and people-wise, that have been successful as shown by Atlanta-based PEDS and traffic calming guru David Engwicht?

Maybe speed humps will make some motorists think twice about going down that particular street — but probably not, since the alternative is probably a hellishly congested arterial or collector road. To their immense credit, the Virginia Department of Transportation is trying to make the road network more interconnected by discouraging further construction of cul-de-sacs. Will that bring more cars through some neighborhood streets? No doubt.  But cars and people can coexist, if the streets are designed well.

The most important tools, like narrower streets, wider sidewalks and bulb-outs, are not so easy to use in already established neighborhoods. Nor are they easy in building new neighborhoods, without special zoning and a lot more work on our Public Facilities Manual in Fairfax County. We’re still building subdivisions with cul-de-sacs — regulations haven’t gone into effect yet — and wide curb radii. So plenty more speed hump wars to come.

Posted in Neighborhoods, Walking | Tagged: | 1 Comment »