Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Archive for the ‘Walk to school’ 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 »

Schools

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on June 10, 2009

A standard opening line used by advocates for walkable and bicycle-friendly communities at community meetings is, “How many of you walked to school?” followed by “How many of your kids do?” I actually grew up in a community where very few of us walked to school, while my spouse customarily walked to school. That makes us representative of our X Generation. About half of all American kids in the late ’60s walked or bicycled to school, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the percentage has been declining rapidly over the last 40 years.

Both of the past two neighborhoods we’ve lived in have had neighborhood schools close down within the past decade.  In Ormewood Park, a streetcar suburb near downtown Atlanta, it was Anne E. West Elementary School, a beautiful old school on a hill and right in the middle of a warren of small streets that we went past frequently on our walks. Here in Fairfax City our neighbors sent their kids to Westmore Elementary School, a much less prepossessing building built in the ’50s when the forest was being carved for the split-level “Buckinghams” of the Warren Woods neighborhood where we live. Westmore was closed six or seven years ago.

Demographics were the most obvious reason for both closures. Ormewood Park lost a lot of its school-age population and empty nesters and same-sex couples were the “early adopters” moving in in the ’80s and ’90s. Many families were coming back to Ormewood Park in the early 2000s.  Warren Woods has a large proportion of older residents whose kids have grown — although, again, many families with school-age kids are moving in.

But the schools were also closed for institutional reasons —  such as the cost savings and improved curricula that would allegedly come from consolidating schools and policies that discourage rehabilitating older schools. Across the country new schools are being built on vast lots with little or no pedestrian orientation. Many states have policies that prohibit rehabilitation of their older, often neighborhood-based schools if the costs cross a certain percentage of what it would cost to build a new school. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Neighborhood Schools project is a great resource on this topic.

That said, I would have done the same thing as the Fairfax school administrators in closing Westmore,  investing in other existing physical plants and concentrating children in fewer schools. Fairfax has invested a huge amount of money in rehabilitating and expanding its schools. Providence, where our son goes to school, has beautiful day-lit classrooms, a great playground, and people are just clearly happy to be there. My elementary school was a dank 19th-century building with utility sinks in the halls, and I have few happy memories. (It has since been turned into condominiums.)

So there are very legitimate reasons that Daniel, our son, can’t walk to school. What’s less justifiable are the barriers between our home and school that make it difficult and dangerous for kids living closer to the school than we do to walk, and that make it hard for residents like us within bicycling distance to bike to school. In particular, Route 236, Fairfax Boulevard, and Jermantown Road. Between our home and the school are two arterial roads and a collector road (Jermantown). The city is widening Jermantown but adding no on-road bicycle accommodations.

Posted in Neighborhood schools, Walk to school | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »