Fairfax Suburbanista

Making growth work in Fairfax

Posts Tagged ‘Fairfax Boulevard’

Whether it’s DC or Fairfax, everyone should be safe

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on December 11, 2009

A naive person would think that being able to cross a street safely should be a basic right. But even in the most walkable city in the region, it can be a challenge. As Ashley Halsey III reports in today’s Post, the District has finally done something to make new York Avenue Northeast easier and safer to cross without getting stuck in the middle. They’ve retimed the crossing cycle at Bladensburg Road to 30 seconds, which is the amount of time it takes to cross the eight-lane intersection at an average walking pace. During the first day of the new cycle, the District experienced the traffic engineer’s worst nightmare. As Halsey reports, “Wednesday’s evening rush backed up from the intersection to Florida Avenue, 1.8 miles.” The District Department of Transportation is working to adjust the timing while giving pedestrians enough time to safely cross the entire intersection.

Would you feel safe crossing this street, or want to buy your holiday presents here?

When even the region’s core city has to contend with irate motorists to protect the safety of its citizens, it’s a reminder of how far the whole region has to go. In Fairfax City, we’ve taken some forward steps. At Fairfax Boulevard and Walnut Drive, for example, the city has created a dedicated “Walk” cycle with red at all intersections to prevent conflicts between pedestrians and turning vehicles. The city has also re-timed signals at its T-intersection on Chain Bridge Road and Judicial Drive to give pedestrians a dedicated crossing time. But there’s a lot more to be done.

In downtown Fairfax, the Old Lee/North Street intersection must handle huge volumes of east-west traffic while enabling pedestrians to safely cross. The intersection is the center of downtown activity. Main Street Marketplace, the library, and an office complex are on three corners; the future George Mason Square retail redevelopment is on the fourth. Currently the city allots 15 seconds for crossing the intersection. That is a brisk walking pace. It is a better timed signal than it was before the two-way reconfiguration of North and Main Streets, but the city should add at least five seconds to the cycle, allow a diagonal crossing, and reduce the wide curb radius.

Whether it is Fairfax or Washington DC — if cities want to attract people to live and spend their money, they need to make their streets inviting and safe for people on foot.

Posted in Transportation, Walking | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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 »

While Fairfax City fiddles. . .

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on October 23, 2009

Another new strip mall at Kamp Washington is setting a poor pattern for the redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard

Another new strip mall at Kamp Washington is setting a poor pattern for the redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard

Since the Fairfax Boulevard master plan was presented to the City Council two and a half years ago, Fairfax City has approved three major development projects on the west side of the Boulevard near Kamp Washington. All three are variations of a standard suburban strip mall. Parking lots front the buildings. The newest development, pictured at left, will make $2 dry cleaning just a 15-minute walk from my house. But I will never walk there, or to the Starbucks nearby, given the pedestrian-unfriendly design.

Fairfax City’s comprehensive plan is due to be updated this year. The city has not yet published a draft update or announced public meetings. The comprehensive plan is a good opportunity to create more specific, pedestrian-friendly guidelines for the redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard. It might already be too late to make the west side of the Boulevard pedestrian-friendly. The car-oriented mold set by recent developments will probably be here for the next 20 years. But east of Chain Bridge Road, and on Fairfax Circle, there is still time to plan better.

City Council and Planning Commission members have expressed skepticism about adopting a form-based code for the Boulevard, one of the recommendations of the master plan. Their skepticism is not unwarranted. Form-based codes can become just as cumbersome as orthodox zoning, with myriad details that can get in the way of good development. But this shouldn’t get in the way of adopting simple, clear guidelines for Boulevard redevelopment, including:

  • Buildings should be oriented toward the sidewalk and have entrances on the sidewalk
  • The ground floors of buildings should be transparent, providing a more pleasant and diverting pedestrian environment
  • Sidewalks should be widened to at least 10′
WholeFoods Clarendon

Whole Foods' Arlington store looks good from the sidewalk.

This doesn’t have to be a tome. We just need a stronger framework so we can get better development. And we need it fast, before more development gets in the pipeline. Let’s hope the city gets the comprehensive plan update underway soon — and when they do, make sure to speak out for strong, pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly guidelines for Fairfax Boulevard.

Posted in Fairfax Boulevard, Uncategorized | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Street grid near Fairfax Boulevard would be good, but don’t make it an island

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on August 3, 2009

Fair Lakes Market CommonsLast week Fairfax City Councilmembers briefly discussed a critical step in the implementation of the Fairfax Boulevard master plan — a more connected, walkable and bikeable street network. The city recently enacted a new commercial real estate tax dedicated exclusively to funding transportation projects. The first priority for this new money is to build a street network in the “Northfax” section of Fairfax Boulevard near Route 123. While the plans are still in a very early stage, and redevelopment proposals have not yet even been formally submitted, a dedicated funding source makes it likely that redevelopment in Northfax will move relatively quickly.

The Fairfax Boulevard master plan recommends a “8/10/10/8” design of new local streets — 8 feet for on-street parking on each side, a 10 foot travel lane, and wide sidewalks. The recommended design would resemble the street pictured above, at the Market Commons development in Fair Lakes — creating a pleasant place to walk, ride your bike, and spend money at local businesses.

It would be great to have new walkable streets in Fairfax City in places that are currently taken up mostly by surface parking. Doing this, though, will be easier than implementing the main aspect of the master plan, which is taming Fairfax Boulevard itself. The recommendations in the master plan call for a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly boulevard with five travel lanes and two access lanes for local traffic. The “5-2” design would make Fairfax Boulevard a much more pleasant place to walk along. It would also make the street easier to cross, so that local residents could more easily get to places on the Boulevard on foot or bicycle rather than adding to the traffic. But city council members and developers are skeptical about the 5-2 design.

Without a more ambitious redesign of the Boulevard, the local streets will be nice places to go, but — like Market Commons and many other new developments in Fairfax County — they will be islands of livability surrounded by inhospitable wide roads.

Posted in Bicycling, Fairfax Boulevard, Transportation, Walking | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Looks pretty, but try walking there

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on July 24, 2009

The new Chevy Chase Bank  on Fairfax Boulevard and Warwick Avenue was approved by Fairfax City shortly after completion of the excellent Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan in 2007. The new building — on the site of one of the Boulevard’s many foundering or former furniture showrooms — has several good features: a pocket park; a nice wide sidewalk with a bench and trees that, over time, will provide shade;  a well-designed wall buffering pedestrians from the front parking lot; and a handsome Neo-classical front.
But these “human scale” features — making the site more welcome to someone who is actually present there rather than behind a windshield — are just a tease. There is no pedestrian access from the sidewalk. A parking lot separates the building from the street. The building’s two entrances front the parking lot and larger shopping plaza on one side, and the drive-through area on the other.
The recently approved Fairfax Pointe project has similar hints at human-scale, pedestrian-oriented design, but also falls short in some important ways. This new one-story retail building at the confluence of Fairfax Boulevard, Route 29, and Route 236, whose expected tenants include a restaurant and small grocery,will present a false front at Route 236 and have entrances on this street, but the main entrance will be from the parking lot on Fairfax Boulevard. Most of the site is taken up by surface parking. Will people walk there? The planned uses are neighborhood-oriented, and the Fairchester and Warren Woods neighborhoods are within easy walking distance. But the design, as well as conditions on 236 and Fairfax Boulevard, are much less conducive to walking and bicycling — and business — than they could be. The project could have been designed more intentionally to encourage walking trips and reduce traffic on these extremely clogged arterials.
Let’s hope future projects on the Boulevard are more closely aligned with the creative vision of the master plan.
Nice facade. . .

Nice facade. . .

Nice sidewalk. . .

Nice sidewalk. . .

. . . but the entrance is behind a parking lot

. . . but the entrance is behind a parking lot

Posted in Fairfax Boulevard, Fairfax City, Walking | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Fairfax City bicycling

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on June 13, 2009

Let's get bike lanes on Old Lee

Let's get bike lanes on Old Lee

Shortly after I moved to Fairfax City 5 years ago I called the planning director to ask him whether bike racks were being required as part of the Old Town redevelopment. He responded that “we don’t want to encourage bicycling in downtown.” Bicycling on its narrow streets was seen as too dangerous. Instead the city planned to install a bike parking facility on the periphery — the “park once” philosophy applied, strangely and inappropriately, to bicyclists. (Neither the bike station nor racks have yet materialized.)

Prospects are better now. Several of the City Council members elected in 2008 are bicyclists, and the city has started to take small steps toward improving bicycling. Bike racks have been installed on  the city’s CUE buses, and City Councilmember David Meyer has convened city officials and advocates to develop a comprehensive bicycle initiative. On Saturday June 6  Meyer and fellow Councilmember Dan Drummond joined the Fairfax City chapter of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling for the group’s Tour de Fairfax. Mayor Robert Lederer and his daughters also participated in the first leg of the ride.

Fairfax City’s current bike network is oriented around its parks and focused on trails, which are extensive. The Fairfax City chapter of FABB is focused on improving access to key destinations in and near the city, such as Old Town stores, offices, supermarkets, George Mason University and the Vienna Metrorail station. FABB volunteers have identified several viable bicycle routes between GMU and the Vienna station, both along University Drive and  Old Lee Highway. As the above picture of Old Lee suggests, there is excess capacity on the road that could accommodate bicycle lanes.

With transportation improvements looming for Fairfax Boulevard, FABB wants to get ahead of the curve and ensure that on-road bike lanes and other bicycle and pedestrian measures are included in the reshaping of the city’s commercial center. Recently approved widenings of Jermantown Road, where two city schools are located along with a neighborhood park and the Gainesborough Court apartment complex, will make that street harder to cross and to navigate by bicycle. We don’t want the same thing to happen with Fairfax Boulevard.

Posted in Bicycling, Fairfax Boulevard, Fairfax City | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Fairfax Boulevard

Posted by Fairfax City Citizens on June 1, 2009

Photo courtesy Dover Kohl

Photo courtesy Dover Kohl

It’s been more than two years since Fairfax City organized a charrette on 29/50 i.e. Fairfax Boulevard, and I fear the great plan that the city came up with is gathering dust. The plan developed by Dover Kohl was excellent, just the sort of urban streetscape that will help the city capture more business. But Mayor Lederer has backed away from the plan and said it is too compact and dense for Fairfax City.

Maybe so, but the Boulevard needs to reinvent itself through better zoning soon or else the uses coming to replace the increasingly vulnerable auto dealerships and other merchants will be nearly as pedestrian- and bike-unfriendly as what we have now. The most recent new development on the Boulevard is (yet another) Chevy Chase Bank. The building could be worse as far as banks go, but it’s not a step toward a more walkable public corridor either. The mini-shopping center anchored by a Starbucks and Five Guys is standard suburban development fronted by a parking lot. Put parking in back and wall it off from the adjoining neighborhoods.

Old Town Fairfax though is looking better. I would have preferred more apartment units and office units, and a higher building line, but it’s much better than what we had before. And where are the bike racks??? Let’s give credit to the Mayor and Council for getting that through.

Check out the Fairfax Boulevard master plan at http://www.fairfaxva.gov/Boulevard/FBMP.asp

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