Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

Creating walkable, bikeable, and accessible neighborhoods fosters smart growth, reducing the need to get into a car for every small trip or errand. Connecting residents and neighborhoods to shopping, schools, recreation, transit, and other amenities strengthens the social fabric of our communities. Best of all, it is ageless. Youngsters and senior citizens alike can access a walkway or trail, no license or ID needed. Installation of a sidewalk along Columbia Pike made it easier for nearby residents to walk to the Harris Teeter at Barcroft Plaza for quick groceries, or to Glory Days for dinner and a stroll back home to work off the calories. Similarly, mothers with strollers don’t have to walk on the shoulder of Little River Turnpike to get to the Home Depot or the Salvation Army thrift store. They can use the walkway.

Filling the gaps in our walkway infrastructure is an ongoing process, and can be especially challenging when retrofitting sidewalks into the built environment, such as along Sleepy Hollow Road. Some sections of the road have sidewalks, and others don’t. Some are on the east side, some on the west. Safe pedestrian crossings have been identified by the community and the project designers as paramount, and there still is work ahead to connect neighborhoods safely on both sides.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had developed a comprehensive approach to developing bicycle and pedestrian friendly communities that relies on five “E’s” — engineering (designing and constructing roads for cyclists and pedestrians); education (teaching or training cyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and other road users); enforcement (ensuring that all road users follow traffic laws and rules of the road); encouragement (providing incentives beyond physical infrastructure); and evaluation (confirming that the intended outcomes have been produced). The first E is easy; federal and state requirements govern. It’s the second, “education,” that involves you, me, and everyone else, and affects daily behaviors. Accessible neighborhoods work best when all road users know, and respect, all other road users. That includes pedestrians crossing at marked crosswalks, cyclists using bells and other signals to let pedestrians know they are approaching, motorists following the speed limit, stopping when school buses have red flashers activated, and passing other vehicles only on the left, never in the bike or parking lanes! Some school systems teach walking skills to youngsters in physical education classes, and a Florida locality includes a course about how to share the road with cyclists in their teen-age driver training. Safety messages about sharing the road often appear as hard-to-miss ads on the sides of transit buses. Bike rodeos are popular among youth; kids love to navigate simple obstacle courses laid out on a vacant parking lot, especially if there are prizes for the best times.

The third E, enforcement, can be used when the second E fails, but it’s so much better when your trip is not marred by interrupting lights and sirens. Perhaps that’s the encouragement denoted by the fourth E. Assuming all the E’s are working well, the fifth E easily is confirmed, and the neighborhoods are connected. It’s not that simple; the FHWA cautions that ensuring safety of all travel, motorized or not, depends on the efforts of all of us. That’s something to keep in mind whenever walking, cycling, or driving in our Mason District neighborhoods.


  • Penny Gross

    Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be e-mailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov