Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: F.C. Must Pursue Multiple Transportation Policy Priorities

Falls Church has, from its earliest history, been a crossroads, so it should come as no surprise that transportation issues are a major focus of our community, city staff, and City Council. Happily, we are part of a vibrant and growing area, but that intensifies the twin challenges of moving more vehicles safely into and through our city and at the same time moving away from a car-centric environment.

Our neighborhoods have made clear that they view traffic speeds and volumes as a significant public safety issue. The Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation (CACT) provides policy recommendations and manages the neighborhood traffic calming process; funds are appropriated by City Council; and the work is performed or overseen by city staff. While we have made strides in some areas, the twin concerns of traffic speed and volume continue in many parts of the city.

Our businesses need to attract customers from the region, most of whom travel here by car. And the commercial taxes that our businesses generate go directly into the city budget, providing more revenue and allowing a lower tax burden on everyone else. Supporting them remains a key financial consideration. And recently, we have been stacking some transportation funding to provide the public infrastructure to support major new economic development projects that generate large amounts of taxes over and above service costs.

At the same time, for environmental policy and quality of life reasons, we are committed to reducing dependence on cars for transportation and supporting alternative fueled vehicles. Specific examples include supporting Metro, adding bikeshare, building and maintaining pedestrian infrastructure and providing electric vehicle charging stations.

Finally, there are the bigger and longer term opportunities for improvement, among which are advanced technology such as autonomous vehicles and the Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit project which could have major positive impacts on the amount of traditional traffic and related safety and environmental concerns. At the same time, technology and new business models enabled by technology provide yet more challenges, including ride-sharing services, drones and scooters.

Ideas need to be translated into specific projects and those in turn must be funded. The good news is that after years of advocacy by us and our regional colleagues, Northern Virginia has far greater transportation revenues than before. The bad news is that costs of these projects are going up as a result of market forces — up to 25 percent per year and it takes more and more staff to meet grant funding requirements.

Funding comes from three main sources — from our local budget, from regular state funding and from grant programs administered by regional bodies, on which city representatives serve. Examples include potential North Washington St. and Park Avenue projects and major West Falls Church and W&OD bike trail/pedestrian projects already funded by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority revenues. From I-66 toll revenue, under the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, possible projects include signal timing and bikeshare operating funding. Still other funding may be available for signal, road, bridge and pedestrian improvements throughout the city under state revenue sharing. Many other projects are on-going, including signalization, paving and pedestrian improvement.

City Council provides elected representatives for all regional transportation planning and funding bodies. There are several city staff that work full time on transportation issues and many others contribute their expertise to move the projects forward. And most importantly citizens engage with us through CACT and direct communications.

It is apparent that highway safety has deteriorated as a result of the breakdown in civility, speeding, impaired driving, failure to use seatbelts in all positions, congested conditions and distracted driving. The fullest extent of this degradation is being studied now at the regional level and I hope it will result in some effective countermeasure.

As a small city, we must simultaneously pursue multiple policy priorities, some of which are summarized above, which means we must move in different directions at the same time. This is occurring in the overall context in which we do not control the amount of traffic, a growing population, competing budgetary demands such as for public safety and education, rising construction and operating costs and additional infrastructure burdens brought on by climate change. Finally, new technology is rapidly changing how people and freight move, challenging all levels of government to make the most of what technology can offer while addressing the downsides.

In conclusion, it is critically important that our citizens and businesses continue to provide funding through your taxes, serve on boards and commissions, communicate your ideas and hopefully have some patience as we try to address your concerns. Finally, the City Council has included in its work plan a Technology Task Force that has yet to be launched. Citizens with ideas or expertise are encouraged to contact the City Clerk if they are interested in participating.

David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.