A growing volume of anecdotal evidence around the City of Falls Church is suggesting that the imposition of expanded HOV hours and tolls on I-66 has led to an increase of speeding vehicular “cut-through” traffic in the City’s residential neighborhoods, it was asserted at Monday’s F.C. City Council meeting.
It was a petition by citizen Jessica Hegenbort at the meeting which precipitated a lengthy and often animated conversation of the subject that included mandates from some City Council members that additional “traffic calming” measures be taken immediately and the observation by no less than Police Chief Mary Gavin that the new (enacted in December 2017) tolls on I-66 “has put more traffic on the side roads,” such that the number one complaint her department receives from the public has to do with traffic.
Hegenbort’s petition arose from an incident in front of her home in the 200 block of Marshall Street in which a speeding car, availing itself of a well-known cut-through route through F.C. residential neighborhoods from Route 29 to Route 7. There is a curve in the block that creates a blind spot and one of her children, she reported, barely avoided being hit and potentially seriously hurt on a recent afternoon.
Among other things, the report triggered a lengthy conversation that included Gavin, City Manager Wyatt Shields and most members of the Council. Most alarmingly, no fewer than three among those reported that they, too, were involved in close calls leaving their homes in recent weeks, including the account of Council member Dan Sze, who said the speeding driver that narrowly missed his attempt to back his car out of his driveway added insult to injury by hurling an obscenity as he sailed by.
Representatives of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, in winning approval of the new tolling regimen on I-66, argued in 2015 that the tolls would not significantly impact neighborhoods adjacent the interstate. But the eye-popping size of the tolls, calculated to vary depending on demand each day, has sent many commuters off I-66 during tolling hours to seek non-tolled alternative routes. While these may tend to be Route 29 and Route 50 coming out of D.C. they incentivize drivers to search for quick cut-through routes to minimize the time lost by avoiding the toll route.
The cut-through route from Lee Highway (Route 29) to Seaton Lane in the City to Broad Street (Route 7) was described at the meeting as “a drag strip.”
Council member Ross Litkenhous was the most adamant that something be done in the City to deter this speeding cut-though problem right away, before some child gets hurt.
“There needs to be a citywide effort,” he said, saying he saw a small puppy get hit by a van that didn’t slow down after the hit. “If we don’t act before someone gets really hurt, we will all be culpable,” he told his colleagues.
“We just found out we had a $2.5 million surplus in the budget from last year. I won’t approve of anything unless there is action on calming to mitigate the danger that’s out there.”
Councilman David Snyder concurred that “the process takes way too long” now to decide what calming measures to take at any given intersection or street in the community.
Shields did list a number of improvements that are slated for this fall, including a crossing in the middle of the first block of North West Street in conjunction with the Founders Row construction now going on there.
He said a crosswalk is being “reinstated” at the corner of N. West and Greenwich, and a sidewalk extension is planned for the Lincoln at Greenwich area.
There will be new sidewalks to link Thomas Jefferson Elementary to routes on Oak Street, and on S. Maple by the Henderson House.
New street pavings will occur, he added, from Hillwood at Annandale to the city limits that will include bike lanes, and on Greenwich west to Lincoln and on Great Falls from Little Falls to Lincoln.
Signal lights will be improved at Broad and S. Maple, Little Falls and Broad and West and Broad streets.
Activated pedestrian crossings are set at Lincoln at Great Falls and Spring and Lee streets.
But Litkenhous raised the issue of more proactive traffic calming by, perhaps, placing “Do Not Enter” signs on certain residential streets during rush hours, and overall just lowering the speed limit.
Council member Letty Hardi noted that the improvements now slated for N. West street have been sought by neighbors there for more than a dozen years. She followed that remark with her report of being “nearly hit” by a speeding car while she was in a marked crosswalk recently.
Councilman Sze said he was opposed to the idea of shutting off certain streets, but that signs lowering the speed limit are inexpensive and simple.