Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields vowed at Tuesday night’s F.C. City Council meeting that there would be a police presence on Noland Street in the City, one of its most notorious “cut through” traffic residential streets, Wednesday morning to demonstrate the City’s support for the large contingent from that street who showed up at the meeting to regale accounts of the dangers to residents and the 36 children living there.
Shields confirmed an officer did patrol there yesterday, and he said Capt. Steve Rau, in charge of the department’s deployment schedules, will be there to talk with residents of the street Thursday morning.
The passionate appeals of the Noland Street residents, including from a couple of their children present with them,was led by the Rev. Davies Kirkland, pastor of the Dulin United Methodist Church located on the corner of E. Broad and Noland.
City Council members were unconditional in their sympathy for the problem, some vowing that a good part of the $2.5 million surplus resulting from the Fiscal Year budget’s final numbers be put quickly to the task of a comprehensive approach to speeding on the City’s residential streets.
The problem has exploded in the last two years due to motorists looking to avoid the revamped tolls on I-66 combined with new online apps like Waze that offer users fastest routes between locations, and recommends using Noland Street on cut-through routes to the East Falls Church Metro station.
Shields said that City Hall staff will also meet with citizens of Noland Street by the end of this week on advancing a plan for traffic calming there, and will also meet with citizens in the Winter Hill neighborhood about imminent plans to adjust the intersection of W. Annandale and Gundry Road there to make it safer.
Other traffic calming plans around the City were also presented by Shields beyond the 32 new pedestrian crossings that have been painted at intersections, two new bike lanes, four sharrows and three pedestrian-activated “Hawk” signals that are slated for installation on W. Broad by 2021.
“In my view, traffic calming is the single biggest priority for the City,” said Council member Ross Litkenhous, a comment echoed by others on the Council. He said he will not vote for any use of the FY19 surplus if a good portion of it is not put to this use.
In the Noland Street situation, it is reported that there has been a marked increase in cut-through traffic the last two years, including speeding and parked cars on the kid-busy street with no sidewalks and blind spots due to a hill in its middle. In addition to the increased volume of cars, tour buses and construction trucks are now using the street.
Children have only one bus stop to get to for catching and getting off their school bus and parents reported they have had to disallow their children from using their bikes for safety reasons.
The Rev. Kirkland said, “It is a dangerous street, like a race track.” He cut away brush on the church property to find a “Children Playing” sign that had been there since the 1950s.
Shields told the Council Tuesday that Noland Street is on an existing list of projects slated for traffic calming, although it has not been a top priority so far. He said that $175,000 has been designated for the improvement of the W. Annandale at Gundry intersection, and that another $636,000 in federal grant money will be used to push the top priority projects all at once, but that the money may be slow in coming.
Decisions have to be made about what measures to take in any given case, between “light” and “heavy” options ranging from painting pedestrian zones to sidewalk bump-outs at intersections, speed bumps, stop signs and warning signs of hefty fines for speeding. He said that lowering speed limits or establishing certain streets “off limits” require Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) OKs, and that fixing issues on one street can simply cause problems to move over to an adjacent street until a comprehensive City-wide approach is implemented.
Efforts have already been undertaken at Parker and Kent, along Lincoln Avenue, N. Maple at Columbia, N. Cherry, and N. Oak and N. West. More work is in the queue for S. Spring, W. Marshall, Jackson, N. Virginia, S. Lee, Columbia, Cherry at E. Broad and N. West at Great Falls Streets.
The Council is currently scheduled to discuss the use of the $2.5 million FY19 surplus next month.
Council member Hardi said use of some of that surplus should be applied right away, with slow-arriving federal money being deployed later. Since sidewalk development is technically a separate issue, she said that money should be set aside in the upcoming fiscal year budget for that.
Councilman David Snyder said that “circumstances have changed” and “there needs to be a plan for the whole City.” He suggested that navigator apps should be approached and urged not to identify residential streets for cut-through directions.
Councilman Duncan suggested the City might want to bond some financial support for this effort to insure there are enough resources.
Shields conceded that currently there is only a .5 FTE (full time equivalent) deployment of City manpower to the calming effort.
Mayor Tarter said that police deployments could be directed more to residential streets than only the main commercial corridors. “My goal is that every street in the City has sidewalks,” he added.