Your City Council and staff fully recognize the importance of safety and good transportation options. Accordingly, we are working at all levels of government to improve funding, safety and system performance as well as provide alternatives to cars with air quality benefits.
The state legislative session started very well with the new administration and legislative leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Saslaw, proposing an omnibus transportation bill that significantly increases funding for transportation, including transit relevant to Northern Virginia, and enacts critically important highway safety measures. The proposed highway safety law changes include primary enforcement for seat belt use in the front and back (meaning that you can be pulled over if you are not wearing the seatbelt without having another basis for police intervention), allowing municipalities to reduce speed limits below 25 miles per hour (especially important to us due to the bad behavior of cut through traffic), electronic speed monitoring, a ban on driving with handheld devices and a measure prohibiting open alcohol containers. The transportation funding provisions include funds for Metro and more funds for transit as well as roads.
However, despite this good start, it will remain an uphill climb to assure that both the funding and safety measures survive in good form. For example, the safety measures were split off into separate legislation from the funding bills. Last week, while I was in Richmond as part of the Falls Church delegation, I witnessed the Senate Transportation Committee gut the administration’s safety package with no opportunity for public input. This critical safety legislation will likely be considered again, but it will take all of us to push that legislation as well as the funding legislation over the line, if that is to happen.
The difficulties with the highway safety measures are particularly concerning as we deal here with growing amounts of traffic and bad driving behavior. In Virginia, crash fatalities are increasing and are more than 800 per year. And, the number of serious injuries is many times the number of fatal injuries. The total cost of motor vehicle crashes in Virginia is nearly $5 billion annually. Enactment of the administration’s safety and funding legislation is strongly supported by the City as ways to help address our traffic dangers. To provide perspective on the importance of traffic safety laws and their ability to save lives, the proposed seatbelt legislation alone, mentioned above, would save 88 lives a year.
On a more local level, progress on the Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project continues. As a reminder, the proposal will create more regular and attractive bus service linking Alexandria, Falls Church and Tysons Corner. While dedicated lanes may be provided elsewhere, they will not be part of the plan for Falls Church, in recognition of the limited traffic lanes on Broad and Washington Streets. The proposed BRT line will go down Roosevelt Street to East Falls Church Metro Station, proceed up Washington Street to Broad Street and then to West Falls Church and Tysons Corner. The hope is that this will take cars off Route 7 and provide an attractive option for use on that road. It will provide more transit access to our businesses and more choices for our citizens so there can be less reliance on cars.
We are also facing a partial Metro shutdown of East and West Falls Church, Dunn Loring and Vienna Metro stations this summer. The argument from Metro is that this kind of approach allows work on those stations to proceed most efficiently. During a recent City Council work session, we were also promised extensive shuttle bus service to ease commutes during the shutdown. To say the least, Metro officials were closely questioned by City Council as to the exact plans and justification for such a closure.
On Monday, as part of the package of actions funded by “surplus,” the City Council voted to authorize an additional $400,000 for neighborhood traffic calming. There is also strong Council sentiment to pursue more neighborhood traffic safety investments and also make sure that our approach is City-wide, as is the problem we are trying to address.
The City is also represented on all of the regional transportation bodies. I continue to push the Transportation Planning Board for the metropolitan region to finish studying and then specifically recommend the most effective measures to address traffic issues. The potential positive role of technology in reducing congestion and improving safety is a focus of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority as is increased non-local funding for Metro, a Northern Virginia Transportation Commission priority.
In conclusion, our overall strategy is to support positive transportation funding and safety developments at the state, metropolitan region and Northern Virginia levels. Locally, we work to make the best use of all funds and use our own budget to address specific neighborhood and City-wide transportation issues.
David Snyder is a member of the Falls Church City Council.