Around F.C., News

New Report Urges Council To Lower
Speed Limit

An ominous graphic attended the submission of a report by Falls Church’s talented young Planning Czar Paul Stoddard and Jessica Hegenbart of the City’s Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation (CACT). Its straightforward title is its demonstrable conclusion, that, “The Likelihood of Fatalities Increases Exponentially With Vehicle Speed.”

Falls Church’s Director of Planning Paul Stoddard co-authored a report submitted to the News-Press on the dramatic impact of lowering speed limits in residential areas of the City that the Council will consider at its meeting this coming Monday. (Photo: News-Press)

It demonstrates, based on data, that of citizens hit by a moving vehicle, if that vehicle is traveling at 23 miles per hour, 10 percent will be killed. If the speed is 32 miles per hour, then 25 percent of those hit will die. And, if the vehicle is moving at 50 miles per hour, not that uncommon even on residential streets in Falls Church, a stunning 75 percent of those hit will die.

This coming Monday night, the Falls Church City Council is slated to make a final decision now that it has been empowered by the state legislature to set its own speed limits for its non-state run streets. While the street by street details will probably be left up to City Manager Wyatt Shields and his staff, the Council is poised to act on the graphic described here, and the testimony of some, like Hegenbart, who have described near misses involving speeding cars on the City residential streets.

In the report submitted to the News-Press this week, Hegenbart opens with a description of a “near miss” involving her preteen son. “It’s been nearly three years since my preteen son was almost hit by a car walking to school. It was one of the scariest days of my life. A close call like that can make you feel dread and helplessness every time your child leaves the house on foot or bicycle,” she wrote.

She and Stoddard continued in their report, “Despite parents’ best efforts to teach and demonstrate safe walking and cycling practices, children are still capable of mistakes; and so are the drivers that drive around them. Even the most well-intentioned motorists can unknowingly drive hazardously.”

“Decisions that may seem harmless from behind the wheel can easily result in serious injury or even death for pedestrians and cyclists,” they write. “Pedestrian deaths in the United States have increased 62 percent since their lowest point in 2009 according to Smart Growth America, and according to the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pedestrian injuries caused by automobile collisions are a leading cause of death among children aged 5 to 14.”

The report cites the Falls Church Police Department statistics showing that Falls Church averages 10 automotive collisions with pedestrians or cyclists per year.

“These crashes are avoidable but we have to act now if we want to save lives,” the state. “Historically, roads were designed to prioritize vehicles with limited consideration for other modes of transportation.

The City of Falls Church’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program can implement the latest street design standards to make streets safer for non-vehicular travelers. Projects can be initiated by concerned residents.”

They continue, “The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration has an online Traffic Calming ePrimer that describes traffic calming tools and their efficacy. Engineers and city planners have learned how to turn roads for cars into streets for people that protect us from our fallible selves.

“We are all capable of mistakes: pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. Better traffic designs help keep those mistakes from turning into crashes, injuries, or even deaths.”

“Lowering the speed limit from 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour on residential streets, as recently proposed by city staff, will help decrease danger on our streets. This change is in line with efforts in neighboring jurisdictions and cities across the U.S.”

“According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), faster driving narrows drivers’ field of view, meaning they may not even see people starting to cross the street, and drivers can’t avoid what they don’t see. Lower speeds reduce the time and distance needed to stop, allowing for more reaction time. Higher speeds increase the likelihood of a collision and decrease the chances of survival.”

“Street designs should match the intended speed limit,” they state. “Research shows that wide driving lanes encourage faster driving even with lower posted speeds. Conversely, narrower lanes still allow cars, school buses, and delivery trucks to navigate the streets, while encouraging slower, safer speeds.”

“One solution to narrow driving lanes is to allocate part of the street to other uses, such as cycling and parking. Designated parking lanes and cycling lanes can be installed on one or both sides of streets that are wide enough. Other solutions, such as chicanes (described as a “serpentine turn in a road added by design and not by geography with the aim of slowing traffic”), chokers, and speed humps, can also be used to encourage appropriate driving speeds.”

Stoddard and Hegenbart note in their report that “there’s a lot of research demonstrating that speed humps increase safety. In a matched case-control study over a five-year period, the Oakland Pedestrian Safety Project found that “speed humps were associated with a 53 to 60 percent reduction in the odds of injury or death among children struck by an automobile in their neighborhood.”

Also, they report, “smart intersection design makes streets safer for all modes of transportation,” as “wide intersections require long crosswalks where pedestrians may be outside a drivers’ view when they enter the intersection, and are then exposed to car traffic for a longer time. Intersections with wide, sweeping curves invite drivers to make rolling stops and high speed turns. So, curb extensions are a tool used to right-size intersections that are too large. They result in shorter crossing distances for pedestrians and increased visibility. They also serve to encourage drivers to make slower turns.”