Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Taming Burke Centre Parkway

Braddock District Supervisor Cook hosted a meeting last night on what can be done to make the area around Burke Centre Parkway safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. The road currently is a barrier between the more residential area south of the Parkway, that includes Terra Centre Elementary School, and Burke Centre and Burke Centre Village to the north.

Andrew Lentz of Burke Walks - Safe and Green spoke eloquently about the desire of the surrounding community to safely get around on foot and by bike. He talked about his group's efforts to try to tame the Parkway and allow kids who live across the street from the school to walk or bike there. Fairfax County school policy is to prohibit students from crossing the Parkway. Students are bused who live within sight of the school.

Representatives from VDOT, Fairfax County DOT, Fairfax County Public Schools, the Burke Centre Conservancy, and the Police were also present. It was refreshing to hear the new VDOT Northern Virginia District Administrator, Garret Moore, say that as public servants, VDOT staff should begin the discussion with citizens by saying "What can we do to help?" and not explain why they can't do something. He also noted that there is flexibility in the existing codes and regulations that allow for narrower lanes. Although he didn't say it, on a road like Burke Centre Parkway this could lead to slower traffic and allow space for bike lanes.

We wish others had this same attitude instead of spending time during the meeting explaining why they couldn't implement measures to make it safer to cross the Parkway. Where it's difficult to cross the Parkway in front of the school, Police talked about writing tickets for jaywalking, which in Virgnia isn't illegal. School staff noted that their jurisdiction ends at the school property line, and any changes to the roads or surrounding sidewalks and trails must be made by the county or VDOT.

Police summarized traffic citations issued for speeding violations on the Parkway between May 1 and October 28, 2010. There were 402 citations, 318 of which were for speeding. Of the 318 tickets, the majority were between 55 mph and 62 mph with an average speed of all violators of 57.9 mph. This is on a road with a 40 mph speed limit. There were also 14 crashes along the Parkway, which extends just under 3 miles in length.

When concern was expressed about the speeding and number of crashes one officer said that the statistics should be put into perspective and that he didn't see anything unusual in these numbers. This just shows how much we as a society have come to accept the real danger involved in our use of cars. As another officer stated, the most dangerous thing you do all day is get into the seat of your car.

The audience was very supportive of suggestions for slowing traffic and making the Parkway safer. Many were frustrated that the problem has been discussed for so many years without any solutions being proposed. Several suggestions were made for changes to the road. NOVA VDOT Administrator Moore suggested that a smaller group could be much more productive in studying alternatives and developing solutions. Supervisor Cook agreed to convene a study group/task force; what really a amounts to a smaller group of concerned citizens and staff, meeting a few times to develop possible solutions.

This is a good step forward and thanks to Andrew and the folks at Burke Walks and at Burke Centre Conservancy for helping make the meeting happen and for getting to this point. Now it's time for solutions.

Update: What I neglected to mention is the role that Safe Routes to School can play in improving walking adn biking conditions around the school. Through the program there are techniques for assessing the safety of walking and biking conditions around a school and developing solutions. The program was mentioned several times last night, and the Burke Walks folks have developed an application. Supervisor Cook noted that the Board is supportive of the effort and it's one solution to the problem. Which reminds me that I need to summarize the presentation that was given to the Board of Supervisors at their Feb. 1 Transportation Committee meeting. There was enthusiastic support for SRTS and a desire to move forward with a county application.

Update: Here's the summary of the Board of Supervisors presentation.

Update: Patch article on the Burke Centre Parkway meeting.

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