Worried by a spate of fatal accidents involving pedestrians, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Jan. 28 agreed to step up efforts to make local roadways safer and inform pedestrians of their rights and responsibilities.
Supervisors Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) and Rodney Lusk (D-Lee) in a joint board matter highlighted what they said has been a “rather daunting and long-term challenge” during the past decade.
County supervisors over the past decade have approved more than $300 million for stand-alone bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, Alcorn said. But the county still has a “sobering” way to go, as evidenced by the deaths of two pedestrians along Route 1 in the past three weeks, he said.
Fairfax County recorded 16 pedestrian fatalities in 2019, one of which was a South Lakes High School student struck by a vehicle last summer while crossing a street in Reston.
Route 1, which passes through the Mount Vernon area on its 2,369-mile route between Key West, Fla., and Fort Kent, Maine, in the past five years has been the location of 7 percent of all pedestrian-involved traffic injuries in Fairfax County and 11 percent of its pedestrian fatalities, Lusk said.
“The tragedies are preventable,” Lusk said. “The status quo is not something I or my pedestrians can live with.”
Supervisors last July approved $300,000 for the county to start community engagement and data collection for the ActiveFairfax transportation plan.
The initiative, which likely will last 18 to 24 months, will reconcile the county’s bicycle master plan and countywide trails plan and coordinate with nearby jurisdictions on regional connectivity. The program also will identify and address missing sections in those networks and improve access to activity centers, schools, parks and transit facilities.
ActiveFairfax also will seek to provide guidance for selection of pedestrian and bicycle facilities not in the regional network, provide guidance for implementing recommended improvements, engage the community and other stakeholders, and suggest ways of updating the county’s comprehensive plan. Supervisors also have requested funding in fiscal 2021 to complete the initiative.
Board members on Jan. 28 approved Alcorn’s and Lusk’s proposal to have county staff and the board’s Transportation Committee to evaluate the working timeline and external-communications strategy for the ActiveFairfax planning process, as well as the county’s current method of funding pedestrian improvements.
County officials also will consider how the implementation of new technologies could bolster pedestrian and bicyclist safety and whether the county could set and achieve measurable safety goals, such as those of the Vision Zero initiative being advanced around the country.
County officials had to delay some planned pedestrian and bicycle projects last year when the General Assembly diverted funding to support the Metro system.The General Assembly is considering more transportation funding, but the amounts discussed so far don’t go far enough, Alcorn said.
Historically, county officials’ focus has been on protecting the most vulnerable residents, Alcorn said. For example, the county has approved at least 26 walking routes under the Safe Routes to School program and prioritized building pedestrian connections to transit stations, Alcorn said.
Supervisors offered their own suggestions and concerns regarding pedestrian-safety initiatives. Many county pedestrian deaths have been attributable in part to people walking outside of crosswalks at night while wearing dark clothing, they said.
“We are at a loss for what can be done,” said Supervisor Daniel Storck (D-Mount Vernon).
Some supervisors, including Chairman Jeff McKay (D), lamented the slow process for making improvements within the Virginia Department of Transportation’s right-of-way. McKay and Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) recommended county police educate pedestrians on ways to avoid injury and death.
Supervisors John Foust (D-Dranesville) and James Walkinshaw (D-Braddock) suggested reducing speed limits in some areas might help. Foust noted the difficulty of doing so in the past, while Walkinshaw noted that the state’s 25 mph minimum speed limit was 6 mph more than the typical survival threshold for pedestrians struck by vehicles.
“Our goal as a community should be zero pedestrian fatalities,” Walkinshaw said.