Traffic jam interstate highway pixabay

Stop-and-go Maple Avenue has worn out millions of vehicle brake pads over the years. And like the weather, Vienna residents might complain, but they can’t do much about the traffic.

Or can they?

Planning to find cost-effective ways to address congestion along Vienna’s main artery continues to move along, with a Sept. 4 community forum attempting to advance the ball further upfield.

“Let’s figure out . . . where the Town of Vienna should focus its resources,” said David Samba, a project manager for Kimley-Horn, an engineering firm hired by the town government to come up with recommendations for easing the traffic crunch.

About 45 town residents turned up for the forum, the last of three planned before Kimley-Horn puts together a report with recommendations for Vienna leaders.

The meeting at Town Hall took the form of a “charrette” – residents had the chance to pore over maps containing a variety of options, ranking them by preference. The consultant is expected to take those responses into account when formulating final recommendations.

The proposals would cover options for the next 10 years, with a special emphasis on changes that could be have a discernible impact nearly immediately.

The study is part of a broader land-use effort, as town officials and residents try to figure out how to meet current needs while also looking to future growth along the Maple Avenue commercial core – a contentious issue that has roiled local governance for several years.

The study is looking at transportation issues along Maple Avenue from James Madison Drive to Follin Lane, plus Church Street from Lawyers Road to East Street. Courthouse Road and Locust Street also are part of the study area.

An online survey of local residents revealed that congestion, pedestrian accessibility, public parking and transit service to Metrorail stations were the top four concerns voiced. Ideas to address them range from filling in gaps in sidewalk networks to improving traffic-signal timing to welcoming Capital Bikeshare service to the town.

Most of the Maple Avenue corridor is five travel lanes wide – two in each direction plus a center turn lane – as well as often narrow sidewalk space. Drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists jockey uneasily for position.

“There’s not a lot of room for all three,” Samba acknowledged.

One proposal considered, but largely rejected, by the consulting firm, was to turn the center turning lane into a reversible travel lane to ease congestion during peak times. Samba suggested the liabilities outweighed the benefits.

Still on the table, however, is the prospect of building pedestrian bridges over the roadway, and finding a way to create a bypass for traffic that uses the roadway to get through Vienna on the way to and from somewhere else. About one-third of traffic carried on the road is through traffic, a figure that edges up during rush hour and often causes bottlenecks.

Also sought by some of the public is a “circulator” bus, which could allow residents to get to points within the town. (Vienna briefly tried a “jitneybus” concept in the early 1980s, but it died for lack of ridership. Metrobus and Fairfax Connector service largely is focused on connecting the town to Metrorail stations.)

After the final report is released, it will be up to town officials to prioritize the ideas presented, win public buy-in, develop an implementation plan – and find ways to pay for it all.

The six-month planning process has drawn interested observers, but once concrete proposals are on the table, the number of residents paying attention could well increase.

“Every meeting is someone’s first meeting,” Samba noted.

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