Post #525: Last night’s Town Council work session

My wife attended, I did not.  This write-up is based on her notes from the meeting.

The meeting lasted about 2.5 hours.   (Maybe you want to listen to the meeting for yourself, if you have the time, because at some point in this, I got tired of doing the writeup and started skipping details.)  The Town will presumably have its audio recording posted shortly.  (Right now, if you click the apparent link for audio, you get a “network error”).    In the meantime, if you want to listen to the meeting, I’ve placed a copy of my wife’s recording at this this Google Drive link.

The meeting materials are on this Town of Vienna web page.  Apparently there was also a set of comments on the new version of (what used to be called) the Citizen’s Guide to Traffic Calming, but those comments were only available to Town Council, not to the public.

The meeting had two parts:

  • Town right-of-way issues.
  • Replacement for the Citizen’s Guide to Traffic Calming.

For those who want to listen to the meeting, the traffic calming section starts about 1:05 into the recording.

Continue reading Post #525: Last night’s Town Council work session

Post #474: 11/26/2019 Transportation Safety Commission meeting

I attended part of the TSC meeting last night.  There was a total of three people in the audience.

I brought the situation at the Chick-fil-A drive through to their attention (see just-prior post).  They seemed to understand that this might be hazardous and asked Department of Public Works to look into it.

Otherwise there were just a few things of note.

Rental electric scooters (Post #472 and earlier posts).  They made some small amendments to the “memorandum of understanding” that would govern any rental scooter agreements here in Vienna.  Mostly, they wanted language added that would specifically mention the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), in the sense of banning any scooter parking that would impede ADA-mandated access points.

They also had extensive discussion of the geofencing of Maple, Nutley and possible other streets to limit speeds, with the idea being that scooter users would likely be on the sidewalk on those streets.  There was some discussion of limiting speed to 6 MPH on those roads, but they stuck with the DPW recommendation of 10 MPH.

So, in a nutshell, if rental electric scooters are offered here in Vienna, the rules will look something like this, unless the Town Council changes them at their next meeting:

  • It is legal to ride on the sidewalk (but riding in the road is encouraged where it is safe to do so).
  • Speed limit of 20 MPH, except Maple and Nutley speed limit of 10 MPH (under the assumption that they’ll be most on the sidewalk on those street).
  • You can park them anywhere, but you can’t block any right of way (e.g., sidewalk) and in particular you can’t block any ADA access.  (And obviously, you can’t park them on private property without the property owner’s permission or acceptance.)
  • To enforce that, they are going to ask the vendor to require that each user send a picture of the parked scooter (or some equivalent technology).  Apparently, that system — you need to send a photo of the parked scooter in order to end your trip — is commonly used as a way to enforce reasonable parking of the scooters.

My opinion is that it’s probably wishful thinking to believe that a vendor would offer rental scooters here.  But you never know.  In particular, our Metro ridership (based on Census survey data) tends to be an older, high-income population.  I doubt that rental scooters are likely to generate many trips to Metro.  But again, you never know.

My (scant) observation in Fairfax City was that these were used by most college-age kids, and that the Fairfax City ban against using these on the sidewalks was routinely ignored.  (Per Fairfax City:  “City Code currently prohibits e-scooters, e-bikes, and other vehicles from sidewalks and trails (except on certain designated routes). “)  So even if you don’t like the idea of rental electric scooters on the sidewalks, my guess is, if they are going to be used here, there’s no practical way to keep them off the sidewalks.

One last tidbit:  Apparently, and news to me, electric scooters are allowed on the W&OD.  That was announced by DPW staff at this meeting.  I could find nothing on-line to validate this, not even on the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority website.  Their website notes that e-bikes are allowed, but as far as I can tell, there’s no mention of electric scooters.

Separately:  Unsafe conditions on Kingsley and Tapawingo.  DPW met with citizens regarding unsafe intersections on Kingsley and Tapawingo, on November 19 and 20.  The had a total of about 22 citizens show up to discuss potential changes to those roads and intersections to improve safety.

Post #463: A couple of reports on the Chick-fil-a-car-wash gathering space/driveway.

In this article I’m just reporting two things that were recently pointed out to me by my wife, who in turn was clued in by friends.  The issue is whether or not people are going to use the “gathering space” in front of the Chick-fil-a-car-wash as a driveway.  We have our initial evidence, thanks to a sharp-eyed colleague.

Recall Post #431, where I asked whether the Chick-fil-a-car-wash “gathering space” was a sham.  The idea is that the drive-through there literally cannot function unless some cars are allowed to drive across the brick patio in front of the store.  Briefly, unlike a normal drive-through, there’s no place to go if there’s a problem with your order, unless you can drive across that front patio to get back to a parking place.

Observation #1:  Look carefully at the little green car.  Off to the left.   Driving across the plaza.

Source:  Catherine Douglas Morgan, “Two Story Flagship Car Wash Now Open in the Town of Vienna”, Tyson’s Reported 11/18/2019, accessible at this link: https://www.tysonsreporter.com/2019/11/18/two-story-flagship-carwash-now-open-in-town-of-vienna/

OK, so that’s somewhat amusing.  Plausibly, that’s an old rendering, before the Town got them to agree to a “No Left Turn” sign at the exit to the drive-through.

Observation #2:  Less amusing, drivers have already figured out to use that plaza in the other direction when traffic is heavy.  A colleague reported that during a particularly bad back-up last week, on that section of Maple, she saw a driver who was heading toward Vienna drive down the McDonald’s access road, across the plaza, and exit onto Maple at the Chick-fil-a drive-through.  That put them about a dozen cars ahead of where they would have been, if they’d driven up the access road (toward Oakton) and exited onto Maple at the McDonald’s.

Northern Virginia, traffic backup, you can get a dozen cars ahead if you use that plaza as a driveway?  In hindsight, of course somebody’s going to do that.  I never would have guessed it ahead of time.  I’m not sure there’s a “No Entry” sign there.  But of course they are.

Commentary:  All it would take is a couple of large moveable objects, and Chick-fil-A could block vehicular access to that brick patio/gathering space.  They could prevent cars from using it, will still allowing their delivery truck to use it to drop off their freight.

My bet is, they aren’t going to do that.  For exactly the reason stated in Post #431.  Seems to me that they need to keep it open, to handle botched orders in the drive-through line.

In the grand scheme of things, this hardly matters.  That area is so close to the road that you’d have to be kind of desperate (or deaf) to try to use it as any sort of community “gathering space”.

But the fact that the “gathering space” is also going to be a driveway raises the idea that maybe the benefits of MAC have been a touch over-sold.  It’s hard for me to look at that structure and say what useful or beneficial things the citizens of Vienna got from that, that they would not have gotten from by-right construction under the existing commercial zoning.

 

Post #440: CORRECTED: The 10/30/2019 Planning Commission meeting.

My last meeting review (prior post) was second-hand.  This one is third hand.  And unsurprisingly, given that, I got some key details wrong, which I have now fixed. 

Briefly, the extension of the MAC moratorium passed on a 6-3 vote.  The moratorium extension will now be considered by the Town Council at its next meeting, and presumably the MAC moratorium will be extended to June 30 2020.

Continue reading Post #440: CORRECTED: The 10/30/2019 Planning Commission meeting.

Post #431: Is the Chick-fil-A “gathering space” a sham?

In the diagram of the front of the Chick-fil-A-car-wash above, with Maple Avenue at the top, the drive-through window for the Chick-fil-A exits at the right side of the building (nearest Nutley), where the blue rectangle is.

In the original design, drive-through users would have then driven down the front of the building to return to the access road that runs past McDonalds.   I.e., they would have taken a left, using the brick “plaza” as an extension of the drive-through-lane.  Functionally, that brick “plaza” was just a driveway connecting the drive-through exit to the access road.

The Town changed that, requiring that the drive-through lane exit right-turn-only, directly onto Maple.  In theory, then, you can’t get back to the access road, if you go through the Chick-fil-A drive-through.

I have now seen several people comment on how fundamentally goofy this traffic flow is.  Upon inspection, it’s unlike any other fast-food drive through that I’ve ever seen.  It’s practically designed to result in a traffic jam.

Let me walk you through it, and give you my best guess as to what’s actually going to happen. To cut to the chase, my guess is, people are going to drive across the brick plaza anyway.   It’s set up to allow it (physically), and it will be vastly easier.  And as a result, that brick “gathering space” will be nothing of the sort.  It’ll just be the exit of the drive-through lane.  Exactly as was envisioned in the original plans. Continue reading Post #431: Is the Chick-fil-A “gathering space” a sham?

Post #428: A brief but realistic survey of Vienna citizen opinion on MAC

Note:  This is not an actual survey.  I’m not collecting answers to these questions.

Question 1:

 

Above you see the Chick-fil-A-car-wash.  It’s a reasonable proxy for what MAC zoning will bring to Vienna.  The building itself stands 43′ tall; the tallest tower is 62′ tall.

The front of the building sits 24′ to 30′ off Maple Avenue.  That “setback” provides a private-property gathering space where Vienna citizens can socialize, as long as they buy something from the Chick-fil-A.

The Town of Vienna is considering allowing developers to place buildings like this all along Maple.  Most will have housing on the upper floors instead of a car wash, typically condos or apartments.

Citizens of Vienna will get a series of these private-property gathering spaces adjacent to Maple Avenue, similar to the front of the Chick-fil-a-car-wash, along with new mixed-use (retail and housing) buildings.

The initial wave of construction (approximately a dozen new buildings) will result in a one-third increase in the number of cars on Maple Avenue during rush hour.

Question:  Should the Town of Vienna proceed with this plan?

Yes

No


Question 2:

Would you like to see the above-ground power lines along Maple removed (i.e., buried underground)?

Yes

No


Question 3:

The Town of Vienna is considering whether or not to remove the above-ground power lines along Maple.  This will cost the Town approximately $20 million.  Only the lines running along Maple will be removed, not the power lines that cross over Maple (as illustrated above).  Power lines will not be removed on any of the other streets in Vienna.

Should the Town proceed with its plan to remove (i.e., bury) the above-ground power lines along Maple?

Yes, please spend $20 million to remove some of the power lines on Maple.

No, please find a better use for that money or don’t spent it at all.


Question 4:

The Town of Vienna is going to survey its citizens regarding MAC zoning.  Should the Town use actual pictures of actual MAC buildings, or should they use pretty pictures of far nicer streets, as shown above.  That is, should the Town use pictures of streetscapes that are far nicer than Maple Avenue could possibly be,  in order to gather opinions about what to do with Maple Avenue?

Choose one:

Show me reality (actual Maple Avenue)

Show me fantasy (locations that are much nicer and more spacious than Maple Avenue)


Question 5:  Bonus question.

If you laid $20 million worth of $100 bills end to end, in a straight line, starting at Maple and Center, how far could you get?

Gainesville, VA

Germantown, MD

Dale City, VA

Andrews AFB, MD

Any of the above

 

Post #424: Wrap-up on posts #420-#423

         

This will be my final post, for now, on the Chick-fil-A-car-wash.

Recap:  The big surprise with the Chick-fil-A-car-wash is that the large transformers for the underground utilities sit in front of the building, adjacent to the exit for the drive-through, nine feet from the curb, directly next to the sidewalk.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that this is an oversight.  In other words, it’s not that key Town officials and staff were aware of and actively approved this.  It’s far more likely that it just slipped through the cracks, and got lost amid all the other details that had to be checked as part of the zoning and permitting processed.  If they’d noticed it, they’d have had them put the transformers in an underground vault.  Nobody intended to have this spoil the “MAC streetscape” at this location.

Some may care about the aesthetics of it, but I don’t.  I look at this for what it is.  It’s a grotesquely oversized fast-food joint on an urban arterial highway.  It’s across the street from a gas station and a 7-11, which, in case you’ve never noticed, has a dumpster right next next to the sidewalk.  In that setting, a couple of electrical boxes out front is not hugely out-of-place.  (Shoot, in that setting, electrical boxes practically count as decoration).  I realize the Town has higher aspirations, but it’s not as if these unexpected electrical boxes/transformers are some huge eyesore relative to what’s across the street.

In a nutshell, in terms of aesthetics, I’d say that this Chick-fil-A-car-wash achieves something I would have thought impossible:  It makes McDonald’s look great.  Side-by-side, next to the Chick-fil-A-car-wash, McDonald’s comes across as petite, unobtrusive and downright stylish.

Instead, I’m just concerned about the bike/pedestrian safety issue that the Town’s oversight has created.  As I believe I have shown in the just-prior post, this is now the worst driveway in town for pedestrian visibility, beating out the driveway next to the Vienna Mattress Firm (aka the former Sleepy’s).

 

  

The new driveway at the Chick-fil-A is a worse than the Vienna Mattress Firm/Sleepy’s exit for several reasons.

  1. The sight lines between driver and obscured sidewalk are shorter at the Chick-fil-A than they are at the intersection above (Post #423).  A car driver who stops just short of the sidewalk will have less than one second to see and stop for an oncoming sidewalk bicyclist.
  2. At the Mattress Firm (Sleepy’s) intersection above, drivers are actually looking at the obscured part of the sidewalk when they look at oncoming cars on Maple.  .  At the Chick-fil-A, by contrast, drivers will be looking away from the obscured part of the sidewalk when they look at oncoming cars on Maple.
  3. The Chick-fil-A exit will predictably be busy.  At times (such as when traffic backs up past the driveway), we should expect there to be multiple cars waiting to exit.
  4. Drivers will  predictably be distracted as they exit the fast-food drive-through, e.g., putting their change away, distributing food to their kids, eating, and so on.
  5. Drivers will be predictably unfamiliar with this unique situation.    This fast-food restaurant is likely to attract customers from a wide catchment area.  And this drive-through exit, with it’s obscured sight lines, is unlike more or less anything else in NoVA.  No reasonable person would expect a brand-new building to have such an unsafely obscured sidewalk at the fast-food exit.
  6. The new HAWK light makes this a route that can be (and is) used by Madison High School students.  (Note that Chick-fil-A serves breakfast, so it will be open as they walk to and from school.)

Since the Town played a part in creating this new (potential) hazard, my feeling is that, if the Town’s experts see this as the hazard that I believe it is, the Town should do what it can, before the Chick-fil-A opens, to mitigate it.

First, I don’t think it’s feasible to get those transformers moved.  Legally, I’m pretty sure the Town can’t require it.  And I’m also sure it would be hugely expensive to do that, at this point.  I think they are there to stay.

Second, the Town could put in signs and a convex mirror to make drivers and pedestrians/bikers aware of the hazard.  Seems like that’s a fairly minimal ask.  But, if  done properly, would make that intersection even less appealing.  Why?  Ideally, the convex mirror showing the view of the sidewalk would be in the driver’s field of vision as they look at oncoming traffic, i.e., it would have to be placed at the curb, to the right of the driveway (as viewed when facing the building). So you’d be adding a large stand-alone mirror, on a pole, in front of the building.

Third, given that this the 21st century, the Town could use a more active technology, such as putting in a pedestrian sensor and warning light.  The light would come on when pedestrians or bicyclists were approaching from the blind side of that driveway.  Obviously that’s a more expensive and extensive undertaking.

Finally, the Town could go back and correct the original sin here.  My understanding is that, originally, Chick-fil-A wanted the drive-through lane to exit across the front of the building, back to the access road that runs in front of McDonald’s.  Basically, to let drive-through customers leave that property the way every other customer does.  But the Town wanted/needed to claim the brick “plaza” in front of the building as open/gathering space.  Roadways can’t count as open space.  Hence the separate exit for the drive-through lane, and a pedestrian “plaza” in front.

I’ll note a couple of things.  First, I don’t think people are going to use that “plaza” because it’s too close to the 123 traffic to be pleasant.  So IMHO it’s there purely for looks.  And it’ll look the same whether people drive over it or not.  Second, the developers went ahead and put in protective bollards in front of the store front, as if to protect pedestrians from cars driving on that front “plaza”.  So it’s already set up to be a driveway.

In theory, then, the Town could tell Chick-fil-A that it could go back to its original plan, if it wanted to.  That would solve this issue for good, with some additional construction costs.  They’d close the separate drive-through exit where the transformers are, brick over that portion of the drive-through driveway, and have cars exit by crossing the front of the building, driving over what is now the brick “plaza”.

Anyway, at this point, I’m done.  I have no skin in the game.  I’m not going to shop there, my kids have graduated from Madison, and I have no reason to use that sidewalk.  I’m not a pedestrian safety expert, so it’s possible that I have made a mountain out of a molehill.  But I do bike and walk Maple all the time, and, in my considered opinion, this drive-through exit will take the prize as the worst entrance onto Maple.  At the minimum, I think it’s well worth having the Town have its own experts assess the situation, and, if the experts agree that this is a problem, do what they can to address the situation before Chick-fil-A opens.

Post #423: Town of Vienna, please add some pedestrian safety measures here (revised).

I think this is now the single most visually-obstructed entrance onto Maple Avenue, by a slight margin.  I’ll present details on that below.  All things considered, I think the Town ought to consider adding a few safety measures proactively.  Detail follows.

Note:  My original posting exaggerated the difference between the Chick-fil-A exit and another visually obstructed entrance on Maple.  This post is more nearly correct, based on more careful measurement.

Continue reading Post #423: Town of Vienna, please add some pedestrian safety measures here (revised).

Post #422: Following on Post #421.

Regarding Post #421, yes, those are transformers.  They sit 9′ from the Maple Avenue curb, and the shorter one is a bit over 5′ tall.

They look like this:

They were marked on the plans (T is for transformer pad), and in fact, they were just about the first thing installed on the site, per Google Street View.

So this isn’t anything new, in the sense that anybody could have known about it if they had been sufficiently interested.

And this doesn’t bother me any.  I don’t eat at Chick-fil-A, I don’t wash my car, my kids won’t walk past that going to and from school, and in general I have no reason to walk that sidewalk.

And we have plenty of ugly utility boxes near the existing sidewalks.  Most are far smaller than these.  I believe all the traffic lights have such boxes.  Here are two in front of Tequila Grande.

I’m just surprised, for several reasons.

The first is the whole beautiful-broad-sidewalks schtick that Town staff use to promote MAC zoning.  I don’t recall seeing even one hulking 5′ tall transformer featured in any of the Town’s pictures of beautiful urban scenes with broad pedestrian zones.  So this doesn’t seem to fit in with the game plan.

Two, obviously, the Town isn’t planning to continue that broad sidewalk, at this location, if the other properties on the block redevelop.  The Town’s whole “walkability” thing has always struck me as kind of illogical and irrational.  So I guess it makes sense that nobody could be bothered to see that the new broad “pedestrian” zone could be extended at some future date.  As I said in the last post, our grandchildren will walk around these transformers.

Three, while we do have some ugly old electrical utility boxes on Maple, I’m frankly surprised that a Town that seems so prissy about how MAC looks would put in some ugly brand-new utility boxes.  And great big ones, to boot.

Fourth, I’d have thought something like this would have been nixed purely from the pedestrian/bicyclist safety aspect due to the lack of sight lines.  It’s a solid metal wall, 5′ tall, 9′ from the Maple curb, located maybe 2′ from the edge of the driveway where cars will exit the Chick-fil-A drive-through.  Drivers in full-size SUVs will plausibly be able to see over it, but drivers in sedans definitely will not.  Sedans will be well across the sidewalk before a driver would be able to see (e.g.) an oncoming bicyclist on the sidewalk.

So to me, it looks like drivers will have almost no time to react to (e.g.) a bicyclist heading down the sidewalk toward McDonalds.  I guess we will just have to rely on the cautious and courteous driving style for which Northern Virginia is so deservedly famous.

After using Google Street View, I don’t see another situation quite like this in Vienna.  The worst, I think, is the driveway next to the Vienna Mattress Firm (end of the row of shops attached to Panera).  But that sits 11′ from the road, and cars typically have four or five feet between the car and the wall of the building.

In summary, for a range of reasons, I did not expect to see the MAC streetscape in front of the Chick-fil-a-car-wash terminated by a couple of hulking transformers.  That wasn’t on the picture the Town (still) uses on its own website.  It’s not how the Town presents the beautiful MAC streetscape.  It bars any smooth continuation of that broad streetscape if the adjacent property redevelops.  And it looks like it creates a pedestrian/bicyclist hazard in our “pedestrian friendly” MAC zone.

But whatever.  It’s now a fixture in the Town of Vienna.  Those big green boxes are electrical equipment, and they are there to stay.