Post #258: 4/30/2019 Transportation Safety Commission meeting and a few oddities from recent Town public meetings

Posted on May 1, 2019

About 15 people attended last night’s Transportation Safety Commission (TSC) meeting.  The bulk of the meeting dealt with petitions and complaints from several neighborhoods regarding cut-through traffic, speeding, and the need for pedestrian crosswalks.   Among the streets discussed were Tazewall, Casmar, and John Marshall.

My main interest was in the Town’s replacement for the Citizen’s Guide to Traffic Calming.  You can find the current version — in use since 2002 — on this page on the Town’s website.  It outlines the process you would have to go through if you wanted your street to have (e.g.) speed bumps, a pedestrian crosswalk, a flashing pedestrian crosswalk sign, or other traffic safety measures.  You can find a draft of the proposed replacement on this page on the Town’s website.

Changes to the traffic calming process.

Julie Hays, currently a candidate for Town Council, is overseeing the changes to the current process.  The proposed replacement document will, at some point, be made available for public comment.

I have to preface this with a caveat.  I can’t say that I have studied this in detail, and I found some of the wording of the document to be ambiguous.  So take these next few points with a grain of salt.  But here’s what I think I read.

A few things about the new document have already struck a nerve with me.  Particularly as my neighborhood recent went through the process of petitioning for a lighted pedestrian crossing sign (an RRFB), courtesy of the Seventh-day Adventist school at Courthouse and Glen.

I realize this document may change, and it is possible that I am simply mis-reading ambiguously worded statements.  But as currently written, and as I read it, several aspects of the proposed process seem far less citizen-friendly than the current  method.  I’m just going to highlight a few.

Public due process.  Currently, citizens who want action take their complaint or their petition directly to a board of fellow Vienna citizens, in a public forum.  By contrast, under the proposed process, citizens will submit a request  to the Department of Public Works (DPW), without any public forum.  As I understand it, DPW could, at that step, determine that a request has no merit/can’t be done, and the process stops there.  This appears to remove our current guarantee of some degree of public due process in these requests.

Road closure.  Currently, one potential measure available to dealing with traffic is the possibility of closing a road.  This matters to me, due to the large uptick in cut-through traffic that I am expecting from new MAC and other developments on the west end of Maple.  By contrast, in the proposed document, road closure does not appear to be an option.  I say “appear” because, where the current document simply spells out what the options are, the new document does that by reference to other materials.  You have to study the other materials to see what is and isn’t listed.  And it appears that road closure isn’t listed.

What you agree to when you sign a petition for traffic calming.  Currently, if citizens want to petition for (e.g.) speed bumps on a road, part of the petition process is to ask individuals if they would mind having the speed bump directly in front of their house.  You were free to say “yes” to a speed bump without having to agree to have it in front of your house.  By contrast, under the proposed approach, if I have read it correctly, by signing the petition, you are agreeing to have the speed bump in front of your house.  I assume that’s to grant the Town the greatest freedom of action, but it will also have a chilling effect on petitions.

Requesting a specific action.  Currently, citizens determine what type of action they would like the Town to take, and then petition the Town to take that action.  For example, we petitioned the Town for a flashing pedestrian light.  By contrast, under the proposed method, it looks like the citizens what have no control over whatever action the Town decides to take.  The actual form of traffic calming or safety measure appears to be entirely at the Town’s discretion.  Again, I would expect that to have nothing but a chilling effect –  you can ask the Town to do something on your street — as long as you acknowledge that you have no control over what they decided to do.

I’m not sure why the existing guide is now deemed insufficient.  And I have not tried to track down how this process is handled in other, similar jurisdictions.  Given some of the language of the proposed guide, I’m not even entirely sure of the facts.  But the general tone of it does seem to be less open, less citizen-controlled, and less citizen-friendly.

Finally, the one thing it does not seem to address is the unique situation created by MAC development. Adding (say) 100 new residents, plus new retail, at the end of a narrow street (380 Maple West), on top of maybe 250 new residents and even more new retail, just half-a-block away (444 Maple West), plus the new 24-hour convenience store and the new proposed Kensington Assisted Living directly across the street — those changes might materially affect the traffic situation on narrow, sidewalk-less street with hairpin turns that is the first available cut-through to get to a light so you can head south on Nutley.  (And here I have described the situation on Glen Avenue, where I live.)  But there is no pro-active way to address that.  We have to wait for a problem to develop, then go through the standard process.  And if we are denied, we have to wait five years before petitioning again, no matter how much the neighborhood may have been changed in the intervening time, due to yet more MAC and other development.

In other words, the traffic calming rules really haven’t acknowledged the size of these MAC projects or the speed with which they are coming.  The fact that the Town is pushing major large-scale redevelopment in a neighborhood makes no difference whatsoever.  Right now, it’s my neighborhood.  But if you live along Maple, at some point, it may be your neighborhood.

A few weird odds and ends from recent meetings.

Burying the power lines — did I hear that right?  As you may or may not know, the Town is committed to having the power lines buried in all new construction as part of the Town plan.  You can read my Post #210 for the calculation of the $25 million that it will cost (someone) to bury all the lines on Maple.   Duly noted, it is expensive.  So when the Town of Vienna builds its new $14M (?) police station,  the rumor I heard is that aren’t planning to bury the power lines.   As a taxpayer, I guess I applaud that.  Still, the next time Town Council challenges a developer over burying the power lines, I hope to see that brought up.

No trucks.  At the TSC meeting there was a feeling expressed that the “No Trucks” signs are widely ignored.  (Again, this matters to me due to development on the west end of Maple.)  But the Town of Vienna police do enforce that by pulling over trucks and asking to see receipts/manifests showing a delivery on a “No Trucks” street.  The oddity is that nobody actually knew the criteria for designating a street as a “No Trucks” street (e.g., street width, low power line crossings, etc.)  Apparently the Town has not designated a new “No Trucks” street in some time.

Capital Bikeshare.  I’ve already tried to make the case that Capital Bikeshare in Vienna is likely to be a near-total waste of money.  We have hard data from Tyson’s, Reston, and similar far-suburban locations on the Metro Red line, all of which shows almost no use of these rack-based bike rental systems in the suburbs.  You can see my analysis here, and see what is probably the nicest graphic I have ever produced, here. (Turn OFF “cluster on zoom”, turn ON “animate flows”, and clear the text boxes off the screen using the faint gray arrows.)  That said, this is still in the works, and the Town is waiting for a report from the City of Fairfax before proceeding

Town boundary unclear? I was amazed to hear that the exact location of the Town boundary at Park and Casmar does not appear to be entirely clear.  Or, at least, correctly acknowledged by both County and Town.  The point being that residents who make a complaint to the County are sometimes told it’s a Town problem, and residents making a complaint to the Town are sometimes told it’s a county problem.  In the GPS era, I didn’t think such a thing was even possible.

What is speeding?  Finally, I learned that you really have to be going quite a bit above the posted limit to get ticketed for speeding around here.  This came up at the TSC meeting.  I’m not going to say how far you have to be, over the speed limit, to risk being ticketed.  But it was more than I would have guessed.  I don’t know whether Fairfax County calibrates that amount in order to keep the number of court appearances reasonable, or whether there is some unrelated justification.  But anybody who gets a speeding ticket here in Vienna gets zero sympathy from me.  The police here grant citizens a considerable degree of leeway above the posted speed, and anybody driving fast enough to get ticketed in the Town of Vienna deserves what they get, and then some.