August 26, 2022
Ms. Houda Ali
Virginia Department of Transportation
Northern Virginia District
4975 Alliance Drive
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
Sent via: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Ms. Ali,
The Coalition for Smarter Growth (CSG) and CASA write to provide comments (attached and below) to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) on recommendations for pedestrian safety improvements in the Culmore community presented at the Aug. 4th public meeting.
CSG and CASA are working together along with local Culmore residents in seeking badly needed safety improvements to this known high-risk corridor for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users. According to a walkability survey and audit we conducted during Spring 2022, Culmore residents feel unsafe walking and biking along and across Route 7 citing poor lighting, dangerous driving, and the lack of connected sidewalks, bike infrastructure, and safe crossing options as core problems. Based on the findings, our report proposes several quick fixes that are critical for making the area safer now along with longer-term recommendations.
While we are pleased that VDOT and the county are now considering needed safety improvements for Route 7, we are very concerned that most of the recommendations will take years to implement and the short-term fixes are wholly inadequate to protect people who still must walk and bike in the community until those improvements are completed. We ask that you provide more robust short-term fixes now while longer-term plans are developed and funding identified. Those longer-term plans and funding should be a VDOT and county priority.
During the public meeting earlier this month Culmore residents had the opportunity to hear what is being done in their community to better their roads. The turnout was impressive and many residents lined up, including several children, to voice their concerns. As you know, the public comment period was cut off in order to end the meeting. We are including below comments from four CASA members who are Culmore residents that were not able to speak that night but want to share their experiences and voice their concerns.
My name is Aquiles Galarza. I’m from Ecuador, and Fairfax County has been my home for eight years, specifically the Culmore area. I am a recent member of the Casa Organization. I am the head of my family, have three children, and work in car sales. I am here because, for me, it is essential to contribute to the benefit of my community. I’m here to express my concerns to you, the county authorities. As a father and part of the community, I am concerned about the problems in the area, such as the lack of lighting at night. I want to expose the problems in the area as a resident of the community and a father who relies on public transportation daily. I want county authorities to work together to achieve the best road conditions in the community eliminating or reducing our problems in this Community. Thank you.
Hello, my name is Viviana Valverde; originally from Ecuador, and for the past eight years, Fairfax County has been my home, specifically in Culmore. Now I am fighting with my community with the safe streets campaign with CASA. I am the mother of a family of 3 children, and now I am with my 1-month-old girl. I dedicate myself to working in the cleaning area. For my family and me, it is worrying that the area of the highway of route seven, where we regularly travel to our jobs to make our purchases, to the laundry, and get food has become more dangerous due to the lack of road, pedestrian and cyclist signs. This is something that worries me on a personal level because I feel afraid to travel through the area because something could happen to us, and feeling safe is essential for my family and me. I raise my voice and ask the Fairfax County officials to take the lead and work for our community, such as good lighting, putting automated lights, speed humps, and marked signaling of the pedestrian crossing, among many other things the time is now you to listen to us and work for the well-being of our community. Thank you.
My name is Jose Castillo and I am from El Salvador. I immigrated to the US about eight years ago. Fairfax County has been my home ever since, specifically Culmore, and an active member of CASA. I am a father of a family who immigrated to this country looking for a better future for my family and me. Since moving to this country, I have come to fulfill my duties and rights as every inhabitant, contributing to this nation’s economy through my taxes. I have dedicated myself to working in the area of gardening and others. I commit myself to working in a construction company in the area of electricity. I am here as a resident of Culmore Bailey’s Crossroads, expressing my concern about what I experience daily. I have experienced even more concerns in the area since there has been an increase in accidents because of drivers speeding, and lack of signaling for vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians. Unfortunately, there have already been human losses and for that I raise my voice with the sole objective of safeguarding the physical integrity of people who travel on public roads by eliminating and reducing risk factors. I am asking the County to take action on the problems that we face as a population that circulates Baileys Crossroad requesting more updated traffic signaling and lighting in the area or even reducing the speed of the said road, among other key factors, such as a speed reducer or speed detector. I am writing to you to request such support for our community and prevent fatal accidents or other situations that are regrettable. Thank you.
Hello, my name is Catalina Valverde, and I am originally from Ecuador. I have lived in the community of Culmore for eight years and am a member of CASA. I work in the laundry industry, and therefore I circle this sector of Route 7 every day to my work to make necessary purchases and carry out errands that we need to carry out as people. Today I am participating in the safe streets campaign as part of the affected community. I have detected many problems in the area and am concerned about the lack of road safety because many children, mothers and fathers who do not drive and walk everywhere. I side with the drivers but also with the pedestrians because I circle the area both ways to get to work. I work at night and use an electric bicycle to get around because it is difficult to find parking when I return home. It is difficult for me to bike on the road. I am concerned about the lack of lighting and signage in the area since I come home at midnight, and I am afraid for my safety. That I could get hit at one of the many crossings or something could happen to me. At the same time, as a driver, the lack of I am here as part of the community, asking you to take the initiative to develop projects like the ones you discussed and the ones we are promoting for safe streets. We need security, and lighting in the area so that the bus stop is safer, mainly our roads, with the sole objective to safeguard the people who travel on public roads. Thank you.
Provide More Substantive and Safer Short-Term Fixes
The short-term improvements completed to date along Route 7 are inadequate and will do very little to improve the safety of people trying to walk along or cross Route 7 before the longer-term projects can be implemented.
- Temporary Sidewalk Connection Needed
The painted hash marks on the shoulder in front of Liberty Gas Station and Bakersfield Rugs do nothing to keep drivers from striking a pedestrian forced to walk in the road because of the missing sidewalk connection. We urge you to provide a better short-term fix by at least adding flex posts as you did behind the Culmore Plaza or, better yet, jersey barriers to provide a safe connection for pedestrians until the sidewalk can be built.
- Improve Lighting Along Route 7 and in Neighborhoods
Lack of adequate lighting was one of the top concerns identified in our community walkability survey. We ask that you provide brighter lighting along Route 7, particularly near bus stops, and in surrounding neighborhoods.
- Give Pedestrians a Head Start and More Time to Cross
We are pleased to learn that more time has been given for pedestrians to cross the street at the Glen Carlyn Road intersection. We ask that you do this at the Glenn Forest Drive intersection too. In addition, we ask that you give pedestrians a head start to cross at these intersections using a leading pedestrian interval.
Support Speed Study and Lowering the Speed Limit
We are pleased to see that a speed study is underway and support lowering the 40mph speed limit. As VDOT noted during the public meeting, higher travel speeds are known to significantly increase the likelihood of death and serious injury when crashes occur. According to the AAA Foundation, dropping the speed limit just 10mph from 40 to 30mph improves one’s ability to survive being struck by nearly 80%. VDOT performed a similar speed study for the Richmond Highway corridor and rightly considered the land uses, pedestrian activity, and the fact that the corridor is a known high pedestrian crash corridor to support lowering the speed limit. Route 7 from Seven Corners through Bailey’s Crossroads has very similar characteristics and we ask that VDOT weigh these same factors to support a safer, lower speed limit for the corridor.
Additionally, we ask that you add Speed Feedback Indicator Signs (SFIS) to Route 7 to discourage speeding. SFIS encourage drivers to stay within the speed limit by displaying their current traveling speed alongside the posted speed limit. This can be an effective tool in maintaining safe travel speeds and promoting safety for all road users.
Extend Safety Improvements Within Corridor
Many of the recommendations for safety improvements shared at the public meeting focus on the Culmore Plaza area, but we want to make sure safety improvements are also being considered between Magnolia Drive and Glenn Forest Drive. We heard significant feedback from residents about safety concerns in this stretch of road as well. We ask that you ensure intersection improvements are provided to both the Glenn Carlyn Road and Glenn Forest Drive intersections. We also ask that the Culmore Pedestrian Crossing Safety Study be extended down to the Glen Forest Drive intersection to adequately assess crossing needs in the community.
Intersection Improvements Needed at Both Glen Carlyn Road and Glenn Forest Drive
High visibility crosswalks should be added to all four sides of both the Glen Carlyn Road and the Glen Forest Drive intersections. We are pleased to see this being recommended for the Glen Carlyn Road intersection. We urge you to also add a 4th crosswalk to Glenn Forest Road intersection also.
Signalized Crossing Needed Between Magnolia Avenue and Glenn Forest Drive
We appreciate that a potential mid-block crossing is being considered at the Culmore Plaza as it would provide a more convenient and safe crossing option for people needing to cross in that area. However, that does not address the need for a safe crossing option between Magnolia Avenue and Glenn Forest Drive where there is also high demand to cross to bus stops, stores, and jobs.
During our walk audit that was held during the afternoon rush hour on May 5, 2022, we saw numerous people of all ages crossing in this location with no marked crosswalk or signal for them to use. Making matters worse, there were many drivers stacked up waiting to turn left onto Route 7 and in the center turn lane of Route 7 attempting to turn off the road. The scene was chaotic and created significant points of conflict for all users.
We ask that a mid-block crossing be added at the Culmore Plaza and another between Magnolia Avenue and Glenn Forest Drive. This would provide safer crossings for pedestrians and less conflict for drivers in the corridor.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our comments.
Sonya Breehey, Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager
Coalition for Smarter Growth
Eduardo Zelaya, VA State Director of Organizing