Citizen-Initiated ‘Traffic Calming’ Efforts ‘Costly & Non-Essential,’ City Hall Says

July 9, 2014 7:56 PM7 comments
SUBJECT OF AN INTENSE discussion at Monday’s Falls Church City Council work session, Councilman Dan Sze (left) confronts the City staff on plans to delay traffic calming work at the intersection of Parker and Kent.

SUBJECT OF AN INTENSE discussion at Monday’s Falls Church City Council work session, Councilman Dan Sze (left) confronts the City staff on plans to delay traffic calming work at the intersection of Parker and Kent.

An angry dust-up at Monday’s Falls Church City Council work session about planned delays in the implementation of a traffic-calming plan for the intersection of Parker and Kent Streets – where a City student was injured in a traffic accident last month – led to an uncommon set of exchanges in which the City’s entire “traffic calming” effort got called into question.

The City’s Utilities Department requested and received emergency authorization by the City Council last month to undertake safety improvements to the Parker-Kent intersection, located behind the Taco Bell in the west end of town, in the aftermath of the accident.

However, when it came to light this Monday that the City’s planned safety upgrades to the intersection would not be ready to improve safety for pedestrians walking to City schools for over a year, until September 2015, Councilman Dan Sze blew up.

“I can’t contain my disappointment,” he said. We gave you emergency authorization to act,” Sze told City Manager Wyatt Shields and Michael Collins, the City’s new director of public works. “But now we are being told you will not begin work on improvements there until next spring. This is despite the fact that you got the sense of the Council’s commitment to this as an emergency situation.”

Sze’s outburst led to a sharp reply from Shields, who said the issue is a matter of priorities, where things like the South Washington Corridor development plan are crowding neighborhood calming efforts for lack of City manpower.

a rendering of plans submitted by Danny Schlitt of the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks, the subject of extensive work by the CIty’s volunteer Parks and Rec Advisory Board, for the expanded West End Park, subject to final OK by the Council. At present it includes a skate park feature, which some feel is no longer relevant due to the decline in popularity of the sport. (Illustration: City of F.C.)

a rendering of plans submitted by Danny Schlitt of the City’s Department of Recreation and Parks, the subject of extensive work by the CIty’s volunteer Parks and Rec Advisory Board, for the expanded West End Park, subject to final OK by the Council. At present it includes a skate park feature, which some feel is no longer relevant due to the decline in popularity of the sport. (Illustration: City of F.C.)

“We have one tenth of a person working on this neighborhood calming effort now,” Shields added. “If there is an unsafe situation in the City, we will address it,” he intoned.

Right now, he explained, most of the “traffic calming” issues are discretionary and not a matter of correcting a dangerous situation. “There is a difference between what one may perceive is the case, and a really unsafe situation,” Collins added.

“Right now there are no existing problems. “Calming” efforts are quality of life issues,” he said. “It is a matter of taking safe streets and making them even safer.”
Paul Stoddard of the Planning Department said he’s been working with the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation (CACT) to update the City’s “neighborhood traffic calming programs,” noting that there is only one now active in the consideration process, while proposals for the W. Cameron Street area and the Whittier Park have been dismissed.

Because these programs often become controversial in the neighborhoods involved, the cost to the City for implementing a plan tends to skyrocket. Staff and engineering costs can run from $5,000 to $60,000, he said, depending on the degree of consensus or not, thus far exceeding the capital costs of making changes (such as adding speed bumps, signage, stop signs or lights).

Collins, who came to his job here recently from neighboring Arlington County, said that his experience in Arlington was that the cost of every discretionary project ranged from $450,000 to $550,000 each.

Such “traffic calming” proposals, when recommended by the CACT, come to City Hall as advisory programs and from there, Shields stressed, have to be measured against the City’s resources for addressing more immediate public safety concerns. “All of these CACT recommendations come as discretionary,” he added.

Council member Phil Duncan suggested that the intersection of Broad and West Streets, where a major new mixed use development project may go, “has been dysfunctional since I moved here in 1985,” and he proposed that the prospective developer there could be enlisted to pay for improvements that would enhance its safety, especially as the volume of traffic there would be increasing due to the project.

Vice Mayor David Snyder added that sometimes the solution to calming requests could be met far more cost effectively than more elaborate schemes that often get OK’d by the CACT at much higher costs.

  • vseidita

    Speed cameras that mail tickets to offenders pay for themselves quickly and are less obtrusive than the speed bumps all if which eventually succumb to snow plows.

  • James Breiling

    Might bureaucracy reflect Parkinson’s Law in a cost (in Arlington County and in the Little City) of $450,000-500,000 per little project. How about streamlining the work and process for quick, low cost action.

  • James Breiling

    Be progressive. Power to the people. Get most decision-making as close to the citizens as possible. In general, I trust the views of citizens about the need for traffic calming in front of and around their residences more than the views of a remote bureaucracy that asserts it knows best.

    My area in North Arlington, close by the border with the Little City, needs traffic calming for the safety of residents, especially young children who are now in abundance (great!). The “we know best” bureaucrats of ArlCo have a criteria for traffic calming that requires that a high % of vehicles exceed the speed limit by a generous amount. This “one size give all: criteria does not take into account the effects of cars parked on both sides and the curves with severely limited visibility of what’s ahead.

    We who live here and observe the situation and the risks know best the need for traffic criteria.

  • BFranklin

    I think the council has a standard for this that is biased against the densely-packed streets that need traffic calming the most. For our street, Cameron Road, they required 75% in-person council signing on not just Cameron Road but also Greenway and George Mason. 75% is easy to achieve if it is one street with large lots. Not so easy for parents with children they are trying to protect to all get out in-person at the council on a school night to sign.

  • David

    Only in City government would you find this explanation:

    “We have one tenth of a person working on this neighborhood calming effort now.”

Facebook Iconfacebook like buttonTwitter Icontwitter follow buttonGoogle+Google+