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City of Falls Church Moves Forward with Play Streets Program

FALLS CHURCH RESIDENTS ENJOY the first of the City’s Play Streets Pilot Programs on Saturday, May 14 on N. Virginia Avenue and Riley Street. The City officialy sanctioned the program as an opportunity for residents to get outside, making streets playgrounds. Stephanie Rogers, the program’s coordinator, said that “streets are for everybody, not just cars. (Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Rogers)
FALLS CHURCH RESIDENTS ENJOY the first of the City’s Play Streets Pilot Programs on Saturday, May 14 on N. Virginia Avenue and Riley Street. The City officialy sanctioned the program as an opportunity for residents to get outside, making streets playgrounds. Stephanie Rogers, the program’s coordinator, said that “streets are for everybody, not just cars. (Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Rogers)

Playing in the street was what parents used to do when they were kids, but they won’t let their children do that now, or not many will.

Andrea Caumont is a lifelong Falls Church resident who lives in the same house where she grew up, where she used to ride her bike and not worry about cars, but times have changed and so has a mother’s attitude.

She absolutely would not consider allowing her two young sons to ride bikes on her street now.

But “Play Streets,” newly landed in Falls Church on a trial basis, are “an opportunity for them to get outside and do the things I used to do” on city streets, like ride bikes and roller skate.

Streets become playgrounds, and children and adults enjoy the outdoors on city roads since “streets are for everybody, not just cars,” said Stephanie Rogers, the City’s Play Streets coordinator and transportation engineering supervisor.

With approval from the police and fire departments and coordination by other city agencies, a “Play Street” closes a section of a road to traffic so children and adults can have more space for play and physical activity.

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Rogers said Play Streets are set up to last from two to four hours on lightly traveled streets, “not super long streets or very busy ones.”

Falls Church has enjoyed two officially sanctioned Play Streets so far, one on N. Virginia Avenue and Riley Street, and the other, last week on Pine Street.

Caumont watched a “water” battle on Pine Street and described what else she has seen at Play Streets:

“Children got out of school early. It was really fun. About 30 kids came. There was a ton of water play with water guns and buckets.

“Parents and adults were hanging out in lawn chairs. There was a big mix of people, kids getting to know each other outside of school. Various aged kids, little, elementary. There was a real good turnout.

“The “spirit of Play Streets is it’s a lot more kid-driven. There’s no structure. They get to get out there and play,” and she compared it to “free range” children getting to do what they want to do. “They bring lots of imagination and energy to it.”

Caumont is an ardent, “very passionate” Play Street supporter who brought the project to the city, as a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee on Transportation which made the program a priority for 2016, Rogers said.

Caumont said, “We took it to Parks and Rec (the city’s Parks and Recreation Department) which was very supportive of the idea.” Now guidelines are in the works, and regulations will be similar to a block party’s.

There is some interest in having one on Fulton Avenue, Rogers said.”A lot of parents are very enthusiastic.”

Participants can buy lemonade, too. As long as sales are for “a good cause, charitable efforts” and “there’s not a problem, we’re fine with it,” Rogers said.

Falls Church has got the “move one.” About one of every three children and more than two of three adults are overweight, according to the National Institutes of Health. Play Streets “build community and encourage people to be more active,” said Rogers.

Kerry Carlsen and Mike Wing are parents of two elementary-school age boys and live off Hillwood Avenue. Wing knew about Play Streets in New York and Seattle, and likes the concept:

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“I think it’s a great idea as long as all the residents are fully informed.” He has spoken with neighbors and with Rogers and may apply for a permit for their street.

“It seems like a pretty easy process without too many complications,” he said in a telephone interview. There is no cost to apply for a permit, and the city supplies the barricades.

Sponsors need to notify all affected residents and obtain permission from two-thirds who support the idea.

The city is entrusting the sponsor with “a lot of responsibility and a lot of faith,” Rogers said.

A regular time for a Play Street would likely draw more participants and Caumont is thinking about a first Wednesday for her neighborhood.

Advocates want the program to be neighborhood driven. For it to become a recurring event, approval from two-thirds – three-fourths of affected residents would have to be received as the plan is being discussed now, Caumont said.

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