By Bonnie Kartzman & Jeremy Hancock
One Saturday last month, an impaired motorist driving on Shreve Road in Fairfax County struck and killed a 60-year-old member of our Falls Church community while she was walking along an adjacent path. This was a shock for our quiet residential neighborhood, which is home to an elementary school and two crossings for the W&OD trail. But it was no surprise.
Indeed, neighbors have complained to local officials for years about safety concerns on and near Shreve Road. In addition to speed and congestion, we lack guardrails to protect us at sharp turns in the road. Our access to the West Falls Church metro and WO&D trail is limited due to lack of sidewalks. At the bike trail crossings, cyclists and motorists vie dangerously for the right of way without traffic lights or stop signs to guide them. For many of our children, walking to school or accessing the bike trail is not an option.
These safety concerns are underscored by publicly available crash data. Between 2015 and 2019, there were 40 crashes on Shreve Road, with 17 that involved injuries. In contrast, on West Street, which serves as a similar thoroughfare, there were seven crashes during the same period. On Haycock Road, which runs just to our north, there were 17 crashes. The data also highlights specific areas of concern on Shreve, where there were six crashes at both sharp turns and trail crossings.
It’s evident that Shreve Road is inadequate for the traffic and pedestrians it carries. Without improvements, it will only get worse. Shreve is already a major cut-through for commuters. We anticipate additional traffic and further demand for pedestrian access from “mixed-use” area projects bordering Shreve on either end. To our north, Falls Church City is quickly moving ahead with West Falls Church Economic Development Project at the current site of George Mason High School. To our south, Fairfax County is planning to redevelop the Merrifield Suburban Center to make way for an expanded INOVA campus and Fairview Office Park. We have not seen coordination among governmental jurisdictions or a willingness to address the implications for the broader area.
Tired of inaction, we formed the Shreve Road Community Working Group, an organization of nearly 150 neighbors committed to spurring officials to pay attention to the serious dangers on Shreve and protect our families and community. Here is what we have done so far:
• Worked with Delegate Marcus Simon’s Office to participate in a Town Hall on August 27, 2019, encouraging members of our community to attend;
• Opened a dialogue with other official stakeholders, such as the Fairfax County Police Department and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which advised that it is conducting a speed study on Shreve; and
• Signed on to a letter submitted by various neighborhood and community associations in support of a Safe Routes to School grant application for crosswalks connecting neighborhoods to Shrevewood Elementary School and the W&OD trail.
In addition, to solicit the input of our community, we circulated an online survey to better understand concerns about Shreve Road. Here is a sampling of what we heard:
On the lack of walkability: “Even walking to Metro is a nightmare. This neighborhood needs to be walkable.” “[We need] somewhere (other than the one trail crossing) where Shreve Road can be crossed safely by pedestrians (crosswalk). Kids dart across the street and I really worry about that.”
On the danger at the trail crossings: “I’d like to see a light at the W&OD cross[ing] . . . . The sheer volume of traffic and blind spots, and unwillingness for all participants to yield to one another creates such a tremendously stressful and dangerous intersection.”
On the need for community-focused planning: “[we need] . . . comprehensive planning for walkability as the great community changes. This isn’t simply about a road – it’s about how people want to live now and future years.”
In addition to serving our immediate community, we believe that the Shreve Group could serve as a citizen-driven model for advocating smart, sustainable development for similar older neighborhoods across Fairfax County like us: left behind amid explosive population growth and commercial interests.
In turn, we are calling on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, the VDOT, the City of Falls Church Council, and Virginia elected officials, starting with Delegate Simon, to treat fixing dangerous Shreve Road as an urgent priority — not just one of many county road projects. At the Aug. 27 Town Hall, representatives from each of these offices committed to engaging with the community.
But before anyone else is hurt or killed, we need more than a verbal commitment. We need a plan, and immediate action. Pedestrian safety can never be an afterthought.