This past week WJLA (the local ABC affiliate) covered the news of a very dramatic car crash on Westpark Drive in Tysons. The SUV involved in the incident struck a tree and burst into flames at the intersection of Westpark Drive and Westbranch Drive. Thanks to some digging around by the reporter, it was found out that this is actually way too common, 9 times in less than 6 months.
VDOT and Fairfax County’s response? Putting up a sign that says slow down and infrequently having police stationed at this location. Pretty much the worst solution one could come up with.
You might notice I haven’t used the word accident in this post, the common language used when discussing car crashes. The reason is because all of these issues are very easily avoidable. If you have to put up a sign or waste law enforcement personnel because you refuse to listen to others about what proper road design looks like, then don’t be shocked when this kind of stuff happens. It’s not an accident, it’s malfeasance to ignore thousands of case studies regarding how to design roads, while stubbornly retaining poor design standards from 20 years ago.
Now Fairfax County isn’t necessarily to blame here, they don’t own the road, and they don’t set the design standards for it; VDOT does. In Fairfax County’s defense it also lowered the speed limit of the road from 35mph — which was absurd to start with considering this is a residential street — to 25 mph last year when they added bike lanes. But lowering the speed limit, without altering the common vocabulary and perception of a street does nothing.
One case in point would be the 35 mph Route 7 and Route 123, both of which have had long established speed limits, signs warning about speed, and often police radar enforcement… and yet on any given day you will find drivers exceeding 60 mph. Why? Are these all renegade drivers who must be criminal prosecuted? Well it’s hard to blame them when you have created a 8 lane wide quasi highway which for all intents and purposes uses the same design standards as a highway. If you fix the road, as many thousands of other roads have been fixed around the world and here in the US, you will see that the speeding and the accidents will decrease. And a happy byproduct of less accidents, other than potentially saving lives, is less traffic congestion.
Fairfax County needs to continue the push of getting Tysons, and other urban areas, out of the jurisdiction of VDOT. This can be done by either retroceding ownership of those roads, incorporation, or by working with Richmond and VDOT to create more logical criteria and design standards for urban roadways. Whatever the solution, we don’t need another 12 to 24 month study that does nothing and is pushed under the rug. Let’s fix this the right way, the first time.