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Vienna's Race Track: Blake Lane

Neighbor sounds alarm for safety measures.

It is not uncommon for George Ellmore to see broken glass on the road as he comes out of his neighborhood, turning onto Blake Lane.

Ellmore, who lives near Oakton High School, said he remembers an accident from late last school year when a high school student died at the intersection of Blake and Tipperary Pass. The student crashed into the small brick wall that bears the name of Ellmore's neighborhood. Then, the next night, another student ran off the road in the same spot, flipping his SUV.

Ellmore said he doesn't like walking his dog on the four-lane road anymore.

"Everyday you go out there, you see something happen," Ellmore said. "I got my learners permit at 15, and I used to drag race. But I can't remember this kind of disregard for life or safety. The economy is such that parents can buy their kids SUVs and BMWs. It's just peer pressure. Early in the morning it's like a drag strip out here. The kids try to outdo each other."

Captain Ed Roessler from the Reston District Police Station, which enforces traffic laws on Blake Lane, said there hasn't been an excessive number of accidents on Blake Lane, but the accidents are still a problem.

"There haven't been a lot of accidents," Roessler said. "But there have been accidents — the majority of which have involved Oakton High School students."

Ellmore suggested more traffic calming devices be installed on the road. He does not blame the students for the problem, and he can appreciate students wanting to drive to school, but he said Oakton principal Charles Ostlund should take action to control the number of accidents.

"The principal has said he is distraught," Ellmore said. "If he is so distraught, why doesn't he do something?"

<mh>Principal Decision

<bt>Ostlund has been working with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to improve traffic around his school, but his primary focus has been improving traffic flow rather than reducing speeds on Blake Lane. The school was built in the '60s and it predates the metro system and most of the surrounding housing developments. So, Ostlund said, the intersections leading into and out of the school were not built to handle the volume of traffic that exists today.

Ostlund got VDOT to paint left, right and straight lanes at the intersection of Sutton Lane and Country Creek Road, where many students access the school parking lot. VDOT also put in a left turn lane coming off of Sutton Road onto Blake Lane. In addition the Sutton Road and Blake Lane intersection has been designated only for use by cars exiting the school.

Ostlund acknowledged that student accidents along Blake Lane are a problem, but said they are difficult for him to control.

"In the single car accident where the kid was killed, it was his fault," said Ostlund. "He was speeding at 90 miles per hour late at night. It was not a school traffic time accident. Part of the problem is that Blake Lane is a divided road and even though the speed limit is 35, people drive like the limit is 50 miles per hour."

The principal said Blake Lane is not eligible, according to VDOT standards, for the installation of speed humps. And he doesn't think VDOT would be willing to build extra traffic lights on the road. Ostlund wanted a stoplight at the Sutton and Country Creek intersection, and a traffic light was originally planned for the intersection. But the money originally put aside for the intersection was spent somewhere else and VDOT was not willing to build the signal.

"The cost just to do some curb modifications on Blake Lane was going to be $700,000," said Ostlund. "And the fact that they didn't put in a stoplight at Sutton makes me think they wouldn't put one in on Blake."

Ostlund said the best deterrent to speeders on Blake Lane would be increased police presence.

"Nobody speeds on Flint Hill Road because they know there are cops there," said Ostlund. "Maybe we just need some increased visibility."

<mh>Police Presence

<bt>Roessler said police regularly set up roadside radar trailers, which display automobile speeds to drivers on Blake Lane. Officers also check speeds on the road everyday unless they are dispatched for other cases.

And one officer, Tom Bailey, is at Oakton High School everyday as the schools resource officer. Bailey regularly visits classrooms to talk about traffic violations, as well as other crimes. He said driving is one of the students favorite topics.

"The kids will really what-if you," Bailey said. "The questions always go to traffic. The other day I had 14 and 15 year olds asking me questions starting with, What if I'm driving and ... I said, You can't drive yet. You're not old enough."

Bailey took pictures from last year's fatal accident and printed a safe-driving brochure to pass around to students. He said he doesn't see as many students speeding as he did when he first started at the school, two-and-a-half years ago.

"There was a time when they would be squealing their wheels in the parking lot," Bailey said. "But now they've seen me around and they know the consequences."

And even though Bailey believes the students are driving more responsibly than they were a few years ago, he recalled three major Blake Lane accidents over the past year. All three accidents involved Oakton students. The first two accidents were the same two mentioned by Ellmore, at the corner of Blake and Tipperary. The third accident happened in early December 2001 near Bel Glade Court, when an Oakton junior ran his BMW off the road and hit an Oakton student who was walking home from school. The victim was rushed to the intensive care unit of Fairfax hospital in critical condition. She was released from the hospital a week later. The driver was arrested, but the outcome of his case has not yet been resolved.

Bailey said excessive speed was a significant factor in these last three accidents. Roessler said the curves in the road have also played a part.

"The road down there, even though it has a little bit of a straight-away, the cars can't handle the curves," Roessler said. "The curves act as a traffic calming device for mature drivers who realize they can't handle them."

Ellmore is considering starting a neighborhood petition to improve traffic on Blake Lane, but he is not sure exactly how the road should be changed. He said an additional traffic light or lower speed limits may help the situation, but he is not sure of the best solution.

"I just don't want to see any more kids killed out here," he said.