When Rocio Diaz and her young family moved to Centreville's Crofton Commons community in February 1997, one of the first things neighbors warned her about was the traffic.
"People told me that the boy next door had gotten hit by a car coming from Old Centreville Road into Cottingham Lane," she said. "His arm was broken."
It's been 5 1/2 years since then, and Diaz is still worried. Outside, she makes her son, 8, and daughter, 7, play close to their Cottingham Lane house and won't let them cross Old Centreville Road by themselves. "It's scary," she said. "Cars are always coming very fast."
Recent events have since borne out her fears. Neighbor Ashley Dubey, 5, was struck by a car on Old Centreville Road at Cottingham Lane, May 2, and both of Diaz' children saw it happen.
"They were at the [school] bus stop when she got hit," said Diaz. "At first, my son thought she was dead. He now realizes he's not really safe — even on the sidewalk. He told me he's worried that someone could hit him, too."
Even before then, she said, because of the volume of traffic and the speed of the drivers, she and the neighbors had told each other that it was only a matter of time until something terrible happened. "And when it did, we were shocked," she said. "Now, we're trying to make a change happen."
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) has received petitions from the Crofton Commons Homeowners Association asking him to see what traffic-control measures could be obtained for Old Centreville Road. And since "collector roads" — as Old Centreville Road is designated — now qualify for these measures under new state rules, there's a possibility of success.
"The bottom line is we've got to protect our kids," said Crofton Commons resident Heather Vinter, a mother of five, after Ashley's accident. "It could have been any one of our children."
She's seen other accidents there and blames it on speeding motorists doing 45 mph instead of 25 mph on Old Centreville Road. "They come around the curve into a residential neighborhood with absolutely no regard for that fact," she said. "People have driven up onto the sidewalk where our children ride their bikes and skateboards and families stroll their babies and walk with their children."
Vinter saw one motorist strike a road-sign pole and another veer around the corner, enter a neighbor's front yard and hit her tree. "She had three children who, luckily, were inside that day," said Vinter. "But it could have been our babies walking to the bus stop in the morning."
When Bull Run Elementary first opened in September 1999, children in that community had to walk across Old Centreville Road to catch their school bus. "I had to cross that road with a kindergartner, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old — and I was pregnant with twins at the time," said Vinter. "It wasn't until a neighbor brought it to the school's attention that something was done."
However, she said, Crofton Commons junior-high and high-school students still cross that street for their buses. Furthermore, since the road slices right through the community, part of the homes are on one side of Old Centreville Road, and the rest — plus the pool and playground — are on the other side.
Nine-year resident Darlene Bulmer has three children of her own and watches four more as a childcare provider. In summer, they go to the pool every day. But although there's a crosswalk at Flamborough Road to reach the pool, Bulmer said sometimes they "have to literally run across the road because, by the time we get to the middle of the street, traffic is coming around the road."
That's because it's a blind corner there, said former resident Jackie Hogue. "People come toward Manassas around a curve and, when they're traveling 45 mph, they can't see the crosswalk until they're right on it. It's a disaster waiting to happen."
Last winter, said Bulmer, one speeding motorist knocked down the Skipton Road street-sign pole and a no-parking sign, both along Old Centreville Road. "I've also seen two dogs get hit on that road," she said. "One was killed, last summer, in front of my house."
But she and her neighbors are especially concerned about all the children in their neighborhood. Six of Crofton Commons' courts open onto Old Centreville Road, and neighbors estimate that each contains at least two dozen children. Add in children from the rest of that community's streets, and the road becomes a serious threat to their wellbeing.
Bulmer's end townhouse is right next to Old Centreville Road, and her children play in the front yard. And sometimes her 12-year-old son crosses that road alone to play with friends on the other side. "I see a lot of boys crossing and riding their bikes across Old Centreville Road, and it makes me a wreck," she said. "I tell them to hurry up and get across."
Hogue saw lots of accidents and near-misses in the seven years she lived there. She said parked cars got hit "on a regular basis," as did those of residents trying to exit their streets.
At the minimum, Vinter wants three-way stop signs at both corners of Flamborough Road, plus a raised traffic hump: "There's a crosswalk there, but a stop sign is no guarantee that someone will actually stop." And although she's aware of Old Centreville Road's heavy use by commuters, she said, "I think the safety of our children should be the No. 1 concern — not congestion, not inconvenience, but safety."
She'd also like "Caution, Children at Play" signs on Old Centreville Road, at both ends of the neighborhood. Agreeing, Bulmer also wants school bus-stop signs posted so drivers will be aware of all the children waiting for buses there.
If residents can't get rid of all the traffic, they'd at least like to slow it down. Said Vinter. "Even right before the vigil [for Ashley] Sunday night, people were flying down that road, and it was hurtful to see, after what happened."
Ashley's mother, Seema Dubey, said she'd be happy with anything the community could get — stop signs, speed bumps or a 15-mph traffic limit. "I'm suffering," she said. "I don't want any other parent to go through this."