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Chaos on Streets Leads to CAOS

Speeding and running stop signs a concern to neighborhood group.

In 1960s television lore, Don Adams, as Agent 86 Maxwell Smart, fought the forces of KAOS. Here in Herndon, a different form of CAOS has emerged to fight what some in the neighborhood of Herndon Elementary School feel is a real chaos — unsafe streets for the children.

"We are very concerned about the high amount of speeding and the running of stop signs in our neighborhood," said Dranesville Road resident Joanne McCammon during the open forum portion of the Herndon Town Council public hearing on May 14.

McCammon stood before the council representing about 30 residences on the 500 block of Dranesville Road and the 600 block of Fillmore Street as a member of CAOS — Caring About Our Streets — in order to bring attention to what her groups believes to be a problem in their neighborhood.

The name of the group actually came from one of the young people the group was formed to protect.

"I was helping my mommy think of names and I thought about how we should be caring about our streets, and she said ‘that’s CAOS,’" said Dranesville resident Emma Burke, 10, a fourth grader attending Herndon Elementary School. "It’s important so people won’t get hurt and so kids won’t get killed," she said.

"It’s very bad. There’s so many cars piled up so far," said Herndon resident Julia Downer, 11, a Hendon Elementary fifth grader. "The people on that side of the street can’t get out," she said, pointing to Fillmore Street. "It takes a long time for the kids to be able to cross the street," said Downer.

"There’s too many vehicles for this little road all at once. When I first came here, the four-way stop signs weren’t here," said five-year school crossing guard Pam Marriott of Herndon. She has patrolled at Herndon Elementary for the past four years.

"We got a petition up — got everyone on Dranesville to sign, and they did," said Dranesville Road resident Pam Burke.

"THAT WAS TWO YEARS ago April and not more than four months after meeting with [then] Mayor [Del. Thomas Davis] Rust, two stop signs were added" to create a four-way stop at the intersection of Dranesville and Fillmore, she said.

"The bell rings at 9:15 in the morning," said Marriott. "Between 9:05 and 9:15 people are not as focused as they should be. They’re not all stopping at the stop sign. At 3:50 [p.m.] the children are let out. It’s fairly busy with vehicles until 4:15," she said, noting there are about 100 students who walk each day.

"I live next to the school and people are constantly running the stop signs — it’s ridiculous," said three-year Herndon resident Kim Neighbor, who resides at the corner of Dranesville and Fillmore and has two children, one attending Herndon Elementary. "I counted cars one Friday when there was no school, but a teacher work day. I counted about 75 percent of the cars — all directions — running the stop signs — not necessarily speeding, but not stopping."

"What happens to kids at 16 or 17 — they do what their parents do," said Pam Burke.

"I’m very concerned about the children crossing Fillmore to Dranesville or Dranesville to Fillmore because the drivers don’t stop, they slow down. Cars are lining up Dranesville to enter the school grounds and they’re not watching the kids," said Marriott.

"I think we need speed bumps," said Downer. "People will slow down."

"They should reduce the speed during school hours in the school zone" — about an hour and a half per day — from 25 miles per hour down to 15 miles per hour, said Neighbor.

IN ADDITION to the traffic calming suggestions made by Downer and Neighbor, McCammon presented three others to the Town Council. One idea calls for the painting of "more visible, easy to identify crosswalks on all four corners of the intersection of Dranesville Road and Fillmore Street."

Adding blinking lights and "enhanced signs" notifying the driver that a school is ahead, was suggested, as was a request for a speed survey on the 500 block of Dranesville to determine if it meets the qualifications to apply an existing ordinance that would impose an additional $200 fine for speeding.

"We have done some speed studies," said Sgt. Larry Whitmer of the Herndon Police Department. "We have sent motorcycles, unmarked cars, marked cars. There is a citizen concern, but it appears there’s not a speeding problem in reference to the speed study we’ve done," he said.

The qualifications McCammon referred to require that the 85th percentile of vehicular speed must be 10 miles per hour above the fixed speed limit — in this case, 25 miles per hour. The last speed study, in November 2000 demonstrated the 85th percentile speed to be at 33 miles per hour, falling two miles per hour short of the requirement to impose the additional $200 fine.

"It’s simple, we want to be proactive in our approach. Do something before something bad happens," said McCammon.

"Stop signs, speed signs, additional fine signs — they don’t cost anything. One child tragedy costs more than I can imagine," said Town Councilman Dennis Husch. "The Town Council needs to provide staff with new directions to err on the side of safety and children. If folks don’t like it, they can find another way to drive.

"Regarding the stop signs at Dranesville and Fillmore — it’s kind of amusing — I came out of a meeting there with a policeman and a driver drove right through the stop sign," said Town Councilman John De Noyer who met recently with some of the CAOS members. "Locust, Dranesville and Bennett have schools. The county School Board should have some responsibility," he said.

"This group [CAOS] has not contacted me," said Dranesville representative to the Fairfax County School Board, Janie Strauss. "Maybe there is a problem. We work to ensure that our students are safe. I'd be happy to call Gordon Lawrence to make sure people are behaving in a safe way on our own school property," she said. Lawrence works in the division of risk management for the Fairfax County Public Schools. "The school board has no control over traffic off school grounds," said Strauss.