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Council Discusses Plans for the Future

Work session focuses on Church Street and Richmond.

Church Street might become more pedestrian friendly if a plan suggested by the Vienna Transportation Safety Commission is implemented. The area from Park Street to Lawyers Road is zoned "pedestrian commercial," said Rich Denbow, chair of the commission, but input from the community makes it apparent that the area is not very pedestrian-friendly.

"This is a zone and an area that is a vehicle-dominant plan design," Denbow said.

Many of the changes that the commission recommended were chosen because they could have an impact and be done fairly quickly and cheaply, Denbow said.

The commission suggested putting in more paint, such as stop bars at the intersections and striping along the edges of crosswalks. It did not advocate adding new stop signs, simply making the already existing signs more prominent.

Another idea is to paint a line, parallel to the street, along the on-street parking areas. This would "box-in" the parking spots and visually narrow the street. Narrower lanes typically make motorists drive slower, Denbow said.

THE COMMISSION also advocated moving the crosswalk at the intersection of Church Street and Lawyers Road. The crosswalk across Church Street could be moved back 30-40 feet, Denbow said. This would put it at a narrower section of road, decreasing the time it would take a pedestrian to cross. Currently, cars must pull into the crosswalk to see well enough to make a turn, making a hazardous condition.

Denbow also suggested putting up more signage at both ends of the corridor and constructing "bulb-outs" [semicircles of sidewalk that jut out at the corners] at the intersection of Church and Center streets.

These changes, when taken in concert, "let you know right away [as a motorist] that you are in a different area," Denbow said.

He also suggested making the sidewalk wider, removing telephone poles and better trimming overgrown vegetation.

Councilmember Maud Robinson pointed out that the safety enhancements must include a program to better educate the pedestrians, not just the motorists. "There's that other side of the coin," she said.

Robinson has often seen people step out into traffic without being conscious of the vehicles. "The absolute self-centeredness of pedestrians is terrifying," she said.

Projects that involve spending money typically must come before the Council for a vote before they can be implemented. Also, some projects that involve adding new paint will likely have to wait until the spring, since new lines cannot be added if the pavement is too cold. However, the Council was generally supportive of the proposals. "I think there's really some things we can do with this," said Mayor Jane Seeman.

VIENNA'S LEGISLATIVE delegation to Richmond, Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis (R-34th) and Del. Steve Shannon (D-35th), also attended Monday's work session to discuss the town's priorities for the 2005 session of the General Assembly.

"Transportation is a big issue this year," said Seeman.

The problem with transportation is finding the funding for it, explained Devolites-Davis. "I do not believe that there will be an increase in the gas tax," she said.

She added that the state may change the way it issues bonds to try to generate some funding for roads, and it may try to find other sources of revenue. "I think you are going to see user fees go up," she said.

Other projects, Devolites-Davis said, may start to move forward in the area. "HOT lanes, I think, are going to advance very quickly," she said. HOT lanes are the proposed additional lanes on the Beltway that would allow carpools to ride for free and other drivers to pay a toll to use them.

Devolites-Davis said that she believes that they will be successful on the Beltway, and after that, a push may be made to install the lanes on I-66 and I-95.

The Town Council also expressed concern about the use of cameras that catch motorists who run red lights. The bill that allows localities, like Vienna, to do this is scheduled to expire, and the Town want to keep using them.

Opponents of the red light cameras cite privacy concerns and think they wind up just making money for the areas that use them. This, said Councilmembers, is not true, and the Town actually loses money on the cameras. "You can't sort out in their minds that it is not a corrupt system, making money," said Robinson.

The bill stalled in committee earlier on the day of the meeting, but Devolites-Davis said she will reintroduce it to try and push it through.

Councilmember Edythe Kelleher expressed concern about a proposed "telecommunication reform" she had heard discussed. Under this proposal, the local taxes on telephone bills would no longer be collected at the local level, but would be collected at the state level and then redistributed to the localities.

Kelleher and the rest of the Council are afraid that funds collected under this plan would not all make it back to Vienna.

Devolites-Davis noted that this is a frequent problem and that she will work against it. "This is bad for Northern Virginia, always," she said.

The Council discussed a new drainage plan for the Westbriar Court area. It also discussed a way that the town could change the zoning ordinance to allow schools and other public facilities to install temporary trailers — similar to classroom trailers — but still preserve the Town's ability to regulate their use.