No More Driving in Circles

No More Driving in Circles

City and County leaders discuss plan for new traffic pattern in old town.

Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) started by trying to set a congenial tone. "I absolutely don't want anybody to think that this is adversarial," she said at a meeting between the Fairfax City Council and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Bulova called the Nov. 10 meeting after reading press reports about the city's plan to change Main Street and North Street to two-way traffic downtown.

Traffic on those streets has been one-way since 1973, said Curtis McCullough, traffic signal systems engineer with the city.

However, as part of the downtown revitalization effort, consultants told the City Council that things would need to change. "The message that has come across loud and clear is that to support a vibrant retail center, one-way streets are not conducive to that," said Robert Lederer, mayor of the City of Fairfax.

Lederer explained that when the city adopted one-way streets, no downtown to speak of existed. "There was nothing to stop for," he said. If the redevelopment goes ahead as well as the Council plans, that will all change.

The number of through lanes under the new plan will remain the same, explained Kevin Sitzman of Wells and Associates, a traffic consultant working for the city.

THE NEW configuration calls for one lane in each direction on Main Street, plus a turning lane and parking on only one side of the street. North Street will have two lanes in each direction, plus a turning lane.

The new configuration will better allow cars to get to the planned retail stores in downtown and also allow for a more pedestrian-friendly environment, Sitzman said.

Connolly was skeptical of the plan. "So now we're going to serve retail at the expense of through traffic?" he said. Connolly feared that backups would lead to a more regional gridlock effect.

Sitzman said that the change will increase the wait time for the average motorist by 13 seconds. During a Nov. 9 City Council work session, he had said it would be a 29-second increase. Later he explained that the discrepancy is the result of which set of possible traffic scenarios are considered.

The 29-second delay, he said, represents 2008 conditions and includes all the changes at once, and a general increase in traffic. The 13-second number, he said, is the difference between one-way traffic and two-way traffic, without the general increase and taking the phased approach to changing intersections that the city now favors.

However, Connolly pointed out that while the county's priority is moving traffic, the city is interested in supporting its burgeoning retail. "This may be an area where we have a different set of goals," he said. "I guess I'll stay skeptical until I see it work."

Lederer further explained that the city has an "exit strategy" if the changes do not work, to be able to get things back to the one-way traffic. "I like the idea, at least, of giving it a try for six months," Connolly said.

Lederer noted that the city’s and county's goals may be fairly similar. "There is no advantage to us to create gridlock," he said. He further noted that if the plan doesn't work, "we won't be remembered as the Council that revitalized downtown, we'll be remembered as the Council that screwed up traffic."