In the early morning hours of Sunday, July 31, using black, yellow and white strips of tape, City of Fairfax workers transformed Main Street between University Drive and Chain Bridge Road to a two-way street.
The exercise was meant to give city staff, business owners and the public a first-hand view of a two-way traffic pattern on Main Street and to preview any potential problems.
Most problems from the switch are expected to stem from the need to trim at least about 2 feet off the lane widths. Now, the three lanes on Main Street are each about 12-13 feet wide, with one lane serving as non-rush-hour parking. According to preliminary plans, the two-way road would require a left-turn lane as well as parking spots on the side. The widest lane in the reconfigured road would be 11 feet wide, and the parking lane would be 8 feet wide.
"In an 8-foot parking lane, my car took up the entire space," said Becky Stoeckel of Executive Press, Inc., at 10412 Main St. "A UPS truck or beer truck would really hang over."
A UPS truck is exactly 8 feet wide, said John Brice, who owns the National Security and Charles Brice buildings at 10410 and 10412 Main St. But people tend to overshoot the distance between cars when driving, and might veer into the next lane trying to avoid a large parked vehicle, he said.
Also, the parking lane would be situated on the north side of the street, said Brice, so that drivers would have to open their doors into traffic with very little room between the car door and the next lane.
"If (the city) is adamant to do this, they can’t have 8-foot parking spaces," said Stoeckel.
"We’re going to pursue picking up 1 1/2 feet in the north side of the road to make the parking lane wider," said John Veneziano, director of Fairfax City Public Works.
WHILE CUTTING into the sidewalk and widening the whole length of the lane would force the costly job of moving the utility poles back, the plan now is to try and work around the poles, said Veneziano.
The development team will examine the possibility of cutting about 1 1/2 feet into the sidewalk just where the proposed parking spaces would be, he said, and maybe making a mountable (sloped) curb, allowing drivers to park closer in without fear of popping their tires.
Merchants such as Stoeckel and lawyer Kevin Hildebeidel fear that the narrow lanes and tight parking would discourage their vendors from delivering to them, that it would be harder for customers to park, and that the switch would encourage gridlock.
"I have no problem with them fixing problems," said Hildebeidel. "They should fix problems. But they created them in the first place."
"There are far too many reasons why this is not going to work," said Stoeckel. She worries that the two-way pattern, which is designed to divert through traffic onto North Street and make Main Street a more local route, will divert customers away from the Main Street businesses.
Main Street was converted from a two-way street to a one-way street back in the 1970s, said Mayor Robert Lederer. The one-way system "was designed to get traffic through the city, not to the city," he said.
"This has to be conducive to good business, but it can’t create gridlock," said Lederer. "We can’t exclude the old businesses."
"There will be less total volume on Main Street than there is now," said Veneziano. "We’ll be losing capacity, but there will be more phases of the traffic signal."
The two-way project is set for a six-month trial, said Lederer. "We need to have an exit strategy. Nothing is being done that we can’t undo," he said.
"This can be done," said Veneziano. "It can work, but it can also be a disaster. A lot of people are used to using Main Street one way. It takes a few months to get used to, it’s a learning process."