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Votes

Traffic Calming at Last?

Residents to vote on Old Chesterbrook Road traffic proposal on May 2.

For McLean residents who live on Old Chesterbrook Road, the simple act of exiting their own driveway can be a nerve-wracking experience.

"One of my neighbors has to roll down their window and listen for cars before they can back out of their driveway," said Karen Hendrixson, chair of the Old Chesterbrook Road Traffic Calming Task Force.

Reversing out of a blind driveway is only one of many problems caused by the steady stream of cars that travel down the 1.6 mile residential street all day long.

"We had a cat killed, our neighbor had a dog killed, my other neighbor had two cats killed, one neighbor had a car come crashing into their fence, and my other neighbor's mailbox was knocked over," said Hendrixson, rattling off a long list of tragedies and mishaps that have occurred over the years.

Hendrixson has lived on Old Chesterbrook Road since 1989, and in 1999, she and her neighbors decided that something needed to be done about the dangers that were being brought about by the ever increasing traffic flow.

"We don't have sidewalks, so I would be out walking my dog with my baby stroller and people would just be whizzing by me," she said.

HENDRIXSON and several other concerned residents approached Stuart Mendelsohn, the Dranesville District Supervisor at that time, and asked what steps needed to be taken to implement traffic calming measures. The first requirement was the completion of a traffic study showing that Old Chesterbrook Road even qualified for such measures. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) study surveyed traffic on Old Chesterbrook Road between Westmoreland Street and Kirby Street.

"There has to be at least 600 cars in a 24-hour period, 15 percent of them have to go at least 10 miles over the speed limit, and the average has to go five miles over the speed limit," said Tania Cunha, a legislative aid in Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois' office. "They way qualified for that."

The VDOT traffic study revealed that there were approximately 2,800 vehicles using the street per day, and that those vehicles were traveling at an average speed of 35 mph. The speed limit on Old Chesterbrook Road is 25 mph.

"The average speed is 35 mph which means that there were a high number of cars going above that," said Hendrixson. "The chances of surviving if you get hit by a car at 25 mph are far higher than if you get hit by a car at 35 mph."

Old Chesterbrook Road was accepted into the VDOT Traffic Calming Pilot Program in 2003. The next requirement was to obtain signatures from 75 percent of the households in the impact area, requesting that a traffic calming program be established. Although somewhat daunted by the number of signatures needed, Hendrixson and her neighbors were determined to give it their best shot.

"We had to go to almost 800 houses to get signatures, just to get their approval to set up the task force," said Hendrixson.

Obtaining the signatures took a little over a year as Hendrixson and her neighbors were only able to go from house to house on the weekends — a difficult time to catch families at home. The concerned citizens plowed on, ultimately collecting signatures from 81 percent of the homes in the impact area. A community task force was formed in 2003, and VDOT and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) began working with task force members to help develop traffic calming recommendations.

OVER THE LAST three years, the traffic calming proposal for Old Chesterbrook Road has changed a number of times. The final plan includes the installation of one speed table and one speed bump on the narrow part of Old Chesterbrook Road, as well as painted median strips, painted parking lanes, painted bike lanes and one speed bump on the wide part of Old Chesterbrook Road.

"It's a fairly modest plan given the length of the road, and we tried to avoid things that are controversial," said Hendrixson.

On May 2, at 7:30 p.m., at Chesterbrook Elementary School, the community will have the opportunity to review and approve the plan.

"There is a petition area, which is the area that gets to vote on the plan, and those are the adjacent houses on Old Chesterbrook and all of the intersecting cul-de-sacs," said Cunha. "They have no choice but to use Old Chesterbrook Road."

Residents of the petition area may either vote for or against the entire proposal, and at the May 2 community meeting, these residents will be provided with ballots which must be turned into the supervisor's office by an as yet unspecified date. In order to protect privacy, Tania Cunha will be the only person who opens the ballots and records the results.

"Out of the petition area we have to receive 50 percent of the ballots, and out of those 50 percent returned, 60 percent have to be yeses," said Cunha. "Once that gets done, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation will verify the voting ballots and we will send it to the Board of Supervisors regular meeting for final approval."

According to Cunha the results are usually submitted to the Board of Supervisors about a month and a half after the ballot deadline date. Once the Board of Supervisors gives final approval, VDOT will be notified and installation of traffic calming measures will be requested "as soon as possible."

"At this point in time, that means approximately one year," said Cunha. "We're trying to make this as fast as possible, but right now we are short on funding and short on crew, and of course you have to take weather into consideration."

Hendrixson said that although she is pleased that a final plan and the time for a community vote have arrived at long last, she knows that her efforts are not quite over yet.

"We still have a lot of work in front of us, and we hope that everyone is pleased with the results," said Hendrixson.

Tania Cunha said that projects such as these do not normally take six years.

"This one has taken a long time, and it's been a very, very long road, and they've had maybe seven or eight volunteers who have been doing this project from the beginning and working very, very hard," said Cunha.

Chesterbrook Road resident Roberto Zagha says that while he appreciates Supervisor DuBois' "good will and energy," he is frustrated that "after five years of a signed petition, community meetings, meetings with Fairfax government and VDOT, we see no results whatsoever."

"Lately, notwithstanding the continuing speeding on Old Chesterbrook Road, there have been no further cars out of control, or fences destroyed," said Zagha. "The issue is, how long will it take before a human casualty provides a wake-up call to a dormant local government.”