Back in the 1970s, downtown Fairfax had two-way traffic on North and Main Streets. Today, the return to it, scheduled to begin Aug. 5-7, has an uncertain outcome.
City officials decided the traffic switch would be an essential part of the downtown revitalization project. As new developments are built, and more businesses pop up in the downtown area, two-way traffic is expected to be conducive to a more vibrant, more pedestrian-friendly downtown.
The city sent out a pamphlet with a map of the new traffic pattern, a map showing the city’s road improvement projects combined with questions and answers about the expected outcome.
“The decisions/rationale for that [switching back to two-way] has been summarized very well,” said Robert Sisson, city manager. “We want to make sure we inform everyone who
travels on the city’s thoroughfares.”
IN ORDER TO SWITCH the traffic back to the way it was in 1972, a number of construction and road closures will begin the evening of Aug. 5. Sisson said the work will most likely begin after 8 p.m., when the most of the heavy traffic has already traveled through the city. North Street will be the first to undergo changes. Crews will shut down the street to put down new road striping, turn signal heads around, install new computer programs into signal boxes and change some street signs. Detours will be in effect putting that traffic on Main Street throughout the night until the work is completed. It will take a number of hours, said Sisson, and as soon as it’s completed, the same work will begin on Main Street. Sisson said the city hopes the work to be completed by the evening on Sunday, Aug. 7.
The downtown revitalization, which includes a mixed-use development called Old Town Village, will make downtown a destination rather than a throughway, said Mayor Robert Lederer. If the two-way traffic turns out to be a disaster, the city will be able to switch the traffic directions back again.
“I think we’re all cautiously optimistic,” said Lederer. “This is an important part of revitalizing the downtown area.”
Howard and Andrea Carey, city residents, are optimistic too. The couple said they like the improvements being made in the city, and welcome the return to two-way traffic. The way it is now, said Howard Carey, makes it difficult to give out-of-town visitors directions through downtown on the one-way streets.
“It’s a hassle the way it is,” said Howard Carey. “They can always switch it back if it doesn’t work.”
“I think it will be better,” said Andrea Carey.
BUSINESS OWNERS have mixed feeling about the change to take place outside their windows. Sisson said he is hopeful the changes being made Aug. 5-7 won’t affect business that weekend. In the long run, Sisson said the city is confident and anxious to put the road changes in place.
Angela Kim, manager of City Cleaners, a dry-cleaning store on North Street, said she isn’t really sure how it will work out. Kim said older people and longtime city residents want the city to stay the way it is.
“People who have lived here a long time don’t want the change,” said Kim. “But new people to the city are more excited.”
At Auld Shebeen, an Irish pub and restaurant on the corner of North Street and Chain Bridge Road, the traffic change is welcomed. Manny Paiz, manager at Auld Shebeen, said he doesn’t view the future Old Town Village development across the street as competition, and in the long run, he said all the changes will be good for business.
“We’re excited about it,” said Paiz. “New businesses across the street can do nothing but help us.”
Poppy Tsaderakis, owner of the Havabite Eatery on Main Street, said she isn’t so sure the traffic is a good idea. She said she remembers a test-run last winter that didn’t work out so well. The streets are too narrow, said Tsaderakis, so cars pass each other way too close together.
“I don’t like the change because I think they’re going to create more traffic,” said Tsaderakis. “I do want it to work, but we’ll see.”
The traffic changes are expected to cause some concern from residents and business owners, said Lederer. But the way it is implemented now is not etched in stone. The city will have the ability to make improvements, or even switch entirely back to one-way streets if the new design is a disaster.
“This is not going to be foolproof; this is not going to be painless; it will need fine-tuning,” said Lederer. “It’s an investment into the future of our fine town.”