The start of a new school year is just around the corner, and that means it is time for Great Falls resident Meg Smith to start worrying again. Every weekday morning and afternoon, as Smith watches her two children, ages 6 and 9, walk to their bus stop at the corner of Forestville Drive and Meadow Shire Lane, she fears for their safety. There are no sidewalks, and Smith regularly witnesses motorists speeding through the neighborhood and blatantly ignoring posted stop signs.
"We moved here in January, and we noticed right away that there are speeding issues and a lot of cut-through traffic," said Smith.
Smith said the stop sign at the Forestville and Meadowshire bus stop is one of the most ignored.
"I've seen it first hand... the kids are going up and down that hill, and it's a little nerve-wracking," said Smith. "I even had a neighbor tell me that if she were me, she wouldn't let my kids walk by themselves on that road."
Two years ago, the residents of Wolftrap Green in Locust Hill requested that a traffic calming study be conducted on Forestville Drive.
"The traffic in our neighborhood has been studied by the county, but unfortunately, the rate of traffic per day was not enough for the county to consider installing calming devices," said Smith.
In order to qualify for traffic calming measures, the minimum amount of traffic in a 24-hour period must be at least 600 vehicles. Smith and her neighbors continue to be concerned, and are unsure of how to solve the problem without the help of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
"I don't know what you can do," said Smith. "Wait until something really terrible happens?"
THE VDOT traffic calming program is only designed for existing residential streets that provide direct access to homes. Residents may request a traffic calming study by contacting their local county supervisor. The supervisor then contacts VDOT to submit a traffic calming resolution and get the process started.
The resolution must have supporting data showing that motorists using the street drive at an average of 30 mph or higher, and that they drive an average of five mph above the posted speed limit. A petition in support of traffic calming improvements must also be signed by at least 75 percent of the households in the petition area.
Traffic calming improvements range from increased local law enforcement to physical measures such as speed humps, road markings and raised crosswalks.
Although residents off of Forestville Drive did not qualify for traffic calming, there are other avenues for dealing with safety concerns.
"They can can petition for a 'Watch for Children' sign at the entrance to the community," said Rosemary Ryan, a legislative aid in Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois' office.
Ryan said that stop signs and 'Watch for Children' warning signs are the types of things that the Supervisor's office has control over, "as opposed to traffic calming where the rules are pretty much set by VDOT."
"We largely handle the community participation process," said Ryan.
DALE BERKLEY, president of the Wolftrap Green homeowner's association, has lived in the neighborhood since 1993. Berkley said that since Forestville lets out on to Route 7 from Georgetown Pike, it is a natural cut-through.
"It's a long stretch and it's natural for people to go fast," said Berkley. "There are tons of walkers and no sidewalks and people can get up to 40 or 50 miles an hour before they know what's going on and you suddenly have an area where kids can run out into the street."
Berkley said not all the neighbors are in favor of traffic calming measures like speed humps, as they can be very annoying for residents.
"Who wants to run over speed bumps every morning?" asked Berkley. "However a lot of people decided that a sign would be reasonable, and we might even buy our own little sign –– that's currently under consideration."
He added that while many people blame young people and cut-through traffic, he knows that some of the neighbors are the ones speeding down the road.
"There are hundreds of people in here, and we're connected to five or six different neighborhoods," said Berkley. "The bottom line is that you have to keep your kids off the street."
Neighbor Cindy Hargroves agrees and says that she has seen some of her neighbors fly by as she walks her young children to their bus stop.
"People roll through the stop signs, but the big issue is the light on Route 7," said Hargroves. "If you miss it, it's a 4-minute wait, so people just floor it."
Hargoves said she thinks it would help to simply have a police officer come out to enforce the speed limit.
"It's not the number of cars, it's more the speeding," she said. "Or if we can't get a policeman out here, maybe we could get one of those electronic signs that says 'the speed limit is 35 and you are going 25.'"