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Fighting for the Right To Slug

Springfield commuters lose slug lot.

Call it a David and Goliath story for those who want to fight traffic.

Up to 100 commuters who used parking spots in the lot at the Cardinal Forest Plaza at the intersection of Old Keene Mill and Rolling roads were told last week they had to find a new place to park.

Little slips of yellow paper, distributed on behalf of the property’s management company, Edens and Avant, told the commuters that starting Monday, Dec. 10, any cars parked in the lot for purposes other than shopping would be towed.

"I’ve been catching a slug lane here since 1992 and we’ve never had problems," said Bobbi Fischer, who, like others, parks at the edge of the lot closest to Old Keene Mill Road each morning. "I’ve moved carts into the stalls, I’ve picked up trash, my car doesn’t even leak oil."

The lot, while not an official Fairfax County designated commuter ride-sharing stop, has served many of the same commuters for years, said Miriam Young, a Springfield resident who has been using the lot to catch a ride to her job at the Pentagon.

"Years ago, the county made an agreement with Giant to let us use their lot when they built the Giant over on Huntsman Boulevard," Young said. Giant had owned the property then, she said, and using the lot on Old Keene Mill had been a compromise to get approval for construction of the store on Huntsman.

Edens and Avant purchased the property in 2003, according to Julie Culbreath, public relations director for the company, which owns 140 shopping plazas between Boston and Miami.

The decision to stop allowing commuter parking was made last week, and "no-parking" signs were put up in the lot on Friday, warning commuters that their cars would be towed. As of late Monday morning, Culbreath said no cars had been taken.

"This has always been our policy, that the parking spots are for shoppers and employees only," she said.

PARKING IN the Cardinal Forest lot provides convenience not only for those looking to share a ride to work in the morning, but on the way home as well.

Young and Fischer both said they often stop at the Giant after work to pick up items for dinner, use the CVS Pharmacy and dry cleaning stores in the plaza to cut back on the number of trips they make between work and home at the end of a long day.

"It’s an empty lot when I get here in the morning," Fischer said.

Young said she is concerned about the drivers of the slug lanes, wondering what will happen to the loosely organized and informal service if commuters can no longer meet at the Cardinal Forest location.

With a Metro bus stop on either side of Old Keene Mill Road, the lot is a good, safe location for commuters and other drivers alike, Fischer said.

"I think this is just crap," she said.

Only a handful of cars were using the lot on Friday at 5 p.m., a time when most commuters are starting their trips home. As Metro bus riders got off the bus and walked to their cars, the small group slowly dispersed for possibly the last time.

Shoppers at the Giant and other stores in the plaza park closer to their intended destination, Young noted, leaving the large front section of the lot vacant.

"What do they want with an empty lot?" she asked.

ANOTHER SIDE effect of the ban on commuter parking is possible lost business.

Culbreath said the rule is in place for the benefit of the shoppers, so more spaces are available during evening and weekend rushes.

According to the Edens and Avant Web site, the Cardinal Forest lot has an average traffic count of 29,000 cars. The information came from the Virginia Department of Transportation, Culbreath said, and probably included commuters, both on the roads and in the lot.

Some commuters wondered whether Giant had complained to the new management company about commuters using the lot.

Jamie Miller, a representative of Giant’s corporate office in Maryland, did not indicate there was a problem.

"We’re just a tenant," he said. "This is an issue strictly with the landlord."

Beth Francis, marketing chief for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said it was a shame commuters had one less lot to use.

While the Cardinal Forest lot was not one officially listed on the Fairfax County Park and Ride Web site, Francis said the value of the service is great.

"Unfortunately, we don’t have any control over the lot, it’s up to the owner," Francis said. "All we can do is try to talk to them about becoming a part of the system."