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Dangerous Crossing?

Neighbors of McLean High School petition for traffic-calming measures on Davidson Road.

In the early morning hours just before dawn, Lea Caruso's daughter leaves her home on Westbury Road and begins her short walk to McLean High School. It is an easy trek with one exception — the segment where she must cross Davidson Road to get to McLean High School.

"I see how dangerous this crossing is," said Caruso, whose home is right next to the intersection. "There is no stop sign, no speed hump, no crosswalk — not even a child crossing sign. In order to cross the street, children step out into the path of oncoming cars going 30 miles per hour, and try to run across the street everyday."

Caruso said that the intersection becomes particularly dangerous during the fall and winter months because the students walk to school well before the sun comes up.

"It's dark, hard to see, and drivers — including teenage beginners — speed down the hill of Davidson Road toward Chain Bridge Road and don't stop to let the children trying to cross pass," she said. "There is no other place for them to cross."

Caruso decided to bring up her concerns about the intersection at a parent coffee event last October. She asked McLean High School principal Paul Wardinski if the school could do anything to ameliorate the situation. However, since the intersection is not on the actual McLean High School property, Wardinski was limited in his ability to help.

"Once we leave our property, we don't have any jurisdiction," said Wardinski.

DESPITE THIS, Wardinski arranged for Fairfax County Public Schools Safety and Security office employee Ken Campo to examine the intersection. According to a Fairfax County Public School Board regulation, secondary school students are permitted to walk to school provided that the distance is no more than 1.5 miles, and there are no "unusual hazards" along the way. Subsequently, Campo observed the intersection during the morning commute, and also investigated alternative routes.

"There is no doubt that there is heavy traffic there — it's like rush hour on Davidson Road," said Campo. "But from a transportation perspective, we unfortunately can't really do anything because the kids can walk around the other side of Westbury and cross over on Sea Cliff, and it's still well under a mile and a half."

Campo said that he is well aware that there is little likelihood that a student would opt to take the much longer route over crossing the risky intersection, but such factors are far beyond the school's control. Given the school's inability to take any sort of action, Campo contacted the Virginia Department of Transportation to see if they had any interest in installing a crosswalk at the site. When VDOT responded with a "no," Campo then advised Lea Caruso to look into the county's Residential Traffic Administration Program, which provides residents with an avenue for the request of traffic-calming measures.

Caruso followed his advice, and on Nov. 2, 2006, a request to place a traffic-calming measure on the Davidson Road and Westbury Road intersection was unanimously approved by the West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association. Since then, Caruso and West Lewinsville Heights Citizens Association president Steve Sulzer have been working to acquire the resident signatures and support required for the installation of traffic calming measures. Last month, they sent an initial package of signatures and photos to the office of Dranesville District Supervisor Joan DuBois.

"Up till now, we have sent e-mail requests and had two meetings that have been canceled by the supervisor's office," said Caruso.

FOR A RESIDENTIAL street to qualify for the installation of traffic-calming measures it must have a posted speed limit of 25 mph, have a volume of 600 to 4,000 vehicles per day, and 85 percent of those vehicles must be traveling at least 10 mph above the posted speed limit. The West Lewinsville Heights residents are currently waiting for DuBois to forward their request for a traffic count and speed survey to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.

According to Campo, it may be difficult for Davidson Road to meet the traffic-calming requirements laid out in the Residential Traffic Administration Program.

"The only time our school makes an impact on that place is from 7 to 7:30 in the morning," he said. "For the most part, during the middle of the day, nobody goes up that street so during that time the traffic probably isn't that significant."

Campo said that to his knowledge, there have been no major accidents involving pedestrians at the Davidson and Westbury Road intersection.

Caruso said she and other residents would like to see the installation of a three-way stop at the site. In addition, they would like a crosswalk accompanied by several "Slow, pedestrians crossing" signs.

"I believe our children are placed in a very dangerous situation everyday," said Caruso, whose friend recently lost her teenage son after he was hit by a car on an unlit crosswalk in Maryland. "I feel I must do everything I can to prevent a tragedy like that from happening in our community."