Made for Walking?

Made for Walking?

Residents discuss pedestrian opportunities and concerns at Reston Town Center.

Greg Davis has to cross one street, Town Center Drive, from his residence at West Market to the amenities at Reston Town Center’s urban core. However, he considers the walk dangerous, because vehicles on Town Center Drive travel too fast at the intersection with Market Street. His attempts to get the authorities to install a traffic signal or stop signs at the intersection have been fruitless.

"How many fatalities will we have to have before they do something about it," said Davis. He said the Virginia Department of Transportation is concerned traffic on Town Center Drive would not flow as well with a traffic light or stop sign at the Market Street intersection. Although crosswalks exist, Davis said vehicles travel at about 50 miles per hour near the intersection when they come from Sunset Hills Road and catch a green light a block away at Bluemont Way.

The intersection’s crosswalks may not amount to much in terms of pedestrian safety. Commander of the Fairfax County Police Reston District station, Captain Deborah Burnett, explained that in Virginia the pedestrian does not have the right-of-way just because he or she is at a crosswalk. According to Virginia code, a pedestrian could not step out onto the street in front of a traveling vehicle, even if it is at a crosswalk. "The pedestrian would be at fault" in case of an accident, said Burnett.

Fairfax County Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill) said the traffic has to stop for her, or any other pedestrian, when she sets foot on a crosswalk in Washington, D.C. However, in Virginia things are different. She said the county board is behind the idea that motorists ought to stop for the pedestrians, but efforts to change the law have not been realized. "It’s a fight in Richmond," said Hudgins. She said the law counters the efforts to create more walkable communities in the area.

"A lot of us were under the assumption that a pedestrian has the right-of-way," said town center resident, Ronald Sagall. He said more should be done to educate people living and working in Reston Town Center, and Reston in general, on the law. About 30 Reston residents met with Burnett, county staff and local officials on Wednesday night to discuss pedestrian and bicyclist needs at Reston Town Center and other parts of Reston. Hudgins hosted the meeting at the North County Governmental Center.

"RESTON TOWN CENTER was built to be friendly to pedestrians," said Hudgins. However, not all of the residents who attended Wednesday night’s meeting agreed that it is pedestrian friendly. Mike Rifkin noted that he found it difficult to stay on the sidewalk and not walk in the street when passing some of the center’s establishments, including the American Tap Room restaurant and Starbucks. The outdoor seating at those establishments occupy most of the sidewalk space. Ian Robinson said another problem is that there is no legal way of walking to the urban core from restaurants near the Target store after sundown.

Pedestrian circulation and safety have always been a goal at town center, according to Barbara Rovin, the executive director of Reston Town Center Association. "It’s sometimes hard to achieve that goal because we’ve been under constant construction," she said. She encouraged participants at the meeting to speak up about those issues as connectivity to town center becomes important with access planning for the future metrorail stations in Reston.

As part of the evening’s program, Michael Davis of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, spoke about the proffer program for the town center area. Proffers are legally binding promises developers make to offset the additional density they bring to a neighborhood through a project. Among other things they may include road improvements and building of new amenities such as trails. Michael Davis said he is responsible for tracking the proffers and making sure they are fulfilled. He said the department is in the midst of assessing how much of the Reston Town Center proffer program has been completed, and is establishing partnerships with local residents and businesses to ensure they are being filled. Rovin noted that many of the existing connections to town center resulted from some of these proffers.

However, accessing a list of the proffers could be difficult. Michael Davis said some of the proffers in the county are accessible online, but for the most part they are those enacted within the last five or six years. He said all proffers are public record.

Greg Davis argued that the residents needed to know what the proffers are before they can contribute in the assessments. "Make it accessible," he said.

Lynn Stoppelman, also a West Market resident, said she was unsatisfied with the explanation of the town center proffer program. "To think that a county official would appear at such a meeting and be unable to give us firm examples of current proffers was disappointing to say the least," she said.

NICOLE MOGUL AND Bruce Wright presented the audience with some identified needs for pedestrians and bicyclists in the Reston area. Mogul said nationwide people are showing interest to live in walkable communities. She said creating a more walkable Reston could act as an economic development tool. However, the way communities in the area are built presents a challenge. "The dominant engineering standard has been move more cars faster," she said.

Both Mogul and Wright identified a need for better access to the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to and from Reston Town Center. Mogul suggested better signage, so that people using the W&OD Trail know where Reston Town Center is, and vice versa. Besides better access to the trail, Wright suggested that more bicycle parking be provided in Reston Town Center and that bicycle lanes on local roads be considered. "Narrowing lanes from 12 feet to 10 feet creates an on-road bike lane," said Wright.

According to Burnett’s statistics, there have been seven accidents involving pedestrians and motorized vehicles in the Reston Town Center area since 2005. One of the seven pedestrian crashes was fatal, when a car struck Herndon resident Otilia Arriaza crossing Baron Cameron Avenue in December of last year. In four of the seven accidents, including the fatal crash, pedestrians were held at fault. Since 2005 there have also been five crashes involving bicycles and motor vehicles in the town center area. Bicyclists were held at fault in three of the five accidents. In a lot of cases, Burnett said, pedestrians attempted to cross the road when the traffic signal told them not to do so. None of the crashes in which pedestrians were held at fault had to do with the misinterpretation of the crosswalk law, according to Burnett. Also, none of the accidents since 2005 occurred at the intersection of Town Center Drive and Market Street. However, Greg Davis said he has witnessed many near misses.

Burnett pointed to some general concerns regarding the crashes. She said pedestrians tend to cross streets against traffic signals, walking when the red hand signal tells them to stay put. The motorists raise concern when they turn right at a red light, because they look to their left to catch a break in traffic and sometimes do not look to their right to see if there are pedestrians present. "There is a lot of education to be done for both the motorists and the pedestrians," said Burnett.

Over the past year, officers from the Reston District station have conducted a number of educational and enforcement campaigns aimed at promoting pedestrian and bicyclist safety.