A neighborhood meeting to discuss pedestrian safety along Burke Centre Parkway turned heated last night when parents of students in the area and other community members demanded action from local officials.
A variety of representatives from community organizations, state and local transportation entities and Fairfax County Police spoke at the Monday night meeting at Terra Centre Elementary School. Over 50 parents and community members came out to discuss pedestrian and biker safety along Burke Centre Parkway, with the majority of conversation centering around the desire for a slower speed limit and flashing lights around Terra Centre.
By the end of the meeting, Braddock Supervisor John Cook, who led the spirited discussion, promised to form a Task Force to study and discuss options for the issue within 30 days.
“Burke Centre Parkway divides the community when it was meant to be a spine connecting us,” President Kala Quintana of the Burke Centre Conservancy said in summing up the issue of safety along a road where cars often drive far over the speed limit.
Many at the meeting emphasized the need for a slower speed limit and flashing lights in front of Terra Centre on the parkway. More than 200 people signed a petition in support of a school zone in front of the school in an initiative by Burke Walks – Safe and Green, a community group pushing for pedestrian safety measures in the area. This petition was to back up two versions of a state bill to allow an unincorporated planned residential community such as Burke Centre Conservancy to create school zones when the community bears the entire cost. House Bill 1879 as presented by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn was defeated in sub-committee. However, Senate Bill 768, presented by Senator Dave Marsden passed the full Senate on Monday in a 38–2 vote.
Andrew Lentz of Burke Walks – Safe and Green said that the community members have heard various rationales for a long time as to why nothing could be done about the pedestrian safety problem on Burke Centre Parkway.
“We as residents will not stop wanting to walk to our coffee shops to our schools to our other community institutions,” Lentz said. “We will not stop wanting to bike to the pools and to the library.”
One of the main issue behind attendees’ concerns seemed to be the rampant speeding along Burke Centre Parkway. SGT Todd Juris presented statistics that said that from May to October 2010, 402 traffic citations were issued on Burke Centre Parkway. Of the 318 speeding tickets issued, the majority of offenders were going between 55 and 62 mph, far over the posted speed limit of 40 mph. The statistics elicited a gasp of shock from those present at the meeting. PFC Tom Champ, also at the meeting, said that the offenders were mostly people from within Fairfax County, including many drivers from Fairfax Station driving through Burke to get to the highways off of Old Keene Mill, and that many of them were “soccer moms.”
A representative of the Fairfax County Department of Transportation said that there was little that could be done physically to slow down cars on Burke Centre Parkway.
“Unfortunately Burke Centre Parkway is one of those roads where we can’t apply any traffic calming measures because it’s a minor arterial road,” William Harrell, a Senior Transportation Planner with FCDOT, said.
Doug O’Neill, a school safety coordinator within the Safety Section of Fairfax County Public Schools said that the complexities of Burke Centre Parkway prevents the school from putting in crossing guards. He described the elementary school age children at Terra Centre as “not quite active pedestrians.” Many of the students that are bused to school live only a few blocks away from Terra Centre.
“There’s a law that says we have to provide [buses] if there’s an unusual hazard,” O’Neill said. “And Burke Centre Parkway, the way it is, is an unusual hazard.”
O’Neill said that he wasn’t sure what FCPS could do to help the situation.
“We’ll be happy to buy you a new bike rack but beyond that we’re not sure exactly what to do,” O’Neill said.
Garrett Moore, the Northern Virginia Administrator of the Virginia Department of Transportation, said that putting a crossing walk on the parkway would provide a false idea of safety that could actually cause more harm.
“With crosswalks you’ve gotta be careful where you put them,” Moore said. “If you put them on a four lane highway- that kinda concerns me.”
Moore suggested potentially looking at a pedestrian bridge over Burke Centre Parkway, but mentioned that those over passes are very expensive.
Attendees became more agitated as the meeting continued, asking why school zones were allowed in several places along Old Keene Mill Road, another busy arterial road, but not Burke Centre Parkway. Some specifically stated the school zone around St. Bernadette’s and Washington Irving Middle School.
The officials at the meeting did not seem to know what differentiated Terra Centre’s issue from the other mentioned schools but said they would look into it.
Community members also got passionate when Champ commented on how residents should not be jay-walking across Burke Centre Parkway in front of the school. Lentz popped up to say that as there is currently no sidewalk on the south side of the intersection of the parkway and Burke Commons Road, there are no safe options for pedestrians in the area. Attendees also pointed out that since there is not enough parking at Terra Centre, teachers and parents often have to park across the street in the shopping center lot and walk across the road to the school.
Despite the heated discussion, attendees seemed happy with what the meeting accomplished.
“I was glad that we got such a dialogue started,” said parent El Farris, who has two children at Terra Centre and another even younger. Farris was heavily involved in writing letters to various officials and even helped send them a video of the “human frogger” games that occur as pedestrians try to cross Burke Centre Parkway. She said she was optimistic that the group would find a solution.