Fair Lakes Market Commons.

Fairfax City just enacted a new commercial real estate tax dedicated to transportation, and plans to use the money to facilitate redevelopment on Fairfax Boulevard. The area surrounding Route 123, branded as “Northfax,” will be the first priority for large-scale redevelopment. While the plans are still in a very early stage, and redevelopment proposals have not yet even been formally submitted, a dedicated funding source makes it likely that redevelopment in Northfax will move relatively quickly.

The Fairfax Boulevard master plan recommends a “8/10/10/8” design of new local streets: 8 feet for on-street parking on each side, a 10 foot travel lane, and wide sidewalks. The recommended design would resemble the street pictured above, at the Market Commons development in Fair Lakes. It would create a pleasant place to walk, ride your bike, and spend money at local businesses.

It would be great to have new walkable streets in Fairfax City in places that are currently taken up mostly by surface parking. Doing this, though, will be easier than implementing the main aspect of the master plan: taming Fairfax Boulevard itself. The recommendations in the master plan call for a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly boulevard with five travel lanes and two access lanes for local traffic. The “5-2” design would make Fairfax Boulevard a much more pleasant place to walk along. It would also make the street easier to cross, so that local residents could more easily get to places on the Boulevard on foot or bicycle rather than adding to the traffic.

Top: Fairfax Boulevard today. Middle: The Boulevard with the “5-2” design.

Bottom: The 5-2 design plus future street-oriented development.

Images from the Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan.

But the City Council and key developers working in Northfax are skeptical about the 5-2 design. “You want drive-by business,” Randy Kenna of Archstone said at a City Council work session last year. Local access lanes, Kenna argued, create an “unwelcome distance” between cars and the retail destinations.

Without a more ambitious redesign of the Boulevard focused on all users, the local streets will be nice places to go… by car. Like Market Commons and many other new developments in Fairfax County, they will be islands of livability surrounded by inhospitable wide roads. Fairfax can and should choose a better route.