Photo by Feuillu.

Fairfax City residents have communicated two major concerns about traffic to city planners:

  1. They don’t like all the traffic from other areas pouring through their major streets like 50, 29, and 236.
  2. They don’t like the increasing cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods.

We’re going to have to get over this. Unless our local secondary streets are more interconnected and our neighborhoods work more efficiently for vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians, traffic will continue to be funneled to the major roads. Motorists will continue to try to outsmart this system by finding alternate routes through neighborhoods, no matter how circuitous. They will take their frustrations at having to go to such labyrinthine extremes to avoid the chokepoints on the major roads by doing California stops and speeding. This is human nature. Only better planning can solve this problem.

The city has not shown much backbone on this issue. When residents along University Drive complained about increasing traffic, the city spent millions of dollars to close the street to cars and build a new road. University Drive was one of the city’s better functioning streets, where cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians coexisted well. Now it is a no-man’s land.

The city seems more farsighted in planning the redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard. The city is studying adding a grid of local streets connected to Fairfax Boulevard. The draft master plan for Fairfax Boulevard recommends key connections such as extending University Drive to Eaton Place. The Virginia Department of Transportation has recently adopted a policy that requires state-maintained secondary streets to be more interconnected. This is a good incentive for localities to better connect new developments and the roads that serve them.

City leaders have inherited an inefficient system of disconnected streets and residential enclaves. Residents are ambivalent: they hate the traffic, but they like the enclosure from the car sewers that our major roads are. We need a more honest dialogue about the trade-offs and real solutions to cut-through traffic.

Douglas Stewart is a volunteer with Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth. He also works for the Piedmont Environmental Council as their Grants Specialist, and is the Transportation Chair for the Virginia Sierra Club.