One of the newer sections of Fairfax County Parkway in Newington.  Image by VDOT licensed under Creative Commons.

Fairfax County wants input and ideas for the future of Fairfax County Parkway, a major road that connects communites spanning from Lorton to Herndon. It's an important road that sometimes sees a lot of congestion, so many people want to fix it.

The county released a survey asking residents for their input, and overall, it's a great chance to help shape this discussion. However, one section simply excludes transit and walking or bicyling as options.​

​​​​​​The good — it's a neat tool

The survey has a lot of interactive elements that are fun to play with. Users are first asked to rank their preferences between transit improvements, driving improvements, and walking/biking improvements, along with specific ideas for various sections of the Parkway.

Rank your preferences for the Parkway.  Image by Fairfax County.

Then the next section provides a map where you can drag and drop suggestions, again divided by transit, driving, walking, etc. It's a good way to get specific input and ideas from a wide variety of citizens.

Put your preferences on the map.  Image by Fairfax County.

The bad — it only addresses cars and neglects Comp Plan priorities

The next section is where the problems begin. The survey shows users what the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan (a master plan for the future of Fairfax) envisions for the parkway, and asks whether they think the plans are adequate or not.

There are two problems with this approach.

The biggest problem is that the only suggested improvements are road widenings and new interchanges. Despite the previous sections asking for our thoughts on transit, the environment, and walking/bicycling, the Comp Plan section only asks whether or not you think the Fairfax County Parkway should be widened.

That's a problem for anyone who wants more options, detail, or qualifications. But beyond that, the survey is not even accurate to what Fairfax County's comp plan actually says.

Here you can evaluate the comp plan. But there's no transit to evaluate. 

On the Comprehensive Plan Transportation Map, much of the Parkway is envisioned as an “Enhanced Public Transportation Corridor.” The name is vague, but the map clearly shows that the county wants some form of extra transit on the Parkway.

The same is true for trails. The county's Trails Plan Map shows that Parkway is a major corridor for bicycles as well as cars. But you would not know that from the Parkway survey, which only shows proposed highway changes.

Those who don't know a lot about the Fairfax Comp Plan won't necessarily know that the county is supposed to be prioritizing transit and bicycling. The first two goals in the transportation section of the Comp Plan are to: 1. reduce the need to use a car to travel around the county, and 2. increase the use of public transportation and non-motorized transportation.

Yet plans for a major transportation corridor only list extra road lanes and new highway interchanges. If the goal is to make it easier to get around without needing a car, then working to turn the Parkway into a wider and faster highway is going to make those goals harder to acheive.

The frustrating — it's simplistic

Unfortunately, the Comprehensive Plan contradicts itself and Fairfax is choosing to listen to the parts that call for a wider highways and more driving, while ignoring the parts that say the county needs to do more to help people who want to travel around the county on foot, by bike, or by transit.

That leads to the second issue with the Comp Plan section of the survey: it asks users to give a simple thumbs up/down to a complicated issue. Of course, if anyone selects “inadequate” they have the opportunity to explain why they think so. Still, it's very limiting, and even if you would support some road improvements but not others, you still have to select “inadequate.”

Nonetheless, the survey is an important tool if you want to help shape the Parkway's future to include more transit. You can use it to let Fairfax County officials know that you'd support a parkway that helps live up to the transit- and pedestrian-friendly goals set out in the Comp Plan.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Reston.