‘Take a Moment’

Pedestrian, bike, and safety campaign: will it be enough?

Motor vehicle crashes, bicycle safety and pedestrian safety in Fairfax County; a new campaign called “Take a Moment,” will attempt to address them all at once.

On Sept. 27, Chairman Jeffrey McKay (D); Walter Alcorn (D), Hunter Mill supervisor; Steve Steiner, Hunter Mill resident; Police Chief Kevin Davis; John Lynch, VDOT district engineer; Melanie Meren, school board member; and others gathered at the intersection of Wiehle Avenue and the W&OD Trail to introduce the "Take a Moment-Pedestrian, Bike, and Traffic Safety Campaign.

"This is not just a marketing campaign," McKay said. "We are putting our money where our mouth is."

According to Chief Davis, in a county of 1.2 million and 400 square miles, traffic fatalities today stand at 22. "That's two more than this time last year. Year-to-date, our pedestrian fatalities stand at 13. That is three more than the county had at the same time last year," Davis said. He added that overall, throughout Fairfax County, crashes are down by 400, but the county still has a long way to go. Fairfax County Police issued 5,000 more traffic citations this year compared to the same time last year.

"But we want you to put us out of business. I am sure Chief Butler and the Fire and Rescue Department want you to put them out of business as well when it comes to responding to these often very horrific crashes that happen too often in our community," Davis said. He added that while the number one traffic citation issued in Fairfax County is speeding, the number two traffic citation is failure to obey a traffic device or traffic sign.

McKay says Fairfax County will spend $100 million on pedestrian safety over the next six years. That total includes $25 million this year from the county's carry-over budget that the board will consider in the next few weeks.

The Take a Moment campaign is multifaceted. Disconnect while driving, walking, or cycling. Note that school zones and neighborhoods require extra caution. Stop for school buses and let the children board and disembark safely. Drive, walk, and bike with awareness. Make eye contact with pedestrians and cyclists. "All these things are so important and literally only ‘take a moment’ of our time," McKay said.

McKay described his recent near-miss, pedestrian-vehicle crash that occurred as he was about to cross a street in Alexandria. A driver was looking in the opposite direction from where McKay stood. Before looking around to see if a pedestrian was nearby, the driver pressed the gas pedal and missed him by inches. "I'm one of the lucky ones who took a moment and looked at that car (and) knew that person wasn't making eye contact with me. ... I had to take action to protect myself," McKay said. "We must all take a moment as a community together to stop tragic accidents that are occurring throughout not just our county but really throughout the region and throughout the country."

School board member representative Meren said that schools are responsible for teaching and educating the county's students. Still, students and staff need to arrive safely at school for that to happen. "Please slow down," said Meren. She urged parents to talk to their children, especially those driving, about making safe and wise choices and to take a moment.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn (D) said that the timing of the "Take a Moment" campaign in Reston was significant due to the upcoming opening of the Silver Line's next phase. More people will walk and bike from their homes to the Metro, commuting to work, D.C., or Dulles International Airport.

During the campaign's unveiling, construction noise mixed with speakers' remarks. They had assembled on the parallel horse/all-terrain bike trail adjacent to the paved nine-foot-wide asphalt Washington & Old Dominion rail trail. According to Alcorn, the trail will get a new pedestrian bridge over Wiehle Avenue. After completion, planned for the fall of 2023, the Wiehle Pedestrian Bridge Project would improve vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian access to the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station across from Sunset Hills by replacing the "difficult" at-grade crossing over Wiehle. The new bridge would accommodate this location's asphalt W&OD trail and gravel path.

According to the Project Information Sheet,  the estimated cost is $12 million, Federal-State Grant Fund, Fund 5000, and is part of the Reston Metrorail Access Improvement Program.

Steve Steiner, 73, who lives in the Hunter Mill District and is an experienced cyclist, talked about his crash with a car that left him with a concussion, internal injuries, broken ribs, $100,000 in medical bills, and a $36,000 airlift to Fairfax Hospital by medivac. It happened at the Fairfax County Parkway Trail intersection and Dulles Toll Road Exit 11. According to Steiner, he entered the intersection and saw an SUV coming toward him. He said the driver was not looking at him because she was preparing to turn on the Fairfax County Parkway. Steiner veered right, but the car's bumper crushed his bike broadside. He hit the car's windshield, and landed in the southbound parkway lane. An off-duty federal officer behind the car that hit him turned his vehicle around and blocked him.

 

Steiner had plenty of time during his recovery to consider what else could have been done to prevent a similar crash. Jersey barriers, traffic signals, trail signs, and more were present where he was hit. According to Steiner, a driver's default behavior at this intersection and others like it is to prioritize the right turn and keep moving. "Their attention is focused left rather than right, where a cyclist or pedestrian may be attempting to cross the intersection," Steiner said, in his opinion, that significant safety improvements would result if authorities approved a modest financial investment to install signage prohibiting such right turns at locations where trails intersect.

"We need our residents to be part of this team, and that's what this campaign is all about," McKay said. "Take a moment and potentially save a life."

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