‘We Need to Hear from Others’ in Old Town Fairfax

Council discusses Old Town traffic patterns and economic development.

In 2006, the City of Fairfax changed Main and North streets from one-way to two-way streets. Since then, new businesses have come to Old Town, while others have left, and the construction of Old Town Square has drawn even more visitors to this area.

So City staff has studied downtown traffic circulation to gather information about how well the street reconfiguration is working. City Council members then received the results and discussed them, during a Nov. 28 work session, in the context of achieving the City’s goals for Old Town.

Transportation Director Wendy Block Sanford said the change improved overall vehicle flow through Old Town, but rush-hour congestion persists. She also noted the City’s “significant, public expenditures to underground utilities and improve storm drainage” there. She said there’s still a perception of a parking shortage and that, although there’s a connected sidewalk network, it’s narrow in places.

Sanford also said downtown viability can be improved via elements such as better walkability, traffic calming, economic development and vehicle flow. But she warned that “some of these concepts affect the others adversely.”

ACCORDING TO TRAFFIC COUNTS done, in 2006, Main and North streets each received an average of 16,000 vehicles a day. But in 2016, North Street saw 21,000 vehicles daily, while Main Street saw just 13,000. And although that’s a good thing for the restaurants and other businesses easily accessed via North Street, some Main Street merchants say the change has affected them negatively because less potential customers see their businesses when entering the City.

Sanford also listed some potential options for the Council to consider. They included; Creating a diagonal crosswalk at Old Lee Highway and North Street, doing sidewalk spot-widening, extending the road diet through Old Town, relocating the farmers market to the City, installing electronic parking-garage signage, and having road markings direct traffic to North Street.

Also on hand for the work-session was Kirk McCullough, a City transportation engineer. However, Councilmen Jon Stehle and Michael DeMarco both said Economic Development Authority representatives, plus Old Town residents and business leaders, should also be included in this discussion in the future.

But, said Fairfax Mayor David Meyer, “Tonight’s intent is just to give an update [on this topic]. There’s a clear nexus between transportation and the economic viability of our downtown. And the City has invested close to $40 million in improving the downtown infrastructure.”

Since the road reconfiguration, said Sanford, “Traffic has been relatively stable. We’re not seeing an increase in traffic in Old Town; and, in some instances, there’s been a decrease. There’s now more traffic on North Street than on Main Street.”

She also noted that the Old Lee Highway/North Street and West Street/North Street intersections are “functioning at a lower level of service now. But other factors – such as the new library [at the corner of North and Old Lee] – influenced this. Vehicle crashes increased at first, but then went down every year.”

Regarding the potential options, McCullough said a diagonal crosswalk was suggested at Old Lee and North because “this is the only pedestrian crossing in Old Town that has an exclusive pedestrian [traffic light] phase. And you need to have that for a diagonal crossing.”

But Councilwoman Janice Miller was dead set against the idea and explained why. “This is the most dangerous intersection in the downtown area, so this is my least-favorite place I’d like to see a crosswalk,” she said. “I wouldn’t support a diagonal crossing here.”

As for extending the Old Lee road diet through Old Town, Sanford said City staff would take a “comprehensive look at how this worked on Old Lee Highway during the past year.” Miller wondered, “How can we encourage people to use the bike lanes?” but Sanford had no answer.

There was enthusiasm, though, for relocating the farmers market from Page Avenue to a more central location to bring more people downtown. That way, said Sanford, “They’d see the Old Town area and what’s happening in Old Town Square.”

“This is exciting to me; I’ve wanted to see this happen for many years,” said Councilwoman Jennifer Passey. “We could get people walking from many neighborhoods into downtown.”

The location options recommended are: The Sager Avenue/University Drive public lot and surrounding intersection, the Amoco lot and a small portion of Main Street, the Main/University intersection, and the Bank of America lot.

“The vendors wouldn’t be able to park their vehicles as close [to the market] as they do now,” said Meyer. “But that’s not a reason to not do it.” He then had Council direct staff to talk with the farmers market leadership so that a location change could be implemented by spring.

Regarding the electronic signage for the parking garage, Sanford said, “An electronic sign could be down the street, telling people that, down the road, 200 spaces are available. And it would eliminate the perception that there’s not enough parking in Old Town.”

Pleased with this idea, Meyer said, “I’d like staff to pursue this and bring back some information to us on the cost, possible cost-sharing with Kimco, from whom we’re leasing this lot, and a potential timeline for implementation.” Passey added that the City also needs to let people know where all the downtown, surface parking lots are, too.

AS FOR ROAD MARKINGS to direct through traffic to North Street, Sanford said it would relieve Main Street traffic through Old Town. And DeMarco said the possibility of one-way streets – such as having Main Street go different ways during the morning and evening rush – should at least be discussed. He also asked about the potential to have mid-street, raised crosswalks.

DeMarco further wanted to know what other towns and cities are doing to address similar issues. “And we also need to do our part to bring more people downtown,” he said. “We need an open house on a Saturday with the stakeholders. Our businesses may not want the road diet and other things, yet.”

Agreeing, Passey said, “We need to hear from others about what’s needed to get our economic development going.”

Log in to comment