Fairfax County Gets with the Program

Richmond Highway in Fairfax County is an eclectic mix of old and new tied together with traffic jams. Old motels, high rise residential buildings, new hotels, and big box stores are intermingled with gas stations, trailer parks, garden apartments, office buildings, and a seemingly infinite hodge podge of other retail businesses. It offers a lot. I avoid it like the plague.

Fitful development replaced suburban blight in the 1990s. The Department of Defense relocated thousands of workers to Fort Belvoir and the County did a land swap that led to the construction of a residential city of sorts near Lorton, both on the southern end of the corridor. DC bound commuter traffic overwhelms the highway during rush hours. Transit is heavily used but is simply not enough to move all the people through and within the corridor.

So Fairfax County is developing plans to re-invent the corridor over the next 25 years. If it doesn’t do something, southeastern Fairfax County’s economy will choke on its own auto exhaust. Using bus rapid transit (until it can get Metro service) to reduce or mitigate car traffic, the county will develop a chain of mixed use communities, not unlike the Ballston to Rosslyn corridor in Arlington or the Town Center in Reston.

Today, riding a bike in this area is very unsafe. Pedestrians fare no better, with many being sent to hospitals and morgues each year. The plan calls for bicycle and pedestrian facilities along the highway. Input from bicyclists at prior meetings convinced planners to include bicycle and pedestrian facilities on feeder streets and in each of the mixed use communities. I heard no negative push back on these additions to the plan tonight.

How this all plays out over the next couple of decades is anybody’s guess. It is comforting to see that after decades of embracing car-based suburban sprawl, Fairfax County is finally moving toward more transit, sensible development, and livable communities. Will the county be able to stick to its plans as Arlington and Reston did? Time will tell.

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