On Tuesday, March 7th, Officers Jeffrey Neach and Brandi Horita of the Reston District Police Station participated in an informal round table discussion with the GFCA Transportation Committee (TRN) on local traffic issues, including dangerous driving practices, traffic incidents, and driver and pedestrian safety. Also addressed were (i) the Brockman Lane Emergency Access Gate and (ii) periodic traffic back-ups from Great Falls Park resulting in congestion at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Drive.
Brockman Lane Emergency Access Gate
In Spring 2016, Loudoun County installed an automated vehicular gate system on Brockman Lane between Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. The intent was to improve fire & rescue and law enforcement response time by replacing the old manual gate that had been installed in following a 1988 Memo of Understanding between the counties: MOU.pdf.
Unfortunately, both during installation and the months following activation, the new gate was repeatedly vandalized and some drivers illegally used the connecting road. While Fairfax County issued a number of tickets last summer, ticketing activity has declined since then.
Operating problems, repeated vandalism, and rising costs associated with repairs to the gate have compelled Loudoun’s Department of General Services (DGS) to consider other options to limit access. Toward the end of 2016 orange polyurethane road markers were installed across the road as a test to see whether such devices would be sufficient to stop cut-through traffic. The gate arm was to be left in the upright position for an extended period of time until a final decision could be made. As TRN understand it, if the flex poles work, the gate would eventually be removed. The police department was not informed about this.
Because of the questionable effectiveness of the orange road markers and perceived on-going use of the gate by drivers seeking to shorten their commute between Loudoun and Fairfax Counties, in February TRN asked that a traffic counter be installed to gather usage data. However, at this point Fairfax County doesn’t feel that this step is warranted based on current information.
A representative from DGS has been invited to attend TRN’s next meeting on April 4th to provide an update on this issue.
Dangerous Driving Practices, Traffic Incidents and Safety
Over the past year an increasing number of dangerous driving practices on local roads have been reported to the committee and posted on Nextdoor Great Falls. TRN and residents attending the meeting shared incidents that have been observed, including drivers who (i) use the right or left turn lanes to pass, (ii) speed and then pass over the double yellow line, and (iii) pass school buses with flashing lights, especially in the early morning hours. It was also reported that a vehicle had almost struck a child who was crossing the Georgetown Pike from the Grange to Great Falls Center. (Note: a signalized crosswalk doesn’t currently exist between these locations.)
While the community feels that aggressive driving and illegal passing have risen over the past few years, Officers Neach and Horita indicated that they haven't observed the same trend. The officers also stated that while the police actively patrols local roads it is difficult to find places where they can pull in and park in order monitor activity and catch those who violate traffic laws. (Note: Given that there are many more Great Falls residents on local roads than assigned officers to observe incidents, this disparity isn’t surprising.)
Responding to the question about what can be done, the officers said that if someone is able to safely get a photo or video of an incident and/or a license plate, then these could be reported via their non-emergency number (703-691-2131). At no time should someone who observes a violation put him/herself at risk either by trying to quickly record information while driving or by directly confronting the other driver. If information is shared that clearly indicates a violation has occurred then the police can follow-up with the person about the incident. The police will also use information from TRN’s meeting to specifically watch for drivers who are ignoring traffic laws, such as the aforementioned incidents involving school buses.
As far as physical deterrents that might improve road safety, the officers deferred to the Virginia Department of Transportation as it would have more expertise in this area. However, suggestions made by attendees include: (i) installation of pole or other devices to narrow the road and, thereby, reduce traffic speed, (ii) construction of medians for safer pedestrian crossing in the village, and (iii) flashing “your speed is” signs in selected locations where speed and illegal passing more commonly occur.
Traffic Back-ups at Great Falls National Park
It was indicated that the U.S. Park police should be directing traffic near the park on days when the volume is high and the road to the park is congested. However, as the Reston District has concurrent jurisdiction, officers help out as needed and when available.
Suggestions made by the community included: (i) notifying the park police in advance, (ii) involving elected representatives such as Barbara Comstock to push for changes, (iii) installing a roundabout at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Drive and forcing drivers to move around the circle when traffic to the park is backed-up, (iv) using Auxiliary Police Officers to help direct traffic, and (v) hiring police officers on overtime at National Park Service expense.
Statistics and Programs
In closing, Officers and Neach Horita provided some statistics as well as information about programs that have been put in place to improve road safety. The table shown below reflects the number of citations and crashes that were recorded in Fairfax County and the Reston District station during the period 2014-2016. On average, over 10,000 traffic citations have been issued in the Reston district each of the last three years.
*River Bend Road, Walker Road and North Shore Drive
| All Fairfax County Citations
| Reston District Citations
| Reston District Speed Related Crashes
| Fatal Crashes
The Reston Station hosts traffic education and enforcement campaigns such as those dealing with texting, speeding, etc. The police department has also formed the relatively new Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) squad that is solely traffic-oriented and helps patrol for intoxicated drivers.
The Special Enforcement Team (SET) of the police department and patrol officers dedicated to the Reston district will continue to field concerns and proactively police for traffic concerns. They will continue to look out for a variety of infractions that not only include speeding, but also reckless or aggressive driving, disregard for lights and signals, illegal passing or turning etc., and they recognize these as unsafe behaviors in addition to speeding.