Skip to content

New Northfax street connection in doubt

University Drive-Northfax connector street

Proposed University Drive – Northfax connector street. Photo courtesy of the City of Fairfax.

The City Council voted last night to defer a decision on the University Drive-Northfax street extension to January 24, 2017. The 5-1 vote followed a public hearing in which most of the 29 speakers voiced opposition to the project, mostly due to concerns that the new connection would generate added traffic on University Drive.

Earlier this year, the City was awarded $9,994,370 in federal funds for this new street connection. In September 2015, the City Council had approved submitting a funding application to the state for the project. The project would provide a central north-south connecting street from Fairfax Boulevard to Eaton Place. This new street would be the first step in building out a compact street grid in Northfax, the City’s central commercial area on Fairfax Boulevard.

A compact, interconnected street grid is essential to making Northfax a more vibrant and walkable place. Creating this grid is a central goal of Fairfax City’s comprehensive plan for Northfax (p. 171). A compact grid of streets in Northfax was a goal of the 2007 Fairfax Boulevard Master Plan, which was created after a broad community engagement effort that hundreds of City residents participated in.  The funds were awarded after a very competitive scoring and selection process under the state’s SmartScale program.

Now the project’s future is in doubt. City Councilmembers indicated that any new street would have to completely remove vehicle access to University Drive south of Fairfax Boulevard. It is by no means certain that the Virginia Department of Transportation would approve this change from the original project application.

The prospect of having to return nearly $10 million in federal funds that the City worked hard to get, for a project identified as a priority in its plans, reflects a major problem in the City’s planning process.

Several speakers at the public hearing observed that moving forward with the project seemed imprudent in the absence of a clear plan for Northfax.  Although the City has long identified Northfax as an area for mixed-use redevelopment, and a grid of streets as central to this redevelopment, this criticism is justified. The City has not actively developed or promoted a plan for redevelopment of the area since the 2007 Master Plan, which the City never formally adopted. The City has made only sporadic and inconsistent efforts to integrate the Master Plan in its comprehensive plan.

The City is currently updating its comprehensive plan, and creating a new multimodal transportation plan. It is time to get these plans right, engage the public in developing and approving them, and use them as the basis for moving forward.

Advertisements

City should move forward with University Drive extension

With approval of the City Council, Fairfax City applied for and was awarded funding by the state for the extension of University Drive to Eaton Place. Now the City Council seems to be seriously considering canceling the University Drive extension. That would be a step backward for Fairfax City.

The University Drive extension is central to the creation of a street grid for Northfax, the area near the intersection of Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard. The City’s comprehensive plan for Northfax states, “Important considerations in the redevelopment of Northfax should include architectural character, streetscape, pedestrian amenities, the stream/structure interface, open space, and connectivity between areas east and west of Chain Bridge Road and north and south of Fairfax Boulevard” (p. 171). The extension is a critical early step in building out the street grid and creating more compact, walkable blocks in Northfax.

In 2015, Fairfax City applied for funding under the state’s “SmartScale” program for both the University Drive extension and the Government Center Parkway extension. Both projects were awarded full funding, with no local match required. The SmartScale program is extremely competitive. The high scores and awards for both projects represented a significant victory for the city.

If the city were to cancel this project, it would forego the opportunity to use federal funds for a local project identified as a priority. There is a great need for infrastructure improvements and a scarcity of available funds. To cancel the project and return these funds would be fiscally irresponsible.

Improvements can and should be made to University Drive to mitigate already existing traffic impacts, such as bulb-outs and lighting on crosswalks. The City should invest in complete sidewalks on both sides of University Drive and appropriate traffic calming measures.

Shopping Center proposal is heading in the wrong direction

The City Council is considering a proposal at Fairfax Shopping Center for a standard commercial development dominated by surface parking. This proposal would hinder rather than help the redevelopment of Fairfax Boulevard. The City should say “No thanks” to the proposal and look at redevelopment options that will make Fairfax Boulevard more attractive and walkable.

Fairfax Shopping Center

Fairfax Shopping Center. Copyright Google 2016

Fairfax Shopping Center is on Fairfax Boulevard near University Drive. Many residents and passers-by know it best for the Baskin Robbins, Minerva Indian restaurant and Hooters restaurant that were formerly there. In September, the City Council reviewed a proposal by Regency Centers to redevelop the shopping center with a grocery store and a few other small stores or restaurants, with the remainder of the area consisting of surface parking.

The City’s Comprehensive Plan envisions the Northfax area near Chain Bridge Road and Fairfax Boulevard as a regional destination with a mixture of housing and stores, and walkable streets. This proposal does not meet the vision in the Comprehensive Plan. It won’t bring more business into the City, and it won’t make the area more walkable.

The City should instead pursue a project that will encourage pedestrian traffic, with street-facing buildings that entice pedestrians to walk by. A higher-density, mixed use project will generate more tax revenue from the parcel.

 

New bike connections for Fairfax City

Bicycling between downtown Fairfax City and the Vienna Metro station has gotten easier thanks to two recent improvements.

Layton HallOn Layton Hall Road, between University Drive and Old Lee Highway, Fairfax City has added a bicycle lane on the north side and shared use markings or “sharrows” on the south side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fairfax Connector new trailOn the Fairfax Connector Trail just east of Fairfax City, Fairfax County has created a new trail starting at Vaden Drive and Route 29. This provides direct access to the Vienna Metrowest community and the Metro station, via Vaden Drive and Saintsbury Road.

University Drive and Government Center Parkway extensions awarded funding

At the June Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting, the state of Virginia approved funding to extend University Drive from Fairfax Boulevard to Eaton Place, and to extend Government Center Parkway from Stevenson Street to Jermantown Road. These two projects will create a more connected street grid, make all forms of travel easier — be it by car, transit on a bike or on your feet — and, in the case of the University Drive extension, encourage more compact, walkable redevelopment on Fairfax Boulevard.

According to the city’s funding application, the proposed University Drive extension will  include one northbound and one southbound lane, right and left turn lanes onto Fairfax Blvd and Eaton Place, and a shared left turn lane to future site entrances. The project will also include new sidewalk, pedestrian crossings, on-road bike lanes, lighting and landscaping.

The Government Center Parkway extension  will fill in the missing link between Stevenson Street and Jermantown Road, between the Lowes and Burlington Coat shopping centers on the west side of Jermantown and Route 29. The project will include two eastbound through lanes to provide right and left turn lanes to Jermantown Road, one westbound through lane, turn lanes to Stevenson Street and the shopping center, sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, on-road bicycle lanes, and lighting and landscaping.

Government Center Parkway extension

Through extending Government Center Parkway (left center in photo) by just half a block, Fairfax City will create a much better connection for all users between Kamp Washington and the Fair Lakes area. (Photo from google)

Both of these projects will break up superblocks and create a more compact, walkable street grid. They will also make life easier for motorists. A major factor in traffic congestion in Fairfax City is the lack of alternative routes. For most trips, people have to travel on major roads like Fairfax Boulevard, Lee Highway or Route 236. Creating better connections gives people more options, and will relieve the burden on major roads.

Some residents are concerned about an increase in “cut-through” traffic that could result from extending University Drive. Currently Chain Bridge Road just to the west takes on the lion’s share of traffic between downtown Fairfax and the I-66 exit. Providing another outlet will relieve pressure on Chain Bridge and other roads. The design of the extension seems intended to encourage slower vehicle speeds.

The state awards (slightly under $10 million for University Drive, and $3.1 million for Government Center Parkway) should fully fund both projects.

Walking tour of Old Town Fairfax

Old Town Fairfax has seen dramatic changes that are bringing more people into Fairfax City and making the historic downtown a more vibrant place. But more remains to be done to make Old Town a more walkable, bike-friendly destination with the right mix of housing, retail businesses and offices. On Sunday May 22 the Coalition for Smarter Growth teamed up with Fairfax City Citizens for Smarter Growth to lead a walking tour of Old Town and nearby areas. Despite the wet conditions, more than 30 people attended the walk.

Brooke Hardin and Mayor Silverthorne discuss the planning history of Old Town Square.

Brooke Hardin and Mayor Silverthorne discuss the planning history of Old Town Square.

Mayor Scott Silverthorne provided welcoming remarks to the group at Old Town Square, the downtown park that opened in 2015. Also among the attendees were City Councilmembers David Meyer, Janice Miller, and Ellie Schmidt, and incoming Councilmember Jon Stehle.

Brooke Hardin, Director of Community Development and Planning, Cindy Petkac, Planning Division Director, and Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, discussed redevelopment and transportation efforts that have been implemented, such as Old Town Square and Old Town Plaza, and those that are still being planned. The group learned about the challenges and opportunities of working with property owners to shape the future of areas such as the Courthouse Plaza Shopping Center, and of making streets like Old Lee Highway and University Drive more bicycle-and pedestrian-friendly.

During the next year, Fairfax City will make some big decisions about future housing, land uses and transportation improvements around Old Town with the update of the city’s comprehensive plan. It was great to see so many residents in and around Fairfax City brave the rain to learn more about new developments in the city, and the opportunities to make the city an even better place to live, work and enjoy.

 

Participants learn about opportunities to make Courthouse Plaza a more vibrant destination.

Participants learn about opportunities to make Courthouse Plaza a more vibrant destination.

Hardin and participants discuss the development of Old Town Plaza.

Hardin and participants discuss the development of Old Town Plaza.

Say “Yes” to a forward-looking vision for Fairfax City

Now is the time to say “yes” to a forward-looking vision for Fairfax City’s future.

We ask the City Council and Mayor to take actions that promote the economic vitality of the City of Fairfax so that we may preserve and improve our quality of life. The City depends on an expanded tax base to include new commercial developments supported by nearby higher density residential developments. In accordance with this goal we ask that initiatives that incorporate and promote the following goals be supported:

  • the preservation of our neighborhoods, historic heritage, and existing open space;
  • a range of transportation options to include biking, walking, and improvements to the street network for vehicular traffic;
  • a variety of housing options that enable people who work here to live here;
  • the continued preservation and improvement of parks, recreation, and arts;
  • the protection and restoration of habitat space and the underlying ecosystems;
  • improved connections with George Mason University students, faculty, and staff.

 These goals were echoed during the #VisionFairfaxMason,  a 2014 community-wide planning workshop that produced an ambitious plan to strengthen the economic ties between the City and the University. We urge the Mayor and Council to move forward with the recommendations in this plan to ensure the continued improvement of the quality of life for all Fairfax City residents.

Support our vision! Email us at smartergrowthfairfaxcity[at]gmail.com and provide your full name. Or, leave a comment with your name. We won’t put you on any mailing lists.