Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council
I hope your holiday season is off to a festive start. It was wonderful to see so many new faces at the annual “Lighting of the Trees” (and “Eating of the Snacks” if you were able to get samples from the coming soon restaurants at Founders Row). Speaking of FR, read on for the latest update on business openings. If you haven’t picked up your Little City gift cards yet – remember, the city is kicking in 50% bonuses – a win-win for you and for our small businesses.
This week – three main topics:
- I-66 HOV changes coming Monday!
- Our 7-0 vote to adopt 20 mph in most of the city, coming later in 2023
- A potpourri of other topics this week, including the master plan for the Fellows Property.
Budget season kicks off next week (yes, already) with our annual joint meeting with the School Board. We will hear the financial forecast, then issue “budget guidance” at our December 12 meeting before the schools and general government develop their respective FY24 budgets.
PS – Save the date: with the holidays, we’ll be moving our monthly Meet the Council office hours to Wednesday, December 14 at 9 am, City Hall.
What Happened This Week:
(1) I-66 HOV changes to HOV-3
Beginning on Monday, December 5, the HOV requirement to travel toll-free on the 66 Express Lanes will change from HOV-2 to HOV-3, ie you’ll need to have a minimum of 3 occupants to use the express lanes without paying a toll. This change will apply across the entire I-66 corridor, including the 66 Express Lanes located outside the Beltway, as well as the nine miles of 66 Express Lanes located inside the Beltway. More info here.
While this HOV-3+ requirement is consistent with HOV requirements on the other express lanes in Northern Virginia, we have expressed concerns to VDOT about traffic diversion to areas inside the Beltway like Falls Church, where we could see drivers looking for alternative routes.
(2) 20 mph speed limits
We unanimously voted to adopt 20 mph on the majority of the city’s streets, using new authority granted by the General Assembly. Note that Rt 7, Rt 29 , and “collector streets” (eg, Lincoln, Park, Hillwood, etc) – identified as green and blue streets on this map would remain at 25 mph for now. With public outreach and new signage being the next steps, the earliest the new speed limits would be in effect is March 2023. While we won’t be the first in the region to make this move (DC lowered their speed limits to 20 mph in 2020), more of our neighbors are considering similar changes.
Letty’s thoughts: as I’ve previously written, the data on speed and pedestrian and cyclist fatality is compelling so I support this change. In fact, I’d support a simpler solution where we have 20 mph on as many streets as possible, as one universal speed limit would require less signage and be easier to enforce. Our intention is that as various streets undergo re-design with traffic calming programs and safety projects (some of those projects are already underway like Park Ave Great Streets and Greening of Lincoln), the re-designs will create more natural adherence to a 20 mph speed limit and we will then be able to lower the posted speed limits on those collector streets as well.
In general, adopting 20 mph is part of a broader policy to create “people-first places” and re-frame this as a decision to prioritize people. At times, this may feel unfriendly to cars, but I view it as elevating the role of pedestrians and cyclists, who are far more vulnerable, in a culture long dominated by cars. And people-first places can contribute to vibrant economic development as we can more safely welcome people who get around in various forms of transportation besides cars. It’s also important to note that 20 mph is not the only tool we’re deploying – it’s equally important that we keep up our commitment to physical changes to our streets like traffic calming, building new and repairing sidewalks, crosswalks, adding HAWK signals and enforcement and deterrent solutions like police officers, speed and red light cameras – all of which we’ve steadily increased our budget dollars for each year.
(3) Potpourri Topics
Fellows Park – we received a presentation on the Master Plan for the Fellows Property, which is the 1.9 acre parcel of land we bought across from Oak Street Elementary in 2019. As you can see from the Master Plan, the vision for the park will largely be passive recreation with an emphasis on preserving the natural resources and providing environmental education and stewardship, perhaps in the form of some urban agriculture. As a next step, Rec and Parks will begin the Architecture and Engineering phase to get to construction plans in the coming year. You can expect further community engagement opportunities.
Budget Amendment – we also passed the $5.8M budget amendment deploying a combination of year end surpluses and ARPA funds to various priorities – including employee bonuses to help offset inflation, transportation projects including signals, crosswalk repair, and a new “rapid response team” to more nimbly deploy safety improvements on our streets, affordable housing, revenue sharing with the schools, and capital reinvestment that we’d typically debt finance and instead will be using cash.
Charter Amendment & 2023 Legislative Program – in getting ready for the 2023 General Assembly session that begins in January, we also adopted our legislative priorities and will be asking Richmond again to allow us to change our charter to remove the citizenship requirement for volunteers to serve on our boards and commissions. The charter amendment bill was passed by both houses of the General Assembly in the last session, but vetoed by the Governor.
Founders Row Updates – hot off the presses – from Council’s Economic Development Committee meeting yesterday:
What’s Coming Up:
Monday, December 5 – City Council Work Session* (Joint with School Board)
Monday, December 12 – City Council Meeting* (last meeting of 2022)
Wednesday, December 14 – Meet the Council Office Hours (9 am, City Hall)
*every Monday (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings