Updates from Letty – September 8, 2023

Blog posts are the personal views of Letty Hardi and not official statements or records on behalf of the Falls Church City Council

Dear Friends,

It was a packed long weekend and week with the official end of summer, kickoff of campaign season, and then back into a regular schedule with City Council meetings. As transportation safety is the top concern I hear from our residents, I’ll share more of what you can expect this fall. We continue to deploy a wide array of tools to improve safety on our streets — speed cameras in school zones that are up for a vote next week, 20 mph speed limits, and HAWK signals on Broad St will all be underway soon. And of course, the topic that keeps going – T Zones.

A civic event plug: with the regional and national housing crisis and much discussion about how we can do our part, Falls Church Forward‘s next general meeting on Sunday, September 17 will be dedicated to the Housing for All pillar. Alex Horowitz, Project Director for Housing Policy at Pew, will discuss his ground-breaking research on housing and affordability. The chair of the Housing Commission will also share the current state of housing in Falls Church and initiatives underway. Come to learn, discuss, and meet new neighbors in the community room at Founders Row – which is fitting as it’s our first building with affordable housing units in perpetuity (ie, never expire). RSVP here.


PS If you’ve made a yard sign request (thank you!), the next round of deliveries will happen this weekend.

What Happened This Week:

(1) Transportation Safety

As I wrote about last week, we’ll be voting on the ordinance to enable speed cameras in our school zones this fall. The recommended first location will be in both directions on the 800 block of Broad St near St James with a civil penalty of $100. (I also raised the potential for future use near preschools on our other high volume streets.) Despite the evidence around effectiveness of automated enforcement in deterring speeding, the General Assembly has limited their use to certain locations and times of day and has rules for manual review of the videos before citations are issued, which makes their use more onerous than “automated enforcement” appears to be.

As transportation safety requires a multi-pronged approach, here are other efforts underway that you’ll see this fall:

  • Reduction of speed limit to 20 mph for most residential streets – expect to see the public communications campaign and new signage going up this fall.
  • HAWK signals – the long discussed HAWK signal project (traffic signals that pedestrians can activate to fully stop road traffic) on Broad St at intersections of Oak, Fairfax, and Berry will get underway this fall. Those stretches of Broad St are long blocks without good crossing opportunities for pedestrians currently.
  • Neighborhood Traffic Calming – NTC is an ongoing program with the biggest project to date in Greenway Downs, undergoing design right now following a positive neighborhood vote (5 intersections reworked, 17 speed bumps, 5 crosswalks). NTC is a bottoms up process where residents can petition for solutions to calm auto traffic in their neighborhood. NTC deploys either light or heavy solutions depending on the street context and traffic data. Road re-design – such as narrowing streets – is often the most effective at curbing bad behavior, but more complex, expensive, and with longer implementation times.
  • Enforcement – FCCPD currently has 1 full time traffic enforcement officer, with plans for a second officer once hired and trained. This has continued to be supported by the City Council in budget appropriations.

(Note: automated enforcement is not new to Falls Church. We have two red light cameras and the school bus stop arm camera program, which have been in place for many years.)

(2) Transition Zones / T Zones

For those following the T Zone modernization effort, the Planning Commission recommended adoption of the changes 4-2 with some amendments at their meeting this week. It will be back in front of the City Council for a public hearing next Monday, with a final vote scheduled on September 26.

One new piece of data that was added to this week’s staff report, which shows Falls Church has been an extremely competitive housing market, with average sales price about $1M and limited supply of home sales especially in middle housing types. Probably no surprise for owners or renters in the market right now – affordability has worsened, especially coupled with higher interest rates.

Source: Virginia Mercury, August 2023

Letty’s thoughts: I appreciate the Planning Commission’s thoughtful, detailed consideration and the continued professionalism and hard work by city staff. I stayed for all the comments, deliberation, and the final vote past 11 pm. I continue to listen, read, and respond to the public comments we’ve received. In typical Letty fashion, I’ve been categorizing and analyzing the top concerns I’m hearing so I can give them thorough consideration. It’s unfortunate that there is a fair amount of misinformation and misunderstanding of the facts – from the original policy goals (see my first detailed post on the topic from Jan 2022), the actual changes proposed (we’re talking 3-4 stories townhomes, condos, and small scale development), environmental impact (supported by our Environmental Sustainability Council), commercial vacancies (we have some high profile vacancies but actually have one of the lowest vacancy rates in the region), to traffic (I know it’s hard to believe, but the data actually says that our increased population has not brought increased traffic) and the years-long process up until this point. I understand that the city has been changing and growing. For someone who has lived here for 20 years (with family who has grown up and lived here 40+ years) – I know it firsthand. While the changes proposed for immediate neighbors feel fraught, I hope that we can continue to be civil and factual in our deliberations and community discussions.

What’s Coming Up:

Monday, September 11 – City Council Meeting*

Sunday, September 17 – Falls Church Forward Meeting (4 pm, Founders Row)

Tuesday, September 26 – City Council Meeting*

Monday, October 2 – City Council Work Session*

*Mondays (except 5th Mondays and holidays) at 7:30 pm. You can access the agenda and livestream here, including recordings of past meetings