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An Alternative to the Street Works Plan for Falls Church

Tony Dziepak
December 2002

My suggestion for improving downtown Falls Church is based on two major tenets which differentiate it from the Street Works plan:

1) The use of Maple Avenue as a one-way Southbound corridor (instead of a pedestrian plaza, and making Washington Street one-way Northbound).

2) Retainment of multiple property ownership.

Reason for Tenet 1): The Street Works plan is good in that it emphasizes pedestrian traffic in the town center. However, the use of Maple Avenue as a pedestrian-only plaza would be a mistake. The Street Works plan ignores the reality of North-South traffic volume on Washington Street. The Maple Avenue corridor is underutilized due to its misalignment. It is a valuable public resource for traffic.

I am in favor of a vibrant pedestrian circulation in the core downtown, but Maple Avenue must be better utilized for present and growing future North-South traffic flow. If a street were to be closed for a parade, I would suggest Little Falls Street.

Reason for Tenet 2): The Street Works plan consolidates the ownership of parcels that will essentially make downtown Falls Church a mall. The profit strategy of a mall is to be owned by a single landlord so that storefronts can be rented out at monopoly rates. The owner can reduce competition by disapproving potential competitors and keep retail prices high. Captive consumers must pay a convenience premium for purchases. Indeed, prices must remain high to pass the profits onto the monopoly landlord.

If you look at Street Works other projects: Reston Town center and Mizner Park, they are nice malls, but they are not an authentic downtown. A real downtown has small, individual parcels with multiple owners. The retail and restaurant businesses are competitive. Don't turn downtown Falls Church into a mall.

A downtown revitalization plan should not be used as a vehicle for a public land-grab or a consolidation of property ownership. A single corporate owner of downtown Falls Church would have undue influence on the city council possibly resulting in corruption. Multiple owners diffuse this power so that the only influence is regarding legitimate business concerns that would benefit the community.

Details of traffic pattern changes:

1) Split North-South traffic into two one-way streets through downtown. Use Washington Street for Northbound traffic and use Maple Avenue for Southbound traffic.

Washington Street is one way North from the intersection of Hillwood Avenue all the way to Gresham Place at the Arlington border. Maple Avenue is one way South from Gresham Place to where it merges with Washington St at Winchester Way, two blocks South of Hillwood Avenue.

Extend Maple Avenue from Jefferson Stret to fork into Washington Street at the Gresham Place intersection). Create a prominent Falls Church entry gateway at this fork. This street extension requires demolition of part of a warehouse and the securing of property for right of way. This is the only major land purchase, and scores less land-grabbing than in the Street Works plan.

Simplify and narrow the Broad Street-Washington Street and the Broad Street-Maple Street intersections and make them more pedestrian friendly. Broad Street will be narrowed to 4 lanes wide in this section. The traffic light pattern will be simplified because there will be no more right turns on Washington Street nor left turns on Maple Street from Eastbound Broad Street. Similarly, there will be no more right turns on Maple St nor left turns onto Washington Street from Westbound Broad Straat. This allows corners to be sharper and consequently, pedestrian crossalks shorter. Furthermore, Eastbound Broad Street traffic wishing to turn right on Maple Street can be encouraged to turn right 2 blocks earlier on Annandale Road (by a sign).

Add street parking to Broad Street from W Annandale Rd to E Fairfax St. Reduce speeed limit to 20 mph. Two lanes each way, no turn lanes. Sidewalks extend out across the street parking area at intersections.

Regrade and realign portions of the Maple Avenue corridor as necessary, especially near Park Avenue. Maple Avenue should be able to accomodate two to three lanes of Southbound traffic with street parking on one or both sides. Washington Street can certainly acommodate 3 lanes of Northbound traffic with street parking on both sides.

Turn restrictions: In general, there will be no dedicated right- or left-turn lanes or green arrows on Maple, Washington, Annandale, Fairfax, or Broad Streets in the downtown or one-way sections, except:

Left-turn arrow on Westbound E Broad St onto E Fairfax St
Left-turn arrow on Southbound Maple Ave onto W Annandale Rd
Left-turn arrow on Northbound W Annandale Rd onto S Maple Ave
2 Left-turn lanes on Northbound W Annandale Rd onto Westbound W Broad St
Right turn lane on Southbound W Annandale Rd onto Southbound S Maple Ave

Washington Street will have one Southbound lane from Hillwood Avenue for two blocks to the Maple Avenue terminus. Northbound Annandale traffic going South on Washington Street can either turn left on Hillwood, then turn left on Washington Street OR turn left on Maple Street and merge onto Washington Street.

Hillwood Avenue will have no right turn onton Washington Street. Left turn or straight across via Wallace Street. If you want to turn right, you have to first turn right onto Annandale Road.

At the Washington Street-Maple Street Y near Tripps Run, there will be two Southbound lanes on Maple Street. The left lane will be controlled by light and will allow right turn, left turn or straight across Washington Street onto Winchester Way. From the left lane, right turn on red after yielding to traffic. The right lane will always be a green arrow to join Southbound Washington Street.

Conclusion: I hope Falls Church officials consider the features of my alternative plan. Nothing says "downtown" more than one-way streets. It menas, slow down and look to take note of landmarks--you must be somewhere! One-way streets expose more traffic to more of Falls Church: one corridor one way, and another corridor on the way back. This is good exposure to potential visitors.

The Steet Works plan actually lists as its Number 1 strategy "Consolidate control of significant amount of land." In contrast, my plan is anti-consolidation and maintains healthy competition in the retail and commercial real estate markets. This is a real place, like the Westover market in Arlington--but bigger and more vibrant.

These two characteristics are the key to a successful downtown revitalization plan for the city of Falls Church.

References and links:

Falls Church City Center by the City of Falls Church, including the StreetWorks consulting plan (PDF file).

Citizens for a Better City

Falls Church Citizens' Advisory Committee on Transportation

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Department of Economics at Virginia Tech Send an email to Tony Dziepak

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