After nine months of research and discussions, Kimley-Horn and Associates turned to the community one last time for its thoughts on how the Town of Vienna should address congestion, parking, and other issues found in the Maple Avenue corridor.
The planning and design engineering firm hired by Vienna to study land use and transportation on the town’s central thoroughfare presented its preliminary findings and suggestions to residents at a Vienna Town Hall community meeting on Sept. 4.
“We’re looking for you to help prioritize our options,” Kimley-Horn project manager David Samba said before community members broke out to look at and debate the firm’s suggestions. “Where should the town devote its energy?”
Hired by the Vienna Town Council in January, Kimley-Horn was tasked with conducting a multimodal transportation and land use study of the Maple Avenue corridor to help the town improve travel for residents, visitors, and commuters while planning for future developments.
This month’s community meeting was the third one hosted by the firm after residents convened to discuss existing transportation conditions on Apr. 4 and future conditions based on potential land development on June 12.
In a public survey, community members cited congestion relief, pedestrian accessibility and connectivity, public parking, and reliable transit connections to Metro as their top priorities for transportation improvements on the Maple Avenue corridor.
44 percent of survey respondents said a local circulator service that operates within the Town of Vienna would be the most useful public transit improvement, and when asked specifically about improvements that would make them more likely to ride a bicycle, community members showed the most interest in Bikeshare stations and on-street bike lanes.
Fairfax County introduced Capital Bikeshare service to Reston and Tysons in October 2016 and currently operates 35 stations throughout the county, including more recent additions in West Falls Church and Merrifield.
42 percent of the people who responded to Kimley-Horn’s public survey believe that relieving existing bottlenecks is the key to improving traffic flow and safety on Maple Avenue, while 34 percent called for improved signal timing and 10 percent for traffic calming or driveway management measures.
Closing existing sidewalk gaps followed by streetscape improvements, such as wider sidewalks, emerged as community members’ top demands for improving pedestrians’ experience on Maple.
Vienna residents also see an urgent need for public parking, which 59 percent of survey users said would improve mobility and access. Curb space management and accommodations for travel options like e-scooters and rideshare were among the other suggestions for areas in which the town should invest.
In addition to determining broad trends in challenges and priorities for the community on Maple Avenue, Kimley-Horn engineers offered site-specific ideas for improving travel in the corridor.
Possibilities range from minor tweaks to the road, such as a redesign of Maple’s intersection with Church Street by the Town Green or revamped Washington and Old Dominion Trail crossings, to more extensive infrastructure changes, including creating bike lanes and converting the Maple and Nutley intersection into a roundabout.
Samba noted that changing one aspect of the town’s transportation network will inevitably affect other parts.
For instance, converting the existing shoulders along Courthouse Road to on-street bike lanes could improve cyclist safety and create narrower lanes that force vehicles to slow down, but it would also mean losing space currently sometimes used for parking.
Kimley-Horn is expected to present its final recommendations from the Maple Avenue Corridor Multimodal Transportation and Land Use study early this fall, according to the Town of Vienna.
“I think there are a lot of great ideas coming out,” Vienna director of public works Michael Gallagher said. “…They haven’t gone through the prioritization and hearing what the public has to say and also what council’s going to say, but I think there’s a myriad of ideas that look really promising, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we can implement these.”
Some residents expressed support for specific ideas presented at the Sept. 4 community meeting.
A woman who says she regularly walks along Maple Avenue approved of a suggested walking trail that would cut alongside Vienna Elementary School to link the W&OD Trail and Center Street, though she raised concerns about the potential environmental impacts of a more extensive bicycle and pedestrian trail network.
Other residents expressed skepticism of the proposals and offered ideas that Kimley-Horn had not mentioned.
A group of residents on Wade Hampton Drive argued that their street should be closed off from Maple Avenue in order to prevent thru traffic, since they have other routes for accessing Maple, including connections to both Courthouse Road and Nutley Street.
The residents, who give their names to the Fairfax County Times, said they have taken their proposal to the Town of Vienna, but it has not gained much traction with town officials so far.
Vienna resident David Patariu, who lives south of Maple on Niblick Drive and Hine Street, expressed frustration at the amount and speed of traffic on neighborhood roads like his, much of it from commuters looking to avoid the congestion on Maple.
“They’re not taking the major arteries because they’re at capacity. They’re using the residential streets as major arteries, and that’s a real problem for people that live here,” Patariu said. “…It’s not safe to cross the street in the residential areas just for that reason.”
Patariu was unable to attend Kimley-Horn’s Sept. 4 community meeting but went to previous meetings and has followed the study closely, in part because he is concerned about the possible impacts that planned developments along Maple Avenue will have on traffic in Vienna.
He also takes issue with Kimley-Horn’s involvement in the town’s transportation and land use study, since the firm was previously hired by the developer J.D.A. Custom Homes to conduct a traffic impact study for its proposed mixed-use building at 380 Maple.
A pre-scope of work meeting form that J.D.A. Custom Homes sent to the Virginia Department of Transportation with its requirements for the 380 Maple traffic impact analysis was signed on Aug. 22, 2018.
Kimley-Horn finalized its traffic impact study for J.D.A. Custom Homes on Mar. 18, and the Vienna Town Council approved the developer’s request to rezone 380 Maple to accommodate its planned four-story, mixed-use building on June 17.
According to Patariu, Kimley-Horn’s work for a Maple Avenue developer was not mentioned when the town hired the firm to conduct its transportation study of the corridor.
“If you look at the scope-of-work statement, that wasn’t disclosed from the town when they were trying to assess whether or not to hire them for an $80,000 traffic study,” Patariu said. “Now, maybe some people knew, but shouldn’t that be in the public record or a footnote? By the way, we’re also doing work for a MAC developer?”
Kimley-Horn did not return requests for comment from the Fairfax County Times, but the Town of Vienna says that it was informed of Kimley-Horn’s association with the 380 Maple project when it started working with the engineering firm on the multimodal transportation study.
Samba, who was leading the traffic impact study for 380 Maple, formally removed himself from that project to work on the multimodal study, and Kimley-Horn assigned another engineer to its 380 Maple study.
The Town of Vienna has used Kimley-Horn for transportation-related consulting since 2017 when the firm provided parking garage analysis and transportation studies for the Church and Mill Street areas through a contract that it has with Fairfax County, which the town is allowed to ride and assign tasks under, according to Vienna spokesperson Lynne Coan.
“Based on the quality of work provided by Kimley-Horn, the Town decided to use the firm again to lead its Maple Avenue Corridor Multimodal Transportation and Land Use Study,” Coan said.
At the time that the 380 Maple owner hired Kimley-Horn to perform a transportation impact assessment, the firm “was not actively engaged in work with the town,” according to Coan.
The town hired the firm Whitman Requardt and Associates to conduct a third-party review of the 380 Maple transportation impact study.
“We have been very pleased with the depth of community engagement and analysis provided by Kimley-Horn through the multimodal study and with the variety of concepts put forward as potential solutions,” Coan said.