Approximately 33,200 automobiles travel along Maple Avenue in Vienna on a daily basis, a multimodal transportation and land use study commissioned by the Town of Vienna found.
Produced by a traffic count conducted in February at the intersection of Maple and Center Street, the study’s calculation suggests traffic on the road has increased over the two years since the Virginia Department of Transportation recorded a daily average volume of 30,000 to 31,000 vehicles in 2017.
To anyone who lives in Vienna or passes through the town on Route 123, the news that Maple Avenue is congested will come as little surprise, but volume alone does not account for the challenges that residents and commuters face when navigating the Town of Vienna’s main travel corridor.
Frustrations over traffic are also becoming exacerbated by the lack of relief between the morning and afternoon rush hour, according to Kimley-Horn, an engineering consulting firm hired by the Vienna Town Council in January to carry out the study.
While 37 percent of the trips on Maple Avenue occur during peak travel periods, weekday traffic patterns show little letup between the end of the standard morning peak period at 9:00 a.m. and the beginning of the standard afternoon peak period at 4:00 p.m.
One consequence of the heavy traffic on Maple Avenue has been a noticeable uptick in the amount of vehicles using side-roads to bypass that major street, longtime Vienna residents say.
Community members got an opportunity to voice their concerns on Apr. 4 when Kimley-Horn engineers presented their evaluation of existing transportation conditions in the Town of Vienna.
“I’ve been here 27 years, and traffic is not only more dense on Maple Avenue, but it has flowed over into side streets,” Vienna resident Art McKay said. “The traffic on my street, East Street NE, is probably four times the level it was when I moved here, and most of that has come in the last five to 10 years.”
The unique nature of Maple Avenue contributes to some of the transportation challenges that it experiences while also making it tricky to solve those challenges, according to Kimley-Horn project manager David Samba.
In addition to serving as a main street for an established suburban locality that has long sought to maintain a small-town atmosphere, Maple Avenue serves as a major travel artery for commuters from Fairfax and Oakton to the west and Tysons to the east.
Though oriented to accommodate drivers, the Maple Avenue corridor also sees a steady amount of foot traffic from pedestrians visiting restaurants and retail along the street as well as bikers, joggers, and other people using the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, which cuts across the road between Park and Center Streets.
“There’s a lot of cars on the road, but there’s also a lot of activity from other modes,” Samba said. “There are a lot of trail users, and that creates a need and desire to interact with the town out of your car.”
According to the Maple Avenue Corridor Multimodal Transportation and Land Use Study, the W&OD trail in Vienna averages 1,500 users per weekday, and there are approximately 81 miles of sidewalk on Maple, Church Street to the north, and adjacent residential streets.
However, pedestrians in Vienna encounter challenges of their own, from narrow sidewalks and limited buffer zones to the number of driveways into parking lots and long blocks between crossings.
Kimley-Horn’s study also found that Vienna lacks on-street facilities for bike users, who experience significant levels of stress on Maple due to the high traffic volumes and limited way-finding support, among other issues.
Another contributor to traffic in the Maple Avenue corridor is transit.
The Fairfax Connector bus service has six different routes that pass through the corridor with bus stops located roughly every one or two blocks, which gives Vienna solid connections to a larger transit network but adds to the start-and-stop nature of traffic through the town.
While transit has a strong presence in Vienna, it is not necessarily accessible, the study found. 16 out of the 31 bus stops in the corridor lack passenger amenities, including benches, shelters, trash receptacles, and accessible boarding areas for people with wheelchairs or other mobility issues.
Balancing all of these different modes of transportation is part of the challenge that the Town of Vienna faces as officials contemplate how to address congestion and the potential impacts of development.
The Vienna Town Council unanimously approved $79,994 in funding to hire Kimley-Horn for the Multimodal Transportation and Land Use Study during its Jan. 7 meeting.
“Maple Avenue is a major corridor [with] lots of traffic, and as we plan for the future, we know that we have challenges,” Town of Vienna Director of Public Works Michael Gallagher said. “But this study will help us identify where we need to focus our attention so that we can also identify improvements for…our future planning so we can be prepared.”
After evaluating existing transportation conditions, Kimley-Horn is now charged with analyzing what transportation in the Maple Avenue corridor will look like 10 years into the future based on possible development and recommending strategies for addressing challenges.
Additional community meetings will be held throughout this spring and summer with a final report expected to be delivered to the town in August.
In addition to planned traffic signal, sidewalk, and other infrastructure improvements, the study’s analysis of the future will take into account the town’s proposed vision of a Maple Avenue Commercial zone that would introduce and concentrate mixed-use development in the corridor.
The Vienna Town Council officially adopted a MAC zoning ordinance on Oct. 20, 2014, but despite the incorporation of amendments on Jan. 9, 2017, resident opposition to developments proposed under the ordinance led the town council to unanimously agree on Sept. 17, 2018 to suspend acceptance and consideration of all rezoning applications until June 17.
“The Maple Avenue Commercial district is under review as far as they’re working on some amendments to that code,” Gallagher said. “At this point, there’s really no future to talk about until that’s reestablished.”
McKay says he is generally opposed to any further development along Maple Avenue and hopes that Vienna extends its suspension on MAC approvals at least until the recommendations from the Multimodal Transportation and Land Use Study come in.
“I think denser development will inevitably lead to greater traffic, so once the development’s done and traffic’s here, it’s too late to make corrections,” McKay said. “I would look to the town to think beyond what each individual developer wants to come in and build and look at it more sustainably.”