County Tries to Balance Safety With Parking in Lyon Park

by ARLnow.com February 16, 2011 at 3:59 pm 3,341 64 Comments

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Arlington County wants to put residents on a car-free diet, but a spat over on-street parking in Lyon Park shows that residents with cars still have plenty of pull with the county board.

The county’s streets bureau, responding to a complaint from a trash collector, determined that a curvy, two-block stretch of North Edgewood Street is too narrow. With cars parked on either side, firefighters brought in to test the width did not have enough room to open the bins on either side of their fire engine.

Acting upon the results of the test, the streets bureau sent notice to residents that they were planning on restricting parking to one side of the street. But residents fought back and, this weekend, seemed to get some cover from the county board.

Lyon Park Civic Association President Natalie Roy spoke before the board and asked why the county has not found fault with the street’s width until now. She said that elderly residents whose houses lack driveways rely on street parking. Residents tried to create an alternative plan for dealing with the situation, she added, but that county staff made “Draconian” changes to it.

Most board members were sympathetic to the parking concerns.

“The fire truck can be a once in several year occurrence,” said County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes. “I don’t want a solution for the once every five year event. I want solutions that make livability on this street reasonable.”

“If safety is such a priority, why do we wait until a complaint?” board member Jay Fisette asked, pointing out that there are plenty of other county streets that could potentially be considered too narrow.

“I am reluctant to have a defined width and a prescribed solution for that once every multiple year situation where a large fire truck might be needed,” he said. He added that removing parking on one side of the street could actually negatively impact resident safety “by having less traffic calming of cars parked on the street,” thus encouraging cars to drive faster.

One voice of dissent was board member Barbara Favola.

“Some people parking on the street may need to park on an adjacent street,” she said. “We’re going to have to put safety first. We can’t compromise on that.”

Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz says that changes are necessary to protect residents.

“It doesn’t make a difference if it’s once a day or once every five years… If we had a fire, we wouldn’t even be able to get our ladder trucks in there,” he said in a phone interview. “We certainly want to balance the overall needs of the community with the safety needs of the community.”

Schwartz noted that the county’s new Master Transportation Plan gives the fire department final say over the width of county roads undergoing improvements. However, he said the department won’t be systematically reviewing streets that are not up for improvement projects.

“It’s our intent… that when improvements to streets are being done… an important consideration will be fire access,” he said. “It’s not our intent to go back and identify streets with difficult access.”

At last check, the county was still trying to find an amicable solution with Edgewood Street residents.

  • Bluemont John

    I have a solution: Maybe the County can build driveways for the folks without them and upgrade the driveways of those who have them, in exchange for taking away the on-street parking on one side. After all, I believe the trucks are only as wide as they are because the County chose not to go with custom (narrower but pricier) trucks that have the current EPA- and OSHA-mandated equipment. (At least that’s what one knowledgeable-sounding commenter said on TBD.com.) The County saved money on the trucks, so it’s only fair that some of that savings could be used in this manner. And the County already has crews to build driveway aprons.

    • John Fontain

      No thanks. I’m not interested in paying for my neighbors’ driveways.

      • Bluemont John

        I see your point–but think of it as paying for fire service. (Granted, fire service for someone else.) But hey, we’re all paying for stuff we don’t want to pay for, at any level of government. If doing some driveway work for a few people makes everybody happy and ensures safety, I can live with that. (The County charges $750 per apron, so I bet it costs them less to build them.)

        • John Fontain

          The cost of a driveway far exceeds the cost of just the apron. Plus, for every driveway you add, you take away one parking spot on the street for driveway access. Therefore, is much additional parking really gained by adding driveways?

      • jjbug

        John, Strange choice of options. You won’t pay for others’ driveways: I agree. But I couldn’t urge parking that could prevent a fire truck coming to anyone’s house!

        No one who is dependent on a car should be living where no driveway or garage was purchased! A parking place on a street is not available for all residents, nor was that promise ever put out! Residence Zoned Permit Parking has permitted a subtle feeling that I can have my car in the garage and one on the street, too, but obviously the situation changes.

        Do you realize how many dwellers in the Corridor apartment and condo buildings do not have cars? The options are expensive and few if you try to park on nearby streets. Still some of these owners/renters sublet the garage spot reserved for that unit! People who walk would enjoy purchasing homes on N Edgewood!

    • Westover

      Say what? Got a link to this TBD article about some sort of narrower Fire Truck? The county’s current fire trucks are a standard that was first bought in 2001 I think. I don’t think that there is a custom narrower fire engine that can be had, and really can’t see how you can have any narrower Fire truck with the same capability either.

    • charlie

      the county adopted a “coverage” ordinance a few years back. A driveway may push someone over their coverage and not be allowed.

  • John Fontain

    This street is way too narrow for large fire vehicles and parking on both sides. Heck, drive a regular car through there and you’ll worry about clearing the parked cars on either side.

    That being said, if all of the residents on those two blocks are willing to accept the risks of not being accessed by fire trucks, then let them sign a document saying so and leave the parking as is.

    And if the trash trucks can’t safely make their way through those two blocks, then make the residents wheel their trash cans down to the corner of 1st and Edgewood each Thursday morning.

    • Bluemont John

      I actually agree with that. After all, it’s the residents of that street whose properties are theoretically at risk if there’s a fire. (And it’s not like AFD couldn’t help them at all; it would just be harder, since the truck would have to park around the corner. But Nooner, tell me if I’m wrong on that one.)

      It’s easy for others to casually dismiss someone else’s lost street parking, but if you have no driveway and own a car, you depend on it. And it’s part of the value of your home, because home buyers will pay less for a house without street parking in front of it (unless there’s a huge driveway or garage). A house with no driveway on a no-parking street is going to sit for a long time unless it’s super-cheap.

      • Westover

        If the Truck has to park around the corner, its big ladder on top is worthless. The hose on the Engines can reach a pretty long distance and go around corners, but the Truck’s ladder is limited and can’t make turns so it worthless if it can’t reach windows and the roof.

        • Josh S

          I don’t think the big ladder on top is necessary for house fires, is it? I guess it’s preferable to portable ladders, but they could do in a pinch, couldn’t they?

          • Westover

            It is safer to operate in many cases from the aerial ladder rather than from a ground ladder for ventilating the roof. You don’t want a firefighter to fall through a 50-80 year old roof do you? Getting the Truck close provides access to the tools to do the job and an added safety margin.

    • jan

      I would think their house and car insurance rates are higher to compensate for the increased risk.

  • G

    That street does look ridiculously narrow…

    • John Fontain

      It is. And the google maps photo doesn’t do the narrowness justice, as the street is normally completely lined with parked cars on both sides due to the lack of driveway options (lots have steep upward and downward sloping yards on the west and east sides of the street, respectively).

      • Josh S

        I’m not seeing the “steeply” sloping driveways. Besides, how often would that matter – two or three times a year?

        It is a narrow street, although as others have noted, there are plenty like it around the county. What is surprising is the number of houses without driveways – that’s pretty unusual.

        Can’t firetrucks push cars out of the way if necessary?

  • Bluemont John

    OK, here’s that link: http://www.tbd.com/blogs/tbd-neighborhoods/2011/02/squeezing-through-arlington-s-narrow-streets-8154.html

    (Evidently I can’t post it in the “Website” window above the comment box.

    First comment at bottom, from “Crin.”

    • I added a link in the story as well, since it gives a bit more of a county-wide perspective on the street width issue.

    • Westover

      OK, he is incorrect. The custom Fire engines are not wider due to the epa equipment. The county just got new engines that should comply to the new EPA requirements and they are the same width as the ones they replace. Engines got wider over the years, but it is not somethign that happaned over night. One problem is cars have gotten wider again too. The Board should really side with Chief Schwartz here, or give him a few extra million in his budget to buy these mysterious narrow Fire Trucks and Fire Engines.

  • G. Clifford Prout

    You go Lyon Park!

    Now let’s roll back these 25 MPH speed limits on arterial roads.

    • local

      You can’t bear the extra 30 seconds or so it costs you to go 25 instead of 35?

  • mrlogical

    I support Arlington County’s plan for a car free diet. I stopped eating cars last month and never looked back.

  • Ryan

    I can be an honest witness to this. My car was run into while parked on this road during a visit to a friend’s house. Whether it is too narrow or someone just didn’t know how to drive, it cost me $200 and 2 weeks without a car thanks to the hit and run. They didn’t by any chance hit a car while doing their testing and want to admit to it now do they?

  • John Goilios

    Edgewood? How about 21st Road N at Glebe? That sucker is narrow!

    • LyonSteve


    • Sheriff Gonna Getcha

      Randolph between Fairfax and Washington Blvd on the weekend or weekdays after 5….there is barely enough room for 1 car, let alone 2, to get through.

  • Nooner

    As a former firefighter I would like to add that there are many factors that go into the size (length and width) of modern fire apparatus. The new EPA regulations on diesel engine exhaust do make the motors and exhaust system routing more complicated thereby calling for larger to support the same capabilities. One example of capability increase is the increase in the gallons per minute (GPM) that the pumps are capable of. As an example a 1500 GPM pump will require a wider apparatus with, in most cases, a more powerful motor than a smaller pump would. Additionally, other options like foam systems and compressed air foam systems take up space around the pump. Further, depending on the jurisdictions policies different hose configurations for supply and attack hose are required. In most cases these and all equipment carried on the vehicle are above the very minimal NFPA guidelines for a Class A Pumper or Ladder.

    Following 9/11 the fire service has been asked to increase capabilities in a multitude of areas from EMS to Chem/ Bio response. All of these various missions cause units to carry more and more equipment which calls for more (quantity) or larger (size) apparatus.

    I hope this helps a bit. I just want to make sure people understand that apparatus sizing is a more complex problem than it may look like from the outside.

    • Bluemont John

      Thanks for the informative post. I guess I’m at least relieved that it wasn’t County cheapness that’s to blame here.

    • jan


  • Lou

    From the streetview it looks like the road could be widened.

  • Arlwhenever

    Compromise solutions are to have a no parking zone the width of a driveway in front of each home that doesn’t have a driveway (allowing space for bin opening) and giving high priority to street width increase projects for neighborhood connservation plan funding.

  • Arlwhenever

    When that block of Edgewood was developed they didn’t need street parking because the houses on the east side of the street backed on to a trolley line. Remember, with the new transit plans, and streetcars being permanent and all, we don’t need to allow for adequate parking. Car free all the way!

    • ian l

      There was never a streetcar on the east side of Edgewood…behind those houses was a stream “Long Branch” never a street car!!!!

  • Arlwhenever

    Another solution would be to make Edgewood one way with parking on one side and to push a road through the old right of way behind the east houses also with parking on one side or to improve the path on the old trolley right of way to the point where fire trucks could travel down it in a pinch.

    • ian l

      Can’t imagine why you think there was a street car

    • Albatross

      Old Trolley? Is that just a guess because there’s a path there? How about Upper Long Branch creek? That’s not old street right of way where there’s a pedestrian pathway/park, it’s a streambed with an underground pipe carrying the stream. There’s an alley behind the houses on Cleveland St., but not behind the ones on Edgewood. And as far as widening the street, good luck getting more than a couple of feet without pretty substantial walls on private property of homeowners not exactly in the mood for such a plan. Grades go substantially up to the west and down to the east. Cut into the slope to the west and it’s a retaining wall for the yards/houses. Go to the east and something would need to support the street/sidewalk.

  • ChrisW

    Mary Hynes’s comment is appalling. I sure wouldn’t want my house to be the one on fire. And what about ambulances? Can they make it through the road? They are typically wide-bodied too. I can only imagine what that street looks like in the winter. Does the street get plowed?

    I can’t believe this is being debated.

    • nadnerb

      ha I didn’t even think about that. there is no way this street gets plowed.

      • Westover

        The county has plows on pickups just for these small streets. They get the lowest priority.

    • Bruce

      For obvious health and safety reasons, prohibit parking on one side of each block with these narrow streets. If the property owners in a block want parking on both sides of the street, then the abutting property owners should each dedicate a few feet on their property for block by block street widening projects after which the parking prohibition will be removed.

  • DT

    Guess what neighborhood Jay Fisette lives in:
    A) Lyon Park
    B) Lyon Park
    C) Lyon Park

    Good luck!

    • NoneOfTheAbove!

      That’s the answer.

    • dave schutz

      those of us who live in Ashton Heights have generally claimed him as ours.

      • DT

        They are one in the same for this exercise.

    • SoCo Resident

      Lyon Parkers, like Mr. Fishette, never think the rules apply to them. LPCA Pres. Natalie Roy mentions the elderly on this block but doesn’t seem concerned if emergency vehicles get to them in life-saving time!

  • Observer

    Time to find a new board, how insane

  • not a problem

    Only 3-4 houses lack driveways, but for some reason many neighbors do not use their driveways. One house has a walkway and grass where a driveway used to be located. All but one house could add a driveway/parking space.

  • SouthArlingtonRes

    I also live on a very narrow street. The trash truck has always had a problem getting through, and sometimes it is very difficult just for cars to navigate around the vehicles that were parked on both sides. I always felt there should be parking on one side only (every house has a driveway), but it wasn’t until the fire department was unable to get through to respond to a medical emergency that anything was done about it. Less than a week later, “No Parking” signs showed up on one side of the street. HOWEVER, the residents were NEVER notified, and it came as a shock to everyone. Not that I mind, though. Since then, it has been so much easier to drive down the street.

  • Todd

    To solve the garbage truck issue, couldn’t they just limit parking on collection days? Kind of how NYC has alternate side parking on different days to allow street cleaners through.

    • Josh S

      Or street sweeping regulations in many cities.

  • Why would you question the fire department? It’s a matter of life and death and a group of individuals are making a decision about how to save lives easier. What is there to question? Is all the parking in Arlington County worth some ones burnt face? A death? Even a dead pet?

    • John Fontain

      Looks like the residents believe that their own personal parking convenience takes priority over the ability of fire and rescue to service their neighbors in the event of an emergency.

  • Bluemont John

    OK, so it sounds like the fire trucks really can’t get in–which renders the garbage-collection issue moot. (If the latter were the only problem, I think Todd’s idea above would work well.) So after reading all the comments, I think this would work:

    Restrict parking to one side only. To compensate the people on the side that lost parking, designate at least one specific parking space on the remaining side for each home on the street, including the opposite side (now with no parking).

    So if you’re on the parking side, your house would perhaps have two spots to the left in front for you and two in front to the right, for your across-the-street neighbor.

    In other words, make it property-specific zoned parking, and then give each property free decals for life, to make up for the inconvenience and diminished home value.

    Of course, this would require the County to think outside the box and be practical and fair–so maybe it’s a nonstarter.

    • Cranky Crankypants

      Let me get this straight – I am really not sure I understand what you are saying. You want to designate a street parking space for people who don’t have driveways when your tax dollars and mine have paid for that street? Why not just sign over the road in an easement to the homeowners and be done with it?

      • Westover

        We already essentially do it with zoned parking.

      • Bluemont John

        The street would still be open to the public, just as it is now. What I’m suggesting would actually make it more publicly accessible; with cars only on one side, there would be more space for driving. The way it is now, with cars on both sides, you’re not getting the use of that asphalt (under the parked cars) anyway, even if you can get down the middle of the street. So the public would lose nothing and would actually gain some ease of use.

        And this would cost the rest of us almost nothing, save for the printing cost of the decals, which I’m sure is way, way below what the County normally charges for them.

        It’s true that no one owns the spot in front of their home, but it’s also true that in an SFH neighborhood, on-street parking is a long-established custom and convenience. Put yourself in these residents’ shoes; if it was your own spot being taken away, wouldn’t you think it only fair that you be given something to compensate for that?

  • Sunny617

    Am I the only one who is appalled by this statement?
    “The fire truck can be a once in several year occurrence,” said County Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes. “I don’t want a solution for the once every five year event. I want solutions that make livability on this street reasonable.”

    Yowsa. I’m sure that will be comforting to a family who loses their house because it took extra time for help to get to them. Hey, Mary: Having to walk a little farther to your car doesn’t make your house “unlivable,” but a fire sure does.

    The fire chief must bang his head against the wall…no one listens to him and then when tragedy strikes he’ll get the blame. Why does it always take a crisis or tragedy for change to occur? Bookmark this article…people were warned.

    • Westover

      Mary Hynes has not proven herself too bright here.

    • NArl

      I agree with you, and I am a life long dem. but this county board has got to go. Lets get some fresh blood in there. As with water that doesn’t change it becomes stale and not drinkable so does the Arlington County Board with no changes. TERM LIMITS FOR THE COUNTY BOARD!

    • SoCo Resident

      Mary Hynes should be ashamed of herself for not being concernd about a life-saving event that may happen once in several years. What a pathetic statement on the part of an elected official who is supposed to protect the public welfare. She joins with Mr. Fishette and Ms. Roy is being unconcerned about the safety of the elderly residents of this block and this community!

  • NArl

    Well when the houses in that neighborhood need either medical help and or a fire breaks out they only have themselves to b*tch too when someonw dies. Here in Arlington a fire truck gets dipatched to every emergency as well as an ambulance. So the family members of the dead can sue the neighborhood for causing it with there parked cars. I know a good attorney if anyone needs one.

  • streetsense

    roads are for driving, parking on the street is a benefit not a right. build a driveway (green driveway – less expensive) and remove your cars from the street. fire trucks need access and i would be furious if my house burned to the ground because a fire truck could not access because of a parking issue. you all better hope your insurance companies don’t know about this, you may lose your fire coverage.

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