Arlington, VA

After a man was struck by a car in the middle of a Bluemont intersection, some of his neighbors see new urgency for their years-long effort to force the county to improve conditions for pedestrians in the area.

County police say Eric Larsen was crossing N. Carlin Springs Road near its intersection with N. Edison Street early in the morning last Monday (July 16), when a car slammed into him. Larsen was taken to George Washington University hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and neighbors say he’s still recovering from some broken bones caused by the crash.

Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says “charges are pending” against the driver, but people living in the area see the intersection’s design deficiencies as the real cause of the crash.

Lora Strine, who lives in the Arlington Forest neighborhood nearby, says her citizens’ association has pressed the county for changes in the area going back to at least 2016. She points out that Carlin Springs is a popular option for walkers looking to reach the Ballston Metro, as Larsen was at the time of the accident, or even the Safeway near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive.

Yet Strine says the area lacks clearly marked crosswalks or traffic calming measures to slow drivers, particularly on such a wide road, and she can’t understand why it’s taken the county so long to address the issue.

“This accident is not really an accident,” Strine told ARLnow. “It’s really been years in the making.”

Arlington officials point out that they’re hardly ignoring the area, however.

County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says workers plan to install a flashing sign that can be activated by pedestrians crossing Carlin Springs near the road’s intersection with N. Harrison Street, just a few blocks from the Larsen crash. That signal should be in place as soon as next month.

Balliet added that the county is also planning some curb extensions and crosswalk improvements all along Carlin Springs, leading up to Edison Street, with work set to start in the spring of 2019 and wrap up the following year.

But Strine feels that’s far too long for the neighborhood to wait, and managed to secure a meeting with county staff and County Board member John Vihstadt to make that argument.

Vihstadt says “the jury is still out” in terms of how, exactly, the Board might be able to speed up the construction, though he certainly agrees with Strine’s assessment of the intersection. He’s spent the last year or so working with Arlington Forest residents on the issue, and he sees a need for the county to act quickly, as development in Ballston continues to ramp up and bring people to the area.

“That’s an awful long time to wait for these measures,” Vihstadt said. said. “I don’t find that  acceptable at all.”

At the very least, Vihstadt hopes to see the county beef up the webpage displaying details about the road improvements to keep neighbors better informed.

But even if Vihstadt can successfully convince officials to speed up construction, Strine worries that the work won’t actually slow cars speeding along Carlin Springs. She’d much rather see an additional stop light in the area, or even a stop sign, to bring speeds down.

“They’re wasting time and money by making changes that we know aren’t going to work,” Strine said. “These are just incremental changes: another Band-Aid, as one of my neighbors said.”

While county officials are confident that their planned changes will indeed slow passing cars, Vihstadt agreed that he wants to see the county do more to take into account “context-specific considerations” raised by neighbors about local road projects.

Overall, he lamented that this latest community clash is indicative of a pattern he’s seen all around Arlington in recent years, and provides a clear example of how the county still struggles to balance traffic congestion and pedestrian safety.

“While we like to say that our public policies like ‘the car-free diet‘ are having a positive impact on Arlington traffic, and I think they are, a lot of neighborhoods don’t yet feel that way,” Vihstadt said.

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