Arlington, VA

What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington is beginning to wrap up an important long-term plan for Arlington street safety: Vision Zero.

In July 2019 the County Board resolved to the concept that no death or severe injury in Arlington County streets or trails is acceptable. To achieve these ideals staff and community members have joined the Vision Zero Network to create a comprehensive plan based on analysis of traffic collisions in the county.

Vision Zero recommendations have been made in engineering, enforcement, education, and data analysis. Focus has also been paid to ensuring no one is disproportionately affected by crashes and creating a culture of safety so every member of our community feels responsible for contributing to the safety of our transportation system.

Last year I was able to join this working group and see how it has incorporated some of the best parts of urban planning and also exposed some of the systemic issues that exist in many transportation related planning initiatives.

Two of the most important and impressive parts of Vision Zero has been their data driven evaluation and the partnerships with the many agencies that make up our transportation network. One hurdle to this process, and many other transportation related processes, is a complex network of agencies that are required to be involved in the implementation of these improvements.

The data collected for Vision Zero is vast and detailed. The High Injury Network captures about 80% of all serious or fatal crashes and is able to zero in on just 7% of the roadways in the county. This is further broken down by transportation mode, and hot spot locations.

As shown in the map, a significant amount of these incidents occur on state owned (VDOT) roadways such as Arlington Boulevard, Glebe Road, Lee Highway, I-395 and I-66. If improvements need to be made to any of these areas there is a more onerous process that is needed to alter the landscape of these roads.

In order to receive funding for a project on these roads local jurisdictions must apply to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). Recently this has been in six year program plans that are conducted every other year. Recently there has also been a decrease in total NVTA funds available from the state legislature.

All of this makes it more likely that local jurisdictions will apply for major funding projects that will have a big impact on our regional transportation network and less likely that localities will apply for smaller projects or improvements that would help with safety concerns like crosswalk improvements.

In my opinion it would be helpful for NVTA to create a small separate fund with an expedited process for smaller scale projects that are needed more immediately for safety improvements.

Overall the Vision Zero program will be a significant help in creating regular system-wide checks for street safety and reducing serious injury or death in our community. The last opportunity for feedback closes this Sunday February 28th and I encourage everyone to provide your own thoughts on the process.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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