Advocates renew call for safer conditions on S. Carlin Springs Road after teen on bike struck

A utility pole blocks a narrow sidewalk, bordering four lanes of traffic on S. Carlin Springs Road (via Google Maps)

After a driver collided with a child on a bicycle on S. Carlin Springs Road this week, neighbors and advocates are calling for street safety upgrades.

For its part, Arlington County says it has already been working on safety measures for the area, which has narrow sidewalks, little or no pedestrian buffer and a history of crashes. Upcoming steps include reducing speeds near the schools in the area: Kenmore Middle School and Carlin Springs Elementary.

“We are looking into the details from police regarding the crash and will identify next steps based on the report,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien said.

And Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti has recently gotten involved, too. He tells ARLnow he has walked the area with advocates and will be meeting with staff next week.

“First and foremost, I understand that the young man is okay and the safety of our kids and our residents is highest on my mind,” de Ferranti said. “Second, the accident raises important and urgent questions about safety in that whole corridor… We need to do better to address them.”

How the crash happened

Just before 7 p.m. on Monday, a driver traveling south on S. Carlin Springs Road proceeded through a green light and struck a juvenile riding a bicycle in the crosswalk, Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.

The driver remained on scene. The child, who did not require a trip to the hospital for treatment, was tended to on scene by medics, Savage said. No citations were issued.

While ACPD does not provide identifying information, she did say the child involved was older than first reported on social media.

A history of unsafe sidewalks 

Community advocate Janeth Valenzuela tells ARLnow that she passed by the crash around 6:45 p.m. and saw emergency responders. She says she’s been working on safety along S. Carlin Springs Road for many years now, and has suggested everything from building a bridge for kids crossing the road to erecting a fence to prevent kids from getting pushed into the street.

“I’ve been proposing a lot of things, but they don’t take it into consideration,” she said. “The solution is hard.”

S. Carlin Springs Road is an important walking route for Kenmore students, but she and other residents say the pedestrian amenities are poor. Sidewalks are narrow and not well maintained and often do not have any landscaping separating pedestrians from traffic.

Narrow sidewalks provide no separation between pedestrians and drivers on S. Carlin Springs Road (via Google Maps)

And people have been telling the county the same thing for nearly a decade, according to a 2014 report by the APS Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Committee and Advisory Committee on Transportation Choices meeting minutes from 2017.

During one ACTC meeting in 2017, a father said moms with strollers pass kids playfully shoving each other on the sidewalk as cars whiz right next to them. In the winter, if the sidewalks aren’t plowed, kids walk in the road, he added.

What’s being done

A number of short-term changes were made in 2020 and 2021 in response to findings from a safety study of S. Carlin Springs Road that kicked off in 2018.

The study yielded a list of short-, medium- and long-term actions to take, from curb extensions to high-visibility crosswalks.

“While many short term, quick-build projects have been implemented, the County continues to pursue larger scale improvement projects — for example a signal upgrade and intersection improvement project at 3rd Street S. & S. Carlin Springs Rd,” O’Brien wrote.

But de Ferranti said the crash should motivate the county to act “with more urgency.”

“The timing of the study is still a ways away from being done,” he said. “That’s not soon enough to take some steps to address as many of the safety problems as possible.”

Meanwhile, the next round of School Slow Zones — an initiative where the county reduces speed limits around school buildings — will include Kenmore, Carlin Springs and Campbell Elementary, O’Brien said.

The school zone speed limit, which is applicable at arrival and dismissal, will be reduced from 25 mph to 20 mph. Neighborhood streets near school access points will become permanent 20 mph zones.

Last year the county temporarily closed the northbound right travel lane of S. Carlin Springs Road from 8th Place S. to 5th Road S., using bollards, wheel stops, barriers and traffic barrels, to create a safer walking path for students.

But it halted that Vision Zero Pilot Project after APS, police and community members observed “erratic driving around the barriers.”

According to a May report that evaluates the first year of the transportation safety initiative Vision Zero, county staff will continue assessing options for “enhancing sidewalks and access along the corridor, including connectivity options when the County redevelops the Virginia Hospital Center site.”

This school year Campbell, which is located along S. Carlin Springs Road south of Kenmore, stopped parent pick-up after school in an effort to reduce traffic, asking families to have their kids walk home or take the bus instead.

Frustrated advocacy efforts

De Ferranti’s walk with advocates, including Valenzuela and Elder Julio Basurto, happened a few days before the crash.

And that walk was treacherous, says Basurto, who recently founded Juntos en Justicia (Together in Justice) with Valenzuela to better advocate for Arlington’s low income households and immigrant communities.

“Janeth and I walked there that day we almost got hit four times,” said Basurto.

Valenzuela and Basurto have done the same walk with members of the Transportation Commission and County Board member Takis Karantonis. But there hasn’t been much of a response, Valenzuela said.

“We’ve been saying we need to change this and improve the walking signs for our kids,” she added. “The county needs to do something different.”

De Ferranti suggests cleaning up the sidewalks and adding landscaping. He says he’ll be talking with staff about adding a signalized left turn at 7th Road S. near Campbell Elementary School, and adding a flashing sign showing drivers their speeds.

But larger-scale projects like widening the sidewalks across the street from Kenmore would require easements from every home.

“Just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean we should take steps to address individual problem spots along the corridor,” he said.

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