No speed limit reduction coming to S. Carlin Springs, despite some County Board concerns

A crash on S. Carlin Springs Road on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023 (courtesy anonymous)

Safety concerns about crash-prone S. Carlin Springs Road dominated an Arlington County Board discussion on speed limit reductions yesterday (Tuesday).

The stretch of Carlin Springs south of Arlington Blvd saw a total of 92 crashes, including three involving severe injuries or deaths, between 2016 and 2021, according to a county study. However, it is not among the five other roads, including part of N. Carlin Springs, that are expected to have speed limits reduced from 30 to 25 mph.

The roads set for speed limit decreases are:

  1. Military Road from Nelly Custis Drive to Langston Blvd, through the Donaldson Run and Cherrydale neighborhoods
  2. N. Carlin Springs Road from N. Glebe Road to N. George Mason Drive, through Arlington Forest
  3. N. George Mason Drive from N. Carlin Springs Road to Arlington Blvd, through Buckingham
  4. Fairfax Drive from N. Kirkwood Road to I-66 ramps, through Virginia Square
  5. 10th Street N. from Washington Blvd to N. Kirkwood Road, near Clarendon

Several Board members voiced reluctance prior to a unanimous vote in favor of advertising the proposed speed limit changes. They were ultimately swayed by arguments that reducing the speed limit on S. Carlin Springs would be ineffective and would, in fact, be inconsistent with the law because it is not supported by an engineering study.

“I think that this is just an opening on a long conversation we’ll have that will get us to a safer street, and that is not [happening] today,” said Vice-Chair Takis Karantonis.

Deputy Director of Transportation Hui Wang stressed that county staff want to decrease speeding on S. Carlin Springs.

However, she argued that many drivers are unlikely to heed speed limit signs if a road appears “open and inviting.” Creating a high “speed differential” between people who follow the speed limit and people who don’t can lead to more crashes, she said.

“We very strongly believe… changing the speed limit sign alone doesn’t do a good job, and may have an adverse effect,” Wang said.

For years, residents have advocated for reduced speed limits on S. Carlin Springs, which contains walk zones for Carlin Springs and Campbell elementary schools as well as Kenmore Middle School. In addition to speeding, concerns include narrow sidewalks and thin median strips.

Last September, two cars collided on this road while students were on their way to school.

Given this history, Board member Maureen Coffey said she was initially puzzled by the county staff recommendation.

“It was very perplexing to see something that seemed to list a bunch of problems along the road, but then come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t lower the speed limit,” she said.

At present, the county is focusing on infrastructure improvements to S. Carlin Springs including traffic signal and sidewalk upgrades at 6th Street, 3rd Street and 5th Road S., Wang said. The county is also in the process of installing automated speed enforcement on portions of the road.

These changes are intended to create a new “context” for drivers that will make them more likely to obey a reduced speed limit along the four-lane highway.

“Once we confirm that is the case, we will come back to the Board in recommending other segments for speed reduction,” Wang said.

Julie Lee, president of the Glencarlyn Civic Association, said in an interview that she is disappointed by the Board’s decision and the danger that she believes school children continue to face.

“Just because the solutions are difficult does not mean that this problem can be ignored,” she said.

At a minimum, Lee called for additional crossing guards and yellow flashing pedestrian lights along S. Carlin Springs.

County staff noted that under Virginia law, reducing a speed limit requires the support of an engineering study.

Wang said there are significant differences between the portion of N. Carlin Springs that is getting a speed limit reduction — the stretch between N. Glebe Road and N. George Mason Drive — and the rest of the roadway. More pedestrians cross that part of Carlin Springs each day, while narrower roads create more context encouraging drivers to slow down.

Despite this, Wang said that her team ultimately aims to lower the speed limit on S. Carlin Springs.

“We want it and we want it hard,” she said. “We just want to do it at the right time that causes the least unintended consequences.”