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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sleepy Hollow Road residents oppose sidewalks

Signs like this line Sleepy Hollow Road.
People who live on Sleepy Hollow Road filled the large meeting room at the Mason Government Center April 23 to complain about an upcoming sidewalk project.

Residents expressed anger about the possibility of losing part of their front yards and mature trees – and the potential for declining property values. Many wore buttons with the slogan “Don’t bulldoze our yards.”
More than 100 people attend a meeting on Sleepy Hollow sidewalks. 
When a resident asked Mason Supervisor Penny Gross to stop the sidewalk project, she said, “I’m not interested in shutting this down. I’m interested in making it better.”

“We’ve been trying to improve pedestrian access on all roads,” Gross said. “It’s the responsibility of local government to make things safer for everybody.” She promised to look at the comments and consider how to improve the project. “This is a work in progress. Let’s give it a chance.”

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation could revise the sidewalk design in light of public feedback, said FCDOT Director Tom Biesiadny. However, “the project is moving forward,” he said. Comments can be submitted online.

Island refuges

Project manager Mark VanZandt told the audience the project has already been revised since it was first presented to the public last May. For example, the sidewalk between Eppard Street and Aspen Lane was shifted from the east side to the west side of Sleepy Hollow Road.

In another change, the sidewalk between Holmes Run Road and Aspen Lane will be located in the existing parking lane instead of on residents’ front yards. That portion of the sidewalk will be seven feet wide, instead of five, so it could be used by bicyclists, as well as pedestrians.

And instead of a pedestrian signal at Bay Tree Lane, an “island refuge” will be installed in the middle of Sleepy Hollow to give pedestrians a safe place to stand as they cross the street. Concrete pedestrian refuges are also planned at Eppard Street, Aspen Lane, Dearborn Drive, Kennedy Lane, and Castle Place.

With these changes, VanZandt said, the amount of land rights the county will need to obtain from residents would be “drastically reduced.” FCDOT would still need temporary easements for the construction period.

FCDOT is still planning to put up a retaining wall, topped with a railing, between Valley Brook Drive and the entrance to Sleepy Hollow United Methodist Church, near Dearborn Drive, and at other locations.

Development planned

The purpose of the project, VanZandt said, is to “provide a safe, separated ADA-compliant walkway to connect existing sidewalks on the Sleepy Hollow corridor.” The project consists of 4,400 linear feet of new walkway.

There is one gap in the sidewalk project, however. It does not call for a sidewalk along the wooded Glavis property – between the church and Malbrook Drive – because the owner is planning to develop houses there.

The owner can build up to 20 houses there by right – meaning the project won’t need to be rezoned, so there wouldn’t need to be a public hearing and the county couldn’t force the developer to pay for a sidewalk.

The design plans for the project should be 90 percent completed by fall 2018, VanZandt said. Utility review and plat development would take place next winter.

Land acquisition negotiations with homeowners would occur in spring 2020, and the county would apply for VDOT construction permits in fall 2020. Construction would take about a year, with the work done in the daytime but not during rush hours.

Several people at the meeting questioned why sidewalks are needed, as there are few pedestrians along Sleepy Hollow and there have been few pedestrian accidents.

Chris Wells, FCDOT’s bicycle and pedestrian programs manager, said people aren’t walking there now because it’s not safe. Once the sidewalks are built, he anticipates many people will use them.

Too much concrete

Other people complained about the loss of the tree canopy and natural habitat, “too much ugly concrete,” the potential urbanization in a green, suburban corridor, and the fact that the estimated cost of $5 million – including land acquisition, as well as design and construction – seems low.

“We want sidewalks,” one resident said, but “this is a significant construction project that changes the entire look and feel of Sleepy Hollow Road.”

Biesiadny said the project was on a list of 400 projects evaluated as part of a countywide dialogue on transportation needs in 2012. Projects recommended by FCDOT were approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2014.

While those opposed to the project packed the meeting, there was at least one person who spoke in favor of new sidewalks on Sleepy Hollow Road. “My kid nearly got hit by a car,” he said. “Kids should be able to walk to elementary school, to a park, and to a friend’s house. We need more sidewalks, not less.”

23 comments:

  1. Development has pretty much wrecked once bucolic Sleepy Hollow Rd. I'm hoping the county stays out of the side streets. Otherwise, the entire area will quickly devolve into one indistinguishable urban sprawl. Sparky

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  2. As someone who takes a lot of pride and puts a lot of hard work into my yard, I feel for the homeowners effected, but I am excited about the opportunity to safely walk along Sleepy Hollow. The people commenting that "no one" walks there should know it's only because it nerve wracking and not safe as it currently is.

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    1. "The people commenting that "no one" walks there should know it's only because it nerve wracking and not safe as it currently is."

      Yup.

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  3. (also posted on the previous blog article)

    It was definitely a contentious meeting. Some folks pressed the county personnel for responses to what were clearly statements, which was borderline uncivil, but kudos to the FCDOT staff for the way they handled the session.

    I certainly can sympathize with the folks who are directly impacted, especially those that could be facing retaining wall construction. I heard a lot of anger last night, but I do think many there were working off of old, inaccurate, or incomplete information.

    For instance, the bulk of the project was moved so that it is taking up the west side parking lane (leaving the east side intact). That means the county will be barely touching those folks' yards - only requiring a temporary easement. It also means that the amount of paved surface - at least along that section - is likely to decrease, not increase. Yet folks kept lamenting on how the project was adding so much concrete and would be so impactful to their yards... I seriously wonder if anyone was actually listening to what the project planners were saying or if they were just there to vent based off of inaccurate - or outdated - details they had gotten via social media, word of mouth, etc?

    Now, certainly FCDOT needs to do a better job of communicating some of the specifics. They had posted the boards on their website, but those didn't do a good job of showing other changes that were made from 2017 which their powerpoint did which many just saw that night. It would have been good to see that ahead of time. They also said they had been reaching out, but I don't think anyone in the room had been reached by FCDOT, but rather they heard about it via social media, this blog, or perhaps Penny's newsletter. FCDOT must do better with their communication.

    Anyways, one thing that was clear is that the public comment period is open. If you oppose the project, make that known via public comment. If you support the project, make that known via public comment. If you have constructive criticism, please also make that known via public comment. Especially regarding the last bit - The project evolved quite a bit from last year to this year based on constructive criticism given by the public last year, so the county has shown up to this point that they are really trying to incorporate feedback. You can provide feedback using the feedback form on their website: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/transportation/projects/sleepy-hollow-walkway

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  4. Regarding 'too much concrete' and ruining the 'natural' look of the road: Could we create a sidewalk or pathway with a material other than concrete? A more natural material that would blend in with the wood/trees?

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  5. I find it utterly bizarre that there are so few sidewalks in Annandale. I live in Hillbrook where we have these weird open gutters, some of them quite steep, no curbs and no sidewalks so kids have a safe place to walk to the bus stop or to each other's house. We moved her three years ago and thought it was the weirdest thing that there aren't sidewalks. I would welcome them in my neighborhood.

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  6. Why does Fairfax County even bother to have meetings like this? They'll listen and then do just what they had planned all along. That's what they did with JEB Stuart. Waste of everyone's time.

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  7. I missed the meeting but I’m curious if the need is really for sidewalks or just for pedestrian crossings? Why would anyone want to walk up or down Sleepy Hollow? So many other places to take a walk. I can understand wanting to cross it though.

    And then separately, I’d vote for a traffic light at Castle; rather than a pedestrian refuge island. So many people cut through from 50 through the storage place that it’s almost impossible to make left turn from Castle onto Sleepy Hollow during evening rush hour. And then you add in pedestrians, forget about turning left.

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    1. I nearly got hit by cars multiple times running on Sleepy Hollow while in Stuart Cross Country. I also have used this road several times to get to various friends' houses both on bike and on foot while in high school. There are places in this road where it is impossible to not be in the street (even if on the side of it) when walking on it. This project is desperately needed to protect high-schoolers walking home or to friends' houses at the very LEAST. They're not taking a walk for fun, they're walking because they missed the bus.

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    2. The absences of a sidewalk or bikeway not withstanding, Why wouldn't you want to walk on sleepy hollow? We walk it several times a week when the weather is nice.

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  8. Where is FCDOT's evidence that once the sidewalks are built, "many people will use them." By their representative's own admission, it is only "anticipated." Was there a survey? How about pedestrian accidents? Any evidence that there is a higher incidence of pedestrian accidents? If the evidence supports the sidewalks, fine.
    But otherwise this sounds like a do-gooder project. It strains credulity that this is based on actual evidence. As for empirical evidence, I have driven Sleepy Hollow Road virtually every day, sometimes multiple times, at various times of the day for fifteen years and have seen little pedestrian traffic. Obviously there are alternatives or we'd see more folks on the road. I'd like to see a study of pedestrian use today and one after the project is done. I'd be willing to bet it is an immaterial change.

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  9. I have to say, I don't understand all of the comments that there are few pedestrians on Sleep Hollow. I drive that stretch every day, and every day I see at least one pedestrian, often more. This past Sunday I counted 3 runners, 2 walkers (one with stroller) and 2 cyclists. It is dangerous for pedestrians--walking around parked cars, or avoiding turning vehicles that don't observe the parking lanes.

    The need is there and the plan has been in place for years and I'm honestly surprised at the reaction to this project. In most places I've lived sidewalks were a sign of a good, safe neighborhood and raised property values!

    Although at this point, this seems to be the reaction to every plan or non-plan, or canceled plan for development in Annandale, so it shouldn't surprise me anymore.

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    1. "Although at this point, this seems to be the reaction to every plan or non-plan, or canceled plan for development in Annandale, so it shouldn't surprise me anymore."

      This. Everytime there is a project of any type, People who apparently live here, but think it's a craphole, and always complain about the lack of investment in the Mason district, come out and complain about planned/potential investments in the Mason District as ill-planned, ill-executed, sweetheart deals, cronyism, et cetera. The

      I am stoked for sidewalks on Sleepy Hollow Road, and wish they'd put some on Holmes Run Road too. Honestly, any road wide enough and traveled enough to have a center line needs a sidewalk.

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    2. All of this comes from people who neither walk nor bike. Our community has sidewalks and they are used frequently. It makes me feel safer and animates the community with humans instead of just humming vehicles.

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  10. I see runners all the time on Sleepy Hollow. I think the sidewalks would be a great addition to the community and provide a measure of safety.

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  11. a bike path from sleepy hollow rd. to Justice High School would be a great way to get kids to walk or bike to school!

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  12. I’m actually in favor of the sidewalks. If out for a leisurely walk, I wouldn’t choose Sleepy Hollow due the high congestion of cars. And, I appreciate the high schooler point of view.

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  13. We need to make Annandale more walkable sidewalks if we want it to develop more. The future is walkable, and without sidwealks no one will want to risk walking on streets to become roadkill!

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  14. We actually looked to buy in Sleepy Hollow and found the lack of sidewalks a HUGE turnoff. Sidewalks promotes walking and knowing your neighbors. It makes it safer to be out in the darker months to walk a dog. It increases value to a neighborhood. I honestly was shocked that people would be against sidewalks.

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  15. I begged Penny Gross 20 years ago to please place sidewalks all aling Sleepy Hollow Road. She told me it would never happen while my kids were young. He is now 22 and it about time!!! We need sidewalks for safety and to encourage walking. It’s a safety and health promotion plan. How on earth anyone can oppose this is beyond me.
    From a person who Lives on Sleepy Hollow Road.

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  16. We chose our house in Annandale rather than the Mantua neighborhood precisely bc it had sidewalks. Making an area walkable makes better and healthier neighbors.

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  17. I agree that sidewalks would be nice, but I don't live near Sleepy Hollow Road anymore, and I believe that when in doubt, defer to the people whose trees might be ripped from the ground! When the beltway was expanded, hundreds of trees not far from my house were hewn to the ground. Yes, there's a sound-barrier wall, but it's not the same at all. Trees and shrubbery have more value (to both humans and other animals) than some around here think they have.

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