|Residents complain about NOVA students on Wakefield Chapel Road.|
People who live close to the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Annandale campus have been complaining about students parking on Wakefield Chapel Road and side streets for years.
The familiar litany of grievances was aired again Feb. 25 at the most recent quarterly meeting on NOVA/neighborhood issues hosted by Braddock Supervisor John Cook: Students who can’t afford NOVA’s parking fees are blocking residents’ driveways and walking on their lawns. Too many cars are speeding on Wakefield Chapel. The traffic is making it hard to exit Wakefield Chapel onto Little River Turnpike or Braddock Road.
Several people said students walking in the street at night wearing dark hoodies and distracted by cell phones are an accident waiting to happen.
Residents have organized a petition drive to urge NOVA to changes its parking policies—by eliminating the parking fees or reducing the cost. “This problem will never go away as long as you charge kids to park,” said one resident. “The college has no interest in being a good neighbor,” another resident complained. A comment from the audience that NOVA should bear the brunt of resolving the parking problem, not taxpayers or residents, was met with applause.
“We are listening. We are addressing some of your concerns,” said NOVA Annandale campus Provost Barbara Saperstone. She said NOVA has hired two police officers to monitor the Wakefield Chapel entrances to the college and help people get in and out during the busiest times, 8-11 a.m. and 1-4 p.m.
Saperstone also said students and staff will be given access to a web-based carpooling service called Zimride. The college hopes to initiate a shuttle service this fall to connect the campus with Metro stations and NOVA’s Alexandria campus. Other solutions under consideration include spreading out the class schedule so more courses will be offered on Fridays and weekends, reducing or eliminating parking costs on weekends, and having parking fees covered in financial aid.
NOVA cannot eliminate the parking fee, Saperstone said, because the college depends on the revenue to pay off its bond for building the parking garage.
Cook outlined several steps that have been taken to address traffic problems on Wakefield Chapel Road, including additional signs aimed at enforcing the speed limit and bike lanes to slow down traffic. One resident complained that the bike lanes along Wakefield Chapel have created more problems than they solved, noting students are using them for parking.
Someone else suggested the Virginia Department of Transportation put in crosswalks, but Randy Dittberner, VDOT regional traffic engineer, said it’s not a good idea to put crosswalks in the middle of a block, because they don’t slow down drivers and they give pedestrians “a false sense of security.”
Dittberner said crash statistics for Wakefield Chapel Road during the period 2006-11 showed most accidents occurred at the two end points: There were an average of 11 crashes a year at the Route 236 intersection and an average of 13 a year at Braddock Road. There were four to six crashes annually at each of the three entrances to NOVA and zero or one crash a year at other locations on the road. There was one accident involving a pedestrian and one involving a bicyclist during the five-year period.
One resident disputed those statistics, noting most crashes aren’t reported. He insisted there’s an accident every other day on Wakefield Chapel at Route 236.
Cook suggested creating another residential parking district (RPD), which means parking would be restricted to permit holders. To get an RPD, 60 percent of the residents of the area of the proposed RPD and 50 percent of the people in each block have to approve, and the Board of Supervisors has to sign off on it.
Cook said he plans to set up an advisory group with community members to explore more solutions to the NOVA parking issue.