Did you know that Fairfax City is considered the 6th most walkable place in Virginia by Walkscore.com? That may seem surprising to anyone who has tried to go for a leisurely stroll along Fairfax Boulevard, or to cross North Street in front of the library, but it is true.
The reason is in the way the Walkscore is calculated. For anyone who is not familiar with the website, Walkscore.com is a tool that provides a score on walkability for any address in the United States as well as aggregate data for thousands for census designated places. It is often used by real estate agents to promote walkability as a selling point for houses, but is increasingly being used by planning agencies, developers, and other groups as a data resource.
The walkscore is calculated by determining how much “stuff”, such as grocery stores, restaurants, parks and schools, is within walking distance of a particular address. The website is often criticized for their methodology because it doesn’t take into account the condition of the pedestrian environment - the grocery store might be 500’ from your house, but you can’t walk there if there is an eight lane highway in between. As an example, Bailey’s Crossroads is tied with Arlington as the most walkable place in Virginia according to walkscore.com. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that Bailey’s Crossroads is not an ideal place to walk around, but you have to admit that there is a lot of “stuff” there.
This isn’t to say that the walkscore calculation is completely invalid. In fact, it says a lot about what we have in Fairfax. Our walkscore is high because we also have a lot of “stuff” within walking distance of where most of us within the city limits live. The problem is that the infrastructure often works against that walkability. We can take advantage of our proximity situation by improving infrastructure in two ways.1. Improve the pedestrian environment:
Aside from the occasional missing sidewalk, most neighborhoods in Fairfax provide pleasant environments for pedestrians. The main thoroughfares, on the other hand, can be quite intimidating, with fast moving traffic, sidewalks located close to the road, large gaps with no crossing opportunities, and long crosswalks across up to ten lanes of traffic. This can be improved through new development with buildings closer to the street, wider sidewalks, buffers (such as trees, planting, and even on-street parking between the sidewalk and the road), new and consolidated intersections with pedestrian crossings, and redesigned intersections to slow traffic, encourage motorists to be aware of pedestrians and minimize crossing distances. As an example, the city is considering requiring the developer of the proposed Fairfax Circle Plaza redevelopment to install a new traffic signal on Route 50 to improve access. That location happens to currently receive a lot of jay-walking due to a mid-block bus stop. In addition, they are considering pedestrian improvements to the intersection of Route 50 and Picket Road to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to access the development from areas to the south and east more safely.
2. Improve connectivity:
On the other side of the town, a developer proposing a project in Kamp Washington is working with walkscore.com to show how the improved connectivity resulting from their project would improve the walkscore for surrounding neighborhoods. The developer is proposing a new pedestrian walkway from the south end of Bevan Drive (at Fairfax Boulevard) through their site, to connect to Lee Highway about 1,000 feet to the south. The attached image shows a before and after walkscore factoring in connectivity and based on ability to walk to 3-5 goods and services. You can see that this would benefit residents of Fairchester Woods the most, partially because of retail within the new development, and partially because they would have more direct access to retail along Lee Highway. These types of small moves can help provide people across the city with better access to goods and services without infringing upon existing neighborhoods.
In the end, the goal isn’t simply to improve a number on some web-site - but to take advantage the goods, services, parks, schools, and all other amenities within The City of Fairfax by improving access for those of us who live here. With the potential for seven major redevelopment projects coming forward in the next couple of years, we have the opportunity to leverage the development community to make things better for existing residents as well as new.