Park Service presents options under consideration for improving Parkway safety

Members of the public viewing displays at the Park Service meeting
Community members look at information provided by the Park Service at Tuesday’s meeting. (Erika Christ image)

The National Park Service has received more than 700 comments from the general public about safety concerns along the southern end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway since July 2019, GW Parkway Superintendent Charles Cuvelier said Tuesday evening at a community meeting about Parkway safety.

Speaking at the Park Service open house at Walt Whitman Middle School, Cuvelier joined other Parkway staff, traffic engineers and U.S. Park Police in presenting several of the engineering, education and enforcement solutions under consideration, as well as some of the locations where they might be implemented.

Artist's depiction of the Morningside Lane Intersection after a "road diet"
(National Park Service image)

To address the public’s top safety concerns about vehicle speeds along the Parkway, the Park Service is weighing options ranging from an educational speed management action plan to driver speed feedback radar signs, reduced speed limits, and better speed enforcement via a “new injection of officers,” according to Park Police Lt. Allan Stone. The Park Service also has been in discussion with authorities at Fort Belvoir about leveraging garrison communications channels to educate Belvoir commuters about safer Parkway driving behavior.

Recent Park Police efforts to improve speed enforcement along the entire Parkway between I-495 and Mount Vernon have led to a 35 percent reduction in motor vehicle accidents between 2018 and 2019, Cuvelier said. The superintendent added that public opinion about installing speed cameras was about evenly divided, but that the cameras raised a larger issue involving data requirements.

More than half the comments submitted so far have been related to the Belle View Boulevard and Belle Haven Road intersections, where nearly 125 crashes occurred over a five-year period.

To help improve intersections that are currently difficult to navigate — especially when making left turns — the Park Service proposed solutions like road diets and roundabouts, including ones at Morningside Lane. Some of these proposals will require more investigation, Cuvelier acknowledged, due to potential downsides like queuing.

Slide from meeting that reads "Safety Treatments - Roundabout Rendering" and it shows which intersections the roundabout could be considered for
(National Park Service image)

The Park Service also offered several potential solutions for improving pedestrian safety and access, a major safety concern among commenters. Recommendations for improving pedestrian safety included a safety campaign, better signage, and various types of pedestrian crosswalks. Cuvelier stressed that pedestrian improvements would only be effective in conjunction with other safety solutions like road diets.

The Park Service is giving the general public until January 10 to submit additional comments about safety concerns and the proposed solutions. By spring 2020, they hope to have a final report ready on actions to be taken.

Timeline from Spring 2019 to winter 2020 showing the safety study schedule, which is currently in the public input and comment period
(National Park Service image)

Actual implementation of Parkway safety improvements may take some time as the bigger-ticket items are funding dependent, said Cuvelier.

“Once I have the money,” is the timeframe for construction, he said.

Following the Park Service presentation, Del. Paul Krizek praised the Park Service for being transparent and showing how public input has impacted its recommended approach. While Krizek is optimistic about the overall process, he says “the devil is in the details” regarding how to pay for some of the bigger improvements.

Meanwhile, he was pleasantly surprised to hear about how recent speed enforcement activities have reduced Parkway crashes.

“Let’s keeping doing that,” Krizek said.

Copies of the December 3 public meeting materials can be viewed here.

Erika Christ has lived in the Mount Vernon area for nearly two decades & has worked in strategic communications for 25 years. She’s part of the communications team at the American Horticultural Society at River Farm.


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