'Quality Of Life Improvement': Falls Church Starts 20 Mph Speed Limit

FALLS CHURCH, VA — Falls Church is hoping to set a standard for road safety with the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit on many residential streets.

The reduced speed limit from 25 to 2o mph is taking effect on most streets. This doesn’t include main routes like Broad and Washington Streets and collector streets such as West Street, Lincoln Avenue, Hillwood Avenue, Great Falls and Park Avenue. Upon making the change, the city cited crash data showing pedestrian survivability from a crash goes up with a 20 mph speed limit when compared to 30 and 40 mph.

The 20 mph speed limit signs take effect when they are installed, although there is a 60-day warning period is in effect before citations will happen.

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At the 20 mph speed limit unveiling on Thursday, Mayor David Tarter said reducing the speed limit to 20 mph is a “big deal” since “safety is one of the critical factors in this beautiful small city.”

“Most recently, the [Virginia] General Assembly has given us the authority as a locality to reduce our speed limits further in our residential streets,” said Mayor David Tarter at the 20 mph speed limit sign unveiling Thursday. “And once we were given that opportunity, our City Council acted quickly, because safety is a priority for all of us. And so we are really happy to be able today to introduce our official new 20 mile an hour speed limit signs, and also our ’20 Is Plenty’ campaign.”

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Councilmember Dave Snyder told Patch making changes like the 20 mph speed limit is dependent on local authority given from the Virginia General Assembly, as Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. The city has also used local authority from the state to plan speed cameras in a school zone and red light camera enforcement at several intersections.

But the councilmember wants to see more authority so local leaders can address traffic safety. He cited the example of changes in local authority given on red light cameras, which disrupted the local planning process.

“What we need is continuity of allowing localities to provide for and support the public safety of our citizens, and it’s particularly critical in areas in Northern Virginia with high traffic towns, and more and more mixture of pedestrians and bikes with cars,” said Snyder. “And as you can tell in the City of Falls Church, we have a lot of neighborhood streets, but we’re also bisected by state highways. So we’re going to look through the maximum amount of authority you can have to protect our citizens, not only our citizens, but people who come to the City of Falls Church to shop or to be employed.”
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Snyder said the success of the 20 mph speed limit is dependent on public information, public buy-in, and enforcement and that city staff, public information staff and law enforcement have already made a commitment to support the change. He called traffic safety the “number one public safety issue that our citizens bring to us” and that arterial roads remain a top area of concern for traffic safety.

The push for safer roads is personal for some Falls Church residents. Jessica Hegenbart, a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation, said her son was 10 at the time when he was nearly hit by a car walking to school.

“Unfortunately, my story isn’t all that rare. And I’m sure as any parent would agree. There’s nothing more important than the safety of our children,” said Hegenbart.

Hegenbart noted the importance of a 20 mph speed limit so children can safely get around.

“One of the wonderful things about living in our little city is that we can send our kids to school, on foot, on bike, they can walk to a friend’s house, they can go to 7-Eleven for a Slurpee, and it’s so important for their happiness, their independence, learning responsibility and also for their health,” said Hegenbart. “This is a huge quality of life improvement. I couldn’t be more thrilled about this change.”

Andrew Olesen, another member of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Transportation, said the committee started talking about a 20 mph speed limit five years ago. He noted public support for the change, as demonstrated by the “20 Is Plenty” yard signs residents put up in their yards.

“One of the one of the leading causes of death for children in this country is road fatalities. So this is a truly important part of our journey of making our streets safer,” said Oleson.

Police and sheriff’s office representatives shared what law enforcement has done to support traffic safety. On the police department side, Maj. Jiwan Chhetri said staffing has been boosted to focus on traffic enforcement. Police will provide a 60-day warning period starting Friday before citations begin for the new 20 mph speed limit.

Sheriff Matt Cay also expressed support for the 20 mph speed limit, noting the sheriff’s office traffic trailer and deputies have been used for enforcement in problem areas.

“With the city’s development and many large multi-use developments, propping up in our city, and our push toward walkability and making the city more of an area for people to come in and dine and live, it has become more important to ramp up traffic enforcement to make sure that people are safe in our city,” said Cay. “So we continue to be committed to that process, and the 20 mile an hour speed limit will absolutely assist us in achieving that goal.”

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