‘Every day is a worry’: Falls Church immigrant community calls for pedestrian safety on Leesburg Pike

Auora Gámez, 48, walks almost every day from her home in Falls Church, Virginia, to the Culmore Shopping Center near Leesburg Pike. She says it takes about 15 minutes to walk to her place of work at a mall laundromat. Although the walk is relatively short, Gámez worries about her safety on every trip.

“It’s very dangerous in this area,” says Gámez, who has lived in the neighborhood since immigrating from Honduras 20 years ago. The road can widen up to six lanes and drivers often speed down the track. Meanwhile, the blocks are long with pedestrian crossings only available every quarter to a third of a mile or so.

In December, a driver hit and killed 68-year-old Nguyet Ly while she was walking near a gas station on Block 5900 of Leesburg Pike. according to a report from the Fairfax County Police Department, Ly walked by the side of the road because there was no sidewalk available.

CASA, a local immigrant advocacy group (formerly known as the Central American Solidarity Association of Maryland), and the Coalition for Smarter Growth have launched a joint campaign to urge officials to improve road safety. The two groups say accidents are common due to the area’s limited sidewalks, lack of signage for pedestrian crossings and high driving speeds. They also say migrant pedestrians are disproportionately affected by the dangerous road conditions.

Some of the missing sidewalk sections in the 5900 block of Leesburg Pike. WAMU/DCist/Deanna Hackney

Leesburg Pike — the street where Ly was struck — isn’t just a busy corridor. It is bordered by many immigrant-owned and frequented restaurants, storefronts, and neighborhoods. And according to Gámez, due to its proximity to Bailey’s Elementary School, Glen Forest Elementary School and Justice High School, it’s also common to see kids and teens walking through.

“A lot of mothers who take their kids for a walk put themselves in danger just to cross the street,” said Gámez, who has a 17-year-old son.

The laundromat where Gámez works is directly across from where Ly was killed. She says the hike that led to her death is all too well known, and that people who live in the area have to cross the busy road to get to shops they frequent as part of their daily lives .

“Every day is a worry,” Gámez said. “Catch the bus. Go to the laundromat. Go shopping. Go to church.”

Accordingly data collected According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, there were eight accidents involving pedestrians on both the east and west lanes of Leesburg Pike in 2021 that resulted in visible, serious, or fatal injuries. Of those eight accidents, two were fatal, including Lys. Since 2015 there have been at least four fatal accidents occurring within a 800m stretch of the road.

Sonya Breehey, the advocacy manager for CSG in Northern Virginia, says the lengthy process of researching, funding and building long-term solutions – such as B. a street remodeling – will take some time to complete. Still, she says a simple reduction in the speed limit, which currently stands at 40mph, could yield immediate improvements. She also says that installing protective strips and HAWK signals (which stand for High-Intensity Activated CrossWalK Beacon. It allows pedestrians to activate a flashing light that alerts drivers to their crossing) would make it safer for pedestrians crossing to cross street.

“We really need to redesign this road to be safer for all users, not just motorists,” Breehey said. “We’re hoping to make some of those short-term improvements and then really start planning longer-term.”

Marilyn Figueroa, a community organizer at CASA, says efforts to make Leesburg Pike safer will require the help of everyone, including people who drive on the road. As part of their campaign to raise awareness and improve the road, CASA and CSG launched a promotional event last week to gather feedback from community members in the area.

“Cyclists, pedestrians and motorists,” Figueroa said. “We think of everyone because everyone takes a different risk. That’s why we went to church. To listen to everyone’s concerns.”

For their part, VDOT says they have been working with Fairfax County and local stakeholders to make the road safer. A spokesman for VDOT’s regional unit told DCist/WAMU that plans were being developed to help build missing sidewalks. They are also evaluating the use of HAWK signals and collecting data for a study that could lead to reduced speed limits.

“We are currently in the first step, which is to assess the feasibility of potential improvements,” the representative said. “Once VDOT and Fairfax County have selected which improvements to implement, the two agencies will coordinate to identify potential funding and possible phase requirements.”

According to Breehey, despite the steps being taken by attorneys and VDOT, it is ultimately up to elected officials to fund the changes that could prevent accidents and save lives.

“We can study it, but at the end of the day, even if we identify the best improvements that will help, it’s our elected officials in Fairfax County who are providing the funding,” Breehey said. “We need to get Fairfax County leaders to really push to make these happen and find the funding so we can make the improvements we need faster.”

The move can’t come soon enough for Gámez. She says the county must act quickly to prevent the next accident.

“Nothing has changed,” Gámez said. “We are asking for help and we need it quickly because there have been too many deaths in this area.”

‘Every Day Is A Worry’: Immigrant Community Of Falls Church Call For Pedestrian Safety On Leesburg Pike appeared first on DCist.

https://dcist.com/story/22/03/21/falls-church-immigrant-community-pedestrian-safety/ ‘Every day is a worry’: Falls Church immigrant community calls for pedestrian safety on Leesburg Pike

Laura Coffey

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