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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Improving Safety on GW Parkway
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Improving Safety on GW Parkway

The National Park Service is conducting a study of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to determine how to improve safety between Old Town Alexandria and the Mount Vernon Estate. Tuesday evening, they hosted a meeting at Walt Whitman Middle School to update residents and address questions and concerns. The meeting started with an open house in the cafeteria where various maps and charts were displayed, followed by a meeting in the auditorium that was conducted by Parkway Superintendent Charles Cuvelier. The meeting was quite informative and gave the community an opportunity to provide input and receive important information.

Proposals to enhance safety on the Parkway have included installation of speed cameras, use of roundabouts, otherwise known as traffic circles, enhanced enforcement of traffic laws, pavement markings, traffic signals, and other possible features. The Superintendent made it clear that traffic signals are not and will not be considered because they take away from the scenic character of the Parkway which is an absolute requirement. It also appears speed cameras would be difficult to implement, given the expense and lengthy regulatory process as well as the question of how tickets would be adjudicated. The Superintendent explained that revenues generated from tickets would not go to the National Park Service. Rather, they would go into the general treasury under control of Congress. I also note that traffic tickets on the Parkway are adjudicated at the Federal Court in Alexandria and prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. They are unlikely to cede their authority to a third party vendor and may not have the resources to prosecute hundreds of speed camera tickets.

During the program, some comments were given by Gregory T. Monahan, the Acting Chief of the U.S. Park Police. Among the questions he was asked were some concerning actions of the Park Police who were involved in the death of Bijan Ghaisar. Since the internal investigation is underway and State prosecution may be considered, he was unable to provide any detailed comments. At the request of an audience member, a moment of silence was given in memory of Mr. Ghaisar. Mr. Monahan detailed enhanced enforcement that has been undertaken over the past several months which he explained has resulted in a 35% reduction of accidents.

From the start of this process, my view has been that the solution to the safety issues is two-fold: (1) Enhance pavement markings on either side of the Alexandria Avenue stone bridge to eliminate incidents in which trucks and buses impact the bridge. This can also include narrowing to one lane on either side, eliminating the right hand lanes in each direction so that all traffic travels through the bridge at its greatest clearance. (2) Increase enforcement of existing traffic laws. We all know that there is typically only one patrol car patrolling the Parkway from Old Town to Mount Vernon. Once we pass the patrol car going the other way, speeds dramatically increase. Adding more patrol cars and increasing enforcement through use of speed measuring devices will educate the public that there is more than one patrol car that may be encountered. As a result, speeds should reduce.

Under no circumstances should speed cameras be employed. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we live in an area frequented by tourists. We don't want tourists to visit our community and then return home to find a speed camera ticket in their mailbox. Speed enforcement must be overt. If someone is speeding on the Parkway, the Park Police need to pull them over and give them a ticket then and there. It appears, based upon the comments of Acting Chief Monahan, that enhanced enforcement is bearing fruit. Good news.

There is no need to over complicate what needs to be done. Two more things: First, I note that the studies prepared to date do not address the exit to Boulevard Drive East just north of Wellington Road. Motorists turning left onto that exit in the southbound direction create a traffic hazard that needs to be addressed. Second, the materials provided do not separately break out accident statistics for the stone bridge. Those statistics would be helpful in driving enhanced paving markings on either side of the bridge. Thank you to Superintendent Cuvelier for holding the meeting.

Jay Spiegel

Mount Vernon

(The Mount Vernon Gazette did attend this meeting, read the story here)