NPS solicits community feedback on southern GW Memorial Parkway safety improvements
Residents of the Belle Haven, Belle View and New Alexandria neighborhoods voiced strong concerns at a Sept. 15 community meeting about the safety of two key intersections along the southern George Washington Memorial Parkway.
The meeting, organized by the National Park Service (NPS) and Congressman Don Beyer’s office, was held so NPS could get community feedback on recent safety improvements implemented at Belle Haven Drive and Belle View Boulevard. Those two intersections had been identified in a 2021 NPS and Federal Highway Administration Safety Study as having the most crashes along the South Parkway Corridor. New road markings and signage — combined with continued excessive speeds — have only worsened the problem in the view of many area residents.
Following a brief presentation by Claire Shields, acting chief of staff for the George Washington Memorial Parkway, local community members lined up to share their personal experiences, frustrations and thoughts on how to improve safety at the intersections. Several speakers had been involved in crashes at those locations, including a woman who said she’d had three accidents within two weeks and another who said she’s still recovering from serious injuries.
Unclear or confusing signage was cited by many as a key risk factor for accidents. As part of the safety improvements implemented late last year, the Park Service had implemented what’s known as a Continuous Green T-Intersection at Belle Haven Road. Confusion about who has the right of way at the stop signs, however, has increased driver risk in the view of residents.
“This attempt was a swing and a miss,” complained one speaker about the signage snafu.
Other community members complained about the “egregious lack of maintenance” of the bushes at the Belle View intersection, preventing drivers from seeing oncoming southbound traffic when turning left onto the Parkway. Speeding also was cited as a problematic factor, and several residents said they thought the road diet further south on the Parkway was counterintuitively worsening the problem due to drivers trying to fly by slower moving vehicles before the southbound Parkway becomes one lane.
“The Parkway is a racetrack in both directions” with little to spotty enforcement by Park Police, said Belle Haven Citizens Association president Bryan Jacobs, whose teenager is just learning to drive.
A couple of speakers emphasized the dangers posed to pedestrians and bikers who are forced to “play Frogger” while crossing the Parkway to access the Mount Vernon Trail. Meanwhile, Delegate Paul Krizek pointed out that as it starts to get darker earlier and leaves start to fall on the Parkway, driving conditions could become even more hazardous.
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Among the safety solutions suggested by residents were the introduction of traffic circles or stoplights at the two major intersections, clearer signage, signs preventing left turns onto the side streets during designated hours, speed cameras, and the reserving of the right lane on the Parkway for thru-traffic in that general vicinity.
Charles Cuvelier, superintendent for the George Washington Memorial Parkway, ruled out a few of the proposed traffic solutions for the Parkway but said he’d seek out the guidance of traffic engineers and federal highway experts to explore some of the others. Cuvelier said he would request maintenance for the overgrown bushes and ask engineers to provide clearer signage and to reassess the viability of traffic circles. Installing convex mirrors might be another option for helping improve visibility of oncoming traffic, he said.
The use of speed cameras would require legislation, according to a representative from Rep. Beyer’s office. Right now, the congressman’s staff is trying to figure out how to funnel the prospective funds from speed cameras back to the NPS and the Parkway, instead of to the Department of the Treasury. Beyer plans to make speed camera legislation a priority if reelected, his aide said.
The NPS plans to take the community feedback and input from the public meeting and incorporate it with their traffic engineers’ own observations. Later this fall, they hope to hold a similar community meeting to lay out specifically what is going to be done to address the continued safety challenges at the Parkway intersections.