Officials see proposed crosswalk as dangerous

Junior Ian Labas explains the dangers of the north entrance to the CHS campus on April 17.
Junior Ian Labas explains the dangers of the north entrance to the CHS campus on April 17.
Delaney Brooks

Anyone who’s ever thought about driving past CHS during arrival or dismissal times likely thought again. Morning commuters see daily backups from Route 50 to campus and not only may drivers experience delays, but pedestrians can be unsafe. 

The Purple Tide has been reporting on CHS administrators’ desire for an additional crosswalk from the Chantilly Public Library to CHS since January, but it’s not just the staff who are fighting for safety: students want it too. Enter junior Ian Labas who, after harboring a number of campus concerns, reached out to FCPS for help.

The overcrowding in CHS’s building has overflowed to the parking lot and now, 63 students need to park across Stringfellow Rd at the Chantilly Public Library. So at the height of the morning rush hour and when the school day ends, these students can either walk approximately 600 ft out of their way to use an existing crosswalk, or, they can cross illegally. Labas recognizes that the rush to make it to school on time plays a part in the unpredictability of the north entrance, but doesn’t agree it’s the only issue. 

“Morning commuters, whether that be a CHS student or employee have to rush to get into the parking lot and the rush to get to school in time makes them more impulsive,” Labas said. “So I would agree that that is an issue but having a proper crosswalk there would help so you can still get on time safely without risking your life.”

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At 2:30 p.m. on April 12, principal Dr. Amy Goodloe took a seat at her desk and joined a Teams call which was scheduled to address Labas’s concerns. Goodloe briefed Michael Coyle, Chief of Staff in Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith’s office; Peyton Onks, senior aid to Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity; and Meredith Corwin, Deputy Chief of Staff to Herrity, on the events that had occurred since January.

Goodloe stated that 63 students park across Stringfellow Road at the Chantilly Public Library each day and because the nearest crosswalk to the library is approximately 600 ft away, most students elect to cross the street illegally, creating a situation which CHS staff and students almost unanimously agree is dangerous, as depicted in a Knightly News segment from Sep. 26 on pedestrians in the parking lot. Goodloe believes it is not the teenage drivers, but the number of motorists and the parents who drop students off at the median that make this intersection so unsafe. But above all, Goodloe stressed her belief that this is a dangerous intersection. 

”Someone is going to get [seriously hurt] out there,” Goodloe said in the April 12 meeting. “That’s the bottom line.”

The meeting’s attendees explored the possibility of instructing students to park elsewhere, yet Goodloe said it was impossible as the CHS parking lot is not large enough. They looked into adding language in the parking contract that requires students to cross at existing crosswalks. Creating rules requires follow-through though, meaning staff members would need to be posted at the intersection to enforce the language in the contract. In addition, more eyes on the street means fewer on the building with less certainty that it is secured when the school day starts. 

Cars back up at the North entrance to CHS campus at dismissal on May 15. (Delaney Brooks)

“You can’t rely on kids to have proper judgment when we don’t even have a fully-developed prefrontal cortex,” Labas said. “So to think that a contract could work, to think that kids would actually follow the protocol, will not work without the proper authority directing them in that way.”

Additionally, as discussed in the April 12 meeting, a crosswalk at this intersection would only be safe if it were monitored by a crossing guard. This means that when the crossing guard is not present, such as times outside of arrival and dismissal, the crosswalk still remains, now unsafe. According to Goodloe, pedestrians cross this intersection outside of school hours, whether on their way to or from the library, to the Fairfax Connector bus stop or elsewhere. 

According to Onks, the sight of a crosswalk is an invitation to cross, but because the proposed crosswalk would no longer be safe after a crossing guard has left, it could create more danger than safety outside of peak travel times. Those present at the meeting determined that, while the intersection is dangerous, a new crosswalk there would be too. They plan to continue exploring more options that are safer for the uncontrolled intersection. 

”This is clearly a safety issue for the students that we have to address in some way,” Corwin said.

The Purple Tide explored a few other pedestrian options for the north entrance to campus. 

When pedestrians cannot walk across the street, traffic engineers sometimes opt for a bridge that directs pedestrians up and over the road. But according to Coyle, both the space a bridge would take up and the cost to construct it make it unfavorable for this location. 

First, it would need to be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and therefore include a ramp with a slope of 1:12 or shallower. But because the bridge would need to rise high enough for large vehicles to pass underneath (14 ft, according to the Federal Highway Administration), the ramp would be at least 172 ft long. With this in mind, whoever funds the bridge would need to acquire the land on either side of the road. 

“The biggest challenge to constructing the bridge is the cost,” Coyle said in an April 19 email. “They come with a hefty price tag. Our office is working on a trail project that will require a bridge over a stream and the estimated cost is $8 million.”

With pedestrian bridges out of the question, The Purple Tide then considered pedestrian crossing flags. Salt Lake City, Utah’s Adopt-A-Crosswalk program installs brightly-colored pedestrian flags on the corners of some intersections. When a pedestrian would like to cross the street, they simply retrieve a flag from the container and display it for motorists to see while they make their way to the other side. 

Fairfax County does not currently have an official program like Salt Lake City’s Adopt-A-Crosswalk. According to Coyle though, maximum visibility is encouraged. 

“I’m aware of some parts of the country that encourage pedestrians to carry/wave bright colored flags when they cross the street to be more visible,” Coyle said in the April 19 email. “There seems to be mixed results on the effectiveness. That being said, similar to pedestrians wearing bright colored or reflective clothing at night, the goal is to make the pedestrian more visible to the motorist.”

While he understands the economic and time factors involved in modifying a busy intersection, Labas urges officials to work quickly with student safety in mind. 

“Don’t wait; be proactive,” Labas said. “That time and money is not worth more than human life, so to spare time and cash? A girl was hit and lost her leg, nearly lost her life. Do you want to wait for that to happen [again] or have the idea that if it does happen, then we’ll step in? Do something now. Waiting for something to happen is no better than doing nothing at all.

This is the third and final installation of a three-part series.

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Delaney Brooks
Delaney Brooks, Features Editor
Delaney is a junior in her third year with The Purple Tide. She’s thrilled to edit the features section this year and plans to pursue journalism as a career. When she’s not writing articles or working on broadcast segments for The Knightly News, Delaney’s probably listening to Green Day, Dear And The Headlights or some other alternative band. You may also find her up in the air on the aerial silks, dance trapeze or lyra.
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