Neighborhoods Use Broad Palette to Deter Traffic-Shortcut Artists

This bump-out is among the methods used to discourage drivers from cutting through a Fairfax neighborhood.
This bump-out is among the methods used to discourage drivers from cutting through a Fairfax neighborhood. (Photos By Eric M. Weiss -- The Washington Post)
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By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008

Eric Merten of Burke jealously guards what he calls his "secret passage" between Braddock Road and Reston Parkway. He won't say how he does it because he is afraid other commuters will follow and clog it up.

With traffic on the Washington area's major thoroughfares becoming increasingly congested, many drivers are bailing off choked highways and cutting through residential neighborhoods. But those drivers face new obstacles: homeowners associations and local officials armed with weapons to slow, harass and make miserable those who stray from the beaten path.

Speed humps, rumble strips, four-way stop signs and traffic circles are cropping up along secondary roads to keep out cut-through artists such as Merten. In Montgomery County, many shortcuts ban through traffic during the morning and evening rush periods. In Fairfax County, the Kings Park area has done everything except dig a shark-infested moat around its ranches and split-levels to prevent speeding commuters from cutting through to Braddock Road.

Scores of commuters were using Southampton Drive in Kings Park every day to cut between Rolling and Braddock roads and avoid several stoplights and bumper-to-bumper congestion. The community petitioned for and added speed humps every block or so. The humps were followed by four-way stop signs, a 15-mph speed limit and concrete "bump-outs" that make the road seem narrower and cut speeds.

Drivers stopped using Southampton but switched to parallel Eastbourne Drive. The community took the unusual step of installing a concrete barrier to prevent a right turn onto Eastbourne. A "Do Not Enter" sign made it even more daunting.

So drivers took a left off Southampton and used Kings Park Drive. The community responded with more speed humps and speed restrictions. Then it brought out the heavy artillery: traffic circles.

"You can roll through a stop sign. You can't roll through a traffic circle," said John Cook, president of the Kings Park Civic Association. "They are confusing. People wait and wait while those who live in the neighborhood know when to go."

Many cut-through drivers say they have no alternative. Traffic is unbearable.

"We're all trying to figure out how to go because the main arteries are either clogged up or the lights are badly timed or whatever," Merten said.

Others use the title of cut-through artist as a point of pride.

"I take everything into consideration whenever I drive," said Leah Salvador, a Northern Virginia native. "My whole life has been commuting, and I know all the back roads," she said with a devilish smile. All the better to get around the transients, the tourists and other less-savvy drivers in Northern Virginia. That means knowing "which lanes are best and where all the traffic backs up."

When Salvador first became manager of the Little Gym in Springfield, she drove around the housing developments surrounding the strip mall and figured out which winding subdivision streets could be pieced together, looking for alternatives to two-lane Rolling Road, where the gym is located.

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