There was a time when a chicken could cross the road, for whatever reason, without much ado in northern Loudoun County. Not so today.
Residents of Taylorstown, a rural community not far from the Maryland border, have reported several fowl fatalities recently. Ever since a gravel section of the main road that runs through the town was paved, residents say cars have been zooming down the steep hills and taking curves too fast.
Lately, feathers have been flying. A chicken named Oreo (his head was black and white) was found dead in the road. An especially tame bird was hit while purportedly stalking cicadas, according to its owner. And the president of the community association has lost three chickens in the past month.
Now, a Taylorstown resident is spearheading an effort to erect chicken-crossing signs. To her way of thinking, the signs could spare some chickens and slow the traffic that has so riled the community.
The project is "in the interest of Taylorstown residents, some of whom are two-legged and feathered," said Michele Ferreira, who also said she sees the multicolored birds as "walking art" and recently approached neighbors about possibly posting signs.
Residents say the chicken deaths are part of a larger issue in the community, where the paving of 11/2 miles of Taylorstown Road two years ago has heightened the pressure they feel as growth speeds west in Loudoun, the fastest-growing county in the country. Residents say they feel surrounded by new houses and all that goes with them.
"It's been a nightmare," said Tami Carlow, president of the Taylorstown Community Association. "We just want to remain a little community and not a speed-through."
Carlow and her neighbors figure drivers are using the road in part to cut to and from Route 15, the north-south highway that bisects Loudoun and is an easy means to Leesburg and all points east, where development is proceeding at breakneck speed. Homes are being built closer to Taylorstown, too, and residents are worried about what that will mean for traffic.
In 2000, about 3,216 people lived within a three-mile radius of the vacant Taylorstown Store in the heart of town, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2003, the area had gained an estimated 400 people. And by 2008, the population is expected to increase to 4,652.
Plans by the Virginia Department of Transportation to pave the road with asphalt initially drew opposition from some residents, who were concerned about a higher volume of traffic. But, at the time, support was strong enough among people enamored of the prospect of a smoother route. Residents say they expected traffic to increase, but they were surprised by the degree to which it did.
They also say traffic has changed the way they live. A jogger will no longer run along the route during rush hour. A mother put up a fence so her 2-year-old daughter would not wander too close to the road. People cringe at the roar of motorcycles just outside their homes.
There is no way of knowing how many cars traveled the road before it was paved, or at what speed, but some residents estimate the number of vehicles has doubled, and they are definitely going faster.
According to a November study by the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office, an average of nearly 650 cars traveled Taylorstown Road each day. Sixty-six percent of the cars exceeded the speed limit in the stretches where it was 25 mph. (In other sections, the speed limit is 35 mph or 45 mph.)
Some people in the community are seeking to have the 45 mph speed limit lowered along stretches of the road. Others are interested in seeing paths built alongside the route.
In the meantime, the chickens continue to fall. Residents keep the birds behind fences on their property, but the chickens tend to squeeze between railings or simply fly over the top. Many are kept in coops during the winter, but during the rest of the year "they like to go out and scratch around and eat bugs," said Scott Schooling, a builder who keeps nearly a dozen chickens on his property.
One of Schooling's chickens was hit last month when it allegedly sauntered into the road in search of cicadas. He wasn't distraught over it; it costs him next to nothing to replace a chicken. But the incident was indicative of what is happening along Taylorstown Road, he said.
"I think people just want this to be a calmer, quieter place and not a thoroughfare," Schooling said.
Will chicken-crossing signs fix the problem? Schooling said that he has his doubts -- "I'm not sure chickens have the right-of-way, anyway" -- but that the signs might be worth a shot.
Ferreira, who is spearheading the effort, said drivers need to be put on notice. "We have to catch people's attention," she said.
She said she didn't expect any problems with the project. The Virginia Department of Transportation does not post signs for small animals and suggested she post her own on private property. She is searching for suitable signage, which she would like to bear a picture of a chicken and not just the words "Chicken Xing."
Ferreira, a civil rights investigator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has no chickens of her own. But she does want to do what she can to save those of her neighbors. She estimated that two households alone could count almost 20 chickens between them.
"There could be more, but they keep getting knocked off," she said.