Fairfax City officials are moving toward a decision to introduce two-way traffic on two key streets in the Old Town district as part of the $100 million downtown redevelopment, Mayor Robert F. Lederer said.
"We are cautiously optimistic that we can, in fact, return two-way traffic to our downtown area," Lederer said, "without creating gridlock and lengthening commuter trips for the people passing through the downtown area."
Westbound North Street and eastbound Main Street currently are one way. The plan is to widen North Street from three lanes to four and make it a two-way street, according to Robert R. Montagne Jr., president of Walnut Street Development Co. of Fairfax, which is one of the developers of the Old Town Village project. Main Street would remain three lanes wide and be converted to two-way traffic. One of three lanes could be used for parking during off-peak hours, Montagne said.
"Fairfax City cannot be a place to go through," said Montagne. "It has to be a place to go to. Right now, it is a doormat. You blow through it, just blowing right through the city. That is not conducive to a pedestrian-friendly retail and residential area that we are trying to create."
Lederer said the challenge of coming up with new traffic patterns in Old Town is balancing the needs of commuters who are in a hurry to get through downtown with those of retailers, shoppers and residents of the future Old Town Village who want to be able to park, walk, shop and live in the area.
Old Town Village is a mixed-use project that includes shops, restaurants, offices and upscale residential units in an area generally bounded by University Drive, North Street and Chain Bridge Road. A 700-space parking garage also is part of the plans.
Lederer said he has had several meetings with citizens, many of whom are concerned about whether the two-way traffic pattern will work in Old Town.
He said he is leaning toward implementing a plan that would institute two-way traffic in the area by July, about a year before the scheduled completion of the first phase of the redevelopment project, a 42,000-square-foot library at North Street and Old Lee Highway.
Lederer said that the two-way traffic pattern would be a six-month experiment, after which city officials would decide whether it was working well enough to make the change permanent or to turn the streets back to one-way.
He said the city and the developers have done extensive traffic surveys and studies, and have concluded that two-way traffic would not adversely affect commuter traffic but would greatly enhance those looking to make Old Town Village a destination.
Lederer said a traffic study was undertaken during the summer to determine how much two-way patterns would slow down vehicular traffic on North and Main streets. He said the study showed that traffic would be slowed about 20 to 30 seconds while making about a half-mile trip from east to west through Old Town.
Groundbreaking for the library is scheduled for the spring, Montagne said. He said that interest in the residential portion of the project has been "totally off the charts," and that there are about 100 people who want information about the 75 residential units to be constructed as part of the project.
Between now and next summer, the city will continue to study traffic solutions.
"The single biggest challenge," said Lederer, "is balancing the needs of the region for commuters and the need for having a downtown destination. Our goal is not to create gridlock for commuters in our region."