That character has changed in the road’s 89 years. The report said parts of the parkway carried more than 25,000 vehicles daily before the pandemic, and it sees dozens of crashes annually, some fatal.
To improve conditions, the report recommended a “road diet,” changing markings to create three travel lanes — two northbound, one southbound — and one turn lane in the roughly five miles between Tulane Drive and Stratford Lane. It’s among other changes also being planned by the end of the year. The road currently has two lanes in each direction in that stretch.
“By definition, a parkway is an attenuated (thin) park with a road through it, but a park, nonetheless,” the study said. “The road allows visitors to experience the park, much as a trail is the means to experience the mountains.”
Parkway chief of staff Aaron LaRocca said the changes were made with input from U.S. Park Police, the Federal Highway Administration and the public. The Park Service said the changes will not inhibit the parkway’s ability to handle current traffic.
“The safety study shows our proposed improvements will maintain the road’s capacity to accommodate drivers, protect the parkway’s historic appearance and increase safety for everyone who uses it,” he said in an email. “As we implement improvements to the parkway, we will monitor their effectiveness and assess adjustments as needed.”
Nick Kuttner, a retired engineer who lives in the area and often drives on the parkway, was critical of plans to alter the road, saying the changes were implemented without sufficient public input. While focused on the parkway’s character, he said the Park Service hasn’t recognized the road’s role as part of the region’s larger transportation network.
“I am going to have to sit in whatever traffic they create,” Kuttner said.
Other residents said the plan should improve safety.
Peter Sitnik, transportation committee chair of the nonprofit Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations, said the community has voiced concerns about dangers on the parkway for decades. Though his committee has not endorsed the plan, he said he was “ecstatic that the Park Service has finally done the study and something is going to happen.”
“People are not informed as much as they should be,” he said. “As a driver, anything that slows me down, my first reaction is I don’t like it.”
U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who submitted a $300,000 budget request for the changes, said residents consistently complain about “people whipping through at 60 miles per hour.” The study found almost every vehicle exceeds the posted speed limit at some intersections.
Though a slimmed-down road might not be “beloved at first,” it’s what most people want who live nearby, Beyer said.
“To quote John F. Kennedy, to govern is to choose,” he said. “If the traffic diet is a disaster, we’ll change it. But it’s a significant first step.”
State Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said he has lived near the parkway for most of his life and has seen too many fatalities. He pressed the Park Service to complete the study, partly for personal reasons, he said.
“After 10 p.m., try walking across four lanes of road with a black dog with no stoplights,” he said. “The cars come up on you fast.”
The Park Service is hosting a virtual community event at 7 p.m. Monday to discuss the plan.