Thursday, May 2, 2019

Thoughts On Changes to the GW Parkway

Due to last week's fatal collision, there has been renewed discussion in safety on the George Washington Parkway (GWP) in the last week.

Delegate Paul Krizek and I have been working with Congressman Don Beyer to do something about this for some time. 

Two years ago, the National Park Service stated they intended to conduct a traffic safety study.  That has not occurred yet.

In the meantime, as we move forward with a discussion about dealing with safety deficiencies on the road, we have been hearing lots of ideas about how to reconfigure the road including major changes to intersections, lanes, or stoplights.

However, it is important to understand the legal restrictions that we are operating within.  First, the GWP is a National Park controlled by the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior.  State government and the Virginia Department of Transportation have nothing to do with the road or its configuration.

Next, please keep in mind that the GWP was opened in 1932 as a memorial to George Washington (like the Lincoln/Jefferson Memorial or the Jamestown-Williamsburg-York Parkway).  It is also designated as a National Historic Landmark - the highest protection that an historic asset can enjoy.

The GWP was the first modern highway in America.  Had several unique design features incorporating vistas, pulloffs, picnic areas, etc. It was designed to be a pleasurable drive through the then-Virginia countryside down to Mt. Vernon and was originally conceived as part of Washington, D.C.'s monumental core back when our area was nothing but farms when my grandparents moved and built Tauxemont with nineteen other families back in 1940-41.

Due to the National Landmark status, there are significant legal restrictions on any modifications to the road pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act - the same act that forced us to redirect U.S. 1 away from the Woodlawn Mansion instead of widening it in place.  While entrances have been added over time that were not original (e.g. Tulane Drive, Belleview, Morningside Lane, Waynewood, Vernon View, Stratford Landing were all added later), stop lights, major reconfiguration of lanes or intersections are very unlikely and would probably be met with litigation from the preservation community. 

That is why I have focused on speed cameras which are minimally intrusive and I think would go a long way towards getting the speeds down and perhaps dissuade some of the commuters from using the road. 

The continued collisions, deaths, injuries, and danger posed also underscores why we need to hurry up and move along bus rapid transit to Fort Belvoir to get commuters onto transit.

Congressman Beyer has renewed his call for the safety study and we have been advised there will be some kind of public meeting in June.  In the meantime, keep coming up with ideas about how we can make this community treasure a safe place for everyone.


  1. The single most important thing you could do to increase safety on the Parkway is to disallow left hand turns out of Morningside. The visibility is bad, people hang out into the driving lane, get impatient waiting for the turn . . . many people, me included, won't even use Morningside anymore given the hazards, but even when you're driving up or down the Parkway, going the speed limit, you see people turning out of there like a bat out of hell and you need to jump on your brakes in order to avoid hitting someone. I have no objection to speed cameras, though I question whether they'll be truly effective because once people know where they are, they'll slow down in those spots and speed up again. And I understand the historic preservation issues, but if you put a light at Belle View only, you'd relieve the pressure points between Belle Haven and Tulane, and probably take some pressure of Morningside as well. It might be worth picking the fight.

  2. Crosswalks are needed from Belleview to the highly used park at Belle Haven. With the metro shutdown there will be even more bike commuters yet there is no safe way across the Parkway. Very visible pedestrian crossing could help slow traffic along with cameras.