VDOT Agrees to Lower 29N/Forest Lakes Speed Limit

VDOT presented their safety assessment of the Forest Lakes intersection with 29N last night, and 160 people showed up to see how the intersection could be improved. Sixteen year old Sydney Aichs was killed there in May when the driver of a semi ran the red and hit her car at full speed. VDOT says that the intersection isn’t up to spec, since there’s not enough “stopping sight distance.” Folks want to see the speed limit there lowered to 45 MPH from 55 MPH, and they were frustrated by VDOT saying that it would take at least a few months to accomplish, despite their agreement that it should happen. (How hard is this? Just replace a few signs. You’re done.) Sean Tubbs mentioned in a comment that VDOT told the BoS this afternoon that they may have it done by the end of the week, which is more like it.

That’s a whole section of 29N that, for years, was 55 MPH clear up to Gainesville, without a stoplight to be seen (other than the one at Pete’s Park-n-Eat. Towns, counties, and VDOT have all been slow to realize that the whole road is changing to a continuous suburban corridor. In thirty years, driving to D.C. is going to be a five hour process.

Incidentally, this story is written by the newest Daily Progress reporter, Brandon Shulleeta. He comes to the paper from the The Caroline Progress, interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch last year, and attended VCU, where he studied broadcast journalism.

26 thoughts on “VDOT Agrees to Lower 29N/Forest Lakes Speed Limit”

  1. I would just like to say, that along with many other AHS parents who do not live along Rt. 29, I completely support the efforts of the Forest Lakes neighborhood to make that corridor safer. I am glad that VDOT is expediting a change in the speed limit which should have already taken place.
    And we just have to get used to the fact that too much growth leads to horrible traffic.

    (Thanks for posting on this issue ,Waldo.)

  2. My thought for that intersection was to have another light installed at the top of the hill that turns red at the same time. It would be far easier to see and would be the clearest way to prevent other accidents such as the one that took Ms. Aichs’ life. I don’t think that changing the speed limit fully addresses the problem.

    That said, that intersection should never have been built there to begin with. Where was VDOT when it was being built? Did the standards change between then and now? The only reason I can think of for it to have gone there would be to save a builder/developer the money and effort of putting it in a safer spot. It looks to me like a clear example of cutting corners. I believe that the people responsible for it and for allowing it are also responsible for the tragedy and damage done by it.

  3. Between the 3-to-2 lane bottlenecking after crossing over Polo Grounds and that awful, awful intersection/light at Forest Lakes South, 29N has become such a headache. I agree that decreasing the speed limit is not a fix-all. I think they should put one of those signs where the light flashes when the light ahead is red (e.g. like on the 250 bypass when approaching McIntire Road).

    I wonder if VDOT has looked into making that corridor between Polo Grounds and Hollymead into 3 lanes? It is a crapshoot.

  4. I have a different take on this intersection despite the fact that I rarely use this entrance/exit of Forest Lakes nor am a resident there. I should qualify my statement by saying that I was a member of a recent grand jury session that had a duty to discuss the charges related to this accident. We saw a good many photos of the intersection, the accident scene itself, and listened to the take of what happened by the policeman on the scene. My take is based on an observation while exiting the neighborhood the other day and waiting for the traffic light with the intent of going southbound. The large brick sign; it says Forest Lakes and maybe has the word south proceeding Forest, is a huge site barrier both for those exiting the neighborhood and for those traveling northbound on 29. While in the left turning lane; there are 3 lanes, 2 go left(south) and 1 goes right(north); my sight line of traffic from the left was completely obscured even when I pull up to the line and a little beyond. I drive a fairly high, but still normal height SUV and I still just couldn’t see over or around the sign without pulling way past the white line. I believe my entire vehicle was obscured from view of the northbound 29 traffic and that the middle lane, also a left turn lane has the same challenge. Clearly speed is an issue at this intersection with the short sight line as you crest the hill before the light. I have regularly driven through this intersection on 29 for the past 10 years and have seen my fair share of speed and inattentive driver related accidents most of which happen before the actual intersection. I strongly believe that this sign obstruction likely played a major role in the recent fateful accident.

  5. while the sign may very well be a factor, if the truck driver, like most other drivers through that area, heeded the drop to 35 mph, there may have been more time for seeing and stopping at the red light. whenever i drive that stretch i am amazed that very few drivers heed those giant 35 MPH flashing signs. — i always assumed it was mandatory to slow down there — not optional. i hope the person who sat on the grand jury takes the time to write the president of the homeowner’s association for FLS — i’m sure it’d be up to them to change the sign now.

  6. When the next incident occurs, and it will, can we drop the speed limit to 35? 25?

    Let’s be realistic here. An intersection was built on a highway just after the crest of a hill, for a few residents of a suburban neighborhood. The flaw is not the speed of drivers, not timing of lights, but the location of the intersection.

    I bet real estate developers sat on the board that approved the placement of the intersection – if the road was already there, the development was approved without regard to the traffic issues it would create.

    I’m not from here, but I’ve seen this all before from a high-growth city in the South.

  7. A lower speed limit won’t help at all. People will be exceeding the speed limit just as they are today.

    The only solutions are to move the intersection or regrade Rt29 to have a longer line of sight. Both are expensive thus the cheap useless solution is being done.

  8. Besides which, the people who feel they have a ‘right’ to speed will tell the rest of us to move over so they can fly past us. They’ll further tell us speed-limit-goers that they’re being pragmatic in their demand that the law-abiding expedite the law-breaking that is their right.

  9. There are 3 traffic lights serving the Forest Lakes/Hollymead neighborhoods. Why? They should eliminate the ones at Forest Lakes South and Hollymead, and the people in those neighborhoods can just use the major one at Forest Lakes North, which they can access through roads within the subdivision.

    It drives me nuts when I see a huge line of traffic waiting at the Forest Lakes South intersection for one car to exit the neighborhood. Route 29 is a major highway!

    I’m not holding my breath, though. I doubt a traffic light has ever been removed in this area. For some strange reason, traffic lights are always seen as a solution rather than a problem, regardless of where they’re put.

  10. Good point Paul.

    Combining some intersections would make sense. Usually the stop is for a couple cars to go thru at each of the three intersections. It would make more sense to combine them down to two and just remove the one at Forest Lakes South.

    Actually, keep the entrance but remove the crossover to southbound Rt29 and remove the traffic light.

  11. I don’t mean to change the course of this thread but some people might be interested in this research:

    http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2002/lucy-april-30-2002.html

    The “engineering studies” that go into fixing these dangerous intersections and the work-arounds that are often proposed (e.g. lower speed limits, increase sight distance, more traffic controls etc.) are just band aids on a completely flawed model of urban development. Unfortunately, the young person whose life was senselessly cut short is a casualty of the great suburban enterprise. We continue to build these subdivisions because people believe they offer “quality of life” and safe, homogenous communities. But the cost is that everyone has to drive everywhere to lead a “normal” life. Another 16 year old killed in a traffic accident might seem like a failure of traffic engineering but it is more a failure of the peculiar US model of community development: auto-dependent lifestyles.

    That being said, I hope the remedies VDOT offers are sufficient to prevent future incidents.

  12. “We continue to build…”
    Contrarian, I concur with your points. However, many people would like to live in the urban environment but find it unaffordable. In many areas, all development is far from the core of the city. That development which IS in the city is all luxury condos – unaffordable for burgeoning young families. Yet, the rest of the world has figured out how to provide attractive homes in cities.

    The difference? We have essentially developer-guided development instead of community-guided development.

    jmcnamera and Pete, I also concur. Who paid for 3 intersections, turning lanes, lights, etc.? I bet it was all of us, not the developers/residents.

  13. BrianD is right there. A light before the hill is the only solution. Thank the developers, VDOT and the planning commission for once again not using their brains. Was it that hard to figure out in the initial planning? Makes you wonder how well your house is made doesn’t it? Everyone that has lived here a long time has known that was a bad place to have a light.

  14. A light before the light is the worst sort of band-aid. They tried something like that on 29 near Gainesville a year or two ago, and it turned out to be such a non-solution that they quietly removed it within a year. Hey, an example of a light that was removed! Maybe there’s hope after all.

  15. Eliminate the light and make it right-turn only. Just like they did to Carrsbrook at 29N about ten years ago, one “block” north of Woodbrook & Lowes. Well, there was no light but they took out the crossover, and it’s a sizable neighborhood, bigger now. Everybody going south has to turn right and then U-turn at the next crossover on 29. Or take a back way out of the neighborhood to Rio Rd. Comparable situation.

  16. In regards to Elizabeth’s point about the prevalence of speeding- I hope that local law enforcement will find the resources to enforce the new speed limit on this dangerous stretch of road with a special focus on rush hours. This is something the BOS needs to consider NOW, if law enforcement needs reallocated resources to increase enforcement.

    Also, should this stretch of road be one of those places where speeders get very high fines?

    We all know that the money for totally redoing this road is not happening soon. However, it is very important to do the less expensive changes which can be done now ASAP. Hooray for the gentleman who stood up and said that new speed limit signs should be up in two days. Now, how about a quick removal of the sight barrier Patience remarks upon above?

  17. Making the intersection truly safe is simple.

    Put a couple of Jersey concrete barriers in the crossover to close it.

    Then remove the light and reuse it at some other deserving intersection.

    VDOT could even just set the light to flashing yellow until they had time to remove it. Eventually they could remove the crossover and plan some trees there.

  18. Until police start enforcing speed limits, nothing positive will come of the reduction of the speed limit. In 9 years of living in Charlottesville, I have never once seen someone pulled over in any of that stretch of Rt. 29 or any speed traps set up. People come flying down that hill at 70mph on a regular basis.

  19. In response to “D”: It is only partially true that urban neighborhoods are too expensive for working-class families. Many of these families, like the generations before them, have bought into the mythology that urban environments are more dangerous than their cul-de-sac safe-havens. The link I had posted takes a step towards debunking that mythology. Hopefully more people will realize that the suburban nation that is so cherished in American culture is more of a dystopia than the utopia it is marketed as… It seems like rising energy prices are starting to accelerate that process. Again, traffic engineering has a role in solving these problems, but it won’t fix the real problem.

  20. Kay, the highway patrols spend all their time on 29S, where it is wide open and easy as pie to pick off speeders. I do recall reading about some 29N enforcement recently, but it must be a nightmare trying to catch up and pull them over. For an extreme example, take the Capital Beltway. Even if they ran speed traps, what minuscule proportion of drivers would be ticketed, unless they used a fleet of squad cars? And how many wrecks would ensue? Any situation on the shoulder is high danger. So people know all that and drive like mad.

  21. I take 29N home every day from work. I don’t believe that not being able to see the light is an issue. Once you crest the top of the hill prior to the light, you can see it in plain view without any problem and at a decent distance away, even going 45 MPH plus. Not being able to see the light is an excuse. I’m not sure why the driver ran the yellow/red that day. I still think it is a light-timing issue and NOT a speeding, light visability, issue.

  22. Witnesses following the truck stated that it went through the light several seconds (up to 5) after it turned red. The brakes were not applied until right at the point the truck hit the car. The brakes were in good working order. It is likely that the guy either fell asleep or was in a daze. He was coming off his overnight shift which involved driving from the Airport Rd US Mail Center to the Dulless area, over to Staunton and back to Airport Rd. In my oppinion the speed limit lowering will have little effect at lessening the likelyhood of a similar accident. It will however slow people down a bit in an area where 55mph is not warranted or any great benefit to getting to your destination any quicker. This area is full of traffic lights that will slow you down anyway.

  23. I drove thru the intersection today. I was going 45 and everyone else was passing me or pulling further ahead.

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