Decision Time for Cut-Through Traffic

– By Valerie Cury

In 2011, it was 800 vehicles per day. By 2013 is was 1,000. And, according to an October 2017 count, it was 1,300. These numbers represent the cut-through traffic that zips through the Country Club Drive neighborhood in the northwest part of Purcellville, sandwiched between Main Street to the south, the Rt. 7 Bypass to the north, and Rt. 690/North 21st Street to the east.

Families on the short stretch of Country Club Drive have tried for some three decades to get a resolution to what they see as an accident waiting to happen — the newspaper headline they never want to see.

Residents living on Country Club Drive describe it as a “traffic cut-through gauntlet.” Many parents have made the choice not to allow their children to play in the front yard or ride their bikes during peak traffic hours. Adults put off walking the neighborhood until the weekend, when the traffic is lighter. For the people who live here, the idea that they might turn onto Country Club one day to see a flurry of fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances clustered in front of a neighbor’s house – or their own – is very real. The fear of “injury or worse,” according to neighborhood leaders, is very real.

In many ways, this particular stretch of road presents safety experts with the perfect storm of traffic problems.

Country Club Drive is a narrow-paved road – 22.5 feet from edge to edge – with no sidewalks, and no gutters or curbs. Unlike the newer communities in town with wider, sometimes boulevard-style roads, grassy medians, and sidewalks and curbs for safe pedestrian use, in the Country Club neighborhood, dog walkers, kids on bikes, school buses, and the like must share the narrow road with the hundreds of vehicles – including trucks – now traveling from Purcellville’s Main Street, through their neighborhood to Rt. 690/North 21st Street and the Rt. 7 Bypass.

While motorists in other parts of town might use more commercial-type routes – North Hatcher past the Purcellville Post Office, or Rt. 287 past the Harris Teeter Shopping Center – to get the the Rt. 7 Bypass, this neighborhood cut-through has become the increasingly popular shortcut of choice for east-bound commuters trying to avoid downtown Purcellville.

Ever-present in the background to all of this is the modern commuter’s taste for speed, convenience, and choice – getting to the 55 mph Rt.7 bypass as quickly as possible, stopping off for a quick cup of coffee before jumping back on that favored route, and/or having the option to take another route if traffic reports warn of an accident up ahead. The newer but now well-established subdivision of Catoctin Meadows figures in prominently as well.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as this new subdivision just north of the Country Club was going in, the engineering and planning firm of Bradbury and Drenning warned that the Town should be very careful regarding the traffic patterns going in to and out of Catoctin Meadows.

The firm cautioned specifically against opening up a connection from Catoctin Meadows to Rt. 690 via Country Club Drive. With two access points to Country Club Drive from the main east and west road in Catoctin Meadows – Glenmeade Circle, the firm argued, commuters would go on Country Club Drive to get to Rt. 690. Motorists coming from the west and south of Purcellville – from Main Street and the southern end of Rt. 690 – were already starting to cut up North 33rd Street (near 7-11) and to Country Club Drive, seeking access to Rt. 690. Said the firm, anticipating potential problems for both the Catoctin Meadows and Country Club Drive neighborhoods: “It is our judgment that introduction of such outside traffic into this subdivision and the existing Country Club subdivision would be an undesirable feature from noise, safety, and privacy standpoints.”

The firm also pointed out that many subdivision ordinances discourage through-traffic through residential subdivisions. “It is our judgment,” said the firm, “ … that any convenience to residents of this subdivision would be outweighed by the adverse impact of significant volumes of outside through-traffic upon Country Club and Catoctin Meadow.”

Despite these clear warnings, when the Catoctin Meadows subdivision was approved, Town officials allowed traffic connections to Country Club Drive in two locations, one at the east end of Glenmeade Circle and the other at its west end.

A resolution passed by Town Council in 2000, promised that Glenmeade Circle would be an unrestricted connector road (to Country Club Drive), dashing hopes that there was any relief coming from that direction.

A “Country Club Drive reconstruction design project” put in speed bumps in 2013. But nothing implemented by the Town did anything to solve the neighborhood’s growing safety problems.

Town traffic counts over the years foreshadow the situation the Country Club neighborhood finds itself in, today. The latest traffic figures, recorded in October 2017, show the 1,300 daily trips with approximately 235 vehicles in each two-hour morning and afternoon rush hour time frame.

Woodgrove High School has added to the traffic passing through the Country Club neighborhood. And, regional traffic mitigation/management measures have only increased the neighborhood’s concern and vulnerability to the cut-through problem.

During the latter part of 2017, it came to the attention of the Country Club residents that the current Virginia Regional Transit (VRT) commuter lot at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Main Street was going to relocate to a 250 vehicle VRT commuter lot off of Hirst Road. The relocation of the VRT lot to Hirst Road raised tremendous concern with residents, because that would increase cut-through traffic even more.

When the new VRT lot was approved, the Purcellville Town Council unanimously approved a 33rd Street and Country Club Drive Traffic Pilot Program. The pilot program, is the first to eliminate cut-through traffic through “delineator-based” solutions, i.e. physical barriers.
Mayor Kwasi Fraser addressed the issue in a Town-wide announcement on Feb. 3, noting that grave concerns about the initial decision to allow access to Rt. 690 through the affected neighborhoods have existed since 1987. Citing statistics showing that the town’s population has increased more than five and one-half times since 1987, from 1,600 to 9,200, Fraser said, “Purcellville’s oldest neighborhoods are living the nightmare of cut-through traffic.

“… My position is to execute our unanimous decision by implementing a delineator-based pilot solution for one month, collect and analyze results, then move to another solution based on survey feedback from all impacted residents.  At the end of two months, we will reassess … I understand we cannot please everyone on this, but inaction on this safety and welfare issue is not an option,” he concluded.

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