Trail Feature:
Completing A Sidewalk Connection Along School Street (Pen Daw Neighborhood)

Tax Maps 82-4 and 83-3

  Article Prepared By Robert Michie
Trails and Sidewalks Committee, Lee District
Last Reviewed: 3 February 2007
Revision 1.0


A citizen committee recently asked Fairfax County to complete a sidewalk connection along School Street in the Pen Daw Neighborhood. This connection will finish a pedestrian pathway from Telegraph Road to  North King's Highway. The objective is to allow safe passage of pedestrians along one of the two residential street connections between Telegraph Road and South Kings Highway that allow two-way traffic. The Shafer Lane-School Street network is a heavily used shortcut for vehicles traversing between two heavily-used secondary roads. It is also used by vehicles and pedestrians bound for the Huntington Metro Station, which is less than a mile away.

Exhibit 1a shows the west side (Telegraph Road) part of the sidewalk network. Starting at Telegraph Road, sidewalks run from Florence Lane through Shaffer Drive and up through the lower segment of School Street. The sidewalks (which are on both sides of the street) abruptly end as shown, which is the boundary of a development completed in the early 1990's. Note the location of Browne Academy in the center top of the map,  which was the subject of a Trail Waiver in 2007.

Exhibit 1b shows the east side (North King's Highway) part of the sidewalk network. The red line shows the location of the proposed sidewalk. The track is a moderately steep hill, but no problem for cars or pedestrians. Traffic is two-way, and parking is allowed on both sides of the street. Pedestrians must walk in the street, and weave around parked cars and moving traffic as best they can.

Two features are highlighted in Exhibit 1b. Feature 1 is a short sidewalk connection crossing a traffic barrier between Shaffer Drive and Poag Street. This sidewalk allows individuals living in the southern part of Pen Daw to walk on sidewalks to North King's Highway and the Metro Station. Feature 1, however, does nothing for the residents of the northern section of the area. Feature 2 is a short paved path from School Street to the Mount Eagle Elementary School. This path is used daily throughout the school year, but it has the major disadvantage of terminating on a busy street, rather than a sidewalk.

[ School Street Sidewalk Network - West Side ]

Exhibit 1a: Map of Subject Area (West)

Exhibit 1b: Map of Subject Area (East)



Exhibit 1b shows School Street to be almost a skiing chicane for both motorists and pedestrians. The curve of the road along with parked vehicles limits visibility and forces all users to proceed with caution. Cars and pedestrians appear and disappear to each other as the area is traversed. There are speed bumps present at the very bottom of School Street (Exhibit 1a, west of the "sidewalk ends" mark), but nothing like them in the Exhibit 1b area. Pen Daw is a particularly valuable resource of affordable housing and mostly owner occupied. The nature of the neighborhood means that the residents travel on foot just as often as they use vehicles.

School Street is an interior residential street. While it is unfair that Lee District and Mount Vernon District traffic use it as a traverse between two major roads, its nature does keep vehicle movement below 30 miles per hour. Adding a sidewalk will be a significant improvement for the Pen Daw community, but building it is going to be a very expensive proposition for Fairfax County, as the Field Check shows.

Field Check  2 February 2008:

Photo 1: School Street facing west at Pine Grove Circle. Note the steeply banked yards on the right side, and the location of utility poles right at the curbs. [ School Street at Pinre Grove Circle ]
Photo 2: Upper end of School Street, facing west. The right side is now mostly clear of obstructions. The steep banks in front yards and the utility poles are on the left side of the street. Note the cars parked on both sides of the street. [ School Street Upper Section ]

Placing the sidewalk will be a problem Every property in Exhibit 1b west of Pine Grove Circle and on the north side of the street has a retaining wall of some sort within ten feet of the curb. The utility poles and the fire hydrants are also in the way. Major excavation, landscaping, and mitigation await every homeowner.

Construction on the south side of the street will be easier, but only to Pine Grove Circle. The situation is reversed: the heavily banked yards are now on the south side. The utility poles also switch to the south side east of Breezy Terrace. It appears that the sidewalk will have to cross the street at Pine Grove Circle in order to keep construction costs and property disturbance to a minimum.


The local Pen Daw Sidewalk Committee has nearly 100% buy-in from the property owners along the north side of School Street. Fairfax County, unfortunately, estimates a minimum of $400,000 to build a sidewalk along the north side of School Street (Exhibit 1b). That amount is a significant fraction of all the sidewalk money that Fairfax County has for the foreseeable future. The Trails and Sidewalks Committee and the Pedestrian Task Force have already identified projects that have to get a higher priority than School Street.

I recommend that the Pen Daw Committee and Fairfax County consider the following actions to improve pedestrian access to School Street:

bulletConsider Additional Traffic Calming Measures. The south end of School Street has two speed control humps. Consider adding at least one more speed control hump east of Breezy Terrace.
bulletRestrict Parking to Only One Side of School Street. This is never popular with homeowners, but it will improve sight lines for both motorists and pedestrians. It is quite likely to improve traffic circulation for motorists and make it easier to plow the street in inclement weather as well as giving pedestrians an easier way to use School Street.
bulletConsider Building The Sidewalk In Two Phases. The north side of the upper section of School Street, particularly the section east of Breezy Terrace, is mostly level and does not have the obstacles of the section that is west of Breezy Terrace. As that the community in the area as already indicated a willingness to accept such a project, it could proceed at a much lower cost. The western extension can proceed when the engineering problems are addressed and when the County is on a better financial footing.


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