Candidate Name (Affiliation): Mark T. Welch (I)

District: Franconia

1. Improving Public Transit

Public transit is the backbone of a sustainable, equitable transportation system and a thriving economy, and Fairfax County has admirable plans to expand its bus rapid transit (BRT) network to ensure fast, frequent, and reliable service for residents. While public transit ridership on some systems has been hit by the pandemic with reduced commute trips due to increased teleworking, transit remains key for essential workers, and for supporting compact, walkable communities.

Do you support increased funding for public transit to address budget shortfalls and make improvements to better serve riders?

Candidate’s Response: [No answer provided.]

What is your experience riding public transit? What ideas do you have to improve public transit in Fairfax County? 

Candidate’s Response:

I utilized WMATA [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] for over 30 years, commuting to work from the Huntington Metro station into downtown DC.

I support funding robust public transit but would first look to making transit improvements within current funding levels, before increasing funding through higher taxes. The premise of the question is that there are budget shortfalls, but the FY 2024 County budget provides monies to the County Transit Systems fund based on increased operating expenditures of $19M (19%) from FY 2022 actuals. The amount the County funds Metro has increased 152% in the past five years! There needs to be a systematic evaluation of existing operations (e.g., the number of riders on Fairfax Connector routes) to determine what objectives are and are not being met within these (higher) current funding levels and whether funding can be reallocated accordingly, before determining the necessity of increased funding.

2. Active Transportation Funding

The ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan – the County’s most significant overhaul of its bicycle, pedestrian, and trails plans – is expected to be finalized this year. The plan’s recommendations address critical safety needs for residents who already walk and bike and also make improvements to allow more residents to walk and bike conveniently and safely for daily needs. Realizing the Plan’s vision will require substantial, dedicated, and consistent funding.

Would you support Fairfax committing dedicated annual funding to support the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan, even if that meant potentially delaying road expansion and interchange projects?

Candidate’s Response: [No answer provided.]

What is your personal experience dealing with or advocating for pedestrian or bicyclist safety issues?

Candidate’s Response:

My answer to 2a is dependent on knowing the amount of dedicated annual funding and the safety and other impacts of delaying an important road expansion or interchange project – the questions cannot be answered generically. As a daily walker in the Springvale area, often dodging speeders who have little regard for pedestrians as I pick up litter, I am well acquainted with pedestrian safety issues, and would advocate for responsible, cost-effective improvements consistent with the ActiveFairfax Transportation Plan.

3. Low-Stress Bike Network

Fairfax County has committed to reducing the amount people have to drive and associated transportation-related carbon emissions. The County’s climate plan calls for meeting a goal of 30% non-auto commuting trips by 2030. To make this shift, the County will need robust, accessible alternatives and bicycling is an ideal, low-cost, carbon-free alternative. But that mode shift requires dedicated infrastructure including an expanded network of trails and comfortable, protected, low-stress bicycle facilities – not just painted bike lanes or sharrows – to make bicycling meaningfully safer, more appealing, and more accessible and often requires roadway redesign that reduces parking and/or vehicle lanes. 

Compared to the current prioritization, do you think greater priority should be given to the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians in the County’s roadway designs?

Candidate’s Response: [No answer provided.]

How would you ensure that people of all ages and abilities have robust active transportation access to and along the County’s major and most important thoroughfares and connecting streets?

Candidate’s Response:

Again, question 3a is a very board question and cannot be answered generically. I certainly support considering the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians in roadway designs, but those needs also must be balanced against overall traffic safety, funding constraints, and other priorities, given the circumstances of the particular road design. I would prioritize working with State and Federal partners to ensure optimal funding for providing safe, convenient, and equitable bike and pedestrian access.

4. Safe Streets for All

On May 10, 2022, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously endorsed the Safe Streets for All Program, a comprehensive initiative to address systemic transportation safety issues for people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving. Included in the recommendations is a call for roadway infrastructure changes to slow traffic on our community’s streets. Unfortunately, the County has not yet dedicated staff or funding to begin executing the program. At the same time, Fairfax County experienced a troubling uptick in traffic-related pedestrian fatalities in 2022. 

Do you support the full implementation of the Safe Streets for All Program in Fairfax County, including changes to roadway design guidelines and an expanded automated speed enforcement program?

Candidate’s Response: Yes.

What proven traffic safety improvement policies, programs, and/or technologies would you like to see implemented in your district and throughout the County? Given the lack of clarity around who has the legal and budgetary authority to make roadway safety improvements stemming from state ownership of County roads, what steps would you propose to ensure that these roadway safety improvements are implemented?

Candidate’s Response:

I would like to see the implementation of traffic calming measures and the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (i.e., advanced technologies that provide realtime information about traffic conditions so that drivers can avoid congestion and accidents).

Recognizing that road safety is primarily the responsibility of the State, advocacy with VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] is a key part of a Supervisor’s job, and I would work closely with them to make roadway safety improvements in the Franconia District.

5. Safe Routes to School

Trips to and from schools are among the best opportunities to reduce car trips in Fairfax County. A robust Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program can play a critical role in encouraging more families to walk and bicycle to school, which has been shown to increase confidence and sense of independence among children while also reducing pickup/dropoff vehicle congestion and associated carbon emissions. Unfortunately, the County’s SRTS program includes just one dedicated staff position for a public school system that serves 185,000 students. 

Would you support expanding the Safe Routes to School program, including additional staff capacity, to get more kids to walk and bike to school?

Candidate’s Response: Yes.

What other policies or budget items will you pursue to upgrade transportation infrastructure so kids can safely walk and bike to school? 

Candidate’s Response:

I support additional staff capacity, but not from additional funding derived from higher taxes or taken from other County programs. FCPS [Fairfax County Public Schools] clearly has excess positions that can be converted to the SRTS [Safe Routes to School] program as attrition occurs. For example, compared to FY2022, the FY 2024 Adopted School Budget includes 61 additional assistant principal positions (with the same number of schools) and 83 additional business specialist positions (with essentially the same number of students). Compared to FY 2020, when there were 8,000 fewer students, the FY 2024 Adopted Budget includes more than 900 additional positions.

I support focused investment in sidewalks, crosswalks, etc. that would facilitate students being able to safely bike and walk to their schools.

Families for Safe Streets is a 501(c)(3) organization. This candidate questionnaire is strictly educational and has being shared with all candidates and the public. By law, our organization is strictly prohibited from participating in, or intervening in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.

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