(Updated 12:05 p.m.) A few bus routes through Alexandria’s residential neighborhoods could be axed as the city shifts the transit service from a coverage focus to a ridership focus.
At a meeting at the Burke Branch Library last night (Thursday), representatives from DASH and the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services presented plans that would increase the frequency of service on the population-heavy periphery of Alexandria. The trade-off, however, is that certain areas currently served by bus routes in the residential core of the city could lose those routes.
Much of DASH’s new plans focus on establishing high-frequency bus lines. On these lines, buses would arrive every fifteen minutes at each stop. These high-frequency transit corridors are focused around areas of existing and projected population density, like in the Landmark/Van Dorn Metro corridor and Potomac Yard after the arrival of Amazon and the new Metro station.
The vast majority of those at the meeting were — to judge by a show of hands at the start of the meeting — Seminary Hill residents. One attendee commented that the entire ridership of the AT2 line, a route that runs through the heart of Seminary Hill and one of those proposed to be eliminated, was present at the meeting.
“I moved here for mass transit from Wisconsin,” said Vicki Carlson, an Alexandria resident, told ALXnow. “Now if they eliminate AT2, that’s the entire route to King Street on Janneys Lane.”
Carlson and other local residents said the elimination of the DASH bus route was the next kick to the gut after the recently-approved Complete Streets plan reduced the road from four car lanes to two and a center turn lane while adding in bicycle lanes.
Ken Notis, an avid ALXnow commenter and a member of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, told ALXnow he believed that making Seminary Road more accessible could actually wind up benefitting ridership to the AT2 line, and current models possibly didn’t account for the impact Complete Streets might have on non-car traffic along that road.
The AT2 isn’t the only route getting cut. Martin Barna, Director of Planning for DASH, warned that other routes through Park Fairfax, Russell Road near Del Ray, and through the North Ridge neighborhood could all lose their bus lines under the new plan. Barna said the current bus route coverage is a balance of 50 percent focused on frequency and 50 percent focus on coverage, but new plans skew more towards 85 percent focus on frequency and 15 percent on coverage.
In addition to changing residential patterns in Alexandria resulting in more people living in higher-density corridors, Barna said the changes are a result of declining transit ridership forcing bus operators to take a more business-minded approach.
“We’ll see frequent bus routes around the rim of the city, from Landmark up along the edge of the West End, through Beauregard and down West Glebe,” Barna said. “It’ll be every fifteen minutes, seven days a week. It’s going to be a big improvement.”
“Not for us,” someone in the audience shouted.
“Okay, I set myself up for that,” Barna admitted. “These maps show a gap in the middle. We want to put service where we believe most people will benefit. That does leave some gaps.”
The DASH Board of Directors is scheduled to meet for a public hearing on the new route changes on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall. Final approval of the plan is scheduled for Dec 11.
Josh Baker, CEO and General Manager of DASH, had been lurking in the back of the room for much of the meeting but told Seminary Road residents that he heard their concerns and would redouble his efforts to open up the express route from King Street to the Mark Center to other stops between the two sites. The route is paid for by the Department of Defense, but Baker said he would try to negotiate and find a way to have the route expanded.