Alexandria, VA

Nicole Radshaw is all in favor of the much-maligned Seminary Road diet.

Three years ago on Halloween, the Seminary Valley resident was hit by a driver as she biked to work at a preschool on Seminary Road. Radshaw didn’t break any bones, but her bike was totaled, she spent a year in physical therapy, and saw a counselor to help deal with the trauma and anxiety of being hit by a car.

“It really sucked. I could have been a fatality. Cars were driving past as I was lying on the road,” Radshaw told ALXnow. “It took me three years to want to get back on a bike again.”

Radshaw belongs to a less vocal portion of city residents who favor the road diet, which has created consternation throughout Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson and city officials have acknowledged traffic delays at peak travel times since the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street was reduced from four to two lanes. Bike lanes on both sides were also added, in addition to a center turn lane, crosswalks and medians.

The city council and Department of Transportation and Environmental Services have received thousands of emails and messages against the plan. Arguments from the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group even prompted Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson to call for a complete restart of the process.

Glenn Klaus lives in Rosemont, and his support of the road diet is more philosophical. He’s a cyclist and hasn’t yet biked on the new Seminary Road bike lanes, but wants to see fewer cars on city roadways.

“The city is trying to change driving behaviors and traffic patterns. People just have to deal, because ultimately I think that strategy is to their benefit,” Klaus said. “When people lose, it doesn’t mean they weren’t listened to. It just means their argument didn’t sway the decision-makers.”

Lisa Soronen lives on Fort Williams Parkway — about five blocks away from Seminary Road — and alternates between taking the bus in the morning and driving to work in the District. She walks her dog in the morning and crosses Seminary Road on foot up to six times a day, which used to be a “suicide mission,” she said. Now she says that drivers are paying more attention to the 25 mile per hour speed limit and she is no longer afraid of crossing the street.

“It’s absolutely wonderful, because if I want to cross the road I have a crosswalk,” Soronen said. “Same thing with the bus. Coming home after 5 p.m., I’d have to run across four lanes of traffic and someone might hit me. I’m really surprised that people feel so personal about it, and they have attacked me personally. I have been attacked online.”

Soronen said she has experienced delays along the roadway in the morning, and has seen emergency vehicles speed through the middle turn lane without issues . She got involved in the planning process for the roadway soon after moving into the neighborhood last April, and has corresponded with members of the city council and city staff.

“I might be delayed sometimes driving on Seminary, but it’s worth it for me for it to be safer for everyone,” she said. “The process I participated in seems open and fair. If things had gone the other way, I don’t think I would have considered that the process failed me.”

Soronen is an attorney and volunteers with the Mother of Light Center, which supports homeless Alexandrians. She said that the argument over the road diet is a waste of her time and distracts city council from its other work.

“I don’t understand the vitriol against this,” she said, calling the dispute “small and petty” and not as big of a deal as, say, poverty and homelessness in the city.

Last month, the Alexandria Fire Department reported that it has received no complaints from personnel navigating the reconfigured roadway, which is near Inova Alexandria Hospital. The Virginia Theological Seminary at 3737 Seminary Road also sent out a letter in support of the road diet.

“We have over 280 residents on the campus,” wrote Ian Markham, the Virginia Theological Seminary dean and president. “Now I cannot speak for the additional fifteen to forty people in the private houses, but for the Seminary, we are delighted with the change. With the sole exception of a thirty-minute back up between 8:10 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. (which dissipates quickly), the traffic is slower, calmer, and the whole street is quieter and much more gentle. It has worked wonderfully.”

France Jordan has worked in the area as a private contractor for more than 20 years and routinely drives along Seminary Road. He’s not a fan of the changes, but admits they have resulted in slower, more careful driving.

“Yeah, it slows people down, which is what I guess the city was after, and that’s good,” Jordan said. “But it’s created a lot of congestion. Come around here at about 5 p.m. and you’ll just see a wall of traffic. We have a lot of people who walk around here and run and bike, but the traffic is just wall-to-wall instead of flowing.”

Radshaw biked to work for the first time since her accident in October — three years after her accident. She also rode her bike last Monday.

“Safety isn’t free,” she said. “I think it’s working and I’m grateful for it. I think cars are going slower. Yesterday I was on my bike and there was a guy who needed directions and I stopped and talked to him and cars kept going on. This isn’t just a cut-through road for people to get to work. It’s a community. People live here.”

The City Council will receive a staff update on the Seminary Road issue at its legislative meeting on Feb. 11 at City Hall.

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