After months of activism over the much-maligned Seminary Road Diet, the Facebook group dedicated to opposing the lane reduction has rebranded itself and broadened its focus.
On Sunday, the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group was renamed “Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria! End Seminary Rd Diet & Other Bad Ideas.”
“I think that trust in the city government has reached a low ebb. It’s the lowest that it’s been in the 30 years that I’ve lived in Alexandria,” said Bill Rossello, one of the administrators of the Facebook group. “When the city makes a decision, they just go through the motions to make it look like they are making efforts toward civic engagement.”
The group of around 1,500 vocal residents was founded in November — not long after the quick implementation of the road diet, a reduction of the 0.9 mile stretch of Seminary from N. Quaker Lane to Howard Street from four lanes to two, plus a center turn lane and bike lanes.
After Freedom of Information Act disclosures and continuous engagements with numerous city officials, City Councilwoman Amy Jackson surprised her colleagues in December by calling for a reversal of the road diet. Jackson ended up withdrawing her motion, although the group considers the attempted action a victory.
“It’s all about Facebook and the power of social media, because all these people came to us. With 1,500 people, word can spread very quickly,” Rossello said, adding that the road diet will be an election issue in the upcoming local Democratic primary in June 2021. “There will be more FOIAs, and judging from what Amy Jackson promised to do, there will be some movement on this… I imagine that most of our members will support candidates who want to reverse it.”
Now the group will focus its attention to issues across the city. Its description on Facebook now reads:
(T)he City’s lack of truthfulness and transparency has become a pattern across a number of policy decisions and proposals, including those related to road diets, Metro entrances, affordable housing, VDOT grants and business permitting without proper data, justification and approval from actual citizens of the City.
Rossello, who served on the city’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee for seven years in the 1990s, said that the private Facebook group is nonpartisan, but it is not intended to be a debate platform for city residents. About 19 members of the group have been kicked out for arguing, he noted, because the group is intended to be an “affinity group.”
A recent post emphasizes that discontentment among residents bridges the party divide.
“I like adding Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria to our name,” a group member wrote last night. “It helps combat the folks saying we’re grouchy right wingers. I, for one, am a liberal Democrat.”
“I think that we on this site want to prevent our pleasant, tree-lined City from turning into sterile, treeless Crystal City,” the post continued. “We favor a transportation department that promotes traffic flow, not traffic jams. We want our government to return to its friendly, honest, responsive ways. We want to end this era of… rigged community ‘input.'”
(Though the group is vocal in its opposition to the Seminary Road Diet, a less vocal group of residents, including many of those who live along the affected stretch of Seminary Road, support the changes. Also, it should be noted, Crystal City is not without trees.)
Despite the prohibition on arguing, Mayor Justin Wilson repeatedly engages on the page by making comments, many of which refute accusations of a conspiracy against city residents.
The mayor’s comments have fueled the determination of the group, Rossello said.
“I think that he [Wilson] has certainly added to the interest in the group and spurred a lot of discussions. People take advantage of that and spar with him,” Rossello said. “We are going to continue to put pressure on city officials.”