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Minnie Howard overhaul approved, but getting students between campuses still a concern

Alexandria voted in 2019 to stick with one high school across two campuses, but how exactly students get from one location to the other remains a topic of some consternation.

The City Council was supportive of plans for the Minnie Howard campus of Alexandria City High School presented at the meeting on Saturday — with the Council voting unanimously in favor and Mayor Justin Wilson calling it an example of positive collaboration in an occasionally fraught relationship. But getting students from Minnie Howard to the King Street campus and vice-versa is still a nagging cause for concern.

“This would be an ideal bicycle environment,” said City Council member Sarah Bagley. “Connectivity between the two campuses is an ideal bike trip and an absolutely unideal car trip. Turning the car on and off to go half a mile — we want to do everything we can to induce bike connectivity between the two campuses. We have a large population capable of making that trip between these two parcels.”

City Councilman John Chapman asked city staff about long-term plans for the streets between the two campuses — particularly the busy intersection of West Braddock Road, King Street and North Quaker Lane. Megan Oleynik, an urban planner for the Department Transportation and Environmental Services, said there’s no major infrastructure improvements planned.

“In 2016 and 2017 there were a number of improvements made to signalization and crossing,” Oleynik said. “There were originally considerations for a comprehensive re-do of the intersection, but given the costs and benefits it was determined that smaller improvements were the best way forward.”

As Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) moves forward with development of the school, Oleynik said the city is hoping a walk audit can help with getting more grant funding for additional improvements.

“We’re looking to get some grant money to do a walk audit for these campuses and there might be some smaller improvements to help students walk more safely between the two campuses,” Oleynik said, “but there aren’t any major projects in the pipeline for realignment.”

There are shared lane markings on Braddock Road, Oleynik said, but the Council was divided over whether that was sufficient and the discussion, naturally, included a temporary revisiting of the Seminary Road bike lanes battle

“As someone who had a 9th grader that biked to that school every day and has another that will be doing the same next year, I think we do have an opportunity with that infrastructure,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said that if adding bike lanes are on the table, that conversation should happen before the city widens the sidewalk outside the school and not when the only option is a reduction in travel lanes.

“Seeing the emergency vehicles that use Braddock Road, that does still need to be a two lane road so I’d hate to see one of the lanes taken away for the use of a bike lane because the share roads are there,” Jackson said. “But if we’re going to do that, now would be the opportunity — while we’re putting in wider sidewalks. Saying ‘do we need wider sidewalks or do we use that land as part of a bicycle lane?'”

Jackson said crossing the streets near Alexandria City High School has long been an issue the city needs to do more to address.

“I know it was open campus for lunch when I went to T.C. and I can tell you we were all playing Frogger in the road,” Jackson said, “and that was 35 years ago because we didn’t have a way to get from the school over to the Bradlee Shopping Center to go to the Bagel Bakery or the Roy Rogers, instead of McDonalds.”

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