Opinion

Poll: Is increased car travel time on Duke Street an acceptable trade for better transit?

Updated 10:45 p.m. — The question should read “increased car travel time” rather than reduced.

Alexandria is in the process of planning an overhaul to Duke Street, and while part of the project goal is improved transit

The Duke Street Transitway is an idea to provide enhanced bus service along Duke Street, specifically looking at the possibility of bus rapid transit (BRT) like the current route in Potomac Yard. BRT routes emphasize quick, reliable bus service with the buses either mixed in with traffic or with dedicated lanes, as in Potomac Yard. Duke Street is one of a handful of BRT routes under consideration across the city.

Through improvements to the overall transportation system, but specifically to bus rapid transit (BRT) infrastructure and operations, choosing to ride the bus becomes a desirable option for Duke Street travelers, maintaining and enhancing Duke Street’s role as a vibrant community connector for residents and businesses,” the draft vision statement said. “Improvements to the bus system and multimodal infrastructure will support greater connectivity and efficiency for other travel modes along the corridor.”

One of the objectives for the plan is “limited or no negative travel time impacts to non-transit vehicles,” but at a meeting of the Duke Street Transitway Advisory Group there was some discussion of whether that was a realistic goal.

One resident representative on the group said they were concerned about dismissing the impact of the project on non-transit vehicles as an acceptable cost to better transit. The resident said this concern is particularly relevant given that the vast majority of Duke Street users are drivers rather than transit riders.

“This is a transit-driven project,” said Mindy Lyle, the Planning Commission representative to the group. “As we move forward and as the BRT comes into play, as we add the connections and the additional bus lines to both Van Dorn and Duke Street and get more emphasis on biking and walking, driving becomes less of the majority. I use my car 60% less than I did three years ago, and I would like to use it 60% less next year than I do now.”

Lyle said as the group looks at developing transit options, the priority should be on getting people on buses.

“As our population gets younger we are going to see more emphasis on biking, walking and on the bus,” Lyle said. “As buses become more efficient it’s going to increase, and that’s this project. It’s not about driving up and down Duke Street.”

One group member, who was not identified in the video, car travel time is part of the trade-off for greater pedestrian safety measures as well.

“This will come into conflict when you get talking about safety,” the group member said. “If you want to make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street somebody is going to have to give up time for that to happen, and if you give up time it’s going to impact travel time. There are only 60 seconds in a minute.”