Alexandria, VA

As Alexandria readies updates for its city-wide transportation plan, the city opened up the floor to other local government experts for lessons learned.

During a community forum last night (Monday) about Alexandria’s new transportation plan, city staffers hosted transit leaders from D.C. to Columbus, Ohio for a discussion on what Alexandria should focus on.

“This is a really exciting time to be in transportation,” said Director of Transportation and Environmental Services (TES) head Yon Lambert, who referenced the projects to build a new Metro station entrance at Potomac Yard, as well as Amazon’s headquarters and the new Virginia Tech campus.

Scooters Are Here to Stay

One new feature of the upcoming master transit plan, renamed “Mobility Plan,” will be the e-scooter program City Council members are considering expanding.

“When they first started they were like big toys,” said Jordan Davis, who heads the Smart Columbus smart city program in Columbus, Ohio and who noted that nowadays many people are using scooters for practical, routine trips. “So I think they’re here to stay.”

When asked by the moderator, about half the 80-member audience indicated they had used e-scooters and e-bikes.

(Data) Sharing is Caring

TES Principal Planner Jennifer Slesinger said one part of the new master plan will focus on smart mobility. Panelists encouraged planners to make real-time data a part of that.

Davis said said if cities publish provide real-time road condition data, navigation apps like Waze or Google Maps can help cut down on cut-through traffic — like the kind experienced on Taylor Run Parkway, Duke Street, and Seminary Road.

Hillary Orr, Alexandria’s Deputy Director of Transportation, previously told WTOP that the city plans to redirect cars out of neighborhoods and back to “arterial” roadways, and use sensor technology to allow buses longer green light time to prioritize transit riders.

Linda Bailey, who leads D.C. Department of Transportation’s embattled Vision Zero initiative, said real-time data could also allow cities to set up systems where delivery trucks can reserve and pre-pay for curb parking, and drivers can also tap into information about local parking garages.

“I have seen a parking garage that is never full just around the corner here,” she said of the Carlyle Place parking garage, adding that “information gaps” are one of the things technology addresses well.

You Can’t “Build” Away Congestion, But You Can Build Safety

Several panelists echoed the famous phrase that planners can’t “build” their way out of congestion problems.

“The only way out of our congestion is to get out of our single-occupancy vehicles,” said Atherton.

When residents asked what role ride hailing companies play in this, considering some studies show they increase road congestion, ride sharing service Via’s Greater D.C. Area General Manager said he’s “in favor” of congestion taxes like New York City’s new cruising tax to encourage more shared rides rather than single-passenger trips.

But experts said safety could be built: Atherton noted some simple solutions like sidewalks are “pretty nuts and bolts.” Bailey said keeping roads narrow and building fixtures like poles in people’s peripheral vision encourages motorists to drive slower.

The D.C. officials said everyone needs to “remember physics.”

“We need to look at force and mass in order to avoid and mitigate crashes to keep people safe,” she said.

Alexandria released a public survey this summer to guide the plans, which will last another decade, as Alexandria Living reported. Posters shared during Monday night’s meeting indicate that the new plan is being designed around the survey responses, in which residents asked for “safety, accessibility, and ease” in their transit modes.

But don’t hold your breath to see the new document: planning discussions are expected to continue into Spring 2020.

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Tonight, the Alexandria History Museum at the Lyceum is hosting a history lesson on on how the year 1619 shaped Virginia.

The year marks the founding of the Virginia Assembly, the first African slaves forcibly transported to Virginia’s shores, and the arrival of the first ship of European women to the colony. And tonight, Tuesday, October 8, three historians will discuss the significance of those pivotal moments for the state, and the country, 400 years ago.

The free event will begin at 7 p.m. in the The Lyceum at 201 S. Washington St.

Panelists include Dr. Nick Gaffney, Professor of History at the Professor at the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and a member of the Commemoration Committee to raise awareness of the history of slavery and the accomplishments of African Americans since then.

The professor is slated to discuss slavery and the significant of Virginia’s first enslaved African who were brought to the state in 1619 during tonight’s panel.

Gaffney will be joined by Dr. Jim McClellan, also a Professor of History at NOVA, who will talk about the founding of the Virginia Assembly and its European influences, as well as what the English settlers’ treatment of Native Americans in Virginia had to do with the events in 1619.

A third Professor of History at NOVA, Dr. Lynette Garrett, will join the panel discussion to speak about the role of women in colonial Virginia.

The event comes after a few months after the New York Times published a groundbreaking edition, the “1619 Project,” to examine the stories of slavery and the legacy of the slave trade today in America. Groups of African Americans have also been holding their own private ceremonies grappling with the beginning of slavery in the U.S.

A separate event celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Virginia Assembly in July was boycotted by the Virginia Black Caucus, which protested President Trump’s planned speech in light of what they said was his history of racist remarks and policies.

As with any part of Virginia, Alexandria has its fair share of local history intertwined with the legacies of slavery: from local man John F. Parker, who was born to slavery and later became the principal of Snowden School for Boys in Alexandria, to the city’s legacy of segregated housing.

Interested attendees who can’t make it to tonight’s panel have another opportunity tomorrow morning, October 9, when the NOVA Alexandria Campus (5000 Dawes Avenue) hosts a second panel discussion on the topic.

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The City of Alexandria is among the country’s best small cities, according to new rankings.

Condé Nast Traveler magazine ranked Alexandria the No. 3 small city in the U.S. Charleston, South Carolina ranked first on the list, which was based on votes from 600,000 readers about cities with a population under 350,000 people. Santa Fe, New Mexico ranked No. 2.

“Washingtonians are all in on the secret, but it’s no surprise the rest of the world is catching up: Alexandria, Virginia, the charming, historic city just across the Potomac River from our nation’s capital, draws travelers and would-be residents alike,” the magazine wrote. “Most folks start to imagine moving there just after setting foot in Old Town, once they’ve strolled the red brick sidewalks, clocking street after street of perfectly preserved rowhouses from the 18th and 19th centuries.”

The ranking included a a sun-washed photo of restaurants Vermilion and Vaso’s Mediterranean Bistro on King Street.

Alexandria beat out Savannah, Georgia (fourth place) and Key West, Florida (fifth place) and Aspen, Colorado (sixth place) in the list of top ten cities.

“When you visit, scope out King Street, packed with boutiques, restaurants, and specialty shops, before landing at the waterfront,” the magazine advised. “End the day at Gadsby’s Tavern, where some of our founding fathers used to drink, and don’t mind the actors in colonial garb performing for you.”

Washington, D.C., meanwhile, ranked No. 5 among large cities on the list.

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An Old Town mural has helped raise some $10,000 for a mix of local and national charities.

The mural of two butterfly wings on the side of lingerie shop Bloomers (924 King Street) was the center of a local social media fundraising campaign in August and September. Last week, organizers announced it helped to raise $10,200 for 111 nonprofits.

California-based artist Tasha Wahl painted and designed the mural, while an anonymous donor helped fund the project through ACT for Alexandria.

More from a press release:

The project was a result of a partnership between Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Tasha Wahl, ACT for Alexandria, Asana Partners, and Bloomers. More than 400 individuals participated in the campaign. Two nonprofits were honored with $1,200 in donations and prizes as a result of the generosity of the community. The Alexandria Police Foundation received the social media prize [for] the most posts on social media. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria received the most photo submissions.

To participate, individuals were encouraged to take a photo in front of the butterfly wings mural located at 924 King Street, Alexandria, VA and select the charity of their choice from a list of almost 250 local and national 501c3 organizations to receive a $20 donation. Participants could also post their photo on social media tagging their favorite nonprofit, #inclusiveALX and #butterflyeffect for a chance to win an additional $500 for their favorite group.

“I’m thankful to Tasha Wahl for her vision in starting this global project and for choosing Alexandria; to Asana Partners and Bloomers for providing the space for the mural; and to the members of the community who brought it to life,” Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said.

The awards were funded by Ms. Wahl and an anonymous donor through ACT for Alexandria, the community foundation. Working with Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker, Ms. Wahl customized the mural for our community to include the phrase, “Be the Change You Want to See in the World” in English, Spanish and Arabic.

“ACT for Alexandria believes the diversity of our community is one of Alexandria’s greatest assets; the vision of a vibrant community is core to our work. We are grateful to Elizabeth and Tasha for bringing the Butterfly Effect mural to Alexandria and honored to facilitate one of our donor’s philanthropic commitments to supporting the local nonprofit community,” said Brandi Yee, ACT for Alexandria’s Chief Program Officer.

Mayor Justin Wilson was among those who posed in front of the artwork in August.

The “Butterfly Effect” hashtag is a reference to a movement of mural-fundraisers started by Wahl in 2013 that combined her interpretation of Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of setting an example for change, and Edward Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” theory of small actions producing chain reactions to major changes.

Alexandria Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker first saw the project via Instagram, per a post on her website, and applied to host one of Wahl’s murals but with multilingual translations of “Be the Change you Want to See In the World” and #InclusiveALX hashtag

“I’m excited to bring the Butterfly Effect to Alexandria because it will build community, promote vibrancy on upper King Street, and highlight nonprofits in a fun, interactive way,” Bennett-Parker told Alexandria Living Magazine when the mural launched last month.

In a statement last week, she thanked Wahl and Asana Partners and Bloomers, and those who voted and “brought it to life.”

Image via Twitter/Justin Wilson

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Alexandria cyclists will be able to enjoy a leisurely, 13-mile bike tour of the city’s libraries this weekend.

The city’s seventh annual bike tour of libraries returns this Saturday, October 5 with a two hour ride departing from and returning the Charles Beatley Central Library at 5005 Duke Street. Families are encouraged to attend, although children under the age of 13 must be attached to their parent’s bicycle (with seats or on a tandem.)

Attendance to the event is free, but online registration is required.

Participants are asked to check-in between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. at the library on Saturday, with the tour beginning at 10 a.m. The ride is expected to last until 12:30 p.m.

Cycling joining the tour are asked to bring their own helmets. Water and snacks will be provided, per the event’s webpage.

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Traffic on either side of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge is expected to come to a standstill shortly before midnight tonight (Tuesday) due to a passing ship.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) tweeted earlier this afternoon that the span would be opened around 11:30 p.m. to allow a 247.5-foot “superyacht” to pass through. The closure is likely to cause traffic backups on the Beltway.

“Expect delays and consider alternate routes,” the transit agency warned commuters.

The ship causing all the fuss is the Bella Vita, a six-deck vessel for up to 12 guests and 22 crew.

According to its website, the Bella Vita costs $708,872 a week to charter and comes with a movie theatre, salon and gym — and is described by owner Moran Yacht & Ship as a “rugged luxury yacht.”

Formerly known as the Northern Star, the luxury yacht was built in 2009 and was at one point valued at $181 million, before being remodeled.

The Wilson bridge rarely opens, but makes exceptions for large ships, like the historic tall ships on their annual pilgrimage to Alexandria.

Image via Flickr/Geoff Livingston

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