Alexandria, VA

The squeaky wheel on the bus may get the grease, as the Alexandria Transit Company Board of Directors has directed staff to find a way of restoring or replacing a bus line through Seminary Road cut from current plans to overhaul the bus network.

DASH, the city’s bus system, is preparing to shift its bus service from a model focused on widespread coverage of the city to one that focuses on high-frequency service in densely populated corridors.

One of the casualties of this change would be the AT2 bus line. The bus line starts in Lincolnia and works up through the West End to the Mark Center before running down through the heart of Seminary Hill and into Old Town.

Steve Sindiong, an urban planner for the City of Alexandria, said that the DASH Board of Directors told staff at an earlier meeting that they need to go back and restore service in that corridor.

“That’s what we’re working on right now,” Sindiong said. “We’re looking at different approaches to service on Seminary [Road] and Janneys [Lane].”

The removal of the lines caused outrage at a meeting at the Burke Branch Library in October, where a packed room of local residents said they were concerned that they would lose access to the city’s bus service.

DASH tweeted that AT2 riders would be able to reach Old Town through a transfer at Landmark Mall or Southern Towers, but plans for the bus routes by 2022 eliminate service east of Inova Alexandria Hospital (4320 Seminary Road).

Sindiong said the replacement bus line would have, at a minimum, some weekday service.

The city is also currently in discussions with the Department of Defense, which funds the AT2x route that runs directly from the King Street Metro station to the Mark Center. It is currently an express bus, meaning it makes no stops on Seminary Road, but staff said in the October meeting that they were cautiously hopeful that it could be opened up to local residents.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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It’s a problem for which sympathy may be difficult, but the City of Alexandria has too many impounded cars on its hands.

The city is considering purchasing 4001 Wheeler Avenue, a parking lot across the street from the Port City Brewing Company, and turning it into storage for impounded vehicles. The city would purchase the property from the Jeffrey Lee Yates Trust, which earlier this year received a go-ahead from city officials to open the long-awaited Yates Pizza at 3000 Duke Street.

The city had to substantially reduce the size of its existing impound lot to facilitate the construction of Fire Station 210 at 5255 Eisenhower Avenue. The reduction reduced the city’s impound capacity by 60 percent, from 220 vehicles to 80 vehicles.

During peak periods at the impound lot, staff noted in a report that the number of vehicles impounded exceeded the site’s storage capacity, forcing them to temporarily park on DASH bus property. But with DASH planning to expand its facilities, that temporary space could disappear in three years.

“The city requires a parcel of at least 35,000 square feet to provide the space required to serve as an overflow impound lot,” staff said in a report. “To prepare for the loss of the existing parcel, the city has identified a privately-owned parcel at 4001 Wheeler Avenue, which will address the City’s need for additional vehicle storage.”

The site is amid one of the few remaining concentrations of light industrial uses in Alexandria and is currently a surface parking lot, meaning little negative impact is expected on the adjacent neighborhood.

Consideration of whether the potential purchase is consistent with the city’s Master Plan is scheduled for the Thursday, Dec. 3, Planning Commission meeting. The cost of the property purchase is not currently listed on city documents.

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Morning Notes

Meeting About Detention Center Held Last Night — “Should a youth detention center in Northern Virginia stay open? That question spurred passionate debate at a series of public meetings this month, as the operators of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center make decisions about the future of the facility… ‘I would like to see the facility stay open because it helps youth,’ said Bill Cleveland, former vice mayor of Alexandria.” [WTOP, Twitter/@AmyJacksonVA]

City Council Approves Waterfront Restaurant — “The Mill, a southern kitchen and market, gained approval to open in a historic Alexandria warehouse at 10 Duke Street on the waterfront. City Council voted on Nov. 16 to approve the special use permit and encroachment into the public right-of-way on Duke Street for a balcony, steps and signage.” [Patch]

Xmas Tree Selected for Dec. 8 Tree Lighting — “After scouting for the Del Ray Christmas tree by air over the Naughty Pines tree farm in Dickerson, Md., the perfect specimen has been identified. They found it in Anderson’s single engine Cirrus airplane, and all they have to do now is inspect it on the ground, cut it down, lift it onto a trailer, and haul it over to Mount Vernon Avenue.” [Zebra]

NORAD Exercises Planned Tonight — “Don’t be frightened if you see and hear military aircraft speeding overhead… The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is expected to conduct air exercises over the Washington area from Thursday night into early Friday morning. Flights are scheduled between midnight and 5:30 a.m.” [WTOP]

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Some residents are downright angry at what they describe as major traffic backups caused by recent changes to Seminary Road.

Last month the city repaved and re-striped a portion of Seminary Road, changing it from two vehicle travel lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction, a center turn lane and two bike lanes. Some construction activity is still underway but people who opposed the project from the outset have wasted no time in decrying what they say is a significant increase in traffic as a result.

Last night NBC 4 reporter Adam Tuss covered the controversy during an evening news broadcast.

“Get rid of these stupid islands, get rid of these bike lanes,” local resident Phil Cefaratti told Tuss. “People on my side are very, very frustrated… we’re basically calling on City Council, especially the mayor, do to something about this.”

Cefaratti echoed other residents who call the result of the changes a “traffic nightmare” and Seminary a “parking lot” during rush hour, saying it now takes up to 20 minutes to go a mile at times.

Tuss also interviewed a resident who was happy about the changes, saying it’s a safety improvement. Some took to Twitter after the broadcast to voice similar views.

City staff told Tuss and previously told the City Council that they expect the daily delays to ease as work concludes and some signal timing changes are implemented.

“While we understand that delays are frustrating, the corridor is still under construction and all of the components that work together to make this project work are not yet complete,” Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services said in a memo. “While there have been some increased queues during the peak half-hour in the morning, we are still generally seeing vehicles able to get through a signal in one cycle.”

Opponents of the changes, meanwhile, are continuing to speak out and have formed a Facebook group to coordinate and gripe. One recent post on the exceedingly active Facebook group says that Mayor Justin Wilson has agreed to watch observe traffic congestion with residents on an as-yet undetermined weekday morning.

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The new art project coming to Waterfront Park (1 Prince Street) next year will feature a series of silhouettes representing the city’s history of slavery.

The concept renderings from artist Olalekan Jeyifous feature four three-dimensional silhouettes, each roughly 11 feet tall, with industrial imagery carved into the bodies. The figures will face out towards the river. The ground of the plaza will be covered with a pattern referencing African-American quilting — mixing traditional symbols with ones that represent industries from the city’s past — like an armory and rail tracks.

The art would replace the Mirror Mirror installation — which also reflected a piece of the city’s history. The displays are part of a series by different artists called Site See: New Views in Old Town.

Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, unveiled the designs to the Waterfront Commission yesterday (Tuesday) morning. The designs were approved at the Arts Commission meeting that evening.

Ruggiero said Jeyifous visited Alexandria in the spring and went on a tour around town. Jeyifous’ visit to the Freedom House (1315 Duke Street) — once the headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — was one of the visits that ultimately helped shape the project, Ruggiero said.

The artwork is expected to be installed in March, according to Ruggiero.

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Morning Notes

City Phone Service Restored — The City of Alexandria’s non-emergency phone lines are working again after service was restored Tuesday night. A cut to a fiber optic line caused the outage, a city spokeswoman said. [Twitter/@AlexandriaVAGov]

House With George Washington Connection on Airbnb — “George Washington may have slept here, and now so could you… in the heart of Old Town Alexandria in Virginia, where a house that once belonged to the first U.S. president is available to rent. The George of Old Town is a 6000-square-foot townhouse on Cameron Street, and it is available on Airbnb.” [WTOP]

Life Savers Recognized by AFD — “Recently when a colleague collapsed, his coworkers dialed 9-1-1 and performed CPR until fire department units arrived. Yesterday, AFD recognized Stefan Jaeger, Rebecca Rosario, Tammy Lafley, and Nick Canfield for their heroic acts that helped save a life.” [Twitter]

Nutcracker Returns Next Month — “Now in its 11th year, the Alexandria Community Nutcracker is continuing its own tradition of performing the famous ballet with a modern twist by including tap, jazz, gymnastics, Irish dance, and hip hop in the choreography. More than 250 dancers and musicians, from age 3 to age 18, bring the magic and eloquence of Tchaikovsky’s 1892 classic score to life on stage at West Potomac High School.” [Gazette Packet]

Bread & Water Back Open — After a devastating fire at the Belle View Shopping Center, local bakery and cafe Bread & Water has reopened. That has also allowed the company’s locations at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria and Pentagon Row in Arlington to reopen, as the Belle View store supplied each location with fresh bread and other offerings. [Zebra]

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If you’re trying to call a City of Alexandria and getting a dead line, you’re not alone.

The city’s inbound phone service is not available due to a problem with Verizon’s network, according to a press release from the City of Alexandria.

The nature of the problem isn’t clear, but the press release notes that the city is currently working with Verizon to resolve the issue.

Beyond just core services, several affiliated phone lines like local recreation centers and the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria also have inoperable phone lines.

Emergency phone calls, the press release noted, should still be placed by calling 911.

Update at 8 a.m. — Service has been restored.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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(Updated 11/20) This summer’s Metro shutdown could wind up netting the Potomac Riverboat Company a goal the company has been after for years: permanent early-morning service for its water taxi.

The company’s lease currently prohibits boats from coming in or out of docks before 9:30 a.m., which staff told the Waterfront Commission this morning (Tuesday) means the boats are usually used by tourists. But during the Metro shutdown, the city waived that restriction.

“The water taxi was well used,” staff said. “Most of the new users were Metro riders. They had up to 997 boardings a week [in June] and averaged 600 during the rest of the shutdown.”

During the shutdown, the city offered a reimbursement program that included $100 for a seasonal pass and $8 for round trip tickets. Current prices post Metro shutdown are notably pricier: $195 for an unlimited annual pass and $18 for a round trip pass.

The city previously required Potomac Riverboat Company to implement a parking plan for commuter parking, but 85 percent of the new riders biked or walked to the water taxi and the city reported there were no parking complaints or capacity issues related it.

Now, the staff said City Manager Mark Jinks has expressed interest in asking the council for an extension of the hours in the lease to allow operations to begin “before 6:30 a.m.” and to promote the water taxi as an alternative to driving.

“This is great,” said Waterfront Commission member Nathan Macek, also chair of the Planning Commission. “I’m happy to see it move forward. I think we’ve had an irrational fear [of utilizing the waterfront] and this pilot helped.”

The conversation also spurred discussion of a waterfront taxi that would connect with Prince William County and Fort Belvoir, along with locations further upriver like the Pentagon. Charlotte Hall, a member of the Waterfront Commission, said a company is looking at building a water taxi network up the western side of the Potomac River sometime in 2020 but would likely skip Alexandria in at least the first year of operation.

“Alexandria is not ready for this in 2020,” Hall said, “but others are.”

“We’re so restrictive on our lease covenants with when the boats can come and go,” said Macek. “I think the city contracts need to be less specific about that. Let boats come and go as they please, and I don’t think the city needs to regulate the boat spaces as strictly as they do.”

There was only one note of light dissent on the Waterfront Commission when Beth Gross, a representative on the Commission from the Founders Park Community Association, said the idea of boats coming and going from the docks like planes coming and going from the airport made her “a little worried.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The city-owned small parcel at 2 King Street — currently home to eight leased parking spaces — could have a big impact on the block at the end of King Street if the city approves a sale.

At the Waterfront Commission meeting this morning (Tuesday), staff said the city received an unsolicited offer for the lot in June from the current owners of the adjacent Fitzgerald Warehouse building. The City Council subsequently authorized staff to consider the sale and look into alternatives for the property.

Staff said the proposed plan would involve tearing down the late 20th-century addition to the historic property — which currently houses Thai restaurant Mai Thai — and replace it with a new extension that would take advantage of the waterfront view. The historic Fitzgerald Warehouse, where Starbucks is currently located, would not be torn down.

Staff was skeptical of the likelihood that another development could be built on the site, saying it could theoretically be its own building but “it would be a tight fit.”

One way or another, the parking spaces at the foot of King Street are likely going away soon. Jack Browand, division chief with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said that the current use does not fit with the city’s plans to make the surrounding streets more pedestrianized.

“Even if it stays with the city, it would be improved in some way, like turned into an outdoor seating area,” Browand said.

Whether the property stays with the city or is sold to a developer, several members of the Waterfront Commission said that part of the deal should be the inclusion of public restrooms or other public uses at the site.

Staff said a public meeting will be held in December to gather more ideas for what to do with the site, but no specific date has been scheduled.

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Local residents and local officials came out for this weekend for a march in Arlandria to remember those killed in traffic.

The march was hosted on Sunday, Nov. 17, by Alexandria Families for Safe Streets to honor World Remembrance Day, an international memorial event dedicated to raising awareness of traffic violence.

The husband and daughters of Rosemarie Cruz, who was killed in an Arlandria crosswalk in 2016, marched in the crowd with over 100 residents of Alexandria and Arlington, according to a press release. Photos and video of the event show marchers in the street around the intersection of West Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue, where Cruz was killed.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, and Alexandria Chief of Police Mike Brown also joined the march.

Alexandria has committed to Vision Zero, a plan to get to zero traffic fatalities. Part of the plan involves changing roadways to make them more accessible to non-car uses, like bicycles, but the implementation of the plan on Seminary Road has been the subject of significant local controversy.

“Vigilance on the part of drivers, cyclist and pedestrians alike plus improvement in safer road designs and higher enforcement visibility are ways in which traffic violence against pedestrian and other road users can be reduced,” the organization said in a press release.

The press release also notes that the event was preceded by another fatal pedestrian crash, on Duke Street.

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Morning Notes

Carpenter’s Shelter Getting Amazon Donation — “A nonprofit that is building a $2 million facility for the homeless in Old Town Alexandria says it has reached its fundraising goal after receiving $300,000 from Amazon, Inc… The donation from Amazon is the latest example of how the retail giant is trying to be a good corporate citizen in Northern Virginia.” [Washington Post, Patch]

Digital Plaudits for City — “Alexandria has been ranked the fourth top digital city of its size in the United States, according to the 2019 Digital Cities Survey… This is the 15th consecutive year Alexandria has been ranked in the top 10, including two years in first place.” [City of Alexandria]

MacArthur Students to Relocate to Henry — “Alexandria City Council has given the green light to Alexandria City Public Schools to use the old Patrick Henry Elementary School facility as temporary swing space for Douglas MacArthur Elementary School students, potentially reallocating $60 million dollars and speeding up the delivery of the new school.” [ACPS]

Closures Planned for Thanksgiving — “All City of Alexandria government offices will be closed on Thursday, November 28, and Friday, November 29, in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.” [City of Alexandria]

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Police say the stop of a stolen vehicle led to a short pursuit on foot and three arrests.

Around 9 p.m. yesterday (Sunday), police stopped a vehicle on the 3000 block of King Street — a bit down the road from T.C. williams High School — according to Lt. Courtney Ballantine, a spokesman for the Alexandria Police Department.

Ballantine said the vehicle had been reported stolen in Fairfax County. After it was stopped, three suspects allegedly fled the vehicle. After a short foot pursuit, Ballantine said the three were apprehended.

A helicopter was called in to assist with the search, Ballantine said, but was ultimately sent back because the suspects were caught before it was needed.

File photo

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