Alexandria, VA

While geofencing for scooters generally means blocking them from scooting through an area, new geofencing measures in Alexandria are aimed at keeping scooters parking in certain places.

New scooter regulations have blocked scooters from parking in a multi-block stretch east of N. Union Street, between Oronoco Street and Prince Street. The result has been an 80 percent decrease in scooter parking on the waterfront, staff told the Waterfront Commission at its meeting last week.

When users try to end their ride in the restricted area, a message will appear on their phone telling them to move the scooter elsewhere.

Before geofencing, staff said there were approximately 1,500 scooters parked on the waterfront every month. In September, that fell to around 250.

The city also tried to incentivize legal scooter parking by adding two parking corrals to the area, which have had roughly 400 scooters parked there per month.

This hasn’t stopped scooters from riding through the areas, despite signs encouraging visitors not to do so, but there has been a 50-65 percent decline in scooters riding through the waterfront, staff said.

Geofencing isn’t a fix-all solution. Staff noted that the geofencing can only cover large areas, with accuracy up to only about 20-30 feet. Despite the decline, neglected scooters littering the waterfront are still a common sight.

“It’s bad behavior and it’s going to continue,” said Mark Michael Ludlow, a member of the Waterfront Commission.

The scooter corrals have also become something of a victim of their own success. Staff noted that corrals have frequently been overflowing and scooters have been left on nearby sidewalks.

Staff is currently collecting feedback from the city’s boards and commissions, with Phase II of the scooter program going to City Council for approval next month, for implementation in January.

Map via City of Alexandria

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When Alexandria officials said they hope to see birds return to the Four Mile Run wetlands, they weren’t referring to Bird scooters — but yet, there was at least one there, in the water.

Concerns about scooters on sidewalks have dominated the local debate about the personal mobility devices, but the issue of abandoned scooters is nonetheless something with which Alexandria policymakers will have to grapple.

City staff told ALXnow that the role Alexandria plays in the recovery of the scooters is relatively minimal. If scooters are found illegally parked, staff said those who find it should report the scooter to the respective scooter company. If illegally parked scooters are reported to the city, those reports are passed on to their respective company.

Streamlining the reporting process for abandoned scooters is part of the second phase of the scooter pilot program, currently being considered for implementation early next year.

“It’s on companies to retrieve the scooters, not the city,” staff said. “If the companies don’t retrieve the scooters, part of the second pilot program could include pulling that company’s permit, but so far they’ve been cooperative with us.”

Seven companies have been authorized to operate scooters and e-bikes in Alexandria. According to the mobility program’s website, the best way to identify and reporter the scooters is:

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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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Over 200,000 trips have been made on e-scooters in Alexandria this year, but a sticking point with local officials is equitable access to scooters throughout the city.

Now the City Council is considering pushing scooter companies to ensure more scooters are available in parts of Alexandria outside of Old Town and Del Ray.

At an update on Alexandria’s dockless mobility pilot program — a fancy name for electric scooters — at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, city officials noted the concentration of scooters in just a couple of areas.

“It seems more like we’re following a company’s model than focusing on equity across our community,” said Councilman John Chapman. “Our focus, for folks here on the Council, is to make sure all of our residents have the same opportunity. That’s not happening for docked and dockless mobility.”

With scooters becoming an increasingly prevalent transit option throughout the region, Chapman and Council Members Mohamed “Mo” Seifeldein, Canek Aguirre, and Redella “Del” Pepper pushed for requirements that scooter companies improve the equitability of access.

“If there’s a way to hold the companies accountable so that they are making sure to place scooters in different parts of the city, whether that’s by the Berg, Arlandria, the West End or the Beauregard corridor, I want to see that happen,” said Aguirre. “There’s no reason 99 percent of them should be in Del Ray and Old Town. It should be in other places because people have mobility needs across the entire city, not just in certain places. We, as a city, are looking to build out infrastructure to help that.”

There was recognition on the Council from Chapman that the business model incentivizes companies to concentrate most of their scooters in the busiest parts of town.

“I know that goes in the face of many of the business models for these companies, but as we experiment we need to focus on what the theme of our government is, which is equal access,” Chapman said. “I want to see us make a pretty significant change in what we’re willing to accept from these companies.”

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The controversial vote to slim down Seminary Road may have passed, but the arguments over Complete Streets and the program’s future in Alexandria are just getting started.

At Agenda Alexandria, a group that meets monthly to discuss the top issues affecting Alexandria with a panel of experts, advocates on every side of the issue clashed over whether the “dieting” of Seminary Road was necessary and what the future holds for major Alexandria streets. At the group’s Sept. 23 meeting, a city official argued with local residents not just over the new bike lanes, but over changes to Alexandria’s transportation policies.

“Our paradigm in the past has been exclusively through the windshield,” said Nate Macek, chair of the Planning Commission. “Complete streets is about looking at [roads] for all users.”

Macek argued the Complete Streets program, which replaces some motorized travel lanes with extended sidewalks and bike lanes, right-sizes road infrastructure to cater to all modes of transportation.

“Complete streets are about roads for everyone, whether that’s biking, walking, or driving,” said Josephine Liu, vice-chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “That’s also all ages: children, adults, senior citizens and people who may not be able-bodied.”

But for others, the Complete Streets program is a punitive measure against cars that disproportionately favors bicycles.

“It’s about reorienting the streetscape to accommodate every user,” John Townsend, Manager of Public and Government Relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “That’s what it is on paper, but oftentimes it doesn’t work out that way. It gives pride of place to certain modes of transportation and that becomes the inherent problem. There’s nothing wrong with accommodating the streetscape to make them safer or accommodate the maximum number of people, but it comes down to making choices and those choices involve who is in and who is out.”

Townsend argued that in terms of voices on the Complete Streets decision-making, cars are “the low person on the totem pole.” Drivers don’t have the same collective voice in city policy that cyclists do and thus their problems — like gridlock — get left by the wayside, Townsend said.

“There is a fanatic minority who want to get people out of cars, lower the speed limits and reduce the size of roads,” agreed Jack Sullivan, former president of the Seminary Hill Association. “They are being heard in the towers of power.”

While the conversation started with Complete Streets on Seminary Road, critics of the plan drove the discussion to other transportation issues across the city. Townsend argued the slimming down of Seminary Road is just a symptom of a broader problem: that transportation planners don’t account for real-world circumstances.

“The one size fits all approach to planning that comes out of the West Coast, goes to the District of Columbia, and then we try to make it fit in Alexandria,” Townsend said. “These planners stay in college and they lay on the grass and they smoke grass and they don’t know how real people live.”

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