Alexandria, VA

Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in Alexandria on Monday to help unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.

The new battery electric buses were so quiet that they could hardly be heard running during their unveiling outside City Hall. DASH has committed to having an electric-only fleet by 2035.

Northam congratulated Alexandria for being progressive, innovative and inclusive city.

“Alexandria and DASH are the first to commit to 100% zero-emission buses by 2035,” Northam said. “We believe in global warming, we believe in climate change, and we also believe the quicker we can wean ourselves from carbon the better we will be.”

Valentine said that the unveiling of the electric buses in Northern Virginia represents a critical step toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.

“Incorporating these buses into our transportation network will allow so many Virginians to have a reliable, safe and clean option for generations to come,” Valentine said.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the vehicles will cut down on hundreds of tons of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that are generated on Alexandria’s streets.

“This is a very exciting day. You can feel the electricity in the air,” Wilson quipped.

DASH CEO Josh Baker said that the day marks the beginning of the transit agency’s journey toward a zero emission fleet.

“This is a true testament to our community’s passion and commitment to environmental sustainability,” Baker said.

VIDEO: ALEXANDRIA, VA – The Alexandria Transit Company (DASH) is welcoming the future of cleaner and more sustainable transit at the unveiling of its new zero-emission buses. The event will introduce battery-electric buses to the DASH fleet making it a historic first for the agency, Alexandria and the Northern Virginia region. Who: Alexandria Transit Company and the City of Alexandria What: Electric Bus Unveiling Event Where: Market Square 301 King StWhen: October 19, 2020 | 12:30PM Agenda: 12:30 PM – 12:35 PM Welcome: Josh Baker 12:35 PM – 1:25 PM Remarks: ATC Board Chairman David Kaplan Mayor Justin Wilson Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine Governor Ralph Northam 1:25 PM – 1:30 PM Closing: Josh Baker 1:30 PM – 2:00 PM Unveiling and Interviews

Posted by The Zebra Press – GOOD News in Alexandria, VA on Monday, October 19, 2020

Photos by Eli Wilson

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With federal funds drying up, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is proposing a number of service reductions that will impact Alexandria.

The transit system is asking for public feedback on the proposed reduction of bus lines and other weekday service announcements in a survey and a public hearing on Tuesday, October 13.

“The pandemic has cost Metro hundreds of millions of dollars and ridership remains extremely low,” WMATA said in the survey. “The service provided today is only possible thanks to federal funding (CARES Act) that will soon run out. Without additional federal help, Metro will have to use every option to balance the budget. This includes resuming Metrobus fare collection, limiting contractor use, furloughing employees, and deferring some capital program expenses. But service cuts and layoffs may also be needed this December.”

Under the proposal, all Metro stations would close at 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Trains would run every 12 minutes, except in Alexandria. Since the Arlington Cemetery station will be closed for renovation from mid-February until mid-May, Metro is adding trains to allow for a six minute wait time for a detour taking travelers across the 14th Street Bridge to the Le Enfant Plaza station in D.C.

Additionally, Metrobuses will continue to not operate after midnight.

Proposed weekday bus service adjustments:

  • Operating hours would continue to be reduced on the following routes: 3A, 22A, 22F, 89M, H12, T2
  • Operating hours would continue to be increased on the following routes: 7A, 7F, N6
  • Frequency would continue to be reduced on the following routes: 1C, 2A, 2B, 3A, 5A, 7Y, 16A, 16C, 16G, 16H, 22A, , 22F, 42, 43, 62, 63, 64, 74, 83, 86, C8, C11, C12, C13, C14, D2, D4, D6, D8, E2, E4, F6, F8, F12, F13, G2, H2, H3, H4, H6, H8, H9, H12, L2, L8, M6, Metroway, N6, Q1, Q2, Q4, Q6, R4, R12, U4, U5, U6, U7, V8, W2, W3, W6, W8, X8, Z2
  • Frequency would continue to be increased on the following routes: 7A, 7F, K6
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Metro will shut down Arlington National Cemetery for platform improvements next spring, and construction will impact Alexandria commuters.

But with ridership at a prolonged and historic low, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority assured City Council on Tuesday night that it will be able accommodate inconvenienced travelers with increased shuttle service between the Pentagon and Rosslyn stations.

The Arlington Cemetery station will be closed from mid-February until mid-May. All blue line trains will be diverted to L’Enfant Plaza across the 14th Street Bridge, and Metro is adding trains to allow for a six minute wait time instead of 12 minutes. Metro anticipates it taking an extra four to 12 minutes for customers traveling to stations between Farragut West and Rosslyn and that there are potential travel time improvements for customers going to Federal Triangle or Metro Center.

“It’s interesting times and it’s anybody’s guess what the future is going to be, but right now we’re looking at system-wide between 10 and 12% of our normal Metrorail ridership, and the Virginia side tends to be on the lower side of that,” Peter Cafiero, Metro’s managing director of inter-modal planning told Council. “What we’re hearing from employers is it’s going to be awhile before anybody’s considering going back.”

Council approved a letter thanking WMATA for making transportation alternatives available.

“If we were in a normal ridership situation I think I would be saying that we need bus alternatives, particularly to get folks from Alexandria to Rosslyn, or potentially west for those folks who are doing those commutes,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “But given where we’re at… I just don’t know where we’re going to be when this when this goes on next year.”

Alexandria is familiar with the platform improvement project, as all four of its stations were shut down as part of it in the summer of 2019.

In the meantime, Metro faces making hundreds of millions in spending cuts, including altering services, schedule changes and layoffs. The transit system’s board chair says it will be forced to make tough decisions if federal CARES Act funding dries up.

“As tough as these choices are for this fiscal year, much deeper and more painful cuts will be required for the next fiscal year if federal relief doesn’t arrive in time,” said Metro Board Chair Paul Smedberg, who is a former member of the Alexandria City Council. “We hope people who depend on Metro will come forward to share their views about the proposed changes before the Board makes a final decision in November.”

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DASH increased their services today to 80% of its pre-pandemic service levels, and several of its routes have gone back to their regular routes.

The city’s transit service is currently seeing 35% ridership, according to Whitney Code, DASH’s marketing and communications manager.

“Of course we want to keep up with ridership and passenger loads, and as Virginia and the rest of the country opens up, we will continue to see increased ridership,” Code told ALXnow. “We want to make sure that we’re scheduling our people responsibly, and we want to make sure that we’re paying attention to the trends of other regional partners that we work with, like Metrobus and the Fairfax Connector.”

The move follows the Arlington and Fairfax bus lines resuming full service in late August.

Trips are still free for passengers, and drivers have extra face masks to give away.

“We have a limited supply of face masks that we can give our riders if they board our buses and don’t have them,” Code said. “DASH is continuing to take the coronavirus seriously and we are continuing to take the health of our customers and employees seriously.”

The King Street Trolley, which takes customers from the King Street Metro station to the waterfront, remains  suspended until further notice.

According to DASH:

  • The AT1 Plus, AT2, AT3/4, AT5, AT7, AT8, AT9, & AT10 will return to regular service.
  • The AT2XAT3AT4 and AT6 will operate on modified weekday schedules due to continued low ridership.

DASH will increase service levels to approximately 80% of pre-COVID service beginning tomorrow. https://www.dashbus.com/modifiedweekday

Posted by DASHBus on Monday, September 14, 2020

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The Alexandria City Council has pushed a decision to add Virginia Tech’s initials to the Potomac Yard Metro Station.

Virginia Tech’s $1 billion Innovation Campus is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area, although no buildings have yet to be constructed and no students are on site. Consequently, some members of council were concerned that the school’s request to add the name to the Metro station would not meet Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority naming guidelines.

“I am nervous about christening this Virginia Tech station when we have not seen an actual building,” said City Councilman John Chapman.

The Metro station is planned to open by spring 2022 and the Virginia Tech Innovation campus is scheduled to open in the fall of 2024. This and next month, the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review and the Planning Commission will receive half a dozen plans for the 1.9 million square-foot mixed use North Potomac Yard development. The campus will accommodate 750 computer science master’s degree students per year and more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows.

Yon Lambert, director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said that making the name change now would save upward of $350,000 in rebranding should the decision to rename the station be made at a later date. He also said that WMATA would have to grant an exception for the name change, since a campus with 5,000 students is the usual baseline for a name change.

“What Metro has indicated to the city is that, assuming that we bring it forward to Metro before the end of this calendar year, it can be done without any additional costs incurred by the city,” Lambert said. “But if if the station name proposal is brought forward later, either in association with a map change or without a map change the cost can be significant, ranging from $350,000 on the low end to more than $1 million, and those numbers could increase significantly over time.”

Mayor Justin Wilson supported the name change.

“I just want to be crystal clear, in the future if anybody would like to invest a billion dollars next to one of our metro stations, I will lobby to put your name on the station,” Wilson said.

David Baker, a representative from Virginia Tech, said that there will be construction on site when the Potomac Yard station opens in 2022.

“When the station is open, there will be active construction happening,” Baker said. “We are on track as of today, and our obligation to the Commonwealth is to be open for classes and start having the student Innovation Campus in Potomac Yard by the fall of 2024.”

Photo via City of Alexandria

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In an update to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, Alexandria bus service DASH said it will resuming increased increased levels of service starting on Sunday, Sept. 13.

“DASH will increase service levels in Alexandria to approximately 80% of pre-COVID service on September 13,” the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission said in materials for an upcoming meeting. “Weekday service will be restored on several routes and limited service will resume on most routes that were discontinued in March.”

The move follows the Arlington and Fairfax bus lines resuming full service in late August.

DASH, which saw decreased levels of ridership early in the pandemic, had scaled down its operations in March. While service was reduced, the bus system did institute some new, long-awaited improvements like a bus tracking app in July.

The next meeting for DASH is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 5:30 p.m. Public comment is allowed after completing a short form.

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The new bus loop — a centerpiece of the King Street-Old Town Metro Access Improvement Project — was scheduled to open in March, but the city now says completion is still four to six months away.

“While delays have continued, we can provide an updated estimate for completion of the phase 1 bus loop,” Lydia Durand, a management analyst with the Department of Project Implementation, told ALXnow. “At this time, we anticipate an approximately four-six month time frame for reopening the bus loop. This accounts for construction of the bus loop, restoration of utilities, intersection signalization, and integration into the DASH, WMATA and City traffic operations systems.”

In 2012, the City Council approved a safer and larger transit area outside the Metro station, with better pedestrian-crossings through the bus loop. The project has been in-progress since November 2018 when the bus loop was closed, but has faced significant delays.

According to the city website, full completion of the project is now scheduled for Spring 2021.

“This project has experienced delays,” Durand said. “Staff continues to actively manage the contractor’s progress on this project and is taking all steps within our contractual rights to hold the contractor accountable for completion of this project in a productive and timely manner.”

Durand said cost increases for inspection and construction oversight could happen, but that they are anticipated to fall within the contingency funding allocated for the project budget.

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Worried about driving and parking with expired tags? Alexandria is suspending its vehicle registrationsafety inspection and emissions inspection requirements through October 31, and any parking tickets issued after July 19 will be voided and payments will be refunded.

“This follows the City’s prior suspension of enforcement, from mid-March through July 19, of the requirement to display a valid state safety inspection sticker while parked,” notes a city release. “Any parking tickets that were issued by the City for safety inspection violations after July 19 will be automatically voided, and any payments will be automatically refunded by October 16.”

Vehicle registrations can also be renewed online.

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle locations throughout the state were closed from March 18 to May 18 due to coronavirus, prompting action from Governor Ralph Northam to extend the deadline on license renewals. That deadline has also been extended to October 31.

Alexandria’s DMV at 2681 Mill Road reopened on June 22. It is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.

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The update on the Transportation Master Plan Pedestrian and Bicycle Chapter wasn’t planned to coincide with a sudden uptick in bicycle ridership and walking around the city, but it could help explain why many Alexandrians exploring their local pedestrian/bike infrastructure might find it different than they remember.

An update prepared for the canceled June 17 Transportation Commission meeting shined some light on the progress the city has made since it a chapter specifically about that infrastructure was added to the city’s Transportation Master Plan in 2016. The primary goals the city laid out at the time were to improve safety, engineering, encouragement and education of bicycle and pedestrian facilities in Alexandria. The move corresponded with a push towards Vision Zero — a project that aims to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2028.

Data shows that crashes and fatalities for pedestrians have generally gone down over the last four years — though the numbers are low enough that it’s impossible to accurately extrapolate trends. Crashes have gone down from 69 in 2016 to 60 in 2019. Fatalities have gone from 4 to 2 in that same timeframe, though not with consistent year-after-year declines. The number of serious injuries has gone up from 6 to 8.

The city has added substantial new infrastructure, though.

“There has been a 43% increase in intersections with pedestrian countdown signals at crosswalks from 68% in 2016 to 97% as of the end of May 2020,” city staff said in the report. “Over 9,000 total linear feet of new sidewalk has been installed and over 1,600 linear feet of sidewalk have been upgraded with widened sidewalks or adjustments to provide improved access for wheelchair users since FY16. Approximately 1,300 linear feet of temporary, protected shared use path space was installed to fill the sidewalk gap on the #9 highest priority sidewalk on Seminary.”

The update also included information about progress made for off-street trails, though noting that flood damage has set back some of the city’s progress on that front.

“One additional off-street trail (a segment of Four Mile Run Trail leading to a future bridge) has been installed since plan adoption, bringing the citywide total to approximately 21 miles,” staff said in the report. “A new 150-foot pedestrian bridge was completed on the Four Mile Run trail that connects the Four Mile Run Wetlands Trail to the larger Four Mile Run trail network. The City suffered a setback with the July 2019 storms that severely damaged the trail and recent completion of a bridge connecting Holmes Run Parkway to N. Ripley Street as well as other bridges along Holmes Run. A 2021 budget request is made for the repair work.”

The report also notes the progress made for new bicycle infrastructure.

“Since 2016, 11.9 miles of shared lane mile markings and 11.4 miles of bike lane miles were installed making for a total of approximately 39 lane miles of on-street bicycle facilities,” staff said. “This is a nearly 46% increase in facilities since 2018.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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A series of new improvements to Alexandria’s Union Station — a Virginia Railway Express stop — proposed late last year are moving forward toward city approval.

The plan is to create new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access with a grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access. The expansion will also allow the station to take two trains at any given time, with one at each platform. The change is part of a regional effort to reduce the system’s bottleneck around the D.C. area.

According to the VRE website:

The project will provide an ADA-compliant, grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access between the two platforms at the VRE/Amtrak station in Alexandria and modify and extend the east platform at the station to accommodate eight-car trains and enable the platform to service two trains simultaneously, from a track on each side of the platform. The west platform adjacent to the station building will also be modified to raise its height relative to the top of rail as part of the project. Project funding sources include state SmartScale and Federal funds (through VDOT) to eliminate railroad grade crossings. Currently the project schedule is slightly ahead of the final year of funding allocation, which must be addressed with VRE’s funding partners through either reprogramming of funds or short-term borrowing.

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on September 1. The project was originally scheduled to be presented to the City Council in May, according to the VRE website, but the pandemic limited the scope of council meetings.

Construction on the project is estimated to start in 2022.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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While city business has mostly been limited to pandemic related emergencies, the Alexandria City Council is moving forward with time-sensitive decisions about southwest access to the new Potomac Yard Metro station.

Southern access to Potomac Yard was a selling point for businesses and organizations moving into the parts of that area, but was cut back to save money on the project. The new plan does not include the full southern entrance as originally envisioned, and instead replaces it with a bridge that connects to the northern entrance.

Staff told council that it’s a solution staff said will fit within the project budget.

“Today, we are also letting council and the mayor know that the total cost will be covered within the $50 million of state funding along with the credit from the original ramp,” Daphne Kott, a project manager in the Department of Project Implementation, told council on Tuesday night. “[It] will be completed within the construction duration of the overall station.”

There was debate between the city and Metro contractors that a southern access could be built within the $50 million in funding provided by the state, and late last month both parties agreed the project could be accomplished under that amount.

The city’s plan for southwest access is docketed for a public hearing on Saturday, April 18.

Image via City of Alexandria

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In addition to a series bus line closures due to coronavirus, Metro is suspending service of Metroway-Potomac Yard — a bus line running between Pentagon City and Braddock Road.

The Metroway runs between Arlington and Alexandria through Crystal City and the Potomac Yard Shopping Center. The move comes after a day after Metro shut down several stations, including the Eisenhower Avenue and Van Dorn stations in Alexandria.

Andrew Kierig, Vice-Chair of the Riders’ Advisory Council, said he was concerned about the bus line closures but understood the reasoning.

“The Riders’ Advisory Council is deeply concerned about the impact these service changes are having on those who have no other alternative to get to work,” Kierig said. “At the same time, we’re also concerned about the health and wellbeing of Metro’s frontline employees.”

Kierig said another concern surrounding bus line closures was the ability of riders living in food deserts [places without access to affordable and nutritious food] when they live far from grocery stores.

“We’re concerned about the ability of those folks to get the supplies they need to make it through this thing alright,” Kierig said.

Granted, Kierig noted that this was less of a concern for the ridership of the Metroway, which tends to be from more affluent communities in Crystal City and Potomac Yard. For many riders, though, Kierig said the line is a quick and efficient way to get to the popular Target at Potomac Yard.

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