Alexandria, VA

The Capital Bikeshare’s expansion in Alexandria has hit some serious snags that has resulted in at least a two-year delay in the arrival of new stations.

In 2017, the City of Alexandria approved 10 new Capital Bikeshare stations, which would have included a push into the West End and Potomac Yard. The plan was to install them in 2018, according to the Washington Post, but that didn’t happen. Then the city’s FY 2020-29 Capital Improvement Program cited summer 2019 as the proposed completion date, but that hasn’t happened either.

City staff say changes in regulations have resulted in the city being forced to secure new contracts and file more paperwork.

“The city did not install any new Capital Bikeshare stations this summer,” said Sarah Godfrey, public information officer for the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “In 2018, VDOT reinterpreted federal regulations governing bikeshare; as a result, every municipality with Capital Bikeshare in the state has been working to secure new contracts and comply with those requirements.”

Now, the city is trying to ride in tandem with Falls Church’s expansion plans.

“Falls Church was the first Northern Virginia municipality to get a new contract in place; we’re working on obtaining permission to ‘ride’ that contract and going through the normal grant processes to fulfill the federal and state requirements,” Godfrey said.

Whether that will be allowed is unclear. In emails between city staff and VDOT officials, obtained by ALXnow, VDOT staff called the proposed piggybacking “uncharted territory” and said that the timeline for that process was unknown.

VDOT staff also said earlier this year that the city still needed to submit documents showing the scope of work involved, a cost estimate for the project, and a document showing the locations of the new bikeshare stations.

“Once we’ve cleared those process and regulatory hurdles, staff will be working to get the… stations that were approved in 2017 installed as quickly as possible,” Godfrey said. “Staff will then begin planning and engagement for the next round of stations, pending approval for additional operating funds, which are considered annually by City Council during the budget process.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A bike rodeo tomorrow (Saturday) will help celebrate the launch of the Mount Jefferson Traffic Garden, a small park designed to help teach children about traffic rules in a safe environment.

Plans for the grand opening include a cycling event for children hosted by the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, to include lessons about key bicycle skills like turning and hand signals.

The event is being held from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Mount Jefferson Park, located between the 300 blocks of Hume and Raymond avenues in Del Ray.

Local bicycle shops have also signed up to offer bicycle and helmet safety checks.

Adults are welcome, but the event is aimed at children ages 4-11.

Photo via City of Alexandria/Twitter

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The Bicycle Pro Shop location at 3240 Duke Street is closing down and moving its inventory to other locations throughout the region.

The store is in the midst of closing sales, offering 30-50% off on some items. There are a few mountain bikes left in the store, and a table full of miscellaneous bicycle accessories, but we’re told most of the bicycles are being shipped off to other locations.

The store has been located on Duke Street for ten years, but manager Christian Dent said increasing traffic on Duke Street started to hurt the business starting five years ago. The store is located right off the busy street with a very small parking lot. Dent said he heard from customers that many didn’t want to have to wait in very heavy traffic to get to the shop.

For the last year, he said the company looked around for another location in Alexandria, but couldn’t find anything suitable.

Most of the merchandise and staff will move to the chain’s Springfield location at 5230 Port Royal Road. Dent said the Alexandria store is likely to close for good sometime in mid-to-late November.

As an Alexandria police cruiser with sirens blaring passed by, presumably heading from police headquarters a block away on Wheeler Avenue, Dent noted that he’d miss the customer base in Alexandria but would not miss the noise from Duke Street.

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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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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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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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