Alexandria, VA

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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If it has air in the tires, Charles Bennett Moore — owner of the Alexandria location for Big Wheel Bikes — has been selling it.

While businesses across Alexandria have been struggling to pull out of the pandemic, the last few months have been an unusual windfall for Old Town waterfront business Big Wheel Bikes (2 Prince Street).

“It was gangbusters in May and June,” Moore said. “We had quadruple our usual demand. The supply has dwindled to pretty much nothing. If you walk in, we have maybe a half a dozen bikes.”

It hasn’t just been bike sales, either. Moore said service requests have been increasing quicker than the shop can keep up.

“Service has increased tenfold,” Moore said. “We are just going crazy with service still. People are constantly dropping off bikes. That’s been sustaining us. I sold anything that had air in the tires.”

Outdoor bicycling, especially alone, has been cited as one of the healthier exercise activities — especially compared to the risks of an indoor gym.

The business stayed open through the pandemic and Moore said May was particularly busy. Moore said the store has sold half its collection of vintage bikes, usually just items of interest for collectors. Now there’s a waiting list for new bikes coming in.

“People don’t want to be cooped up indoors,” Moore said. “The season hit at the same time as COVID. People feel they can keep six-feet of distance on the bicycle. And with [many] gyms closed… it’s a perfect storm for the bike business”

It’s particularly a boon to the Alexandria Big Wheel Bikes location, which sits on a waterfront spot virtually surrounded by new development and density.

“With all this development and things changing, [this] probably helps to get a lease extension,” Moore said. “A lot of businesses aren’t staying open. So it’s been a good thing for us.”

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

 

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Morning Notes

Large Income Disparities in Alexandria — “White Alexandria is pulling in significantly more money than Hispanic workers and African Americans, according to numbers from the United States Census Bureau. A look at average income shows non-Hispanic whites make more than $85,000 a year. That’s more than three times the average income for Hispanic workers, $24,000, and more than twice the average income for black workers, $37,000.” [Gazette]

Water Taxi Returns to Old Town — “A face mask requirement and other safety measures are in place for the limited water taxi service.” [Patch]

Lee-Fendall House Museum & Garden Hosting Juneteenth Trivia Night — “It’s long been on our calendar to celebrate Juneteenth – marking the legal end of slavery in the United States on June 19th, 1865 – with a trivia night that explores African American culture. We hope you’ll join us on Zoom this Friday night for this special evening! Tickets are FREE, but an optional donation will be split between us, Carlyle House Historic Park, and ALIVE. Pre-registration at our Eventbrite page is required.” [Facebook]

NVTA Recommends Full Funding for Duke Street Transitway — “The Duke Street Transitway was the City of Alexandria’s only request to the NVTA and the cost is estimated at $87 million. Alexandria received $12 million already, so this funding request is for the remaining $75 million.” [Alexandria Living]

North Potomac Yard Virtual Meeting at 7 p.m. — “The Virginia Tech Foundation and JBG SMITH is hosting virtual community meetings to provide information on the design of the proposed buildings and site-wide updates.” [City of Alexandria]

Casa Chirilagua Hosting Fundraiser Sunday — “Casa Chirilagua is a local community nonprofit serving the Central American Latinx community in City of Alexandria zip code 22305 – a hot spot for COVID-19. Because of the health and economic conditions, demand for Casa Chirilagua’s services has become enormous.” [Facebook]

‘Ascend Cycle’ Hosting Virtual Pride Ride — “A $15 minimum donation is requested for this event. 100% of proceeds will be donated. Sign up for the ride online and we’ll text you the Zoom code before class!” [Facebook]

YMCA Reopens in Del Ray — “Your local YMCA at 420 East Monroe Avenue is back in business. It opened for the first time in months this past Monday, June 15, along with the Arlington location. The Y is following a phased approach to reopening so you will see differences when you visit.” [Zebra]

New Job: Assistant Center Manager — “Mathnasium is a highly dynamic and fast-paced and is known for the great care we take with our students and employees alike… We’re looking for an Assistant Center Manager to assist at both our Alexandria City and Mount Vernon centers. The pay range we’re offering is $16-$18/hour depending on center performance.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Beyer Lauds Supreme Court LGBT Decision — “This is such a big step forward. Employers shouldn’t be able to fire people because of who they are or who they love. After a long and difficult struggle by activists and civil rights organization, an historic decision and a great moment for the country.” [Twitter]

Former Mayor Silberberg Marched in D.C. on Saturday — “All around me, there were poignant reminders of all that had transpired in this location in recent days and weeks — handmade signs attached to the remaining fence and bouquets of flowers. And then that evening, there was breaking news about another tragedy, this time in Atlanta. Heartbreaking.” [Facebook]

Twig Junior Auxiliary Donates $100K to Inova Alexandria Hospital — “The Twig Junior Auxiliary of Inova Alexandria Hospital presented a check for $100,000 to Dr. Rina Bansal for the Inova COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness Fund during a May 22 ceremony held outside the hospital’s entrance.” [Gazette]

Feed The Fight ALX Gives Out 5K Meals to Health Care Workers — “Thank you for your continued support, and please continue to follow us in the coming months on Instagram @FeedtheFightALX. We are so grateful to all of our hospital teams and restaurant partners.” [Facebook]

City Recycles 700 Tons of Glass in First Year of Recycling Program — “The City just hit the 1-year mark for the glass recycling program. In that time, 700 tons of glass (1,410,560 lbs) has been recycled through the purple can glass drop-off program. You crushed it Alexandria!” [Facebook]

‘Mind The Mat’ Owner Gets Creative During Pandemic — “I was trying to be this super-serious fitness instructor on camera, and it was not working.” [Washington Post]

Recreation Centers Opening With Modified Schedule June 20 — “These changes are in place to follow the second phase of reopening. Senior-only hours will be introduced to help protect vulnerable persons on the community while providing an opportunity for exercise.” [Zebra]

Scholarship Fund Honoring Awardees With Individualized Social Media Posts — “We’ll be profiling a student each day this week…as they share their joy and gratitude with the Alexandria Community!” [Facebook]

Center for Alexandria’s Children Receives Face Mask Donation — “We received another donation of 100 adult masks and 100 children’s masks for our Learn & PlayGroup families! We are so grateful to Brooksie & Cas and Jenna Adams for investing so much time and energy into making so many great masks.” [Facebook]

Deal: Rent a Pedego Electric Bike, Get Second Rental Half Off — “Pedego Electric Bikes has the perfect solution for cabin fever. Rent one bike and get the second rental 50% off. Enjoy the outdoors, flowers and sunshine with the safest bikes and equipment from Pedego. This offer will be available until further notice.” [Visit Alexandria]

New Job: HR/Office Manager — “Small but busy security company in need of an experienced HR professional who can really multitask. Candidate should be comfortable screening, interviewing and on-boarding applicants.” [Indeed]

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Coronavirus is shutting down one Alexandria workshop, but the bike business is booming across town at a local store.

Velocity Bike Co-op (2111 Mount Vernon Avenue) in Del Ray announced yesterday that, after a period of trying to make do with reduced hours, the non-profit, volunteer organization would be temporarily closed

The co-op said they are completing repairs on bikes that are already in the shop but the co-op would be closed as-of yesterday.

At Big Wheel Bikes (2 Prince Street) in Old Town, however, it’s business as usual. Owner Charles Bennett Moore — who goes by Bennett — said the store has been jam-packed with customers over the last few weeks.

Bennett said people are keeping their distance in the shop and everything is being sanitized, but the store itself remains open and they’re getting hammered with business as the spring season starts to warm up.

While many parks and recreational activities have been shut down, trails remain open and outdoor activities like running and bicycling are among the few physical outdoor activities permitted.

“The only thing that’s slowed down has been rentals,” Bennett said.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

There are Now 36 Cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria — “On March 30, the Alexandria Health Department confirmed four additional cases of COVID-19 in Alexandria, bringing the total to 36. AHD is identifying and contacting individuals who came in close contact with the confirmed cases.” [City of Alexandria]

DASH Further Reduces Service — “As part of a wider effort to protect the health and safety of the Alexandria community and DASH employees, DASH implemented an Enhanced Sunday Operating Plan on weekdays and Saturdays, beginning March 30. No changes are anticipated to Sunday service; however, King Street Trolley service will discontinue until further notice.” [DASH]

Old Town Books Launches GoFundMe Campaign — “You’re making it possible for us to make ends meet while our sales floor is closed and before the new SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans roll out. I didn’t know what to expect when starting this fundraiser – crowd funding is not something I *ever* expected to do for this business. But this fundraiser is helping keep our staff working and our online store open. It’s motivating us to keep trying, to keep working despite the bleak economic projections for the year. We’re not giving up. Thank you for your support!” [Facebook]

Mason & Greens Grocer Opens in Old Town — “It’s not the grand opening they were planning, but the new bulk grocer in Old Town, Mason & Greens, is now open. For now, Mason & Greens is offering online shopping for pick-up or delivery.” [Alexandria Living]

ACPS Unveils Story Hour For Younger Students — “It’s such fun to see all these famous faces reading for America’s children in this time of need and we are grateful that some publishers are allowing us to publish read-alouds on the website at this time.” [ACPS]

Little Theatre of Alexandria Issuing Refunds — “Please submit this form before Friday, April 10. For Moonlight and Magnolias and Blue Stockings, we will not be able to process refunds after Thursday, April 30.” [LTA]

Ascend Cycle Offering Virtual Classes — “Virtual high fives! While we can’t be together in person, this is the next best thing! You see us & we see you! Connect with your favorite instructor and friends live while breaking a sweat! We are offering daily live virtual classes designed to connect our community and provide personalized attention. Drop into class for just $10.” [Ascend Cycle]

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Morning Notes

ALIVE! Hands Out 20,000 Meals — “More than 500 cars lined up until supplies ran out. Volunteers say they’ll be back at it again, in the same place and time- next week.” [WUSA9]

Fire Department Saves Dog — “With help from Alexandria Animal Control, some of our first responders rescued a Border Collie from a vault in a pond on Seminary Rd. today after the dog decided to have a little fun with some geese. The pup sustained minor injuries & was transported to a vet by the owner.” [Facebook]

Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Thanks Sponsors — “Although our Spring Gala was canceled because of COVID-19, and despite school closures and a public health crisis…COLLEGE is COMING for students with financial need. Thank YOU to all who help supporting scholarships and making college possible for our 2020 graduates!” [Facebook]

Neighborhood Restaurant Group Raises $41,000 for Employees — “We have been forced by circumstances well beyond our control to lay off over 90% of our staff, and while we found a way to pay everyone for one week, our resources have been stretched to the breaking point. As such, we are turning to you – our neighbors, our friends, our patrons and colleagues – to help us support our employees who have now found themselves without jobs or opportunities for income.” [GoFundMe]

Pork Barrel, Holy Cow, The Sushi Bar Offer Catered Meal Packages — “Yesterday the Charles Barrett School dropped off 60 Pork Barrel BBQ meals to the Carpenter’s Shelter! One of the students made us this amazing card – we loved teaming up with you all to help feed the community.” [Facebook]

Cheesetique Raises $3.5K to Make Meals For Hospitality Workers — “Each day, we will provide different and delicious family meals FOR FREE to hospitality workers in our community who have been financially impacted by industry cut-backs.” [GoFundMe]

Pedego Electric Bike Rentals Open in Old Town — “Loads of personal space, flowers, sunshine and the best and safest bikes and equipment.” [Facebook]

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(Updated at 3 p.m.) Micro-mobility company Helbiz is poised to be the first company in Alexandria offering both e-scooters and e-bikes in Alexandria.

“Helbiz… has been awarded a permit to operate both its innovative e-bikes and e-scooters in Alexandria, Virginia, making it the only company to offer both transportation solutions in the market,” the company said in a press release. “This permit follows the launch of the company’s fleet of e-bikes in neighboring Washington, D.C. and highlights Helbiz’s continued commitment to offering eco-friendly micro-mobility solutions in the area.”

Gian Luca Spriano, a spokesperson for the Italian-American company, said it would be partnering with Alexandria’s Department of Transportation to ensure safety is prioritized and the company has met all the regulatory standards.

The press release noted that the company plans to operate 200 e-scooters and 200 e-bikes in Alexandria, deployed at some point “in the coming weeks.”

The e-scooters and e-bikes are accessible through the Helbiz app, in which users can locate, rent, and unlock the devices.

Photo via Helbiz/Twitter

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Even while the debate still rages on over the Seminary Road diet, the City of Alexandria is looking at other locations that could be altered to be more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly.

Several streets are scheduled for repaving, which the city uses as an opportunity to look at which ones could benefit the most from being redesigned with safety in mind, to align with the city’s Vision Zero plan — though some have questioned whether the redesigns make the streets safer.

According to a press release:

In 2011, City Council adopted the Complete Streets Policy. This policy required that street improvements be made for all roadway users as part of regular maintenance whenever possible. When streets are repaved, this provides an opportunity to upgrade parts of the street to better serve people of all ages and abilities by improving safety, access, and mobility.

Currently, the City of Alexandria is looking for community input on whether the following streets should be converted to “Complete Streets.”

  • Alfred Street (First Street to Church Street)
  • Cameron Mills Road (Virginia Avenue to Allison Street)
  • Morgan Street (North Chambliss Street to cul-de-sac)
  • Rayburn Avenue (North Beauregard Street to Reading Avenue)
  • Reading Avenue (Rayburn Avenue to North Beauregard Street)
  • West Street (Duke Street to Wythe Street)

The public feedback form for Complete Streets is available online until Friday, Feb. 7.

While individual changes would depend on the street being repaved, the City of Alexandria said changes could include:

  • Add or upgrade curb ramps
  • Add or upgrade pedestrian crosswalks
  • Roadway signage
  • Bicycle facilities, such as bike lanes or shared-lane markings
  • Speed cushions or other traffic calming devices
  • Changes to parking
  • Additional pedestrian crossing treatments
  • Minor signal timing changes
  • Lane striping modifications (i.e. striping a parking lane or narrowing travel lanes)

The city has a list of finished Complete Streets projects, but the list hasn’t been updated since 2017 and does not include, for instance, the completed King Street project that narrowed the street and installed new bicycle lanes.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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It’s rare for a Facebook group to be the topic of discussion at the City Council dais, but Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet is no ordinary page.

The group started as a small forum for drivers and residents to express their frustration over the city’s change to a portion of Seminary Road — reducing vehicle travel lanes from four lanes to two, with a turn lane in between, to allow for greater pedestrian and bicycle space.

The change led to traffic congestion for commuters, at least initially, as construction got underway. While the construction has mostly finished, the frustration in the group remains intense.

The backlash to the street change has inspired everything from banners along the street calling to “Retake Seminary Road” to a burger named after that and other Alexandria controversies.

For better or worse, the nearly 1,200 member group has become the digital hub of opposition to the changes on Seminary Road. City officials have been engaged in a long-running debate with residents in the comments section and the Facebook group took center-stage at a spat between two City Council members in a discussion last week about pausing work on Seminary Road.

The group was recently made private, meaning only those who join are allowed to comment and view posts, but while it was public it was extraordinarily active. Members would create numerous new posts every day, and those posts would in turn attract comments, often by the dozen.

There were a few frequent themes of those posts: photos of morning or evening rush hour traffic, links to news articles or videos about the Seminary Road changes, and ideas for how to pressure officials to change the road back to the way it was before.

The level of engagement on the page, and with the issue in general, is — to many — out of proportion to the actual stakes involved.

Chris Weymont, Bill Rossello and Keith Reynolds are the three administrators of the page, and each describes themself as a reluctant advocate drawn into a transportation policy argument.

“It started off on a Friday night with 10 invites and its grown exponentially,” Reynolds said. “I was a disgruntled resident. I thought it would gain a little bit of traction, but not this much. It continues to grow as people continue to find out about the page.”

While Reynolds said he set up the page to act as a forum to air complaints about the new Seminary Road changes, moderating the page started taking up more and more time. That was when Weymont and Rossello, two active early members of the page, were invited to join a small administrative team.

“I started to see some things going on that I didn’t like over a period of time, particularly after the King Street road diet,” Rossello said of his activism.

Rossello said he maybe gets on Facebook to post once or twice a year, but became involved with the page through neighborhood listserv Nextdoor and the Seminary Hill Association. Rossello said he was not active in local civic groups before becoming involved in the Seminary Road debate, but has since been elected to the Seminary Hill board and has been asked to become a member of the Alexandria Civic Federation.

“It grew out of angst a year and a half ago,” Rossello said. “Now I’m in the thick of it.”

Weymont joined later but has been one of the more active administrators in the group — weighing in on discussions and tagging relevant people. According to Weymont, the traffic issue has transcended every other partisan divide, with both avowed Democrats and die-hard Republicans standing side-by-side against the road diet.

“We’re not surprised in multiple ways,” Weymont said. “We know how badly the bike lobby and Mayor wanted this. When it comes to traffic, it’s a quality of life issue, for hardened Democrats and hardened Republicans.”

The group most commonly pointed to as the “bike lobby” is the Alexandria Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC), a local volunteer organization that has been involved in promoting the road diet.

“We feel like we have taken back Seminary Road,” said Jim Durham, chairman of BPAC.

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A new bike campus is all painted and ready to go under the Alexandria side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

The smooth pavement between the bridge pylons has long been a popular spot for bicyclists on the Mount Vernon Trail or visiting Jones Point Park, but the new signs and lanes on the ground can help new cyclists learn the rules of the road and practice in a safe environment.

At a grand opening ceremony, scheduled for Saturday (Dec. 7) at 10:30 a.m., instructors from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) will be available to help teach cyclists of all ages about rules on the street and bicycling techniques. A ribbon-cutting is scheduled for 11 a.m.

According to the Facebook page:

WABA is excited to announce the completion of the Alexandria Bike Campus at Jones Point Park! The bike campus will serve as a dedicated space for people of all ages to learn how to ride a bicycle safely, comfortably, and confidently. WABA will be celebrating the completion of the Alexandria Bike Campus with a ribbon cutting on Saturday, December 7 at 11:00 a.m. at Jones Point Park in Alexandria, VA.

We invite you to bring your family and your bicycles to the ribbon cutting and to participate in a demonstration of the bicycle campus. WABA instructors will show how the campus can be used to teach new cyclists of all ages and how even experienced cyclists can learn and practice new skills. Our instructors will be at Jones Point Park at 10:30 AM – we hope to see you then!

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After years of relying on the Virginia’s SMART SCALE grant program to fund transportation projects, changes in the program’s scoring criteria could leave that well dry for Alexandria.

At a Transportation Commission meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, city staff warned that new criteria under consideration by the Commonwealth Transportation Board could shift transportation funding away from existing urban centers like Alexandria and instead favor less dense locales.

“Because road widening projects in other jurisdictions did not score well and were not funded, VDOT has been tasked with re-examining the scoring criteria,” staff said in a letter to the commission. “Many of the changes put transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects at a disadvantage, and projects in denser areas in general.”

The city received $57.2 million in funding in 2019 for the design and construction of bus rapid transit routes in the West End and $50 million for the enhancement of southwest access to the Potomac Yard Metro station. But changes would impact criteria used to prioritize which transportation projects should receive funding.

Staff told the commission at the meeting that the change they’re most concerned about is regarding land use in the scoring criteria. Currently, staff said the program scores existing land uses and densities as well as consideration of changes in density, while the new criteria would prioritize areas that are becoming denser rather than those where density currently exists.

“We feel that severely penalizes places like Alexandria that are already densely built,” staff said.

The criteria would also take into consideration traffic congestion on weekends, where currently projects are only assessed by rush hour congestion. That would hurt Alexandria, which has plenty of rush hour traffic but not as much congestion on the weekend.

“We feel that hurts areas suffering from regional congestion rather than local congestion,” staff said. “That makes it harder for projects in these areas to score well.”

Staff says the criteria changes would prioritize the number of crashes over the severity of crashes, so intersections that see more fender-benders would be ranked higher than intersections that have had multiple fatalities. This principle goes against the Vision Zero goals adopted by the city, staff said.

City staffers told the Transportation Commission that bus rapid transit projects and bicycle-pedestrian projects would be negatively impacted by the changes in criteria.

“The current list completely omits any mention of bicycles and bicycle safety, even as more people statewide are biking,” staff said. “[The Commonwealth Transportation Board] should include bicycle safety and infrastructure projects (such as striping for bicycle lanes, road diets, etc.) as eligible low-cost, high-benefit improvements.”

Staff encouraged the Transportation Commission to approve a drafted letter opposing the criteria changes. No action was taken at the meeting, so that commission members could make changes and sent the letter within the next week.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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