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Duke Street near Landmark and Cameron Run (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria is planning for a transit-oriented overhaul of Duke Street, and city staff connected to the project told an advisory group earlier this month that rumors about eminent domain being used for the project are inaccurate.

Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES), told the Duke Street in Motion Advisory Group that public concerns about eminent domain being invoked to acquire right of way for the Duke Street changes is at least premature if not unfounded.

Concerns about the city using eminent domain to acquire land along Duke Street became so prevalent members of the City Council asked staff about it at meetings this month. Lambert said right-of-way acquisition does not always involve eminent domain.

“There’s been some discussion and disinformation about what right of way is and use of it,” Lambert said. “The city regularly acquires the right of way when it is building capital projects like sewers or fire facilities… The right-of-way process is a normal component of all of our capital projects. There’s nothing unusual in us having a right-of-way element on a project.

Lambert said with the plans still in the early stages, it’s not clear that the city will have make any right-of-way acquisition.

“What I specifically want to address, with this project in particular: any right-of-way that we think we will have to acquire, and it’s not clear that we will have to acquire right-of-way… if we think we have to acquire any right-of-way, we see that as being a voluntary negotiation with adjacent property owners,” Lambert said. “We do not see any intent in this stage of the project to use eminent domain.”

Lambert said eminent domain is still a tool in the city’s toolbox for making improvements that are necessary to the public interest, but with this project, the city “wants to make sure right of way set aside for this project is voluntary.”

In the same vein of corrections about misconceptions surrounding the Duke Street projects, Lambert said the Transitway proposal won’t necessarily have a one-size-fits-all application along the corridor. There are multiple options, from transit separated from traffic to buses mixed in with traffic, with multiple segments along the corridor.

“I think it’s natural and reasonable to think about it as doing something from end to end,” Lambert said. “Multiple [City] Councils have told us and the staff… that Council wants to see ensuring transit on Duke Street. But part of the reason it’s broken out into segments… [we] want to make sure it’s clear that there may be different solutions for different segments.”

Lambert said while some segments may see substantial improvements, others may only see more incremental improvements.

The advisory group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Dec. 15.

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The intersection of Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway has been a hot spot for car crashes and at a meeting tonight, city staff are scheduled to present plans to give the intersection a makeover.

The meeting, held at nearby Bishop Ireton High School (201 Cambridge Road) from 7-8:30 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) will include an overview of the current intersection and a look at potential design changes.

“During the meeting, City staff will cover both the West Taylor Run intersection on Duke Street and the proposed access onto Telegraph Road east of West Taylor Run,” a release said. “There will be an open house section, a presentation and an opportunity for participants to ask questions and/or provide feedback about the project.”

The city’s website said the intersection has seen frequent crashes in recent years.

“The Duke and West Taylor Run Parkway intersection has been the topic of discussion for a number of years and was identified as a high crash location through the City’s Vision Zero Program,” the site said. “The Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway Project aims to improve safety while reducing neighborhood cut-through traffic. The project will redesign the intersection in conjunction with the addition of a new ramp to access Telegraph Road.”

The intersection was also included in earlier changes to keep more cut-through traffic on Duke Street and out of nearby residential neighborhoods.

The city’s website said plans include eliminating direct access to the Telegraph Road ramp from West Taylor Run Parkway, which would help disincentivize commuters using the residential street to get around Duke Street congestion.

“By eliminating direct access onto the Telegraph Road ramp from West Taylor Run Parkway, congestion on Duke Street can be improved and less people will likely use neighborhood streets to access this ramp,” the city’s website said. “As well, the signal timing adjustments will also encourage drivers to use Quaker Lane and Duke Street. While there will ultimately be an additional ramp onto Telegraph Road, the goal is to make it faster for cut-through traffic to stay on Quaker Lane and Duke Street.”

The intersection was also included in earlier changes to keep more cut-through traffic on Duke Street and out of nearby residential neighborhoods.

Final concepts for the new intersection are expected to be finished in spring 2023, with construction starting in 2025 or 2026 with a year of construction.

Via Google Maps

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It’s been a busy week of meetings in Alexandria.

First, parents met with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) leadership in a forum addressing safety in schools, a major talking point in schools after the murder of a student this summer and issues involving violent “crews” in ACPS.

In an Agenda Alexandria meeting, City Manager James Parajon said adding density to the city is vital to meeting affordable housing needs, though some in the audience expressed concerns that added density could harm the “historic nature” of Alexandria.

Lastly, the Chamber ALX held its Best in Business awards last night. Land use attorney Cathy Puskar was named the 2022 Business Leader of the Year and restaurant Chadwicks (203 Strand Street) was named Overall Business of the Year.

Top stories

  1. New Duke Street development replacing car dealership with affordable housing
  2. Tenant arrested for allegedly pointing handgun at landlord in West End apartment
  3. City Manager: Trading height for affordable housing means ‘unlikely’ impact on historic districts
  4. Alexandria mayor to present multi-year plan to rename streets named after Confederate soldiers
  5. Potomac Yard Metro station hits major milestone after earlier plans derailed by delays
  6. Alexandria lowers speed limits on major West End streets
  7. Falafel Inc. opening on Halloween on King Street in Old Town
  8. Nine more COVID deaths in Alexandria within the last month
  9. Public comment period closing on three Duke Street Transitway options
  10. Alexandria City Council hires auditor to review allegations of police misconduct
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Witter Place (Community Housing Partners (CHP))

The Beyer Land Rover dealership at 2712 Duke Street could soon be replaced with a new 94-unit affordable housing development (item 9).

The project, Witter Place, is being put together by Community Housing Partners (CHP). The Virginia-based non-profit has worked in affordable housing development since 1975, but this is CHP’s first project in Alexandria.

“The proposal consists of a 94-unit, 136,087 gross square feet (GSF) multifamily building, with a two-level partially below grade parking garage,” a staff-report on the development said. “The building will range in height from four to five stories, with a maximum height of 60 feet. All units in the proposed building will be affordable to households at a variety of income levels ranging from 40% to 60% AMI.”

The new building will include a courtyard and rooftop terrace for residents.

In addition to the affordable housing component, Witter Place will also make some improvements to Duke Street.

“The project will reduce the number of existing curb cuts and will eliminate conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians along Duke Street by locating parking garage access to the south side of the property along Witter Drive,” the report said. “The project also proposes an enhanced streetscape along Duke Street, including a 10′ wide sidewalk with street trees.”

Ultimately, the staff report recommended approval of the project. The project is going to a Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 1, and to the City Council on Saturday, Nov. 12.

“Staff recommends approval of the Development Site Plan and associated Special Use Permit subject to compliance with all applicable codes and the following staff recommendations,” the report said.

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Alexandria planning staff say there’s no preferred option for the Duke Street transitway, but the three choices offer varying impacts on drivers.

This month, city staff have conducted meetings in a public engagement process to talk about the project and gather input on the three options before a plan is finalized for City Council to consider. City staff will conduct a final open house to discuss the entire project on Wednesday, October 26, at 5:30 p.m. at Patrick Henry Recreation Center (4653 Taney Avenue).

Residents can also fill out an online feedback form.

The option to have a dedicated center bus lane in the middle of Duke Street would ultimately result in the fastest experience for riders, but the construction would heavily impact traffic an already clogged Duke Street. This option would mean the construction of multiple bus bays.

The second option would convert lanes at the edge of the street into dedicated bus lanes, which would double as turn lanes for vehicles at intersections. The third option would mix buses with regular traffic.

Amy Hillis, a resident of the Duke Gardens neighborhood, says that the city’s presentations are lacking.

“The city says this is an engagement period, and staff is asking citizens to advise on selecting two preferred options,” Hillis said, considering the mixed traffic alternative as a “do-nothing option.”

Hillis added, “Some options will require eminent domain and land acquisition – no notional cost estimate on that. And zero estimate on the cost per bus rider today versus in the future as an end state goal.”

The busy four mile stretch of roadway has been divvied into these sections:

All options include a road widening in segments 2A and 2B.

Construction could start as soon as 2026, but the construction schedule depends on the alternative that is chosen.

“It depends on what the preferred alternative is, that will dictate the design schedule and construction schedule,” Project Manager Will Tolbert said at a community presentation last week. “That’s hard to give you a range, but that’s hard to commit to until we have that confirmed alternative.”

Tolbert continued, “Unless there’s something I haven’t been told, there is no preferred alternative. We’re really truly looking for feedback on this range of alternatives now.”

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Sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s (photo via Jersey Mike’s/Facebook)

Popular sandwich franchise Jersey Mike’s Subs is opening a new location in Alexandria tomorrow.

The shop is opening at 3219 Duke Street — formerly Sweet Frog — on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

In addition to in-store dining, guests can order through the website or app and delivery is available. The restaurant is open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m., seven days a week.

The grand opening will coincide with a fundraiser — kind of. The fundraiser is running from Wednesday to Sunday, Oct. 23, supporting the One Love Foundation, but donations are only valid for customers who received a coupon through a “grassroots effort” prior to opening and it is not available on online, app, or third-party orders.

“Customers who receive a special fundraising coupon distributed through a grassroots effort prior to the opening can make a minimum $3 contribution in-store to One Love Foundation in exchange for a regular sub,” the restaurant said in a release. “Customers must have a coupon to be eligible. Coupons are not available for online, app, or third-party orders.

Photo via Jersey Mike’s/Facebook

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A Washington, D.C. man is behind bars after allegedly stealing a car from a lot in an industrial area of the city and fleeing from police.

The incident occurred shortly after 10 p.m. on Thursday, August 22. Police received a call that several people were moving vehicles in the fenced in parking lot of a car repair business in the 3200 block of Colvin Street.

Police arrived and saw the 22-year-old suspect allegedly climb a fence to the lot and get into a Dodge Ram with its lights on, according to a search warrant affidavit. When police made their presence known, the suspect allegedly ran on foot from the scene and was arrested a short distance away.

Another suspect stole a red Ford Mustang and was not arrested.

The suspect told police that “he received a key fob for the Dodge Ram from the unknown suspect operating the Mustang, whom he claimed not to know the identity of,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

“The suspect was to drive the Dodge Ram ‘somewhere in Maryland,'” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

“I was told, texted, to go to a certain place,” the suspect allegedly told police.

The suspect was charged with failing to stop at the scene of an accident, fleeing from law enforcement and grand larceny. He released on recognizance and goes to court on September 28.

Via Google Maps

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The City of Alexandria is eyeing three basic concepts for a Duke Street transitway to help boost bus service along the arterial road.

The three options presented at a meeting of the Duke Street Transitway Advisory Group last month ranged from the buses in the center of the street to mixed in with traffic. The options are:

  • Center-running buses: buses would have a dedicated center lane in the middle of Duke Street, similar to the transitway at Potomac Yard.
  • Curb-running buses: the buses would have lanes at the edge of the street, though these would also double as turn lanes for cars
  • Mixed traffic: buses are mixed in with regular car traffic
Options for the Duke Street Transitway (image via City of Alexandria)

In a presentation, staff said each option had its own benefits and drawbacks.

Center-running buses optimize corridor safety and create an increased transit time for buses, but they take up the most space on the road of any of the three options. Center-running buses also drew some concerns from the group who said they would force pedestrians on the bus to cross Duke Street to leave the bus stations.

Curb-running buses, staff said, are better on corridors with lower volumes of right turns. Roads with significant amounts of driveways or high turn volumes can chip away at the efficiency of a dedicated curb lane for the buses. The curb-running bus option, staff said, is the most flexible of the three, though it still requires taking space either from the roadway or the curb.

The last option is mixed traffic, which staff admitted doesn’t offer much by way of transit benefits since that is, fundamentally, how buses along Duke Street operate today.

The group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Sept. 15, at 6:30 p.m. at Alexandria Police Department headquarters (3600 Wheeler Ave.), Room 106.

“The advisory group is providing input on these concepts before the City solicits input from the community in October to help the Advisory Group narrow concepts under consideration,” a city release said. “The Advisory Group is anticipated to recommend a preferred concept by the summer of 2023.”

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At a public meeting last week on a proposed cut-through traffic mitigation plan, city staff answered a pretty fundamental but surprising question: what is cut-through traffic to Alexandria and how is it calculated?

The city is considering moving forward with the second phase of a pilot program that aims to cut down on cut-through traffic avoiding the city’s arterial lanes by driving through residential streets to access the highways. The pilots specifically target drivers cutting through Taylor Run to access Telegraph Road and I-495.

Phase 1 adjusted signal timing to prioritize traffic on the arterial roads and slow the lights that let traffic from Taylor Run out to Telegraph Road. City staff said Phase 1 was a success. Phase 2, meanwhile, will keep the signal timing changes but fully restrict access to the Telegraph Road ramp from West Taylor Run Parkway.

Hillary Orr, deputy director of transportation, said in a meeting last week that the city collects data from Bluetooth devices — like cellphones — in cars.

“We have access to a platform called StreetLight Data,” Orr said. “It pings off Bluetooth devices — people’s cellphones, Bluetooth sensors in cars. It’s all anonymous data and it’s all averaged. We look at averages over time. But we are able to do origin-destination evaluation.”

Orr said this means the city can traffic entering an area, like Taylor Run, from outside of that area and track them to see if they’re leaving by Telegraph Road moments later.

“The way we’ve done this study is looking at folks pinging outside of the study area, then pinging in neighborhood streets, then at the Telegraph Ramp,” Orr said. “Only those who drove through the area then left the area count. If you drive through and go home, you’re not counted as cut-through traffic.”

Orr also addressed other concerns about the project, like questions about whether or not Phase 2 should be delayed until Metro resumes its normal schedule. Metro is planning another shutdown from September to October for Alexandria. Orr said Metro ridership, however, has not nearly risen back up to pre-pandemic levels and the change in schedule is unlikely to substantially affect street traffic.

“What we’ve seen is rail ridership is not back up right now.” Orr said. “Metro rail ridership is about 30% of what it was pre-pandemic, so a lot of people are already driving. We want to see what happens in the more immediate future.  That’s why we wanted to start this sooner rather than later. Frankly, if more people are driving because the Metro is shut down, this should help the congestion and help Duke Street flow better.”

The meeting did get some concerns from nearby residents, though, who say they are concerned the program is only shuffling the cut-through traffic to other side streets.

“I’m really concerned with this pilot because it seems like we’re just going to shift the problem away from West Taylor and we’re not reducing cut through traffic,” said Matt Kaplan, a nearby resident. “It’s just going to be at Cambridge Road and Duke Street. That intersection is really bad today. I don’t think things are going to be pushed to Quaker, it’s going to be pushed there. It’s not designed for that today and we’re going to be adding more to it.”

Kaplan said Cambridge Road already suffers from speeding and poor visibility.

Orr said the first phase of the pilot saw cut-through traffic on Cambridge Road decrease by 60%.

“We know that when we change the signal timing from Phase 1, we shifted traffic to Quaker Lane,” Orr said. “Quaker was still faster even with that shift than all the other neighborhood streets. What we think is people are putting in Waze and Google Maps and it’s routing them on the fastest route. If we can make Quaker Lane the fastest route, that’s where they’ll want to go.”

If the city does move forward with Phase 2 of the project, the city’s website said that could begin as early as next month and run until March.

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Hangry Joe’s in Alexandria Commons (image via John Chapman/Twitter)

Hot chicken chain Hangry Joe’s has opened in the Alexandria Commons shopping center (3227 Duke Street).

The chain announced the new location last October and it finally opened late last week according to the chain’s Instagram page.

As the name suggests, the main item on the menu is chicken — from chicken sandwiches and chicken fingers to the classic southern chicken waffle. Sides include fries, cider slaw or fried okra.

The chain also boasts an intense spectrum of heat, from mildly spicy to one requiring a waiver.

Image via John Chapman/Twitter

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