Newsletter

After initially submitting plans in January for review, developer Eleventh Street Development LLC is back in the city process to get final approval on a plan to convert a parking garage at 101 Duke Street into a series of townhouses.

According to the application there will be six, four-story townhouses broken up into three buildings. Each unit would also have a two-car garage attached via central alleyway. The demolition of the existing 101 Duke Street parking garage and the new project are scheduled for consideration at the Wednesday, Oct. 6, Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meeting

“The current structure was retrofitted into a parking garage in 1988 and the first level resides within the floodplain,” said Garrett Erdle, principal at Eleventh Street Development, in a letter to the BAR. “The plan is to construct six new townhouses, with attached garages, within the footprint of the current garage.”

There could be some salve for those worried about the loss of parking in Old Town: Hotel Indigo (220 S Union Street) across the street is currently in the process of opening up its underutilized parking garage to the public.

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No one was injured or arrested after shots were fired early Sunday evening (August 29) in the 4600 block of Duke Street in the West End.

The incident occurred at around 5:30 p.m. near the Shoppes at Fox Chase and the 4600 Duke Street Condominiums. A helicopter assisted in the search for the suspect.

“Evidence was recovered at the scene,” police tweeted. “No injuries were reported.”

There was also a two-car crash on Duke Street last night. There were no injuries, although traffic traveling west was temporarily shut down.

Via Google Maps

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You might have already noticed if it’s on a street near you, but this week the City of Alexandria has resumed its seasonal resurfacing work throughout Old Town.

Repaving work started on Monday this week as part of a seasonal program. This week and next, repairs and curb improvements are underway on Union Street from Pendleton to Franklin streets and Duke Street from South Union to South Patrick streets.

The schedule online indicates that work will continue until Friday, Sept. 3, with resurfacing work paused on weekends. Paving takes place between 7 a.m.-5 p.m., but the city said sometimes some work is done overnight to accommodate heavily traveled roads.

“Alexandria has more than 561 lane miles of road and each year, the City resurfaces approximately 50 of those lane miles,” the city said. “The City uses a paving management system called Pavement Condition Index, or PCI, to determine the condition of City roads. PCI, along with other factors, such as volume and type of traffic, planned utility work, and cost, are used to prioritize streets for repaving.”

The city said local residents will be advised of resurfacing work at least one week in advance.

“Temporary ‘No Parking’ signs will be also posted before work begins,” the city said. “Please be sure to observe these signs to avoid tickets and potential towing of vehicle.”

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Tropical Storm Elsa is withering as it creeps north along the East Coast, but its remnants spawned a storm that packed winds strong enough to wreak havoc along Duke Street in Alexandria.

Luis Ramirez had just gotten home from his construction job Thursday afternoon when he heard a ripping, tearing sound and then a thunderous boom. At the corner of Vermont Avenue and S. Gordon Street, a felled tree narrowly missed his house.

“I’m glad it fell away from the house,” Ramirez said. “I’m bummed, though. That was my Christmas tree. I’d climb all the way up and put lights on it. Not anymore.”

Dominion Energy’s outage map indicates there are more than 200 customers in the neighborhoods just south of Duke Street and east of Holmes Run without power. A transformer exploded nearby and Dominion Energy is currently on-site, with power estimated to be restored between 6-11 p.m., the power company says.

Nearby residents said on social media that street lights were briefly out in the area but have since been restored.

Strong winds and storm damage were also reported just across the Alexandria border, in the Rose Hill section of Fairfax County, including along Franconia Road.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story

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It was a quick week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

With summer in full swing, three Alexandria athletes have made it on the U.S. Olympic Team — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley.

In other sporting news, Old Town businesses beat Del Ray in a controversial softball game Wednesday, adding fuel to the fire of an intense rivalry.

It’s been super hot out lately, and the City urged caution and reminded residents to take advantage of special cooling centers.

On the COVID front, the city’s DASH bus service announced that one of its drivers passed away from complications from the virus.

Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Wilson believes that the city has met its 80% vaccination threshold, while Virginia Department of Health data says about 65% of residents over the age of 16 are partially vaccinated. The Alexandria Health Department, which just launched a COVID-19 test and vaccine pilot at T.C. Williams High School, says the data does not take into account city residents vaccinated in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

It’s also July 4 weekend, and in this week’s poll we asked whether readers plan on traveling, with 67% of respondents voting to stay home, 27% opting to travel by car and just 6% traveling by air.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Researchers call out shoddy craftsmanship in buried 18th century Alexandria ship
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations
  4. Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria eyes bus rapid transit and bike lanes for Duke Street
  7. Parker-Gray tiny lot home moves forward with some unique challenges
  8. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  9. City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof
  10. UPDATE: Man taken into custody as West End apartment barricade situation ends peacefully
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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As Alexandria works through the first stages of its Duke Street transit overhaul, city staff are laying out expectations for what’s being considered for the corridor.

In a public meeting last week, staff presented early plans for a transit-focused overhaul of Duke Street and fielded both questions and some early concerns from residents.

Bike lanes on Alexandria streets have been contentious in the past, but staff said they remain on-the-table for Duke Street, along with “micromobility” options like shared-bicycles.

Mack Schnaufer, the city’s bus-rapid transit (BRT) manager, said a BRT route is being considered for Duke Street and would run from the King Street Metro station to Landmark Mall. Beyong that point lies Fairfax County, which is outside of the project’s jurisdiction.

Schnaufer said he has long-term hopes for more BRT connectivity, and defended the Metroway project after a meeting participant asked why the city is moving forward with BRT when the Metroway never met its ridership goals. Schnaufer said that, Pre-COVID, Metroway has been exceeding its early projections and no ridership goals have been set yet for Duke Street.

“We’re starting to get those discussions of how we can connect different BRT corridors along with Fairfax County,” Schnaufer said. “A lot of their planning is in its infancy, we’re a little bit ahead of them right now, but in the long run I do think these corridors will end up being connected and we’ll have a regional BRT network.”

Much of the concern about bike lanes in other parts of Alexandria — namely the debate over Seminary Road — focused on concerns that the lane reduction would negatively impact car traffic.

“We recognize that cars are not going to be off of Duke Street completely,” said Jennifer Koch from urban design firm Rhodeside & Harwell. “Vehicle movement is something taken into account with this project. People’s priorities for car lanes is definitely something we’re gathering input on in this phase.”

Schnaufer said it’s too early to lay out a timeline for construction of the project, but said it’s likely that BRT will be implemented in the project in phases.

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If you’ve traveled along Duke Street during rush hour, you probably recognize the intersection above, and might even have a visceral reaction to it. The one-late turn from Duke Street onto Telegraph Road, and by extension to the Beltway, faces frequent backups not only along Duke Street, but in surrounding neighborhoods packed with cut-through traffic.

The bad news: the Duke Street transit overhaul isn’t going to touch that intersection.

The good news: the city says the intersection will be considered as part of a separate project launching later this year.

Jill Hoffman, a resident of the Taylor Run neighborhood just north of Duke Street, said that over the last several years navigation apps have diverted traffic off the crowded Duke Street onto smaller, residential streets that can’t handle the traffic.

“If you live on West Taylor Run, you cannot get out of your driveway during rush hour,” Hoffman said. “What has happened over the years is a lot of cut-through traffic has bailed off arterials and is using our neighborhood as a cut-through to get to that Beltway entrance. The reason they do that is because if you come down Quaker or Duke streets, the chokepoint is that intersection.”

In a presentation from 2019, city staff identified the intersection as a “high crash location” as part of the city’s Vision Zero crash analysis. In addition to the backup onto neighborhood streets, the city recognized issues of weaving through intersections and illegal left turns out of the right-turn only-lane of West Telegraph Road.

“We want to have an engineer assess the problems — or the problems,” Hoffman said. “During rush hour, this area of Alexandria comes to a standstill. It has significantly affected the quality of life… I want an engineer. Not BPAC, not constituents who think they know what’s going on, I want engineers to review that intersection and see if it can flow better — and to do that before anything changes on Duke Street, since it’s the single biggest problem on Duke Street.”

But for those hoping the Duke Street In Motion project — which launches its community outreach phase next — might help solve the problem: no dice.

“The scope of this project is not addressing the cut through and Telegraph Road interchange,” Alexandria communications officer Andrea Blackford said. “Duke Street In Motion, per grant funding, is focusing on transit (bus) improvements. Those other two topics are part of a separate project called Duke Street and West Taylor Run Project.”

The city said the troubled intersection will see progress later this year, however. The Duke Street and West Taylor Run Project will be conducting transportation analysis to determine short-term and long-term improvements for both the Duke Street and Telegraph Road interchange and the Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway intersection.

“In addition, the project includes design plans for the preferred alternative, which will lead to construction in 2024,” Blackford said. “Community outreach for the project is anticipated to start in fall 2021. For more information or for regular updates, please visit the city’s Duke Street and West Taylor Run Project Webpage.

Still, for Hoffman, putting the intersection improvements after the transit project casts a pall over the process.

“For me: if we want to have that conversation fine, but I’m opposed to having the conversation without addressing the root cause of the pain which is making the problem worse,” Hoffman said. “We’re just trying to get relief. We want the city to finally prioritize the root cause of the problem.”

Via Google Maps

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In the docket for an upcoming Transportation Commission meeting, city staff unveiled plans to open op a process to “define the future of Duke Street.”

In a 2008 Transportation Master Plan, the city identified several corridors through Alexandria as prime locations for transitways — redesigned streets to meant to emphasize high-frequency and reliable public transit. A 2012 concept plan further elaborated with a more detailed framework for what transitways would entail.

“The goal of these transitways is to deliver high capacity transit to areas of the City that are not adjacent to Metrorail,” the city report said. “These areas already see high transit ridership and are expecting significant development (as evidenced in the Small Area Plans). High capacity transit provides a means to manage congestion as well as connect residents and businesses to jobs and services within the City and throughout the region.”

The Transportation Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 16.

A staff report on the project said that while transit improvements are the main focus, traffic management and bicycle/pedestrian access will also be included in the plans. The report said in November, the City Council agreed that staff needed to reevaluate

“Duke Street IN MOTION Week is the first step in that effort, which will help guide the revised plan for transit facilities and services on the corridor,” the city said.

That week of public programming is scheduled for June 21-27.

“Duke Street IN MOTION Week will include a virtual kick-off webinar on June 23, project website launch, and an online feedback form to help the team identify the communities’ needs and goals for the development of the corridor’s improvement alternatives,” the city said. “This will also include CDC compliant in-person pop-ups events and outreach to stakeholder groups and organizations along the corridor. Approximately 12 pop-ups will be hosted during Duke Street IN MOTION Week, with 6 additional pop-ups held after June 27.”

Over the summer, the staff report said the city would begin planning and working with a design consultant firm to develop conceptual plan alternatives and put together drawings and documents, with additional rounds of feedback in the fall. The total feedback period is scheduled to run for 18 months.

“The community will create a vision for this corridor to steer the eventual outcome of improvements related to public transit, such as the bus,,” the city said on the project website, “as well as other related improvements for walking, riding a bicycle, driving, and using micromobility (for example, shared electric bikes and scooters).”

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An Alexandria Police officer jumped out of the way of a car that sped toward him after a traffic stop near Police Headquarters on Monday, June 7.

At around noon, the officer conducted a traffic stop on Cockrell Street (a dead end) near the intersection with Duke Street, approached the black sedan and asked the driver to turn off their engine.

“The driver did not comply and then drove off towards the dead end, turned around and drove back directly towards the officer,” APD senior communication officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow. “The officer jumped out of the way and was not hit.”

Paga said that the driver drove east on Duke Street at a high rate of speed, and was lost by another pursuing officer. A suspect description was not available.

“The pursuit was terminated when the officer lost sight of the vehicle after it reached northbound I-495 and went across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge,” Paga said. “Lookouts were shared with neighboring jurisdictions… The driver, when caught, is facing several charges including reckless driving, eluding and assault on police.”

Courtesy GoogleMaps

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With no more mayoral debates, now it all boils down to the Democratic primary on June 8.

Like the main event at a boxing match, Mayor Justin Wilson and former Mayor Allison Silberberg on Thursday night maneuvered through a series of questions in the final of four Seminary Ridge Civic Association candidate forums.

This is the final debate or forum for the two candidates until the June 8 Democratic primary.

Wilson is leading in fundraising and endorsements, while underdog Silberberg has gotten support from groups like the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook page for agreeing on a number of its pet issues, including government transparency, reversing the Seminary Road Diet, and curbing developments.

Fifteen City Council candidates participated in the Seminary Ridge conversations, opining on density, affordable housing, government transparency, flooding, and, their opinions on making changes to the controversial Seminary Road Diet.

After a 4-3 Council vote in 2019, the road, which is next to Inova Alexandria Hospital, was reduced from four to two lanes in exchange for a center turn lane, bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides of the street, crosswalks and medians. A majority of Council candidates are now in favor of taking a look at bringing travel lanes back from two to four lanes on the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street.

Wilson said that he is in favor of tweaking the plan, although has been accused of ignoring the opposition of 13 civic associations.

“It’s unfortunately we couldn’t get everyone in the community on the same page on this issue,” Wilson said. “I believe the improvements that we made were good ones. I’m hopeful that in the future we can continue to tweak as necessary.”

Silberberg said she would restore the four lanes.

“This is a major arterial road that leads to our only hospital,” she said. “I’ve seen it and many residents have seen it and told me about it that they’ve seen ambulances stuck. I think we have a chance to right this wrong, and, of course, keep the pedestrian improvements, but I wouldn’t have voted for it and I will restore the travel lanes if I can get everyone together on that.”

Transparency

Silberberg said she’s been saddened to hear reports of residents not trusting their government, and defended recently pledging herself to an accountability pledge labeled the Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights. Silberberg lost to Wilson in the Democratic primary in 2018, and says that she worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during her single term.

“I think they [City staff] should sign the pledge as well,” she said.

Silberberg also criticized the performance and six-figure salary of City Manager Mark Jinks.

“It is a lot of money, frankly. I brought this up (when mayor) but nobody agreed with me, but for the City Manager to have a car allowance. It sounds minor, but I don’t think we should have that for him. I think we should revise that.”

Wilson said that Jinks’ salary was in the middle of the pack when compared to the salaries of neighboring jurisdictions, and that he is appropriately paid given the organization that he runs.

Colocation of affordable housing

Wilson said he does not want to colocate affordable housing on the grounds of Alexandria City Public Schools, a position echoed by Silberberg on another controversial issue.

I don’t support putting affordable housing on our existing school properties,” he said. “We need more instructional space.”

Silberberg said that the school system is bursting at the seams as it is.

“I would certainly support an ordinance to say no to putting housing on our limited school properties,” she said.

Stream restoration

Wilson said that the city’s Environmental Policy Commission is full of “good science minds” that can look into the city’s stream restoration projects, including at Taylor Run, Strawberry Run and Lucky Run. Last month, Council opted to send aspects of the projects back to the drawing board in light of widespread public criticism.

Silberberg says that Alexandria has few forests left, and that she has long been opposed to the plans, as well as Wilson’s “unending pursuit of overbuilding”.

Transit lanes on Duke Street

Speaking of road diets, Wilson and Silberberg agreed that the Duke Street Transitway project should not result in fewer traffic lanes between Landmark Mall and the King Street-Old Town Metro station.

I personally don’t think the volumes on Duke street would allow us to remove any traffic lanes on Duke Street,” Wilson said. “We’re gonna have a lot of community engagement to figure out the best alignment, as well as looking at the intersections to try to reduce some of the cut-through traffic that we see in a lot of our neighborhoods.”

The city is embarking on the public engagement part of the project next month.

On $60 million in federal COVID funding

Silberberg said that the nearly $60 million in COVID relief funds coming to the city should be handled carefully, and after all of last year’s flooding that the funds should be spent on stormwater infrastructure.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment from the federal government, and we need to be extremely careful and good stewards of this money,” she said. “Think about what is mission critical. First and foremost, I think we clearly have to focus like a laser beam on this flooding, the sewage and stormwater flooding that’s attacking, and stalking, really, our residents every time it rains.”

Wilson said he’s proud to have led the city through the most significant public health crisis in a century, and that the city needs to invest more in the social, emotional and academic losses experienced by Alexandria children.

“We have an opportunity to make generational investments in our community around our infrastructure, around our facilities, around some of the systems around workforce development and things that are going to ultimately benefit our community for generations,” he said. “We got 1,300 suggestions from the community, and we’re going to be working in June and July to apply those suggestions in figuring out how to use that first tranche of money.”

Image via Seminary Ridge Civic Association/Zoom

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