Seminary Road has experienced some delays since the city implemented the contentious “road diet” last fall, Alexandria officials acknowledged at a Tuesday night city council meeting.
After months of pressure from an extremely vocal group of city residents on Facebook, council members peppered staff with questions about the road diet — a reduction of a 0.9 mile stretch of Seminary Road between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street from four to two lanes, plus the addition of bike lanes on both sides, a center turn lane, crosswalks and medians.
The city’s most recent traffic data shows a travel time increase of one minute for vehicles going westbound on Seminary from Quaker Lane to Jordan Street at peak travel times (8:15 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.) and a 30 second increase in the opposite direction. The data was collected with the city’s Bluetooth travel time monitoring system. On the plus side, staff said, the road is now otherwise safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.
Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson called for a reversal of the road diet in December and spent more than an hour questioning city staff on Tuesday night. During her questioning, she had an aide present a slideshow of photos of traffic along Seminary Road.
“Hundreds of people took hundreds of pictures, because that’s what they’re doing because they’re sitting there,” she said. “I’m not convinced that our city government has alleviated the fears (of the public).”
City transportation planners said that the roadway might be minimally slower for drivers during peak hours, but that it is safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
“For the vast majority of the day the road is performing the same, if not better than before,” said Hillary Orr, deputy director of the city’s department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “And for those other 23 hours, it’s designed in a way that is comfortable for people who are walking, biking, using transit and driving their cars. And that’s one of the tradeoffs that we have talked about throughout this process.”
Fire Chief Corey Smedley told council that his staff was in communication with city staff as the road diet was being planned, and that fire and emergency vehicles have been un-hindered in their ability to navigate through traffic and answer service calls — assertions that run counter to the beliefs of road diet opponents, who have cited a FOIAed trove of emails as proof that fire department brass were pressured into supporting the changes.
When Jackson asked him if his department was in consultation and agreement with the plan, he responded by saying, “Absolutely.”
Police Chief Michael Brown reported that there have been three reported car crashes along the roadway since the road diet was implemented last fall, including one that occurred at the conclusion of a high speed chase by the Virginia State Police. Otherwise, he said, the road diet has presented no issues for police.
Council voted 4-3 for the road diet last October, supported by Mayor Justin Wilson, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, and council members Canek Aguirre and Del Pepper. In opposition were Jackson, and council members John T. Chapman and Mo Seifeldein.
Bill Rossello wasn’t convinced by the staff presentation. The Seminary Hill resident sat in on the meeting for more than two hours before calling it a night and walking out.
“It’s absolute horse hockey,” Rossello told ALXnow. “The city is not very good at presenting data, gathering data and what it’s really not good at is listening to the overwhelming majority of community members who actually use the road, who see it first-hand, live it every day. Not a bit.”
Wilson said he expects community activism regarding the road diet to continue.
“There are going to be differences of opinion, there are going to be things that we don’t always 100% see eye-to-eye on,” Wilson said. “I appreciate the collaboration on this and so many other matters. I want to thank the community for all of their comments on this. I’m sure they will continue, and that’s a great thing and we can continue this discussion as we move forward and evaluate this project as we committed to do from the beginning.”
But Rossello, who is an administrator of the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group, said Tuesday night’s meeting didn’t sit well with him.
“What we’re seeing at the leadership levels is that there seems to be a willingness to go along with this narrative that we were all involved talking about this throughout the process, which is absolutely not true,” he said. “They know that there are more cars on the road, and narrowing roads isn’t gonna make it better. That doesn’t make our quality of life better. I don’t think anything that happened tonight increases the trust that the community has in our city government.”
Nicole Radshaw is all in favor of the much-maligned Seminary Road diet.
Three years ago on Halloween, the Seminary Valley resident was hit by a driver as she biked to work at a preschool on Seminary Road. Radshaw didn’t break any bones, but her bike was totaled, she spent a year in physical therapy, and saw a counselor to help deal with the trauma and anxiety of being hit by a car.
“It really sucked. I could have been a fatality. Cars were driving past as I was lying on the road,” Radshaw told ALXnow. “It took me three years to want to get back on a bike again.”
Radshaw belongs to a less vocal portion of city residents who favor the road diet, which has created consternation throughout Alexandria. Mayor Justin Wilson and city officials have acknowledged traffic delays at peak travel times since the 0.9 mile stretch of roadway between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street was reduced from four to two lanes. Bike lanes on both sides were also added, in addition to a center turn lane, crosswalks and medians.
The city council and Department of Transportation and Environmental Services have received thousands of emails and messages against the plan. Arguments from the Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group even prompted Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson to call for a complete restart of the process.
Glenn Klaus lives in Rosemont, and his support of the road diet is more philosophical. He’s a cyclist and hasn’t yet biked on the new Seminary Road bike lanes, but wants to see fewer cars on city roadways.
“The city is trying to change driving behaviors and traffic patterns. People just have to deal, because ultimately I think that strategy is to their benefit,” Klaus said. “When people lose, it doesn’t mean they weren’t listened to. It just means their argument didn’t sway the decision-makers.”
Lisa Soronen lives on Fort Williams Parkway — about five blocks away from Seminary Road — and alternates between taking the bus in the morning and driving to work in the District. She walks her dog in the morning and crosses Seminary Road on foot up to six times a day, which used to be a “suicide mission,” she said. Now she says that drivers are paying more attention to the 25 mile per hour speed limit and she is no longer afraid of crossing the street.
“It’s absolutely wonderful, because if I want to cross the road I have a crosswalk,” Soronen said. “Same thing with the bus. Coming home after 5 p.m., I’d have to run across four lanes of traffic and someone might hit me. I’m really surprised that people feel so personal about it, and they have attacked me personally. I have been attacked online.”
Soronen said she has experienced delays along the roadway in the morning, and has seen emergency vehicles speed through the middle turn lane without issues . She got involved in the planning process for the roadway soon after moving into the neighborhood last April, and has corresponded with members of the city council and city staff.
“I might be delayed sometimes driving on Seminary, but it’s worth it for me for it to be safer for everyone,” she said. “The process I participated in seems open and fair. If things had gone the other way, I don’t think I would have considered that the process failed me.”
Soronen is an attorney and volunteers with the Mother of Light Center, which supports homeless Alexandrians. She said that the argument over the road diet is a waste of her time and distracts city council from its other work.
“I don’t understand the vitriol against this,” she said, calling the dispute “small and petty” and not as big of a deal as, say, poverty and homelessness in the city.
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Three months after a portion of Seminary Road was re-paved and re-striped to reduce it from two vehicular lanes in each direction to one lane, a turn lane and bike lanes, the debate over the “road diet” still rages on.
On the now-private Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group, numerous posts per day bemoan the state of rush hour traffic along Seminary Road, report on cut-through traffic on nearby roads, and rip Mayor Justin Wilson for his support of the project. (Wilson, a member of the group, often politely replies to the invective.)
No one is denying that the road diet is causing some level of increased traffic during certain times. Earlier this month Wilson wrote in his Council Connection newsletter that there were still increased delays for drivers on Seminary Road, but they were largely confined to narrow peak rush hour periods and were improving over time:
During the evening rush, the peak travel period has been 5:15 PM to 5:30 PM. Prior to the change, the average travel time from the intersection of Quaker Lane and Seminary Road to Jordan Street and Seminary Road was 3.5 minutes. In November, after the changes were implemented, we saw a 40% increase in this travel time, with an average of 4.9 minutes. In December (excluding holidays and days when school is not in session), the average travel time was down to 3.9 minutes, an increase of 24 seconds from before the changes.
During the morning rush, the peak travel period has been 8:15 AM to 8:30 AM. Prior to the change, the average travel time from the intersection of Quaker Lane and Seminary Road to Jordan Street and Seminary Road was 3.6 minutes. In November, after the changes were implemented, we saw a 98% increase in this travel time, with an average of 7.1 minutes. In December (excluding holidays and days when school is not in session), the average travel time was down to 4.7 minutes, an increase of a bit over a minute from before the changes.
This morning, a review of traffic conditions via Google Maps showed mostly clear sailing as of 8:45 a.m. The city’s traffic monitoring service similarly showed a 25 mph average speed on Seminary and Janneys Lane, between N. Beauregard Street and King Street, from 8-9 a.m. this morning.
Google Maps reports higher levels of “typical traffic” and delays around 8 a.m. on most weekdays.
Ultimately, the Seminary Road question is one of priorities. Should the city’s priority be to reduce rush hour delays for drivers? (And, potentially, emergency vehicles — though no issues have been reported so far.)
Or should the city stick to its guns and sacrifice some commute times in the name of pedestrian safety and encouraging other forms of transportation, like bikes and scooters?
Let us know what you think in the poll and the comments.
Map via Google Maps
Fox 5: No Additional Delays on Seminary — Alexandria’s Seminary Road controversy has taken another turn in the local TV news spotlight. This time, Fox 5 looked at the lane reduction issue and concluded that the brief periods of gridlock on the road during peak times are not, in fact, worse than it was when the Seminary was two lanes in both directions. [Fox 5, Twitter]
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New ACPS Trying Out Healthy Recipes — “Alexandria City Public Schools recently welcomed a new executive chef to its cafeterias and he’s already got some fresh ideas. Chef Isaiah Ruffin wants more vegetarian options on the menu, less sodium in the lunch items, and about 80 percent of the ingredients to be locally sourced.” [WDVM]
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Reminder: Weekend Events — A number of significant events are taking place in Alexandria this weekend, including the Alexandria Cider Festival, the holiday tree lighting in Old Town, and the inaugural Alexandria Makers Market at Port City Brewing.
Some residents are downright angry at what they describe as major traffic backups caused by recent changes to Seminary Road.
Last month the city repaved and re-striped a portion of Seminary Road, changing it from two vehicle travel lanes in each direction to one lane in each direction, a center turn lane and two bike lanes. Some construction activity is still underway but people who opposed the project from the outset have wasted no time in decrying what they say is a significant increase in traffic as a result.
“Get rid of these stupid islands, get rid of these bike lanes,” local resident Phil Cefaratti told Tuss. “People on my side are very, very frustrated… we’re basically calling on City Council, especially the mayor, do to something about this.”
Cefaratti echoed other residents who call the result of the changes a “traffic nightmare” and Seminary a “parking lot” during rush hour, saying it now takes up to 20 minutes to go a mile at times.
Seminary Road this morning. Gridlock is bad, but moreover, how will an ambulance get to the hospital? This isn’t safe. @AdamTuss @Marcella_Rob @fox5dc @AlexandriaNow @AlexTimesNews @AlexGazette pic.twitter.com/57UjfYpnnn
— Jill Hoffman (@JHoffman_DC) November 18, 2019
Tuss also interviewed a resident who was happy about the changes, saying it’s a safety improvement. Some took to Twitter after the broadcast to voice similar views.
“I wasn’t listened to” = my opinion wasn’t implemented. I live off Seminary. It’s so much better! Never felt safe walking, running, or biking on it. Driving on it wasn’t that great either.
— Gary Michael (@GMSHOOP) November 20, 2019
The traffic will slowly get better, as it did on King Street when they did the same thing. My child has been hit by a car walking home from TC (thankfully no injuries). Anything this city can do to make it safer would be appreciated.
— Baby Yoda (@202StateofMind) November 20, 2019
City staff told Tuss and previously told the City Council that they expect the daily delays to ease as work concludes and some signal timing changes are implemented.
“While we understand that delays are frustrating, the corridor is still under construction and all of the components that work together to make this project work are not yet complete,” Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation and Environmental Services said in a memo. “While there have been some increased queues during the peak half-hour in the morning, we are still generally seeing vehicles able to get through a signal in one cycle.”
Opponents of the changes, meanwhile, are continuing to speak out and have formed a Facebook group to coordinate and gripe. One recent post on the exceedingly active Facebook group says that Mayor Justin Wilson has agreed to watch observe traffic congestion with residents on an as-yet undetermined weekday morning.
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Backups on King Street Due to Chicken Sandwich — “Around lunchtime today, the sandwich was causing a traffic jam in front of the Popeyes at 4675 King Street… One lane was effectively blocked along westbound King Street approaching the Walter Reed/Beauregard Street intersection as drive-thru customers waited over 40 minutes to get their hands on the savory combination of bread, fried chicken and sauce.” [ARLnow]
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Changes May Be Coming to Duke Street — “On the heels of a controversial decision to reduce vehicle lanes and add bicycle lanes and more safety measures to Seminary Road, Alexandria City staff are starting to take a serious look at Duke Street, especially in areas that experience the most significant backups.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
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Pharmacy Owner Sentenced for Fraud — “A pharmacy owner with stores in Arlington and Alexandria has been sentenced to four years behind bars for falsifying insurance claims and illegally dispensing opioids.” [ARLnow]
Letter Writer: Art Festival Was Traffic ‘Disaster’ — Alexandria resident Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet writes in a letter to the editor: “A perfect example of overstretching our infrastructure occurred over the weekend when the annual Arts Festival invaded our turf. Anyone who came into Old Town on Saturday saw the largest traffic and parking disaster in years.” [Gazette Packet]