The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday sent staff the proposed King Street Place pedestrian pilot program back to the drawing board.
The original plan would have turned a section of King Street near the waterfront into a pedestrian-only zone between Lee Street and Union Street on weekends, but more recent plans have included a single lane of traffic through the area that was going to be car-free.
Under the $190,000 plan proposed by staff, parking would be completely removed in the 100 block of King Street and a single lane of westbound traffic would be allowed for deliveries, valet parking, and picking up and dropping off visitors. That would shift dining to the south side of the street, while the north side would be open to vehicles.
“This is much different than what we had originally talked about, and I appreciate how we have gotten here,” Mayor Justin Wilson told city planning staff after a presentation at City Hall. “We’d like you to do it better and spend less.”
Wilson added, “If this works and is beneficial, then let’s do the whole King Street.”
The pilot, which staff was hoping to get approved by council next month, will now likely launch in early June after an amended plan is sent to the Waterfront Commission and the Traffic and Parking Board, according to Hillary Orr, deputy director of the city’s Department of Planning and Zoning.
“This is a lot of money,” City Councilman John Taylor Chapman told staff. “If we were to cut off the streets at the end [of King Street] and make this a plaza, it would probably be much less expensive… What I’d love to see is a much more streamlined, probably cheaper version of what you’re trying to accomplish here, because it is a pilot.”
“I did not think we were going to spend six figures on a pilot for that,” Chapman added.
Under the proposal, the King Street Trolley route along King Street would be redirected. Westbound traffic would continue, but eastbound traffic would loop around The Strand and Cameron, Union and Prince Streets.
“The street is only 37 feet wide emergency vehicle access needs 20 feet of that space,” Orr said. “That was really the key element we were thinking about in trying to balance the additional outdoor dining and then where pedestrians have additional space on the street. It did limit the design options, but it does allow for space that enhances the vitality along the corridor.”
Orr said city staff will look for some flexibility in its final presentation to the council to make changes during the pilot.
“If there are any unintended consequences of some of the proposals here or if we see that there is additional space needed for delivery, or things that we might not have thought of or ideas that people come up with, this is a pilot and opportunity to really test out how we use this space so that hopefully we can come up with a permanent solution in the future,” she said.
“The 2030 and 2022 Vision Plan Networks include the King Street Trolley with a potential extension from the King Street Metro to the Eisenhower Metro Station via the Carlyle and Eisenhower East districts,” the plan said. “This could provide a frequent connection directly between the large and dense activity center around Eisenhower Avenue Metro and Old Town.”
Proposed changes also include longer hours for the trolley. Currently, the trolley starts running at 10:30 or 11 a.m. on a 10-15 minute loop. The plan noted that this service means the trolley is not available for morning commuters, early shift workers, or others coming into Old Town before 10:30 a.m.
“The revised King Street Trolley also would operate with more traditional operating hours, including morning service,” the study said. “It should be noted, however, that due to the funding arrangement for the operation of the King Street Trolley, any potential changes to the trolley would require additional coordination and approval by City Council.”
The extension of the King Street Trolley is included in the longer-term goals for the project, with implementation planned by 2030.
The trolley is funded by hotel tax revenues from across the city, though the transit survey noted the current benefits are mostly confined to Old Town. The revised route would run through a neighborhood slated for extensive residential and commercial redevelopment.
“This raises an issue about the fairness of funding a free route in one part of the city that is paid for from hotel taxes across the entire city,” the study said. “[One option] would require fares on all routes, including the King Street Trolley. To offset the impact of this change on tourists and visitors, DASH could provide free passes to Visit Alexandria for all Alexandria hotels and other tourism entities.”
The plan does not make any recommendations for a fare policy.
The plan was adopted by the Alexandria Transit Company — which operates DASH and the King Street Trolley — in December. The Transit Vision Plan was presented to the City Council on Feb. 25 as an update. Implementation of the plan’s suggestions is scheduled to be considered next year as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott