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Some changes could be coming to the King Street pedestrian zone to make the block’s change a little more permanent.

The Board of Architectural Review is scheduled to review a certificate of appropriateness for new bollards at either end of 100 block of King Street at the Board’s Thursday (May 5) meeting. The use of bollards was already approved in January, but the type approved in January was not rated for withstanding vehicle crashes, so a new type needs to be approved for locations like the 100 block where they’re designed to block vehicles.

“This request is for a second bollard type that is rated for vehicle crashes and could be used on the block where needed, such as at the Lee Street end,” the application said. “The bollard will be black to be as similar in style as possible with the previously approved bollard. The previously approved bollard will remain an option for other areas, potentially the Union Street end. Final selection of the two bollards, quantity, and location will be determined after coordination with an engineer and the utility companies.”

Bollards planned for 100 block of King Street, image via City of Alexandria

The addition of 20 bollards are part of an effort to make the area safer for pedestrians to prevent vehicles from crashing into the zone.

“Manufacturer testing has determined that these proposed bollards provide the ability to arrest a 5,000 lb. vehicle traveling up to 20 miles per hour,” the application said. “In addition, they are removable, which offers the ability to maintain the bollard over time and increase its use-able life span. They can be easily replaced without having to go through the costly re-installation of the entire bollard unit.”

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Rendering of the unit block of King Street with street closure, image via City of Alexandria

Updated 7:45 p.m. — Christopher Ziemann, division chief for Department of Transportation & Environmental Services, said in an email:

What City Council approved last night was not the pedestrian zone directly. This requires an ordinance change, which requires a public hearing. That Council approved last night was the first reading of the item and to set it for public hearing on April 23. On the 23rd, there will be a public hearing on the topic, which will most likely involve a presentation, discussion, questions and public comments.

Alexandria’s City Council approved first reading of the temporary closure of the unit block of King Street and a block of the Strand to vehicle traffic, with a full hearing planned later this month.

The full public hearing is scheduled for Saturday, April 23.

If approved, the closure is set to last for three months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with staff checking in on local businesses and monitoring pedestrian traffic over that time to gauge the impact. The pilot follows a similar path to the closure of the 100 block of King Street, which was made permanent last year.

The new zone will bring outdoor dining to the sidewalk and parking areas if the restaurants get permits. Deliveries and loading will be shifted to Union Street. Movable barriers and movable bicycle racks will also be set up on the block.

The block had been the endpoint for the King Street trolley, though that was changed to the block outside City Hall after the closure of the 100 block.

In one of our recent unscientific polls, 40% of respondents they wanted the pedestrian zone to be expanded for a few more blocks, but not for the whole of King Street to be turned into a pedestrian zone. Around 33% said they wanted everything up to the King Street Metro station to be converted into a pedestrian zone.

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The pedestrian zone on the 100 block of King Street has been a hit, so much so that the city is looking to expand the program to the unit block, which prompts the question: what should be the ultimate extent of the pedestrian zone project?

Last year, the City Council voted unanimously to make the closure on the 100 block permanent. The city is also taking a look at ways to make the 100 block’s pedestrian zone “look” more permanent. A new proposal going to the Planning Commission and City Council in April will put a similar pilot project into effect for the end of King Street and The Strand by the waterfront.

City staff have said the unit block is a natural extension of the 100 block’s closure, with that permanent closing having already reduced vehicle traffic on the unit block, but should the program continue up to the 200 block? Should the pedestrian street program eventually extend up to the King Street Metro station, as some have suggested, or should it remain just a feature of the blocks closest to the waterfront?

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Rendering of the unit block of King Street with street closure, image via City of Alexandria

New city documents outline plans to close the end of King Street until at least November.

The closure of the unit block of King Street — the very end by the waterfront — to vehicle traffic is docketed for review at a Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, April 7.

“The City proposes to temporarily close the unit block of King Street, between Union Street and the Strand, and the northern portion of the Strand, between Wales Alley and King Street, to vehicular traffic between May 28 and November 20, 2022,” the staff report said.

The proposed temporary closure follows the permanent closure of the 100 block last year. Since that time, the report said vehicle traffic on the unit block has declined.

“Following the closure of the 100 block of King Street, an observable decline in through traffic on the unit block resulted,” the report said. “This decline, and the popularity of the new Waterfront Park, has led to an increase in pedestrian volume on the unit block and the Strand. In addition, based on the success of the closure of the 100 block, staff has received requests from the businesses along the unit block to assess the feasibility of closing this block as well.”

After the Planning Commission meeting, the closure will be reviewed by the City Council later in April.

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With the City of Alexandria closing off the 100 block of King Street for good, it’s looking to make some permanent additions to the street to signal that it’s closed to car traffic.

The city is applying to the Board of Architectural Review at the Wednesday, Jan. 5, meeting for approval of traffic-blocking bollards that will close off the ends of the 100 block of King Street. The city will be using the same type of bollards already in place along the Waterfront.

“These bollards are already approved as part of the Waterfront Common Elements Plan and used in the Waterfront Area,” the city said in its application. “This approval would extend that approval one block to the east to include the 100 block of King Street.”

In addition, the city is seeking permission to use existing types of furnishings on the waterfront — like benches, trash cans and water fountains — on the 100 block.

Waterfront furnishings, via City of Alexandria
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It was barely a footnote in the six-hour City Council meeting, most of which was consumed with a tense discussion on School Resource Officers, but towards the end City Council meeting last night the group expressed widespread support for permanently making the 100 block of King Street a pedestrian zone.

The closure of the 100 block of King Street into a pedestrian zone was an idea that Mayor Justin Wilson and City Councilman John Chapman spearheaded before the pandemic, but was fast-tracked to benefit local restaurants and businesses that needed the outdoor space for social distancing. The closure has been popular with local businesses and the community at large, a survey put out by the city indicated.

The primary criticism of the closure has been the potential impact on Captain’s Row, a cobblestone section of Prince Street parallel to the proposed pedestrian zone. Local residents expressed concern that the closure of the 100 block of King Street could put more wear and tear from the added traffic and parking on the street’s historic cobblestones. At the meeting, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker asked about the Captain’s Row impact, but staff said data collected from over the last year suggests that traffic volumes have not notable increased on Prince Street — though it’s worth noting that much of the time since the pedestrian zone has opened has been anything but typical circumstances.

Still, at the Council’s urging, staff said on Saturday they would present options for how to alleviate the potential stress on Captain’s Row.

“I think specific to parking conditions, I think a lot of that is coming more from the very successful waterfront restaurants and less from the 100 block of King,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “It probably demands a response and I think we should definitely look at what we should do. There are options we can put into place shortly.”

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Next month, the City Council is set to review plans that could make the pedestrianization of the 100 block of King Street a permanent feature.

Since last spring, one of the blocks of King Street closest to the Waterfront, between Lee and Union streets, has been closed to vehicle traffic. The streetscape around businesses like Pop’s Old Fashion Ice Cream and Paper Source is a pedestrian zone, and local restaurants have outdoor dining areas.

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, the Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on whether or not to make that closure permanent. The City Council is scheduled to raise the issue for discussion at their Oct. 16 meeting.

There was some uncertainty about the plan at the Waterfront Commission, where some expressed concern that the current design is lacking. Currently, the pedestrian zone is marked by an impromptu barrier, and it’s unclear so far what is being planned as a potential replacement if the change is made permanent.

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The 100 block of King Street has been closed to cars for over a year, and now the city is looking to make the change permanent.

At an upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, the Planning Commission is docketed to review a proposal by city staff to permanently turn the 100 block of King Street between Lee Street and Union Street into a pedestrian zone.

The plan had been in the works as a pilot since 2019 and came into effect in early 2020 as a way of helping businesses in the area expand their outdoor dining options.

According to the staff report:

As the City began the re-opening process, staff developed a Temporary Outdoor Business permit for restaurant, retail, and fitness business to use adjacent parking spaces for conducting business outdoors. Given the concentration of restaurants and pedestrians along the 100 block of King Street, as well as the desire to provide expansive space for pedestrians to safely maintain distance, staff worked with the businesses to modify the King Street Place concept and close the 100 block to all car traffic, which took effect on May 29, 2020. The temporary street closure was later approved by the Council and extended several times. The closure is currently approved through April 1, 2022.

The report said the closure has been well-received by the community.

“Over 2,700 responses were provided on a call for feedback about the temporary street closure,” the report said. “Of resident respondents, 89% had a positive experience with the 100 block street closure and 92% of residents responded that they wanted to see the closure continue into the future. Throughout the closure, 100 block of King Street businesses periodically expressed support for the closure. Most recently at an August outreach meeting, a majority of businesses from the block noted their interest in a permanent closure.”

The closure would maintain a 22-foot emergency vehicle easement down the center of the street.

The city proposed adding a 5-foot-wide pedestrian path along both sidewalks between the buildings and the curb, with the remaining area on the sidewalk and in the parking lane available to businesses through a permitting process.

“If approved, staff will use allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for short term improvements for this block, such as new barricades, street furniture, and signage,” the report said. “A more permanent design for the block would be considered through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget and in coordination with other projects in the Waterfront.”

The City Council is scheduled to review the closure at a public hearing next month.

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Pedestrians are getting a little more room to walk down King Street this weekend, but the new changes aren’t the planned pedestrian zone that has stirred up conversations in Old Town.

“The City has temporarily widened the sidewalk on the south side of the unit, 100 and 200 blocks of King Street, to allow more room for pedestrians to stay at least 6 feet apart while walking,” the city said in a press release.

Starting at 7 p.m. tonight, traffic will be prohibited from driving east on King Street past S. Fairfax Street, Alexandria Living Magazine first reported. The City of Alexandria clarified, however, that this isn’t part of broader pedestrian zone plans, but is instead an attempt to stall the spread of coronavirus as more people take to city streets.

“We are just widening the sidewalk on one side of the street to help pedestrians observe physical distancing guidelines,” City spokesman Craig Fifer said in an email. “Vehicular traffic will be one-way instead of two-way on those two blocks to free up the space used to widen the sidewalk. This is not related to the King Street Place proposal, and is not intended to encourage anyone to come to the area.”

The change will be in effect until Tuesday, May 26, according to the city. The city will also have additional law enforcement in the area to maintain compliance with the law. Northern Virginia is still under a stay-at-home order and gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, with only essential trips outside of home permitted.

“To accommodate the wider sidewalk, vehicles on these three blocks may travel one-way westbound only (i.e. away from the river),” the city said. “Pedestrians, motorists and cyclists should stay alert and observe all posted signage and instructions from law enforcement officers.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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An earlier plan to close a portion of King Street for pedestrian-and-bike-access-only could be making a comeback as restaurants look for ways to do outdoor dining as a social distancing measure.

In a virtual town hall, Mayor Justin Wilson addressed questions about the possibility of closing streets to promote pedestrian and bicycle traffic. The prospect has gained ground in New York City, San Francisco, and other urban localities. There has been pressure from some advocates in D.C. for the city to do the same.

In Alexandria, however, the prospect of shutting down roadways to give more room for pedestrians and cyclists has been famously tempestuous.

“We’ve gotten that question a lot over the last couple of weeks,” Wilson said. “We’re looking at alternatives to facilitate outdoor dining when that returns. We received a proposal from a number of Old Town restaurants to see what can be done.”

The City Council has already permitted some encroachment into the public right of way for takeout and delivery at local restaurants. With Alexandria’s reopening delayed but still on the horizon, part of the plan to support small businesses while maintaining social distancing includes allowing more outdoor dining.

The pedestrian zone plan was, originally, to close the block between Lee Street and Union Street on weekends. The idea was popular enough that some officials were already discussing making the change permanent before the pilot was even implemented.

Those earlier plans were altered to include car traffic and were ultimately shelved for being too costly, according to Wilson.

“The city already entertained the idea of some form of closure on King Street that would have allowed expanded outdoor dining,” Wilson said. “That idea got shelved because of budget challenges, but we are continuing to look at those. I suspect you’ll hear more over the next couple weeks.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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