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Lower King Street, closed to traffic (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The conversion of some King Street blocks to pedestrian zones has been a fairly popular move. Now, the city is merging those long-term planning efforts with waterfront flood mitigation, hopefully streamlining improvements to the 100 and unit blocks of King Street.

A report prepared for a Traffic and Parking Board meeting later today (Monday) said the city is looking at long-term plans for the pedestrian zones as well as incorporating the project into the broader waterfront flood mitigation plans.

“Staff have been working closely with the Department of Project Implementation and representatives from the community to advance the Lower King Street Long Term Closure Project,” the report said. “The long-term project seeks to create a more active and engaging pedestrian and user experience in the heart of Old Town Alexandria.”

The report said combining the projects should help streamline various design elements and run a little more efficiently.

“By combining the two projects into a single delivery, the City will ensure the design, stormwater, utility, infrastructure elements, and construction sequencing of the two projects are fully coordinated to maximize efficiency and reduce costs and risks to the City,” the report said.

Design for the Waterfront Flood Mitigation Project — now including the Lower King Street Long Term Closure Project —  is scheduled for design in the summer and fall 2025, with construction to start in fall 2025.

A public presentation and open house on the projects is scheduled for 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) at the Charles Houston Rec Center (901 Wythe Street).

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City Council member Kirk McPike (image via City of Alexandria)

By next June, Alexandria could have more Pride-themed decorations around town, including rainbow crosswalks and artwork in the new pedestrian zone.

At a City Council meeting earlier this week, City Council member Kirk McPike urged city staff to take another look at adding a rainbow crosswalk to King Street and Pride-themed art in the pedestrian zone.

“A few months ago, members of the Human Rights Commission came to me to express their dismay that city staff had declined a request to place rainbow crosswalks at King Street and Washington Street,” McPike said. “Undeterred, members of the Commission came to me with a different option: streetscape of 100 block of King Street.”

In 2021, the City of Alexandria permanently converted the 100 block of King Street into a pedestrian-only zone. Since then, the city has looked for ways to make the block look and feel more permanent.

But McPike said he still holds out hope for the rainbow crosswalk idea.

“We also discussed the rationale behind opposing the original proposed crosswalks, which might make sense on paper but hasn’t been borne out in reality,” McPike said. “More than 100 cities across the world have installed rainbow crosswalks including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadephia, Milwaukee, Albuquerque, and even Alexandria’s very own suburb: Washington D.C. There’s no evidence that such crosswalks have resulted in a reduction of pedestrian safety.”

With the support of the City Council, McPike told city staff to come back to the Council in October or November with a report on the feasibility of new pride artwork and new rainbow crosswalks.

The potential to add new rainbow crosswalks should please at least one bizarrely specific Twitter account:

Woonerf designs for the Potomac River Generating Station development (image via Hilco Redevelopment Partners)

(Updated 6:17 p.m.) Representatives from Hilco Redevelopment Partners (HRP) recently opened up about some of the behind-the-scenes discussions on whether or not to make the central street in Old Town North’s power plant redevelopment project pedestrian-only.

The redevelopment of the GenOn power plant in Old Town North is one of the biggest projects on the city’s horizon, and the centerpiece of that project will be a pedestrian-focused boulevard called a ‘woonerf‘ — a Dutch design concept that prioritizes pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Simon Beer, with landscape architect OJB, said that the idea is to maintain a pedestrian flow around the project, connecting both to the Potomac River and Old Town North.

But while the city has had some success with pedestrian-only zones in Old Town, the woonerf will not be exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists. Though HRP representatives said the street will be designed to slow traffic, vehicles will still be allowed to travel on the street except when its closed for special occasions.

At a meeting of the Urban Design Advisory Committee Serving Old Town North last week, committee members shared concerns that permitting vehicle traffic means the streetscape won’t truly be pedestrian focused.

“Was it ever explored to have this as a purely pedestrian street?” asked committee member Zaira Suarez. “As long as there are vehicles, there’s never really complete safety for pedestrians.”

Suarez expressed concerns that space that could otherwise be used for community amenities would become on-street parking.

“It becomes a parking space when it could really be such a huge amenity to pedestrians,” Suarez said, “not only residents but people coming in from the park or on bicycles from the trails. Is there something stopping this from becoming fully pedestrian?”

Beer said pedestrian-only was considered during development.

“It was absolutely something that was explored,” Beer said, “In conversations with city and traffic planning, there was a feeling that the ability for traffic to be able to flow along the waterfront was important, not only for emergency access but for general day to day use. However, we think that this can be a really special place.”

Beer said the street is designed to be shut down for weekends or special events.

“Having the ability to shut it down, placing planters on either end, we have the capacity… to shut it down for a weekend for a large event, we have the capacity to do that with the way that this is designed,” Beer said. “It really has the flexibility for a truly pedestrian experience, but designing in that flexibility to still maintain traffic flow.”

Attorney Mary Catherine Gibbs said the street is built with a public access easement and can’t be permanently shut down without city approval.

“The city won’t allow it,” said Gibbs. “The city has asked that it be a public access easement, so there will be limits on our ability to completely shut it down permanently.”

200 block of King Street (via Google Maps)

While the city has had some success with pedestrian zones on King Street, city staff say less retail and sloping conditions could make it harder to add a similar zone along the 200 block.

Many residents have welcomed the pedestrian zones that the city added to the 100 and unit blocks of King Street, according to a survey. Motivated by this early support, Chris Ziemann, transportation division chief, said the city is focusing on improving the now-permanent pedestrian zones at the 100 block of King Street and the unit block — the block closest to the waterfront.

Ziemann told ALXnow that City Council voting to make the blocks permanently pedestrianized means the city can move forward with improvements like protective bollards. That will be part of the department’s focus in the near future, per an interdepartmental work plan for the 2024 fiscal year.

While the logical next step would seem to be a pilot converting the 200 block, Ziemann said it’s not quite so simple.

“There are still ongoing discussions about that, but there is no real ongoing consensus about that,” Ziemann said in a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month. “Things are moving, but moving slowly.”

Ziemann told ALXnow that the uses along the 200 block are different than those on the 100 block or the unit block.

“There’s not quite the density of restaurants there that there is on the 100 block,” Ziemann said. “On the 100 block, everything is a restaurant. It lends itself to outdoor seating.”

Retail and clothing stores could still make use of outdoor space with racks of clothing, but it isn’t as natural a fit as outdoor dining, he added.

Elevation is also a challenge on the 200 block.

“What makes it a little harder is the slope elevation,” Ziemann said. “It doesn’t make it impossible, but from the restaurant standpoint, it makes it harder to keep the tables level. There are also residential units on the 200 block that are not on the 100 block. There’s a whole different kind of group of stakeholders.”

Meanwhile, Ziemann said the city is also working on pedestrian-focused planning at the former Landmark development and the North Old Town power plant.

Image via Google Maps

Rendering of the unit block of King Street with street closure (via City of Alexandria)

The King Street Pedestrian Zone was officially expanded to reach Waterfront Park on Saturday (Nov. 12).

Council voted unanimously and without discussion on the permanent conversion of the unit block of King Street and the northern portion of Strand Street.

The City shut down the 100 block of King Street in 2020 to help small businesses with outdoor seating during the pandemic. The unit block of King Street and Strand Street were later added to the pilot.

A survey of community feedback on the closure found that 91% (of 1,853 survey respondents) rated the pedestrian zone as very positive, and that 89% of wanted it to be permanent.

The Waterfront Commission also approved the plan, and suggested to City Council the following “enhancements”:

  • Strengthening temporary barricades to provide for the safety and security of pedestrians in these blocks until full implementation of street improvements
  • Installing a sign on Strand Street at the intersection of Prince Street identifying “no outlet” or “dead end” and noting limited parking available on Strand Street
  • Closing Strand Street at Prince Street and designating the metered parking spaces adjacent to Waterfront Park as Handicapped Parking and City Service Vehicles Only. Continue to allow vehicle access to the private garage at 110 S. Union Street. This would provide additional parking near the waterfront for disabled individuals, and would discourage traffic from drivers looking for limited parking in the 100 block of Strand Street
  • Designating specific resources to provide appropriate City maintenance and security of the pedestrian zone
  • Installing pavement markings on Strand Street clearly identifying the turnaround and no parking areas on Strand Street

Conversion costs will be minimal, said City Manager Jim Parajon in a note to Council.

“If the closure is approved, there will be minimal costs associated with updating parking signage and refreshing striping,” Parajon wrote. “All of these costs can be handled with existing budgets. Also, since there will be four metered spaces eliminated along the Waterfront Park to provide turnaround space and parking for police, this will total approximately $8,000 per year, or $666/month.”

Unit block of King Street pedestrian zone (image via City of Alexandria)

Ten years after adopting a plan with suggestions for turning the Waterfront into a cultural hub, the City of Alexandria is poised to move forward with one of them: making the streets closest to the river pedestrian-only.

Ahead of a potential vote to close the unit block of King Street and part of The Strand to traffic, a new report suggests that these street closures are supported by the 2012 Waterfront Small Area Plan and are broadly popular among locals. The unit block of King Street, the block closest to the Waterfront, is a one-way street connected to the two-way street called The Strand that runs parallel to the Potomac River.

While the pandemic sped up discussions about the pedestrianization of King Street, the report said discussions about closing these blocks to vehicle traffic go back to when the plan was approved in 2012.

“Among many things, [the plan] recommends closing the unit block and the Strand north of the parking garage entrance to traffic (except EMS, fire, police, etc.) to make a pedestrian plaza,” the report said.

And 10 years later, pedestrianizing the Waterfront has gained traction among locals. Per the city report, more than 90% of 1,800 respondents supported the temporary street closure.

“Of resident respondents, 91% had a positive or very positive experience with the pedestrian zone, and 89% of residents responded that they wanted to see the closure continue into the future,” the report said. “Throughout the closure, businesses periodically expressed support for the closure. In addition, an advisory group made up of staff from various departments, APD, Fire and the Old Town Business Association recommended permanently maintaining the pedestrian zone.”

The plans to close the unit block to vehicle traffic follow a pilot program that started in May and was set to end Labor Day weekend, but was extended to November. Last year, the City Council approved an identical change to the 100 block of King Street.

The staff report said the change has been largely popular:

Following the closure of the 100 block of King Street, an observable decline in through traffic on the unit block resulted. 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. The City conducted a pilot project between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend (and extended through November 20), which proved this closure successful.

The Waterfront Small Area Plan includes multiple recommendations for orienting the space toward pedestrians. It recommends that the waterfront should have continuous pedestrian access and provide an attractive visitor experience.

The plan also calls for improvement to vehicular and pedestrian circulation, which the staff report said pedestrianization would accomplish.

These blocks are particularly challenging for pedestrians given the limited sidewalk space, lack of traffic, and desire that by visitors to walk in the street. By eliminating vehicles from these blocks, the businesses can expand while also creating more space for pedestrians to move through the blocks along the sidewalks and down the center of the street. Additionally, the intersection of Union and King Street is often congested from vehicles and pedestrians moving through the area. While the closure does not completely eliminate conflicts, eliminating one of the vehicular travel directions does reduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles.

The report said that while the proposal doesn’t eliminate two metered parking spaces and two unmetered spaces, there are several public parking options nearby. Specifically, the report said those looking to park should be directed toward the nearby — and notably underused — parking garages.

Before the streets can be closed, however, the Planning Commission must review these changes, per the City’s Charter.

The item is on the consent calendar — meaning it is likely to be approved without discussion — for the upcoming Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

Unit block of King Street pedestrian zone (image via City of Alexandria)

The City of Alexandria said a survey collecting feedback on the new expanded King Street pedestrian zone showed overwhelmingly positive.

After the 100 block of King Street was permanently converted into a pedestrian zone last year, the program was extended via pilot into the unit block of King Street — the one closest to the waterfront — and an adjacent stretch of road called The Strand.

The pilot started over Memorial Day weekend and was scheduled to shut down after Labor Day, but was extended into November.

In a release, the City of Alexandria said 78% of respondents rated the change as very positive and 12% as positive.

“Key findings from the survey show that the top three benefits respondents identified were: feeling safer as a pedestrian; a greater benefit to people using the public space; and more space to eat or shop outside,” the release said. The top three challenges respondents identified were: traffic backing up on Union Street; trash cans being fuller; and people riding bicycles in the pedestrian zone.”

The survey found that 89% of respondents would like to see the closure continue permanently. Extra public seating, more outdoor dining and public bathrooms were identified as the biggest needs moving forward.

“In terms of respondents from businesses, results were fairly similar,” the release said. “Of 25 respondents, 68% had a positive or very positive experience, and 76% would like to see the pedestrianization become permanent. Benefits, preferences and future desired changes were all very similar.”

Unit block of King Street pedestrian zone (image via City of Alexandria)

A pilot project to convert the unit block of King Street — the part closest to the waterfront — into a pedestrian-only zone has been extended for another two months.

The pilot started over Memorial Day weekend and was scheduled to shut down after Labor Day, but Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services announced on Twitter that the pilot was being extended to Nov. 20.

The extension is promising for fans of the pedestrian zone. Pedestrian zones, as the name suggests, close a block of the road to car traffic to make it accessible for pedestrians only. The trend has caught on in other parts of the region, with a pedestrian zone launching in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. late last month.

An ALXnow poll earlier this year indicated that 40% of readers supported a few more blocks being converted to pedestrian zones, with 33% saying everything up to the Metro station should be made a pedestrian zone.

The project follows the conversion of the 100 block of King Street to a pedestrian-only zone last year. The conversion of the 100 block also started as a pilot project before the City Council made the conversion permanent.

The City of Alexandria is still collecting feedback on the zone until the end of today.

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

As the city approaches the end of a pilot program that saw the waterfront block of King Street converted into a pedestrian zone, the City of Alexandria is looking for public feedback on the pilot.

The conversion of the unit block of King Street (the start of the street east of Union Street) and the Strand started on Memorial Day weekend and is scheduled to run through Labor Day weekend early next month.

“If you visited the Unit Block of King Street and the Strand or operated a business in that area, we want to hear about your experience,” the city said in a release. “The City of Alexandria is asking the community for feedback on the King Street Place Pilot, which temporarily converted the unit block of King Street (between Union Street and the Strand) and the northern portion of the Strand (approximately between Wales Alley and King Street)…”

The pilot was an expansion of an earlier conversion of the 100 block of King Street to a pedestrian zone. That change was made permanent last year with the city eyeing expansion of the pedestrian zone program to other parts of King Street.

“The City has launched a short online feedback form to provide the public with an opportunity to share what they liked about the pilot, along with any thoughts or ideas for improvements,” the release said. “Feedback will be accepted through Tuesday, September 13, 2022 and will be used to help the City determine how to move the project forward.”

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

Alexandria’s King Street pedestrian zone initiative is getting a boost this weekend as the zone’s size will double for the next few months.

The pilot was approved by the City Council in April and will run from this Friday, May 27, through Monday Sept. 5 — Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day weekend.

The pedestrian zone will be expanded to temporarily convert the unit block of King Street, between Union Street and the Strand, into a car-free zone with in-street dining similar to the zone on the 100 block of King Street. A release from the city said it will be closed to all vehicular traffic except emergency and municipal maintenance vehicles. Visitors are also encouraged to walk their bicycles and scooters in the area.

There’s precedent for the pilot project to become permanent if it goes well. The pedestrian zone on the 100 block of King Street started as a pilot project in 2020 but became permanent in 2021.

The full city release is below the jump:

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