Alexandria, VA

The update on the Transportation Master Plan Pedestrian and Bicycle Chapter wasn’t planned to coincide with a sudden uptick in bicycle ridership and walking around the city, but it could help explain why many Alexandrians exploring their local pedestrian/bike infrastructure might find it different than they remember.

An update prepared for the canceled June 17 Transportation Commission meeting shined some light on the progress the city has made since it a chapter specifically about that infrastructure was added to the city’s Transportation Master Plan in 2016. The primary goals the city laid out at the time were to improve safety, engineering, encouragement and education of bicycle and pedestrian facilities in Alexandria. The move corresponded with a push towards Vision Zero — a project that aims to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2028.

Data shows that crashes and fatalities for pedestrians have generally gone down over the last four years — though the numbers are low enough that it’s impossible to accurately extrapolate trends. Crashes have gone down from 69 in 2016 to 60 in 2019. Fatalities have gone from 4 to 2 in that same timeframe, though not with consistent year-after-year declines. The number of serious injuries has gone up from 6 to 8.

The city has added substantial new infrastructure, though.

“There has been a 43% increase in intersections with pedestrian countdown signals at crosswalks from 68% in 2016 to 97% as of the end of May 2020,” city staff said in the report. “Over 9,000 total linear feet of new sidewalk has been installed and over 1,600 linear feet of sidewalk have been upgraded with widened sidewalks or adjustments to provide improved access for wheelchair users since FY16. Approximately 1,300 linear feet of temporary, protected shared use path space was installed to fill the sidewalk gap on the #9 highest priority sidewalk on Seminary.”

The update also included information about progress made for off-street trails, though noting that flood damage has set back some of the city’s progress on that front.

“One additional off-street trail (a segment of Four Mile Run Trail leading to a future bridge) has been installed since plan adoption, bringing the citywide total to approximately 21 miles,” staff said in the report. “A new 150-foot pedestrian bridge was completed on the Four Mile Run trail that connects the Four Mile Run Wetlands Trail to the larger Four Mile Run trail network. The City suffered a setback with the July 2019 storms that severely damaged the trail and recent completion of a bridge connecting Holmes Run Parkway to N. Ripley Street as well as other bridges along Holmes Run. A 2021 budget request is made for the repair work.”

The report also notes the progress made for new bicycle infrastructure.

“Since 2016, 11.9 miles of shared lane mile markings and 11.4 miles of bike lane miles were installed making for a total of approximately 39 lane miles of on-street bicycle facilities,” staff said. “This is a nearly 46% increase in facilities since 2018.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The same day that take out and delivery for mixed drinks opened up throughout Virginia, the City of Alexandria announced a suite of eased restrictions on businesses in Alexandria.

The biggest of these is opening up sidewalks and parking lots to vending for restaurant and retail establishments. In a press release, the City of Alexandria announced that retail and restaurants can set up shop on adjacent sidewalks or parking lots.

These locations are still only permitted for placing orders and customer pick-up, and the city said businesses should still comply with state orders limiting engagements to no more than 10 people. Outdoor dining is also prohibited at these locations.

“The City of Alexandria and the Alexandria Health Department strongly urge all restaurants and retail businesses, that are permitted to remain open and who choose to engage in outdoor sales, to adhere to Governor Northam’s Executive Orders 53 and 55,” the city said. “These prohibit all gatherings of more than 10 people and require maintaining at least six feet from any other person, with the exception of a family or household member or a caretaker.”

The city noted that these restrictions will still be heavily enforced by the Health Department.

The city is also suspending hours-of-operation restrictions on restaurants, convenience stores, catering operations and automobile service stations (gasoline stations).

The city’s delivery regulations are also suspended to allow all restaurants to provide delivery service and pick-up service.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Electric scooters’ tempestuous relationship with Alexandria sidewalks has just come to an end.

At the City Council’s public hearing on Saturday, Dec. 14, the council voted to approve a second phase of the pilot program with a few notable changes from the current program.

The biggest change is the removal of scooters from sidewalks. Under the current system, scooters were only prohibited from two sidewalks near the waterfront, where bicycles are also banned from sidewalks. The original plan for the second phase of the pilot program was to have scooters banned from Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray and a large portion of Old Town, but concerns were raised by some on the City Council about enforcement and education of the public on where exactly scooters could or could not be ridden.

Instead, at the Saturday meeting, the City Council amended the language to ban electronic scooters from sidewalks across the city. The new ordinance reads: “Riding a micro-mobility device on all sidewalks within the city shall be prohibited.”

Other changes included requiring the scooter companies to distribute scooters more equitably across the city, one of the goals pushed for by several members of the City Council. Of scooters in the city, 15 percent will be required to be located west of Quaker Lane and east of I-395, while 10 percent will be required west of I-395. An additional five percent will be required to be placed in Arlandria. Currently, most are scattered around Old Town.

Council members Amy Jackson and John Chapman also pushed for the language to be refined to ensure that the Ad Hoc Scooter Task Force include representatives of the West End, rather than being monopolized by Old Town residents.

City Council members noted that scooter corrals recently added to Old Town — intended to reduce instances of scooters being scattered across sidewalks — could also be coming to Del Ray, Carlyle and Potomac.

The new regulation also specifically banned more than one person from riding a scooter, though Mayor Justin Wilson joked that after passing the regulation the companies would come back with tandem scooters.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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As part of its controversial efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to Seminary Road, the city is planning to install a sidewalk on the north side of the road — if it can get the money.

Much of the Complete Streets project on Seminary Road has been completed but the city is still hoping to add a new sidewalk next to the seminary from which the road draws its name.

“It’s still ridiculous that in 2019 that there are places in Alexandria where we don’t have sidewalks,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “For me, priority was not about bike lanes, it was about pedestrians. It was about completing the sidewalk network.”

Wilson said the sidewalk would go from just west of Quaker Lane, where an existing sidewalk currently ends, up to the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The sidewalk has been in the plans for the road since the concept stage, according to Sarah Godfrey, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. Construction will require the approval of a grant request to VDOT made by the City Council in September.

As of December, city staff said work from road resurfacing and roadway markings to new median islands has been completed. Wilson met earlier this week during the morning rush hour with local residents, many of whom expressed frustrations with traffic caused by the narrowed street and the lack of cyclists using the new bicycle lanes.

“It was a good session,” Wilson said. “Probably better to have these discussions in person rather than social media.”

Wilson said he understood the concerns of the local residents, who have labeled it #JustinsTrafficJam in the nearly 1,000-member Facebook group Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet. Wilson is, ironically, listed as a member.

“There’s always an adjustment whenever you make a traffic change as people get used to it. I think we expected that going in,” Wilson said. “There’s kind of a rush on both sides to draw conclusions very quickly, but the full story of this will be told over time. We’ve committed to being data-driven — looking at this when it’s done and making sure we’ve achieved the goals of the project.”

Godfrey noted that the city will continue to post weekly updates on the Seminary Road Complete Streets page and update the FAQ.

Photo via Google Maps

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