The City of Alexandria is considering some improvements to sidewalks to make it easier and safer for students to walk to school.
The City is considering curb extensions, which bump out the sidewalk at corners or mid-block to shorten the crossing distance, make pedestrians more visible, and slow turning vehicles. Curb extensions were recommended in the city’s Complete Streets Design Guidelines.
A walk audit conducted in 2017 at 13 schools also recommended curb extensions at multiple intersections.
The city is considering multiple extensions near four different schools:
- Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 School: N. West Street and Princess Street
- Mount Vernon Community School: Commonwealth Avenue’s intersections with Uhler Avenue, Mt. Ida Avenue, Groves Avenue and Forrest Street
- Patrick Henry K-8 School: N. Jordan Street and Taney Avenue
- Samuel Tucker Elementary School: Cameron Station Blvd
The city is developing a grant application to fund the design and construction of the curb extensions. A survey is available online and the grant application deadline is later this fall. If the funding is approved, the design work could start next year, with construction from 2025-2026.
The City is seeking public input on curb extensions near 4 schools in Alexandria, which would make it much safer for children to walk to school.
Very quick survey here:https://t.co/CdeFXxiX3G
— Alex Goyette (@Alex_Goyette) August 11, 2023
The project would add a sidewalk to the north side of the street — with the goal of helping students in the neighborhood walk to the nearby Polk Elementary and Hammond Middle School.
Last July, a group of residents along Polk Avenue expressed concerns that the city’s plans to build a new sidewalk on the north side of Polk Avenue, a stretch that was used at the time for on-street parking, would reduce parking in the neighborhood and potentially cut into the toe slope of the hill and could, in turn, affect the stability of the Polk Park hillside.
Local resident Kathleen Burns outlined her concerns in a letter to the editor published in the Alexandria Times, including concerns that there are no plans to include drainage grids or gutters for storm and waste water on the new curbs, potentially exacerbating flooding issues for the neighborhood.
The project team told ALXnow:
This project adheres to all applicable stormwater regulations. The sidewalk includes drainage features to manage runoff from the adjacent park, so there will be no more runoff than before. Due to over 80% of the new sidewalk is being built on the existing street footprint, very little new impervious surface is being added. No significant drainage impacts are expected.
Construction started on July 10 and is expected to finish early next month.
Image via Google Maps
With the City of Alexandria returning to regulating on-street retail and restaurant uses, including adding a price tag for the benefit, the City Council is also scheduled to review a few changes to make the process a little less onerous.
At a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Council is set to take a look at some changes to reduce redundancies and streamline the process for businesses hoping to make use of sidewalk and street space.
The first change is that businesses can open not only in front of their own location but can make use of space in front of a neighbor’s business or restaurant — provided obviously that they get permission from that business or restaurant.
Alexandria also had some fairly restrictive requirements about types and numbers of outdoor seating, which the new ordinance does away with: the only requirement being compliance with the statewide building code. The only remnant of that requirement is that the sidewalk can’t be used as storage for seating. The ordinance also gets rid of a restriction on outdoor dining between Thanksgiving and March.
Because many of these uses are being added to much older developments, the ordinance also includes a change that the outdoor dining must adhere to the city’s outdoor dining design guidelines. On-street retail or restaurant space only has to go to the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services or the Board of Architectural Review if the outdoor additions penetrate the sidewalk.
The north side of Polk Avenue directly abuts Polk Park with no sidewalk, meaning anyone walking along the north side of the street is forced to cross the street — without a crosswalk at the western end. But the proposed sidewalk would also involve eliminating nine parking spaces neighbors say are desperately needed and would slightly cut into Polk Park.
Kathy Burns, who lives close to the sidewalk, said that there was no recorded history of any pedestrian, child or otherwise, being struck by a car in the area in question. Burns said the main concerns from neighbors were both the loss of nine parking spaces and concerns that there was no clear, evidenced-based reason presented by Transportation and Environmental Services (TES) that the sidewalk was needed.
Many of the speakers were neighbors expressing opposition to the city’s plans, though others were in support — like one who said she lived in townhouses overlooking the site, who said she was in favor of the sidewalk and hoped her two-year-old daughter could eventually use it to walk to Polk Elementary School.
Mike Doyle, founder of Alexandria Families For Safe Streets, said his group supported the installation of the sidewalk.
“We understand the challenge of parking,” Doyle said. “We’re not engineers, but we do know speed kills and speed maims.”
Doyle offered a middle way that some on the dais expressed an interest in: adding the sidewalk but converting one of the travel lanes into a parking lane and making Polk Avenue a one-way street. City Council member Amy Jackson asked staff whether this was a possible alternative.
“I hesitate to offer an assessment; we have not considered turning that street one way,” said Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of TES. “Typically there is an alternative for one-way traffic… There are one-way streets in some neighborhoods, but studying that would cost more.”
Lambert said any additional study of converting Polk Avenue into a one-way street could still happen, but would require additional staff work that would need to be allocated by the city. Still, the discussion left the door open for a potential future where parking spaces are restored but Polk Avenue is converted to a one-way street.
Ultimately, Mayor Justin Wilson said he would likely always side with building a sidewalk.
“I appreciate the input of residents on both sides of the issue,” Wilson said. “Honestly, this is pretty basic for me: I believe every street in the city should have a sidewalk on both sides. Full stop. Period. I don’t believe that’s a debatable question in my mind. That’s just a basic component of the road. We don’t question other components of roads and I don’t think we should question that there should be a sidewalk on both sites.”
The city’s plan is to build a new sidewalk connecting two dead-end parts of sidewalk at either end of the bottom of Polk Park. The park’s thick undergrowth comes right up to the road, where the side of that road is used as a stretch of parking for nine vehicles.
The city said the sidewalk construction will help students in the neighborhood walk to Polk Elementary and Hammond Middle School.
The project brooked some opposition from nearby neighbors, though, who lamented both the loss of parking spots and expressed concerns about damage to the park by cutting into the toe slope of the hill. While the Alexandria Geologic Atlas identified potential issues with construction on the slope of Polk Park, Jack Browand, chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said his department reviewed the project and is in support.
The appeal filed by the neighbors is scheduled for a City Council public hearing on Saturday, Sept. 17.
Alexandria’s streets have been getting the spotlight for the last few months of repaving efforts, but through August: it’s the sidewalks’ turn.
Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services released the street repaving and maintenance schedule for August, showing prioritization of seven sidewalks city-wide.
Over the course of this month, the following sidewalks are scheduled to get repairs:
- Gibbon Street (from South Payne Street to South Union Street)
- West Braddock Road (from King Street to Russell Road)
- John Carlyle Street (from Eisenhower Avenue to Duke Street)
- Hancock Avenue (from West Braddock to End)
- Queen Street (from North West to North Union Street)
- Rutland Place
- East Windsor Avenue
Maintenance this month is also scheduled to work on the West Reed alleyway (between Evans Lane and Wilson Avenue) in the Lynhaven neighborhood and Westview Terrace (between Janneys Lane and Hilltop Terrace) in Taylor Run.
The city is also making guardrail repairs this month on the eastbound side of Duke Street and on Van Dorn Street.
Image via Google Maps
While several neighbors along Polk Avenue shared thoughts on city plans to replace a stretch of parking with a sidewalk, there was no discussion from members of the Traffic and Parking Board before they unanimously approved the plan.
The city is planning to build a new sidewalk that connects two dead-end stretches of sidewalk that cut off abruptly into dense underbrush. The city said the sidewalk construction will help students in the neighborhood walk to Polk Elementary and Hammond Middle School.
“There is an existing sidewalk on the north side,” said Alex Carroll, complete streets program manager for the City of Alexandria. “What this forces people to do when they’re walking on the north side is make one of two choices: cross the street or continue walking in the street to continue on their journey. When there are cars parked on the north side, they end up being placed virtually in the middle of the street.”
Carroll said this problem is exacerbated at the west end of that stretch of road, where the street curves and drivers don’t have the best view of pedestrians crossing the street.
The city’s plan is to remove nine parking space and a small portion of Polk Park — including three trees — to complete the northern sidewalk.
“There are currently 50 on street spaces on Polk Avenue,” Carroll said. “There are three single-family homes on Polk, each of which has a private driveway. Based on staff’s assessment, we feel there is sufficient parking supply to meet demands in this area.”
Some neighbors, meanwhile, shared concerns about the project’s impact on neighborhood parking and, to an extent, the impact on the park.
“We worked to get the land for this park for many many years,” said Shirley Downs. “Maybe you think it’s proprietary, but we really care about this park. We also care deeply and extensively about permit parking.”
Jeremy Hogg, whose children attend Polk Elementary, said he was one of the individuals that originally requested something be done on the street to help pedestrians, but said he disagreed with the plans staff drew up.
“I saw buses come around the corner, I saw vehicles going very quickly: It is an area that needs to be addressed,” Hogg said. “That being said, I’m not in support of this area as put forward. I think even one of the board members said ‘wait a minute, only two options have been put forward and they both involve the elimination of nine spaces?'”
Hogg said the parking spaces on the far side of the street are frequently full and removing them will eliminate the street parking in front of his home. Instead, Hogg suggested removing a few spaces and reconfiguring the plans to add a slightly larger retaining wall.
“Will effectively eliminate all the parking on my side of the road and we will be forced to walk a block away,” Hogg said. “I’m concerned that we’re not going to have ample parking.”
But Jack Browand, division chief of Parks and Cultural Activities, said any plans that involve pushing further into the park could compromise the well-being of some of the park’s largest trees.
“There’s both direct and indirect tree loss,” Browand said. “By pushing the sidewalk in there would be a direct loss of trees. Also, we have to be wary of the critical root zone. When you start cutting into the hill and putting in other stuff, you start cutting into the root zone. So you may not have direct tree loss, but if you start cutting into the root zone you start losing trees outside of the footprint of the construction area because with some of these larger trees that critical root zone is quite large.”
Browand said the city is interested in getting more people to explore Polk Park, but said there are also no plans to make significant improvements. A single trail runs through the park, but it’s in poor shape.
“There are opportunities and we’ve had internal [discussions] with the installation of this sidewalk,” Browand said. “It would provide a better access route to the entrance of this park… There could be opportunities to get more people into this park. It is a naturalized park, there aren’t significant improvements planned because it is intended to be more natural.”
Without discussion, the Traffic and Parking Board voted unanimously to endorse the city’s plan to remove the parking spaces to create the sidewalk connection.
The City announced this morning (Monday) that the Temporary COVID Business Relief Measures, which permitted the expanded outdoor dining operations along King Street, will expire on Friday, Sept. 30. Starting in October, restaurants will be required to go through a city program for permission to expand their restaurant to the city sidewalks.
Not long into the pandemic, the city approved a temporary relaxation of handful of ordinances to help make life a little easier for local businesses going through the worst throes of the pandemic’s economic impact.
“As a result, the City will resume its King Street Outdoor Dining (KSOD) program for outdoor dining on sidewalks for restaurant properties which abut King Street (from the Waterfront to the King Street Metro Station) and one block north and south of King Street,” the release said.
Businesses can check eligibility for the outdoor dining program and apply online.
“Businesses in other areas of the city may consult Planning & Zoning staff about pursuing an alternative approval path for outdoor dining opportunities on sidewalks,” the release said.
Alexandria’s annual Summer Sidewalk Sale is returning next month.
The sale will feature over 40 local boutiques from around the city including local favorites like Old Town Books, fibre space and The Dog Park, Visit Alexandria said in a release. As the name suggests, the sale will feature sales set up outside stores along King Street in Old Town.
The release noted that live music is also planned for the event.
The event — now in its 13th year — is scheduled for Saturday, August 13.
Photo via Visit Alexandria/Facebook
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