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Electric refuse truck (via Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services/Twitter)

(Updated 4:25 p.m.) When trash pick-up comes around, it might be a little quieter than usual.

Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES) said the city is testing out new electric trash trucks.

“This week, our crews are test-driving electric refuse trucks,” the department said on Twitter. “They’re quieter and deliver pollution reduction benefits”

Right now, city staff is test-driving one electric refuse truck for a week to better understand how it could be used in the city, Director of T&ES Yon Lambert tells ALXnow.

“The electric refuse truck is ideal for urban areas like ours because we take garbage collection to a local waste-to-energy facility, versus a landfill that would require a longer trip,” Lambert said. “Staff in the City’s Fleet Management Division of Transportation & Environmental Services is responsible for the maintenance of the truck, including charging it overnight, while a team from Resource Recovery is responsible for using it on routes to collect household garbage.”

The plan, according to Lambert, is to spend the week test driving the truck to gauge how it could be used to help reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

Lambert said the switch is part of a broader effort to the city’s roughly 800-vehicle fleet more sustainable. These vehicles are used in everything from household garbage collection to construction site inspections.

T&ES isn’t the first city service to venture into electric vehicles. City bus service DASH has been working toward adding 20 electric buses to its fleet — in addition to the 14 already in service — by 2025. The program has hit some stumbling blocks, though, like challenges with hilly terrain and cold weather.

“Our team will monitor how the refuse truck performs while it’s on collection routes this week,” Lambert said. “I believe that over time, we will do our due diligence and record data for this. These manufacturers have solid records of having reliable trucks available.”

Lambert said the truck is being tested as part of a week-long demo by truck company Mack at no cost to the city.

“We are exploring ways to build sustainability and resiliency to protect our City and environment now and for the next generation,” Lambert said. “This test drive will help the City gauge if this is a way we can continue working toward our sustainability goals. If the electric refuse truck is a viable option for us, it could be considered in a future year budget process.”

Lambert says he believes Alexandria is the first municipality in Northern Virginia to test drive an electric refuse truck.

“We hope this inspires other municipalities to also consider sustainability options,” he said.

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A VRE train crosses a bridge over King Street (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A new authority responsible for promoting railways in Virginia said the only real solution to a degraded bridge over King Street is full replacement.

The Virginia Passenger Rail Authority (VPRA) made its recommendation to the Transportation Commission earlier this month. The CSX bridge over King Street is nearly 120 years old and is notorious for causing closures and shutdowns.

The bridge has repeatedly closed after issues ranging from rail debris falling onto the street to repeated strikes by trucks and other vehicles.

At the Transportation Commission, Todd Hopkins — part of a group from the VPRA — said the bridge is also subject to occasional crashes with trucks and that the bridge does not meet current height requirements.

“Bridge strikes do occur by high trucks that try to pass through there,” Hopkins said. “When a bridge strike takes place, a safety inspection has to occur. All traffic gets shut down for at least a couple of hours. That leads to operational delays.”

Hopkins said a study weighed four options, ranging from various types of repairs and lifts to the bridge to full replacement.

King Street bridge repair or replacement options (image via Transportation Commission)

The presentation noted that there are five criteria for screening bridge repair or replacement options, which include: adding 50 years of functional life to the bridge, minimizing rail operations, and meeting current railroad requirements and roadway clearance requirements. A full replacement was the only option that hit all five criteria.

VPRA Planning Manager Naomi Klein said bridge replacement met all criteria and is the recommended design option.

A report from the VPRA said the replacement would include increasing the bridge height and possible width under the bridge. Replacement would also reduce maintenance requirements and minimize rail service interruptions.

Klein said a feasibility study is scheduled to be completed sometime in the next month to be published early next year. After that, the VPRA will review public feedback and complete the environmental clearance process before progressing with a preferred design option.

Once a design is chosen, construction is scheduled to start in the second quarter of 2024 and continue until midway through 2026.

The Transportation Commission also voted to include a note along with the report saying the city should add more signage to the bridge in the meantime with more visible warnings to truck drivers about the bridge height.

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A bus outside the King Street-Old Town Metro station (staff photo by James Cullum)

An upcoming zoning change could both cut through some development red tape and make funding for transportation projects more accessible after years of noncompliance from developers.

The city is looking at reshaping Transportation Management Plans (TMP), one of the core pieces of any new development that’s remained basically unchanged since 1987. The goal of a TMP is to ensure new development promotes public transportation, walking, biking or rideshares rather than driving to work alone.

“TMPs often outline specific transportation requirements a development must carry out, such as offering an incentive program or shuttle bus to Metrorail,” a report on the proposed change said. “Developments fund their individual TMPs through an annual contribution into an account they manage and oversee.”

Most times, these plans involve dedicating funding transportation projects aimed at boosting public transit and other types of transportation. It’s a deal not unlike the way the city trades bonus density for affordable housing. There are currently 106 active TMPs around the city.

In the past, that funding has been divided up by individual projects and managed by individual developers with mixed results. The report noted that compliance is low because penalties are nominal. Development from before 2014 — which accounts for about 63 of the 106 total TMPs — only receive a $50 fine for not following their TMP.

“Administration of TMPs typically falls on property management, who often lack tools, expertise, and time to implement and oversee an effective TMP,” the report said. “Too many TMPs are doing different things with varying degrees of success, and many are not compliant with the requirements spending and reporting.”

To make matters worse, the report said the success of each TMP is difficult to measure and funding often sits unused in accounts.

“It is difficult to measure the success of TMPs since the surveys used to evaluate travel behaviors are administered by each TMP, and the data is unreliable due to low response rates,” the report said. “TMPs often accrue funds faster than they can be spent. It is administratively time-consuming for staff to coordinate with over 100 different TMP Coordinators that are frequently changing and have different levels of expertise.”

The new change would bring nearly all of the funding from TMPs into a single pot for coordinated use on city transportation projects.

“[The policy change requires] all but the largest developments to pay into a GO Alex Fund, which is managed by the City, rather than managing individual funds themselves,” the report said. “Developments over a certain size can still manage their own program with City oversight, but without paying into a City fund. The GO Alex Fund will be used to make transportation investments Citywide.”

The report said the city-managed fund would advance strategies in the Alexandria Multimodal Plan and other city transportation goals.

“The benefit of this change is that the single fund achieves economies of scale that individual TMP funds cannot,” the report said. “There are currently 106 separate funds, each of which have different programs to administer with different levels of available funding. By combining funding into one City-managed fund, the funding can be used more effectively.”

The new policy would also provide incentives for paying the obligation upfront, building transportation improvements on site, and locating development in an enhanced transit area — a place accessible to Metro or one of the city’s new high-intensity bus routes.

The change is scheduled for review at Planning Commission meeting the Tuesday, Dec. 6.

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Duke Street near Landmark and Cameron Run (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria is planning for a transit-oriented overhaul of Duke Street, and city staff connected to the project told an advisory group earlier this month that rumors about eminent domain being used for the project are inaccurate.

Yon Lambert, the director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services (T&ES), told the Duke Street in Motion Advisory Group that public concerns about eminent domain being invoked to acquire right of way for the Duke Street changes is at least premature if not unfounded.

Concerns about the city using eminent domain to acquire land along Duke Street became so prevalent members of the City Council asked staff about it at meetings this month. Lambert said right-of-way acquisition does not always involve eminent domain.

“There’s been some discussion and disinformation about what right of way is and use of it,” Lambert said. “The city regularly acquires the right of way when it is building capital projects like sewers or fire facilities… The right-of-way process is a normal component of all of our capital projects. There’s nothing unusual in us having a right-of-way element on a project.

Lambert said with the plans still in the early stages, it’s not clear that the city will have make any right-of-way acquisition.

“What I specifically want to address, with this project in particular: any right-of-way that we think we will have to acquire, and it’s not clear that we will have to acquire right-of-way… if we think we have to acquire any right-of-way, we see that as being a voluntary negotiation with adjacent property owners,” Lambert said. “We do not see any intent in this stage of the project to use eminent domain.”

Lambert said eminent domain is still a tool in the city’s toolbox for making improvements that are necessary to the public interest, but with this project, the city “wants to make sure right of way set aside for this project is voluntary.”

In the same vein of corrections about misconceptions surrounding the Duke Street projects, Lambert said the Transitway proposal won’t necessarily have a one-size-fits-all application along the corridor. There are multiple options, from transit separated from traffic to buses mixed in with traffic, with multiple segments along the corridor.

“I think it’s natural and reasonable to think about it as doing something from end to end,” Lambert said. “Multiple [City] Councils have told us and the staff… that Council wants to see ensuring transit on Duke Street. But part of the reason it’s broken out into segments… [we] want to make sure it’s clear that there may be different solutions for different segments.”

Lambert said while some segments may see substantial improvements, others may only see more incremental improvements.

The advisory group is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Dec. 15.

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“Alexandria West” community boundary (image via City of Alexandria)

Tonight, the City of Alexandria is launching a kick-off meeting for the 18-month process of updating and potentially reshaping city policy governing the West End.

According to the city’s website, the goal is to “engage the community to create a shared vision for the future of Alexandria West, addressing topics such as equity, culture, housing, getting around, land use, parks, and safety.”

The planning area mostly focuses on the westernmost parts of Alexandria, on the west side of Van Dorn Street. The plan is an update to a 1992 small area plan for the area and a 2012 plan that focused on the neighborhoods near Beauregard Street.

“Creating an updated community vision for the future allows us to proactively plan for change and prepare for challenges and opportunities in the years to come,” the city said.

The virtual event starts at 7 p.m. tonight. Attendees can register for the meeting online.

“Tuesday, November 15 at 7 p.m., community members, businesses and organizations are invited to attend a virtual kick-off meeting launching the City’s 18-month Alexandria West planning process,” the city said in a release.

According to the city website, the discussion over the next 18 months will explore issues of housing affordability, equity, culture, land use, mobility, pedestrian and cyclist safety and accessibility, and connecting both existing and future open space.

The city said the meeting will be recorded with a video posted afterward and pop-up events will be held around the West End.

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(Updated 10:25 p.m. on 11/22/22) The roadways in Old Town North are set to get an upgrade, thanks to the massive GenOn Power Plant redevelopment.

The 18-acre power plant site has no internal transportation infrastructure, and on Wednesday night (Nov. 8) Hilco Redevelopment Partners revealed its concept designs for the street network.

Over the next decade, the development will convert the power plant site into a new mixed-use neighborhood with residential units on the upper floors, and commercial and artistic spaces on the ground floors.

“The site has no internal infrastructure today, so we’ll be investing a substantial amount to create new roads, sidewalks, bicycle accommodations, and the public walk route, as well as utilities,” said Michelle Chang, HRP’s vice president of mixed-use development, in a virtual meeting on Wednesday. “All of these will promote walkability, provide new bus stops and decrease reliance on personal vehicles. Additionally, HRP will make offsite improvements along Slater’s lane and intersections with the George Washington Memorial Parkway to improve vehicular bicycle and pedestrian connections. All told, we estimate these will (cost) $177 million.”

Plans call for a complex network of public and private streets, all of which will be publicly accessible. The roadway is designed to minimize cut-through traffic with a main public road, or spine street, going straight through the property.

HRP’s development special use permit concept submission will have to undergo a community review process next year before going to the city for final approval.

More than 14 acres of the site is devoted to open space, and the property even incorporates Dutch design with the inclusion of a woonerf, a “people-focused” street facing the waterfront that will allow for easy closure for events.

Demolition for the site is slated to begin next year on the 18-acre site in Old Town North, and construction is expected to take between 18 and 31 months. In fact, the entire development may take 10 years to complete.

HRP is also proposing these roadway changes:

Bashford Lane at the George Washington Memorial Parkway

  • Pedestrian crossings need improvement
  • Traffic signals currently prioritize north-south traffic, which will have to be balanced for east-west movements for all modes of transportation

Slaters Lane at the George Washington Memorial Parkway

  • Balance signal operations for east-west traffic
  • Improve pedestrian crossings
  • Extend bike facilities through the intersection with GWMP and connect to the Mount Vernon Trail
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School buses on W. Braddock Road on Dec. 10, 2021 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria has started identifying pedestrian safety improvements around Alexandria City High School and a number of other school campuses.

Staff with the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services are creating “walk audits” with available for public review in a final report by next June.

The walk audits will be conducted at both campuses of Alexandria City High School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and at the city’s newest school — Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.

“We will be coordinating with the school communities for each of those schools,” said Bryan Hayes, the City’s Complete Streets coordinator. “That’s the principals, teachers, parents, the students… to help identify things that make it challenging or unsafe for students to walk or bike to school.”

It’s all part of Alexandria’s Complete Streets and Safe Routes To School programs, which are devoted to making infrastructure improvements like adding new sidewalks, enhancing crossings and traffic calming.

Five years ago, the City identified 250 transportation improvement recommendations at 13 elementary schools. The city has completed about half of those recommended projects, according to the Department.

Staff will gather data through this winter and spring. To develop recommendations, the Department will have a small team of city staff, consultants, school representatives, and others to observe students walking to schools.

Making the improvements will be a multi-year process, said Alex Carrol, program manager of the City’s Complete Streets project.

“We’ve we’ve tackled a lot of the low hanging fruit in the recommendations,” said Carrol. “These were always intended to be multi-year efforts. I don’t have a specific timeline for when we expect all of the recommendations to be completed, but it is going to be a multi year process.”

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The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) said in a report that the fare-free ride program created a noticeable bump in ridership during September, though it’s unknown how much that will linger post-promotion.

In a report (page 60) prepared for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), the VRE said the commuter rail service offering free rides in September caused a 21% increase in ridership. The promotion continued into October for Alexandria and areas further south during the ongoing Metro shutdown.

“VRE offered Fare Free September, which allowed for fare-free travel during the month of September, to promote VRE service and build ridership, as well as a thank you to those riders who stayed with VRE throughout the pandemic,” the report said. “Additionally, the free fare promotion allowed VRE to serve as a major contributor to the regional mitigation efforts during the Metrorail Blue and Yellow Lines shutdown south of Reagan National Airport. VRE continued to provide free fares during October for riders traveling between Zones 1, 2 and 3 until Metrorail service south of the airport reopens.”

The shutdown of the Metro lines was originally scheduled to conclude in October, but with the Potomac Yard Metro station delay that was pushed to November and the fare-free program is recommended by VRE staff to continue until services resume.

The report provided some numbers behind how the fare-free month impacted ridership, with the uptick mainly among riders who has ridden the train before the pandemic but had not resumed VRE travel since.

“For the month of September, ridership increased by 21% compared to the previous month,” the report said. “The rider survey showed that the Fare Free September promotion was especially successful in getting riders who took VRE pre-pandemic back on the service.”

The rail system is also currently in the middle of a study looking at what commuter train demand looks like in a post-pandemic era with many of the office jobs having transitioned to work-from-home.

“The market analysis and baseline 2030 and 2050 ridership forecasts by line and station, using the currently adopted Transforming Rail in Virginia (TRV) Phase II service plan, will be completed in November 2022,” the report said. “VRE staff plans to return to the Operations Board prior to the end of the calendar year to provide the results of the market analysis, ridership forecasts, and to request authorization to initiate Phase II of the System Plan 2050 update process. The 2025 System Plan will be brought to the Commission for action in 2023.”

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Seminary Road (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated 4:10 p.m.) Fewer crashes, reduced traffic volumes and more bike riders —  a new report shows that the Seminary Road Diet is working.

The information comes from a Post-Project Implementation Evaluation by the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. The evaluation shows has been a 41% reduction in crashes along the one-mile stretch of Seminary Road between North Howard Street and Quaker Lane since the road diet went into effect in 2019, according to a report released Tuesday (Nov. 1) by the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental services.

That’s not all: there have been zero crashes involving serious injury or death, and traffic does not appear to have diverted to neighborhood streets.

Morning peak traffic has increased by 15%, although average peak travel times decreased between 11% and 17%.

The Seminary Road Diet — reducing the four through lanes of the roadway to two and adding bike lanes and a turn lane in the center — was one of the most controversial issues of 2019.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that he’s read the report, and says that the change did what it was designed to do.

“I’m pleased, but not surprised,” Wilson said. “Based on my conversations with many residents in the Seminary corridor, including many who initially opposed the change, the new Seminary has improved the quality of life for walkers, bikers and drivers alike.”

It took the city two-and-a-half years to compile the data for the Seminary Road Project Evaluation Report. The delay in reporting was attributed to needing traffic patterns to return to pre-Covid levels before determining the impact of the road diet.

The report found that traffic volumes during peak travel times decreased between 11% and 17%. Extreme speeding is also down, with the percentage of people driving faster than 35 miles per hour on the roadway now at 7% of drivers.

The Post-Project Implementation Evaluation determined:

  • Average annual crashes on Seminary Road decreased by 41%
  • Non-severe injury crashes decreased by 14%
  • There were an average of .8 fatal or severe crashes per year from 2015 to 2019, and zero from 2020 to 2022
  • Property damage-only crashes decreased by 8%
  • Extreme speeding is down, with the percentage of people driving faster than 35 miles per hour decreased from 11% to 7%

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The City of Alexandria announced today that drivers will need to go a little slower in the West End.

City Manager James Parajon said, following the unanimous recommendation from the Traffic and Parking Board, speed limits on a handful of corridors on the West End — including some major ones like North Beauregard Street, Seminary Road and King Street — will be reduced by around 10 miles per hour.

According to the city release, the full list of speed limit changes are:

  • North Beauregard Street (Entire Length). Reduce the posted speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour and reduce the school zone speed limits from 25 to 15 miles per hour.
  • West Braddock Road (North Beauregard Street to Quaker Lane). Reduce the posted speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour and reduce the school zone speed limits from 25 to 15 miles per hour.
  • North Howard Street (Lynn House Driveway to Braddock Road). Reduce the school zone speed limit on North Howard Street from 25 to 15 miles per hour.
  • Seminary Road (Kenmore Avenue to North Pickett Street). Reduce the school zone speed limit from 25 to 15 miles per hour.
  • King Street (Radford Street to Quincy Street). Install a new 15 mile per hour school zone speed limit.

The release said the changes are part of the city’s Vision Zero plan.

“Speed is a critical factor in how often crashes occur and how severe those crashes are,” the release said. “Collectively, there have been over 500 crashes on these corridors since 2015, including over 20 fatal or severe crashes. Over 250 people have been injured in crashes during this time.”

The release said the most recent notable incident was a fatal crash on North Beauregard Street this August.

“According to the Federal Highway Administration, speed limit changes alone can lead to measurable declines in speed and crashes,” the release said. “National guidance encourages local governments to set appropriate speed limits to ensure the safety of all roadway users. This is especially important in urban areas where people walk, bike, and drive. The likelihood of a person being killed or seriously injured when struck at 35 miles per hour is significantly higher than if that person is struck at 25 miles per hour or 15 miles per hour.”

The speed limit reduction is the latest of a series of traffic changes in the works in Alexandria. The city also approved the use of speed cameras for the first time in some school zones and is reviewing options for a new Duke Street Transitway.

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