Alexandria, VA

A regional gas tax usually goes to supporting the capital funding for WMATA, but data presented at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission meeting last night showed that regional gas spending has taken a nosedive in the last few months.

Starting in March, gas tax revenue started to dip below $3 million. While the gas tax revenue has fallen to $2 million in March in years past, by June it had plummeted far below that. For the entire region, roughly $500,000 was collected in gas tax revenue, compared to over $3 million in February.

In Alexandria, gas tax revenue fell from over $150,000 in May to under $50,000 in June.

The tax is calculated from sales two months earlier, meaning the June figures reflected the dive in funding from April, shortly after the stay-at-home order was issued.

The tax was increased this year to 20.2 cents per gallon starting July 1, and is scheduled to increase over the next three years to 28.2 cents per gallon.

 

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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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After a launch delayed by the pandemic, mobility company Helbiz has started putting scooters onto Arlington and Alexandria streets.

The company announced yesterday that it would immediately move forward with bringing 100 new scooters to locations in Arlington and 200 to Alexandria. Like other scooter companies, like Lime or Bird, Helbiz scooters are unlocked by scanning a code in an app, riding with cost determined by distance, and parking.

“The vehicles will also be able to operate between these cities’ for riders’ convenience,” the company said in a press release. “These fleets follow the company’s successful launch of e-bikes in neighboring Washington, DC, highlighting Helbiz’s continued growth in the area and its commitment to offering eco-friendly micro-mobility solutions to the community.”

Helbiz — an Italian-American transportation company founded in 2015 — also brought scooters and e-bikes to Washington D.C., according to DCist. While Helbiz was approved for e-bike use in Alexandria, the company said those plans have hit a snag.

“We plan to launch a fleet of 200 e-bikes in Alexandria in Q4 of this year,” said Gian Luca Spriano, Director of International Business Development. “Unfortunately, our bike manufacturer experienced delays due to COVID, and we’re working closely with them to get our bikes in Alexandria as soon as possible.”

The distribution and access to scooters have faced some concerns at the Alexandria City Council that the programs disproportionately favored wealthy, predominately white Old Town at the exclusion of lower-income communities. In response, Helbiz said in a press release that it has launched the Helbiz Access Program to provide discounts on rides for low-income residents.

Photo via Helbiz/Facebook

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A series of new improvements to Alexandria’s Union Station — a Virginia Railway Express stop — proposed late last year are moving forward toward city approval.

The plan is to create new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant access with a grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access. The expansion will also allow the station to take two trains at any given time, with one at each platform. The change is part of a regional effort to reduce the system’s bottleneck around the D.C. area.

According to the VRE website:

The project will provide an ADA-compliant, grade-separated pedestrian tunnel and elevator access between the two platforms at the VRE/Amtrak station in Alexandria and modify and extend the east platform at the station to accommodate eight-car trains and enable the platform to service two trains simultaneously, from a track on each side of the platform. The west platform adjacent to the station building will also be modified to raise its height relative to the top of rail as part of the project. Project funding sources include state SmartScale and Federal funds (through VDOT) to eliminate railroad grade crossings. Currently the project schedule is slightly ahead of the final year of funding allocation, which must be addressed with VRE’s funding partners through either reprogramming of funds or short-term borrowing.

The project is scheduled to go to the Planning Commission on September 1. The project was originally scheduled to be presented to the City Council in May, according to the VRE website, but the pandemic limited the scope of council meetings.

Construction on the project is estimated to start in 2022.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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It’s been a bumpy ride for drivers on the West End traveling along King Street, but that should change after next week.

The City of Alexandria is planning to start resurfacing King Street between S. 28th Street and S. 25th Street, a portion of the street passing Array at West Alex and the busy intersection with S. Walter Reed Drive.

“The work will start on Monday, July 27, and is expected to end on Friday, July 31, weather permitting,” the city said in a news release. “Due to high traffic volumes during the day, paving will take place overnight on weeknights from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. Traffic and parking in the immediate and surrounding areas may be redirected during work hours. Please observe all parking and detour signage.”

The city said residents affected will receive advance notice by letter or construction signs.

“City staff will be onsite managing the project; roads will fully reopen to traffic at the end of each shift,” the city said. “The City recognizes that night paving may be an inconvenience to residents living along this section of King Street. Thank you for your patience and support as we work to improve the City’s infrastructure.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Longtime Bishop Ireton Teacher Dies — “It is with sadness but also with great faith in our Lord that we share that Mr. Ron Umbeck, a beloved faculty member at Bishop Ireton for more than 50 years, passed away earlier this evening. He is now at peace in Heaven and we are sure that he met St. Peter with a math book, a crossword puzzle, an It’s Academic prep sheet and a Bishop Ireton pin. He loved this school, but more importantly, he loved his students and his Bishop Ireton family.” [Facebook]

Mayor Talks About Coronavirus on PBS — “My thanks to ⁦@AlexandriaVAGov⁩ Mayor ⁦@justindotnet⁩ for spending time with us to talk #Virginia re-opening, concerns about virus spread, and how he’s balancing the two. Our report, produced by ⁦@courtneyknorris, on ⁦@NewsHour⁩ tonight…” [Twitter]

NVTA Provides $195 Million to Duke Street, Richmond Highway Projects — “Two major roadway projects in the Alexandria region received funding from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. The Duke Street Transitway received $75 million, which completes its funding request.” [Alexandria Living]

Fairlington United Methodist Church Warns of Scammers — “Scammers are out in full this summer. Please either a) ignore emails like this or b) report it to your email provider. This is not Janine’s email address, nor does she sign her emails Rev Janine Howard (nor does she break all sorts of grammar rules…) [Facebook]

Photographer Helps Unemployed Residents With Headshots — “Alexandria photographer Sam Fatima wants to do his part to help turn things around. He has partnered with Headshot Booker and Brookfield Properties for a new initiative aimed at helping the unemployed have a fresh start.” [Zebra]

Virtual Pub Craw Starts Wednesday — “In 2020 the 7th Annual Port City Old Town Pub Crawl is going virtual! Throughout July join Port City and our friends in Old Town as we celebrate good food and beer all month long.” [Facebook]

DASH Installing Digital Displays — “We’re busy installing new digital displays that show bus arrival info and alerts. We’ve installed more than 30 so far.” [Facebook]

New Job: Server — “Chadwicks Restaurant is currently looking to fill FULL- and PART-TIME server positions. Must be honest, hardworking, and capable of working well with others. Experience not a priority.” [Indeed]

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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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Work crews will be working from now until the summer on repaving large portions of Mount Vernon Avenue, and a recent reduction in traffic might just get the work done on time, according city staff.

“I would have to say we’re pretty much on schedule,” Mary Winston, the capital improvement paving manager for the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, told the Del Ray Citizens Association in an online meeting last week.

The improvements are expected the be completed on 1.5 miles of the roadway this summer.

The city is in the final phase in Mount Vernon Avenue Complete Streets project, and includes the addition of pedestrian improvements with lighting, crosswalks and ADA-compliant ramps for the roadway.

“We’re also going to be upgrading the ADA ramps as we see fit,” Winston said.

Contractors are currently working on repaving the 2100 block of Mount Vernon Avenue near the 7-Eleven, and when that’s finished they will move south and repave the 2000 block and continue until they reach Braddock Road. They will then turn around and pave the rest of the roadway all the way up to Herbert Street.

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Long-running efforts to address the condition of Alexandria’s roads will continue this summer with a new set of local roadways set for repavings.

Roads were prioritized for repaving based on the Pavement Condition Inventory, according to a newsletter put out by Mayor Justin Wilson. The study done last year showed roads throughout the city score poorly, particularly the side streets through neighborhoods.

“We continue to play ‘catch up’ throughout the City from deferred road maintenance during the worst of the Great Recession,” Wilson said in the newsletter. “I’m hopeful we can continue (and hopefully increase) these investments in this very basic infrastructure.”

The work is contingent on funding proposed in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, scheduled for adoption on April 29.

Wilson said the following 37 streets are all scheduled to be repaved this year and work could start as soon as July 1:

  • Callahan Drive from King Street to Duke Street
  • North Pitt Street from Oronoco Street to King Street
  • King Street from Callahan Street to Dangerfield Street
  • North and South Union Street from Pendleton Street to Franklin Street
  • North and South Fairfax Street from Jefferson Street to Third Street
  • South Walker Street from Duke Street to Stevenson Avenue
  • West Taylor Run Parkway from Janneys Lane to Duke Street
  • East Abingdon Drive from Second Street to Slaters Lane
  • Commonwealth Avenue from E/W Braddock Road to King Street
  • Duke Street from South Patrick Street to Strand Street
  • Hume Avenue from Commonwealth Avenue to Richmond Highway
  • North Floyd Street from Duke Street to North French Street
  • Fendall Avenue from Duke Street to South Floyd Street
  • Wellington Road from Beverley Drive to Chalfonte Drive
  • Fillmore Avenue from Seminary Road to End
  • Farm Road from Beverley Drive to Circle Terrace
  • North Gladden Street from Uline Avenue North Grayson Street
  • North Grayson Street from North Gladden Street to Uline Avenue
  • Tulsa Place from North Gordon to End
  • Uline Avenue from North Gordon Street to Taney Avenue
  • North and South West Street from Duke Street to Wythe Street
  • Skyhill Road from Janneys Lane to End
  • Daingerfield from King Street to Duke Street
  • North Morgan Street from North Chambliss Street to End
  • North and South Alfred Street from First Street to Church Street
  • Reading Avenue from North Beauregard Street to End
  • Rayburn Avenue from North Beauregard Street to Reading Avenue
  • South Iris Street from Venable Avenue to Vermont Avenue
  • Cameron Mills Road from Virginia Avenue to Allison Street
  • Marlboro Drive from West Braddock Road to End
  • Fort Ward Place from Ellicott Street
  • Ellicott Street from Marlboro Drive to End
  • Moncure Dr from S View Terr to Hilton St
  • Crown View Drive from Clover Way to Dartmouth Road
  • Jewell Court from North Chambliss Street to End
  • Anderson Court from Jewell Court to End
  • North and South Saint Asaph Street from First Street to End

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The King Street Trolley runs from the King Street Metro down to the waterfront, but a section of the new Transit Vision Plan could extend that path down to the Eisenhower Metro station.

“The 2030 and 2022 Vision Plan Networks include the King Street Trolley with a potential extension from the King Street Metro to the Eisenhower Metro Station via the Carlyle and Eisenhower East districts,” the plan said. “This could provide a frequent connection directly between the large and dense activity center around Eisenhower Avenue Metro and Old Town.”

Proposed changes also include longer hours for the trolley. Currently, the trolley starts running at 10:30 or 11 a.m. on a 10-15 minute loop. The plan noted that this service means the trolley is not available for morning commuters, early shift workers, or others coming into Old Town before 10:30 a.m.

“The revised King Street Trolley also would operate with more traditional operating hours, including morning service,” the study said. “It should be noted, however, that due to the funding arrangement for the operation of the King Street Trolley, any potential changes to the trolley would require additional coordination and approval by City Council.”

The extension of the King Street Trolley is included in the longer-term goals for the project, with implementation planned by 2030.

The trolley is funded by hotel tax revenues from across the city, though the transit survey noted the current benefits are mostly confined to Old Town. The revised route would run through a neighborhood slated for extensive residential and commercial redevelopment.

“This raises an issue about the fairness of funding a free route in one part of the city that is paid for from hotel taxes across the entire city,” the study said. “[One option] would require fares on all routes, including the King Street Trolley. To offset the impact of this change on tourists and visitors, DASH could provide free passes to Visit Alexandria for all Alexandria hotels and other tourism entities.”

The plan does not make any recommendations for a fare policy.

The plan was adopted by the Alexandria Transit Company — which operates DASH and the King Street Trolley — in December. The Transit Vision Plan was presented to the City Council on Feb. 25 as an update. Implementation of the plan’s suggestions is scheduled to be considered next year as part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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After months of stalled discussions over the cost of adding southern access to the Potomac Yard Metro station, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city could start the process of financing it over again.

The Potomac Yard Metrorail Implementation Work Group “expressed a great amount of frustration at the amount of time we have spent working with WMATA and their contractor to come to an agreement on a potential change order for improved southwest access,” Wilson said at the City Council meeting last night (Tuesday). “The message that was crystal clear from PYMIG was to set a date to have pencils down regardless of where we’re at and pursue going back to market to bid out the improved southwest access.”

Wilson said the group’s attitude was one of “frustrated impatience” with the way the WMATA has handled this.

The original southern entrance to the Metro station was cut from early plans to save money. As something of a consolation prize, a path to a pedestrian bridge, from neighborhoods to the south to the entrance on the north side of the station, was added.

The city has been in discussion with WMATA for months after prices the latter negotiated for the southern access ramp came back higher than the $50 million allocated in a state grant. During PYMIG meetings, city officials repeatedly said they believed the price was substantially higher than what it should be.

Wilson acknowledged at an earlier meeting that while going back to market for bids on the contract could get a better deal, it could also show that WMATA was correct and the numbers will be even higher than the current bids.

At the site itself, construction is progressing. Staff said at the City Council meeting that the walls are being poured in for the AC switchgear building. Contractors are currently working on ground stabilization to support the station and driving piles on the west side for the north pavilion.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A number of traffic calming changes will eventually be coming to Monticello Blvd in the Alexandria’s North Ridge neighborhood.

The city is in the final stages of design on the project, which will bring changes to the roadway near George Mason Elementary School. The project will potentially include speed cushions and a speed monitoring sign.

It currently has no current implementation schedule, according to city spokesman Craig Fifer.

Monticello Blvd is bordered by Russell Road and Cameron Mills Road, and is used as a cut-through street for many drivers. The city received multiple community requests for traffic calming on the road before 2018, which was when staff got to work, Fifer said.

Fifer told ALXnow that the city is debating the merits of speed cushions on Monticello.

“Although speed cushions were later added to the discussion at the request of neighbors, and the fire department determined that speed cushions may be feasible under certain circumstances, transportation and fire officials are currently evaluating the use of speed cushions on different types of streets and whether speed cushions will be part of the final Monticello design,” he said.

Potential developments, which were approved by the Traffic and Parking Board, include:

  • Three speed cushions
  • A speed monitoring sign near George Mason Place
  • 10 feet of street parking removed for the addition of a crosswalk at the intersection with Old Dominion Blvd
  • 20 feet of street parking removed for visibility at the intersection with Argyle Drive

Top map via Google Maps

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