Alexandria, VA

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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The Eisenhower Partnership is making a last-minute push to try to salvage a 15-minute bus service plan for Eisenhower Avenue ahead of tomorrow’s City Council meeting.

Currently buses cycle along Eisenhower Avenue every 30 minutes, as they do in much of the rest of the city. A new plan would increase the frequency of service in densely populated corridors, while cutting down or eliminating service to some less-densely populated residential areas.

After backlash from Seminary Hill residents at risk of losing the AT2 line, DASH restored some of the less dense areas but at the cost of scaling back the 15-minute cycles planned for Eisenhower.

Now, the Eisenhower Partnership — a non-profit representing the Eisenhower Valley — has set up a petition hoping to make Eisenhower Avenue one of the 15-minute bus service routes again.

“We ask Alexandria City Council and the DASH Board of Directors to amend the plan to bring more frequent service to Eisenhower by 2022 to support continued economic growth, improved livability for residents, and fewer cars on our streets,” the group said in the petition. “The Eisenhower Valley is booming in new residential and commercial construction. It is an economic engine for Alexandria, increasingly providing improvements to innovation, learning, and living.”

The petition has 118 signatures with a goal of 200.

The Eisenhower Partnership cited upcoming plans to increase density in Eisenhower, with a shift towards greater residential uses.

“DASH ridership on Eisenhower is already strong, averaging 175 riders each weekday,” the petition said. “This number will grow, since several new apartment buildings are planned or under construction along Eisenhower, including partial conversion of the Victory Center to residential. Long-awaited growth is great news, but these new residents will either ride the bus to Metro stations or add to the unmitigated traffic problem.”

The City Council is scheduled to review an update on the transit vision study at the meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).

By 2030, the plan is to have virtually every bus route in the city — including Eisenhower Avenue — at 15-minute frequency. The 2022 planned network, however, would leave the N1 route on Eisenhower avenue at 30-minute frequency.

“To support smart growth and reduce traffic for all Alexandrians, bus service on Eisenhower should be at least every 15 minutes by 2022, increasing as needed,” the petition said. “For certain, another ten years of low-frequency service on Eisenhower will leave all Alexandrians in a jam.”

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As part of an effort to curtail truck traffic through residential streets, the City Council could add E. Taylor Run Parkway to the list of streets where truck traffic is banned.

On Saturday (Feb. 22) the City Council is scheduled (item #13) to review a potential ban on commercial truck traffic on the street, which connects Janneys Lane and Duke Street.

Commuter traffic has repeatedly been a thorn in the side of E. Taylor Run Parkway residents, particularly with apps like Waze and Google Maps diverting traffic onto side streets to avoid gridlock on the main roads. The Traffic and Parking Board originally approved a recommendation to close the street to truck traffic in 2018.

A similar ban already exists on W. Taylor Run Parkway, though that street has its own share of problems — namely an ongoing spate of parked cars being struck by passing vehicles.

According to city records, there are 23 other streets where truck traffic is banned, most of them in Old Town or connected to Seminary Road.

Photo via Google Maps

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The deteriorating West Glebe Road Bridge, on the Arlington border near I-395, will be the topic of an open house next week.

The bridge is currently closed to large vehicles weighing more than 5 tons due to structural deficiencies. It’s set for a major rehabilitation project, likely starting later this year.

The design of the new span, which will use the existing bridge’s piers, is still in progress. The new bridge is expected to “improve access for people walking, biking and driving,” according to Arlington County. (The bridge is technically located in Arlington, though it’s heavily used by Alexandria commuters.)

Arlington, in coordination with Alexandria, is hosting an open house about the project and the bridge design on Wednesday, Feb. 12 from 6-8 p.m., at Gunston Middle School (2700 S. Lang Street).

“Members of the public are encouraged to attend the drop-in style open house to learn more about the project, ask questions of staff, and provide feedback on bridge cross-sections and visual preferences,” the City of Alexandria said.

Photos via Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services

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The Rosemont community is planning to meet on Thursday to discuss complete streets and traffic issues in the neighborhood.

The meeting is scheduled to include a discussion of the city’s plans for pedestrian safety and congestion problems at some busy local intersections. It’s scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Commonwealth Baptist Church (700 Commonwealth Avenue).

City staff, including Complete Streets Manager Christine Mayuer, are scheduled to attend to speak with residents.

“Please come prepared to address specific issues and desired remedies (for example, solutions to address safety can cause congestion problems, and vice versa),” the group said in a Facebook post. “Top of the list is congestion at Russell/King (including the traffic island at Cedar), but other intersections that have been mentioned include Rosemont/King and Braddock/Commonwealth.”

The Rosemont Citizens Association said in a Facebook post that congestion at the intersection of King Street, Russell Road and Callahan Drive — which frequently gets backed up during peak hours — is at the top of the meeting’s agenda.

Plans for the intersection, near the King Street Metro station, include extending the bike lanes on King Street down to the intersection and making pedestrian safety improvements at the site. The changes were originally planned in 2015, but the city said on the project website that concerns about creating additional traffic congestion led to delays for further study.

“While this project was not intended to address traffic backups, the design will reduce congestion at this intersection,” the city said.

Bike lanes were added along King Street in 2016, but they end before the intersection with Russell Road.

Complete street changes, particularly where adding bike lanes are concerned, have been controversial in Alexandria. The backlash to the addition of new bicycle and pedestrian facilities on Seminary Road has resulted in banners along the street and a very active Facebook page.

Photo via Google Maps

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On Thursday morning, William Tate waited for the pedestrian signal before crossing at the intersection of Duke and S. Pickett Street. Traffic wasn’t too heavy, but Tate still waited for a few minutes and sipped his coffee until the light told him it was safe.

“The biggest problem I see on Duke Street is that people just cut across on foot wearing dark clothing, and they get clipped,” Tate told ALXnow. “Sometimes I’ll see people just running across where there aren’t crosswalks and drivers don’t pay attention. You’ve got to pay attention.”

The wide roadway and long waits for walk signals don’t help matters, however.

Four days earlier, on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 26, 89-year-old Alexandria artist Alfredo DaSilva was killed while crossing Duke Street at the intersection with Cameron Station Blvd. Few details regarding the incident are known, and the driver, who called police and stayed at the scene, was interviewed and released. The incident remains under investigation.

There have been three pedestrian fatalities on Duke Street since the fall of 2018, one of which happened this past November. At around 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2019, John Thompson, a 77-year-old Fairfax County man, was killed crossing Duke Street at Sweeley Street, near the Alexandria Commons Shopping Center. A year before that incident, on Nov. 18, 2018, Nelson Javier Galdamez Reyes, 52, was fatally injured on the ramp from Duke Street to southbound I-395.

Most Alexandria streets are limited to 25 miles per hour, and a new online petition asking for support for a speed reduction to 25 mph, west of Quaker Lane and east of Jordan Street, has received more than 100 signatures.

The city considers Duke Street a “high crash corridor” and is one of the few Alexandria roadways with a speed limit of 35 mph. Last year, the speed limit for a portion of U.S. Route 1 between Four Mile Road and Slater’s Lane, which is another high crash corridor, was reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph.

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While Alexandria’s Transportation Commission endorsed a WMATA-backed plan to overhaul the region’s bus system, that approval was accompanied by concerns that the project won’t be able to achieve its lofty goals.

On paper, the plan put forward by the Washington Area Bus Transformation Project sounds ideal to any bus rider. The plan pushes for faster, more frequent, more reliable bus service that is also more affordable.

The plan would impact both regional bus lines, like Metrobus, and local bus systems, like DASH. It lays out aims for improving the bus system that frequently overlap with the city’s own plans to overhaul the DASH bus network.

The top four recommendations are vague, but the 20-page summary gives each a little more context:

  1. Provide frequent and convenient bus service that connects communities and promotes housing affordability, regional equity and economic growth
  2. Give buses priority on roadways to move people quickly and reliable
  3. Create an excellent customer experience to retain and increase ridership
  4. Empower a publicly appointed task force to transform bus and lead the implementation of a truly integrated regional system

Part of the implementation of the plan, a representative of the project said to the Transportation Commission at a meeting last week, is a regional task force that could monitor progress on the milestones and report annually on whether those are advancing.

“We didn’t go through this process to create a plan,” the representative said. “We went through this process to transform the bus over the next ten years. Such an entity would bring more accountability, more transparency in the region at a higher level.”

Melissa McMahon, chair of the Transportation Commission, said those reports will need to identify advances not just regionally, but by individual localities.

“There could be really wide gaps between one jurisdiction and another,” McMahon said. “That could really hold this up… some of the things you’re describing require everyone to move on together.”

A draft strategic plan was released last year and to an extent, the plan already includes information on individual progress within bus networks. In the section titled “advance technology and programs that improve the safety of everyone on board,” the plan notes that DASH has security cameras installed on roughly 20% of the fleet.

Overall, members of the Transportation Commission were hopeful the plan will help to reform the bus network and make it a viable supplement to rail transit.

“Buses are the historically ugly stepchildren of the transit system,” McMahon said. “They don’t have the same flash as other kinds of transit. They don’t have the same permanence that rail does… but if the Metrorail is our backbone, the bus is our nervous system and capillaries. It’s circulating everywhere in our community. So it’s really important that we get this right.”

Photo by Jay Westcott

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