If you’ve traveled along Duke Street during rush hour, you probably recognize the intersection above, and might even have a visceral reaction to it. The one-late turn from Duke Street onto Telegraph Road, and by extension to the Beltway, faces frequent backups not only along Duke Street, but in surrounding neighborhoods packed with cut-through traffic.

The bad news: the Duke Street transit overhaul isn’t going to touch that intersection.

The good news: the city says the intersection will be considered as part of a separate project launching later this year.

Jill Hoffman, a resident of the Taylor Run neighborhood just north of Duke Street, said that over the last several years navigation apps have diverted traffic off the crowded Duke Street onto smaller, residential streets that can’t handle the traffic.

“If you live on West Taylor Run, you cannot get out of your driveway during rush hour,” Hoffman said. “What has happened over the years is a lot of cut-through traffic has bailed off arterials and is using our neighborhood as a cut-through to get to that Beltway entrance. The reason they do that is because if you come down Quaker or Duke streets, the chokepoint is that intersection.”

In a presentation from 2019, city staff identified the intersection as a “high crash location” as part of the city’s Vision Zero crash analysis. In addition to the backup onto neighborhood streets, the city recognized issues of weaving through intersections and illegal left turns out of the right-turn only-lane of West Telegraph Road.

“We want to have an engineer assess the problems — or the problems,” Hoffman said. “During rush hour, this area of Alexandria comes to a standstill. It has significantly affected the quality of life… I want an engineer. Not BPAC, not constituents who think they know what’s going on, I want engineers to review that intersection and see if it can flow better — and to do that before anything changes on Duke Street, since it’s the single biggest problem on Duke Street.”

But for those hoping the Duke Street In Motion project — which launches its community outreach phase next — might help solve the problem: no dice.

“The scope of this project is not addressing the cut through and Telegraph Road interchange,” Alexandria communications officer Andrea Blackford said. “Duke Street In Motion, per grant funding, is focusing on transit (bus) improvements. Those other two topics are part of a separate project called Duke Street and West Taylor Run Project.”

The city said the troubled intersection will see progress later this year, however. The Duke Street and West Taylor Run Project will be conducting transportation analysis to determine short-term and long-term improvements for both the Duke Street and Telegraph Road interchange and the Duke Street and West Taylor Run Parkway intersection.

“In addition, the project includes design plans for the preferred alternative, which will lead to construction in 2024,” Blackford said. “Community outreach for the project is anticipated to start in fall 2021. For more information or for regular updates, please visit the city’s Duke Street and West Taylor Run Project Webpage.

Still, for Hoffman, putting the intersection improvements after the transit project casts a pall over the process.

“For me: if we want to have that conversation fine, but I’m opposed to having the conversation without addressing the root cause of the pain which is making the problem worse,” Hoffman said. “We’re just trying to get relief. We want the city to finally prioritize the root cause of the problem.”

Via Google Maps

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In the docket for an upcoming Transportation Commission meeting, city staff unveiled plans to open op a process to “define the future of Duke Street.”

In a 2008 Transportation Master Plan, the city identified several corridors through Alexandria as prime locations for transitways — redesigned streets to meant to emphasize high-frequency and reliable public transit. A 2012 concept plan further elaborated with a more detailed framework for what transitways would entail.

“The goal of these transitways is to deliver high capacity transit to areas of the City that are not adjacent to Metrorail,” the city report said. “These areas already see high transit ridership and are expecting significant development (as evidenced in the Small Area Plans). High capacity transit provides a means to manage congestion as well as connect residents and businesses to jobs and services within the City and throughout the region.”

The Transportation Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 16.

A staff report on the project said that while transit improvements are the main focus, traffic management and bicycle/pedestrian access will also be included in the plans. The report said in November, the City Council agreed that staff needed to reevaluate

“Duke Street IN MOTION Week is the first step in that effort, which will help guide the revised plan for transit facilities and services on the corridor,” the city said.

That week of public programming is scheduled for June 21-27.

“Duke Street IN MOTION Week will include a virtual kick-off webinar on June 23, project website launch, and an online feedback form to help the team identify the communities’ needs and goals for the development of the corridor’s improvement alternatives,” the city said. “This will also include CDC compliant in-person pop-ups events and outreach to stakeholder groups and organizations along the corridor. Approximately 12 pop-ups will be hosted during Duke Street IN MOTION Week, with 6 additional pop-ups held after June 27.”

Over the summer, the staff report said the city would begin planning and working with a design consultant firm to develop conceptual plan alternatives and put together drawings and documents, with additional rounds of feedback in the fall. The total feedback period is scheduled to run for 18 months.

“The community will create a vision for this corridor to steer the eventual outcome of improvements related to public transit, such as the bus,,” the city said on the project website, “as well as other related improvements for walking, riding a bicycle, driving, and using micromobility (for example, shared electric bikes and scooters).”

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The controversy over the Seminary Road Diet has been front and center this election season, with a majority of City Council candidates saying they will vote to reverse it if elected.

Council candidates have been peppered with questions on the road diet, in addition to their general philosophies on roadway development and community engagement.

Even Mayor Justin Wilson seems open to tweaking the plan, while his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg is for fully returning the four travel lanes on the one mile of roadway next to Inova Alexandria Hospital.

Currently, the City has no plans to widen Seminary Road nor any estimates on how to do so, according to an email from the Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. The stretch between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street was reduced from four to two lanes, and a center turn lane, bike lanes, crosswalks and medians were added. Sidewalks were also installed on both sides of the street.

The City received thousands of emails and messages against the plan. Shortly after its approval in 2019, City Councilwoman Amy Jackson even tried to get it reversed, although her motion failed for lack of a gaining a second.

City staff estimated after the road diet’s implementation that fully reverting it back to its former self would cost up to $700,000, according to a Feb. 2020 presentation to Council. Replacing the two standard islands with mountable islands would cost $40,000, and it would also cost $300,000 to erase the roadway markings and re-patch the areas with asphalt. Additionally, it is estimated that micro-surfacing the roadway would also cost $500,000.

Shortly before the road diet’s 4-3 Council passage, however, city staff also presented a $150,000 alternative.

“Staff provided this estimate before a conceptual alternative was adopted and before the City’s interdisciplinary team developed detailed design plans,” City staff told ALXnow. “The $300,000 to $700,000 range of estimates were developed post-construction with current (at that time) costs and design plans that were implemented to reflect what would need to be demolished and removed to revert to a four-lane cross section. Further estimating and actual quotes will need to be developed based off the specific Council direction.”

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Capital Bikeshare is expanding into Alexandria’s West End, with three new stations scheduled to be installed in June.

The expansion is part of a seven-station growth planned to expand the bike infrastructure network across the West End.

According to a report headed to the Transportation Commission, the four recently installed stations are:

  • South Whiting Street at Lane Drive
  • North Hampton Drive at Ford Avenue
  • Taney Avenue at North Howard Street
  • Kenmore Avenue at Seminary Road

The three incoming stations will be located at:

  • Fillmore Avenue at Bisdorf Drive, southeast corner (on-street)
  • North Howard Street at North Imboden Street (on-street)
  • Virginia Theological Seminary

Once this stage is completed, there will be a total of 44 Capital Bikeshare stations in Alexandria, but the City is hoping to expand that again if it can get the funding this fall.

According to the report:

Staff is continuing to work towards the next phase of expansion with VDOT funding, which is expected to begin in fall/winter 2021 and will increase the Capital Bikeshare system by an additional 17 stations. The remaining 9 stations funded by VDOT grant funding are expected to be installed in 2022/2023.

The bikeshare expansion is scheduled for review at the Wednesday, May 19, Transportation Commission meeting.

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Morning Notes

Early voting begins for June 8 Democratic primary — “Early voting will begin on April 23 for the June 8 Democratic primary election in the City of Alexandria. The ballot includes contests for Virginia Governor;Lieutenant Governor; Attorney General; House of Delegates (45th District); Mayor and City Council.” [Zebra]

Alexandria to renovate baseball field near Mount Vernon Community School — “The project is scheduled to begin Monday, April 26  and work will occur Monday through Friday from approximately 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Work is planned for the restoration of approximately 39,600 square feet turf. This includes the installation of irrigation. The work area will be closed to the public during the installation period.” [Zebra]

Bradlee-King Street road changes could be paused for resident input — “Earlier this year, the City of Alexandria planned to apply for a grant to fund significant changes along Upper King Street, including new bike lanes, narrowed car lanes, dedicated bus lanes and fewer left turns into a popular shopping center. Now, that grant application for the 0.5-mile stretch on King Street outside Bradlee Shopping Center may be put on hold as city officials go back to get resident input and make more specific plans for the roadway to meet expectations from the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT).” [Alexandria Living]

Church donates gift cards to elementary school families in need — “On Tuesday, March 23, 2021 Lazarus Ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church informed ACPS that they will be donating $5,400 for the purchase of gift cards for families in need at William Ramsay Elementary School.” [ACPS]

Titan volleyball team going to state championship — “T.C. Williams (16-0) advanced to the first state championship game in program history, which it will host Friday or Saturday.” [Washington Post]

Today’s weather — “Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High near 65F. Winds W at 10 to 15 mph… Mainly clear (in the evening). Low 41F. Winds W at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Dog groomer — “Join us at A Dog’s Day Out in Van Dorn! We passionately deliver a great dog experience composed of play, affection, and socialization – all in a safe, friendly, and clean environment. We offer doggie daycare, boarding, and grooming for dogs of all shapes and sizes who play nicely and want to hang with the gang.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria is seeking state funding for a couple of transportation projects, but competition is fierce in a region full of localities hoping to overhaul their transit systems despite the pandemic’s dire financial ramifications.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently announced the shortlist of proposed transportation projects that could receive funding through the Commuter Choice program. Each project is scored based primarily on technical merit — like how many people benefit and how much travel time is saved — but also on criteria like cost effectiveness and interagency collaboration.

The top project submitted by DASH, the city’s bus network, is for “enhanced bus service from Van Dorn Metro to the Pentagon.” The funding request is for $5.7 million, making it the most expensive project on the list, and netting an application score of 66 out of 100 and sixth place on the list of potential projects.

DASH’s other proposed project is enhanced bus service from Mark Center to Potomac Yard. The funding request is $3.6 million but the project also has a lower application score of 56 points.

Both projects aim to boost service on lines to-and-from the West End, which is one of the goals of an overhaul later this year that seeks to provide greater service at higher-density residential areas like parts of the West End at the cost of reducing geographic coverage through some of the less-dense neighborhoods.

Members of the public are invited to submit feedback on the proposed projects before May 17.

Graph via NVTC

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An update to the Alexandria Mobility Plan could reshape some of the ways the city approaches transit, streets and more.

The city is soliciting public feedback on the new update to the Alexandria Mobility Plan (AMP).

One of the items on the transit site of the update is a renewed emphasis on electric buses, something the city has gradually been moving towards.

“[The city should] build out a fast and reliable all-day transit network with frequent service that runs on electric buses and serves the entire city,” the plan says, “with a focus on areas that will benefit the most Alexandrians, businesses, employees, customers and visitors.”

The plan includes a note that paying for bus fare should be easier and more equitable, an issue that could be somewhat irrelevant if the city moves forward with a proposal to make DASH free starting this fall.

The plan includes prioritizing high frequency, a controversial change DASH is moving forward with later this year.

The AMP also says the city is going to have to update some of its smart signal technology and other street infrastructure to manage congestion — like upgrading the capabilities of the Traffic Management Center to handle traffic management in real-time.

“[The city should] expand smart signal technology to enable detection and real-time signal adjustments,” the update says, [and] strategically invest in partnerships to expand City data, technology, and communications capabilities.”

The full update is available online and the city is soliciting feedback on the plan through the end of the month.

“Residents and businesses are encouraged to review the full draft AMP, Executive Summary and overview presentation, and provide input online by Friday, April 30,” the city said on its website. “The Transportation Commission will also hold a public hearing on April 21… All feedback received by April 30 will be presented to the AMP Advisory Committee to help determine how to incorporate feedback into the final plan. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the final plan before the City Council hears public comment and then considers it for adoption in late summer/early fall.”

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Some changes are coming to the George Washington Memorial Parkway to make it safer for travelers between Alexandria and the eponymous President’s home at Mount Vernon.

According to the National Park Service (NPS), part of the change will be a road diet — a term that could trigger flashbacks for veterans of the 2019 Seminary Road Comment Wars.

“The NPS will restripe the road to implement a road diet while maintaining driving capacity,” NPS said in a press release. “On the parkway between Tulane Drive and Stratford Lane, the NPS will change markings so that there will be three travel lanes (2 northbound, 1 southbound) and one turn lane.”

All changes on the parkway are taking place in Fairfax — not Alexandria — but will affect travel to and from the city.

NPS also announced that it will be making some changes to improve visibility on the Parkway.

“[NPS will] increase visibility of lane markings and Mount Vernon Trail crosswalks,” NPS said, “[and] remove vegetation at intersections to improve visibility.”

NPS said in the press release that the changes came after public outreach and traffic modeling, which NPS claimed indicated the changes would not diminish the GW Parkway’s ability to accommodate current traffic. Once the changes are put into place, NPS said it will continue to monitor traffic for changes.

“We are being responsive to comments from the public and the expert advice of transportation professionals,” Superintendent Charles Cuvelier said in the press release. “Whether you are a park visitor or commuter, these changes will make driving, walking and bicycling between Alexandria and Mount Vernon safer and more enjoyable for everyone.”

The dieting is scheduled to start going into effect later this year.

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Alexandria’s DASH bus network could soon be completely free for all passengers.

In a recent newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson said he is proposing to make DASH free for all riders to go along with a planned overhaul of the bus network going into effect in September.

“To coincide with the implementation of this new route structure, I will be proposing that we use this opportunity to make DASH free for all riders,” said Wilson. “Free transit will expand ridership by an estimated 23%, bring riders back to transit following the pandemic, help achieve the City’s environmental goals and disproportionately benefit our lower-income residents. With ridership depressed due to the pandemic, the initial cost to implement this change is dramatically reduced.”

The move comes after a brief window when DASH stopped collecting fares during the pandemic, a practice it resumed last month.

In answer to a budget question from Mayor Justin Wilson, staff included full fare elimination as one of four possible scenarios, which also included off-peak fare elimination and free or reduced fare for low-income residents.

While Wilson said in the newsletter that the initial amount of revenue lost in the change would be relatively low at first, staff noted in the response that over the next few years the amount of money not-collected in fares would go up as ridership returns.

According to staff, the levels of funding left off-the-table by eliminating fare collection is project to look something like this:

FY23 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $3,912,107
FY24 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $4,961,078
FY25 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $5,512,309

Staff said the change would require the city to increase it’s funding to DASH over time.

“It should be noted that due to one time use of $2.9 million in one time federal relief funding in FY 2022, the City support of the DASH budget will need to increase by approximately $0.9 million in FY 2023, assuming the projected return of passenger revenue,” staff said. “This increase does not include current services adjustments or any supplementals that may be approved. Therefore, any fare reduction initiative will add to that subsidy increase.”

The change would come in the middle of DASH shifting from a coverage-based system, that prioritizes bus access geographically, to a service-based system, which would realign bus routes to prioritize areas of greater density to increase service quality for more Alexandrians while leaving some in less-dense parts of the city with limited or no access to the bus.

There has been some haggling over how much service would be cut to less dense areas, with DASH agreeing to restore some bus lines through the Seminary Hill area. But staff has noted that the level of coverage could depend on the upcoming budget with City Manager Mark Jinks saying fully funding both a geographic coverage and greater service in areas of higher density are incompatible with his suggestion to decrease the real estate tax rate.

While the City Council has ruled out increasing the tax rate, it’s not clear yet whether the Council will go along with the proposed tax rate reduction.

“The City Council will ultimately determine the future of this proposal as we work to finalize our budget this month,” Wilson said.

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Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg joined Governor Ralph Northam, Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) and regional railway leadership at Alexandria’s Union Station to mark a $3.7 billion investment in Virginia rail and the signing of the Transforming Rail in Virginia agreement.

The investment and agreement is designed to pave the way towards increased VRE and Amtrak service, greater connectivity to other parts of Virginia, and to lay the groundwork for a high speed rail corridor — something that’s been a talking point for Buttigieg over the last few months.

“Every day at stations like this across America, transportation workers are serving on the frontlines of America’s response to this pandemic,” Buttigieg said. “They have been delivering vaccines, getting people to essential jobs, and getting goods to wherever they need to go. Their service has been extraordinary, but the challenges facing them and our entire transportation system have been daunting… We are proud to say, on behalf of this administration, help is here.”

Buttigieg also highlighted the $43.2 billion in transportation funding included in the American Rescue Plan.

“We know the cuts these agencies were facing disproportionately harm workers,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a matter of equity; doing right by so many heroes of the pandemic.”

Northam said the rail investment is part of a gradual push to get more people out from behind the wheel of their cars and into passenger trains.

“America is still a nation of drivers,” Northam said. “We tend to like our cars. but all those cars on the road come at a price.”

Northam said that the state, Northern Virginia in particular, is plagued with congestion to levels where adding more capacity to the highways is no longer a viable option.

“Adding more highway lanes isn’t the answer,” Northam said. “A study of I-95 found adding a new lane in each direction would cost 12.5 billion dollars — and by the time it was done, corridor would be just as congested as when we started. Rail can add additional capacity at a third of the cost.”

Photo via Governor Ralph Northam/Twitter

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