Newsletter

While the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is working through plans to make September fare-free for all riders, that could be extended into October for Alexandria riders dealing with the Metro shutdown.

Plans for the VRE are headed to review at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s meeting on Thursday, July 7.

A report (page 155) from VRE CEO Rich Dalton said that while the pandemic has hit VRE’s ridership, a month without fares would simultaneously be a “thank you” to loyal customers and could attract new riders to the VRE:

September is typically a month where the regional transportation system is strained, as kids return to school and workers return from summer vacation, and it historically has been one of the highest ridership months for VRE. This September, many federal agencies are expected to transition to more permanent in-office work schedules, moving away from the remote work scenarios implemented during the pandemic. While many agencies and private employers will still allow some teleworking, most will require a higher in-office presence for their workers. Staff believes offering free fares for the month of September will encourage commuters who are considering various commute options to try VRE.

The fare-free month also coincides with the start of the shutdown of Metro lines south of National Airport.

“Starting on September 10th, WMATA will shut down Metrorail stations south of Reagan National Airport on both the Blue and Yellow Lines,” the report said. “This shutdown will last at least six weeks, and VRE will be a major contributor to the mitigation efforts in the region. Allowing riders to board for free during September will maximize usage of VRE during the first half of the shutdown.”

The report also says VRE is planning to extend the free fare into October for riders traveling between Alexandria or Crystal City and either going across the river to L’Enfant or union Station or going south towards Franconia-Springfield.

“Providing free fares for these zones in October will continue VRE’s enhanced role in mitigating the effects of the Metrorail shutdown,” the report said.

The report said passenger fare revenue in April and May this year has been between $1.1 and $1.2 million.

“We do not expect significant growth in ridership from this level during the summer months, but ridership in September is expected to increase as employees return to the office,” the report said. “If average daily ridership were to increase to 10,000 trips per day, the expected monthly fare revenue would also increase to approximately $2.3 million.”

The foregone fare revenue, the report said, would be between $1.2 and $2.3 million — without factoring in the impact of the Metrorail shutdown.

“VRE’s existing federal pandemic relief funds will provide a backstop to replace this foregone revenue,” the report said. The expected impact to VRE of the proposed free fares in September and October for zones 2/3 specifically is more modest. Current ridership to/from/between zones 2 and 3 is relatively small at only 400 trips per day, with most of that ridership occurring at the
Backlick Road station. Of course, if a significant share of passengers impacted by the Metrorail shutdown shift over to VRE, that figure could increase substantially.”

The report said the VRE will be applying to a grant from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation to cover the lost funds for offering fare-free transportation in Alexandria.

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Executive Avenue in Del Ray (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria’s street resurfacing program is heating up over the next few months, with Del Ray and some surrounding neighborhoods getting the lion’s share.

The current round of street resurfacing is scheduled to run from June 27 (yesterday) and Friday, July 8.

In addition to street resurfacing, the city said it will be performing some much-needed sidewalk maintenance for King Street along Taylor Run (just north of the George Washington Masonic Memorial) and Quaker Lane.

“Residents whose streets are scheduled for resurfacing receive advance notice of paving work — typically by displayed project signs and/or letters,” the release said. “Temporary ‘No Parking’ signs will be also posted before work begins. Please be sure to observe these signs to avoid tickets and potential towing of vehicles.”

The streets scheduled for resurfacing are:

  • Montrose Avenue (from East Raymond Avenue to Richmond Highway)
  • Terrett Avenue (from East Mt Ida to East Randolph Avenue)
  • Stewart Avenue (from Mount Vernon Avenue to East Randolph Avenue)
  • Executive Avenue (from Kentucky Avenue to Mount Vernon Avenue)
  • Alabama Avenue (from Kentucky Avenue to Carolina Place)
  • Holly Street (from Aspen Street to West Mt Ida Avenue)
  • Aspen Street (from Landover Street to Russell Road – exclude Service Road)
  • Burgess Avenue (entire length – exclude Service Road)
  • Guthrie Avenue (from Landover Street to Mosby Street – exclude Service Road)
  • Birch Street (from Holly Street to Russell Road)
  • Pine Street (from Holly Street to Russell Road)
  • Allison Street (from Valley Drive to Old Dominion Boulevard)

The sidewalks scheduled for maintenance are:

  • King Street (Russell Road to Janneys Lane)
  • West Braddock Road (King Street to Russell Road)
  • North Quaker Lane (Duke Street to Janneys Lane)
  • Second Street Restoration (North Pitt Street to North Royal Street)

The city will also be performing some maintenance to alleyways and will be repairing the guardrails at eastbound Duke Street and Van Dorn Street.

Image via Google Maps

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Glebe Road and Potomac Avenue intersection (image via Google Maps)

With bus activity likely to see a significant uptick with the opening of the Potomac Yard Metro station, the city is looking at converting a turn lane on Glebe Road into a bus lane (item 5, page 8).

The plan has the dual purpose of benefitting buses and reducing the number of general-purpose lanes pedestrians have to cross.

“To support expanded bus operations and reduce the number of general purpose lanes pedestrians must cross, staff recommend converting the existing eastbound right-turn-only lane to a bus only-lane,” the report said, “and converting the existing eastbound left-turn-only lane to a left-turn and right-turn lane.”

The area has a higher-than-average number of blind pedestrians as well. The staff report said reducing the number of lanes for those pedestrians to cross could improve safety at the site.

“Currently, pedestrians must cross five lanes with limited protection from motor vehicles at the intersection of Potomac Avenue and Glebe Road,” the report said. “There is also a higher-than-average proportion of pedestrians with limited or no sight due to the proximity of the National Industries for the Blind.”

Glebe Road and Potomac Avenue intersection plans (image via City of Alexandria)

Staff said in a report that a traffic analysis estimated no change in traffic delays but could lead to more blocking of the intersection.

“Based on staff findings, there is no significant change in delay for the E. Glebe approach, and the overall intersection performs at an acceptable Level of Service grade B,” the report said. “However, it is important to note, given the proposed shared general-purpose lane on E. Glebe, the queue of vehicles stopped at the intersection is projected to extend just past the adjacent intersection at Dogue Street. This may lead to more occurrences in which vehicles block the intersection, impeding Dogue Street users.”

One of the alternatives considered included a shared bus-bike lane, but staff said adding bikes into the mix could lead to more crashes.

“Because of the expected potential conflicts between people biking, buses, and other motor vehicles as people biking inevitably attempt to maneuver around stopped buses, staff believed this option had a higher risk of crashes than other options,” the report said.

A dedicated bike lane was considered, but ultimately staff said the greater benefit would come from better transit infrastructure.

“Staff strongly considered the needs of people biking on Glebe Road but ultimately decided that the safest option, given the scope of the project, was to maintain consistent expectations for bicyclists based on conditions along the rest of the Glebe Road corridor (two shared motor vehicle/bicycle lanes),” the report said. “The staff recommendation provides a simple, single-file line for people both driving and biking, which would require no last-minute lane-changes or other maneuvering that could lead to collisions.”

The item is scheduled for review at the Monday, June 27 meeting of the Traffic and Parking Board.

Image via Google Maps

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Intersection of Quaker Lane and Duke Street (image via Google Maps)

Alexandria is hoping to get federal funding for an audit of the city’s high-crash intersections to look for possible solutions.

The project, which includes the audit, public engagement and design, is estimated to cost $1 million. The grant would cover up to $800,000, with the city or the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

A presentation on the audit includes a map of the city’s most crash-prone intersections, which includes:

  • The intersection of Stevenson Avenue and Yoakum Parkway
  • The intersection of King Street and what looks like N. Hampton Drive
  • The intersection of Duke Street and Quaker Lane
Map of crashes around Alexandria (image via City of Alexandria)

A staff report with the grant request notes that crashes were trending down between 2011 and 2020, though deaths and serious injuries trended upward slightly.

The report said 58% of crashes involving deaths of serious injuries occurred at an intersection

Crashes are also most common in the evenings.

“During the weekday, high crash frequencies are seen during the evening commute,” the report said. “Early spring months had the highest proportion of KSI crashes for bicyclists, while the late summer months were the highest for pedestrians.”

The grant request is scheduled for a vote in the roll-call consent calendar at the Tuesday, June 28 City Council meeting (item 11).

Image via Google Maps

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While DASH won’t be able to cover the service gap from the upcoming Metro closures, WMATA announced some new measures yesterday that will attempt to replace Alexandria’s upcoming loss of Metro service.

There are two Metro shutdowns coming to Alexandria that will, together, eliminate or reduce Metro service in Alexandria from September to next May. The first is a shutdown of all stations south of the new Potomac Yard Metro station. The Potomac Yard closure is expected to last from Sept. 10 to Oct. 22. The Potomac Yard closure overlaps with the start of work on the Yellow Line Bridge from Sept. 10 to May. During the much longer Yellow Line Bridge closure, riders will have to take the Blue Line to Rosslyn to cross over into D.C.

During the Potomac Yard shutdown, Metro said in a release that it will be operating additional Blue Line trains, running every seven to nine minutes, from National Airport to New Carrollton stations. At the same time, Metro said customers traveling between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza stations should plan for approximately 15 minutes of extra travel time.

Metro also notes that if the 7000-series trains remain out of service the trains will operate less frequently.

During this first phase, WMATA said that free shuttle service will be offered in Virginia with three shuttles crossing the Potomac.

Local shuttles will be available during all Metrorail operating hours.

  • Blue Line Local: Local service between Franconia-Springfield, Van Dorn St, King St-Old Town, Braddock Rd, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stations every 10-20 minutes
  • Yellow Line Local: Local service between Huntington, Eisenhower Ave, King St-Old Town, Braddock Rd, and Crystal City stations every 10-15 minutes. Yellow Line shuttles do not stop at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport Station

Express shuttles will be available most of the day (from 4:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., 6:30 am to 9:00 p.m weekends).

  • Blue Line Express: Franconia-Pentagon Express service between Franconia-Springfield and Pentagon stations every 6 minutes
  • Yellow Line Express: Huntington-Pentagon Express service between Huntington and Pentagon stations every 6 minutes

Limited shuttles will be available during weekday rush hours only.

  • VA-DC Shuttle 1: Crystal City-L’Enfant Service between Crystal City, Pentagon City, Smithsonian, and L’Enfant Plaza stations every 12 minutes. Shuttle does not stop at Pentagon Station
  • VA-DC Shuttle 2: Pentagon-Archives Service between Pentagon, Smithsonian, and Archives stations every 12 minutes
  • VA-DC Shuttle 3: Mt. Vernon-Potomac Park (11Y Route) Service between Mt. Vernon, Alexandria, and Potomac Park every 20 minutes. Peak direction service only

Meanwhile, during Phase 2, the Potomac Yard Metro station will be reopened but the bridge will remain closed. All Yellow Line stations will be served by the Blue or Green Lines. Blue Line trains will run every 12 minutes between Largo Town Center and Franconia-Springfield stations and every 12 minutes between Huntington and New Carrollton stations. The Green Line trains will operate every eight minutes.

Metro said there will continue to be a limited rush hour shuttle service during this time.

  • VA-DC Shuttle 1: Crystal City-L’Enfant: Service between Crystal City, Pentagon City, Smithsonian, and L’Enfant Plaza stations every 12 minutes. Shuttle does not stop at Pentagon Station
  • VA-DC Shuttle 2: Pentagon-Archives: Service between Pentagon, Smithsonian, and Archives stations every 12 minutes
  • VA-DC Shuttle 3: Mt. Vernon-Potomac Park (11Y Route): Service between Mt. Vernon, Alexandria, and Potomac Park every 20 minutes. Peak direction service only

Additionally, Metro said riders could opt to take the 16Y Columbia Pike-Farragut Square Line, Metroway, or ride the Virginia Railway Express.

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(Updated 5 p.m.) Next week, the City Council will review a set of new parking rates (Item 19) for Old Town that aim to push drivers off the street and into the city’s underutilized garages.

The new ordinance would expand the area of Old Town where drivers who don’t have residential or guest permits must pay by phone to park. The current rate in those zones is currently $1.75 per hour, but the new ordinance would allow the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services to set a rate of up to $5 per hour.

One of the changes being considered would adjust rates based on times of day or day of the week. Rates would also be higher in the pay-by-phone zones to push drivers to meters or the garages. At the same time, garages could be changed to an hourly rate less than the rate at the meter — still $1.75 — with different rates at different garages.

The core issue behind the change is that the city’s parking garages are largely underutilized. The average occupancy sits at around half the garage capacity.

City of Alexandria parking garage utilization in calendar year 2021 (image via City of Alexandria)

The spike in December is the Scottish Walk and Boat Parade, with before and after for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A city report said that the Courthouse Garage, in particular, has “a lot of capacity” on evenings and weekends.

The item is scheduled for first reading at the Tuesday, June 14 meeting, followed by a public hearing and a vote on Saturday, June 18.

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Lynhaven Drive (image via Google Maps)

If you’ve been grumbling about potholes in Alexandria’s northern neighborhoods, there’s good news: relief is on the way.

The City of Alexandria released the lineup for upcoming street repaving and the list of prioritized streets is a whose-who of northern Alexandria residential avenues.

According to the release, the first two weeks of repaving will hit:

  • Lynhaven Drive (from Wilson Avenue to End)
  • Evans Lane (Richmond Highway to East Reed Avenue)
  • Montrose Avenue (from East Raymond Avenue to Richmond Highway)
  • Terrett Avenue (from East Mt Ida to East Randolph Avenue)
  • Stewart Avenue (from Mount Vernon Avenue to East Randolph Avenue)
  • Executive Avenue (from Kentucky Avenue to Mount Vernon Avenue)
  • Alabama Avenue (from Kentucky Avenue to Carolina Place)

The release said that residents on those streets will receive advance notice of paving through project signs and/or letters, with temporary “no parking” signs posted. The release warned that the affected streets will have limited access during repaving, but local traffic will be able to pass through and access driveways.

“City staff will be on site managing the project, and at the end of each workday, roads will be fully open to allow for overnight parking and traffic,” the release said.

Image via Google Maps

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Updated 10:45 p.m. — The question should read “increased car travel time” rather than reduced.

Alexandria is in the process of planning an overhaul to Duke Street, and while part of the project goal is improved transit

The Duke Street Transitway is an idea to provide enhanced bus service along Duke Street, specifically looking at the possibility of bus rapid transit (BRT) like the current route in Potomac Yard. BRT routes emphasize quick, reliable bus service with the buses either mixed in with traffic or with dedicated lanes, as in Potomac Yard. Duke Street is one of a handful of BRT routes under consideration across the city.

Through improvements to the overall transportation system, but specifically to bus rapid transit (BRT) infrastructure and operations, choosing to ride the bus becomes a desirable option for Duke Street travelers, maintaining and enhancing Duke Street’s role as a vibrant community connector for residents and businesses,” the draft vision statement said. “Improvements to the bus system and multimodal infrastructure will support greater connectivity and efficiency for other travel modes along the corridor.”

One of the objectives for the plan is “limited or no negative travel time impacts to non-transit vehicles,” but at a meeting of the Duke Street Transitway Advisory Group there was some discussion of whether that was a realistic goal.

One resident representative on the group said they were concerned about dismissing the impact of the project on non-transit vehicles as an acceptable cost to better transit. The resident said this concern is particularly relevant given that the vast majority of Duke Street users are drivers rather than transit riders.

“This is a transit-driven project,” said Mindy Lyle, the Planning Commission representative to the group. “As we move forward and as the BRT comes into play, as we add the connections and the additional bus lines to both Van Dorn and Duke Street and get more emphasis on biking and walking, driving becomes less of the majority. I use my car 60% less than I did three years ago, and I would like to use it 60% less next year than I do now.”

Lyle said as the group looks at developing transit options, the priority should be on getting people on buses.

“As our population gets younger we are going to see more emphasis on biking, walking and on the bus,” Lyle said. “As buses become more efficient it’s going to increase, and that’s this project. It’s not about driving up and down Duke Street.”

One group member, who was not identified in the video, car travel time is part of the trade-off for greater pedestrian safety measures as well.

“This will come into conflict when you get talking about safety,” the group member said. “If you want to make it safer for pedestrians to cross the street somebody is going to have to give up time for that to happen, and if you give up time it’s going to impact travel time. There are only 60 seconds in a minute.”

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To those grumbling about the sudden Yellow Line delays because of the lapsed certifications: hold onto your butts, it’s going to get worse this fall.

The City of Alexandria is preparing for a Yellow Line shutdown in Alexandria later this year due to bridge and tunnel rehabilitation and bringing the Potomac Yard Metro station into the system.

The rehabilitation work will cause an 8-month shutdown of the Yellow Line between Pentagon and L’Enfant Plaza, from September 10 to next spring. Between Sept. 10 and Oct. 22, there will be no Metro service south of the National Airport station.

According to plans (Item 6) docketed for review at the Tuesday, May 24, City council meeting: Blue Line trains will be running frequently from the airport with a replacement “Yellow Line” route running to New Carrollton during the September-October.

The city plans do note that if the 7000-series trains remain out of service, the trains will be running less frequently than currently planned.

During that time, a series of free shuttles will replace Metro service south of National Aiport.

According to the city that will entail:

  • Free Yellow Line Replacement Shuttles – Local and Express
  • Free Blue Line Replacement Shuttles – Local and Express
  • Free Downtown Connection Shuttles
  • Free Airport Connector Shuttle
  • Weekday Metrobus Alternatives

For the longer period, from October to spring, the Yellow Line portion in Alexandria will be operating as a branch of the Blue Line. The plans optimistically expect the new route from Huntington to New Carrollton to take around 15 minutes longer than the current route.

Throughout both shutdowns, city plans indicate there will be more shuttles running over the Potomac to get Blue Line riders into D.C.

The presentation for the May 24 meeting indicates that there are some options being presented to the City Council to boost transit accessibility during the shutdown, including restoring bus route 11Y and offering additional bus service.

“Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation will provide 80% of costs for City mitigation efforts,” the city plans said.

The total cost to the city for mitigation efforts is estimated to be around $120,000.

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DASH is making some changes to the bus network in Old Town, including one change that has residents concerned.

At a meeting of the Transportation Commission yesterday, DASH Director of Planning & Marketing Martin Barna outlined plans to adjust DASH service in coordination with the opening of the Potomac Yard Metro station. Among those changes is one Barna said has proven contentious to residents along the affected route.

Route 34, which currently runs from the Lee Center to Braddock Road Metro station, will be changed to connect up to the Potomac Yard Metro station instead. As part of that change, DASH is planning to realign the route from N. Fairfax Street to N. Pitt Street.

“This is far and away the most contentious part of our proposal,” said Barna. “We’ve received 30-35 comments from residents along Pitt Street who don’t want to see DASH service along that street for parking and noise concerns.”

Barna said residents along the street have expressed concerns at more congestion caused by the new bus route, while DASH is hoping the shift will provide a more useful route through Old Town North.

“N. Fairfax street is well served by the 30 and 31, which are more frequent,” Barna said. “Nearly all ridership along that stretch are those [lines].”

Without this change, Barna said there will continue to be a four-block gap in DASH coverage between Washington Street and Fairfax Street. With new apartment complexes and grocery stores coming to that area, Barna said DASH saw the change as a good opportunity to potentially provide more service.

One of the other changes for Potomac Yard DASH routes is that the 33 and the 36, which currently go to Potomac Yard, will continue serving the shopping center but will go to the Metro station first.

“We’re trying to make sure the people trying to catch trains can go directly there,” Barna said.

Barna also provided the Transportation Commission with an update on the fare-free and electric bus programs. With DASH ridership going up, Commissioners asked Barna how much money was being taken off the table by the fare-free program.

“Last year council increased budget by $1.5 million to offset lost revenues,” Barna said. “Before the pandemic we were making $3.5-4 million in revenue but we’re not back to that point. It’s hard to say whether riding because fares are free or because they’d normally be riding.”

Barna said that $3.5 million could pay for around three electric buses, which are more expensive than diesel ones, but that DASH doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to support the additional buses anyway. DASH is currently “aggressively pursing grants” to boost the bus system’s electric infrastructure, Barna said, as well as working through the development process for a facilities expansion.

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