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The 100 block of King Street has been closed to cars for over a year, and now the city is looking to make the change permanent.

At an upcoming meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 5, the Planning Commission is docketed to review a proposal by city staff to permanently turn the 100 block of King Street between Lee Street and Union Street into a pedestrian zone.

The plan had been in the works as a pilot since 2019 and came into effect in early 2020 as a way of helping businesses in the area expand their outdoor dining options.

According to the staff report:

As the City began the re-opening process, staff developed a Temporary Outdoor Business permit for restaurant, retail, and fitness business to use adjacent parking spaces for conducting business outdoors. Given the concentration of restaurants and pedestrians along the 100 block of King Street, as well as the desire to provide expansive space for pedestrians to safely maintain distance, staff worked with the businesses to modify the King Street Place concept and close the 100 block to all car traffic, which took effect on May 29, 2020. The temporary street closure was later approved by the Council and extended several times. The closure is currently approved through April 1, 2022.

The report said the closure has been well-received by the community.

“Over 2,700 responses were provided on a call for feedback about the temporary street closure,” the report said. “Of resident respondents, 89% had a positive experience with the 100 block street closure and 92% of residents responded that they wanted to see the closure continue into the future. Throughout the closure, 100 block of King Street businesses periodically expressed support for the closure. Most recently at an August outreach meeting, a majority of businesses from the block noted their interest in a permanent closure.”

The closure would maintain a 22-foot emergency vehicle easement down the center of the street.

The city proposed adding a 5-foot-wide pedestrian path along both sidewalks between the buildings and the curb, with the remaining area on the sidewalk and in the parking lane available to businesses through a permitting process.

“If approved, staff will use allocated American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for short term improvements for this block, such as new barricades, street furniture, and signage,” the report said. “A more permanent design for the block would be considered through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget and in coordination with other projects in the Waterfront.”

The City Council is scheduled to review the closure at a public hearing next month.

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If you ever feel bad about getting on the bus in Alexandria and realizing too late you’re on the wrong one, don’t fret. Apparently some of the people who run the city’s bus system do the same thing.

The new DASH bus network launched on Sept. 5, but city leaders and transit administrators met last week to celebrate.

“The first time I rode the new network was the night of our DASH board meeting,” said David Kaplan, chair of the Alexandria Transit Company Board of Directors. “There are two routes that come down King Street to the Metro Station and I needed the 30. I boarded the first bus that came to Market Square which happened to be a 31.”

Kaplan said he rode the bus to the King Street Metro station and the ride was going smoothly until the bus took a left where his should have gone right and Kaplan realized his mistake.

“I very sheepishly went up to the driver and asked if I could get off so I could run back to King Street and get onto the correct bus,” Kaplan admitted.

Kaplan’s error was one example of the adjustment needed as city bus service DASH works to implement its biggest change since the system launched in 1982. Josh Baker, CEO of the Alexandria Transit Company said the goal of the project is to modernize the transit network. The new system enhances the frequency of service in high-density parts of the city. Some adjustments were made to the plan after local residents having their routes scrapped expressed concerns, and some parts of the city hoping for high-frequency service aren’t getting it.

Along with the change in transit structure, the new program made headlines for going fare free and the city is currently seeking more state funding to implement that change on a longer-term basis.

“This is a long time coming,” Wilson said. “I know this has been a long process of getting public input and getting consensus of the community to ultimately make DASH more successful for riders. When riders are surveyed on what they want, they want transit to go to more places they want to go to and that arrives and leaves more frequently. Today, we’re improving the accessibility of transit by doing exactly that… providing that service more frequently than we did before throughout the day.”

Wilson also said that one of the bizarre windfalls of the pandemic has been giving the city not only a chance to restructure the bus system, but watch patterns of usage as bus ridership steadily goes up as the city works toward recover.

“We’ve been conducting a massive, unplanned experiment about transportation behavior over the last year and a half,” Wilson said. “That data has been very constructive about who rides transit and when. Look right now at how different modes have recovered. Look at how people are getting back on buses and back on Metrorail. You see an object lesson in who rides transit and where.”

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Morning Notes

GW Parkway to go on road diet next month — “The restriping program will alter lane configurations in an effort to make the Parkway safer for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists. The NPS will restripe the road between the City of Alexandria and George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate to create just one southbound lane instead of two, a turning lane and two northbound lanes between Stratford Lane (near Mount Vernon Estate) and Tulane Drive (just south of Belle View).” [Alexandria Living]

Couple donate Edward R. Murrow World War II microphone to National Press Club — “Casey Murrow’s father, broadcaster Edwin R. Murrow, used this microphone for his legendary radio broadcasts from London rooftops to describe live Germany air raids during World War II.” [Gazette]

Rental arrears up in Alexandria — “More than 1 out of every 10 Alexandria rental households are behind on rents as of early August, according to a new analysis.” [Patch]

Lee-Fendall House chronicles the history of the cocktail — “The Lee-Fendall House Museum celebrated the origins and history of the humble yet mighty cocktail in a fun event over the weekend called Cocktail Chronicles, focusing on the Golden Era of the Cocktail, 1860s-1920s. The event included a silent auction of an important photograph of the home’s previous owners, to add to the fundraising efforts to rebuild the crumbled brick wall on the property.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny skies. High 81F. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph… Mostly clear (in the evening). Low 62F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Entry-Level Maintenance Technician (Oil, Tire & Lube) $3,000 Sign on Bonus — “The Mechanic C is an entry level position with the Hertz Corporation and is the launching point for our maintenance team. In this role you will be performing preventative maintenance, with a focus on Oil and Tire Changes. Must be a quick learner, and have an assortment of tools, including oil filter wrenches, socket set, and a toolbox to keep them in.” [Indeed]

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The City of Alexandria is sending a funding request to the state that could help create a better Holmes Run Trail Bridge and push the West End Transitway into its next phase.

At an upcoming City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28, the Council is scheduled to review (item 14) a submission to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) for regional transportation funding in FY 2026 to FY 2027. The request is for funding from the NVTA’s 70% Program, which aims to reduce congestion and increase quality of life with projects of regional significance.

The City is seeking two $5 million grants for two longtime projects in the West End.

Part of the request is for more funding to the West End Transitway, a project that will bring bus rapid transit to the West End, from Van Dorn Metro station to the Pentagon with stops along the West End at locations like Southern Towers and the former-Landmark Mall. The West End Transitway had previously received $4.6 million from the program for the first phase of the project.

Now, the city is hoping for $5 million for part two, which would bring dedicated transit lanes and other transit adjustments to South Van Dorn Street and the Van Dorn bridge between Metro Road and McConnell Avenue.

The staff presentation noted that the dedicated transit lanes in phase two of the project would help increase travel choices in Alexandria and reduce single occupancy vehicle travel. Part of the overall goal of the project is to provide better transit access to the densely populated areas of the West End that aren’t near Metro stations.

Grant funding proposed for FY 2026, photo via City of Alexandria

The second $5 million request is to build a better crossing of Holmes Run Trail at Morgan Street. The new pedestrian and bicycle bridge would replace a current “fair weather crossing” at Holmes Run. The current crossing is a path that runs through shallow water that often becomes dangerous to cross during the city’s increasingly frequent flooding.

A city presentation said the improvement could create a more resilient, safer, and more reliable trail network — though parts of the trail still remain damaged from flooding in recent years.

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Electric DASH bus, photo via DASH/Facebook

The city’s DASH bus network recently went fare-free, and the city is looking for more funding from the state to help it stay that way.

An item at the upcoming Tuesday, Sept. 14, City Council meeting includes an application to the Transit Ridership Incentive Program (TRIP) to help finance the city’s free bus ridership program.

The application has already been supported by the DASH Board of Directors. According to the docket item, the city is planning to submit an application of funds up to $8 million over the next four years. In the report, city staff said they expect to be awarded a maximum of $7.2 million through TRIP with the city committing $9.83 million in local funding between FY 2023 and FY 2025 to operate DASH fare-free, in addition to $1.47 committed in FY 2022.

The city isn’t alone in this. The application notes that $12.5 million in TRIP funding goes to subsidized fare or zero fare programs.

Photo via DASH/Facebook

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You might have already noticed if it’s on a street near you, but this week the City of Alexandria has resumed its seasonal resurfacing work throughout Old Town.

Repaving work started on Monday this week as part of a seasonal program. This week and next, repairs and curb improvements are underway on Union Street from Pendleton to Franklin streets and Duke Street from South Union to South Patrick streets.

The schedule online indicates that work will continue until Friday, Sept. 3, with resurfacing work paused on weekends. Paving takes place between 7 a.m.-5 p.m., but the city said sometimes some work is done overnight to accommodate heavily traveled roads.

“Alexandria has more than 561 lane miles of road and each year, the City resurfaces approximately 50 of those lane miles,” the city said. “The City uses a paving management system called Pavement Condition Index, or PCI, to determine the condition of City roads. PCI, along with other factors, such as volume and type of traffic, planned utility work, and cost, are used to prioritize streets for repaving.”

The city said local residents will be advised of resurfacing work at least one week in advance.

“Temporary ‘No Parking’ signs will be also posted before work begins,” the city said. “Please be sure to observe these signs to avoid tickets and potential towing of vehicle.”

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The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is looking at making some improvements to Little River Turnpike, one of the main arterial roads between Alexandria and Fairfax County.

Little River Turnpike (Route 236) runs through the Lincolnia neighborhood of Fairfax County, turning into Duke Street when it crosses into the West End. A study of crashes on the street from 2015-2019 showed that many of the crashes were clustered around the border between Fairfax County and Alexandria, where Little River Turnpike crosses I-395.

A similar study of congestion on the street found that most of the congestion was centered on the western end of the study area, around the Annandale neighborhood.

Part of the project could involve pedestrian and cyclist improvements to the street and improve overall safety.

A survey to gather public input is available online until next Wednesday, July 28. A second outreach and survey is planned for this fall once solutions are outlined for the road.

Photo via Google Maps

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Alexandria is getting ready to go fare-free this fall, and at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) on July 1 the architects of that plan shared some of the challenges ahead.

Josh Baker, general manager of DASH, said a fare-free bus system had been brought up before, but transit authorities started looking at an emergency pandemic-program as a way to test what the program could look like on a larger, more permanent scale.

“We saw an opportunity in being fare-free as option in pandemic [as a way to] take a deeper look at what fare-free meant for our system and how that impacted our community,” Baker said. “Ultimately what it came down to for us: here’s an opportunity to do something that requires less admin burden, less intricacies, less details.”

Baker said that the cost in lost-revenue would typically be around $4 million, one of the main challenges of implementing the program, but decreased ridership during the pandemic put that lost-revenue estimate at roughly $1.5 million.

In a presentation to the NVTC, DASH staff said the aim of the program is to reduce cost-related barriers to transit and promote awareness, as well as increasing efficiency and reliability by reducing dwell times and keeping busses moving.

The first ten months of the program are funded by the city, but staff noted that additional funding is required to cover an estimated $670,000 gap.

Zero-fare opportunities and challenges, via NVTCIn preparation for going fare-free, Baker said staff spoke with leadership at the D.C. Circulator, the Corvallis Transit System in Oregon, and the Charm City Circulator in Baltimore.

Baker said ridership increases varied between 26-59% over previous years for systems that switched to fare-free, but that success required a dedicated funding source to keep consistent quality. Customer complaints also increased initially, but fell after 2-3 months.

The DASH bus service is scheduled to start going fare-free on Sept. 5.

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As Alexandria works through the first stages of its Duke Street transit overhaul, city staff are laying out expectations for what’s being considered for the corridor.

In a public meeting last week, staff presented early plans for a transit-focused overhaul of Duke Street and fielded both questions and some early concerns from residents.

Bike lanes on Alexandria streets have been contentious in the past, but staff said they remain on-the-table for Duke Street, along with “micromobility” options like shared-bicycles.

Mack Schnaufer, the city’s bus-rapid transit (BRT) manager, said a BRT route is being considered for Duke Street and would run from the King Street Metro station to Landmark Mall. Beyong that point lies Fairfax County, which is outside of the project’s jurisdiction.

Schnaufer said he has long-term hopes for more BRT connectivity, and defended the Metroway project after a meeting participant asked why the city is moving forward with BRT when the Metroway never met its ridership goals. Schnaufer said that, Pre-COVID, Metroway has been exceeding its early projections and no ridership goals have been set yet for Duke Street.

“We’re starting to get those discussions of how we can connect different BRT corridors along with Fairfax County,” Schnaufer said. “A lot of their planning is in its infancy, we’re a little bit ahead of them right now, but in the long run I do think these corridors will end up being connected and we’ll have a regional BRT network.”

Much of the concern about bike lanes in other parts of Alexandria — namely the debate over Seminary Road — focused on concerns that the lane reduction would negatively impact car traffic.

“We recognize that cars are not going to be off of Duke Street completely,” said Jennifer Koch from urban design firm Rhodeside & Harwell. “Vehicle movement is something taken into account with this project. People’s priorities for car lanes is definitely something we’re gathering input on in this phase.”

Schnaufer said it’s too early to lay out a timeline for construction of the project, but said it’s likely that BRT will be implemented in the project in phases.

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A new Duke Street overhaul that aims to make the street more transit-friendly is starting its community outreach phrase.

The Duke Street in Motion plan aims to create a corridor of more reliable and frequent bus service along Duke Street between the King Street Metro station and Landmark Mall — where developers is in the early phases of redeveloping the site into a mixed-use corridor and hospital.

Other potential changes could include the addition of dedicated transit lanes along Duke Street and additional bus stations. Some local residents are concerned the project won’t tackle one of Duke Street’s biggest issues, but the city said a separate project going forward later this year should help with those.

The project is the latest in a series of Alexandria transportation projects that aim boost the reliability of the city’s bus network, from a West End Transitway to an overall reshaping of the city’s routes.

Part of the city’s approved budget for this year will also include making ridership on DASH buses free starting later this year, part of a move to increase ridership.

Has your ridership of DASH or Metrobus changed throughout the pandemic? Sound off in the comments below the poll.

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