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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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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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