Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Inova Hospital System Needs Blood Donations — “Starting this week, over 1,400 blood donors will be needed each week to make lifesaving donations. One blood donation can save up to three lives! Schedule your lifesaving donation with Inova Blood Donor Services online at www.inovabloodsaves.org or call 1-866-BLOODSAVES.” [Facebook]

Video: Alexandria Firefighters Thank Health Care Workers — “Station 203 members made a quick stop at Envoy of Alexandria today to thank healthcare workers.” [Facebook]

VDOT Asks Drivers to Slow Down on Interstate — “While many #stayhome and #socialdistance, there are fewer cars on our roads. That doesn’t mean safety goes out the window, though. PLEASE comply with posted speed limits. Let’s help keep each other safe #NoNeedForSpeed #SlowDown” [Twitter]

Rep. Beyer Defends Dr. Fauci Amid COVID-19 Criticism — “People in positions of power and influence trying to capitalize commercially and politically on treating Dr. Fauci like some kind of national villain as he literally works to save their lives is not a proud moment for this country.” [Twitter]

City Continues Series on Teleworking ‘Innovation’ By Citing 911 Operators — “After a successful one-month pilot, Alexandria became the first city in the United States to enable some staff to answer 911 calls from home. Rather than relying on employees’ home phone or internet connections, this remote setup uses wireless hotspots connected to a dedicated national public safety network called FirstNet. Regardless of the location, staff comply with the same strict confidentiality and quality assurance standards, and have access to the same computer-aided dispatch system that helps route public safety resources.” [City of Alexandria]

New Sheriff’s Deputy Sworn In at Alexandria Courthouse — “Congratulations and welcome to Deputy Fidelis Asonglefac who was sworn in yesterday! Deputy Asonglefac received his badge and Clerk of Circuit Court Greg Parks administered the oath of office at the courthouse.” [Facebook]

New Italian Restaurant Planned for Del Ray This Summer — “Piece Out LLC, which operates Café Pizzaiolo, St. Elmo’s and Markt2Market, is working on opening a from-scratch Italian restaurant at 2419 Mount Vernon Ave. The restaurant will initially focus on carry-out dining with plans to grow into a sit-down restaurant as the region starts to recover from the coronavirus crisis, according to owner Larry Ponzi. The restaurant will include pizza, house-made pasta and more. The company is very early in the planning process, Ponzi said, but he hopes to open the new Italian restaurant by mid-summer.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Animal Hospital Now Open For All Appointments — “Whoop! We are excited to announce that we are now able to accept all appointment types. We will continue our curbside service and safety protocols to ensure the safety of our staff and clients. We’ll greet you outside and keep you informed during your pet’s visit. With safety in mind, we will continue to limit hospital traffic to associates only.” [Facebook]

Mount Vernon Community School Teacher Launches Youtube Channel — “Did you know that Mount Vernon Community School has many amazing dual language teachers? One of their music teachers, Mrs. Quesada-Sayler. has started a YouTube channel to provide more music lessons in Spanish and English. Check these out. They are awesome!” [Facebook]

Lee Fendall House Celebrates Museum Week — “Much has been said about the historic times we are living through now. Are you doing something to document them in your own way? Perhaps you are keeping a journal, taking pictures, or saving certain mementoes of life in quarantine?” [Facebook]

Hazardous Waste Drop-Off Center To Reopen Saturdays — “The City of Alexandria will reopen the Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Center for one day a week starting on Saturday, May 16. The limited opening is intended for residents who cannot store materials at home indefinitely for reasons such as moving. Others are encouraged to store materials until normal operations resume.” [Patch]

New Job: Administrative Specialist for Salvation Army National HQ — “Bachelors degree and at least two years’ of experience required. Knowledge of general office practices and procedures, effective and efficient record-keeping and bookkeeping practices, knowledge of proofreading symbols and basic mathematics. Ability to transcribe dictation and type information into a computer. Ability to scan documents and work with same. Ability to operate various office equipment including a telephone, Dictaphone, computer, scanner and adding machine.” [Indeed]

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As part of its controversial efforts to improve bicycle and pedestrian access to Seminary Road, the city is planning to install a sidewalk on the north side of the road — if it can get the money.

Much of the Complete Streets project on Seminary Road has been completed but the city is still hoping to add a new sidewalk next to the seminary from which the road draws its name.

“It’s still ridiculous that in 2019 that there are places in Alexandria where we don’t have sidewalks,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “For me, priority was not about bike lanes, it was about pedestrians. It was about completing the sidewalk network.”

Wilson said the sidewalk would go from just west of Quaker Lane, where an existing sidewalk currently ends, up to the Virginia Theological Seminary.

The sidewalk has been in the plans for the road since the concept stage, according to Sarah Godfrey, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. Construction will require the approval of a grant request to VDOT made by the City Council in September.

As of December, city staff said work from road resurfacing and roadway markings to new median islands has been completed. Wilson met earlier this week during the morning rush hour with local residents, many of whom expressed frustrations with traffic caused by the narrowed street and the lack of cyclists using the new bicycle lanes.

“It was a good session,” Wilson said. “Probably better to have these discussions in person rather than social media.”

Wilson said he understood the concerns of the local residents, who have labeled it #JustinsTrafficJam in the nearly 1,000-member Facebook group Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet. Wilson is, ironically, listed as a member.

“There’s always an adjustment whenever you make a traffic change as people get used to it. I think we expected that going in,” Wilson said. “There’s kind of a rush on both sides to draw conclusions very quickly, but the full story of this will be told over time. We’ve committed to being data-driven — looking at this when it’s done and making sure we’ve achieved the goals of the project.”

Godfrey noted that the city will continue to post weekly updates on the Seminary Road Complete Streets page and update the FAQ.

Photo via Google Maps

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After years of relying on the Virginia’s SMART SCALE grant program to fund transportation projects, changes in the program’s scoring criteria could leave that well dry for Alexandria.

At a Transportation Commission meeting on Monday, Nov. 20, city staff warned that new criteria under consideration by the Commonwealth Transportation Board could shift transportation funding away from existing urban centers like Alexandria and instead favor less dense locales.

“Because road widening projects in other jurisdictions did not score well and were not funded, VDOT has been tasked with re-examining the scoring criteria,” staff said in a letter to the commission. “Many of the changes put transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects at a disadvantage, and projects in denser areas in general.”

The city received $57.2 million in funding in 2019 for the design and construction of bus rapid transit routes in the West End and $50 million for the enhancement of southwest access to the Potomac Yard Metro station. But changes would impact criteria used to prioritize which transportation projects should receive funding.

Staff told the commission at the meeting that the change they’re most concerned about is regarding land use in the scoring criteria. Currently, staff said the program scores existing land uses and densities as well as consideration of changes in density, while the new criteria would prioritize areas that are becoming denser rather than those where density currently exists.

“We feel that severely penalizes places like Alexandria that are already densely built,” staff said.

The criteria would also take into consideration traffic congestion on weekends, where currently projects are only assessed by rush hour congestion. That would hurt Alexandria, which has plenty of rush hour traffic but not as much congestion on the weekend.

“We feel that hurts areas suffering from regional congestion rather than local congestion,” staff said. “That makes it harder for projects in these areas to score well.”

Staff says the criteria changes would prioritize the number of crashes over the severity of crashes, so intersections that see more fender-benders would be ranked higher than intersections that have had multiple fatalities. This principle goes against the Vision Zero goals adopted by the city, staff said.

City staffers told the Transportation Commission that bus rapid transit projects and bicycle-pedestrian projects would be negatively impacted by the changes in criteria.

“The current list completely omits any mention of bicycles and bicycle safety, even as more people statewide are biking,” staff said. “[The Commonwealth Transportation Board] should include bicycle safety and infrastructure projects (such as striping for bicycle lanes, road diets, etc.) as eligible low-cost, high-benefit improvements.”

Staff encouraged the Transportation Commission to approve a drafted letter opposing the criteria changes. No action was taken at the meeting, so that commission members could make changes and sent the letter within the next week.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Traffic on either side of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge is expected to come to a standstill shortly before midnight tonight (Tuesday) due to a passing ship.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) tweeted earlier this afternoon that the span would be opened around 11:30 p.m. to allow a 247.5-foot “superyacht” to pass through. The closure is likely to cause traffic backups on the Beltway.

“Expect delays and consider alternate routes,” the transit agency warned commuters.

The ship causing all the fuss is the Bella Vita, a six-deck vessel for up to 12 guests and 22 crew.

According to its website, the Bella Vita costs $708,872 a week to charter and comes with a movie theatre, salon and gym — and is described by owner Moran Yacht & Ship as a “rugged luxury yacht.”

Formerly known as the Northern Star, the luxury yacht was built in 2009 and was at one point valued at $181 million, before being remodeled.

The Wilson bridge rarely opens, but makes exceptions for large ships, like the historic tall ships on their annual pilgrimage to Alexandria.

Image via Flickr/Geoff Livingston

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