Alexandria, VA

Interested in sailing to work? During last summer’s Metro Shutdown, Alexandria eased restrictions allowing for the Potomac Riverboat Company’s water taxi to ferry commuters from the city’s waterfront to the District Wharf.

Tonight, the city council will receive a report on extending the license agreement to allow for early morning water taxi commuting services to continue.

The agreement, which would allow for the water taxi to start running as early as 6:30 a.m., was “nearly unanimously” endorsed by the Waterfront Commission, according to a Dec. 31 letter submitted in the staff presentation to council.

The letter also said that there should be minimal parking impacts in Old Town.

Specifically, staff found that 85% of commuters surveyed said they either walked or biked to the water taxi, and 90% of these commuters were former Metrorail riders,” Waterfront Commission Chair Stephen Thayer wrote. “Staff noted these former Metrorail riders did not stop riding Metrorail altogether, but simply boarded Metrorail at L’Enfant Plaza, which is a short shuttle bus ride away from the District’s Wharf.”

The Commission is also asking the city to consider a water taxi user reimbursement program. During the summer shutdown the daily $10 commuter round trip was reduced 80% with the reimbursement.

Potomac Riverboat Company operates four water taxis, in addition to the Cherry Blossom, Matthew Hayes, and other named vessels.

The Council will decide on the matter at a public hearing on Feb. 22.

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Alexandria is seeking public input for what to do with a prime piece of waterfront property currently occupied by eight parking spaces.

The lot at 2 King Street is currently owned by the City of Alexandria, a byproduct of its acquisition of the Old Dominion Boat Club building that was once across the street. But the city received an unsolicited proposal from the owner of the adjacent development to develop the property.

If the sale is approved, the section of the Fitzgerald Warehouse building that currently houses Mai Thai would be torn down and replaced with a new building.

The Alexandria Waterfront Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting in City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 19, from 6:30-8 p.m. to discuss the future of the site. According to the city website:

The property to be discussed at the community meeting is not the park area, but the remaining portion with eight parking spaces located across Strand Street, which is currently leased for private parking. The City has not decided on the future use of these eight parking spaces and is interested in hearing from the public about what kinds of public or private uses would be desirable.

While the site will likely be sold to the adjacent property owner, City Councilman Mo Seifeldein said in an earlier meeting that he believed it could be put to better public use.

At a Waterfront Commission meeting, staff said whether the site is sold to a developer or stays with the city, some kind of change is likely. Waterfront Commission members said that public uses, like the inclusion of public restrooms, should be a requirement if the site is sold.

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As the City Council considers approving Alexandria’s e-scooter pilot program for another year, several of the city’s boards and commissions have written letters asking that scooters be prohibited from city sidewalks in one form or another.

A draft recommendation being presented to the City Council tomorrow (Tuesday) includes banning sidewalk riding in Old Town and along Mount Vernon Avenue, which runs through Arlandria and Del Ray.

Earlier versions of the Phase II Dockless Mobility Pilot Program would have allowed scooters to ride on sidewalks except in areas where bicycles are also not allowed to ride — like King Street east of West Street and Union Street between Cameron and Prince streets.

In a letter from the Waterfront Commission, chair Steve Thayer said the group was divided over whether to continue the pilot program at all.

“Some members noted the value the scooters provide as an additional transportation mode, while others emphasized the safety and parking issues as significant reasons to ban scooters in the City,” Thayer said. “The commission cannot support a program allowing scooters on public sidewalks within historic Old Town.”

The strongest condemnation of scooters on sidewalks came from the Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities. According to a letter from chair Jeffrey Pool:

Regarding the proposal to permit scooters on sidewalks except where explicitly banned, it is the opinion of the [Alexandria Commission on Persons with Disabilities] that, in light of the inherent safety risks to people with sensory or mobility impairment posed by the use of dockless scooters on sidewalks, such use should be strictly prohibited. Recognizing the vulnerability of scooter riders who share the roadway with automobiles, the [commission] recommends that scooters be required to utilize bike lanes wherever they exist in the City of Alexandria and to share the roadway where they do not.

The Transportation Commission was more conflicted on the issue of scooters on sidewalks. A letter from acting chair Melissa McMahon said there was a proposal for the commission to recommend prohibiting scooters on all sidewalks. Ultimately, the commission did not support the proposal, noting that there are several streets that would be dangerous for a scooter rider and neighborhoods where pedestrian activity is sparse. The commission agreed with staff to prohibit scooters where bicycles are prohibited.

The Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee recommended not only prohibiting motorized scooters from high pedestrian traffic sidewalks but also said the city should require scooter companies to financially incentivize parking in designated corrals, according to a letter from chair Jim Durham. The committee also pushed for Alexandria to offer income-based discount programs and encourage wider geographic distribution, topics raised earlier by members of the City Council.

Nearby Arlington, meanwhile, voted on Nov. 16 to permanently codify its previously temporary scooter program, allowing scooters on most sidewalks where a protected bike line is not present, albeit at a reduced 6 mph top speed.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the second phase of the plan at a Saturday, Dec. 14 hearing.

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The new art project coming to Waterfront Park (1 Prince Street) next year will feature a series of silhouettes representing the city’s history of slavery.

The concept renderings from artist Olalekan Jeyifous feature four three-dimensional silhouettes, each roughly 11 feet tall, with industrial imagery carved into the bodies. The figures will face out towards the river. The ground of the plaza will be covered with a pattern referencing African-American quilting — mixing traditional symbols with ones that represent industries from the city’s past — like an armory and rail tracks.

The art would replace the Mirror Mirror installation — which also reflected a piece of the city’s history. The displays are part of a series by different artists called Site See: New Views in Old Town.

Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, unveiled the designs to the Waterfront Commission yesterday (Tuesday) morning. The designs were approved at the Arts Commission meeting that evening.

Ruggiero said Jeyifous visited Alexandria in the spring and went on a tour around town. Jeyifous’ visit to the Freedom House (1315 Duke Street) — once the headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — was one of the visits that ultimately helped shape the project, Ruggiero said.

The artwork is expected to be installed in March, according to Ruggiero.

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(Updated 11/20) This summer’s Metro shutdown could wind up netting the Potomac Riverboat Company a goal the company has been after for years: permanent early-morning service for its water taxi.

The company’s lease currently prohibits boats from coming in or out of docks before 9:30 a.m., which staff told the Waterfront Commission this morning (Tuesday) means the boats are usually used by tourists. But during the Metro shutdown, the city waived that restriction.

“The water taxi was well used,” staff said. “Most of the new users were Metro riders. They had up to 997 boardings a week [in June] and averaged 600 during the rest of the shutdown.”

During the shutdown, the city offered a reimbursement program that included $100 for a seasonal pass and $8 for round trip tickets. Current prices post Metro shutdown are notably pricier: $195 for an unlimited annual pass and $18 for a round trip pass.

The city previously required Potomac Riverboat Company to implement a parking plan for commuter parking, but 85 percent of the new riders biked or walked to the water taxi and the city reported there were no parking complaints or capacity issues related it.

Now, the staff said City Manager Mark Jinks has expressed interest in asking the council for an extension of the hours in the lease to allow operations to begin “before 6:30 a.m.” and to promote the water taxi as an alternative to driving.

“This is great,” said Waterfront Commission member Nathan Macek, also chair of the Planning Commission. “I’m happy to see it move forward. I think we’ve had an irrational fear [of utilizing the waterfront] and this pilot helped.”

The conversation also spurred discussion of a waterfront taxi that would connect with Prince William County and Fort Belvoir, along with locations further upriver like the Pentagon. Charlotte Hall, a member of the Waterfront Commission, said a company is looking at building a water taxi network up the western side of the Potomac River sometime in 2020 but would likely skip Alexandria in at least the first year of operation.

“Alexandria is not ready for this in 2020,” Hall said, “but others are.”

“We’re so restrictive on our lease covenants with when the boats can come and go,” said Macek. “I think the city contracts need to be less specific about that. Let boats come and go as they please, and I don’t think the city needs to regulate the boat spaces as strictly as they do.”

There was only one note of light dissent on the Waterfront Commission when Beth Gross, a representative on the Commission from the Founders Park Community Association, said the idea of boats coming and going from the docks like planes coming and going from the airport made her “a little worried.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The city-owned small parcel at 2 King Street — currently home to eight leased parking spaces — could have a big impact on the block at the end of King Street if the city approves a sale.

At the Waterfront Commission meeting this morning (Tuesday), staff said the city received an unsolicited offer for the lot in June from the current owners of the adjacent Fitzgerald Warehouse building. The City Council subsequently authorized staff to consider the sale and look into alternatives for the property.

Staff said the proposed plan would involve tearing down the late 20th-century addition to the historic property — which currently houses Thai restaurant Mai Thai — and replace it with a new extension that would take advantage of the waterfront view. The historic Fitzgerald Warehouse, where Starbucks is currently located, would not be torn down.

Staff was skeptical of the likelihood that another development could be built on the site, saying it could theoretically be its own building but “it would be a tight fit.”

One way or another, the parking spaces at the foot of King Street are likely going away soon. Jack Browand, division chief with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said that the current use does not fit with the city’s plans to make the surrounding streets more pedestrianized.

“Even if it stays with the city, it would be improved in some way, like turned into an outdoor seating area,” Browand said.

Whether the property stays with the city or is sold to a developer, several members of the Waterfront Commission said that part of the deal should be the inclusion of public restrooms or other public uses at the site.

Staff said a public meeting will be held in December to gather more ideas for what to do with the site, but no specific date has been scheduled.

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The Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) will be sending one of its research vessels to the Old Town waterfront while the crew does some work in D.C.

The 93-foot research vessel R/V Virginia is scheduled to arrive on Sunday, Dec. 8 and will remain docked until Wednesday, Dec. 11.

“The R/V Virginia allows VIMS scientists to monitor and study the Chesapeake Bay and its marine life much more effectively and expand the institute’s research footprint into the open waters of the coastal Atlantic from Maine to Florida,” according to a City Council docket item. “It offers flexibility in science outfitting, rapid turn-around for frequent use, and affordable operation.”

The vessel is adaptable to study of a variety of oceanographic fields, from the servicing of ocean observing systems to offshore-energy exploration and development surveys.

While docked, VIMS will host a dockside educational exhibit on the marine research work the ship does.

While docked in the City Marina, VIMS will host a dockside educational exhibit showcasing research conducted aboard the R/V Virginia. Visitors will also be able to speak with VIMS staff on board the vessel. VIMS will provide tours to the public for no fee on Sunday, December 8 from noon to 3 p.m. and on Monday, December 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Should attendance warrant, additional public tours will be added on Tuesday, December 10 & Wednesday, December 11. In addition to the public tours, VIMS will provide private tours for VIMS partners and stakeholders, and educational groups.

It’ll be a tight fit, with the tall ship Providence now occupying a permanent spot on the waterfront, but Jack Browand, Division Chief, with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities said they were able to squeeze it into a spot.

The City Council waived the ship’s docking fee at the Wednesday, Nov. 6 City Council meeting.

Photo via Virginia Institute of Marine Science/Facebook.

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While geofencing for scooters generally means blocking them from scooting through an area, new geofencing measures in Alexandria are aimed at keeping scooters parking in certain places.

New scooter regulations have blocked scooters from parking in a multi-block stretch east of N. Union Street, between Oronoco Street and Prince Street. The result has been an 80 percent decrease in scooter parking on the waterfront, staff told the Waterfront Commission at its meeting last week.

When users try to end their ride in the restricted area, a message will appear on their phone telling them to move the scooter elsewhere.

Before geofencing, staff said there were approximately 1,500 scooters parked on the waterfront every month. In September, that fell to around 250.

The city also tried to incentivize legal scooter parking by adding two parking corrals to the area, which have had roughly 400 scooters parked there per month.

This hasn’t stopped scooters from riding through the areas, despite signs encouraging visitors not to do so, but there has been a 50-65 percent decline in scooters riding through the waterfront, staff said.

Geofencing isn’t a fix-all solution. Staff noted that the geofencing can only cover large areas, with accuracy up to only about 20-30 feet. Despite the decline, neglected scooters littering the waterfront are still a common sight.

“It’s bad behavior and it’s going to continue,” said Mark Michael Ludlow, a member of the Waterfront Commission.

The scooter corrals have also become something of a victim of their own success. Staff noted that corrals have frequently been overflowing and scooters have been left on nearby sidewalks.

Staff is currently collecting feedback from the city’s boards and commissions, with Phase II of the scooter program going to City Council for approval next month, for implementation in January.

Map via City of Alexandria

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Improvements and changes are coming to the Waterfront Park over the next few weeks.

Mirror Mirror, the circular art exhibit currently on display in the park, had originally been scheduled to remain on display through the end of next month, but at a Waterfront Commission Meeting on Tuesday staff said the installation will be removed the first week of November.

The project briefly went dark when the waterfront flooded but has since been re-lit. A new project from Brooklyn-based artist Olalekan Jeyifous is expected to replace it next year.

Staff also said a portion of the park will be closed for 3-5 weeks to replace lawn panels. Several light fixtures in the park will also be replaced with LED lighting. Lighting in the older section of the park south of King Street was noticeably darker than the area at the foot of King Street, staff said, so the new LED lights should equalize that.

Further south, the city is still struggling with debris at Windmill Hill Park. Some of the trash is brought in by the tides, but staff is laying some of the blame at the webbed feet of mischievous local geese.

The park is still within a one-year warranty with the contractor that built the project; staff said they are currently in discussions over the condition of the shoreline. Goose mitigation efforts are also in place to help hold back some of the debris.

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Rising water levels are forcing one planned redevelopment of a historic property to move the building up a few feet.

The Mill, a building at the heart of Robinson Landing development along the waterfront, is being renovated and turned into a Southern-inspired restaurant. The city filing by local builder Murray Bonitt noted that the building was at one point used as a mess hall for Union soldiers during the Civil War. But the renovation will involve taking the building apart and putting it back together again a few feet above its current elevation.

“Google global warming, historic building, and waterfront sometime,” Duncan Blair, the attorney for the applicant, told Alexandria’s Waterfront Commission at a meeting this morning (Tuesday). “Buildings are being moved, disassembled, or raised to put them out of the flood plain. We saw this weekend there was high water as a result of the full moon. It’s a phenomenon we’re all going to have to deal with and that is the basis for the change of this building.”

Blair said the building will painstakingly reassembled brick by brick.

“The building is currently below the flood plain, and we can’t just lift it up because of the old structure,” Blair said. “You’ll probably read about it in a preservation magazine.”

As the building is put back together, Blair said the brick will be “flipped,” allowing the brighter interior to show on the exterior of the building.

The project is scheduled to be completed sometime in mid-2021.

Image via City of Alexandria

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