By Jonathan Krall
City residents are debating the merits of adding bike lanes to King Street, just west of the Metro station. Proponents tout safety and access to transit, while many nearby residents decry the loss of parking spaces. This debate came to a head at the November 25 traffic and parking board meeting.
However, instead of evaluating the compromise proposal presented by city staff and carefully considering public comments, board members were clearly dismissive of the plan and its supporters. According to James Durham, vice chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the hearing was a disgrace.
At issue are 27 largely unused parking spaces slated for removal to make room for bike lanes. Originally, city staff proposed eliminating 37 spaces, noting that only three spaces were used, on average, and that all affected houses have off-street parking.
At the first public meeting, on September 18, it was clear that this street is considered unsafe by almost everybody. Street parking goes unused because residents worry aggressive drivers will damage their parked cars.
After the September meeting and an informal consultation with members of the traffic and parking board, city staff decided to work on a compromise proposal. In the reworked plan, 10 of the 37 spaces are retained and three spaces are added on adjacent streets.
At the November 25 meeting, 38 people spoke in favor of the proposal. Most of these were local cyclists, but others spoke up as well. Bike-lane supporters included a representative of the environmental policy commission and, via letter, the parks and recreation commission as well as the chairman of the transportation commission. A teacher at T.C. Williams spoke on behalf of his students, and a member of the Coalition for Smarter Growth spoke on behalf of the group, which includes two residents of the affected area.
On the other side, 18 individuals spoke out against adding bike lanes, citing safety concerns and doubting the effectiveness of the proposal. Others mentioned the need to keep the usually empty parking available for visitors.
During the hearing, members of the traffic and parking board displayed almost no interest in the public comments, asking few questions. But in a question directed at Jerry King, chairman of the bicycle and pedestrian committee, they characterized bike-lane supporters as wanting bike lanes or nothing. In fact, no one at the hearing took such a position.
When the leader of Tandem Tuesdays spoke of her weekly bike rides that pair pilots with people with sight impairments on tandem bicycles, the traffic and parking board showed no interest in her community-building work or her safety concerns. Rather than ask Washington Area Bicyclist Association representative Gregory Billing about the 3,100 association participants and supporters in Alexandria, board members rudely asked if he was a city resident.
In the end, the traffic and parking board recommended that city staff implement pedestrian improvements (but no bicycling improvements), retain all parking and come back later with a proposal that has common ground and meat.
Board members at no time acknowledged that the proposal was already a compromise.
The reality is that Alexandria is working to add transportation capacity by improving access to transit and by developing three new transit corridors. If successful, transit will enable many residents to bypass traffic and avoid the struggle of searching for parking.
Mayor Bill Euille, who was recently quoted in the press regarding Capital Bikeshare, said it best: “We don’t want people driving their cars and parking, we want people to be using bicycles and walking.”
However, achieving this vision is no easy task. At a time when City Hall is working to improve the public process through the What’s Next Alexandria initiative, we need our boards to be relevant as well as responsive to residents and the vision of the city council. Based on the traffic and parking board’s performance November 25, it is none of these.
– The writer is a member of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.