Hitting the brakes on bicycle lanes

By Erich Wagner (Photo/Erich Wagner)

The debate over bike lanes on a stretch of King Street that has roiled the Taylor Run neighborhood will roll on for several more months.

City cycling advocates have supported a proposal to remove 27 on-street parking spaces along a 0.7-mile stretch of King Street to make way for bike lanes since last fall. Rich Baier, director of the Alexandria Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, gave the go-ahead to the project last month.

But after outcry from residents, local officials said they would bring the proposal — which would install bike lanes between Russell Road and Janneys Lane — to city council for review.

Although the issue was not on the docket at a city council hearing Saturday, residents took more than two hours of the public comment period to air their views on the matter. Afterward, Mayor Bill Euille called it the longest open microphone session for residents that he could recall.

Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera said residents asked for a direct appeal of the decision to city council earlier this month. In return, city attorneys dug up a rarely used provision of city code — added in 1963 — that allows residents to appeal any decision altering public parking to the traffic and parking board, which in turn sends a recommendation to city council.

“That looked like the thing that would be most applicable, since no section gave them immediate access to [city] council,” Spera said. “[I] have been here for nine years, and I am unaware of anyone ever proceeding under this code section, but it’s there, it’s existing law. … This gets the disaffected where they want to be.”

King Street resident Louise Welch is happy officials chose to revisit the debate over bike lanes because she fears the addition would make the road less safe. Advocates and officials, though, advertise bike lanes as a traffic-calming measure.

“We hope that’s not just them appeasing us; I hope it is a real chance to raise our concerns relating to safety and so forth,” Welch said. “[The] road is just too narrow. They’re trying to put something there that doesn’t work.”

Though most neighborhood residents have driveways, on-street parking needs to be available, she argued.

“Sometimes my husband needs to be picked up to take him to cardiac rehab when I can’t be there, and [without street parking], the car would sit protruding into traffic,” she said. “Or if I have a contractor come, if they have big trucks, they’d have to park across the street … and carry their equipment or a toilet or something across King Street.”

Kevin Posey, a member of the traffic and parking board, said he was extremely disappointed by the city’s decision.

“Every day that we delay this project, people’s lives are in danger,” he said. “This is ridiculous. By the time everything is said and done, we’ll have had more public meetings on this issue than there are tenths of a mile proposed for the project.”

Posey believes bike lanes will provide a safe area for cyclists to ride as well as a needed buffer for pedestrians along King Street.

“At a micro level, it represents a gap in our current transportation system, a choke point,” he said. “People would walk and bike to the King Street Metro station, but it’s unsafe for them to do so at the present time. The sidewalk on the south side has no buffer and is hemmed in by a retaining wall, so if a driver sneezes coming down the hill, someone will get run over.”

But Posey admitted that people have gotten too pointed with their rhetoric on the issue — and he includes himself. But he hopes everybody takes the next month to cool off before evaluating the plan again.

“I don’t want to take away from [resident] concerns about the safety, and after everything is said and done, I hope we can move forward as a city,” Posey said. “I regret anything that I could have done to exacerbate tensions. Emotions are running too high, so I think everyone needs to step back.”

The city traffic and parking board will hold its next meeting February 24.

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(14) Readers Comments

  1. The story incorrectly states that the residents of King Street have appealed the Dec. 20, 2013 decision of Transportation Director Baier to install bike lanes. This is false. The decision of Mr Baier was a nullity. He has no more power to install bike lanes than I do, unless HE takes an appeal to City Council. The city solicitor needs to look at the city ordinances before he opines on the matter.

  2. Mr. Posey is quoted as saying that “The sidewalk on the south side has no buffer and is hemmed in by a retaining wall, so if a driver sneezes coming down the hill, someone will get run over.” And he wants to put cyclists there? Why is this not self-evidently absurd?

    • Oh Esther, dare we encroach upon your coveted driving space because you obviously own the road. We’ve all read your rants and fictituous belief that the road is yours, but it won’t hurt you to share it.

      If you, and others, are so absolutely worried about the safety of cyclists, then clearly you would support speed bumps or simply eminent domain to seize portions of your land to maintain your precious parking spaces and ensure safety, right? Ahh, right, this is the very worst sort of NIMBYism. The elitist nonsense. I’m no populist, but don’t pretend to stick up for my safety when all you care about is preserving a parking space.

    • Bike lanes attract cyclists and drivers respond to people riding bicycles in nearby bike lanes by slowing down. Drivers are not inhuman. They see cyclists on the road and they slow down. That’s how bike-lane traffic calming works.

  3. Anyone wanna bet when Posey will transform from a publicity-hungry Traffic Board member to a full-fledged candidate for office? Hard to believe he’s so obsessed with satisfying the masses of voting bikers simply because he’s afraid of someone sneezing while driving.

    • Randy, you’ve obviously never taken the time to ride on local roads and seen drivers nearly (or for some of us) take you out because they actually did sneeze, read their cell phone, or otherwise just don’t seem to care. It’s not a joke. It’s not about appeasing voters, except for those in the NIMBY crowd protesting this because they may lose “their” on-street public parking. Evidently you can possessively own public parking and public right-of-ways if you whine enough and have old crockety attorneys searching the banal ends of the city legal code.

      • I do bike on local roads. That’s probably little known, as I also bathe regularly, refuse to wear spandex, have hair on my legs, and don’t make biking my entire identity. In other words, I live a life (over a mile from the proposed bike lanes) that is not centered on “taking” from others or pushing my myopic agenda. Also, my life does involve driving to a tax-fund-generating job that doesn’t let me show up sweaty and disheveled. This will shock you, James, but even if biking increased 10-fold, it wouldn’t put a dent in global warming, traffic congestion, making Alexandria more like Holland, or improving Kevin Posey’s election hopes.

        • Here’s what has happened in New York City after the introduction of many miles of bike lanes and the closing off of certain streets to vehicular traffic under Mayor Bloomberg and his staff:

          http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/pedestrians/broadway.shtml

          “Travel speeds for northbound trips throughout West Midtown improved 17% from fall 2008-2009, compared with 8% in East Midtown.

          Travel speeds for southbound trips in West Midtown fell by 2% while East Midtown showed an increase of 3%.

          The speed of eastbound trips increased by 5% and westbound trips by 9% over the same time period.
          Bus travel speeds increased by 13% on Sixth Avenue and fell by 2% on Seventh Avenue.

          Safety has also been vastly improved as a result of this project.

          Injuries to motorists and passengers in the project area are down 63%.
          Pedestrian injuries are down 35%.
          80% fewer pedestrians are walking in the roadway in Times Square.

          And the project has had additional benefits as well.

          74% of New Yorkers surveyed by the Times Square Alliance agree that Times Square has improved dramatically over the last year.

          The number of people walking along Broadway and 7th Avenue in Times Square is up 11% and pedestrian volume is up 6% in Herald Square.”

          So yes, putting more people on bikes and giving pedestrians more sidewalk space does relieve traffic congestion.

          The rest of your screed is meaningless hyperbole.

        • First, let’s be clear: the point of walking, biking and transit is to move people, not to reduce traffic congestion. The only cure that I know of for congestion is something called “congestion pricing.” Otherwise, the marginal cost of driving is so small (the big cost of car ownership is the car) that people pile on with the driving and only dial it back because they become sick of the congestion.

          Second, a 10 fold increase in biking could have a very large effect. A conservative estimate is that 1 percent of people bike to work each day (Census data, which counts only what each person does to commute the most miles each week). It is hardly a stretch to suppose that the number riding to metro is more than the number that ride all the way to work. After all, King and Braddock are two stations that get a lot of bikes parked at them (Braddock was number one in the system for bikes 2-3 years ago; it was number 2 last time I checked). Long story short, the direct effect on commuting would be an additional 9 percent commuting by bike and not by some other means and the indirect effect would be a jump in transit use. Studies show that car-free households spend more at local stores than people who own cars (cars are expensive), so that is good for the local economy.

          Third, it is hard to image that someone as passionate as Kevin Posey would run for office. Take a look around at your political leaders and you’ll see a lot of people who step carefully to avoid angering the public. Some call them “spineless.” I call them “re-elected.”

          • I like it especially when Posey passionately casts this issue as the wealthy versus the poor, parking versus the environment, and resistance to change versus being progressive. Exactly what it’s about. Nothng to do about safety, nosiree.

        • Oh Randy, the only myopic view is yours, and it’s toward the cycling community. I own a car, a bicycle, and my only belief on Global Warming is that it occurs throughout the Earth’s history, but not necessarily because of greenhouse emmissions. I don’t work for the government and I wear a suit to work 4 days a week, switching to business casual once a week. It may surprise you, but gasp, I vote R.

          You sound like such a cyclist. I don’t know why anyone would ever doubt you with that whole ordeal. In the meantime, you don’t own any streets, neither do the cyclists, and so you get to share. And I get to share in your and other NIMBY driving and local property-owning whiners. =)

        • can’t “take” what they don’t “own”. maybe you missed the part where the parking spaces they’re ranting about are public property? so, i guess it’s ok for “us” to subsidize “their” parking, but no, don’t make available the same space for a wider section of the populace, amirite? this is in no way about safety, on the resident’s part. the sidewalks are clearly too narrow for pedestrians and cyclists, littered with obstacles, and literally their trash, obscured by poorly trimmed shrubbery and, even, gaps. but, the road is three lanes wide and gives enough room for traffic and bikes. the most used spaces will be left, and if the residents losing parking are so lazy and fat that they can’t walk, well, i guess living where they do, they can afford to build a driveway to park in, since we’ve been providing free parking(that they don’t use) out of OUR taxes.

  4. Meaningless hyperbole? I thought my mockery of bikers’ attire was actually pretty funny. Listen, there is no doubt that in a place like Manhattan increased biking is going to have a dramatically positive effect in many areas. For one thing, there are millions of jobs that are accessible, by bike, to the masses there. And given that downtown traffic in Manhattan on a good day is outrageous, even taking a few cars off the road makes total sense. I get that.

    But, this isn’t Manhattan. The demographics are different, the density is far less, the availability of bike-friendly transit options are more limited, and even the terrain is different, e.g., near our two major metro stops. So, don’t give me an apples to oranges comparison. King Street bike lanes will not make it less tiring (or less terrifying) for bikes. So, we’ll create a dangerous and congested bottleneck, a nightmare waiting for a sneeze, just to support a dream that won’t happen here.

    • Oh it’s all about the sneezes eh? I mean, you wouldn’t have a head on collision if you sneeze, but you’ll take down a cyclist. If this were actually the case, than OT wouldn’t exist given how pedestrian-friendly our city is. If you’re serious about ending the bottleneck that already exists, then encourage MORE cyclists (when I don’t drive, I ride–that’s one less car on the road) AND encourage eminent domain to widen the road there (and I oppose eminent domain, but in this case, the property owners seem to be indirectly calling for it).

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