Hitting the brakes on bicycle lanes

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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.