Columns Opinion Your Views — 06 March 2014
MOVE ALONG: Decision on bike lanes is in city council’s hands

Jonathan Krall

By Jonathan Krall
(File Photo)

At its February 24 hearing, the city’s traffic and parking board voted 5-2 to recommend another delay for the King Street bike lane and pedestrian improvements project. The board reconsidered this project as the first step in an appeals process spelled out by Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera at the beginning of the hearing.

Most attendees spoke in favor of the plan, including several residents who live in the immediate area. The opposition, comprised primarily of nearby homeowners, remains adamant. Though government meetings have a reputation for being dull, Scott Barstown, chairman of the environmental policy commission, added a moment of drama when he testified in favor of the plan. At his prompting, other commissioners in attendance stood up in solidarity.

The project in question, which has been twice modified to address residents’ concerns, would improve pedestrian and bicycle safety between the King Street Metro station and neighborhoods to the west. Bicycle lanes would run between Russell Road and Highland Place, replacing on-street parking along that steep hill. As a result of an October 30 concession to residents, parking spots would be saved in the relatively flat segment between Highland Place and Janneys Lane. At this point dedicated bike lanes would give way to sharrow markings and cyclists would be expected to merge with traffic.

Overall, the plan calls for removing 27 of the 37 spaces on King Street. It also adds three parking spaces on adjacent Park Road and Carlisle Drive. Studies have been conducted to determine how often those parking spots are used. According to Rich Baier, director of the city’s transportation and environmental services department, an average of three — and a maximum of six — automobiles were spotted in those 37 spaces (the data is on the project website).

Further, all of the affected residences have off-street parking. In fact, residents have testified that they avoid parking on this street because of aggressive drivers and the risk of automobile accidents. According to Baier, there have been 30 such crashes in the past five years.

After more than 10 public hearings for the project, nearly every question about this effort has been answered.
Can we retain parking spots and still have a single bike lane on the uphill side? The roadway isn’t wide enough.

Should bicycles be routed elsewhere? Doing so doesn’t solve the other safety problems.

Are the redesigned 10-and-a-half-foot traffic lanes too narrow for buses or fire trucks? A DASH representative testified that such lanes are common in Alexandria.

According to Baier, the project improves safety by adding a buffer — the bike lanes — between cars and pedestrians, and by separating bicycles from other traffic on the hill. The project also will improve safety for motorists, first by narrowing traffic lanes and then by increasing the number of cyclists on the street, both of which have been shown to reduce traffic speeds and collision rates.

This last point seems to be a bone of contention and is, perhaps, the plan’s most important feature. Studies show that pedestrian fatality rates increase rapidly with automobile speed, from 10 percent at 20 mph to 90 percent at 40 mph.

Baier, his staff, and many supporters of the plan described the traffic calming effect of narrow traffic lanes and bike lanes. Transportation planner Carrie Sanders stated that bike lanes increase cycling and drivers respond by slowing down. Baier pointed out that this is a well-established result.

Those opposing the plan argued that traffic could not be expected to slow down. One critic said that inviting more cyclists onto the streets might indeed slow traffic by frightening drivers, but went on to say that frightening drivers is unacceptable. Siding with opponents, traffic and parking board vice chairman Larry Ruggiero offered a motion to shelve the plan because “it is unsafe.”

This issue will now go to our city councilors, who are presented with a stark question: Can modern street design slow down traffic? Must we instead resort to a constant (and expensive) police presence, as a few at the hearing suggested? The city council is scheduled to complete the appeal process on March 15, with a public hearing and a final vote.

- The writer is an advocate 
for bicyclists and 
pedestrians in Alexandria.

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Letter to the Editor: (since you did not publish my letter to the editor, I am posting it here)

    I would like to respond and correct Mr. Krall’s Moving Along article dated March 6th, 2014.

    The proposed bike lanes along King Street were not delayed by the February 24th meeting of the Transportation and Parking Board. The Board voted 5-2 to reject the Director of Transportation and Environmental Services plan. The Board rejected the plan for safety reasons alone.

    The Board was tasked with making a recommendation to either uphold the Directors decision, to reverse it or to modify it, as instructed by Deputy City Attorney Chris Spera, then the matter would go before the City Council.

    The proposed bike lanes do not go from Russell Road to anywhere. It is very important to note that the proposed bike lanes begin and end at W. Cedar Street. This is about 1 block from the intersection of King St., Russell Road and Callahan Drive, where the road is at its most narrow point, and at least ¼ mile from the King St. Metro. The proposed bike lanes traverse only about three blocks and end well before Janneys Lane.

    The proposal is adding parking on Park Road, which has not been approved by fire and emergency personnel. Residents had parking spaces in this location in the past and the spaces were removed by the city due to the turning radius of emergency vehicles, trash and recycling trucks. I’m not sure how parking can be added or replaced. This was evident a few weeks ago when there was a house fire on Park Road and emergency vehicles had a difficult time navigating Park Road even without people parking in the proposed additional spaces, and had to back down the road.

    Just because someone may have off street parking doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have or be able to use on-street parking. If that were the case then the city could take away most of Del Ray and Rosemont residents on- street parking.

    Most, if not all, of the homes in these older, established, neighborhoods have a driveway, a parking pad, or other means for off street parking, Does every resident use them? No, because it doesn’t work with todays vehicle sizes, the driveways were built so long ago that they just can’t be used, it isn’t practical, and maybe even because they fill their parking pad/space with a shed, a garden, a children’s play house, a model train set, and so on.

    People have purchased their homes with the knowledge that they have and would continue to have on-street parking. Does the city have the right to say that all those residents cannot park on a city street? And that the city will use that parking anyway it chooses, no matter what residents say or without care for what it would do to the value of their home?

    Mr. Krall states that several of the residents have testified that they avoid parking along King Street because of aggressive drivers. I believe residents have stated that the road is too narrow and their cars have been sideswiped and mirrors have been taken off by passing vehicles, buses and trucks, not aggressive drivers.

    In the case of King Street residents, the city is taking away safe on-street parking and giving those residents no safe alternative to access their homes. A parking space more than a block away, across busy King Street with no crosswalk or a space on a side street without a sidewalk isn’t acceptable.

    Mr. Krall states that there have been over ten (10) public hearings on this matter. This just isn’t true. There have been two (2) public meetings, both held at Matthew Maury Elementary School, one of which had to be cut short due to a power outage at the school. And there have been two (2) Transportation and Parking Board Public hearings.
    Presentation of information to the Taylor Run Citizens Association Executive Committee cannot be and should not be counted as a public hearing, public outreach or even a collaborative meeting.

    Mr. Krall asks “Can modern street design slow down traffic?” Modern street design on a road that Mr. Baier, Director of the City of Alexandria Transportation and Environmental Services, described as “a constrained corridor, where adjacent usage is already in place. We are not building something new with multiple connections”
    This isn’t modern design, this is shoving or trying to shoe horn something into a “constrained” space. This isn’t acceptable.

    Mr. Durham, chairman of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, spoke before the board that there are no other “viable options” than King Street bike lanes. This just isn’t the case. There are several viable options for cyclists, many of which have been presented to City staff and to the Transportation and Parking Board. They include the use of neighborhood streets such as Putnam Place, Highland, Walnut, and Upland, as well as the use of the Masonic Memorial trail.

    It took the Taylor Run Citizens Association to find compromise as the Transportation and Parking Board asked city staff to do, after its November meeting. The Taylor Run Citizens were able to have discussions with the Masons (Masonic Temple) and they found a way to make the bike route through the Temple grounds safer and more accessible.

    Transportation and Parking Board Chairman, Jay Johnson made the point that the Masonic Temple is already a City of Alexandria designated bike route. A fact that neither Mr. Baier, nor anyone on his staff, recognized and still did not recognize when asked specifically about it by Mr. Johnson.
    How did the city staff not know this or present this information during their presentations to the board?

    At the end of the meeting it grew tense among the members of the board, with board member Mr. Posey almost shouting to the other board members that council was “waiting for their decision”.
    This proposal was going to the city council for their vote, whether the board voted on it or not.

    So, now, the proposal will go before the City Council on March 15th.

    Kellie Meehan

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