By Arnold Miller
and Ayne Furman, Alexandria
To the editor:
Managing bicycle traffic in Old Town is a complex issue, but a key element is the effect of such traffic on the quality of life for residents.
Old Town must be a walkable neighborhood, a goal the city seemed to emphasize a few years ago. It has since taken a back seat to other interests. Old Town residents have complained about bicyclists not stopping at stop signs or yielding to pedestrians. The recent decision by city council to let bicycles travel on city sidewalks only adds to this problem. How can all of this be interpreted as anything but placing pedestrian safety — and pedestrian access — second to bicycle traffic?
Clearly, Old Town must come to grips with its bicycle traffic, both because it is a fact of life in the city and because the city council has determined we should be a bicycle friendly city. The concern to us is that, in accomplishing this, Old Town will become an unfriendly and unsafe neighborhood for pedestrians.
A year ago, officials proposed making Union Street a bicycle corridor. This made sense as the Mount Vernon Trail leads onto Union Street at either end of Old Town. Now there is talk of a bicycle boulevard along Royal Street. Why has this changed?
Royal Street is a particularly bad choice for such a boulevard. A bicycle boulevard is intended to offer bicyclists a route less frequented by automobiles and trucks, thus reducing the riders’ exposure to exhaust fumes while avoiding competition with motorized vehicles and pedestrian traffic. Such a boulevard should feature minimal amounts of vehicles and cross traffic.
Royal Street, by contrast, sees significant traffic during the morning rush. The flood of vehicles includes St. Mary’s school vehicles, private and public school buses, DASH buses and the cars stopping at Safeway. This traffic already poses challenges for pedestrians. Both vehicular and pedestrian traffic crosses Royal at several key points, including many children walking to the neighborhood’s schools.
The afternoon rush hour is similar. And cars and pedestrians go to and from the Safeway through much of the day. Royal Street also serves as an important thoroughfare for emergency vehicles.
It already is unsafe for pedestrians to cross South Royal Street during the commuting hours and removing stop signs on any of the streets will make this worse. As noted earlier, these pedestrians include children, the elderly as well as handicapped people visiting Safeway.
Pedestrians in Old Town are its residents, children, elderly and the many tourists that visit our city. While many of us who live in Old Town also are bicyclists, most bicycle commuters do not live here and should not imperil the safety of our communities or the quality of life we enjoy.
Becoming increasingly bicycle friendly should not make our city ever more pedestrian unfriendly and thus diminish an important aspect of the quality of life in Old Town.