It seems that Alexandrias current Motor Coach Task Force is headed in the same dead end direction as the previous one. The previous task force ended up recommending that the city find a central location to park all incoming tour buses and then shuttle the bus passengers into the Old and Historic District using smaller jitneys/trolleys. Unfortunately the city hierarchy did not buy those recommendations and the plan dropped dead. So now we are going exactly where we went before, however the resistance of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association (ACVA) and a few others directly conflicts with the desires of the citizens who live in the historic district.
The Citys Director of Transportation, Rich Baier, is chairing the new task force which has as two of its members Mayor Bill Euille and Councilman Paul Smedberg. That group constantly attempts to pressure the entire task force membership so that they will agree to pre-designated routes in order that these monstrous 45-foot tour buses, most of which cant turn a corner without tying up traffic, can navigate the streets of the Old and Historic District. This is not a viable solution to the problem, however they are trying every street combination imaginable: King, Duke, Union, Fairfax, Royal, Franklin, Pendleton, and the Strand, all of which already have buses, cars, bicyclers, joggers and skateboarders running wild throughout the historic district.
On the other hand, ACVA doesnt want these specified routes but instead wants to allow the buses to pick any route they want. In other words, ACVA advocates bringing as many buses as possible into the Old and Historic District under the guise that a voluminous increase in tourism will increase the citys tax base. This is another non starter! You would think that an organization that operates yearly on $2.5 million of taxpayer funds would have a better attitude toward the citizens and the historic area in which they live. The citizens have absolutely had it with these tour buses and prefer the tourists to ride smaller buses or do what comes naturallyWALK. The tour buses have and continue to play havoc with our historic fabric and once thats gone it can never be replaced.
Then there are the bus tours that come to town and marry up with guides who take them on tours of the Old and Historic District. The basic route involves 25 turns as these overweight, pollution bearing, noisy, vibration-causing vehicles cause great harm to our historic homes built in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the last task force meeting, the individual in charge of these tours screamed that the citizens didnt own the streets and sidewalks and that the buses had every right to go where they want when they want. What a crass assessment! Guess who paid the taxes so that these streets and sidewalks could be built and maintained? Not the tour buses. They are in the destruction mode. The citizens, as usual, will end up paying the price.
Hopefully without sounding flippant and in an honest attempt to make a point, why are we allowing tour buses to conduct business within our residential areas? These tour buses are making money off of us by using our residential roads, disturbing our peace, bringing odorous smells into our homes all the while operating without Special Use Permits (SUPs). Every other business in this city is regulated and has to have an SUP or Administrative Permit to operate a business. It appears that these tour bus companies are indeed violating the law and should be cited for doing so. This case may have to be taken to court for adjudication. Illegally conducting commerce in a residential area seems to be the final straw. There is no reason why the Police Department cant enforce this statute without having to go to Richmond for approval from the General Assembly.
The Old Town Civic Association dedicated its October Membership Meeting to this tour bus problem. The entire membership attending the meeting all agreed that a bus to trolley approach was the panacea.
The membership of OTCA, who oversees the Old and Historic District, has been heard from loud and clear on this issue. Speaking for myself only, we are tired of being marginalized by the city government. It would very helpful if the residents of Old Town would voice their concerns to Mayor Bill Euille ([email protected]) or to Councilman Paul Smedberg ([email protected]).
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet