Of the many factors that make a city livable including size, cultural opportunities, weather and sports one that is often overlooked is the aesthetic. But beauty does matter.
Luckily, we live in a city where citizens and local government alike care about aesthetics. As a result, we have beautiful parks on the Potomac River like Jones Point and Founders Park, and in the West End Ben Brenman Park with its lovely lake and walking path. We have neighborhoods like Old Town, where whole blocks at a time have flags flying on their houses, and Del Ray homes with their window boxes and pots of flowers.
We are also blessed with beautiful historic buildings, which city officials and neighborhood associations work hard to preserve. One of the historic treasures of Alexandria, Christ Church, is the beneficiary of a small, recent step taken by our city government: the view of Christ Church from Cameron and Washington streets looking west has been restored by the removal of an arm from a traffic light.
Its a small thing, moving a traffic light at one intersection, and yet that small thing lets a pedestrian or motorist passing by the east side of Christ Church see the building in all its glory. Removal of the arm has restored the original view of the church from Washington Street. Now that the traffic light has been moved, its amazing to think that something so mundane marred our view for so long.
Unfortunately, at this point the removal is only temporary. Although a government-appointed citizen task force in 2007 held a public meeting and developed the Washington Street Public Space Design Guidelines that recommended removal of the arm, among other beautification suggestions, Alexandrias Department of Planning and Zoning tells us that the current removal is temporary and due to routine maintenance and safety.
Officials from Planning and Zoning and also the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services say traffic safety issues at the unusual intersection of Cameron and Washington Streets preclude permanent removal of the arm. They say, however, that they are looking at ways to shorten the arm and make it less intrusive.
The old traffic signal arm stretched out almost 20 feet from its base pole, so shortening that arm even by half would be a significant improvement over the old one. We commend these officials for considering the aesthetic along with safety issues. But after seeing how beautiful this venerable building is when it is completely unmarred by signage, any intrusion at all is going to seem like a real loss.
We urge these city departments to delay installing another traffic arm at this intersection until a more thorough consideration can be made of possible alternatives. Yes, traffic safety is imperative, especially at such a busy intersection. But in Alexandria, more than in most places, aesthetics also matter a lot. Lets find a way to make this small improvement permanent.