I am a long-time resident of Old Town who has not been very active in local matters. But what I experienced last week on lower King Street and the Strand concerned me a great deal and I felt compelled, as a citizen and neighbor who intends to be here for life, to share the experience.
Last Thursday evening as I was strolling my daughter around Waterfront Park around 7 p.m., I experienced an armada of eight to 11 oversized tour buses cueing up along the Strand (blocking the parked cars, some buses blocking the entire road) and wrapping around the corner to Prince Street. These buses were unloading an enormous group of young tourists along the Strand and in front of the Old Dominion Boat Club while blocking passage through the Strand for vehicles and the Old Town Trolley alike for more than 15 minutes.
I saw what I later determined to be someone from the Potomac Riverboat Company communicating with the bus drivers and directing the large group to the dock where they boarded a riverboat (and perhaps another vessel). There had to be 400 to 800 kids maybe more. It was the biggest group I have seen in Old Town and I have lived here since 1995.
As the buses began to unload, I informed one of the drivers that he would be wise to move the buses and not block the road. The buses stayed put, while the Potomac Riverboat employee sprinted back and forth. I then proceeded to walk around the block, looking for any city authority to inform of the absolute mess. None could be found so I phoned the Alexandria Police non-emergency number. I informed them of the situation and the attendant said, We will send someone right over.
Another 10 to 15 minutes went by as I strolled around fuming mad. No police or parking enforcement to be found. Along came a friendly parking enforcement person. I told him of the problem and indicated to him that two of the buses were right around the corner unloading their passengers. He then acted and engaged with the same bus driver I had warned earlier. I walked down to the dock area to find an enormous group of young tourists cuing up to board the riverboat. I thought to myself, Wow that is a lot of kids to be on that boat. Whats the max capacity of that vessel?
I walked back to the intersection of King Street and the Strand where I came across two parking enforcement officers sitting in a cruiser. I asked them if they had seen the armada of buses. They said no. I said that the mess will likely happen again once the kids disembark from the boat ride later in the evening. The officers blew me off and chuckled. Next time I will ask for their names and badge numbers.
I later learned that another neighbor was walking in the area at about 10 p.m. and sure enough the armada of buses was back, picking up the kids.
As I came home and reflected on this experience, I became really angry and terrified, given current discussions around the development of the Old Town waterfront and the addition of more restaurants in the lower King Street corridor.
If a boat operator is going to host such large groups, then they need to be a good neighbor and guide those out-of- town tour groups and buses to obey our laws and not trample on our little town. What exactly are the rules regarding bus loading and unloading?
Why was there no presence of either law enforcement or parking enforcement around at the peak time on an early summer weeknight? Does Potomac Riverboat Company have some sort of special arrangement with the city relative to bus loading and unloading? By the way, what kind of fees are the boat operators paying for during this time of fiscal crisis? What economic benefit did Alexandria reap from this evening event? I doubt any of those kids spent any money in our city.
I had to stand and watch as our little town got completely trampled last night. Shame on the tour operator. Shame on the Potomac Riverboat Company. Shame on the city for being absent or unconcerned.
This was a perfect example of the risk we face as a neighborhood of overdevelopment in our special little town. We simply cannot accommodate this volume of people. Old town is not National Harbor. Old Town is unique and has a delicate balance that we must preserve and protect.
As a neighbor and taxpayer I have asked City Council to look into this incident in detail to ascertain how and why it happened. How can we work in partnership to ensure that this never happens again? We have a place for buses to load and unload with the least impact on Old Town: Market Square. Lets force the tour groups and boat operators to use it or pay dearly.