Old Town bike lane concept draws criticism

Old Town bike lane concept draws criticism

By Derrick Perkins (File photo)

Bike lanes along Prince and Cameron streets remain a long way off, but the idea already is proving controversial.

Old Town resident Townsend Van Fleet blasted the proposal, calling it a fait accompli, during the open mic portion of Saturday’s city council public hearing. He chastised transit officials for moving ahead without what he considered sufficient public input.

Officials tentatively raised the idea of adding bike lanes along the busy streets earlier this summer. City transit experts see the project as a way to calm traffic — based on neighbors’ complaints of speeding motorists — as well as encourage cyclists to opt for the road instead of using the sidewalk.

Though details remain scarce — the concept is still in the early design phase — adding bike lanes likely would necessitate narrowing travel lanes, officials said in July. The proposed lanes would end where the roads narrow, near the waterfront, to be replaced by sharrows.

Removing parking spots, which resulted in a nasty fight when officials successfully sought to add bike lanes to a stretch of King Street earlier this year, is not part of the plan, wrote Yon Lambert, acting head of the city’s transportation department, in a letter to the editor published in last week’s Alexandria Times.

And Carrie Sanders, a division chief with the city’s transportation and environmental services department, has said that the project would move ahead only after community meetings and public discussion.

“We always strive to engage the community as much as possible — we did that with the King Street project — and we’ll continue to engage the community,” she said earlier this summer.

Van Fleet believes officials already have made up their minds to add the bike lanes. He argued that the project should wait until the ongoing effort to update the city’s bicycle and pedestrian master plan is completed.

“Given these apparent foregone conclusions, city staff is once again — as in the food truck fiasco — attempting to preemptively strike an issue without input provided by meetings and committees [organized] by the city itself,” he said, echoing longstanding complaints about Alexandria’s civic engagement process. “It’s becoming more and more apparent these meetings have become nothing more than pro forma occurrences to satisfy the requirement for public input.”

Van Fleet also took the opportunity to call for increased enforcement of traffic laws — particularly in regards to scofflaw cyclists — along Union Street. Police cracked down on Union Street earlier in the year in response to complaints of cyclists ignoring the rules of the road.