By Chris Teale (File photo)
City officials are considering the extension of a controversial series of bike lanes along upper King Street as they prepare to repave a segment of the street that passes T.C. Williams High School this summer.
Bike lanes were installed on upper King Street in 2014 between West Cedar Street and Janneys Lane over the objection of some residents, who argued they would make the road less safe and remove needed on-street parking.
But city transportation director Yon Lambert hailed the bike lanes as a success in a memo last December, noting that vehicular crashes in the area are down from 12 in the 17 months before the lanes were installed to eight over that same period after and that average speeds have dropped in both directions.
Now, officials with the city department of transportation and environmental services are preparing to resurface the section of upper King Street from Janneys Lane to Radford Street, which goes past the main campus of T.C. Williams High School. Officials have outlined three options to improve safety along the thoroughfare. The public comment period is well underway, after the department held a public meeting last fall and recently finished an online survey that garnered more than 750 responses.
Another public meeting is scheduled for April 21 at T.C. Williams, with safety around the school one of the drivers of the three presented options by city staff. The first option presented is the base level of improvements, which focuses purely on resurfacing and improving street markings.
The second option looks to enhance pedestrian safety and accessibility at intersections, with left-turn lanes and pedestrian islands introduced at medians, as well as a two-foot edge line creating more space between the main roadway and the sidewalk. The third option presented creates five-foot bike lanes, an 11-foot shared lane for bikes and cars, left-turn lanes and pedestrian islands.
“What we’re really doing in this project when we’re trying to make it safer is to balance all those modes of transportation to make sure that we make it safer for people to cross the road and walk along the road as well as not increase delay of vehicles,” said acting deputy director of transportation Carrie Sanders. “It’s a balance, but I think what we did when we came up with the options was to try to bring together all those needs.”
Sanders said that among the comments received by the city, the need for connectivity between bike lanes was raised regularly. She pointed to the bike lanes along Commonwealth Avenue that connect to Four Mile Run and the Mount Vernon Trail as one example of enhanced connectivity that helps improve safety for cyclists.
“Having bike facilities throughout the city that link to one another, we have found, provide safer facilities for those who are biking,” she said. “It also increases the amount of people using that facility, so if you can get onto a bike lane and link to another bike lane or link to a trail, it’s just going to make a more connected network for those that bike.”
Among those who answered the anonymous survey, 71.5 percent — 303 people — said they preferred the third option presented by city staff. In second place was the first option of maintenance with 17.9 percent — 76 people — followed by the second option, which garnered 8.7 percent, 37 votes. Eight said they wanted none of the above.
Many respondents wrote that they wish to see reductions in vehicular speeds around T.C. Williams, but that travel times should stay roughly the same as they are now for cars. Sanders said that based on a traffic study conducted by city staff, westbound travel time would increase by 13 seconds during morning peak hours and 11 seconds during the afternoon rush.
One respondent noted that with the proposed expansions of T.C. Williams and the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center and Aquatics Facility, reducing speeds to 25 mph would also help with safety concerns.
“The speed limit on King [Street] and all streets in Alexandria should be 25 mph,” the respondent wrote. “This is the best way to make our streets safe. [P]eople should leave earlier for their destination; not drive faster. Bikes are entitled to their own lane. Why should cars get four lanes and bikes get none?
“T.C. Williams, our city high school, and Chinquapin Park, our soon-to-be enlarged pool complex are both on this section of King Street. With all the children in the area, this needs to be an ultra-safe road.”
But some others said that a lack of bikers in the area means installing bike lanes is not a justifiable approach for the city to take.
“Please don’t take travel lanes away from automobiles for the purpose of more bike lanes,” another respondent wrote. “[The fact] of the matter is that the BRAC building [at Mark Center] added a lot more traffic to our area and there aren’t enough bikers to warrant taking away automobile lanes.”
With another public meeting scheduled for April 21 and residents still able to provide feedback online, Sanders emphasized that the period of outreach to citizens is ongoing. She said she expected the project to get underway this summer, while schools are closed until the fall.