Bike lanes, reduced speeds move up King Street

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Bike lanes, reduced speeds move up King Street
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By Chris Teale (Image/City of Alexandria)

A section of upper King Street near T.C. Williams High School is slated for bike lanes and a speed limit reduction after approval from the city traffic and parking board last month.

The stretch runs from Chinquapin Drive to Melrose Street, and will have its speed limit reduced from 35 mph to 25 mph in addition to other tweaks that officials said will enhance safety for all users. Those changes include the installation of “No Turn on Red” signs on southbound Kenwood Avenue at King Street and a removal of one travel lane in each direction along King Street to add bike lanes.

Earlier this year, bike lanes were one of three options under consideration for the section of King Street after a public comment process that included community meetings and a survey on AlexEngage, the city’s online feedback tool.

These changes have come about as the city’s department of transportation and environmental services prepares to resurface that section of King Street, a process slated to begin in August. They are also in keeping with the city’s CompleteStreets program, which looks to make roadways safer for all users, including motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

“[A speed limit reduction] was a request that came out from the community multiple times throughout the entire process,”said Hillary Orr, the city’s CompleteStreets manager. “People requested that the speed limit be reduced, and because we were now designing the street for a 25 mph speed limit and we had the community request, we thought that was appropriate.”

The change brings a greater consistency to King Street, which already has a 25 mph limit in stretches west of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial before it reaches the Bradlee Shopping Center. Braddock Road, Janneys and Quaker lanes have 25 mph speed limits in that area as well.

In addition, the timing of traffic signals will be tweaked to give the pedestrians more time to cross intersections, another change that city transportation director Yon Lambert said further enhances safety for those on foot.

“A leading pedestrian interval is a slight modification to the existing signal timing that for all practical purposes just allows pedestrians to get a head-start in the intersection and to get established in the intersection,” he said. “It will keep all legs of the signal on red for a short period of time to allow the pedestrians to step out into the inter- section and get established in the crosswalk so cars can see them.”

The plans received strong support from the city’s transportation commission and the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee among others, while city staff said safety was emphasized as a key priority during their community outreach process.

Reducing the speed limit in what can be a congested section of King Street was one major concern raised at the traffic and parking board’s hearing on the subject. In a traffic analysis conducted by a third-party consultant, there would be an additional 33-second delay in both directions if the speed limit were reduced.

The report said signal timing improvements would increase travel times in the morning peak by four seconds for the eastbound direction and six seconds for the west- bound direction. In the afternoon peak, the eastbound travel time increases by 12 seconds going east and seven seconds heading west.

Orr said the center left-turn lane included in the plans means that any delays should be lessened, as those looking
to turn left are separated from traffic going straight, and so should not clog up the roadways waiting for a safe time in which to turn.

“If somebody stops to make a left turn [now], people have to get out of the way and go around them,” Orr said. “With the design we have now, you don’t see more of a delay because you’re keeping that through movement consistent. The buses can pull out of the way, so they’re not an obstacle any more. The left turns can pull out of the way so they’re not an obstacle. That one lane is continuous straight through so you won’t see more of a delay.”

Staff said with so many different modes of transportation being utilized on upper King Street, including several DASH bus routes and school buses heading to T.C. Williams, it was crucial to do something that enhanced safety for all users, even if there is a delay to some car journeys.

“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 Carrie Sanders, acting deputy director of transportation, in March. “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.”

The traffic and parking board’s approval included a request that city staff continue to evaluate the project, and that if it fails to meet their expectations, they should take remedial action to correct it.

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