Your View: King Street needs fewer lanes for cars

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Your View: King Street needs fewer lanes for cars
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By Charles P. Brinkman, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
The City of Alexandria has proposed removing a travel lane in each direction along King Street between Chinquapin Drive and Janneys Lane, and reducing the speed limit from 35 to 25 miles per hour. I support this change.

Having managed a national research program for the Federal Highway Administration for 15 years that evaluated highway safety projects, I am impressed with the professionalism and objectivity of the city staff and its willingness to look for mitigations to the unsafe high speeds prevalent there.

That is a far cry from 30 years ago, when the city traffic engineer discounted my concerns of high speeds on King Street. Traffic gives no quarter to allow pedestrians to expeditiously cross four lanes of traffic safely. This stretch of 1.6 miles has no cross streets or traffic signals. Speeds are excessive. I have observed cars drag racing and motorcycles at full throttle darting through traffic.

With one travel lane in each direction, the road will no longer invite such behavior. More importantly, the only way to reduce typical speeds is to change the highway design, as drivers tend to drive to the design speed of the road rather than a posted limit.

Of course, change never comes without protest. Critics say that traffic capacity will be decreased by 50 percent. This is a fallacy. This segment does not operate as a four-lane highway at capacity, and even in those situations, additional lanes produce diminishing returns. They also worry about increased travel time, the difficulty of making left turns, and stopped vehicles obstructing traffic.

City staff correctly noted that the combined gutter and bike lanes provide enough space for buses, garbage and delivery trucks, and disabled automobiles while still per- mitting the passage of traffic to the left. In addition, except for several pedestrian islands, there will be a marked median that serves as a turning lane.

City staff acknowledges that travel time will increase, but the real impediments to traffic are at the King Street and Quaker Lane-Braddock Road intersection to the west and at Callahan Drive to the east. Some worry that drivers faced with slower speeds will infiltrate streets in other neighborhoods. But as city staff pointed out, there is little opportunity for alternative routes. When traffic backs up headed east on King Street, drivers can bail onto Janneys Lane and cut down to Duke Street or cross Scroggins Road to Braddock Road to avoid the intersection at King Street and Quaker Lane-Braddock Road, but that already happens and there is little reason to believe that such diversions will increase.

People also seem opposed to bike lanes. After all, they say, people do not use the lanes. I beg to differ; more and more, I see people bicycling on King Street. Besides, bike lanes have other benefits. They provide a place for buses and other vehicles to safely stop and offer a buffer for pedestrians walking on sidewalks.

My wife walks down King Street from our house adjacent to the north side of Ivy Hill Cemetery to the waterfront every evening. Recently, a mother was pushing a stroller with a child and her young daughter was riding a bicycle with training wheels. A sprinkler system suddenly spewed water on to the sidewalk, startling the daughter so that she veered into the street. Fortunately, there was no vehicle barreling down the curb lane and she was unharmed. A bike lane would have afforded some degree of protection.

Interestingly, many of those most opposed to this traffic calming live on side streets or even dead ends that are not proximate to the brutal traffic. They have griped that a concern for safety is just another manifestation of a “nanny state” or complained that tax revenue is being wasted on bike lanes that no one will use and pedestrian islands that, despite expert opinion to the contrary, they claim will put pedestrians at greater risk.

The cost of these safety changes is a small portion of the sorely needed resurfacing. They are willing to postpone a decision, making any subsequent implementation of these measures more ex- pensive and fully calculating that delay is likely to derail the proposed changes for the foreseeable future.

They complain that they need to use King Street to drive anywhere and fear increased travel time. They take exception to the assessment of the experts on city staff. Their at times ferocious opposition seems disproportionate to even their worst fears. Change always has unforeseen consequences, but so does inaction.

I will be delayed just as much as anyone coming from Albany Court, but the prospect of safer and more congenial traffic outweighs any inconvenience. Besides, the answer to traffic congestion needs to move beyond increased capacity, particularly for a city with little realistic opportunity for its expansion, towards better management through coordination and responsiveness of traffic signals, the availability of public transportation, and accommodations conducive to ambulatory and bicycle travel.

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