Letter to the Editor: Solutions needed to tour bus traffic

Letter to the Editor: Solutions needed to tour bus traffic
(File photo)

To the editor:

Although the City of Alexandria has appointed a number of Tour Bus Task Force groups over the years, the problem of tour buses in the Old and Historic District continue to contribute to the traffic problems experienced in this congested area. However, the appointed task forces have failed to understand the physical constraints regarding tour bus operations in Old Town, so the problem is never fully addressed.

The bottom line is that these 45-to-60 foot tour buses have great difficulty in navigating the streets, especially in the Old and Historic District. They impede traffic, and cannot efficiently turn the corners, especially if cars are parked near the intersections. However, if these parking spaces are removed, it just contributes to the overall shortage of residential parking. A few times, I have stopped at a stop sign only to have one of these behemoths move in front of my car, while the arrogant and ill-mannered bus driver dares me to move. Luckily, in these instances, I have been able to back up.

Old Town contains a large number of 18th and 19th century residences, and the sheer weight, density and excessive speed of these vehicles causes vibrations, creating an adverse effect on these historic structures. The buses also damage the sidewalks, and on occasion, they have grazed residents’ parked cars. On many of our narrow streets, a car cannot traverse the street safely with a tour bus staring them in the face.

Many tour bus drivers ignore the set of regulations already in force. Moreover, they appear to lack an understanding of what is permissible and what isn’t, since they park in and off-load passengers in unauthorized places; they block traffic; they allow the buses to idle for very long period of times, which only adds to the already high levels of pollution in Alexandria. They also display an arrogant attitude that defies belief. “You have no rules in this city,” is their common retort when confronted about a visible transgression.

On a number of occasions, Old Town residents have recommended that all tour buses entering the city should be directed to a central holding area where the buses are to be parked, such as the Masonic Temple or on Eisenhower Avenue. Passengers wishing to visit the Old and Historic District could then be transported by shuttle buses or trolleys. This process is used in New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah. This plan would be very helpful in directing and controlling the tour buses coming into Old Town every day.

Old Town residents are not trying to adversely affect the Old Town businesses, we understand that tourists are a vital part of the city’s economic engine. However, residents deserve a greater role in the tour bus process, since we are also impacted. Without the spending and patronage of residents, there would undoubtedly be less vitality and business in Old Town, regardless of how many tourists the ACVA and the Chamber bring in.

For many years, the city has repeatedly stated that changes to rerouting and parking tour buses require approval of the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond. This is not the case, since Sections 2.04 (d) and 204(t) of the Alexandria City Charter specifically authorize city control over contract carriers. The inertia of the city staff regarding the tour bus problem does not contribute to the solution of this problem.

-Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet, Alexandria