Our View: Seminary Road touches on bigger issues

Our View: Seminary Road touches on bigger issues
(Photo credit: Missy Schrott)

Each year, certain city issues seem to be a little louder than others.

Whether our city council is considering putting a slaughterhouse next door to a doggie daycare or installing stadium lights in a residential neighborhood, some of the decisions our local politicians make draw overwhelming masses of the city’s educated citizenry to fight for one perspective or another.

One recurring theme in each of these instances is whether the community is truly being heard. We have civic engagement processes – as city staff is sure to mention in their presentations to council – but whether that means staff is actually listening to residents or just checking a box are two different things.

Most recently, the issue causing civic associations, bicycling advocates and central Alexandria residents to take up arms has been the potential restructuring of Seminary Road.

We have a few takeaways from the issue.

First, we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: The city needs to stop pretending this is about safety. Studies have shown that the stretch of road in question isn’t as dangerous as the other end of the road where Seminary meets I-395. To act like the stretch from Howard to Quaker is a hotseat for accidents is misleading and false.

Second, the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services is absolutely right to be taking the Traffic and Parking Board’s four-lane recommendation to council on Sept. 14.

Leading up to the TPB hearing on the topic on June 24, we think T&ES largely ignored the community feedback it received regarding its three concept alternatives for the road. Of the 70 public speakers who attended that hearing, not a single one advocated for the T&ES “hybrid” concept alternative that was presented.

Allegedly, T&ES had used community feedback when putting together their recommendation, which involved removing a vehicle lane from the stretch of road between Saint Stephens Road and Zabrinskie Drive. But if they used community feedback in crafting that proposal, whose feedback were they using?

This appears to be a largely two-sided issue, with road-diet advocates on one side and four-lane proponents on the other. We don’t see anyone rooting for three lanes between St. Stephens and Zabrinskie.

We applaud the TPB for standing up to staff and making a recommendation different from what was proposed. We also applaud T&ES for choosing to present that recommendation to council next month, rather than regurgitating their unpopular three-lane proposal.

Third and last, if there is to be any faith restored in our constantly questioned community engagement processes, we think council has to listen to the 11 civic associations that have banded together to advocate for four lanes on Seminary.

Our reporters have interacted with those on all sides of the issue, and it’s clear from the countless studies, petitions and data sent our way that Alexandrians have done their homeworking in fighting for the future of this 0.9 mile stretch of Seminary Road.

But with all due respect to the road diet advocates, we agree with the civic associations that this stretch of Seminary needs to remain four lanes. Regardless of city traffic studies that claim cutting down lanes wouldn’t impact traffic, we trust the civic associations – who represent more than 7,400 households in the area – when they say that yes, it would.

Many have said this is the first time they’ve heard of this many civic associations joining forces for a singular issue.

Bottom line is this: If council overrides the clear wishes of this many citizen leadership groups when voting on this – or any other issue – it’s clear that getting resident feedback is just a box they check.

Why wouldn’t our elected leaders do what such a representative portion of our community is directing them to do?

The community is being loud, and we know that council can hear them. This is their chance to prove we were right in electing them.