To the editor:
In your Aug. 29 editorial, “Seminary Road touches on bigger issues,” you correctly and fairly called out expressions of a safety problem on Seminary Road as “misleading and false.” The editorial also cautioned city council against ignoring citizen input and strong majority public support for maintaining four lanes on Seminary Road with new safety improvements.
Despite what is clear public opinion, some in city hall continue to baselessly assert that the public is divided. In reality, the residents of Alexandria are overwhelmingly united in support of maintaining four lanes with additional safety improvements for pedestrians. The advocacy for bike lanes in Alexandria and reduction of traffic lanes on Seminary Road mainly comes from regional and national bike lane lobbyists and corporate interests that have appeared to launch astroturfing campaigns.
At the June 24 Traffic and Parking Board hearing, a significant number of speakers in favor of bike lanes identified themselves as non-Alexandrians. Earlier in the year, the Washington Area Bicycle Association sponsored a petition in favor of bike lanes that specifically instructed signatories that they need not identify their city and state of residence. Of note, the city champions this petition as evidence that the public is divided on the issue.
The WABA petition wouldn’t be the first time that non-residents weighed strongly in Alexandria’s affairs. A review of the record in the King Street bike lane additions revealed that nearly half of the petition signers in favor of city hall’s grossly underused bike lanes were non-Alexandrians. And, when more closely examined, the letter-writing campaign was substantially verbatim letters with few stating a city and state of residence.
Even more egregious, this pattern continued in the widely reported slaughterhouse litigation against the city. When pressed on the issue, the city stated in court pleadings that it places as much value on the opinions of out-of-town special interests as it does on its own residents. The Seminary Road issue is following the same trajectory of favoring the opinions of non-Alexandrians on a matter of keen local interest.
In addition to advocacy lobbies, there are also massive corporate interests at play. One local bike lobby group lists Transurban and Lyft as two of its main donors. Transurban has the $500 million contract for HOT lanes on I-395 and thus a financial interest in creating local congestion near HOT lanes that would spike demand. Lyft has a financial interest in increasing demand for its ridesharing and scooter services.
In addition to Transurban and Lyft, the Lime scooter corporation, working expressly with the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, joined in the effort. In a mass text message, Lime specifically requested for customers to pressure city hall and again stated that there is no need to include city and state of residence.
These tactics serve to convey a false sense of support by Alexandria residents for arterial lane reduction, new bike lanes and, according to public information from Inova Alexandria Hospital and the Alexandria Fire Department, unnecessary risk in emergency response.
By definition, the noted activities are examples of astroturfing: an organized activity intended to create a false impression of a local grassroots movement that is in reality controlled and financed by lobbyists and corporations with scant local support. Unfortunately for Alexandrians, the line between city hall and the bike lobbyists and corporate interests has become difficult to discern.
We encourage city council and the mayor to listen to the residents who elected them, cast a skeptical eye to organized lobbying efforts from special interest groups and corporations and restore faith in their ability to serve our needs. Support four lanes on Seminary Road with safety improvements for pedestrians.
-Alexis Sargent, Alexandria