To the editor:
I am writing in response to letters and articles published in the Alexandria Times about the proposal to repave a one-mile segment of Seminary Road without adding the bike lanes specified in the master plan. As one of many who participated in the 2016 master plan update, I am concerned that we are not following through.
As a supporter of the “extinction rebellion,” I am concerned that we are not ditching fossil fuels quick enough to halt pollution-driven mass extinction. It seems clear that a toxic public process is preventing action. Other U.S. cities also face this problem. We can learn from their experiences. Boston, Massachusetts provides an example. When communities make plans together, they support transportation options. This is why support for bike lanes repeatedly polls above 60 percent. This is why we in Alexandria specify robust bicycle, walking and transit networks in our master plan. Because fights over specific streets are universally nasty, Boston now requires that all repaved streets be brought into compliance with their transportation master plan. In the debate over Seminary, I read that my membership in a regional bicycling association makes me an outsider in my own community and that advocates for safer streets are running secretive private organizations. Genuine pleas for safety are dismissed using cherry-picked data; people who avoid bicycling on Seminary out of fear, including myself, are repeatedly told to go ahead and ride on Seminary because “the data says it’s safe.”
Bike-lane opponents seem to think this is a funny joke, as they keep repeating it. Safe streets advocates on Alexandria’s boards and commissions are subjected to character assassination and pressured to resign. We are told they are biased and unfit to serve. In one case an overheard f-bomb, part of a private conversation – my friend was venting to me and me only – was repeatedly mischaracterized as a public statement. It wasn’t. Public fights over specific streets projects are as predictable as they are toxic. While I do my best to focus on the issues and tune out the insults, I have reached a point where words cannot express the utter contempt that I feel for some of my so-called neighbors. I don’t want to feel this bitterness, but cannot fix it by myself. We need to act together.
Our current system, where civilized planning in 2016 leads to a street-fight over implementation in 2019, is not working. As shown by a referendum in Phoenix, Arizona, communities support biking/walking/transit networks. Boston’s process, which emphasizes planning over street fights, suggests a way forward.
-Jonathan Krall, Alexandria