To the editor:
After only a few years in Alexandria, I am old enough to know that the Seminary Road road diet decision is not yet final. I do not know what form new opposition will take, but I’m willing to speculate: An attorney from the Seminary Road area will undertake, pro bono, to engage the city on behalf of well-heeled residents. In anticipation of that happening, I would like to add a bit of context to the discussion.
Leading up to the city council decision, it was widely reported that 13 civic associations had spoken against the road diet. Members of those organizations alleged that a secret cabal of cycling activists from outside Alexandria were influencing the city to support the road diet.
People who bike – many of whom bike out of necessity – have been labeled as single-minded activists, spandex-clad liberals secretly in league with toll road operating companies. This often-repeated stereotype of cyclists is wrong and pernicious. These are accusations designed to shut down debate and to de-legitimize the concerns of anyone who is not driving a car.
According to census data, the most common bike commuter is a Hispanic male who has income of less than $25,000 a year. In significant part, bikers are the working poor, who bike because they must. As it happens, their commutes also do not pollute the air, or endanger the lives of pedestrians or other bikers, providing a public benefit. But their voices often do not make it into the public forum.
People struggling to make ends meet are less likely to form a coalition of millionaire property owners to pressure the city council, for example. And a population heavy in English language learners is less likely than others to pen letters to local English-language papers, or to speak at meetings held in English.
This means that work to assess the desires and needs of the community must be consciously inclusive in order to be representative. This circumstance makes the difficult, retail work, like Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker engaging with citizens, all the more valuable and important. I was also encouraged to see the poll in the Alexandria Times showing that a plurality of respondents thought that both the city council and city staff had listened to citizens’ concerns about Seminary Road. Clearly, it is possible to hear the voices of citizens at large if one knows how to listen.
I hope that the city will remain steadfast in the face of whatever form new opposition to the road diet takes, and I hope that citizens opposed to the road diet will reflect on what their opposition betrays about their own priorities.
-Al Clark, Alexandria