Councilor Amy Jackson calls for reversal of Seminary road diet

Intersection of Seminary Road and Greenwood Place. (Photo credit: Missy Schrott)

By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]

In a surprise to fellow members of council and city staff, Councilor Amy Jackson made a motion during Tuesday’s legislative meeting to rescind council’s approval of the Seminary Road project.

Council voted 4-3 on Sept. 14 to reduce a 0.9-mile section of Seminary Road from four to three lanes and add bike lanes. The decision was the culmination of a year-long process that pitted neighbor against neighbor.

Those in support of the decision believed the “road diet” would improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, while those who opposed the decision, including 13 civic associations, believed the lane reduction would result in cut through traffic in surrounding neighborhoods, bumper to bumper slow-downs on Seminary and challenges for emergency services staff.

Jackson, who voted in opposition to the “road diet” at the Sept. 14 public hearing, made her motion late in the meeting during council’s oral reports. She called for council to pause the Seminary Road project before its completion in order to reconsider removing the medians, which were implemented as part of the repaving and restructuring project, and regain the public trust.

Councilor Amy Jackson (Courtesy photo)

“The Seminary Road diet has caused what I believe to be an erosion of public confidence,” Jackson said, reading from her statement. “The bottom line is that our constituents are upset and question our ability to lead the city. I’m not trying to reverse a decision that went against my point of view. I’m seeking a way to take a time out, which would allow us the opportunity to reevaluate what has occurred.”

Jackson cited public safety concerns around the medians – and their impact on emergency services vehicles – and a sidewalk that is in the process of being funded. Those who live on and around Seminary Road have “anxiety and fear” after council made a decision that impacted the area in ways that were not intended, Jackson said.

“If we don’t pause this today and continue to allow the construction to move forward, it will be too late,” Jackson continued. “You must admit this moved too fast and there is an appearance that we are in a hurry to complete it in order to seal the deal, and that bothers me a lot.”

The section of Seminary Road was repaved about a month ago, and signal timings were adjusted the week before Thanksgiving, Yon Lambert, director of the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, said. A crosswalk, additional signage and rapid flash beacons at the crosswalk have yet to be installed.

Although Jackson’s motion initially died for lack of a second, Councilor Mo Seifeldein later seconded the motion for the sake of discussion, he said.

In the ensuing discussion, Jackson’s fellow councilors expressed surprise and, at times, displeasure with how she had chosen to present certain information.

“I’m hoping that our colleague will share her statement with all of us because frankly I think there are things that are inaccurate,” Councilor Canek Aguirre said, citing Jackson’s implication that the majority of people in the affected area opposed the “road diet.”

Mayor Justin Wilson vehemently opposed Jackson’s decision to spring her motion on council, staff and the community with no prior notice.

“Nobody is aware that council is considering this issue. Nobody who weighed in on this issue has any idea what is going on right now under the cover of darkness in city hall,” Wilson said. “Regardless of my view on this issue, I think this is highly inappropriate.”

Jackson went on to question Lambert about accidents and the cost of the “road diet.” There have been five crashes, only one of which was reportable, on the stretch of Seminary in question between Oct. 30 and Dec. 5, Lambert said.

Jackson cited the concerns of the 1,000-member Alexandria Residents Against the Seminary Road Diet Facebook group, claiming that there are very few bicyclists on the road to have justified such a decision.

A few years ago, the city reduced the speed on Seminary Road from 35 to 25 miles per hour. Some residents have complained that it has not been obeyed. (Photo credit: Missy Schrott)

“I can’t sit here idly as, frankly, some conspiracy theories and other things that are blatantly inaccurate [are] said up here,” Aguirre said. “… When you are looking at a Facebook group, what hard data are they using?”

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker seconded Aguirre’s comments and said she would send Jackson pictures of bicyclists on Seminary Road.

Wilson suggested Jackson and council request staff make an update at a later date.

Seifeldein asked Jackson if she would consider withdrawing her motion and bringing it forward at a future legislative meeting to allow council, staff and the public to prepare for the discussion. Jackson ultimately withdrew her motion and tabled it for a later date.

(Read more: Council approves Seminary Road lane reduction)