Recent discussions and columns about improvements to safety and mobility on Seminary Road have lost sight of a key fact: The road was designed in consultation with the Alexandria Fire Department and hospital and fully meets their needs with no impact on patient care and limited impact on commuter travel times.
Under the Complete Streets policy adopted by city council in 2011, transportation planners are required to consider road design features that improve safety – both by enabling emergency vehicle access and reducing collisions for all users – and increase mobility options for a variety of road users such as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
Public safety agencies are key stakeholders and are always consulted on
road design details that may impact them. Although these agencies generally prefer more and wider travel lanes whenever possible, the Complete Streets philosophy recognizes that roads must serve a variety of purposes.
No road is designed solely for emergency vehicle use – or for any one type of use. Thus, the question for public safety stakeholders is not whether to narrow roads, but whether a specific design concept would still facilitate effective emergency response.
The Complete Streets Guidelines, adopted in 2016, are only a starting point for the road design process. No major road project is implemented without specific input from AFD. Transportation staff first met with fire staff in August 2018 to discuss an overview of the Seminary Road project. Discussions then resumed in June 2019, continued into the summer and focused on key public safety issues. As in any organization, debate and differences in viewpoints occurred prior to reaching consensus. This is a healthy dynamic that leads to better outcomes.
Once a final design concept was ultimately proposed to and selected by city council in September 2019, it was time to begin the detailed design of the new roadway. AFD was extensively involved in determining sufficient lane widths, appropriate types and sizes of medians for each intersection and turning radii for large emergency vehicles. Seminary Road, as built today, fully meets AFD’s needs.
Staff from the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services briefed Inova Health System staff on the Seminary Road project in May 2019. By summer 2019, Inova informed the city that, because the hospital does not operate any emergency medical vehicles, it would defer to AFD on road planning and would take no formal position on the project. The city’s transportation director accurately informed city council of this during the September 2019 public hearing.
Since implementation of the Seminary Road redesign began in October 2019, the Alexandria Police Department and AFD have reported no problems traveling the road. Automated traffic data show that commuter travel times, even during much of rush hour, are generally the same as before. Some times of day have average travel time increases of up to one minute, and some times of day are actually faster than before. Seminary Road is now safer and more useful, with limited impact on travel times and no impact on emergency response. For more information, visit alexandriava.gov/CompleteStreets.
One of city government’s core values is continuous improvement. We are making improvements to the road design process to reassure the community that public safety stakeholders provide meaningful and timely input throughout the project lifecycle, from the concept stage to engineering drawings.
The writer is Alexandria’s city manager.
Correction: The print version of this article was edited to remove the reference to city council’s adoption of the Complete Streets policy and to incorrectly state that city council adopted the subsequent Complete Streets guidelines. To clarify, city council adopted the Complete Streets policy in 2011, while city staff adopted the Complete Streets guidelines in 2016. The statements have been corrected in the above article. The Times regrets the error.