To the editor:
A rebuttal to City Manager Mark Jinks’ Feb. 13 opinion piece, “Key facts about Seminary Road,” is in order. Jinks argued that residents are not experiencing what they say they are experiencing – congestion, delays, safety issues and unused bike lanes – on Seminary Road, thanks to the road diet.
In his opinion piece, Jinks repeated the company line that data continues to show traffic moving more quickly and safely, contrary to evidence from the public. Even city staff admitted that they could not get an accurate volume reading based on their Bluetooth collection methods when it came up at the Feb. 11 council meeting. Still, the city continues to insist that its limited software app is more accurate than documented user reports.
It’s easy to understand the public’s loss of confidence in city hall. The city’s modeling predicted a maximum eight-second delay for drivers at the worst peak travel times and ignored resultant cut-through traffic. In fact, recent data shows the delay to be significantly longer. Residents have collected hundreds of photographs and videos showing gridlock at peak hours, enormous amounts of cut-through traffic and scores of testimonials from parents and commuters recounting the daily challenges they face.
The crash data for Seminary Road is even more worrisome. Despite city claims that the road is safer, residents have documented up to 10 accidents since construction of the road diet in November 2019, a startling increase. Seminary Road is much less safe today than it was before the road diet.
Neither Jinks nor Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Yon Lambert have accounted for the disclosure at a public meeting that the hospital’s head of emergency management had requested two unimpeded westbound lanes for emergency vehicles. This request in mid-2019 caused T&ES to explore a hybrid plan. The hospital later told T&ES that it deferred to the Alexandria Fire Department on rescue vehicle safety on Seminary Road, though there were no communications between AFD and the hospital in the Freedom of Information Act materials.
Jinks continues to push the misleading narrative that AFD had input into the design of Seminary Road after the final 4-3 council vote – which they did, but by then it no longer mattered. Jinks’ letter is silent on the revelation from the FOIA documents that AFD was never given the option of a four-lane configuration.
At the Feb. 11 city council meeting where Seminary Road was recently discussed, a statement by Sheriff Dana Lawhorne was read in which the sheriff stated that the median barriers installed with the road diet do inhibit public safety responders’ ability to do their jobs. In addition, in the Alexandria Times story in which AFD officials talked about the road diet, both Chief Corey Smedley and Acting Deputy Chief Michael Cross declined to say whether they preferred the road diet to four lanes on Seminary Road.
In short, Jinks’ letter continues a pattern of stubborn face-saving and doubling down on poor decision-making despite mounting evidence of failure. Councilor Amy Jackson summarized the fallout from Seminary Road quite clearly: “Everything we do, if it wasn’t questioned before, it is now.” We must continue to ask questions and seek information to get to the bottom of how we got a failed road diet that few residents wanted or needed. Unfortunately, Jinks’ letter reflects the problem, not the solution.
-Frank Putzu, Alexandria