There is no single starting date for Alexandria’s local election season, and by local election we mean the June 8 Democratic primary in this one-party town. Maybe it’s Jan. 1 with the advent of the New Year. Maybe it’s March 31, when first quarter fundraising reports are due.
Or maybe it’s when a decisive issue is launched that promises to bring into focus the choices being made about the direction of our city. We think the Duke Street Corridor redesign process, which was launched at the Nov. 24 City Council legislative meeting, is such an issue.
By our count there are four large groups of Alexandrians who are unhappy with the direction of our city, and while there is overlap between membership in these groups, the focus of each is distinct. They are:
1) Those upset about environmental decisions;
2) Those upset about repeated “100-year” flooding events;
3) Those upset that Alexandria City Public Schools have not offered any in-person learning thus far in the 2020-21 year – sorry, six students for three weeks don’t really count; and
4) Those who believe traffic has worsened and public safety has been compromised by the removal of two traffic lanes from Seminary Road.
We think a strong case can be made that the core culprit in each instance, the policy thrust that is the primary cause of each problem, is the over-densification of Alexandria. Let’s take them one-by-one.
In decision after decision in recent years – from the location of the Potomac Yard Metro Station to allowing Karig Estates to be built on a virgin stand of trees to the decision to cut down the 150-year-old “Witness Tree” for a concession stand at T.C. Williams High school – precious parts of our city’s eco system have been sacrificed on the altar of development.
A strong case can also be made that the real problem causing issues at Taylor Run, where a destructive natural channel design “restoration” is planned, and these major flooding events is overdevelopment. Yes, we are dealing with the effects of global warming, but cutting down ancient carbon-absorbing trees, filling in wetlands and paving over open spaces throughout the city is what in sports is called “an unforced error.”
Water that can’t be absorbed rises.
Meanwhile, the reason being given by ACPS for their inability to bring back even a small subsection of the student population – perhaps kindergarten through second grade – for part-time, in-class instruction is overcrowding in our city’s schools.
Until the pandemic, ACPS enrollment had been skyrocketing for the past decade. According to the Commonwealth Institute, ACPS enrollment rose 41% from the 2008-2009 school year to the 2019-2020 school year. During that time frame, the overall population of Alexandria grew by more than 16%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Those extra 22,284 people who moved into Alexandria had children – and there’s a direct line from population growth to overcrowding in ACPS.
Finally, following this major population influx, our city redesigned Seminary Road, one of our city’s most crowded main roads, and removed two of the four traffic lanes. Pre-pandemic, this resulted in bottlenecks and rising outrage from residents in the area.
It’s difficult to fathom that City Council might pursue a similar path on Duke Street, and yet it certainly appears that the desired outcome there is a dedicated bus lane. This appears to be impossible without sacrificing at least one traffic lane on Alexandria’s busiest road.
The direction of the Duke Street Corridor redesign will be determined by the next council and mayor. The local election is in June. The opening salvo has been fired.