Your Views: Don’t pave our park

Your Views: Don’t pave our park

To the editor:

Oops. It’s time to act again, or “oops” is going to be the city’s only appropriate answer to why it would pave a park.

A plan by the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services now on the table to create a sidewalk at 5325 Polk Ave. requires community input by May 22 or it will forge ahead. Say “no.”

Currently there’s a sidewalk “gap.” An existing sidewalk on the north side of Polk ends at Palmer Place, resuming at Pelham. What exists instead is a steep slope and trees. This environmentally sensitive parcel of native trees and plants was preserved in 2012 largely with federal funding in partial recompense for community outrage at destroying six acres of nearby green space without notice to build the Department of Defense’s Mark Center. Making it into an open space preserve trumped a competing commercial proposal for dense housing on inadequately drained substrate. It was a long, hard fight involving a broad swath of the community.

T&ES now wants to eliminate five big trees and nine parking places along the street right of way at 5325 Polk and install a five-foot-wide concrete sidewalk, with no plan for drainage or tree wells or attractive berms as exists in many new sidewalk sites such as Robinson Landing. Pervious surfaces might be nice.

To understand why this move is afoot, it’s part of a nearly decade-long-process to improve “safe routes to school.” This sidewalk gap was identified in a study by VDOT in 2014 in its analysis of safe pedestrian routes to school in Alexandria. In 2016, it confirmed that several students at nearby Polk Elementary might be likely to use the proposed sidewalk. Currently, students need to cross Pelham to get to the other side, which has a continuous sidewalk. Polk Elementary is on the south side of the street, so students going to that destination have to cross the street anyway at some point.

The only good news in the plan is that T&ES proposes to improve access to the roadway to the “park” at 5325. Hurray! The city has previously described the parcel only as a “preserve” and to have it now upgraded to a “park” is progress. The park needs a name. How about “Our Old Oaks Preserve and Sanctuary” – or “OOOPS.”

-Carol James, Alexandria