To the editor:
As a member of the Stakeholders Committee to help select the new city manager, I was impressed by the breadth of substantive questions that were asked to the candidates. Foremost was the principle of trust, as one would expect for a leadership position in public service.
Having lived in Alexandria since the mid-1980s while stationed at the Pentagon when ashore, long sea deployments and war often took me away from home. It’s that cruel sea that teaches a captain why trust in those who lead is necessary – at sea and ashore. If leaders lose trust of those they oversee, order disintegrates – if not into chaos, then dereliction. Purposeful ships can eventually lose purpose.
Trust was particularly important for the city’s first public presentation to the Duke Street Corridor Advisory Group’s recent meeting. The city needed to earn back that trust because at the first presentation of the controversial Seminary Road Diet in 2018, the city’s main justification was that Seminary Road was “a corridor with a high number of KSI (killed or seriously injured) crashes.”
This was not true for the very safe mile where the diet was actually done on Seminary Road but, sadly, it was true for the part of Seminary Road on the other side of I-395. There, the median level of income was five times less, but its accident rate was 17 times moreover the same distance – but there were no road safety proposals for that section.
For the Duke Street Corridor presentation on June 30, the deputy director of the Department of Transportation & Environmental Services emailed to let people know, “The main goal of this meeting is to go over the approved 2012 plan. … There are no ‘proposed changes.’” The city’s presentation and pictorial views of Duke Street were similarly titled, “2012 Plan Concept.” However, what was shown was not the plan City Council approved in 2012.
Added to the pictorial view of Duke Street that had been approved by Council in 2012 were five-feet wide bicycle lanes – placed between a bus lane and two traffic lanes on each side of Duke Street – where Phase I is to be done.
The 2012 city manager memorandum that Council approved had no bicycle lanes throughout Duke Street. Council’s direction was, “A parallel off-corridor bicycle facility should be examined to accommodate bicyclists” at both ends of Duke Street in Phase I – not on Duke Street. For Phase II – primarily, but not exclusively, for the portion connecting the two ends – Council’s direction was that “bicycles should be accommodated in this corridor only if studies demonstrate that the streetscape can still be enhanced.” council also approved the above language as an ordinance.
Despite what was specified and approved also in an ordinance, the application to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to fund the design for Duke Street stated, “The project will include … a bicycle facility along Duke Street ….” And the NVTA application for $75 million to fund Phase I said, “The project will include … bike facilities as feasible,” while noting that “Future phases … would build on the first phase to pro- vide … additional corridor wide … bicycle improvements.”
To misrepresent what our leadership approved does a disservice to the trust we want to have in both Council and the city manager – just as the misuse of vulnerable communities’ accident and death rates on Seminary Road marked an erosion of public confidence. At the end of that contentious process, Mayor Justin Wilson said, “We can’t do this again. We just cannot do this again.” However, the sea teaches that we must do so when a crew loses trust … as has been seen, even more worryingly, aboard our USS Ship of State.
-Joe Sestak, Alexandria