Getting traffic out of neighborhoods

Getting traffic out of neighborhoods
A roadmap of specific steps taken to identify and address traffic congestion on Duke St. (Photo/City of Alexandria)

By Kassidy McDonald

A community meeting about the Duke Street Traffic Mitigation Pilot took place on Aug. 11 to discuss phase II of the pilot project aimed at reducing cut-through traffic in neighborhoods.

The city’s two current pilot projects aim to shift traffic on to the major arterials, which are systems of roads that connect minor roads to highways, and away from having cut-through traffic clogging neighborhood streets.

Phase I of the pilot project ran from January to April 2022 and focused on shifting traffic. Phase I increased the green light time for Quaker Lane and Duke Street as well as the red light time for the side streets.

“The first phase of this pilot focused on changing signal timing to allow more green time for Quaker Lane and Duke Street and shortening green time from the local streets. The goal was to shift cut-through traffic from residential streets to the arterials,” reads the city website.

This phase was deemed successful, as it surpassed the original goal of reducing neighborhood traffic by 20%. According to the Duke Street Traffic Mitigation Pilot Report from phase I, there was a 41% decrease in cut-through traffic on neighborhood streets and a 78% increase in cut-through traffic using Quaker Lane.

West Taylor Run Parkway ended up being the street that benefited the least from phase I of the pilot project. The findings from phase I only show a 12% decrease in cut-through traffic, when 72% of traffic on this street comes from cut-through traffic. Phase II will focus heavily on the issue of cut-through traffic on West
Taylor Run Parkway.

At the phase II meeting, Hillary Orr, deputy director of Transportation & Environmental Services, delivered the overview presentation. She summarized the previous phase before focusing in on phase II and what will be different besides reinstating the signal timing that was used in phase I.

Orr said there will not be a proposed signal at East Taylor Run now or down the line because of the public’s strong opposition to it from meetings back in 2019. She assured attendees of the meeting that the city is listening and taking resident feedback into consideration.

“And now that we have the results from that effort, we are following through on our commitment to discuss phase II of that pilot which would restrict direct access to the Telegraph Road ramp from eastbound Duke Street from West Taylor Run Parkway,” Orr said. “There would still be other options for accessing Telegraph Road from this neighborhood, they just might take a little bit of additional time.”

The project goals for both pilot phase I and II are identical. According to the phase II presentation, they include reducing congestion on Duke Street, reducing cut- through traffic on neighborhood streets, using data to inform decisions about long- term projects and improving the quality of life for Alexandria’s residents.

The potential timing for starting phase II could be as early as September and would run through March 2023. According to Orr, the hope is that this phase would reduce the congestion that comes from Telegraph Road ramp and clogs Duke Street.

Orr pointed out that the tradeoff would be that residents from West and East Taylor Run might have to take a different route to access the Telegraph Road ramp. The new route options for these residents could range anywhere from one to three minutes of additional commute time, depending on the time of day. The three alternate routes include a U-turn at Roth Street, taking the service road to Roth signal and making a loop at Dove Street.

“So what we’re really talking about is, in the interim, is this something that we want to continue – continue this pilot and restrict that access and keep traffic flowing on Duke Street, or is it not worth the additional headache for those residents to see that reduced cut-through traffic? That’s really what we’re going to be looking at here,” Orr said.

The city’s outreach and engagement efforts include several ways for residents to voice their concerns. These efforts include social and print media outreach, a resident mailing system to make sure the residents who are most impacted are well informed, an online feedback form and a message board similar to the one used for phase I to inform drivers who don’t live in the city.

During the question and answer period, multiple community members expressed their concerns with phase II. Kelly Stone, a resident, shared qualms specifically regarding safety with pedestrian access along Duke Street.

“I cross Duke Street at about West Taylor just about every day, and take that side to bike down to Carlyle where I drop my daughter off for daycare. There’s two parts that I kind of want to flag if we can do something. One is it’s a long [way] across West Taylor Run to get to the sidewalk that keeps going along Duke Street because it’s not just across West Taylor, you also need to cross the ramp… and that’s the light that is currently not long enough,” Stone said. “If you’re walking with a stroller, you either have to run and hope you beat the cars that are coming along the ramp or you have to stand and wait for them to stop traffic so you can cross at the crosswalk. If we could make that crossing a little bit longer … I think that would be really helpful to increase safety.”

Orr, in response, said adding some time for pedestrian crossing is “absolutely something we can do.”

Resident Matt Kaplan contended that the pilot is just shifting the problem away from West Taylor to a new location, instead of actually reducing the amount of cut-through traffic.

“It seems to me it’s going to be at Cambridge and Duke, and that intersection is really bad today…I think a lot of the volume is going to be pushed there and it’s not designed for that volume today. I just don’t see how this is sustainable,” Kaplan said.

Speed was another concern residents brought up at the meeting. These concerns included people speeding as fast as possible to get onto Telegraph and not slowing down this location can be added into a longer-term project plan. Even though there were concerned residents at the meeting, Orr said the city has also received positive feedback about the project.

Bruce Sherman, a resident of West Taylor Run Parkway, sent an email to Orr detailing his appreciation for the attempts to change the way traffic cuts through his neighborhood. As a resident on this street for the past 18 years, Sherman has been impacted by the heavy traffic on West Taylor Run and in the rest of the Clover Park neighborhood.

Members of the Clover College Park Civic Association, which serves the neighborhood that is bounded by Janney’s Lane to the north, West Taylor Run Parkway to the east, Dartmouth Road to the south and Princeton Boulevard to the west, also expressed support for phase II and the improvements it can bring to the neighborhood as a whole.

In terms of next steps for phase II, the proposal will appear before the Traffic and Parking Board, which will then decide whether phase II will continue.

“We want to test this out, but to do this for six whole months, we do need to go to the Traffic and Parking Board. So we would go to them in September, and then we’d have a public hearing. It would be implemented for a couple weeks, hopefully, by the time we go to the Board … that would be another opportunity [to talk] if we’re seeing things within the first few weeks that are unexpected,” Orr said. “The community can participate and provide feedback, and then the Board would ultimately make the decision if that pilot stays for the whole six months or not.”

Orr expressed optimism for the next phase because of phase I’s success and support from residents.

“It has been a very supportive process, and a very collaborative process, between the civic associations, residents from the community and the city working together to test things out and see what we can do to make things better,” Orr said.