Our View: Don’t strangle Duke Street

Our View: Don’t strangle Duke Street
An image of Duke Street and Telegraph ramp. (Photo/ City of Alexandria)

Putting pressure on something that’s already bursting at the seams usually doesn’t end well.

That could mean squeezing into an already tight shirt after visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet. It could mean stuffing the 26th marshmallow into your mouth during a game of “chubby bunny.” Or it could mean crowding an already gridlocked roadway from multiple pressure points.

While perhaps it’s been a while since most residents played chubby bunny, it’s likely not been long since any Alexandria resident experienced the unhappy delays involved in traveling virtually any distance on Duke Street.

City planners are doing their best to deal with Alexandria’s major roadway that is beset with multiple problems:

1) It’s already gridlocked and is getting more so with each new housing unit, whether single- or multi-family, that’s built in the city.

2) It’s unsafe for pedestrians or cyclists in its current configuration.

3) It’s ill-suited to rapid-speed public transit buses.

4) Existing gridlock leads to dangerous cut-through traffic in nearby neighborhoods.

Our city leaders deserve credit for not simply ignoring these issues. Unfortunately, while each solution that’s being developed looks reasonable when taken individually, when put together they will make Duke Street unpassable for people in private motor vehicles.

It’s been well-documented in this space that we think the negative consequences of Alexandria’s rapid over-development of the past 10 years far outweigh any potential benefits.

More people moving to Alexandria result in more cars on our roadways – and not just from new residents with cars. People without cars of their own often rely on Uber rides and DoorDash deliveries, or on rides from friends with cars. More residents result in more vehicles on our roadways, one way or another.

Duke Street in recent years has been the scene of several tragic pedestrian fatalities, and it’s a brave bicyclist that will attempt to traverse the crowded roadway on two wheels. City planners are also working on a design to introduce a bus lane in an effort to get more people to ride buses instead of driving cars. The plans would simultaneously provide safer passage for cyclists and pedestrians.

Unfortunately, current plans call for squeezing the already overstuffed street by eliminating one of the four traffic lanes, at least in certain places, according to preliminary renderings. Current plans also call for eliminating traffic cutting through adjacent neighborhoods by lengthening traffic signals to the point that it makes cutting through take longer.

While we agree with the need to reduce cut-through traffic, the intended result of this effort is to force that traffic back onto Duke Street – which is the street that’s already gridlocked with traffic and is likely to lose at least one lane in places.

Imagine going through that buffet and then, instead of attempting to squeeze into your existing too-small shirt, you choose one that’s two sizes smaller. You simply won’t fit.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements need to happen. This should be done by reconfiguring without losing any existing lanes for privately owned vehicles. In places where that’s not possible, widen Duke Street.

If bus lanes must be added, then that addition should be done by widening Duke Street rather than eliminating private vehicle lanes. If that can’t be done, then punt the bus lanes, even if that means turning down grant money.

If a chubby bunny participant already has 25 marshmallows in their mouth and you attempt to cram six more in at once, they will choke. We shouldn’t strangle Alexandria’s motorists with well-intentioned but misguided plans. Look at the whole picture and not the individual pieces.