City Council holds legislative meeting

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By Kassidy McDonald kmcdonald@alextimes.com

City Council held a legislative meeting on Tuesday evening to present a number of awards and proclamations, discuss the concept of using photo speed monitoring devices and address the dangers of backyard privy digging in Old Town.

Some of the proclamations of the night included recognizing the Chinquapin Wahoos Swim Team for their outstanding season, the winners of the 2022 Ben Brenman Awards and honoring Crossing Guard Cora Reed, who has served Alexandria City Public Schools for more than 50 years. Other proclamations included recognizing World Polio Day 2022 as well as recognizing October as National Bullying Awareness Month.

One item up for consideration was the use of photo speed monitoring devices in both highway work zones and school crossing zones. This topic has been discussed previously in council meetings, as it is statistically shown that as vehicle speed increases, the chance of pedestrian death increases. According to the item’s presentation with statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, a pedestrian has a 10% chance of death if hit by a vehicle moving 23 mph, a 25% chance of death if hit at 32 mph and a 50% chance of death if hit at 42 mph.

Both Vision Zero Action Plan, which has the goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2028, and the Alexandria Mobility Plan, which ensures transportation meets the needs of residents and keeps up with changing technology, have both recommended speed cameras in the past to monitor speed safety and keep the city’s roads safer for school children and pedestrians alike.

Councilor Kirk McPike acknowledged that this was a big conversation in one of last month’s City Council meetings. He said that one of the main causes of danger on our roads in Alexandria today is vehicles speeding.

“This is a significant challenge that we face in terms of road safety – and we got some leeway in terms of installing these sorts of cameras from the general assembly this year – and I’m very excited that we are moving as quickly as we possibly can on this,” McPike said. “I hope this is successful and we are able to go and get authority to do more of this in the future.”

The push for speed safety cameras in school zones isn’t just happening in Alexandria, it is happening across the country.

“Speed safety cameras are an effective and reliable technology to supplement more traditional methods of enforcement, engineering measures, and education to alter the social norms of speeding,” according to the U.S Department of Transportation.
On May 4, council adopted a Fiscal Year 2023 Budget, which includes funding resources for speed monitoring cameras in school zones throughout the city, according to the presentation.

McPike motioned to approve the proposed ordinance to authorize the use of speed cameras in school zones and work zones in the city, and that it is scheduled for a second reading and final passage on Saturday at the public hearing. The motion was seconded by Councilor John Chapman. It passed unanimously.

Mayor Justin Wilson then gave his oral report towards the end of the legislative meeting. He provided an update to council about how the Alexandria Archaeological Commission has reached out to council asking for help promoting awareness of the dangers of privy digging in Old Town. The AAC has made known that they are a resource for residents in Old Town, and that backyard archeology is not encouraged – or safe.

“If you are approached by a person asking to dig your yard who is not a City of Alexandria archaeologist, please call us at 703-746-4399. There are safety concerns about this kind of activity. Additionally, every time a well or privy is dug just to find and keep the bottles, we lose an important page in Alexandria’s history book,” the city’s backyard archeology page reads.

Wilson said the AAC had sent council a note asking them “to draw more attention to efforts that staff has already attempted to spread awareness.” Before doing any digging, the AAC wants Old Town residents to know to consult a professional.

“As a city that very much values professional archeology and what we might discover and interpret and protect from archeological digs, I know the commission is very very concerned about the potential impacts of this kind of backyard archaeology that can occur without any coordination,” Wilson said.

Eleanor Breen, the city’s archeologist, then talked about some of the city’s efforts and how awareness should be spread moving forward.

Dr. Breen said that for years there have been non-professional bottle diggers that have targeted historic homes and sites in Old Town and in other locations to dig up privies, or old outhouses, on these properties. These properties are a huge area of focus for archeological research and preservation for the AAC.

“We’ve turned to in-person outreach at farmers markets, talking to over 100 people about the issue and informing them of what they can do, which really we would encourage homeowners to call Alexandria Archaeology. We are a city resource and we’re there to talk about the history of your property and help you preserve it in the best way possible,” Dr. Breen said. “That doesn’t mean for us to come in and dig it immediately, it just means for us to document what you have and work with you to preserve what’s in your backyard.”

All docents within the Alexandria Archeology Museum are trained to talk about the issue of backyard archeology, answer questions and address the dangers of attempting to dig in your backyard. By visiting the new backyard archeology page, residents can learn about the step-by-step process to report a sinkhole, privy or historic well on their property.

Dr. Breen also mentioned that beginning this month, there will be a 311 number that acts as an “easy way” for residents to work with the city to report sinkholes on their property, or get in contact with city archeologists who know the process best.

McPike then asked if Alexandria would be the first city in America to have a 311 call option to identify a historic sinkhole, in which Dr. Breen answered that Alexandria would be the first and only city so far to have this resource for property owners. Although this doesn’t mean backyard archeology is just an Old Town issue, or even just an Alexandria issue. It is proving to be a bigger issue that the state of Virginia is working to address.

“Even beyond Alexandria, this issue has gotten the attention of our state archeologist of Virginia in Richmond and the Director of the Department of Historic Resources,” Breen said. “They are working on compiling a statement about the value of archeology and the detrimental effect that this kind of non-professional digging can have particularly on such a historically significant city like ours.”

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