People normally don’t agree to a solution unless they agree to the problem. Or to a new idea unless the benefits are clear. In a community like Alexandria, what should follow is a groundswell of support. Since the current City Council was sworn in January, a number of “solutions” and new ideas have been introduced to residents. But where has been the groundswell for them?
Let’s look at a few examples of solutions that seem to lack broad support across the city. First is the $116 million Duke Street bus rapid transit project and its twin on Beauregard Street. These projects are intended to reduce travel time for bus riders, increase DASH use and reduce the volume of vehicles. While any city of our density should have quality transit services, the demand for bus service remains anemic.
On the Duke Street corridor, only about 1,500 people ride DASH and Metrobus on a typical weekday. City consultants conducted two community surveys to gauge the interest in this project. Alas, there was no groundswell of support from any income, race or age demographic along the corridor. Community leaders west of I-395 predict the same will be true on Beauregard.
A second example is the “zoning for housing” initiative, which is likely to allow construction of multiple homes on what is now a single-family property. Council has been laying the groundwork for this initiative for a few years. City leaders say its purpose is to help increase affordable housing options, although every imaginable option already exists here. Zoning for housing started with an ordinance allowing homeowners to build a second residential structure, called an accessory dwelling unit or ADU, on a property as close as three feet from their property line.
Reportedly, some neighbors of so-called ADUs under construction now are grumbling, and rightly so. Where this seems to be heading next is permitting two front doors on an existing home to accommodate two families in what is now a single-family home. But it’s also likely to allow a developer to tear down the house altogether and build multiple units on the property. Groundswell? Not yet, and probably not forthcoming.
And how about this third example: the recent decision to reduce speed limits on arterial roads, including Beauregard, Van Dorn and West Braddock. The stated purpose was to make roads safer for vulnerable users, primarily pedestrians. But Alexandria is one of the nation’s safest cities for pedestrians, and most of our pedestrian crashes occur in Old Town where speed limits are already 25 mph. At a recent community meeting, the director of the transportation department was asked – twice – who in the community was engaged on this issue and where the groundswell was coming from. He had no answer, so one can only conclude: No groundswell.
Social media trolls supporting our elected officials on these solutions routinely make comments like this recent one on Next Door related to increased population density: “The City Council members who support these measures have openly campaigned on this platform and have been duly elected by the voters of Alexandria in multiple election cycles, most notably our mayor.”
Looking back on the 2021 elections, they did not. None campaigned specifically for Duke Street bus rapid transit, less restrictive single family home zoning, weaker bonus height rules for developers, massive increases in density and development or removing SROs from schools. Where is the broad groundswell across Alexandria for any of these notions? Seems like there isn’t any. ‘
The writer is a civic advocate, management consultant and longtime Alexandria resident.