City Hall Watch with Bill Rossello: More unintended consequences loom

City Hall Watch with Bill Rossello: More unintended consequences loom

By Bill Rossello

In early 2023, a city emergency medical unit was dispatched to Woodbine Rehabilitation Center near the intersection of King Street and Janneys Lane because someone was experiencing respiratory distress. Emergency medical staff loaded the patient into the ambulance and headed to Alexandria Hospital, which is only a couple of miles away. It’s normally a quick trip.

The ambulance traveled west on Seminary Road, which had been narrowed some years before in the controversial “road diet.” The redesign added bike lanes and reduced the capacity for motor vehicles from two lanes to one on each side. As traffic slowed, the ambulance attempted to pass between a stopped vehicle, protected bike lanes and one of the permanent pedestrian islands installed with the road diet.

But there was not enough room on the road. The ambulance crashed into the stopped vehicle and was immobilized. A second ambulance was called and the patient finally made it to the hospital some 40 minutes after the initial dispatch. We do not know if the patient survived the delay.

Nearby residents were not surprised about the incident. Ahead of the road diet’s approval and implementation, they had warned the city that ambulances might have difficulty on a narrowed road so close to the hospital. So did the fire department. The addition of pedestrian islands to the plan – after the original design was approved – made things worse. Not just in this instance, but in at least a dozen others where nighttime drivers have run over them, destroying the signage.

Add to that some serious crashes at the corner of Seminary and Quaker that were attributed to the awkward new lane configuration. And after all was said and done, the eastbound bike lane did not even traverse the entire stretch, eliminating a planned buffer for pedestrians in an area the city claimed was “scary.”

What was one of the safest major corridors in Alexandria has been made demonstrably less so. Yet, Transportation & Environmental Services staffers thought they were doing the right thing, narrowing a busy road to add bike lanes and “make the road safer for all users.” But unintended consequences reared their heads.

Fast forward five years: T&ES is coming back to the same community with another plan for bike lanes. This time, along a short stretch of upper King Street at Bradlee Shopping Center. Thousands of residents from Seminary Hill, North Ridge, Beverley Hills, Parkfairfax and Taylor Run depend on Bradlee as their primary destination for grocery shopping and other routine errands, many of which require an automobile.

As with Seminary Road, they are asking why the city would introduce new safety hazards. In this case, it’s the potential for crashes involving bicycles and motor vehicles at Bradlee’s four entrances. Residents are also concerned about the service road that offers many Bradlee customers easy entry and egress. The redesign may convert it to one-way traffic westbound, requiring many to pass through several additional traffic signals on the trip home.

Another potential feature could redirect eastbound buses from the service road to the main lanes of King Street, likely impeding traffic on the smooth-flowing corridor at peak hours. Ironically, T&ES is proposing the exact opposite on Duke Street, where a key feature would remove buses from the main traffic lanes.

As with Seminary Road, crash statistics show that this high-volume stretch of King Street has almost no history of deaths or serious injuries. And like the Seminary Road project, there appears to be almost no demand from bicyclists. In fact, residents from two of the most affected neighborhoods conducted traffic counts during five hours at peak time over two days. While several hundred cars visited Bradlee hourly, only a few pedestrians and just one bicyclist did so. What’s more, right behind Bradlee sits a designated bike route on the much less busy West Braddock Road.

So, here we go again. The city is presenting a solution where there is no problem to solve, in compliance with the movement to make all roads more bike and pedestrian friendly. They would redesign a perfectly good corridor for the few at the expense of the many.

If the project is ultimately implemented, get ready for the inevitable unin-tended consequences.

The writer is a civic advocate, management consultant and longtime Alexandria resident.