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Alexandria's King Street will get bike lanes after all

Alexandria's transportation director gave the order Friday to build bike lanes on King Street west of Old Town. The decision ends a long and contentious debate over whether to remove parking spaces.

Photo from Google Street View.

Rich Baier, director of the city's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, announced that Alexandria will proceed with a "compromise plan" for King Street after a contentious public process that lasted over two months. In so doing, Baier effectively bypassed the Traffic and Parking Board which, in its advisory role, had voted to defer any decision on bike lanes at its November 25 meeting.

The so-called "compromise plan," which will start next year, retains 10 of the 37 spaces the city originally planned to remove. Traffic counts suggest that, on average, 2.4 cars are parked on King Street at any time. To keep the 10 spaces, the design will include a brief section of shared lanes with sharrows instead of separate bike lanes.

There will be bike lanes on both sides of King Street for five blocks between Russell Road, just west of the King Street Metro station, to Highland Place. There, the bike lanes will merge with the general traffic lanes for two blocks between Highland and Janneys Lane, where the parking spaces will be. That section will have sharrow markings, as well as a bike box to aid left-hand turns, improving access to the bike lanes on Janneys Lane.

"This has been a challenging and complicated project, and I am empathetic to the inconvenience that the loss of parking will create for residents," wrote Baier. "I am also empathetic to the pedestrians and cyclists who use this corridor on a daily basis."

In his announcement, Baier noted that to research the issue, he "walked, drove and rode [his] own bike up and down King Street." He cited several reasons for moving forward with the bike lanes, including the city council's goals, the city's Transportation Master Plan, the Eco-City Alexandria charter, and the city's Complete Streets Policy. Baier noted that King Street doesn't qualify for an exception from Alexandria's Complete Streets Policy, which only applies when there's "excessive cost or that the use of the roadway by bicyclists or pedestrians is prohibited by law."

Baier also described broad support for the plan from Alexandria's transportation, environmental policy, and park and recreation commissions, as well as the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).

"I think the city made the right decision to implement the complete streets policy, which will create a safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians," says BPAC chair Jerry King. Meanwhile, an announcement on the BPAC Facebook page adds that this result "is arguably a win for car-parking enthusiasts as well."

Jonathan Krall is an advocate for bicycling and walking and a former Chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee. He lives in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria and has been car-free since 2011.  


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I don't compete in car-parking, but I love to watch the Tour de Downtown every year on cable.

by David C on Dec 23, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

I really hate roads that switch from bike lanes to sharrows. Most drivers don't respect sharrows to begin with, and the number who will actually allow a cyclist to merge when the bike lane ends is miniscule.

Maybe if the bike lane was actually treated like a car lane, complete with standard "Lane Ends" and "Merge Left" signs it would be different.

by Jon Renaut on Dec 23, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

Jon: it's not optimum, but it was the compromise needed to get the project moving forward. Sadly, the city's Traffic and Parking Board didn't even consider this a compromise...they saw it as an all-or-nothing, and it was clear from their inaction that they preferred the nothing.

by Froggie on Dec 23, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

Jonathan K., and so many other Alexandria residents, deserve a big congratulations for all their hard work and advocacy. Right when it looked like the status quo would win, this decision came out.

by Crickey7 on Dec 23, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

The part of the project that bothers me is the 4' bike lane heading downhill. Assuming that all of the width is claimed, I'd swap the foot of width from the 5' wide uphill lane to the downhill side.

... or put SHARROWs on the downhill side of King Street the entire way next to the narrow BL. Since the speed limit is only 25 mph, there should be relatively little conflict.

by Geof Gee on Dec 23, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

In case readers don't have the BL design handy ...

by Geof Gee on Dec 23, 2013 11:25 am • linkreport

Thanks for comments and kind words. Here are some replies:

David C: I thought about calling them "car-parking hobbyists." They are clearly passionate about those parking spaces even though they don't actually use them that often.

Jon: I agree about bike-lane/sharrow comnbinations, but this seems to be the norm in Alexandria, for now. I like them much better than just sharrows. We are doing our best to build up support for through bike lanes or, in places where there is more of a street grid, bike boulevards.

Froggie: I agree about the Traffic and Parking Board. By not acknowledging the compromise that was presented to them and not clearly stating that they were seeking either further concessions or to scuttle the bike lanes entirely, the TPB was misleading the public. If the TPB cannot serve the public as an honest broker, it should be reoganized or disbanded.

Geof: The 4' downhill lane came about because city planners wanted to widen the lane in front of the driveways on the uphill side. This is a concession to residents who previously used the reliably-empty parking spaces to aid turning movements into driveways.

I am very happy there is a downhill lane. I often ride with relative beginners who brake heavily on downhills. I feel that they need a place to ride slowly without a confused motorist honking at them ("bikes in the roadway must ride at the speed limit--that's the law!" <--actual motorist quote, shouted at me last week). The beauty of bicycling is that it takes less energy than walking, giving one the option to ride slowly and show up less tired and sweaty than if one had walked.

by Jonathan Krall on Dec 23, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

Thank you, Rich Baier, for listening to your constituents and approving this plan.

When the lane is completed, I will make sure to put it to use.

by CyclistinAlexandria on Dec 23, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

I understand and appreciation the compromises necessary - this is definitely an improvement and hopefully just the first step. But as someone who spends a lot of time riding in city traffic, I actually feel less safe on a street where the bike lane starts and stops than when there's no marked bike infrastructure at all. It's hard to be predictable to drivers when you keep coming in and out of the main traffic lane.

by Jon Renaut on Dec 23, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

Just to be clear, I wrote put SHARROWs *next* to the downhill bike lane. Once a cyclist picks up a modest amount of speed, being next to the curb in a narrow bike lane is unwise, IME. However, with the bike lane there are expectations that cyclists will stay there. Of course, these same bicyclists need to merge with motorized traffic toward the bottom of the hill.

by Geof Gee on Dec 23, 2013 12:16 pm • linkreport

Jon: Regarding the effectiveness of sharrows, drivers on Walter Reed/Beauregard have stopped cursing me since the sharrows were painted. They probably still hate me, but they grudgingly accept me.

by Steve W on Dec 23, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

Ha, @Steve W, that's certainly good to hear.

To be clear, it's not sharrows I object to, it's suddenly having to merge into them after being in a bike lane.

by Jon Renaut on Dec 23, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

I agree with Geof Gee (as usual). A four-foot wide (from face of curb) downhill bike lane is substandard and not particularly safe. While I don't "oppose" it, it would be better to have BOTH this bike lane and a sharrow centered in the downhill travel lane. With these dual downhill facilities, downhill bicyclists would not be discouraged from, or harassed for, taking this lane.

by Allen Muchnick on Dec 23, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Much depends on how the transition from bike lane to sharrow is done. It need to look like a wide lane narrowing, not a bike lane ending, so drivers do not perceive cyclists to be changing lanes left, but rather perceive bikes as being vehicles ahead of then. But cyclists need to be prepared for the former perception.

I think that removing the center lane can help, as that tells drivers that they need to slow down and/or move left to pass a bike. No center lane also makes the situation the same as wide lanes when no one is is parked, which also makes rush hour parking restrictions meaningful if that becomes feasible later.

by JimT on Dec 23, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

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