Greater Greater Washington

Despite community support, Alexandria board again wants to delay King Street bike lanes

Almost 60% of residents spoke up for Alexandria's King Street bike lanes Tuesday night, but the city's Traffic and Parking Board once again voted to recommend that the City Council delay building them because of concerns about lost parking.


Photo from Google Street View.

The proposal would remove 27 parking spaces and add bike lanes to King Street between Russell Road and Highland Place, west of Old Town. In a concession to neighbors, transportation officials had previously agreed to have sharrows between Highland and Janneys Lane for two additional blocks, saving 10 parking spaces.

Though Transportation and Environmental Services Director Rich Baier gave the order to go ahead with the plan in December, the Traffic and Parking Board (TPB) reconsidered the project as part of an appeals process and voted 5-2 in favor of delaying it. Next, it goes to the City Council for a public hearing and final vote on the lanes March 15.

According to Baier, there are an average of three cars parked along the corridor, and all of the houses on King Street have driveways that can accommodate at least two cars. But the board asked Baier to address a large number of suggested alternatives, all of which retained all parking spaces.

Said Baier, "Everyone talks safety, but it always comes down to the parking."

Those alternatives included finding alternative routes for bicyclists, which Baier said didn't address safety concerns for cyclists or pedestrians on King Street today. Baier also looked at a wider sidewalk, bulb-outs, and a so-called "enhanced curb," but without changing the parking, there was only two feet of space to work with, meaning the improvements would be small.

A representative of DASH, the city's bus agency, said that narrowing the through lanes for traffic calming as planned is not a problem for DASH buses or emergency vehicles.

At Tuesday's meeting, Baier, his staff, and numerous speakers in favor of the plan described the traffic calming effect of bike lanes. Transportation planner Carrie Sanders stated that bike lanes increase cycling, and drivers respond by slowing down. Baier pointed out that this is a well-established result and is "not at all cutting-edge."

Overall, 32 people spoke in favor of the plan and 23 spoke against. One speaker was Environmental Policy Commission Chair Scott Barstow, who pointed out that the entire EPC was in attendance and invited them to stand up. In the interest of time, the remaining EPC members did not testify.

But numerous opponents stated that the traffic would not slow down in any circumstance. One opposing speaker said that inviting more cyclists onto the streets would indeed slow down the cars by frightening drivers, but went on to say that frightening drivers was simply unacceptable.

TPB Vice Chair Larry Ruggiero, who made the motion to disapprove the city's plan, indicated that he judged the plan unsafe. When fellow board member Kevin Posey asked for his rationale, Ruggiero failed to give one.

William Schuyler, who seconded the motion, added an amendment asking the "two sides" to meet and find a resolution within the next 60 days, which the board had already recommended when they voted 6-0 against the proposal the first time in November.

Complete-streets proponent Kevin Posey, who represents Alexandria's Transportation Commission on the TPB, and TPB member Greg Cota cast the two dissenting votes. The Transportation Commission submitted a letter to the TPB in favor of the plan.

Cota seemed incredulous that the rest of the TPB could not see the value in separating bicycles from pedestrians and cars. Posey said he was not comfortable with any motion that dismissed the expertise of city staff and the opinions of cyclists concerning their own safety.

Despite the TPB request for both more "common ground" and more delays, the reality is that there is no solution that both retains parking and allows even a single, parallel bike lane within the right-of-way. As Baier repeatedly pointed out, the road is simply too narrow.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the project March 15 at 9:30 am at Alexandria City Hall, 301 King Street. If you'd like to express your support for this project, the Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition.

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.  

Comments

Add a comment »

Said Baier, "Everyone talks safety, but it always comes down to the parking."

I'd get a tattoo of that.

by drumz on Feb 28, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Thank you for the link to the petition, which I have signed.

by DE on Feb 28, 2014 1:38 pm • linkreport

"Almost 60% of residents spoke up for "

is a little misleading.

It reads like 60% of all Alexandria residents wanted something, when really it was almost 60% of the 55 people who showed up.

Wildly different

by Arkie on Feb 28, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

I understand the politics of this, but I have a serious question: if Alexandria votes against bike lanes on King Street, that would appear to be a clear violation of their own Complete Streets policy. I am wondering if there is a legal precedent for a Council being sued for non-compliance with a Complete Streets policy.
Here is a link to the policy, adopted in 2011:
http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/localmotion/info/gettingaround/Street%20Resolution.pdf

by renegade09 on Feb 28, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

This is ridiculous. This is .5 miles. Just build the damn thing already.

by Kyle-w on Feb 28, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

By this point we know how bike lanes work. We know what the impacts are for parking, traffic safety, business and what not. Your basic side of the road bike lane doesn't need a series of meetings to plan out.

by drumz on Feb 28, 2014 4:47 pm • linkreport

How about just cover the meters and paint the lines. If it turns out to be a disaster, then its easy to paint back the parking.

Failing that, we could organize a daily event where 10 cyclists ride in the middle of the regular lane. If the city can't give us a safe place, we have to act safely, and that means taking the lane.

by SJE on Feb 28, 2014 4:47 pm • linkreport

This is about what I'd expect for Alexandria. Read the local police blotter/doggie-kid pics/real estate ad rags. The letters to the editor are a high art form.

by spookiness on Mar 1, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

Thanks all for comments. Two responses...

@Arkie: To clarify, 32 spoke in favor and 23 spoke against, according to my notes at the time. We of course do not have polling data on this project in Alexandria. However, polling in the DC area[1], San Francisco[2] and New York[3] show 60+ percent in favor of bike lanes. Other studies[4] show that 60 percent of people in urban areas would like to ride in the streets but are afraid to do so. That's a big pool of support for bicycling.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/polling/washington-post-dc-area-transportation-poll/2013/08/24/b872e460-e11f-11e2-a0de-145598a7b2b7_page.html
[2] http://www.sfbike.org/main/new-poll-finds-strong-support-for-more-better-biking-in-san-francisco/
[3] http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/08/16/times-poll-new-yorkers-really-love-bike-lanes-bike-share-and-plazas/
[4] http://streetsblog.net/2010/12/20/wooing-the-hesitant-cyclist/

@SJE: Just to be clear, this is the part of King Street west of the Metro Station where there are no meters, just 37 reliably-empty parking spaces.

In effect, this neighborhood has event parking. Event parking is a luxury that few neighborhoods enjoy and some in the immediate area do not want to give it up. Others do, including two past presidents of the Taylor Run Civic Association, Randy Cole and Maitland Bottoms, who spoke at the hearing. Unfortunately, the current leadership of that TRCA voted and testified against the project.

by Jonathan Krall on Mar 1, 2014 5:20 pm • linkreport

@renegade
"Complete Streets" is nominally a policy, not a law or regulation.

The amount of attention and strong feelings - on both sides of the issue - seem inappropriate when Alexandria has woefully poor pedestrian facilities across much of the West End, especially for crossing I-395. (A project is *finally* slated to begin at the end of this year to improve the Duke Street crossing.) The whole thing seems like a "hippy vs. rich dude" scenario, while issues affecting "normal" Alexandrians get pushed to the side.

by Rich 'n Alexandria on Mar 3, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

@ Rich--

While I agree with you about pedestrian facilities (in general, not just West End) are lacking, attention by the city is not a zero-sum game. The bike lane issue is part of a greater "Complete Streets" effort that includes pedestrian improvements. It is possible that the project you mentioned is being implemented because of "Complete Streets".

I think that all Alexandrians (and we're all "normal") should be interested in how this shakes out--is the City really going to make safety improvement for people who are traveling by means other than private vehicle, or will it prioritize the convience of a very, very few?

by Catherine on Mar 4, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

Alexandria is "Arlington Fail".

by Igor on Mar 4, 2014 11:50 am • linkreport

@Rich: An example of positive change in Alexandria is The Beauregard Small Area Plan in the West End. While far from ideal, it does explicitly include some bike lanes and shows where they will be included. The Potomac Yard plan, by contrast, has zero on-street bike lanes even though citizens like me were told that on-street bicycling would be accommodated (at the time planners made it sound like bicycles in the street would be added later in the process; I'm still angry over it). Admittedly the Potomac Yard development sets a very low bar for bicycling (it's much better for walking and transit), but there are signs of change.

I have a mixed reaction to the view that "normal" Alexandrians are being pushed to the side. On the one hand, all these meetings are open to the public. On the other, our bike network is so intimidating that most potential cyclists are effectively kept off the road.

by Jonathan Krall on Mar 4, 2014 12:14 pm • linkreport

There was no need for lots of attention. This was a routine project, already part of the bike plan, and in keeping with alexandria policy. Presumably it was expected to pass easily. It was the opponents who made it controversial, and took advantage of the fact that it had to pass a board whose focus is on parking and not on larger transport goals. The opponents blindsided everyone else.

The reaction from the pro cycling community is not due to this being more important than than other projects, but due to the fact that aggressive lobbying was used to stop what should have been a routine project.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 4, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

Love the pic showing the bike going the wrong way. Why no ticket?

by Hondo on Mar 4, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

There's no ticket because that cyclist is traveling the right way. Unless the cyclist has no head and wears a backpack on his chest. Which would be weird.

by drumz on Mar 4, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or