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Development


Three big urban planning efforts that will transform Northern Virginia

As 2016 kicks into gear, big plans are in the works to remake Old Town North in Alexandria, Reston Town Center, and Arlington's Lee Highway. In each jurisdiction, there are equally big questions about where housing will fit into future development.


Photo by Rocky A on Flickr.

All three are happening within the framework of last year's local election campaigns, with lagging economies, rising housing costs, growing poverty in the suburbs, and the question of where our jobs will sleep at night. Will 2015's campaign rhetoric translate into places that are affordable, accessible, and walkable, with amenities that can be enjoyed by all in the community?

Alexandria

Alexandria's Old Town North (OTN) Small Area Plan will be an update to the original, which came out in 1992. The goals of the plan are to create a sense of place with innovative architecture, design, and open space, while respecting existing residential neighborhoods. The plan will maintain views of the river and ensure public access to water activities, and promote walkability and accessibility to open space.

Existing city plans, namely the 1974 master plan and the Plan for the Redevelopment of the Alexandria Waterfront, will inform specific recommendations for the new SAP.


Alexandria's Old Town waterfront. Photo by brownpau on Flickr.

Regarding housing, there are 340 committed, affordable public housing units owned by Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) in Old Town North. There are no market-affordable units nor are there any affordable rental set-aside units from market-rate developers located in this study area.

What to look for: How proactive will the city be in promoting more housing that's affordable and accessible? Which tools will it use to achieve the housing goals identified in the city's housing master plan? What role will density play? Will the OTN community support the redevelopment of Hopkins-Tancil Courts and the Administrative Office Building for ARHA into higher density, mixed income developments? What role will the campaign commitment of the new mayor to slow the pace of development play in the plans for OTN?

Arlington

Summary of what's actually happening in Arlington: Redevelopment is happening along Lee Highway, and the Lee Highway Briefing Book will examine existing conditions and policies that affect the corridor between Rosslyn and East Falls Church.

The purpose of the briefing book is for data collection and research only; no redevelopment is planned at this time, but the hope is to ensure that future growth will be guided by a comprehensive vision for the corridor. The study boundaries will include all land within a quarter mile north and south of Lee Highway.


Lee Highway and Spout Run Parkway. Photo from Arlington County.

Since 2012, a coalition of civic association leaders known as the Lee Highway Alliance (LHA) has been actively engaged in conducting educational forums and walking tours, the ultimate goal being to develop a community-based vision for the corridor. The result has been growing interest and involvement in the work of the LHA.

What to look for: How will the County's need for more housing that's affordable align with the visioning sessions led by the civic associations? As redevelopment occurs, will Arlington be successful in putting housing that's affordable in geographically diverse places? The newly adopted Affordable Housing Master Plan calls for the Lee Highway corridor to be one of those places. What are the challenges to providing additional housing posed by this narrowly defined commercial area abutting established single-family residential neighborhoods?

Fairfax

In Fairfax, Reston Town Center North will redevelop a 49-acre area of irregularly-shaped parcels north of Reston Town Center. The concept plan envisions creating eight block parcels with a grid of streets and a mix of uses "improving the current county services, integrating them into a new mixed-use community with housing, shops, restaurants, and a publicly-accessible central green open space."

This redevelopment takes advantage of a number of large employers and retail and restaurant opportunities located there, as well as proximity to the future Reston Town Center Metro station, creating additional opportunities to live/work/play in this popular and desirable location.


Rendering from Fairfax County.

County leaders are working with the community to refine objectives for the site. In addition to redeveloping the existing county facilities, other possible public uses could include transitional housing for people moving out of the homeless shelter that's there, additional affordable housing, an indoor recreation center or swimming pool, a performing arts center, and community meeting rooms.

Redevelopment plans will move forward in two phases. The first phase calls for the redevelopment of the 6.65 acres just south of Bowman Towne Drive where the library and shelter are currently located. These parcels, known as Blocks 7 and 8 (and which the county owns), are planned for mixed-use development that would include the proposed replacement library and shelter, as well as new affordable housing. The county will be seeking redevelopment partners for these block developments.

The county and Inova will jointly pursue rezoning of the remaining parcels, and then negotiate a full development agreement for swapping land at the conclusion of the rezoning, building the common infrastructure, and establishing easements. Future development of individual blocks would require separate, subsequent rezoning actions.

What to look for: Will the recent collapse of the Lake Anne redevelopment plan inform the county's thinking with regard to selecting a development partner? Will the county use this opportunity to address stated goals in the Housing Blueprint, especially regarding permanent supportive housing and housing for families at lower income levels?

A version of this post is also up on the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance's website.

Bicycling


2015's greatest hits: Nation's first bicycle HOT lanes planned for Mt. Vernon Trail

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This April Fool's joke post originally ran on April 1. Enjoy and happy New Year!

The National Park Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) have announced a new partnership to construct the nation's first bicycle High Occupancy/Toll Express Lanes on the Mount Vernon Trail between Rosslyn and Mount Vernon.


Artist's rendering showing how high occupancy vehicles will benefit from enhanced capacity. Image by Peter Dovak.

The all-electronic HOT lanes will require construction of a second path parallel to the existing trail. Once completed, each path will carry one-way mixed traffic (runners, walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, and other self-propelled vehicles) on the right, with a left lane set aside for high occupancy vehicles or for users paying a variable toll.

Local leaders and transportation experts hailed the move as a way to relieve congestion on key arteries without digging into the already-strained National Park Service operating budget. NPS spokesperson Val O. C. Pede said that congestion at several key junctions along the trail would go from a Level of Service rating of "F" to an "A" or "B-."

The construction and operation would be funded by Trechiant Ventures, a partnership of bicycle manufacturers Giant, Trek, and Bianchi, who are developing bicycles designed specifically for such facilities.

The HOT lanes will not be separated from regular traffic by bollards or barricades, but will instead rely on strict enforcement. All HOT lane users will be required to use an E-ZPass, just as they would in motor vehicles.

NPS ranger stations, local Whole Foods stores, and participating bike shops will offer special clips to attach transponders to riders' helmets. The lanes will be free for High Occupancy Vehicles using an E-ZPass Flex, including tandem bicycles, bicycles with children in trailers, and joggers practicing for wife carrying races.

Park Rangers will be stationed at the side of the trail with special equipment to detect the number of riders in or on the vehicle, and proper E-ZPass Flex settings.

Rollerbladers will be required to pay double, by strapping one E-ZPass transponder to each of their skates. Bicycle mechanics will also be stationed every two miles to clear the lanes of any breakdowns.

Toll rates are expected to vary between 25¢/mile and $1.00/mile, which would make the Rosslyn to King Street corridor a competitive alternative to Metro's Blue Line. As with the I-495 and I-95 Express Lanes, there is no ceiling on the price. The pricing will be adjusted to maintain a guaranteed 15 mph speed for cyclists, which is also the maximum speed for the trail.

Neighboring jurisdictions hailed the announcement. Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey suggested that "VDOT's enthusiastic participation in this exciting public private partnership makes bicycle HOT lanes the perfect, low-cost-to-us replacement for the canceled Columbia Pike Streetcar."

Alexandria Town Crier understudy Hugh G. Pannier suggested that the city's new waterfront plans would be well-served by additional bicycle capacity along the waterfront, but that the city might demand that signage use a more period-appropriate typeface.

Bicycling


Did you know Potomac Yard in Alexandria has a new trail?

The City of Alexandria has built a new multi-use trail from Potomac Yard to Braddock Road Metro station, as part of the new Potomac Yard Park. The trail provides a useful connection between the new residences and shops opening in Potomac Yard and Old Town.


Potomac Yard Trail. Photon by the author.

The trail runs along the west side of Alexandria's Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express tracks for roughly 1.5 miles, from about East Glebe Road to East Braddock Road. It is part of a 24 acre linear park that has opened in phases since 2011 with the stretch south of South Main Line Boulevard opening this year.


The new Potomac Yard Trail. Map by Google.

Residents of the growing neighborhood are already enjoying the trail. It connects them to the Braddock Road Metro station, the closest to residents in the southern reaches of the area until the proposed Potomac Yard Metro station opens. It also provides them with an all off-road bike and pedestrian route south to the western end of Old Town.


Another view of the Potomac Yard Trail. Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

Alexandria is already planning to continue the trail north to Four Mile Run and Crystal City. This will occur as the Potomac Yard shopping center is redeveloped, and it will replace the temporary trail along Potomac Avenue north of East Glebe Road. The city does not have a specific timeframe for completion yet.

Building parks early means less struggle down the line

Having the park and trail in place should allow Potomac Yard to avoid some of the issues other newly developing neighborhoods in the region face. A lack of early planning for parks in NoMa has forced the NoMa Business Improvement District to compete with developers bidding for attractive plots in and near the neighborhood's core to create some green space in the area.

NoMa bought its first plot in November, spending $3.2 million for 5,200 square feet at the corner of 3rd St and L St NE. Washington DC has budgeted $50 million for parks in the neighborhood.

Comparatively, Alexandria was able to build the first sections of the Potomac Yard Trail for only about $800,000.

Bicycling


Check out Alexandria's efforts to make crossing a busy street on a bike safer

Sometimes called "bike crossings," intersection crossing markings that both tell cyclists where the safest place to cross a street and remind drivers to watch out for cyclists may be coming to Alexandria. Would what's planned for Alexandria make cyclists safer?


Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

Bike crossings are part of the plan for the Wilkes Street Neighborhood Bikeway, which Alexandria Transportation Planner Hillary Orr (formerly Hillary Poole) unveiled in final, ready-to-bid form at November's Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting.

(Orr actually called these "bicycle crosswalks," but that's not the standard name, as it implies that cyclists should dismount and walk through them, which is incorrect.)

A bike crossing looks like a crosswalk with separate walking and cycling lanes. At Wilkes and Columbus Street in Alexandria, the plan is to use bike crossings to take the east-west bikeway from a shared street (a street marked with sharrows) to an off-street path.


The plan for Wilkes Street and Columbus Street. Image from the City of Alexandria.

According to Orr, the bike crossing comes from the National Association of City Transportation Officials guide. But the closest thing I found in the on-line NACTO guide was an intersection treatment for bike lanes:


Bike crossing detail from NACTO guide.

What Alexandria has planned more closely resembles a South Korean bike crossing than anything I found in the NACTO guide:


A crossing in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Chris Rust.

Is it useful? Or just a distraction?

A street crossing that keeps people walking separate from those on bicycles would certainly be useful, if connecting similarly separated facilities, such as this off-street greenway:


Lane-separated greenway in Minneapolis. Photo by the author.

On Wilkes Street, however, bicycle riders are expected to move from a path people share for biking and walking on the west side of the intersection to street people share for biking and driving on the east, even though the bike crossing guides them towards the sidewalk.

At the BPAC meeting, people asked about the single bike crossing that's supposed to carry people over Wilkes Street's intersection with Route 1. Currently there is no bike crossing specifically for westbound traffic. This allows unimpeded flow of left-turning motor vehicles from eastbound Wilkes to northbound Route 1. The modified intersection will continue this practice.


The plan for Wilkes and Route 1. Image from the City of Alexandria.

When asked why a separate crossing was not added to facilitate westbound bicycling, Orr said it was "for safety."

In the new configuration, as in the present, westbound bicycle traffic is expected to cross to the southwest corner before either waiting for the northbound walk signal or proceeding west on the sidewalk. As in the current configuration, this design prioritizes car movement over cyclist safety. In previous discussions of this Bikeway, BPAC members specifically requested a direct connection to westbound Wilkes St for westbound bicycle traffic. Clearly, these requests were denied.

I left the meeting feeling that I was supposed to be impressed by the shiny new "bicycle crosswalk" but was instead disappointed with the second-class treatment of bicycling at the intersection with Route 1.

Transit


Rapid buses or light rail are coming to Leesburg Pike

Imagine faster, more reliable transit zipping along its own lane without cars down Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Alexandria, connecting thousands of people to jobs, schools, shopping and entertainment. Planners in Northern Virginia are taking a serious look at how to make that happen.


Image from Envision Route 7.

Also called Route 7, Leesburg Pike is a major state road that stretches from Winchester to Alexandria in Virginia. Retail stores and job centers are growing more common along the route, particularly where it hits Tysons Corner. That's brought more congestion, which makes the stretch of Leesburg Pike between Tysons and Alexandria an ideal place for new transit.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which plans and funds transit in the area, has launched Envision Route 7, a study that will look at potential new transit options.

Northern Virginia is expected to see a lot of population and job growth between now and 2040. Route 7, with its old commercial centers, is a place that can handle the growth. Places all along the route like Tysons, Falls Church, Seven Corners, Bailey's Crossroads and the West End of Alexandria are trying to attract more companies and jobs and also make commuting easier. At the same time, they are taking significant steps to improve walking, biking and become more transit-friendly. This new proposed transit service plays a vital role to accomplish these goals.

There are a few options for transit along Route 7

NVTC has proposed three new transit service options. They are:

  • Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which is a faster bus with rail-like features like big stations. It operates on the street, either in the center median or along the curb, and sometimes in its own lane with no cars.

  • Light Rail Transit (LRT), which, like BRT, can operate on the street, either in the center median or along the curb. Most often, LRT has its own lane with no cars. One issue with LRT is that it needs a power source, usually from an overhead electric wire. Also, LRT can carry more people than BRT, but it's correspondingly more expensive.

  • Better bus service, which planners frequently refer to as "Enhanced Bus." That would simply mean additional buses that would replace Metro's 28A and 28x currently serving Route 7

Whatever option ultimately goes in will be a more modern, frequent, and faster way of traveling along Route 7 than what's currently there. Overall, the goal is for it to take a lot less time to get from Tysons Corner to Alexandria along Route 7 than it does now.

For example, the study is looking at the new transit service having daily and weekend service every 10-minutes at peak hours and every 15-minutes during the off-peak, and operating 18 to 22 hours per day. To increase transit's efficiency, there would be kiosks to pay for trips in advance and allow boarding from all-doors, not just the front one.

The actual route new transit takes is TBD

The route the new service will travel is not completely decided yet. In fact, new bus or rail may not travel exclusively along Route 7. There are three different options for the new transit's specific route, each depending on which service (specifically BRT or LRT).

This interactive map shows different potential paths. One of the following routes will be selected:

  • Tysons to the Van Dorn Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metro station. This would work for either BRT or LRT. This route would go from Tysons Corner down Route 7, turn in the City of Falls Church on Lee Highway toward the East Falls Church Metro station, and then continue on to Van Dorn Street station.

  • Tysons to King Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metro station (BRT only); The route would essentially be the same as above, except continue on Route 7 directly to the King Street Metro station.

  • Tysons to Van Dorn Street Metro station (BRT only), staying on Route 7 until Beauregard Street before heading to the Van Dorn Metro station. This route would bypass the East Falls Church Metro Station.

One of the routes could take the transit directly through the City of Falls Church along Route 7 (it's called Broad Street there) in the direction of Seven Corners. This is a residential street. Because Broad Street has only two lanes in each direction, it would be difficult to have transit in a car-free lane. Another uncertainty would be whether this community would ask for additional stops along this segment. Currently, no stops are proposed for this segment.

On the other side of Route 7, between Janneys Lane and King Street Metro Station, the road narrows again with only one lane in each direction, again making it difficult for transit to be in a car-free lane. Similarly, the community could ask for additional stops, which would slow down the travel time of transit.

For these reasons, it would not be surprising if the new transit service route traveled down Route 7, headed toward the East Falls Church Metro Station, returned to Route 7 in Seven Corners and then turn down Beauregard Street toward the Van Dorn Metro Station

What about transit stops and stations?

The number and location of stops also depend on which new service (again BRT or LRT) and route are chosen. The possibilities are:

  • 15 transit stops if BRT or LRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and Van Dorn Street Metro station via East Falls Church Metrorail station. Possible stops include Spring Hill Metro, Gallows Rd, Route 50, Beauregard Street, Mark Center, Duke Street, etc.

  • 13 transit stops if BRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and King Street Metro via East Falls Church Metrorail station. Possible stops include Spring Hill Metro, Gallows Rd, Route 50, Park Center and Quaker Lane

  • 14 transit stops if BRT is the chosen service and the route is between Tysons Corner and Van Dorn Street Metro station (but bypasses the East Falls Church Metro). The stops would be the same as the first one but without East Falls Church.

What's happening now?

The NVTC is making all this information and more available to the public. At this point, no decisions over the type of transit or the route or the stops are final. Everything is still under discussion. In fact, NVTC is holding forums this month to discuss everything about the project, including the transit service and the route. The last forum is on November 18.

But they will also have key ridership information and a better idea of the cost of the new transit service. That is a good thing. Not only should the transit service be good, reliable and robust, who will ride it and how much it costs are important factors in its success.


Politics


For Alexandria and Arlington elections: Bill Euille, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey

Many residents of Arlington and Alexandria watched Wednesday night's GOP presidential debate, but there's an election coming up much sooner which will have a major impact on life in those Northern Virginia localities.

Virginia voters go to the polls Tuesday to elect representatives in local county or city offices and state legislature. In the local races in Arlington and Alexandria, Greater Greater Washington endorses Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey for Arlington County Board and recommends writing in Bill Euille for mayor of Alexandria.


Left to right: Bill Euille, Katie Cristol, Christian Dorsey. Images from the candidate websites.

Arlington County Board

In Arlington, incumbents Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada both decided not to run for their seats on the five-member board this year, shortly after the other three members voted to cancel the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Democratic nominee Katie Cristol stands out as the strongest on urbanism. In Friday's debate, she expressed strong support for a better transit network, protected bikeways, and allowing the county to grow.

Christian Dorsey, the other Democratic nominee, is clearly a step behind Cristol on transportation and growth but far ahead of the other two. (Voters will vote for two candidates for two seats.) He supports better transit, but is nervous about transit-oriented development without high parking requirements and doesn't yet understand the need for protected bicycle infrastructure.

Dorsey also has support from Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, two members of the county board who won office largely by telling voters in the most affluent parts of the county that they shouldn't have to pay to build transportation and recreation infrastructure for anyone else. However, this doesn't mean he will take a similar approach, and he seems open to learning from his colleagues on the board and people in Arlington. He's also clearly superior to the other two options, Audrey Clement and Mike McMenamin.

Clement thinks Arlington has grown too much and doesn't want to build more bike trails. McMenamin doesn't want more density either because it could add to traffic (not realizing that Arlington has grown without making traffic worse), thinks adding more parking is more important than better transit, and would only consider bike infrastructure in the context of how it would affect drivers.

To make an endorsement, Greater Greater Washington polls our regular contributors and makes an endorsement when there is a clear consensus. Here's what some of our contributors had to say:

  • Cristol is great on transit—understanding the need for supporting non-work trips to really enable car-free and car-lite living. She has actual concrete suggestions on improving Columbia Pike bus service. She understands and talks about the economic benefits of cycling infrastructure and supports the expansion of protected bike lanes. She's the best candidate in the bunch.
  • [Cristol and Dorsey] have a firm commitment to affordable housing, without Audrey Clement's anti-intensification NIMBYism.
  • Clement just doesn't know how cities work and many of her proposed policies are way too proscriptive and busy-bodyish. McNemamin is one of those who sees everything as waste but wants to widen 66 and make parking easier.
  • I know Katie Cristol and she is a pleasure to work with. She seems to be the most in line with smart growth ideals than any of the candidates. Dorsey seems OK and better on the issues than the two other candidates, though his positions seem a bit more qualified.
Alexandria mayor

In Alexandria, there is only one candidate for mayor on the ballot, but there's a hotly contested race nonetheless that will determine the city's path for years to come. Alison Silberberg narrowly won the Democratic primary by 321 votes over incumbent mayor Bill Euille, but only because Kerry Donley played the role of spoiler, competing for the same base of voters as Euille.

Now, Euille is running as a write-in candidate, hoping the large majority of Alexandrians who supported him or Donley (who has endorsed his write-in candidacy) will help him defeat Silberberg.

As mayor, Euille has generally supported a vision of a growing, active, urban Alexandria which welcomes people getting around on foot or by bicycle. Silberberg, meanwhile, is running hard as the anti-change candidate who will stop Alexandria's growth and design the city entirely around the automobile.

Here are our contributors:

  • Bill Euille supports the development that Alexandria needs both in Old Town and at Potomac Yard. Silberberg represents a contingent who act as if Alexandria is "full" and unable to grow.
  • Alexandria's forward progress on cycling and the Potomac Yard Metro station have both come during Euille's tenure.
  • Euille understands how municipal budgets work. He is a big supporter of economic development and smart growth. He is leading the way for a Potomac Yard infill metro station, and has supported transit corridors and improved bicycle and pedestrian ways.
  • Silberberg basically doesn't understand that you can't lower taxes and vote "no" on growth while still providing needed infrastructure, supporting the schools, helping the elderly, funding affordable housing, and preserving every brick more than 50 years old.
This election matters a lot for the future of Alexandria. If you live there, we hope you will write in Bill Euille.

Alexandria council

There are six at-large councilmembers besides the mayor. Incumbents John Chapman, Tim Lovain, Del Pepper, Paul Smedberg, and Justin Wilson are running for re-election. There is also one open seat, the one Silberberg now holds.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee sent a questionnaire to the candidates, and heard back from Chapman, Lovain, and Wilson, as well as Monique Miles and Townsend "Van" Van Fleet.

Even many of our contributors have not followed this race intensely, and so there were not enough votes to make an endorsement. However, of those who did, there was praise for the five incumbents, particularly Lovain and Wilson.

Here's what they said:

  • Chapman: Good thinker, came out with small business initiatives, supports growth around Metro.
  • Lovain: transportation expert; head of TPB next year. Supported streetcars and high capacity transit.
  • Pepper: This vote is for experience more than anything. She knows how government works, and has her ear finely tuned to citizen "wants." She can craft a compromise if needed to help a project move forward.
  • Smedberg: For good government, fiscal responsibility, economic development, and environmental stewardship.
  • Wilson: The brain of the City Council. He knows the ins and outs of every budget line item; can talk for hours on transportation, schools, budgets; has all the facts at his fingertips.
  • Lovain and Wilson are the strongest supporters of Complete Streets, transit-oriented development and Capital Bikeshare. Wilson is also quick to give realistic answers to questions raised by the public, and often gets heat for it because residents don't always like the answers. During recent "add/delete" budget sessions, Lovain has led the charge for funding Complete Streets.
  • Wood and Van Fleet are basically disgruntled about the waterfront plan and don't have anything positive to offer.
Polls will be open from 6 am to 7 pm. You can vote absentee in both Arlington and Alexandria until 5 pm Saturday, October 31, including if you will be working or commuting most of the day Tuesday.

Virginia has vote suppression laws that require voters to have a photo ID; if you don't have one, you can get a voter-only one on Election Day at the Arlington to Alexandria elections office on Election Day (or an earlier weekday).

Bicycling


Alexandria's elections are Tuesday. Here are some candidates' views on walking, biking, and street safety.

About half of the candidates in Alexandria's upcoming mayoral and City Council elections say they believe Alexandria should do more to be a safe place for people to walk and bike. Here's who they are, and some detail on the policies they'd back if elected.


City Hall in Alexandria. Photo by Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr.

The Alexandria's Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) sent a survey to all the candidates, asking for their views on issues that people who walk and bike often face.

The survey questions covered street use and safety as well as walking and cycling issues. Specifics included quesitons about committing to a Complete Streets policy and expanding Capital Bikeshare.

Current mayor Bill Euille (D) is running for re-election as a write-in candidate after losing the Democratic primary to Allison Silberberg, the vice mayor of the City Council. While Euille's responses make clear that he wants Alexandria to be more walkable and bikeable, Silberberg did not reply to the survey questions.

All six City Council spots are up for election. Respondents from that race include incumbent candidates John Taylor Chapman (D), Tim Lovain (D), and Justin Wilson (D), and Council challengers Monique Miles (R) and Townsend "Van" Van Fleet (D).

On making Alexandria's streets safe for everyone

A few years ago, Alexandria passed a Complete Streets policy, which is meant to ensure the city's streets provide a comfortable experience for all users: people who walk, people who bike, people who drive, and people who use public transportation. But this policy needs continued council and staff support to achieve its

Lovain and Miles gave the most detailed answers when asked how they would push Complete Streets forward. Lovain noted that he is a member of Smart Growth America's Local Leaders Council, which helps promote Complete Streets policies throughout the US, and that he has pushed the Transportation Planning Board for the National Capital Region, which he will chair next year if re-elected, to follow Complete Streets principles.

"I can promise that, if I am re-elected, I will make sure that Alexandria continues and enhances its focus on Complete Streets in the years ahead," Lovain said in his survey response.

Miles says complete communities make places healthier, happier, and more sustainable, and that Alexandria should continue to make obvious repairs to the transportation system. She adds that organizations like Alexandria LocalMotion and, with resident involvement, the Transportation Commission and Urban Design Board, are crucial parts of design in Alexandria.

Miles also stresses the importance of small area plans, saying that they should constantly revisit and study the Complete Streets criteria. "An example of this would be to focus on the upcoming implementation of the Beauregard Small Area Plan and ensuring that important road safety measures are included," she said.

Chapman says he would continue to fund Complete Streets, and push for staff to work with neighborhoods on local projects.

Bill Euille says that as mayor, he would push the policy forward through "education, communications, outreach and advocacy," and notes that the initiative passed under his administration. Townsend Van Fleet says he would endorse the policy.

On walking and cycling to Metro

Alexandria currently has four Metro stations within the city boundaries, and making it easier for people to walk or bike to them is key to helping to cut surrounding vehicle traffic.

Lovain suggests building a tunnel from the new Potomac Yard Trail to the Braddock Road station. He also says Alexandria needs "to proceed with the multi-modal bridge connecting Cameron Station to the Van Dorn Metro station."


The Potomac Yard Trail, looking southbound. Image by the author.

Van Fleet wants to make it safe to walk and bike to Metro, and ensure bike racks are available at stations. Bill Euille wants to add bike lanes and wayfinding. John Chapman wants to continue to push WMATA to redevelop stations, which he says would make access easier. Justin Wilson wants better trails and sidewalks.

Looking beyond walking and biking, Miles suggests that the city should explore "creative solutions" like the Old Town Trolley for areas outside of Old Town. "We must extend our reach beyond the half mile around a Metro station and ensure shuttles and other forms of transportation offer all residents the opportunity to have easy access to Metro stations," she said.

On Union Street, where people on foot and bike often travel

Union Street near King Street is a popular place to walk, and Union Street is also a primary north-south bicycle route through Alexandria that connects to the Mount Vernon Trail. At times, especially on weekends, Union Street can become quite congested, challenging the users to share the road safely.


It's typical to see people on foot, on bike, and in cars on Union Street. Image by the author.

Solutions for the King and Union Street intersection include better signage, crosswalks and sidewalks, along with making sure people know about traffic laws and that they are enforced.

Lovain suggests exploring "an alternative north-south bicycle route through Old Town, such as on Royal Street," noting "any such bike route should be implemented carefully in close consultation with the neighbors."

Van Fleet calls for more law enforcement on Union Street, especially during peak travel times.

Wilson supports changing the road way to allow people who walk, bike and drive to safely operate in the corridor.

Euille sees better street design and police enforcement as holdovers until the pilot pedestrian plaza approved in 2012 is completed.

On expanding Capital Bikeshare

Alexandria currently has 16 CaBi stations, located in Old Town, Del Ray and Carlyle. There are also 16 more on the way next year. Most of these stations will be added on the eastern side of the city. With the National Science Foundation coming to Alexandria in 2017 and the Transportation Security Administration following in 2018, the city will need to continue to expand Bikeshare, especially in its north and west sections.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Wilson, a regular CaBi user, says he supports bringing in more stations as part of completing an "overall transportation picture". Lovain thinks expansion should be done "strategically," focusing on adding stations that are close to other stations. Chapman wants to see more stations in neighborhoods that don't have them but "have infrastructure to support it." Euille says he'll seek grant money and other ways to support expanding bikeshare.

While she says she's against "one bike rental company receiving city subsidies," Miles says she wants more bikeshare options in Alexandria.

Van Fleet does not want to spend "any city funds on bikeshare, as it is a money making corporation".

On walking and biking to school

Alexandria has over 14,000 students at 16 schools throughout the city. While some students walk and bike to the schools, the majority arrive either by bus or in private vehicles. If it encourage students to walk or bike to school, the city can combat traffic congestion, air pollution and childhood obesity and increase kids' happiness and effectiveness in the classroom.

Townsend calls for "schools and parents to educate the children regarding safe practices when walking and biking" and wants "those who chose to break the law" to face consequences.

Wilson supports "expansion of the City's Safe Routes to School efforts to improve the approaches to our school buildings." He also believes "that biker and pedestrian education efforts need to be part of school curricula."

Miles did not address walking and biking in her survey response.

Chapman "would work with the Alexandria City Public Schools to see if they consider pushing out the radius for bus service... but also make walking and biking a more explored option for families". He also says he would "work with the school system to provide more crossing guards, as well as work with the PTA to provide parent volunteers."

On calming traffic in neighborhoods

Drivers who are aggressive, speed, and don't yield to people on foot are problems for most Alexandria neighborhoods.

Euille calls for "proper funding" for Alexandria's Safe Streets and Complete Streets initiatives.

Wilson "strongly supports changes to the road space that are designed to force vehicle drivers to operate their vehicles more safely". He also supports making Vision Zero happen in Alexandria.

Lovain says aggressive driving and disregard for pedestrians are serious problems in Alexandria, and points to Complete Streets principles as a way to promote safety.

Miles wants to assemble a "safe roads commission" to look at how to make Alexandria safer. She also says she'd like to address Alexandria's street challenges with a "holistic approach" that accounts for how the city fits with the entire region, what's financially feasible, and what residents want.

Van Fleet says traffic safety is "a law enforcement problem."

On achieving goals laid out in the city's transportation plan

Alexandria is updating the bicycle and pedestrian chapters of its transportation master plan to reflect changes that have occurred since 2008. The new chapters should go before City Council late this year.

A recent city audit of its own performance revealed that parts of what the 2008 plan called for, particularly regarding pedestrians and bicycles, hasn't gone into place.

While acknowledging that funding has been a factor in missing the goals, Wilson says he is "committed to the vision of the 2008 plan, and will work to provide the resources to see it to completion."

"We should also prioritize unfinished efforts to make sure the resources are available," Lovain says.

Euille and Chapman are committed to the plan, with Euille calling for "adequate funding" and Chapman saying he'll work with city staff to "determine a plan."

Miles says there is "no reason that the 2008 Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan should not have been completely implemented." She further adds that "City Council and staff revisited the plan in 2014 and spent more time studying and updating the plan before the original plan had even been completely implemented."

The elections are next Tuesday, November 3. If you live in Alexandria, make sure to exercise your right to vote for the candidates who support your views.

Bicycling


Alexandria's streets could be for people instead of cars, at least some of the time

Cities all over the world are trying out the concept of open streets, where a temporary event closes a street to cars so people can enjoy the space by doing things like walking, riding bikes, or rollerskating. Alexandria could join the fun.


An open street in BogotŠ, Colombia. Photo by Nathaa on Flickr.

Open streets typically feature miles of closed streets including a commercial-district "main street." People wander between shops and things like public health kiosks without being squeezed onto sidewalks.

In 2010, two organizations—the Alliance for Biking and Walking and The Street Plans Collaborative—partnered to create the Open Streets Project, the goal being to make more open streets initiatives happen in a wider array of places by sharing information about them.

Open streets have been around a long time and are becoming more popular

The open streets movement has its roots in BogotŠ, Columbia, where "ciclovias," streets temporarily closed to cars to encourage biking and walking, are opened on Sundays and holidays, beginning in the 1970s. In BogotŠ, with its notorious traffic jams, the cyclovia provides relief from crowding, pollution and stress.

Today, open streets happen all over the country. In New York and Seattle, these are called Summer Streets. Seattle also does an event called Bicycle Sunday a few times per year. That event simply opens an attractive street to car-free recreation, similar to closing Beach Drive in DC each weekend.


Summer Streets in Seattle. Photo by SDOT Photos on Flickr.

Los Angeles does four CycLAvias each year, each in a different part of town and featuring 5-10 miles of open streets.


A CycLAvia in Los Angeles. Photo by 123ezm on Flickr.

In San Francisco, Sunday Streets began when bicycling advocates partnered with a supportive mayor and city staff. It is currently operated by Livable City, a nonprofit advocacy group. CycLAvias in Los Angelese began with a similar grass-roots effort. Both events attract numerous sponsors, including the local transit agency.


Dancing in the street in San Francisco. Photo by David McSpadden on Flickr.

Philadelphia got a taste of car-free streets when the Pope visited last month. The 4.7 square mile car-free security zone was so popular that Mayor Michael Nutter, and mayoral candidate Jim Kenney, each promised a smaller-scale repeat of "Popen Streets."

"We're celebrating our open streets," one citizen told the New York Times. "Blissed-out pedestrians are walking down the middle of roads," reported Philadelphia magazine. The effect on nearby traffic was minimal: the predicted traffic "pope-amageddon" never materialized.

Alexandria could have open streets events

For a city like Alexandria to try an open streets initiative, we would need an organization willing to lead it. The Open Streets Guide, a product of the Open Streets Project, describes best practices for would-be organizers. It also points users toward the annual Open Streets Summit, which provides training and networking.


The annual Halloween arade on Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria: an open street with a costume requirement. Photo by the author.

One might imagine closing all of Mount Vernon Avenue (two miles) along with the commercial portions of East and West Glebe (one mile). This would bring attention to the many shops in Del Ray and Chirilagua. Similarly, opening Fairfax, Lee and Union Streets (1.5 miles each) and part of King Street (one mile) would introduce people to the shops of North Old Town and show off King Street in a new light. Grass-roots organizing could help make all this happen.

Like Art On The Avenue in Del Ray, open streets initiatives bring visitors. With open streets, though, organizers need not provide elaborate street-fair entertainment (though they might get a sponsor to do it). The opportunity to enjoy a car-free street is enticing enough that people make their own entertainment.

There is also no need to draw huge crowds. If the streets become too crowded for impromptu fun, such as the ice cream vendor "Popesicle Bike Race" in Philadelphia, the fun is spoiled.

There are fair concerns about open streets events, but we can sooth people's fears

The aim of Open Streets is to create new possibilities for public space, not shut them down. Separate from concerns over traffic disruptions during the event, some citizens worry that open streets events would lead to bans on cars—or, put differently, that Old Town might get a car-free zone. I've heard these concerns from the aging and disability communities, for example. My friend Dan Kulund, formerly of the Alexandria Commission on Aging, once told me that, even in a car-free zone, motorized transportation must be kept available for those who are truly unable to walk.

Both now and in the long run, though, I don't think an open streets initiative in Alexandria would lead to any kind of permanent ban of cars. After all, the events only last for a few hours.

Without fear of being run down by a car, people move about freely, as in a pre-automobile cityscape. Actually, there's no need to imagine—you can see if for yourself in the YouTube video, "A Trip Down Market Street:"

Recorded in 1906, this film shows the view from a streetcar in San Francisco. People move about in every direction on foot, horse, bicycle and car, with no conflicts and with no dangerous speeding. This video illustrates streetlife before "jaywalking" was invented, a "jay" being a person utterly lacking in sophistication.

Imagine a street festival, only less crowded, bringing citizens out to enjoy the shops and restaurants of our beautiful city. People in streets and cafes are both the spectators and entertainment. Perhaps not the most sophisticated of entertainments, open streets nevertheless sound quite civilized to me.

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