Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Alexandria


Potomac Yard Metro station hits a snag

Alexandria hopes to build a new Metro station at Potomac Yard, but wetlands near the route and negotiations with the owner of adjacent rail tracks have stalled the planning process. Can this project get back on track?

Layout of one alternative of the Potomac Yard station. Image from the City of Alexandria.

The city has selected Potomac Yard as the location for the new infill station, to be located on the Blue and Yellow lines between National Airport and Braddock Road, and is evaluating four specific alternative sites. In May, the project hit its first delay when the environmental impact statement (EIS) team revealed that one of the alternative sites under consideration would impact land owned by the National Park Service. But the alternative has its own complications.

At that point, the Federal Transit Administration asked the EIS team to study ways to address the issues. They found that the best option would be to move a series of CSX rail tracks so that the station could be built farther west of the sensitive area, in between the relocated CSX tracks and the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Moving the tracks could potentially kill two birds with one stone by giving station designers flexibility to avoid encroaching on a scenic easement established in 1999 while addressing problems with adjacent wetlands. If the tracks stay where they are, the city will need to negotiate an agreement to build on the legally protected easement.

But while CSX has met with the city to explore the possibility of moving the tracks, negotiations won't be quick or easy. After waiting four months, WMATA and the City of Alexandria only recently had the chance to meet with CSX for the first time. The EIS team can't wrap up the study and move forward with the project until negotiations are completed.

The EIS team is studying three options and a no-build alternative for the Metro station site. Alternative A would cost approximately $200 million and place a station at ground level between the existing tracks and the George Washington Memorial Parkway, but would be located farther away from the Potomac Yard Shopping Center.

Alternative B, estimated to cost $250 million, would be closer to the shopping center, and have foot paths to it and the adjacent Potomac Greens neighborhood. Alternative D is an aerial station, which would cost almost twice as much.

While city staff emphasize that no decisions will be made until after the EIS is complete, the city and the business community have expressed interest in Alternative B because it is one of the less expensive options and would provide the best access to existing planned development. CPYR, the owner of the nearby Potomac Yard Shopping Center, has agreed to contribute approximately $50 million toward the project if the city chooses Alternative B.

Because there are still so many uncertainties about if and when the city and CSX will reach an agreement, the original timeline for the project is slipping. The city initially hoped to start construction on the station in 2014 and open it by mid-2017, but now there is no longer an estimated start date for the project.

Editors' note: The original version of this post inaccurately suggested that Alexandria has selected a preferred site for the station. This is incorrect, and the text has been updated to reflect this and other minor corrections.


Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes

Alexandria cyclists and city staff agree that King Street west of Old Town could use bike lanes. But after a public hearing November 25, the city's Traffic and Parking Board recommended not to build them in order to preserve 37 on-street parking spaces.

Bike supporters at the Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Photo by Jake Jakubek.

Bike lane proponents say it will improve safety and access to the King Street Metro station, while many nearby residents decry the loss of parking spaces that would have to be removed. Originally, city staff proposed eliminating 37 spaces, noting that only three spaces were used on average, and that all affected houses have off-street parking.

However, instead of evaluating a compromise proposal city staff presented that would only remove some 27 spaces and carefully considering public comments, board members were clearly dismissive of the plan and its supporters. James Durham, vice chair of the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, called the hearing "a disgrace."

At the first public meeting on September 18, it was clear that almost everybody considers this street unsafe. Street parking goes unused because residents worry aggressive drivers will damage their parked cars.

After that meeting and an informal consultation with members of the traffic and parking board, city staff decided to work on a compromise proposal. Their reworked plan keeps 10 of the 37 spaces, while adding three spaces on adjacent streets.

At the November meeting, 38 people spoke in favor of the proposal, most of whom were local cyclists. Bike lane supporters included representatives of the city's Environmental Policy Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, who both submitted letters, as well as the chairman of the Transportation Commission. A teacher at T.C. Williams High School spoke on behalf of his students, and a member of the Coalition for Smarter Growth spoke on behalf of that organization, which includes two King Street residents.

Meanwhile, 18 individuals spoke out against adding bike lanes, citing safety concerns and doubting the effectiveness of the proposal. Others mentioned the need to keep the usually empty parking available for visitors.

During the hearing, members of the traffic and parking board displayed almost no interest in the public comments, asking few questions. But in a question directed at Jerry King, chairman of the bicycle and pedestrian committee, one member characterized bike lane supporters as wanting bike lanes or nothing. In fact, no one at the hearing took such a position.

When the leader of Tandem Tuesdays spoke of her weekly bike rides that pair cyclists with sight-impaired people on tandem bicycles, the traffic and parking board showed no interest in her community-building work or her safety concerns. Rather than ask Washington Area Bicyclist Association representative Gregory Billing about his organization's 3,500 participants and supporters in Alexandria, board members rudely asked if he was a city resident.

In the end, the traffic and parking board recommended that city staff implement pedestrian improvements but no bicycling improvements, retain all parking and come back later with a proposal that has "common ground" and "meat." But board members at no time acknowledged that the proposal was already a compromise.

The reality is that Alexandria is working to add transportation capacity by improving access to transit and by developing three new transit corridors. If successful, transit will enable many residents to bypass traffic and avoid the struggle of searching for parking on King Street and elsewhere.

Mayor Bill Euille, who was recently quoted in the press regarding Capital Bikeshare, said it best: "We don't want people driving their cars and parking, we want people to be using bicycles and walking."

However, achieving this vision is no easy task. At a time when City Hall is working to improve the public process through the What's Next Alexandria initiative, we need our boards to be relevant as well as responsive to residents and the vision of the city council. Based on the traffic and parking board's performance November 25, it's clear that board members are none of those things. Can our public decision-making process function when a few of the people leading that process do not act in good faith?

A version of this post appeared in the Alexandria Times.


Events roundup: Bikes, beers, and beekeeping

Speak up for bike lanes in Alexandria tonight, and then after Thanksgiving, discuss education with David Catania, talk about civic engagement, and learn something new and nerdy.

Photo by Will Vanlue on Flickr.

Support King Street bike lanes: Come show your support tonight (Monday, November 25) for bike lanes on King Street in Alexandria at November's Public Meeting of the Traffic and Parking Board. The meeting is 7:30 pm in the Council Chambers at Alexandria City Hall (301 King St, 2nd floor).

The Alexandria Spokeswomen, a group making Alexandria more bike-friendly for women, is having a happy hour before the meeting. Join them at 6 pm at Daniel O'Connell's Bar (112 King Street) for some food and drink, and then go testify.

After the jump: hear from and talk with David Catania, Harriet Tregoning, and David Alpert.

Education forum with David Catania: Greater Greater Education is hosting a forum with DC Councilmember and Committee on Education chair David Catania. GGE editors will moderate the discussion, and audience members can pose questions.

The forum is at 6:30 pm on December 9 at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Eastern Market Metro). RSVP here. Can't make it? You can submit questions on GGE and Twitter.

Nerds in NoMa: Learn more about your favorite nerdy topics, like transportation, beekeeping, and brewing in a series of free events at The Lobby Project (1200 First Street NE) from 6-8 pm.

The first one features Harriet Tregoning, Director of the DC Office of Planning, and Jordan Mittelman from BicycleSPACE on Tuesday, December 3, 6:00 pm. RSVP here. Other talks take place on December 17, January 14, January 28, February 11, and February 18.

Talk about the future: Hear Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert give a talk about "new dimensions of civic dialogue" as part of a series of public talks organized by Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program. He will discuss how blogs have raised awareness and attracted more people to civic engagement, as well as how we can engage community members that have traditionally been neglected from this process, especially those in lower-income and minority neighborhoods.

Please come share your thoughts with David on December 5 at 4:30. You can RSVP here.

As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at!

And please welcome Andrew Watson, one of our new event curators! Erin, the other, will be posting next week. Thanks Andrew and Erin!The Editors


Events roundup: Happy hour tonight, Catania December

Tonight (Thursday) is the next Greater Greater Washington happy hour! Also, mark your calendars for a Greater Greater Education forum with David Catania on the evening of December 9, and a late afternoon talk with me about growing civic engagement on December 5.

Photo by Lisa Bunchofpants on Flickr.

We've been rotating happy hours between DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and now it's DC's turn again. This month's happy hour is at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, 639 Indiana Ave. NW from 6-9 pm. It's right across 7th Street from Archives Metro, a short walk from Gallery Place or Federal Triangle, and also on the 30s, 50s, 70s, D, P, and X Metrobus lines. There's a CaBi station nearby at 6th and D.

You won't see me because I'll be spending my time putting a baby to bed, but Dan and the other editors and contributors are lots of fun!

After the jump: Stand up for King Street bike lanes Monday, and talk with David Catania about education on December 9 and me about civic engagement on December 5.

Defend bike lanes in Alexandria: The proposed King Street bike lanes in Alexandria have been coming under some intense and often crazy attacks. You can speak up for the lanes this Monday, November 25 at 7:30.

The Alexandria Spokeswomen, an organization working to make the city more bike-friendly for women, is having a happy hour just before the hearing at Daniel O'Connells Bar, 112 King Street, at 6. Have a few drinks and then head over to actually push for safer cycling infrastructure.

Talk about education with David Catania: Our sister blog Greater Greater Education is hosting DC Councilmember and Committee on Education chair David Catania for a forum on December 9. It's 6:30 pm at the Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Eastern Market Metro).

Natalie Wexler and Ken Archer will pose questions to Catania about education, and audience members can too. What would you like us to ask? Post your question suggestions in the comments.

Talk about the future

I'm giving a talk on Thursday, December 5 at 4:30 about "new dimensions of civic dialogue." It's part of a series of public talks by various people in planning organized by Georgetown's new Urban and Regional Planning program.

I'll talk a bit about how blogs (like Greater Greater Washington and others) have drawn more people into the process of civic engagement. However, I also want to spend some time exploring how we can broaden the conversation beyond just the demographic of our core audience. We need to be engaging with communities that have traditionally been neglected in the process, especially lower-income and minority neighborhoods.

The changes many of us push for, like adding housing opportunities and amenities like shops and restaurants, can and should benefit new and long-time residents of those communities as well. But we have to make sure they will, not just say so. We can't just draw supply-and-demand curves and say that more supply will filter and keep housing affordable; we have to craft policies that actually ensure people with lower incomes benefit not just in the vague future but now.

And we have to understand what people want for their own neighborhoods. Greater Greater Washington has always sought to highlight voices from all around the region about what they want for their communities, and I'd like to do more to find these voices from our traditionally underserved communities.

If you're interested in this issue, please come share your thoughts with me on December 5 at 4:30. You can RSVP here. That page says the talk is by Shyam Kannan of Metro, and my talk is on 12/12, but we switched, so I'm on 12/5 and Shyam is 12/12. (And go see Shyam's talk, too!)


It’s going to be an exciting 6 months for DC area transit

When the new Rosslyn Metro entrance opened earlier this week, it became the first in what will be an exciting string of big transit projects opening in the DC region. Still to come: Metro, MARC, streetcars, and BRT.

From left to right: Alexandria's BRT, MARC, Silver Line, DC streetcar.
BRT and Metro photos from Alexandria and Fairfax County.
MARC and streetcar photos from BeyondDC.

The next big event will be on December 7, when MARC trains begin running on weekends between DC and Baltimore. MARC's transition from a commuter railroad to a more general-purpose transit system will open up Baltimore and other parts of Maryland like never before.

After that come streetcars. Sometime in late December, or possibly January, DDOT expects to start running streetcars along H Street. Then in February, the Silver Line will open, and begin carrying passengers to Tysons Corner and Wiehle Avenue.

Finally, sometime in the spring of 2014 Alexandria will open its Route 1 transitway, marking the beginning of the first bona fide bus rapid transit line in the region. All together, it's the most exciting time for transit openings in the DC area since the early 1980s, when Metrorail was opening new segments every few months.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Alexandria delays King Street bike lanes

Bike lanes proposed for King Street in Alexandria are proving to be contentious. While they could complete the city's bicycle network, neighbors don't want to give up guest parking spaces.

Rendering of proposed King Street bike lanes. All images from the City of Alexandria unless noted.

The city proposes adding two 4.5-foot bike lanes along King Street west of Old Town, between Russell Road and the recently-upgraded bike lane on Janneys Lane. The bike lanes would replace 37 parking spaces. The two general traffic lanes would stay but become 10.5 feet wide, one foot narrower than it is today.

City staff originally planned to add the lanes in conjunction with the repaving and repair of King Street, scheduled to take place this fall or next spring. But after a contentious but civil public meeting September 18, they decided to delay asking the Traffic and Parking Board for a recommendation to move ahead until November. Planners say they're giving city staff time to address citizen concerns about parking and pedestrian safety.

What King Street looks like today.

The proposed bike lanes and a pedestrian-activated "flashing beacon" signal at King and Upland Place come from Alexandria's 2008 Bicycle and Pedestrian Mobility Plan, where King is designated as a bike route, and the 2011 Complete Streets Policy, which states that all road users, including cyclists, should be accommodated.

According to Hillary Poole of Alexandria's Department of Transportation and Environmental Services department (TE&S), less than three of the 37 spaces along King Street are filled on average. At the September 18 meeting, residents disputed the reported parking data, complaining that too few counts were taken on weekends.

Multiple speakers mentioned the need to accommodate moving vans, and stated that the parking lane also provides a buffer for drivers backing their cars out of driveways. But many admitted that the parking is used almost exclusively for guest or service vehicles, and that they avoid storing their own cars in these spaces out of fear of aggressive traffic.

Where Alexandria would remove parking spaces on King Street.

Cyclists, meanwhile, cited safety concerns, a lack of alternate routes, and a desire to ride in the street instead of the sidewalk. Almost everyone agreed that traffic on King moves too quickly and should be calmed. Planners say that 15% of drivers on King Street go 32 miles an hour or more, which may not seem terribly high, but it may not be the best measure of the aggressive driving that residents say happens there.

At present, cyclists travel this stretch of King Street by bravely "taking the lane," clinging precariously to the edge of the road, or by riding on the narrow sidewalk. Cyclists do so often enough that the Google Street View looking west from Russell reveals a gutter-bunny cyclist, proceeding uphill on King.

A "gutter-bunny" cyclist on King Street. Photo from Google Street View.

They do this because, lacking parallel routes, this section of King Street is a bottleneck in the street network. Areas to the west consist mostly of cul-de-sacs, making it difficult to travel between the west end of Alexandria and Old Town without using King or one of three other arterial roads, Braddock Road, Duke Street, or Eisenhower Avenue. And like other Metro stations, the King Street station has been slated for bicycle parking improvements, making it a destination for cyclists.

Poole says the westbound bike lane is needed to provide room for slowly climbing cyclists to proceed without unduly slowing down other traffic and without creating conflicts with pedestrians. The eastbound lane is needed to allow cyclists to bypass stopped motor vehicle traffic, which backs up at the intersection of King Street at Russell Road and Callahan Drive, across from the Masonic Temple.

On September 23, the TPB considered, and approved, only the proposed flashing beacon signal at Upland Place, not the bike lanes. According to city staff, this may delay the bike lanes, but not the repaving of King Street. The city may apply temporary striping until the question is settled.

The ultimate decision on the King Street bike lanes lies with TE&S director Rich Baier, who accepts the recommendation of the TPB but answers to the City Council. The City Council has signaled support for bicycling by adopting the 2008 Plan and the 2011 Complete Streets policy. Whether that support can stand in the face of the guest parking issue, however, remains to be seen.


Celebrating Park(ing) Day around the region

Last Friday, the region celebrated Park(ing) Day by turning parking spaces into parks. 22 pop-up parks sprouted in the District and Northern Virginia, encouraging people to imagine what they could do with space normally given over to cars.

Landscape architecture firm Oculus' Park(ing) Day installation in DC. Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

Started in San Francisco in 2005, Park(ing) Day aims to illustrate alternative uses for precious urban space. Like pop-up stores or restaurants, which let entrepreneurs test consumers' preferences for new food, drink and products, pop-up parks gauge demand for more permanent parklets by inviting passers-by to take a contemplative rest, engage in conversation, or play.

History Matters' pop-up park in DC invited visitors to mull over books.

Photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr.

On K Street, Gensler's pop up park brought the indoor office outside, complete with dry erase boards to brainstorm ideas.

Photo by Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp.

Jennifer Simmons, who organized Gensler's parklet, said they wanted to be mindful of not wasting materials. The carpet squares will be sent back to the manufacturer for use as floor samples. Some of the furniture was from Gensler's office.

Photo by Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp.

Picnic tables were packed with people at Casey Trees' parklet, also in DC. Timothy Hoagland, Digital Media Associate of Casey Trees, explained that they wanted to engage people to think more about public green space and its fun uses.

Across the river in Old Town Alexandria, café seating in a parking space invited people to chat.

Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

At some parklets, visitors could play games, cornhole, hopscotch or at the DC Department of Parks and Recreation's parklet on U Street, even hula hoop.

Photo by Kishan Putta.

At the Landscape Architecture Foundation's pop-up park downtown, hay bales and dogwood trees provided natural greenery and a buffer against traffic. Barbara Deutsch, the foundation's executive director, commented about the use of parklets and awareness it brings. "We want to design cities where we can dedicate more space to people," she said.

Photo by Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp.

The Grassroots Cornhole parklet, led by Bobby Boone of Smart Growth America, was more stripped-down, featuring chalk writing, cardboard boxes, and a cornhole set.

Photo by the author.

By now, the picnic tables and benches have been whisked away, the artificial grass and carpet squares will be repurposed, and the parking meters are back to tracking cars. These pop-up parks expired before Friday's afternoon rush hour, but did they garner more interest for something more permanent? If so, what type of parklet would you like to see and where?

Photo by Aaron SchreiberStainthorp.
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