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Posts about Alexandria


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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 Bogotá, 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 Bogotá, Columbia, where "ciclovias," streets temporarily closed to cars to encourage biking and walking, are opened on Sundays and holidays, beginning in the 1970s. In Bogotá, 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.


Ask GGW: How do Arlington and Alexandria differ?

Arlington and Alexandria. They're, like, the same place... right? Ok yeah, no, they aren't. But one of our readers did point out that to many, two of DC's southern neighbors often get mistaken for one another, so we've explained a number of the differences.

Left: Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. Photo by Tony Webster on Flickr. Right: Old Town Alexandria. Photo by Roger W on Flickr.

The reader asks:

My fiancée and I currently live in Arlington, where we rent a high-rise apartment in Crystal City. We'll soon be moving to Alexandria, where we will be renting a townhouse in Old Town. It seems like a lot of people who live in DC or Maryland think that Arlington and Alexandria are the same place. I know that they're distinct jurisdictions but I'll admit, they're similar enough that I'm not clear on the differences. So as a transit-oriented urbanist making the move, what should I know about differences in local law, Alexandria local politics, reliability of public transit, and so on?
First, some history

Virginia donated both "Old Town" Alexandria and the land that later became Arlington County to form the District of Columbia in 1801. At the time, Congress organized the area as a subdivision of DC and named it Alexandria County.

In 1846, the land went back into Virginia's possession when DC was downsized to exclude the portion south of the Potomac River. In 1852, what was then the Town of Alexandria incorporated as a city; it became independent of Alexandria County in 1870.

Since 1871, all municipalities in Virginia incorporated as "cities" have been "independent cities," not politically part of a county. This revision to the state constitution happened after the Civil War and the creation of West Virginia.

1878 Map of Alexandria County, Virginia. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

In 1908, the Town of Potomac incorporated as a town in Alexandria County. To avoid confusion with the adjacent city, Virginia's General Assembly changed the name of Alexandria County to Arlington County in 1920. The City of Alexandria annexed the Town of Potomac in 1930, and it's now designated as the Town of Potomac Historic District.

A number of neighborhoods in Fairfax County that aren't in Alexandria's city limits, like Franconia, Groveton, Huntington, Hybla Valley, Kingstowne, and Mount Vernon, still use the namesake on their postal addresses.

The local laws and politics are different...

Aimee Custis points out that since Arlington is a county, it's governed by a County Board. Alexandria, on the other hand, is governed by a City Council.

Canaan Merchant mentions that "Arlington was actually very rural for a long time and its current level of development didn't really take off in earnest until the mid and late 20th century. That informs how both areas look. Alexandria has great examples of 'old urbanism' while Arlington showcases how it's done today without worrying about historic preservation so much."

Courthouse Plaza in Arlington. Photo by Ron Cogswell on Flickr.

Kevin Beekman shares some details:

Alexandria and Arlington share so little in terms of administration, policing and planning for such relatively small jurisdictions. That has only recently begun to change. The development of Potomac Yard caused a dilemma for both jurisdictions because the county/city border was not changed with the realignment of Four Mile Run during the flood control project of the 1970-80s. This forced them to work together and resulted in the joint Four Mile Run Restoration Plan than is now underway.

I think the main difference is that Arlington was almost all developed since the start of World War II and was largely rural before that, whereas Alexandria (even the parts it annexed from Arlington) predate that at least somewhat. The big exception is the West End that Alexandria annexed from Fairfax County. The City and County allow residents to share public libraries though. I've found that useful.

As for differences in local laws, one that comes to mind is that new residents will only have 30 days to apply for a city decal showing that they've paid personal property tax in Alexandria on a percentage of the value of the car.

Agnčs Artemel gives us a great in-depth analysis on the differences between Arlington and Alexandria, from the perspective of being a long-time Alexandria resident:
Alexandria and Arlington should be very similar in that they are both "inside the Beltway" communities that were once dependent on DC to employ their residents but now have developed their own employment centers.

But, as a long-time Alexandria resident, I feel they are very different—in physical appearance, way of life, and politics.

Physical: Alexandria has a very large grid-patterned Old Town that give it a distinct sense of place and a reason for tourism; the waterfront is another asset. Central Alexandria is all suburbia—large lot single-family. And the west is highway-oriented: apartments and condos for those who used I-395 to get to DC. To me, Arlington is divided up several ways 1) by the highways that traverse it making it seem impossible to get from place to place, and 2) by the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor versus the area to the north and the area to the south. Arlington also has huge federal land reservations that break it up. To Alexandrians, Arlington's streets make no sense whatever—lacking connections and even a reasonable naming system.

Way of life: Alexandria is still the sleepy southern town. Residents don't like bars and restaurants to stay open past 11 or 12. They don't like outsiders, particularly commuters from Fairfax. They tried to get toll gates set up at entrances to the city to discourage commuters. We wish we could be an island away from this pesky growthy region. Arlington has seemed more dynamic, more interested in jobs, economic development, and the new economy based on tech. Arlington found a way to separate its growth areas (Rosslyn-Ballston, Crystal City) from the neighborhoods that want to be protected from tall buildings. Alexandria is still fighting land use battles one at a time, starting from scratch on each one.

Politics: Until recently, it felt like Arlington had figured out how to get buy-in on smart growth, and the Board appeared unified in its approach to land use. Alexandria kept missing opportunities due to fear of opposition—we could have had the Potomac Yard infill Metro station in the mid-80s, for example. And for a long time, driving on Jefferson Davis Highway it was quite clear where the jurisdictional boundary was—Alexandria got all the traffic and none of the tax revenues was the way we saw it. Arlington planned for a streetcar through Crystal City and Alexandria planned for a BRT, and people were going to have to switch at Four Mile Run (no one will get a streetcar now, so its a moot point today).

Of course, much has changed in the last couple of years, in both jurisdictions. Time will tell whether we become more similar or not, and whether that's good or bad.

Photo of Alexandria's Amtrak station by Jeanette Runyon on Flickr.

Jonathan Krall touches on similar points:

Alexandria and Arlington have commonalities, such as the streetcar suburbs of Del Ray (Alexandria) and Clarendon (Arlington), both developed by the same company in the late 1800s. A big difference is that Alexandria predates Washington DC and has attitudes shaped by its history.

One way of looking at it is that many of the "mover and shakers" in Alexandria still want it to be a sleepy southern town where no decision is made until the proper people are consulted. After a major fight over bike lanes on King Street, in 2013-2014, the Alexandria leadership took steps to avoid further fights, delaying two bicycle projects that were scheduled to begin planning for Old Town. Major projects, such as the waterfront plan, are accomplished only by overcoming that conservatism.

All that is by way of saying the Alexandria has a conservatism that has been largely missing in Arlington. However, the recent street car revolt in Arlington makes this difference less certain going forward. Both places talk a good game in terms of urbanism, but Arlington does a better job of following through with their new-urbanist ambitions. This is why, on Potomac Ave, the bike lanes stop at the Arlington/Alexandria border.

...and so is transportation

Aimee Custis points out that both jurisdictions are served by WMATA Metrorail and Metrobus, however Arlington's local bus service is Arlington Transit (ART) and Alexandria's service is DASH.

Canaan Merchant mentions that "Arlington has a bit more flexibility when it comes to its transportation decisions because they opted to maintain control of their own roads rather than have VDOT take over (that's part of the reason why Arlington has more bike infrastructure)."

"Arlington doesn't really have any waterfront areas despite having more land on the river. The GW Parkway, Arlington Cemetery, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport prevent the county from really developing one as well."

With regards to bicycling, Jonathan Krall says that "On the plus side, Alexandria has a large, flat, street-grid area that is relatively easy for bicycling, despite a paucity of bike lanes. One can reach the metropolitan downtown from this area of town without going up or down a big hill. This is something that Alexandria has in common with Portland, OR, and may be responsible for Alexandria's very good bicycle mode share."

The conversation then shifted to Arlington and Alexandria's street-naming system, with Michael Perkins giving some basic information about Arlington's system:

There is actually a good naming system for Arlington, unlike the "system" in Old Town Alexandria. North-South streets have names and East-West streets have numbers. First set of streets have one-syllable names like Bell and Clark. Second set have two syllable names like Kenmore or Quincy. Third set have three syllable names like Somerset or Quintana. There's only one four syllable name--Arizona.

There are longer boulevards and drives that don't follow this pattern. Examples are Arlington Boulevard, Lee Highway, Washington Boulevard, Fairfax Drive, George Mason Drive, and Shirlington Road.

Jonathan Krall gives us the Alexandria perspective:
In Alexandria, the original main street was Cameron, flanked by parallel streets King to the south and Queen to the north. Next was Prince and Princess. Then Duke and Oronoco. Oronoco was named for a tobacco warehouse.
Kevin Beekman adds, "In Alexandria, street numbers increase as you go north. In Arlington, street numbers increase as you go south. So there are places on Jefferson Davis Highway were the addresses (or block numbers) repeat."

Michael Perkins also adds that the street numbers in Arlington increase "as you get further away from Arlington Boulevard, either north or south".

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DC's "Little Ethiopia" has moved to Silver Spring and Alexandria

Historically, the DC area's Ethiopian diaspora has centered on Adams Morgan and Shaw. But as the community has grown, it's mostly moved out of the District. Today, the region actually has two "Little Ethiopias": one in Silver Spring and one in Alexandria.

Where the region's Ethiopian population lives. Map by the author.

Ethiopians have a lot of roots in the DC area

Ethiopians first began moving to the United States in the 1970s, fleeing a military dictatorship. The DC area has the nation's largest Ethiopian community, but just how big it is up for debate.

The 2013 American Community Survey found about 40,000 people of Ethiopian ancestry in the region, while the Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Center says there are 100,000 Ethiopians living in the area.

There's also a large population from Eritrea, which broke off from Ethiopia in 1991. The Census doesn't break out ancestry data for Eritreans for local areas. But in 2005, but the Population Reference Bureau estimated that about 2% of African-born blacks in the region, or about 2,300 people, came from Eritrea.

Today, Ethiopians are the largest African immigrant group in the region, making up one-fifth of the region's African diaspora. There are about 1200 Ethiopian-owned businesses in the region, according to the ECDC, as well as the Ethiopian community's own Yellow Pages. Famous Ethiopian entertainers have settled in the area, and major events serving the diaspora are held here, like this sports and live music festival that was at the University of Maryland this summer.

Two "Little Ethiopias" emerge

When the diaspora began, Ethiopians arriving in DC settled in Adams Morgan, then along 9th Street NW in Shaw, occasionally called "Little Ethiopia." Since 2000, DC's Ethiopian population has more than doubled, from 2134 to 4807 in 2013, though it's shifted north towards Petworth and Brightwood.

But like many immigrants in the region, many Ethiopians moved to Maryland and Virginia, and today most of the community lives outside the District. Montgomery County has the region's largest cluster of Ethiopians, with nearly 13,000 residents claiming Ethiopian ancestry, three times as many as in 2000. Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria have the region's second- and third-largest Ethiopian populations.

Ethiopian nightlife in Silver Spring. Photo by Reemberto Rodriguez.

Today, there are two "Little Ethiopias." One sits in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and reaches into far northwest DC. Another is in Alexandria and extends west towards the Skyline area of Fairfax County.

Both areas are home to several thousand people of Ethiopian descent. Ethiopians make up 29% of one Census tract next to downtown Silver Spring, while one census tract in Alexandria, consisting of a large apartment complex called Southern Towers, is 40% Ethiopian.

The most Ethiopian places

The most prominent sign of the region's "Little Ethiopias" is food. Downtown Silver Spring has dozens of Ethiopian eateries, and with those numbers come specialization: there are white-tablecloth places, sports bars, an "Ethiopian Chipotle," and of course, many different coffee shops. Meanwhile, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain visited an Ethiopian market in Skyline on the DC episode of his show No Reservations.

Montgomery County's annual Ethiopian Festival in Silver Spring. Photo by Alan Bowser on Flickr.

These communities are also gathering and economic hubs not only for Ethiopians, but the wider African diaspora living in the DC area. Silver Spring is home to I/O Spaces, a coworking space geared to the African community. Montgomery County, which hosts an annual Ethiopian Festival in Silver Spring, is also the first jurisdiction in the nation to name September African Heritage Month.

Will "Little Ethiopia" continue to move farther out?

Why did Little Ethiopia, like so many other immigrant enclaves in the DC area, leave the District? Gentrification and displacement may be one cause. Though it's also likely that people moved to Maryland and Virginia for cheaper housing, better schools, or to be close to friends and family.

It'll be interesting to see if the region's Ethiopian population continue to move further out. There are already large concentrations of Ethiopians extending far from both Little Ethiopias: the one in Silver Spring stretches north towards Burtonsville, while the one in Alexandria continues south along I-95 towards Lorton.

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