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Posts about Alexandria


You did it! Come party!

With the generous help of 291 readers and supporters, we've surpassed this year's goal and raised $26,832 for this year's reader drive. Thank you! We hope to see you at the party, and read on for the answer to our sample trivia question.

Photo by Tobias Scheck on Flickr.

Our readers play a very important part in helping us remain financially sustainable, so we can keep having Jonathan Neeley edit our community's articles, Sarah Guidi keep the organization running, and soon start doing more organizing around housing as well.

We're pleased to be able to keep reader support as a major part of our budget, and hope that can continue. Thank you to everyone who stepped up!

We also now have 67 sustaining monthly donors. If you haven't supported us yet, signing up for a monthly gift of $5 or more will grow our base of reliable revenue and cut down on how much we have to push each year during the regular reader drive (but you can always cancel).

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See you at the party!

We hit the goal just in time for our 8th birthday party tonight (Tuesday), March 8, from 6:30 to 9 pm at Vendetta on H Street NE. If you haven't signed up yet, please do!

Dan Reed will be running a short, optional, but fun trivia contest around 7:45, with a $5 requested donation to play. Recently, we posted a sample question:

Millennials are flocking to this neighborhood outside DC, where the percentage of adults 20-34 has more than doubled since 1980 to 71%, making it one of the region's youngest. What is it?

Photo by Dan Reed on Flickr.

We got 13 guesses. Most people guessed Clarendon, which indeed gained many young people and was named the best neighborhood for millennials in 2014, but the most millennial-heavy Census tract around there just had 57% of residents ages 20-34.

That's quite a lot, but not as many as tract 2007.01 in the Eisenhower area of Alexandria, where the young adult share of the neighborhood's population grew from 31% in 1980 to 71% by 2013.

Congratulations to Nicholas Chen, the only person to get the question correct. Nice work, Nicholas!

And thanks again to all of our readers, commenters, friends, allies, and supporters who've helped make Greater Greater Washington a success!


This summer, Alexandria's King Street could become a complete street... or not

When it repaves a stretch of King Street this summer, the City of Alexandria wants make it safer for all users. But of the three design options Alexandria is considering, only one would make for a complete street.

This is the part of King Street that Alexandria will work on. Photo from Google Streetview.

Complete streets, which Alexandria has embraced since 2011, are streets designed in a way to make them safe for people of all ages and abilities, and which balance the needs of everyone using the street, whether they're traveling by car, bicycle, on foot, or via transit. When Alexandria repaves streets, the city's Complete Streets coordinator works to ensure these elements exist.

Where the changes will go

The section Alexandria is repaving this summer is from Janneys Lane to Radford Street, near TC Williams High School. That's immediately west of where in 2014, residents fought a protracted battle over adding bike lanes during another resurfacing process.

Contextual map of the project. Base map from Google Maps, with illustrations by the author.

But this time around, most neighbors living on this four-lane section of King Street seem to want changes. They consider this stretch of King Street a residential street in a residential neighborhood, and many have said in community discussions and on Twitter that they want to see slower traffic speeds, safer pedestrian crossings, and generally a more "residential" character for the street.

One resident pointed out that while it may become the major commercial corridor Rt. 7 in Fairfax, King Street is just two travel lanes in most of Alexandria (Janney's Lane eastbound to the river).

In feedback that city staff collected during preliminary public meetings and outreach last fall, residents reported that this stretch of King Street is difficult to cross, with pedestrian safety concerns near TC Williams, bus stops that are hard to get to, and unsafe conditions for cyclists, among others.

People driving need safety changes, too. Today, cars waiting to turn left along this stretch create delays for through traffic, and are in an exposed position, risking being rear-ended by fast cars in the left lane.

To address all of these concerns, the city is considering other changes, called the "King Street Complete Street Project," in addition to repaving. According to its project page, the goals of the project are to:

  • Improve the safety and convenience for all street users
  • Provide facilities for people who walk, bike, ride transit or drive cars
  • Implement City Council adopted plans and policies.
City staff has released three design options for the project, with offerings ranging from mainly car-oriented to a broadly-multimodal. Alexandria residents have an opportunity to give feedback on the options through this Sunday, February 28.

Design Option 1 only covers the basics

Option 1, while named "Complete Streets Maintenance," is basically the no-change option. According to the project sheet, there would be no major changes to the road's current 4-lane configuration, minimal pedestrian improvements, and no bike or vehicle improvements.

Cross section of Option 1. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

Basically, option 1 would bring the street up to what amount to most people's existing minimum expectations, by improving curb ramps, installing crosswalks along adjacent side streets, and bringing bus stops into ADA compliance.

Design Option 2 only focuses on intersections

Option 2 only focuses on making intersections better. Like option 1, it does nothing to change today's conditions, where people walking on the sidewalk are uncomfortably close to vehicle traffic. There are no improvements for people bicycling.

Pedestrian intersection improvements in Option 2. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

Under option 2, the main change is that planners would swap one of the two westbound through travel lanes for a left turn lane for the length of the project corridor.

This would help slow traffic and make the street safer, though residents have voiced concerns that it won't slow traffic enough. This option also adds pedestrian improvements at intersections, and improves crossings at bus stops.

Cross section of Option 2. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

One issue, though, is that slower speeds in option 2 translate into longer travel times for people traveling west by car or transit: 13 seconds during AM rush hour, and 11 seconds at evening rush hour, to get through the mile-long project corridor.

Despite many residents' calls to slow traffic on this stretch of King Street, other Alexandrians have already indicated in the city's online forum that they may see this slight increase in travel times as unacceptable.

Design Option 3 makes things better for all street users

Option 3 does the best job of addressing resident's concerns about traffic moving too fast and safety for people walking along this residential stretch. It not only swaps one of the two westbound through vehicle lanes for a left turn lane (as in Option 2), it also swaps an eastbound vehicle lane for a buffered bike lane for much of the project's eastern stretch, and incorporates a shared lane west of TC Williams High School.

Cross section of main section of Option 3. Image from the City of Alexandria presentation.

In addition to the bike infrastructure, this option facilitates safer turning and smoother through traffic for people in cars at TC Williams High School with left turn lanes, and includes planted pedestrian crossing islands.

Like Option 2, Option 3's safety improvements result in slightly slower travel times in the corridor for people in vehicles (7-13 seconds during peak periods through the mile-long project corridor). But that means some Alexandrians are up in arms about it:

Some residents are opposing bike lanes and other improvements in Option 3. Image from AlexandriaVAmom on Twitter.

But Option 3 provides the most separation between vehicles and the sidewalk, and creates a dedicated space for each user of the street. That makes it the best in keeping with Alexandria's Complete Streets policy.

What happens next

Alexandria has extended the public feedback survey on the three options through February 28. Once public comment on the three design options closes, city staff will review the comments and decide on a course of action. Staff has said that as of now, all options are still on the table. Look for more community discussions, before a design eventually goes to a public hearing of Alexandria's Traffic and Parking Board for approval.


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'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?


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?


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.


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.


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.

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