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.