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