Whether future riders of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service scheduled for Route 1 and Potomac Yard will board from curbside or median stops was the primary point of controversy at last Thursday night's public meeting on "Route 1 Transit Improvements."
The fact that there was going to be BRT along the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transit Corridor was presented as a foregone conclusion to the 30 some Alexandria residents attending the public information session at George Washington Middle School. Even the flyer announcing the event, one of series over the past three years, stated attendees were invited to discuss "the configuration of dedicated transit on Route 1."
Conducted under the aegis of the City's Ad Hoc Transportation Policy and Program Task Force, chaired by Planning Commissioner J. Lawrence Robinson, the meeting explored the pros and cons of the two configurations in an effort to determine which would be most compatible with "the pedestrian-oriented urban nature planned for Potomac Yard and the Route 1 corridor."
The entire project began in October 1999 with the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Area Transportation Study. The first comprehensive Transit Alternative Analysis occurred in March 2003. This was followed by a 2005 Corridor Interim Improvement Project which led to the Transit Improvements Environmental Review expected to be completed in late spring or early summer.
"This is basically a joint effort between Alexandria and Arlington County to create a dedicated transit corridor that is both functional and attractive in preparation for the development of Potomac Yard," said Thomas Culpepper, deputy director, Transportation, Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services Administration.
"We are presently near the end of phase two of the study and ready to move into phase three," he said in kicking off a detailed powerpoint presentation which compared the various elements of utilizing a median strip oriented system or one that followed a route along the east and west curb lines.
MOST OF THOSE in attendance seemed to prefer a curbside configuration based on their perception of what would be best for pedestrian safety, whether waiting for a bus or crossing Route 1. However, this predisposition was somewhat mitigated by the increased potential for conflict between buses and other vehicles ascribed to the curbside alternative.
"The fundamental question is should the bus lanes be in the center
of the corridor or on each side of the roadway?" Culpepper said. Under either scenario the curb-to-curb street width consumed is 100 feet. The variable is the interplay between pedestrians and traffic as well as transit traffic's interaction with other vehicular traffic, he explained.
"I don't believe people will stand in the middle of Route 1 to wait for mass transit even if they are on a protected median. If they won't this entire effort will fail and then people will think that mass transit has failed in Alexandria which will not be true," said Alexandria resident Katy Cannady.
The other objection was the removal of vehicle lanes along Route 1 to provide for dedicated bus lanes. "Taking away car lanes on Route 1 is an insane solution. All transit should have been placed where it was intended, inside the Yard (Potomac)," said Townsend Van Fleet, president, Old Town Civic Association.
"You are creating a absolute pedestrian nightmare. I know because I walk most places and I'm constantly dodging cars," said Julie Crenshaw Van Fleet.
In addition to the safety and psychological factors between the two configurations, it was also pointed out that the median concept was both less costly and created more of an urban boulevard. Yon Lambert, pedestrian and bicycle coordinator, T&ES, said, "The curbside alternative calls for no street crossing by pedestrians depending on the direction of their travel."
THAT PORTION of the BRT route under discussion last Thursday night encompassed a 3,000 feet stretch outside Potomac Yard along the Jefferson Davis Highway/Route 1 corridor. Approximating 10 city blocks, it ran from East Glebe Road to the Monroe Avenue Bridge. The remainder of the BRT travel will be along the future Potomac Avenue, according to Culpepper.
That 10 block stretch will be served by four bus stops placed approximately equidistant from one another. It was estimated a bus would travel along the corridor every three minutes during rush hour periods carrying approximately 20,000 riders per day.
Between East and South Glebe roads buses will travel along the
future Potomac Avenue to the east of Route 1, through the existing
Potomac Yard retail center. Their only impact with the Potomac Yard development will be at the future Town Center east of the intersection of Route 1 and East Glebe Road.
In evaluating the median versus curbside configurations there were six primary elements taken into consideration: 1. Transit service and performance; 2. Impact on vehicular traffic; 3. Pedestrian access and crossings; 4. Right-of-way/width of street; 5. Implementation and cost; and 6. Streetscape.
Phase three will concentrate on engineering, refinement and delivery. However, as stated under the Project Development Process, "The entire process can take from six to 10 years."