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Letter: Not a New Problem

To the Editor:

The only thing that Union Street unites is congestion due to the conflicts between pedestrians, motor vehicles and bicycles at the most constricted downtown intersection at the approach to the Alexandria waterfront. I've written this letter before sometime during the ‘90s and actually studied the feasibility of closing the 100 block of King Street even further back in the mid-1970s. In fact the subject of pedestrianizing lower King Street gets revisited almost as much as the issue of downtown parking.

During the Thanksgiving Holiday I revisited the lower King Street area and marveled at the crowds of pedestrians still contending with moving traffic trying to negotiate through the mass of humanity without running over their non-motorized brethren. I now see that there is some movement afoot (sorry about that) to make the asphalt jungle a more inclusive domain where rights of passage are shared and dependent on the kindness of others. Gone are the grade differentials separating sidewalk from street and relegating pedestrians to the narrow edges while motor vehicles and bicycles enjoy the lion's share of right of way. Instead there would be special pavement demarcations all at the same grade or slightly raised to create a free-for-all modes zone.

Unfortunately, this solution only prettifies the problem but does not solve it since the conflicts between metal and flesh will continue. What should be done, in my opinion, is to convert the 100 unit block of King Street to a pedestrian-only street but allow for service and of course emergency vehicles to use the street when needed and when appropriate. Remove the sidewalks and less than robust trees and create a one grade special paved platform from building line to building line. Do the same with the half blocks of North and South Union Street. Remove the parking and prohibit through traffic. Motorists will learn to adjust and access the parking garages on Union via other streets. Bicyclists must dismount. No motorcycles. Just pedestrians most of the time. Less noise. Less pollution. More opportunities for quiet, breathable outside dining. Merchants get used to the consequences of your uber success in attracting customers and provide for their safety and enjoyment. Cars take up too much space and don't buy your products or eat your food — people do.

What is this I read about implementing the most modest or timid of proposals in 5-10 years? The city fathers and mothers have been debating this for decades as I know from personal experience and after many exhortations to do something bold and decisive. Feel the fierce urgency of now and finally put this issue to rest. Enough with the studies and put the money into the pavement not into consultant's bank accounts (no offense intended).

Larry Grossman

Longboat Key, Fla.