To the Editor:
The Alexandria city manager is about to release his appointments to the newly reconstituted Tour Bus Task Force. It is paramount that the City of Alexandria takes some action to solve this crisis. Hopefully, it will be an improvement over the Tour Bus Task Forces of the past, since previous groups have not understood the physical constraints regarding tour bus operations in Old Town. These massive, lumbering 45-60-foot vehicles have great difficulty in traveling the streets, especially in the Old and Historic District. They impede traffic, and cannot efficiently turn corners, especially if cars are parked near the intersections. However, if those parking spaces are eliminated, it adds to the overall shortage of residential parking spaces. A number of times when I have stopped at a stop sign, I see a tour bus sitting in front of my car, with the bus driver seemingly daring me to move. Luckily in these instances, I have been able to back up.
As all are aware, Old Town contains a large number of 18th and 19th century residences, and the sheer weight, density and excessive speed of these vehicles causes vibrations that have an adverse effect on these historic structures. These buses also cause damage to the roadways, the sidewalks and occasionally, they even graze some of the residents’ parked cars. On many of our narrow streets, there is no way that a car can traverse safely with a tour bus staring them in the face. The tour buses either ignore the current set of regulations already in force, or they do not always receive guidance before they come into Alexandria as to what is permissible and what is not. Buses park in unauthorized places, they block traffic, and idle for very long period of times, adding to the already high levels of pollution. Moreover, they often feign ignorance of the rules and restrictions when confronted.
In response to these tour bus concerns, Old Town residents have repeatedly recommended a central holding area where the buses are to be parked. There are a number of possible locations such as the Masonic Temple or on Eisenhower Avenue. Passengers wishing to visit the Old and Historic District could then be transported by shuttle buses or trolleys. The old and historic cities of New Orleans, Charleston, Savannah and Key West use this procedure with great success . Centralizing parking would be a welcome solution to control of the army of tour buses coming into Old Town every day. This will be even more critical during the next few years due to the new construction taking place on the waterfront.
We citizens are not interested in adversely affecting the businesses in Old Town, which are a great and cherished part of the city’s economic engine, but we are a part of this equation. The citizens deserve a greater role in the tour bus process, and we want to work with all parties concerned to solve this issue.
Over the years, Alexandria has advised us that any change to the rerouting and parking of tour buses cannot be accomplished without getting the approval of the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond. However, that is not the case. Sections 2.04 (d) and 204(t) of the City Charter authorize the city to have the requisite control over these contract carriers. Therefore, the city staff has not exercised due diligence in researching and providing the correct guidance and wherewithal to resolve this longstanding issue. However, we now have a new day in Alexandria, and this is an opportunity to move out on this issue. Let’s make it so.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet