Recently, I praised the Alexandria Police for directing traffic at the Prince Street-Route 1 South intersection during peak traffic hours. Unfortunately, this was a short-lived event, since there is no longer any police involvement at that intersection during those critical hours. Therefore, my kudos to the police chief are regrettably withdrawn.
The day before the recent Irish Festival, I sent a short note to the mayor and city manager which read: “Hopefully, either or both of you have directed the police chief to have traffic control on and around the Union and King Street intersection tomorrow, as it will a zoo in Old Town with the Irish Festival.”
The response I received from the city manager was: “You are right about the crowds expected tomorrow. Police are aware of tomorrow’s event, and will deploy as they see appropriate.”
However, the police chief works directly for the city manager, so the city manager’ response should have been that he had directed the police chief to take appropriate action at that intersection. The “appropriate action” should be previously agreed upon steps to reduce congestion.
During the Irish Festival, I checked the Union Street-King Street intersection, and found that traffic was backed up by a city block in both the north and south lanes, with pedestrians and cyclists attempting to cross under extreme duress, and no one attempting to control this fiasco. I did however, spot one police car in the unit block of King Street with a police officer sitting in it, not visibly doing anything to alleviate the situation.
By not being proactive about congestion points and managing events that create congestion, the city continues to exhibit a failure in leadership, since the city’s number one priority should be public safety.
The city manager should create a congestion management plan similar to that of the City of Austin Texas, this would be a step in the right direction. I realize that Alexandria is smaller than Austin, but there are some excellent short-term actions that are feasible, such as deployment of a dedicated Traffic Mobility Unit (TMU) using police officers located at key intersections to keep traffic flowing, activating a Traffic Management Center (TMC) to provide limited coverage of both the AM and PM peak periods and peak event/commuter activities, and implementing a “Don’t Block the Box” education effort (a subject near and dear to my heart). Alexandria, we can do so much better.
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet