On a chilly Monday night, March 25, a truly extraordinary crowd of more than 200 people packed the cafeteria at the St. Stephens/St. Agnes for discussion of what, if any, changes should be made in Seminary Road east of I-395 when it is repaved in September. Their presence represented a true citizen “pushback” against city transportation plans that seem guided more by ideology than by facts.
Transportation & Environmental Services (T&ES) officials have offered up three alternatives for Seminary Road, all of them narrowing the current four-lane roadway and two shrinking the lanes to three or two. Of the 24 speakers from the public that night, 20 spoke against reducing the number of lanes. Audience reaction indicated that position was supported by at least 80 percent of those attending.
That strong majority sent a message that all city officials should hear loud and clear: The public is tired of having highly dubious traffic plans made in the name of “complete streets” or some other ideology that ignores reality. In fact, the city’s official guidelines for complete street planning call for “tailoring designs to meet the needs relevant to each neighborhood context. These guidelines are therefore intended to be flexible and responsive to unique site circumstances.” So far this guideline seemingly has been ignored.
The “unique site circumstances” on Seminary Road are the exponential increases in traffic that have resulted from the huge BRAC complex. Moreover, the Seminary interchange will provide entry and egress for the new I-395 HOT lanes, bringing considerable additional traffic. So far those realities have been ignored in the fervor to put Seminary Road, as it is termed, on a “diet.”
The Seminary Hill Association (SHA), whose boundary encompasses the entire roadway to be repaved, has asked T&ES officials to join in coming to an agreement on an acceptable plan that emphasizes clearly needed safety improvements along the roadway. Enhanced safety in the corridor, especially for pedestrians, is a primary SHA goal. So far T&ES officials have not responded. In the light of the public outcry a change of approach by city officials is needed and a way forward made possible.