Solving urban problems requires consensus building, based on shared interests and mutually agreed goals, with lots of public debate. This is the case for paving the tiny strip of Seminary Road that runs from #395 to Quaker Lane. A standing-room-only crowd of very interested Alexandria residents showed up on May 30 to voice their concerns. But something highly unusual happened beforehand.
The attendees thought the meeting scheduled by the Transportation and Environment Services (TES) was to get their input, before a final plan was circulated. Instead, 6-1/2 hours before the session started, the city put online its formal decision, ignoring the favored options by those who live nearby. Such action lacked transparency or honesty, as TES appeared ready to move ahead toward its artificial deadline of having this convoluted plan implemented by September 2019. Most residents fully support the routine paving of all our streets at regular intervals. That is not an issue on Seminary. But those in attendance — emphatically — did not support cutting down one of the city’s main East/West thoroughfares from four lanes down to two. “Complete Streets” is not a one-size-fits-all remedy for Seminary. Focus on improving traffic flow, not grinding it to a halt.
And any decision should be based strongly on citizen input, not by the limited Parking and Traffic Board, with the majority serving in their first term. No one can ride a bike to work unless there is a shower available when you get there.
One of the most favored options — Option 4, to keep the four lanes — was not even discussed by staff. Why was that? You had hundreds of enthusiastic residents supporting it, versus three TES staffers opposing it. Earlier, several major Alexandria Civic Associations voted in support of a resolution circulated by the Seminary Hill Association. This represents a huge number of local residents who use Seminary Road on a daily basis.
Given that some 20,000 people travel this route each day, it is not safe to emphasize bicycles versus cars. TES chief Yon Lambert noted that cyclists who ride to work in Alexandria represent about 2.5 percent of the city’s estimated 160,000 residents. Bikers should opt for a far safer path to downtown Alexandria via Holmes Run Park, not on Seminary or Van Dorn, which have steep hills and lots of traffic. For the few who do bicycle, wider sidewalks on limited streets might be a shared option with walkers and pushers of strollers.
Stop the growing disease of the “Deaf Ear Syndrome” at City Hall, which is becoming as pervasive as measles. Stop ignoring realistic objections by the citizenry, not just to improvements on Seminary Road, but also to things like the Kerig Estates, the Potomac Yard Metro station, the development of the waterfront and the West End. The city spends way too much money on legal fees, fighting citizen opposition to some poorly constructed plans. TES needs to work with its citizens, not against them.
Kathleen M. Burns