As we turn the calendar to August, we are surely in the dog days of a Washington, DC summer now with the recent heat and humidity! Today has brought some relief, but next week promises to bring increased temperatures and humidity back. Normally, civic matters would be taking a summer recess, but it seems there is now no real break from the need to stay on top of city issues.
I mentioned in my last email that Tuesday, August 2nd is the National Night Out event throughout Alexandria. This is an event to recognize our first responders and thank them for their service. The Clover College Park Civic Association (CCPCA) is hosting their event at Bishop Ireton High School at 201 Cambridge Road from 6:00- 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday night. They have graciously invited residents of other areas to join their celebration. There will be visits from the Alexandria Police Department Motorcycle Unit, Canine Unit, and the Mobile Crime Lab. Units from the Alexandria Fire Department and Sheriff’s Department will also be on hand. A food truck, Himalayan Soul Food, will be on hand, and the CCPCA is providing water, lemonade, and tea. No pets are permitted, other than service animals, and there is no smoking or alcohol permitted on the site. This is a great opportunity to interact with our first responders, and meet nearby neighbors. We appreciate CCPCA including us in their event.
An item of great interest to our area is the status of the two Duke Street Traffic Pilots. As you remember, Phase 1 of the pilot involved redoing the timing of the traffic lights along Duke Street and the side streets in order to reduce cut-through traffic. I have received a report from Hillary Orr of T&ES regarding the results of Phase 1. Here are some highlights from her report:
- Overall volume on the Telegraph Road ramp was down by 14%
- Travel times for all routes were faster than the before period, but were about 35% faster using Quaker Lane. It was still about 20% faster than the before period to use West Taylor Run Parkway.
- Cut through traffic on Quaker Laneincreased by 23%.
- Cut through traffic on West Taylor Run and Cambridgedecreased by 47% and 73%, respectively.
- Cut through traffic on Yale Drive, with the new “no left turn” restriction in place, decreased by 96%, from 706 vehicles in the peak to 31.
- Cut through traffic on Fort Williams Parkway also decreased substantially, by 81%, from 171 vehicles to 32.
At the August 10th meeting, Ms. Orr will not only give the results of Phase 1, but will discuss the implementation of Phase 2 of the Duke Street pilot. This phase will involve closing off access to the Telegraph Road ramp at West Taylor Run by placing barriers along the ramp. This will allow Duke Street traffic to move more quickly through that area to get to the Beltway because there will no longer be a traffic signal stopping Duke Street traffic at West Taylor Run. Cars wishing to go south on Telegraph Road from West Taylor Run will proceed east on Duke Street to Dove Street, where they will exit and circle back to the existing ramp for westbound Duke Street traffic. The long-range plan is to create a designated left turn lane from eastbound Duke Street onto the west-facing Telegraph Road ramp. While some residents on East Taylor Run Parkway have heard a rumor that there will be an additional traffic signal placed on their street, this is not part of the plan. What is part of the plan is that the traffic timing signals from Phase 1 will be put back into place when Phase 2 begins, so the city can get a complete picture of how the 2 pilots will work in tandem. As with the Phase 1 pilot, this pilot will run for a designated period of time and then be re-evaluated with the community. The start date and timing of Phase 2 will be discussed at the August 10th Zoom meeting. I will keep you informed as we learn more.
I have followed up with Nancy Williams of the Planning Department to learn more about the status of the text amendment to increase the height limit in certain areas to allow for the creation of affordable housing. As I reported in my last email, the Planning Commission deferred approval of this proposal and asked staff to come back with further analysis. Mayor Wilson then instructed staff to come back with a more comprehensive proposal including other future zoning changes envisioned in the Housing for All plan. Ms. Williams indicated in her reply to me that they are following that directive and reviewing the Housing for All plan before bringing the matter back to the Planning Commission. She assured me that any proposals will include a “strong community engagement process.” We will continue to stay on top of this issue in the coming months.
On the matter of the playground relocation in Ft. Ward Park, we are awaiting a decision by Parks and Rec on their choice of location. The sites that were preferred by the community in meetings were Site B and Site D, so these are being studied in more detail now. Site B is immediately above the current location of the playground, and Site D is on the other side of the park adjacent to St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes Middle School campus. City staff expects to hold another community meeting on this matter in September or October. We are relieved that Site E appears not be under consideration any longer due to the possibility of gravesites on that land where African American homes were located.
Another informational item to bring to your attention was the decision by the Traffic and Parking Board on June 25th to remove 9 parking places along Polk Avenue near Polk School so a sidewalk can be constructed as a result of a survey done for Safe Routes to School. This was also noted as one of the “missing link” sidewalks that was referenced in the Seminary Road diet debate. Several Polk Avenue neighbors argued that this sidewalk is not necessary, as there is a sidewalk on the other side of Polk Avenue. The proposed sidewalk abuts a public open space area called Polk Park, so to avoid encroaching on the parkland, the sidewalk will be built in the public right of way, which means that the 9 parking spaces in this stretch of the street will be eliminated. Residents have stated their intention to appeal the decision. The Brookville Seminary Valley Civic Association and the Seminary Hill Association did not take formal positions on this matter. I did go to the site several times when meetings with city officials were held, including with City Manager Jim Parajon. The option of a crosswalk was proposed by some residents, but city staff indicated that was not a safe alternative. During the discussion by the Traffic Board, one board member cited the sidewalk put in on Seminary Road (the portion along the VTS grounds that is out in the street) and stated that it was amazing how many people are using that sidewalk that never did before. Based upon personal observation and numerous reports from other residents, I am not convinced that his comment is a very accurate assessment about the use of that sidewalk, which did not receive the state funding the city asserted would be forthcoming to create a more permanent sidewalk.
Finally, the plan to add lights at Hammond Middle School continues to move forward. The city did hold another public meeting on July 21st and reiterated their plan to go before Planning and Council this fall to get a Special Use Permit to begin this work. Seminary Hill Association is very aware of the concerns of residents who are neighbors to Hammond, who continue to deal with the non-permitted uses of the Hammond field now, and know that adding lights will only increase the noise and nuisances that are prevalent today. SHA was very involved in the previous attempt in 2012 to light the Hammond field, which resulted in lawsuits from the neighbors, the discovery of flooding issues that residents had warned ACPS about to no avail, and enormous cost overruns with the new turf field, and ACPS’ withdrawal of the plan to light the field at that time.
One of the main issues regarding the lighting of Hammond and the other fields that are part of this plan is the lack of any oversight and enforcement of conditions that are placed on the use of the field. Residents have observed this at Hammond and at Parker Gray Stadium. When violations occur, residents attempt to reach out to ACPS who states that they have no staff to monitor the use and to call the Alexandria Police Department. If residents contact Parks and Rec, they are told it is an ACPS problem and to call the Alexandria Police. When the police are called, they now tell residents this is not part of their responsibility and they do not respond to such calls. The bottom line is that no one takes responsibility or responds to residents’ complaints. The same lack of response is now given for noise complaints in general throughout the city. It seems unfair to consider adding more opportunities for conflicts with nearby neighbors regarding noise and nuisances until a reliable system is put in place with additional staff assigned to monitor and respond to the issues that are happening right now without placing lights on additional fields. While all of us want our Alexandria youth to have sufficient opportunities for outdoor activities, there are many questions remaining about who will actually use these fields at night. SHA will consider this issue and take a position after our board votes on the matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any board member about any thoughts you have on this, or any other matter.
Please enjoy the rest of your summer. SHA will resume its monthly board meetings on September 8th at 7:00 p.m. Further information about that meeting will be provided next month. Thank you again for being a part of the Seminary Hill Association and I hope to see some of you at National Night Out this Tuesday.
President, Seminary Hill Association