I hope this finds everyone enjoying the last days of summer. As a reminder, Alexandria Public Schools are now in session, so let’s all be careful when we are driving to make sure our students stay safe on their way to and from school.  

This article will be lengthy, especially as it relates to Duke Street. I think it is important for all of us in this area of the city to fully understand the multiple projects that are in process right now which will change the streetscape of Duke Street.  As you may have seen on the new flashing directional signs, Phase II of the Duke Street traffic mitigation project will begin on September 12th.  This is the second part of the pilot program that ran earlier this year. Phase II will incorporate the same traffic light timing sequence that Phase I initiated.  The results of Phase I were very positive in terms of reducing regional cut-through traffic in our neighborhoods by making light timing changes that encourage drivers and driving apps to direct commuters to stay on the major arterial roads like Quaker and Duke, rather than taking shortcuts through smaller residential streets.

Phase II of the pilot will now cut off access from West Taylor Run Parkway onto the west-facing ramp to Telegraph Road that is directly across Duke Street from Taylor Run. Instead, drivers on West Taylor Run who want to access Telegraph Road to the Beltway will be allowed to turn left only onto Duke Street. Barriers will prevent drivers from getting on the ramp to Telegraph at this location. Drivers will proceed east to the “jug handle loop” traffic signal at Dove Street. From there, they will take a left back onto Duke Street and enter the westbound ramp to Telegraph Road. The timing of the light at Dove Street will be adjusted during the pilot based upon the level of use.

The rationale for this change is that it will allow the gridlocked traffic that we see every afternoon on eastbound Duke Street to flow directly onto the Telegraph Ramp without having to stop at the traffic light at West Taylor Run Parkway. Other traffic lights on Duke Street will give preference to Duke Street traffic and require slightly longer wait times at cross streets such as Cambridge Road, as was the case with Phase I. Phase II will run until March 31, 2023, pending approval by the Traffic and Parking Board in late September. That approval is required to have Phase II run for 6 months.  The long-term plan for this corridor is to create a left turn lane from Duke onto the west-facing Telegraph ramp, so drivers can avoid the Dove Street U-turn in the future. If you wish to learn more about this project, please go to the city website at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/sites/default/files/2022-08/Duke%20Street%20Traffic%20Mitigation%20-%208.11.22_0.pdf.

The project to create another access point to Telegraph Road will be part of the West Taylor Run Interchange Project that will involve the redesign of the entire Taylor Run-Duke Street intersection. The community outreach for that Interchange project will begin sometime this fall, and the results of this Phase II Duke Street project will help inform decisions and solutions. The city has received a $5.7 million grant from the Virginia Smart Scale Program to redesign the Taylor Run intersection in conjunction with additional access to Telegraph Road.  It is important to remember that VDOT has informed the city that no additional lanes can be added to the existing east-facing Telegraph ramp, due to the proximity of the exits for Mill Road/Eisenhower Avenue and the Beltway, so adding lanes there is not a possible solution to ease the gridlock.

Before we move away from Duke Street issues, I want to remind you that the Duke Street Transitway, a.k.a. Duke Street in Motion, is well underway with the planning process. The city appointed a Duke Street Transitway Advisory Committee, which has had several meetings. I attended the most recent meeting where the paid consultants began to present their scenarios for changes on Duke Street from Landmark Mall to the King Street Metro. In my opinion, despite the fact that city staff had said at the outset of this process that nothing was set in stone and everything would be up for discussion during this process, the 2012 plan that called for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane was rapidly adopted by the committee with almost no public outreach, other than to announce the dates of the committee meetings. It was clear to me that the consultants have been instructed to come up with designs that incorporate a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane, similar to what you see on Route 1 near Potomac Yard, as well as dedicated bike lanes. Bike lanes were not endorsed in the 2012 Duke Street Plan and elected officials had previously indicated that Eisenhower Avenue would be a much safer route for bike lanes. That has now changed, and the Duke Street designs project the inclusion of protected bike lanes.

You might ask yourselves, as I did, how is all this going to fit onto Duke Street and still allow car traffic, which is obviously the huge majority of movement on Duke Street, to travel the corridor without increasing delays for vehicles?  The answer appears to be the removal of the access roads along Duke Street in order to create the BRT and the protected dual “cycle tracks” as they are now called. Some advisory committee members have stated that the access roads are not needed and their removal will help create the vibrant urban corridor that the city envisions for Duke Street. There was very little consideration at the meeting I attended for the role these access roads play for residents and businesses, as the focus was on BRT and bikes.  When it was pointed out that parts of the access roads are at a much higher elevation, which would make it extremely difficult to incorporate them onto a level with Duke Street, the Planning Commission representative on the committee stated that would not present a problem and “that is what earth moving equipment is for”, therefore, such concerns were not relevant.

The overwhelming majority of the dozen or so public speakers at the meeting I attended were bike and transit advocates who had received emails from their various lobbying groups to sign up to speak in favor of any and all transit options, other than cars. While some residents have testified at previous meetings about the need to preserve car travel, this is not something that most residents have focused on at this point in time. Thus, the majority of the voices the city hears are activist voices who believe that “if you build it, they will come” to ride buses and bikes, and abandon their cars. When the city staff member in charge of the project was asked by one committee member about the projections for vehicle traffic on Duke Street if lanes are taken away, the response was, “It is very hard to talk about future traffic on Duke Street now.”

After listening to the meeting, it became even more clear to me that this is much more than a transit project – it is a redevelopment project for Duke Street. That is why one of the members of the Advisory Committee was appointed to represent the development community, and he and his law firm represent the owners of the property where the Land Rover dealership used to be on Duke Street that will now be redeveloped into a large affordable housing project, as well as representing Inova Alexandria Hospital at the Landmark site. This is not viewed as any conflict of interest in serving on the Advisory Committee, which will recommend the ultimate design of the roadway to City Council.

The city has made it very clear that this project is a transit project and the $87 million the city has received for it will be spent on mass transit upgrades. Unfortunately, it appears that none of those upgrades consider any impact on existing homes and businesses or vehicular traffic. Nor is there any data to show that current or future residents want to travel from Landmark to King Street Metro in order to, as some officials have stated is a reason for the Transitway, get on the Metro to travel to the Pentagon, and then transfer to other Metrorail lines to reach the final location of their jobs. No one has yet explained why commuters would want to take the time to travel all the way east along Duke Street to King Street, instead of boarding an Express Bus at Landmark to travel north on 395, which is immediately adjacent to Landmark, in order to get to the Pentagon. It is also relevant to note that the BRT buses will not be DASH buses, and will, at this point, not be free. If you wish to learn more about Duke Street in Motion, the website is: https://www.alexandriava.gov/DukeInMotion.

We are still awaiting the results of the city’s data on crash information on Seminary Road since the road diet was implemented. As many of you observed, another accident demolishing one of the center medians happened a few weeks ago. Residents indicate this is the 5th time one of the center medians has been damaged or destroyed in car accidents.

Moving away from transportation issues, I received a troubling report from the President of the nearby Battery Heights Homeowners Association. He would like all of us to be aware of an experience that happened to him. In July, he placed some bill payments in the outside blue mail boxes at the Seminary Post Office on Seminary Road. Weeks later, he received notices from the companies he had paid saying his bills were overdue. While dealing with these companies, he received a call from his bank informing him that the bank had stopped a fraudulent check from withdrawing money from his account. Apparently, the perpetrator who broke into the blue boxes at the Seminary created fake checks using the original checks they found in his correspondence and then used the checks to make mobile transfers from his account into a fraudulent account created by the thieves. Fortunately, the bank caught this suspicious activity and has restored all funds to his bank account.

The recent rash of thefts from postal carriers is related to this new form of crime when thieves gain access to the master keys used to lock outside post boxes. To be on the safe side, it is suggested that we use mail slots inside post offices, rather than the outside drop boxes. We appreciate being notified about this crime happening with boxes that I am sure many Seminary Hill residents use to drop off their mail.

On August 8th, SHA sent a letter to the Alexandria School Board and the City Manager asking a number of questions regarding cost estimates, infrastructure, ownership, maintenance, and supervision of the Hammond Middle School field, as the city seeks to add lights to this field. We are awaiting responses to those questions as the city moves forward for approval from the Planning Commission on October 6th.

On Saturday, September 10th, the city and the IEN mediation group hired by the city, will host an all-day meeting regarding the Stream Health Improvement Projects at Taylor and Strawberry Runs. The meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Board Room of the Alex Renew office building at 1800 Limerick Street. Speakers from the city, their consultants, and members of the public will speak on various aspects of these two natural resource areas. The meeting is the first public outreach since the mediation team was hired and introduces the Consensus Building Group (CBG), comprised of residents who have been involved in the discussions about these two projects. The meeting will run from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.  Members of the CBG will hold subsequent meetings about these two projects. To learn more about stream restoration you can go to the city’s website at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/stormwater-management/stream-restoration.  At this time, I do not see any information on that site about this upcoming meeting.

The city is now accepting applications for the various City Academies that offer residents an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about the operations of various departments and services in the city. Academies include the Alexandria City Academy, the Senior Academy, the Fire, Police, and Sheriff’s Academies, and others.  To learn more about each academy and their meeting schedules, visit www.alexandriava.gov/Academies.

The appeal by some Brookville-Seminary Valley residents of the Traffic and Parking Board’s decision to remove 9 parking places on Polk Avenue in order to add a sidewalk in the city right of way will be heard at City Council’s Public Hearing on Saturday, September 17th. The docket for this meeting will be posted approximately 5 days before the meeting if you wish to learn where on the agenda this item will be heard. This has been a contentious issue for neighbors, who, in their deliberations and discussions, have tried to balance pedestrian safety, protection of the Polk Park open space immediately adjacent to this proposed sidewalk, and the need for resident parking. The Council hearing is the final step in the process to determine if the sidewalk will be constructed.

Coming up this fall will be several initiatives in which Seminary Hill Association will be participating.  The “Zoning for Housing” initiative that has resulted in the adoption of ADUs, co-living, and other “soft density” (as Mayor Wilson calls them) zoning changes will be brought forward, as per Mayor Wilson’s instruction to staff, as a bundled group of zoning changes intended to create more affordable housing in the city.  Mayor Wilson writes that this comprehensive “Zoning for Housing” proposal will be “more substantial” and “make an impact in improving affordability” in our city. It can be anticipated that some of these changes will relate to the zoning for single-family homes.

In addition, this fall the city will start community engagement for an Alexandria “Vision Plan”, which appears to be the new term for a Strategic Plan.  Mayor Wilson writes that this plan “will craft an updated community vision for our city’s future.” This vision will ultimately update our Master Plan, future Small Area Plans, and our zoning ordinance. I would urge all of us to participate in this process to the fullest extent possible.  As someone who participated in the previous city Strategic Plan, I can state that without the input of a group of engaged and dedicated residents, the word “neighborhood” would not have had more than a passing reference in that plan. Through their efforts, respect for various neighborhoods became a part of the plan. SHA will pay close attention to any information about this “Vision Plan” and let residents know how and when to let their voices be heard in this very important discussion.

I have been contacted by the city’s Planning and Zoning Department to alert SHA to the new Alexandria West Planning Process, which will “update the long-term vision for the 1992 Alexandria West Plan and integrate the 2012 Beauregard Plan.” Again, Seminary Hill will be an active participant in this process and we will have a representative from the Planning Department speak about this process at our October 13th meeting.  More information can be found about this project at: https://www.alexandriava.gov/AlexandriaWest.

Finally, we are still awaiting the city’s decision on the relocation of the playground at Ft. Ward Park. We expect to hear next month. It is not clear whether a public meeting will be held to entertain more discussion on this matter, or to inform us of the decision that has been made by the city. Several Seminary Hill residents have been very involved and active in this matter and will continue to keep us informed as the decision is made.

I congratulate you if you have read this far in this message.  Again, I apologize for the length of this message, but I think it is important for our residents to see the volume of information that is coming at us from the city, even during our summer “recess.”  Our next SHA meeting will be in person on Thursday, September 8th at 7:00 p.m. at Immanuel Church on the Hill Parish Hall at 3606 Seminary Road. We are finalizing the agenda for that meeting and it is now posted on this website under the tab for Agenda on the home page. We will offer a Zoom link for those who cannot attend in person and it is found below:

Topic: Seminary Hill Association Zoom Meeting
Time: Sep 8, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 892 7243 5966
Passcode: 931994

Dial by your location
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)

As always, thank you for your interest in Seminary Hill Association. Please do not hesitate to contact me or any board members with questions or concerns you have. Happy Labor Day to all!