UPDATE ON SEMINARY ROAD
On Monday, June 24th, at a standing room only meeting in City Council Chambers, the Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board voted 3-2 to recommend that Seminary Road remain a four-lane street, with the addition of two new HAWK pedestrian crosswalks. Board member Ann Tucker made the motion, and board chair William Schuyler, and vice chair Jim Lewis, voted for Ms.Tucker's motion. Board members Kevin Beekman and Casey Kane voted against the proposal. This vote followed a failed motion to recommend city Alternative 3, which would have reduced the car travel lanes from 4 to 3, with the center lane being for left turns only.
As you might remember, Seminary Hill Association had put forward a plan we termed Alternative 4, which maintained 4 lanes of car travel, but provided safety improvements including: reducing the width of those 4 lanes, creating light-activated crosswalks for pedestrians, providing a 3’ buffer on each side of the roadway, and calling for increased speed enforcement along Seminary Road. The Seminary Hill board voted overwhelmingly for this option, and a large majority of our residents expressed support for this alternative. Unfortunately, city staff did not choose to consider this proposal, but instead created what they term a “hybrid” approach combining 2 of their own proposals to change the roadway.
The city's hybrid plan would have narrowed the eastbound car travel lanes from 2 lanes to 1 lane between St. Stephens Road and Zabriskie Lane – a stretch of just 4/10ths of a mile., and would require drivers to make 2 lane changes in this short span, which creates the possibility of car accidents. In this stretch of roadway, they proposed to create an 8’ “shared buffer” space on the sides of the road, create pedestrian crosswalks with “refuge” islands in the middle of the roadway, and alter the signal pattern at the intersection of Quaker Lane. At the intersection of Quaker Lane, the right hand lane would become right turn only onto Quaker, but right turn on red would be prohibited. The left lane would become left turn and through traffic, which means that cars going straight onto Janneys Lane would have to wait behind cars seeking to turn left onto Quaker Lane. The major justification put forward by the city for the loss of an eastbound car travel lane was to make room for the "missing link" of sidewalk on the north side of Seminary Road along the property of the Virginia Theological Seminary. We do not believe this sidewalk, estimated to cost $1.5 million, is justified, given that pedestrians are free to walk through the beautiful Seminary grounds if they wish to reach Quaker Lane on that side of the street. There is an existing sidewalk to Quaker Lane on the south side of Seminary Road.
At the Traffic and Parking Board meeting on June 24th, none of the nearly 70 speakers supported the city's new hybrid plan during the more than 4-hour meeting. Instead, those favoring a "road diet" on Seminary Road advocated for the adoption of the city's previous Alternative 3, which was not recommended to the board by the city. I spoke on behalf of SHA, as did other SHA board members, representatives of other civic associations, and area residents. Those favoring city Alternative 3, which includes bike lanes were in the majority at the meeting, but the board heard our concerns about eliminating car travel lanes, and ultimately voted in agreement with the position of SHA and the other 6 civic associations that have joined with us to support maintaining 4 car travel lanes on Seminary Road, with pedestrian safety improvements.
The next step in this process will be a public hearing before City Council in September. We have not received the final language of the motion that was passed, so we are not certain of the exact recommendation that city staff will present to Council or what modifications they might choose to handle administratively. As soon as we learn more information, I will post it here. We are certain that vigorous efforts will be made to overturn the recommendation of the Traffic and Parking Board, so we will continue to advocate for the position adopted by the board of SHA in April to maintain the 4 lanes of car travel on this stretch of Seminary Road. We will be meeting with Council members before the hearing to discuss our position with them.
I urge any of you who have concerns about Seminary Road to make your views known to our City Council. You can contact them through the Call, Click, Connect system on the city's website. There is an online survey that was created by residents in favor of maintaining the 4 car travel lanes, as the SHA position advocates. Over 1200 residents have signed the petition. If you wish to learn more about this petition, please go to: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/central-alexandria-citizens-petition. In addition, residents will have the opportunity to speak before City Council at the hearing in September (likely September 14th). Once the docket is posted for that Council meeting, I will let you know, so you can sign up to speak. It is important to let our elected officials know what we, as residents of Seminary Hill, want to see as part of the repaving that will be done on Seminary Road this fall.
I appreciate all the input we have received from residents regarding this issue. It has been especially encouraging to see the cooperation with other area civic associations on this matter, as collectively we have a much greater impact than if we stand alone. I encourage you to become a member of SHA if you are not already. I hope all of you will have an enjoyable summer. SHA does not meet during July and August, so our next board meeting will be Thursday, September 12.
Carter Flemming, President
Seminary Hill Association, Inc.