UPDATE ON SEMINARY ROAD - September 14, 2019
On Saturday, September 14th, the protracted debate about the future configuration of Seminary Road will come to an end at the City Council Public Hearing. City Council will decide whether to put a portion of Seminary Road on what is called a "road diet”. In this case, that means removing 50% of the car travel lanes by reducing the number of lanes from 4 lanes to 2, with a center lane for left turns only. Bike lanes would be added under this proposal.
Seminary Hill Association (SHA) has advocated for retaining 4 lanes on Seminary since the City first proposed a road diet for Seminary. SHA responded to resident concerns about safety by advocating for 2 additional pedestrian-activated crosswalks and increased speed enforcement. SHA wants speed reduction, but not lane reduction. In June, the Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board (TPB) rejected the city alternative and voted 3-2 to recommend to City Council that Seminary Road remain a 4-lane road, with the addition of 2 new HAWK pedestrian-activated crosswalks, as SHA had supported.
SHA began this effort because many of our residents were opposed to the city's plans for Seminary Road and asked us to take a stand. Over the course of the summer, SHA has been joined by an unprecedented 12 additional civic associations whose members also questioned the process that has brought this matter before City Council. It has been so encouraging to see such a grassroots alliance of concerned citizens come together to express our views to our elected officials. Just last week, the Alexandria Federation of Civic Associations also endorsed the recommendation of TPB to maintain 4 lanes on Seminary. We appreciate all the input and hard work by residents who have been concerned with the effort to place road diet on a major arterial east-west route.
Yet, proponents of the lane reductions accuse those wanting to retain the 4 lanes of car travel of not caring about safety. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the safety of all our residents has been, and will continue to be, our priority. Staff and bike lobby groups have dismissed studies that refute claims that road diet is a successful tool in dealing with safety issues on high volume roads, and refuse to study or acknowledge safety impacts on our neighborhood streets due to increased cut-through traffic from peak hour congestion on Seminary Road.
According to the city’s own data, this stretch of Seminary Road is ranked as one of the safest streets in our city. Since the adoption of the Vision Zero Plan, this roadway has consistently achieved Vision Zero, a goal that SHA fully supports. What higher standard of safety can a road achieve than that? And yet characterizations of this roadway, both in city presentations and by those desiring bike lanes, have manipulated data encompassing the entire length of Seminary Road to portray this stretch as a high KSI (killed or serious injury) corridor. The unsafe portion of Seminary Road that demands attention is the western area of Seminary, yet this plan does not address the very real safety issues there. Instead, the focus is only on this small stretch of safe roadway.
Proponents of the road diet are supported by well-funded regional bike lobby and smart growth advocates who have relentlessly emailed and tweeted their followers across the entire DMV region, most of whom don’t even know where Seminary Road is, to sign petitions asking our City Council to support the road diet which creates their desired bike lanes. Their petitions make it clear that signers do not have to give their addresses, so that allows people from all over our region to attempt to influence this decision. City staff has stated that non-resident views are as important to them as the views of those living in the area most affected by this plan. If you would like to express your support as an Alexandria resident for the recommendation of the TPB to maintain Seminary Road with 4 travel lanes and 2 pedestrian-activated crosswalks, please click on this link and add your name to the petition that supports Seminary Road as a 4-lane arterial: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/central-alexandria-citizens-petition. In addition, you may use the city's Call, Click, Connect system to send a message to all of City Council expressing your views.
SHA leadership and members, along with representatives from the 12 other civic associations, will be present at City Hall on Saturday the 14th to testify before Council as they make their decision on Seminary Road. Anyone is welcome to speak before Council by signing up ahead of time online or filling out a speaker's form at City Hall when you arrive at the meeting. We are hopeful that a majority of our City Council will side with the majority of Alexandria residents who want Seminary Road to remain a vital traffic artery for those who, due to the lack of frequent and reliable transit options, must use cars on this roadway to reach their homes, work, schools, and hospital.
The next meeting of the Seminary Hill Association will be Thursday, September 12th at 7:30 p.m. at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill at 3606 Seminary Road. All are welcome to attend. I encourage you to consider joining SHA and signing up to receive our emails. The agenda for the meeting will be posted on this website. I hope you had an enjoyable summer and I look forward to seeing you at one of our meetings in the coming months.
Carter Flemming, President
Seminary Hill Association, Inc.
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.