Alexandria city staff and Del Ray residents took the first step in developing a neighborhood traffic-calming plan at a community meeting Thursday night at Mount Vernon Recreation Center.
While much of the talk in City Hall prior to the meeting centered on truck traffic and speeding cars on specific streets—mostly E. Howell and E. Custis avenues—Thursday’s meeting offered a chance for others to express their traffic and transportation issues and for city staff to explain what can be done.
Residents also expressed concerns that current traffic problems will only get worse as development at Potomac Yard comes on line.
Rich Baier, the director of Alexandria’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services, and the Alexandria Police Department offered some statistics showing the current traffic situation isn’t as troublesome as some believe.
At the request of City Council, police did 17 hours of targeted enforcement on Custis and Howell and found traffic was not as dramatic as anticipated. Officers said the narrow streets in Del Ray, about 17 feet wide in places, make it appear cars are moving faster. Average speeds across the neighborhood were measured below posted limits, according to police.
Howell and Custis residents said they’ve sensed an increase in traffic on their streets as a result of the 2009 construction of the Monroe Avenue Bridge on Route 1. Residents say the bridge masks the entrance onto Monroe Avenue, a defined collector street and truck route into Del Ray, and sends more traffic to residential streets.
Recent traffic counts provided by Baier showed the number of cars on Howell and Custis did rise after bridge construction but have since tempered. Traffic on Monroe has remained down since the bridge construction. See the chart below:
|2006 Peak A.M.||2006 Peak P.M.||2010 Peak A.M.||2010 Peak P.M.||2012 Peak A.M.||2012 Peak P.M.|
But if the large attendance at the meeting is any indication, Del Ray residents perceive traffic problems and many are worried these problems will escalate with new development.
Funding for any traffic calming measures in Alexandria remains scarce. The city recently restored its Complete Streets program after a several-year absence. However, the lack of a city traffic-calming program has created a backlog of roughly two dozen projects, Baier said. If Del Ray wants money for speed bumps or other infrastructure, it will have to compete for it against other neighborhoods.
The developers of Potomac Yard Land Bay F—which currently houses the Potomac Yard Shopping Center—are required to donate $1 million for a comprehensive traffic-calming plan once redevelopment occurs. Advancement on overhauling the shopping center is still several years away. There is no required donation for the development coming up in the south end of Potomac Yard, something that has been chalked up to unsophisticated planning from the city when the development was approved more than a decade ago.
Farroll Hamer, the city’s director of Planning and Zoning, said as an alternative to waiting, residents can pursue securing traffic-calming funds from developers as special use permits for projects for the south end of Potomac Yard come through City Hall. Baier said securing funds would be a matter of proving a development creates a need for infrastructure, something developers and planners call the “rational nexus test.”
Many projects in Potomac Yard South have already received permits. More are going before Planning Commission and council in the months ahead, including a proposal from the Institute for Defense Analyses to build a 370,000 square-foot office in Potomac Yard Land Bay G. IDA’s proposal is going before the Planning Commision on Tuesday. Hamer said it was too late to ask for transportation money from that development.
Last month, council approved a 250-unit residential building for Land Bays H/I and a 181-unit residential building for Land Bay J. In October, council approved a large mixed-use building with a 70,000 square-foot Giant. All three projects front Route 1.
Baier said the city plans to hold a follow-up meeting with Del Ray residents in January to build some consensus for traffic-calming projects and consider how those projects can be completed.
Hamer said while there is reason to express concerns about the impacts of Potomac Yard, the city has seen two “really dense” developments come to fruition in the last decade or so without significant traffic impacts: the U.S. Patent and Trade Office in Carlyle and BRAC-133 in the West End. Transportation, she said, is the first thing her department looks at when analyzing development.
“People thought [BRAC] was going to be traffic Armageddon,” Hamer said. “Overall, the traffic is not worse than what it was before.”
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