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TrafficSnark: Transit Versus Traffic Calming — A Choice for Del Ray

Choices are tough, which is why we avoid making them. That's especially true in government spending. Let's look at two transportation options in Del Ray for an example.

When people make requests of government, they often think of the available funding as being a bottomless pit from which politicians can pull endless amounts of money. Sadly, far too many politicians think in those terms, as well (see Congress). The truth is rather more disappointing, as funding is really more of a zero-sum game. If you get funding for your project, someone else will have to make a sacrifice: either they forfeit their own project or there’s a tax increase on someone, perhaps everyone.

Let’s use a local example to illustrate. Given that transportation funding is finite, how would Del Ray best be served: with a trolley like Old Town’s or with a big uptick in spending on traffic calming/pedestrian improvement projects? Granted, this isn’t a perfect comparison. The trolley, which will also serve Arlandria, has funding set aside, but nobody seems to want to operate it. The city earmarked money for traffic calming and pedestrian safety that was generated by Potomac Yard’s developers, but the amount won’t even pay for a single traffic light. Del Ray’s best hope for traffic calming comes from the recent restoration of such funding under the city’s Complete Streets program, but this small pile of cash has to be shared throughout the city.

So, let’s do a thought experiment: suppose the citizens and business operators in Del Ray had a clear-cut choice: they can have the trolleys, assuming the city finds an operator or DASH takes up the slack; or they can have lots of traffic calming, crosswalk improvements and bike lanes. To keep it simple, let’s pretend that the amount of funding available for both is the same. That’s highly dubious, but work with me here. Which one should Del Ray opt for? And no, you can’t have half a trolley or three-quarters of a speed hump. It’s a zero-sum game.

To make this a rational choice, we have to ask who benefits the most from these two examples. The trolley, which is slated to run primarily on the weekends, might benefit Del Ray restaurants and bars by bringing in patrons from further afield than the immediate area. The route ties in with King Street-Old Town Metro and Braddock Road Metro, theoretically making the area more attractive to tourists.

Unfortunately, whereas Old Town is listed in several travel guides such as Frommer’s, Del Ray is not. If tourists don’t know about a place, they won’t show up. Plus, they may not be all that interested. Old Town is a rarity, since few concentrations of 18th century architecture remain in the United States. Livable, interesting communities like Del Ray are growing in number, though, thanks to Americans’ rediscovery of their intown neighborhoods.

We can actually gauge tourist potential by the degree of interest from hotel operators. Old Town has lots of hotels, with more on the horizon. That’s a source of dismay for some in the Old Town Civic Association. So far, no major hotel chains have tried to plop a big hotel in Del Ray, which the residents might not be keen on, anyway. Bottom line: the Arlandria/Del Ray trolley won’t yield a tourist boom, but it might encourage more patrons to visit Del Ray from elsewhere in the metro area. Time will tell if those patrons appear in significant numbers.

So who benefits from traffic calming and pedestrian safety upgrades? Well, pretty much everyone would, except for cut-through commuters. By definition, traffic calming slows the cars down. If you live in Fairfax County or Maryland and think of Del Ray as a handy bypass for Route 1, a slower journey will not be pleasing. However, kids going to school bus stops, residents who switch from their cars to bikes for short trips, commuters who walk to stops for Alexandria’s DASH bus, and patrons of local businesses (since parking can be tricky in the area) would probably all be happier if they no longer had to play a real-world version of Frogger.

So, your zero-sum choice is this: transit that may modestly increase patronage at local business; or pedestrian improvements and traffic calming that will protect local residents and patrons, but slow regional car commuters. Which do you choose?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Todd Hutchings January 22, 2013 at 01:15 PM
I vote for the Trolley! We don't need traffic calming in Del Ray, the speed limit is already very low at 25mph. The police just need to enforce the posted limits. The Trolley will not only bring in people from outside Del Ray, but will also be able to take us from Del Ray to Old Town. This will help reduce traffic and free up parking spaces. It's not a difficult decision, Del Ray will benefit greater from the Trolley.
Jerry King January 22, 2013 at 03:24 PM
If you follow Kevin’s logic it seems right on the mark. You have to look at the overall situation to make a reasonable decision. Sure businesses would want the trolley but if you polled the residents I am sure they would prefer to be safer and want safer slower traffic. And as for the traffic calming, residents have been pushing that issue for years with little outcome. And as for the cost, traffic calming done correctly is much less expensive than the trolley, and with the constrained budget this must be taken in consideration. I vote for the people not the trolley.
Jonathan Krall January 22, 2013 at 06:28 PM
If all that traffic calming included bike lanes (and it should), then we could make it much easier for the many people who are moving into Potomac Yard to visit Del Ray without bringing their cars. If we could add some wayfinding signage to those bike lanes, including one on the Mt Vernon Trail, then we could draw even more people, especially on weekends (counts of cyclists show that about 1 million people use that trail each year--that's 2700 per day). Also, the point of traffic calming is that roads are modified in such a way that most people slow down and no extra traffic enforcement is needed. Police Officers are expensive and traffic calming is cheap--that's why they invented traffic calming. IMO, traffic calming is needed on Mt Vernon Ave, especially south of Howell and on the entirety of Monroe Ave. BTW, both of these are designated bike routes, but I generally avoid them because I don't feel safe.
Todd Hutchings January 22, 2013 at 08:01 PM
I've only been living in Del Ray for a few months, but it seems to me the people that are driving the fastest and most aggressively are the other residents of Del Ray! I think these people would be the first ones to complain about traffic calming since they already drive too fast for the area. Maybe they're in a rush to get stuck in traffic someplace else?
Scooby's Doo January 23, 2013 at 03:25 PM
Todd, as a 20 year resident of Del Ray, I agree with most of your assessment. There is always a perception that the most egregious traffic violators and traffic generators are from outside the neighborhood, but if you look around, its usually your neighbors who are the ones running stop signs, speeding, and not stopping for pedestrians.
Jeff Yutzler January 24, 2013 at 05:22 PM
This question is too binary for me. As for traffic calming, the bottom line is that I feel like I am playing Frogger when I try to cross MVA around the farmer's market in the afternoon. I propose a priority crosswalk (like on Braddock Rd. by the Metro station) midway between each pair of lights on MVA between Monroe and Commonwealth and another on Monroe itself in front of the YMCA. Maybe a sign with a cinder block base in the middle of the street would be enough to make a big difference. Can I take up a collection? Transit in Del Ray is a mess. The 10 buses drive me crazy. The route is highly susceptible to clumping (I once saw a 10A, 10B, and 10E back-to-back-to-back) so your wait times are unpredictable. The AT10 line has a fundamental flaw that I don't think the trolley would fix. I don't want to go to King St. Metro. I want to go into Old Town itself. What I think Alexandria needs is the equivalent of a Circulator line in DC that connects Del Ray, Slaters, Potomac Yard, and Old Town. I don't care if it is a bus, trolley, or rickshaw. I'm just not sure how to get there from here especially with the transitway being built on Rt. 1.
Jonathan Krall January 24, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Jeff, I think turning the trolley into a circulator would be a great idea! As for Mt Vernon Ave, one thing that might help would be the removal of some parking spaces near intersections to improve sight lines. TE&S suggested this a while ago and it was shot down over concern for loss of parking. If, however, some of those spaces were replaced by bicycle parking (like in front of St Elmo, but better), we could recover that parking capacity on nice days and have the improved sight lines much of the time (win win!).
Jeff Yutzler January 24, 2013 at 06:08 PM
@JK Removing parking spaces was discussed at a recent transportation meeting and the consensus was that if you removed the space directly before each intersection on MVA it would achieve the desired effect - improve sightlines without unduly impacting businesses. We agreed that bicycle parking would be a good use of that space. Another option that wasn't mentioned at the meeting that could work in places is bikeshare stations.
amy lu January 24, 2013 at 09:28 PM
The "removed" parking space in front of where I work on MVA is constantly used for short-term parking; customer parks, goes into store(s), picks-up item and leaves. The turn-over is tremendous! And creating short-term parking was called for in 'The Plan'. Every wonder why there's bike parking in the street in front of St. Elmo's? Well, first it was 2 parking spaces. But people complained they could see to safely cross. So then City made it 'no parking here to corner' - that was blatantly ignored by caffeine deprived drivers. (Jack Taylor was heard to joke about his personal space.) It took a bit of doing but the Bike/Ped coordinator convinced the City to agree to a pilot allowing bike parking. (You're welcome Jonathan) As for removing parking to improve sight lines, we've already removed 1 space at most corners and in most places it has not made a positive difference. Todd's right. Years ago Lt. Paul Story told me the whenever Police increased traffic enforcement, the first folks caught lived in that neighborhood.
Sarah haut January 25, 2013 at 05:43 PM
There is one spot where removing parking to improve sight lines has made a positive difference and that is at the Northwest corner of Mt. Vernon and E. Nelson Avenues. Years ago the city installed a no parking here to corner sign at Mt. Vernon Ave and on E. Nelson Ave. Prior to that, there were car accidents at that intersection periodically. I haven't heard of an accident there since that change was made.

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