Earlier this month, Alexandria City Council approved a series of short-term changes to Old Town’s Union Street corridor.
The changes stem from a recommendation in the Waterfront Small Area Plan that the city review vehicular, pedestrian and other impacts along one of Old Town’s busiest streets between Jones Point Park and Pendleton Street.
One of the more transformative recommendations is to design, with input from the community, a pedestrian plaza on the south side of the unit block of King Street next to Mai Thai and Starbucks.
Other short-term recommendations include:
- Improving the connection of the Mount Vernon Trail to Pendleton Street for bicycles
- Connecting Oronoco Park to Founder’s Park for pedestrians
- Eliminating the crosswalk at the intersection of Union and Pendleton streets and providing a designated walking corridor on the east side of Union between Oronoco and Pendleton.
- Marking a bike lane/shared lane at the intersection of Queen and Union streets
- Parking part-time on Union Street between Prince and King streets. This pilot project would offer part-time parking restrictions to encourage pedestrian circulation during peak pedestrian hours (afternoon/evening and Fridays and Saturdays.)
- Raising a crosswalk at Union and Gibbon streets and raising a crosswalk with landscaping at the mid-block crossing of Union Street at Windmill Hill Park.
Council also adopted an amendment to institute improvements at the intersection of Franklin and Union streets.
Long-term recommendations of the plan call for pursuing a shared street at the core of Union between Cameron and Prince streets. The concept, popular in parts of Europe, encourages pedestrian space by urging cyclists and motorists to travel more slowly on a surface used by all. The concept calls for constructing a surface where both the street and sidewalks are flush from building face to building face and textured pavement and bandings would delineate pedestrian-only spaces with everyone sharing the roadway.
An expensive endeavor that would be constructed in five to 10 years, the shared street concept drew some skepticism from Old Town residents and councilmembers. City staff will continue working on the idea in the years ahead.
“I just can’t see how that allows a pedestrian to feel very safe when there’s a car that weighs 2,000 pounds more than the pedestrian,” Councilwoman Del Pepper said during a public Council meeting.
Several Old Town residents spoke against some of the short- and the long-term measures, saying any changes to Union Street need more consideration.
Old Town resident Bert Ely argued that the city should take future development into account. Ely was also a member of the Waterfront Plan Work Group, which offered recommendations about the city's waterfront to Council. Bob Wood, a former city council candidate, said a street capacity study should be conducted supportive of future development along the waterfront and not just the existing uses.
“The waterfront plan redevelopment is not going to happen today, it’s not going to happen tomorrow, it’s going to happen in 10 to 15 years,” Mayor Bill Euille said. “But we can’t ignore the problems for 10 to 15 years.”