To the Editor,
In the Thursday July 7, 2011 issue of the Alexandria Times, Hugh M. Van Horn wrote a letter to the editor. In it he said: “There are several reasons to be wary of the current waterfront plans. First, the planning department still has not adequately addressed the issue of the traffic congestion that would be produced by the waterfront hotels they envision. Look no further than the traffic congestion anticipated when the BRAC center opens to understand why citizens are up in arms about this.”
Traffic is a reasonable issue to discuss, the comparison to the BRAC situation is not. Here is what a truer picture of what traffic impact there will be in Alexandria with the inclusion of the three boutique hotels in the City’s Waterfront Plan.
First, on the City’s website, you can find substantial information about the Plan, why the Plan, how long it took, and who has been involved. It is quite impressive. In an area called “Frequently Asked Questions” it asks “Why Hotels.” The short answer they gave is “Excluding hotels from the mix of uses at the waterfront is no longer in the best interest of the City because hotels are actually one of the lowest impact land uses in terms of traffic and parking, need for services, and noise. Among the main reasons that City planners propose hotels for waterfront sites is that, unlike residential (and office – our addition) development, hotels welcome the public and are compatible with the levels of activity that works for Alexandrians. Residents asked for more waterfront dining options, for example – an amenity that is likely to be included in a hotel but much less likely to be included in residential (and office - our addition) development projects.”
We’ll get back to hotels later. Right now, I think it is important to say that we need to be concerned about all forms of traffic, not only vehicles. We need to look at cars, water transportation, busses, trucks, taxi’s, bicycles, rickshaws, and, very important, pedestrian.
A goal for Old Town residents and businesses is have a viable solution for traffic management. Old Town today is a balance of residential, commercial and civic uses, all as neighbors. It is important to assure this balanced, livable environment into the future. The City’s plan for the waterfront does this.
In response to residents and stakeholders, the City’s Plan incorporates the potential of a north-south trolley system on the Strand, running from Robinson North to Robinson South. This popular mode of transportation will further enhance the desire to “park your car”, and abet the pedestrian traffic making the whole area less problematic for vehicle traffic.
As for vehicular traffic to and from the three hotels it would likely be disbursed throughout old town. This would relieve potential vehicle traffic backup in the core area around King Street. As opposed to condos and office buildings, the boutique hotel traffic would be spread throughout the day, not all in the morning and evening rush hours.
In reality, hotels on the 3 sites would result in less vehicular traffic, more foot traffic, and greatly enhance the potential for the Arts, Cultural centers, Seaport Foundation, the City’s current eight museums and historical sites to enjoy more visitors.
Motor coaches are addressed with the thought of making them accessible, park-able, and outside the critical King Street/Strand area. Current use and planning in accordance with the Waterfront’s expanded needs will be built on the experience to date, and incorporated with the goal of not stressing critical traffic areas with their presence.
“With its historic buildings, parks, small blocks, narrow roadways and alleys in a traditional grid, Old Town accommodates pedestrians better than any other mode of travel. Pedestrian travel is the most basic and essential means of mobility along the waterfront, with opportunities ranging from the boardwalks near the Marina and Torpedo Factory to the popular sidewalks along King Street where the eclectic, pedestrian-scaled character of the area encourages residents and visitors alike to explore by foot”.
With the construction of the hotels at Robinson North and Robinson South, pedestrians will finally have places to go, instead of congregating at the foot of King Street. The current parks have not had sufficient enough draws to get the visitors/residents off of the base of King St. Why would turning both Terminals into parks suddenly increase drawing power? Analysis from several respected sources indicate that museums will not have the same drawing influence as hotels, which have a reputation as gathering places, and places of destination. With the City’s plan, pedestrian traffic will be drawn from up and down King Street, to the walkways that incorporate art, history and culture stops fulfilling the need to educate visitors and residents alike about the story of Alexandria. In addition, the hotels will draw more visitors to infuse spending into the businesses in and around Old Town.
The Waterfront currently has excellent bicycle accommodation. The City’s Plan furthers this by incorporating a 25 foot wide pedestrian path which safely accommodates pedestrians and bicycles alike. As you know bicycle shops and rental facilities already exist at the Waterfront. The Plan expands these facilities by adding parking and racks for bikes, and also includes a bike sharing station.
As mentioned above there will also be other transportation needs including water transportation, rickshaws, and parking. The City’s plan addressed these issues (except rickshaws) and we encourage all interested Alexandrians to visit the City’s website or Alexandria4all.org where there are links to the pertinent sites.