Alexandria City Council Candidates Talk About Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Issues.

BPAC sent six questions to city council candidates.  Below are their responses, in the order received.  Responses are provided verbatim, except for the correction of minor grammatical errors.  Some candidates did not respond, as noted below. Click on the questions below to see specific answers:
1. If you are elected, will you champion investments in walking and biking infrastructure in Alexandria to contribute to Alexandria’s economic health?
2. Please describe you walking and biking experience in Alexandria
3. If elected, how will you increase the numbers of kids who choose to walk or bike, and make sure they can do it safely?
4. Do you support the City’s Transportation Master Plan, Complete Streets Policy and the Vision Zero Action Plan? Please explain why or why not.
5. How would you approach the decision-making process on a Complete Streets project that requires tradeoffs between important issues?
6. If elected, will you encourage City staff to adopt proven street design measures to reduce vehicle speeds?

1. Businesses seek locations that are walkable and bikeable. If you are elected, will you champion investments in walking and biking infrastructure in Alexandria to contribute to Alexandria’s economic health?

Kevin Dunne:  Pedestrian and bike-friendly policies reinforce development practices that grow our brand and economy. Economic growth is a priority for me as a candidate while my time as board member to VeloCity Bike Cooperative makes me appreciate the importance of bike and pedestrian-friendly policies. I believe the two needs are compatible, not competitive with each other.

Mo Seifeldein:  I think connecting the city together and to the business centered areas is vital to our economic growth and quality of life. All responsible plans would have my support.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker:  Yes.  As Alexandria continues to grow, investing in our walking and biking infrastructure are particularly important to limit car traffic in the City.  I am an advocate for smart growth, which in part means making sure the City is a walk and bike friendly City.  Investing in our walking and biking infrastructure is also a relatively easy and straightforward way to make our community more attractive to businesses who can fill empty office spaces around the City.

Amy Jackson:  Alexandria’s furthered economic success is continually tied to the city’s ability to bring Alexandrians out to enjoy the amenities, both public and private, that our city provides. The well-developed pedestrian infrastructure of Old Town and Del Ray encourages Alexandrians to peruse the small businesses that thrive in our city and to establish a more communal understanding between the residents of Alexandria and the businesses. I support the expansion of the infrastructure that draws people towards the community so that both our people and city may thrive. On City Council, I will expand our sidewalk infrastructure so that Alexandrians can more easily walk to the communal centers of our city without concern for their safety, I will encourage further installations of bike-sharing services around our city, and I will continue the development of pedestrian works such as a walkable waterfront. These works will make it easier and safer for Alexandrians to spend their time and money within the City of Alexandria, encouraging economic growth and leading to a better Alexandria for all Alexandrians.

Canek Aguirre: Yes. I am in favor of the Complete Streets program, I support Vision Zero, and I would push us to invest in data driven technology and innovation to tackle these issues. We need a multimodal transportation system that will help foster economic development in all parts of Alexandria – ensuring residents can walk or bike safely from Del Ray to the West End is key. Our sidewalk infrastructure should include updated ADA compliant curb ramps for all users, including our seniors, people with disabilities, and families using strollers. I recently participated in the Seminary Road Community Walkaround and it was clear during our walk that improvements could and should be made to ensure bicyclists can safely ride on our roads, pedestrians can feel safe while walking on our sidewalks, crosswalks needed to be added, and additional signage should be posted to improve safety.

John Chapman:  No response received.

Del Pepper:  No response received.
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2. Do you walk or bike in Alexandria?  If so, please comment on your experience.

Kevin Dunne:  I walk in Alexandria, but recognize that biking serves as a good solution to many local transit needs. Bike trips don’t take much longer than driving in the city. It is a healthy means of travel. And it is an economical and eco-friendly option–reducing gas, parking, and maintenance needs.

Mo Seifeldein:  I walk on the Seminary Rd. and with the 395 renovation expansion, we were able to get a walking bridge to the nearest shopping center. It is much better now and there is less worry about vehicles driving by you.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker:  These days I do a lot of walking in Alexandria while I’m out talking to voters.  Some neighborhoods are great for walking – they have well-maintained sidewalks and low traffic.  Others are less safe and are not as well connected.  I live near the King Street bike lane that starts at Janneys Lane and unfortunately, I do not see many cyclists using the lane.  As an infrequent cyclist, I do not find that lane an attractive commute option in part because it still seems too exposed to busy car traffic.  Alexandria has some great places to bike – like the Mt. Vernon Trail – but I am concerned about how well our bike lanes generally serve people who want to use them as a means to get around our city.

Amy Jackson:  My personal experience in Alexandria has not been one dominated by pedestrian or biking activities, due in large part to the impracticality of such activities where I live. While Old Town and Del Ray, with their smaller streets, numerous stop signs, and more dictated traffic patterns, encourage individuals to leave their cars and walk around, the wide, fast moving streets of the West End discourage individuals and families from walking around our city, simply because cars dominate the road. Hopefully soon, new City developments slow this pace and allow pedestrians equal rights to the roads. When I can, I love to walk around Old Town and Del Ray with my family and I love to see other families doing the same, but I clearly see that several parts of Alexandria are simply not pedestrian friendly. Further, as a mother of a young set of two, I am constantly worried about their safety, even in pedestrian friendly zones, given the sheer quantity of vehicles on the road. I, along with many other Alexandrians, want to get out and walk the city, but quite often it’s simply not possible.

Canek Aguirre:  I walk. For nearly 7 years, I called Del Ray – one of the most walkable communities in Alexandria – home.  I appreciated being able to walk to my favorite restaurants or take the bus down to the Metro. My first year in Alexandria I didn’t have a car to get to work, but I was able to walk or take a short bus ride down Mount Vernon to G.W. Middle School. Earlier this year, I became a homeowner in the West End and have noticed a marked difference. Cars don’t usually stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, drivers disregard traffic signage, bikers don’t seem to feel safe on the roads, and sometimes there is no pedestrian walkway. I will work to ensure that bicycle and pedestrian safety is a priority in every part of the City.

John Chapman:  No response received.

Del Pepper:  No response received.
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3. Alexandria can combat traffic congestion, air pollution, and childhood obesity, and increase kids’ academic performance at school by encouraging more students to bike or walk to school. If elected, how will you increase the numbers of kids who choose to walk or bike, and make sure they can do it safely?

Kevin Dunne:  Biking is a key lifelong habit that can pay dividends to a child’s curiosity, skills, and freedom. These are aspects of learning and growth which are essential to a developing student and citizen. As such, promoting biking is an important activity. I would look to the Alexandria BPAC Bicycle in the Schools Program and Youth Committee for how best to promote this.

Mo Seifeldein:  I think that will depend on the distance the students are traveling from the school and the season as well. However, the CDC indicates that car accidents and auto accidents are the biggest threat to students in the United States. Traffic guards, better signs, reduced speed, and improved sidewalks and bike lanes are useful in reducing incidents to students who walk or bike to schools.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker:  I hear from parents that there are a variety of reasons that their kids do not walk or bike to school.  Some of the challenges with biking or walking to school have to do with busy mornings for families, but the one obstacle I’ve heard repeatedly that City Council can actually do something about is making it safer for students to walk or bike.  If elected, I would do several things to make it safer. I would want to hear from families that live within walking and biking distance of schools where they see safety issues.  I would also want City and ACPS staff with expertise to work together to propose how the City can address parents’ safety concerns.  I would support the City funding safety measures like adding sidewalks, utilizing more crossing guards, adding crosswalks, and things like speed bumps or better signage to slow cars down near schools.  Once we know it is safe for children to bike to school, I would also want to ensure that schools have easy and secure bike storage so that kids can quickly stow their bikes and get to class.

Amy Jackson:  The largest inhibiting factors in getting kids to walk or bike to school is distance and the concerns of their parents. Neither of these factors are unfounded, as many Alexandrians live a fair distance from their school and many parents are simply concerned for the safety of their children on the busy roads of Alexandria. On City Council, I will work to dispel these concerns by ensuring that children will be safe to and from school from the busy traffic of the streets. In this context, safety is visibility, and City Council must work to ensure that drivers and all residents are more aware of students on the move. Similarly, students must be educated in schools on how to remain safe on the streets and encourage to only bike to school if they have the appropriate safety equipment. This will both promote safety and ease parental concern about safety, encouraging them to send their children out on foot or bikes, rather than by vehicle. Further, City Council must be vigilant in informing all Alexandrians that the students are not done with their education merely when school lets out, but rather community programs that promote wellbeing and education occur always. As an educator, the education and wellbeing of the children is critical to my policies for City Council, and when elected I will ensure that City Council makes sure that everyone is dedicated to the safety of our children to and from their schools.

Canek Aguirre: We need to celebrate and continue efforts such as the Bicycling in Schools program, a partnership our schools are engaged in to teach more children how to ride a bike and the rules of the road while also promoting physical activity. As we foster the idea of a more walkable and bike friendly community in our youth, it will be easier to promote and sustain such investments in the future. I will support efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure that will make it safer and more feasible to use alternative modes of transportation in Alexandria and collaborate with the School Board to ensure safe routes to and from school.

John Chapman:  No response received.

Del Pepper:  No response received.
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4. Alexandria’s Transportation Master Plan includes a recently updated chapter that articulates a vision for walking and biking in Alexandria for all users, including people of all ages and abilities; Alexandria adopted a Complete Streets policy to ensure that all streets provide a safe and comfortable experience for all users; and the City Council approved a Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2028. However, these policies and plans need continued council and staff support and funding to achieve their purpose. Do you support these policies and plans? Please explain why or why not. 

Kevin Dunne:  My transportation priorities are safe streets and maximizing the efficient movement of people and vehicles. Improving Alexandria’s data collection efforts will provide a framework to achieve both goals. This will lay a foundation for increased public safety and economic growth. I support the Vision Zero Action Plan in principle. And I would also ensure that our solutions would favor smarter and cost-efficient solutions.

Mo Seifeldein:  Vision Zero is a good start to tackling those issues, but we have to follow through on it. I support safer streets, better enforcement, and balanced street sharing. The concern is for bikers’ safety when trucks and speeders are using the streets. Enforcement and adequate signage will ease that concern.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker:  Yes, I support the Vision Zero Action Plan and Complete Streets policy.  At the most fundamental level, we have walker and cyclist injuries and fatalities that could be preventable with better design and infrastructure, so why as a community would we not want to make our streets safer for everyone?  No driver, walker or cyclist wants to be involved in one of these tragic accidents.  I also believe that walkability and bike friendliness are fundamental to making Alexandria a great place to live, work and play.  I envision a thriving Alexandria  that is attractive to new residents, businesses, and visitors from the West End to Old Town because of how easy it is to get around without getting in a car.  I envision less car traffic across residential neighborhoods because drivers are not trying to cut around high-traffic streets.  I see thriving small businesses that are easy for all people to visit because they have numerous ways to get there, and easy parking options because of less car traffic.  I also see young people, families, and seniors in our community better able to interact with their community because they can walk to neighborhood destinations instead of having to get in a car and drive, or worse yet, feeling stuck in their homes because it’s too challenging to get out and about.

Amy Jackson:  Yes, I support these policies and plans that strive to make Alexandria safe for all, not just some. I support the Complete Streets policy to allow equal access to all our roads, and I will push forward with all my might the Vision Zero ideals to free our city of all traffic deaths. However, I believe that these policies can only be thoroughly and completely implemented if all who use the roads, be it drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians, work together to ensure the safety and efficiency of all the streets in Alexandria. Bicyclists and pedestrians need to be held to the same expectations as drivers to guarantee that no one causes a traffic incident. If everyone is held to the same expectations, then all Alexandrians can move forward together, understanding everyone’s role in the safety of our roads and of each other.

Canek Aguirre:  Yes, I support both the Complete Streets and Vision Zero initiatives. I am on the steering committee for the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria and we voted unanimously in favor of being a partner in the Vision Zero Initiative. I truly believe in smart growth and the importance of fostering pedestrian and bike friendly communities.

John Chapman:  No response received.

Del Pepper:  No response received.
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5. How would you approach the decision-making process on a Complete Streets project that requires tradeoffs between two important issues?For example, how would you address a proposal that increases safety by making drivers and pedestrians more visible at intersections but requires removing parking spaces? As another example, how would you address a proposal that would improve safety with measures such as installing pedestrian refuge islands but might result in small traffic delays during peak travel hours?

Kevin Dunne:  Safety is top priority. When vehicle traffic threatens existing, reasonable patterns of non-automotive traffic, the city may consider parking reductions and increases in traffic congestion as acceptable costs. But these should be treated as dear, and a last ditch option (in a special  circumstance).

Mo Seifeldein:  The overall objective is zero death on our streets. There is no value or tradeoff when it comes to life. I will always choose to protect life over a minor inconvenience.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker:  In any decision-making process that requires tradeoffs, it is important to get the feedback of the community who is affected.  I have seen community members and City staff come up with creative resolutions to challenges.  It is also important for residents to understand what the City is trying to accomplish by having City staff effectively communicate with residents who stand to be affected.  A tradeoff may seem okay if one understands the underlying safety goals and how the neighborhood will benefit.  Beyond interaction with the community, I would want to look at the benefits and drawbacks of alternatives. I would also want to look at how necessary the safety improvement is – Are there a high number of accidents at that location? Do a lot of pedestrians use that area?  Is it likely that more people would walk in that area (i.e., are there desirable destinations for walkers) if the safety improvement is made?  In general, I am inclined to making sure our streets and sidewalks are safe for all users, but I would also want to make sure that the improvement really makes sense and is called for if there is a required tradeoff for the surrounding community.

Amy Jackson:  Promoting the safety of all Alexandrians is a top concern of mine, and I eagerly welcome all ideas that can aid in ensuring the safety of our citizens. However, I also acknowledge that no solution is a ‘one size fits all’ but rather that all ideas need to be examined and tested in their appropriate contexts. While, in principle, Pedestrian islands are an excellent idea, they are not the perfect solution, nor is removing parking spaces at every corner of every street. I agree that larger, faster roads do require some pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, but this infrastructure is not necessary for smaller, slower roads. Parking spaces should only be removed if their remaining harms visibility and pedestrian, bicyclist, and driver safety and wellbeing. Safety is a top priority, and all solutions that I propose, be it pedestrian islands or the removal of parking spaces, will be to ensure that all Alexandrians can be safe within their own city.

Canek Aguirre:  As a City, we need to redouble our efforts to reduce single passenger vehicles on our roads by investing in mass transit and improving our bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. I believe we have to build and plan for a more walkable and bikeable Alexandria as the need for more parking spaces will decline as the popularity of ridesharing increases and autonomous vehicles disrupt our transportation system.

John Chapman:  No response received.

Del Pepper:  No response received.
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6. Reducing vehicle speeds is a cornerstone of Vision Zero, and national transportation experts indicate that “Street design is one of the single most important strategies to slow speeds and make streets safe for everyone.” If elected, will you encourage City staff to adopt proven street design measures to reduce vehicle speeds?

Kevin Dunne:  Yes. A large part of Alexandria was designed well over a century before automobiles existed. Because of this, and without appropriate supervision, unchecked traffic could pose a threat to safety and sustainable growth. Changes in traffic flow, user habits, and budgetary resources will impact the timeline but not logic to such policies.

Robert Ray:  Yes I plan to fight for safer streets for all users. Reducing vehicle speeds in our city for the safety of all needs to happen sooner than later.

Mo Seifeldein:  Yes.

Elizabeth Bennett-Parker:  As I’ve talked to voters I have heard concerns about traffic and safety repeatedly, and in particular cars that drive too fast through residential neighborhoods.  I understand traffic is frustrating and that people lead busy lives, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to be safe on our roads.  It may be annoying for some car commuters to have to slow down, but adding a minute or two to the drive is certainly better than the lifelong consequences of hitting someone while driving.  I will certainly encourage City staff to adopt proven street design measures to reduce vehicle speeds to improve the safety of our streets.

Amy Jackson:  On City Council, I will ensure that Alexandria’s traffic concerns are addressed in a smart, methodical, and intelligent way. While in an ideal world, drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians can co-exist without any difficulty, Alexandria needs to work on expanding our infrastructure in a way that aids both drivers and pedestrians, especially when relating to the speed limit. While on City Council, I will support legislation that works towards this end, and I will support legislation to add structural or legal constraints on the speed limit in locations where pedestrians are consistently present in large numbers. However, Alexandria must also look out for its drivers and commuters as well and on major roads throughout the city, I will work to ensure that Alexandrians can use their streets effectively and efficiently to travel around their city. As a City Council member, I will encourage solutions that are appropriate to the situations at hand and will have an eye for detail when examining every problem.

Canek Aguirre:  Yes. While many roads in Alexandria have already shifted to 25 mph street limits, we should continue efforts to reduce vehicle speeds and improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists by adding speed bumps and protected bicycle lanes, narrowing street lanes, and placing overhanging trees that give the perception of narrower streets.

John Chapman:  No response received.

Del Pepper:  No response received.
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BPAC thanks all responding candidates.

*We would be happy to help those candidates who are uncertain about the benefits of physical activity better understand why so many are promoting cycling and walking.  There are many well-designed studies supporting the hypothesis that physical activity improves health,  and measures of cognitive performance. There are none, to the best of our knowledge, that support the opposite.   We are happy to assist in acquisition of data for those candidates wishing to undertake their own meta-analysis or systematic review.  

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