On April 12, BPAC sent six questions to the mayoral candidates to help educate voters about candidates’ perspectives on walking and biking in Alexandria. Their responses are included below, in alphabetical order by candidate’s last name.
- Please describe your walking and biking experience in Alexandria.
- If you are elected, will you champion investments in walking and biking infrastructure in Alexandria to contribute to Alexandria’s economic health, including the necessary Complete Streets staffing?
- If elected, how will you increase the numbers of kids who choose to walk or bike, and make sure they can do it safely?
- Do you support the City’s Transportation Master Plan, Complete Streets Policy and the Vision Zero Action Plan? Please explain why or why not.
- How would you approach the decision-making process on a Complete Streets project that requires tradeoffs between important issues?
- How would you encourage a more civil discourse within Alexandria, especially on controversial transportation projects, and how would you encourage wider participation in outreach by communities that are often not heard from in our traditional process?
1. Please describe your walking and biking experience in Alexandria.
I live in a mixed use community with a direct link to Old Town, King Street, 2 metro stations and bike trails. During the pandemic I wasn’t able to maximize my use of these amenities. I walk often and when the weather is ideal, I try to minimize my car usage. I enjoy the health and financial benefits of living in my section of town. Now that we are in a different phase of this pandemic, I look forward to using the bike trails as I often did when I lived in Vienna. The W&OD trial was a favorite of mine. However, I do use my car for things that can’t be done on a bike: groceries or driving to other sections of the city for entertainment and visits for instance. In short, I am pro-car and pro walkability.
I often walk for exercise in Alexandria in my neighborhood in Parkfairfax, in Seminary Hill on the Virginia Theological Seminary grounds, and along the Waterfront. I love to bicycle, especially on trails like the Mt. Vernon Trail.
Justin M. Wilson
I have been a daily pedestrian, transit or bike commuter for over two decades. For the past 15 years that brings me to Union Station in DC, using some combination of DASH, Metro Rail, Metro Bus, Capital Bike Share and my personal bike.
When I’m not commuting, I frequently use Capital Bike Share to get around our City and as a family we are frequent walkers around our community.
2. If you are elected, will you champion investments in walking and biking infrastructure in Alexandria to contribute to Alexandria’s economic health, including the necessary Complete Streets staffing?
There really is no simple answer to this question. The walking and biking infrastructure improvements must be balanced with the common sense needs of the motor vehicle community, which includes our emergency vehicles that are impeded by speed bumps and other aspects of the “Complete Street” theology. We must invest in the infrastructure in tandem with mitigating congestion. Alexandria is the most densely populated city in Virginia. We currently house over 160 thousand residents. On our current trajectory, Alexandria plans to add 35 thousand more residents in the next 20 years. That means, we will experience more population density at a steady rate. With this type of development, the city is attracting retired residents as well as young urbanites. Both groups enjoy the convenience and financial/health benefits that biking and walking provides. We must advocate, with our actions, that those modes of movement are safe for pedestrians who bear a large degree of personal responsibility for their own safety. That means, any talk of decriminalizing jaywalking, and other road and traffic violations must never enter the conversation. Having said that, our city needs to be inclusionary, respecting all cultures and customs. We have a responsibility to keep our finger on the pulse of what each community deems necessary, enriching and useful.
Public safety is a top priority. While I was the Mayor, we added Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs) at various intersections, and we added at least two HAWK signals, all to improve safety for our pedestrians. We also invested a significant amount in improvements of our bike and walking trails, especially on the West End. We also greatly increased speed enforcement across the city. If elected, I would certainly look for ways to invest in our bike trail network and public safety measures. I am concerned with pedestrian and bike safety issues. Alexandria has received a high rating for walkability. So while we are doing a better job for walkers with additional crosswalks and the use of LPI signal timing, we need to continue to look for ways to improve public safety.
Justin M. Wilson
Throughout my time on City Council I have worked to expand resources for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and ensure that we implement the full vision defined in our Complete Streets Plan and our Pedestrian & Bicycle Master Plan.
Implementing these efforts requires expanded staffing and as revenues allow, I will work to ensure that we have the requisite staffing capacity.
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?
It is not the place of government to tell kids what to do. That type of advocacy must come from the parents who find that time together in the car after the end of a school day, for instance, to be a great time to bond. What is vital is that kids should be provided the space and ability to skateboard, have running challenges, double dutch, hopscotch, walk, or ride bikes in their respective neighborhoods. By creating “kid play” safe zones, monitoring speed limits, warning drivers via road APPs such as Waze and Google, road signs and enforcing traffic violations, we create spaces for kids to play and discover one another. As a Community, it is incumbent upon us to teach our children how to live and play safely in their environment. Teaching them proper safety habits while scootering, skateboarding as well as cycling etiquette is a must. There are ways to conduct these safety sessions without it detracting from core school topics, and will also make it fun and engaging. I propose we incentivize our children to participate in interactive online safety courses to earn their license to “bike” or “skateboard” for instance. Imagine those classes being introduced in a video game setting. Once the course is “mastered”, your kid becomes an Alexandria Road Warrior. He or she could be given a gift card to be used to purchase safety items such as, a helmet, reflective gear, bike seat pad, etc… I would encourage private entities to participate in this endeavor.
Many of the bike lanes we have created are not necessarily safe for youth or casual riders. We must push for more outreach programs to remind parents and students about public safety practices. It bears remembering that bikes are permitted to be ridden on the sidewalks in our city. We can continue to offer opportunities to teach young people how to learn to safely ride bikes, as BPAC currently does. I fully supported the implementation of our Safe Routes to Schools Program while I was Mayor. We must ensure that the walking routes to our schools have adequate crosswalks to protect children who are walking. In the end, it is the parents of our school-age children who will make the decision about whether it is safe for their children to walk or ride to their schools.
Justin M. Wilson
Infrastructure and education are the key components to increasing the numbers of students that are walking and biking to school. Both of my kids bike daily to their ACPS schools, but that is not a reality for every neighborhood in our City. Kids cannot walk and bike to school unless we have infrastructure in place to ensure they can safely do so. That requires additional investment in sidewalks, curb enhancements, bike facilities, and storage.
Once we put the infrastructure in place, we must partner with ACPS to expand existing rider education programs coupled with parental orientation.
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.
Vision Zero is a commendable goal, after all no one advocates for an increase in fatalities or accidents. However unachievable it is, the core of the effort must be in safety education, and starting at a young age.
The TMP must be part of a revitalized, comprehensive Master Plan. There are aspects of the Complete Streets Policy that I find concerning. Mingling cars, crosswalks, scooters, and bikes in areas that do not have the infrastructure to accommodate it, is dangerous. Cars are bigger, drivers are multitasking, pedestrians are often distracted and less aware of their surroundings. These are all facts that most of us can attest to having committed ourselves. And to add more complication to the formula, certain drugs have now been legalized in the Region and State. Maybe some, if not all, are contributing factors to why we are seeing more accidents and deaths on our streets. Consider these alarming facts: Pedestrian fatalities nationwide have hit a 30-year high. 2019 was a deadly year for pedestrians and bikers alike in Virginia. In that year, 126 pedestrians and 13 bicyclists were KILLED on Virginia’s roads. Individuals 65 and over killed while walking is up 95%. Much needs to be considered.
When we look to implement these road designs, we must always lead with safety as our top priority.
While I voted for these plans to increase safety for all road users, I think it is important to have Council and community discussions about the basic premises of these plans. We must all ensure safety for our pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. Some parts of our city are more urban, and other parts are more suburban and have more dependence upon vehicles. For example, is the premise that Alexandrians will not have cars in the future realistic, given the many neighborhoods in our city that do not, and will not, have access to reliable and efficient mass transit? While we must continue to offer transit alternatives to our residents, we must realize that it is not possible for many residents to use mass or non-vehicular transportation. Therefore, we need to take a serious look at whether the policy of placing road diets on all our major arterial roads makes sense for both cyclists and drivers.
Justin M. Wilson
I voted for the City’s Transportation Master Plan, Complete Streets Policy and Vision Zero Action Plan. I will continue my work to realize the full vision of all three plans.
5. How would you approach the decision-making process on a Complete Streets project that requires tradeoffs between important issues?
My approach would be one of transparency as it relates to community feedback, surveys, data findings, recommendations from VDOT, EMS, Fire Department, Police Department, T&ES, and all stakeholders. When there is transparency, residents are more inclined to accept the decisions that arrive from the process. When there is a lack of transparency, the Community is more apt to believe the process is concocted and that their voices are shutout of the process. The tradeoffs that come with redeveloping our streets are made apparent when all parties are engaging with each other. My role of the Mayor is to make certain every voice is heard and the process is above board with safety at the forefront of the conversation.
It is likely that every Complete Streets project involves trade-offs. Those decisions must be based upon actual data. We must weigh the proposed changes based upon actual usage patterns, not vague projections of what we would like those patterns to be in the decades ahead. Listening carefully to the civic associations and the residents is key. Being respectful rather than dismissive is a must. We must find common ground among the various views.
Justin M. Wilson
When we are working to allocate limited public right-of-way among a variety of modes of transportation, we must make difficult choices. I am a veteran of many of those difficult decisions during my time on the City Council.
Ultimately, my approach is to review the safety of current and future design, review the applicable public input, assess the volumes of existing use and apply the City’s approved policies related to the project.
6. How would you encourage a more civil discourse within Alexandria, especially on controversial transportation projects, and how would you encourage wider participation in outreach by communities that are often not heard from in our traditional process?
The city needs to conduct a comprehensive Master Plan which is recommended by the General Assembly. Ideally, this comprehensive Master Plan should be conducted every 5-6 years. It is done with the highest level of participation from each community, and it allows the residents adequate time and opportunity to be proactive in the planning stages of redevelopment, recommended projects, rezoning, and/or downzoning in said areas. With regards to how I would reach out to those communities that are silent or, better yet, have been silenced, would initially be accomplished in two ways. 1.. I would go directly into those spaces where they live and gather together. 2..Working with the City’s Equity Officer would provide valuable discovery on what forums would be the most productive way of having those community discussions. In short, as Mayor it would be necessary for me to hear directly from the community themselves.
I have observed that the discourse in Alexandria has become less civil in the last few years. I think some of this stems from a frustration by residents that the views of Alexandria residents are not weighed fairly against the views of outside special interest groups. We have all received messages from regional groups asking their members to write the City Council and urge them to adopt certain policies that will not personally affect them. It has been made clear by City staff that outside views on surveys and their written communications are considered on an equal basis with views of Alexandria residents. Residents express to me that they do not consider this fair and that when staff seeks community input on issues, it should be input from Alexandria residents, not from those living elsewhere. Alexandria residents’ views should be paramount. I think this change would go a long way toward allowing more civil discussions among our residents. I also think that, as most of us realize, anonymous postings on social media that are entirely inappropriate and are filled with name-calling and vitriol have led to an increase in tension and distrust among our residents. I believe our City has done a much better job reaching out to communities that don’t have as high a level of participation as others. City staff has used pop-ups and a wider use of translated documents to encourage others to get engaged. Clearly, this continues to be something our city can work on. I remain convinced that trust and transparency in the decisions our City makes will lead to a more civil discourse among all segments of our community.
Justin M. Wilson
The tone and tenor of civic discussions, particularly related to bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, has been a personal source of frustration. While disagreements in civic life are inevitable, we have to be able to deliberate and disagree as a community, while remaining agreeable.
I believe that by ensuring early, comprehensive, and efficient public processes, we can reduce the discord that can accompany these efforts. The pandemic has allowed us to pilot new virtual public engagement efforts that should remain in place as better ways to engage larger swaths of our community.
We have recently and successfully used multi-lingual public engagement as well as brought public input opportunities to non-traditional venues. This should be our approach in the future.