Alexandria Council Notebook

Ambush Motion

Was the Seminary Road diet a good idea? Now that the new bike lanes have been installed and the median has been constructed, Councilman Amy Jackson says she thinks the city is moving too fast. Earlier this week, she surprised her colleagues on the City Council by introducing an unexpected late-night motion to rescind the decision to slim the four-lane road to two lanes.

“All this came to us on the ruse of this was about cyclists,” said Jackson, who voted against the road diet. “There aren’t any.”

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker interjected to say she had personally seen cyclists on the Seminary Road bike lanes, and she would be happy to share the videos. Councilman Canek Aguirre added that Jackson’s argument that outside interests were the only advocates of the road diet was flat out false. The public hearing included many people who live near Seminary Road who supported the idea, including the dean of the Virginia Theological Seminary plus a handful of other senior executives and students who live on campus.

“I can’t sit here as some conspiracy theories and other things that are just blatantly inaccurate to be said up here,” said Aguirre. “I strongly feel, especially with what is happening in the administration across the river, that when false narratives are being pushed they need to be pushed back on.”

Jackson eventually backed down and tabled her motion to rescind for now, although she indicated that she wanted to resume the discussion again at a later date. The road diet narrowly passed City Council in September on a four-to-three vote. So far, there’s no sign that any of the four votes in favor have any intention of changing their vote.

Shared Disregard

Consider the pedestrian who is looking at her smartphone and trips on a broken sidewalk. Should she be able to recover money from the city? What about the bicyclist who blows through a stop sign and is hit by a textinig drunk driver? The way Virginia law works, people whose negligence contributes in any way to their accidents are barred from recovery. It’s a concept known as “contributory negligence,” and Virginia is one of only a handful of states that operates this way.

“This is an old archaic rule,” said Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “It serves no one except the insurance companies.”

That’s why Seifeldein suggested council members add an item to the legislative package encouraging the General Assembly to pass a bill outlawing contributory negligence. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36) says he’s already working on a bill that would do away with contributory negligence for cyclists and pedestrians.

“This gets raised all the time, and juries tend to lack sympathy for cyclists and pedestrians,” said Surovell. “I would get rid of it in everything if I could, but that’s a whole different discussion.”

During a discussion of the legislative package earlier this week, City Attorney Joanna Anderson pointed out that the city routinely uses this provision as a tool to defend itself against claims. If the General Assembly were to outlaw contributory negligence, she says, that tool would no longer be available. Seifeldein said that was not a compelling argument.

“We have every obligation to make sure that our roads and our streets are safe, and in the event that we fail to uphold that we should be held accountable by the people we serve,” said Seifeldein. “By saying that we shouldn't approve this just because it may take away a defense is also taking away something that belongs to the residents of Alexandria.”

Council members agreed with Seifeldein and added the item to the legislative package.

Parking Disputation

Parking in Old Town is an exercise in inconsistency. Some blocks allow two hour parking while other blocks allow three. Some blocks have enforcement that ends at 9 pm while others are enforced until 11 pm. Sometimes there are contradictory rules on opposite sides of the street.

So much for consistency.

That’s why city officials are proposing a plan to standardize this hodgepodge of uncertainty, although the solution may end up causing serious problems for theatergoers. The plan is to resolve conflicts by going with the more restrictive option. So any area that had both a 9 pm end time and an 11 pm end time would end up with the later. And any block that allowed two hour parking and also three-hour parking would end up with three-hour parking.

“All of our shows have run times over two hours. That’s just how theater works,” said Ashley Amidon, a board member of the Little Theatre of Alexandria who recently played Melissa in the Savannah Disputation. “So this idea that a two-hour zone would work for patrons is not true. It means that people would be leaving during intermission to move their cars.”

Amidon says she’s hopeful the city will recognize the needs of theatergoers and allow for three-hour parking around the theater, ending enforcement at 9 pm instead of 11 pm.

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