I don’t know about you, but there is one thing there will be no shortage of around our Thanksgiving table: opinions. About everything from football (is $4 too much for a ticket to see the local team?) to which sides are better (garlic mashed potatoes, please) to the state of the world today (don’t even get me started). One thing is certain, everyone at the table will understand that each has a different view. Yet somehow, we can sit at the same table, enjoy a meal, and generally indulge in this most American of holidays together.
Contemplating the upcoming feast and its opinionated participants made me think of recent events in our little hamlet. In the event you have been ignoring the local NextDoor posts, listserv screeds, and local papers’ opinion sections, let me explain.
Over the last decade or so, the city adopted a Transportation Master Plan, a Complete Streets plan, and a Vision Zero plan. All of them together amount to this: in our 14.9 square-mile corner of the world, the streets should be safe for multiple modes of transportation. In short, one should be able to safely get around Alexandria on foot, on bike, on scooter, or in a car. The implementation of these plans involves a variety of things, from the relatively simple like adding a stop sign or adjusting pedestrian signal timing to the more complex like adding sidewalks and re-configuring traffic lanes. Where changing the road configuration is required, the city implements such changes as roads come up for repaving. It’s a fiscally prudent move, but it means the plans cannot be implemented at once.
That brings us to the latest tempest in our replica colonial teapot: changes to a slightly less than one-mile stretch of Seminary Road. If you want to read the background on the various proposals, public meetings, and the Council hearing, go for it. But to summarize, the city is changing the road from four lanes to three. Doing so creates a traffic pattern with one lane in each direction and a center turn lane. It also allows the addition of a bike lane, which provides a buffer between vehicular traffic and the sidewalk. The changes are consistent with the various adopted plans. As with any change to anything, there were opinions – quite strong ones – both for and against the changes. And, as often happens on issues where there is a fair amount of civic shouting, the council vote was a close one.
And in the aftermath, a now-familiar Alexandria script has played out: those whose view did not prevail in front of Council have accused our elected representatives of “not listening to the people” and their fellow citizens of being “outside special interests.” They have fomented about the lack of sway civic associations carry despite the fact that civic association membership is a mere fraction of the populace. They insist that somehow there is a conspiracy at play here. Someone is on the take! Someone is trying to destroy our city! The people are against it! Those fellow citizens for it are outsiders or in the pocket of… Big Bicycle? the Pedestrian Industrial Complex? Whatever the case may be, it’s clear they cannot be real Alexandrians!
There is always a group out there yelling that “the people” are of one mind on a given topic. Not sure who needs to hear this, but in the spirit of the holiday here goes: there are as many opinions as there are people in this city. Just because the vote does not go your way does not mean you were not heard. Chances are there were just as many fellow citizens–residents of Alexandria in full-standing their ownselves–who had an opposing view. And our democratically elected Council is not in fact The Party of Orwellian imagination, nor for that matter Palpatine’s Empire.
Elected representatives make the decisions they believe are best for the city as a whole, taking into account not just varied citizen opinion but also technical data, opinions of a variety of professionals, and local, state, and national studies on the impacts of various proposed changes. We elect them to use their best judgment on our behalf.
Change is never easy. And piecemeal change, while the responsible fiscal decision, is particularly difficult. But railing against change by insisting that no Alexandria resident could possibly be in favor of it without somehow being corrupt is insulting to your fellow citizens at best.
We’re all at this big 160,000-person table together. Maybe we should agree that no one opinion is more privileged than any other
Now, please pass the gravy.
– P.C. Publius
November 27, 2019