Behind The Headlines: Episode 8

Behind The Headlines: Episode 8


(exciting orchestral music) – Hello everyone, I’m
Caeley Sacher with Theogony, TC Williams’ student
run media organization. Welcome to today’s episode
of Behind the Headlines. We’re coming to you from the Alexandria City Public
Schools’ television studio at TC Williams with a
round table discussion with local journalists. Let’s meet our panel. Michael Pope is a reporter
for the Virginia Public Radio, Denise Dunbar is an
editor and the publisher for the Alexandria Times, and Dan Brendel is a reporter
for the Alexandria Gazette. Let’s kick off our discussion with the issue of the scooters. If you walk through Old Town, or anywhere else in Alexandria, you will see the streets
lined with electric scooters. In a recent op-ed in the Alexandria Times, residents of Alexandria had a lot to say about how the scooters are an
annoyance and a safety hazard. Michael, do you believe
that these scooters have a negative or positive
effect on Alexandria, and are they here to stay? – Have you been on a scooter?
– [Caeley] Yes. – Did you enjoy it? – [Caeley] I enjoyed it very much. – I think the reaction you get from people who have been on them is they seem to like them,
and that they are useful. Your question was, “Are
they here to stay?” That’s yet to be seen. A lot of that has to
do with the economics. You may remember a year
ago, a year and a half ago, there was the issue with
the dockless bicycles. So not the Capital
Bikeshare, which has docks, but there were all these
bicycles that were dockless. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of the dockless bicycles. I mean, that thing, you
had all these investors throw a bunch of money at different, all these different brands,
and they were everywhere. And then they sort of disappeared. One would imagine because
people didn’t use them, and it wasn’t sort of
economically profitable for the companies that did them. So are they here to stay? We don’t really know that because we’re in a
pilot program right now. They are fun to ride, which
is sort of universally the reaction you get from
people who have been on them. But are they safe? We need to see the stats on that. How many people use them? We need to see the stats on that. And ultimately, do they make
money for these companies? We have yet to really know that. – Denise, do you have anything to add? – Yes I do. I have a lot to add on this subject. So, there’s a killjoy in every crowd, and I’m more than happy to play that part. I actually think that
whether or not they’re fun is completely irrelevant. What is the question
here is whether or not they’re appropriate for
the city of Alexandria. What does the city of Alexandria
stand to gain from these? I live and work in the heart of Old Town, and I can tell you that daily, I see underaged people riding these. Sometimes they’re on the sidewalks, which is illegal in Alexandria, sometimes they’re in the street, they’re always without helmets- – [Michael] Not always. – Well, I’ve not seen anybody on a helmet, and I’ve probably seen at least a hundred people riding them. So maybe you guys did, but in general, and they’re not designed for people to be able to ride helmets. They’re supposed to be hop on and hop off. You walk along, you
impulsively hop on a scooter, You go, ride whatever, a mile, and you have your good time,
and you leave your scooter. As we cited in the
editorial, I have a friend who lives in the Rosemont section of town. On a side street, not any, you know, several blocks from Russel Road, she came out one morning
and there was a scooter in the flower bed in her yard. I mean, that’s really not appropriate. And we cited in the Alexandria Times in the recent story that we did, we’re doing a series, an 83 year old woman who came
out of her house, her condo, there were a bunch of them
piled up on the sidewalk in front of her house,
and she tripped on them. What is Alexandria gaining from this? I think that’s the question
that needs to be asked. – Well would you suggest removing them altogether from Alexandria,
or installing more of a better management system and
maybe even a helmet system? – So I’m going to give away
what I think is going to be a future editorial in the
Alexandria Times, which is we’re in the midst of a
nine month pilot program, we’re a few months into that. I personally think that the pilot either needs to be stopped, or it needs to be radically altered and a very different system put in place for the remainder of it. I think, in the first
few months of this pilot, we have established that
the current situation of just anarchy is not working. There are permits for
up to fourteen hundred, actually more than fourteen hundred because they can actually
get more depending on usage. So more than fourteen hundred scooters are permitted in Alexandria right now. There’s no accountability, it’s harmful to the
aesthetics in the city, and it’s a safety hazard. And so what I would do is a
radically different approach for the rest of the pilot. I would put strategically put corrals the only places where they can
be picked up and dropped off, and really strictly enforce the safety issues. – Dan? – I have ridden one. I did not wear a helmet. I yield the rest of my time. (laughter) I mean, I can appreciate it both ways. I have ridden them, I have had fun, I personally am not
really that against them. I found them to be a little pricey. To the economics of it, I would not, you could ride one of
those things ten times and pay for your own. That’s probably not true, but I wouldn’t make it
part of my regular commute. But I did have fun. To Denise’s comment about anarchy, I mean, sure I can see that. But I would say that that’s
not a scooter problem, that’s just a transportation
mobility problem. Recently Michael and I had lunch, and I took a scooter to
go have lunch with him because I was running late. And as I was walking
down the sidewalk to get, I live in Old Town also, — city streets. As I was walking to go pick up my scooter, an eighteen wheeler big rig blew through the stop
sign right by my house, right by my neighbor who
has a two year old daughter like it wasn’t even there. So if it’s an issue of anarchy and safety, I’m a lot more worried
about the eighteen wheeler blowing through my stop sign- – [Caeley] Than a scooter? – And cars- – [Denise] Hitting a scooter. – Well, yeah. I mean, everybody’s, I like, if you live in Old Town, if
you ever travel in Old Town, nobody obeys the rules;
pedestrians bicyclists. Cars at rush hour time
is absolute anarchy. So that is a problem, absolutely. But it’s a problem that’s
bigger than just that one thing. – Just piggybacking here on
a point that Denise made, which is the docklessness
of these things, right? So the Capital Bikeshare had docks, and the city actually spent a
whole lot of time and effort figuring out exactly where
they want to put the docks. And so these things just threw all that sort of time and effort
into the garbage can, because you can sort of
abandon them anywhere, which is the pro end, that’s one of the reasons
that people like them to an extent. Denise was saying they, wouldn’t it be great if there was an area where you could corral them and sort of, you could pick them up
from specified locations and leave them in specified locations. For example, around
Capital Bikeshare stations. That might be a smart idea. So that something that
– Metros. The city should think about. Another thing is, since you’ve previewed and upcoming editorial
in the Alexandria Times, I’ll also preview something
that I would like to see, which is the folks here at TC Williams, the television production
crew, following around Denise Dunbar of the Alexandria Times to get video of her riding a
scooter for the first time. Are you on for that? – If it would help
students, I would do it. But only if I could wear a helmet. – Well, I appreciate that, Denise. All right, so let’s turn our discussion to the halal butchery. In a very controversial recent
five to two city council vote city council approved a butchery where they will slaughter
poultry on site for customers. Denise, do you believe that the hurt feelings will still linger? What are your feelings on this decision? – I’m not really as concerned
about feelings as I am about the impact on the
businesses surrounding this. The closest other halal
butchery is 52 miles away in a much less urban location, and there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason that the
other cities and counties in our immediate surroundings have ordinances on the books. It’s just really not
appropriate for Alexandria. I personally was disappointed on several levels that this passed. The first reason is just that our city counselors really never say no to any development proposal. And so I was really hoping that maybe this would be the
one that they would say no to. But they didn’t. The second thing is, and
the most important thing, is really the impact of
surrounding businesses. There are a lot of dog care places in the immediate vicinity. And our new vice mayor,
Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, did a lot of research on this issue and actually traveled to
Philadelphia and to other locations where this same operator
has other operations, and found that people who were around it were not really very happy with that. And I don’t think that the
businesses surrounding this are gonna be happy. – [Caeley] Dan? – I reviewed my notes before
I came here and what I, somebody correct me if I’m
getting this wrong with my, what I recall of that was
that the issue at hand was not whether, what the city council
ultimately decided, I think, or the majority decided on approving it, was that there wasn’t
really, even if they didn’t, Councilman Del Pepper for example, did not want that land used, but she said “I don’t see any legal reason
why they can’t do this. “So if we deny this to them, that would be “a highly arbitrary denial.” And Mayor Wilson’s
support of it was to say “Hey, look, if you want to have,” you know what zoning is? The laws that control the use of land? Well, that particular area of the city has what is a pretty permissive zone. And so he said, “If we want to “change the character
of this neighborhood, “then we can do that, but
there’s a process for that.” Rezoning and doing what
called a small area plan, and it’s involved. But he said he didn’t
think it was appropriate or maybe even legal to do that on the fly, specific to one particular
business’s land use decision. So he said, “If we want to do that, “then there is a political
process so we can do that. “But that’s not, the political process isn’t here tonight,” when they were making that decision. – The thing that strike me
about this particular decision, is that for the elected
officials it’s kind of temporary. They considered it, they
made their decision, and they moved on to different things. For the business owner that had the special use permit approved, they have to live with their neighbors. And that’s where things
can get really difficult. Because it’s not just that there are sort of lingering hurt
feelings about this, they’ve got to deal with
the potential smells and to a lesser extent, traffic issues. I think traffic issues might’ve
been kind of a red herring. But if you think about the vice mayor, Denise mentioned that
she did some research. Our vice mayor, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, went to Philadelphia to
visit some of these other very similar institutions. And she talked to the neighbors and the neighbors all
complained about smells. Well, I think when this
thing is up and it’s running, I think you’re gonna find
some of those neighbors will be unhappy for years
to come potentially. And that could have lingering
problems in this neighborhood. – One other thing. I think an interesting aspect of this is the political aspect of it. This came up at a public hearing, at which two of the seven members of
city council were not present. So there were actually three councilors, so there were only five there total. There were three councilors
at that public hearing who, it was clear from their comments they were, at least at
that time, opposed to this. So they had the votes to defeat
it at that public hearing, and they didn’t. Instead they deferred it. And then when the other two councilors who were absent from the public hearing came back and it was raised at a subsequent legislative
meeting, then it passed. And Del Pepper changed her
position in the interim. But they actually had
the votes to defeat this, and whether it was because
these council members were new, they didn’t take their
chance to defeat it. – Don’t you think that
would’ve look bad, though? For them to defeat this SUP because you had two absent members? – [Denise] Especially when they have no legal standing to do so. – Well they had legal-
– I think they, it wouldn’t have come before
them if they didn’t have- – I think they would’ve made the case they had legal standing to do it. But, I mean, the real question is is that sort of from a
political standpoint, from democracy, a small
democracy standpoint, would that be the right thing, would that have been
the right thing to do? – I mean, you have public
hearings to consider issues. It’s the duty of the
councilors to be there. I don’t really think that
they should necessarily wait. I just was saying that from a, just the horse race politics side of it, it was interesting that they actually did have
the votes to defeat it. – I mean, I think another
interesting side of it, and just full disclosure, I’m personally probably considerably more
conservative politically then your average bear in Alexandria. And I have a bias toward
private property, right? And I am personally, so I’m not talking as a reporter
now, just Dan, the citizen. I’m personally uncomfortable
with the idea that, you know what I mean? So there’s gonna be smells
that offend the dog businesses. I guess part of me says “Well, who cares?” You don’t want the city
council to, in your view, give a benefit to this business, but you’re asking for
the exact same thing. They bought and paid for this land. I don’t know why, so it seemed like kind of a talking out of both
sides of the mouth part I would personally be biased toward. It’s your land. As long as you’re not dumping toxic sludge in your front yard- – So you mentioned the dog businesses, but there’s also a pizza restaurant that’s opening up around the corner. There’s a barbecue restaurant that’s opening up
– Do you think they have around the corner.
– A barbecue chicken pizza- – It’s all food. – What was that?
– It’s all food. – Well, the point is if
you’re running a restaurant, what you don’t want is foul odors in your neighborhood, right? – [Denise] F-O-W-L. – Fowl, yeah.
(laughter) Unpleasant odors — . And so that might be a
lingering source of tension in that neighborhood. – [Caeley] All right, well
let’s wrap up our discussion with the issue of Seminary Road. City officials would like to remove a traffic lane from Seminary Road. Dan, how do you think this will ensue, and what will the neighbors think? – Well, I would, the city officials probably
would not say at this point that they’re gunning for that. I mean, they probably are,
but they’re trying hard to make sure that it at least looks like a publicly informed process. And the neighbors are
already incensed about it. Just early this week, or maybe a week, around Easter Sunday I think, a resident in the area posted a, began circulating an online
survey, or a petition where people can e-sign it. And within days, they got
almost 800 e-signatures on this petition opposing the reduction of vehicular lanes for the addition of bike lanes. And I found that be interesting, because, I mean, I cover a lot
of the political venues here and I personally don’t find a lot of the public testimony particularly compelling. Not in it’s content, but just in, like if three people show up to a planning commission meeting
to gripe about something, I don’t really know what that means. That’s not very representative. But when 800 people sign a petition, that starts to sound like a lot more compelling sample size to me. So that that many people
came out of the gate this early on in opposing that. I’ve lived here and reported
here for three years and I’ve seen few things
generate that much opposition so early on in the process. So the neighbors are definitely, a lot of neighbors, at
least 800 neighbors, are quite against it. I’m sure there are others in favor, but I haven’t heard from any of them. – Do you have any
thoughts on this, Michael? – So one thing that’s
interesting to think about when you think about what’s
being proposed on Seminary Road, is it is almost an ideal carbon copy to what happened on King Street
right here at TC Williams. So what has been the
experience here at TC Williams? Well, the number of crashes reduced by 50% since they’ve made the changes here, the vehicle speed has been reduced by 18%, and it is true that the
commute times increased and the morning hour,
the morning rush hour and the afternoon rush hour. And the increase was 30 seconds. So I think the experience
here on King Street is providing some data for what the city wants to do on Seminary. – And we have had a couple pf people contact the Alexandria Times with some research that they have done. And I haven’t fact checked
this, so I am sort of, it seems legitimate. The stretch of Seminary Road where they’re considering doing this, is actually one of the
safest stretches of road pertaining to accidents in the city. There’s a different
stretch of Seminary Road where the bike lanes are not being put in, which is where there have
been accidents and fatalities. So the premise to me is flawed, is to the reason that they’re doing it on this particular
stretch of Seminary Road. So I have a hard time
getting beyond that that I think this fits into
a larger philosophy of a lot of the transportation
staff in the city, that “cars are bad, and
let’s try to find ways to “make it more uncomfortable for people “to drive their cars.” I think the scooters are part of that. – [Michael] Well, divorcing the scooters from the conversation for a second, that as is an actual stated-
– it’s hard to give up. – That is an actual
stated city philosophy, which is called Complete Streets, right? This is their Complete Streets program, is to discourage the use of automobiles and encourage the use of
other modes of transportation. And so they actually
are trying to do this. – Well, I’ve questioned them about the, Yon Lambert, who is the head of the Transportation and
Environmental Services. Probably because he’s
being politically careful. I would imagine his, I asked him point blank
if the city’s policy is to discourage, actively
to discourage driving. And he said “No, it’s to “actively provide alternative modes.” I think that the logical reason for that is they’re trying to get
people to take other modes, but they’re not trying to tell people that they can’t drive, or to
actively dis-incentivize it with higher fees and less parking. – Well, they are.
– Well, maybe discourage- – They’re taking away the parking and they’re taking away lanes, and they’re making it more
difficult to drive places, and you have to battle with bikes and helmet-less scooter
riders as you’re going places. So I think they are. I think it’s a very active war on cars. – All right, well thank you guys so much. That is all the time we have for today. Thank you for tuning in
and join us next time on Behind the Headlines. (exciting orchestral music)

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