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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: It Matters Where You Live
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Opinion: Letter to the Editor: It Matters Where You Live

Calling Seminary Road “a corridor with a high number of KSI (killed or seriously injured) crashes,” last year the city proposed replacing two vehicle lanes with two bicycle corridors on the 25 mph eastern section of Seminary between N. Howard and Quaker to “improve safety.” However, Virginia’s TREDS database of police traffic reports show this section of Seminary in the top two safest city roadways.

Questions arose why Seminary needed “more safety” by having two bicycle lanes replace two vehicular lanes since it’s heavily trafficked, particularly during rush hour; 1,750 parking spaces are opening at Mark Center’s BRAC building; Amazon’s bringing 25,000 employees; and for emergencies, Inova Hospital and Fire Station 206 are on East Seminary.

The city recently confirmed its intention to use funds to make this safe street section, “safer.” However, real safety concerns are elsewhere — in low income neighborhoods that lack a “voice” in safety spending.

If the city looked west on Seminary from I-395 instead of east, since 2015 the first 1/10 of a mile on West Seminary has had five times the annual accidents than for the entire one mile on East Seminary where “safety” bicycle lanes are to be installed. In the first 1/2 mile going west on Seminary, there’s a shocking 11 times more annual accidents than for East Seminary. Including 3/10’s of a mile each way on Beauregard Street — which intersects West Seminary just beyond I-395 — the total of 347 accidents over this entire one mile of roads is 17 times more than the one mile of East Seminary Road where the city plans bicycle lanes to “improve safety.”

While West Seminary has a 17-fold higher accident rate than East Seminary, East has something West doesn’t: a $200,000 median level of household income; West’s is $44,000.

Neglect of safety for lower income residents is evident in the city citing “traffic safety” this past decade to replace road lanes with bicycle corridors along Janney’s Lane and King Street — where the median level of income is $200,000 — despite envious safety records as compared to West Seminary.

TREDS’ database facts cry out for traffic safety spending for the poorer sections of our city, not the very fortunate. Two studies (Virginia Commonwealth University’s and Northern Virginia Health Foundation’s) show the life expectancy of West Seminary’s children is five years less than the East’s, partly due to unsafe areas to walk or play outdoors.

To underscore the city’s safety discrimination: it no longer plans “safety” bicycle lanes for the lower income section of East Seminary (between I-395 and N. Howard Street) as originally proposed, despite it being the only section where pedestrian accidents occurred the past four years (there were also six pedestrian and bicycle accidents alone last year on West Seminary — including a fatality.)

The city is right – Seminary Road is “a corridor with a high number of KSI (killed or seriously injured) crashes” — but is wrong to use what is actually the high accident rate of low income West Seminary to justify safety measures not for it, but for safe, high income East Seminary.

Facts and equal accountability for all citizens should matter in city planning, not median income levels. Otherwise, those in a position of influence and power get treated one way, while others are ignored.

Joe Sestak

Alexandria