Amidst the mad scramble to buy last minute presents or make New Year’s Eve plans, local residents have apparently been making a lot of travel plans. In fact, AAA predicts the region will experience “the greatest exodus from the Washington metro area in the 21st Century.”
More than 41 percent of local residents report travel plans of 50 miles or more during the holiday travel period from Saturday, December 22, 2012 to Tuesday, January 1, 2013. That’s a 2.3 percent increase over last year.
“During Christmas and New Year’s we will experience the highest travel volume this decade, especially by the roadways, the railways, and the waterways,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “The one exception is the airways, and this year, even that is making a comeback.”
90 percent of the travelers, or more than 2 million people, are expected to make their treks via automobile. About 130,000 people will fly out of D.C. area airports, which is about 5 percent higher than last Christmas.
AAA gives some credit for the travel boost to residents’ increased financial stability, along with lower gas and airfare prices.
Owner John Croce said while the shop launched as a gelato franchise earlier this year, he’s now shifting gears and wants to transform it into a cafe serving a full menu. He’s also changing the name to “Street Corner Cafe” and renovating the inside. In July, he began dabbling with a limited number of breakfast and lunch items and says they were an immediate hit.
“This is what people want and this is what we want to be. We’re trying to evolve,” Croce said. “We still have gelato but we’ve expanded the line of food products to welcome more customers in. You can never satisfy everyone but you can try to satisfy most people. I think that will be accomplished.”
To honor Clarendon and Arlington, Croce is naming some of the dishes after local streets or neighborhoods. For instance, there will be a grilled chicken sandwich with provolone, sweet pepper strips and a chipotle sauce called the “Wilson Boulevard.” Croce is still throwing around name ideas for the various cheesesteaks and Italian sandwiches. The cafe will also feature soups, salads and smoothies. Croce touts the daily lunch special, which will be a sandwich, drink, chips and a cookie for $8.99.
“We’re convenient, we’re priced right,” he said. “You can get the full gamut here and your wallet won’t be empty.”
In addition to the focus on good food, Croce said he puts much energy into customer service.
“It’s a quaint little place right smack dab in the middle of a lot of restaurants,” said Croce. “I just want to be a part of the Clarendon community. I think it’s gonna be a well-rounded, neat concept.”
Cosmetic changes are already underway for the restaurant. When it’s finished, there will be a new sign outside and a few more seats inside. Street Corner Cafe’s transformation should be completed by mid-January.
At issue is a citation received by Seoul Food for violating the 60 minute rule, which police began enforcing over the summer. As noted in a CATO Institute post last week, the food truck owner told police he had moved to a different spot after one hour, but the ticketing officer didn’t believe the truck had moved far enough from its original position.
The Arlington-based Institute for Justice (901 N. Glebe Road) became involved after some of its workers heard about the legal issues while stopping at a food truck for lunch one day. They thought it fit perfectly into the organization’s National Street Vending Initiative, which aims to foster conditions that allow food trucks to thrive.
“We’ve been fighting on behalf of vendors across the nation and wanted to find a way for them [Seoul Food] to continue earning an honest living,” said Institute for Justice (IJ) attorney Robert Frommer, who also represented Arlington doggy daycare business Wag More Dogs in its unsuccessful fight against Arlington’s sign regulations.
Because it’s a criminal matter, the IJ didn’t take on the case itself, but instead requested assistance from law firms in the D.C. metro area that might be willing to work on the case pro bono. Frommer said a number of firms have come forward to assist Seoul Food, and possibly other vendors that may be in a similar situation.
Besides fighting the citations, the goal is to work with Arlington County to change the 60 minute rule.
“Food trucks give people with big dreams, but not a lot of capital, a chance to work hard and succeed,” said Frommer. “They do that in a way that benefits the community. Arlington County should recognize that and rescind its one hour rule so food trucks can continue to thrive and serve the community.”
Frommer said workers at IJ believe the 60 minute rule is unconstitutional.
“The 60 minute rule furthers no legitimate government interest in safety. All it does is make the lives of vendors difficult and prevents them from being able to succeed,” he said. “It’s the government’s job to regulate health and safety, but it’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers. That’s the job of consumers.”
The IJ also believes the penalties for violating the 60 minute rule are too harsh. Per the Arlington County code, “Any person violating any provision of this chapter shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.” A Class 1 offense is the most severe of Virginia’s four misdemeanor classifications, and could bring penalties of jail time up to one year and a fine of up to $2,500. Other examples of Class 1 misdemeanors include DUI, assault and battery, possession of marijuana and driving on a suspended license.
County code does not, however, list a specific distance food trucks are required to move after one hour, so it’s up to the interpretation of each officer enforcing the law. According to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, officers try to be consistent.
“Based upon how the county code is currently written, our officers use discretion in citing the food truck vendors,” said Sternbeck. “When the officers appear in court, they must be able to articulate a reason why they cited them [the vendors].”
In the Seoul Food case, the vendor claims to have been given three different answers as to how far he was required to move his vehicle. Police say the vendor has been given the appropriate documentation regarding the rules on numerous occasions.
Sternbeck notes that police have been “flooded” with complaints about food trucks, and the officers are merely responding to the complaints. He said officers do not target food truck vendors unless responding to a complaint. A number of brick and mortar restaurants and other businesses consistently call to complain when food trucks are parked in front of their establishments, Sternbeck said.
Sternbeck said that officers spent hours going around and educating the food truck vendors on the rules before enforcement efforts commenced. Currently, vendors are warned on their first offense and ticketed for any incidents after that.
“We have to respond to these complaints and that requires us to sit out there for at least one hour to see that vendors have not moved,” said Sternbeck. “It’s up to the courts once we present the information and facts on it, whether or not they want to proceed with the fine.”
The IJ believes the community will back the efforts to change the 60 minute rule, which could help the initiative gain steam.
“I think the people in Arlington love the food trucks. Every day I go out to lunch I see people lined up. People love choice, they love having the option to decide what they want for lunch,” Frommer said. “When they understand what the 60 minute rule is doing to food trucks, I think they’ll strongly support the reforms we believe the county should adopt.”
Arlington County Board is mulling over possible design specifications of the streetcars that will one day traverse Columbia Pike.
At a work session earlier this month, the Board was presented with a number of streetcar vehicle design considerations, including the width, length, layout and emergency power capacity of the streetcar.
On the topic of streetcar width, Board members seemed to prefer the wider of three options. At 2.65 meters (8 feet and 8 inches), the wider streetcar would be only slightly more broad than the standard Metrobus, at 8 feet and 6 inches. The 2.65 meter streetcar could accommodate four seats and an aisle across, whereas another option, a 2.4 meter streetcar, would only be able to seat three across.
The wider streetcar would cost roughly the same as the narrower streetcar and would still fit within a 11-foot travel lane along Columbia Pike, the Board was told. A 2.65 meter light rail vehicle is also being considered for Maryland’s Purple Line, opening up the possibility of cost savings through joint purchasing.
“I don’t know why you’d go with the narrower one,” County Board member Jay Fisette remarked.
Depending on the length and width of the streetcar, each vehicle could have a total capacity of between 92 and 231 riders. A streetcar could thus have three times the capacity of a bus, but with only one driver, lowering operating costs.
While a longer streetcar could seat more riders, the streetscape along Columbia Pike would have to be designed to accommodate the longer length, potentially a daunting task for the longest of streetcar designs. Board member Chris Zimmerman asked Board members to think long-term when they ultimately select a length. He said that ridership will likely increase over time, necessitating higher vehicle capacities. To illustrate the point, he recounted how Metro ran 2- and 4-car trains when it started running in the 70s.
County staff projects that average weekday streetcar ridership will increase from 14,433 to 16,580 between the system’s first year in operation and 2030. Total Columbia Pike transit ridership in 2016 is projected at 17,802 without the streetcar and 26,155 with the streetcar and buses, rising to 30,457 with streetcars and buses in 2030.
Another design consideration has to do with the interior floor layout. Most streetcars have a “partial low floor,” with a low-floor middle section and two end sections with steps leading up to a higher floor, somewhat like current Metrobuses. The higher floor better accommodates the streetcar’s wheels, or running gear. Streetcars can also be built with the low floor throughout the vehicle — like a Metrorail train — but that would raise maintenance costs and possibly make the ride a bit rougher due to a shorter suspension system.
(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is relocating two of its education centers to a renovated facility on Washington Blvd.
Administrative offices, classrooms and staff currently at the Clarendon Education Center (2801 Clarendon Blvd) and the Syphax Education Center (1439 N. Quincy Street) will be moving to a space in the Sequoia Building 2 (2110 Washington Blvd). The new facility is in the same cluster of buildings housing the Arlington Employment Center and the Arlington County Department of Human Services.
A learning center in the new facility will be open from 8:00 a.m.-9:30 p.m., and will provide space for adult education classes and the Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP). The welcome center will be open from 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
All offices currently located at the APS Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street), including the School Board office and the School Board meeting room, will remain at the current location.
The new 61,000 square foot Syphax Education Center will open on January 2, 2013. Photos of the renovations inside the building have not been released, but renderings from the construction plans are available online.
No word yet on what might be taking the place of the Clarendon Education Center, which is located across the street from Whole Foods, in the midst of Clarendon’s main business district.
An Arlington County Grand Jury indicted James Sylvester Caroline on capital murder and weapons charges for the murder of Tommy Kin Mo Wong.
Caroline is accused of killing Wong during a robbery of the Capital Jewelers store at 3219 Columbia Pike on the afternoon of July 27. Caroline was arrested just days after the murder during a traffic stop on the Arlington/Alexandria border.
Caroline is set to appear in court on Thursday, December 20, to set a trial date.
Silver Line Could Shift Economic Development — As Metro’s Silver Line nears completion, there’s speculation it could prompt an economic development competition between Arlington and Fairfax County. Fairfax officials are already crediting the new line with bringing in at least one new business — Intelsat, an international satellite system provider. Gerald Gordon, the head of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said the transformation of Tysons Corner will put it on a level playing field with the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor as far as attracting businesses. [Sun Gazette]
Polar Bear Sports Registration — United Social Sports is expanding its typical offerings of “bar sports” — such as cornhole, shuffleboard and skeeball — to include Polar Bear soccer leagues this winter. The leagues are for die hard players who wish to continue playing outdoors throughout the winter on a soccer field at Long Bridge Park. Registration is available online for the league, which offers weekly games on Sundays or Tuesdays. Games start the week of January 13. [United Social Sports]
McDonnell Offers Budget Amendments — Governor Bob McDonnell appeared before Virginia’s General Assembly on Monday to pitch a series of both cuts and spending increases for the state’s two-year, $85 billion budget. The increases would ease the burden on cities and counties that have been dealing with substantial funding cuts in recent years, by about $45 million. McDonnell is still cautious due to Virginia’s potential to take a hit if Congress can’t come to an agreement to avoid the year-end fiscal cliff. [Associated Press]
Columbia Pike is closed in both directions between S. Thomas Street and Wakefield Street due to a water main break.
The closure will last throughout the morning rush hour, according to Arlington Alerts, and drivers are asked to seek alternate routes. The closure is also apparently having an impact on bus service — long lines at bus stops have been observed on eastbound Columbia Pike.
The break took place near the site of another water main break that shut down Columbia Pike in September.
Update at 2:55 p.m. — Arlington County says Columbia Pike should be reopened by 4:00 p.m., in time for the evening rush hour. From Arlington Alerts:
Columbia Pike at S. Thomas St. will reopen to traffic in both directions for the evening rush hour by 4 p.m. Crews completed repairs on this morning’s 8″ water main break, however, they will need to repair a second leak in the vicinity at a later date.