(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) Police chiefs and sheriffs from a dozen Northern Virginia law enforcement agencies gathered for a press conference today to warn about the dangers of “look-alike or replica guns used by children and young adults.”
Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott, who participated in the news conference, said replica weapons — including realistic-looking Airsoft and BB guns — are being used by kids for play and by criminals for robberies. In all cases where replica guns are used in public, Chief Scott said, they put the person holding the weapon at great personal danger.
“The message today was really to parents and kids about the dangers of using this kind of weapon in a public place,” Scott said. ”People see the weapons and they believe them to be real, and they call police.”
“Police officers have to make a split second-decision,” Scott continued. “If someone turns and brandishes a weapon… it could be tragic for everybody and we want to avoid that if at all possible.”
Scott said those brandishing replica guns in public might also be confronted by armed citizens, especially in Northern Virginia where concealed weapons permits are fairly common.
“They may be confronted [by armed citizens] in a way they did not expect,” Scott said. “There’s great danger in that… even though they did not intend to harm anybody.”
Scott said replica weapons, which are cheaper than real guns, are also increasingly being used by criminals for robberies.
“We’ve had a number of robberies this year alone where later we determined… the weapon used by the robber looks like a replica weapon,” Scott said. According to the department, there have been at least four confirmed incidents involving a BB or Airsoft gun in Arlington so far this year.
Arlington County Police say they’re planning to launch a public education campaign about replica weapons. The campaign is expected to include outreach to students by school resource officers, as well as outreach to local civic associations.
This article has been updated to remove an erroneous reference to legal differences between the use of a real gun and a fake gun in the commission of a crime.
Virginia Department of Transportation officials say they’re waiting for the results of a state police investigation into the death of Alexandria paramedic Joshua Weissman before deciding what to do about the gaps. As of today the investigation is “still ongoing,” according to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
Weissman fell through one of the gaps while trying to reach a burning vehicle in the HOV lanes of I-395 on Feb. 8. He fell some 20 to 30 feet into the creek and was knocked unconscious, authorities said at the time. Weissman later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.
From below, the two gaps are clearly visible between the mainline of northbound I-395, an HOV ramp, and the HOV lanes themselves. Beneath the gaps are the Four Mile Run bike trail, a rocky berm littered with debris from the homeless individuals who sleep under the bike trail, and a shallow section of Four Mile Run with a jagged concrete structure in the middle.
The gaps pose the biggest danger to police and firefighters, who often will reach an incident in the HOV lanes via the mainline of I-395. If the incident happens to be on the bridge, as it was in the case of the Feb. 8 car fire, those public safety personnel will have to either hurdle over the gap or walk around it, in order to reach the scene and come to the aid of the victims.
One police official tells ARLnow.com said the gaps are “really not a problem in daylight” but can be especially dangerous at night. There are other gaps between lanes along I-395, including in the area of S. Joyce Street in Pentagon City, the official said, adding that he’s personally aware of at least two close calls involving officers nearly falling through the gaps.
Arlington County Fire Chief James Schwartz says that placing a grate between the spans may help eliminate the danger.
“It seemed to me that something like a grating… might be a cheap and adequate solution to that problem,” Schwartz said. He added, though, that it “makes sense” for state police to conclude the investigation before ”rushing out to do something that in the end might not be a complete solution.”
The Arlington Bike Advisory Committee is holding a site visit and safety discussion at the intersection of Lynn Street and Lee Highway in Rosslyn tonight.
The meeting is being held following a number of recent bicycle/vehicle collisions at the intersection, which serves vehicles exiting I-66 and approaching Key Bridge, as well as cyclists and pedestrians on the Custis Trail.
“Arlington County staff will be on hand to explain and discuss future plans to improve the intersection,” according to organizers.
Anyone interested in attending the site visit is asked to show up at the northeast corner of Gateway Park, near the intersection, at 6:30 p.m. The gathering will move to the Continental lounge around 7:15 p.m., organizers say.
The markings were removed from the Custis Trail by Arlington’s Transportation Engineering and Operations Administration last week, according to spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel. On Friday, ARLnow.com reported that a cyclist struck and injured at the intersection last month said he was issued a warning for failing to stop at the marker.
“The markings were removed because they provided a restriction to bicyclists that conflicted with the traffic signal at this intersection,” Whalen McDaniel said today. “This was recommended as part of a comprehensive trail traffic control study over a year ago. All users of the streets and sidewalks should exercise care at intersections and obey all regulations, signals, and signage.”
Flickr photo by @I_am_Dirt, via @BikeArlington
A cyclist who collided with a vehicle last month at the dangerous intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street was issued a police warning, while still in his hospital bed, for failing to “obey a highway sign.”
The accident happened on the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 10. The cyclist said he was heading eastbound on the Custis Trail, crossing Lynn Street in Rosslyn with the green light, when a car quickly turned in front of him as he was traveling across the intersection. He slammed on the brakes but still hit the vehicle’s rear driver’s side quarter panel.
The cyclist, who did not want to be named, said that police followed his ambulance to the hospital, asked him to write a written statement, and then handed him a warning as soon as he had finished the statement. The warning was for failing to “obey a highway sign.”
As explained to the cyclist, he was culpable in the accident because he did not stop at a painted “stop” sign on the sidewalk just before the intersection. Further, he was considered a “cyclist” while on the trail, but became a “vehicle” when he entered the intersection, and thus did not have the right-of-way to oncoming traffic.
“You just can’t tell me that it’s all my fault for being hit,” the cyclist told ARLnow.com. “Naturally, if you’re a cyclist heading into an intersection, you’re not concerned with what’s below you but with what’s in front of you.”
The cyclist says he later found out that the driver who turned in front of him was not issued any sort of citation. As a result, not only will he be financially responsible for his own bills — the hospital bill for his hand, arm and shoulder injuries, plus the replacement cost of the $2,000 carbon fiber bike — but he may be held responsible for damage to the driver’s vehicle.
“That leaves me holding the bag. I have no recourse whatsoever,” he said. “Drivers have carte blanche.”
His situation is not unique in the area. The Falls Church News-Press reported over the weekend that a cyclist who was struck by a car and injured at the intersection of Great Falls Street and the W&OD Trail was charged for “disregarding a stop sign,” despite the fact that there were once signs at the intersections stating that bike trail users had the right-of-way.
As for the cyclist struck in Rosslyn, he says he’s now writing to county officials to try to lobby for some short- and long-term solutions for making the Lee/Lynn intersection safer for trail users.
“I go through it all the time and it is a very dangerous intersection,” he said. “Bicyclists take their lives into their own hands when crossing crosswalks.”
Another accident has occurred at the dangerous Washington Boulevard/Columbia Pike interchange.
The two-car accident happened this morning on the on-ramp from eastbound Columbia Pike to northbound Washington Boulevard. No injuries were reported, though the ramp was shut down for awhile.
The on-ramp was mentioned in our Most Dangerous On-Ramps list in February for its lack of room for merging cars to get up to speed.
VDOT is set to start work on a new Washington Boulevard/Columbia Pike bridge and interchange later this year.
(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) For some reason, a number of highway and arterial road on-ramps in Arlington County seem to have been designed with little consideration to driver safety.
Whether they’re positioned just after a bend in the highway, obstructing the view of on-coming vehicles, or whether there’s precious little room for drivers entering the highway to get up to speed with on-coming traffic — or both — we’ve picked the following four on-ramps as the most dangerous in Arlington.
We know there are others out there. Feel free to make your most dangerous on-ramp nominations in the comments section.
Ramp from Courthouse Road to westbound Route 50 — Whether it’s the big pillar to your right or the non-stop, fast-moving traffic to your left, getting on to westbound Route 50 from Courthouse Road is not an easy task. This interchange is being redesigned — but the construction workers running across the road and the dump trucks entering the highway are only adding to the problem.
Ramp from northbound Washington Blvd to westbound Route 50 — Drivers on this ramp sometimes don’t seem to know they have to yield to on-coming traffic on Route 50. If they were expecting some room to get up to speed and merge, they were mistaken. Drivers on Route 50 routinely had to get out of the way of merging traffic, causing a hazard. Plus, Route 50 bends just before the on-ramp, causing a visibility problem for drivers who stop to yield to on-coming vehicles.
Between on-going utility relocation work and construction on several large-scale developments, Columbia Pike has lately been riddled with construction bottlenecks and rough sections of road.
That’s to be expected. But one area of the Pike is particularly hazardous for drivers at the moment.
The asphalt on two patched-up sections of road between South Barton Street and South Wayne Street has begun to sink, causing a violent jolt for motorists traveling at speed. Some drivers who spot the big bumps early suddenly hit the brakes, presenting the risk of a rear-end collision.
The ruts — one in the far eastbound lane and one in the far westbound lane — are located across from the under-construction Adams Square development.
We’ve posted video of one of the ruts after the jump.
Dangerous Curve Near Roosevelt Island? — Bicyclists on the Bike Arlington forum say that a sharp curve on the Mt. Vernon Trail near Roosevelt Island has been the site of numerous wipe-outs, at least one of which resulted in broken bones. The main problem with “Deadman’s Curve” seems to be that the painted wooden surface gets extremely slippery after it rains or even when it’s humid. Posters are calling on the National Park Service to make the surface more abrasive to prevent further accidents.
Arlington Caterer Ditches Plastic Bottles – Shirlington-based Main Event Caterers has done away with bottled water — at least the kind that’s plastic and disposable — in favor of a reusable glass bottle system. The company, which is already 100 percent wind-powered and carbon-neutral, says the move will significantly cut down on waste. “We believe that businesses have a responsibility to not only protect but also improve our natural environment,” a company rep said in a press release.
Smart Growth Advocate Criticizes Northrop Grumman Move — Northrop Grumman’s decision to move its headquarters to the Falls Church section of Fairfax County instead of a Metro-accessible site in Arlington has attracted some criticism. Stuart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, told the Falls Church News-Press that the decision “is disappointing” due to the new headquarters’ distance from Metrorail. An off-the-record source tells ARLnow.com that proximity to transit wasn’t much of a concern to the 300 or so executives who will be the primary tenants of the office. What was more important? Proximity to certain country clubs.
We’re hearing of a large tree and live power lines down on N. Harrison St. in the Westover section of Arlington, near the intersection with N. Washington St.
Police and fire have the area blocked off and are asking residents on the 1200 block of N. Harrison (near Virginia Hospital Center) to stay in their homes.
We’ve heard at least 10 other wind-related calls (branches, trees and wires down, etc.) since 11:00 a.m.
Currently, just 286 Dominion customers in Arlington are without power, compared to the 7,323 outages in Northern Virginia as a whole.
Strong, gusty winds are knocking down tree branches large and small around Arlington.
Broken branches have been falling on roadways and on power lines, keeping police and power company crews busy all afternoon. As of 3:00 p.m., there were between 250 and 1,000 Dominion customers without power in Arlington, according to the company’s web site.
On S. Lincoln Street, near the Wendy’s on Columbia Pike, a large tree limb fell across the road, bringing a live power line with it.
On N. Carlin Springs Road, near the intersection with Route 50, a tree branch fell on power lines and caught on fire. The southbound lanes of N. Carlin Springs were shut down while police and fire personnel waited more than an hour for a Dominion crew to arrive.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service has issued a high wind watch. Winds are expected to pick up tonight and into tomorrow, gusting as high as 60 miles per hour.