County Board members weighed in on the ongoing Uber and Lyft controversy during Saturday’s monthly meeting, largely expressing support for the taxi drivers and companies.
None of the County Board members expressed an explicit desire to ban Uber, citing its popularity, but Board Chair Jay Fisette, Vice Chair Mary Hynes and Board member Walter Tejada each expressed sympathy for the county’s taxi drivers — who have organized protests of Uber and Lyft — who are losing business to the ridesharing services.
“As a Board, as individuals, there is a recognition that some of these new services have stolen some people’s hearts or gotten their business because of the technology they provide and some of the customer service they provide,” Fisette said. “We are very respectful of the drivers… that do need to make a living in this community and do a fine job of it, and then we need to figure out as a state and as a community what authority we have and how we might effect and take advantage of that authority as that unfolds.”
Uber’s UberX service and Lyft allow smartphone users to book rides with non-professional drivers. The drivers drive their own cars and Uber and Lyft don’t have licenses to operate as taxi or car service companies. The lack of regulatory oversight led the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a cease and desist order against the companies, but both Uber and Lyft have continued to operate in the state.
Most recently, eight Northern Virginia taxi companies — including Arlington Blue Top Cabs — have filed a lawsuit requesting an injunction against the two companies, requesting a judge order them to stop operations in the state before the DMV and Attorney General Mark Herring make a ruling on their requests for operating authority.
“I thought the cease and desist order from the state was very appropriate,” Tejada said. “Who knows what other issues are going on that we don’t know about because these [companies] are not regulated. I want to make sure the cab drivers, who are working very hard in this area, get the respect they have earned. These are hard-working individuals, and some of these companies charge them an arm and a leg to operate a cab. I hope that everyone will indeed play by the rules.”
Only John Vihstadt, the lone non-Democrat on the County Board, sang a different tune in responding to the issue, remarking about the popularity of services while pointing out he’s a loyal Arlington Red Top Cab customer.
“I think we need to keep in mind that the marketplace is responding to a need and responding to a demand,” Vihstadt said. “Competition is a good thing and we should not stifle innovation… At the same time, I think we need to consider the current regulatory scheme that we have for our established cab companies to allow them to be more competitive and able to better respond to the needs of the marketplace.”
Hynes pointed out that while Uber and Lyft have grabbed a sizable portion of the market share, they leave out customers who don’t have access to smartphones.
“The state has to explore how you make sure this service is available to all the people who might need it and that nobody is dealt out of the process by their age, disability or income,” she said. “It’s not just about the young people who use Uber and Lyft, but it’s really how it functions as a piece of our transportation system overall.”
Pub crawl organizers should have to obtain a permit for each crawl and reimburse the county for the cost of extra police on the street.
That’s what Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan is expected to recommend to the County Board at its meeting later this month. Donnellan will recommend that pub crawls be classified as “special events,” subject to the county’s special events policy, according to county officials.
Arlington’s special events policy was last updated in 2012. The policy is designed to ensure that adequate resources are available for special events while allowing the county to recover its support costs.
Classifying pub crawls as a special event is seen as a compromise, somewhere in between the crawl participants who would like the events to continue unabated and residents who see the crawls as a nuisance and would like them curtailed. The events will continue, but in a more regulated environment, provided organizers can afford the extra costs.
“Organizers would have to get a special events permit and would be required to cover the costs of additional police, fire and trash services — above core services — generated by their event,” Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com. “At this point, the Manager’s recommendation does not include any minimum or maximum allowed numbers of pub crawls — the applications will be reviewed as they come in and approved based on the availability of resources.”
Donnellan’s recommendation is coming less than a month after an attendee at the All American Bar Crawl (photos from the event, above) allegedly stripped naked and led police on a car chase that ended in a crash in Clarendon. In an email to a concerned constituent, County Board Chair Jay Fisette addressed the incident.
“I want you to know that we have no tolerance for this kind of behavior. At the same time I want to stress that this incident was highly unusual,” Fisette wrote. “Our top priority is safety. The Board has concerns about the impacts of pub crawls and in April asked the Manager to research options to address these impacts.”
Fisette went on to say that pub crawls can be regulated, but not banned.
Clarendon is one of our most vibrant and lively areas. We support the businesses there, and we welcome visitors who patronize our many great restaurants, shops and pubs. We want to keep it a great place to live, visit, dine, work and shop. It’s important to know that, under Virginia law, we can’t ban pub crawls. We can, however, regulate pub crawls to ensure that they are safe for all and effectively managed. Part of that regulation must include ways that the County can recover some of the costs associated with the stepped-up enforcement activities during the events, and trash and litter cleanup after the events. In the meantime, as part of the FY15 budget, the Board approved one-time funding ($42,000) for overtime costs in the Police department while a longer term strategy is developed to address the increasing frequency and cost associated with pub crawl events.
In addition to the June incident, a bar crawl attendee made the news in March when she allegedly showed up naked at the Arlington Magistrate’s Office and demanded that she be allowed to visit her husband, who was arrested earlier that day during a St. Patrick’s Day-themed pub crawl.
Both bar crawls were organized by Courthouse-based Project D.C. Events. According to the company, the two events attracted a combined 8,500-9,000 registered attendees.
“It’s two incidents out of thousands of people,” said Project D.C. Events co-owner Alex Lopez, who also pointed out that neither happened inside a bar. Lopez and fellow co-owner Mike Bramson said they work closely with Arlington County Police and with participating bars to ensure there’s plenty of security on hand.
Neither could explain why bar crawls in Arlington have resulted in high-profile incidents and controversy while D.C.-based crawls seem to go off without a hitch.
“We’ve taken the same steps in D.C. as we do in Arlington,” Bramson said.
“You don’t hear about bar crawls in D.C. because nothing happens at them,” said Lopez. “If you say, ‘oh everything was peaceful in the last bar crawl,’ well, no one is going to read that.”
Bramson and Lopez said they and other bar crawl organizers shouldn’t be on the hook for the cost of extra police staffing because the events are already generating thousands in extra tax revenue.
Arlington officials are trying to walk a tightrope on the topic of Uber, which is pitting two constituencies against each other: tech-savvy, often younger voters vs. hard-working immigrants who have the support of labor activists.
On one hand, the Arlington County Board is sensitive to the plight of cab drivers, who are trying to fend off ride sharing services like Uber while complying with county and state regulations. On the other hand, many Arlington residents seem to like Uber, which is operating outside the law in Virginia.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette addressed the issue Tuesday, at his State of the County address. His audience: members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. Chamber members tend to skew older than the 20-something crowd one might envision when discussing a popular smartphone app, yet when asked who had used Uber, some 50-60 percent of the room raised their hands. Fisette himself had a hand raised — “I used Uber for the first time in New York City recently,” he revealed.
Arlington caught flack from Uber fans when the police department announced it would ticket Uber drivers, given the cease and desist order issued by the Virginia Dept. of Motor Vehicles earlier this month. Fisette, however, downplayed the actual impact.
“Our police aren’t going to look for the problem, but if they run into it they’re obliged to ticket these folks,” he said.
Fisette said services that provide rides to consumers are regulated for a reason.
“We have the taxi industry, a regulated industry, created for consumer protection,” he said. “When it wasn’t regulated, quality went down and risk for customers went up.”
Fisette suggested that Uber should compete on a level playing field by complying with the law, but acknowledged that the consumers the state is trying to protect generally seems to like the service.
“I think it’s fair to say they’re seen to provide some outstanding customer service and ease of use,” Fisette said. “It’s convenient, and that customer friendliness and innovation has helped them create a market. Anytime you have a demand, you’re doing something right.”
In the end, Fisette said Arlington would participate in a state study into the Uber issue, but didn’t say what kind of perspective the county would bring to the table.
“As a locality, we don’t really have a point of view except that we have to enforce the law,” he said.
(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette says the streetcar is a “strategic investment” that will drive economic development. But he acknowledges that it has an image problem.
Delivering his State of the County address to members of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Fisette said “the workhorse modern streetcar” gets a bad rap from critics who say it would be waylaid frequently by vehicle accidents and other possible obstructions on the tracks.
Fisette pointed to an image that has popped up on blogs and in Powerpoint presentations given by critics. The image, above, shows the aftermath of a minor vehicle accident in Toronto that caused at least a half dozen streetcars to back up behind a damaged car on the tracks.
“It’s an image emblazoned in people’s minds that has distorted the debate a bit,” Fisette told the crowd.
In reality, Fisette said, such accidents will happen “very infrequently.” When it does, obstructions will be cleared from the tracks as expediently as possible. “There is a protocol in place for dealing with that quickly,” Fisette said.
Plus, Fisette argued, it’s not exactly uncommon for accidents to cause delays for vehicle traffic.
“Backups happen daily on the Beltway due to broken down cars and accidents,” he said.
Critics, like Board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt, say an enhanced bus system would offer many of the benefits of streetcar without the high cost and inflexibility of fixed rail. They have at times pointed to a “streetcar-like bus” in use in Las Vegas (pictured, right) as an alternative.
Fisette said fixed rail is, at least partially, the point. People — himself included — are more likely to ride a train with a fixed route than get on a bus.
“I fundamentally disagree” that buses are better than streetcar, Fisette said. “Streetcar is much more comfortable, much more accessible… multiple doors, better for wheelchairs, much smoother ride. I myself know that when I go to another city, do I jump on buses? No. Really, would I get on a rail system that’s fixed and tells you where you’re going? Yes.”
Fisette’s most oft-repeated argument for the streetcar was its higher ridership capacity. He said that prior to the Board’s streetcar approval, during a long planning process that asked Columbia Pike residents what they wanted, the community signaled that it did not want Metro and the density that would come with it, but did want more amenities.
In order to continue to revitalize Columbia Pike — and thus build more housing and retail — Fisette said there needs to be more capacity for transit than buses can provide. Already, the Pike is Virginia’s busiest bus corridor, with 600 bus trips daily carrying more than 17,000 passengers. With the Pike and Crystal City expected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth over the next 30 years, Fisette said the streetcar is the right system to get people to where they need to go.
On the issue of how to pay for the streetcar – which carries a total price tag of more than half a billion dollars — Fisette said 93 percent of streetcar funding will come from “federal, state and regional money,” including a 12.5 cent commercial real estate tax designated for transit. He said he opposes using homeowner tax dollars for streetcar
At the same time, Fisette said he’s looking for a possible way to move forward without federal funds, since federal funding would come with strings attached, would increase costs and would slow the project down.
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Arlington will not award a contract for construction of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, delaying the project for at least a year, the county announced this afternoon.
The decision to cancel the bids for the facility follows an effort by County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff to work with construction companies to “value engineer” the project and lower costs. The bids initially came in well above the level necessary to keep the aquatics center within its original $79 million projected cost. Even with cheaper furnishings and other cut corners, however, we’re told the revised cost estimate “got close but not close enough.”
With $42.5 million in bond funding and a $15 million developer contribution already in place, that puts the County Board in a position in which it must approve additional taxpayer funds, scale back the design of the facility, or seek private funding. For now, the county will seek private funds.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the aquatic’s center design resulted from an extensive community outreach process that took into account its location near the Potomac River, within view of I-395 and major D.C. monuments.
“This facility resulted from [a community needs assessment] and then took several years to design,” he said. “I still think that to fulfill that plan is the right way to go. But I understand that staying within the previous budget is also appropriate.”
Fisette said the county will now seek funding from a private entity. Possibilities include a corporate sponsorship and naming rights, working with a for-profit operator, or partnering with a university or other institution.
Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston is one such facility built by the county but operated by a rent-paying, for-profit entity. The fields at Long Bridge Park and Barcroft Baseball Field #6 are partially paid for under partnerships with Marymount University and George Washington University, respectively.
A corporate sponsor may be interested in the naming rights to the facility, especially given its high-visibility location. Fisette said he’d be open to having the facility known as the Under Armor or the Nike Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility, among other potential sponsors.
“The goal is to identify any balance of funding beyond those already approved by the voters,” Fisette said. “This is an unusual and exceptional opportunity for someone who would like to have that visibility.”
What might make the opportunity more exceptional, according to county officials, is D.C’s bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Later this month, the United States Olympic Committee is expected to narrow down the list of U.S. cities being considered as an Olympic host. Should D.C. be on that list, it could give a boost to the effort to attract sponsorships, given that the new aquatics center is likely to be one of the facilities used for the games.
“We are under the impression that as they move forward with their bid, that this site is included in their plans,” according to Fisette.
The county will “aggressively pursue private funding support” over the next 6-8 months, Fisette said. Donnellan plans to report back to the County Board in mid-2015, prior to any additional bonds being sold. Should attempts to find private funds prove unsuccessful, the next steps for the facility are “yet to be determined.”
The county press release on the announcement, after the jump.
Garvey made a presentation during yesterday’s County Board meeting, challenging the return on investment (ROI) study a consultant performed on contract with the county and presented last month.
Garvey said the study makes faulty comparisons, disputed the $3.1 billion ROI claim, said that calling the streetcar a “seamless ride” is nonsensical since a bus would do the same, and claimed it ignored contrary analysis, among other assertions.
After Garvey’s presentation, County Board Chair Jay Fisette challenged streetcar opponents’ claims that bus rapid transit (BRT) would be a preferable solution since dedicated bus lines, widely considered a requirement of a BRT system, are not possible on Columbia Pike. In response, Garvey offered an olive branch of sorts on the language the two sides of the streetcar debate uses.
“On BRT, I’ll make a deal with you,” Garvey said. “We don’t ever talk about BRT here again, we just say ‘streetcar-like bus.’ That’s all we need to say. A streetcar-like bus will do much better on Columbia Pike than a streetcar. Let’s just forget about it. It’s just a canard, it’s silly to talk the way we have on what’s BRT and what’s not. That just gets away [from the point], and I share your frustration.”
Fisette quickly agreed to Garvey’s terms, replying “all right, let’s call a truce on that one.”
The bus system that is feasible on the Pike was referred to by the ROI consultants as “enhanced bus service,” which wouldn’t use a dedicated lane but would have many features of a streetcar, like greater ridership capacity, a sleeker appearance and off-board fare collection.
Garvey’s challenge to the consultant has been echoed by other streetcar critics, who say the study was biased from the start, and its methodology — comparing two streetcar systems and two enhanced bus systems in cities around the country — was lacking. Fisette said the consultants, HR&A Advisors, will be making presentations to several county commissions, and backed them on their claims.
“I’m not saying [the study's detractors] don’t have some good points or couldn’t use clarifications to better understand how the consultants went about their work,” he said, “but I take issue with discrediting the work of these consultants overall.”
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
“Live and learn.” That was the end of County Board Chairman Jay Fisette’s apology for attributing Walter Tejada’s tardiness to the Vihstadt swearing-in ceremony last Friday to “running on Latino time.”
Fisette was apparently shocked that people would find such a stereotype offered up in a public forum by an elected official as insensitive, offensive or insulting?
It would be one thing if Fisette wasn’t a Democrat. Democrats have spent the past five years telling the American people that those opposing policies from President Obama were doing so because they were racially motivated. The day before Fisette inserted foot in mouth, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel was doing just that.
Imagine for a moment that John Vihstadt had uttered the same words during his remarks on Friday. The Arlington County Democrats would most certainly have fired off a pointed press release – possibly even calling for Vihstadt to resign. Twitter, Facebook and the ARLnow.com comments section would have exploded with activity.
Does anyone really think Jay Fisette is racist or that he was in any way intentionally trying to offend? No. But, to essentially throw up your hands and say “live and learn” was a disappointing response from someone who should have known better.
Since there seems to be no risk in stating the obvious this week, here are three other lessons to learn from recent events:
Alan Howze’s campaign was built around a central theme of “I am a Democrat, and my opponent is a Republican.” That strategy may have gotten Mr. Howze across the finish line in year’s past. This year, it was destined for failure. The voters who most care about local issues saw right through it.
The election last week also clearly demonstrated that these same voters do not want the trolley to be built, and probably at a higher percentage than the Vihstadt vote. Some die hard Democrats voted for Howze despite not being fans of the project. The County Board may ultimately move forward. However, there are two Board members who are in cycle in another low turnout election in the fall of 2015 who may regret it.
Finally, rumors are swirling that higher than anticipated revenues have Board Members considering a tax rate cut — a move that is long overdue (Ed. note: This column was submitted before the County Board approved a one-cent tax rate cut). However, a one, two or even three-cent rate cut is not a tax cut. It is simply a smaller than anticipated tax increase for most, if not all, Arlingtonians. If your assessment went up by 10 percent or more this year, you may not even call a three-cent rate cut a good start. But, it would beat the alternative.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette used the podium at a Columbia Pike business luncheon yesterday to respond to critics of the Columbia Pike streetcar and the county’s recently completed return on investment study for Pike transit.
The study, conducted by an independent consultant and funded by the county, suggested that the Columbia Pike streetcar would generate about $3 billion more for the corridor’s economy than enhanced bus service. Critics of the streetcar say a Bus Rapid Transit system would be a preferred, cheaper alternative, but Fisette reiterated yesterday that BRT is not an option for the Pike.
“Bus Rapid Transit, by definition, needs at least part of its route to have a dedicated lane,” Fisette told members of the Columbia Pike business community for the annual Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization Business and Development Luncheon. “I’d love to have a dedicated bus lane. I wish we had room, but it’s not possible.”
Streetcar opponents have asked why the county spent money on a return on investment study when a similar study was conducted last year, but Fisette said this study accounted for the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan and compared streetcar to enhanced bus service, two components the previous study did not include.
“Sure, attack the messenger, pick [the study apart],” Fisette said, “but use the facts please.”
Fisette described the community process used to develop the plan for the streetcar, and said the county projects that, in the not-too-distant future, 65 percent of Arlington’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth will be concentrated along the streetcar lines on Columbia Pike and in the Route 1 corridor from Pentagon City to Crystal City and Potomac Yard.
Takis Karantonis, the executive director of CPRO and one of the streetcar’s biggest advocates, gave a brief talk to the dozens of business and community leaders in attendance while wearing a pin on his lapel for Streetcar Now. He said a $310 million investment by the county in streetcar is a fair number compared to the money the private sector has invested in the Pike.
“Each of these new buildings cost around $90 to $100 million,” Karantonis said. “Each one. Private money is holding up its end of the deal.”
The bikeometer will be on the trail near the intersection of Lee Highway and N. Lynn Street — known as the “Intersection of Doom” — with electronic displays counting “passing bicyclists in real time and cumulative daily, monthly and year-to-date counts,” according to an Arlington County press release.
The bikeometer is the first of its kind on the East Coast and sixth in the nation, according to BikeArlington. The data will be used in future planning for cyclists in the area in addition to providing “a highly visible, engaging and fun view of the volume of bike usage on the Custis Trail in Arlington.”
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will be on hand, along with League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, on Tuesday, April 1 at 10:00 a.m. to unveil the bikeometer.
Photo via BikeArlington
(Updated at 2:25 p.m.) A groundbreaking was held Thursday for Verde Pointe, the new residential and retail development on the former Bergmann’s Dry Cleaning site.
The ceremony was held at the site, at Lee Highway and N. Veitch Street, and featured Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and representatives from the developer and other companies involved in the $80 million project.
Verde Pointe, which was approved by the County Board in December 2012, will feature 177 apartments in a 10-story building, 23 townhomes, a 14,000 square foot Mom’s Organic Market and other retail spaces.
Construction is expected to wrap up in the spring or summer of 2015, according to a spokeswoman. The full press release about the groundbreaking, after the jump.
(Updated at 10:00 a.m.) Shortly after being caught on video driving the wrong way down Military Road — a story first reported on ARLnow.com — an Arlington County snow plow driver ran a stop sign and caused a multi-vehicle accident, according to police.
The accident happened at 9:18 a.m. on Monday. The 51-year-old plow driver was heading southbound on S. Monroe Street when he ran a stop sign at 18th Street S. and struck an eastbound Toyota Highlander on the driver’s side rear panel, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. The Highlander then struck two parked cars.
“There were no reported injuries as a result of the accident,” Sternbeck told ARLnow.com. The driver was cited by officers for disregarding a stop sign.
The accident happened less than two hours after local filmmaker Jason Berry said he was nearly run off the road by the plow, which was driving the wrong way down hilly, twisting Military Road. At Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting, Board Chair Jay Fisette encouraged County Manager Barbara Donnellan to take disciplinary action.
“I think all of us saw that video and thought, ‘oh my God,” Fisette said. “That was horrible. It’s inconceivable to me that there’s a justification for driving a [snow plow] down the wrong side of the road. It was quite amazing to watch the video. We are just fortunate that nothing terrible… came of that particular driving experience.”
Donnellan reported that the driver was working a midnight-to-noon shift and called the incident “unfortunate,” “dangerous” and a “near miss situation.”
“This is completely unacceptable behavior for snow plowing. it is a violation of our Arlington county driver policy and training,” Donnellan said. “As soon as the county learned of the unacceptable behavior we identified the responsible driver and immediately removed him from duty.”
“The investigation is underway,” Donnellan continued. “We’re taking appropriate action with this employee. A full range of disciplinary actions is always on the table for serious safety violations. Our safety policy strives for zero incidents.”
Donnellan noted that the county also received calls thanking snow removal crews for their tireless work during this snowy winter.
“It’s easy to focus on one driver, on one day, but we also have many, many drivers who are safe, courteous and do great work too,” Donnellan said. “My many thanks goes out to staff who works incredibly hard during these weather events to keep our community safe and to keep our streets, trails and sidewalks clear.”
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette will be a speaker this Thursday at the showing of a film that examines the impact that plastic bags and other plastic products have on the environment.
The film, called “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?” will be presented at Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. The event is hosted by Tap In Arlington, a grassroots organization campaigning against single-use plastic water bottles.
Fisette launched a “personal crusade” against plastic bottles last year, is a supporter of Tap In and debated a bottled water industry executive in January. Fisette will speak alongside the film’s director and star, Jeb Berrier.
In promotional material, the film is described as “touching and often flat-out-funny” and Berrier is said to be an “everyman… who is admittedly not a tree hugger.”
Tickets for the event are $10 at the door, or $5 for students and seniors.
(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Comedian Bill Cosby joined Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette and other local notables in helping to open the new Ben’s Chili Bowl in Rosslyn this morning.
Cosby’s jokes and antics drew laughs from the large crowd of media and spectators that gathered to see the ribbon cutting for the iconic U Street eatery’s first stand-alone, brick-and-mortar expansion. Other attendees and speakers included the Ali family, which owns the restaurant; the ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago, late founder Ben Ali’s home country; WPGC DJ Shack Nd Pack; and Rosslyn BID President Mary-Claire Burick.
Cosby joked that as an aging Navy veteran, he was glad to have a Ben’s Chili Bowl near Arlington National Cemetery.
“The reason why this establishment has decided to open here is for me,” he said. “I’m 76-and-a-half years old. I’m going to have my 77th birthday in July… I spent four years in the Navy, which means I am eligible for a military funeral. Now, my can ghost make the trip here instead of flying over to U Street.”
“Over in that cemetery there is no cholesterol,” he continued. “There are no triglycerides. Eat as many as you like. Double down on the cheese and fries. A lot of people may not go to heaven, because this is heaven.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette presented Cosby and Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, with keys to Arlington. Cosby quipped that he would use it to get out of parking tickets.
“Whoa, who put me on stage after Bill Cosby?” Fisette said, to which Cosby shot back: “your mother did.”
“Thanks for choosing Arlington… for your second spot,” Fisette said. “As I’ve always said, chili for breakfast, chili for lunch, chili for dinner and a half smoke for dessert.”
Customers flooded into the the restaurant following the ribbon cutting, leaving a large crowd outside the doors, waiting to get in. Hundreds showed up to the Colonial Village Shopping Center parking lot to see Cosby speak and get some of the first tastes of chili, half smokes, hamburgers and milkshakes after standing outside in near-freezing temperatures.
The restaurant is located at 1725 Wilson Blvd, in the former Ray’s Hell Burger space. It’s owned and operated by three sons, Nizam, Kamal and Sage, and one daughter, Vida. The family said during the ribbon cutting that the restaurant plans to stay open until 4:30 a.m.
“The chili will sober you up,” Cosby said of Ben’s likely late night customers.
(Updated at 7:50 p.m.) The effects of last week’s winter storm were felt by one group of commuters for days following the last snowflake.
The inconvenience of traveling in the cold and sometimes icy conditions proved not only difficult for those traveling by car, but also for local cyclists. At Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting, resident Gillian Burgess expressed her concerns about clearing bike trails after snow storms occur in the area.
“We only have one car, and we have lots of bikes,” Burgess said. “Unfortunately, it’s not safe to take most of these bikes onto the trails in the state that they’re in. So I leave the car with my kids because I want them to be the safest, and instead I’m left with the choice of biking on very busy streets that are not safe.”
“My husband and I first moved to Arlington years ago because we wanted to live the car-light lifestyle,” she continued. “Now we have two kids and one car, and we love it. And most of the time we love mostly biking and walking around Arlington. Unfortunately after it snows we don’t have that luxury. We have found that both after the storm in December and currently, trails do not get cleared.”
According to county Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel, the county does not have dedicated resources for clearing ice and snow from its shared-use trails.
“Staff have been collaborating this past year to find a viable solution to clear these trails,” McDaniel said in an email. “The Department of Parks and Recreation has made an effort to handle snow clearing on trails after addressing other priorities such as snow clearing for several County buildings, routes to schools and Metro rail stations, as well as assisting in the clearing of streets and walkways at other locations.”
Board Chairman Jay Fisette agreed that the county has encouraged walking and biking to get around — the “car-free diet” — and he said Burgess’ concerns were understandable.
“We have heard over time, increasingly the question about bike trails – and it’s a natural one because we’re promoting walking and cycling,” he said. “It makes complete sense that we [are getting] more questions from those who have drunk the Kool-Aid and participate in that culture and maybe even got rid of that car so that they can bike and walk and use transit more frequently.”
Tim Kelley, the marketing manager for Bike Arlington, wrote in Bike Arlington’s forums that the county’s 25 bike counters on its shared-use trails register “a big dip in usage during and in the days following a big snow storm.”
Fisette, who mentioned he is a cyclist himself, remains “unresolved” on the issue.
“I have probably the full range of questions about this as anyone would, you know, about resources, about prioritization, about effectiveness and the environmental impact,” Fisette said. “So I would just say that from my perspective, to have some sort of coherent input from [County Manager Barbara Donnellan] thinking about… what the options are for Board consideration might make sense.”
Ethan Rothstein contributed to this report. Photo (top) via Bike Arlington.
The planned Long Bridge Park aquatics center has been the subject of controversy lately — as critics decry its rising projected construction and operating costs.
But for one Arlington resident, who spoke at Saturday’s County Board meeting, the facility does represent an unmet need in Arlington.
During the meeting’s public comment period, Cynthia Siton told the Board that the facility could serve residents with multiple sclerosis, like herself. She said that the three existing pools are inadequate for MS sufferers because the water temperature is kept too high, forcing her to use Fairfax County pools instead.
“In the summer I find that the pools in the county — the three county pools — the water is too warm,” she said. “Fairfax County pools tend to keep their water cooler, which is very important for people with MS.”
Siton explained the importance of cooler temperatures for MS patients.
“It’s important during exercise to keep the body at a cool temperature,” she said. “That is, also one of the reasons that I favor pool expansion. There are very few exercises that people with MS can engage in because exercise naturally raises the body temperature, bringing on symptoms. Swimming is a way to get exercise and maintain a pretty steady body temperature.”
In response, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette revealed that his own brother had been diagnosed with MS approximately a year and a half ago. Fisette said he understands the dangers of overheating.
“Heat is not healthy for someone with MS, I hadn’t actually thought about that in terms of aquatics or swimming, but it makes complete sense from what I know,” he said.
In addition to an 80-86 degree teaching pool, supporters of the aquatics center point out that it will include a therapy pool that could be used by seniors and other groups that need a more specialized swimming environment than that offered by the three existing county pools, which are located in Arlington’s public high schools.
The Long Bridge Park Aquatics, Health and Fitness Facility project is currently on hold. Earlier this month, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan ordered her staff to review the costs of the facility and recommend a plan — which could mean downsizing or cancelling the project.
Siton said she hopes for the best.
“My hope is these pools will afford people to swim in environments where they’re comfortable getting in and out of the pool and swimming comfortably in the lanes.”