It started on Thursday night with numerous police vehicles zooming into Clarendon with sirens blaring. Drivers pulled over and pedestrians stopped in their tracks. Suddenly, revelers were met with a most unusual sight — a superhero in a cape and leotard emerging from the Chooser Cruiser. Arlington, meet Soberman.
While his getup produced many laughs, Soberman’s message was serious: don’t drink and drive. Speaking through a police car loudspeaker, Soberman told everyone to have fun and enjoy their adult beverages, but to make a smart choice when trying to get home by using a designated driver, taxi, public transportation or by walking.
Soberman’s appearance was coordinated by the Arlington County Police Department and the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP). Attendees were reminded of WRAP’s free holiday taxi service through SoberRide, which runs through New Year’s Day.
WRAP President Kurt Erickson said this is a bit of a different tactic for getting people not to drink and drive. The idea is all about engaging people in a fun way to get Soberman’s message to sink in.
“The message for the rest of the year is that police have stepped up to apprehend drunk drivers. But this message is not about that. This message is hey, celebrate responsibly,” said Erickson. “It’s extremely well received. It’s just a little bit of a different message.”
Soberman repeatedly said that people should enjoy the holiday cheer and they don’t necessarily need to stop drinking, they just should be responsible after drinking. He said his mission is “not to be a buzz kill, only to make sure the buzz doesn’t hit the road.”
Drinkers and non-drinkers alike gathered around Soberman to chat with him and to pose for photos. Passengers leaned out of passing cars to snap pictures and people who spotted the commotion came out of buildings to get a better glimpse. Soberman yelled across Wilson Blvd to a number of drinkers who had just stepped out of bars and began cheering. He waved them over to his spot in front of Whitlow’s.
“Partiers of Clarendon, come over here! Soberman wants to talk to you about how you’re getting home!” he said. “You can win prizes!”
The anti-drunk driving superhero approached one man emerging from a bar and said, “Hello, Arlington partier. I am Soberman.” The bar patron promptly replied, “I am Drunkman.” Soberman congratulated the man for having fun and asked the all-important question,”Drunkman, how are you getting home tonight?”
Like all those who were able to prove they had a safe and sober ride home, the man received a Starbucks gift card from Soberman for making a wise choice. The man flashed a Metro card and said he had no intention of getting behind the wheel.
Soberman especially encouraged folks in Clarendon to use social media to spread the word about staying sober while driving. Those who took the message to Twitter have a chance to win a John Wall or Alex Ovechkin bobblehead.
Part of the campaign is to get drinkers to plan ahead instead of trying to come up with a way to get home once they are already impaired.
“People just need to plan ahead, but they often don’t,” Erickson said. “Leaving the bar is not the time to make an exit strategy. If you’re able to plan an evening out, you should be able to plan a safe way home.”
Soberman first appeared at the end of August but has been particularly active during the holiday season.
“My mission is to prevent drunk driving before it starts,” said Soberman. “Any way you get home safe after having adult beverages — by designated driver or bus or Metro or cab — is the safe and sober choice.”
ACPD reminds drivers to use seat belts, drive safely and pay attention to the roads. In addition to an increase in drunk drivers and distracted drivers around the holidays, police report 32 percent of drivers are more likely to drive more aggressively during this time.
Police had noticed an uptick in drunk driving incidents last month, just before Thanksgiving. During the Thanksgiving weekend alone, Virginia had 11 traffic fatalities. The ACPD hopes drivers will heed its safety message in order to avoid a similar scenario around the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays.
Here are the safety tips offered by ACPD:
- Buckle up — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that more than half of the people killed nationwide in traffic collisions were not wearing seatbelts.
- Protect Child Passengers — The safest place for child passengers is in the back seat. Be sure they have a child safety seat and that it is used the correct way.
- Don’t Drink & Drive — Every 45 minutes in the U.S., someone dies from an alcohol-related crash. Be responsible and don’t drink and drive. If you do drink, designate a sober driver or take a cab or public transportation. The Arlington County Police Department is participating in the annual “Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over” enforcement initiative that continues through the New Year’s holiday.
- Avoid Distractions — 10% of fatal crashes and 18% of injuries caused by crashes were distraction related in 2012. Distractions to avoid while driving include, but aren’t limited to, cell phone use, texting, eating, drinking, and using in-vehicle technologies or portable electronic devices.
- Prepare for Inclement Weather — Last year, 4% of car crash fatalities over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend were weather related. Be sure your car is weather ready and fully serviced. Should the weather be bad, avoid driving. If you are driving, be sure to drive slowly and know your vehicle.
The department added the following greeting: “From our family to yours, the Arlington County Police Department wishes you a safe, happy, and accident free holiday season.”
Safety Improvements Approved for Custis, W&OD Trails – The County Board on Saturday (December 14) approved funding for safety improvements for the Custis Trail and the W&OD Trail. The approval is the first step toward constructing federally-funded improvements for the Custis Trail along Lee Highway at N. Oak Street, N. Quinn Street and N. Scott Street. Improvements will also happen along the W&OD Trail at S. Four Mile Run Drive where it meets S. George Mason Drive, S. Oakland Street and at the entrance to the Barcroft Sport and Fitness Center. [Arlington County]
Tejada Pens Streetcar Opinion Piece — Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post over the weekend. Titled “A streetcar is the right choice for Arlington,” the piece explains why Tejada believes the streetcar is the best option for “transforming Columbia Pike from merely a thoroughfare into a livable ‘Main Street’ served by a variety of transit options.” [Washington Post]
Vornado’s “Dominant Position” in Arlington — Developer Vornado is seen as having a “dominant position” in Arlington’s economy, with $3.7 billion in total real estate holdings. Its presence is only expected to increase with its work on the county’s largest apartment building and the massive PenPlace office project. [Washington Business Journal]
Historical Society Hosts Ornament-Making Event — Arlington residents will get a chance to make their own Art Deco holiday ornament on Saturday (December 21). The Arlington Historical Society will host the event from 1:00-4:00 p.m. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by christaki
ACFD encourages cooks to stay alert while in the kitchen because the leading cause of cooking fires is leaving equipment unattended. The department also discourages the use of outdoor gas fueled turkey fryers due to fire and burn hazards when hot oil splashes during the cooking process.
The department recommends adhering to the following safety tips from the U.S. Fire Administration:
- Stay in the kitchen when cooking and turn off the stove if you leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time. Check on food regularly to make sure it is not burning.
- Use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
- Stay alert. You won’t be alert if you have been drinking alcohol or have taken medicine that makes you drowsy.
- Keep all flammable items — such as potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, towels, or curtains — away from your stovetop.
- Keep the stovetop, burners and oven clean.
- Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can dangle onto stove burners and catch fire if it comes into contact with a gas flame or electric burner.
- Plug microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord for a cooking appliance, as it can overload the circuit and cause a fire.
There are also safety tips specifically for using turkey fryers:
- Use turkey fryers outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other combustible materials.
- Never use turkey fryers in a garage or on a wooden deck.
- Make sure fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.
- Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If you do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
- Never let children or pets near the fryer even if it is not in use. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot for hours after use.
- To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
- Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
- Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water do not mix; water causes oil to spill over and cause a fire or even an explosion hazard.
- Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. If the fire grows too large, immediately call the fire department for help.
Follow these tips if a fire does break out:
- When in doubt, just get out. When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire. Call 911 after you leave.
- If you do try to fight the fire, be sure others are already getting out and you have a clear path to the exit.
- Always keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby when you are cooking. If a small grease fire starts in a pan, smother the flames by carefully sliding the lid over the pan (make sure you are wearing the oven mitt). Turn off the burner. Do not move the pan. To keep the fire from restarting, leave the lid on until the pan is completely cool.
- In case of an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed to prevent flames from burning you or your clothing.
- If you have a fire in your microwave oven, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. Unplug the appliance if you can safely reach the outlet.
- After a fire, both ovens and microwaves should be checked and/or serviced before being used again.
If you find yourself in immediate physical danger while walking through a neighborhood, heading to a nearby fire station may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But the Arlington County Fire Department hopes to change that with its “Safe Haven lobbies.”
Although it is not yet widely known, a number of the county’s fire stations have been outfitted with special lobby features to protect a person who goes there for help.
The person in danger can go through the outside doors and into the fire station lobby, where the second set of doors leading to the rest of the fire station is always locked. When the person pushes the button on an emergency box inside the lobby, the outside doors automatically lock and the box calls 911. Someone at the county’s Emergency Communications Center (ECC) answers as if it were a typical 911 call placed from a phone. They speak to the person to determine the type of emergency and will then dispatch the appropriate emergency responders to the location.
There are cameras on the ceiling of the lobby that turn on when the emergency button is pushed. While waiting for police or fire fighters to respond, staff at the ECC will monitor the cameras to see what is happening during the call. The outside lobby doors will remain locked until ECC workers hang up the call when they determine the caller is safe.
The system can be used at any time, even if the station is empty while fire fighters are out on a call.
“The fire house is somewhere you can always come if you’re in danger. If you need help or have to call 911, you can come to any fire house,” said ACFD spokeswoman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani. “It’s important to know that if you live close to one of these locations, one of the five that have it, that this exists and it’s another safety for you.”
All of the newer fire stations — 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 — have a Safe Haven equipped lobby. Fire Station No. 9 was the first to be outfitted with the system when it was renovated in the late 1990s. The older stations were not built with lobbies, but the goal is to eventually install this type of a system in all of Arlington’s stations when they are upgraded or replaced.
So far nobody has used the system, but it’s unclear if that is because citizens haven’t had the need or if they’re not yet aware the Safe Haven lobbies exist.
The flashing lights will be installed at the crosswalk on the northbound GW Parkway, just prior to Memorial Circle.
“The purpose is to improve safety and increase awareness by slowing down traffic when pedestrians and bicyclists intend to cross the Parkway,” the Park Service said in a press release, adding: “Trail users need to be aware that the flashing beacon is a warning, not a stop sign.”
The lights will be temporary — in place for about a month. Park officials will consider the effectiveness of the installation during an upcoming evaluation of long-term safety and traffic improvements on the parkway.
The installation of the flashing beacon is expected to take place at some point next week.
Ft. Myer Drive in Rosslyn has become a hazard for pedestrians due to ongoing construction, but no solutions are on the horizon, according to county staff.
At the County Board’s Tuesday afternoon meeting, Arlington Transportation Bureau Chief Wayne Wentz had no major recommendations for safety upgrades to the heavily-used roadway. The construction that has most adversely affected safety — on the 1812 N. Moore Street skyscraper – is expected to be largely finished by Oct. 31, but the safety concerns will persist.
“We’re never going to be done looking at Ft. Myer Drive,” Wentz said. “We’ve looked a lot at jaywalking. We just can’t find a way to put a crosswalk in there.”
Wentz said county staff is considering installing signs telling residents not to jaywalk in front of the road’s tunnel — a common crossing zone for those entering and exiting from the back entrance of the Rosslyn Metro Station. The county is also in discussion to put up fencing on the sidewalk and in the two small median islands on either side of the tunnel.
“We need to be more proactive in preventing crossing there,” Board Member Mary Hynes said, “given the fact that we have had near-misses and a hit there relatively recently.”
The sidewalk between N. Moore Street and Ft. Myer Drive on 19th Street will remain closed after Oct. 31, Wentz said. The size of Ft. Myer Drive in that area is part of what makes it unfeasible to install a crosswalk. With more than five lanes, the likelihood of a multi-vehicle accident is much greater than on a smaller road.
“We think that there is a chance to reconfigure what Ft. Myer Drive looks like. It could be a two-way street or a narrower street someday,” Wentz said. “There is hope in the future to do something different there, but we don’t recommend it at this time.”
AAA Mid-Atlantic is reminding motorists to drive carefully in wet weather.
The association sent out the following press release this afternoon.
As the coastal storm continues through the Washington metro area today, motorists will face hazardous driving conditions during their evening commute due to rain and standing water, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. The auto club is advising motorists to exercise caution when driving.
“Commuters heading home tonight will face the same hazardous weather conditions as this morning’s drive to work,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “When driving in wet weather remember to buckle up, slow down, and keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. Also, remember, it’s the law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia to turn your headlights on if your windshield wipers are in use.”
To minimize the hazards associated with wet weather driving, AAA Mid-Atlantic recommends the following precautions for navigating in heavy rain, reduced visibility and slick pavement:
- Slow down and increase following distances. Speed limits are set for ideal road conditions. When it rains, visibility is reduced and braking distances increase. On dry pavement, a safe following distance permits two to three seconds for stopping; that should be increased to eight seconds on slippery roads. Train your eyes farther down the road than normal, so you can anticipate changes and adjust your course gradually.
- Do not attempt to drive through standing water on the roads that look too deep. Avoid bridges and roads that are known to flood. When driving on pothole-filled roads, hold the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control. Just a few inches of water can turn your vehicle into a boat, and could put your life, and the lives of those around you, at great risk. Turn around; find another way to get to your destination.
- Watch out for hydroplaning. No car is immune from hydroplaning on wet surfaces, including four-wheel drive vehicles. Just because brakes work under normal conditions doesn’t mean they will react the same on slippery roads where tires roll with far less traction.
- Alert drivers behind you that you’re slowing with your brake lights. Without anti-lock brakes, squeeze the brakes until they are about to lock up and then release. With anti-lock brakes, use the same move – but don’t pump the brakes, which would work against the operation of the ABS system. Slow down as you approach a pothole. However, do not brake when your vehicle is directly over a pothole.
- Use the central lanes. When driving during heavy rain, use center lanes of the road (without straddling the yellow line). Avoid outside lanes where the water collects at curbside.
- Use low-beam headlights to help other drivers see your car and increase visibility.
- Use your defroster with your air conditioning to keep the air dry and prevent windows from fogging.
- Do not drive around barricades. Many lives have been lost when drivers disregard official orders and find themselves trapped in rising waters.
- Turn off the cruise control in wet weather driving. The use of cruise control on wet roads can cause hydroplaning.
- If conditions worsen to the point where there is any doubt about your safety, take the nearest exit and find a safe location. Don’t just stop on the shoulder or under a bridge where you may feel less anxiety. If your visibility is compromised, other drivers may be struggling too.
- Watch for slick spots on the road. Fumes and oil leaks that build up on dry pavement rise to the surface of the road when it rains, making the road far slicker than it may seem.
The electronic sign the Arlington County Police Department stationed at Washington Blvd and Route 50 with the seemingly obvious message “don’t hit the car in front of you” may have accomplished its intended goal. ACPD reports a reduction in accidents at the intersection.
The department targeted that particular area with an electronic message due to the high number of crashes there. It was the county’s top area for accidents during the second quarter of 2013. After the sign went up, however, the department saw a change.
“It appears the sign worked because there was a sharp decrease in accidents from July to August,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
The sign went up in early July, and from then until today (September 11), police have only responded to two accidents. That’s down from about 15 during the second quarter.
The department believes the simplicity of the sign’s message may be what caused drivers to take notice and heed the warning. Despite the large amount of attention it received, the message did not produce any complaints to police.
The electronic sign is one of four ACPD owns, all of which are mounted on trailers so they can be easily moved around the county. The signs are rotated on a regular basis; messages typically remain for about two months, unless they show a short term alert such as a special event or one-time road closure. This specific sign was changed a few days after ARLnow.com ran the story last month.
Police officers will be a high-visibility presence, directing traffic in school zones, and variable message boards will be placed along county roadways reminded drivers to take extra precaution as students start returning to area schools.
Arlington County issued the following tips for safe driving on the first day of school:
Drivers are reminded to:
- Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
- Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
- Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
- Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers.
- Have all occupants wear their seatbelts.
Students, bicyclists and pedestrians are reminded to:
- Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
- Look before you cross and follow the direction of the school crossing guards.
- Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths never along the side of a road.
With a little prevention, all drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians can arrive at their destinations in a timely and safe manner.
Sept. 3 is also being billed by AAA Mid Atlantic as “Terrible Traffic Tuesday,” the day when roads are jammed because school returns and summer vacation season ends.
According to AAA, “the average 20.4 minute daily delay that drivers experienced around [the D.C. area] in July and August will return to an average of 25.8 minutes during September.”
The company released its annual America’s Best Drivers Report this week and once again, Arlington is near the bottom. The county ranked 10th worst, with drivers going an average of 6.7 years between accidents. That means drivers here are 50 percent more likely to get in an accident than the national average.
Bad driving in the D.C. area isn’t just confined to Arlington, however. Alexandria ranked below Arlington as the 7th worst while Baltimore and the District ranked as No. 2 and 1 worst, respectively.
Arlington’s drivers seem to be getting worse over time, at least according to Allstate’s statistics. Last year, Arlington was ranked as 12th worst, and in 2011 the county was ranked 14th worst. In 2011, Arlington drivers went an average of 6.8 years between accidents.
The safest drivers in the country, meanwhile, reside in Fort Collins, Colo., where motorists go nearly 14 years between accidents on average. The national average is 10 years between accidents, according to Allstate.
An electronic sign the Arlington County Police Department stationed at Washington Boulevard and Route 50 is raising some eyebrows. Not because the message it displays is risqué, but rather because it seems so obvious.
Earlier this month, @CruiseInDeCarr tweeted a photo of the sign to ARLnow.com, adding: “You wouldn’t think we’d need a sign for this.” While that may be the logical assumption, it appears drivers haven’t heeded the obvious advice, considering that intersection came in as the top area for motor vehicle accidents in Arlington during the second quarter of 2013. During that time period, police responded to 11 accidents at the site, nearly all of them rear-end collisions.
The ACPD believes the sign has caught drivers’ attention due to the simplicity of the wording.
“The current message was an attempt to simplify the message to reduce the amount of accidents as much as possible,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “It’s intended to have a positive effect in terms of reducing the number of accidents because that site has been identified as a top accident location in Arlington. As long as people are paying attention, it [the sign] may affect their driving behavior.”
The sign is one of four the ACPD purchased from 2004-2006. It cost around $16,000, with about half of the cost being covered by grant money from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. All the messages displayed on the boards rotate and are changed after two months. Previous messages included “high accident area ahead”, “no merge area”, “safety is no accident” and “maintain safe following distance.”
The signs are mounted on trailers that can be moved around the county to warn drivers of construction zones, inform them of traffic safety campaigns or alert them to special events. The ACPD says the signs operate on deep cycle 12 volt batteries and the necessary maintenance is minimal.
Photo courtesy @CruiseInDeCarr
At National Night Out, neighbors take a stand against crime in their communities. They strengthen relationships with each other and the police officers who patrol the neighborhoods. The event is held across the country on the first Tuesday in August and is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Arlington has events planned for the occasion at the following six locations:
- Arlington Forest Ice Cream Social — 200 block of N. Galveston Street, 7:30 p.m.–TBD
- Barcroft Community House — 800 S. Buchanan Street, 6:30–8:00 p.m.
- Fairlington Community Center — 3005 S. Abingdon Street, 6:30-8:00 p.m.
- Nauck Neighborhood at Drew Model Elementary School — 3500 S. 23rd Street, 6:30–8:00 p.m.
- Park Glen Condominium Courtyard — 800 block of S. Arlington Mill Drive, 6:30–8:00 p.m.
- Columbia Knoll Condominiums at Greenbriar Baptist Church — 5401 S. 7th Road, 6:30–8:00 p.m.
Police officers will be on hand at each of the locations to chat with neighbors and to answer questions about current crime trends. They can also answer questions about general safety and offer neighborhood-specific suggestions for staying safe.
Everyone is welcome to attend the family friendly festivities.
(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) Independence Day is on Thursday and that means fireworks stands are busy with people stocking up on items to light up the night. But before buying certain types of fireworks that could lead to an encounter with the law, check out the guidelines from the Arlington County Fire Department.
Although ACFD notes that the safest way for residents to enjoy fireworks is to attend a public display by a trained professional, it recognizes that many people will purchase their own. To avoid facing prosecution for illegal fireworks, use the following guidelines listed in the county code:
- Fireworks must have a hard-coated or slow burning fuse that measures at least one-and-a-half inches long, with a burning rate of at least four seconds.
- Fireworks that are projectiles or emit flames or sparks in excess of 12 feet are prohibited.
- Residents must be at least 18 years old to purchase fireworks.
- Arlington County uses the same guidelines as Fairfax County, which has posted an extensive list online of approved fireworks.
ACFD also refers residents to the following general safety tips for handling fireworks, compiled by FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration:
- Never allow children to play with or ignite fireworks. Sparklers, considered by many the ideal “safe” firework for the young, burn at very high temperatures and can easily ignite clothing. Children cannot understand the danger involved and cannot act appropriately in case of emergency.
- Read and follow all warnings and instructions.
- Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks. Never shoot a firework at or near another person.
- Only light fireworks on a smooth, flat surface away from the house, dry leaves, and flammable materials.
- Never try to re-light fireworks that have not fully functioned. Douse and soak them with water and throw them away.
- Keep a bucket of water handy in case of a malfunction or fire.
- Never ignite fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.
- Keep unused fireworks away from firing areas.
- Store fireworks in a dry, cool place. Check instructions for special storage directions.
- Observe local laws.
- Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting.
- Don’t experiment with homemade fireworks.
Arlington County is mulling a proposal to narrow Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive from four lanes to two through lanes and a center turn lane.
The proposal was conceived and endorsed by the Bluemont Civic Association (BCA) last fall, as part a recommendation to widen the sidewalks along Wilson Boulevard in the neighborhood.
The association’s “Task Force on Arterial Road Sidewalks and Pedestrian Safety” came up with the plan after considering various ways to widen the narrow sidewalks to Americans With Disabilities Act standards.
Two possible options — undergrounding utilities (thus removing utility poles that partially block the sidewalk) and acquiring additional right-of-way from private property owners along Wilson Boulevard — were rejected as too expensive and otherwise infeasible.
The solution endorsed by the task force and the BCA membership instead calls for a two-phase project that, in the first phase, would halve the number of through-lanes west of George Mason Drive while adding a center turn lane and two bike lanes.
The second phase of the proposed project would widen the sidewalks to ADA standards, while relocating the utility poles.
“Two through lanes with a center turn lane typically provides a better line of sight and safer transitions for cars entering the traffic lanes,” the presentation said. “Speeding may be reduced while maintaining the same overall travel time. Reduced crash risks for all users are expected.”
The presentation compared the Bluemont stretch of Wilson Boulevard to nearby Washington Boulevard, which has only two lanes and higher peak traffic volumes.