NEW: Two severe crashes prompt countywide look at alley safety in Arlington

Prompted by two critical crashes in two weeks, Arlington County is taking a look at a common thread between them: alleys.

Last week in Westover, a car struck a toddler, who is now recovering from serious injuries, while exiting an alley onto N. Longfellow Street. Neighbors say the alley is frequented by cyclists and pedestrians, including students from nearby schools, but has dangerous blind spots.

Two weeks ago in Green Valley, a motorcyclist — who witnesses say exited the 23rd Street S. alley at a high speed — died while trying to avoid hitting a school bus. Instead, he flew off his motorcycle and into the bus, which had children onboard.

A team that includes Arlington County police, Virginia State Police, transportation engineers, public health representatives and a representative from the County Manager’s office will be evaluating these crashes, while county transportation engineers will be looking at other local alleys to find improvements, says Katie O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Services.

“As part of our Vision Zero Action Plan, we regularly review and evaluate critical crashes to identify actionable items that we can implement and respond to quickly,” O’Brien said. “In addition to reviewing this terrible incident [in Westover], the team is taking a systematic examination of alleys throughout the County to improve safety given the recent tragic crash that also occurred at an alley on 23rd Street S.”

The toddler from Westover remains hospitalized but is recovering, says Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. The child, who was pulled from under the striking car before first responders arrived on scene, suffered serious injuries including, reportedly, a fractured skull.

Meanwhile, the body of the 26-year-old Alexandria man who died in the motorcycle crash will be transported overseas for his funeral.

Both crashes remain active and ongoing investigations, Savage said, adding that there are no additional details to provide.

Blind spots add peril to Westover alley  

In Westover, neighbors say the alley where the crash occurred is frequented by students headed to Swanson Middle School and folks on bikes and with strollers, who use a hole in the fence at the end of the alley to get to school or to the Custis Trail.

“It’s actually a more trafficked area than it might appear to be,” said one neighbor, Stefanie Cruz.

But it has blind spots for drivers. Where it intersects with N. Longfellow Street, there’s a large hedge to the right and a house to the left that neighbors say can obscure oncoming pedestrians, playing kids and traffic.

“It’s a dangerous alley, and it’s been a dangerous alley, and I don’t know if anyone’s been paying attention to that,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it took something like this to make the alley safer.”

Cruz drove out of the alley just 10 minutes before the toddler was struck. She says she saw the child, who was riding a scooter, go in and out of view because of the hedge and house, and warned the person watching the child that she feared a collision.

“Within 10 minutes, I was driving back home and I saw the ambulance, a fire truck and the police cars and I knew that little boy had been hit,” she said.

There are other safety concerns, too. People turning from the alley onto N. Longfellow Street have to watch for speeding cars using the street to avoid traffic on Washington Blvd at the intersection with N. Patrick Henry Drive.

Cruz says some people drive quickly through the alley, which connects N. Longfellow Street and the cul-de-sac at 15th Road N., adding that the streetlights on the alley don’t have working bulbs, making it hard to see after nightfall.

The other side of the alley in Westover (via Google Maps)

The crash led the Westover Civic Association to ask on Nextdoor for reports of similar accidents or incidents in the area, which the civic group intends to present to the County Board.

The Westover Civic Association is calling for stories of dangerous conditions after the crash involving a toddler last week (courtesy photo)

The alley is county-owned, and there are no reports in the county’s system about speeding in that area or streetlight outages around the alley, O’Brien said. She said that the streetlights team will investigate the alley for potential repairs.

“We strongly encourage residents to submit issues or complaints, like a streetlight outage, using our Report-a-Problem tool,” she said. “For information on how to report a violation dealing with private property, visit our Code Enforcement page.”

Speeding a concern for alley in Green Valley

In Green Valley, neighbors have noted that the 23rd Street S. alley sees traffic and fast driving.

The deceased motorcyclist was coming from a nearby auto shop business and neighbors told ARLnow that they’ve previously warned the business about vehicles traveling at high speeds.

Speeds in the area could be taken down a notch through another Vision Zero initiative. The site is one of 13 pilot “slow zones” approved last week for streets near schools, meaning the speed limit there will drop to 20 mph, with implementation coming this winter or in the spring.

Similar to Westover, however, the county does not have any reports of speeding for that area in its system, O’Brien said.

“The last speed study we did in that area was in April 2010. The study showed an 85th percentile of 24 mph for combined directions,” she said. “If residents do have concerns, we encourage them to visit our Transportation Issues and Investigation Requests page and submit their request.”

Matt Blitz contributed to this report. Some photos via Google Maps.