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The county has kicked off its four-block traffic calming project along N. Stafford Street, north of Washington-Liberty High School.

The project, between Lee Highway and 15th Street N. in Cherrydale, is part of the county’s “Neighborhood Complete Streets” program.

A key feature of the project is the implementation of a “chicane,” or curved design, on the street. The Institute of Transportation Engineers suggests curving a street slows traffic by forcing drivers to “steer back and forth instead of traveling a straight path.”

The traffic calming is necessary because the current road design allows drivers to speed down it.

“The existing roadway is long and straight, has a lot of topography which creates a lot of slope, and these are characteristics of the road that allow vehicles to pick up speed,” said an Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services (DES) official at a recent meeting about the project.

The official noted that observed speeds on the road were not enough to justify “vertical” traffic calming measures like speed bumps, but did call for something “less obtrusive,” like the chicane.

The county is planning to remove remove three to five parking spaces to make room for the chicane changes.

The project includes other upgrades and changes.

Crews could be seen yesterday (Thursday) replacing the stop signs at the intersection of N. Stafford Street and Lee Highway. One worker noted the sign was “rusty and outdated,” and the replacement sign would have “better reflectivity so drivers know to stop.”

Workers will also soon be installing a new curb ramp at the intersection of 19th Street N. and N. Stafford Street, plus a new all-way stop at the intersection of 17th Street N. and N. Stafford Street, according to DES spokesman Eric Balliet.

The traffic-calming project is intended to:

  • Slow vehicle speeds
  • Reduce/eliminate crashes
  • Meet engineering best practices
  • Provide a better pedestrian experience

Arlington officials picked N. Stafford Street for the project after asking for public nomination of dangerous streets across the county. According to the project page, it was the “top ranked street from the first round of [Complete Streets] applications.”

In a public survey by DES, 41% of responders said they would feel “safer” with the proposed changes on N. Stafford Street, while 11% said they would feel “much safer.”

A spokeswoman for the Arlington County Police Department said police have not recorded any crash at the intersection of N. Stafford Street between Lee Highway in the last four years.

The N. Stafford Street improvements are being considered a pilot project. County staff will observe and measure conditions on the street for at least one year, per the project website.

The project will cost an estimated $20,000 for striping, signage, and concrete work. Funding was allocated in the county’s FY 2019-28 Capital Improvement Plan.

Photos via Arlington County

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Aging speed bumps throughout the county are set to be replaced or repaired under a new contract.

The County Board is expected to approve a $246,275 contract for the maintenance work, which will focus on traffic calming fixtures from the 1990s and early 2000s that are badly deteriorated “due to weather and vehicular traffic.”

Speed humps and speed cushions are two of the ways by which the county calms traffic, and typically they are repaired when the street is repaved. However, according to county staff, “some devices’ conditions require substantial repair or replacement outside of the normal timeframe of the street repaving.”

The contract will go to Alexandria’s Kathmar Construction, Inc., which bid less than half that of the only other bidder for the project.

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Parents of Thomas Jefferson Middle School students are petitioning for traffic calming measures on a stretch of road near the school where they report witnessing a number of vehicle-pedestrian close calls.

They’re asking for a crossing guard and a traffic-calming measure — such as a four-way stop — at the intersection of 2nd Street S. and Irving Street, which is a heavily traveled pedestrian thoroughfare for students going to and from school.

The entire stretch of 2nd Street S. near Thomas Jefferson Middle School, from Irving Street to Old Glebe Road, is well-traveled by vehicles and does not have four-way stops. Parents chose to ask for traffic calming at the Irving intersection because of the significant amount of both pedestrian and vehicle traffic at that particular spot. Plus it’s one of the few streets in the neighborhood that runs uninterrupted all the way from Columbia Pike to Washington Blvd., making it easier for motorists to speed than on adjacent streets.

The intersection, like the others on 2nd Street, may not have four-way stops, but it does have painted pedestrian crosswalks. Neighborhood residents say motorists ignore people in the crosswalks, though, especially during morning and afternoon rush hours. “That’s prime commuter time and prime school time,” said TJ parent Alisa Key.

Key saw a girl nearly get hit while walking in the crosswalk to school, and that prompted her to take action. “I couldn’t walk away from that without doing anything,” she said. “In the past two weeks, we have had multiple near misses and countless instances of motorists… disregarding kids in the crosswalk. We have taken it upon ourselves to help the kids cross safely because APS and the county have not.”

The group of concerned parents invited county officials to visit the site to see the dangers that students and other pedestrians face. The group reports that a number of representatives showed up from Arlington Public Schools, the county’s Department of Environmental Services, the police department and the county board.

DES currently is collaborating with APS and police on reviewing the intersection and will report the results of the study next week. According to a DES spokesperson, “The traffic study consists of collecting additional traffic volume, speed and pedestrian volume data to determine whether a four-way stop meets federal standards (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices).”

Parents are hopeful that the results next week indicate the need for increased safety measures, including a crossing guard. In the meantime, they’ve been taking turns positioning themselves at the crosswalk in the morning to make sure children get to school safely. They’ve also started an online petition requesting traffic calming measures, which has more than 400 signatures.

Parents are particularly worried about what happens when the volume of students increases upon completion of a new elementary school at the TJ site.

“The intersection at S. Irving & S. 2nd Street is a magnet for kids, bikers, walkers, etc. because there are currently three community attractions at this site — TJ Park, TJ Recreation Center, TJ Middle School and soon to be coming Fleet Elementary School,” said concerned parent and Arlington Heights resident Colleen Godbout. “This intersection needs calming measures immediately.  We can not wait for the accident that is inevitable here.”

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Last month, with little fanfare, construction crews arrived in the Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood. By the time they left, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, N. River Street, had two new medians strips, two new speed humps and a trio of intersections enhanced with “nubs” that jut a few feet out into the street.

The changes, designed to slow down drivers on a wide, downhill portion of River Street, can hardly be described as “drastic.” But the two-plus year neighbor vs. neighbor vs. county battle that preceded it can be.

Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by opponents of the traffic calming measures reveal that the fight got so nasty, the acrimony even spread to county staff.

“These people have got to get a life. ‘Inherently unfair.’ Seriously? My 6 year old used the unfair complaint the other night when whining about bedtimes,” a county transportation official said of the opposition’s complaints, in an internal email to a colleague. “I’m sure the residents of extreme North Arlington are routinely disenfranchised. Perhaps they should talk to the Department of Justice about election monitoring and human rights violations.”

But Chain Bridge Forest Homeowners’ Association president Terry Dean, who filed the FOIA request, insists that her group — representing 124 households — had legitimate concerns about being left out of the voting process that cleared the way for the traffic calming. In the end, only the 35 households closest to the River Street changes were asked to vote, instead of the neighborhood at large, Dean said.

“[Arlington County] didn’t believe in participatory democracy… basically, they wanted to do what they wanted to do, and it really didn’t matter what the neighborhood thought,” said Dean, a former congressional staffer. “You see that in banana republics, but it’s not supposed to be happening four miles from the Capitol.”

(Twenty-seven of the 35 households voted in favor of the changes, though Dean says a few votes were miscounted.)

Dean insists that from the outset, nobody was opposed to the idea of speed humps on River Street — the original plan when the neighborhood asked for traffic calming measures. It’s only when the county decided to take the traffic calming further — reconfiguring the entrance to River Street from Glebe Road while adding median strips and curb extensions in an effort to “define the travel lanes, slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety” — did the opposition start to organize.

County staff argued that River Street is too steep between 38th Place and 39th Street to install additional speed humps, and said that the reconfigured entrance off of Glebe Road was necessary to convey to drivers that they were entering a residential neighborhood. Opponents, meanwhile, started to question the necessity and nearly $200,000 cost of the changes, given that the average speed on River Street was clocked at 27 miles per hour. About 15 percent of cars were clocked going more than 32 miles per hour, and attempts at speed enforcement by police yielded only four tickets in five hours on one day, and not a single ticket on another day. One county employee referred to the latter enforcement effort as a “fishing expedition” in an email

Older residents worried that the changes would actually make River Street less safe, Dean said, especially during bad weather when navigation gets trickier.

“They are more concerned about these obstacles in the middle of the street” than they are speeding cars, she said. “I have no doubt someone’s going to hit that median once we have ice and snow on the ground… We hope and pray that nobody will get hurt.”

“From an aesthetic point of view it’s ugly as the dickens… a big, ugly mess,” Dean added.

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A plan to detour some traffic through the Bluemont neighborhood during a weekend bridge demolition has prompted a letter to the County Board.

In the letter, the Bluemont Civic Association’s president singles out one of the four detours — which would send southbound traffic down 6th Street N. — for criticism.

Residents say they have been trying for more than a decade to get an all-way stop at the intersection of 6th Street and N. Edison Street. The intersection is dangerous and has been the scene of crashes, according to residents, and sending additional traffic through it is “concerning.”

During the work — set to start Friday night and end early Monday morning — the civic association is asking for 12-hour-a-day traffic enforcement at the intersection. That’s in addition to requests for new traffic studies and permanent intersection changes.

The letter is below.

Dear Chair Fisette, Honorable Members of the Arlington County Board, and County Manager,

First, thank you for your service and for your attention to Bluemont Civic Association matters. I am following up on the below request for safety improvements for 6th St N and N Edison St. I learned this afternoon, through ARLnow, that Carlin Springs Road Bridge traffic will be routed through 6th St N and N Edison St. This is concerning for three reasons:

  1. No notification was provided to the residents or the Bluemont Civic Association that thousands of vehicles will flood our already problematic streets this weekend when our kids are most likely to be outside playing
  2. No plan for targeted enforcement and safety considerations have been made, and if they were, they have not been communicated
  3. Previous requests for regular targeted enforcement, stop signs, and other traffic control/calming measures have received little or no measureable action even with the resulting density from the Ballston Quarter and local construction projects

On behalf of the Bluemont Civic Association and residents that live on N Emerson St, 6th St N, and N Edison St, I request the following:

  1. Permanent safety improvements as outlined in the previous Bluemont Civic Association letter (attached) and as detailed in the original thread to this email
  2. Targeted enforcement from 7AM – 7PM at the intersections of 6th St N and N Edison St, the intersection of Bluemont Dr and N Emerson St, and 6th St N and N George Mason from 8-11 DEC
  3. Ongoing traffic studies effective immediately at the intersection of 6th St N and N Edison St to measure the impact to our neighborhood
  4. A detailed plan of action & milestones for all safety improvements and targeted enforcement for this named area of interest

Last, I invite you to the intersection 6th St N and N Edison St to meet with parents at the bus stop during drop-off time Friday and Monday. The bus drop off typically occurs between 4:00-4:07 PM. Please let me know in advance if you can make it and I’ll email the neighborhood letting them know.

I have copied the neighborhood distro for 6th St N, N Emerson St, and N Edison St. These are past and current residents who may want to weigh in on this conversation directly. I have also copied ARLnow and thank them for providing real-time local news and alerting us to the traffic diversion.

I look forward to a continued open and solution oriented dialogue. I hope that the aforementioned request can be brought to fruition.

Thanks,

Nick Pastore
President, Bluemont Civic Association
http://www.bluemontcivic.org/

The permanent changes to the intersection requested by the civic association are:

  • “Add stop signs to stop Eastbound and Westbound traffic on 6th St N at the intersection of 6th St N and N Edison St to make a 4-way stop”
  • “Paint crosswalks across all four street crossings at 6th St N and N Edison St”
  • “Add pedestrian crossing signage to the intersection of 6th St N and N Edison St”
  • “Bump out each corner curb at 6th St N and N Edison St to enhance the visibility of pedestrian traffic and encourage complete stops with resulting slow turns”

Photos via Google Maps

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The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on a plan to add three landscaped traffic circles to 16th Street S. in the Douglas Park neighborhood.

The $132,000 project — which also calls for the addition of curb extensions, textured pavement crosswalks and painted parking edge lines — is being recommended by the county’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Committee, as a way to slow down traffic on 16th Street.

The street has “documented speeding problems,” county officials said in a staff report. According to county data, the average speed on 16th Street between S. Monroe Street and S. Quincy Street is 24 miles per hour, with 48 percent of traffic traveling faster than the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit and 15 percent of traffic traveling at 31 miles per hour or higher.

Speed humps were not considered for the traffic calming project, because the “85th percentile” speed required by law for speed hump projects is 32 miles per hour.

This summer, residents of homes along 16th Street were polled on the plan — to add “mini-traffic circles” to the intersections with S. Nelson, Oakland and Pollard Streets. Of those surveyed, 66 percent supported the plan, just above the 60 percent threshold for the project to proceed.

County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman was likely among those who were polled. Zimmerman’s house is one block away from one of the proposed traffic circles.

(Residents will be asked to maintain the landscaping of the traffic circles.)

One 16th Street resident who opposes the project says she’s worried about the ability of emergency vehicles to navigate the traffic circles.

“My concern is that it’s an emergency response route,” the resident told ARLnow.com, adding that the county should “stop punishing 95 percent of the population for 5 percent — the speeders.”

The stretch of 16th Street in question is located south of Columbia Pike and just west of Glebe Road. The board is expected to vote on the traffic calming plan at its Saturday meeting.

Also on the board’s Saturday agenda is a traffic calming plan for 26th Street between N. Sycamore Street and N. Quantico Street in the East Falls Church neighborhood. The $92,000 project — for a stretch of road that has 71 percent of vehicles traveling above the speed limit — will include curb extensions (numbs) and one “speed cushion.”

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Residents of the quiet neighborhoods that surround Arlington’s urban villages have a very peculiar relationship with the automobile. At least, that’s the conclusion one could draw based on citizen input at a Lyon Village community meeting that focused on parking and street-related issues.

Residents are quite opposed to the county taking away parking on one side of narrow neighborhood streets to allow fire engines and garbage trucks to operate safely. But they also want more zone parking to keep outsiders from parking on the same streets. And at least one gentleman wanted folks who rent houses to have their street parking limited to just two cars.

Residents expressed indignation that their streets weren’t plowed during snow storms, making navigation treacherous. Then some asked if there was any way streets could be closed to through traffic. One man earnestly suggested quadrupling the number of speed humps and lowering the speed limit to 15 miles per hour.

In short, when it comes to cars, some residents want things their way and want others to stay on the highway.

Lucky for them, Arlington County seems perfectly willing to listen and respond to their requests.

Last night Arlington County Director of Transportation Dennis Leach and Traffic Engineering and Operations Chief Wayne Wentz sat down for a 90 minutes discussion with about 30 residents at the Lyon Village Community House. Although the meeting was ostensibly about street parking, all manner of street-related issues were brought up. The meeting was attended by Lyon Village residents and by representatives of other local civic associations, who are worried about the county’s recent move to restrict street parking on certain narrow streets.

Wentz and Leach explained that while the county is not actively looking for narrow streets, one complaint about a street’s width — from the fire department, a garbage contractor or an anonymous resident — is all it takes for county staff to be sent out with measuring tapes. They will visit a street several times, on different days and at different times, to study parking utilization. If the street is less than 28 feet wide and heavily parked on both sides, parking restrictions will likely be recommended — although first the county will notify residents and initiate a neighborhood discussion about the changes.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington prides itself on its public engagement, but when there is a fundamental disagreement on the basic design of our streets, public engagement becomes a frustrating, repeated rehashing of the same arguments rather than a productive and collaborative conversation about what might make a particular street unique.

Arlington needs a Street Design, Operations and Maintenance Guide — a set of localized standards, tools, interventions and policies that reflect not just professional engineering standards, but also community-driven values.

As someone who attends a lot of transportation project public meetings, I’ve heard the same feedback directed at the County in meeting after meeting: people wanting real, physical protection for bike lanes, not just paint; folks concerned that we are building wide lanes that encourage speeding; a desire to not have to push a button in order to safely cross the street; frustration with sidewalk curb cuts that seem to direct pedestrian out into the middle of an intersection rather than into a crosswalk; a desire for shelter and seating for bus stops, not just a signpost on a sidewalk.

None of these pieces of feedback is really location-specific. These requests were not because of a particular feature of the street or neighborhood where the project was being built; instead, they represent a fundamental disagreement between how Arlington currently designs and operates its streets and how residents wish them to be.

This disconnect creates a frustrating experience for both residents and for staff. Residents are frustrated, feeling like they need to go to every single transportation project engagement session and give the same feedback over and over, often with no visible results. Staff are frustrated because their engagement session, meant to help inform them about unique conditions and needs in a particular location is instead overrun with feedback about bigger, over-arching design issues that are unlikely to be changed as the result of feedback on a single project.

It’s past time for Arlington to have a community conversation about how we design, operate and maintain our streets and then put it all down in a frequently-updated, publicly-accessible guidance document. Many of Arlington’s peer localities (and nearly all larger cities) have a street design guide (Examples: Montgomery County, MD; Austin, TX; Seattle, WA; New York, NY)

An Arlington Street Guide could cover design issues (lane widths, protected bike lane materials, corner radii, etc.) as well as operational issues (signal timing policies, right-turn-on-red restriction policies, etc.) and maintenance issues (snow removal, street sweeping, pothole filling, keeping traffic calming features in good shape, etc.) and be a useful resource for county transportation staff, engineers for private developers, as well as Arlington citizens and advocates.

Providing an appropriate venue to have these broader design, operation and maintenance conversations would free up project-specific public engagement time for its intended purpose: discussing site-specific conditions that local residents may be more familiar with than County staff. On top of that, it would give an opportunity for community values and priorities to be inserted into existing county operational decisions like signal timing, pedestrian recall, etc. which are currently made entirely based on staff judgement.

With Arlington preparing to work through the “Multimodal Safety Toolkit” it promised as part of the Vision Zero Action Plan, now is the time to get started on Arlington’s Street Guide. Arlington has already started releasing for public review some of their existing guidance and the toolkit will further set out design guidance for the sort of interventions Arlington is willing to install on our streets to improve safety. With that great starting point, the County should prioritize codifying guidance on operational and maintenance procedures to create a one-stop-shop for understanding how we design, operate and maintain these critical parts of the public realm.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The 20′ Clear Width rule of the VA Fire Code has removed on-street parking that had existed safely for decades, prevented the installation of protected bike lanes and made new sidewalk installations politically infeasible — and you’ve probably never heard of it. This rule can save lives by speeding fire response or cost lives by preventing safer street designs. Is Arlington finding the right balance?

What is the 20′ Clear Width Rule?

The 20′ Clear Width rule is codified in section 503.2.1 of the VA Statewide Fire Prevention Code: “Fire apparatus access roads shall have an unobstructed width of not less than 20 feet.”

A fire apparatus access road is, essentially, every road, street and driveway that a fire truck might need to drive on to get from the fire station to a structure that is on fire.

What makes an area obstructed? The Arlington Fire Department says that this area “does not have to be completely flat,” but past projects seem to indicate that curbs or medians within this area are not allowed.

Here is an example Arlington residential street that more than meets the 20′ clear width rule because of its two adjacent, wide travel lanes:

And here is an example arterial street with buffered bike lanes that meets the 20′ clear width rule because of the combination of the travel lane, buffer and bike lane, despite the car lanes being separated by a raised median:

What is it supposed to accomplish?

The Arlington Fire Department helpfully explains that the 20′ clear width rule is designed to make sure there is “continuous and unobstructed access to buildings and facilities” and to provide a “safe operational area around the fire apparatus to access compartments and equipment.”

The clear width isn’t so much to speed the truck’s arrival at the scene, fire trucks generally fit fine in normal lanes and factors like good grid connectivity are much more influential on response time than street widths. The clear width is to ensure that when the truck gets to the fire, there is space to park, extend outriggers (if necessary) and safely and easily access the equipment stored in and around the truck needed to fight the fire.

To the extent to which having 20′ of clear space at the scene of a fire speeds up response time by helping them quickly get set up and working, this portion of the fire code should help save lives in an emergency where every second counts.

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Despite over five years of multiple contacts with County government, residents in the Arlington Forest and Bluemont neighborhoods are justifiably frustrated by the County’s lack of progress in protecting pedestrians crossing Carlin Springs Road.

The County has failed these neighborhoods in two respects. First, it has failed to take the decisive actions needed to protect pedestrians at several dangerous intersections. Second, it has failed to give sufficient weight to the views and knowledge of neighborhood associations and residents who offered highly relevant on-the-ground observations, surveys, and data.

For years, residents have been collecting their own survey data and examples of children and families being struck or nearly struck by vehicles.

Neighbors see a number of ingredients that contribute to dangerous risks for pedestrians including:

  • Increasing traffic from commercial and residential development in Ballston.
  • Lack of traffic signals that alert and stop traffic to allow safe crossing, paired with poor sightlines.
  • A history of lack of enforcement of the rules of the road

Carlin Springs Road background

In 2016, the Arlington Forest Citizens Association (AFCA) President spoke to the County Board about pedestrian safety concerns from Ballston to Route 50. At that time, former Board member John Vihstadt was assigned as the Board liaison to AFCA.

In 2016 and 2017, AFCA sent letters detailing accounts of children and families nearly getting struck by oncoming traffic. For example, Lara Doyle witnessed a pedestrian near-miss incident she described as a Kenmore Middle School student dodging cars — like the video game Frogger — while attempting to cross the road as yellow pedestrian lights were flashing. The Arlington Forest and Bluemont Civic Associations have formed pedestrian safety committees and have 40+ pages of emails, meeting notes, and formal letters documenting their direct engagement activity with the County.

In the summer of 2018, ARLnow reported on an accident in which a neighbor was struck by a vehicle while commuting to Metro. Neighbors at the time voiced public concerns:

“Yet [Lora] Strine says the area lacks clearly marked crosswalks or traffic calming measures to slow drivers, particularly on such a wide road, and she can’t understand why it’s taken the county so long to address the issue. ‘This accident is not really an accident,” Strine told ARLnow. “It’s really been years in the making.”

Eric Larsen, the accident victim, advocated before the County Board in a statement urging the County to protect pedestrians.

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Arlington is planning to host an open house to mark the start of the development of the county’s Vision Zero Action Plan.

Last July, the County Board directed County Manager Mark Schwartz to develop goals and an action plan for a comprehensive analysis of traffic safety in Arlington as part of the County’s Vision Zero goals — the name for a series of initiatives aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities.

Details on the plan were vague at the time, though similar plans have been enacted in Alexandria, where some changes like traffic calming measures and lane reductions have been famously controversial.

The open house is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 5-8 p.m. at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street). An event listing said visitors will be able to learn more about current Vision Zero plans and share their priorities for improving transportation safety in Arlington.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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