Arlington, VA

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

At this point, the bike lane blocking problems on Crystal Drive are well understood. The combination of popular retail establishments, standard painted bike lanes and entitled drivers leads to non-functional bike lanes.

The parkingdirty.com data-gathering effort I led back in 2016 found that they are blocked between 50% and 64% of waking hours.

The “data-protected bike lane” effort last year by the folks at OurStreets found that during morning rush, evening rush and lunch time, the Crystal Drive lane was blocked nearly 90% of the time.

The situation on Hayes Street by the Pentagon City Metro entrance is similarly dire, though less well-studied. Parkingdirty.com found they were blocked between 51% and 63% of waking hours and it is a common complaint area on Twitter.

Now a development project is moving forward that is currently on-track to duplicate these same mistakes. JBG Smith’s 1900 Crystal Drive project proposes to build two large residential towers on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Streets. The project will upgrade the sidewalks on its street frontage and provide new on-street parking spaces, but it proposes unprotected, paint-only bike lanes on both Crystal Drive and 18th Street.

To make matters worse, the project proposes significant new retail all along Crystal Drive and the corner of 18th and Crystal Drive will eventually be home to a 2nd entrance to the Crystal City Metro Station. The Metro station entrance and the new retail will generate significant pick-up and drop-off activity; where will people do this pick-up and drop-off? Where will people park for “just a minute” while they run into the retail? Our experience on Crystal Drive and Hayes Street give us the answer: in the bike lane.

Calls during the Site Plan Review (SPRC) process to provide a protected bike lane along the street frontages have not been accepted by staff, at least as of the last SPRC meeting. Staff acknowledges that the Crystal Drive bike lanes are a problem, but maintain that two blocks of protected bike lane in front of this one development aren’t helpful and that instead the County must find a comprehensive solution for this entire stretch and that the curb-to-curb width being provided by the development is sufficient for this.

Unfortunately, they have not provided a plan to find this comprehensive solution. They have not indicated a timeline for finding this comprehensive solution. They have not identified a funding source for this comprehensive solution.

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

Happy New Year, it’s 2020. This is the year the combined Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar system was scheduled to open.

Streetcar opponents like Libby Garvey and Peter Rousselot said a “Modern Bus Rapid Transit System” could be implemented much more quickly than a streetcar, so let’s check-in to see how things are progressing.

What was proposed?

When the Arlington Streetcar was initially looked at, the County had to do an Alternatives Analysis (AA) (actually, they did several AAs, but that’s a long story). In the final AA, they compared the Streetcar Alternative to a “No Build” alternative and two different bus alternatives.

The “No Build” alternative was basically to see what happens if we continue with the status quo and some improvements that were already in the Capital Improvement Plan. The first bus alternative, called “TSM-1” was an “enhanced bus” service that made some minor improvements but didn’t really have a big impact. The second bus alternative called “TSM-2” made a lot of improvements and, at least on paper, was projected to provide nearly the same benefits as the Streetcar alternative for a lot less money.

This TSM-2 alternative is what many streetcar opponents championed as a “Modern BRT” system and encouraged the County to implement in place of the Arlington Streetcar. The system I am going to outline below and set forth as my expectations is mostly defined by that TSM-2 alternative, but I will add in a few additional items related to Crystal City.

The planned Arlington Streetcar system was made up of two projects: the Columbia Pike Streetcar and the Crystal City Streetcar, which, at least early on were on two different schedules and were being funded separately but would have ultimately been an integrated system. The bus system that replaces it needs to meet some of those same needs.

Arlington is calling their bus plan the Columbia Pike Premium Transit Network (PTN), not BRT. Likely this is to avoid the whole controversy about whether TSM-2 qualifies as BRT or not. From here on out I will stick to Arlington’s nomenclature.

Why is the Pike Premium Transit Network Important?

Columbia Pike is the densest residential area of Arlington outside of the Metrorail corridors. The Columbia Pike Initiative worked to plan for a re-imagined Columbia Pike that would be a walkable Main Street area rather than the car-dominated commuter arterial with surface parking lots and drive-throughs. The Columbia Pike Form-based Code and Neighborhoods Plan were designed to guide that redevelopment, and improved transit on Columbia Pike is needed to ensure that at least some of the new neighbors who come to the Pike as part of that transformation can live car-free or car-light lives, since Columbia Pike isn’t getting any wider.

Key Features

So what does the Pike Premium Transit Network need to support that transformation? It needs to be fast, convenient, dependable and high capacity. TSM-2 had a number of features each of which played an important role in one or more of those areas and together they elevate it above the existing bus service.

Travel Time Features

  • Off-Vehicle Fare Collection
  • Multi-door Boarding
  • Stop Consolidation
  • Transit Signal Priority

Convenience & Dependability Features

  1. All-Day, Everyday Operation
  2. 2-3 minute peak frequency
  3. 4 minute off-peak frequency
  4. Enhanced Transit Stations

Capacity Features

  1. High-Capacity Vehicles

Additionally, I would add the following as necessary to truly replace the combined Columbia Pike / Crystal City system:

  • Dedicated Transit Lanes (in Crystal City)
  • A one-seat ride from Skyline to Crystal City

What’s to Come

In future columns, I will explain why each of these features is important to the Pike’s Premium Transit Network, look at how Arlington is doing at implementing each feature and ultimately give the County a grade on how close we have come to the originally-envisioned alternative. Stay tuned.

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.

Arlington has over 30 acres of valuable public real estate that it is terribly mismanaging.

The County provides it to some, but not all residents for the express purpose of storing their private property. Some residents can use it for free, others pay a tiny pittance of $20 per year. Many residents, primarily the young and least affluent are forbidden from using it at all. Virtually every inch of it has been paved over.

Perhaps worst of all, those special residents who are allowed to use it, rarely do so. Over 50% of the time this land is sitting completely empty.

I’m speaking, of course, about Arlington’s on-street Residential Parking Permit Program parking spaces.

You’d be forgiven for not realizing any of this — the conversations about on-street parking in the County would make you think the exact opposite. You can’t show up at a development approval public hearing without hearing about the parking scarcity in Arlington. Penrose’s “parking crisis” is a regular topic of conversation at my neighborhood’s Civic Association meetings.

The cold, hard, data from the County’s parking occupancy study paints a very different picture, however. While on-street parking on commercial corridors is often at 85-100% occupancy, especially during evening hours, neighborhood streets with Residential Parking Permit (RPP) restrictions average less than 50% occupancy, even in the hours when those RPP restrictions aren’t in effect. During school hours, nearly every residential block in the County’s detailed study area is under 50%.

In a County as space-constrained as Arlington, we simply must make better use of this public land. Our tax money is used to maintain it; its imperviousness worsens flood risks for all of our homes; and as long as it is on-street parking, it cannot be rain gardens, parklets or bike infrastructure to get our kids safely to school.

Two current problems facing the County could greatly benefit from this land, and some simple changes to the RPP program could accomplish them.

First, Restaurant Row on 23rd St in Crystal City, which is home to many dearly-loved and locally-owned restaurants has very little dedicated parking. This recently received a lot of renewed attention due to the potential redevelopment of a private parking lot in the immediate vicinity. One business owner, specifically lamented the loss of lunch business in his testimony to the Transportation Commission. A large part of the loss of nearby parking near Restaurant Row, is due to those blocks acquiring RPP restrictions of the last decade.

While some sort of restrictions may be necessary to prevent commuter parking, the existing RPP restrictions have clearly gone much, much too far, especially when it comes to during the work day. Nearly all of the nearby blocks are under 60% occupancy at lunch time on weekdays.

There are several ways the RPP program could be changed that would help support these businesses without overly burdening nearby residents. Two hour parking could be allowed in RPP zones without a zone permit. To make this easier to enforce, parking meters could be installed. If this might result in too much commercial parking it could be limited to only during the work day, or only on one side of the street.

Second, the expansion of Arlington’s Career Center is currently working its way through Public Facilities Review Committee and how to accommodate the school’s parking needs is one of the hottest topics of conversation. The County estimates that the expanded Career Center will need 400-500 total parking spaces.

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

Every year, the DC region spends over half a million dollars on the Street Smart safety campaign. With pedestrian fatalities reaching their highest levels in decades, that budget is a resource we need to be maximizing to improve safety outcomes.

Instead, the campaign seems more concerned with watered-down messages that won’t offend anyone and visual gimmicks that catch your eye and jog your memory – but don’t actually send a useful message.

You’ve probably seen these ads before. For years it was tired faces, lately it’s shattered lives. The evocative imagery is great for getting you to remember that you’ve seen these ads, but doesn’t necessarily help you take away any sort of useful message from them.

The results are pretty abysmal, especially amongst drivers – those whose behavior is most likely to harm another individual. Only 13% of drivers surveyed could even remember seeing a Street Smart ad. The after-campaign survey either doesn’t try to determine if the “messages” of the campaign are getting through, or the results are so bad they don’t include them in the report.

The survey does highlight a remarkable amount of self-reported lawlessness and dangerous behavior – in the prior week alone, 23% reported that they have failed to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, 60% reported speeding in a 30 mph zone.

The worst part of all of this as that there is actually a lot of important things that need to be said about traffic safety. We have new infrastructure on our roads that didn’t exist when most drivers on the road today were learning. Street Smart could be teaching people about Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons and HAWK signals, about Bike Boxes and Protected Intersections.

Additionally, Street Smart could be actually informing us instead of admonishing us. We all know we should slow down; we should look, we should give cyclists some space on the road. Is being told one more time really going to push someone over the edge to start behaving? Or would it be more effective to explain HOW speeding contributes to crashes, or why they’re more likely to hit a pedestrian while they’re making a left turn than if they’re making a right turn?

Finally, Street Smart needs to keep the focus where it can do the most good – on the behavior of those mostly like to harm others: drivers.

Yes, safety is a shared responsibility, yes there are things that everyone can do that can help a bit here and there, but you lose credibility with cyclists and pedestrians when you’re admonishing them to “be visible” and “be predictable” and “wear reflective clothing” while drivers regularly crash into stationary, well-lit and reflective objects. No amount of high-vis or carefulness can save you from a single distracted or careless driver – to say otherwise can quickly devolve into victim blaming.

Thankfully, Street Smart has gotten better about this over the last few years. And thankfully – the latest campaigns are a considerable step up from warning pedestrians “If you text, you’re next” or “don’t be caught dead wearing black.”

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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