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by Chris Teale December 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm 0

It’s the weekend, and tonight and tomorrow might bring our first snow of the season.

This week has been dominated by talk of the new I-66 HOT lanes, and accusations against two elementary school teachers.

These were our most read stories this week:

  1. Taylor Elementary P.E. Teachers Accused of Smoking Marijuana in School
  2. Tolls High As I-66 Express Lanes Launch
  3. Virginia State Police: Get Ready for I-66 Changes Monday
  4. Italian Store Seeking Return of Stolen Vespa
  5. Shots Fired Sunday Night in Nauck

And these received the most comments:

  1. Tolls High As I-66 Express Lanes Launch
  2. Taylor Elementary P.E. Teachers Accused of Smoking Marijuana in School
  3. Morning Poll: What’s the Most You Would Pay for I-66 Tolls?
  4. Morning Notes (December 6)
  5. Virginia State Police: Get Ready for I-66 Changes Monday

Discuss anything of local interest below. Have a great weekend!

Flickr pool photo by eschweik

by Mark Kelly December 7, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Tolls are reported to have reached as high as $40 on I-66 this week. A Republican bill to block those tolls failed last year after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) expressed his strong opposition. The Governor dismissed concerns the tolls would ever reach close to $20.

Maybe you are happy with the Governor’s decision because people who drive through Arlington to get to DC should be taken to the cleaners by the tolls. Maybe you have had to pay one yourself.

One thing is for sure – elections have consequences.

In Arlington, Democrats have completely dominated county government for the past three decades. A Republican or Independent has been elected, but never more than one at a time.

Every action taken by the Arlington County government is 100 percent owned by the Democratic Party here in Arlington. Sure, they occasionally try to blame Richmond or Washington, particularly when they can preface those statements with the words “Republicans in.”

And once in a while Richmond does take a direct swipe at Arlington, see the hotel tax or the recent towing ordinance (which Democratic state Sen. Barbara Favola helped overturn along with Governor McAuliffe).  But those are the exceptions, not the rule.

At no time did we ever see that elections had consequences here in Arlington more than 2014. After John Vihstadt won the special election early in the year, largely on the issue that the Columbia Pike Streetcar represented a big county boondoggle, Democrats claimed it was a low turnout fluke. The County Board continued to march forward with the plan. Within days of Vihstadt winning handily again in November, the County Board canceled the controversial project.

Voters should understand that the Board did not do a 180 degree turn on the project. Both Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes still wanted it to go forward. However, they recognized political realities. If they insisted on moving forward, they could lose additional seats on the Board.

Outside of the aquatics center, the issues before the Board now do not rise to the same level of “shiny object” as the streetcar. However, over the long term, they matter just as much.

How will we manage school enrollment? What will we do with metro? Will we continue to favor anti-car transportation policies which create more congestion on our streets? How will we invest in infrastructure? Will our budget process be transparent and will the Board continue to favor a budgeting process that requires annual tax increases? How will the county improve its permitting processes?

No level of government impacts your everyday life more than your local government. It was encouraging to see the voters be willing to set partisanship aside in 2014 and put an independent voice on the Arlington County Board. The need for that voice has not gone away just because the streetcar is in the rear view mirror.

by Progressive Voice December 7, 2017 at 3:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Elaine Furlow

If we think national problems seem intractable, and national players so at odds that nothing positive will ever get done, let’s flash back to 1787 and the men who wrote the Constitution.

You think our problems today are complicated? Try creating a brand new system of government, when no colony had ever become independent. Try creating a presidency, when everyone else in the 18th century believed in monarchy. Try balancing a strong, unified national structure with prideful states large and small (“All use the same money? No way!”).

From May to September they kept at it, testing ideas, working compromises and concepts. After five months, still worried whether individual states would vote to ratify, they felt ready.

About now, the skeptics among you may be thinking, “Yes, but that was different. Those guys were hell-bent to work through the obstacles and somehow find a way. It’s not like that now.”

On a national level, perhaps not. But in Virginia and Arlington, we have an opportunity — an obligation, even — to lead in just that get-it-done way, despite the harmful policies some office-holders are pushing nationally. Democratic elected officials in Arlington hold the majority, Virginia’s new governor and newly-elected crop of state delegates have buoyed our spirits and options for problem-solving.

Our opportunity is listening to people on gut issues to help solve problems (in Arlington: transportation, housing costs, school space; in Virginia: health care, the economy and transportation, for starters). States and communities like ours can be a beacon of good governing right now.

One challenge is getting to answers more decisively – more like the five months for the Constitution instead of today’s five+ years deciding about lights at Williamsburg field. In 2018, when the interests of citizens or policy-makers diverge, can we somehow streamline the route to effective decisions?

Everybody can help on this – elected leaders, residents, professional staff. Parents and schools can look for ways to show students how constructive politics makes a difference.

I am recalling construction of the skateboard park on Wilson Blvd years ago, when fifth graders took an energetic part in debating regulations on wearing safety pads and helmets. (Students were dumbfounded when adults said it would take several more meetings to get that decided.) Can we keep people involved but find new ways to simplify decision-making?

Yes, “things are complicated, and take time.” So some Arlington activists and officials create more task forces, meetings and timelines that stretch patience thin. Instead, let’s innovate on encouraging more people to invest themselves in Arlington’s concerns, perhaps in simpler or different ways that make sense for them.

Lately national companies like Scotts (lawn care) and Home Depot have tried a new tack to reach millennials. The problem, they realized, was young people didn’t know the basics, like how to hang Christmas lights, or plant seedlings where the sun can reach them. Some companies developed simple online tutorials, like “how to use a tape measure.”

“Too condescending?” worried one Home Depot executive in a Wall Street Journal article. Apparently not. The short, basic messaging proved successful in attracting young people who had just grown up differently, much less familiar with gardening or home maintenance.

We civic leaders and politicians could take a cue. To attract people of all ages back to democracy on the ground, maybe we need to hew harder to the basics. Democrats believe democratic government is a good thing – we celebrate its role in ensuring clean air and water, good public education, health care, fairness, opportunity and more. Looking to 2018, we need to prove we can solve problems more resolutely, more quickly, while still respecting thoughts and cares from people on gut issues.

And for any who doubt big problems can be solved, and solved more quickly? Remember those determined people crafting the Constitution long ago. Five months of work, all day long, to slog through competing interests and find workable solutions, through even the dog days of August. And with no air conditioning.

Elaine Furlow served eight years as an Arlington School Board member. She was Director, Strategy and Planning for AARP until her recent retirement.

by Peter Rousselot December 7, 2017 at 2:45 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

ARLnow.com reported last week that the County Board is planning to vote at a public hearing in December to allow the creation of “Housing Conservation Districts.”

The currently-proposed districts are bordered in yellow on this map accompanying that ARLnow story:

Discussion

The vote the Board should cast this month is to send the entire Housing Conservation District proposal back to the drawing board.

There are far too many serious:

  • policy questions that require months’ more study, analysis, and civic engagement
  • legal issues, including possible Fifth Amendment regulatory takings

Some of these concerns were highlighted by speakers at the recessed County Board meeting on November 27.

These concerns cannot be resolved appropriately this month.

It makes no sense to vote on the advertised Phase I without a full understanding of all the implications of Phase II (or any other subsequent phases).

Some of the things we don’t know about Phase II include:

  1. Property rights of existing owners: The owners’ value/rights might be enhanced by adding more development options, or might be diminished because the committed affordable (CAF) requirements and other things extracted in exchange for added density are too high to make it worth it. Favorable details would reduce law suit risks for the County (regulatory takings); unfavorable details would enhance such risks. Significantly, on November 27, major developer and ownership interests appeared, expressed willingness to work transparently on the details with the County and its residents, but strongly opposed a vote in December on the phased process envisioned in the advertisement.
  2. Effects on affordable housing: If the policy on net tilts towards allowing new building options, vs being focused on restricting redevelopment, this might prompt the addition of a lot more units. But, details are critical. How many market rate units would be added (helping put downward pressure on price in that segment) vs how many are CAFs, adding to supply in that segment? If the burdens placed/number of extractions demanded for this new development are too high, then we essentially rope off prime land.
  3. Budgetary implications: Who knows, and how can it be prudent to proceed without knowing? One staff slide had a line on it, “funding source needs to be identified.” Is this going to be a new public expenditure/a tax exemption? Is this going to be another transfer/extraction from developers, which could further push up market rate rents? What are the impacts on school funding, etc., etc.?
  4. Neighborhood interests: How much density will be added and where will it be added? Will the added options still have to conform to the current height and dwelling unit restrictions? Is it just about making infill easier within current limits, or is this about true up-zoning? For properties like these which are not in the Metro corridors, traffic and parking impacts do become great concerns, but since critical details are unknown, the neighbors, the public and the County Board are all left clueless.

Conclusion

Arlington’s Economic Development Commission has voted unanimously against this way of proceeding. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce, various other business groups, and the Lee Highway Alliance oppose the process and timeline envisioned by the advertisement.

What’s the rush?

Don’t vote on Phase I until the Arlington community fully understands all the implications of all the phases.

by ARLnow.com December 6, 2017 at 10:55 am 0

The sky-high tolls for solo rush hour drivers on the newly-launched I-66 HOT lanes are prompting outrage and incredulity among some commuters and local outside-the-Beltway lawmakers.

Tolls higher than $30 — for the trip from I-495 to D.C. — have been reported since the HOT lanes launched on Monday. The new system replaces the former HOV-only rush hour regime with one that also allows solo drivers to pay, while eliminating exemptions for fuel efficient vehicles and those heading to Dulles airport.

Today, lower tolls — peaking around $23.50 — were reported, though that is still well above the $7-9 tolls originally predicted by VDOT. Meanwhile, traffic on alternative east-west arteries, like Route 50, has increased since the tolls went into effect.

VDOT says the toll prices are demand-based, which presumably means that some drivers are choosing to pay upwards of $30 for a one-way trip to the Roosevelt Bridge.

For those of means, along with bus riders and carpoolers, the change has at least resulted in a breeze of a commute on I-66 — higher average speeds during peak times than before the change. The average speed during Monday and Tuesday’s commutes was 57 miles per hour, according to VDOT.

Should VDOT decide to lower toll prices, it might result in slowdowns and congestion, some fear.

So what would be the price most people would be willing to pay? Let’s find out.

by Chris Teale December 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm 0

It’s been a busy week, filled with important decisions.

Only today, the National Park Service announced it will spend more than $200 million to repair and rehabilitate Memorial Bridge, while the County Board voted this week to allocate its closeout funds and encourage more “accessory dwelling units.”

Elsewhere, a survey found that more residents would cycle if there were more protected bike lanes available for use, and Second Lady Karen Pence will appear on community radio station WERA next week.

And ahead of the 2018 legislative session, Arlington’s lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly will have a go at renaming Jefferson Davis Highway and getting dedicated funding for Metro.

These were our most-read stories this week:

  1. Police Investigating Death in Pentagon City
  2. Morning Notes (November 27)
  3. Crime Report: Masked Man Seen Pleasuring Self in Courthouse
  4. Report Shows Disparities in Income, Health Care Across Arlington
  5. County Board Approves Long Bridge Park Aquatics Center Contract

Discuss anything of local interest in the comments below. Have a great weekend!

Flickr pool photo by The BeltWalk

by Mark Kelly November 30, 2017 at 4:15 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

It was a busy week for the County Board. They made the final allocations of the $25.5 million of revenue that came in over the original budget projections for the 2017 fiscal year, as well as the $5.2 million of unspent funds in the closeout process.

The Board also approved borrowing for an additional $60 million for the new aquatics center.

Granted, the previous cost of the proposed project was inching closer to $100 million. Assuming that this project is at or near the top of “must-haves” for Arlington, the Board should not hurt their arms patting themselves on the back for saving money. We still have no reliable estimate for what the ongoing operating costs for the pool will be. A safe bet is more than the $1 million figure currently being discussed.

Also, it is important to remember the bond funding proposal approved by voters never included the words “aquatics center” or “pool.” It said “parks and recreation.”

This is why many of us have called for projects of this size to be the subject of stand-alone bond votes. If Board members are so sure county residents want the project, then they should have the political courage to let the project rise or fall on its own merits.

Borrowing money because you can is not only a terrible reason to do it, it puts you in a box for future project that are “needs” not “wants.” Board Member John Vihstadt essentially pointed this out when he outlined his opposition to the aquatics center plan.

But the Board does not even need to use new borrowing to pay for the pool. They had two other options that seemed to receive no serious consideration.

  1. Add the pool to a new middle or high school. Contrary to the sales presentation from county staff, this new pool is not walkable for many people, and it is certainly not close to any school.
  2. The no new bonding authority option. Using some of the closeout funds this year and the next two years, along with reprogramming from existing bonding authority to cover the costs of the project.

Yes, using some or all of the closeout funds would mean less bonus revenue would be transferred to the schools the next two years. But like the county, the schools are running a revenue to expenditure surplus in their budget already.

Contrary to tales of woe the School Board may tell, APS is not scraping by financially even with the influx of students. And by saving room for bonding authority, it would ensure no future school building is held up because we are spread thin by borrowing for county projects.

It was also disappointing to see the Board continue its tradition of putting forward budget guidance documents that assume a fictional “budget gap” despite taking in more than $25 million of additional tax revenue last year (just like every year).

by Progressive Voice November 30, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Bill Rice

Although Virginia’s gubernatorial race was filled with contentious disagreement, there were a few subjects where the candidates saw eye-to-eye.

One such subject was Virginia’s felony larceny threshold. Both Governor-Elect Ralph Northam and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie agreed: Virginia’s current threshold of $200 is far too low, counter to a productive society and effective criminal justice system, and morally repugnant.

Virginia Code § 18.2-95 defines the theft of anything valued $200 or more as grand larceny — a felony. Anything less constitutes petit larceny, a misdemeanor. This threshold hasn’t been altered since 1980 and remains tied for the nation’s lowest. Accounting for inflation, $200 in 1980 is tantamount to nearly $600 today.

Punishment for grand larceny in Virginia includes either 1) a minimum of a year in state prison or 2) up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.

Those convicted of grand larceny also face, as ex-offenders, barriers to housing, healthcare, and employment. In Virginia, felons are prohibited from voting, jury duty, running for office, and firearm ownership.

Denying individuals such civic and economic participation not only has moral implications, but also negatively affects our economy and society. People who could be productive, contributing members of society are instead ostracized and pushed back into the costly criminal justice system.

This doesn’t just pertain to adults: with larceny being the top category for 2017 juvenile arrests in Virginia, it’s no surprise our Commonwealth leads the nation in the “school-to-prison pipeline,” with juveniles referred into the criminal justice system at three times the national average.

Furthermore, can we honestly say that $200 today is a large enough sum of money to warrant punishment from which it is very hard to rebuild a productive life?

We regularly adjust other monetary legal thresholds in accordance with inflation, such as lobbyist contribution reporting laws for political committees or auditing laws for organizations doing business with the federal government.

If large corporations and politicians regularly benefit from reasonable adjustments to legal monetary thresholds, why shouldn’t this apply to a confused youth caught shoplifting a pair of Beats headphones?

Opponents of raising the threshold, like the National Retail Federation (NRT), argue that such action would increase shoplifting and other theft. But there is an abundance of facts that say otherwise.

The most extensive data on this subject comes from a 2016 Pew Charitable Trusts study on 28 states that raised their felony larceny thresholds between 2001 and 2011.

Pew concluded that “changes in state felony thresholds have not interrupted the long nationwide decline in property crime and larceny rates that began in the early 1990s,” adding that “the amount of a state’s felony threshold…is not correlated with its property crime and larceny rates.”

Similarly, opponents of raising Virginia’s felony larceny threshold often argue that California’s Proposition 47, which, among other things, raised the state’s felony larceny threshold to $950, led to an increase in property crime.

However, Proposition 47 was a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that did much more than simply raise the larceny threshold. Also, it has only been in effect for about two years, leading the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice to say “it is too early to conclusively determine whether or not Prop 47 has had an impact on crime.”

NRT also cites unscientific information from its annual survey on organized retail crime (ORC) to argue that retail crime is on the rise. But this survey draws from an extremely limited and unrepresentative sample size and puts retailers’ perceptions ahead of hard data.

For example, the survey claims “100 percent of retailers surveyed believe they have been a victim of ORC in the past 12 months” without actual data supporting this belief. In fact, most of the reliable data available on these subjects clearly contradicts such claims.

Despite the overwhelming data, people may still have concerns. Thankfully, the Virginia State Crime Commission presents a compromise — raise the felony larceny threshold but create two types of petit larceny.

Larceny up to $200 would still constitute petit larceny with the current penalties. Larceny between $200 and the new monetary threshold would constitute “Aggravated Petit Larceny,” a Class 1 misdemeanor with heavier penalties.

Whether Virginia raises its felony larceny threshold to $500, $1,000, or more, one thing is clear: the current threshold is too low and there is bipartisan support to raise it reasonably. Let’s make it happen.

Bill Rice is co-chair of the Arlington Young Democrats’ Justice and Immigration Caucus. He serves as a volunteer in the Arlington community and has worked on a number of political campaigns. He currently works as a government contractor. He has previously written about Virginia’s felony larceny threshold for the Richmond Public Interest Law Review.

by Peter Rousselot November 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In the last segment of its November 28 work session, the School Board discussed a proposed “Framework” for its forthcoming FY 2019-28 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). APS will begin formal planning for its new CIP in January.

Discussion

Given competing demands on Arlington County’s budget, APS’ leadership must adopt a much more cost-conscious approach at every stage of its capital budgeting processes. New enrollment growth projections are now expected in mid-December.

There have been some glimmers of hope.

At an Board meeting earlier this year, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy acknowledged that he was “hearing from the community some concern about the CIP,” and that for future new school construction projects “there will be three flavors of budgets: Low, Medium and High.” (See video between 1:37:30 and 1:40:25.)

Murphy’s new approach needs to be very closely scrutinized to be sure that the 3 flavors of budgets are not “high, higher, and highest.”

Another glimmer of hope arises from the decision by the School Board’s internal auditor to examine how APS’ school construction costs compare to those in other jurisdictions. But, the auditor’s work product also will need close scrutiny, as the Sun-Gazette recently editorialized:

We’re hopeful that the auditor’s report on construction provides a true window into reality, not a whitewashed look by focusing on a narrow cadre of school districts with similar spending mentalities.

There are several things we must do together as a community to ensure that APS:

  • does provide the best fiscally-prudent new seats for our students, but
  • does not continue to spend money on capital projects “like the spigot would never run dry”

First, the County Board needs to be clear regarding how much capital spending will be available to APS in each of the ten years in the next CIP.

Second, as construction costs rise, School Board members must become much more proactive with their own staff by insisting upon cost-consciousness and new strategies in building construction and renovation.

Third, we need reformed civic engagement processes in which the public can weigh in early enough concerning a manageable number of budget-driving alternative options. We cannot continue with processes in which citizens or staff are enabled to add one feature after another, never being told what the costs of doing so are nor that APS can afford X or Y but not both.

Recently, a very savvy schools’ activist shared with me her kitchen-table solution for the problems with APS’ past approach to school construction and renovation:

For our home renovation, my husband and I decided on our total budget for the renovation FIRST, then as we were designing the house with the architect, we kept insisting on getting some high-level price estimates so we could decide if we wanted to continue going down [that] path.  

With APS, they do have some high-level planning with the CIP to set some general parameters for budget, but it’s my perception that it’s been the norm to involve the public through various engagement processes, like Building Level Planning Committees, completely disassociating it with any cost estimates/total budget, and of course, very few people are making cost-conscious suggestions when it’s treated as Wish Lists with open checkbooks.  

Conclusion

In the past, School Board members too frequently have rationalized high construction and renovation costs.

Now they need a new attitude: we can do more for less money.

by Chris Teale November 22, 2017 at 6:00 pm 0

The long Thanksgiving weekend is here.

If you’re traveling, be careful on the roads, and be aware that lines at Reagan National Airport may be on the long side.

And if you’re staying in the area, remember that the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City will be celebrating Black Friday with various deals, giveaways and long hours.

Before we disappear to eat turkey, let’s take a quick look back at this shortened week.

These were our most read stories:

  1. Protestors Call on Harris Teeter to Improve Access to Emergency Contraception
  2. DEVELOPING: Detectives Investigating Death at Dunkin Donuts
  3. Woodbridge Man Charged with Assaulting Woman in Clarendon
  4. Morning Notes (November 21)
  5. Jumping Joeys Children’s Gym Closed in Virginia Square

And these received the most comments:

  1. Protestors Call on Harris Teeter to Improve Access to Emergency Contraception
  2. Morning Notes (November 21)
  3. Board Approves Reduced Parking Plan at New Buildings Near Metro Stations
  4. Woodbridge Man Charged with Assaulting Woman in Clarendon
  5. Meanwhile in D.C. (November 21)

We’ll be back reporting on Monday, barring any breaking news over the long weekend. In the meantime, feel free to discuss anything of local interest in the comments.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo by Twitter user @ZacharyWahl

by ARLnow.com November 22, 2017 at 9:45 am 0

Thanksgiving is a day away and Christmas music is beginning to be played in malls and on the radio.

While it’s not quite frosty enough for a white Thanksgiving, a winter wonderland may be on the minds of local residents after a disappointing season for snow lovers last year.

This year, D.C. forecasters are calling for a snowier season, with anywhere between 10-20 inches of snow expected to fall on Arlington and the District. About 15 inches of snow is the average.

What are you hoping for this year — a white Christmas and plenty of sledding opportunities, or another winter of not much shoveling and windshield scraping?

by Chris Teale November 17, 2017 at 10:00 pm 0

It’s the end of another busy week.

In news you might have missed, “Spaces” is now open in the former Artisphere in Rosslyn, while TechShop in Crystal City was forced to close as the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Joel McHale sat down for an interview ahead of his performance at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, while in that same neighborhood, advocates say Columbia Pike is getting a “big boost” three years on from the streetcar cancellation.

Mister Days in Clarendon celebrates its 40th anniversary, while the campaign managers from the recent Governor’s race reflected on the election on Monday night.

And from today, the new Dunkin’ Donuts is open in Clarendon. Celebrations continue tomorrow.

These were our most-read stories this week:

  1. UPDATE: Missing Woman Found in Arlington
  2. Sources: Crystal City a Likely Finalist for Amazon’s HQ2
  3. Morning Notes (October 13)
  4. Letter: New Middle School Boundaries Must Respect County’s Diversity
  5. Police Searching for Missing Woman

Feel free to discuss anything of local interest in the comments. Have a great weekend!

Flickr pool photo by Bekah Richards

by ARLnow.com November 17, 2017 at 10:45 am 0

The following letter was written by Aurora Hills resident Ashli Douglas about the county’s Complete Streets Program and traffic congestion in her neighborhood that she said was exacerbated by changes to S. Eads Steet.

To the Editor:

Arlington has embarked on a transportation vision of providing a safe environment for all travel modes, also known as the Complete Streets Program.  Today I’m sharing a story of how this transportation vision for complete streets has played out in one Arlington County neighborhood, Aurora Hills.

As I reread the Arlington transportation presentation for our project on S. Eads St. from 2014, it occurred to me how benign and utopian the project seemed. That should have been the first clue.  Arlington was going to move more people without more traffic and they were going to protect our single-family neighborhood.  All good, what’s not to like?

And then came the medians, protected bike lanes, bike rental rack and central to all of this, the complete removal of two lanes of a four-lane street – S. Eads Street.  What could possibly go wrong?

So now we have the same (but probably more) number of cars on the same road with less lanes.  This is where the fairytale turns to a nightmare…enter aggressive driving and cut-through traffic.

I live on what Arlington refers to as a Minor Neighborhood Street, in which the distinctive feature of these streets is the nearly exclusive orientation to providing access to residences.  It also happens to be a one lane yield street!

One block away is S. Eads Street, an Arterial Street, by definition, the street primarily provides through travel rather that solely for access to adjacent properties.  According to Arlington’s street elements policies that are part of the county wide master transportation plan, streets should “…improve the efficiency of vehicular operation on arterial streets to minimize diversion of traffic onto neighborhood streets.”

So you see where this is going.  Since our arterial street has reduced capacity, the cars all cut-through our neighborhood street.  And just to be clear, we are not talking about a few cars.  We are talking over 1,300 commuters a day.

How do we know?  Since the county refused to share data or provide any form of relief to our neighborhood, we hired a certified traffic data collection firm to conduct traffic counts on November 1 and 2, a Wednesday and Thursday.  The counts were 1,347 and 1,369 respectively.

Our one lane section of S. Fern St. simply cannot handle this traffic.  According to Arlington County historical traffic counts, last performed in 2011 on our street, they measured 500 cars on a daily average. What a difference a “Complete Street” makes.  We now have approximately 600 cars who rip down the same street in a three-hour period  our school bus is dropping off children.

It is no longer safe for our children to play even near the street due to the cut-through traffic. We have experienced over 160 percent increase in vehicles, the majority with DC and MD tags that simply cut through our neighborhood to avoid the congestion morass on S. Eads Street.

As frustrated parents, neighbors and Arlington county citizens, we, individually as neighbors in an eight-block area, and collectively through our civic association have been engaged with the county for over a year to no avail.  We have requested that the county protect our neighborhood, and specifically, mitigate the cut-through traffic that originates on S. Eads Street and cuts through our neighborhood on S. Fern Street between 26th Street S. and 23rd Street S.

Our eight-block area has become a virtual highway of dangerous cut through traffic with constant stop sign running, speeding and hit and run accidents, and fearful and angry parents at Arlington county elementary school bus stops.

The S. Eads Complete Street project has been a complete disaster for the residents in our neighborhood and despite our continual pleas for help for nearly a year to protect our single family neighborhood; we have had no relief.

We will not give up our neighborhood and we demand the county remedy the problem they created.  And for anyone else that may be facing a complete street project – consider yourself forewarned.

Ashli Douglas has lived in Aurora Hills for 16 years and is the mom to two elementary school-aged children.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes letters about issues of local interest. To submit your thoughts for consideration, please email [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

by Mark Kelly November 16, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

This week ARLnow posted a letter to the editor on the ongoing school boundary discussions:

For full disclosure, our children have always attended South Arlington schools, and we currently have at least one child in elementary, middle, and high school. They ride a bus to elementary school and high school and are in the walk zone for middle school.

The author’s thesis seems to be that diversity in our schools should be given the highest priority. The author says it is “arguably best for the future of the entire school system, and in turn, the country.” Though nowhere does the author argue why other than calling it a “value” of the county.

I hope the underlying suggestion is not that if an Arlington school has more low income kids, by definition it offers an inferior educational experience? Lower incomes in a community could be a major factor in an area where a school district is relying on a limited tax base for funding, but it is certainly not for lack of financial resources here in Arlington.

If any school is not performing here, then there should be pressure on the school board, the superintendent, the principal, and the teachers to fix what’s going on at the school immediately.

The author does note that 55 percent of families with middle schoolers live in the walk zone. In the next paragraph, the author argues that this is a “small group,” a subset of Arlington that should not be allowed to use proximity to override diversity as a priority.

But it’s not a small group. It’s a majority of the families which is why the school board should give them a great deal of consideration when considering school boundaries. And many of them value their proximity to school, and it’s not a value limited to North Arlington.

School boundary decisions are never easy. Some families will be forced to move schools. There is no way to avoid it. But after reading this letter, it is still unclear why forcing more kids to move in the name of diversity would be best for our kids, Arlington’s school system, or “the country.”

While the School Board sorts through the landmines of the boundary issue, on November 28 the County Board will consider whether to award a $60 million contract for a new aquatics center.

The price tag is still high considering they could add an expanded pool facility onto the next high school or middle school building at a fraction of the cost. Maybe they could even set aside closeout funds the next two years to pay for it rather than borrow more money.

by Progressive Voice November 16, 2017 at 3:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Rip Sullivan

Amid the wreckage of the 2016 Presidential election, I was inundated by folks — reliable activists and, more importantly, lots of new faces – wanting to push back against the policies and, importantly, the style of politics Donald Trump was peddling.

They wanted to do something — immediately. As House Democratic Caucus Campaign Chair, I stressed the importance of the upcoming November 7 election. In response, people exclaimed that they wanted to do something that weekend.

That desire to “do something,” birthed an historic wave election.

I have been asked repeatedly since last Tuesday whether we really expected to win this many seats. My answer is that we knew we could, so we developed a strategy to ensure that, if a wave developed, Democrats and our supporters would be positioned to capitalize in races across the Commonwealth.

And did we ever capitalize.

As with every election, we knew turnout would be the difference. Would that desire to do something translate into votes from folks we really needed to get to the polls? Would people tune in to these important House of Delegates races, or wait until next year’s Congressional elections, or even 2020, to make their opposition to the Trump agenda heard?

The answer? Not only were Virginians paying attention, they were ready to vote in record numbers. Democratic House candidates ran issues-oriented, substantive campaigns and installed unprecedented get-out-the-vote operations to make sure their voters turned out. About 47 percent of Virginia’s eligible voting population went to the polls, the highest percentage turnout in a gubernatorial year in two decades.

As I write this, Democrats have swept all three statewide seats and picked up a minimum of 15 House seats. The House majority is still in play.

What is still undecided?

Three House of Delegates races — the 28th, 40th, and 94th Districts — are still up in the air. The reasons vary. Voters who cast provisional ballots because, for example, they forgot to bring their driver’s license to the polls, could by November 13 submit acceptable photo ID to their local registration office.

In the 28th District, controversy swirls due to a Registrar’s refusal to count 55 absentee ballots delivered to the registrar’s office by Wednesday, November 8 and Democrats have filed a federal lawsuit to force the Registrar to count these votes.

There are allegations that in “split precincts” in the 28th District, 600+ voters were given the wrong ballots, potentially costing Democrat Joshua Cole, currently trailing Republican Bob Thomas by 82 votes, enough votes to win the election. It is likely all three races will proceed to a recount.

Regardless of whether Democrats reach 51 votes in the House of Delegates, a few things are clear.

First, it is a new day in Richmond. Our 34-member House Democratic Caucus has grown by at least 15 members. No matter what our eventual number is, we will have new influence. New clout. The Republicans ignore us at their peril.

Second, from Medicaid expansion to women’s reproductive rights to environmental issues and more, the General Assembly will finally more closely reflect the values and priorities of the whole of Virginia.

Third, we must continue to focus on ways to increase voter participation. While 47 percent turnout this year is encouraging, according to the Virginia State Board of Election’s statistics for the last 40 years it is still well short of the astonishing 66.5 percent turnout in 1989’s gubernatorial elections and the high-water mark of 83.7 percent in 1992’s Presidential election.

We can reach these numbers again by making it easier to vote in Virginia.

One way is to recognize that more and more Virginians want to and are voting early absentee, and then encourage and better enable that method through legislation and voter education.

The way Virginia’s voting process is currently structured, unless a voter meets a narrow set of criteria that permits him or her to vote early absentee, he or she must have the time and resources to vote during a 13-hour window on a Tuesday.

I have repeatedly introduced legislation in the House of Delegates — and will again in the upcoming session — to provide for no-excuse early absentee voting. Early voting clearly helps broaden participation in our democracy, making it more representative. 47 percent turnout this year is fantastic, but we can do better. It’s time to help more Virginians’ voices be heard.

As for whether we’ll have the 51 votes to make sure that happens, stay tuned…

Rip Sullivan is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean. He practices law in Arlington with Bean, Kinney & Korman, PC.

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