(Updated at 9:30 a.m. on 8/23/23) Arlington County’s efforts to electrify transit just jolted forward.
Arlington’s transit system, ART, is getting its first batch of battery electric buses, or BEB, as it pursues carbon neutrality by 2050, according to a press release. The vehicles will be deployed in late 2024 after work wraps up on the new Operations and Maintenance Facility on Shirlington Road.
With $3.3 million in state and $1.2 million in local funds, the county is buying four American-made buses by the company Gillig, which drivers and riders tested out along with other options over the last year.
“Delivering transit service is at the core of who we are and what we do, when it comes to realizing our vision of smart growth that is environmentally conscious and sustainable,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a statement.
Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers said in a statement that this purchase is the county’s second step toward a “greener, healthier future for Arlington Transit.”
“The first step began with our public vehicle demonstrations of BEB technology,” she said. “The partnership with Gillig points us in the right direction for a reliable and resilient zero-emission transit fleet that contributes to a cleaner, healthier County.”
The release says the battery electric buses are part of an effort to test out new technologies while maintaining current reliable levels of service.
Arlington’s Transit Bureau could also be testing out advances in fuel technology for 15 buses it is buying to replace aging vehicles within ART’s 78-bus fleet.
Unlike the four electric buses, these 15 will be powered by compressed natural gas — essentially compressed methane — like the rest of the ART fleet. While compressed natural gas produces fewer emissions than petrol, is still considered nonrenewable because underground reservoirs make up its largest source.
For the 15 new buses, the transit bureau is looking at using renewable natural gas, or methane that has already been used or captured from landfill emissions, Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors told ARLnow.
Meanwhile, the county is outfitting its forthcoming bus operations and maintenance facility with electric charging capabilities.
Initially, the county aimed to get electric buses operating from the facility in 2025, but the 2024 deployment date means it is ahead of schedule.
“The facility is projected to reach substantial completion in 2024 — a little faster than initially expected, and we are expecting to receive revisions of the 100% design for BEB infrastructure in the fall of this year,” Pors said.
Arlington is looking to operate buses more frequently and expand service with more off-peak and weekend service.
These are just some of the recommendations that could be implemented as part of an overhaul of the municipal bus service, called Arlington Transit, over the next decade. The changes are part of an update to Arlington’s Transit Strategic Plan, which it is required to have by state law and update every six years.
As part of the update, Arlington County will be redesigning service in North Arlington and enhancing service along Columbia Pike, in Pentagon City and Crystal City, and around the under-construction Shirlington Transit Center. The proposed changes also include closing down some underutilized routes, adding service to community destinations such as Long Bridge Park, and ensuring schedules use easy-to-remember time intervals.
This update comes as ridership continues to recover from being slashed in half by the pandemic.
From July 2022 to this March, the most recent ART Bus ridership report available, monthly ridership increased from 130,299 to 164,516. Today, the highest concentration of riders is taking the bus north-south between Columbia Pike or Shirlington and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor or east-west along Langston Blvd.
Still, there are gaps in service and barriers to bus use that this update is intended to address. In preparation for the strategic plan update, the county says it heard from users that their biggest asks are reliability, frequency and efficiency, as well as a better user experience.
“People want more direct routes with fewer transfers, taking less time to make their trips… [as well as] a better user experience (clean buses, safe and accessible waiting areas, and high levels of customer service and transparency) overall,” the county said.
Right now, reliability can depend on which route users take. ART bus data from March, for instance, shows that on-time performance is higher from Rosslyn to East Falls Church and from Crystal City to Courthouse but lower from Columbia Pike to Rosslyn and Courthouse. The Columbia Pike routes, however, see four to six times the number of riders.
Well, I was wanting to go to the #VisionZero open house at Arlington Mill rec center, but as usual, the 45 @ART_Alert is a no-show *twice in a row* from N Barton St near Courthouse. Been standing here waiting for 40+ minutes. Ironic, yes? pic.twitter.com/o7Xb6ZX3OE
— Theo in Arlington 🏘️🚴💛 (@TheoForARL) April 26, 2023
The county tracked where bus service and demand are mismatched, plus researched popular places people congregate and want to go to — but currently cannot get to easily by bus. County staff specifically looked at places with higher concentrations of people without cars, seniors and people with disabilities or limited English proficiency, among other socioeconomic factors.
It found the following communities, circled in the graphic, could benefit from expanded service.
New routes serving these identified neighborhoods include a new ART 43 providing a “one-seat ride” between Clarendon, Courthouse, Rosslyn and Crystal City — a potential time and cost-saver compared to Metrorail — and a new ART 85, linking Shirlington, Long Branch Creek, Aurora Highlands, Crystal City and Potomac Yard.
“We’ve looked at the proposed route changes in detail and have a bunch of recommendations, both for routes that need improved frequencies, as well as for routes that are overly meandering, duplicative and should not be a priority in this constrained fiscal environment where both buses and bus drivers are at a premium,” SusMo said.
An ART bus driver suffered serious injuries last night after being assaulted by a rider along Columbia Pike, police say.
The driver was reported to be bleeding from the mouth when police and medics were dispatched to the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Dinwiddie Street just after 10:45 p.m. Sunday. It’s unclear what led to the attack.
The suspect was “leaving a public transit bus when he assaulted the driver,” according to today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Following the assault, the suspect exited the bus and fled the scene on foot. The bus driver sustained serious, non-life threatening injuries and was treated on scene by medics before being transported to an area hospital.”
Also in today’s crime report, several security guards were hurt at the Pentagon City mall Friday evening after a suspect tried to steal handbags, then fought the security guards and brandished a knife.
The incident happened on the third level of the mall near the entrance to Macy’s, according to scanner traffic.
ATTEMPTED MALICIOUS WOUNDING, 2023-04280202, 1100 block of S. Hayes Street. At approximately 6:17 p.m. on April 28, a patrol officer was flagged down by an individual reporting a fight in-progress. Upon arrival, the officer observed loss prevention attempting to detain the suspect and assisted with taking him into custody. The investigation determined the suspect entered the store and allegedly removed handbags from a display case. A loss prevention officer then confronted the suspect who pushed the loss prevention officer to the ground and physically assaulted him before fleeing the area. Two additional loss prevention officers located the suspect outside of the business and attempted to detain him, during which the suspect assaulted them and brandished a knife. Medics evaluated the loss prevention officers on scene for minor injuries. During a search incident to arrest, credit cards not belonging to the suspect were recovered. [The suspect], 30, of Washington, DC, was arrested and charged with Attempted Malicious Wounding, Robbery, Assault and Battery (x2), Credit Card Theft (x3) and Possession of Burglarious Tools.
As work continues on a new Arlington Transit bus facility in Green Valley, Arlington is taking steps to make it work for electric buses.
Electrifying buses is part of the county’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. To reach that goal, it needs to buy battery-powered electric buses and have a place to charge them.
Construction is currently set to wrap up next fall on a new ART Operations and Maintenance Facility at 2629 Shirlington Road and the county aims to have electric buses on-site by 2025. Meanwhile, Arlington is testing out different buses to see which to add to its fleet, piloting buses from two providers last year and possibly testing some from up to two more manufacturers.
With work progressing on both these fronts in tandem, plans for the facility moved forward with partially baked designs for charging infrastructure. This has set the county up to need to amend its design and construction contracts associated with the $96.6 million project as it learns more about what it needs to build.
This weekend, the Arlington County Board is set to tack on almost $585,000 to an existing $4.5 million design contract with Stantec Architecture to fully flesh plans to add up to 46 charging stalls that can accommodate up to 63 buses.
“As [Battery Electric Bus] concept plans were developed, the County proceeded with the 60% design for BEB charging infrastructure,” Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Alyson Jordan Tomaszewski said. “The design scope expanded as the 60% design progressed and as more details about the County BEB requirements were identified.”
Once these designs are 100% complete, the county will update its construction contract with Turner Construction, authorizing it to purchase and install the charging equipment needed for the initial BEB pilot program, per a county report.
“The 100% design will provide capacity to add additional charging cabinets and equipment when additional BEBs are purchased,” it says.
Right now, something of a placeholder contract says the contractor has up to nearly $11.9 million to spend on above-grade charging equipment.
“This includes the necessary switchgear, transformers, chargers, and associated equipment to charge an initial increment of electric buses,” per a 2022 report. “It also includes canopies and solar panel over the canopies.”
That sum is on top of the $66.4 million contract to build the facility and below-grade charging infrastructure. These plans were approved with the expectation that the county would be buying electric buses sometime this spring.
While operating electric buses from the facility seems to have long been the plan, some neighbors had advocated for more fully baked plans for charging capabilities when the project was being developed.
Instead, designs stayed vague “to accommodate future fleet electrification” but be flexible enough to incorporate future technology, per a 2021 community presentation.
Construction on the facility continues apace and the county is still targeting a fall 2024 completion, Tomaszewski said.
“The erection of the steel structure on the Operations and Maintenance building was completed on March 17,” per the website. “In the next few weeks, crews will work on completing detailing of the steel, placing the metal deck, and completing the roof screening wall.”
Construction started last year, with a groundbreaking in June.
Buses are temporarily being stored on a property across the street from Washington-Liberty HIgh School, near a collection of homes. The county and some residents are embroiled in a lawsuit about whether the operations have impacted their quality of life.
(Updated at 11 a.m.) Arlington County is suing three residents and the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association over their attempt to stop buses from being parked near their homes.
The county charges that they used the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) process improperly to prevent the approval of a special use permit to allow 29 Arlington Transit (ART) buses to park on a county lot across the street from Washington-Liberty High School while a new ART bus facility is built in Green Valley.
The county says the BZA doesn’t have the authority to hear their case and, without an allegation of harm or potential harm not shared by their neighbors, the residents are not “aggrieved parties” and are thus improperly using the appeal process to block the county’s plans.
“The Applicants sought their appeals simply as a way to undermine the County Board’s authority and to prevent the County Board from approving a special exception use permit for the Subject Property, thereby weaponizing the stay required by Va. Code… and in effect usurping the legislative power of the County Board,” per the lawsuit.
But the residents, who live in two of the five homes on a ridge overlooking the parking lot, argue the county is suing them preemptively while running afoul of its own zoning ordinances. Further, they say the bus activity will seriously undercut their property values and quality of life and suggest the county should buy their homes.
The lawsuit says that one resident’s BZA appeal asked the body to “compel the County Board to purchase some of the Applicant’s properties.”
Both the county and the residents declined to comment to ARLnow on the ongoing lawsuit, set for a hearing in Arlington County Circuit Court later this month.
Arlington Public Schools parked “white fleet” vans there and, as part of an agreement in 2022, the county moved the vans from a part of the site zoned for “light industrial” uses to another zoned for “mixed use,” and park the ART buses in the “light industrial” zone.
This violates an ordinance, a site plan and a deed of covenant governing the property dating to 1985, the civic association alleged in a letter to the County Board in May 2022. The letter says county staff made procedural and substantive missteps that should have invalidated the county’s special use permit application and subsequent action to abandon the right-of-way of a former street on the site.
The civic association alleges that this change came after the county already violated zoning ordinances related to parking and landscaping by conducting motorcycle maneuvering training and storing dumpsters in parking areas while, in landscaped areas, letting trees die and English ivy take over.
As for the new use, they say the noise is unbearable, emissions from the Compressed Natural Gas-powered buses are “toxic,” and vibrations shake nearby homes — leading to their properties becoming “unmarketable” and “uninhabitable.” The BVSCA posted the following video of an ART parking exercise on the site last year.
Residents say the county’s real estate office proposed reducing their property assessments by up to $190,000 and heard from four realtors who say they’d be reluctant to list these properties.
(Updated 3:40 p.m.) Work is ramping up on a new Arlington County bus maintenance building and parking garage in Green Valley.
Crews are set to wrap up laying the foundation for the Arlington Transit (ART) Operations and Maintenance Facility at the end of this month, says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Alyson Jordan Tomaszewski.
“The facility will perform regular preventive bus maintenance, repairs and other unscheduled maintenance work,” per a project webpage. “It also will include administration and operations functions and parking for buses and staff.”
Then, passers-by may notice a crawler crane on site, which will be used to install steel columns. That work is set to last until sometime in March, according to the project webpage.
Meanwhile, work on the foundation of the parking garage is planned to start at the end of January, she says.
Construction began in June 2022 and is expected to be completed in the fall of 2024.
“We have experienced both weather and supply chain delays with the ART Operations and Maintenance Facility,” she said. “However, we are still on track for completion in fall 2024. To mitigate the supply chain issue, we are expediting material approval and procurement as best we can.”
ICYMI: Foundation and other infrastructure taking shape at the ART Operations and Maintenance Facility site along Shirlington Road. Work proceeds through next year. https://t.co/d6DdG1ZpQD pic.twitter.com/WNFKcZ0Oz8
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) January 16, 2023
The Green Valley Civic Association welcomes the new facility.
“The county used to park about 60 ART buses right in Jennie Dean Park, next to the basketball court,” Robin Stombler, community-affairs chair of the civic association, tells ARLnow. “Moving the buses into a new operations facility adjacent to I-395 is not only a welcome change, but should mitigate noise and light disturbances on the residential community.”
Still, the civic association has some lingering concerns.
“We were vocal on the need for improved environmental conditions. This meant a state-of-the-art facility outfitted for a future electric bus fleet, better stormwater management and bioretention ponds, and lit signage that does not face the residential part of Green Valley,” Stombler said.
“The new county bus campus will house a staff-only, multi-story parking garage,” she continued. “We need some creative thinking to make sure this amenity is shared with the rest of the neighborhood.”
Next door, the general manager of the Cubesmart storage facility tells ARLnow that the county has “been very sensitive to the fact that we have traffic flowing in and out of there and has done great job keeping the road clean.”
The Cubesmart opened a second facility near the construction site back in March 2021. Between the original building, now “The Annex,” and the new building, there are nearly 2,400 storage units, she said.
This construction project follows on the heels of other recently completed ones in the Green Valley neighborhood, aimed at realizing a community vision of an arts and industry hub. The new John Robinson, Jr. Town Square, with a towering sculpture, as well as the renovated Jennie Dean Park opened with great fanfare this spring.
The County Board approved the purchase of the three parcels in Green Valley to build the ART facilities back in 2018.
“This project is essential for ART’s long-term sustainability and will address the current and future needs for parking, operations and maintenance of the County’s growing ART bus fleet,” according to the project webpage. “ART has significantly increased its number of routes and hours of service during the past 10 years and plans to continue growing during the next 20 years, supported by a fleet of more than 100 buses.”
The total cost to buy the land, plan and design the project and construct it is $81.2 million.
Work hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday through Friday, with some weekend work occurring between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.
This article was updated to add comments from the Green Valley Civic Association.
A man allegedly exposed himself to four girls near Swanson Middle School in Westover.
Police are investigating the incident, which reportedly happened around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The girls told officers they heard a banging sound then saw an older man inside a residence exposing himself through the window.
From yesterday’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:
INDECENT EXPOSURE (Late), 2022-12140164, 5800 block of Washington Boulevard. At approximately 3:43 p.m. on December 14, police made telephone contact with the reporting party regarding a late indecent exposure. The investigation indicates that at approximately 2:30 p.m., the four juvenile female victims were walking in the area when they heard banging and observed the male suspect in the window of a residence allegedly exposing himself. The suspect is described as an older, heavy-set, White male. The investigation is ongoing.
Around the same time on Wednesday, police say a 31-year-old Arlington man kicked and shattered an ART bus door along Columbia Pike. The man is also accused of kicking a police officer after his arrest.
More from ACPD:
ASSAULT ON POLICE, 2022-12140119, Columbia Pike at S. Dinwiddie Street. At approximately 2:15 p.m. on December 14, police were dispatched to the report of destruction of property. Upon arrival, it was determined that an Arlington Transit bus was slowing to a stop at this location when the suspect approached and allegedly kicked the door, causing the glass panel to shatter. Responding officers located the suspect and took him into custody. While conducting their investigation, the suspect twice kicked a police officer. Yohana Gebremeskel, 31, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Assault on Police, Destruction of Property and Public Intoxication. He was held without bond.
Metrorail riders could soon enjoy free transfers to Arlington Transit (ART) buses.
The Arlington County Board this Saturday is set to consider covering bus trips for SmarTrip card users who start their one-way trips on the Metro.
Ordinarily, transfer trips cost $1.50 rather than the full $2. Individual jurisdictions get to decide whether to offer a discount.
“The WMATA Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 budget includes an increase of the rail to bus transfer discount from $0.50 to $2.00,” notes a staff report to the County Board. “If adopted by Arlington County, the increase in the discount would result in rail-to-bus transfer fare on ART of $0.00 and would align with the WMATA transfer discount.”
Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers tells ARLnow that her department supports these free rides because they are a “win-win” for the county, where users need a blend of rail and buses to navigate its Metro corridors and suburbs.
“The more that people are on rail, the better it is for us,” she said. “We really endorse people to use public transit other than single occupancy vehicles. This is another way of doing that — by making another portion free.”
Ridership in Arlington plummeted from 49.5 million bus and rail trips in the 2019-20 fiscal year to 16.1 million in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which ended in June, per the report. This year, Arlington launched two pilot programs to increase ridership while offering reduced rates to low-income riders and students.
The free rides would cost the county $242,000, but Rivers said the tradeoff is that the program could generate more paying Metro customers.
The free transfers, if approved, would go into effect on Oct. 1.
The transfer discount is not the only opportunity for free rides on ART buses this fall. Arlington’s transit service has started testing out zero-emission buses (ZEBs) from several manufacturers as part of a pilot program, and is offering free fares to those who happen to board.
The battery-powered buses will tackle some of ART’s most challenging, hilly routes. The pilot program started Monday and is expected to continue into early 2023.
“The pilot will allow ART to collect data and assess vehicle performance during actual operation in the County,” according to a press release from the county. “Operators will drive ZEBs to test battery performance, range and response to Arlington’s geographic features including steep hills.”
In-service test buses will have signs indicating the route and the free fare. Passengers are able to provide online feedback on their ridership experience on these battery-powered buses.
The schedule for this month’s test rides is as follows:
On Friday, the GILLIG battery electric bus will be parked on the 2100 block of 15th Street N. from 1-3 p.m. so people can see it, ask questions and learn more about the pilot program.
Arlington will repeat these pilot rides with two to three additional manufacturers this fall and winter.
Transitioning to zero-emission buses would help the county meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the press release says. Arlington is also working to use renewable electricity for all of its government operations by 2025.
Middle and high school students at Arlington public schools will soon be able to ride Arlington Transit buses for free.
The new free ride program will begin next week, with the start of classes on Monday.
Students will need to obtain an iRide SmarTrip card to take advantage of the free rides, and a county press release notes that “due to supply chain issues, iRide cards are available on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Previously, students could ride ART for a discounted, $1 fare.
The full county press release is below.
Beginning this school year, middle and high school students from Arlington Public Schools (APS) will be able to ride free anytime on Arlington Transit (ART), the County’s bus transit system, with an iRide SmarTrip card.
Students with existing iRide cards will automatically receive the free transit access when classes begin on Mon., August 29, with no additional actions required.
APS students who don’t have an iRide card can obtain one for free by contacting their School Transportation Coordinator or by visiting one of Arlington’s Commuter Store locations with their student ID. Due to supply chain issues, iRide cards are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Students who cannot obtain a card in time for the start of the school year can anticipate new inventory in October.
The free rides on ART expand on Arlington Transit Bureau’s pilot program to provide transit service to APS students who have limited travel options to school. With this latest program, students can ride free anywhere, not just take trips to school and back home.
Previously, students could ride ART for $1 — half the regular fare — with a registered iRide card. The iRide card can also be used to pay fares on Metrobus, Metrorail and other regional transit systems, and provides valuable ridership data to the Transit Bureau for use in decision-making.
About ART Bus
Arlington Transit’s (ART) 16 routes operate within Arlington County to provide cross-County neighborhood routes as well as regional connections to Metrorail and Virginia Railway Express. Visit the ART website to find maps, schedules, and plan a trip.
Starting Mon., August 29, middle and high school students from @APSVirginia will be able to ride free anytime on Arlington Transit (ART) buses with an iRide SmarTrip card. Learn more: https://t.co/JvKxPd9Qrt @ArlingtonDES pic.twitter.com/PVjug33qTy
— Arlington County (@ArlingtonVA) August 26, 2022
A kitten was rescued from the engine compartment of an Arlington Transit bus last Friday.
The Animal Welfare League of Arlington posted a video to social media last week highlighting the Aug. 12 rescue in Ballston, showing the grease-covered rescuers cradling the tiny kitten, who later received veterinary care after being fed and thoroughly washed.
“The bus was stopped at N. Randolph and Wilson Boulevard,” AWLA’s Chelsea Jones tells ARLnow. “The bus driver spotted Artie running across the street and then up under the bus!”
Artie, of course, was the name given to the kitten after the rescue, in honor of the transit agency’s assistance in getting him safely out of the engine compartment.
“Artie is doing well and is loving all the attention he’s getting from staff and volunteers!” AWLA said in a Facebook post. “He will need surgery to repair a hernia, but because of your support, he’s going to get all the care he needs!”
Beyer Wins 8th District Nomination — Updated at 9:50 a.m. — “Rep. Don Beyer, a Democrat, has fended off a primary challenge from Victoria Virasingh in the 8th Congressional District. Beyer will face Republican Karina Lipsman, who won a Republican convention last month… With 177 precincts of 182 reporting, Beyer leads, 77.82% to 22.18%.” [WTOP, Fox 5]
Statement from Beyer — “I am grateful to voters in Northern Virginia for again making me their Democratic nominee to represent Virginia’s 8th District… This is a challenging moment for the Democratic Party, and I look forward to throwing myself into that fight and making the case for equality, shared prosperity, and progress.” [Twitter]
Singing Challenger’s Praises — From Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “Thank you to @Victoria4VA for running and raising important issues in our community. It’s never easy to step into the arena and, win or lose, we should all be grateful to those who do. I am sure we have not heard the last of Victoria!” [Twitter]
Man Drowns in Four Mile Run — “No foul play is suspected in the drowning death of a 52-year-old man in Four Mile Run, according to Alexandria Police. Police were called around 2 p.m. on Monday, June 20. Rescuers found the man in the stream near the 3900 block of Richmond Highway.” [ALXnow]
Neighbors Want Public Garage — “County, regional and state officials descended on Shirlington Road on June 15, ceremonially kicking off construction of a much-awaited and oft-debated maintenance facility for the Arlington Transit (ART) bus fleet… But the proposal still calls for using a parking garage on the parcel exclusively for staff use. ‘Given local parking challenges, a little creative thinking would open sections of the garage for public use, too,’ Stombler said.” [Sun Gazette]
Acquisition for Arlington Company — “Leonardo DRS Inc., the Arlington subsidiary of Italian defense and space contractor Leonardo SpA, said Tuesday it has agreed to merge with Israel’s Rada Electronic Industries Ltd. in an all-stock deal that will create a new public company.” [Washington Business Journal]
Storms Possible Today — From the Capital Weather Gang: “Heads-up for Wednesday afternoon + evening: HEAVY RAIN threat for parts of region and possibility of flooding. * Storms — possibly numerous — between 3 and 10p * It won’t rain the whole time but some areas could see multiple bouts of heavy rain — evening may be busiest.” [Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — Rain and storms in the evening and overnight. High of 86 and low of 69. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]