Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Fire at Columbia Pike Apartment Building — One person was hospitalized and subsequently arrested after a fire at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike Sunday night. [Twitter]

State Funds to Stabilize ART Service — “The Arlington County Board today accepted $420,926 in state grant funds to support Arlington’s local transit operations during the COVID-19 emergency… Arlington Transit (ART) buses, like transit services across the region, have experienced significant declines in ridership and revenue.” [Arlington County]

Arlingtonian Recounts Coronavirus Experience — Roy Schwartz, an Arlington resident and the co-founder of Clarendon-based Axios, tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this month. In a brief podcast interview, he recounted the experience, the delays in getting test results, and the contact from Arlington’s health department. [Axios]

Construction Projects ContinueUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — “While shuttering many businesses to try to slow the virus’s spread, officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia have designated construction as ‘essential,’ along with hospitals, grocery stores, banks and a handful of other businesses. All three jurisdictions have also allowed private construction, including home building and commercial developments, to continue.” [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

APS Expands Grab and Go Meal Locations — “Beginning Wed, March 25, APS will expand the number of sites that provide free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches to five locations to better reach families. Meals will be set up outside the building for distribution from 11 a.m.to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday.” The new locations are Barrett, Campbell and Randolph elementary schools. [Arlington Public Schools]

Massage Therapist Charged with Assault — “At approximately 6:31 p.m. on March 9, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 3:00 p.m. on March 7, the victim was receiving a massage when she was allegedly inappropriately touched by the suspect. Following an investigation by the Special Victims’ Unit, a warrant for Assault and Battery.” [Arlington County]

Rosslyn Launches Restaurant Support Program — “The Rosslyn BID is… launching #RosslynRewards, a program to support Rosslyn restaurants that are still operating during these uncertain times. When you order takeout or delivery from participating Rosslyn restaurants and share on social media with the hashtag #RosslynRewards, the BID will give you a $10 reward for every $20 you spend.” [Press Release]

ART Bus Rides Now Free — “Starting Tuesday, March 24, Arlington Transit bus riders will enter and exit all ART buses using the rear doors only. Customers who require the use of a wheelchair ramp can still enter the bus through the front door. ART will also be suspending fare collection on all ART buses since the farebox is located at the front door.” The ART changes mirror those implemented by Metro today. [Arlington Transit]

Signature Cancels Performances — “In response to guidance from the CDC and state and local authorities, Signature Theatre has made the decision to close its doors to the public through the beginning of June.” [Press Release]

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The number of known coronavirus cases in Arlington has jumped from 17 on Friday to 26 on Sunday.

That’s according to new numbers from the Virginia Dept. of Health, which is now reporting 219 cases statewide and 3,337 people tested. Arlington has the third-highest number of positive COVID-19 tests in the state, after Fairfax County (31) and James City (32).

As of Friday afternoon, 173 people had been tested at Arlington’s new drive-through testing site, which opened on Wednesday on N. Quincy Street near Washington-Liberty High School. Officials from Virginia Hospital Center expected to conduct another 60 tests on Monday, having received a new shipment of tests on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced Sunday that a Defense Security Cooperation Agency worker has passed away after contracting COVID-19. As reported on March 9, the worker had spent time at the agency’s offices in Crystal City, leading to tenants in a pair of buildings being notified of the possible coronavirus exposure.

Also today (Sunday), Arlington Transit announced that it would be temporarily increasing service on one of its routes due to an unexpected rise in ridership.

“The ART 41 is seeing an increase in ridership this afternoon,” the local transit agency said. “We encourage social distancing on buses, so there will be an increase in frequency this afternoon to accommodate our passengers and keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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At a time when coronavirus concerns are hitting public transportation hard, Arlington’s ART service has announced widespread closures.

Starting today, only the following seven ART bus routes will be operating, out of the usual 16 routes:

  • 41 — Along Columbia Pike
  • 42 — Ballston to Pentagon
  • 45 — Columbia Pike to Rosslyn
  • 51 — Ballston to Virginia Hospital Center
  • 55 — East Falls Church to Lee Highway and Rosslyn
  • 77 — Shirlington to Lyon Park and Courthouse
  • 87 — Pentagon to Army Navy Drive and Shirlington

Each bus line will be operating on its respective Saturday schedules. Most of the routes connect high population areas without direct Metro access to Metrorail stations.

Arlington Transit said that real-time schedule information will not be available for most of those bus lines.

Hand sanitizer will be distributed to each employee with dispensers installed at all facilities, Arlington Transit said on its website.

“Deep clean and sanitize all buses thoroughly at the end of each night by using approved disinfectant to wipe down all stanchions, hand rails, passenger seats, windows and all components in the driver’s area,” the bus service said.

STAR service, which caters to elderly or disabled Arlington residents who have difficulty with traditional public transit, will continue operating.

“Passengers are requested not to schedule medical trips if showing signs of illness,” Arlington Transit said on its website. “Please speak with your medical provider first and make other transportation arrangements for avoiding public transportation.”

File photo

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Morning Notes

W-L Alumni File Suit Over Name Change — “A local alumni group is filing suit in federal court over their high school’s name change. The Washington-Lee High School Alumni Association claims the public did not get the chance to weigh-in on the school board’s decision to change its name to Washington-Liberty High.” [WTOP, DCist]

Wrong-Way Driver Nearly Strikes Officer — “As officers approached the vehicle to investigate, they observed a handgun with extended magazine in plain view. The suspect disobeyed the lawful commands of the officers, placed the vehicle into drive and allegedly accelerated towards an officer. The officer quickly moved out of the way to avoid being struck and the vehicle fled the scene at a high rate of speed.” [Arlington County]

NPR Highlights W-L Esports Team — NPR’s All Things Considered profiled the Washington-Liberty High School esports club this week. Colleges are offering millions in scholarships for esports players, the segment noted. The W-L team was also profiled by the Washington Post this fall.  [NPR]

New Credit Union Open in Ballston — “Northwest Federal Credit Union recently celebrated the grand opening of a new branch in Ballston… its ninth public branch and first in Arlington County.” [Press Release]

ART Switch Successful Thus Far — “So far, so good, as the Arlington Transit (ART) system has a new contractor settling in. ‘The transition to ART’s new service provider – First Transit – has gone well during the initial weeks,’ County Manager Mark Schwartz told the Sun Gazette.” [InsideNova]

APS Launches Superintendent Survey — “The Arlington School Board is seeking community input through an online survey to help shape search criteria for the next superintendent. The survey is now open.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Flickr pool photo by GM and MB

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This column is written and sponsored by Arlington Arts/Arlington Cultural Affairs, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

Being received at a restaurant with a welcoming smile and a warm meal would seem the basic expectation for any customer. Sadly, well into the 1960s widespread segregation denied such everyday courtesies to African-Americans and other people of color.

In this latest Art on the ART Bus installation, The Desegregation of Arlington Lunch Counters: 60th Anniversary Tribute by Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., the nationally-renowned printmaker has created placards that commemorate the landmark sit-in’s which took place between June 9 and 22, in 1960. Kennedy interviewed local residents, historians and participants in the sit-ins, and the placards contain poignant quotes from several of these individuals.

While the sit-ins at Maryland’s popular Glen Echo Amusement Park are better remembered today, they were in-fact precipitated by the sit-ins at Arlington earlier that same summer. A pivotal tool in the 1960’s civil rights movement, “sit-ins” were strategic, planned protests that challenged widespread segregation policies.

African-American customers would merely sit down at a segregated lunch counter (often at a major national chain such as a Woolworth’s) and wait for service which, either by custom or local law, was routinely denied. Eventually, the pressure of what we would now call ‘the optics’ brought about an end to such corporate policies nationwide.

The posters feature poignant quotes commemorating the 1960 Arlington lunch counter sit-ins

Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., creates prints, posters and postcards from handset wood and metal type, oil-based inks, and eco-friendly chipboard. Much of his work is inspired by proverbs, sayings and quotes that are significant to the place he is working.

The decade-old Art on the ART Bus program is a partnership between Arlington Arts and Arlington Transit. Instead of the ads for soap, salsa and soda that riders expect to see in the overhead frames, thousands of Arlington commuters regularly experience original artwork as they head to their jobs. Sometimes there are up to three specially outfitted Art on the ART Bus vehicles in circulation, each scheduled randomly each day, bringing art to a different route through Arlington.

The project is curated by the Arlington Art Truck and Arlington Public Art which are programs of Arlington Arts. It is in collaboration with the County’s Historic Preservation Program, Arlington Public Library, Center for Local History and Arlington Transit’s Art on the ART bus program.

This installation is the first of several commemorative activations based upon printmaker Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr’s work that will continue to unfold during the Spring of 2020. For more information about the Art on the ART Bus program, click here.

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Morning Notes

ACPD Gets New Electronic Sign — “Through a @VaDOT Safe Routes to School grant, ACPD has acquired a new variable message signboard with trailer. The message board will be used around @APSVirginia schools to alert drivers of hazards and share important safety information to help keep students safe as they commute.” [Twitter]

Arlington Switches ART Bus Contractor — “The county government on Dec. 29 will switch transit providers, having inked a five-year deal with Ohio-based First Transit to operate the local bus service. The existing transit provider, National Express, has been providing service under contract since 2009. County Manager Mark Schwartz said on-time performance and other factors were among the reasons for making the switch.” [InsideNova]

Police Warn of Delivery Truck Thefts — “Arlington County Police warn delivery truck drivers to not leave trucks open and unattended or running during drop-offs. They also urge the community to report any suspicious activity or behavior in the area. ‘These are instances a lot of times when someone has left a vehicle unattended and that’s how it gets stolen,’ said [ACPD spokeswoman] Kirby Clark.” [Fox 5]

Airport Authority Approves $15 Minimum Wage — “Workers at Reagan National and Dulles International airports celebrated Wednesday after their union said it struck an agreement with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to boost worker pay to $15 an hour.” [DCist]

Thirteen Police Officers Sworn In — “December 16, 2019 marked graduation day for the Arlington County Police Department’s 13 newest officers, as Session 141 graduated from the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy.” [Arlington County]

County Urges Census Participation — “All we want for this holiday season is for everyone in Arlington to be counted in the 2020 Census! Census numbers provide all kinds of resources for Arlington. Your Census response helps Arlington to get its fair share of federal funding that supports our schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs throughout the County.” [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

Home Sale Prices Near HQ2 Drop — “Home prices in the neighborhoods where Amazon.com Inc. is setting up its second headquarters dipped to below pre-HQ2 prices for the first time since the company made the announcement just over a year ago. The median sale price for [the 22202 ZIP code] was $507,500 — a 12% drop from median prices in November 2018.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]

HQ2 May Help Balance Local Dating Scene — “For every 100 single, college-educated individuals in the Washington area, women outnumber men 53-47. And single women with college degrees are coming here at a faster clip than men in the same demographic, census data show… could Amazon’s expansion into Arlington import enough men to give some local women a statistically better shot at love?” [WAMU]

Big Emergency Response in Pentagon City — From Arlington County Police, regarding a large emergency response outside the Pentagon City mall around 8 p.m. last night: “Police responded to the report of a fight. One victim suffered minor injuries.” [Twitter, Twitter]

New Art Installation on ART Buses — “The latest Art on the ART Bus exhibit is up! The exhibit features seven letter-pressed placards that honor Arlington’s 60th anniversary of the seven lunch counter sit-ins from June 9 to June 22, 1960. The sit-ins were peaceful protests to challenge widespread segregation policies.” [Arlington Transit]

Nearby: Alexandria Also Ends Glass Recycling — “Alexandria will no longer collect glass curbside for recycling… Starting Jan. 15, if you’re hoping to get your glass recycled rather than just tossed out with the trash, you’ll have to take it down to the purple bins at one of four facilities in southern Alexandria.” [ALXnow]

Photo courtesy Dave Statter

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Update at 4:10 p.m. — The road has reopened, according to scanner traffic.

Earlier: S. Walter Reed Drive is blocked near the Arlington Career Center following a multi-vehicle crash.

An ART bus serving ART Route 77 is among the four vehicles involved in the crash, which happened on a rainy Tuesday afternoon just as the evening rush hour was starting. There’s no word yet on what caused the crash.

One person was injured and brought to a local hospital, according to the Arlington County Fire Department.

The southbound lanes of Walter Reed “will continue to be shut down while vehicles can be cleared,” ACFD said. Drivers on Walter Reed should expect heavy traffic and detours between Columbia Pike and Route 50.

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Some Arlington Transit (ART) riders are out of luck as transportation officials tell ARLnow that maintenance issues are cutting service.

The bus service shared today that ART routes 43, 45, 53, 87 would operate on “reduced service” and that at least three other lines (45 to S. Dinwiddie Street, 61 to N. Veitch Street, and 75 to N. Monroe Street) “will not operate.” The disruptions are due to a “mechanical issue,” according to social media posts.

Numerous delays and cancellations were also reported on Monday.

In October so far, the ART Alert Twitter account reported 76 times that buses missed their routes and 25 times the buses were late or ran reduced schedules. The vast majority of both types of issues were attributed to unspecified mechanical issues.

A spokesman for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) — which oversees ART — told ARLnow that the service interruptions were not related to the ongoing Metrobus strike in Northern Virginia.

“The recent missed trips are due to bus maintenance issues,” said DES spokesman Eric Balliet. “ART’s service provider, National Express, is working to address these issues as soon as possible.”

“This is a temporary interruption and we are working side-by-side with the County to rectify these delays,” said a spokesman for the U.K.-based National Express Transit Corporation. “We will be back to full-service without reductions within 48-72 hours, and will continue to work with the County on delays that may be caused for any route that we serve.”

This is not the first time that mounting maintenance problems affected ART service.

In January, ART pointed to its bus aging fleet and a shortage of drivers and as reasons why some trips were going “missing.” Last June, ART service was also dogged with service delays and cancellations due to unspecified maintenance issues.

In the past, several buses’ brakes have failed, one bus with a reported check engine light issue overturned, and there were other major crashes. However, it’s not clear whether ART’s the latest maintenance woes are related to any of the past issues.

Back in May, a county survey found riders want more updates about their trips, and a recent study found ridership has continued to decline over the past three years.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.

As technology changes, we must reframe our mindset on public transportation, specifically our bus systems.

Metro and ART Bus ridership have continued to decrease annually while the use of rideshare and mobility services such as Uber, Lyft, and Bird scooters have skyrocketed.

This year, D.C. area rideshare revenue is estimated to be double that of Metro. Projected operational revenue for Metro in 2019 is projected to be about $830 million while the American Community Survey estimates that rideshare revenues in the Washington D.C. area will be about $1.5 billion.

I would estimate that this discrepancy is linked to a simple cost-benefit analysis for commuters. Think about it. You have two options for getting to work in the morning:

Option 1: You leave your home, walk/drive/bus/bike to the nearest metro station, hop on a train, switch lines if you have to, and then walk/drive/bus/bike the last mile to work. The minimum fare is $2.25 for the train during peak hours (not including an extra $2 if you take the bus to the station)

Option 2: You order an Uber Pool or Lyft Line which arrives right outside your home, the driver picks up one or two passengers along the route, and then drops you off right in front of your office door. Many times the cost of these ridesharing services are competitively priced as compared to Metro at around $7 and will continue to go down, especially with the advent of autonomous driving technology.

Instead of competing with these ridesharing services, Metro needs to partner with them. Contracting with ridesharing companies is already a reality in cities across the country, even just across the river in D.C. In the NE and NW parts of the city, D.C. is testing DC MicroTransit to offer free rideshare through a public-private-partnership with the rideshare app, Via. In other areas of the country, cities have piloted rideshare programs for seniors aging in place, rail users needing a lift for “the last mile,” and more.

At a minimum, Arlington should require companies like Uber and Lyft to share their metadata on rider’s routes to identify hot spots. This would allow us to understand more clearly where people are going to and from and where there is demand for transit in order to optimize our service routes.

When looking into the not so distant future, we know that autonomous vehicles are coming and must be considered for long term planning. Almost all ART bus operational costs are inflated by labor costs (80%) which will only exacerbate the fight with autonomous ridesharing services in the future. Olli, a company that operates autonomous 3D-printed buses, is already in service on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington. Olli is merely the first generation of autonomous bussing technology and at a cost of $100,000, is less than half the cost of Arlington County’s minibuses.

As we contemplate improvements to bus service along Columbia Pike and Route 1, the most heavily used bus service areas in Virginia, we must make sure costly long term infrastructure improvements consider very near term technology changes. Arlington has been at the forefront of transportation innovation and as our public transit system continues to decrease in both ridership and revenue, it is time to shift the paradigm on how to invest in our future.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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