Arlington, VA

(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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Next week, Arlington will participate in two transit and environmental events: PARK(ing) Day and Try Transit Week.

PARK(ing) Day will transform 13 parking spaces around the county into pop-up parks, while Try Transit Week encourages residents to use public transit.

For Try Transit Week — which runs from Sept. 16-20 — the “ART Prize Patrol” will ride various ART routes to surprise passengers with giveaway items. Additionally, the ART bus fare will be free for all passengers on Thursday, Sept. 19.

On Friday, Sept. 20, Arlington will  — as in years past — celebrate PARK(ing) Day, described as an “annual international event where the public collaborates to temporarily transform parking spaces into small parks to elicit a reconsideration of the designation of public space.”

Participants this year include a “Sit Up to Climate Change” pop-up park at Ballston Quarter mall, presented by the Ballston Business Improvement District’s charity arm, BallstonGives, and the urban planning firm LandDesign. From 9 a.m.-3 p.m., trainers from OneLife Fitness will be onsite guiding park guests through a series of sit ups. For every sit up completed, five cents will be donated to the Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture.

Additional pop-ups include a “Mind and Body Oasis” from the Crystal City BID with a yoga area and chair massages, plus a “Water Theme Park” from the Department of Environmental Services near Columbia Pike.

The full list of PARK(ing) Day sites can is listed below.

  • AECOM — 2940 Clarendon Blvd — “Park and Ride.”
  • Arlington Art — 2099 15th Street N. — “Celebrate the Mural,” featuring local artist Marc Pekala.
  • Ballston BID & OneLife Fitness — 4238 Wilson Blvd — “Sit-Up Challenge,” raising money for AFUA.
  • Bike Arlington & Walk Arlington — 1735 N. Lynn Street — “Relax and Engage,” with massage area, games, and outreach.
  • Crystal City BID & March of Dimes — 2200 Crystal Drive — “Lounge Area” with smoothies and healthy snacks, focusing on well-being for mothers.
  • Crystal City BID & Freddie’s — 500 23rd Street S. — “Beach Oasis” with games and relaxation.
  • Crystal City BID & Mind and Body Oasis — 2200 Crystal Drive — “Zen Garden,” with yoga area and chair massages.
  • Crystal City BID & GW Sustainable Urban Planning Student Organization — 2200 Crystal City, “Learn and Play,” urban heat island effect and climate change.
  • Dept. of Environmental Services, Public Engagement — 100 S. Walter Reed Drive — “Water Theme Park,” children’s pool with inflatables and water education table.
  • Dept. of Environmental Services, Solid Waste Bureau — 4115 Campbell Drive — “Back to the Future II,” kitchen display showcasing how to reduce waste.
  • Dept. of Environmental Services, Traffic Engineering & Operations, Commuter Services/Dept. of Parks & Recreation — 2300 Clarendon Blvd — “Obstacle Course,” scooter safety set-up, DES outreach, relax area.
  • HDR Architecture & Animal Welfare League of Arlington — 1109/1101 N. Highland Street — “Dog Training,” hourly dog behavior and training demonstrations
  • Little Diversified Architectural Consulting — 1046 N. Taylor Street — “Relax Lounge.”

“Events like PARK(ing) Day enrich our community life by creating an inviting streetscape and by promoting activities that allow for social exchange, fun, creativity and critical thinking,” the county said on its website. “PARK(ing) Day in particular can furthermore promote a rethinking of the usage of the public-right-of-way and may motivate the public to more actively participate in the civic processes which shape our urban environment.”

PARK(ing) Day began in 2005 when San Francisco art studio Rebar transformed a metered parking space into a temporary park. Since then, parking day has grown into an annual nationwide event.

Photo via Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services

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After serving as a local fixture and punchline for nearly a month, the Arlington Transit bus lodged into the side of a truck depot on Columbia Pike has been removed.

On Aug. 5, a bus carrying roughly 10 passengers lost control and careened through the Pike and S. George Mason Drive intersection, veering over the curb and smashing into the side of the Penske Truck Rental building at 4110 Columbia Pike.

When it crashed into the building, pushing another truck into the side of the structure along with it, the bus became load-bearing — meaning extraction was impossible until a temporary structure could be built to support the building while the bus was removed.

The bus was removed this past Friday, Aug. 30, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet.

A wooden wall is now in place, supporting the side of the building where the bus had crashed. A sign on the side of the building says the building is still considered unsafe and the Penske phone line said the location is currently closed.

Penske couldn’t be reached for comment and a security guard working outside the building said he wasn’t sure when it would be open again.

Balliet noted that the contractor that runs the ART service, National Express, will be responsible for the cost to repair the building.

“National Express’ insurance company will assess and determine the estimate for repairs,” Balliet said.

The investigation into the crash is being conducted by Arlington County Police, Balliet said, declining to comment on what might have caused the wreck. As for the bus itself?

“The bus will be put back into service,” Balliet said. “It’s currently being inspected by National Express’ maintenance team to determine how to address repairs.”

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A little over two weeks after an ART bus made an unexpected detour into the side of a truck depot at the corner of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive, the wayward bus is still there.

The Arlington Transit bus is sitting exactly where it was when first responders arrived to the scene, face planted against the side of the concrete wall.

Eight days into the bus’ tenure at the crash scene, ABC 7 reported that structural concerns for the building are keeping the bus in place. Officials confirmed to ARLnow this week that that is the reason it’s still there and will remain in place indefinitely.

“We are not able to move the vehicle at Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive until the building structure is stabilized,” county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow. “Because columns were displaced and damaged, the roof must be properly shored up by a professional shoring contractor before removing the bus.”

ART’s service contractor National Express has been attempting to work with the property owner on the repairs, Balliet said, but there is no estimate for when those repairs will be done and the bus can be moved.

“Once repairs are complete and deemed safe by building authorities, the bus and the other vehicle pushed into the building will be moved and County police will finalize their investigation,” Balliet said.

In the meantime, the bus remains out of service.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Is Top Destination for Young Adults — Arlington County is one of “the 40 places where young people are moving… based on the number of 18 to 34 year-olds who moved there in 2017 as a share of the total county population.” [USA Today]

Local Team Notches ‘World Series’ Win — “With their bats coming alive, the Arlington Senior Babe Ruth All-Stars improved to 1-2 in pool play Aug. 10 to win for the first time in the 15-under Babe Ruth World Series in Bismarck, N.D.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Firm Fined — “A military contractor has agreed to pay $4 million to settle an overbilling case. The U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey announced the settlement with Mission1st Group on Friday. The Arlington, Virginia-based company specializes in systems engineering, information technology and telecommunications.” [Associated Press]

Why the Crashed ART Bus is Still ThereUpdated at 9:25 a.m. — “The vehicle at Columbia Pike and George Mason Drive can’t be moved until the building structure is stabilized. Once repairs are made to the structure, the bus & the other vehicle pushed into the building will be moved and County Police will finalize their investigation.” [Twitter]

Photo courtesy @netforceone/Instagram

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Morning Notes

County Releases Statement on ART Crashes — “We are incredibly thankful that no one was seriously injured in these incidents, which the County and ART take very seriously. ART’s number one priority is the safety of our riders and others on the road.” [Arlington County]

More I-395 Nighttime Closures — “Motorists should expect significant lane closures on the general purpose lanes along I-395 North this weekend, August 9-11, from Duke Street (Exit 3) to past Pentagon City/Crystal City (Exit 8C) for bridge rehabilitation work along the I-395 corridor.” [Press Release]

Arlington Opening Local Recovery Center — “Arlington County is opening a Local Recovery Center (LRC) to assist residents and businesses affected by the July 8, 2019 flood. This is in conjunction with the governor’s announcement that low-interest federal loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) are available to help homeowners, renters and businesses rebuild from storm damage.” [Arlington County]

Facts About Arlington Resident Chuck Todd — Meet the Press host Chuck Todd, who lives in Arlington, shared some facts about himself in a new local magazine profile. Todd says he does not drink beer, prefers his coffee black, sleeps five hours “on a good night,” and thinks Lost Dog Cafe serves the best pizza in town. [Arlington Magazine]

Kudos for Quarter Market in Ballston — “The big top of dining options can generate a major case of FOMO, even when the meal in front of you satisfies all your conscious needs. This is particularly true at Quarter Market, where mall operators spent years seeking out and negotiating with a smartly curated collection of local chefs, restaurateurs and producers.” [Washington Post]

Escape Room Open in Clarendon — “Bond’s Escape Room has opened a second location at Market Common Clarendon… Located just above Sephora, it offers six escape room games with a wide variety of themes.” [Press Release]

Photo courtesy @clarendonalliance/Instagram

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(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) An Arlington Transit bus has careened into the Barton Street community garden after a crash near Courthouse.

The crash happened around 3:05 p.m. at the intersection of 10th Street N. and N. Barton Street.

At least two vehicles were involved: a sedan, which suffered heavy front-end damage, and an ART bus, which knocked over a light pole and street signs before coming to rest in the middle of the garden.

A passenger told ARLnow that the bus had a green light and was coming down the hill on Barton when it was struck by the sedan. The sedan’s driver was cited by officers for running a red light, Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said.

Passengers could be heard comforting the bus driver after the crash, saying it “could have happened to anyone.”

No serious injuries were reported, though one female passenger said her arm hurt. Drivers should expect lane closures on 10th Street and slow traffic in the area while crews work to clean up the crash scene.

The crash follows an incident on Tuesday in which an ART bus crashed into a building after rolling through a rental truck depot.

Vernon Miles contributed to this report.

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(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) An out-of-control Arlington Transit bus rolled into a number of parked vehicles and into a building along Columbia Pike.

The crash happened around noon today at the intersection of the Pike and S. George Mason Drive.

Around 10 passengers were on the bus, according to a fire department spokesman, when it rolled through a rental truck depot on the southeastern side of the intersection, near a 7-Eleven store. The bus struck several trucks and a car, which was pushed into a small building on the lot.

The bus passengers were evaluated by medics on scene. One person suffered a minor injury and was taken to the hospital, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant.

Three witnesses told ARLnow that the bus started rolling downhill after the driver exited the bus at a bus stop. Two of those witnesses, who were on the bus at the time, said one of the passengers jumped into the driver’s seat and steered the bus off to the side, away from traffic, thus running into the parking lot and the building.

The person who was injured was inside the building at the time of the crash, the witnesses said.

Police were unable to immediately corroborate the witness accounts provided to ARLnow. Officers remain on scene investigating the cause, an ACPD spokeswoman said, and a building inspector has been called to “evaluate structural integrity of the building.”

ART buses have been involved in a series of significant crashes over the past few years, including:

In January of this year ART blamed a shortage of drivers and persistent maintenance issues for a series of service disruptions.

Vernon Miles contributed to this report.

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Morning Notes

Incubator Leaving Crystal City — “Startup incubator 1776 plans to open its new D.C. location this year and will ultimately shut down its Crystal City location. 1776 spokesman Lucas McCanna said the company will relocate to ‘the general McPherson Square area,’ but declined to give a specific address.” [Washington Business Journal]

AAA: Worst Times for Independence Day Travel — “Holiday travelers hailing from the area will face absolute gridlock along key freeway segments starting [today], July 3. Topping the list of the worst corridors for those departing Wednesday, July 3, is Interstate 270 northbound.” [Press Release]

Arlington County Holiday Closures — All Arlington County government offices, courts, libraries and facilities will be closed Thursday for the Independence Day holiday, though trash and recycling will still be collected. Also, “metered parking is not enforced but street parking near the US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima), Long Bridge Park, and the Air Force Memorial will be restricted. Motorists should look for temporary ‘No Parking’ signs.” [Arlington County]

Memorial Bridge Closed to Pedestrians — In addition to other July 4 road closures around Arlington, Memorial Bridge will be closed to both vehicles and pedestrians throughout the day Thursday. [Twitter, National Park Service]

ART Bus Holiday Schedule — “ART will operate holiday service on Thursday, July 4, 2019, in observance of Independence Day. ART 41, 42, 45, 51, 55 and 87 will operate on Sunday schedules. All other ART routes will not operate and the ART customer call center will be closed.” [Arlington Transit]

Superintendent Search May Be Drawn Out — “Arlington’s new School Board chair, who will be focused in coming months on the selection of a new superintendent, asked for patience in the community as the process plays out. ‘Finding the right leader and the best fit for our community will take time,’ Tannia Talento said July 1 as she rotated in as chair of the School Board for the coming year.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak

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(Updated on 05/17/19) A new bus will arrive tomorrow in Ballston, but the only place it’s going is to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

Arlington Transit (ART) is organizing a “food drive” for AFAC by building a 10’x10′ bus sculpture from canned food to celebrate the transit agency’s 20th anniversary, per a press release. ART will then donate the food to AFAC after disassembling the sculpture.

ART staff and volunteers will start building tomorrow at 1 p.m. inside Ballston Quarter mall, nearly the newly-opened, health food-focused True Food Kitchen.

The construction is part of AFAC’s annual slew of “Canstruction” food drives. In the past, architecture groups have built elaborate sculptures from thousands of dollars worth of canned goods at the Dulles and Reagan National airports as part of a national movement of donation-by-can-sculpture.

In 2016, the American Institute of Architects Northern Virginia Chapter built a lighthouse out of soup and bean cans in the Ballston mall for one of the building competitions.

Image via Twitter

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