(Updated at 2:05 p.m.) Arlington County’s plan for a Columbia Pike corridor “premium bus service network” will start this summer, with more frequent, condensed bus service, improved bus transit stations, and off-vehicle fare collection points in the works.
A Columbia Pike service evaluation briefing from WMATA to the Arlington County Transit Advisory Committee on January 16 laid out the major bus service plan: streamlining eleven 16-line routes down to six main routes, with further streamlining implemented in multiple phases.
Current Columbia Pike corridor service routes include the 16A, B, E, J, and P daily lines and the 16 G, H, and K lines, which run from Columbia Heights West through Pentagon City daily. There are also three peak period bus lines: the 16L, which runs from Annandale, Va., to the Pentagon via Skyline City; the 16X, from Columbia Pike to Washington’s Federal Triangle; and the 16Y, from Columbia Pike to Washington’s Farragut Square.
The first phase of the premium bus service network would eliminate the 16E and J lines, while maintaining daily service for the 16A, G, H, and X. Peak period service will continue along the 16L and Y. The 16X’s extension into Federal Triangle would be maintained only during peak periods.
Phase two would maintain the initial phase’s route streamlining, while adding a transfer-free, bus-to-bus Crystal City connection. The evaluation notes the possibility for weekend service for the 26A bus line, which runs from Annandale to East Falls Church, but that component of the plan is still under consideration.
Further route streamlining would occur under phase three, which would maintain the daily 16A and X routes, as well as the peak period 16L and Y routes, but would strike out the 16G and H lines. A new line — a 16M line to run from Crystal City to Skyline City — would be added. Arlington Transit (ART) routes 41 and 45 would continue serving the Arlington Mill and Columbia Pike corridor after the 16G and H merge, according to Lynn Rivers, the Arlington transit bureau chief and the project’s manager.
Phase three opens up the possibility of an extension of the 16X and Y bus routes service hours, but it’s currently marked as a future consideration. The county is also reviewing transit signal prioritization as a bus rapid transit solution to give buses a head start at traffic lights, allowing for decreased public transit times. Rivers told ARLnow.com that this initiative “can be achieved with minimal impacts to vehicular travel.”
Updated bus transit stations are also in the works, with “near-level boarding” and real-time bus tracking and system information. Passengers would be able to pay for their bus fare prior to entering the bus.
Photos via Arlington County
Beyer to Host Helicopter Noise Forum — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is hosting a forum about “excessive noise from military helicopters” at Abingdon Elementary School in the Fairlington neighborhood on Jan. 16. [Associated Press]
Arlington Buying New CNG Buses — Arlington Transit is buying 13 Xcelsior compressed natural gas (CNG) forty-foot, heavy-duty transit buses, according to a press release from Minnesota-based manufacturer New Flyer of America. [New Flyer]
Recounting Jay Fisette’s Career — “It was pure chance that led Jay Fisette to Arlington in 1983. A college friend had rented a cheap, spacious apartment in Pentagon City, and a nearby unit was available. So Fisette found a roommate among his college swimming buddies and began hoofing the ‘cow path’ — open land that would become the Pentagon City mall — and hopping the Metro to his new job downtown.” [Washington Post]
Northam Re-Appoints Two Arlington Residents — Arlingtonians Richard Holcomb and Jaime Areizaga-Soto have been re-appointed to their state posts under the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Ralph Northam. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
The Arlington County Board will vote Saturday on a seven-year lease for an ART Bus maintenance facility in Fairfax County.
Currently, British transportation company National Express leases the space and has a contract to maintain ART buses at 6100-A and 6104 Farrington Ave., in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. The space has a 10,000-square-foot building and a 32,833-square-foot parking area.
National Express’ contract with the county and its lease on the property both expire on June 30, 2018.
Under this plan, the county would control the facility for bus maintenance to, staff said, “promote more competition for the ART operations and maintenance contract, leading to more advantageous pricing for the county.”
The County Board voted last December to buy a maintenance site in Springfield for $4.65 million. But staff said that it will take at least five years to acquire the site and build it out, so this lease helps fill in the “gap years” until it is ready.
This new lease would begin on July 1, 2018, and expire on June 30, 2025. The initial base rent would be just under $180,000 a year, with an annual increase of 3 percent, which staff says would ultimately save the county money.
“The County’s new lease agreement cost of $178,345.80 for Fiscal Year 2019 is $16,483.32, which is 8.6% less than the amount National Express Transit would have paid,” the staff report says. “In the new ART operations contract, the payment to the contractor will be reduced accordingly.”
County Celebrates ART Maintenance Facility Opening — Arlington County officials drove a bus through the ribbons at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Arlington Transit Light Maintenance Facility near Crystal City. “The facility provides… fueling, maintenance and wash services for the entire ART fleet,” noted a press release. “Washing and fueling services for ART buses had been contracted from an adjacent Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) facility at a higher cost and with restricted hours.” [Arlington County]
Banned Books Week at Libraries — Arlington Public Library is marking Banned Books Week, which runs through Sept. 30, by encouraging readers to check out at least one “challenged” book this week. [Arlington Public Library]
Lamenting Construction Inconveniences — From “Our Man in Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark: “My East Falls Church neighbors and I are at nerves’ end about a seemingly perpetual construction project we drive or walk past daily. The county’s stormwater drainage system expansion has been underway for a year at N. 24th and Rockingham streets. It has necessitated countless automobile and pedestrian detours… Construction improves our shared living space and boosts the economy. But it’s tough on neighbors.” [Falls Church News-Press]
W-L HOF Noms — The Washington-Lee High School Athletic Hall of Fame is accepting nominations for new inductees through Nov. 1. [W-L Athletics]
Lost Puppy in Va. Square-Ballston Area — A local resident is searching for her puppy, named Faith, who got loose Sunday night and was “lost by Quincy Park running towards Washington Blvd.” The dog is described as “a very sweet, incredibly timid boxer mix. Her identifying markings are: light brown body, black/white muzzle, white dipped paws, and a large spot of missing hair on her right hind thigh.” [Facebook]
Legal Drama for Matchbox — Matchbox Food Group, which counts a large Matchbox restaurant in Pentagon City among its locations, is locked in a messy legal battle between two of its cofounders and two of its financiers: a bank and the bank’s CEO, who is also an investor in the company. [Washington Business Journal]
STAR, Arlington’s bus service for disabled residents, will move to a new call center on Columbia Pike after County Board approval of the plan at its meeting Saturday.
Specialized Transit for Arlington Residents will move to 2301 Columbia Pike, Suite 120, near Penrose Square, after the Board agreed to rent the property from the landlord.
STAR’s existing call center is located at 2300 9th Street S. in the same neighborhood. Its lease on the property expired on June 30, and while it can be renewed on a monthly basis, the landlord plans to redevelop the office building and no longer wanted a long-term tenant.
In a report on the project, county staff noted various positives for the move.
“It is accessible and near a major transit stop with weekend service,” staff wrote. “Because it has its own separately-powered HVAC system, the call center can operate on weekends without incurring the cost of heating and cooling the entire floor. This will yield significant savings for the County in comparison with conventional office space.”
STAR is a paratransit branch of the ART bus system and provides transportation options to the disabled and handicapped who are unable to use public transportation. Those who ride with STAR call ahead to make reservations to be picked up from their home. STAR then routes the ride to pick up other residents who use the system along the way.
The Board will rent 2,337 square foot property for an initial period of 10.5 years (126 months), with a base rent of $4,944.70 per month. That rent will be free for the first six months. Staff estimate it will take three months for the office to be built out and readied to be the call center, during which time STAR will stay in its current location.
The total cost of construction for the new property is estimated at $300,000, part of which will be paid for by the landlord.
County to Opt for VHC Land Acquisition — The Arlington County Board on Saturday is expected to affirm the county’s desire to acquire land along N. Carlin Springs Road from Virginia Hospital Center, in exchange for a parcel of county land near N. Edison Street, which will allow the hospital to expand. [InsideNova, Arlington County]
ART Discount for Elementary Students — As of June 25, elementary students can get the same student discount on ART bus fares — $1 vs. the regular $2 fare — as middle and high school students. [Arlington Transit]
SoberRide Sets July 4 Record — SoberRide served a record 559 riders on the Fourth of July this year, exceeding the previous July 4 record of 455 riders set in 2003. The regional service, which provides a free ride home on holidays to help prevent DUI crashes, recently began partnering with Lyft rather than offering rides via taxi services. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
(Updated at 7:45 p.m.) Police and firefighters are on scene of a crash involving an Arlington Transit bus and an SUV in the Nauck neighborhood.
The crash happened around 6:15 p.m. Monday at the intersection of S. Nelson Street and 22nd Street S. Neighbors have been told that the bus somehow lost power heading up the steep hill on 22nd Street and began rolling backward, striking the parked SUV, knocking down utility lines and a light pole, and spinning into the yard of a home on the corner.
Several passengers were on board the bus at the time of the crash. One person, believed to be a passenger on the bus, suffered non-life-threatening facial injuries.
Police and ART officials were on scene taking photos and investigating the crash. A large wrecker later arrived to remove the bus from the yard.
The residents of the house the vehicles nearly slid into were at home at the time of the crash. Jill Brown said she and her husband were 10 feet from the wall closest to the collision.
“I heard the impact from the bus hitting my neighbor’s car, which was parked on the street when the bus slid into it,” Brown said. “I stood up, ran over and said to my husband, ‘Oh my God there’s a bus in the yard, call 911.’ And I ran out and… ran around the bus and made sure people were getting off the bus.”
“I saw one person go away in an ambulance, everyone else just seemed pretty shook up,” she said.
Nelson Street was closed to traffic at S. Walter Reed Drive as a result of the crash.
A new report says Arlington County should use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to supplement under-performing ART bus routes and better connect residents with Metro stations.
Graduate students at George Mason University’s Schar School of Government and Policy compiled strategies to improve transit in the county, and concluded that using ride-hailing is one way to do so.
The report says the current fixed ART bus system is a disadvantage to some areas that are highly populated due to overcrowding, while there are service gaps for areas that are less densely populated. Based on their research, the ART 41 route from Columbia Pike to Courthouse is the busiest, while the 53, 62, 74 and 92 are all underused and failed to recoup much of their operating costs through fares.
The solution of using the likes of Uber and Lyft to supplement buses on routes that are underutilized is based on a similar program in Pinellas County, Florida called Direct Connect. Through the program, the county pays for half of a commuter’s Uber fare if it begins and ends at certain points and stays within a specific area.
A similar partnership can improve connections to the county’s Metro stations, GMU students concluded. While the report gives Arlington credit for the use of car- and bike-sharing with the likes of Capital Bikeshare and Car2Go, it says partnering with ride-hailing companies could be helpful for those who right now struggle to integrate Metro into their commutes.
“Mobile networks play a vital role in day-to-day life and real-time tracking of services has become a necessity for busy commuters,” the report says. “Developing this tool as a mobile application would create greater convenience for commuters.”
The report also said that the county could benefit from talking to the community. It suggests facilitating a two-way dialogue between riders and county staff, and using strategies like surveying riders at Metro stations and other major transit hubs.
“Arlington County, if it were to embrace advances in information technology and extend its history of community engagement even further, could implement cost-effective yet innovative transportation solutions in its neighborhoods,” the report says.
County residents will see their electricity and gas bills rise slightly as of July, while next month fares will increase on both Arlington Transit and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents.
And the County Board denied a request that the Education Center and adjacent planetarium be designated as a historic district, so that Arlington Public Schools can continue to keep the site as a contender for a fourth high school.
ART and STAR Fares To Go Up
Fares on ART and STAR will go up on June 25 to keep up with similar hikes for Metrobus and MetroAccess.
The ART adult bus fare will rise from $1.75 to $2 and the ART discount fare for seniors, students and people with disabilities goes from 85 cents to $1.
Local STAR trips will increase in cost from $3.50 to $4, while trips inside the Capital Beltway and trips beyond increase 50 cents each, from $5 to $5.50 and from $9 to $9.50, respectively.
ART’s iRide program offering discounts for teens would be extended to elementary school students, while the program allowing free use of ART by personal care attendants accompanying MetroAccess-certified riders would also be extended.
Board members said they have heard several complaints about the cleanliness and reliability of buses in the county, and urged transportation staff to keep on top of any problems. Board member Christian Dorsey, who also represents Arlington on Metro’s Board of Directors, drew a comparison between STAR and MetroAccess.
“I do think it’s essential with STAR that Arlington not accept the mediocrity that Metro has dealt with with MetroAccess,” he said. “It was once considered a shining star in the paratransit world, it needs to continue to do so.”
Education Center Historic District Denied
The Board voted to deny designating the Education Center and the adjacent David M. Brown Planetarium at 1426 N. Quincy Street as a historic district, in agreement with staff’s recommendation.
County Board member John Vihstadt said that while he appreciates the 1960s-era architecture, Arlington Public Schools should not have its options cut down when it faces capacity issues.
The board asked staff to work with their APS counterparts to look at possible adaptive reuses of buildings built in the “New Formalist” style, which the center is an example of.
“The school system, I believe, needs certainty and clarity now,” Vihstadt said. “If we defer, it leaves a cloud over the building, it leaves doubt, it leaves conjecture. If we recommend designation, it potentially hamstrings APS as to cost, as to timeframe, as to process.”
Gas and Electricity Bills Set For Slight Hike
Residents will see a slight uptick in their gas and electricity bills, a plan county staff said will generate more than $650,000.
The electricity tax rate will increase to $0.005115 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) from $0.00341 per kWh, with the first 400 kWh per month excluded from taxation. The natural gas tax rate will increase to $0.045 per 100 cubic feet (CCF) from $0.030 per CCF, with the first 20 CCF per month excluded from taxation. The hike will be most keenly felt by those residents who use a lot gas and electricity.
A staff report on the plan notes that Arlington’s would still be among the lowest utility tax rates in Northern Virginia.
From the extra revenue, factored into the FY 2018 budget approved in April by the County Board, the cost of a full-time staff member will shift from the county’s General Fund to the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy, consultant costs are covered and more than $400,000 will go towards energy efficiency in county and APS buildings.
County Board chair Jay Fisette said the extra tax money is “all to do good things to move the community energy plan forward and meet the goals of that master plan.”
Fares for Arlington Transit and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents could increase next month, subject to County Board approval.
The plan would raise the ART adult bus fare from $1.75 to $2 and the ART discount fare for seniors, students and people with disabilities from 85 cents to $1.
Local STAR trips would increase in cost from $3.50 to $4, while trips inside the Capital Beltway and trips beyond would increase 50 cents each, from $5 to $5.50 and from $9 to $9.50, respectively.
All fare increases would go into effect on June 25.
Under the proposal, ART’s iRide program offering discounts for teens would be extended to elementary school students, while the program allowing free use of ART by personal care attendants accompanying MetroAccess-certified riders would also be extended. ART adult fare tokens would also be withdrawn from circulation, and could then be exchanged for Metrobus tokens or added to a SmarTrip card.
The fare rise would be in line with Metro’s decision to hike its Metrobus fares at the same level, and would offset increased operating costs of 6 percent for ART and 5 percent for STAR.
Staff recommended the County Board adopt the proposed change at its recessed meeting on Tuesday.
Arlington residents can expect to pay an extra $277 on average in property taxes after the County Board approved a 1.5-cent tax increase for fiscal year 2018.
The tax hike, less than the Board’s advertised maximum raise of 2 cents, will help fund Arlington Public Schools and Metro. APS will receive an extra $23.3 million, while Metro will get more than $14 million more, meaning Arlington’s contribution to its operating budget will be $71 million a year.
“This budget is a compromise and a consensus of the Board, and reflects the values of this community,” said Board Chair Jay Fisette. “The Board agreed to a modest increase in the property tax rate — less than the [County] Manager recommended — because of the extraordinary funding needs of Metro and our public schools.”
Residents will see several fees increase too. The household solid waste rate will increase by $6.88 a year to $314.16 annually, while the water/sewer rate will increase to $13.62 per thousand gallons. The Residential Utility Tax will see a hike too, while a new $60 accessory homestay permit fee has been added for those who wish to use services like Airbnb to let others stay in their homes.
The Board also hold a public hearing in May on proposed fare increases for Arlington Transit (ART) and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents (STAR), the county’s transit service for the disabled. Board members said increases are consistent with Metrobus fare increases, and would help with rising operating costs.
Also included in the $1.5 billion is an extra $1.3 million for the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, taking its total in the budget to just over $15 million. The County Board also approved hiring seven new sheriff’s deputies, three more emergency call takers and three police patrol officers. The sheriff hirings will be phased over several years.
Among other programs to receive extra funding were the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and the Lee Highway Alliance. The latter had been slated for a budget cut alongside other programs, but last month supporters spoke against that plan.
The Board also provided $100,000 to fund groups that help assist undocumented County residents, families with mixed immigration status and refugees.
At its meeting Saturday, Board members also gave the green light to a 3.5 percent pay increase for all county employees, including themselves. Under the plan, Board members’ pay would rise to $53,282, with the chair’s pay at $59,610.
Board member John Vihstadt (I) tried to separate discussion of other county employees’ raises from talk of Board members’ increases, as he said it would make the talks more transparent.
“I just find it a little anomalous that at the very time we are going to be imposing a fairly sizable property tax increase, which I am voting for, that we’re able to find the money ourselves to help us cope with that increase, but the community doesn’t have such a luxury or advantage,” he said. “I oppose us giving ourselves our own pay raise like this.”
But other Board members objected, and questioned why that issue was raised so late in the game.
“There were so many other important things that we dealt with, and this is 100 percent political posturing that is disappointing to me,” Fisette said. The pay raises passed together with Vihstadt’s abstaining, and he promised to donate the extra money he will receive to charity.
Local roads remain partially snow and slush covered, though traffic is very light. ART buses are operating on a “severe” service schedule, while Metrobuses are operating on a “moderate” snow plan. The Metrorail system is open and operating on a Saturday schedule.
APS announced just after 4 a.m. that it would be closed today.
All APS schools and offices will be closed today. Essential personnel should report to work at their scheduled time. All custodians report at 6 a.m. regardless of your regular shift. Extracurricular activities, interscholastic games, team practices, field trips, adult education classes, and programs in schools and on school grounds are canceled. For updates about Pool Operations, go to www.apsva.us/aquatics. For information about Arlington County programs and operations go to www.arlingtonva.us.
Arlington County announced that it was closed for the day just after 5 a.m.
Arlington County government offices, programs, courts, & facilities are closed today, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. If possible, stay off the roads while snow and ice removal efforts continue throughout the day.
VDOT is asking drivers to stay off the roads if at all possible.
Crews and almost 4,500 pieces of equipment worked through the night and continue to treat roads with salt and sand, and to plow in areas where there is enough accumulation.
Interstates and primary roads have stretches of slush and ice as snow and sleet continue to accumulate between plow passes.
Secondary roads and neighborhood streets remain mostly snow-covered.
HOV restrictions are lifted this morning on I-66, I-395 and the Dulles Toll Road.
Drivers are advised to continue to stay off the roads. If you absolutely must go out this morning, reduce speeds, use extreme caution and be alert to icy and inclement conditions. Road temperatures are expected to remain below freezing all day with potential for continued refreeze.
Virginia State Police say they’re dealing with a number of crashes in Northern Virginia.
Virginia State Police are currently on the scene of 10 traffic crashes throughout Northern Virginia. Only two involve injuries – minor – and the remainder of them involve damage to vehicles. From midnight Tuesday through 7 a.m., Virginia State Police have responded to 15 traffic crashes – all of which involved damage to vehicles only and no injuries.
Motorists are reminded to give extra time for travel, slow their speed for conditions, not to tailgate – to provide additional stopping distance in slick conditions, and to always buckle up.
The federal government, meanwhile, will be opening today on a three-hour delay. From the Office of Personnel Management:
Federal agencies in the Washington, DC area are OPEN under 3 hours DELAYED ARRIVAL and employees have the OPTION FOR UNSCHEDULED LEAVE OR UNSCHEDULED TELEWORK. Employees should plan to arrive for work no more than 3 hours later than they would be expected to arrive.
It has been four years since Arlington County and WMATA opened the infamous $1 million bus stop at the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive. So where are the rest of the upgraded transit stations planned for the Pike?
They’re coming, starting next year, the county says.
“The County Board approved $13.3 million for the planned 23 stations in Arlington’s FY 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Plan,” says a county webpage for the project. “Construction of the transit stations is expected to begin in 2018 and proceed in phases through 2021.”
“That schedule still holds,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet confirmed to ARLnow.com on Monday. “Design of site-specific improvements for the first six stations is underway. Design and construction for the remaining stations will be coordinated with the County’s plans for Columbia Pike street improvements and utility undergrounding.”
The per-station cost is still pegged around $575,000, well under the cost of the original prototype station. Originally, the stations were planned to serve the Columbia Pike streetcar, but with that project’s cancellation the stations will now serve WMATA and ART buses.
County staff is expected to present proposed revisions to its Transit Development Plan for the Pike in the second quarter of this year, with possible improvements to bus service along the corridor.
Police Warn of Jury Duty Scam — The Arlington County Police Department is again warning about a jury duty telephone scam targeting Arlington residents. The fraud involves a caller claiming to be a law enforcement officer and claiming that the call recipient failed to appear for jury duty. The scammer then demands the payment of a fine over the phone. [Arlington County]
Plow Plows Into Bus — Updated at 2 p.m. — One lane of Lee Highway was blocked for a period of time during last night’s evening rush hour after a minor accident involving an VDOT snow plow and an ART bus. [Twitter]
Vihstadt Speaks Out Against Gondola — County Board member John Vihstadt is not a fan of the potential gondola from Rosslyn to Georgetown. “Now is not the time to spend upwards of $90 million on a Disney-like gondola to Georgetown while current modes of public transit need significant new investment,” Vihstadt said earlier this week. [InsideNova]
Crystal House Renovated — Crystal House is a big apartment complex in Crystal City that has been around for a long time. Chances are, someone you know has lived there at one point or another. The 825-unit complex recently completed the first phase of a major renovation project and is showing it off via video and press release. [PR Newswire, YouTube]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
County to Buy Houses for Fire Station — The Arlington County Board last night approved the purchase of two houses on N. Culpeper Street for a total of $1.68 million. The houses are needed for the construction of a new Fire Station No. 8. One house will be torn down to make way for a temporary fire station, while the other will serve as quarters for firefighters at the station. [Arlington County]
Boeing to Move Defense HQ to Arlington — Boeing is moving the headquarters of its Defense, Space and Security unit from St. Louis to its existing regional HQ in Crystal City. The move will bring about a dozen top executives and fifty support staff to Arlington. [Washington Business Journal]
County Buying Bus Maintenance Site in Springfield — County Board members unanimously approved the $4.65 million purchase of 2.15 acre industrial site in Springfield, Va., to be used as a future heavy maintenance facility for Arlington Transit buses. After it is built, the facility will replace the current leased ART maintenance facility, located in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. [Arlington County, Arlington County]
ACPD Distributing Toys for the Holidays — Arlington County Police Department officers have been delivering toys to Arlington Public Schools families in need, after collecting the toys during the department’s Fill the Cruiser drive. [Twitter]
Recycling Center Move Approved — The Four Mile Run Drive self-serve recycling center will soon be moving to the Arlington Trades Center, as expected. The County Board unanimously approved the move at its Tuesday night meeting. “County workers will be better able to monitor recycling at this location, to make sure the site is maintained properly and remains litter-free,” said Board Chair Libby Garvey. [Arlington County]