The ART bus driver who was involved in a seven-vehicle wreck along Columbia Pike in December has been found not guilty of reckless driving.
The verdict was reached today after a trial held before Arlington County General District Court Judge Richard McCue. Agere Sileshi, 27, was found not guilty of the original charge of reckless driving, but was found guilty of “improper driving.”
Sileshi faces a $250 fine but no jail time on the charge, which “embodies a finding by the Court that the ‘degree of culpability is slight,'” according her attorney, Alexandria attorney Joseph Blaszkow. Sileshi has been on medical leave since the incident, Blaszkow said.
According to court testimony, Sileshi was driving her bus through the parking lot of the Columbia Pike Plaza shopping center when a car suddenly turned in front of her. Sileshi struck the car and then drove her bus through a retaining wall and onto S. Dinwiddie Street, striking several additional vehicles.
Altogether, five passenger vehicle, a mixing truck and several bicycles were damaged in the crash. Three vehicle occupants and a pedestrian were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
The County Board will vote on a $14.2 million contract to build a new facility to store and maintain is Arlington Rapid Transit (ART) buses on S. Eads Street in Crystal City, right next to the current bus facility already there.
The site, at 3201 and 3175 S. Eads Street, would include a two-story building, a bus wash bay, a light maintenance bay, storage and parking and four compressed natural gas fueling stations.
“Services currently provided by ART are limited by a size-constrained storage facility that provides no capability for on-site fueling or light vehicle maintenance,” the staff report reads. “The construction of the ART Bus Facility will improve transit facilities, reduce costs, and increase utilization of mass transit services in the County, and assist with the integration of transit facilities into surrounding communities.”
In a separate County Board agenda item, county staff proposes to eliminate 32nd Street S. between Jefferson Davis Highway and S. Eads Street, which would allow two existing ART bus lots to be connected. The county has purchased, or already owns, the land on either side of the street, and transportation staff has determined “the Abandoned Street is no longer needed to provide public access from Jefferson Davis Highway to South Eads Street.”
The total cost of the new facility is estimated at $17.6 million, $5 million more than the county had budgeted in the 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan. County staff said that discrepancy was caused by a revised site concept with added capability for maintenance and fueling, roadway improvements to Route 1 and S. Eads Street and the increasing price of construction materials in the region.
The county plans on covering the funding gap using $1.3 million in state funding and $3.7 million through a rebalancing of ART budgets and dipping into contingency funds.
Once approved and built, the new facility is expected to save the county $57,000 a year thanks to ART buses no longer needing to use a nearby WMATA fueling and washing facility.
Photo via Google Maps
County to Study ART Bus Ads — Arlington County staff will study selling advertisements on the side of ART buses. With County Board member John Vihstadt being joined by Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey in support, the Board directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to study the issue and report back later this spring. Vihstadt said ART ads could bring in additional local revenue. [InsideNova, Twitter]
RAMMY Nomination for Liberty Tavern — Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern has been named one of the finalists in the “Everyday Casual Brunch” category for the 2015 RAMMY awards. Liberty Tavern appears to be the only Arlington restaurant nominated this year, although Tim Ma of Water & Wall in Virginia Square was nominated in the “Rising Culinary Star of the Year” category. The awards are organized by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.
Props for Crystal City, Pentagon City — Crystal City and Pentagon City are, in some ways, “experiencing the best of times,” according to Bisnow, which held a conference last week about business prospects in the “two cities.” [Bisnow]
Rosslyn Skyscraper Still Empty — The D.C. area’s tallest building, 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn, is still empty a year and a half after its completion. Owner Monday Properties, however, is feeling good about the regional economy and about Rosslyn specifically. The company is reportedly not planning to lower its asking rent for the building. [Washington Post]
Deaf Man Suing Arlington County — Updated at 9:20 a.m. — A homeless deaf immigrant who was wrongly jailed for six weeks, allegedly without access to an interpreter, is suing Arlington County in federal court for failing to meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The man, Abreham Zemedagegehu, is originally from Ethiopia and was unable to communicate with his jailers via written English. [Associated Press]
Advertising on ART? — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday briefly discussed the possibility of adding advertisements to the side of ART buses — but no action was taken. It was also revealed that the cost of a Metrobus route is about 2.5 times more expensive than the equivalent ART bus route. [InsideNova]
Local Business 40th Anniversaries — Two local businesses are celebrating a 40th anniversary this month. Heidelberg Pastry Shop (2150 N. Culpeper Street) celebrated its 40th year in business this past Saturday, while the Crystal City branch of Navy Federal Credit Union (2450 Crystal Drive) is celebrating its 40th with cake, refreshment and giveaways to those who stop by the branch.
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
“All Arlington Public Schools and Offices will be closed on Tue, Feb. 17,” APS said in an email. “Essential personnel are to report to work at their scheduled time. Extracurricular activities, interscholastic games, team practices, field trips, adult and community education classes, and programs in schools and on school grounds are canceled.”
All APS pools will also be closed on Tuesday.
Federal government offices will be closed Tuesday, per the Office of Personnel Management.
“FEDERAL OFFICES in the Washington, DC area are CLOSED,” OPM said on its website. “Emergency and telework-ready employees required to work must follow their agency’s policies, including written telework agreements.”
Arlington Transit buses, meanwhile, will operate at “severe service levels” on Tuesday.
“ART will operate only routes 41, 42, 45, 51, 77 & 87 on arterial streets Tuesday Feb 17 due to weather and street conditions. Expect delays,” ART said via email. “No service on S. Courthouse Rd, in Columbia Hts West, the Walter Reed hill, or north of Virginia Hospital Center. No other routes will be operated.”
Despite some reader sentiment that Arlington Transit’s ART buses drive dangerously, incident records from Arlington and WMATA appear to debunk any claim that ART bus drivers crash at a significantly higher rate than other urban bus drivers.
According to crash statistics provided by Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services, ART buses have had 26 “preventable accidents” this year, a rate of 2.23 accidents per 100,000 miles of revenue service. This number accounts for minor scrapes, including incidents in the ART bus depot.
ART bus drivers came under renewed scrutiny last week when one was charged with reckless driving after causing a seven-car crash on Columbia Pike last week, sending four people to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. That driver, 26-year-old Agere Sileshi, had been driving in “revenue service” for four weeks, and is “currently on administrative leave,” according to DES spokesman Eric Balliet.
Sileshi is an employee of contractor National Express Transit, which declined comment through a spokesperson on Sileshi’s employment status and ART bus’ driving records. Sileshi was driving in the Columbia Pike Plaza parking lot and the bus was out of service when the crash occurred. Balliet said “no ART route goes into that parking lot.”
Balliet said the average crash rate for buses in “an urban environment” is between 1.0 and 2.0, but many jurisdictions do not tally the minor incidents Arlington does. WMATA also counts those incidents, and, according to spokesman Dan Stessel, Metrobus’ rate in 2013 was 2.16 per 100,000 miles — just under ART’s 2.23 accident rate.
“You can rack up a lot of ‘collisions’ during the overnight hours as hundreds of buses are moved around tight spaces in bus depots for service, cleaning and refueling,” Stessel noted.
Balliet pointed out that ART has received high safety marks in recent years, including an American Public Transportation Association’s Gold Safety Award in 2011, an award for the service’s pedestrian safety training in 2012 and had a 90 percent satisfaction rate in a 2013 ridership survey. Baillet also says every ART bus driver must go through 120 hours of operator training.
Despite the statistical evidence, some around Arlington have said it’s only a matter of time before an ART bus causes more serious injuries. Serkan Altan, a Columbia Pike resident, has been contacting Arlington transit officials complaining about their drivers’ behavior.
“ART bus drivers are driving crazy in my area, especially around Dinwiddie Street,” Altan wrote in an email. “ART supervisors… were made aware of the safety issues with its [reckless] drivers, especially in that area where I live. They should be held liable.”
(Updated at 12:50 p.m. Tuesday) Seven vehicles — five cars, an ART bus and a mixing truck — were involved in a collision at about 5:45 p.m. at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Dinwiddie Street.
According to Arlington County Police Department spokesman Lt. Kip Malcolm, the ART bus was in the parking lot of Columbia Pike Plaza when a car turned in front of it. The ART bus, driven by 26-year-old Agere Sileshi, struck the car, at which point Sileshi lost control of the bus, Malcolm said.
The bus pushed the car into a parked vehicle, Sileshi accelerated and pushed all three vehicles over the brick retaining wall and onto S. Dinwiddie Street, Malcolm said. There, the bus hit three cars stopped at a red light, creating another chain reaction in which the seventh vehicle, a parked car, was pushed into benches and a tree on the sidewalk in front of Arlington Mill Community Center.
Sileshi was charged with reckless driving for failure to control her vehicle, Malcolm said. Three motorists were transported from the scene with non-life-threatening injuries, as was one pedestrian “struck by flying debris.”
Westbound Columbia Pike was closed for more than an hour around the scene as emergency crews from Arlington and Fairfax sort out the aftermath, which included cars strewn all over the intersection and a substantial part of the brick wall along Dinwiddie Street destroyed.
In addition to the cars and walls damaged, several bicycles parked in front of Arlington Mill Community Center were damaged in the accident, and at least two benches affixed to the ground were either destroyed or displaced.
New Tot Playground Opens — An upgraded tot playground with “education-themed amenities” has opened at Chestnut Hills Park, at 2807 N. Harrison Street. [InsideNova]
H-B Woodlawn Student Scores School Musical — Calista Garcia, an 8th grade student at H-B Woodlawn, produced the score for the school’s fall musical, “Lizzy Strata.” Garcia is also the lead singer and guitarist for an all-girl rock band, the Diamond Dolls. [Washington Post]
ART Gets Bigger Buses — Arlington Transit has started using its first full-length, 40-foot buses. The service started in 1999 with vehicles similar to airport rental car shuttles. [Greater Greater Washington]
Double Decker Buses on the Pike? — A “taxpayer activist in Arlington” wants the county to consider using double decker buses — like the kind you would see in London — on Columbia Pike, in lieu of the streetcar. [Watchdog.org]
(Updated at 3:00 p.m.) A 4-year-old boy was separated from his mother after an ART bus drove away with him on it and her still at the Ballston Metro station this afternoon.
The mother was folding up her infant’s stroller and preparing to get on the ART 52 bus when the boy and an adult male boarded. The bus driver assumed the man was the 4-year-old’s father, according to Arlington County Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. The bus driver then “took off” without the rest of the small child’s family.
The driver told police that she didn’t see the mother outside, preparing to board.
The mother, distressed, called the ART bus hotline, which told her the next bus would be waiting for her at its next stop — Virginia Hospital Center — Sternbeck said. The mother and infant boarded the next ART bus, but there was no bus and no son waiting at the hospital.
At that point, police were called and responded to the hospital and to the bus’s next stop, the East Falls Church Metro station, where the bus with the boy turned around and drove back to the hospital, ending a stressful afternoon for the young family. The separation was deemed accidental and no charges were filed.
“It was a scary moment for the mother and child,” Sternbeck said. “The mother and child were very thankful for our assistance in reuniting them.”
(Updated at 1:10 p.m. on 5/13/14) Police and firefighters are on the scene of an overturned Arlington Transit bus in South Arlington.
The incident happened around 5:30 p.m. on S. Dinwiddie Street in the area of 7th Road S. Initial reports suggested that a natural gas-powered ART bus struck a tree and overturned.
We’re told that the bus’ “check engine” light came on as it was ascending a steep hill. The bus driver had riders get off the bus, then attempted to continue up the hill. The bus then lost power, began rolling backwards down the hill, and steered in to an embankment before overturning, we’re told.
The bus driver was able to safely exit the bus. No injuries were reported.
Last summer, a natural gas-powered ART bus suffered a “brake malfunction” on a hill near Courthouse and rolled backward into a car.
On Tuesday afternoon, Arlington County issued the following press release about the incident.
Yesterday evening, an Arlington Transit (ART) 35-foot heavy-duty transit bus manufactured by North American Bus Industries (NABI) experienced a problem indicated by the check engine light. After parking the bus and removing the passengers, the bus rolled backward and crashed against a tree on the opposite curb before rolling onto its side and coming to a rest.
There were no injuries, or damage to property other than the bus and a tree.
Safety is our priority. At this time, the cause of the check engine light has not been determined. Arlington County’s ART operations and maintenance contractor, National Express, is conducting a thorough maintenance and safety investigation to determine the cause and possible remedies. The NABI buses receive routine preventative maintenance and inspections every 6,000 miles.
The ART fleet consists of 44 vehicles, including 35 heavy-duty transit buses manufactured by NABI, 14 smaller buses manufactured by the Arboc Corporation, and three electric hybrid buses from DesignLine USA, all powered by compressed natural gas.
ART takes the safety of our riders and others on the road very seriously. The ART Program has one of the safest operating bus systems in an urban environment in the United States. ART operators are focused on safety with each operator undergoing annual refresher training to ensure they are performing at high safety performance levels.
In May 2011, ART received the American Public Transportation Association’s Gold Safety Award for outstanding safety record and reduction of customer safety complaints over the prior two years. In 2012, ART was recognized by the state of Virginia with the Virginia Governor’s Safety Award for a pedestrian safety training program for bus operators.
ART operates within Arlington, Va., supplementing Metrobus with cross-County routes as well as neighborhood connections to Metrorail.
ART 43 will run from the Crystal City Metro Station to the Crystal City VRE station and Rosslyn and Courthouse Metro Stations between 5:55 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. and 3:20 to 7:17 p.m. starting March 31.
The bus will only run during rush hour on weekdays; there’s no planned off-peak or weekend service yet. The bus schedule indicates a 20-minute travel time from the Crystal City Metro stop to Courthouse.
The new bus is designed to serve as an alternative to the Blue Line. On the same day, Metrobus is launching two bus lines of its own — called 10R and 10S — that will travel between Crystal City and Rosslyn.
Arlington says the three lines will combine to ensure a bus going to Rosslyn from Crystal City will be available an average of every 10 minutes.
Board to Consider $6.6 Million Homeless Shelter Contract — County staff is recommending that the Arlington County Board approve a $6.6 million contract for construction of the new year-round homeless shelter in Courthouse. The contract includes a $1.1 million construction contingency to cover overages. The contract is “within budget,” a county spokeswoman said. The new Homeless Services Center will include 50 year-round beds, 5 medical respite beds and an additional 25 beds for winter months. [Arlington County]
Hike in ART, STAR Fees Proposed — Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan has proposed a hike in fees for the county’s ART and STAR transportation systems. The base fare for ART buses would increase from $1.50 to $1.75 under Donnellan’s proposal. [Sun Gazette]
Ebbin Reflects on Va. Marriage Ruling — State Sen. Adam Ebbin, the first and only openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, had mixed emotions after last week’s ruling that the Commonwealth’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. “I always thought if you were gay, you could never get married, you’d never be able to have children,” he told the Washington Post. “I didn’t know you could be gay and be happy.” [Washington Post]
Belly Dancing in Shirlington — Aladdin’s Eatery (4044 Campbell Avenue) in Shirlington will be hosting regular belly dancing shows, starting on Thursday. The shows will be performed by faculty from Saffron Dance, which is based in Virginia Square. [Shirlington Village Blog Spot]
Noise Complaint Targets Church — Even God is not safe from noise complaints in Arlington. Police were called to the 2400 block of Shirlington Road in Nauck on Monday night for “a loud church service in the area.” No word on whether officers found an actual violation of the county’s noise ordinance.
Flickr pool photo by Robpc
All school extracurricular activities, adult education classes and Dept. of Parks and Recreation classes are canceled.
Most ART bus service in the morning has been canceled, although Arlington Transit will try to keep ART 51 service running between Ballston Metro station and Virginia Hospital Center. “ART will restore other service tomorrow as street conditions permit,” the agency said.
Metro says it will try to run trains every 6-10 minutes during the morning, as conditions allow. Metrobus service will be limited to major arteries only.
- All Enjoy Arlington classes and nature center programs are cancelled in County and school buildings.
- All sports activities, leagues and instructional programs in County and school buildings are cancelled.
- All Preschool programs are cancelled.
- All senior programs (including Walter Reed, Langston Brown and Arlington Mill nutrition sites) are cancelled.
- Arlington Mill Community Center will open at 10:00 a.m.
- All other community centers, including the joint use facilities located at Drew, Carver, Gunston, Langston and Thomas Jefferson will open at Noon or as scheduled later in the day.
- All synthetic fields remain closed on Wednesday.
- The Powhatan Springs skate park remains closed on Wednesday.
Update at 8:15 a.m. — County government offices and courts will open at 10:00 a.m. From Arlington Alert: “County plows are working around the clock, but road conditions remain slippery. If you must drive, please exercise caution.”
Arlington Public Schools will be closed Wednesday.
All classes, meetings and events at Arlington’s public schools have been cancelled. School offices will open at noon and essential employees are being asked to report to work as scheduled.
The federal government will open on a two hour delay on Wednesday.
“Employees should plan to arrive for work no more than 2 hours later than they would be expected to arrive,” said the Office of Personnel Management. “Emergency Employees are expected to report to their worksite on time unless otherwise directed by their agencies.”
ART bus service will be limited Wednesday morning “due to icy street conditions.” Arlington Transit said in an email. Only ART routes 41, 51 and 77 will be operating, and those routes are subject to the transit agency’s severe weather policy.
“More routes will be added later in the day as conditions permit,” ART said.
A wind chill advisory is in effect through noon on Wednesday. Forecasters are warning of dangerous sub-zero wind chills.
… WIND CHILL ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL NOON EST WEDNESDAY… … WINTER STORM WARNING IS CANCELLED…
* WIND CHILL… BETWEEN 5 AND 15 DEGREES BELOW ZERO TONIGHT THROUGH WEDNESDAY MORNING.
* TEMPERATURES… FALLING INTO THE SINGLE DIGITS TONIGHT. HIGH TEMPERATURES WEDNESDAY WILL BE IN THE TEENS.
* WINDS… NORTH 10 TO 20 MPH… BECOMING NORTHWEST 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 40 MPH AFTER MIDNIGHT THROUGH WEDNESDAY MORNING.
* IMPACTS… DANGEROUSLY LOW WIND CHILLS TONIGHT THROUGH WEDNESDAY MORNING MAY LEAD TO HYPOTHERMIA OR FROST BITE ON EXPOSED SKIN.
A WIND CHILL ADVISORY MEANS THAT VERY COLD AIR AND STRONG WINDS WILL COMBINE TO GENERATE LOW WIND CHILLS. THIS WILL RESULT IN FROST BITE AND LEAD TO HYPOTHERMIA IF PRECAUTIONS ARE NOT TAKEN. IF YOU MUST VENTURE OUTDOORS… MAKE SURE YOU WEAR A HAT AND GLOVES.
Photo courtesy @maddogrow
Federal offices in the D.C. area are closed today due to the expected snow storm.
Non-emergency federal employees will have the day off, unless their office requires them to telework.
“Telework-Ready Employees who are scheduled to perform telework on the effective day of the announcement or who are required to perform telework on a day when Federal offices are closed must telework the entire workday or request leave, or a combination of both, in accordance with their agency’s policies and procedures, subject to any applicable collective bargaining requirements,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Arlington County government offices and courts, meanwhile, are open today.
All Arlington public schools are closed, but community centers and pools remain open. All evening activities are canceled. Essential APS employees must report to work but teachers are being asked to work from home and other employees are being allowed to telework.
ART bus service, like Metro service, will be running on a normal schedule this morning but may reduce service levels as weather conditions dictate.
Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter will remain open throughout the day today due to falling temperatures and the expected snowfall.