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JBG Smith’s Major Crystal Square Project Nears Approval, Though Some Concerns Linger

Plans to transform a section of Crystal City into a new retail hub for the neighborhood could soon move ahead, though neighbors and cyclists are still pressing for changes to the redevelopment effort.

Many of JBG Smith’s plans for the “Crystal Square” project, centered on a block of Crystal Drive between 15th Street S. and 18th Street S., are up for approval by the County Board this weekend. The long-awaited project would completely revamp the existing office buildings on the block, adding a new movie theater, grocery store and other retailers to replace the existing Crystal City Shops at 1750.

County staff and planners have generally given the project a green light, given its potential to help speed along the transformation of a block centered around the area’s Metro station. Even still, some people living nearby worry that the construction will blot out some of Crystal City’s limited green space, and won’t address the neighborhood’s transportation challenges.

The heart of the Crystal Square development, backed by the area’s largest property owner, generally isn’t up for dispute. In all, JBG Smith plans to add 84,000 square feet of retail and commercial space along Crystal Drive by renovating some of the existing buildings on the property, and tacking on some additions as well.

The main draws will be a three-story movie theater, reportedly an Alamo Drafthouse location, and a 15,000-square-foot “small format specialty grocer,” like a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Those businesses, and perhaps many others, will generally be centered closest to Crystal Drive’s intersection with 15th Street S., and the existing one-story retail in the area will likely be demolished to connect the theater and the grocery store, removing a small park in the process.

County staff note in a report for the Board that the proposal “not a complete redevelopment that breaks up the existing superblock with new public streets,” as might eventually be desirable for the area, it is a chance to “create a high-quality public realm…[that] enhances multimodal access and connectivity by placing large regional draws such as a movie theater and grocer within easy access of the Metro, bus stops, and VRE station.”

However, cycling advocates worry that all these plans will do little to improve connectivity to the Mt. Vernon Trail, leaving people highly dependent on cars in the area. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is urging cyclists to press for protected bike lanes along both Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. to create a safer, low-stress place to bike that wouldn’t be constantly blocked by parked cars.

JBG Smith declined to comment for this article, but it seems the developer doesn’t see much room for protected bike lanes in the area. While a bike lane along Crystal Drive is included in the Crystal Square plans, county transportation staff told the Planning Commission back in February that “there is not enough space to provide a protected bike lane” on the road.

Eventually, JBG says it could also build a two-story retail building further down the block, at Crystal Drive’s intersection with 18th Street S. That feature has drawn a bit more scrutiny from neighbors, who note that the site was long envisioned as a new park to replace the green space set to be removed in the earlier construction.

“The proposed two-story building would take a chunk out of that green space and destroy the sight line from Crystal Drive up to Clark/Bell [Streets,” Crystal City Civic Association President Carol Fuller told ARLnow. “The CCCA has been fighting this for months.”

Fuller points out that the location is also the proposed place for a second Metro station entrance, but with the county putting the brakes on that project as it deals with a funding crunch, she argues it would make much more sense to delay consideration of adding a new building there as well. Otherwise, she sees it as a “poison pill” impacting the whole development proposal.

The Planning Commission ultimately voted to endorse that building back in May, though many members expressed grave concerns about the proposal. The Parks and Recreation Commission even said it was “premature” to allow the building until securing firm funding commitments from JBG to ensure a park of some kind is indeed built on the space.

Those concerns aside, the Board seems unlikely to take action on that part of the proposal, at least in the near term.

JBG is also asking for permission to revert one office building on Crystal Drive back to office space, doing away with plans to convert it into an apartment building, a move fueling speculation that the company wants to wait to see if Amazon tabs the neighborhood for its second headquarters before committing to plans for the building.

Staff recommend that the Board defer any consideration of that request, and plans for the two-story building, for up to a year, given all the uncertainty still surrounding the site.

The Board will take up consideration of the project at its meeting Saturday (Oct. 20).

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Lime Becomes Second Company to Bring Dockless Scooters to Arlington

Lime has become the second company to start offering dockless electric scooters in Arlington, expanding into the county soon after officials signed off on a pilot program to allow more of the vehicles around the area.

The company successfully applied for that program and is so far only offering scooters, not bikes, in Arlington, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. Bird was the first company to drop its dockless scooters in the county this summer, though Lime has been courting support from the county’s business community for months now.

Even still, the company, which also operates in D.C., has been reticent to mirror Bird’s approach and deploy scooters in Arlington without the county’s blessing. But after the County Board signed off last month on a nine-month “demonstration project” for companies to test out dockless vehicles, allowing each company to operate up to 750 vehicles in Arlington over the length of the pilot, Lime jumped in.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many scooters its deployed in Arlington. The terms of the pilot program allow dockless companies to deploy up to 350 vehicles right away, then increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles per month, so long as they can meet ridership targets.

Bird is the only other company to sign up to participate in the pilot program as of yet, Balliet said. County officials previously warned the Board that as many as 10 companies could ultimately apply, given the other firms already operating bikes and scooters in D.C., which is why they initially pressed for a lower cap on the number of vehicles allowed in the county.

County staff specifically mentioned Skip as one company looking to expand into Arlington right away, and CEO Sanjay Dastoor previously told ARLnow that the company is indeed interested in bringing its scooters to the county. Dastoor did not respond to a request for comment on his plans for the pilot program, and a quick scan of Skip’s mobile app shows only a handful of scooters currently in Arlington.

Not everyone seems thrilled to have more scooters on Arlington’s streets. A photo taken by a passerby and sent to ARLnow this morning, below, shows a Lime scooter snapped in half in front of P.F. Chang’s in Ballston.

Photo (bottom) courtesy Richie F.

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Morning Notes

Pupatella Raking in the Dough — “Budding Neapolitan pizza chain Pupatella has raised $3.75 million from several investors to open up to eight new company-owned pizza joints in the D.C. area.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington Ranks as Top Bike City — “Arlington ranked 17th, up from 25th two years ago. [Bicycling] magazine states Arlington could have made a higher jump in the rankings, but Metro funding issues left less for biking improvements and limited improvements.” [Patch]

Deer Danger on Local Roads — “Across Northern Virginia, nearly 500 motorists will likely strike a deer in the road over the last three months of the year. Virginia wildlife officials are warning drivers to slow down this fall to avoid striking deer and other large animals that are found more often in the roadway.” [InsideNova]

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VDOT Unveils Final Designs for W&OD Trail Bridge Over Lee Highway

State transportation officials have firmed up their plans for a new bike and pedestrian bridge over Lee Highway in East Falls Church, putting the project on track for construction to kick off next spring.

VDOT unveiled final designs for the planned Washington & Old Dominion Trail bridge at a community meeting last Thursday (Oct. 11), sketching out more details on the bridge that is designed to offer a safer alternative to the trail’s current crossing at the highway’s intersection with Fairfax Drive.

The bridge’s design is largely unchanged from plans that VDOT showed off last summer. Some of the biggest changes include the removal of a barrier with streetlights running down the middle of the bridge and a change to the “piers” holding up the bridge — they now include open space in the middle of their “v” shape.

Officials initially proposed a design for the bridge that featured a trussed roof and red paint, yet some neighbors objected to those features, as well as the bridge’s potential to disrupt long-range plans for the area’s transportation networks.

Planners ultimately changed the bridge’s color and removed the roof, and even agreed to tweak the lighting features on the bridge too. Instead of a barrier lined by street lights, the bridge will now include lighting underneath the v-shaped posts running along its sides.

VDOT also detailed potential traffic disruptions prompted by the bridge’s construction at the meeting. Officials expect that there will be temporary closures on Lee Highway as the bridge’s beams and girders are put in place, and they expect that the fire lane on Fairfax Drive will be closed as construction continues. The W&OD Trail will also be realigned temporarily to allow for the construction, and could also see some temporary closures.

Planners are tentatively hoping to begin work on the bridge early next year, then wrap it up by the fall of 2020. The work will also move in tandem with the I-66 eastbound widening project, which VDOT also hopes to complete in late 2020.

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Morning Notes

Memorial Ride for Arlington Cyclist — A memorial ride is planned tonight in D.C. for Arlington resident Thomas Hollowell, who was killed while riding his bike to work last week near the intersection of 12th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. [Facebook]

Master Bike Plan for Arlington — Planners are putting the finishing touches on which bike infrastructure projects to include in Arlington County’s updated master plan. Currently in: the Army Navy Country Club Connector. Currently out: a connection from the Marine Corps War Memorial to the Roosevelt Bridge. [TheWashCycle]

Grumbles About Pike ‘Premium’ Bus — One outspoken Twitter user is on a mission to highlight the shortcomings of the new Columbia Pike “premium transit network.” Some have said the long-promised bus improvements have been underwhelming and have suffered the same service issues of every other mass transit line in town. However, the same Twitter user’s attempt at a petition to “bring back the Arlington streetcar” only has one signature so far. [Twitter, Change.org]

Walmart Buys Eloquii — Fashion-forward, plus-size women’s clothing retailer Eloquii has been acquired by Walmart. The e-commerce company opened its first bricks-and-mortar location at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. [TechCrunch, Forbes]

Optimism for Malls — At a Bisnow event in Tysons yesterday, a panel of commercial real estate pros said shopping malls in urbanized areas like Tysons (and, by extension, Arlington) are better off than their more suburban counterparts that are suffering in the era of Amazon. In Arlington, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City and the soon-to-reopen Ballston Quarter account for a large portion of the local retail industry. [Tysons Reporter]

Reminder: Emergency Alert Test — Expect your phone to buzz and beep just after 2:15 p.m. as part of a nationwide federal emergency alert test. The alert will be sent via mobile carriers and the national Wireless Emergency Alerts system, not via Arlington County’s Arlington Alert. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Arlington Holds Disaster Drill for Cyclists — “On Saturday BikeArlington and the Office of Emergency Management held the county’s first Disaster Relief Trial, modeled after such events in Oregon, Washington, and California… 70 registered families, teams, and individual bikers traveled throughout Arlington, stopping at four checkpoints and completing eight challenges.” [Local DVM]

Marymount Launches Internship Fund — “Marymount University has announced plans to financially support students who intern at non-profit organizations that do not have the resources to pay them. The new ‘Sister Majella Berg Internship Fund’ is a way to solidify partnerships between the university and local safety-net organizations, new Marymount University president Irma Becerra said.” [InsideNova]

AT&T Donates $30K to Local Nonprofit — “Bridges to Independence announced today a new contribution from AT&T. A private, nonprofit organization, Bridges is dedicated to serving families experiencing homelessness in the City of Alexandria and Arlington County, VA. AT&T’s support will directly benefit Bridges’ mission by expanding the organization’s Youth Development Program which serves children experiencing homelessness.” [Press Release]

Ballston Apartment Building Sold — “The Chevy Chase Land Company… announced today the $90 million acquisition of 672 Flats, a 173-Unit Class A apartment building in the heart of Ballston.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin

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JUST IN: Arlington Cyclist Killed in D.C.

A 64-year-old Arlington man was killed while riding his bike to work in D.C., according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

The crash occurred yesterday (Monday) morning on the 1200 block of Constitution Avenue NW. A driver in a dark sedan ran a red light at a high rate of speed, struck Thomas Hendricks Hollowell in the crosswalk and drove off without stopping, according to police.

Despite a quick response from police and passersby, Hollowell died from his injuries. NBC 4’s Adam Tuss reported that Hollowell rode his bike to work at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History every day.

Image via Google Maps

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VDOT Finalizes Plans for W&OD Trail Bridge Over Lee Highway

Transportation planners will soon unveil the final design of a new bike and pedestrian bridge stretching over Lee Highway in East Falls Church.

VDOT plans to show off the finalized schematics for the Washington & Old Dominion Trail bridge at a community meeting next month, capping off a design process that drew plenty of flak from neighbors last year. The new bridge, which is being built as part of widening work on I-66 eastbound in the area, is designed to replace the trail’s current crossing at the highway’s intersection with Fairfax Drive and offer a safer environment for walkers and cyclists.

Officials had initially proposed a design for the bridge that featured a trussed roof and red paint, yet neighbors objected to those features, as well as the bridge’s potential to disrupt long-range plans for the area’s transportation networks.

But VDOT has since tweaked its design to address the most controversial features, proposing a bridge that’s gray in color without a trussed roof, in a bid to address some of those concerns. Even still, some questions about noise walls and public art lingered during a meeting on the project last year.

Planners will look to address those worries and more at an Oct. 11 meeting at Yorktown High School (5200 Yorktown Blvd) from 6:30-8:30 p.m., where they’ll deliver a presentation on “final design plans and aesthetic details.”

If all goes as planned, construction is set to start on the bridge by spring 2019 and run through fall 2020.

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County Unveils Dockless Vehicle Pilot Program, Plans to Cap Number of Scooters and Bikes in Arlington

(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Arlington is rolling out its promised pilot program to guide the use of dockless vehicles, clearing the way for more companies to offer electric scooters and bikes in the county.

County officials have been mulling how best to regulate dockless vehicles since Bird started offering its scooters in Arlington this June without any warning to the local government. Now, the County Board is set to approve a program requiring companies to register with the county to avoid similar surprises, while also capping the number of vehicles they can deploy in Arlington.

The nine-month program limits companies to operating a total of 350 vehicles each within county limits. Under its terms, any business looking to deploy dockless scooters or bikes will have to pay the county $8,000 for an operating permit, and would then be able to operate a fleet of 200 vehicles. The companies could then apply to increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles each month, up to the 350 cap, so long as it can demonstrate that each vehicle is recording at least six trips per day.

Those strictures are similar to D.C.’s own strategy for managing dockless vehicles, which the District put in place last year and caps companies at 400 vehicles each. Transportation advocates in the region have been especially critical of those limits, with some companies ditching D.C. due to the caps, and county staff noted in a report prepared for the Board that the county’s own Transportation Commission “recommended that the demonstration refrain from capping numbers of devices.”

“This proposal retains what staff considers a reasonable cap, reflecting other community input,” staff wrote. Bird started off its deployment in Arlington with 50 scooters, staff wrote, but the company has declined to release exact numbers on how many vehicles it’s since brought to the county.

Staffers added in the report that county officials consulted with some “vendors” last month to gauge their thoughts on the design of the program. Lime, in particular, has spent months working with local business leaders to ensure a more favorable regulatory environment in the county, while Skip, the third dockless scooter company operating in D.C., has also signaled an interest in expanding to Arlington.

Staff also wrote that they fully expect that this pilot program could encourage the remaining dockless bike companies operating in D.C. — Spin and Jump — to start operating in the county as well.

Additionally, the program clarifies that there is no helmet requirement for scooter riders, the county plans to bar anyone younger than 16 from using the scooters, and that the scooters can’t be used on county sidewalks, without some policy tweaks. The policy also adds that both scooters and electric bikes won’t be permitted on county trails.

“While there is enabling authority for localities to ban electric scooter riding on sidewalks, it does not grant localities authority to affirmatively allow such riding,” staff wrote. “Thus, to enact an ordinance authorizing electric scooter riding on sidewalks would require a legislative change.”

The county is also planning on collecting community feedback on all manner of dockless vehicle issues, and will require the companies themselves to regularly turn over ridership data, which can then be released publicly.

The Board first has to sign off on the policy at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). It’s currently slated to be considered as part of its consent agenda, generally reserved for non-controversial items to be approved as a block, though it can be pulled from the consent agenda at the request of Board members.

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Arlington Boulevard Trail Changes in Lyon Park Spark Hope for Cycling Advocates

Arlington County is working on some modest improvements to the Arlington Boulevard Trail in Lyon Park, renewing hopes among cycling advocates that the trail will someday provide a fully contiguous alternative to Route 50.

The county is currently planning a series of changes on the trail as it runs near Arlington Boulevard’s intersection with N. Pershing Drive, near the Day’s Inn hotel in the area. Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services says it hopes to complete the following alterations sometime this fall:

  • Construction of a new, ADA-accessible curb ramp at the corner of N. Pershing Drive and Wainwright Road (the frontage street between Arlington Blvd and the Days Inn hotel)
  • Addition of on-street markings along the eastern portion of Wainwright Road to separate trail users from motorized traffic.
  • Removal of parking on the eastern portion of Wainwright Road.
  • Connection of the Wainwright Road on-street trail to the existing Arlington Boulevard Trail as it approaches 2nd St N.

The county envisions the new curb ramp connecting the trail to the new on-street trail along Wainwright Road, which will then connect to the rest of Arlington Boulevard trail running past the Washington and Lee Apartments.

“Arlington County expects that the markings/bollards used to delineate the trail along Wainwright Road will be short-term,” the county wrote in a NextDoor post. “Given the availability of funding, Arlington County plans to build out a curb separated trail adjacent to Wainwright Road to further increase the safety of this portion of the trail.”

The cycling advocacy blog WashCycle noted that these changes come a few months after Washington Gas replaced a pipeline in the area, leading to the repaving of the trail and the removal of some bollards nearby.

The blog hailed these latest proposed changes, noting that the trail is currently “discontinuous and below standard” and referred back to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s proposal to someday add three miles worth of trail along Arlington Boulevard as evidence of the trail’s potential for growth.

“The boulevard trails, like the ABT, MacArthur Boulevard Trail and the planned or under-construction South Capital and Washington Boulevard Trails, don’t get quite the coverage that the rail or stream trails get; but they’re [arguably] more important for transportation as they go right through the areas where people live and work,” WashCycle wrote. “The ABT has a long history and, as WABA points out, plenty of potential. It can, or already does, connect to eight trails including Rock Creek, Mt Vernon, W&OD and Cross County. As proposed by WABA, it could be a real backbone for Arlington County biking. It would be great to see this once again become a must-see trail.”

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Video: Alexander Ovechkin Biking On the W&OD Trail

If you happen to have been biking down the W&OD Trail a couple of days ago and saw someone who kind of looked like Stanley Cup champ Alexander Ovechkin — it probably was.

The Washington Capitals captain and one-time Arlington resident can be seen biking the trail in a video posted to social media recently.

The Instagram video shows a sleeveless Ovechkin and his personal trainer, Pavel, quietly biking down a straight section of the trail in either Arlington or Falls Church — the video is labeled “Arlington, Virginia” but the section of trail shown also looks like a section just west of the county — apparently as part of a training routine.

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Phoenix Bikes Moves into New Home on Columbia Pike

(Updated at 5:10 p.m.) Phoenix Bikes, a local nonprofit and community bike shop, has officially moved. The shop started moving yesterday from its Four Mile Run location into a new home inside the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S Dinwiddie St).

Meg Rapelye, executive director of Phoenix Bikes, said the shop is planning to open next week. The exact date is still pending an approval of a certificate of occupancy, but an official ribbon cutting is planned for next Wednesday (Sept. 12).

The new location is three times the size of the former Phoenix Bikes shop. Rapelye said the crew at the shop was most excited to have an air conditioning unit and some indoor plumbing, amenities that weren’t available at the small Four Mile Run workshop.

According to Rapelye, the new location is also closer to many of the youth communities the store serves and can help bring some revitalization to the western end of Columbia Pike.

The nonprofit’s mission is to promote bicycling, build community and educate young people by running a mentorship program for students looking to learn more about repairing and selling bikes. It just marked its 10th anniversary last year.

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Commuter Incentives Suspended for APS Employees

(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is indefinitely suspending its incentive program to push employees out of their cars, after the effort proved to be a bit too successful — and expensive.

The school system’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Commuter Program provides stipends to employees for turning to public transit, walking, bicycling, carpooling and other options to limit the number of cars going to and from schools.

It was budgeted for $222,600 last year, but School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos said actual expenses were over $389,000. While the difference was covered in last year’s budget, Erdos said the budget for the program remained the same for FY 2019 without the same flexibility.

“No one wanted to make any changes, but we also had to find a way to reduce the growing deficit,” said Erdos in an email. “Carpoolers and transit users also receive stipends, and staff believed that maintaining those programs was important because it immediately reduces an employee’s direct costs for commuting (fares, toll fees and fuel) and keeps the number of cars in school parking lots lower.”

Erdos said the school system looked at reducing the stipend for walkers and bicyclists, but were still left with a $50,000 deficit.

At last Thursday’s School Board meeting (Aug. 30), Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick stated that part of the reason the bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ incentives were targeted was because the data showed they’d be more likely to continue using those methods to get to school.

“Looking at numbers and usage, those members of staff who used to bike and walk would be most likely to continue using walking and biking to school,” said Chadwick. “If we applied the benefit to users of the carpool, we would likely get more people returning to single use cars and have more cars around our schools, more congestion, which causes safety concerns and issues of air quality. Faced with a difficult decision, we determined it would be most useful to suspend bike [and] walk benefits.”

Teachers at the Aug. 30 meeting said they dismayed by the decision.

“Two years ago, the incentive program helped me change my habits,” said Aaron Schuetz, a physics teacher at Yorktown High School. “Now, biking to work is my primary mode of transportation… [it was] disappointing to get email that it was cancelled.”

The suspension of the motor-free benefits was effective Sept. 1, which some teachers noted was an abrupt change.

“I was surprised to see benefits eliminated with three days notice,” said Jeffrey Bunting, an english teacher at Yorktown High School. “I found the process maybe a little cynical how it was eliminated… I fully agree there are probably improvements that can be done, but I encourage the Board and Mr. Chadwick not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Erdos said the Office of Multimodal Transportation Planning in the Department of Facilities & Operations will continue to work on reorganizing the program and will release more information later this year about the changes.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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New Protected Bike Lane Opens Connecting Rosslyn and Courthouse

Arlington’s opened up another protected bike lane, this time connecting Rosslyn and Courthouse.

This newest lane runs along Wilson Blvd, between N. Quinn Street and N. Courthouse Road near the post office in the area. The county previously built a protected lane between N. Oak and N. Quinn Streets back in 2016.

In the early going, at least, the new lane seems to be a hit for cyclists and scooter fans alike.

The county’s added several new protected bike lanes this summer, including one along N. Veitch Street near this latest addition, as part of summer paving work around Arlington.

Photo via @juddlumberjack

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Kennan Garvey Memorial Bike Ride Rolls Along This Saturday

The fifth annual Kennan Garvey Memorial Ride is planned for this Saturday (Aug. 25). The bicycle ride along the Washington and Old Dominion Trail will raise money to help Phoenix Bikes afford a new van to help transport students and day to day operations.

Rides range from 15 miles to the full length of the trail. Every 15 miles, volunteers greet riders with water, snacks, maintenance and high fives.

Online registration has closed, but participants can register at the race for a $100 donation and a $25 entry fee. Donations can also be made for teams or individuals.

The ride commemorates Kennan Garvey, an avid cyclist and late husband of County Board member Libby Garvey, who died of a heart attack in 2008. Kennan Garvey was a supporter of Phoenix Bikes, a non-profit that aims to educate the community about biking and help make it more affordable, and the fundraiser in his name has helped Phoenix Bikes afford a new location in the Arlington Mill Community Center.

This year, the goal is to replace the van currently used by the facility. The current van helps transport students to and from bike clubs, races, and special events as well as picking up and delivering donated bicycles.

“Although I’m very close to being able to ride my bike again, my new knee isn’t bending quite enough for me to ride this year…but I signed up anyway,” said Libby Garvey. “I’ll be there for the beginning and plan to help out at one of the rest stops on the ride.”

Courtesy photo

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