Arlington, VA

(Updated at 9:25 a.m.) In addition to the official woodlands paths and trails through Arlington parks, a visitor is likely to find countless other well-worn paths that criss-cross the park built from decades of use.

As Arlingtonians venture into nature for a social-distanced outdoors experience, a local group is hoping to legalize the natural trails and make them sustainable.

An over 200-member Facebook page called Arlington Trails advocates for preserving and sustaining natural trails across Arlington — particularly for local mountain bikers.

“Arlington County is the only area that doesn’t allow mountain biking,” said Matthew Levine, who runs Arlington Trails. “It’s a great way of getting kids into nature. Right now, a lot of people need to be outside.”

Susan Kalish, a spokeswoman for the parks department, verified that natural trail use is restricted to walking humans and dogs on leashes, due to the damage caused by bicycles.

“Bikes are not allowed on a natural trail in Arlington,” Kalish said. “Wheels on trails compact the ground and have a greater impact on the flora and fauna that make up our natural trails. Wheeled transport on natural trails compacts the soil and can destroy plants and damage tree roots. Compacted soils and less vegetation lead to water runoff and degradation of our streams. There are also safety issues as these trails are narrow and the walkers and bikers can’t easily step to the side without harming more vegetation and possibly themselves on steep embankments.”

Kalish said those trails have been damaged in recent months by irresponsible users.

“We find rogue, bushwhacked trails where trees have been cut down and plants pulled out,” Kalish said. “We’ve also found places where bikers have built ramps, jumps and holes.”

For Levine, the recent damage shows that cyclists are still using these trails despite local ordinance, and legalizing that use while providing less destructive options for use.

“Part of it is making these trails legal, otherwise there are rogue trails being built with thrillseekers going straight down,” Levine said. “If they’re not sanctioned and following protocol — that’s why you have kids in the woods building jumps.”

Nora Palmatier, an Arlington resident and a member of Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria, said that the trails through the parks are currently unsafe for mountain biking.

“It is too dangerous for off-road biking in small parks,” Palmatier said. “Several of us have been hit getting off trails by speeding bikes. I discovered 13 holly saplings 6-10 feet tall chopped down for bike trails which is just wrong in Lacey Woods. I love to bike ride but not where it destroys wildflowers and trees or where it is too dangerous.”

Currently, many of those trails are desire paths — reflecting the most direct routes park users take from one place to another. Levine said those paths aren’t made with concerns about erosion and other issues in mind, which is why Levine and local organization Mid Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) work to adapt those trails into sustainable paths. Emails Levine provided of his offers to do so in Arlington show park managers rebuffing those efforts.

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(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) Arlington County will be holding a virtual public meeting tonight to discuss a trio of road projects set for later this year.

The county plans to repave and re-stripe portions of Wilson Blvd in the Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manor neighborhoods, Potomac Avenue in Potomac Yard, and Clarendon Blvd in the Courthouse and Rosslyn neighborhoods. The work is expected to take place this summer and fall, following the current public engagement process.

Arlington has been using its regularly-planned street maintenance to re-stripe roads in an effort make them safer, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists. It often involves the addition or enhancement of bike lanes, sharrows and crosswalks.

At an online meeting tonight from 6:30-7:30 p.m., held via Microsoft Teams, county staff will present the concept plans for its three 2020 projects while seeking public feedback.

More from the event page:

The Master Transportation Plan identifies routine street maintenance as an opportunity to provide cost-effective and easy to implement measures to improve safety and access for all people using the street. Community engagement is a core value in Arlington, and we wanted to provide opportunities for community members to share their feedback on the concept plans for the 2020 Street Maintenance season.

Please join county staff for an online meeting on Thursday, June 4 from 6:30-7:30 pm to learn about the project, ask questions and share feedback on the design concepts for the three 2020 Resurfacing Projects for Complete Streets.

Staff will present concepts for:

  • Wilson Boulevard – N Larrimore Street to McKinley Road (Dominion Hills/Boulevard Manor)
  • Potomac Avenue – S Crystal Drive to Alexandria City Line (Potomac Yard)
  • Clarendon Boulevard – N Nash to N Oak Street (Clarendon-Courthouse/Radnor/Fort Myer Heights)

The country recently repaved and re-striped portions of Lorcom Lane and Military Road. The work was done in conjunction with construction on the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School.

An online open house in April discussed all four projects.

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The Armed Forces Cycling Classic, an annual series of cycling races around Clarendon and Crystal City, has been cancelled by the pandemic.

In its place, however, organizers are using a pair of apps — Strava and Zwift — to host virtual rides this coming Saturday.

More from a press release:

Armed Forces Cycling Classic will kick off the weekend with a virtual Challenge Ride on their Strava Club. For those in the Washington D.C. area, three routes have been created to enjoy while riding safe and solo. For anyone outside of the D.C. area, we encourage them to ride, and we ask all participants to post photos to the AFCC Strava Club page or Instagram and tag @af_cyclingclassic to show that we are all riding together.

Saturday, May 30th at 11am, Armed Forces Cycling Classic will host a no-drop ZWIFT ride in partnership with Rapha. Athletes Justin and Cory Williams of Legion of Los Angeles will serve as ride leaders for this exclusive virtual event. AFCC and race announcer Brad Sohner will also host an Instagram Live during the event at instagram.com/af_cyclingclassic.

There will be no fees to participate in any of the Virtual Ride options and we do encourage participants to fundraise for our beneficiary, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). All riders who raise $200 or more will receive a limited edition Team TAPS jersey. Interested riders can set up their fundraising page at http://team.taps.org/cyclingclassic.

For those who want to relive last year’s Armed Forces Cycling Classic, video coverage of the races is available for free online.

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Portions of the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington should be widened due to heavy use and crash risks, according to a new study.

The National Park Service this month released a report on its Mount Vernon Trail Corridor Study, which examined the condition of the trail, usage patterns and potential improvements.

The trail, which runs along the Potomac from the Rosslyn area to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, is used by more than one millions cyclists and pedestrians per year. But its 1970s-era design no longer reflects current engineering standards and the trail’s heavy usage, the report says.

“The trail is relatively narrow by modern standards, and characterized by meandering curves, timber bridges, and in some areas, dense vegetation,” says the report. “The MVT is beginning to show its age, from deteriorating pavement and bridges, to limited accessibility features, and outdated signage and striping. These attributes, combined with increasing usage and user behavior, contribute to risk exposure and considerable crash history.”

There were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, according to the study. Many of those were at crash hotspots along the trail in Arlington, including near Reagan National Airport, Gravelly Point and the 14th Street Bridge.

“Trail intersections, roadway crossings, surface transitions, and blind curves along the MVT were associated with higher crash and injury rates,” the report says. “On average, the MVT experiences one ambulance call per week related to a bicycle or pedestrian injury.”

“Collisions are more likely to involve male bicyclists (although males are typically overrepresented in the bicycling community),” the study also notes.

Reported crash injuries range include lacerations, bone fractures and head injuries, attributable to both single-person wrecks and collisions between trail users.

Among the near-term (1-4 year) improvements recommended in the report are new way-finding signs, increased trail maintenance, reduced-slip surfaces on bridges, and new “slow zones” at certain points on the trail.

“‘Slow zones,’ including the appropriate signage and pavement markings [could] be used at areas of high conflict among different trail users (e.g., at Arlington Memorial Bridge, Belle Haven Park, Gravelly Point, and other appropriate locations),” the report says.

The recommendations for medium-term changes — potentially 5-7 years away — are more drastic.

The study recommends that portions of the trail in Arlington be reconstructed and widened to at least 11 feet, in accordance with modern multi-use trail standards, compared to the current average 8-9 foot width. Another possibility: separating cyclists and pedestrians in high-traffic areas like Gravelly Point.

That’s in addition to improved trailheads at Crystal City and Gravelly Point, with “more bicycle parking, repair stations, and additional amenities.”

More from the report:

Widening the trail to meet this standard improves trail safety by providing appropriate width to minimize user conflict in high-traffic areas. Focus areas for widening and modernization include:

  • The portion of the trail located between Four Mile Run and the Theodore Roosevelt Island Bridge, pursuant to NEPA analysis. Some segments of trail in this area face widening constraints, but much of this high-use segment could be widened to better align with best practices and serve trail users.
  • Trail intersection enhancements, such as implementing trail roundabouts, at the 14th Street Bridge and Four Mile Run to better manage these conflict areas by slowing bicycle traffic and reducing conflict points.
  • Consider the use of bicycle-pedestrian separation at areas such as Gravelly Point, which have high levels of user conflict and pedestrian use. This could include a designated pedestrian path or increased separation and access control between the trail and adjacent site. A potential trail redesign in this location could also reduce motorist and trail user conflict at the trail intersection with the Gravelly Point parking lot.

A Mount Vernon Trail widening might not sit well with some local activists. A similar proposal, to widen portions of the W&OD Trail in Arlington and provide separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians is facing opposition from some who have expressed environmental concerns.

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Morning Notes

Business Concerns About Mask Mandate — “Arlington County Board Member Katie Cristol says she’s heard concerns from businesses owners about enforcing the mask policy. ‘We’ve definitely heard from some grocers and some others that they don’t want to be in the business of enforcing and I think you’ve seen, nationally, examples of altercations between grocery employees and individuals who don’t want to wear masks and get belligerent about it,’ Cristol said.” [NBC 4]

More Local COVID Grants — “The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia has approved $280,000 in Round 4 grants from its COVID-19 Response Fund for Northern Virginia to five organizations, including ALIVE!, Arlington Thrive, CASA de Virginia, and Northern Virginia Family Service.” [InsideNova]

Interview with Gillian Burgess — “Why hasn’t Arlington closed some streets to cars, to make more room for pedestrians and cyclists? What can be done about overcrowded trails? Should the Arlington Way move mostly online? Those are a few of the things we discussed tonight with Gillian Burgess, a local civic leader and cycling advocate.” [Facebook, Apple Podcasts]

Photo courtesy James Mahony

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The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on the federal government’s plan to realign Columbia Pike to facilitate the southern expansion of Arlington National Cemetery.

Under the plan, Southgate Road, which runs from the entrance to Henderson Hall to the intersection of the Pike and S. Joyce Street, would be removed to make way for new cemetery grounds and interment spaces. Columbia Pike would be realigned near the Air Force Memorial to run directly down to Joyce Street rather than curving around the memorial.

The County Board is expected to endorse the plan — part of the federally-funded Defense Access Roads program — this weekend, allowing it to move forward.

Also on the Board agenda is a Memorandum of Agreement with a federal transportation agency for the creation of a new segment of multi-use trail between Washington Blvd and Arlington National Cemetery.

The long-proposed trail would run along the western side of Washington Blvd, from the realigned portion of the Pike to Memorial Drive. It would provide a safer alternative to an existing trail on the other side of the highway, which is well-utilized but has a number of harrowing crossings at ramps to and from the GW Parkway.

“Upgrading this portion of the trail provides an important connectivity from the Columbia Pike/Pentagon City area to Memorial Drive,” a county staff report said. “With the expansion of Arlington National Cemetery and the interchange modifications, the timing is perfect for this segment of trail improvements. “

The County Board is expected to approve the MOA, along with a half-million dollars in funding for the trail from the existing Columbia Pike multimodal improvements project.

“Representatives from [Arlington National Cemetery] have agreed to provide Arlington County the necessary easements for the trail improvements,” the staff report noted. “Under this MOA, Arlington County will provide advanced funding to Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division (EFLHD), in an amount of $500,000, for engineering design, construction advertisement, and procurement for construction services, and oversight of the construction required for the multi-use trail portion of the project.”

More on both items, from a County Board meeting preview:

The Board will consider two agreements with the federal government that, if approved, would endorse major design elements for the planned realignment of Columbia Pike and build a trail segment that will connect Columbia Pike Pentagon City to Memorial Drive. The realignment grows out of the federal government’s southern expansion project to create more burial space for Arlington National Cemetery by closing, realigning and relocating several Arlington roadways. The federal government has agreed to realign Columbia Pike modify the South Joyce Street intersection and the Columbia Pike/ Washington Boulevard interchange and replace Southgate Road with a new segment of South Nash Street. A second, related agreement that the Board will consider would, if approved, provide $500,000 for the federal government to design a multi-use trail along Washington Boulevard adjacent to the cemetery. This segment of the trail, adjacent to the cemetery, is an important connection from Columbia Pike Pentagon City to Memorial Drive. If approved, the agreement would give the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division the authority to move forward with designing the trail.

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Morning Notes

AWLA Announces COVID-19 Policies — “Out of an abundance of caution, and in line with CDC recommendations, AWLA is cancelling all public events, classes, tours, and clinics for the rest of March. We feel that this in the best interest of our staff, volunteers, animals, and the public.” [Animal Welfare League of Arlington]

Rep. Beyer Couldn’t Get Coronavirus Test — “People ask ‘did @RepDonBeyer get tested for COVID-19?’ No he did not. We tried to get a test for him… But there aren’t enough tests, he didn’t meet the risk threshold.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Pentagon Makes Coronavirus Changes — Tours at the Pentagon have been cancelled, while a Pentagon clinic is offering coronavirus tests to employees who meet certain criteria. [Twitter, Twitter]

Crosshairs Garage Races Cancelled — “Hey everyone, we’ve made the decision to cancel the remaining weeks of the @crystalcityva Garage Races. I will be issuing refunds for everyone who pre-registered. We will let you know if any plans to reschedule in the coming months materialize.” [Twitter]

Restaurants and Bars Stay Open — Local restaurants like Bakeshop in Clarendon are staying open, and many have been posting about stepped-up sanitation measures. Among the local venues taking extra sanitation steps is Four Courts in Courthouse, which is still planning to host St. Patrick’s Day festivities. [Twitter, Twitter]

SAT Testing Cancelled — SAT tests that had been scheduled on March 14 at Wakefield and Yorktown high schools have been cancelled. [Twitter, Twitter]

Police St. Patrick’s Day Event Cancelled — “To ensure the health and safety of our community… the Don’t Press Your Luck Anti-Drunk Driving Event has been canceled.” [Arlington County]

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Thanks to some push from local advocates and the county’s Transportation Commission, a new mixed-use development at 1900 Crystal Drive could be required to include protected bike lanes on Crystal Drive, a long time sore spot for bicyclists in the area.

There are bicycle lanes on Crystal Drive, but motorists notoriously ignore the lane markers and drive or park in the lanes designated for bicycle traffic.

“It’s almost a hoax on bicycle riders to say there’s a bike lane here when as a practical matter there isn’t,” said Transportation Commissioner Jim Lantelme.

At the Transportation Commission meeting Thursday night, the Commission recommended that developer JBG Smith be required to turn the existing bicycle lanes into protected lanes while adding new protected bike lanes to 18th Street S.

“First the Commission recommended that the County Board require JBG Smith to build protected bike lanes on 18th Street either as part of their upcoming 1900 Crystal Drive development or as part of the already-approved Central District Retail development,” Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said in a press release. “Furthermore the Commission recommended that the County Board direct staff to study an appropriate cross-section for Crystal Drive that would safeguard those on bikes and scooters and, if schedules permit, incorporate the results of that study into the public space designs for 1900 Crystal Drive and any other unbuilt development approved along the Crystal Drive corridor.”

The last recommendation from the Transportation Commission was that the County and JBG develop a temporary southbound protected bike lane on Crystal Drive if the public process isn’t completed in time to be incorporated into the 1900 Crystal Drive plans.

County staff said in their report that making the lanes protected would require further traffic studies and analysis, with staff noting that a new bike lane would carve out part of the street and would have an impact on open space, traffic, or parking. That kind of impact would require a public process that would take additional time.

The developer said they hope to start construction at the end of March, with the streetscape being one of the last parts of the project to be completed.

“I worry there is the possibility we would not have a final decision-ready on Crystal Drive ready before this window closes,” Slatt said.

“There’s a lot of good, new information heard tonight,” said Gillian Burgess, chair of the Bicycle Advisory Committee. “Crystal Drive bike lanes are blocked so often that they’ve become the test case for new apps and data collection that seek to test how often bike lanes are blocked.”

With three site plans in the area, Burgess said the County has a rare opportunity to improve the conditions for cyclists and other road users there.

The 1900 Crystal Drive proposal is set to be discussed by the Planning Commission tonight (Monday).

Photo via Google Maps

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It’s March, which means the Crosshairs Garage Races has started its 6th season of racing bicycles in parking garages in Crystal City.

Every Tuesday evening through the end of the month, cyclists from across the Washington area descend into the garage at 201 12th Street S. and compete in an event that Washingtonian called the “best use of a garage that doesn’t involve your car.” The series was formerly known as Wednesday Night Spins.

Over 100 racers in three categories put a number on their bicycles and raced through a course of taped-off sections that zig-zagged through the lower levels of the garage. Co-organizer and promoter Taylor Jones loves the sense of community that the races bring.

“It’s a unique opportunity for non-traditional cycling demographics to try racing,” he said. “It’s awesome to live in a place that supports something like this.”

Beverages were plentiful, as was pie from Acme Pie owner Sol Schott. Emcee Nate Graham DJ’ed and offered commentary throughout the night.

“Everybody comes together as a midweek break from the grind and plays bikes in a parking garage,” Graham said. “What’s not to love?”

Beginner’s race winner Mac Maheen, 24, of Bowie, Md., thought it was a “super cool event.” New to bike racing, this was Maheen’s third-ever race.

“There were a lot of turns, staying under control and out of trouble was the most important thing,” Maheen said. “It’s super fun. Who would have thought something this cool would be in a parking garage?”

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A stone’s throw from Crystal City is Roaches Run, a waterfowl sanctuary on the northern flight path to and from Reagan National Airport.

The body of water, surrounded by woods, is home to birds, ducks and dragonflies. Accessible primarily from a small parking lot off the southbound GW Parkway, most human activity is confined to fishing and birdwatching.

But that may eventually change.

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey toured a portion of woods around Roaches Run last week with the chair of Arlington’s Planning Commission and representatives of Crystal City property owner and Amazon landlord JBG Smith.

Though Roaches Run is controlled by the National Park Service and is part of the GW Parkway, JBG owns parcels of land adjacent to the waterfowl sanctuary and could help link it to Crystal City. That would give the rapidly-developing neighborhood newfound accessibility to natural spaces.

“JBG owns a lot of the land over there and is in communication with the Park Service,” Garvey told ARLnow, noting that the developer invited her to last week’s tour. “Can we take this land and turn it into an accessible, usable space for people?”

Garvey said Roaches Run is “a lost area” that’s “not very accessible for anybody” at the moment. Active railroad tracks currently separate it from Crystal City and Long Bridge Park.

JBG declined comment for this story.

Among the ideas for Roaches Run are walking and biking trails, a floating dock for boaters in canoes or kayaks, and bird observation stations. Roaches Run would remain a nature preserve, however, and is not envisioned for other sports or recreation uses.

“It’s going to take some cooperation” to see this idea come to fruition, Garvey said.

The county, the Park Service, JBG and even the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority would likely be involved. That’s not to mention local civic associations, which have floated the idea of establishing connectivity to Roaches Run from Long Bridge Park and the Mt. Vernon Trail as part a series of improvements to the Crystal City and Pentagon City are dubbed Livability 22202.

“I think it’s an advantage for everybody…. making that whole area spectacular for people,” Garvey said. “You could get on an airplane and go hiking and boating within a mile radius.”

While discussions about Roaches Run have been informal in nature so far, with Amazon moving in nearby and demand for recreational opportunities growing it’s likely to advance to a more formal planning process at some point in the near future.

“It’s all very tentative but this is how ideas start, you have to start somewhere,” Garvey said. “Nothing is happening tomorrow or even next year… it’s probably 5-10 years out.”

Map via Google Maps

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(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) A series of underground bicycle races is coming back to Crystal City next month.

Throughout the month, several races will weave through the parking garage at 201 12th Street S. The sixth annual event series, organized by the Crystal City Business Improvement District, is billed as “the area’s only underground bike race.”

The race hosts warned on the registration website that racing inside with low ceilings and concrete pillars can take a few minutes to get used to.

“This is a training race,” said the website. “Our main goal is to get everyone out riding in a fun and competitive setting.”

Spectators will be able to catch the races on the sidelines and hang out at a lounge area, which will provide a viewing area and feature happy hour drinks and bites from Acme Pie.

“Friends, family, and those too timid for the saddle can always catch the excitement from the comfort of the sidelines while enjoying a beverage from the event’s pop-up bar,” the BID noted.

Each day of racing will have three categories: a beginner race, a women’s cup, and a cup open to men and women aimed at racers who already have some experience. Each race is scheduled to last 35 minutes with a limit of 50 participants. The fee to enter is $20.

Races are scheduled for five successive Tuesdays:

  • March 3
  • March 10
  • March 17
  • March 24
  • March 31

The final will have a different setup. In addition to the beginners’ race, the March 31 race will feature a relay race, an “anything goes” race, and a fixed-gear bike race. For the anything-goes race, the only limit is that the vehicle can’t be motorized.

If you’re wondering what racing underground feels like, in 2017 a participant rode with a GoPro.

Photo courtesy Crystal City

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