Arlington, VA

County staff has released its recommendations on how to improve Crystal City’s bike lane network.

The proposal includes adding one-way protected bike lanes on Crystal Drive and S. Clark Street, improved cross-street east-west connections, and additional protected or buffered bike lanes on 15th, 18th, 23rd, and 26th streets.

In March 2020, the Arlington County Board directed staff to develop a plan to improve the bicycle network “east of Richmond Highway, from the Alexandria border extending north to Long Bridge Park.” The requirement for the proposal is that it needed to be completed within four years — by Dec. 31, 2024 — and require minimal changes to the curb line.

The broad goals, according to the county, were to improve safety, provide greater access to trails, improve connections, and reduce blocking of bike lanes.

“By providing additional protected and buffered bike lanes, the County can increase safety for people riding bikes while also addressing challenges like bike lane blocking,” Eric Balliet, spokesperson for Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, wrote in an email. “The bike network will also support Crystal City as a multimodal hub by balancing the multiple needs of the streetscape, such as parking, pick-up/drop-off, and transit.”

Balliet noted that residents want safer connections to the nearby Mount Vernon and Potomac Yard trails.

Staff considered several other options, but those rejected either didn’t fully address safety issues, could not be completed in the four-year timeline, or substantial capital improvements would be needed.

Not everyone thinks the recommendations go far enough. Darren Buck, who serves on Arlington’s Transportation Commission and lives in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood, said the recommendations reflect a “short-term view” that will not age well given that Crystal City in the midst of so much development.

“Let’s create a road map with a long-term vision, especially on Crystal Drive,” Buck says. “Let’s plan ahead with a 10 or 20 year goal for how that street should look.”

Right now, he says, gaps remain in the plan that doesn’t fully protect and provide safety to cyclists on all Crystal City streets, particularly from 18th Street to Clark and 27th streets.

For the county’s part, Balliet says that Crystal Drive has proven to be a challenge.

“There’s a fixed amount of space in which cyclists, pedestrians, transit, vehicles, emergency vehicles, and the needs of businesses all must be accommodated,” he writes.

Buck does say he’s “thrilled” to see the recommendations include a number of protected bike lanes.

I have wanted to see a protected bike lane on that one single block of 18th Street that leads to the Mount Vernon Trail for years,” he says. “It is a big missing piece in our network and it’s just super exciting.” 

He also cites the inclusion of east-west connections to 23rd Street and lanes on the block of 15th Street leading to Crystal Drive as another great step.

Members of the public will be able to share their thoughts on the recommendations on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at a virtual community meeting. A second public engagement meeting will be held in the spring.

Public feedback will be incorporated into the development of a “preferred alternative” plan, says Balliet.

Photo (top) via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Vaccine Registration Transfer Still in Progress — “We are aware that many Arlington residents who preregistered through the County system are unable to find themselves in the ‘Check the List’ feature. Data migration is continuing throughout the week and it may take several more days for your name to appear in the centralized system.” [Arlington County]

No Rolling Stops for Va. Cyclists Yet — “The Virginia Senate on Wednesday sidelined a proposal that would have allowed bicyclists to yield instead of halt at stop signs. Instead, lawmakers voted to commission a police study of the rule as enacted in other states. They also voted to require drivers to change lanes when passing bicyclists if three feet of distance isn’t possible and to allow two cyclists to ride side by side in a lane.” [Washington Post]

County Offering Emergency Training in Spanish — “To ensure a more equitable, culturally competent response to the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies, the Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management and Arlington CERT are launching their first-ever Spanish-language Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer training.” [Arlington County]

First Non-Airline Lounge Coming to DCA — “A lot is changing at Reagan National Airport, and one of the new additions will be an American Express Centurion passenger lounge, the first non-airline passenger lounge at the airport. Reagan National will be the 16th U.S. airport to have a Centurion Lounge. The 11,500-square-foot lounge will open by the end of 2022.” [WTOP]

Gate 35X Replacement Opening Soon — “Airport officials have long planned to replace the 35X bussing system with a proper 14-gate concourse. So here’s some good news: looks like it will happen sooner rather than later. Airline Weekly reports that the American Airlines concourse will open three months earlier than anticipated. Turns out that the decline in air traffic during the pandemic helped accelerated construction work. It’s now slated to open as soon as April 20.” [Washingtonian]

GoTab Continues on Growth Path — “Industry-leading restaurant commerce platform GoTab has appointed sales and hospitality technology veteran John Martin as the company’s new Chief Revenue Officer. With over 30+ years of experience working with both brick-and-mortar restaurants and food technology systems, Martin has been a force in helping hyper growth startups with go-to-market strategy as well as helping CEOs develop approaches to accelerate sales and launch new products.” [Press Release]

Poems on ART Buses — “This year’s Moving Words Adult Competition 2021 Six winning poems were selected from 211 poems by this year’s judge, Arlington’s 2nd Poet Laureate Holly Karapetkova, who also has a poem on display. View the poems below and on Arlington’s ART buses from February through September 2021.” [Arlington Arts]

Beyer Gets Out-of-This-World Chairmanship — “Late last week, Democrats on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology elected Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) to serve as Chair of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics for the 117th Congress.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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A bill that has passed the Virginia House of Delegates would allow bicyclists in the Commonwealth to treat stop signs as yield signs in certain situations.

HB 2262 would legalize a common practice: cyclists rolling through stop signs when no other traffic has the right of way.

“Supporters say it will make roads safer for bicyclists after increases in traffic injuries and deaths, while opponents argue it makes the movements of cyclists less predictable,” the Washington Post reported. “The bill also would require drivers to change lanes when passing a bicyclist if three feet of distance isn’t possible and would allow two cyclists to stay side-by-side in a lane.”

The bill is now set to be considered by the Virginia State Senate.

What do you think?

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Shirlington Road bridge crosswalk (Photo via Google Maps)

As Arlington County prepares to build a new pedestrian and bike bridge in Shirlington — two decades in the making — some continue to express concerns about safety.

Late last week, the county brought advanced concept designs to the community for a new pedestrian and bike span between the Shirlington and Green Valley neighborhoods, and for maintenance to the existing bridge, which has only a narrow pedestrian sidewalk.

While incorporating previous public feedback into the design, questions still cropped up about safety and convenience, particularly regarding the crosswalks across busy S. Arlington Mill Drive and Shirlington Road, which provide access to the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails. Both are heavily-traveled by cyclists.

The first part of the project will be to improve and update the existing bridge. The bridge is in need of routine maintenance and resurfacing, and this project provides a chance for other needed renovations, the county says.

Based on public feedback, staff said they will widen the sidewalk to about 7 feet from a previous 3-5 feet. They will also coordinate the design aesthetic with the renovations to Jennie Dean Park, while adding new guardrails.

However, despite some urging it, the county won’t be removing the slip lane from the I-395 ramp. While admitting that it’s not bike or pedestrian-friendly, county officials say there isn’t much that can be done at present.

The lane is owned and maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation. Adding a crosswalk there would also increase risk for an incident due to traffic taking the right turn with speed, while the lane it could lead to traffic backing-up on the I-395 ramp.

“We, at the county, are very much interested in [removing the lane],” said Jason Widstrom, Arlington County Transportation Capital Program Manager. “Unfortunately… it is not within our authority to remove it.”

Construction for these renovations should begin in the late summer or early fall of this year and be completed prior to the end of the year.

Then, at the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022, construction will begin on a prefabricated, 15-foot pedestrian and bike bridge located 20 feet to the west of the existing bridge. It will parallel the existing bridge, will be multi-use, and have “enhanced pedestrian treatments.”

Additionally, improvements are being made to those crosswalks at Arlington Mill Drive and near the Four Mile Run Trail.

Based on feedback, the county is widening pedestrian ramps and the refuge median, redesigning curbs and the crossing to allow for better sightlines, and adding new rapid flashing beacons to improve visibility of the crosswalk. There’s also thought of trimming trees to further help sightlines.

Crosswalk safety, particularly near the Four Mile Trail, has long been a concern for residents.

“County staff is well aware of the history of the crosswalk and the troubles of trying to cross at this location,” says Widstrom.

Funding for these projects are coming from a state grant and will cost just over $1 million.

County officials said they would like to do a longer term study about adding a bridge that goes over Shirlington Road and thus separates vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

That study remains “down the road,” however, and costs to add that bridge could exceed $8 million.

In the meantime, said Widstrom, “we are trying to make the situation a bit better.”

Photo (1) via Google Maps, (2) via Arlington County

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During the pandemic, many who formerly commuted to work are now working from home.

Some are eager to go back to the office full time when it’s safe to do so, while others may be contemplating a switch to either working from home permanently or at least a couple of days per week.

A wide range of companies are moving to or considering moving to a “hybrid workplace” model post-pandemic. Among them is Microsoft, which will let employees opt to work from home up to 50% of the time, or permanently with a manager’s approval.

It seems likely that many office-based employers in Arlington and elsewhere in the D.C. area will be implementing similar policies as the pandemic (hopefully) comes to an end this year. That has made us wonder about the impact on commuting.

More work from home days collectively would mean less commuting, which is generally a good thing for the environment and for traffic. There may be second order effects, as well, especially in cases where an employer offers flexibility in deciding when you go into the office.

Such flexibility, for instance, may have implications for bike commuting

Arlington County has long worked towards the goal of having more people bike to work, thus taking cars off the road during peak commuting times. So far it’s still a niche commuting option: only 1.5% of Arlington residents report biking as their primary means of commuting, compared to 51.1% who drive alone, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

Should you have the ability to pick and choose when you go to the office, it could allow you to go in on good weather days and skip bad weather days, a big deterrent to regular bike commuting. All of a sudden, with bad weather largely out of the equation, the idea of being able to commute for free without worrying about traffic, while getting a workout and fresh air, may become more attractive.

What do you think?

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After five years, Arlington County is putting finishing touches on its Complete Street plan to improve walking, biking and driving conditions along a stretch of Army Navy Drive in the Pentagon City area.

The updated plans — which are 90% complete — were presented in a virtual public hearing on Wednesday. County staff are taking public comments via email on this version until Dec. 4, and the final plans will be submitted next summer. Construction on the section of road from S. Joyce Street to S. Eads Street is slated to begin in 2022.

The $16.87-million project aims to reduce conflicts among cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians with narrower lanes, stretches of bus-only lanes, protected left turns and signalized right turns, clearer sidewalks and shorter crosswalks. The south side of Army Navy Drive will have two-way bike lane protected by a line of trees.

“A lot of the signalizations will improve safety, prevent fatalities, reduce collisions, things like that,” Jon Lawler, the project manager, said during the meeting.

Crashes happen frequently in its intersections: Staff said the S. Hayes St/I-395 off-ramp intersection had the second-most collisions of any Arlington intersection in 2016.

The measures mean the new Army Navy Drive will be reduced to two through lanes in each direction, narrowing to one lane east of S. Eads Street.

“This segment has much lower traffic volumes than the other four blocks of the project corridor,” Lawler said in an email.

Reducing a lane of traffic to accommodate a bus lane between S. Joyce Street and S. Hayes Street will actually improve flow because buses will not block traffic while loading passengers, he said.

Traffic lanes will be narrowed to slow down cars, but staff are not planning to propose a lower speed limit, which is 35 miles per hour, Lawler said during the meeting.

Construction is still a ways off. Staff expect construction to begin in the spring of 2022. With work scheduled block by block to minimize disruptions, it could last until the fall of 2024. Original plans had construction starting in 2020 and ending in 2022.

Lawler attributed the delays to the additional tasks needed for a project receiving federal aid.

“For this project, it took much longer to receive our National Environmental Policy Act document approval than we had envisioned,” he said in an email.

Staff skipped the 60% design phase to make up for lost time, he said.

After the medians are removed, work will start on the south side of Army Navy Drive, beginning with the area where Amazon HQ2 will be, along S. Eads Street, and moving west. Once the medians are replaced, the road will be repainted and striped, concluding the project.

Lawler said in the meeting that “we won’t have any conflict” with Amazon construction.

Community feedback led to two major changes, he said. First, another block of protected bike lane was added to connect the bike lane west of S. Lynn Street with the planned protected bike lane starting at S. Joyce Street.

“This way we don’t have a missing link in the system,” Lawler said in the meeting.

Staff could not insert this change into this project, as it is receiving federal funding, so they created a separate capital improvement project to address it, he said.

From S. Lynn Street — near Prospect Hill Park — to S. Eads Street, Army Navy Drive is “pretty uncomfortable to use scooters and bikes on,” Lawler told ARLnow after the meeting. “The changes will provide them a safer route for them to use.”

With the changes, bicyclists on Army Navy Drive will be able to use the major east-west link more easily to connect with the Mount Vernon Trail and get to Washington, D.C., he said.

Another change was to align the bumpy pedestrian ramps with the crosswalk. Initially, the ramps were perpendicular to the crosswalk, which advocates said directs vision-impaired pedestrians into harm’s way.

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The second annual Cranksgiving charity bike ride returns to Arlington this Saturday (Nov. 21), and this year the choose-your-own adventure experience includes COVID-19 safety rules.

“Cranksgiving is a way to have a lot of fun on a bike while also helping others during the holiday season,” said event organizer Sarah Billington. “COVID-19 has caused dramatically increased demand for food assistance, and we’re trying to engage people who ride bikes to help contribute to fulfilling that need.”

Solo and team riders (up to 10) get a scavenger hunt list of tasks, like buying up to $15 in high-demand food for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and ALIVE! in Alexandria. But due to the pandemic there is no designated starting point, and participants will need to take pictures of completed tasks and share progress on social media.

Participating organizations include The Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail. A virtual award ceremony will conclude the Thanksgiving-themed event, which runs from 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

“Join your Cranksgiving family for a physically, but not socially distant Award Ceremony via Zoom to hangout, meet other participants, announce the winners, and earn fabulous prizes!” the event registration page says.

There are dozens of Cranksgiving bike events held around the country each year between September and December. The first was held in New York City in 1999.

Courtesy photo (above) from 2019

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County staff are accepting public comments on some long-awaited safety improvements at three intersections along the Bluemont Junction trail.

Residents will be asked if the proposed changes would make them feel safe using the trail or driving across it. The engagement period is open through Friday, Nov. 20.

For years, users have said conditions are unsafe along the trail, which connects Ballston with the Washington and Old Dominion trail at Bluemont Park. It’s difficult for trail users and drivers to see one another at the intersections, until the former are already in the crosswalk.

Discussions and presentations on upgrades began last winter, but staff had to pause their progress this spring due to the pandemic. Work resumed this fall.

“Trail safety and access issues for the Bluemont Junction trail were first raised by the community in 2013,” the county project page said. “The project has evolved to focus on the three intersections included based on site visits, data analysis, and community input.”

The intersections are at N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

The Bluemont Civic Association, the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advisory Committee provided input on the preliminary designs. The public comment period through Nov. 20 will inform the design plans that county staff will present to stakeholders for more comments once they are 30% complete.

“This project was identified as necessary to improve safety and accessibility at intersections where the trail and the street network meet,” the county staff project page said. “It will benefit people walking, biking, accessing transit, and driving.”

Where the trail intersects with N. Buchanan Street and N. Emerson Street, the trail and road are at different elevations and visibility is low, the survey said.

Although the trail is typically more heavily used than the roads, signs are limited and the street markings are worn out.

At N. Buchanan Street, staff propose using striping at the trail crossing to slow speeds and give motorists more time to see trail users, adding warning signs and possibly creating a raised crossing.

At N. Emerson Street, county staff propose raising the crossing, changing the angle of the approach to the trial and adding signs. 

Sightlines at the N. Kensington Street intersection are limited and nearby transit stops are not ADA accessible, the survey said.

They propose narrowing the trail crossing, adding ADA-compliant transit stops with boarding platforms, bringing the raised crossing up to trail grade, adding ADA-compliant tactile warning strips and improving the high-visibility crosswalk markings.

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Without in-person school, play dates and activities, many kids have lost their primary sources of social interaction and exercise due to COVID-19.

But volunteers in Arlington say a new traffic garden, a space where kids can play and learn how to travel roads safely, could restore some of the lost opportunities for play.

“It was clear we needed new stuff for kids to do,” said Fionnuala Quinn, who makes and consults on traffic gardens. “This is a friendly, happy place for them at a time when a lot has been taken away from them.”

After getting approval from the Women’s Club of Arlington (700 S. Buchanan Street) in Barcroft to use their parking lot, a group of 10 bicycling enthusiasts, community members and engineers grabbed some chalk paint and duct tape and got to work. Three-and-a-half hours later, the parking lot was transformed into space with railroad crossings, crosswalks, streets and roundabouts that kids can walk, bike or skateboard along.

“It’s a bright spot in a tough time,” said Gillian Burgess, a cycling and walking advocate and former chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, who helped with the effort.

Families seem to enjoy it and kids find it intuitive, she said.

“It’s funny, parents will ask us how to use it, but kids just do it naturally,” she said.

The crew in Arlington is one of about 30 nationwide that have repurposed parking lots and constructed these temporary traffic gardens since the start of the pandemic, Quinn said.

“Once you start looking and thinking about this, you realize there is asphalt lying neglected everywhere,” she said. “As soon as you do it, small children appear.”

The original traffic gardens were built in the 1950s in Denmark and the Netherlands. They resembled miniature cities, with tiny buildings and kid-sized roads and traffic signs.

The trend made its way to the U.S., with a large concentration of them in Ohio, where they are called safety towns, Quinn said. She has catalogued about 300 installations in the U.S.

Quinn, who lives in Reston, left her engineering job to engineer and consult on traffic gardens full-time. She said the 50s-era gardens ertr amazing, but expensive to maintain and most kids only ended up going once during their childhood.

Her job is to make these gardens easier and cheaper to build and maintain so that they can be replicated on a smaller scale, more locally, and be more accessible to all kids.

She has helped with permanent installations at two Washington, D.C. schools, and spearheaded two in Alexandria and one in Fauquier County. They required months or years of planning and work.

But temporary pop-ups, including the one in Arlington, use little resources and take less time. Once people see how much kids love them, the pop-ups also advance the community conversation toward permanent versions, she said.

The Barcroft traffic garden will be in place for a few months. Burgess is working on getting the message out through schools and neighborhood email lists and has started looking for other locations in the county. She aims to add more gardens by this spring.

The group is working with the Arlington Safe Routes to School coordinator to apply for grants to fund permanent traffic gardens at Arlington schools.

With kids learning remotely, Safe Routes to School grants are going toward different educational initiatives, including traffic gardens, Burgess said. In the meantime, she and Safe Routes are also working with the school system to make walking and biking routes to school safer.

Photos courtesy Gillian Burgess 

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Morning Notes

Expensive Bike Parking Spaces — “Metro has spent nearly $20,000 per bike parking space at three bike facilities, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found. Metro has spent over $5.9 million on the construction of 304 bike spaces at the three facilities… located at the College Park, East Falls Church and Vienna Metro stations.” [NBC 4]

Short Waits to Vote in Arlington — “Eager to avoid waiting in line while casting an early ballot? Try to avoid peak times and you should be fine. ‘Wait times are minimal,’ said county elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer, with the exception of early morning and occasionally at lunchtime. Other than that, voters have been experiencing waits of 10 minutes or less, and ‘most people are just walking straight in to vote,’ she said.” [InsideNova]

Voters Flocking to Ballot Drop-Boxes — “Arlington has set up nine dropboxes for the secure collection of ballots at points across the county, representing another option for those who neither want to vote in person nor wish to trust the U.S. Postal Service with their ballots. That network has proved ‘very popular,’ Arlington elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” [InsideNova]

Biden Leads in New Va. Poll — “Former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump 52 percent to 41 percent among likely Virginia voters, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll — roughly double Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the state in 2016. Biden’s advantage cuts across most demographic groups, with regional strength in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the Richmond area.” [Washington Post]

Local Nonprofit Featured on GMA — “Lights, camera, action! We had a wonderful experience filming with the Good Morning America team last week. The piece aired early this morning… We were thrilled by an unexpected and very generous gift from Amazon.com to help our residents weather the pandemic.” [Facebook, Vimeo]

Police Investigation Bill Signed into Law — “Gov. Northam has signed my bill (HB 5072) to empower the Atty Gen to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, or racially biased policing.” [@Lopez4VA/Twitter]

Pupatella Now Available for Delivery — “UBER EATS Now available at all locations – DC (Dupont Circle), both the Original Wilson Blvd spot and South Arlington, as well as Richmond too! We’ve partnered up with UberEats to bring you some of the best pizza around.” [@PupatellaPizza/Twitter]

Local Beer Biz Figure Dies — “Ben Tolkan, a popular figure in DC’s beer industry who was the subject of a Washingtonian feature story, died late Saturday night after a five-and-a half-year battle with cancer. He was 37.” Tolkan is survived by his wife, Abby, an Arlington County public school teacher. [Washingtonian]

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