48°Partly Cloudy

Neighbors, Activists Battle Over Upton Hill Park Renovations

Starting in the next few months, Upton Hill Regional Park is set to get a major makeover — but the process of sketching out plans for the renovation work is getting a bit messy.

Some neighbors and county conservationists see the whole project as poorly conceived and deceptively managed by NOVA Parks, the regional body that maintains Upton Hill. Plans to cut down 115 trees at the park, located at 6060 Wilson Blvd near Seven Corners, strike them as a blow to both the country’s tree canopy and a disaster for stormwater runoff in the area.

But park officials, and even some of their fellow neighbors, feel these complaints have been blown entirely out of proportion, arguing that a few malcontents are lobbing bombs against a project that will transform a park sorely in need of a facelift.

The $3 million renovation work is set to proceed over the next year or more, and with a new petition urging NOVA Parks to re-think its plans, debate over the project seems sure to intensify moving forward.

“I look at this as a phenomenal upgrade to the community… and some of the arguments being made against it are beyond ridiculous,” said Chris Tighe, president of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association, where the park is located. “Eventually, we’re going to have to ask what’s more important: a couple of voices, or the safety of park-goers and this park’s future?”

Paul Gilbert, the executive director of NOVA Parks, says his group last upgraded Upton Hill back in 2006, and decided back in 2015 to pursue some upgrades to the park.

Some of the planned changes are relatively uncontroversial: park officials hope to add a new ticket booth for the park’s batting cage, renovate some of its restrooms and build a new playground in the park’s lower half (Tighe compares the current playground there to “something out of a Stephen King horror movie.”)

The arguments start over proposed additions like a ropes course, a new entrance on Wilson Blvd complete with a small parking lot and 103 new parking spaces in Upton Hill’s upper half, near its water park.

The last item on that list has attracted the most controversy, as it would require the removal of more than half of the aforementioned 115 trees in favor of thousands of square feet of pavement — a group dubbing itself the “Friends of Upton Hill” wrote on its website that Joni Mitchell warned of just an occurrence when she sang “They paved paradise/And put up a parking lot.”

“NOVA Parks has never made a convincing case for expanding parking at Upton Hill, which has a parking lot that is barely used for nine months of the year, when the water park is closed,” said Sada Aksartova, a Boulevard Manor resident. Her husband, Josh Handler, helps run the friends group, which notes that many of the trees set to be chopped down are several decades old.

Yet Tighe argues the new parking will help ease crowds at the park, avoiding the need for so many people to park on the street, and Gilbert says there’s a bit more nuance to consider regarding the trees to be cut down.

Of the 115 trees to be removed, he says 19 trees are already dead, while 31 are non-native trees, which he feels don’t add much to the area’s ecosystem. He points out that he hopes to plant dozens of new trees, shrubs and grasses elsewhere on the park to create an “oak/hickory forest” that he believes will represent a net positive for the county’s tree canopy.

Local activist Suzanne Sundberg believes Gilbert’s thinking amounts to: “We must destroy a forest to save a forest.”

“It’s degrading a park that’s just a little postage stamp of green in an ocean of parking lots,” Sundberg said.

She also fears that removing so many trees and replacing them with asphalt will worsen the already substantial stormwater management problems in the area. The friends group posted a series of videos earlier this month illustrating how huge amounts of water already flow off the park’s grounds.

But Gilbert believes the underground cistern included in plans for the new parking lot will alleviate the stormwater problems in the area, rather than exacerbate them. Furthermore, he feels those videos are misleading, as they were taken just after a heavy rainstorm.

Certainly, Gilbert has plenty of problems with the way the Friends of Upton Hill have conducted themselves. He believes the group’s name is a “complete misnomer,” dubbing it “a couple of individuals with an ax to grind” and “not a true friend’s group.” He feels the community has been broadly supportive of the project.

“We’ve worked very hard to work with the various community groups, but that doesn’t mean every individual is going to get everything they want,” Gilbert said. “And some people can understand that and some people clearly don’t.”

Sundberg believes there are plenty of people upset with the project, pointing to the new petition and work of the Arlington Tree Action Group to oppose it. Furthermore, she says that “if there are, indeed, a low number of citizens who are outraged, it’s likely because they have no idea what the plans are.”

“This whole process has been very opaque,” Sundberg said. “NOVA Parks has gotten so used to doing whatever the heck it wants… it barely posts any documents or makes any information available about this.”

Tighe charges that park officials have been “phenomenal partners every step of the way.” Other neighbors, however, are taking more of a wait-and-see approach, rather than coming out so strongly in favor of the park.

“I understand the objections from some… even if some people may be exaggerating points to serve their own conclusions,” said Brian Hannigan, president of the nearby Dominion Hills Civic Association. “Let’s follow the facts and see where they lead.”

0 Comments

Crime Report: Police Investigating Bike Robbery Near Boulevard Manor

Arlington police are investigating a bike robbery that took place near the Boulevard Manor neighborhood last week.

County police say a man was riding his bike near the intersection of Patrick Henry Drive and Wilson Blvd last Wednesday night (Aug. 1), when he stopped briefly and was approached by a man brandishing a knife.

The man demanded that the bicyclist hand over his belongings and his bike. Once he did so, the man rode off on the bike before police arrived. Police say their investigation is still ongoing.

Full details from an Arlington County crime report:

ROBBERY, 2018-08010255, Patrick Henry Drive at Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 8:53 p.m. on August 1, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery at knife point. Upon arrival, it was determined that approximately 10 minutes prior, the victim was riding his bike in the area and stopped briefly, when he was approached from behind by an unknown suspect who brandished a knife and demanded his bike and personal belongings. The suspect then stole the victim’s belongings and bike and fled on the bike prior to police arrival. Arriving officers canvased the area with negative results. The suspect is described as a Hispanic male, 20-25 years old, approximately 5’4″-5’6″ tall, with a goatee and black hair that was slightly above shoulder length, wearing a black tank top, red shorts and white sneakers. The investigation is ongoing.

Here are the rest of the past week’s crime report highlights, including some we’ve already reported:

BURGLARY (late), 2018-08070218, 1200 block of S. Forest Drive. At approximately 6:10 p.m. on August 7, police were dispatched to the late report of a burglary. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 3:00 a.m., an unknown suspect entered a garage and stole items of value. The suspect is described as a light skinned black male with a thin build, 5’11” to 6’0″ tall with slight facial hair. He was wearing a sweatshirt and hat at the time of the incident. The investigation is ongoing.

SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, 2018-08070213, 4600 block of S. Four Mile Run Drive. At approximately 6:10 p.m on August 7, police were dispatched to the report of possible shots fired. Upon arrival, it was determined that a witness was walking in the area when he heard the glass from a vehicle window break. Arriving officers located a parked vehicle with a shattered window. No physical evidence of a shooting was located at the scene and a canvas of the area resulted in no additional witnesses. No injuries were reported.

BURGLARY, 2018-08060187, 2200 block of 2nd Street N. At approximately 6:25 p.m. on August 6, police were dispatched to the report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 6:45 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., an unknown suspect(s) forced entry into a residence and stole cash. There is no suspect description. The investigation is ongoing.

BRANDISHING, 2018-08050187, 4100 block of 4th Street N. At approximately 7:51 p.m. on August 5, police were dispatched to a brandishing. Upon arrival, it was determined that two suspects entered the victim’s residence and brandished a firearm. One suspect was known to the victim. The suspects fled the scene prior to police arrival. There were no injuries reported and nothing was taken from the victim or residence during the incident. Suspect One is described as a male, 5’7″ tall, approximately 170 lbs, with long black dreadlocks. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans. Suspect Two is described as a Hispanic male, 6’0″ tall, approximately 170 lbs, with short black hair. He was wearing a black shirt, pants and shoes at the time of the incident. The investigation is ongoing.

ROBBERY (late), 2018-08030191, 5000 block of Chesterfield Road. At approximately 2:32 p.m. on August 3, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 11:00 p.m. on August 2, the victim was walking to a store when he was approached by two suspects who asked for a dollar. When the victim refused, one suspect brandished a firearm and assaulted the victim before stealing his personal property. The suspects are described as black men with long dreadlocks, approximately 5’7″, both wearing dark jeans and white tank tops. The investigation is ongoing.

LARCENY FROM AUTO (Series), 2018-08030320/08030326/08040004/08040022/08040012/08040076/08040098/08040110/08040191, 1200 block of S. Eads Street/1100 block of S. Joyce Street/1600 block of S. Joyce Street/1900 block of S. Eads Street/1500 block of S. Arlington Ridge Road/500 block of 15th Street S./1600 block of S. Eads Street/1100 block of Army Navy Drive. At approximately 11:00 p.m. on August 3, police began responding to the above locations for multiple reports of larcenies from auto. Upon arrival, it was determined that the windows of approximately 20 vehicles were smashed and airbags stolen. During the course of the investigation, it was also determined that two vehicles each had a set of four tires and rims stolen. The investigation is ongoing.

BURGLARY, 2018-08030239, 500 block of N. Frederick Street. At approximately 6:30 p.m. on August 3, police were dispatched to the late report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 9:00 p.m. on August 2 and 6:15 p.m. on August 3, an unknown suspect(s) gained entry to a residence and stole items of value. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

0 Comments

Video: Demolition Work Starts at Powhatan Springs Skate Park

Demolition work is now fully underway at the Powhatan Springs Skate Park, as part of an effort to fully overhaul the 14-year-old facility.

The park, located at 6020 Wilson Boulevard in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood, is the county’s only park designed specifically for skateboarders. The County Board gave the green light for construction to get started back in May, as the facility had started to deteriorate and needed a facelift, and workers started tearing down the park earlier this month.

In all, crews will “remove some 500 cubic yards of poured concrete weighing nearly 2 million pounds,” according to a news release, and then transport that concrete to a county facility in Shirlington to crush it up. The county plans to use the rubble that remains “as the base layer of crushed rock beneath rebuilt county roads, providing drainage and stability for the asphalt that sits on top.”

“While recycling the concrete rubble of the old park won’t save the county a lot of money, it will reduce waste, consistent with Arlington’s commitment to environmental consciousness and stewardship,” the county wrote in the release.

Workers hope to finish removing all the concrete from the site by the time the month is up, then plan to start work on some stormwater management upgrades and electrical work. By mid-September, the county hopes to have a contractor starting work on the new park features, which include a completely new set of bowls and half pipes for skaters.

The county hopes to have the new park open by early next year.

0 Comments

Residents Continuing to Fight Planned Baseball Field at Bluemont Park

Undeterred by the fact that the Arlington County Board already approved a contract for the project earlier this summer, a group of Bluemont and Boulevard Manor residents are continuing to fight the planned construction of a baseball and softball field in Bluemont Park.

Opponents of the project faced off with youth baseball and softball boosters — who support the new field and say it’s necessary to meet demand — at a community meeting Wednesday night. The “listening session” was organized by Arlington County, in response to opposition to the field that has been building since late summer.

A primary concern of the opponents: that the field will be fenced in, thus precluding other uses of what’s currently a poorly maintained but open baseball diamond. A temporary construction fence is already up at the site.

In a presentation during the meeting, county staff said the renovation will bring the field to “County and industry standards and address accessibility, safety and stormwater requirements.”

A county spokeswoman, meanwhile, said the discussion from the meeting and other community feedback will be considered by county staff and the County Board.

“The community is invited to share additional feedback on the website through October 14,” said Bryna Helfer, Arlington’s newly-appointed Director of Communications and Public Engagement. “The County Manager will update the Board at the November 10, 2016 County Board recessed meeting.”

Baseball field opponents said the meeting did not change any minds or clear up the process going forward.

“It was the usual dog-and-pony show,” said local activist Suzanne Sundburg.

“There were a number of speakers who supported the fencing, baseball-softball enthusiasts, naturally,” Sundburg said. “But they were evenly matched by the number of other park users in the community who do not want open space to be fenced off permanently for just a single sport that is played, at most 8 months a year.”

“Staff couldn’t answer any questions about the construction schedule,” she continued. “Nor could they provide any timetable or date for a follow-up meeting.”

Sundburg said that some county staffers “indicated that the plan was pretty much set and that only ‘tweaks’ would be possible at this late date,” while others “were more open to urging the board to consider ‘options.'”

Opponents have been using data and quantitative analysis to make the case against a year-round, fenced in baseball field.

One emailed county staff with “data… assembled and analyzed over the past 3 weeks,” arguing that baseball fields are used for only a portion of daylight hours during the year and that there are enough fields for existing baseball and softball games. Another argument: that the project is within a floodplain.

“No one wants to prevent the existing field from being used for baseball, though several people asked whether rehabbing this particular field (to the tune of $700K) made sense, given the existing drainage problems, proximity to a Chesapeake Bay Resource Protection Area, and the fact that this field lies in a FEMA floodplain,” the resident wrote.

0 Comments

Residents Want County Board to Cancel Bluemont Park Baseball Field Project

A $720,000 project to renovate a baseball field in Bluemont Park, approved by the County Board in July, is now facing some community resistance.

A number of residents, along with the Boulevard Manor and Bluemont civic associations, have written letters to the Board asking them to reconsider their decision. The primary concern: a planned fence around the new field.

“Permanently fencing off over a quarter of the open field at Bluemont Park is a drastic action that deserves the full ‘Arlington Way’ treatment,” wrote Boulevard Manor Civic Association President Phil Klingelhofer.

“In violation of the ‘Arlington Way,’ the decision was made with no input from the community and was hidden on the County Board’s Consent Agenda with no notice… of the drastic change it proposed making to Bluemont Park,” Klingelhofer continued. “Our Civic Association first heard of a proposal to improve Bluemont field number 3 when we got a cryptic notice of a meeting to ‘learn about planned field renovations.'” (Links added.)

In a Board report published June 30, county staff said the new baseball field will include “sod, new irrigation, site circulation, fencing, backstops, bleachers, site furnishings, signage, ADA accessibility improvements, landscaping, and site drainage.” An included diagram details a “proposed” fence along with proposed bullpens and a proposed batting cage.

“Athletic field #3 is beyond reasonable maintenance and requires full renovation,” the report notes. Residents, however, say that a fenced-in baseball field — as opposed to the current open baseball field — reduces recreational options in the park.

“Irrespective of whether the process was sufficiently transparent, a bad plan is still a bad plan,” wrote Bluemont resident Suzanne Smith Sundburg. “The fencing and thus conversion of what is currently multipurpose, open-field parkland to a dedicated, single-sport field does a disservice to the many Boulevard Manor and Bluemont community residents as well as other residents who use this space for a variety of athletic and recreational activities. Passive, flexible, open-field space costs little to maintain and maximizes the use of the space.”

A Boulevard Manor resident complained to the Board that the public process behind the field was lacking.

“The purpose of the poorly understood March meeting becomes all the more murky if county staff was presenting a fait accompli to whoever may have attended rather than soliciting real input about the merits of the project,” wrote Joshua Handler. “I ask that the County Board rescind its decision to build a permanent baseball diamond… until the project can be thoroughly vetted by the adjacent communities and its impacts on greenspace, the multipurpose use of the park, the quality of life of the surrounding neighborhoods and the park visitors’ experience.”

Sundburg also expressed concern about runoff from the field into the Chesapeake Bay — as well as a short connector trail that’s set to be built as part of the project. The trail is billed as a “safe route” for nearby Ashlawn Elementary.

Sundburg wrote:

My second concern is the “Safe Routes to School trail connector.” More pavement means more runoff. And calling this a “safe route” sounds like a really sick joke considering that a convicted sex offender has been living in the [neighborhood], just east of where this “safe” route connection is to be constructed. The man has completed his sentence and is free to roam about. Neighbors in this area have reported seeing him frequently walking on the nearby paths and in the parks, particularly at times when children are arriving home from school.

County staff and the County Board have worked hard to urbanize Arlington. With urbanization come some unpleasant realities — including more two-footed predators living among us. Encouraging Bluemont’s young children to walk along isolated paths and through parks to get to school is beyond belief.

This isn’t the first controversy over a recreational facility in the Bluemont area. Four years ago the community was roiled by a since-scrapped proposal to build bocce court along the Bluemont Trail.

The County Board will have its first meeting of the fall, following its August break, this coming Saturday.

0 Comments

Racist, Homophobic Graffiti Found on Trail, Around Neighborhood

Arlington County Police are trying to figure out who is responsible for a series of racist and homophobic graffiti along the Bluemont Junction Trail and around the Boulevard Manor neighborhood.

The graffiti was first spotted last night along the trail, with the N-word and the F-word spray-painted on the trail and other graffiti on rocks and on a trampoline at a nearby property, according to scanner traffic. It was reported that a group of teenagers was responsible for the graffiti, but police were unable to locate the group at the time.

This morning, more graffiti was found around the Boulevard Manor neighborhood, immediately west of the trail.

“At approximately 5:30 a.m., an unknown suspect(s) vandalized numerous items in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood of Arlington,” wrote Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “The vandalism included destruction of property and graffiti.”

“This series is similar to the vandalism on the Bluemont trail yesterday and detectives are investigating whether or not these are linked,” Savage told ARLnow.com. “The graffiti included various derogatory terms to include swastikas, N-word and homosexual slangs. This is an ongoing and active investigation and will include determining if this could be a hate crime.”

The vandalism was widespread around the neighborhood, including properties on the following streets, according to police.

  • 6000 block of 4th Street N.
  • 100 block N. Nottingham Street
  • Unit block of N. Montague Street (at Washington Blvd)
  • 500 block of N. Montague Street
  • 400 block N. Lombardy
  • 200 block of N. Nottingham Street
  • 500 block of N. Lombardy Street

Along the Bluemont trail, neighbors said the vandals damaged the trail and some neighborhood landmarks.

“I’ve lived here for 40-something years and when I saw the blue on the rocks down here, these rocks have been there forever,” said Debbie Cowell. “If I saw somebody doing it, I definitely would have said something.”

“I have no idea who did it, my guess is kids,” said William Pearson. “A couple years ago this wouldn’t have happened. I think because of the influx of families, my guess it that it’s teenagers being teenagers.”

Additional reporting and photos by Adrian Cruz and Jackie Friedman.

0 Comments

Morning Notes

"Hoth" snow fort near Ballston (photo courtesy Susan Schonfeld)

Power Outage in Boulevard Manor — About 120 Dominion customers have been without power for much of the morning in Arlington’s Boulevard Manor neighborhood. A damaged power line is said to be the cause. Power may not be restored until later this afternoon.

Garvey Wants More Millennials Engaged With Gov’t — One of Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey’s goals for the year is to find ways for the county government to better engage younger residents. Garvey said members of the Millennial generation get “a little bit of a bad rap” but “really do want to be involved and help.” One possible Millennial-friendly measure that Garvey floated: allowing people to use Skype to speak at County Board meetings. [InsideNova]

Business’ Unplowed Sidewalks Called Out on Social Media — Arlington residents are using Facebook and Twitter to call out businesses and commercial property owners that haven’t yet plowed their sidewalks. One such example is the sidewalk in front of Colonial Village Shopping Center, which as of this morning was still snow-covered even though the shopping center’s parking lot has been plowed. [Twitter]

Arlington Hoping to Get Federal Funds for Snow Cleanup — The Arlington County Board yesterday ratified a declaration of a local emergency, which may help the county receive federal disaster relief funds for its ongoing blizzard cleanup effort. The county has spent more than $800,000 on post-blizzard snow removal so far. [InsideNova]

TSA HQ Limbo Continues — A federal judge’s ruling has left the Transportation Security Administration’s planned move to a new headquarters in Alexandria in limbo. The TSA is currently based in Pentagon City, but the agency is trying to consolidate four offices into one, larger headquarters office. Bisnow’s Ethan Rothstein reports that insiders are expecting “some movement either way in a matter of weeks.” [Bisnow]

Photo courtesy Susan Schonfeld

0 Comments

New Proposal Forthcoming for Reevesland Farmhouse

Karl VanNewkirk(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) A new proposal for the Reevesland farmhouse may be the compromise needed between the County Board and farmhouse supporters who don’t want the farmhouse to be sold to a private party.

Karl VanNewkirk, the president of the Arlington Historical Society, spoke at the Arlington County Board meeting on Saturday, informing the Board members that he has been working with the Boulevard Manor Civic Association to create a new plan for the farmhouse.

While VanNewkirk did not provide a detailed plan during his speaking time, he did say that the county’s estimate of $2-2.5 million in renovations costs was being driven by the need for a large parking lot and American Disabilities Act compliance. Under a private ownership, the farmhouse would not need the lot nor to be fully compliant with ADA.

“I would like to ask two things from you,” he said to the Board. “A: would you give us a little more time to develop a detailed plan that would meet with your approval and B: would you continue to allow staff, the county staff, to work with us?”

VanNewkirk told ARLnow.com that the Boulevard Manor Civic Association and Preservation Arlington are looking at options for the farmhouse. Arlington Historical Society will discuss whether it wants to join in the effort at a meeting of board directors on tonight, he said.

Reeves farmhouse (photo courtesy Peter Roof)

The bare bones of the plan is for a non-profit partner of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association, and other supporting groups, to buy the farmhouse from the county, said Sandra Spear, who is leading the working group on the farmhouse for the civic association.

The civic association is helping to raise funds through charitable donations to help with the costs of renovations, Spear said.

“Our plan is nascent at this time, but the barest bones are that we propose to purchase the house from the County for a nominal sum, lease the land on which it sits, raise money to restore it, and use it in some fashion as a museum to Arlington’s agricultural past. Each element of this plan differs from Reevesland Learning Center’s (RLC) proposal,” Spear said.

It would not be a full learning center, as the Reevesland Learning Center proposed, because of ADA and parking lot runoff concerns. However, the groups may incorporate some of those elements into its proposal, VanNewkirk said.

“Have we fleshed it [a proposal] out, not yet, but we are working on it,” VanNewkirk said.

Board member Libby Garvey told the other Board members that she had also met with the Boulevard Manor Civic Association and that she found its plan for Reevesland to be more responsible than the one proposed by the Reevesland Learning Center.

“What the Boulevard Manor folk are looking at is a different approach and much more responsible, and I’m pleased to see them doing that,” Garvey said.

VanNewkirk and the Boulevard Manor Civic Association have reached out to the Reevesland Learning Center but they have not responded yet, VanNewkirk told ARLnow.com.

Board member John Vihstadt was also in support of VanNewkirk and Boulevard Manor Civic Association’s work toward a plan for the farmhouse.

“This is really the first time that we have heard that there has been any effort by the supporters of Reevesland and the larger community to actually raise funds and I look forward to some sort of public-private partnership as opposed to just county tax dollars for this facility,” he said during the board meeting.

Despite the newfound potential steps forward for the farmhouse, members of the Reevesland Learning Center group are still upset over the Board’s May vote.

Joan Horwitt of the Reevesland Learning Center on Saturday asked Board members to reverse their vote on the sale of the farmhouse. Her public comment turned heated as Chair Mary Hynes and Horwitt argued, with both speaking over the other.

Hynes stopped Horwitt’s speech saying that the Board had already heard one speaker for the topic of Reevesland farmhouse. County Board rules say that there can only be one speaker per topic during the general public comment period.

Horwitt argued that she was speaking about the public process behind the vote, not the actual farmhouse.

“It didn’t sound like that in your beginning paragraph,” Hynes said to Horwitt. “Want to get to the part where you talk to us about public process?”

Hynes started the meeting’s public comment section by reminding all speakers of the Board’s rules for public comment, including that the Board would not hear comments about items that have already been decided on, items on the day’s agenda or items that were advertised for a public hearing.

The rules are not new and are adopted every January, Hynes said. Public comment is supposed to be used to allow people to bring new items to the Board’s attention, she told ARLnow.com.

“So I was basically trying to say that public comment is not to rehash a topic or give early testimony on a topic,” she said.

Hynes said she noticed that more people are attempting to talk about topics that are already decided, something that also happened during the prolonged debate about Columbia Pike streetcar project. When this happens, the Board and residents end up talking about the same thing every month, she said.

While some residents were upset after being prevented from speaking at the Saturday meeting, Hynes said public comment is not the only way people can interact with the Board.

“People can call us, people can reserve an appointment with us, people can contact us through mail, and they do,” she noted.

Farmhouse photo courtesy Peter Roof

0 Comments

Wilson Blvd Lane Changes Provoke Love, Hate Among Residents

Another big battle is brewing in Bluemont and this one is not about bocce.

Wilson Blvd was recently repaved and restriped between the Safeway and Bon Air Park, so that instead of four lanes of traffic, it is now has two lanes of traffic, a turn lane and two bike lanes. The change seems to have brought about two separate realities.

To hear one group of residents tell it, traffic is flowing as normal but families can finally walk down the narrow sidewalks along Wilson Blvd without the fear of imminent vehicle-induced death.

To hear the other group tell it, the loss of a lane in each direction is causing a traffic nightmare that’s adding 20-40 minutes to Wilson Blvd commutes during the morning and evening rush hours. Their tales of woe are relatively consistent.

“I had the displeasure of commuting westbound on Wilson Blvd Thursday [May 28] at 6 p.m.,” driver Alexi Bustillo told ARLnow.com via email. “It took me 20 minutes from Glebe and Wilson to Manchester and Wilson (1 mile distance).”

“Morning traffic backs up from the light by Bon Air Park up the hill… with dangerous merging,” said Josh Laughner, via Twitter. It’s “dangerous [because you can’t] see traffic stopped at bottom of [the] hill. At night it’s pretty bad where the merging starts by Pupatella. I never had any backups morning/night when it was two lanes all the way through.”

“The message boards of [the Boulevard Manor and Dominion Hills neighborhoods, to the west of the restriping] are full of the comments,” a tipster said. “Many complaints about trip times during morning and evening rush hours taking 20-40 minutes on the stretch between George Mason and Manchester.”

ARLnow.com visited the stretch during a morning and evening rush hour this week and didn’t observe any abnormally heavy traffic. Supporters of the restriping say, essentially, that it’s the answer to their pedestrian prayers and they don’t know what the critics are talking about.

“We are so grateful to Arlington County for these improvements!” said Ed Fendley, co-chair of the Bluemont Civic Association Sidewalk Safety Task Force. “The restriped roadway is working great. Traffic is flowing really well. Fewer drivers are speeding. When I’m driving, it is now easier for me to turn left onto Wilson because I can use the center turn lane to stage my turn.”

“It feels so much safer to walk and bicycle,” Fendley continued. “For the time ever, my kids and I bicycled on Wilson Boulevard to go to La Union restaurant. The road is now safer and more accessible for everyone — just as we had hoped.”

“I just want to say that for the first time in the 23 years I’ve lived on Kensington Street, my family and I have been able to comfortably walk down Wilson Boulevard,” said Chris Healey, Fendley’s co-chair. “I can’t express how great it is to be able to walk to Safeway and the many great neighborhood restaurants and shops without worrying about being clipped by a passing car or bus. This is a giant step toward Bluemont becoming a true community. We look forward to phase two and we are confident that the momentum from the success of this project will take us there sooner rather than later.”

(Phase II of the project, which will take place should the county be satisfied with the flow of traffic and pedestrians on the reconfigured roadway, will include wider sidewalks and other improvements.)

“For the first time in two decades, kids can walk or bike safely to Ashlawn school and the pools on Wilson Blvd,” said Tom Carter, a 21-year Dominion Hills resident. “The walkable, bikeable stretch of Wilson should be extended from Seven Corners to Clarendon. Families should be able to walk and bike through the heart of Arlington.”

In a press release, Fendley provided four more quotes in support of the project, from the Bluemont Civic Association president, a local business owner and two local moms.

The Sidewalk Safety Task Force held a celebration of the Wilson Blvd changes this past weekend in Bon Air Park. Arlington County Board members Walter Tejada and John Vihstadt attended and were among a group of about 40 that walked or biked up Wilson to see the changes first hand.

Arlington County, for its part, says it’s monitoring the changes but expects traffic to eventually ease as drivers get used to the lane reconfiguration.

From Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter:

The Wilson Boulevard restriping between North Frederick and North Manchester Street targets improvements to safety and accessibility for all modes of travel. Some benefits include: expanded travel options (including safer bicycle facility), improved pedestrian safety with bike lane buffer between sidewalk and vehicle travel lane, and improved speed limit compliance. The new left turn lane also improves safety and ease for motorists turning left into and out of driveways and streets along Wilson.

Drivers may have experienced traffic delays throughout construction and while crews were finishing installation of the permanent pavement markings and signage. As motorists learn the new pattern and adjust to the changes, we anticipate traffic improving along this section.

As a demonstration project, the restriping will be monitored closely to determine whether a complete streets project-currently unfunded-is viable along the entire section of Wilson, west of North Glebe Road. There is no schedule yet for this potential second phase of the project, which includes sidewalk widening.

County staff will continue to observe operations and consider striping adjustments as needed.

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list