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Morning Notes

Major Snow Storm Approaching — “At the low end, about 1 to 3 inches or so would fall on Sunday before precipitation changes to a light mix or even plain rain late Sunday into Monday. At the high end, at least 6 to 12 inches would accumulate, beginning Sunday and lasting into Monday night or Tuesday, perhaps mixed with sleet at times.” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]

Arlington GOP Eyes Comeback — “It took the election of Donald Trump in 2016 to re-energize and motivate Arlington’s dominant, but at that point somewhat moribund, Democrats. And the election result of 2020 may have had the same caffeinating impact on the Arlington County Republican Committee. ‘I’m super-pumped… by the number [of attendees] and the level of enthusiasm,’ party communications director Matthew Hurtt said at the Jan. 27 committee meeting, which attracted a crowd of about 80 to Zoom.” [InsideNova]

Bigger Comcast Bills Surprise Customers — “Dozens of Comcast Cable Communications customers in Maryland and Northern Virginia have been reaching out to FOX 5 saying, they’re concerned about their internet and WiFi bills going up as a result of hitting the new 1.2 terabyte data threshold.” [Fox 5]

Swooning Over a Woonerf — From WalkArlington: “While still early, we were excited by the idea of a woonerf in Arlington! Woonerf (pronounced VONE-erf) is a Dutch term that means ‘streets for living.’ It describes ‘common space created to be shared by pedestrians, bicyclists & low-speed motor vehicles.'” [Twitter]

Rosslyn CaBi Station Relocated — From Capital Bikeshare: “The 11-dock station at Quinn St & Key Blvd has been moved to Wilson & Quinn Blvd today. Happy riding!” [Twitter]

ARLnow’s 11th Anniversary — ARLnow started publishing 11 years ago today, just before a snowstorm. One year ago, we celebrated the anniversary with a big in-person event.

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As early as mid-spring, light poles along Wilson Blvd in Clarendon will be outfitted with new fixtures that monitor crowds and identify potential emergencies.

The technology will be installed sometime this spring as part of a pilot project involving multiple Arlington County departments as well as Comcast, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and US Ignite — a nonprofit focused on community innovation. The initiative is dubbed the “Safety and Innovation Zone demonstration project.”

During its recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board voted 4-1, with Takis Karantonis dissenting, in favor of the pilot project. US Ignite is donating $90,000 to buy the light fixtures, which Comcast will provide, along with a three-month trial of public Wi-Fi in the area.

Karantonis said his vote should not be interpreted as a vote of no-confidence, but rather, it should signal that he is still skeptical and would like to see more public engagement.

The primary use for the fixtures, to be installed along the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, will be “people counting,” said Holly Hartell, who presented the project on behalf of the Department of Technology Services. In other words, the light fixtures will monitor crowd sizes and flow to recognize unexpected movements that could indicate a potential threat or emergency situation.

“This is an effort to speed things up where seconds and minutes count,” said Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz. “If we could gain information to send the right resource to the right place in a timely fashion that could really accelerate us operationally and also safety-wise.”

The light fixtures do not have the capacity to videotape people, capture images or provide identifying information, Hartell said. They can pick up the presence or absence of an event they have been programmed to detect, such as a large crowd moving quickly. This data will be converted into text and sent to a dashboard in the county’s Emergency Communications Center.

“Everything will be anonymous,” Hartell said. “You will never be able to identify an individual person.”

Later on, the technology could be used to detect falls, blasts, shots, and distress cries, as well as sudden temperature changes or the presence of smoke.

The fire chief added that “this [pilot] is just a start and we hope to be able to build this out in the county in time.”

“We are aware of people who are concerned,” Hartell later told ARLnow, of questions raised about the project. “I understand their concerns, and I want to give them the confidence that what we’re looking at is not going to be in any way impacting their privacy.”

The partners in the project — CCI, US Ignite and Comcast — are all providing best practices on collecting data while respecting privacy, she said. The county has also developed a privacy framework to use as it goes about the project.

“We are protecting people’s privacy while improving our services,” she said.

The pilot project will be in place for about one year. The first few months will be spent refining the uses for the technology, followed by six months of data collection, and finally, an assessment period. Next spring, the county will decide if the project could be replicated elsewhere. At that time, there will be robust public engagement opportunities, Hartell said.

During the meeting, Hartell said the block was chosen because it has a vibrant business district and a “pretty active restaurant and pedestrian activity,” even now during the pandemic.

One incident the technology might have caught in that location, had it been in place a few years ago: the famous 2018 Cheesecake Factory incident, when a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control

The original proposal was to focus on social distancing and mask-wearing, according to the staff report. A small number of business members of the Clarendon Alliance were consulted on the idea, and their concern led to a shift away from coronavirus measures, staff said.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photos 2-3 via Arlington County

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Thousands of Comcast customers are reported to be without TV and internet service in Arlington tonight.

The outage is affecting a wide swath of the county, from far northern Arlington down at least to Columbia Pike, according to outage maps viewed by ARLnow.

Comcast is telling customers that it is working to restore service and hopes to do so by later tonight.

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Morning Notes

Special Election Voting Today — Voting is underway in the three-way special election to fill the late Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat. Polls are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. The candidates are Takis Karantonis, Susan Cunningham and Bob Cambridge. “Don’t forget your photo ID, ballpoint pen, and face mask,” Arlington’s election office said this morning in a tweet. [Twitter]

No Incentive Payments for Amazon This Year — “Amazon.com Inc. won’t receive any direct cash payments from Arlington County, this year at least, for its HQ2 office leases… because Amazon’s incentive payments are tied to Arlington’s tourism industry. And many rooms remain empty to this day.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS Working to Offer Free Internet Service — “In May, the Arlington County Board allocated $500,000 of funding for a joint County/School Internet Essentials Grant Program to provide broadband internet access to APS students in need. The grant, allocated as part of the federal [CARES] Act, will provide free, high-speed internet access to low-income families who qualify for Internet Essentials from Comcast. Arlington is the first community in Virginia to partner with Comcast to offer free broadband services to students and their families.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Flying Squirrel Rescued from Chimney — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “This little flying squirrel had been stuck in a local resident’s chimney since Saturday, but thankfully, Sgt Ballena was able to remove him and release him safely nearby!” [Twitter]

Synetic Organizing Joint Fundraiser — “Synetic Theater has partnered with the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) to raise $20,000 during the month of July to be split evenly between the organizations. This partnership was initiated by Synetic Theater to help fulfil the company’s desire to invest in their local community while they are unable to host live performances at their Crystal City/National Landing theater space.” [Press Release]

Interview With New Poet Laureate — “When Hollynd Karapetkova learned that she had been selected as Arlington County’s poet laureate, she saw it as a wonderful piece of good news and positive recognition at a time when everything in the world seemed so chaotic. ‘I’m really grateful that Arlington has gone ahead with this program in spite of all the chaos that’s unfolding,’ she said.” [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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(Updated 1 p.m.) The County Board is directing $500,000 in federal coronavirus stimulus and recovery funding towards closing a digital divide that the pandemic has made impossible to ignore.

“Broadband connectivity is not a luxury, it is essential for households,” County Board member Christian Dorsey said.

Dorsey said the digital divide between households with broadband internet access and those without was present before COVID-19, but social distancing and the school from home has made closing that gap more urgent than ever. Ten percent of Arlington households have no internet access, either through a wired or a mobile connection, according to a presentation Tuesday afternoon.

“This will be a critical piece in ensuring students don’t fall behind simply because they don’t have sufficient family income,” Dorsey said. Arlington Public Schools has said its rationale for not teaching new material remotely during the last half of the spring semester was because of concerns about equitable access to online resources.

Some 5,000 to 8,000 families could qualify for the county’s new program, which will provide 25/3 mbs “Internet Essentials” access and will be administered by Arlington Public Schools through a contract with Comcast. Dorsey said that internet access will also be vital for many to seek employment during and after the pandemic.

The funding is a relatively small piece of the $20.66 million in CARES Act funding allocated to Arlington and aimed at supporting programs and services impacted by COVID-19.

“This will be broadband connectivity with decent download speeds and upload speeds,” Dorsey said. “There will be no necessary costs to incur for equipment to access connectivity, it will be provided through Comcast with a self-installation kit.”

Dorsey said there will be no activation or installation fees. Internet access will also be bundled with an option to purchase a computer for $149.99.

“This pandemic has made it clear that the internet should be a utility, like water and electricity, and that everyone is going to need it in this day and age,” County Board Chair Libby Garvey said.

At its meeting last night the Board also approved $400,000 for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and Arlington Thrive, the nonprofit that provides emergency cash to those in need, and allocated an additional $500,000 to Thrive for emergency assistance, including rental assistance, to residents in need.

That’s on top of another $1 million allocated to Arlington Thrive via separate federal grants, an action that was also approved last night.

CARES Act funding will also go toward the purchase of personal protective equipment, staffing for coronavirus testing sites, and hiring more public health workers, among other things.

More from a county press release, below.

Read More

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Morning Notes

ACPD Provides Crystal City Shooting Update — “The Arlington County Police Department continues to investigate a non-fatal officer-involved shooting which occurred on August 28, 2019. The police department is committed to providing professional law enforcement services to the Arlington community while remaining transparent with the public regarding our operations. As a matter of transparency, the officer involved in the August shooting is Officer J. Clark.” [Arlington County]

Redevelopment Plan Includes Unique Towers — “The most interesting design among all of JBG’s proposals is for the two residential towers at 2525 Crystal, currently the home of the Crystal City Workout Park and a handful of sand volleyball courts.
Plans call for two interconnected towers with a stepped design, forming a V shape when viewed in profile.” [Washington Business Journal]

Favola Endorses Dehghani-Tafti — State Sen. Barbara Favola writes in an endorsement of Democratic Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney nominee Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “Parisa will work day and night to bring balance to a justice system that has relied excessively on jail time when diversion programs and common-sense drug laws would better serve us. I look forward to working with Parisa as I continue to fight for expunging the records of juveniles and decriminalizing marijuana.” [Twitter]

Comcast Outage ReportedUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Several tipsters are reporting a large Comcast cable outage in Arlington. A portion of the Comcast outage map reviewed by ARLnow shows at least 500 customers were without cable service as of 9 a.m.

Nearby: Squirrel Prompts Call to Police — “Scanner: Alexandria PD just dispatched a call regarding an ‘aggressive squirrel.'” [Twitter]

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Thousands of Comcast customers in Arlington are without internet, TV and phone service this afternoon.

A major Comcast outage is currently affecting large swaths of Arlington, from the northernmost part of the county down. Comcast’s outage map shows reported issues throughout residential North Arlington and much of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. (The map only shows areas near a given subscriber and ARLnow was unable to view areas south of the R-B corridor.)

Comcast is currently estimating restoration of service around 6-6:30 p.m.

The outage started just before 1 p.m., right around when a truck took down utility lines along Route 50. It’s unclear if that incident and the outage are related.

Among those affected by the outage are small businesses like Pupatella Pizza in Bluemont, which said via social media that its internet ordering and phone lines were down.

Map via Comcast

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Morning Notes

Residents Support HQ2 in Letters — “Many Arlingtonians want Amazon.com Inc. to set up HQ2 in Crystal City and Pentagon City — or at least that is what a slew of letters and emails to the [Arlington County Board] seems to indicate… ‘I would say the theme of the emails is: ‘Don’t blow it,” [Libby] Garvey said.” [Washington Business Journal]

Expect Fireworks at County Board Meeting — “Board Chair Christian Dorsey (D) said he has ‘no interest’ in postponing [this weekend’s Amazon] vote and has heard no suggestions to do so from other board members. He expects the measure to pass, but he also said anywhere from 100 to 400 speakers could show up for the public hearing before the vote.” [Washington Post]

More on Expected HQ2 Jobs — “While Amazon has said about half of the 25,000 HQ2 jobs here will be tech-related, we now know a bit more about the breakdown, thanks to a Thursday talk by Ardine Williams, vice president of people operations for the company, to high schoolers.” [Washington Business Journal]

Extended Comcast Outage — Much of Arlington lost its Comcast cable and internet service for several hours Sunday. [Twitter]

More Trouble for Trustify — “Real estate investment trust JBG Smith Properties Inc. is heading to court to try to collect on a $263,477.21 judgment against one of its tenants, private investigation startup Trustify. The Chevy Chase developer won an ‘unlawful detainer’ judgment against the company Jan. 31, allowing it to evict Trustify from its main office at 200 12th St. South in Crystal City.” [Washington Business Journal]

ACFD Helped Battle McLean Fire — Arlington County firefighters helped to extinguish a house fire in McLean over the weekend. One resident died in the blaze. [Tysons Reporter]

Flickr pool photo by Rex Block

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Morning Notes

Arlington Nonprofit Gets State Grant — “Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced a $175,000 grant to La Cocina VA, a nonprofit workforce development organization in Arlington County, to enhance its culinary skills training facility, create a business plan training course, and develop a small business competition.” [Gov. Terry McAuliffe]

Actual Driverless Car in Arlington — Moving beyond vans with people dressed as car seats, an actual driverless car has now taken to the streets within Arlington County. An autonomous vehicle developed by Carnegie Mellon University drove itself around Ft. Myer yesterday as part of the military base’s Industry Day event. [Facebook]

Nestle Buys Blue Bottle — Nestle, which is still moving into its new U.S. headquarters in Rosslyn, has bought Oakland, Ca.-based hipster coffee brand Blue Bottle. Could that mean that a Blue Bottle location in Arlington is around the corner? Possibly, but the company already has a location across the river in Georgetown. [Washington Business Journal, Nestle]

Arlington Gets Gigabit Internet — Comcast announced earlier this week that “it has launched a new Internet service in Arlington that will deliver speeds up to 1 Gigabit-per-second (Gbps) to residential and business customers.” According to a press release, “these speeds will be among the fastest and most widely available,” utilizing DOCSIS 3.1 technology. The cost of the service is $79.99 a month with a one-year contract or $104.95 a month without.

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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The owner of a small technology business wrote to the Arlington County Board this week to argue that the existing choices for high-speed internet service in Arlington are inadequate and new options should be considered.

Josh Blanchard, a Ballston resident, shared his letter with ARLnow.com.

Dear County Board of Arlington,

Imagine that new residents in Arlington routinely went for days or weeks without power, or water service in their new homes. Imagine that the power company routinely shut off service to new and old residents for arbitrary reasons, and that restoring service required dozens of hours spent on the phone battling a Kafkaesque bureaucracy.

This is the situation we have in Arlington county right now with internet service, and it is untenable. I’m writing to ask what plan the county has to improve competition in Arlington for reliable, high speed Internet service.

My wife and I have been Arlington residents for 10 years, and recently moved to a new home in Avon Park just west of Ballston. Our experience with Verizon FIOS has been so aggravating that I find myself regretting our decision to remain in Arlington. The prior resident at our new home had Verizon FIOS working, we are FIOS subscribers. The switch should have been flawless, as it was for our other utilities. It was not. Our service worked for 24 hours before Verizon arbitrarily shut us down, and now insists that it will be a week before they restore service. We have been on and off the phone with Verizon for days, in a series of increasingly more futile conversations. Our only other option for high speed Internet is Comcast, who offers incredibly unreliable Internet and also has terrible customer service. In our old house (also in Avon Park), we repeatedly suffered similar outages and aggravations at the hands of both Comcast and Verizon. Our experience is far from unique – terrible treatment and unreliable service from Verizon and Comcast is par for the course in Arlington County.

I’m a software engineer and business owner who works from home. Internet is not a luxury for me, it is an essential utility. Our home is replete with IoT devices that require Internet to function. The temperate in our home got to 85 degrees in the middle of the night last night because our thermostat does not function properly without Internet connectivity. Our home security will not work without internet. Not to mention, every minute we are without service costs my business money.

We live just 3 blocks away from the Ballston Business Improvement District, and as you know the county is actively courting startups and technology companies to the area. If a fellow business owner were to ask me about locating a new tech startup here, I would caution them against it, as Internet service is too essential to be left to the dreadful oligopoly we have with Comcast and Verizon. Our options for residential internet service are appalling for an urban area, making Arlington an undesirable location for most tech companies who will rely heavily on telecommuting. Commercial service options in the area are no better. If Arlington wishes to grow a tech friendly community, we must address this problem.

To that end, I have a few questions to ask you:

1) What is the county doing to court competitors to Comcast and Verizon, such as Google Fiber?

2) What steps has the county board in Arlington taken to lower the regulatory burden for laying fiber infrastructure, and court new ISP startups, like Brooklyn Fiber, Chattanooga Fiber, or Rocket Fiber in Detroit?

3) Has Arlington county explored establishing a county run municipal broadband service?

4) What other steps does the county plan to improve competition for high speed Internet service to Arlington residents?

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing your response.

Sincerely,

Josh Blanchard

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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A section of Columbia Pike closed in both directions for downed utility lines lying in the roadway.

The Pike closed to all traffic between S. Randolph Street and S. George Mason Drive, with police diverting cars onto side streets. A reader said the lines came down around 2:30 p.m. Thursday (July 15) at the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. George Mason Drive.

Crews from both Verizon and Comcast were on scene to fix the downed lines. According to scanner traffic, some lanes began to reopen just after 4:15 p.m.

Drivers in the area should expect continued delays as lanes reopen.

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