Prompted by two critical crashes in two weeks, Arlington County is taking a look at a common thread between them: alleys.
Last week in Westover, a car struck a toddler, who is now recovering from serious injuries, while exiting an alley onto N. Longfellow Street. Neighbors say the alley is frequented by cyclists and pedestrians, including students from nearby schools, but has dangerous blind spots.
Two weeks ago in Green Valley, a motorcyclist — who witnesses say exited the 23rd Street S. alley at a high speed — died while trying to avoid hitting a school bus. Instead, he flew off his motorcycle and into the bus, which had children onboard.
A team that includes Arlington County police, Virginia State Police, transportation engineers, public health representatives and a representative from the County Manager’s office will be evaluating these crashes, while county transportation engineers will be looking at other local alleys to find improvements, says Katie O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Services.
“As part of our Vision Zero Action Plan, we regularly review and evaluate critical crashes to identify actionable items that we can implement and respond to quickly,” O’Brien said. “In addition to reviewing this terrible incident [in Westover], the team is taking a systematic examination of alleys throughout the County to improve safety given the recent tragic crash that also occurred at an alley on 23rd Street S.”
The toddler from Westover remains hospitalized but is recovering, says Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. The child, who was pulled from under the striking car before first responders arrived on scene, suffered serious injuries including, reportedly, a fractured skull.
Meanwhile, the body of the 26-year-old Alexandria man who died in the motorcycle crash will be transported overseas for his funeral.
Both crashes remain active and ongoing investigations, Savage said, adding that there are no additional details to provide.
Blind spots add peril to Westover alley
In Westover, neighbors say the alley where the crash occurred is frequented by students headed to Swanson Middle School and folks on bikes and with strollers, who use a hole in the fence at the end of the alley to get to school or to the Custis Trail.
“It’s actually a more trafficked area than it might appear to be,” said one neighbor, Stefanie Cruz.
But it has blind spots for drivers. Where it intersects with N. Longfellow Street, there’s a large hedge to the right and a house to the left that neighbors say can obscure oncoming pedestrians, playing kids and traffic.
“It’s a dangerous alley, and it’s been a dangerous alley, and I don’t know if anyone’s been paying attention to that,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that it took something like this to make the alley safer.”
New AG Targets N. Va. Prosecutors — “Virginia Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares said that he and Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will pursue legislation to enable the state’s attorney general to circumvent ‘social justice’ commonwealth’s attorneys who refuse to vigorously prosecute crimes. At a news conference on Thursday, Miyares laid out ‘one of our major legislative initiatives’ which Youngkin ‘has already indicated that he would sign… into law.'” [Fox News]
Department Bans ‘Kill’ from Feedback — From Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt: “Today I learned it’s against our ‘Community Guidelines’ to tell DES that their designs are going to get someone killed.” [Twitter]
Younger Va. Voters Get Less Blue — From ARLnow opinion columnist Nicole Merlene: “Millennials and Gen Z swung almost 10% from Ds to Rs in the #VAGov election. That is ONE THIRD of voters in Virginia. More % of voters than college educated white women — so why are they the story?” [Twitter]
Local Legion Post Getting New Flagpole — “The Arlington House chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution on Oct. 28 presented a financial contribution in support of the effort to raise a new flagpole at the post, which is being redeveloped in partnership with the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). DAR chapter regent Nancy Weinberg in 2020 contacted Bob Romano, then-post commander of Sgt. Dorothy M. Doyle American Legion Post 139, to discuss what could be done to assist Post 139 during the construction period.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Friday — Today will be sunny, with a high near 54. Sunrise at 7:40 a.m. and sunset at 6:03 p.m. Saturday will be sunny, with a high near 56, while Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 58.
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Lee Highway is in full retreat and near surrender as it falls back to the Courthouse area.
The Arlington County Board voted in July to change the name of Lee Highway to Langston Blvd, honoring the first U.S. representative of color from Virginia rather than the Confederate general. Recently, county crews have been replacing the Lee Highway signs along the Route 29 corridor, working from west to east, to reflect the new name.
As of Tuesday the work reached the intersection of Langston Blvd and N. Veitch Street, just north of Courthouse.
“Crews have replaced signs from Williamsburg to North Veitch and will continue to Rosslyn,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Jessica Baxter tells ARLnow. “This will take a couple of weeks as it is dependent on weather and scheduling with other ongoing maintenance work.”
Baxter noted that the sign replacement project will cost several hundred thousand dollars.
“The cumulative cost estimate, including the replacement I-66 signage, is up to $300,000 and will be paid for out of the County Manager’s Contingent in the FY 2022 operating budget,” she said.
Fairfax County last week launched a community engagement process to determine whether its stretch of Route 29 should drop the Lee Highway name.
A newly-reopened segment of the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail in Falls Church boasts a feature that could be replicated in Arlington: separate paths for cyclists and those on foot.
Regional parks authority NOVA Parks widened just over one mile of the trail through the Little City in order to accommodate separate tracks. The organization celebrated the completion of the five-year, $3.7 million project this morning.
The parks authority says something similar should be done along the Arlington segment, which has seen an increased number of pedestrians, leisure riders and commuters competing for the same narrow asphalt strip.
“Our focus was getting Falls Church completed, since we had all the funds and city approval lined up for that,” NOVA Parks Director Paul Gilbert said. “The next step will be to see when we can get the Arlington section done — when we have design work done and we can talk to civic groups.”
Two years ago, the organization signaled its intent to widen the two-mile stretch between N. Roosevelt Street and N. Carlin Springs Road and incorporate separated trails. Work is contingent, however, on when a $5.6 million grant from the Northern Virginia Transit Authority becomes available.
That likely won’t happen until 2024, but having the Falls Church segment done helps the process in Arlington, he says.
“It’s not a theoretical,” he said. “Everyone can experience it, see it, understand how it works.”
Among those trying it out was local cycling advocate Gillian Burgess, who hit the trails this past weekend, ahead of the official opening today.
Beautiful weekend to enjoy a bike ride…
On a lovely, car free trail…
That is WIDE and SEPARATES PEOPLE WALKING & BIKING!!!
— Boo-from-home Gillian (@BikeGillian) September 6, 2021
She says she wants to see similar mode-separated trails for the entire length of the W&OD in Arlington, as well as the Mt. Vernon Trail, the Bluemont Trail and parts of the Custis and Four Mile Run trails.
Gilbert says widening large sections of the Arlington W&OD Trail is “feasible, desirable and necessary.”
Arlington County’s transportation division is kicking off its ambitious plan to eliminate traffic deaths with a series of relatively quick safety projects.
For now, most of those projects appear to be in North Arlington.
Four months ago, the Arlington County Board adopted a five-year action plan that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries, known as “Vision Zero.” The plan lays out a systematic approach to safety improvements, addressing the most urgent needs through data analysis, equity and community engagement.
These improvements vary in scope: “quick-build projects” address immediate needs quickly using low-cost materials, while larger-scale projects require funding from the county’s Capital Improvement Program or grants. Others include pilot projects and regular maintenance work.
“We’re focusing initially on small-scale operational improvements… a small but important part of program,” said Dennis Leach, the director of transportation for the Department of Environmental Services.
Residents will see upgrades such as curb and median extensions, improved bus stops, curb-and-gutter repairs, new ramps and new high visibility crosswalks. DES has already completed eight “quick-build” projects and 11 are underway, according to its website.
Staff identify projects by analyzing crash data and considering reports by police, Arlington Public Schools and community members. They are constructed on a rolling basis.
For example, this month, staff completed a new mid-block crosswalk across N. Ohio Street that will improve access to Cardinal Elementary School and Swanson Middle School School. Staff are now installing a crosswalk with accessible curb ramps over Sycamore Street for better access to Tuckahoe Park and Tuckahoe Elementary School.
Of the 19 completed and under-construction projects, only three appear to be in South Arlington. One Twitter user mapped out the geographic spread of these projects, raising questions about how these projects are chosen and when DES will make its way south, given that equity is a core tenant of Vision Zero.
I mapped all of the @arlingtondes Quick-Build Vision Zero program projects in progress or completed. This is the primary program getting some extra paltry funding for safety.— Car-Free HQ2 (@CarFreeHQ2) September 28, 2021
Um, notice any patterns?https://t.co/nYVzFq1Nw1 pic.twitter.com/zcznoZJ8Ru
Leach said that could be because there are a number of older community and school requests being worked through.
“I think there’s an issue of a pipeline of small projects that may have gotten their start in early years,” Leach said. “What you see in the pipeline of quick-build projects has been built up over years… These projects may have gotten their start before Vision Zero was adopted.”
Transportation and Operations Bureau Chief Hui Wang said these projects are “a very small, skewed piece of the transportation program” because they don’t show large-scale investments, such as those on Columbia Pike.
“When we’re talking about balance, equity, we have to make sure that we’re not looking at it through a shaded lens,” she said.
“[Columbia Pike] is our single largest focus areas, as it has some of our oldest infrastructure,” he said. “In other parts of the county, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, private development builds a lot of the infrastructure. In Columbia Pike, until recently, there’s been little private development — there’s more now — but it’s been left to county to actually make those investments in advance of redevelopment.”
When asked if certain communities generate more traffic reports than others, Wang said DES doesn’t map out community reports because it’s hard to categorize them and her team doesn’t have the resources for that.
“My team is focused on the engineering part — our goal is trying to get things done,” she said.
The data-based approach helps weed out what is a perceived safety risk versus actual safety risks, Wang noted.
“We use crash data to identify real problems,” she said. “We’re using data as a guiding force, focusing on high-injury networks.”
Chris Slatt, who is president of transportation advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County, said it’s not surprising that initial projects will skew toward North Arlington.
“Complaint-driven processes are well-known to reflect the biases of whom within the community is best equipped to spend precious time and energy complaining, so we would fully expect that method of identifying projects to skew toward the more affluent areas of Arlington unless staff works intentionally to correct that bias,” he said.
Arlington County public works staff tested out their snow-plowing, water main-fixing skills — and equipment — during a “roadeo” yesterday (Thursday) at Long Bridge Park.
About 75-100 Water, Sewer, Streets Bureau staff participated as either contestants or judges, Department of Environmental Services spokesman Peter Golkin said. The first equipment “roadeo” in recent years was 2014, although the county used to hold the event in the past, he added.
Contestants demonstrated their ability to navigate Bobcats and snowplows around traffic cones and their precision when maneuvering a backhoe, or digger. This involved guiding a hook attached to the digger through a small metal loop.
Water works crews tested out their ability to assemble water meters in “Meter Madness” and respond to water main breaks in “Rapid Tappin.” This year featured an all-female pipe-tapping team, Golkin said.
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) September 16, 2021
Winners of the backhoe and snow plow contests will represent Arlington at a “roadeo” hosted by the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Public Works Association next spring. Winners of the water events will compete at the Virginia Section American Water Works Association regional competition on Oct. 5-6.
This video of the 2019 “roadeo,” shot by staff photographer Jay Westcott, gives a closer look at the skills on display during the annual event.
If Arlington County collects your yard waste, you can now add food scraps to your green organics cart starting this week.
This collection service, which started on Monday, is now part of the county’s regular weekly trash, recycling and yard waste collection routes. Food scraps and yard waste will be delivered together to a professional composting facility in Prince William County.
“Food scrap collection represents years of planning and organization by County staff and members of the community, guided by the Solid Waste Bureau,” according to the Department of Environmental Services. “The new program makes Arlington one of the first localities in the nation to gather residential food waste as a part of standard curbside services.”
Eligible residents received a small, beige countertop food caddy — which, up until now, some have used as coolers — and a set of compostable bags last month. The county distributed the supplies so folks can store scraps inside and bring filled bags to their green carts.
DES recommends people keep the pail, lined with a compostable bag — available at Target, on Amazon and at grocery stores — on a kitchen counter. Just before one’s weekly trash pickup time, the food scraps should be bagged, put in the green cart and rolled out for collection.
Those who worry about odors or insects can keep the pail or scrap bag in the freezer or refrigerator. Other alternatives include storing scraps in Tupperware or bins with charcoal filters.
Residents can toss a wide range of materials that qualify as “food scraps” into their green carts: from apple and banana peels to meats, bones, coffee grounds and even greasy pizza boxes and used paper napkins. A user’s guide was distributed along with the countertop caddy, and is also posted on the county website.
“The initiative marks another milestone in Arlington’s commitment to sustainability, diverting organic waste from incineration with regular trash,” the county said. “The compost generated will find its way into Arlington parks and community gardens and eventually individual yards, just as residents can pick up and order mulch for delivery from the County.”
Arlington is providing the service as part of its goal to divert 90% of waste from landfills and incinerators by 2038.
The county encourages residents who don’t receive weekly curbside collection to drop off their scraps at the Arlington County Trades Center in Shirlington (2700 S. Taylor Street), the Columbia Pike Farmers Market on Sundays, or MOM’s Organic Market (1901 N. Veitch Street). Residents who don’t get the county’s curbside collection service — which serves mostly single-family homes — can also email [email protected] for tips.
The new food scraps collection has even attracted entrepreneurs who are anticipating a stinky problem that they can solve.
“As opposed to using mild soap and a hose, our high-pressure 180-degree steam process sterilizes and deodorizes your organic bin, safeguarding it from attracting unpleasant visitors and ensuring you don’t dread the next time you open it,” said co-owner Ryan Miller.
Abigail Brooks and her husband moved into their new home on N. Ivy Street, which was built in 2020, in April of this year.
Since then, she says they’ve been stuck in a Residential Permit Parking program quagmire. While they live on a street that is in an RPP zone, they have not been able to get their address approved for a permits, meaning the couple could get ticketed for parking on their own street.
“Our house was built along with two others and it is only ours that is not showing correctly for parking,” she said. “I have tried different forms, emails, calling, etc. and still cannot get this resolved.”
Brooks said she has also found some people with the same issues through the gym to which she and her husband belong.
“A couple of us did new construction at the same time so we’ve shared lessons learned, timelines, etc.,” she said.
In a months-long email back-and-forth with the parking team, provided to ARLnow, county staff repeatedly said the Brooks’ address is not eligible for the program. Even an attempt to get a county real estate appraiser to confirm her home’s assessment information and thus parking permit eligibility was unsuccessful.
But Department of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet found that Brooks is correct: her home should be eligible.
“The resident is likely facing this issue because of a technical problem we’re experiencing that is preventing us from adding newly created addresses to our database,” he said. “This problem only affects newly created addresses… not existing addresses.”
The problem — affecting four households that the county knows of — was first identified in June 2021, but staff had a workaround in the database. That workaround stopped functioning in mid-July, Balliet said.
“We anticipate having the problem fixed by next week,” he said.
Until this issue is resolved, Balliet said residents can fill out a paper permit application and pay the permit fees in-person at county government headquarters. Staff will manually add the resident’s parking permit order to the system.
Brooks said it is unfortunate that she couldn’t get the same answer from the county.
“If they had responded and explained the issue, I would have understood and stopped bothering them for it to be fixed,” she said.
She praised other county functions for finding ways around the issue.
“Utilities, trash, recycling, etc. found workarounds for the issue we had with our address and personally ensured we got what we needed,” she said. “The real estate assessment team also were trying to be so helpful during the parking situation and we really appreciated how much they followed up with us to see if there is anything they could do to help resolve.”
Earlier this year, the county approved a number of changes to the Residential Permit Parking program. After considering paid, two-hour parking in RPP zones, the idea — which elicited public outcry — was nixed, but the program was expanded to make some multi-family properties, like apartment buildings, eligible.
Although the changes are in place, county staffers are still focused on renewing resident and landlord permits and passes for the 2021-2022 program year. They are still not processing petitions to establish new permit parking zones; the creation of new RPP zones has been frozen since the summer of 2017.
“We are finalizing updated petition procedures that incorporate changes the County Board adopted in February,” Balliet said. “We look forward to releasing those to the public in the coming weeks.”
Commuters in Ballston now have access to new bus bays on Fairfax Drive, outside the entrance to the Ballston Metro station.
The refreshed bus bays feature “new bus shelters, sidewalks, and planters,” said Eric Balliet, a spokesman for Dept. of Environmental Services. He added that work along Fairfax Drive should be “substantially complete in August.”
These upgrades are part of a four-phase project to update the transit facilities and public areas surrounding the Metro station. Improvements to multimodal facilities along Fairfax Drive comprise the project’s first phase.
New bus bays at the Ballston Metro station are officially open for bus service! Construction of the new bus bays along Fairfax Drive were part of Phase 1 of the Ballston Multimodal Improvements Project. Learn more: https://t.co/9ImAHTLg3X pic.twitter.com/VjvwPUlEma
— ART Alert (@ART_Alert) August 2, 2021
The county expects the project will be 100% complete next summer, he said. The goal of the project is to increase transit usage and safety, improve the facilities as well as access to them and circulation around them, and enhance their design and provide sustainable infrastructure.
With phase one nearing substantial completion, the county is embarking on the second phase. Access to bus bays and pedestrian paths along the east side of N. Stuart Street will be impacted during this phase, which is expected to last until spring 2022, the project webpage said.
“Access to businesses along east side of N. Stuart Street will be maintained throughout this phase,” the webpage noted.
Since Sunday, some ART and Metrobus service along N. Stuart Street and N. Stafford Street has been relocated to the new bus stops on Fairfax Drive and temporary ones on the west side of N. Stuart Street. On Monday, attendants could be seen helping commuters get to the right bus stop.
WMATA say it is still working to provide printed schedules for riders.
The new Ballston bus bays will have printed paper schedules by the end of next week. We are still working on a timeline to have real-time signage by the end of the year or later in 2022. -KB
— Metrorail Info (@Metrorailinfo) August 4, 2021
Phases three and four will focus on upgrades to two plazas, one on N. Stuart Street and one on Fairfax Drive, and each phase is expected to last three months. Once all four phases are complete, commuters will see a number of additional upgrades, such as additional bike parking, expanded public space along Fairfax Drive, a dedicated “kiss-and-ride” curb space and a dedicated shuttle bus curb space and bus shelter.
In addition, “landscaping and benches for the planter areas, bus stop flag poles and real-time bus information displays will be added toward the end of the project,” Balliet said.
The County Board approved the project in December 2019, and construction — expected to last 18 months — was slated to begin in the summer of 2020.
“The project experienced delays due to the need to relocate telecom and electric utilities lines,” Balliet said. “We now expect the entire project to be completed in summer 2022.”
Arlingtonians may not know Peter Golkin by name, but many have likely seen his tweets.
Golkin is a spokesman for the Arlington Department of Environmental Services, or, as he considers himself, “a 21st century town crier, but without the bell.”
Among other duties, Golkin has run the department’s social media accounts for the last four years. Under his watch, DES’s Twitter account has amassed more than 7,000 followers, which is a lot of followers for a department that focuses mostly on public works and transportation — topics Golkin admits can seem dry.
The social media savant has found that a little humor goes a long way toward people internalizing his announcements, and his wit has even caught the attention of some celebrities, on whom he sometimes relies to spread his messages.
“A lot of government stuff can be real technical or just downright boring,” Golkin said. “If we can make it even slightly entertaining, or if we can just make people pause for two-tenths of a second before scrolling down and absorb some county information, then that’s a good thing.”
Whether it is a timely joke or a goofy graphic, Golkin manages to add humor to even the simplest announcements about COVID-19 guidelines or recycling rules:
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 22, 2021
Please don't abandon faith or anything else at County recycling drop-off sites. If there's no bin for it, don't leave it behind. A higher power is watching. https://t.co/KlCf2JaMty pic.twitter.com/EJm4zQ2XC6
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 17, 2021
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) June 16, 2021
Normally upbeat in his social interactions, Golkin does have a nemesis: FOG.
He regularly warns about putting fats, oils and grease down the drain, a big no-no in the world of wastewater management. Such common kitchen waste can turn into a gelatinous solid and clog the pipes, endangering the plumbing of a resident’s home or even their whole neighborhood.
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) July 4, 2021
“I think that photo should be the next county logo,” said Golkin of the famous fat-filled pipe image he frequently tweets. “I think all of Arlington could be united by it if we make it official, [putting] it on stationery [and] all the county vehicles: ‘No fats, oils and grease in Arlington.'”
One of the account’s most dedicated fans is none other than Star Trek’s William Shatner. Shatner’s fandom began when Golkin got wind that the Captain Kirk actor was interested in electric bikes. He invited him to come to Arlington to ride the streets.
(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Arlington County will start collecting residents’ food scraps on Labor Day.
Residents receiving county curbside collection services — mostly those in single-family homes and townhouses — will be able to toss unused food into their green yard waste bins and bring them to the curb on collection day, starting Monday, Sept. 6. Those scraps will be composted in Prince William County and returned to Arlington as soil.
“This is going to be for everybody who is a part of the household solid waste collection program,” said Erik Grabowsky, the chief of the Solid Waste Bureau of the Department of Environmental Services, during a community forum last week.
Arlington will be the first jurisdiction in Virginia to provide the service to all residential customers, he said.
The initiative is part of the county’s goal to divert 90% of resources from landfills and incinerators by 2038. It is also the last significant program to be implemented from the county’s 2004 solid waste management plan, Grabowsky said.
“There are many good reasons for adding a food scraps collection program,” he said, such as diverting useable waste from landfills and incinerators. Creating and using compost “will build healthier soils and also allow us to pay attention to the amount of food waste we are generating — which may change purchasing habits and may save us money.”
County household waste collection customers should have received a postcard previewing the service change and will soon receive an informational cart hanger, he said. The second of two virtual community forums will be held tomorrow and the county will be delivering “starter kits” with a two-gallon food caddy, 40 compostable bags and educational materials, throughout the month of August.
Acceptable food waste and food scraps include:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Meats, including bones, and old meat grease (sopped up with a paper towel)
- Dairy products and eggshells
- Coffee grounds, paper coffee liners and tea leaves (but not tea bags)
Residents should still put disposable containers and other products marketed as “compostable” in the trash.
“A lot of the materials have plastic liners,” said Adam Riedel, a county environmental management specialist. “We want to ensure the highest quality product, which means keeping out those contaminants.”
That could change if the federal government issues stricter regulations for creating and marketing disposable products as “compostable,” he said.
DES recommends keeping the pail, lined with a compostable bag, on a kitchen counter. Just before one’s weekly trash pickup time the food scraps should be bagged, put in the green cart and rolled out for collection.
Riedel said he keeps his pail on the counter and he notices no odor, but for those who are worried, he suggested keeping the pail or scrap bag in the freezer or refrigerator.
Grabowsky said he does not envision proper disposal requiring much enforcement.
“People generally comply with rules and regulations,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a contamination problem. If we do, we’re going to have to start having more aggressive action.”
The scraps will be converted into nutrient-dense soil at Freestate Farms in nearby Prince William County, per a new agreement approved by the County Board in February. The facility is run via a public-private partnership between Prince William County and the private corporation.