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A St. Patrick’s Day-themed drunk-driving PSA from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (via NHTSA)

This weekend the Arlington County Police Department is reminding motorists of the dangers of drunk driving.

The police department will host “Don’t Press Your Luck,” an anti-drunk-driving event that will highlight the impacts of alcohol when behind the wheel, this Saturday from 8-10 p.m. at the intersection of N. Irving Street at Wilson Blvd.

The free event, on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, aims to ensure that anyone celebrating the holiday does so safely.

“Impaired driving is 100% preventable and why the Arlington County Police Department is working with NHTSA to remind drivers that drunk driving is not only illegal, it is a matter of life and death,” per the press release.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration, or NHTSA, reported 272 drunk-driving-related deaths during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday period between 2017 and 2021, the release said.

Meanwhile, the Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) and Lyft will offer free rides home from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on Sunday, March 17 from 12 p.m. to midnight as part of its SoberRide program. WRAP notes in a new report that the number of alcohol and drug-related traffic fatalities increased nearly 13% in the D.C. area between 2021 and 2022, per the most recent NHTSA data available.

ACPD has hosted anti-drunk driving events for other holidays, including Halloween and Christmas last year. A similar event for St. Patrick’s Day was cancelled last year due to inclement weather.

Photo via NHTSA 

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ACPD officer conducts traffic stop during November 2023 Street Smart campaign in Courthouse (staff photo by James Jarvis)

High speeds, traffic scofflaws and distracted drivers are the top three reasons people feel unsafe when traveling around Arlington.

That is according to the county’s latest Vision Zero mid-year report, which summarized how Arlingtonians responded to online and in-person surveys about their top concerns as travelers.

County data on fatal and severe-injury crashes appear to back that up. Among speeding, distracted driving and alcohol, speeding leads the pack as a factor in serious crashes.

To tackle speeding — and one day, other traffic violations — Arlington County is laser-focused on automated enforcement. The road to get there, however, is long and some goals could take years of politicking to achieve.

First, the county has to implement speed cameras in school and work zones, which the Arlington County Board authorized in January 2022, shortly after the General Assembly permitted this.

Although Arlington is still working on procuring a contract for speed cameras, the County Board, the Vision Zero team and ACPD are working on expanding the use of speed cameras by including it among legislative priorities in the upcoming General Assembly session.

This could be an uphill battle, as some local legislators told ARLnow there is not yet an appetite in Richmond for widespread automated enforcement.

“The General Assembly has been reticent to allow full use of red light cameras,” said Sen. Adam Ebbin. “I think there might be some hesitancy to having fully automated enforcement, in general.”

Still, the county is pursuing automated enforcement to influence driver behavior when police are not present, lower its reliance on in-person enforcement and reduce potentially adverse interactions with police.

“They’re doing everything they can with what they’ve got right now,” says Vision Zero Coordinator Christine Baker, of the traffic enforcement Arlington County Police Department currently conducts. “We’re both just really hoping for more automation to help keep that progress toward better behaviors.”

Automation would also “let officers do the work that they need to do and leave the traffic enforcement up to ubiquitous, unbiased technologies,” she said.

Mike Doyle, the president of Northern Virginia Families for Safer Streets, agrees that it would limit potential racial bias and escalation in routine stops as well as alleviate police staffing shortages.

“Technology, with a photo and sending the ticket to the person, mitigates the risk of the officer,” he said.

Cameras would be effective, he says, “as long as the speed cameras are balanced in terms of equity: we can’t put them just in all the poor sections of town — they have to be where the speeding is.”

ARLnow asked ACPD whether it supports more cameras or has concerns about the hours officers might have to dedicate to reviewing footage.

Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says the department “will continue to work collaboratively with the County on any future legislative changes to automated enforcement programs.”

ACPD reports keeping busy with enforcement 

Despite staffing concerns — and scaling back operations due to low numbers — ACPD says it is committed to traffic enforcement and considers it a key safety initiative.

ACPD is authorized to have 377 officers and currently has a “functional staffing level” of 278 sworn officers, down from 284 this fall. Sworn offices can stop people for traffic violations and are “expected to meaningfully contribute to the department’s key initiatives,” through education and enforcement, Savage said.

How many are assigned to traffic duties is sensitive information, she said.

“In March 2022, the department announced service changes due to a reduction in our workforce,” says Savage. “There were no key impacts to transportation safety and the department reaffirmed our commitment to ensuring the orderly flow of traffic in the County while conducting transportation safety enforcement and education campaigns.”

Enforcement stats from ACPD (data visualization by Jo DeVoe)

ACPD’s Special Operations Section conducts education and enforcement in “identified areas of concern with the goal of voluntary compliance when police are not present, Savage said.

They also address safety concerns, work with Vision Zero staff, deploy variable message boards and other technology, and manage the police department’s participation in local and regional traffic safety programs.

The unit includes civilians who work as parking enforcement agents; traffic directors during events, crashes and emergencies; and school crossing guards.

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Tesla driving down bike path in the Rosslyn area (photo via @rsaydlowski/Twitter)

A driver in a Tesla was caught on camera driving down the Custis Trail bike and pedestrian path in the Rosslyn area.

The incident happened yesterday (Thursday) evening, according to a user of X, formerly known as Twitter. The red Tesla can be seen driving down the middle of the trail and past a concerned pedestrian before exiting the trail and getting on the adjacent Langston Blvd.

No further information about the incident was immediately available.

It’s unclear whether this was a case of driver error or an issue with Tesla’s scrutinized “autopilot” mode.

Last week ARLnow reported on a Tesla driver who drove down a hill and smashed into a playground while “attempting to park,” according to police. The exact cause of that crash is also unclear.

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A runner uses a rapid flashing beacon to cross N. Park Drive (staff photo)

The Arlington County Board is set to update the rules of the road to align with a new state law aimed at improving pedestrian safety.

This weekend, the Board is set to enact changes to local ordinances requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. These changes were advertised this summer.

Currently, county code only requires drivers to yield to those crossing the street on foot, according to a county report. This conflicts with state code, which was amended this March to require drivers to “stop for” pedestrians.

In addition to being consistent with state law, the proposed changes support Arlington’s Vision Zero effort to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, the report says.

“Pedestrians are one of our most vulnerable road users because their bodies are not surrounded with a metal frame and airbags,” the report says. “This law encourages drivers to look for, be aware of, and stop for pedestrians to help get to Arlington’s goal of Vision Zero transportation deaths or serious injuries by 2030.”

The report notes that, from 2018-2022, a third of all severe or fatal crashes in Arlington County involved a pedestrian.

A county data dashboard shows there were 82 pedestrian crashes in those years, spread fairly evenly over those years and located all throughout the county. The number of fatal pedestrian crashes reached a high of four in 2019.

Serious and fatal pedestrian crashes versus overall serious and fatal crashes, between 2018 and 2022 (via Arlington County)

Any driver who does not stop is guilty of a traffic infraction and can face a $100-$500 fine, according to the new law.

The county intends to notify residents of the change via a press release, emails and social media posts, per the report.

There will also be new signage, the Dept. of Environmental Services previously told ARLnow.

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Installing sensors and marking bumper-to-bumper boundaries for the County’s upcoming Performance Parking pilot (via Dept. of Environmental Services/Twitter)

While road repaving season has kicked off in Arlington, crews are working on local roads for another reason.

They are installing traffic sensors in and marking some 4,500 parking spots in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Pentagon City-Crystal City corridors.

The spots and hardware are the foundation for a three-year, $5.4 million state-funded pilot project testing out a new way to manage parking availability and pricing, dubbed “performance parking,” which kicked off earlier this year.

Currently, parking is at a fixed rate and people have to find spots once they arrive at their destination, which can lead to double-parking or going somewhere else to, for instance, grab a meal.

Using existing meters and keeping the Parkmobile payment platform, the pilot intends to smooth out competition for convenient spots by directing people to cheaper options farther away. Prices would also vary based on time of day.

Arlington County will have a phone-friendly website with real-time availability and pricing data, which may also be accessible from some third-party apps. This information could help people plan where to park ahead of time, decreasing cruising time.

The pilot “is data-driven, using technology to better understand existing park utilization,” Melissa McMahon, the parking and curb space manager for Arlington County, told the Planning Commission this week. “We are actively managing parking supply to make parking more convenient and to reduce the negative impacts of hard-to-find parking.”

To get started, the county has to understand how people use on-street parking right now. Crews are delineating discrete spaces where, currently, it is a free-for-all between two signs, and installing one sensor per space.

Later this year, these wireless, battery-operated, in-ground sensors will start sensing when and for how long a car occupies a space. They will communicate that to “wireless gateways” located on traffic signal poles, which will relay that data to a central network server. That data is converted into a dashboard that county staff will use to make parking decisions.

Once it has enough “existing conditions” data this fall, the Dept. of Environmental Services will pick a range of prices, which it aims to bring to the Arlington County Board for approval this December. After that, for the next two years of the pilot, DES will request permission to change prices once per quarter to see the impact on driver behavior.

“This project does not create dynamically or fast-changing metered pricing,” McMahon said. “It won’t be uncertain on a day to day basis. If you’re going into a neighborhood routinely you’ll have a sense of where the lower price spots are and where the higher priced spots are.”

She said the goal is not to increase overall meter revenue, and blocks with lower rates may cancel out those with higher rates.

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Traffic on I-395 looking south as the sun sets on Thanksgiving Eve in 2019 (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Thanksgiving week is here and, based on past polls, that means about 45% of you are traveling.

Our 2015 morning poll on the topic found that most local Thanksgiving travelers — about 75% — will do so by car, while 20% will travel by plane.

With that in mind, we have three key tips for Thanksgiving road and air travelers.

1. If driving, leave earlier or later in the day

Expect plenty of traffic if you’re planning to drive to your destination on Wednesday, but you can avoid some of it by leaving earlier in the morning or later at night. The same applies for those driving back on Saturday or Sunday.

“Based on the traffic data, periods of heavy congestion are most likely to occur from mid-morning to evening on Wednesday, Nov. 23, afternoon on Saturday, Nov. 26, and all day on Sunday, Nov. 27,” said a VDOT press release last week.

Based on a VDOT map of past travel trends, there is likely to be a fair amount of traffic in and out of Northern Virginia on Tuesday as well, particularly around the evening rush hour.

VDOT will be suspending most work zones and lane closures from Nov. 23-28, but that will only marginally ease the traffic onslaught.

2. Reserve your airport parking now

If you’re flying out of Reagan National Airport and planning to drive there, parking is currently widely available in all three lots.

However, you’re unlikely to find much — if any — parking by the time Wednesday rolls around. Fortunately, as of publication, online reservations were still available for Terminal 2 and economy parking.

DCA parking availability as of Nov. 21, 2022

Meanwhile, if you’re flying out of Dulles International Airport, don’t forget that the new Silver Line extension to Dulles is now open.

3. Drive carefully (and if you don’t, State Police might stop you)

With so many people on the roads, sometimes after having a few drinks, Thanksgiving weekend is sadly a time of many serious crashes nationwide.

That’s why authorities regularly encourage drivers to be extra careful this time of year.

Virginia State Police announced this morning that it would be conducting extra patrols and enforcement for Thanksgiving. More from a press release, below.

For many Virginians, gathering with family and friends is the true meaning for Thanksgiving. Some will even travel long distances to share in these wonderful family moments. Just as important as it is to make sure those pies and casseroles make it to the dinner table safely, motorists need to make their own safety a priority, as well. Virginia State Police is reminding all drivers and passengers of all ages to buckle up this holiday weekend. Preliminary data show that 54% of those who have died in traffic crashes this year were not wearing a seatbelt or safety restraint.*

“The fact that more than half of those who have lost their lives in traffic crashes this year were not wearing a seatbelt is a tragic and inexcusable reality for Virginia,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Your family wants you to arrive safely and clicking a seatbelt can help that happen. Virginia State Police and your loved ones want you to arrive at your destination safely – ditch distractions, comply with posted speed limits, never drive buzzed or drunk, and, again, always buckle up.”

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Wonky GPS directions and old road design are some of the factors that have led some drivers to haphazardly cross several lanes of highway traffic at an I-395 exit, leading to multiple crashes.

Videos, captured from a Crystal City high-rise apartment by former local news reporter Dave Statter, show drivers consistently and dangerously moving across four lanes of southbound I-395 traffic specifically to make the lefthand Route 1 exit (8C).

The situation is at its most perilous when a driver is coming from Boundary Channel Drive, takes the I-395 southbound on-ramp, and realizes the exit to Pentagon City, Crystal City and Alexandria is only a few hundred feet on the left. Meaning, in order to take it, the driver has to move their car over four lanes of high speed highway traffic in a very short distance.

Some of the numerous videos Statter posts look something like a real-life game of Frogger.

“Watching these people doing this crazy dance to get to the left hand exit,” Statter says. “It’s just a constant, constant thing.”

Even when we are talking, Statter spots two more drivers attempting to make the same maneuver, despite the fact that VDOT had recently put up a line of orange barrels in an attempt to prevent it.

He also seen plenty of drivers entering I-395 southbound from further down, like the onramp from the GW Parkway, but still realizing too late that they need to take exit 8C on the left.

Since Statter started training his cameras on this section of I-395 back in November, he says he has caught upwards of 18 accidents. All of which involve drivers trying to quickly take the left hand exit.

Statter says that part of the issue here is the design of the roads and the Pentagon, which was built nearly 70 years ago.

“There’s a lot of on-ramps in such a short period of time,” he says. “[It’s my impression] that’s not the standard for interstate highways of today.”

But a culprit also appears to be modern technology. At least until recently, app-based GPS directions like Google Maps and Apple Maps were telling drivers to engage in this dangerous lane-shifting.

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The Arlington County Police Department is reminding folks to navigate school zones and bus stops safely as Arlington Public Schools students return to class today.

“More travelers will soon be on our roadways as students begin walking, bicycling, and riding the bus to school when classes resume on Monday,” the department said in a release said. “With a little awareness and prevention, all travelers can arrive at their destinations in a timely and safe manner.”

It’s the first time APS students will be in class five days per week since before the pandemic.

Motorists will see variable message boards on county roadways reminding them to slow down, avoid distractions and watch for students, according to the release. The “high-visibility transportation safety campaign in and around school zones and bus stops” is intended “to ensure the trip to class is as safe as possible.”

Police recommend families talk to their kids about safety, too.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility and back-to-school is an opportune time to remind students about important steps that can help keep them safe while out in the community,” the department said.

The police department and Arlington Public Schools published a video with safety reminders.

The press release included the following safety tips for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Transportation Safety Tips

Drivers are reminded to:

  • Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
  • Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
  • Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
  • Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers.On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On a multi-lane paved road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bus must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
  • Have all vehicle occupants wear their seatbelts.
  • Pick-up and drop-off students in designated locations.

Pedestrians are reminded to:

  • Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
  • Look before you cross and follow the direction of school crossing guards or APS staff members.
  • Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths, never along the side of a road.

Bicyclists are reminded to:

  • Wear your helmet. Helmets are required for riders ages 14 and younger but are recommended for all.
  • Keep right and ride with traffic.
  • Secure your bicycle with a lock when not in use

General Safety Tips for Students

Safety is everyone’s responsibility and back-to-school is an opportune time to remind students about important steps that can help keep them safe while out in the community. Parents and guardians are also encouraged to role-play possible situations with students and discuss personal safety and awareness tips.

Ensure students:

  • Know their address, telephone number and how to contact a parent or guardian.
  • Remain aware of their surroundings.
  • Walk or bike with another person, whenever possible. Stay in well-lit areas.
  • Limit the use of devices that may distract them.
  • Avoid engaging with or answering questions from strangers.
  • Immediately report anything that makes them feel unsafe to a trusted adult.
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Morning Notes

Arlington Traffic Still Way Down — “New numbers provided to 7News by the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT) show… weekday traffic in Arlington County in June 2021 was still down 26% versus June 2019. But that was an outlier – in Fairfax County traffic was only down 12%, Loudoun County just 8%, and Prince William County was basically back to normal, falling just 3% versus June 2019.” [WJLA]

A-SPAN Rebrands — “What began life three decades ago as the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network, or A-SPAN, has assumed a new identity: PathForward… ‘We came to the conclusion that we needed a new name to match all that we do,’ the organization’s board chair, Tim Denning, said.” [Sun Gazette]

Route 1 Makes NYT List — “The New York Times this May compiled a list of ’50s-era American highways being re-thought in an age when environmental concerns and past racial injustices in land use are at the national forefront. Arlington’s section of Route 1, that elevated structure that pierces Crystal City, made the cut.” [Falls Church News-Press]

AWLA Reunites Raccoon Mom and Baby — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “Officer Elpers got some amazing footage of this mama raccoon reuniting with her baby this morning.” [Facebook]

Local NAACP Awards Scholarships — “The Arlington branch of the NAACP recently awarded nearly $60,000 in college scholarships to Arlington high-school students.” [Sun Gazette]

Big Donation to VHC — “Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), a community-based hospital providing medical services to the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 75 years, has received a transformative gift of $5 million from long-time donor Lola ​C. ​Reinsch to promote the Hospital’s campus expansion efforts.” [Press Release]

Darby Family Visits ACFD Station — “Ashley Darby is having plenty of family fun with her kids this summer. The Real Housewives of Potomac cast member [and Arlington resident] recently took to Instagram to capture their latest outing that left her two-year-old son, Dean, completely ‘lost for words’… ‘What a fun time we had at the Arlington County Fire Station 4 with our friends!’ she wrote in the caption.” [Bravo]

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Virginia’s hands-free law takes effect on January 1, and that means it will be illegal to drive holding any personal communications device in Arlington or elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

The law was signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam during the summer. Police will now be able to pull over drivers if they are seen to be holding cell phones.

Previously, only texting or emailing while driving was against the law.

Last year, there were 23,000 crashes in Virginia attributed to distracted driving, resulting in 120 deaths, Northam said in a news conference earlier this month.

Drivers can talk hands-free, but if caught holding a phone they face fines of $125 for a first offense, and $250 for a second offense or if drivers are holding phones in a construction zone.

There are some exceptions:

  • Drivers of emergency vehicles can use handheld devices
  • Drivers can hold devices while stopped or parked
  • Drivers can hold devices when reporting emergencies
  • Virginia Department of Transportation vehicle drivers can use handheld devices while performing traffic incident management services

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Morning Notes

Study: Arlington Has Safest Drivers in Va. — The insurance website Insurify says Arlington has the safest drivers in Virginia. Drivers in the county “demonstrate exceptional dedication to their own safety and to the safety of others around them,” the website says. [Insurify]

Local Toll Lanes May Be Sold — “Transurban is selling off stakes in its US toll roads because it wants to strengthen its balance sheet… Transurban owns the 95 Express Lanes, 495 Express Lanes and 395 Express Lanes toll roads near the US capital, but traffic on the motorways has been hard hit by the pandemic… The Virginia assets have the longest concession periods of Transurban’s assets with asset lives out to 2087.” [Australian Financial Review]

Police Response at Va. Square Metro — Metro Transit Police and Arlington County Police responded to the Virginia Square Metro station last night for a person who jumped on the track bed. Orange and Silver Line trains were stopped in both directions while the person was taken into custody. [Twitter]

Metro Closure Planned in Early 2021 — “Arlington Cemetery and Addison Road stations will be closed for approximately three months for full platform replacement and station renovation… [During the work] Yellow Line trains will provide all trans-Potomac service for stations Pentagon and south.” [WMATA]

APS Getting More CARES Act Funding — “More than $220 million in federal coronavirus relief is headed to Virginia schools, according to an announcement from Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday… Arlington County schools will receive $4.7 million.” [DCist]

‘Tiger King’ Star Indicted in Va.Updated at 8:30 a.m. — “Following an investigation by Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s animal law unit, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, has been charged with one felony count of wildlife trafficking, one felony count of conspiracy to wildlife traffic, four misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act, and nine misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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