Arlington, VA

One sunny weekday afternoon last week, as the temperature clocked in at a perfect 72 degrees, there were just four bikes parked at Metro’s new $2 million bike parking facility in East Falls Church.

The scene contrasts with how cycling advocates remember the station pre-pandemic, when dozens of bicycles were parked out front on any given day.

“East Falls Church has been one of the most heavily used stations for cyclists in the past,” said David Cranor, who writes for the cycling blog TheWashCycle.

The 92-spot facility made its debut last August — in the middle of the pandemic — when the East Falls Church station reopened. Set to open in 2015, the structure was delivered five years late and $1.1 million over budget, costing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority about $21,000 per spot to build.

The delay and budget overruns prompted an investigation that found miscommunication and a lack of oversight, among other problems, plagued the project.

Eight months after the opening and six months after WMATA’s Office of the Inspector General released its report, the East Falls Church Metro Station has yet to enjoy its pre-COVID-19 popularity among cyclists. Still, bicycling advocates maintain that facilities like this one are needed, as bike theft is a common problem. They predict longtime commuters and a new batch of cycling enthusiasts will one day fill the spots.

“I’m not surprised there were few bikes parked when you visited,” said Bruce Wright, the president of Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling. “Much of the use of bike parking is by commuters, and almost no one is commuting. We’ll have to wait until after people return to work before getting an idea of how heavily the bike facility will be used.”

Based on how packed the station was with bicycles before the pandemic, Wright added, “I assume it will be very popular.”

As vaccination rates rise and restrictions lift in the D.C. area, more people appear willing to ride the Metro. According to WMATA’s COVID-19 data, this month’s ridership is up an average of nearly 240% over this time last year, when stay-at-home orders were still fresh. Still, Metro reports that overall, ridership remains down around 85% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

And it’s not just bike parking that is down. Vehicle parking at Metro lots in February was down 94% compared to 2020, just before the pandemic.

One way WMATA can measure cyclists’ interest in parking is through registration numbers. Metro requires users to register for the Bike & Ride facilities, which are accessed with a SmarTrip card. To date, more than 1,200 SmarTrip users have registered to use the Bike & Rides, which are also located at the College Park and Vienna Metro stations, said WMATA spokesman Ian Jannetta.

“Users don’t register to use a specific facility so I don’t have station-specific numbers, but I would expect the number to be relatively low since the two new facilities opened during this period of extremely low ridership,” he said. “We encourage anyone who wants to make biking part of their commute to utilize these secure facilities as the region continues its recovery and more people travel.”

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Morning Notes

Soldier Cleared of Charges After Months in Jail — “A former Old Guard member who was arrested with a carload of weapons near Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Northern Virginia had all of his charges dropped — but says the incident has already destroyed his life. Curtis Wells spent seven months in jail for alleged crimes that were just thrown out by an Arlington County judge.” [NBC 4]

Stabbing at East Falls Church Metro — “The male victim and the known male suspect became involved in a verbal dispute, during which the suspect produced a knife. The victim put his hands up to protect himself, during which he suffered a laceration. The victim was treated at the hospital for a minor injury.” [ACPD]

Drug Take-Back Day Coming Up — “On Saturday, April 24, 2021, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Arlington County Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will provide the public the opportunity to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs. This disposal service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.” [ACPD]

What It’s Like to Work at the Rosslyn Safeway — “We talk in an airless, subterranean breakroom at Safeway store 1048 in Arlington, Va., a typical, prosperous suburb of Washington, D.C. The low-slung store sits partially submerged next to an underground parking garage on the main drag of the Rosslyn neighborhood, full of gleaming office buildings and apartment towers that look like office buildings… The one thing Safeway’s workers have going for them is their union.” [In These Times]

A Look Back at Arlington’s Rock Scene — “I spoke with Pete Crigler about my old band Eggs, and the Arlington, Va., indie-rock scene of the ’90s.” [Twitter, Virginia Rock/Pop Music Spot]

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For 375 days and counting, a group of neighbors in Arlington has gotten together for a socially-distanced happy hour.

Residents in the East Falls Church area set up lawn chairs in a ring within their cul-de-sac, with yardsticks to ensure they stay six feet apart. During the winter months, a small bonfire crackled. When it rains, they prop up umbrellas or shelter in the trunk of their cars.

The neighborly effort to combat isolation during the pandemic got the attention of the Today Show, which featured the nightly get-together on national TV earlier this week.

“This started out as a simple, spontaneous idea among neighbors who really didn’t know each other very well,” NBC correspondent Kelly O’Donnell said. “Now, they call it a lifeline. The whole group has been COVID-free and happier getting through this together.”

These neighbors turn a patch of pavement into “a happy hour getaway” far away “from the grind of a world locked inside,” O’Donnell said. The group named its gathering “Six Feet at 6:30” and even made T-shirts and sweatshirts.

One neighbor, Linda Winter, told NBC that when she joins her neighbors, her anxiety subsides.

“There’s just a sense that we’re safe out here,” Winter said.

Longtime resident Rockley Miller said he appreciates the newfound sense of camaraderie.

“I grew up out in this neighborhood and I’ve never known as many neighbors as I do now,” Miller said.

The group celebrates every milestone and birthday — celebrations that could otherwise go unmarked due to gathering limits and COVID-19 risks. They even held a screening of the movie “Hamilton,” which came out last summer.

“It’s amazing to me how just a little bit of energy can go a long way,” resident Andy Cosgrove said.

The neighbors want to keep the happy hour up after the pandemic subsides, O’Donnell said, concluding the segment.

Photos via David Martin/YouTube

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(Updated at noon) The new W&OD Trail bridge over Lee Highway in East Falls Church is now open.

VDOT announced the opening of the $6 million bridge Friday morning, touting “a safer, faster crossing over busy Route 29.” Previously, trail users would have to wait to cross Lee Highway at a crowded intersection, next to ramps to and from I-66 and Washington Blvd.

The trail is used by cyclists and pedestrians for both commuting and recreation. About 1,500 people travel on the W&OD near new bridge each weekday, while more than 2,000 use it on weekends.

The project prompted trail detours over its nearly two years of construction. It was funded — along with upgrades to I-66 ramps, repairs to overpasses, sound wall replacements, and a new Custis Trail roundabout — as part of the larger I-66 eastbound widening project.

Some finishing touches on the bridge and the nearby intersection will be completed through this summer, VDOT said. As of noon, however, the bridge was officially open.

https://twitter.com/VaDOTNOVA/status/1370416729227137038

More from a press release, below.

The new Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail Bridge over Route 29 (Lee Highway) in Arlington will open this afternoon, Friday, March 12, announced the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). This new bridge will provide bicyclists and pedestrians with a safer, faster crossing over busy Route 29 adjacent to I-66. The new bridge was built as part of VDOT’s I-66 Eastbound Widening Project.

“This new W&OD Trail bridge is another step forward in VDOT’s commitment to expanding multimodal transportation options in the I-66 corridor and across the region,” said Bill Cuttler, P.E., VDOT Northern Virginia District Construction Engineer. “The new bridge will benefit a range of trail users, from people walking and bicycling to the nearby East Falls Church Metrorail Station to the dedicated bicycle commuters who use the trail year-round to reach destinations across Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.”

The new crossing separates trail users from motorists at the signalized intersection of Route 29 and Fairfax Drive. The new bridge will enhance safety for both trail users and motorists and improve operations at nearby intersections on Route 29.

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A crash in the East Falls Church neighborhood last night closed a portion of busy Lee Highway for an extended period of time.

The crash happened around 7:45 p.m. Thursday, a couple of blocks east of the Lee Highway and Washington Blvd intersection. A driver in a sedan appears to have run off the road, smashed through a brick wall and damaged a utility pole.

“Upon arrival, officers located a single vehicle crash into a utility pole,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. The driver was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Lee Highway was closed between Washington Boulevard and N. Sycamore Street and Dominion Energy responded to complete repairs.”

The crash knocked out power to a portion of the surrounding area. An exact cause of the crash was not given.

Utility work dragged on into the night, but all lanes were reopened by this morning, according to Arlington Alert.

Photo via Danny Shaw

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Metro is asking the public to weigh in on possible options for drastic service cuts, including potentially closing several Arlington stations in January 2022.

On Wednesday Metro announced that the public comment period for its 2022 fiscal year budget had officially opened.

With it, they are asking riders to fill out a survey about what options they’d be willing to deal with beginning on Jan. 1, 2022 if more federal money is not received.

The options on the survey include closing Metrorail every day at 9 p.m, trains arriving only every 30 mins at most stations, and shuttering up to 22 stations that have low ridership or are near others.

That list includes four stations in Arlington: Clarendon, Virginia Square, Arlington Cemetery, and East Falls Church.

Screenshot of the Metro survey, asking about potential service cuts in 2022 (Photo via Screenshot/Metro press release)

These were the same stations that were closed earlier in the pandemic due to lower ridership and construction.

The survey also asks about prefered options for cutting Metrobus service, including a number of lines that run through Arlington and Northern Virginia.

Proposals include consolidating the bus system into 50 lines that serve only the highest ridership routes as well as limiting overall service to about half of pre-pandemic levels.

Metro is asking riders to fill out the survey by Tuesday, March 16 at 5 p.m.

The potential cuts come as Metro continues to say they are facing a significant budget shortfall if no additional federal money is received — a shortfall caused in large part by decreased ridership during  the pandemic.

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority says ridership has decreased by 90% overall on Metro.

Back in December, Metro was promised more than $600 million in the latest coronavirus relief package. That funding, notes Metro, has helped to avoid layoffs, provide essential service, and prepare for riders returning.

But even with that funding and other austerity measures, “there is not enough money to fill the entire budget gap for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2021,” Metro’s press release says.

There’s a decent chance, however, that this public survey will become moot.

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan has $20 billion earmarked for public transit agencies. At this time, however, it remains unclear how much would go to Metro if the plan does pass in Congress.

Still, county leaders say the potential cuts are concerning.

“Arlington agrees with Metro that federal funding is essential to ensuring that the sort of drastic cuts that could profoundly impact Metro in Arlington will not have to be made,” writes Arlington Board Chair Matt de Ferranti in a statement to ARLnow. “Our Senators and Representatives fully support Metro funding in the federal legislation currently under consideration on Capitol Hill. We are grateful for their critical leadership and are staying in close contact to ensure this critical federal support for our community gets enacted and appropriated. “

In recent weeks, though, service changes have already come to Metro based on the revised 2021 budget approved in November.

Starting last week, trains started coming every 12 mins on the Orange, Blue, Silver, and Yellow lines. However, Metrobus will start expanding service beginning on March 14. Buses are being added on 125 lines and weekend service is being expanded.

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As if the pandemic wasn’t bad enough, there’s now an apparent rabies outbreak in Arlington County.

Two days after the county warned of a possible rabies exposure in the East Falls Church neighborhood, animal control has captured two additional raccoons “showing neurological signs consistent with rabies.”

The raccoons were both captured in residential north Arlington neighborhoods: one on the 4300 block of 37th Road N., in the Old Glebe neighborhood near Glebe Road Park and the Gulf Branch Nature Center, and another on the 5100 block of 37th Road N., in the Rock Spring neighborhood near Williamsburg Middle School.

“On February 4, 2021, Arlington County Animal Control responded to two separate incidents for raccoons,” the county said in a press release. “Both of the raccoons in these incidents were captured and removed by animal control; both raccoons were showing neurological signs consistent with rabies. One of these raccoons may have had contact with two pets.”

“This outbreak is no longer contained to a specific neighborhood,” the press release warned, also citing the East Falls Church incident from Jan. 30, in which a rabid raccoon came into contact with a pet.

“We are urging residents in North Arlington to be vigilant,” said Kurt Larrick, a county spokesman. “We ask that residents ensure their pets are up to date on their rabies vaccines, keep their dogs on a leash, keep cats inside, remain vigilant and alert, and do not approach or interact with any wild animals.”

Rabies, as described in the press release, “is a disease that people and animals can catch from the bite or scratch of infected animals. It is fatal if medical care is not given promptly.”

“If you, your child, or your pet may have come into contact with any wild animals including bats or raccoons, please call Arlington County Animal Control at 703-931-9241 immediately,” the press release says. “If calling after hours, please stay on the line to speak with the answering service who will alert an Officer. If you see a raccoon that appears sick, lethargic, disoriented, or aggressive, do NOT approach the animal and please call Animal Control immediately.”

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Morning Notes

Possible Rabies Exposure in EFC — “On Saturday, January 30, a raccoon was reported in the area of the 6900 block Williamsburg Boulevard… in the East Falls Church neighborhood. This animal was showing signs of neurological symptoms and was caught and removed by Animal Control after potentially having contact with a pet. The raccoon tested clinically positive for rabies.” [Arlington County]

Rouse Property Showdown Heads to County Board — “With a unanimous vote, Arlington’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board kicked the controversy over preservation of the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard up to the County Board. The action, taken Jan. 27 after the matter was fast-tracked through what ordinarily would have been a much more drawn-out process, puts the advisory body at odds with the owners of the 9-acre property, who want to raze the buildings and sell off the tract.” [InsideNova]

Pike McDonald’s Robbed by Irate Customer — “The suspect was in the drive thru line of a business and became irate over an issue with their order. The suspect then parked their vehicle and entered the business yelling and threatening the victim. She slapped items out of the victim’s hand, then pushed her out of the way and stole an undisclosed amount of cash from the register, threw food items on the floor, and damaged property, then fled in a vehicle prior to police arrival.” [ACPD]

Local Businessman Pleads Guilty to Fraud — “An Arlington businessman pleaded guilty today to making false statements to multiple federal agencies in order to fraudulently obtain multimillion-dollar government contracts, COVID-19 emergency relief loans, and undeserved military service benefits… Robert S. Stewart, Jr., 35, was the owner and president of Federal Government Experts LLC, an Arlington-based company that purported to provide various services to the U.S. government.” [U.S. Dept. of Justice]

Volunteers Working to Widen Mt. Vernon Trail — “Volunteers removed overgrown grass and mud from the trail between Memorial Bridge and TR Island in January widening the trail by more than a foot in some spots. Volunteers also fixed drainage of three areas where winter ice sheets were forming. We have multiple upcoming volunteer events through March to continue widening the trail.” [Friends of the Mt. Vernon Trail]

Super Bowl Safety Reminder — “Super Bowl LV is on Sunday, February 7, 2021, and it’s one of America’s favorite annual celebrations… The Arlington County Police Department is teaming up with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind football fans everywhere that Fans Don’t Let Fans Drive Drunk.” [ACPD]

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A local teen is in custody and two others are being sought by police after an alleged drug deal led to a serious assault.

The incident happened shortly after 11 p.m. last night in the Waycroft-Woodlawn neighborhood, near Ballston. Police say an arranged sale of narcotics ended with the victim being beaten with batons by several people.

The victim was hospitalized with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Police searched the area and arrested a 19-year-old suspect while he was walking along the nearby Custis Trail. Two other suspects have been identified and are expected to face charges, police said.

More from today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:

MALICIOUS WOUNDING BY MOB, 2020-12140181, 4600 block of 13th Street N. At approximately 11:17 p.m. on December 14, police were dispatched to the report of a fight in progress. Arriving officers located the victim, who had sustained serious injuries, and rendered aid prior to the arrival of medics. The victim was transported to an area hospital with serious, but non life threatening injuries. The investigation determined that the victim and three suspects met for the arranged sale of narcotics, and a physical altercation ensued between the parties. The suspects allegedly struck the victim multiple times with batons, causing lacerations. A bystander yelled at the involved parties, at which time, the suspects fled on foot. Officers canvasing the area located Suspect One walking on the Custis Trail, made contact with him, and took him into custody without incident. Anthony Silvers, 19, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding by Mob. He was held on no bond. The other involved suspects were identified and charges are pending.

Also on Monday, a pair of suspects broke into, damaged and stole from four businesses in Clarendon and East Falls Church.

From ACPD:

COMMERCIAL BURGLARY (series), 2020-12140035/0039/0052/0089, 2100 block of N. Westmoreland Street/1100 block of N. Hudson Street/ 3000 block of Washington Boulevard. Overnight on December 14, two unknown suspects forced entry to four businesses, causing damage. At approximately 2:27 a.m., the suspects forced entry to business one in the 2100 block of N. Westmoreland Street, tampered with items, and stole a safe. At approximately 2:20 a.m., the suspects forced entry to business two, also in the 2100 block of N. Westmoreland Street, and rummaged through items, however, nothing was reported stolen. Between 1:30 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., the suspects forced entry to a third business in the 1100 block of N. Hudson Street and stole a safe and an undisclosed amount of cash. At approximately 2:45 a.m., the suspects forced entry to a fourth business in the 3000 block of Washington Boulevard, and stole an undisclosed amount of cash. Suspect One is described as a tall male, wearing a light colored jacket with the hood up, dark pants, black shoes and light colored gloves. Suspect Two is described as a tall male, wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood up, black pants, white gloves, black shoes, and a light colored face wrap. The investigations are ongoing.

Map via Google Maps

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A Virginia man has been arrested for a series of rape cases in Arlington that date back to 1991.

Arlington County Police say Michael F. Thompson, who is now 63 and a resident of Virginia’s Northern Neck region, used a gun to rape at least two women near the East Falls Church Metro station. He was linked to the cases after a reexamination of evidence, including DNA evidence, that ACPD’s Cold Case Unit initiated in 2017.

Thompson was identified as the suspect due to “forensic evidence combined with thorough investigative efforts,” and was arrested at his home on Tuesday morning, according to police.

ACPD is now asking anyone with additional information about the nearly 30-year-old cases to step forward.

More from a police press release:

The Arlington County Police Department’s Cold Case Unit is announcing the arrest of a suspect in a cold case rape series. Michael F. Thomson, 63, of Montross, VA, was arrested and charged with two counts of the following charges: Rape, Abduction with the Intent to Defile, Forcible Sodomy and Use/Display of a Firearm during the Commission of a Felony. Additional charges are anticipated. He is being held in the Arlington County Detention Facility without bond.

Between January and December 1991, Arlington County Police investigated multiple reports of rapes and attempted rapes involving female victims walking from the East Falls Church Metro Station. In each reported incident, the victims were approached by an unknown male who displayed a firearm. Three cases were linked by DNA evidence with a fourth case being investigated as part of the series due to similarities with the other cases.

At approximately 6:00 p.m. on January 17, 1991, the female victim was walking home from the East Falls Church Metro in the 4800 block of Little Falls Road when an unknown male suspect approached her, brandished a firearm and forced her into a grassy area between two homes. The suspect raped the victim before fleeing the scene on foot.

At approximately 7:40 p.m. on February 13, 1991, the female victim was walking from the East Falls Church Metro to her parked vehicle in the 2300 block of N. Tuckahoe Street when she observed the unknown male suspect walking towards her. The suspect brandished a firearm, forced the victim to the side of a residence where he raped her before fleeing the scene on foot.

At approximately 10:00 p.m. on March 6, 1991, the female victim was walking home from the East Falls Church Metro in the 6300 block of Lee Highway when she was approached by an unknown male who alleged to have a firearm. The suspect forced the victim to the back of a nearby residence and directed her to remove her clothing. The suspect placed the firearm to her head and told her to be quiet. The suspect then asked the victim if she wanted him to leave and when she said yes, he fled the scene on foot.

At approximately 7:08 p.m. on December 2, 1991, the female victim was walking from the East Falls Church Metro to her parked vehicle in the 6100 block of N. 22nd Street when she was approached by an unknown male suspect brandishing a firearm. When the victim screamed, the suspect ran away and fled from the scene in a vehicle. As the suspect was fleeing, he dropped the baseball hat he was wearing. DNA from the baseball hat was later linked to DNA recovered in the January 17 and February 13 incidents.

In 2017, the Cold Case Unit initiated a fresh look at these unsolved cases including the review of cold case files, crime scene evidence and laboratory results. The DNA was resubmitted for additional analysis including phenotyping and genetic genealogy. The analysis resulted in additional information that led detectives to identify Michael Francis Thomson as a possible suspect. Forensic evidence combined with thorough investigative efforts linked the suspect to the 1991 incidents. He was taken into custody without incident at his residence on the morning of December 1, 2020.

This remain an active criminal investigation and anyone with information related to this series is asked to contact Detective R. Ortiz at 703-228-4702 or [email protected] Information may also be provided to the Arlington County Police Tip Line at [email protected] or anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) More than 3,000 Dominion customers in Arlington were in the dark after a large power outage in the area this morning.

As many as 3,184 customers in parts of North Arlington, including the East Falls Church area, were affected by the outage at one point. Police were helping with traffic control at the busy intersection of Lee Highway and Washington Blvd, in East Falls Church, where the traffic signals were dark.

As of publication time, the number of customers without power in Arlington was down to 1,085. On its website, Dominion is estimating restoration between 2-5 p.m.

The outage is also affecting parts of Falls Church and McLean. In Falls Church, Dominion reported 3,257 customers without power.

Combined with another outage in and around Inova Fairfax Hospital, nearly 10,000 customers were in the dark in Fairfax County.

All power was restored by noon, a company spokeswoman said.

Map via Dominion

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