Big Weekend for High School Sports — On Saturday, Wakefield will face Deep Run in the first round of the 5A state basketball tournament. The game is being played at Robinson High School in Fairfax at 5:30 p.m. Tonight, meanwhile, in what’s being called the hockey rivalry game of the year, Washington-Lee will face Yorktown at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. The puck drops at 8:10 p.m. [VHSL, Twitter]
Garvey Discusses Economic Incentive Push — Arlington has been actively making economic development deals, in some cases offering economic incentives to attract new employers to the county. But County Board Chair Libby Garvey said Arlington is being selective about the opportunities it pursues. “If it’s not good enough, we don’t do the deal,” she said. [InsideNova]
Tasty Sandwich from Arlington Eatery — Among the five “over-the-top, gluttonous, guilt-inducing new sandwiches in Washington” just highlighted by Washingtonian Magazine, there was one from the recently-opened Texas Jack’s in Lyon Park: a $12 brisket sandwich with tender Allen Brothers brisket and “a hefty spoonful of melty queso.” [Washingtonian]
Market Common Up For Sale — The Market Common Clarendon shopping and apartment development is on the market. Owned by TIAA-CREF, the development is expected to fetch a price in the hundreds of millions. [Bisnow]
Charity Ice Skating Party Tomorrow — The Pentagon Row skating rink will host a “Decades on Ice” charity skating party Saturday starting at 6 p.m. The evening will start with tunes from the 60s, going up a decade each hour until the 2000s. Half of all sales will be donated to help cure Cystic Fibrosis. [Facebook]
Basket, a startup that produces a mobile app for saving money while grocery shopping, has moved from the District to Clarendon.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, County Board Chair Libby Garvey and Arlington Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins were among the officials on hand today to welcome the company to their new digs at 1220 N. Fillmore Street.
The Commonwealth and the county each provided $125,000 in economic incentives for the firm, which is planning to expand from 9 to 65 employees. Basket is investing $10 million on the new office and the expansion, officials said.
“This is exactly the kind of business we want to attract and grow here,” said Garvey.
The company decided to move to Arlington despite also being wooed by D.C.
“We looked at the number of jobs we would need, and how much we were supposed to grow, we decided we needed a lot more space,” said Andy Ellwood, the company’s president and co-founder and a former employee of the navigation startup Waze. “After moving out of our small coworking space we decided it was the right move for us.”
“We’re trying to build the new Virginia economy, so we have to bring in new innovators,” McAuliffe told ARLnow.com. “I want us to be the tech capital of the United States of America. We have all the education and resources. It’s important that we become less reliant on the federal government.”
McAuliffe’s pitch to tech companies considering Arlington or elsewhere in the Commonwealth: “Virginia has very low taxes, a great education system, and it’s close to the federal government,” he said.
The press release from the governor’s office, after the jump.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Members of the media were denied access to a Lyon Park community meeting about the controversial plan to open a gun shop in the neighborhood Sunday night.
The meeting was attended by County Board Chair Libby Garvey, Vice Chair Jay Fisette, County Manager Mark Schwartz, Police Chief Jay Farr and Del. Patrick Hope. The owner of the planned gun store at 2300 N. Pershing Drive, Nova Armory, was reportedly out of town and unable to attend.
An ARLnow.com reporter who tried to attend the event, at the privately-owned Lyon Park Community Center, was not allowed in the building. A community member shut the door when the reporter tried to ask about the prohibition on media. Those working the door at the event checked IDs and only allowed Lyon Park and Ashton Heights residents inside.
A short time after seeking access, the reporter and almost a dozen other non-community members — an Arlington resident who runs an anti-gun-store Facebook page and several members of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League — were removed from the Lyon Park property by police upon a neighborhood representative’s request.
Initially, on Friday, the meeting was advertised as a public County Board meeting, as required by law when a majority of the County Board is planning to attend. On Saturday, that public notice was rescinded.
“Notice is hearby given that the County Board of Arlington County, Virginia, will NOT meet on Sunday, February 28, 2016 in the Lyon Park Community Center, 414 North Fillmore Street., at 7:00 P.M. or as soon thereafter for the purpose of attending a Lyon Park Community meeting to discuss NOVA Armory’s plans to open a firearms store at 2300 Pershing Dr,” the public notice read.
ARLnow.com reached out to the elected officials who attended the meeting, asking about what was discussed, but thus far none has responded on the record. On Friday, Arlington County issued a statement saying that due to state law, the county “does not have the authority to prohibit these sales or businesses.”
(Also in attendance at the meeting: Lyon Park resident, Planning Commission member and Democratic County Board challenger Erik Gutshall, who has said he’s “deeply concerned” with plans for the store.)
John Goldener, president of the Lyon Park Citizens Association, spoke to ARLnow.com after the meeting, which ran from 7-9 p.m. and was attended by about 140 residents, he said.
Goldener declined to provide details about the discussion, saying that the civic association purposely excluded outsiders because the meeting was intended to be a safe space for community members to discuss the gun store.
“All I can tell you is what the meeting was about,” Goldener said. “This was an opportunity for people in the community to have a safe, civil discussion.”
“The civic association’s role here is to be a facilitator,” Goldener added. “We don’t take a stance on this particular issue.”
Dominion Admits Culpability for Potomac Oil Spill — Last week’s mysterious oil spill that ran from the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, down the Potomac past Reagan National Airport, came from a Dominion Power substation in Crystal City. The company is taking responsibility for the mineral oil spill, which killed 21 birds, mostly Canada geese, and prompted a large Coast Guard and Arlington County cleanup response. [Washington Post]
Loverde Issues Statement on Scalia’s Death — Diocese of Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde issued a statement on the passing of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend. Loverde said “we are all deeply saddened” by Scalia’s unexpected death, lauding him as “a man so deeply rooted in his faith, so brilliant in the law and in jurisprudence, so clear and precise in his judicial statements, so wholly committed to his family, so engaging with colleagues and friends, often with great humor.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]
D.C. Denies St. Paddy’s Bar Crawls — The annual Shamrock Crawl bar crawl will be coming to Clarendon next month. Arlington police helped keep a lid on crime and rowdiness associated with the bar crawl last year. In the District, however, concerns about bad behavior prompted officials to deny permit applications for the D.C. version of the Shamrock Crawl and another St. Patrick’s Day-themed crawl. [Borderstan]
Garvey on Kojo Show — On Friday, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey was a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour, which is broadcast on WAMU (88.5 FM). Garvey spoke to Nnamdi and NBC 4’s Tom Sherwood about the proposed widening of a portion of eastbound I-66, as well as related topics like Metro and transit. [YouTube]
W-L Shot Put Record Smashed — Washington-Lee High School junior Benedict Draghi has convincingly set a new school record for shot put. At a recent track meet, Draghi recorded a throw of 61 feet and 4.75 inches. The performance was good for first place at the meet and it blew away the school’s 50-year-old previous indoor shot put record by nearly 10 feet. [InsideNova]
Old Guard Offers Horses for Adoption — The Army’s Old Guard, based at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, is offering two caisson horses for adoption. The horses, Quincy and Kennedy, have served in military funerals and ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery for almost a decade. [WJLA]
Volunteers Remove Wreaths from Cemetery — Despite bone-chilling cold temperatures, on Saturday volunteers picked up tens of thousands of holiday wreaths that were placed on headstones at Arlington National Cemetery in December. The cleanup was postponed from January due to the blizzard. [WUSA 9]
Flickr pool photo by WolfpackWX
Publicly-traded energy tech firm Opower is staying in Arlington, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced at a press conference this morning, marking some good news for a county beset by the departures of large government agencies.
McAuliffe and County Board Chair Libby Garvey were among those making the announcement at Opower’s current headquarters at 1515 N. Courthouse Road in Courthouse, which President Obama visited in 2010, when the company was still a startup.
Opower will be moving down the street to a new office building at 2311 Wilson Blvd in Courthouse. The building — already approved by the County Board — is set to be constructed over the next two years, replacing a row of restaurants. Developer Carr Properties had been calling the 8-story building the “Clean Technology Center,” which seems consistent with Opower’s sustainability and energy conservation mission.
Virginia and Arlington County had been fighting to keep Opower, which was being courted by the District and by The Wharf, the massive new development on the Southwest D.C. waterfront.
“Keeping Opower in Arlington County has been a high priority of my administration,” McAuliffe said. “This high-profile energy software company is growing rapidly and making a major impact on global challenges, and we are committed to further strengthening this important corporate partnership. The technology industry is booming in Virginia, and wins like this expansion help us continue to build on the momentum in this important sector.”
“Arlington has watched Opower grow from a startup venture to a thriving leader not only in the region, but in the entire clean technology industry,” Garvey said. “Arlington’s highly-educated workforce and easy transportation access were things Opower was looking for as the company continues to grow, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with them for a long time to come.”
McAuliffe helped arrange a $1 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to help Arlington keep Opower.
“Arlington County will match the state funding with a performance-based local economic development incentive grant,” the county notes in a press release. “Arlington will provide an additional annual performance grant through the remaining years of the lease term subject to job and occupancy requirements. Funding and services to support the company’s employee training activities will be provided through the Virginia Jobs Investment Program.”
Opower plans to invest about $10.5 million in its new, 63,000 square foot headquarters and expects to add 70 new employees within three years. The company will also retain 357 jobs that currently pay above the region’s prevailing wage.
“Opower has been with Arlington since the beginning,” said Victor Hoskins, Director of Arlington Economic Development. “The company is a model for the fast-growth technology companies we’re hoping to attract to Arlington, and we simply could not be more pleased that Opower has decided to continue to be a part of Arlington’s business community.”
The building at 2311 Wilson Blvd will have a total of 150,000 square feet of office space plus ground floor retail spaces when it’s completed.
Power Outage in Boulevard Manor — About 120 Dominion customers have been without power for much of the morning in Arlington’s Boulevard Manor neighborhood. A damaged power line is said to be the cause. Power may not be restored until later this afternoon.
Garvey Wants More Millennials Engaged With Gov’t — One of Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey’s goals for the year is to find ways for the county government to better engage younger residents. Garvey said members of the Millennial generation get “a little bit of a bad rap” but “really do want to be involved and help.” One possible Millennial-friendly measure that Garvey floated: allowing people to use Skype to speak at County Board meetings. [InsideNova]
Business’ Unplowed Sidewalks Called Out on Social Media — Arlington residents are using Facebook and Twitter to call out businesses and commercial property owners that haven’t yet plowed their sidewalks. One such example is the sidewalk in front of Colonial Village Shopping Center, which as of this morning was still snow-covered even though the shopping center’s parking lot has been plowed. [Twitter]
Arlington Hoping to Get Federal Funds for Snow Cleanup — The Arlington County Board yesterday ratified a declaration of a local emergency, which may help the county receive federal disaster relief funds for its ongoing blizzard cleanup effort. The county has spent more than $800,000 on post-blizzard snow removal so far. [InsideNova]
TSA HQ Limbo Continues — A federal judge’s ruling has left the Transportation Security Administration’s planned move to a new headquarters in Alexandria in limbo. The TSA is currently based in Pentagon City, but the agency is trying to consolidate four offices into one, larger headquarters office. Bisnow’s Ethan Rothstein reports that insiders are expecting “some movement either way in a matter of weeks.” [Bisnow]
Photo courtesy Susan Schonfeld
The Springs, a new affordable apartment complex in the Buckingham area, near Ballston, celebrated its “topping out” last week.
The five story, 104-unit apartment building, at the corner of Carlin Springs Road and N. Thomas Street, is being developed by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing. The project was approved by the Arlington County Board in 2014.
A topping out ceremony was held last Wednesday, after the construction project reached its highest point. Construction is expected to wrap up later this year.
“APAH purchased this site in 1997,” APAH Board member Susan Bell said in a statement. “Nine of APAH’s 14 properties are in North Arlington. The redevelopment of The Springs expands APAH’s presence in this wonderful Ballston location, just 1/2 mile from Metro and close to so many jobs and services.”
As part of the ceremony, more than 40 attendees, including County Board members and local legislators, signed a “commemorative beam” that will be installed on the top floor of the building.
“Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is one of our key community partners,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “Today only 9,600 Arlington apartments are affordable to the 17,000 low income families looking for housing in our community. With the targets set in the County’s Master Plan, we are committed to keeping Arlington a place where people from across the socioeconomic spectrum can live and work comfortably.”
Schwartz was elevated to the temporary post after the retirement of former County Manager Barbara Donnellan. An Arlington resident since 1985, Schwartz previously was Arlington’s Director of Management and Finance and Chief Financial Officer before serving as Deputy County Manager under Donnellan.
The County Manager serves as the top executive in Arlington County government, managing the day-to-day operations of county government and its $943 million budget. The manager is appointed by the County Board.
The Board is slated to formally vote to approve Schwartz’s contract at its meeting on Saturday, Jan. 23.
County Board Chair Libby Garvey announced the selection of Schwartz in a memo to county employees shortly after 12:30 p.m. today.
County Employees –
I am pleased to announce that the Arlington County Board has selected Mark Schwartz as County Manager.
Mark is our unanimous choice, and we are very pleased to have him at the helm. He offers deep experience and knowledge of Arlington, but has demonstrated in the past six months an ability to look at things differently and a willingness to make changes. With Mark, we will have a tried-and-true Manager and a consummate professional able to work with this new Board to shape Arlington’s future.
We will be announcing this news to the public very shortly with a press release.
Our organization is filled with talent. Each and every one of you is critical to our success. As you know, Mark has been, and will be, a thoughtful and creative leader. Together, we will do great things and I’m excited!
Chair, Arlington County Board
The press release, after the jump.
Violent Attack at Pentagon City Metro — A seemingly random act of violence at the Pentagon City Metro station injured a man late last month. Details of the attack were just released: a 19-year-old man collapsed on the platform after being sucker-punched. Witnesses took cell phone photos of the attacker, who fled. The incident is one of a string of recent violent incidents at Metro stations. [Fox 5 DC]
GGW Questions Garvey’s Leadership — Will new County Board Chair Libby Garvey move Arlington forward with smart infrastructure investments, or pull back and scale down the county’s ambitions? That’s the question being posed by urbanist blog Greater Greater Washington, which has been critical of Garvey’s anti-streetcar stance. [Greater Greater Washington]
Garvey Announces Reelection Bid — Thought she has positioned herself as a somewhat anti-establishment figure in the local party, Libby Garvey detailed her Democratic bonafides while announcing her reelection bid at the Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting earlier this week. Garvey is facing a primary challenge on her left, from small business owner Erik Gutshall. [Libby Garvey]
Grant for ‘Little Saigon’ History — A $9,000 grant will allow Arlington County to produce a full-color booklet preserving the history of Arlington’s “Little Saigon” — a concentration of Vietnamese immigrants and businesses in Clarendon in the 1970s, before the opening of Metro. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey will face a primary challenge on her left this year.
Erik Gutshall, a small business owner and Arlington Planning Commission member, announced on New Year’s Day that he will be running against Garvey in the June Democratic primary. Garvey is nearing the end of her first four-year term on the Board.
Gutshall, who lives in Lyon Park and previously served as that community’s civic association president, said he intends to run a positive campaign against Garvey, who drew the ire of the local Democratic establishment after successfully campaigning against the Columbia Pike streetcar project and endorsing independent County Board member John Vihstadt in his two races against Democrat Alan Howze.
“Our county best meets the challenges we face when we are united behind our shared progressive values,” Gutshall said in a statement.
Gutshall is a home improvement contractor and owns Clarendon Home Services LLC. The full press release announcing Gutshall’s candidacy, after the jump.
Photo via Facebook
Garvey, a Democrat who has clashed with the local Democratic establishment over her endorsement of independent John Vihstadt and opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar, was unanimously elected County Board Chair at the Board’s annual New Year’s Day organizational meeting on Jan. 1.
Garvey is up for reelection this year and it is a long-standing tradition that the Board member who is up for reelection serve as Chair.
Jay Fisette, meanwhile, was elected vice chair. Fisette, who has served on the Board since 1999, is now the body’s most senior member, following the retirements of Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada. Their successors, Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, served their first day on the Board at Friday’s meeting.
Garvey, who was first elected in 2012, outlined her priorities at the meeting. Among them:
- Improving county government customer service, including by reforming the “Byzantine” zoning and permitting process for homeowners, small businesses and developers.
- Moving forward with a new transit plan for Columbia Pike. Garvey said she was frustrated with the slow pace of planning following the streetcar’s cancellation, and instructed the County Manager to report back later this month on plans including off-board fare collection and traffic signal prioritization.
- Broader civic participation in county government. Garvey wants to see busier people — those with kids or jobs that prevent them from attending long meetings — have a greater voice in local policymaking.
- More flexibility in local regulation. Garvey said Arlington should be careful not to stifle innovation and to not over-regulate to the point where there’s too much sameness in Arlington’s local communities.
Garvey said she also wants to “ensure that every Arlingtonian, people of all ages, interests, and from across the socioeconomic spectrum, can live and work here comfortably.”
Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz said he and county staff are focusing on improving the county’s use of technology in service delivery and to promote government transparency and accountability. Possible new initiatives include streaming county commission meetings, which currently are not recorded for public broadcast.
Vice Chair Fisette, meanwhile, said his focus will be on schools and county facilities
In her remarks, Garvey said she looks forward to “the need for facilities, including schools, while constrained by limited land,” along with strengthening Arlington’s economic competitiveness, balancing the budget and focusing on housing affordability.
“Clearly, some things are going to be different this year, but a lot will stay the same,” Garvey said. “My goal is to see that Arlington achieves its potential.”
“We have challenges, like our commercial vacancy rate, our growing need for more school space, and our shrinking supply of affordable housing but this remains a wonderful community,” Garvey continued. “I’m confident that, together, our residents, our businesses, our staff, and this new Board will make sure that Arlington delivers outstanding customer service to all our residents and businesses, that every Arlingtonian who wants can have a voice in our government, and that we will work strategically to make this wonderful County even better.”
APS Sweeps Top 16 of Best Elementary School List — The top sixteen schools on a new list of the best public elementary schools in Virginia are all Arlington public schools. Moreover, 19 of the top 20 are Arlington schools. [Niche]
Deal on Historic Designation for Stratford Nears — The Arlington County Board, School Board and NAACP appear close to striking a deal for the historic preservation of the Stratford building, the current home of H-B Woodlawn and a future middle school. Stratford was one of the was the first public school in Virginia to integrate, in 1959. Meanwhile, the Arlington Civic Federation is debating whether the middle school should retain the “Stratford” name, which pays tribute to the plantation where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was born. [InsideNova]
Group Reaches Cemetery Wreath Goal — The group that places wreaths on the graves at Arlington National Cemetery around the holidays has met its fundraising goal thanks to last-minute donations. Just a few days ago Wreaths Across America was 30,000 wreaths short of its goal of placing wreaths on each of the cemetery’s 230,000 headstones. [WTOP]
Garvey Back in Black at ACDC — Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey has formally been welcomed back into the good graces of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, more than a year after she endorsed Republican-turned-Independent John Vihstadt in his successful bid for County Board. Garvey is up for reelection next year and there are rumors that she will face a Democratic primary challenge. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Water Main Break in Courthouse — Courthouse Road is closed between Route 50 and 14th Street N., near the police station, due to a water main break that was discovered overnight. Repairs are still underway as of this morning’s rush hour. [WTOP]
Arlington Scores New Office Tenant in Va. Square — Arlington County will fill 50,000 square feet of vacant office space in Virginia Square thanks to a new tenant. GW Medical Faculty Associates will be moving into 3811 N. Fairfax Drive this coming spring, creating more than 200 jobs. [Arlington County]
Secret Chopsticks Open Today — The previously secretive Secret Chopsticks is planning to open to the public today. The 120-seat upscale, white tablecloth Chinese restaurant is located at 1850 Fort Myer Drive, on the ground floor of the Turnberry Tower condominium. [Washingtonian]
Garvey Wants Strategic Plan for County — Should County Board member Libby Garvey become the board chair next year, she wants to develop a strategic plan for Arlington. “We really don’t have one,” she said over the weekend. [InsideNova]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Local Republicans see a silver lining in the lopsided defeat of Mike McMenamin in Tuesday’s Arlington County Board. But one local political watcher says it signals that the narrow window of opportunity to elect conservatives to local office in Arlington has passed.
McMenamin, an independent candidate with the endorsement of the local GOP, garnered 19 percent of the vote to 36 and 34 percent respectively for Democrats Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol. Perennial candidate Audrey Clement, who ran as an independent after several elections under the Green Party banner, received 10 percent of the vote.
Democrats say they were pleasantly surprised by the election results.
“It turned out much better than I predicted it to be,” said Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair Kip Malinosky. “I think people responded to an inclusive, welcoming message.”
“We always took [McMenamin] seriously,” Malinosky continued. “We knew he had a good record of public service. But we didn’t hear a positive vision for Arlington from Mike. Voters heard a lot of ‘no.'”
Matt Wavro, Chair of the Arlington County Republican Committee, sees things a bit differently. Via email, he told ARLnow.com that all four candidates in the race ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility — a victory of sorts, even though the GOP’s favored candidate did not win.
Mike ran a solid independent campaign. The Arlington GOP was very proud to endorse his independent candidacy. Mike’s earnest desire to bring people together to solve issues facing the county should be acknowledged by everyone involved in politics in Arlington.
The future of the Arlington GOP is strong. Our goals of cancelling the streetcar, reducing the cost of the Million Dollar Bus Stop, ending the subsidy of the Artisphere, preventing a property tax rate increase, and turning back the plan to build subsidized housing in our parks enjoyed and continue to enjoy wide community support.
With the exception of a firm commitment that subsidized housing should not be built in parks, every candidate for the County Board campaigned on our issues. Even the candidates who were leveling partisan attacks against Mike were trying to appropriate the very issues we considered as the basis for endorsing Mike.
Democrats on the County Board were very effective in 2015 at clearing the decks of issues that highlighted how out of touch narrowly partisan Democrats were from their more rational and reasonable neighbors of all political persuasions.
“Looking out at the issues that are likely to be taken up in the next year, our platform will continue to be a consensus-building counter-point to the partisan Democrat group-think we saw from our County Board members in 2013 and the decade prior,” Wavro added.
Despite Wavro’s optimism, one veteran Democratic campaign operative and election watcher thinks the result shows a return to normalcy in heavily-Democratic Arlington after a brief flirtation with center-right politics.
“It’s back to normal in Arlington,” Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com. “The voters Tuesday were strongly Democratic, where they’ve always been.”
Tribbett, who correctly predicted the demise of Arlington’s streetcar project on the night of independent County Board member John Vihstadt’s election last November, said McMenamin’s defeat is “embarrassing” for Vihstadt.
“Vihstadt’s endorsement [of McMenamin] had no legs, voters basically ignored it,” Tribbett said.
The center-right flirtation was made possible by the streetcar, the Long Bridge Park aquatics center and other poorly managed, big-ticket projects that drew voter ire. With those out of the way, and with all candidates calling for some degree of fiscal responsibility, voters returned to other issues as deciding factors — issues that favored the Democrats.
(Other political watchers have suggested that it wasn’t just the streetcar that propelled Vihstadt to victory, arguing that he was a uniquely strong candidate with a long history of community involvement, thoughtful debate performances and well-tuned political acumen. There are no other Vihstadt-like candidates on the Republican-slash-Independent bench, some say.)
The Arlington electorate seems to have “lost their appetite for reform-type candidates,” Tribbett contended. That, he said, could signal trouble for Libby Garvey, who’s up for reelection in 2016.
Garvey, a Democrat, went against the party by speaking out against the streetcar and endorsing Vihstadt last year. She could face a tough primary challenge this coming spring as a result.
If there’s one lesson to take away from Arlington’s Metro Safety Seminar Wednesday night, it’s don’t evacuate a train until told to do so. Even though a woman died after not being able to evacuate a disabled, smoke-filled train outside of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station earlier this year.
In the case of smoke in a tunnel, Arlington County Fire Department and Metro will work together to figure out the source of the smoke and decide if evacuation is necessary, officials said Wednesday at the seminar in Ballston.
Self-evacuating early often leads to injuries and more trouble, said Robert Joy of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority during a panel on Metro safety hosted by the county’s Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission (EPAC).
There’s also the problem of the third rail, which is a major electrocution hazard, running at more than 700 volts, Joy said.
Joy was joined by ACFD Captain David Santini and ART Director Stephen Yaffee to speak about how to be a safe rider on public transit, including Metrobus, Metro or ART bus. The panel spoke to a small audience, mostly consisting of older Arlington residents, many of whom identified themselves as members of EPAC.
For the most part, audience members were concerned about smoke filling Metro cars, noting the L’Enfant Plaza incident in January.
Smoke in Metro tunnels is not an unusual occurrence, Sanitini said.
“We report to smoke on the Metro several times a month,” he said, adding that most are “minor in nature” usually resulting from trash burning on the rails or small insulator fires.
In the case of smoke filling the cars, passengers should listen to the intercoms, Joy said, as the conductors will tell people when to evacuate.
“Just because the trains stop doesn’t mean it’s an emergency,” he said. “And we’ve had some people self-evacuate a perfectly good train.”
If a train needs to be evacuated, firefighters will come to the train to help passengers evacuate, Santini said. Metro also posts instructions for opening the doors in emergencies and how to evacuate.
Evacuation should be the last resort as walking in the tunnels and jumping from the train can result in injuries, such as broken ankles or legs, he said.
Joy acknowledged that there were problems with understanding the intercoms, which can make emergency situations more stressful. Dust often gets in the speakers, which make them hard to hear.
“We understand that the intercom system isn’t always up to snuff,” Joy said. “I sometimes wonder what they are saying.”
Fixing the intercoms by making sure they are cleaned is an easy step that Metro can do to make riding safer, said John Brown, director of Arlington County Office of Emergency Management.
“I don’t think we can wait for a federal report. There’s low hanging fruit that we know we can fix,” Brown said.
Throughout the discussion, audience members offered suggestions that Metro can implement to improve passenger safety, including more information on car walls. These suggestions will be compiled in a letter and brought before the Arlington County Board, said Board member Libby Garvey.
Garvey and Brown also took a couple of minutes to talk about emergency preparedness in general, telling the audience they should know what to do for everyday emergencies, like weather-related events, or in the case of a decidedly not-everyday emergency: a nuclear attack.
“We really all need to be prepared, not just for these events that happen pretty regularly but also when the unimaginable happens,” Brown said.
In the case of a nuclear attack, people should “shelter in place” and put as much concrete between them and outside, Garvey said.
The last thing people should do is go outside and see what happened, she said. Instead, people should “camp inside” until its safe to go outside.
“We all need to be prepared for camping for three days,” Garvey said.