Arlington, VA

Several Blue Line trains barreled through Arlington Cemetery station without picking up passengers this past month as Metro gave little to no notice to riders.

Inbound Blue Line trains have not stopped at the station several times due to repairs, transit agency spokespeople told ARLnow, but riders waiting on the platform have few ways to learn they might as well have been waiting for Godot.

The trains have stranded passengers seven times since March 13, as seen by this reporter and according to alerts from transit tracker Metro Hero.  

The only alert for riders waiting on the platform during a March 19 incident was a loudspeaker announcement which, according to tipsters, was unintelligible on the echoing platform. 

Spokespeople for the transit agency told ARLnow that trains were directed to pass through the station to arrive faster at Rosslyn, and avoid an ongoing bottleneck caused by a “signal problem” at Stadium Armory station.

“Because the issue involved the junction where three lines diverge, fewer trains could get through the area, and the delays were starting to grow as more trains arrived,” said Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta.

To decrease the number of trains headed to the junction, Jannetta said Metro’s Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) also directed Silver Line trains to turn back at Ballston. ROCC also directed three Blue Line trains to skip Arlington Cemetery and arrive earlier to Rosslyn and avoid bottlenecking with the rescheduled Orange Line train also arriving at Rosslyn.

Three more Westbound Blue Line trains have skipped Arlington Cemetery this week, one on Tuesday and two more today (Thursday.) Trains also skipped out on the station on March 13 and 18.

The transit agency did post an alert that Blue, Silver, and Orange line riders may “experience minor delays when traveling through the work area” as upgrades are made to Stadium Armory until March 29.

The alert does not mention trains passing by the station, nor were there signs posted at the station by March 19.

Jannetta said passengers on the selected train were alerted two stops from the cemetery that the train would not be stopping there. He added that the transit agency’s reimbursement for late trips applies to anyone affected.

“Arlington Cemetery ridership during the AM commute is extremely light, which factored into the decision making process,” Jannetta told ARLnow. “On the other hand, the action benefited several hundred customers aboard trains approaching Rosslyn.”

Arlington Cemetery experiences the largest ridership increase of any Metro station during the Cherry Blossom season, per Metro’s now-defunct planning blog. Earlier this month, Metro cancelled some track work in Arlington in anticipation of the arrival of the tourists.

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Metro is shutting down three Arlington stations on the Blue and Yellow lines this weekend, in order to allow for some major lighting improvements set to make each station substantially brighter.

The Pentagon, Pentagon City and Crystal City stops will all be closed both Saturday and Sunday (Jan. 12-13), WMATA announced last week, work that is sure to create substantial disruptions on both lines.

Metro plans to run Blue Line trains on its regular weekend schedule between the Franconia-Springfield and Reagan National Airport stations and between Arlington Cemetery and Largo Town Center each day, with free shuttle buses providing a bridge between the closed stations. After the cemetery closes at 7 p.m. each day, Blue Line service will end at the Rosslyn station.

As for the Yellow Line, Metro expects it will only run trains between the Huntington and National Airport stations, with free shuttle buses on that line too.

The exact details for the shuttle buses are as follows, per a WMATA press release:

  • Blue Line Shuttle (No stop at National Airport) – every 5-10 minutes between Braddock Rd, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Rosslyn
  • DC-Airport Express Shuttle – every 5-10 minutes between Reagan National Airport and L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station in Downtown DC
  • Pentagon-Airport Shuttle – every 15 minutes between Reagan National Airport, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon only

Metro is warning anyone hoping to use the rail service and shuttle buses to allow an extra 30 minutes of travel time to reach their destinations this weekend.

Officials chose to kick off work this weekend because they’re counting on “lighter post-holiday travel” patterns, easing demand for service reaching DCA. Metro made a similar assumption back on Veteran’s Day in closing the National Airport station, only to see huge traffic snarls as frustrated commuters turned to the roads instead.

This latest construction project is aimed at installing new LED lights in all three stations, part of a $50 million project that involves lighting upgrades at all of Metro’s 48 underground stations. WMATA says that stations generally become about six times brighter after the new lights are installed.

The station closures will also let Metro “perform additional track work, including concrete grout pad replacement, installation of radio communication cables and tunnel leak mitigation” at all three locations.

The troubled transit system remains beset by questions of how to best complete needed track work while improving service and luring riders back to its trains. Metro leaders are proposing some key rush hour service increases in WMATA’s new budget, but it remains an open question whether Arlington and other Virginia localities will be able to help pay for those changes.

Photo via WMATA

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Morning Notes

Snow Coming This Weekend — Gas up the snowblowers: accumulating snow is likely this weekend. By county ordinance, all snowfall under 6 inches must be removed from sidewalks within 24 hours of the last flakes. That gets bumped up to 36 hours for 6 or more inches of snow. [Capital Weather Gang]

New ‘Best of Arlington’ List — The 2019 “Best of Arlington” list is in. Among food-related winners, Ambar was named Best Restaurant, Barley Mac was named Best for Date Night and Matt Hill of Liberty Tavern Group and Hungry was named Best Chef. [Arlington Magazine]

AWLA Dog Featured in People Magazine — “One of our AWLA alums, Lucy, is featured in People Magazine this week! Here’s the online article about her weight loss journey after being adopted — her owner helped her go from 26 lbs to 14 lbs.” [Twitter, People]

Case of the Disintegrating Coffee Cups — On four separate occasions, a Washington Business Journal reporter had a coffee cup from Compass Coffee in Rosslyn start to disintegrate and leak in her hand. The company says they were sent a bad batch of paper cups and are working to remove all of the faulty cups from their cafes. [Washington Business Journal]

Va. Legislature to Consider Housing Bills — “A new surge in development in parts of Northern Virginia could come next year under a proposal to overhaul 2016 proffer legislation in this year’s General Assembly… Another proposal would ban discrimination by local governments through land use decisions against low-income or other specific types of development.” [WTOP]

Power Issue at Ballston Metro Station — There are reports that power was out at the Ballston Metro station this morning, meaning no working elevators, escalators or fare kiosks, and only minimal lighting. [Twitter, Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Christmas Closures in Arlington — “Arlington County Government offices, courts and libraries will be closed on Mon., Dec. 24 and Tue., Dec. 25, 2018, for Christmas and on Tue., Jan. 1, 2019, for New Year’s Day. Courts will also be closed on Dec. 31, 2018, and libraries will close at 5 p.m. on Dec. 31.” [Arlington County]

Low-Income Workers Finding Metro Alternatives — “As Metro fares have risen, hours for train service have been cut and gentrification has made it more difficult for low-income workers to live near rail stations, workers making lower wages in Washington and in Arlington have become less likely to commute by transit… down 5 percent from the previous five years.” [Washington Post]

Arlington, Alexandria Firefighters Learning Yoga — “It’s a revolutionary training course helping firefighters cope [with] stress & sleep deprivation. One firefighter who was at the Pentagon on 9/11 says it helps him deal [with] the memory of that day.” [NBC Washington, Twitter]

Rain, Flood Watch Continues — “The Flood Watch continues through this afternoon. Unseasonably warm today with showers and perhaps an isolated afternoon/evening thunderstorm.” [Twitter]

Holiday Wrapping Paper Alternatives — Local designer Beth Singer, whose firm designed the ARLnow logo, has penned a new blog post just in time for the holidays: “Five Reasons I Will Never Buy Wrapping Paper Again.” [Beth Singer Design]

Eclectic Estate Sale Near Clarendon — “Looking for a one-of-a-kind gift for that special person? Are you a collector of unusual paintings, furniture, or sculpture? A curious browser of all things uncommon and quirky? You won’t want to miss this special estate sale, this weekend in Ashton Heights.” [Team Cathell]

Nearby: Amazon’s Effect on Chirilagua — “Between Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood and the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington is a swath of land home to a vibrant Hispanic community… For many Chirilagua residents, Amazon’s arrival threatens the end of the community they love, bringing increased housing costs, new residents and creeping gentrification.” [NBC Washington]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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Morning Notes

Murder Case Advances After Court Ruling — “The Maryland man charged with brutally killing his lover’s ex-boyfriend laid in wait at his Arlington town house before strangling, shooting and stabbing the man to death, prosecutors said.” On Monday, an Arlington judge “ruled there is probable cause [Jitesh] Patel killed 40-year-old John Giandoni in March 2018.” [WTOP]

Food Safety Tips for the Holidays — Arlington’s health department has compiled a list of safety tips for those cooking holiday meals at home. Regarding turkey, which has been blamed for a recent salmonella outbreak, the department notes that “food handling errors and inadequate cooking are the most common problems that lead to poultry-associated food-borne disease outbreaks in the United States.” [Arlington County]

Car Safety Tips for the Holidays — “This Thanksgiving season, the Arlington County Police Department is partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to share an important lifesaving reminder: whether you’re traveling across the country, or across the County, Buckle Up–Every Trip. Every Time.” [Arlington County]

Airport Tips for the Holidays — Per Reagan National Airport on Twitter: “Peak holiday travel continues today. Roadway delays are likely. To avoid congested roadways, use Metrorail. Or use Terminal Garages A, B or C for pick-up/drop-off and park for up to 60 minutes.” [Twitter]

Commuters Still Angry About Veterans Day Mess — Many who were stuck in traffic or waiting in long shuttle lines on Veterans Day are still not buying “Metro’s explanation that the day’s rain, and not Metro’s own planning, was the main culprit for what the agency acknowledged on Twitter was ‘a disastrous commute.'” [Washington Post]

Amazon News Roundup — A local think tank argues that “when put in the context of the Metro region’s history, the ‘Amazon effect’ is an unimpressive flare in the region’s chronic housing crisis.” One local urban planner thinks “Amazon choosing a second-tier city could have been more destructive.” Alexandria leaders say Amazon will be an “economic boom, not traffic nightmare.” Finally, there’s more information on the Amazon-fueled deals to build a second entrance to the new Potomac Yard Metro station and open a new Virginia Tech campus in Alexandria.

Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman

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Morning Notes

Worker Rescued from Memorial Bridge — A man working on the Memorial Bridge rehabilitation project was injured this morning and transported to the hospital via fireboat and then ambulance. The injuries were reported to be non-life-threatening. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]

More Worries About Real Estate Prices Post-Amazon — “Amazon’s possible arrival in Northern Virginia and Queens, New York, has already sent shockwaves through surrounding real estate markets. Mara Gemond, a longtime Arlington, Virginia, realtor… Crystal City — until news broke that Amazon might be splitting its 50,000-employee second headquarters between there and Long Island City in New York. All of a sudden, the two-bedroom condo in a 1980s-era building that had been sitting on the market for nearly three months with no offers, even after a price cut, had a flood of interest.” [CNN, Washington Post, ARLnow]

Metro Closure Causes DCA Gridlock — The closure of the Crystal City and National Airport Metro stations prior to Friday’s evening rush hour, amid a rush to get out of town for the holiday weekend, caused gridlock around the airport, the GW Parkway, Route 1 and other nearby roads. Arlington County Police were dispatched to the area to help with traffic control. [NBC 4, Twitter, Greater Greater Washington]

Chamber Welcomes Amazon — Among those welcoming Amazon to Arlington is the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. “This addition to Arlington is a significant step toward enhancing and maintaining the strength of Arlington’s commercial sector and diversifying our economic base,” the Chamber said in a statement. [Arlington Chamber]

Restrictions for West Glebe Road Bridge Traffic — “A routine inspection of the bridge on West Glebe Road at South Four Mile Run has uncovered deterioration, which will require a vehicle weight restriction of 5-tons, and closure of the sidewalks in both directions. Because safety is the priority, the restrictions are effective immediately.” [Arlington County]

Marymount U Prez Dances with Local Stars — “Dr. Irma Becerra has many accomplishments to her name. Dancing is not one of them, but D.C.’s Dancing Stars Gala could soon change that. Marymount University’s new president is one of eight local celebrities who will vie for $10,000 [this past] Saturday when the annual fundraising competition is held at The Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner.” [Fairfax News]

Arlington Resident Buys Airline — Sanford Rederer, a resident of North Arlington and Sarasota, Florida, has purchased Florida-based Island Air Charters. [Business Observer]

Pictured above: Crystal City as it once was — building and wayfinding sign in 2011 (Flickr pool photo by Chris Reed)

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As Metro’s leaders wrestle anew with the question of how to bring riders back to the troubled transit service, Northern Virginia officials are offering their own suggestions: focus on reliability, and create new fare card plans to entice riders.

In a new report to Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly set to be considered tonight (Thursday), the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to urge Metro to use those strategies to boost ridership, and put WMATA on sounder financial footing in the process.

The document is the first such set of recommendations delivered to state lawmakers from the regional transportation planners at the NVTC, as part of the new oversight powers the group won through legislation to provide Metro with dedicated state funding.

Notably, however, it does not include any recommendation that Metro increase service to bring back riders. The push for service boosts, long backed by transit advocates, has become a particularly hot topic in recent days, after the Washington Post uncovered an internal Metro report insisting that service changes are the surest way for reversing WMATA’s declining ridership.

Members of Metro’s Board of Directors, including Arlington County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey, expressed no such certainty on a path forward when questioned by the Post, and said they had no knowledge of the internal report on service increases. But the NVTC report represents a chance for regional leaders — including NVTC commissioners like Dorsey, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey — to offer some of their own thoughts on the matter to Metro and its overseers.

The group’s “2018 Report on the Performance and Condition of Metro” notes that just 79 percent of trains arrived at stations “at or close” to their scheduled times in fiscal year 2017, underscoring the NVTC’s recommendation that improving reliability should be WMATA’s prime long-term focus in bringing riders back to the service. To do so, NVTC expects the system will need to devote plenty of cash to capital projects.

The report deems the $500 million in annual dedicated funding that Metro will now receive from D.C., Maryland and Virginia “an invaluable tool” in achieving its maintenance goals. Even still, the group notes that Metro reported an “unconstrained capital need” of $25 billion in projects in 2016, and will need to focus on the area for years to come to catch up on many years worth of work.

In the short term, however, the NVTC recommends developing “new fare-pass products” to “ease the transit riding experience.”

Examples could include the expansion of passes designed for college students, or new partnerships with hotels and conventions “to provide fare products directly to visitors as a part of hotel and/or convention registration.” Metro’s internal report also cites the importance of developing new fare pass options, recommending strategies like offering shorter term passes and making all passes useable on both Metro trains and buses, but those options are listed firmly below the priority of increasing service.

Yet the NVTC expects that exploring those fare pass strategies would also improve fare collection and boost Metro’s coffers, another key point of emphasis of the NVTC report. The document suggests that Metro “develop the next generation of fare collection technology” in the long term, and test methods for “off-vehicle fare collection” on Metrobus routes to juice revenues.

The report also includes recommendations on how Metro can control costs, with a special focus on labor costs. With a new Government Accountability Office analysis of WMATA’s pension liabilities igniting new debates on Metro’s relationship with its unions, the NVTC is urging Metro’s board to consider private contracting in select situations and other collective bargaining tactics to keep labor costs down.

Metro only recently cooled tensions with its largest union, which briefly threatened a strike this summer.

Photo courtesy of Metro

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Podcast: Unsuck DC Metro

The Metrorail system has been “rebuilding” for years and now has a dedicated stream of funding. On top of that, its general manager just received a big vote of confidence from the Metro board: a new contract and a sizable raise.

So why does Metro still kind of suck?

On today’s 26 Square Miles podcast we talked with the semi-anonymous creator of Unsuck DC Metro, a blog and Twitter account that is perhaps Metro’s biggest and most vocal critic.

We talked about Paul Wiedefeld’s new contract, his adversarial relationship with Metro’s main union, the system’s new railcars and more — and tried to arrive at an explanation for why Metro is in its current state.

Listen below or subscribe to the podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher or TuneIn.

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Metro’s dire warnings about the impacts of track work in the latter half of this month seem to have effectively pushed Arlington commuters onto local bus routes instead — though bike share services didn’t see a similar ridership boost.

With the rail service’s major rebuilding work on the Silver, Orange and Blue lines fading in the rearview, Arlington transportation officials say their data show that both Metrobus and Arlington Transit ridership saw substantial jumps during the construction from Aug. 11 through Aug. 26.

Metro itself recorded an 11 percent dip in ridership over that period when compared to figures from 2017, largely attributable to WMATA’s persistent urging that commuters only use rail service if they had “no other option” for the two-week period. And in Arlington, at least, it seems that commuters weren’t shy about turning to bus options instead.

The Metrobus 3Y line, which runs from stops along Lee Highway to D.C.’s Farragut Square, recorded the biggest ridership surge, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. He says the county’s initial data show a 97 percent increase in average weekday ridership compared to the weeks prior to the track work starting, shooting from an average of 413 riders each day to 815.

He added that Metrobus’ 38B line, running from Ballston to Farragut Square, recorded a 38 percent increase, with average daily ridership jumping from 3,001 people to 4,136. Balliet noted that the county requested that Metro provide additional service along those lines, as they run along the Orange and Silver stops most likely to be affected by the track work.

As for ART buses, Balliet says the 43 route (running between the Crystal City, Rosslyn and Courthouse Metro stations) recorded a 67 percent increase in average weekday riders compared to a year ago. Last August, the bus service saw an average of 1,022 people on those buses each day; this year, it jumped up to 1,706.

Similarly, he said the 42 line between Ballston and the Pentagon saw a 16 percent jump, from last year’s 1,068 riders per day to 1,241. He attributes those changes to the fact those ART lines “parallel the segment of the Blue Line that was closed during the track work.” Metro shut down service on the line between the Arlington National Cemetery stop and the line’s New Carrollton terminus.

Jim Larsen, the county’s commuter services bureau chief, pointed out that those numbers amounted to increases of anywhere from 599 to 1,000 riders each day between the two bus services.

“Now, if we can only keep them,” Larsen said.

A spokesman for the dockless electric scooter company Bird says the firm also saw “ridership grow consistently this summer as commuters sought new options to avoid delays on multiple lines,” but didn’t provide specific numbers.

The track work did not produce a similar ridership bump for bike-sharing in the county, however.

Compared to the same two-week period a year ago, the number of Capital Bikeshare trips originating in Arlington was “virtually the same, though down just a smidge,” according to Bike Arlington Director Henry Dunbar.

In all, the county’s stations recorded about 17,041 trips during the track work. From Aug. 12-27, 2017 the county saw 17,180 trips, Dunbar said.

Spokespeople for the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment on any ridership changes they observed during the track work.

Anecdotally, it would seem that the Metro construction inspired some commuters to turn to their cars rather than transit options. For instance, some ARLnow commenters mentioned hefty backups on the Key Bridge and 14th Street Bridge to make it into D.C. in the first place.

In all, 73 percent of the more than 1,400 respondents to an (admittedly unscientific) ARLnow poll on the issue said the Metro track work affected their commutes in some way.

Metro was even scheduled to do a bit more work on the Silver, Orange and Blue lines this weekend, prompting single-tracking through Rosslyn. However, it announced today (Thursday) it’d be abandoning those plans.

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Morning Notes

Metro Trains Misrouted in Arlington — “It’s been a rough few days for Metro and its customers. Riders on a Springfield-bound Blue Line train ended up at the Court House station on the Orange and Silver lines on Tuesday morning after the train took the wrong route. It wasn’t the first time. On Monday, a Silver Line train ended up at the Arlington Cemetery station on the Blue Line.” [Washington Post, NBC Washington]

Another Heat Advisory — Arlington is again under a heat advisory today, from noon to 8 p.m. “The heat and humidity may cause heat stress during outdoor exertion or extended exposure,” forecasters warn. [Weather.gov]

Remembering 9/11 — Firefighters “started preparing for this year’s remembrance of September 11th by putting up flags on the I-66 overpasses and the tower at the Fire Training Academy.” [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Rob Pegoraro

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Morning Notes

Road Closed Due to Downed Tree — Williamsburg Blvd is closed at N. Westmoreland Street due to a tree that fell overnight and took down several utility lines with it. Arlington’s emergency management office says the closure “may last through evening rush hour.” [Twitter]

Reminder: DUI Checkpoint Tonight — The Arlington County Police Department will conduct a sobriety checkpoint in an undisclosed location tonight. “Officers will stop all vehicles passing through the checkpoint and ask to see the licenses of drivers. Any driver suspected of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be directed to a safe area off the roadway for further observation.” [Arlington County]

Metro Could Become Larger Financial Burden — “Metro expects to turn to state and local governments across the region to cover the costs of pay raises for workers an arbitration panel ordered last week, but the Metro Board chairman is warning of a more significant fiscal ‘ticking time bomb’ just over the horizon.” [WTOP]

Annual CivFed Candidate Forum Scheduled — “The unofficial kickoff to Arlington’s fall election season begins on Tuesday, Sept. 4, when the Arlington County Civic Federation holds its annual candidate forum. Candidates for 8th District U.S. House of Representatives, County Board and School Board have been invited to participate.” [InsideNova]

Basketball Player Punched at Gym — A man who plays professional basketball for LaVar Ball’s Junior Basketball Association says he was sucker punched while playing a pickup game at a Crystal City gym. [Fox 5]

One Hurt in Lee Highway Apartment Fire — A resident of a Lee Highway apartment building suffered burn injuries after a fire broke out in an apartment kitchen Wednesday morning. The fire was out by the time firefighters arrived on the scene. [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by Arlington VA

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