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.”
Seven Arlington Metro stations will be getting new escalators.
This is part of a $179-million, seven-year project that begins in May to replace old escalators and install 130 new heavy-duty ones at 32 stations across the Metro system.
In total, 36 escalators across seven Arlington stations will be replaced.
- Rosslyn (8 escalators)
- Ballston (6 escalators)
- National Airport (4 escalators)
- Pentagon (5 escalators)
- Pentagon City (4 escalators)
- Crystal City (6 escalators)
- Virginia Square (3 escalators)
The new escalators will have up-to-date safety features and LED lighting. The contract for the project was awarded to the Finnish engineering company KONE.
The escalators set to be replaced include four in Rosslyn that date back to 1977 and rise nearly ten stories. At 207 feet high, they are among the world’s longest, continuous escalators.
“Replacing these escalators that average 38-years old, will ensure we maintain reliability for our customers today and into the future,” Metro General Manager/CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said in the press release.
To install the new escalators, KONE will have to demolish the existing escalators and remove them piece by piece.
No more than 18 escalators will be out of service at any given time, the transportation agency promises.
For the last decade, Metro has made it a priority to fix, rehabilitate, and replace frequently breaking escalators. By the time this project is completed, Metro will have replaced or rehabilitated 84% of its escalators since 2011.
However, Metro has not set forth a timeline beyond the work beginning in May.
The full press release from Metro is below.
The Arlington Cemetery Metro station is “deteriorating” and Metro’s plan to fix it next year will cause some changes for commuters.
The platform reconstruction work is currently scheduled to take place from mid-February to May. During that time, those bound for D.C. and Maryland from the Pentagon and stations to the south will be served only by Yellow Line trains and the Yellow Line bridge.
The Arlington Cemetery station project is one of several capital projects Metro has planned for next year. More from WMATA:
Metro will rebuild deteriorating outdoor platforms at Arlington Cemetery, Addison Road, and four Green Line stations north of Fort Totten next year, continuing its robust capital program to keep the system safe and reliable for the next generation of riders. To date, Metro’s Platform Improvement Project has completed full platform replacements at 10 stations — six on the Blue and Yellow lines and four on the Orange Line. Construction activity is currently underway at Reagan National Airport Station marking the project’s halfway point, leaving nine stations to be completed in 2021 and 2022.
Arlington Cemetery and Addison Road stations will be closed for approximately three months for full platform replacement and station renovation. Silver Line trains will pass through the Addison Road construction site without stopping using a single track. Yellow Line trains will provide all trans-Potomac service for stations Pentagon and south.
“Metro will partner and work closely with local jurisdictions and transportation agencies to develop alternative travel options, including free shuttle buses and other mitigation plans,” Metro said. “Specific travel alternatives and rail service details will be announced in the coming months, along with public outreach to ensure awareness of the project.”
The Arlington Cemetery project is the only announced 2021 project affecting service in Arlington.
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]
Arrest Made in Silver Line Sexual Assault — “Metro Transit Police today arrested the individual suspected of an attempted rape Tuesday, October 6 aboard a Silver Line train in Northern Virginia. Kendrie Roberts-Monticue, 21, of Reston, was taken into custody this morning at the home of a family member in Virginia.” [WMATA]
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
Two new businesses are setting up shop right next to an entrance to the Pentagon City Metro station
As previously reported, chicken nugget and sandwich purveyor Chick-fil-A is coming to the ground floor of the new Whitmer apartment building at the corner of S. Hayes Street and 12th Street S. The space is currently under construction.
Also coming to 710 12th Street S. is a new Chase bank branch. Construction workers could be seen inside the future bank this morning.
There is no word yet on when either will open. Chick-fil-A previously refused to confirm that it was coming to Pentagon City, even after “Chick-fil-A coming soon” signs were put up. (They were later removed.)
The Chick-fil-A and Chase will joining the recently-opened Wiseguy Pizza on the ground floor of the apartment building, which is directly adjacent to the Metro station’s eastern entrance, across from the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall and two blocks from Amazon’s under-construction permanent HQ2.
Hat tips to @KalinaNewman and @Calebfiles
The East Falls Church and Arlington Cemetery Metro stations are scheduled to reopen this weekend, WMATA says.
The transit agency announced that its planned outdoor platform reconstruction work along the Orange Line is “well ahead of schedule,” allowing East Falls Church and other stations to return to service.
The East Falls Church station will reopen Sunday, according to WMATA. It closed in March, at the outset of the pandemic, along with the Clarendon and Virginia Square stations — which reopened in June.
The Arlington Cemetery station is also set to reopen on Sunday, as Metro works to return rail service to pre-pandemic levels.
Also available to East Falls Church commuters: a new bike parking facility at the station, which cost around $2 million and was originally slated to be completed in 2015. Cyclists need to register online before using the “Bike and Ride” facility.
More on the reopenings from a WMATA press release:
With the project to reconstruct outdoor platforms at four Orange Line stations west of Ballston proceeding well ahead of schedule, Metro today announced that East Falls Church will reopen this Sunday, August 23. The early reopening of East Falls Church will follow yesterday’s ahead-of-schedule reopening of West Falls Church and the five Silver Line stations in Virginia. Rail service has returned to near pre-pandemic levels, and Metrobus service will increase dramatically beginning Sunday, August 23.
Also today, Metro announced that Arlington Cemetery Station, closed since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will also reopen on Sunday, leaving only two of Metrorail’s 91 stations – Vienna and Dunn Loring – that will remain closed for a few additional weeks.
Dunn Loring and Vienna will open Tuesday, September 8, marking the first time all Metrorail stations have been open since March 19 when Metro initiated strategic station and entrance closures as part of its comprehensive response to the public health emergency.
Returning Orange Line customers may notice ongoing construction activity even after stations reopen, as Metro’s commitment is to restore service on the first day it is safe for customers, which is often weeks earlier than a project’s completion date.
East Falls Church Station customers will benefit from the station’s new secure Bike & Ride facility that offers secured bicycle parking at no charge. To access the facility, customers must use a registered SmarTrip card and must first complete the online Bike & Ride registration form, available here.
Photo courtesy Elvert Barnes
Va. Rolls Out Contact Tracing App — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.” [Commonwealth of Virginia, DCist]
Rosslyn Metro Closes During Rush Hour — The Rosslyn Metro station closed during yesterday’s evening rush hour, reportedly for a COVID-related cleaning. In what may be a sign of just how low ridership remains, ARLnow did not receive a single tweet or email tip about the closure of one of the system’s busiest stations. [Twitter]
Amazon Still Planning on Pen Place Purchase — “It will be some time before the public knows what Amazon.com Inc. has in store for Pentagon City’s Pen Place property, but we have a pretty good idea of how much it’ll cost the e-commerce and cloud computing giant to acquire what will become the second phase of HQ2. Amazon is expected to buy the 10-acre plot from JBG Smith Properties for just under $150 million sometime next year.” [Washington Business Journal]
Local Hotel Gets Financial Lifeline — “Berkadia announced today the $19 million refinancing secured for Hilton Garden Inn, Crystal City… The global COVID-19 pandemic has particularly affected the hospitality industry, leaving many owners struggling to secure the financing they need.” [Press Release]
Matchbox Files for Bankruptcy — Local restaurant chain Matchbox, which has a location in Pentagon City, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. “Despite the bankruptcy, Matchbox says it’s in talks with its landlords to keep the restaurants open and will even look to open more locations in the future, albeit with smaller footprints.” [Washington Business Journal]
A second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station is closer to becoming a reality.
Developer JBG Smith will be performing preliminary engineering work on the planned second entrance, under a public-private partnership approved by the Arlington County Board over the weekend.
JBG will receive around $3.5 million for the work, which is expected to wrap up by May 2021. That will allow the new eastern Metro entrance — near the intersection of 18th Street and Crystal Drive — to open prior to a 2025 deadline.
More from a county staff report:
This Project has been included in four consecutive Capital Improvement Plans (CIP), including the current Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 – 2028 CIP at a cost of $90.765 million CIP. The project was also included in the Crystal City Sector Plan update, adopted in 2010. Funding includes $82.5 million of federal and state transportation grants associated with the State’s Amazon commitment for transportation infrastructure. The project also has an existing $5 million NVTA regional grant. As part of the package, the County committed to complete the Project in FY25.
Under a proposed project schedule, the new entrance could open as early as late 2023.
The Board also on Saturday approved an agreement with WMATA to support the design process for the entrance project.
(Updated at 3:30 p.m.) A second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station could be built and opened by the end of 2023, under a proposal under consideration by the Arlington County Board.
Developer JBG Smith, the preeminent property owner in Crystal City, has proposed a public-private partnership that would accelerate the construction of the station entrance by at least 1-2 years. The proposal is set to be discussed at this weekend’s County Board meeting and potentially voted upon in mid-July.
The new entrance — a long-standing goal of county transportation planners — would be located adjacent to JBG property at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street, a block from the existing entrance and across the street from the Virginia Railway Express station.
The unsolicited proposal would have JBG and its contractors first conduct preliminary engineering and design work from October to April 2021. The cost of the work is projected at $3.73 million and would be funded by an existing $5 million Northern Virginia Transportation Authority grant.
“The scope of work includes further development of the design from the Basic Concept stage that has been developed by WMATA in coordination with the County to the 30% design of the additional station entrance at 18th Street and Crystal Drive,” notes a county staff report. “The new entrance will include elevators, stairs, a fare payment area with fare vending machines, a kiosk, and a passageway to a new mezzanine.”
Should the County and WMATA then approve the design and cost estimate, JBG would proceed with final design work, before construction of the new entrance starts in the early spring of 2022. Construction is then expected to wrap up by the end of 2023, according to a project schedule.
The staff report notes that the unsolicited proposal from JBG was submitted in May 2019, and the county has not received any competing proposals since.
“The [public-private partnership] process is advantageous because it will move up the overall design process and ultimately the construction by as much as 12-18 months as compared to traditional project delivery methods which can help ensure the Project is completed by 2025 to meet the County’s commitment on the Project to its funding partners,” the staff report says.
The state and federal governments have previously pledged tens of millions of dollars to the project, as part of the incentive package put forth to land Amazon’s second headquarters.
“Funding includes $82.5 million of federal and state transportation grants associated with the State’s Amazon commitment for transportation infrastructure,” the report says.
HQ2 is temporarily located in office space in Crystal City leased from JBG; the company is coordinating the development of Amazon’s permanent campus, which the tech giant will own, in nearby Pentagon City.
With very few people riding Metrorail during the coronavirus pandemic, Metro announced today that it will expand its previously-planned closures and shut down the Silver Line over the summer.
Metro has already been planning to close Arlington’s East Falls Church station, along with the Vienna and Dunn Loring stations, for platform reconstruction work. It’s now also closing the West Falls Church station, which had previously been slated to remain open during construction.
Additionally, Metro says it will be combining the platform work with a separate project to link up the current Silver Line with the new “phase II” stations.
As a result, all stations west of Ballston will be closed from Memorial Day weekend through the fall, and several new shuttle bus lines will replace the rail service.
A number of station closures are already in place as a result of the pandemic and low ridership, including the Clarendon, Virginia Square and East Falls Church stations. Though the normally-busy Ballston station is now the only open station in Arlington west of Courthouse, Metro says ridership is way down.
“As a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, ridership at stations west of Ballston totals about 1,200 customers per weekday — less than 5% of normal ridership,” the transit agency said.
More from a Metro press release, below.
Reminder: Metro Station Closures — The Clarendon, Virginia Square and East Falls Church Metro stations are closed starting today. The closures will impact several ART bus routes, as well. [Arlington County]
Kaine Lauds Passage of Coronavirus Relief Bill — In a statement late Wednesday night, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill passed by the Senate “will backstop the American economy by protecting workers and their families.” [Press Release]
County: Hold Off on Spring Cleaning — “Although it is tempting to use the increased time in our homes to start ‘spring cleaning,’ please delay these activities or hold on to these items during this challenging time. Refuse collection crews are dealing with an increased volume of waste and disposal requests, while incorporating new protocols to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.” [Arlington County]
First Coronavirus Case at Pentagon — “A Marine assigned to the service’s headquarters office at the Pentagon has tested positive for COVID-19… becoming the first service member assigned to the Defense Department’s home base to contract coronavirus. The Marine tested positive March 24, Capt. Joseph Butterfield told Military Times, after a period of isolation spurred by symptoms in his wife.” [Military Times]
HQ2 Construction Still on Track — “Construction of the first of Amazon.com Inc.’s HQ2 towers remains on schedule, but the planning process for the green space around them may slow as the spread of the novel coronavirus forces public meeting cancellations. Clark Construction, lead contractor on Amazon’s first 2.1 million-square-foot office building, said that work at Metropolitan Park in Pentagon City is advancing with added coronavirus safety measures.” [Washington Business Journal]
Governor Orders Elective Surgeries Delayed — “Governor Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA today directed all hospitals to stop performing elective surgeries or procedures to help conserve supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). The public health emergency order does not apply to any procedure if the delay would cause harm to a patient.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]
Ballston’s Punch Bowl Social in Trouble — “Cracker Barrel announced Wednesday that eatertainment brand Punch Bowl Social has closed all of its 19 locations and laid off most of its restaurant and corporate staff and that it would not prevent foreclosure on the brand.” [FSR Magazine, Marketwatch]