Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

23rd Street Restaurants Worry About Parking — “Owners and operators along Crystal City’s ‘restaurant row’ are demanding changes to Roseland Residential Trust’s proposed multimillion-dollar expansion of the Crystal House complex, saying the project may irreparably harm their businesses… At issue are 95 pay-to-park spaces in a lot at South Eads and 22nd Street South, around the corner from the restaurants on 23rd Street.” [Washington Business Journal]

Juvenile Detention Facility in Question — “The City of Alexandria, City of Falls Church, and Arlington County will host community meetings in November to obtain public input for a study examining the future of the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center (Center). The facility, located in Alexandria, is operated by the three jurisdictions through a regional Juvenile Detention Commission.” [Arlington County]

Wardian Was Also a Weekend Winner — “This was the first year of the MCM ultramarathon, a 50K, and MCM tweeted Sunday afternoon that Arlington marathoner and ultramarathoner Michael Wardian won that event. Earlier this year, Wardian ran the entire Capital Beltway. Wardian, whose first-ever marathon was the MCM win 1996, finished with a time of 3:11:52.” [WJLA]

Neighbors Negotiating With Amazon — “A group of neighborhood activists started discussing a unique joint effort, aiming to set a ‘livability agenda’ for the area and better bargain for the benefits they want to see… The partnership has helped community members take their needs directly to Amazon, and the company’s main developer and landlord in the area, JBG Smith.” [Washington Business Journal]

Crash at Shirlington Bus Depot — “Medics on scene of a crash between a van and a Metrobus in Shirlington. At least one minor injury reported. Not clear how the crash happened.” [Twitter]

Photo for Allison Bredbenner

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Morning Notes

Construction Underway on Hospital Expansion — “Shovels are in the ground and buildings are coming down as Virginia Hospital Center embarks on the nitty-gritty of a three-year, quarter-billion-dollar expansion effort.” [InsideNova]

Marymount Launches Intrapreneurship Initiative — “Marymount University’s School of Business and Technology (SBT) has launched an initiative to address one of the most significant talent gaps in the greater Washington region – a shortage of graduates who are prepared to use entrepreneurial skills to help employers grow and meet the challenges of an ever-changing world.” [Press Release]

Courthouse Office Building Sold — “Another Arlington office building has traded hands with the buyer citing Amazon HQ2 as a reason for optimism.  American Real Estate Partners, in partnership with Rockwood Capital, announced Tuesday it acquired the Arlington Plaza office building at 2000 15th St. North.” [Bisnow]

Metro Seeking Feedback on Bus Changes — “Metro is proposing service changes to selected bus routes based on input from customers and local governments, to increase on-time performance and ridership, and respond to planning studies and market changes.” Changes are proposed for the 3Y, 7F and 7Y routes. [WMATA]

Why Hoskins Left for Fairfax — “Victor Hoskins may be done working on Amazon HQ2 in Arlington County, but he’s certainly not done talking about it. The former head of Arlington Economic Development, in an interview with Bisnow, cited post-Amazon fatigue as one of the reasons he decided to leave and take a new job as CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. ” [Bisnow]

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(Updated at 5:25 p.m.) The Arlington County Fire Department is urging Metro to keep its Metrobuses from blocking fire hydrants in Pentagon City.

The call came after retired reporter, former volunteer firefighter, and fire service consultant Dave Statter tweeted videos and pictures for weeks of Metrobuses blocking two hydrants on S. Hayes Street outside the Pentagon City Metro station.

Blocking fire hydrants carries a $50 penalty in Virginia because getting around vehicles can delay firefighters in an emergency, as well as make it harder to ferry water to the fire.

“The best way to get water to a fire is a straight line from the hose,” Statter told ARLnow. “When it being blocked the pumper can’t get a good angle to the hydrant, or get can’t get to the hydrant.”

In response to Statter’s dogged chronicling of blocked hydrants, ACFD replied on Friday that “we are working with WMATA to address this issue of unattended buses in front of hydrants. Our Fire Marshals will be stepping up patrol and enforcement.”

ACFD spokesman Capt. Justin Tirelli told ARLnow today (Tuesday) that one of the hydrants was scheduled to be removed but was delayed due to construction. In the meantime, he said the fire department gave Metro permission for Metrobuses to load and unload passengers at the stop — provided the buses don’t stop in front of the hydrant for too long.

“At some point that message got lost in translations,” Tirelli noted.

Pictures Statter snapped at the hydrant last week showed two Metro supervisor SUVs parked in front of the bus.

“The worst part of today’s blocked hydrant was when the bus finally pulled away after at least 20 minutes,” he wrote. “The electronic sign showed the mission it was on — ‘Driver Training.'”

“At no time should buses block fire hydrants,” Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta told ARLnow.

“This policy is being reiterated to every Metrobus operator, and field supervisors are increasing their focus on Pentagon City to ensure proper procedures are being followed in bus layover areas,” said Jannetta in an email Tuesday afternoon. “Metro’s bus operators are trained and expected to comply with all traffic laws. We appreciate this matter being brought to our attention to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Statter also tweeted out a video of an out of service bus parked at the hydrant for 10 minutes back in August, writing that, “WMATA workers need breaks. They need to pee. They need to eat. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of safety.”

At the time, a spokeswoman for the transit agency told the Washington Post that its drivers should not be parking in front of hydrants.

“At bus terminals, operators are expected to use the proper layover bay and at no time should buses block fire hydrants,” spokeswoman Sherri Ly said. “If someone does see this we would ask that they report it.”

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Morning Notes

Metro’s Fire Hydrant Problem — “A fire safety advocate and a D.C. firefighter took to social media Tuesday to criticize the transit agency after a Metrobus was spotted parked in front of a hydrant in Pentagon City for about 10 minutes. They also said it’s a chronic problem.” [Washington Post]

Va. Was Amazon Oasis After NYC Debacle — “In late January, Holly Sullivan, the head of world-wide development at Amazon, returned to Washington, D.C., where she and some colleagues dined with executives from JBG Smith, the real-estate firm managing the Arlington County site.. A JBG Smith official remarked that Amazon’s team looked like it had come from a war zone. ‘How much more space can we get in Virginia?’ one of the Amazon executives joked.” [Wall Street Journal, Twitter]

Ballston Office Building Sold — “Hines Interests LP has acquired Ballston’s Two Liberty Center” — where ARLnow has its offices — “from New York-based real estate investment management company Westbrook Partners for $93.2 million. Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. (NYSE: JLL) brokered the Aug. 20 sale of the 178,000-square foot, nine-story building.” [Washington Business Journal]

APS Expanding Healthy Lunch Options — “In 2017, Café + Teria was originally introduced to high school students attending Arlington, Virginia’s three public high schools, Wakefield, Yorktown and Washington-Lee. Due to the success at these schools in Arlington it will also expand to The Heights (the new home of H-B Woodlawn) and the Arlington… Career Center on September 3.” [Press Release]

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(Updated on 09/09/19) A Metrobus with a chemical leak that caused first responders to hospitalize the driver last week sickened a second driver after being placed back in service prematurely, union officials say.

An Arlington County Fire Department hazmat team responded to the Pentagon bus bay Thursday morning after the driver on Metrobus number 6360 reporting feeling sick and smelling a chemical odor.

“I proceeded on to 395 taking the Seminary Road exit to the HOV. As I proceeded that’s when the smell got stronger,” wrote the driver in a statement obtained by ARLnow. “As I am nearing the Pentagon, the smell continues to get stronger and a passenger begins coughing.”

The driver reported that passengers ran off the bus at Pentagon due to the “awful smell” and that she had a headache and was feeling a pain in her chest. When first responders arrived, she wrote, “I tried to explain the situation and then passed out.”

First responders said at the time they didn’t find anything hazardous on the bus, but did transport the driver to Virginia Hospital Center. A Metro spokesperson told ARLnow that they were not aware of a second problem after the morning incident.

“The bus was immediately shut off and taken out of service,” said WMATA spokeswoman Sherri Ly. “Upon inspection, an exhaust leak was identified and repairs made before the bus returned to service that evening. Metro did not receive any additional complaints that night and no further health issues have been substantiated.”

However, the union representing Metro employees, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, says a contracted bus garage in Lorton released the bus later that afternoon without fixing the problem — causing a second bus driver to feel ill.

“When leaving the yard I was coughing hard off fumes, and during the route passengers were also coughing,” the second driver said, according to a copy of the report obtained by ARLnow. (On Monday, a WMATA spokeswoman said they had not received a copy of the report.)

Union spokesman Brian Wivell said the afternoon driver is seeing a doctor and the morning driver visited the hospital again Monday for “follow-up work.” Another union representative said the morning driver “wasn’t in good condition at all” on Thursday and Friday and remained out of work Monday.

“We demand that Transdev respond to the safety concerns of its workers,” ATU Local 689 President Raymond Jackson said of the French company, to which Metro outsourced the management of the garage last year.

The union, which also bid on the contract, disputed Metro’s assertion that the garage contract saved money, and accused the transit agency of union busting. Since then, ATU has been locked in a bitter battle with Transdev over pay and working conditions, which recently boiled as members voted to authorize a strike.

“They’ve been raising alarm bells for months, flagging buses that have issues, and now a worker has gone to the hospital,” Jackson said of the Lorton garage. “This is the human cost of this company’s profits.”

Transdev did not respond to requests for comment.

File photo

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The majority of local leaders agree that Northern Virginia needs more affordable housing and bus transit — though they differ on the details.

Local leaders discussed issues ranging from housing to the area’s overall economic health during the Northern Virginia Regional Elected Leaders Summit co-hosted by several local chambers of commerce at George Mason University’s Arlington campus earlier today (Monday).

Affordable Housing

Arlington Board Chair Christian Dorsey said he was working with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to develop a “policy overlay” to help guide affordable housing across the region.

“We have one,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “It’s just entirely not deliberate, not coordinated, and not successful.”

Wilson and Dorsey both said that each jurisdiction has its own issues — like zoning for accessory dwelling units — but a guiding document could help align governments’ goals to fill the region’s growing housing need. One problem leaders believe is better solved together is how to build affordable housing that’s accessible to public transportation.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Penelope Gross said the skyrocketing price of housing near Metro stations bars the people who most need access to Metro from living nearby. Dorsey agreed that building affordable, transit-accessible housing was an important regional priority, and a better idea than building housing away from transit.

“We can’t just continue to grow housing and then try and build the supports with transportation infrastructure to meet where we built the housing,” said Dorsey. “That’s stupid.”

Phyllis Randall, Chair at Large of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said she has tried to explain to constituents with kids that the people who benefit from affordable housing includes recent college graduates.

“I want them in the area,” she joked of her own children. “Not in my basement.”

Outgoing Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, the only Republican on the stage Monday, was also the lone dissenter in that conversation. He pointed out that Prince William held a “disproportionate” share of affordable housing in the region, but still could not build enough because of restrictions on breaking up large, multi-acre lots that local leaders refused to amend.

“We need to let the private sector solve this problem,” he said.

Metro, Buses, and Shutdowns

Dorsey, who also sits on the WMATA Board of Directors, told the audience that the transit agency expects to conclude its Blue and Yellow line shutdown in Alexandria on time. That was welcome news for Alexandria’s leaders.

“It has been a difficult summer,” noted Wilson, who said that the silver lining of businesses hit hard by the shutdown is that more residents have been using the public bus system than ever.

Due to growing ridership this summer, the mayor announced Alexandria will extend its water taxi service to the Wharf through the December. The water, he said, was the region’s largest “untapped resource” when it came to transit development.

Gross and Dorsey both echoed support for more bus transit to help move more people and alleviate the region’s traffic woes, with Dorsey saying he wants “to see the attention to Metro’s buses that is paid to rail.”

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One person was taken to the hospital after a hazmat incident at the Pentagon’s bus bay this morning.

Arlington County firefighters, including a hazmat team, were called to the bus terminal outside the Pentagon around 9 a.m. for a report of the driver of a Metrobus having medical symptoms after smelling a chemical odor on the bus.

A police officer also reported similar symptoms, according to scanner traffic. The officer was treated on the scene and released, but the driver was transported to Virginia Hospital Center for evaluation. The driver was reported to be in good condition, Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Ben O’Bryant said.

Firefighters did not find anything hazardous on the bus.

“Crews believe there might’ve been a refrigerant leak on Metrobus that caused a couple people to feel ill,” O’Bryant told ARLnow. “[The] bus was shut down, and no dangerous readings were found when crews ran meters through the bus.”

Shortly after the bus driver was transported, ACFD turned the scene over to WMATA.

File photo

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Metro removed a bus stop, citing Amazon’s planned HQ2 construction, but it’s not clear whether the transit agency told riders first.

Metro’s website now lists the stop at S. Eads Street and 15th Street S. as being out of service for the 7Y route, as well as the 7A and 7F Lincolnia lines, and the 10N line to Reagan National Airport. However, as of Thursday afternoon, the transit agency’s website still listed arrival times at the stop for buses with the Barcroft-South Fairlington Line (22A.)

The stop was reporting missing last week by rider Scudder Waag, who told ARLnow he rode his usual 7Y route from Alexandria to Pentagon last week with no problems.

“But on Thursday I pulled the cord because we’re going to get off the bus, but the driver just get going and I hollered, and other riders were hollering,” he said.

Ultimately,  the driver was able to drop passengers off on the entrance ramp to the newly renamed Richmond Highway, before the bus continued on into D.C.  Waag he said the new stop is further from his office, and while he can walk longer distances, not everyone has the ability to do so.

The transit agency initially told Waag it would replace the missing sign. Five days later, Metro replied replied that the “bus planning team informed us that the bus stop… has been temporarily abolished due to the construction of a new office building, which is expected to take 6-9 months.”

The Eads Street stop is located right where Amazon is currently constructing the two, 22-story office towers that make up the first phase of its new headquarters in Pentagon City — though the project is still early in the county’s approval process and months away from starting construction.

“As the WMATA RAC’s Virginia Co-Chair, it’s distressing to see this happening in the middle of the BL/YL shutdown in Alexandria,” said WMATA Riders’ Advisory Council (RAC) member Andrew Kierig, referring to the ongoing Metrorail shutdown. “The best solution would be to have temporarily relocate the stop instead of ‘abolishing’ it without warning.”

Waag, a senior associate for a private transit planning firm, has worked with Alexandria’s DASH bus service, as well as Richmond’s GRTC. He told ARLnow that changing schedules and alerts for bus stops is “phenomenally complicated and takes a ridiculous amount of time.”

“Overall my experience riding with WMATA most days is quite nice, and quite good,” said Waag. “That day was certainly strange.”

Making the matter more complicated is Metro’s own confusing communications with riders. The transit agency shared an advisory alert about the project this week that stated the station, “has been permanently closed, effective immediately” — contradicting their earlier tweet about the station only closing temporarily.

It’s also not clear when Metro posted that alert to the website. The alert is listed as being effective from July 15, however an archived copy of Metro’s website from July 17 shows no alerts regarding the staton.

Metro also deleted its Wednesday tweet which shared the advisory alert.

The transit agency did not respond for requests for more information in time for publication.

“As someone who works with APIs and is also personally interested in transit service schedule data APIs like this, I’m concerned that this continues to be an issue that WMATA isn’t making a priority,” said Kierig. “I’ve raised this question at multiple RAC meetings with bus planning staff in regards to the replacement shuttles on the Metrorail shutdown. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to get them to fix this particular thing.”

“Winning back ridership means fixing the service and reliability side but also having the communications infrastructure and quality to make people aware that WMATA is truly #Back2Good,” Kierig added.

Map via Google Maps

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New projects approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) could improve some bus offerings around Arlington.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted yesterday (Wednesday) to use nearly $20 million in toll revenue to fund commuter projects along I-66.

“We [will] fund 13 projects that will provide connections to places people want to go, add options for commuter and local bus riders, encourage ridesharing and make it easier to choose transit,” said NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice in a press release. “The projects funded through I-66 Commuter Choice will save Northern Virginia commuters approximately 485,000 hours of travel delay each year and move over 3,000 additional people through the corridor during rush hour.”

Additional bus trips are funded for some of Arlington’s major commuter destinations:

  • Metrobus 3Y: Lee Highway-Farragut Square — The $1 million project will increase the frequency of Metrobus 3Y, a peak-direction route that operates between the East Falls Church Metro and downtown D.C. via Lee Highway (I-66).
  • OmniRide Express: Gainesville-Pentagon — The $4.7 million project will add  three new buses and eight total trips to the route from Gainesville to the Pentagon. The route averages 300 riders daily, according to the project description, and connects riders to multiple Metro lines.
  • OmniRide Express: Haymarket-Rosslyn — The $776,700 project would add a new express bus between Haymarket Park and Ride lot to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The lot was built in December and offers 230 parking spaces.
  • New Bus: Stone Ridge-Pentagon — The $1.3 million project would fund a new bus line running from Stone Ridge II Park near Dulles to the Pentagon. The route will feature two morning and two evening peak-direction trips.

Five other bus routes enhanced or newly funded would pass from the outlying suburbs into D.C. along I-66.

The NVTC also agreed to spend $1.4 million to support I-66 marketing and outreach efforts of Arlington County Commuter Services — an agency that works to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand through programs like BikeArlington and The Commuter Store. The project will be continued for another three years.

“The approved projects for the FY 2020 Commuter Choice program provide connections to key destinations, address the needs of commuter and local bus riders and encourage commuters to use transit, carpools and vanpools,” the NVTC said in a report.

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Within the next decade, a new transit group wants to make the bus the go-to transit option in the D.C. area

Earlier this year, the Washington Area Bus Transformation Project — which is backed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — released a draft strategic plan with a variety of short and long-term goals and strategies for improving the D.C. region’s bus network.

“The national capital region is adding 40,000-60,000 jobs and households each year,” the group said in its strategic plan. “But its transportation system is struggling to keep pace, leading to some of the longest commutes and worst traffic congestion in the nation.”

Potential ways to improve D.C. area buses and thus help alleviate traffic issues were broken into six categories, ranging in complexity and potential cost.

  • Ease of use: make simpler, consistent maps, naming conventions, and pricing. Another recommendation would be free transfers between Metrorail service and local bus lines.
  • Prioritizing buses on roads: potentially with bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority, though regional coordination will be needed.
  • Frequent, reliable, convenient service: overhaul existing routes to create a more efficient system and provide flexible, on-demand transit services for areas not well served by conventional buses.
  • Balance regional and local bus systems: develop a 10-year plan to allocate services between bus systems and applicable routes. The plan also includes a recommendation to “revise the cost local jurisdictions pay WMATA for local service to better match the actual cost to provide service.”
  • Streamline back-office functions: most of the recommendations in this category are behind-the-scenes improvements, like consolidating support functions and developing regional standards for bus data collection and analysis.
  • Centralizing regional bus networks: form a regional coalition of jurisdictional representatives with authority to implement strategy recommendations.

The bus system has a long way to go if it wants to turn its image around. Since 2012, bus ridership has fallen 13 percent across the region. The project will also require cooperation from the region’s nine bus service providers.

Much of the project also depends on local jurisdictions to implement strategies like restricting parking to facilitate better bus transit. This is why representatives from Arlington Transit and several Arlington County departments are in the group’s technical team and strategy advisory panel.

Meanwhile, most of the technical team and all of the leadership team are WMATA employees.

So far there are no cost estimates for the plan’s recommendations. Allison Davis, a member of the project team, said the price tag will come later in the process.

The project started in September. The group is currently in the middle of a public outreach campaign to sell the public on the idea and gather feedback. At an open house yesterday at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, the room was covered with boards for collecting thoughts on the project and the direction it should take. A survey is also available online.

The plan goes to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the WMATA board this summer for review, with a roadmap planned for development in the fall.

“We’re trying to look at this from a customer perspective,” Davis said. “This [plan] is a tool we have to make better [transit] choices.”

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Morning Notes

Real Estate Near Crystal City is Hot — “In the 22202 ZIP code — which comprises Crystal City, Pentagon City, Aurora Hills, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge — there are only 11 homes for sale right now, according to Realtor.com. Only three are single-family homes. The rest are condos.” [Washington Business Journal]

Escape Room Nearing OpeningBond’s Escape Room in Clarendon says it will open in about two months. “I’m happy with the way it’s coming along!” said founder Egor Bondarev. [Instagram]

Circulator Bus Now Free — Rides on the D.C. Circulator bus are now free indefinitely, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday. The bus line has a stop in Rosslyn. [Fox 5]

Transportation Partners Honored — “On March 19, the Arlington County Board honored 31 local businesses and properties for their dedication to sustainable transportation for employees and tenants, as part of Arlington Transportation Partners’ (ATP) Champions program.” [Arlington County]

Seven Freed From Stuck Metro Station Elevator — “Firefighters freed seven people trapped in an elevator at the Crystal City Metro station Wednesday morning, according to a report.” [Patch, Twitter]

Politico Owner Launching New Tech Site — “Robert Allbritton, the executive chairman of private equity firm Perpetual Capital and publisher of [Rosslyn-based] Politico, is preparing to launch a global technology news site, the latest sign of growing investment in tech coverage across American journalism.” [NBC News]

Nearby: Halal Butchery Opposed in Alexandria — “Though city staff and Alexandria’s planning commission recommended approving DC Poultry Market’s application, dog lovers showed up to the Alexandria City Council’s March 16 meeting to object on olfactory grounds (‘My dog can smell when there’s a cookie down the block,’ one resident said) and on proximity to poultricide (‘Knowing that my dogs may be walked by a business that holds chickens in a windowless room before their throats are slit while fully conscious does not make me feel that my dogs are in a safe environment,’ another said).” [Washingtonian]

Flickr pool photo (originally published in 2016) by Kevin Wolf

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