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Grime-covered wall on the Mount Vernon Trail, (Photo via Friends of Mount Vernon Trail/Twitter)

Like a lot of us, the Mount Vernon Trail has gotten a shabby and unkempt over the last year, and the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail group is looking for some local help to get it back into shape.

The group is planning to meet this Saturday, Aug. 14, from 8-10 a.m. at Crystal City Water Park (1601 Crystal Drive).

According to the event sign up, volunteers will help remove vegetation blocking visibility along the trail, remove fallen limbs — presumably tree limbs — and remove mud from the trail.

“No special skills are needed,” the Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail said on the post. “We’ll teach you how to help in just a few minutes.”

Those interested in helping out should bring:

  • Work gloves, though some will be available to borrow
  • Pruners or limb loppers, if you have them
  • Sunscreen
  • Water

Long sleeves and pants are recommended.

Other vegetation clearing events are also planned over the next month. Another one is planned for the intersection of the Mount Vernon Trail and Four Mile Run Trail on Saturday, Aug. 21. If arriving by car, the group noted the closest place to park is in the lot at 3920 Potomac Avenue.

The sign up page noted that dense vegetation near the intersection has been a frequent problem for trail users.

“Volunteers will remove vegetation near the trail that is blocking the sight line for people at the junction of the Mount Vernon Trail and Four Mile Run Trail,” the group said. “This area has been identified as a high crash area due to poor sightlines combined with multiple turning movements.”

The group is also planning to power-wash a moldy bridge near the Washington Sailing Marina later this month. Along with the usual vegetation removal, the group is planning to meet on Saturday, Aug. 18, to remove vegetation and debris from a wooden bridge that often becomes slick during inclement weather.

Photo via Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail/Twitter

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A 1,300-mile network of trails that connects Arlington to the two other sites of the Sept. 11 terror attacks could be granted federal designation next month.

Initially founded in the weeks after the attacks, the expansive September 11th National Memorial Trail, which runs through six states and D.C., has yet to be fully completed.

Federal designation would give the network of trails name-recognition and help the nonprofit alliance administering the trail fund its completion in the coming decades, proponents say.

A bill advocating for federal designation, put forward and sponsored by Northern Virginia Reps. Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer, respectively, is with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. It passed unanimously in the House of Representatives last week.

If approved by the Senate, locals riding on the Mount Vernon Trail — which is part of the 9/11 Memorial Trail — or near Arlington National Cemetery may see new, standardized signage within the next year heralding the “September 11th National Memorial Trail Route,” according to Thomas Baxter, President of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, which administers the trail.

“The designation will help in our visibility of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail and will enhance our partnership with the National Parks Service,” the trail’s founder, David Brickley, tells ARLnow. “It’ll enhance the experience of the visitor and assure that that story of what happened on 9/11 are not forgotten.”

Brickley, a Virginian, says the move will be at little to no cost for local municipalities or the taxpayer. Outside of consistent signage across the six states and D.C., other practical implications — such as new construction — have yet to be teased out, according to Beyer’s team.

The trail route from the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania will be administered by the National Park Service. Brickley said maintenance will remain the responsibility of the trail’s alliance.

Still, the connection to NPS will help, as much of the trail runs through national park land, he said.

To make sure the trail isn’t too much of a burden to municipalities, Baxter said the trail alliance works with local community foundations to maintain individual sections.

In Arlington, “we are in discussions with several community foundations, but one has yet to be selected,” he said.

As for whether designation will bring long-term projects down the road, Beyer’s spokesman Aaron Fritschner said “we don’t know yet.”

“The first step is to get the federal designation, which is what Rep. Connolly’s bill does, and which would create a federal status so the 9/11 Memorial Trail remains protected by federal law along its full length, some of which runs through jurisdictions where you might have less certainty about it remaining protected without a federal designation than you would expect in a place like Arlington.”

About 51% of the 1,300-mile trail is designated for off road multi-use trails, meaning another 49% is not built up or runs through land that could one day be developed, Baxter said. Finishing the trail involves securing property, writing grants and working with local partners.

“It’s going to take a long time, probably decades, to get it all the way complete,” he said.

Designation will make the trail more competitive when applying for state, federal and private grants for building the trails and maintaining them, he said.

With federal designation possibly coming soon, Brickley thanked Beyer and Connolly for their support.

“Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer have been tremendous friends to the trail and the alliance,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for better congressmen helping with this project.”

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The good news for users of the Mount Vernon Trail is that a proposed widening project was selected for state funding. The bad news? It will be 2026 before work even starts on the project.

As anyone who has bicycled or walked along the popular trail could likely attest, there are parts that can feel dangerously narrow. Last year, the National Park Service released a report recommending widening. The report noted that there were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, many of them at crash hotspots near National Airport and the 14th Street Bridge.

Some spots along the trail are in notoriously poor condition, like the infamous Trollheim Bridge section south of Roosevelt Island, where the trail’s wooden planks often become slick in icy or rainy conditions.

The goal of the approved project is to improve and reconstruct approximately 6.5 miles of the trail, from the access point to Roosevelt Island down to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. One of the most narrow stretches of the trail, a single-lane tunnel under Memorial Bridge, is on Columbia Island, which is technically part of D.C.

According to the application, the project would “widen the trail’s paved surface from between seven and eight feet to 11 where feasible.”

The total project cost is estimated at $33 million, with $29 million funded by the Virginia SMART SCALE grant — which doesn’t fund the needed improvements on Columbia Island. The grant was on the list of projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board at a meeting on June 23.

The widening is likely a few years down the road. The National Park Service previously said work could begin on the trail starting in 2026, Greater Greater Washington reported.

https://twitter.com/TrailsCoalition/status/1417887666671128578

 

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The County Board has unanimously approved plans to improve walking and cycling connections and add amenities to the Crystal City Water Park.

Water features and a food stand currently activate the privately-owned Crystal City Water Park at 1601 Crystal Drive. It also provides connections to the Mount Vernon Trail and Reagan National Airport, as well as the proposed Virginia Railway Express north entrance.

Park owner JBG Smith initially came to the board in January with plans to modify the Crystal City Connector path — which cuts through the site — and renovate the park. Members deferred the proposal over predictions that the developer’s plans for the pathway would lead to unsafe pedestrian and cyclist interactions.

On Saturday, County Board members signed off on revision to the project. The Crystal City Connector path will be turned into two paths accessing the Mount Vernon Trail and the new VRE entrance: one for pedestrians and the other focused on bicyclists.

JBG Smith will be “adding retail shops, cafes, and restaurants along the edges of the park, upgrading the existing water wall… adding a new water feature, [and] adding public art and an outdoor bar,” the county announced on Monday.

The additions include “nine (9) 300 square-foot retail structures positioned along Crystal Drive, a 1,415 square-foot retail structure along the northern edge, a 760 square-foot bar with a 2,069 square-foot terrace atop the water wall, a 409 square-foot performance platform to be used for the event lawn, and a 747 square-foot trailhead restroom facility,” per a county staff report.

“We’re proud to say that this project has evolved in response to the comments and we think gotten to a place that is better than we were a couple of months ago,” said Kedrick Whitmore, an attorney representing JBG Smith.

The staff report said the plan has been redesigned to minimize conflicts and support increasing number of pedestrians and bicyclists accessing the trail and the VRE station. Potential users testified in January that the initial proposed design, below, would lead to conflicts at the exit from the Mount Vernon Trail access tunnel, where visibility is low.

JBG Smith’s new plan removes the stairway that linked the pathways to the water park, located near a series of tunnels. It does not, however, remove an adjacent path between the Crystal City Connector path and the connection to the proposed VRE station, although some community members predicted it too would be unsafe.

“We think this is a really important area to maintain a connection,” Whitmore said. “Despite keeping the connection in place, we did hear loud and clear that there were safety concerns, and the use of paint, mirrors, signage and paving will help.”

The developer will also widen the sidewalk along Crystal Drive from eight to 10 feet and use landscaping, signage, striping and paving treatments near the tunnels and the connection to Crystal Drive to increase visibility and heighten awareness for all users, the report said.

Board members told County Manager Mark Schwartz that the county needs to increase the level of public engagement for similar projects going forward. Board members agreed with some speakers that more scrutiny from county commissions could have uncovered the safety concerns sooner and prevented the project’s deferral from earlier this year.

“Let’s not do this again,” said Pedestrian Advisory Committee secretary Pamela Van Hine, suggesting a smaller-scale version of the site plan review process for large projects. “We can help you but you have to ask us to help you.”

While the county classifies this project as a minor site plan amendment, Board member Katie Cristol said such amendments “may have a major impact on how people experience the site.”

Photos via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Metro 29 Diner Back Open — After temporarily closing in late December due to “COVID-19 concerns,” Metro 29 Diner on Lee Highway reopened earlier this week. [Facebook]

Arlington Rents Going Back Up — “In what might be another sign of a return to a semblance of normalcy, average rents for Arlington apartments increased in February for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic. The 0.7-percent month-over-month increase also mirrored the national index, which reported its biggest monthly increase since June 2019.” [InsideNova]

Alamo Drafthouse Declares Bankruptcy — A centerpiece of some of the changes in Crystal City is the planned Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. But the company just declared bankruptcy, potentially putting new theater projects in jeopardy. [CNBC, @abeaujon/Twitter]

More Edging Work Along Trail — “The morning volunteer session this Saturday has sold out but we still have 8 spots open for the afternoon session. Come help us continue to uncover the [Mt. Vernon] trail and make it a little bit wider.” [@MtVernonFriends/Twitter, Eventbrite]

Don’t Worry About Flipped Car at Fire Station — “Have you driven by one of our fire stations and noticed an overturned car? Don’t be alarmed, it’s likely a vehicle extrication training prop like the one pictured below at Fire Station 5! These vehicles provide us high fidelity training to respond to serious auto crashes.” [@ArlingtonVaFD/Twitter]

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(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Arlington County has asked JBG Smith to go back to the drawing board after reviewing its plans to upgrade the Crystal City Water Park.

The privately-owned park at 1601 Crystal Drive currently includes water features, trees, and a food stand. It has frequently been used for local events and gatherings.

The project to upgrade it will be deferred two months so that JBG Smith can address pedestrian and cyclist safety concerns raised by Arlington County Board members and community members during the Board’s Tuesday night meeting.

“This is not a fully baked plan yet,” Board member Christian Dorsey said. 

The Bethesda-based real estate company is proposing a new performance area, more outdoor seating, preserving and updating the existing water fountain, and incorporating a new water feature in the center of the site. The proposal also includes a number of retail structures: small kiosks, a bar, and a trailhead restroom facility.

Most of the discussion was devoted to two paths — one ADA-accessible — that JBG Smith proposed to build to connect people to the nearby VRE station and the Mount Vernon Trail. A small pathway linked the two connections.

Community members and County Board members said these paths, as proposed, would create conflicts between pedestrians and bicyclists. People would have to cross the Mount Vernon Trail connector to get to the rest of the park and cyclists would be battling a grade change while avoiding pedestrians.

“We thought we were being helpful, but we’re hearing loudly and clearly that this is scaring people, and we should reconsider it,” said Robin Mosle, a consultant on the project.

The Bethesda-based real estate company opted out of a public design process — something that drew the frustration of some Board members, including Takis Karantonis.

“This would be a conversation that we would have had in the Park and Recreation Commission in advance of the meeting,” Karantonis said. 

The County Board is now expected to see the project again when it meets in March.  

News of a plan to invigorate the park with new retail dates back at least to 2017, when ARLnow reported that the concession stand in the park had closed. A few months later, The Stand opened in its place, hosting many pop-up eateries. In April, D.C. food truck Peruvian Brothers took it over.

Photos via Arlington County

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Morning Notes

Arlington Under Flood Watch — In addition to the Winter Weather Advisory that is in effect today for snow and ice, Arlington is also under a Flood Watch from 4 p.m. today and 7 a.m. Thursday. [Twitter]

Return-to-School Update — “Specific details and dates for future in-person learning transitions for students in Level 2 and Level 3 will be communicated to staff and families in early January. We continue to evaluate all metrics, and to focus on effective mitigation strategies to ensure the health and safety of staff and students.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Volunteers Needed for Bridge Work — “We need three more volunteers this Thursday to replace some rotting boards on Trollheim bridge. This event is a crucial step on the path to applying a non-slip treatment.” [Twitter]

Beyer Hails Buttigieg Nomination — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is hailing Pete Buttigieg’s reported nomination as Secretary of Transportation, calling it “barrier-breaking.” Buttigieg, while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, held a large campaign event in Arlington. [Press Release]

Nearby: Burglaries at Eden Center — “Multiple businesses were broken into at the Eden Center between 0200-0300 hours. Police and Detectives are on scene and business owners have been notified.” [Twitter]

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The group Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail are asking for help over the next three weeks to fix a trail bridge next to Theodore Roosevelt Island.

The efforts come after successful fundraiser that raised more money than the friends needed to apply non-skid treatment to the bridge, which is nicknamed the “Trollheim Bridge” and has a reputation for being dangerous to bike riders.

After scrubbing away mold, moss and mildew, the Friends are turning to fixing loose boards and replacing damaged boards, another hazard on a bridge that the organization says is “notoriously slippy.”

The opportunities are part of the ongoing effort to “make Trollheim Bridge a little less trollish,” said the announcement on the website.

This Saturday, the friends will be reattaching boards bicyclists often hear “flopping around” on the bridge. Next Thursday, they will be replacing rotting deck boards. On Saturday, Dec. 5, there will be a second event for fixing boards on the bridge.

“There’s a lot of freaking loose boards,” the announcement said. “If we run out of boards, we’ll start flipping some of the boards to extend their life.”

The Friends encourage those who are interested to register via the above links. According to the registration page, volunteers are asked to bring water, gloves, a safety vest and a cordless drill, if they have one.

Extra money from the GoFundMe fundraiser went toward a pressure washer that is speeding up cleaning, as well as extra non-skid treatment for two other bridges with many crashes, including Bridge 1 north of Mount Vernon estates.

In May, the National Park Service released a study of the trail that recommends widening it in some places, particularly hot spots for crashes. There were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, according to the study, though most were reported in parts of the trail south of the bridge.

The 18.5-mile Mount Vernon Trail sees approximately one million annual users.

The Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail, founded in 2018, supports the National Park Service and helps keep the trail safe through education, trail maintenance and community events.

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Updated at 1:25 p.m. on 9/7/20 — A suspect has been arrested in the case.

Arlington County police are looking for a middle-aged man with a penchant for bicycling, yelling, mooning, and hitting people.

Police say the man has been involved in at least five separate incidents since the morning of August 11, as described in the press release below. Most involve the cyclist approaching on a trail and becoming enraged at pedestrians who get in his way or tell him to slow down.

There may be even more “trail rage” incidents, like this August 13 confrontation on the Mt. Vernon Trail that’s being investigated by U.S. Park Police.

“I can confirm we’re working with our regional partners to determine if this series is linked to other cases in the area,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow.

The police department released the photo of a man they say is the suspect, above, taken during an incident on Aug. 29. Anyone with information is asked to contact police.

More from the press release:

The Arlington County Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance identifying a suspect involved in a series of incidents along Arlington trails. In the month of August, police received five reports of an aggressive cyclist involved in confrontations with pedestrians walking along trails. Based on witness interviews and evidence collected, detectives are investigating this as a series involving the same individual.

  • At 7:25 a.m. on August 11, police were dispatched to an assault that just occurred in the area of S. Glebe Road and S. Four Mile Run Drive on the Four Mile Run Trail. Upon arrival, it was determined the male and female victims were walking along the trail when a cyclist approached them yelling to stay on the right side of the yellow line. When the male victim yelled back, the cyclist approached and circled the victims on his bicycle before pulling down his shorts and exposing his buttocks. The cyclist then allegedly struck the male victim on the arm and unsuccessfully attempted to take the female victim’s phone from her hand.
  • At 5:03 p.m. on August 15, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault on the W&OD trail between Sparrow Pond and Columbia Pike. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 10:06 a.m., the male and female victims were walking on the trail when they were approached from behind by a cyclist traveling at a high rate of speed. When the male victim took out his cell phone, the cyclist allegedly attempted to strike the him twice, making contact on the second attempt. The suspect then pulled down his shorts and exposed his buttocks before riding away.
  • At 3:35 p.m. on August 16, the reporting party and male victim were walking on the W&OD Trail in the area of Columbia Pike at S. Four Mile Run Drive when they were approached from behind by a cyclist. The cyclist allegedly yelled for the pedestrians to get off the trail and passed closely by at a high rate of speed while yelling obscenities. When the male victim yelled back, the cyclist allegedly pulled down his shorts and exposed his buttocks. The cyclist then rode back towards the reporting party and victim, continuing to yell obscenities before making a U-turn and leaving the area.
  • At 11:39 a.m. on August 21, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault which occurred on the Custis Trail at approximately 10:30 a.m. Upon arrival, it was determined the female victim was running on the trail in the area of N. Frederick Street when she was approached from behind by a cyclist. As the victim attempted to move over, the cyclist passed her at a high rate of speed and allegedly struck her in the back of the head and neck with an open hand and yelled for her to move over.
  • At 7:24 p.m. on August 29, police were dispatched to the area of S. Park Drive and S. Columbus Street on the W&OD trail for the report of an assault and battery. Upon arrival, it was determined that the male and female victims were walking along the trail when they were approached from behind by a cyclist traveling at a high rate of speed. When the male victim yelled for the cyclist to slow down, the suspect dismounted, confronted the victim and allegedly struck him in the face.

The suspect is described as a White male with the appearance of someone in his 50’s, approximately 5’8″ to 5’11” with an athletic build and gray hair. He was riding a black bicycle and wearing sunglasses, a white helmet, black shorts, white shirt with red and black trim, red socks and white shoes at the time of the incidents.

Anyone who has information regarding the identity of the cyclist or details surrounding these incidents, is asked to contact the Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be provided anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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A dispute between a cyclist and a jogger led to an indecent exposure incident on the Mt. Vernon Trail yesterday afternoon, police say.

The incident happened around 4:30 p.m., on the trail near Roaches Run and Gravelly Point. A man on a bicycle was engaged in an shouting match with a jogger; at one point, police say, the cyclist allegedly flashed the jogger.

“During the argument, the suspect exposed themselves to the other party,” said U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado. The cyclist rode off before police arrived.

Delgado did not provide a suspect description, but police radio traffic at the time described him as riding a road bike while dressed in spandex and red and white striped socks.

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Morning Notes

Dorsey’s Union Check ‘Lost in the Mail’ — “The $10,000 donation that cost Metro board member Christian Dorsey his position was returned to the agency’s largest union five months ago, but the check was never cashed — because it was lost in the mail, Dorsey and the union said.” [Washington Post]

Opioid Overdoses Rise in Arlington — “Since the start of the year, nine individuals have recovered from opioid overdoses following the deployment of Nasal Naloxone (also known as Narcan) by responding officers. This comes as the number of police investigated incidents involving opioids begins to rise, with fatal incidents now surpassing those reported in 2019.” [Arlington County]

Crash in Crystal City Last Night — “ACPD on scene of an overturned vehicle and downed tree on Route 1 at 20th Street S. Two people self-extricated from the vehicle, reported to be a black Mercedes.” [Twitter]

Arlington Man Facing Child Porn Charges — “An Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force investigation by federal, state and local agencies has resulted in the arrest of an Arlington man. Detectives arrested Christopher Morse, 51, and charged him with five counts of Possession of Child Pornography.” [Arlington County]

5G Antennas to Be Deployed on Light PolesUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — “We are excited to share that a new 5G streetlight pole prototype is on display in Courthouse (southwest corner of 14th Street North and North Courthouse Road) until Aug. 7. ” [Twitter, Arlington County]

Differing Views on Trail Widenings — “Some who oppose NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD Trail widening in Arlington, support widening the northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail. Longtime bicycle activist Allen Muchnick says the proposed Mt. Vernon Trail widening is not really comparable to NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD widening for multiple reasons.” [Audrey Clement]

Va. Real Estate Market Heating Up — “According to the June 2020 Home Sales Report released by Virginia REALTORS, home sales in most regions of Virginia are rebounding, following spring’s slowdown due to COVID-19. There were 13,176 home sales statewide in June 2020, up 0.5% from a year ago and up nearly 30% over May 2020 sales.” [Press Release]

Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W.

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