Arlington, VA

It’s March, which means the Crosshairs Garage Races has started its 6th season of racing bicycles in parking garages in Crystal City.

Every Tuesday evening through the end of the month, cyclists from across the Washington area descend into the garage at 201 12th Street S. and compete in an event that Washingtonian called the “best use of a garage that doesn’t involve your car.” The series was formerly known as Wednesday Night Spins.

Over 100 racers in three categories put a number on their bicycles and raced through a course of taped-off sections that zig-zagged through the lower levels of the garage. Co-organizer and promoter Taylor Jones loves the sense of community that the races bring.

“It’s a unique opportunity for non-traditional cycling demographics to try racing,” he said. “It’s awesome to live in a place that supports something like this.”

Beverages were plentiful, as was pie from Acme Pie owner Sol Schott. Emcee Nate Graham DJ’ed and offered commentary throughout the night.

“Everybody comes together as a midweek break from the grind and plays bikes in a parking garage,” Graham said. “What’s not to love?”

Beginner’s race winner Mac Maheen, 24, of Bowie, Md., thought it was a “super cool event.” New to bike racing, this was Maheen’s third-ever race.

“There were a lot of turns, staying under control and out of trouble was the most important thing,” Maheen said. “It’s super fun. Who would have thought something this cool would be in a parking garage?”

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A plan is currently in process to transform the Arlington Court Suites hotel into an apartment complex, but at a Transportation Commission meeting last week the project hit a small snag as commissioners unanimously agreed the project might have too much parking.

The plan would convert the 187 hotel rooms in the Arlington Court Suites into a 180-unit residential property called Park Arlington at Courthouse. The current plans do not call for any major demolition work and staff said the proposed residential units would likely be less expensive than new construction at the same site.

The applicant could maintain as hotel use, staff said, but this project would help meet the demand for mid-rise housing at a middle-income level.

While the project is only two blocks south of the Court House Metro station, the parking ratio would increase in the new plans. Currently, there are 153 parking spaces and the proposal would elevate that to 171 spaces. Many of those would be located on a surface parking lot, with the rest in a garage under the building. The plan also calls for 76 bicycle parking spaces.

Transportation Commission member Audrey Clement, who earlier in the meeting had expressed opposition both the Veitch Street redevelopment and the Missing Middle housing study, shared her general support for the Park Arlington project, with one main objection.

“I really do support this project,” Clement said. “This is right up my alley. It does not involve the demolition of an existing property… I’m very impressed with this project, but in one respect it is not consistent with County policy, and that is the parking ratio.”

In 2017, the county adopted a new policy that said the parking ratio should be reduced from one space per unit to as low as 0.2 spaces per unit in certain areas near Metro stations.

“I do believe this project would be more consistent with county policy if it reduced the number of parking spaces and what I’m particularly interested in is the surface parking. Has the developer considered replacing some or all of the surface parking with green space? This would be a benefit to the residents of this facility.”

“It is a huge parking lot and the only way to get into the building is through the parking lot,” said Transportation Commission member Jim Lantelme. “It’s still way too auto-oriented… This parking lot is just enormous and it really doesn’t work for me. There’s nothing like this site anymore. If we’re going to have adaptive reuse, we have to adapt it to the current requirements.”

The agreement on the Transportation Commission took some of the members by surprise.

“I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I 100% agree with everything you just said,” said Transportation Commission member Richard Price. “I never thought I would hear myself say this, but Commissioner Clement hit it right on the head… All I see is ugly surface parking and I’m glad you’re going to address it. There are lots of sites that all you have to get the front entrance is walk through a parking lot. That is disturbing and that needs to change, and it needs to start changing now.”

Others said that along with the parking lot reduction, the sidewalk needs to be widened.

The developer said that an alternative plan could eliminate the surface parking, but more market research needs to be done. If the building winds up as condos, the developer said there would be a higher demand for parking. The developer noted that the widening the sidewalk on N. Courthouse Road, however, is complicated by things like utilities and a retaining wall.

Photo via Google Maps

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

At this point, the bike lane blocking problems on Crystal Drive are well understood. The combination of popular retail establishments, standard painted bike lanes and entitled drivers leads to non-functional bike lanes.

The parkingdirty.com data-gathering effort I led back in 2016 found that they are blocked between 50% and 64% of waking hours.

The “data-protected bike lane” effort last year by the folks at OurStreets found that during morning rush, evening rush and lunch time, the Crystal Drive lane was blocked nearly 90% of the time.

The situation on Hayes Street by the Pentagon City Metro entrance is similarly dire, though less well-studied. Parkingdirty.com found they were blocked between 51% and 63% of waking hours and it is a common complaint area on Twitter.

Now a development project is moving forward that is currently on-track to duplicate these same mistakes. JBG Smith’s 1900 Crystal Drive project proposes to build two large residential towers on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Streets. The project will upgrade the sidewalks on its street frontage and provide new on-street parking spaces, but it proposes unprotected, paint-only bike lanes on both Crystal Drive and 18th Street.

To make matters worse, the project proposes significant new retail all along Crystal Drive and the corner of 18th and Crystal Drive will eventually be home to a 2nd entrance to the Crystal City Metro Station. The Metro station entrance and the new retail will generate significant pick-up and drop-off activity; where will people do this pick-up and drop-off? Where will people park for “just a minute” while they run into the retail? Our experience on Crystal Drive and Hayes Street give us the answer: in the bike lane.

Calls during the Site Plan Review (SPRC) process to provide a protected bike lane along the street frontages have not been accepted by staff, at least as of the last SPRC meeting. Staff acknowledges that the Crystal Drive bike lanes are a problem, but maintain that two blocks of protected bike lane in front of this one development aren’t helpful and that instead the County must find a comprehensive solution for this entire stretch and that the curb-to-curb width being provided by the development is sufficient for this.

Unfortunately, they have not provided a plan to find this comprehensive solution. They have not indicated a timeline for finding this comprehensive solution. They have not identified a funding source for this comprehensive solution.

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A man was carjacked in the Pentagon City mall parking garage last week, the latest in a spate of such incidents over the past few months.

The crime happened just before 2 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 23.

“The male victim parked and exited his vehicle when he was approached by an unknown suspect,” Arlington County Police said in a crime report. “The suspect brandished a firearm, demanded the victim’s keys and fled the scene in the victim’s vehicle.”

“The suspect is described as a black male, skinny build, approximately 6’06” tall wearing a dark jacket and dark pants,” the crime report continues. “The victim’s vehicle is described as a black Mercedes C300 with Maryland license plate 4DF8053.”

There have been a number of robberies and attempted robberies in the garage since last summer.

In July, a would-be armed robber was shot and killed with his own gun in the mall parking garage, at 1100 S. Hayes Street. Most recently, on Sunday, Jan. 19, a woman was sitting in her car inside the garage when a man with a gun approached and stole her cell phone, according to a crime report.

ROBBERY, 2020-01190177, 800 block of Army Navy Drive. At approximately 5:25 p.m. on January 19 an officer on patrol was flagged down by a citizen requesting assistance. The investigation determined that between 5:05 p.m. and 5:20 p.m., the female victim was sitting inside her parked vehicle when an unknown suspect approached her, brandished a firearm and demanded her cell phone. The suspect fled the scene on foot after stealing the cell phone. The suspect is described as a black male, late teens to early 20’s, wearing a dark colored sweater, a hoodie pulled over his head and dark pants. The investigation is ongoing.

NBC 4 reported on Friday that the crimes have left shoppers “on edge.” The mall did not respond to the station’s request for comment.

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Modern Mobility is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington has over 30 acres of valuable public real estate that it is terribly mismanaging.

The County provides it to some, but not all residents for the express purpose of storing their private property. Some residents can use it for free, others pay a tiny pittance of $20 per year. Many residents, primarily the young and least affluent are forbidden from using it at all. Virtually every inch of it has been paved over.

Perhaps worst of all, those special residents who are allowed to use it, rarely do so. Over 50% of the time this land is sitting completely empty.

I’m speaking, of course, about Arlington’s on-street Residential Parking Permit Program parking spaces.

You’d be forgiven for not realizing any of this — the conversations about on-street parking in the County would make you think the exact opposite. You can’t show up at a development approval public hearing without hearing about the parking scarcity in Arlington. Penrose’s “parking crisis” is a regular topic of conversation at my neighborhood’s Civic Association meetings.

The cold, hard, data from the County’s parking occupancy study paints a very different picture, however. While on-street parking on commercial corridors is often at 85-100% occupancy, especially during evening hours, neighborhood streets with Residential Parking Permit (RPP) restrictions average less than 50% occupancy, even in the hours when those RPP restrictions aren’t in effect. During school hours, nearly every residential block in the County’s detailed study area is under 50%.

In a County as space-constrained as Arlington, we simply must make better use of this public land. Our tax money is used to maintain it; its imperviousness worsens flood risks for all of our homes; and as long as it is on-street parking, it cannot be rain gardens, parklets or bike infrastructure to get our kids safely to school.

Two current problems facing the County could greatly benefit from this land, and some simple changes to the RPP program could accomplish them.

First, Restaurant Row on 23rd St in Crystal City, which is home to many dearly-loved and locally-owned restaurants has very little dedicated parking. This recently received a lot of renewed attention due to the potential redevelopment of a private parking lot in the immediate vicinity. One business owner, specifically lamented the loss of lunch business in his testimony to the Transportation Commission. A large part of the loss of nearby parking near Restaurant Row, is due to those blocks acquiring RPP restrictions of the last decade.

While some sort of restrictions may be necessary to prevent commuter parking, the existing RPP restrictions have clearly gone much, much too far, especially when it comes to during the work day. Nearly all of the nearby blocks are under 60% occupancy at lunch time on weekdays.

There are several ways the RPP program could be changed that would help support these businesses without overly burdening nearby residents. Two hour parking could be allowed in RPP zones without a zone permit. To make this easier to enforce, parking meters could be installed. If this might result in too much commercial parking it could be limited to only during the work day, or only on one side of the street.

Second, the expansion of Arlington’s Career Center is currently working its way through Public Facilities Review Committee and how to accommodate the school’s parking needs is one of the hottest topics of conversation. The County estimates that the expanded Career Center will need 400-500 total parking spaces.

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Making Room is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Any time Arlington County gets access to land within our 26 square miles is a cause for celebration. It also requires a firm commitment to make the best possible use of this extremely limited and valuable resource.

On December 14, the County Board may vote to acquire the benefit of a new piece of property just blocks from the Crystal City Metro Station. We need to make sure this opportunity isn’t undone by the cry for parking.

South Arlington’s Crystal House apartment complex, comprised of two 1960s-era high-rise buildings, is slated for infill development. The site plan will be on the County Board’s December 14 agenda.

The staff recommendation contains what Planning Commissioners called a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for achieving the Crystal City Zoning Ordinance’s affordable housing obligation. Instead of providing 47 units of committed affordable housing within the complex, Roseland is offering to convey one portion of their property, currently a surface parking lot, to the County. The understanding is that the County could develop this property with at least 81 units of committed affordable housing.

The benefits of this proposal are enticing.

First, by owning the land and working with an Affordable Housing developer, the County Board could create units that would remain affordable to low-income residents for 60 years, unlike the typical 30-year term for on-site affordable units within market-rate developments. Second, the location of this parcel at 22nd and Eads would provide excellent transportation access for the building’s residents. Third, by owning and developing the property, the County could provide a much-needed community facility for the 22202 ZIP code, in addition to the committed affordable housing, such as we see at Arlington Mill.

But these positive benefits are future opportunities that will require a commitment to realize. The only thing Arlington would get in the short-term is a surface parking lot. And it is a particularly contested parking lot. Business owners from the adjacent “23rd Street Restaurant Row” see these 96 spaces as the key to their business.

Any effort to build on the parking lot will continue to face pushback from the merchants. Roseland is offering this parcel not only to achieve bonus density on their site, but also to get out of the parking fight. By accepting the land, Arlington County is stepping into a battle that could stymie any effort to achieve affordable housing.

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Morning Notes

Developer May Give Parking Lot to County — “Arlington County planners and the owner of the Crystal House apartments have struck a deal to turn one of the four proposed buildings in its 798-unit expansion over to the county for affordable housing and public parking. It’s a change that has brought some hope to owners and operators along Crystal City’s restaurant row of 23rd Street, who, for the last few weeks, have criticized [the development] because it could have reduced access to parking spaces.” [Washington Business Journal]

Tips for a Safe Thanksgiving — “While Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed on Thursday and Friday, we want to remind you of all the great ways you can celebrate Thanksgiving week in Arlington. Whether you’re traveling or staying locally, these tips will help ensure you have an enjoyable — and safe — Thanksgiving holiday.” [Arlington County]

Dozen Arrested at DCA Protest — “On one of the busiest travel days of the year, American Airlines catering workers held sit-in protests at Reagan National Airport demanding higher pay and better access to healthcare. According to Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), 12 individuals were arrested and released on summons… the issue occurred when protesters entered the street and blocked traffic outside the B/C terminal.” [WUSA 9]

TSA Confiscates Loaded Gun at DCAUpdated at 8:20 a.m. — “A Fredericksburg, Virginia, resident was cited by police after Transportation Security Administration officers detected a 9 mm handgun loaded with seven bullets, including one in the chamber, in the man’s carry-on bag at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) on Monday, November 25.” [Transportation Security Administration]

Local Lawmakers Become Committee Chairs — “Two of the three state senators in Arlington’s legislative delegation will chair committees in the 2020 session, which opens Jan. 8. State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) has been tapped to chair the Senate Committee on Finance, while Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) will chair the Committee on Rehabilitation & Social Services.” [InsideNova]

Impact of a Casino in N. Va. — “With Virginia’s General Assembly expected to debate casinos and gambling in the upcoming legislative session, its research agency issued a report Monday examining fiscal impacts on the state — including what a casino in Northern Virginia might mean. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission study, a Northern Virginia casino would produce $595 million in gaming revenue annually.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Morning Notes

Advocates Pushing for Less Parking at HQ2 — “Amazon wants employees at its new Northern Virginia headquarters to commute car-free to work… So why does the development’s current design include an underground parking garage with nearly 2,000 spaces — guaranteeing that a significant chunk of Amazon’s workforce will drive to work?” [Greater Greater Washington]

Express Lanes Causing 14th Street Bridge Slowdown? — Some commuters have been taking to social media to gripe about what they say is heavier traffic caused by the I-395 Express Lanes: “This morning the express lanes made 395N regular lanes undriveable. The problem is they closed off the 14th street bridge hov to regular traffic, which is creating a tremendous clog point. Its now taking 30 mins just to cross the 14th street bridge.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Northam in Arlington Today — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is scheduled to attend the Governor’s Transportation Conference this morning at a hotel in Crystal City. [Cvent]

‘Feuerwehrmann’ Joins ACFD for Three Weeks — “Two Arlington County Fire Department crews had a unique opportunity recently when they welcomed a fellow firefighter from the Aachen Fire Department in Germany.  Lieutenant Sebastian Ganser, a firefighter, paramedic, and fire instructor in Arlington’s sister city of Aachen, Germany, spent three weeks with Station 5C in Crystal City and Station 2B in Ballston — living and working alongside Arlington’s firefighters and paramedics.” [Arlington County]

Long-Distance Runners Arriving in Arlington Soon — “Josh and Brian will be running roughly 500 miles from Massachusetts National Cemetery to Arlington National Cemetery in VA for your donations. This journey will take between 10-14 days averaging 40-50 miles per day. They will start on November 11th, 2019 (Veterans Day) and will only stop to eat and sleep until they make it to Arlington, VA.” [Mission 22]

Road Closures for Annual 5K — “The 5th annual Jennifer Bush-Lawson Memorial 5K Race will take place on Saturday, November 23, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement several road closures from approximately 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County]

Planetarium Boosters to Stay Active During Closure — “The Arlington school system’s lone planetarium will be closed for about a year and a half starting later this month, as construction takes place turning the nearby Arlington Education Center building into classroom space. But leaders with the Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium say they will fill the gap with programming elsewhere during the closure.” [InsideNova]

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If there’s one thing that drives passions in residential neighborhoods, it’s parking. And Arlington County is gearing up to change some of its residential parking policies next year.

The forthcoming update to Arlington’s Residential Permit Parking (RPP) program promises to bring out strong opinions, with some residents very much in favor of keeping the program as is, and others saying it promotes inequity and should be scrapped. The county staff recommendation, however, is likely to be somewhere in the middle.

The RPP program focuses on neighborhoods around Metro corridors and other high-demand areas where commuters, diners, shoppers or hospital visitors tend to fill up street parking spaces. It restricts on-street parking to certain residents and their guests during certain times of the day.

“I know this program is important and popular — and not popular in certain places,” County Manager Mark Schwartz at Tuesday’s Arlington County Board meeting, as county staff provided an update on its work, which has been underway for more than two years.

The RPP program tends to favor single-family home owners over apartment dwellers, many of whom are excluded from receiving parking permits, raising questions about fairness, staff said.

“As a whole, there is little resident agreement on how the Program should function going forward,” said a staff presentation to the Board. “Resident opinions frequently vary with type of housing in which they live and whether they have RPP restrictions.”

Schwartz placed additions of new areas and other changes to the program on hold in 2017, at a time when staff said the county was receiving “a large volume of applications” from mostly single-family home owners who wanted parking restrictions on their streets. Most of those applications were being rejected, staff said, demonstrating a difference between program requirements — including at least 75% parking utilization on the streets in question on weekdays, with an abundance of parked cars registered in other areas — and resident expectations.

“Our public expects parking to be easy,” said Arlington County Parking Manager Stephen Crim. “They want to park in front of our houses and want their guests to park on the same block.”

County staff are still gathering public feedback but presented a number of guiding principles ahead of formulating recommendations for Board consideration this spring.

Among the changes to the program now being considered:

  • Make all housing types eligible for RPP, but exclude housing developments that go through a site plan and use permit process.
  • Cap the number of parking permits any given household can receive based on off-street parking availability (like a driveway or parking lot.)
  • Make parking easier for household visitors, perhaps by enacting two-hour parking without permits on RPP streets.

(Two hour visitor parking in RPP zones is in place in a couple of parts of Arlington, but police say it is difficult to enforce and meters would be preferable. Board member Katie Cristol said she would be in favor of more parking meters in RPP zones, with those displaying parking permits exempt from the meters.)

RPP as currently conceived does have some interesting side effects, Crim noted. For one, it has a placebo effect: people in RPP zones who have parking permits said in surveys that parking was easier than residents in areas without RPP restrictions but similar street parking utilization. Also, people who have RPP restrictions are more likely to be supportive of new housing developments in their neighborhood — as long as the new residents won’t be eligible for residential parking permits.

(About 40% of survey respondents said they liked RPP because it discourages people in apartments and condos from parking on the street, according to Crim’s presentation.)

The current RPP moratorium is not expected to be lifted until the changes are enacted. And the public process related to those changes is expected to be contentious.

“No principal or policy will please everyone,” said Crim.

“I look forward to deliberating on this next spring, it’s going to be a doozy,” said County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.

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Restaurant owners, residents, and advisory group members alike are demanding that an upcoming residential development in Crystal City includes more customer parking for the 23rd Street “Restaurant Row.”

At an unusually heated Site Plan Review Committee (SPRC) meeting Monday night, a representative from Crystal Houses developer Roseland Residential Trust outlined its plans for “Crystal House 5,” one of the new residential buildings proposed to be added to the existing apartment complex on the 1900 block of S. Eads Street.

The latest iteration of the development plan has been revised upward — with 819 new residential units planned, up from 798 previously. In addition to four new apartment buildings, Roseland is proposing three groups of townhouses.

Monday’s meeting, however, focused on the contentious issue of parking. Currently, Crystal House 5 is set to build over a Roseland-owned surface lot with 95 pay-to-park spaces.

Per use permit conditions, Roseland reserves 35 of those spaces exclusively for customers and employees of the businesses along 23rd Street S. — aka Restaurant Row.

Roseland plans to build a parking garage beneath the building, along with a small surface lot, with a total of 96 spaces. It is offering to reserve 35 of those spaces — 14 surface and 21 in the garage — for Restaurant Row owners and customers, with the remaining 60 for tenant use only.

However, because all 95 spaces in the current lot are open for public use, business owners argue this will result in a net loss of parking for them. Especially outspoken about this is Stratis Voutsas, who manages a trust that owns several of the buildings along 23rd Street.

Voutsas, along with a few other Restaurant Row business owners, wore matching shirts that said “Keep 23rd Street Weird, Eclectic & Uniquely Authentic, Support Parking For Your Local Business.” Voutsas has also started a petition, which he claims has over 3,000 signatures, emphasizing that the county’s Crystal City Sector Plan envisions the preservation of Restaurant Row.

“At Restaurant Row (500 block of 23rd Street), the plan visualizes preserving and retaining small, neighborhood oriented retailers,” the plan says. “Should redevelopment occur in this area, such retailers should be accommodated, to help support active streetscapes.”

Local restaurateur Freddie Lutz, who owns Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant and Federico Ristorante Italiano, told ARLnow he was promised by a county staff member 35 years ago that parking would be protected.

“When me and [business partner] Ted Sachs were standing on the surface parking lot 35 years ago, someone from the county said to us, if anyone builds on this parking lot they will have to provide parking for 23rd Street Restaurant Row,” Lutz said. “Live and learn, I should have stuck my hand up and asked, ‘Can we have that in writing?'”

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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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