Arlington, VA

As early as mid-spring, light poles along Wilson Blvd in Clarendon will be outfitted with new fixtures that monitor crowds and identify potential emergencies.

The technology will be installed sometime this spring as part of a pilot project involving multiple Arlington County departments as well as Comcast, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and US Ignite — a nonprofit focused on community innovation. The initiative is dubbed the “Safety and Innovation Zone demonstration project.”

During its recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board voted 4-1, with Takis Karantonis dissenting, in favor of the pilot project. US Ignite is donating $90,000 to buy the light fixtures, which Comcast will provide, along with a three-month trial of public Wi-Fi in the area.

Karantonis said his vote should not be interpreted as a vote of no-confidence, but rather, it should signal that he is still skeptical and would like to see more public engagement.

The primary use for the fixtures, to be installed along the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, will be “people counting,” said Holly Hartell, who presented the project on behalf of the Department of Technology Services. In other words, the light fixtures will monitor crowd sizes and flow to recognize unexpected movements that could indicate a potential threat or emergency situation.

“This is an effort to speed things up where seconds and minutes count,” said Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz. “If we could gain information to send the right resource to the right place in a timely fashion that could really accelerate us operationally and also safety-wise.”

The light fixtures do not have the capacity to videotape people, capture images or provide identifying information, Hartell said. They can pick up the presence or absence of an event they have been programmed to detect, such as a large crowd moving quickly. This data will be converted into text and sent to a dashboard in the county’s Emergency Communications Center.

“Everything will be anonymous,” Hartell said. “You will never be able to identify an individual person.”

Later on, the technology could be used to detect falls, blasts, shots, and distress cries, as well as sudden temperature changes or the presence of smoke.

The fire chief added that “this [pilot] is just a start and we hope to be able to build this out in the county in time.”

“We are aware of people who are concerned,” Hartell later told ARLnow, of questions raised about the project. “I understand their concerns, and I want to give them the confidence that what we’re looking at is not going to be in any way impacting their privacy.”

The partners in the project — CCI, US Ignite and Comcast — are all providing best practices on collecting data while respecting privacy, she said. The county has also developed a privacy framework to use as it goes about the project.

“We are protecting people’s privacy while improving our services,” she said.

The pilot project will be in place for about one year. The first few months will be spent refining the uses for the technology, followed by six months of data collection, and finally, an assessment period. Next spring, the county will decide if the project could be replicated elsewhere. At that time, there will be robust public engagement opportunities, Hartell said.

During the meeting, Hartell said the block was chosen because it has a vibrant business district and a “pretty active restaurant and pedestrian activity,” even now during the pandemic.

One incident the technology might have caught in that location, had it been in place a few years ago: the famous 2018 Cheesecake Factory incident, when a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control

The original proposal was to focus on social distancing and mask-wearing, according to the staff report. A small number of business members of the Clarendon Alliance were consulted on the idea, and their concern led to a shift away from coronavirus measures, staff said.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photos 2-3 via Arlington County

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The County Board approved safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists on Columbia Pike over Four Mile Run, as well as other changes, during its regular meeting on Saturday.

The approved $1 million Four Mile Run bridge project includes widening the northern sidewalk next to westbound traffic from five feet to 10 feet and narrowing the traffic lanes. Lighting will also be added to the northern side of the bridge.

Sturdy guardrails will be installed at the approaches to the bridge, but not on the bridge, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet previously told ARLnow. The expanded sidewalk will remain 9 inches above street level, to help protect pedestrians.

County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said during the meeting that he was pleased to approve the project, which makes the bridge more accessible.

“It is part of a big investment that we’ve been working on for multiple years, the Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements project,” he said.

Board member Takis Karantonis said the changes are significant and a long time in coming.

“This has always been a big problem for pedestrians,” he said. “It’s really scary sometimes, with traffic going both ways, very fast.”

Community feedback has also been positive, notes a county staff report.

“The widening is a welcome change that many in the community have asked for during the outreach and engagement on the Columbia Pike Multimodal Project,” the report said. “The addition of lighting has also been received positively, as the community members shared that this section of the Pike often feels dark and unsafe.”

Some community members requested a barrier between the sidewalk and road. The suggestion was ultimately not included, as the bridge cannot fit one along with a widened sidewalk and four travel lanes, according to the report.

Implementation was anticipated to begin last fall, but the timeline changed because the County decided to combine the updates to the sidewalk with other scheduled maintenance on the bridge, hiring one contractor to do both, Balliet said in an email.

Separately, the Board also gave its stamp of approval to the proposed realignment of the eastern end of Columbia Pike, part of a project that adds 70 acres to Arlington National Cemetery near the Air Force Memorial.

The federal government is paying for the $60 million road project, after acquiring county-owned land for the expansion via an eminent domain suit last summer.

The project realigns segments of Columbia Pike, S. Joyce Street and Washington Blvd, constructs a new S. Nash Street, partially eliminates Southgate Road and designs a new portion of trail, according to a staff report.

Images via Arlington County

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The Arlington County Board is slated to review plans for two residential towers at 1820 N. Fort Myer Drive that include substantial affordable housing contributions.

The proposal from Arlington-based Snell Properties would replace the Ames Center office building across from the Rosslyn Metro station. A south tower will abut the Hyatt Centric hotel and a north tower will surround the existing Arlington Temple United Methodist Church and Sunoco gas station, dubbed “Our Lady of Exxon.”

Although the church and gas station will be “redeveloped in place,” the skywalks — which provide an elevated pedestrian connection to the Metro station — will be demolished, according to the County.

Along with plans for the Holiday Inn and the RCA building, the proposal from Snell will further change Rosslyn’s skyline, demolishing the existing building, formerly occupied by the Art Institute of Washington.

The proposed towers, 30 and 31 stories tall, include 740 multifamily units and about 10,146 square feet of retail space. Up to 225 of the residential units may devoted to an interim hotel use, while the apartments are leased.

In a report, staff highlighted the affordable housing units in the building, committed as such for the next 30 years.

“The Rosslyn Coordinated Redevelopment District area, where this project is located, is one of the most expensive rental markets in the County,” staff said. “There are currently no [committed affordable units] within the RCRD.”

Twenty-four one- and two-bedroom units will be reserved for households making up to 80% of the Area Median Income.

Typically, such units are reserved for those who make up to 60% AMI, but staff said Rosslyn is so expensive that reserving units for up to 80% AMI “will better leverage the community benefits value while providing much-needed affordability directly in this area.”

Snell Properties is also committing nearly $2.5 million in cash toward affordable housing. The County said this sum could create about 29 units in future developments that are affordable for households earning up to 60% of the Area Median Income.

The project additionally includes a $5 million cash contribution for the Fort Myer Drive tunnel project, which includes plans to convert the road into a two-way street, remove the tunnel, widen sidewalks and add protected bike lanes.

A cement plaza will separate the two towers and form one segment of a planned pedestrian pathway that County planners call the “18th Street Corridor.” This street-level walkway will replace the existing, elevated passages. Mid-block crosswalks will join the plaza to 18th Street N.

Those who participated in community engagement from July and September “were universally in support of [the] removal of both skywalks,” staff said.

The towers will share four levels of below-grade parking and the south tower will have four levels of above-grade parking — 574 parking spaces in total.

The County said “there are no outstanding community issues” but the mechanical penthouse roof and elevators may block or hurt the view of D.C. from the Central Place Observation Deck.

The south building will be built in phase one, along with an interim open space and other streetscape improvements. The second phase will see more activity: construction of the north tower, the plaza and remaining streetscape improvements, as well as the removal of the skywalks.

The County Board is expected to review the project at its Saturday meeting.

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Morning Notes

Local Unemployment Rate Improves — “Arlington’s jobless rate continued to improve in October… the county’s unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in October represented a decline from 4.5 percent in September, according to data reported Dec. 3 by the Virginia Employment Commission. Despite the improvement, the county’s jobless picture has significant more room for recovery. A year ago, the jobless rate stood at a rock-bottom 1.7 percent.” [InsideNova]

Custis Trail Roundabout ‘Fully Open’ — “The Custis Trail has reopened under I-66 near Arlington’s Bon Air Park as overhead work on I-66 progresses for VDOT’s Transform 66 Inside the Beltway Eastbound Widening Project. With the underpass re-opened, the new trail roundabout is fully open and the detour is no longer needed… Lighting is planned to be installed in early 2021.” [VDOT]

New Pedestrian Beacons in Bluemont — “Happy to see this safety improvement in the Bluemont neighborhood… rectangular rapid flash beacons have been added on Wilson near Safeway. So, a light now flashes when you’re trying to cross. Makes a big difference!” [Twitter]

Tiny Glass Houses at Ambar — At Ambar (2901 Wilson Blvd) in Clarendon, “guests can now reserve one of the 10 fully enclosed new glass tiny houses, that can seat up to six people for dining in warmth, safety, and privacy. They are totally self-contained, with heat, lighting elements and music selections for each host’s personal preference while dining at Ambar.” [Press Release]

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After five years, Arlington County is putting finishing touches on its Complete Street plan to improve walking, biking and driving conditions along a stretch of Army Navy Drive in the Pentagon City area.

The updated plans — which are 90% complete — were presented in a virtual public hearing on Wednesday. County staff are taking public comments via email on this version until Dec. 4, and the final plans will be submitted next summer. Construction on the section of road from S. Joyce Street to S. Eads Street is slated to begin in 2022.

The $16.87-million project aims to reduce conflicts among cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians with narrower lanes, stretches of bus-only lanes, protected left turns and signalized right turns, clearer sidewalks and shorter crosswalks. The south side of Army Navy Drive will have two-way bike lane protected by a line of trees.

“A lot of the signalizations will improve safety, prevent fatalities, reduce collisions, things like that,” Jon Lawler, the project manager, said during the meeting.

Crashes happen frequently in its intersections: Staff said the S. Hayes St/I-395 off-ramp intersection had the second-most collisions of any Arlington intersection in 2016.

The measures mean the new Army Navy Drive will be reduced to two through lanes in each direction, narrowing to one lane east of S. Eads Street.

“This segment has much lower traffic volumes than the other four blocks of the project corridor,” Lawler said in an email.

Reducing a lane of traffic to accommodate a bus lane between S. Joyce Street and S. Hayes Street will actually improve flow because buses will not block traffic while loading passengers, he said.

Traffic lanes will be narrowed to slow down cars, but staff are not planning to propose a lower speed limit, which is 35 miles per hour, Lawler said during the meeting.

Construction is still a ways off. Staff expect construction to begin in the spring of 2022. With work scheduled block by block to minimize disruptions, it could last until the fall of 2024. Original plans had construction starting in 2020 and ending in 2022.

Lawler attributed the delays to the additional tasks needed for a project receiving federal aid.

“For this project, it took much longer to receive our National Environmental Policy Act document approval than we had envisioned,” he said in an email.

Staff skipped the 60% design phase to make up for lost time, he said.

After the medians are removed, work will start on the south side of Army Navy Drive, beginning with the area where Amazon HQ2 will be, along S. Eads Street, and moving west. Once the medians are replaced, the road will be repainted and striped, concluding the project.

Lawler said in the meeting that “we won’t have any conflict” with Amazon construction.

Community feedback led to two major changes, he said. First, another block of protected bike lane was added to connect the bike lane west of S. Lynn Street with the planned protected bike lane starting at S. Joyce Street.

“This way we don’t have a missing link in the system,” Lawler said in the meeting.

Staff could not insert this change into this project, as it is receiving federal funding, so they created a separate capital improvement project to address it, he said.

From S. Lynn Street — near Prospect Hill Park — to S. Eads Street, Army Navy Drive is “pretty uncomfortable to use scooters and bikes on,” Lawler told ARLnow after the meeting. “The changes will provide them a safer route for them to use.”

With the changes, bicyclists on Army Navy Drive will be able to use the major east-west link more easily to connect with the Mount Vernon Trail and get to Washington, D.C., he said.

Another change was to align the bumpy pedestrian ramps with the crosswalk. Initially, the ramps were perpendicular to the crosswalk, which advocates said directs vision-impaired pedestrians into harm’s way.

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County staff are accepting public comments on some long-awaited safety improvements at three intersections along the Bluemont Junction trail.

Residents will be asked if the proposed changes would make them feel safe using the trail or driving across it. The engagement period is open through Friday, Nov. 20.

For years, users have said conditions are unsafe along the trail, which connects Ballston with the Washington and Old Dominion trail at Bluemont Park. It’s difficult for trail users and drivers to see one another at the intersections, until the former are already in the crosswalk.

Discussions and presentations on upgrades began last winter, but staff had to pause their progress this spring due to the pandemic. Work resumed this fall.

“Trail safety and access issues for the Bluemont Junction trail were first raised by the community in 2013,” the county project page said. “The project has evolved to focus on the three intersections included based on site visits, data analysis, and community input.”

The intersections are at N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

The Bluemont Civic Association, the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advisory Committee provided input on the preliminary designs. The public comment period through Nov. 20 will inform the design plans that county staff will present to stakeholders for more comments once they are 30% complete.

“This project was identified as necessary to improve safety and accessibility at intersections where the trail and the street network meet,” the county staff project page said. “It will benefit people walking, biking, accessing transit, and driving.”

Where the trail intersects with N. Buchanan Street and N. Emerson Street, the trail and road are at different elevations and visibility is low, the survey said.

Although the trail is typically more heavily used than the roads, signs are limited and the street markings are worn out.

At N. Buchanan Street, staff propose using striping at the trail crossing to slow speeds and give motorists more time to see trail users, adding warning signs and possibly creating a raised crossing.

At N. Emerson Street, county staff propose raising the crossing, changing the angle of the approach to the trial and adding signs. 

Sightlines at the N. Kensington Street intersection are limited and nearby transit stops are not ADA accessible, the survey said.

They propose narrowing the trail crossing, adding ADA-compliant transit stops with boarding platforms, bringing the raised crossing up to trail grade, adding ADA-compliant tactile warning strips and improving the high-visibility crosswalk markings.

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Without in-person school, play dates and activities, many kids have lost their primary sources of social interaction and exercise due to COVID-19.

But volunteers in Arlington say a new traffic garden, a space where kids can play and learn how to travel roads safely, could restore some of the lost opportunities for play.

“It was clear we needed new stuff for kids to do,” said Fionnuala Quinn, who makes and consults on traffic gardens. “This is a friendly, happy place for them at a time when a lot has been taken away from them.”

After getting approval from the Women’s Club of Arlington (700 S. Buchanan Street) in Barcroft to use their parking lot, a group of 10 bicycling enthusiasts, community members and engineers grabbed some chalk paint and duct tape and got to work. Three-and-a-half hours later, the parking lot was transformed into space with railroad crossings, crosswalks, streets and roundabouts that kids can walk, bike or skateboard along.

“It’s a bright spot in a tough time,” said Gillian Burgess, a cycling and walking advocate and former chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, who helped with the effort.

Families seem to enjoy it and kids find it intuitive, she said.

“It’s funny, parents will ask us how to use it, but kids just do it naturally,” she said.

The crew in Arlington is one of about 30 nationwide that have repurposed parking lots and constructed these temporary traffic gardens since the start of the pandemic, Quinn said.

“Once you start looking and thinking about this, you realize there is asphalt lying neglected everywhere,” she said. “As soon as you do it, small children appear.”

The original traffic gardens were built in the 1950s in Denmark and the Netherlands. They resembled miniature cities, with tiny buildings and kid-sized roads and traffic signs.

The trend made its way to the U.S., with a large concentration of them in Ohio, where they are called safety towns, Quinn said. She has catalogued about 300 installations in the U.S.

Quinn, who lives in Reston, left her engineering job to engineer and consult on traffic gardens full-time. She said the 50s-era gardens ertr amazing, but expensive to maintain and most kids only ended up going once during their childhood.

Her job is to make these gardens easier and cheaper to build and maintain so that they can be replicated on a smaller scale, more locally, and be more accessible to all kids.

She has helped with permanent installations at two Washington, D.C. schools, and spearheaded two in Alexandria and one in Fauquier County. They required months or years of planning and work.

But temporary pop-ups, including the one in Arlington, use little resources and take less time. Once people see how much kids love them, the pop-ups also advance the community conversation toward permanent versions, she said.

The Barcroft traffic garden will be in place for a few months. Burgess is working on getting the message out through schools and neighborhood email lists and has started looking for other locations in the county. She aims to add more gardens by this spring.

The group is working with the Arlington Safe Routes to School coordinator to apply for grants to fund permanent traffic gardens at Arlington schools.

With kids learning remotely, Safe Routes to School grants are going toward different educational initiatives, including traffic gardens, Burgess said. In the meantime, she and Safe Routes are also working with the school system to make walking and biking routes to school safer.

Photos courtesy Gillian Burgess 

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Morning Notes

Soldiers Nearly Struck By SUV on TV — “Two soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment — also known as the The Old Guard — gave D.C. early morning viewers a real-time safety briefing when a driver nearly ran them down in the background of a live TV report on” safety changes around Memorial Circle. [Military Times, WJLA]

APS Not Releasing Some COVID Info — “Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia said 11.7 percent of school staff have ‘been excluded from work due to COVID health and safety procedures’… [Bellavia] refused to say how many schools within Arlington have seen cases of the virus, calling building-level data “private health information.” [Washington Post]

Local Resident Charged With Election Felony — “Jacob Wohl and [Rosslyn resident] Jack Burkman were charged with four felonies of intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election law and using a computer to commit a crime, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday, after thousands of residents from at least five states received the robocall aimed at discouraging absentee voting.” [Washington Post]

E*Trade Acquisition to Close — Morgan Stanley is expected to complete its $13 billion acquisition of Arlington-based E*Trade today. The online brokerage was founded in Silicon Valley but eventually came to be headquartered in Arlington after it acquired Arlington-based Telebanc in 2000. [Virginia Business]

Sierra Club Calls for Electric Metrobus Fleet — “The environmental group has laid out a detailed process by which it believes Metro can get to fully electric by 2045. It proposes that the transit agency convert half of its fleet by 2030, 75 percent by 2035, 90 percent by 2040 and 100 percent by 2045.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

More APS Tech Issues Reported — Several people contacted ARLnow yesterday to report more technology issues involving remote learning. While Wakefield High School’s principal posted a possible fix on social media, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said that any remaining problems were isolated: “At last check this morning, there were 25,273 APS-provided student devices active on our network. There are some issues at the secondary level, but we are working directly with those students to reset their devices.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Sept. 11 Commemoration Tomorrow — “Arlington County will commemorate the lives lost in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and express gratitude to all those who responded that day with a virtual event. To ensure everyone’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public will view the event online or on the County’s cable channels.” [Arlington County]

State Grant to Boost COVID Testing — “The Virginia Department of Health has provided the Department of Human Services with $320,287 to increase COVID-19 testing capacity. The grant award covers the period August 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020. Grant funds will support operations and logistics at testing sites.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Holding Virtual Career Day — “Amazon is looking to build on the success of last year’s Career Day events across six U.S. cities that hosted 17,000 job seekers with over 200,000 people who applied for jobs in the week leading up to the event. The new completely virtual event will open Amazon Career Day 2020 to everyone, regardless of their location. Some of the new employees will be placed at Amazon’s HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia, which is continuing to expand following its opening last year.” [Good Morning America, Amazon, WTOP]

Progress on DCA Expansion — “Project Journey is well on its way. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority this week offered an update on its two-pronged, roughly $650 million modernization program at Reagan National Airport. The final product will deliver a new north concourse, replacing the oft-maligned Gate 35X, and new security checkpoints. The former is expected to open in July 2021, and the latter by the fourth quarter of 2021.” [Washington Business Journal, NBC 4, InsideNova]

Wide Pedestrian Bridge Proposed — “The final EIS for Long Bridge recommended building 14′ wide pedestrian and bike bridge connecting Long Bridge, the MVT and East Potomac Park. Governor Northam committed to funding pre-COVID. This will be huge for regional trail connectivity.” [Twitter, Friends of the Mt. Vernon Trail]

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Morning Notes

B-52 Flyover Attracts Attention — A B-52 Stratofortress flew low and loud over Arlington Thursday morning, likely as part of an Arlington National Cemetery funeral, turning plenty of heads. [Twitter, Twitter]

Va. Coronavirus App Gets Positive Reviews — “I often use this column to warn about the dangers of apps that track you. This time, I’m going to recommend you actually install one. There’s a new kind of app that uses your smartphone’s Bluetooth wireless signals to figure out when you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the novel coronavirus… It’s called Covidwise, and works in the state of Virginia.” [Washington Post]

Pedestrian Committee Chair Slams County — “‘The response that we got back from the County Manager’s Office and senior County leadership was that pedestrians are not a priority,’ said Eric Goldstein, Chair of Arlington County’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC), during the group’s first virtual meeting last week.” [Street Justice]

New W&OD Trail Detour Monday — “Upcoming construction activity for the new W&OD Trail Bridge over Lee Highway (Route 29) in Arlington will require a trail detour for about two weeks beginning Monday, August 24.” [Press Release]

ACPD Food Drive Deemed Success — The Arlington County Police Department’s “Fill the Cruiser” food drive collected just over 6,500 pounds of food last week. [Arlington Connection]

D.C. Area Leads in Tech Leasing — “Among the 10 markets reporting the most tech leasing volume in Q2, the year-over-year change in tech leasing activity ranged from +71% (Atlanta) to -74% (San Francisco Bay Area). Washington, D.C., and San Diego were the only other markets with volume increases, while Manhattan also had a large decrease. The five markets with the most leasing volume in Q2 were Washington, D.C., San Francisco Bay Area, Atlanta, Manhattan and Dallas/Ft. Worth.” [CBRE via Potomac Tech Wire]

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