Arlington, VA

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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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Crossing Four Mile Run on Columbia Pike on foot or bike can be nerve-wracking, with scarcely any space separating pedestrians from the busy street. A new project set to get underway in a few months should make that crossing a little easier.

The Columbia Pike Four Mile Run Bridge Pedestrian Enhancements project will bump out the northern sidewalk along westbound traffic to 10 feet, double the current five feet. Vehicle travel lanes will, in turn, be slimmed down.

The project also will add lighting to the northern side of the bridge.

There is currently nothing except the curb separating pedestrians from vehicles, but the project will guardrails in spots to help improve safety.

“The sturdier guardrails will be installed at the approaches [but] not on the bridge itself,” said county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. “The expanded sidewalk will remain 9″ tall to provide protection for pedestrians.”

Balliet said there’s no word yet on when the improvements will be completed.

“The project is currently in design,” he said. “Implementation of the bridge enhancements is expected this fall, but we don’t yet have a start or end date for the work.”

The project arose out of public feedback from the Columbia Pike west end project, in which local residents said the sidewalks were too narrow and the too poorly lit to feel safe traveling along the bridge at night.

Images via Arlington County

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Four major transportation projects in Arlington will receive tens of millions in regional funding, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority announced today.

The projects, all of which are in the planning stages, will bring multimodal upgrades to Crystal City and Rosslyn, as well as to the W&OD Trail. In all, the NTVA is providing more than a half billion dollars in funding to 21 projects around the region.

“On the evening of July 9th, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority adopted the FY 2020-2025 Six Year Program, the Authority’s fifth funding program and the most competitive to date,” the regional governmental body said in a press release. “$1.44 billion in multimodal transportation funding was requested by 13 Northern Virginia localities and agencies – including Arlington County – with $539 million in Authority regional revenues available.”

“The Authority unanimously voted to fund 21 of the 41 transportation projects submitted for funding consideration,” the press release continues. “Arlington County was awarded $29.874 million in regional revenues on the following projects aimed at reducing congestion and getting people to their destinations faster.”

The projects being funded in Arlington include:

The “CC2DCA” pedestrian bridge from Crystal City to Reagan National Airport, which is envisioned as providing a “High Line“-like experience as it spans the GW Parkway and makes walking to the airport more feasible for those in the National Landing area.

The project is set to receive $18 million from NVTA, of the total estimated project cost of $36.2 million.

The project will create a pedestrian connection between Crystal City and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). It would provide an additional transportation access point to the airport, which is less than one-half mile away from Crystal Drive, but is practically inaccessible by foot today. In addition to the potential reduction in vehicular traffic between the two destinations, the project is located roughly two blocks from the under-design Crystal City Metrorail Station East Entrance and provides a direct connection to bus service on the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway. The CC2DCA Intermodal Connector is intended to connect to the future relocated VRE commuter rail station. The CC2DCA Intermodal Connector project builds upon a recently completed feasibility study prepared by the Crystal City Business Improvement District (CCBID). This project will further evaluate alternatives, complete environmental documentation and approvals, engineering design, and ultimately construct a pedestrian connection between Crystal Drive and the terminals of DCA. The NVTA funding would be leveraged with both State and local funds to completely fund design and construction of the project; the Commonwealth has committed $9,500,000 to the CC2DCA Intermodal Connector.

Rosslyn Multimodal Network Improvements, which is an extension of the Core of Rosslyn study. The study, which was completed last year, calls for major changes to Rosslyn’s road and pedestrian network, including removal of the Fort Myer Drive tunnel under Wilson Blvd and upgrades to crosswalks, sidewalks and bike lanes.

The project is set to receive $11.9 million from NVTA, its full estimated cost, though the project description does not mention the tunnel removal.

Design and construct a suite of complementary bicycle and pedestrian improvements largely taken from the recommended implementation projects in the draft Core of Rosslyn study. Collectively as a package, the projects significantly improve access to employment, housing, and transit within the Rosslyn regional activity center, and improve regional connections between Rosslyn and Georgetown, DC.

The long-planned VRE Crystal City Station Improvements project, which would building a new, upgraded Virginia Railway Express station in Crystal City, the last VRE stop before D.C.

The project is set to receive $15.8 million of its estimated total $49.9 million cost.

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The final plans are in for a trio of road projects in Arlington, and two out of three involve the removal of travel lanes.

The projects — in Rosslyn, Dominion Hills and Crystal City/Potomac Yard — are all part of the county’s 2020 road repaving schedule. Each has been singled out for changes to the lane striping via the county’s Resurfacing Projects for Complete Streets program, which aims to make streets safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians via inexpensive means during the regular repaving cycle.

The first project is planned in Rosslyn along Clarendon Blvd, from N. Rhodes Street to N. Oak Street, near the standalone Starbucks. The plans call for new sections of buffered and protected bike lanes, green paint for bike lanes through intersections, upgraded signage, and no reduction in travel lanes — though it will remove seven of 78 on-street parking spaces.

The Clarendon Blvd project is set to start construction this month.

The second project will reconfigure Potomac Avenue in the Potomac Yard area of Crystal City, from Crystal Drive to the county line. The project calls for upgraded bike lanes, an interim on-street pedestrian zone along a construction site, new turn lanes, and 34 new parking spaces. One of two travel lanes in each direction will be removed, though the road has relatively light traffic.

The Potomac Avenue project is also set to start construction this month, and is reportedly now underway.

Finally, the last project will make changes to Wilson Blvd through the Dominion Hills neighborhood, from Bon Air Park to the county line. It calls for the addition of turn lanes, dedicated school and transit bus stop lanes, curb extensions for shorter crossing distances, buffered bike lanes, and marked bike lanes through intersections. It adds one parking spot to the stretch but removes one of two travel lanes in each direction.

The removal of lanes follows a prior, similar project along sections of Wilson Blvd from Bluemont to Bon Air Park, which was somewhat controversial at the time but only resulted in minimal traffic impacts for the average rush hour commuter.

The Wilson Blvd project is set to start construction later this summer or in the early fall.

The design process for the three projects involved two virtual open houses and rounds of public feedback, through which a number of modifications to the plans were made.

File photo (top). Street view images (1) (2) and (3) via Google Maps.

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Morning Notes

Holiday Closures Start Tomorrow — “Arlington County Government offices, courts, libraries & facilities will be closed on Friday, July 3, 2020, for observation of Independence Day… Metered parking [will not be] enforced July 3-4.” [Arlington County]

Affordable Housing Provider Celebrates Scholarships — “Celebrating graduation may have looked a little different this year, but we could not be any prouder of the students from our College and Career Readiness (CCR) program who graduated from high school in 2020. All 31 of the amazing young people who participated in the program this year are off to college in the fall. In total, they were accepted into 135 schools and received an estimated $1.24 million in scholarships and aid.” [AHC Inc.]

Animal Welfare League Not Reopening Yet — “For the health and safety our staff, volunteers, and the public, we have decided to remain closed for the public, but we expect to introduce in-person adoption by appointment on a very limited basis in the coming days. We also hope to begin selling spay and neuter vouchers online very soon.” [Facebook]

New Pedestrian Law Now in Effect — “Drivers must now fully stop, not just yield, for pedestrians in all crosswalks in Virginia or they could be slapped with a $500 fine. The law that went into effect Wednesday, July 1 requires drivers to stop for pedestrians in any marked or unmarked crosswalk… Last year there were 166 crashes in Arlington involving pedestrians. Four people were killed.” [NBC 4]

Another I-395 Daredevil Caught on Camera — It keeps happening: this time, a commercial vehicle was caught on video backing up and crossing all lanes of northbound I-395 to reach the HOV bridge into D.C. [Twitter]

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(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) Arlington County will be holding a virtual public meeting tonight to discuss a trio of road projects set for later this year.

The county plans to repave and re-stripe portions of Wilson Blvd in the Dominion Hills and Boulevard Manor neighborhoods, Potomac Avenue in Potomac Yard, and Clarendon Blvd in the Courthouse and Rosslyn neighborhoods. The work is expected to take place this summer and fall, following the current public engagement process.

Arlington has been using its regularly-planned street maintenance to re-stripe roads in an effort make them safer, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists. It often involves the addition or enhancement of bike lanes, sharrows and crosswalks.

At an online meeting tonight from 6:30-7:30 p.m., held via Microsoft Teams, county staff will present the concept plans for its three 2020 projects while seeking public feedback.

More from the event page:

The Master Transportation Plan identifies routine street maintenance as an opportunity to provide cost-effective and easy to implement measures to improve safety and access for all people using the street. Community engagement is a core value in Arlington, and we wanted to provide opportunities for community members to share their feedback on the concept plans for the 2020 Street Maintenance season.

Please join county staff for an online meeting on Thursday, June 4 from 6:30-7:30 pm to learn about the project, ask questions and share feedback on the design concepts for the three 2020 Resurfacing Projects for Complete Streets.

Staff will present concepts for:

  • Wilson Boulevard – N Larrimore Street to McKinley Road (Dominion Hills/Boulevard Manor)
  • Potomac Avenue – S Crystal Drive to Alexandria City Line (Potomac Yard)
  • Clarendon Boulevard – N Nash to N Oak Street (Clarendon-Courthouse/Radnor/Fort Myer Heights)

The country recently repaved and re-striped portions of Lorcom Lane and Military Road. The work was done in conjunction with construction on the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School.

An online open house in April discussed all four projects.

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Portions of the Mount Vernon Trail in Arlington should be widened due to heavy use and crash risks, according to a new study.

The National Park Service this month released a report on its Mount Vernon Trail Corridor Study, which examined the condition of the trail, usage patterns and potential improvements.

The trail, which runs along the Potomac from the Rosslyn area to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, is used by more than one millions cyclists and pedestrians per year. But its 1970s-era design no longer reflects current engineering standards and the trail’s heavy usage, the report says.

“The trail is relatively narrow by modern standards, and characterized by meandering curves, timber bridges, and in some areas, dense vegetation,” says the report. “The MVT is beginning to show its age, from deteriorating pavement and bridges, to limited accessibility features, and outdated signage and striping. These attributes, combined with increasing usage and user behavior, contribute to risk exposure and considerable crash history.”

There were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, according to the study. Many of those were at crash hotspots along the trail in Arlington, including near Reagan National Airport, Gravelly Point and the 14th Street Bridge.

“Trail intersections, roadway crossings, surface transitions, and blind curves along the MVT were associated with higher crash and injury rates,” the report says. “On average, the MVT experiences one ambulance call per week related to a bicycle or pedestrian injury.”

“Collisions are more likely to involve male bicyclists (although males are typically overrepresented in the bicycling community),” the study also notes.

Reported crash injuries range include lacerations, bone fractures and head injuries, attributable to both single-person wrecks and collisions between trail users.

Among the near-term (1-4 year) improvements recommended in the report are new way-finding signs, increased trail maintenance, reduced-slip surfaces on bridges, and new “slow zones” at certain points on the trail.

“‘Slow zones,’ including the appropriate signage and pavement markings [could] be used at areas of high conflict among different trail users (e.g., at Arlington Memorial Bridge, Belle Haven Park, Gravelly Point, and other appropriate locations),” the report says.

The recommendations for medium-term changes — potentially 5-7 years away — are more drastic.

The study recommends that portions of the trail in Arlington be reconstructed and widened to at least 11 feet, in accordance with modern multi-use trail standards, compared to the current average 8-9 foot width. Another possibility: separating cyclists and pedestrians in high-traffic areas like Gravelly Point.

That’s in addition to improved trailheads at Crystal City and Gravelly Point, with “more bicycle parking, repair stations, and additional amenities.”

More from the report:

Widening the trail to meet this standard improves trail safety by providing appropriate width to minimize user conflict in high-traffic areas. Focus areas for widening and modernization include:

  • The portion of the trail located between Four Mile Run and the Theodore Roosevelt Island Bridge, pursuant to NEPA analysis. Some segments of trail in this area face widening constraints, but much of this high-use segment could be widened to better align with best practices and serve trail users.
  • Trail intersection enhancements, such as implementing trail roundabouts, at the 14th Street Bridge and Four Mile Run to better manage these conflict areas by slowing bicycle traffic and reducing conflict points.
  • Consider the use of bicycle-pedestrian separation at areas such as Gravelly Point, which have high levels of user conflict and pedestrian use. This could include a designated pedestrian path or increased separation and access control between the trail and adjacent site. A potential trail redesign in this location could also reduce motorist and trail user conflict at the trail intersection with the Gravelly Point parking lot.

A Mount Vernon Trail widening might not sit well with some local activists. A similar proposal, to widen portions of the W&OD Trail in Arlington and provide separate lanes for cyclists and pedestrians is facing opposition from some who have expressed environmental concerns.

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Those who want to see Arlington close lanes or whole streets during the pandemic will have to keep waiting.

County officials say they don’t have the resources to close lanes  in order to create extra space for social distancing among cyclists and pedestrians.

“Due to the many challenges involved, there are no plans at this time to open/close vehicular traffic lanes for walkers and bikers,” Arlington County spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith tells ARLnow.

Some — including ARLnow columnists — have been pushing for such closures, with vehicle traffic down and more people trying to get out of the house for outdoor recreation.

From WAMU last month:

Local governments in Denver, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and other cities around the world have made more space for people, by taking away a lane of roads that have seen declining vehicle traffic or closing some roads altogether.

In D.C., about 700 people signed a letter requesting some lane closures to make larger sidewalks, turn some streets into “local traffic only” and open streets parallel to trail networks. […]

On Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser shot down the idea on the Kojo Nnamdi show saying, “I don’t want to send the message to people to go out and have a festival.”

A few days later, Bowser announced the closure of a portion of Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park, along with two other parkways.

In Arlington, the neighboring Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations have made specific lane closure recommendations to the County Board, calling for lanes along S. Hayes Street, S. Joyce Street, 12th Street S. and Potomac Avenue to be blocked off.

“Local residents are at risk of coronavirus exposure while being outdoors because of limited space for essential social distancing,” Aurora Highlands Civic Association President Scott Miles wrote in an email last week. “Bike lanes are limited and sidewalks are too narrow to keep a safe distance from the crowds of fellow travelers. Meanwhile vehicular traffic is low, and street parking is underused as most offices and non-essential retail are closed.”

The two civic associations recommended “a specific network of connected streets that are relatively flat and straight, creating better visibility for everyone and easier travel for all pedestrians, including those with disabilities,” he added.

In an online town hall this past Friday, however, Arlington County Police Chief M. Jay Farr said the police department doesn’t have the “thousands” of traffic cones and barriers, not to mention the extra staffing, to create and enforce temporary pedestrian zones on local streets.

He said road closures might look easy during special events, but those events are planned well in advance, are for a short period of time, and require a “tremendous amount of resources and assets… to keep the roads safe.”

“It looks like closing the road is really not going to be that complex the thing, however I just wanted to remind everybody that when we start to look at any road closure there’s a number of factors that go into it,” including things like parking and access to buildings, he said.

“We have many businesses that are dependent upon the conversion of some of our parking to pick up in drop-off spots,” Farr continued. “Most of the places that I’ve seen identified [for closures] also include a number of avenues in and out of apartment buildings or in and out of somebody’s home.”

More from the town hall:

Photo courtesy Aurora Highlands Civic Association

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There’s growing evidence that the outdoors are, other than one’s home, the safest place to be during the pandemic.

A study in China revealed that the vast majority of outbreaks reviewed were the result of indoor transmission of the coronavirus. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb discussed the findings on social media and on CNBC Thursday.

“I think local governments, state governments should be looking at what activities we can move outside, because things can be done outside,” Gottlieb said. “You want to have religious services, you should think about moving them outside. Gym classes, restaurant tables, anything that we can move outside heading into the warm months I think you’re going to have a safer environment for doing things.”

The coronavirus is a highly contagious and deadly disease that is not going away anytime soon. There are no miracle cures at this point, just ways to slow the spread.

Staying quarantined until a vaccine comes, if a vaccine ever comes, might be necessary for those most at risk — those over 65 and with certain chronic health conditions — but it’s not a viable long-term option for the entire population. Many months of home isolation would likely lead to an economic calamity and, well, human nature seems to suggest that lots of people would eventually rebel against it.

Thus, some level of opening up is coming. As Bill Gates wrote on his blog yesterday:

Most developed countries will be moving into the second phase of the epidemic in the next two months. In one sense, it is easy to describe this next phase. It is semi-normal. People can go out, but not as often, and not to crowded places. Picture restaurants that only seat people at every other table, and airplanes where every middle seat is empty. Schools are open, but you can’t fill a stadium with 70,000 people. People are working some and spending some of their earnings, but not as much as they were before the pandemic. In short, times are abnormal but not as abnormal as during the first phase.

The rules about what is allowed should change gradually so that we can see if the contact level is starting to increase the number of infections. Countries will be able to learn from other countries that have strong testing systems in place to inform them when problems come up.

Urbanists have been calling for closing some streets to cars to allow better social distancing for pedestrians and cyclists for weeks now. So far, Arlington has not responded with any solid plans to do so. But what if closing some streets not only allowed safer outdoor recreation, but boosted local small businesses?

Such a scenario might be possible as the curve bends and growth of new COVID-19 cases goes down.

Imagine Clarendon and Wilson Blvds closed in Clarendon, at least on weekends, allowing restaurants and shops to spread out tables and store shelves while pedestrians strolled in the street — a giant sidewalk cafe. Gyms could get in on the action as well. And that could be repeated in Ballston, Crystal City, Westover, and other business districts.

Sure, you would have to have a way to ensure it doesn’t get too crowded. And those who are not dining should be wearing masks to help prevent spreading disease to others, even if it’s less likely to happen outside. Also, such activity would be weather dependent, labor intensive (for businesses, police and county officials), and wouldn’t necessarily be the salve that keeps restaurants in business through the end of the pandemic, whenever that may be.

But as we discussed around the 40 minute mark of last night’s Zoom chat with local business owner Scott Parker, it could be a start and a source of hope and normalcy.

What do you think?

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