Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

APS to Fully Return to Classrooms in Fall — “Arlington Public Schools will bring all students who choose it back for five days of in-person learning every week starting in the fall, Superintendent Francisco Durán told the school board Thursday.
He emphasized that any families… who want to stay virtual-only will be able to do so, and noted that staffers have already begun to plot out what the remote option will look like.” [Washington Post]

County Still Seeking New Logo Ideas — “Calling all artists, and artists-at-heart! The County will choose a new logo this year that better represents our Arlington community, and we need your help… Submit your logo concept/art by March 14.” [Arlington County]

Fire Breaks Out in Route 1 Median — From Dave Statter: “Watch your cigarettes, matches & ashes. Dry & breezy. A small brush fire on Rt 1 south of 23rd St briefly blocked traffic. @Reagan_Airport MWAA Engine 301 handled it.” [Twitter]

Brooks Basking in the Sunlight — From the Arlington County Police Department yesterday afternoon: “It’s a pawsitively beautiful day in Arlington County! FRK9 Brooks hopes you get out and enjoy the weather!” [Twitter]

Va. Booze Sales Soar During Pandemic — “Virginians bought considerably more liquor in the second half of 2020 than they did during the same period of 2019. That’s according to figures Washingtonian obtained from the commonwealth’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which show statewide sales of spirits were up 15 percent over 2019 from July to December of the worst year in recent history.” [Washingtonian]

State Tax Revenue Higher Than Expected — “On a year-to-date basis, collections of payroll withholding taxes — 61 percent of General Fund revenues — increased 1.1 percent, behind the annual forecast of 2.7 percent growth. Sales tax collections — 17 percent of General Fund revenues — increased 6.7 percent through February, ahead of the annual forecast calling for a 4.8 percent increase. Recordation taxes advanced 38.3 percent on a fiscal year basis, ahead of the 24.4 percent annual forecast. Total revenues rose 8.0 percent through February, ahead of the revised annual forecast of 3.0 percent growth.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Reminder: Spring Forward This Weekend — “The second Sunday in March is when Daylight Saving Time begins in most areas of the U.S., so in 2021 we’ll ‘spring forward’ one hour and on Sunday, March 14, 2021, at 2 a.m. Be sure to set your clocks ahead one hour before bed on Saturday night!” [Farmers’ Almanac]

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VDOT is in the process of designing changes to Route 1 as it travels through Crystal City.

The changes include turning Route 1 from more of a highway to an urban boulevard of sorts, with the heavily-traveled commuter route brought down to grade in places where it’s currently elevated.

That means removing the imposing overpasses that, on one hand, physically separate portions of Crystal City — but on the other hand provide a relatively safe path for pedestrians and cyclists to get from one side to the other.

Under the VDOT plan, there would be more intersections mixing vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Though the urban boulevard idea is supported by the National Landing Business Improvement District and major local property owner JBG Smith, VDOT’s initial design of it, with 9 vehicle travel lanes and no bike infrastructure, has managed to pick up united opposition from the BID, JBG, neighborhood groups and other local activists.

Last year we published a poll asking about the idea of bringing Route 1 underground instead, an expensive proposition but one supported by local civic associations. Just over 75% of respondents preferred that idea to an at-grade urban boulevard.

The BID and some neighbors would like to see the urban boulevard concept implemented, but in a more pedestrian-friendly manner with fewer vehicle travel lanes. VDOT and some other locals, however, are concerned that would cause more cut-through traffic on local roads.

Today we’re asking: assuming that an underground Route 1 is infeasible, what about just keeping the overpasses largely as is? Is that preferable to the alternatives? Or should VDOT stick to some form of the urban boulevard idea, perhaps refining its initial concept plan?

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Morning Notes

County Getting Paid for Glass Recycling — “Arlington’s glass recycling drop-off program continues to shatter expectations–surpassing 5 million pounds (2,500 tons) collected since its debut in 2019. And the effort is officially paying off. The County now receives $15 per ton for glass collected as the result of a new hauling and commodity contract with a Pennsylvania recycler.” [Arlington County]

VDOT’s Route 1 Proposal Bombs — “As a new vision for Crystal City’s portion of U.S. Route 1 comes into focus, local businesses, neighbors and the area’s dominant landlord are all becoming increasingly concerned… Renderings unveiled in a Virginia Department of Transportation meeting Wednesday night have united the National Landing Business Improvement District, JBG Smith Properties and some neighborhood activists in opposition over fears that the designs are still too car-centric.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]

Police Warn of Ongoing Scams — “The Arlington County Police Department is sharing information on common scams circulating in Arlington County and ways you can spot, avoid, and report them. The public should be particularly cautious of anyone calling, emailing, or interacting with them and requesting payment in the form of gift cards as this is often a red flag for fraud.” [ACPD]

Driver of Stolen Car Escapes — “At approximately 2:15 a.m. on March 3, a patrol officer observed a stolen vehicle traveling on S. Carlin Springs Road. Before a traffic stop could be initiated, the driver accelerated the vehicle and made evasive turns before pulling over and fleeing the scene on foot. A perimeter was established and officers, with aerial support from the Fairfax County Police Helicopter Division, conducted a search for the driver with negative results.” [ACPD]

New Race Planned Next Weekend — “Join Arlington For Justice and Black Parents of Arlington for the 1st Run For Her Life (Women’s Only) 5k WALK and YOGA Event… March 13, 2021 at 2 p.m.” [Facebook]

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While VDOT considers lowering a section of Route 1 to a surface boulevard, a group of civic associations, known as Livability 22202, recommends going below ground instead.

As development activity in Crystal City and Pentagon City continues, VDOT and Arlington County are looking for ways to improve the pedestrian and transit experience along Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway. The study directly responds to the increased demand for transportation resulting from the construction of Amazon’s HQ2.

VDOT’s study will examine the feasibility of an at-grade boulevard, with the current overpasses removed, comparing it to the current elevated route and the changes prescribed in the Crystal City Sector Plan, according to a presentation from December.

Following online public engagement in the fall and a virtual public meeting, Livability 22202, which represents the Arlington Ridge, Aurora Highlands and Crystal City civic associations, published a series of alternatives to an at-grade boulevard — including taking part of Route 1 below-grade.

The group suggests going underground for at least the 18th Street S. and 23rd Street S. intersections, creating patterns similar to those in Washington, D.C., where through-traffic is below-grade and local traffic uses at-grade streets — like Connecticut Avenue NW through Dupont Circle.

For a more extensive below-grade roadway, the group suggests trenched express routes from 23rd Street S. to 15th Street S., flanked by at-grade roads. The underground portion would eventually transition into the 12th Street overpass.

“This concept would solve side-street traffic issues, create far-safer pedestrian crossings, create a brand-new open space in what is now wasteland, and open up myriad redevelopment opportunities,” the group said in its response. An even more extensive “big dig” is also proposed, though the group acknowledges is may be “infeasible.”

Dropping Route 1 to grade and creating more signalized intersections would make pedestrians and cyclists less safe unless significant measures are put in, Liveability 22202 predicted. They suggested lower speeds, bike tunnels, signalized right turns and pedestrian-led crossings.

The group also envisions an at-grade boulevard as a “linear park” with retail, wide sidewalks and an abundance of trees.

If VDOT keeps Route 1 elevated, Livability urged VDOT to consider something like a viaduct. Such a bridge would allow the space below to be activated with open spaces or retail.

In a letter, the presidents of the three civic association said “a study of Route 1 in this area is long overdue,” but until VDOT conducts a broad stakeholder review of multiple alternatives, “we endorse the Crystal City Sector Plan as the best alternative.”

The 2010 sector plan keeps the grade separations at 12th, 15th and 18th streets, reconfigures the 15th Street intersection and takes traffic below-grade at 26th Street S., under a newly-created National Circle, as pictured below.

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A virtual public meeting is being held this week on the topic of potential improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City.

VDOT and Arlington County are studying ways to improve the safety, accessibility and experience along Route 1 between 12th and 23rd Street. The study responds to greater demand for various transportation methods as construction of Amazon’s HQ2 progresses.

“As this area’s commercial and residential densities continue to increase, transportation plans will need to address the wide-ranging needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, motorists, and other users while maximizing the safety, convenience, and sustainability of the system for decades to come,” said the VDOT study page.

Participants in the online meeting, scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., will hear a review of existing conditions on Route 1 — also known as Richmond Highway — and learn about responses to a public survey that was open during October and November. They can also ask questions and give input.

The public is invited to provide comments during the meeting or through Monday, Dec. 28.

After the meeting, the public will hear and have the chance to provide feedback on draft recommendations in spring 2021. Officials expect the final study to be done next summer.

“At this time, no construction funding has been allocated, so the study will not set design or construction dates,” the VDOT website said.

The department is not the only group thinking of ways to improve the highway. In October, the National Landing BID released “Reimagining Route 1,” a report that transformed the car-centric highway into a safer boulevard lined with trees, retail and restaurants.

“Route 1 was originally designed to accommodate the auto-centric development trends of the mid-20th century, when the primary objective was to move cars through the area as quickly as possible,” the BID said in a press release. “The resulting elevated highway, super blocks, and oversized intersections divided the community for decades, inhibiting not only connectivity and access, but also the area’s ability to come together as a singular downtown district.”

VDOT is studying the Route 1 overpasses over 12th, 15th and 18th streets, which some have called to be eliminated in favor of more urban intersections at grade.

Those interested in joining the virtual meeting can register online or participate in listen-only mode by calling 877-309-2071 (access code 205-472-841).

The study team will make a short presentation beginning at 6:30 p.m. and answer questions for about an hour afterward, the website said. A recording and meeting materials will be available online following the meeting.

In addition to doing so during the meeting, feedback can be provided via a comment form or email.

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The Virginia Department of Transportation is asking residents to take a short survey that will shape a study of potential improvements to Route 1 between 12th and 23rd Streets S. in Crystal City.

As development activity in Crystal City and Pentagon City continues, VDOT and Arlington County are looking for ways to improve the safety, accessibility and effectiveness of a variety of transportation modes on Route 1 in the area. In particular, the study responds to the increased demand for transportation resulting from the construction of Amazon’s HQ2.

“As this area’s commercial and residential densities continue to increase, transportation plans will need to address the wide-ranging needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, motorists, and other users while maximizing the safety, convenience, and sustainability of the system for decades to come,” according to a news release from the VDOT.

The survey asks respondents to explain how they use Route 1 (also known as Richmond Highway), rank improvements by priority, and identify areas with congestion or safety problems. It is available through Nov. 15.

Officials say the study will help identify safety improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, those using micro-mobility modes such as electric bicycles and scooters, and those taking transit or driving. The study will also examine ways to make transit more accessible, reliable and convenient, as well as options for protecting the environment.

The team leading the study plans to form a task force from representatives of civic associations, Arlington County advisory groups and the National Landing Business Improvement District, the news release said. The task force is anticipated to have five meetings.

More from the press release:

After collecting and analyzing the initial survey data, VDOT is planning a virtual public meeting this winter to share preliminary survey results and latest study information. Draft recommendations for the study will be presented to the public for feedback in spring 2021, and the final study is expected to be complete in summer 2021.

Please note that this study does not include construction funding, but will develop proposed future improvements that VDOT and other agencies will consider and may pursue for funding.

The study was announced a week after the National Landing BID released a report, “Reimagining Route 1,” which envisioned the car-centric highway as a slower, greener, pedestrian-friendly boulevard lined with retail and restaurants.

VDOT is studying the Route 1 overpasses over 12th, 15th and 18th streets, which some have called to be eliminated in favor of more urban intersections at grade.

“Route 1 was originally designed to accommodate the auto-centric development trends of the mid-20th century, when the primary objective was to move cars through the area as quickly as possible,” the BID said in a press release. “The resulting elevated highway, super blocks, and oversized intersections divided the community for decades, inhibiting not only connectivity and access, but also the area’s ability to come together as a singular downtown district.”

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Route 1 through Crystal City is currently a car-oriented, exhaust-clogged asphalt canyon that’s unpleasant for pedestrians to cross or even walk along. But there’s a push for that to change.

The National Landing BID, formerly known as the Crystal City BID before Amazon came to town, has just revealed its lusher, more pedestrian-friendly vision for Route 1, complete with wide sidewalks lined with ground-floor retail and restaurants.

VDOT is currently studying the corridor and considering whether overpasses in the Crystal City area should be removed in favor of a more conventional, urban street grid. The BID’s new Reimagine Route 1 report takes that and other ideas for modernizing the corridor and turns it into a series of concept designs, complete with 3D renderings.

“The concepts presented in Reimagine Route 1 draw upon best practices in urban street design by placing people at the center of National Landing’s future,” Matt Gerber, General Manager of the Westin Crystal City and Co-Chair of the BID’s Transportation Committee, said in a statement today. “Narrow lane widths, lower design speeds, and urban intersection geometries ensure that the autocentric mistakes of the past will not be replicated in the development of the corridor’s new and distinctly community-focused identity.”

The BID’s vision for turning Route 1 — also known as Richmond Highway — from a commuter route into an “iconic corridor serving a thriving urban neighborhood” draws comparisons to main routes in other major cities.

The report includes photos of Octavia Boulevard — formerly Central Freeway — in San Francisco, as well as Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which like Route 1 has three vehicle lanes in each direction.

“Also known as the Magnificent Mile, the 13-block stretch of North Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street has a similar vehicle carrying capacity as the existing Route 1 yet boasts a walkable and vibrant public realm with safe connections to transit and a well-connected street grid,” the report says.

The report is intended to start a conversation about the corridor’s long-term future, which officials may then opt to turn into action via transportation and land use changes. The overall goal is to turn the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods — collectively now known as National Landing — into a cohesive urban area over time.

“Route 1 was originally designed to accommodate the auto-centric development trends of the mid-20th century, when the primary objective was to move cars through the area as quickly as possible,” the BID said in a press release. “The resulting elevated highway, super blocks, and oversized intersections divided the community for decades, inhibiting not only connectivity and access, but also the area’s ability to come together as a singular downtown district.”

Others have also been working on envisioning changes to Route 1. The Crystal City Sector Plan, approved in 2010, set a more urban vision for the community through 2040. Local civic associations, meanwhile, have recently formed a collective called Livability 22202 to discuss ideas. From an August article:

Proposed changes ranged from building storefronts or markets in the area underneath the overpasses, creating more open space where thick sandstone-colored walls now hold up the highway, and putting Route 1 underground to allow for development on top of it.

More on the Reimagine Route 1 report, from a press release, is below.

Read More

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Members of civic associations for Crystal City, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge are developing a proposal for changes to Route 1

The associations, convening as “Livability 22202” in a Zoom meeting last night, focused on how to improve Route 1 in Crystal City, specifically where it goes over 12th Street S. and 18th Street S.

Proposed changes ranged from building storefronts or markets in the area underneath the overpasses, creating more open space where thick sandstone-colored walls now hold up the highway, and putting Route 1 underground to allow for development on top of it.

The discussion comes after the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) hired a contractor to conduct a feasibility study of removing the overpasses and lowering the highway to ground level.

Darren Buck — an Aurora Highlands resident, professional transportation planner, and member of the Arlington Transportation Commission — presented the possible changes, saying they were ideas meant to set a line of thinking. Factors like cost, construction time and general practicality are yet to be fully considered.

“These really are kind of unconstrained by a lot of reality,” Buck said. “They’re really trying to get to what could we do that would address some of… the identified things that we are concerned about with the at-grade proposal and start to toss around alternatives.”

Ultimately, Livability 22202 will make “community-based recommendations for an innovative new vision for Route 1 and its cross streets between 12th Street S. and 23rd Street S.,” a slide in the meeting said.

If the highway was at-grade, it could be turned into an “urban boulevard” running through Crystal City, according to VDOT.

This would fall in line with the transportation portion of Virginia’s HQ2 deal with Amazon, which lists “improvements to Route 1 through Crystal City and Pentagon City” as a project the government would fund.

According to a 2018 Virginia Economic Development Partnership presentation, this project could cost around $250 million.

Livability 22202 said dropping Route 1, also known as Richmond Highway, to ground level would force pedestrians walking between east and west Crystal City to cross the busy commuter artery.

“We want a pedestrian-friendly, walking-friendly neighborhood,” Michael Dowell of Livability 20222 said. “Having Route 1 be an impediment to achieving that is a really big worry.”

Pedestrians can currently cross under the overpasses, which many do to access the Crystal City Metro station on the east side.

Another Livability 22202 meeting on the topic will be held on September 30.

Images via Google Maps

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Update at 1:40 p.m. — The County Board meeting scheduled for this weekend has been delayed until Saturday, April 25.

At its Saturday meeting, the Arlington County Board is set to consider a construction contract for upgrades to a portion of 23rd Street S. in Crystal City.

As part of the first phase of a two-phase project, the county is planning to “widen the sidewalk and retail parking areas on the south side of 23rd Street” between Route 1 and S. Eads Street. That will mean improved pedestrian safety and better ease of use for the existing parking lot that serves Young Chow restaurant, the Crystal City Restaurant gentlemen’s club, and 7-Eleven.

“Lane widths will be reduced, but the number of travel lanes will remain the same as today,” a county staff report says. “The new curb re-alignment will create more room for vehicles in the shopping plaza to maneuver without encroaching onto the sidewalk.”

Additionally, the $1.33 million construction contract will add new landscaping, crosswalks, ADA-accessible curb ramps and upgraded traffic signals at the intersection of 23rd and Eads. The overall project cost for Phase 1 is about $2.1 million, which will be funded by a regional Northern Virginia Transportation Authority grant.

“Upon approval by the county board, construction is expected to begin Summer of 2020 and to be complete in Winter of 2021,” says the staff report.

Phase 2 of the project is still in design but is expected to upgrade 23rd Street S. between Route 1 and Crystal Drive, with new sidewalks and trees on either side, while removing the grassy median in the middle. That project being planned in conjunction with JBG Smith’s major redevelopment project on the north side of 23rd Street.

“Phase 2 of the project is anticipated to implement similar improvements on 23rd Street South east of Richmond Highway to Crystal Drive,” the staff report notes. “Phase 2 is currently in 30% design and is being coordinated with private sector redevelopment efforts along 23rd Street South.”

The stretch of 23rd Street S. between Arlington Ridge Road and Crystal Drive, which includes the Crystal City’s well-known restaurant row, is seeing a series of infrastructure changes as Amazon arrives in the neighborhood. A project to replace a major water main along 23rd Street is currently underway, and the county recently finished closing an underground pedestrian tunnel under Route 1.

Separately, the County Board on Saturday will also take up the renaming of the Crystal City Business Improvement District to the “The Crystal City, Pentagon City, and Potomac Yard at National Landing Business Improvement Service District.”

Street view via Google Maps

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Our reporting yesterday about plans to eliminate Route 1 overpasses in Crystal City and replace them with more urban-style, at-grade intersections was greeted with some skepticism.

Though the idea of making Route 1 — also known as Richmond Highway — more of an “urban boulevard” as Amazon moves in may seem appealing at first glance, the prospect of crossing the busy commuter route to get to and from the Crystal City Metro Station, as opposed to just walking underneath as one can currently on 18th Street, elicited some strong opinions.

https://twitter.com/janefgreen/status/1179021430450802688

There is, as some have suggested, another option, though it would be considerably more expensive: send Route 1 underground instead and build something pedestrian-oriented on top.

As seen in the illustration above, the original 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan actually presented a vision of Route 1 below grade, with roundabouts and some green space on top, at least at one intersection. It’s not an outdated concept — sending highways below ground and putting parks on top is a noted, recent urban design trend.

And it doesn’t need to be a park. Perhaps a pedestrian promenade surrounded by retail, restaurants and entertainment options — like the popular Third Street in Santa Monica — would work as the area grows. It could extend all the way from 12th Street to after 23rd Street, becoming a hub rather than a hindrance between the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods.

Undoubtedly, such a project would be expensive. And it would be disruptive in the short term. But would it be worth it, in your opinion?

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Officials are considering lowering Route 1 in Crystal City to ground level after Amazon moves in.

Details remain scant, but officials appear to considering a plan to remove several highway overpasses that span over roads from 12th Street S. to 18th Street S. in favor of at-grade intersections with traffic signals. Currently, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is studying the project.

“The study for Route 1 is still in very preliminary stages, where VDOT and Arlington County are looking at feasibility of different concepts, and the best potential balance to accommodate all modes of travel — buses, pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, etc,” VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer McCord told ARLnow Monday.

When asked, McCord said VDOT did not yet have a cost estimate for the potential project. However, a 2018 Virginia Economic Development Partnership presentation and an entry in the state’s Six-Year Improvement Plan indicate work could cost some $250 million.

McCord noted that the ongoing study for the project is funded with $2 million from the state.

Theoretically the changes wouldn’t affect the commuter route’s vehicle throughput, given that there are already traffic signals up and down Route 1 from Alexandria to Arlington. Pedestrians, however, would have to cross Route 1 at grade along 18th Street to get from the Crystal City Metro station entrance to points west.

Authorities are considering several changes to the streetscape around its HQ2 like a protected bike lane on S. Eads Street and new bus stops. As part of the state and local incentive package used to woo the company to Arlington, officials also pledged to fund a slew of transportation projects which could include this Route 1 revamp.

The 2018 presentation noted that $138.4 million (55%) of the projected cost could be paid for by the state as part of the incentive package for Amazon’s new second headquarters.

Lowering the (newly renamed) Richmond Highway predates Amazon with a reference in the 2010 Crystal City Sector Plan to turn the highway “into an asset of the overall multimodal transportation network.”

A diagram in the plan depicts Route 1 as more of an urban boulevard, lined with trees.

Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, head of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, said Monday that the way the highway cuts through the area “forms a physical and psychological barrier separating Crystal City and Pentagon City.”

The BID is expanding its boundaries and is currently considering renaming itself “National Landing” to reflect a unified identity of the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods, which are poised for significant growth with the additions of HQ2 and a new Virginia Tech campus just over the Alexandria border in Potomac Yard.

“As various public and private projects are developed throughout the area, there is an even greater need for enhanced connectivity and a safer way to move between the neighborhoods,” said Gabriel, of the possible Route 1 changes.

“Transforming the roadway into a multi-modal, pedestrian-friendly, and urban-oriented boulevard presents the largest and most comprehensive opportunity to create a truly walkable, connected, urban downtown,” she added.

When discussing the plan back in November, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said it could “lead to the total reimagining of Route 1.”

Image 1 via Arlington County, Images 2-5 via Google Maps

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