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
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.
"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." 👎
I think we should take a hard look at any plan that requires someone to write "pedestrians, however." https://t.co/Ul9tq3MgOC
— Jane Fiegen Green (@janefgreen) October 1, 2019
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?
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.
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.”
Route 1 may have a new name, but users of Apple Maps still need to enter the old name lest they be led astray.
Arlington County placed new “Richmond Highway” signs along Route 1 in Crystal City last week. During a ceremony marking the occasion, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Del. Mark Levine stomped on the old signs honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
However, the vestige of the Old South remains alive and well on Apple Maps. Users of Apple’s mapping app need to keep using “Jefferson Davis Highway” for now as it doesn’t yet recognize the new “Richmond Highway” name for the stretch of Route 1 in Arlington.
When entering a Richmond Highway address into the app today, Apple Maps redirected users to either Route 1 in Alexandria or a Richmond Street in Hopewell, Virginia.
The confusion comes 8 months after Google Maps unilaterally re-named Arlington’s Route 1 stretch as “Richmond Highway,” and a year after Alexandria officially renamed its portion of Route 1. Apple Maps does list Richmond Highway addresses along the Alexandria section of the road.
Apple did not respond to requests for comment.
State and local officials vied for years to strip the Confederate name from Crystal City’s main commuter thoroughfare, renewing efforts last fall in the wake of Amazon’s arrival. This year, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion allowing local leaders to sidestep state legislators and perform the change on their own, with approval from Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board.
(Updated at 11 a.m.) County crews replaced the first “Jefferson Davis Highway” sign this morning as officials work to complete Route 1’s renaming to “Richmond Highway” in Arlington.
Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey and Del. Mark Levine stomped on the sign honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis, folding it up as crews placed the first new “Richmond” signs in Crystal City this morning at the 23rd Street S. intersection.
“It felt great,” Dorsey said afterward. “We are at a point now where we don’t have to have these monumental signs hanging over the streets of Arlington.”
Arlington’s lawmakers have pushed for the change for several years, but were stymied by conservative representatives in Richmond. The county renewed its efforts last year in the wake of Amazon’s arrival.
Earlier this year, at the prompting of Del. Mark Levine, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion that local leaders could sidestep Richmond entirely. The opinion clarified that the Arlington County Board had the authority to change the name on its own.
In an statement Wednesday, Levine wrote that today’s event was important because the General Assembly named the highway after Davis long after the Civil War — in 1922 — and Davis himself few connections with Virginia.
“The purpose instead was to terrorize Virginia’s black population into submitting to unconstitutional second-class legal status under Virginia law,” said Levine. “In 1922, Jim Crow laws, lynching, and the KKK were at their peak power, while poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses kept the descendants of the courageous African-Americans who fought Davis and died for the Union from exercising their constitutional right to vote.”
“While it is necessary for us to honestly discuss and interpret Virginia’s history, I feel strongly that commemorating the president of the Confederacy through the name for a major thoroughfare is not appropriate,” Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board Secretary said after approving the name change in May.
The highway was named after Davis at the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group which sponsored confederate monuments across the south in the 20th century, including a now-removed plaque in Bluemont Park. In 1946, the group also commissioned a stone marker along the highway bearing Jefferson Davis’ name, which county or state transportation officials are not quite sure what to do about.
“I’m proud of Mark Levine for getting this through,” said Freddie Lutz, owner of longtime Crystal City LGBT bar Freddie’s Beach Bar, who attended this morning’s ceremony. “It’s a great, progressive move. I’m all about celebrating diversity.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Levine said. “It’s a sign of oppression. It was wrong to put it up [then] and it was wrong today.”
Levine added that having himself and Dorsey personally take the Jefferson Davis sign down “wasn’t planned that way, but it’s wonderful symbolic justice.”
Officials previously estimated that total cost of changing Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway in Arlington would be around $17,000, and that work would continue through October.
“We are thrilled about the overdue name change,” Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, President of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, told ARLnow. “It’s much more consistent with our values — and provides a progressive and inclusive environment to live and work.”
Jay Westcott contributed to this report.
A crash involving at least two vehicles, including one with heavy front-end damage, is causing significant backups in the Crystal City area.
The crash happened around 3:30 p.m. at the busy intersection of Richmond Highway (Route 1) and S. Glebe Road. Multiple lanes of southbound Route 1 and eastbound Glebe are blocked and early rush hour traffic on Route 1 is backed up to the airport ramp.
A flatbed tow truck is on scene, working to clear the wreck, while police direct traffic. No word yet on injuries.
SB Route 1 Blocked by Crash — Updated at 8:35 a.m. — Southbound Route 1 was blocked by a crash involving an overturned vehicle at 23rd Street in the Crystal City area. All lanes reopened shortly after 8 a.m. [Twitter, Twitter]
Arlington Real Estate Still Hot — “In July, Arlington had the most brisk trip between listing and contract – just nine days – followed in the local region by Alexandria (10), Fairfax County (17), Falls Church (20), Loudoun County (23) and Prince William County (24).” [InsideNova]
AWLA Seeking Adoptions, Cheese — The Animal Welfare League of Arlington is holding its annual “Clear the Shelters Day” event this Saturday, with adoption fees waived for all animals. Also, the league is seeking donations of Easy Cheese spray, which is used as a treat for dogs. [Facebook, Facebook]
A pedestrian tunnel under Route 1 in Crystal City is too difficult to maintain, county officials say, so the Arlington County Board is considering a plan to close it.
The closure has been in the works for several years. County staff, VDOT, Arlington police and local business owners are all in support of closing the tunnel, citing “maintenance costs, underutilization, loitering, perceived safety concerns, and the realignment of 23rd Street per the Crystal City Sector Plan.”
That’s in addition to complaints that the tunnel is “aesthetically displeasing,” infrequently used for its intended purpose, and often confused for a Metro station entrance.
At its Saturday meeting, the County Board will consider approving resolutions and agreements with VDOT that would lead to the tunnel being permanently closed and dismantled, at a cost of about $300,000 to the county and $87,500 to VDOT.
County staffers say the tunnel, which links either side of busy Route 1 at the 23rd Street S. intersection, costs Arlington about $20,000-25,000 to maintain annually. The maintenance costs include pressure washing areas where people have urinated and repairing “occasional vandalism.”
“The 23rd Street Merchants and the Crystal City BID have routinely complained to County staff and the County Board concerning loitering, public urination, and the unattractive nature of the 23rd Street Tunnel and canopy,” the staff report says. “Observations by County staff showed over 95 percent of users cross at grade as opposed to using the tunnel.”
“The tunnel is generally avoided by pedestrians due to the perception of it being a public safety risk,” the report goes on to note. “Merchants believe that this is having a negative impact on their business district.”
Not everyone is in favor of closing the tunnel, however. From the staff report:
The Aurora Highlands Civic Association submitted written comments requesting that the tunnel remain open with increased cleaning, improved lighting and signage, and added security. The Chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee also expressed reservations about closing the tunnel unless improvements to the at-grade crossings were made at the same time. As an additional note, there have been two reported pedestrian/vehicle crashes in the past five years at the intersection. Both were classified as “non-incapacitating injury” crashes.
Despite pushback from the nearby neighborhood association, officials say planned improvements to the intersection over the next few years, detailed below, will further negate the need for the tunnel.
DES has identified some minor improvements to the at-grade crossings that will be implemented during the construction of the 23rd Street capital improvement project between Richmond Highway and South Eads Street, scheduled for late 2019.
- 23rd Street will be narrowed between South Eads Street and Richmond Highway to decrease crossing distance at the intersection with Richmond Highway;
- The crosswalk on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street will be upgraded to current standards: asphalt and high-visibility thermoplastic markings; and
- Curb ramps will be upgraded on the west side of Richmond Highway at 23rd Street to be accessible per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Additional improvements will be made when 23rd Street between Richmond Highway and Crystal Drive is reconstructed, scheduled for 2022.
- The Crystal City Sector Plan anticipates the realignment of 23rd Street to the south, creating a shorter crossing distance at the intersection of Clark Street and Richmond Highway;
- New pedestrian respite areas will be installed in the median of Richmond Highway;
- Curb ramps will be upgraded to be accessible per ADA standards at all crossings (not previously improved by phase 1 above); and
- New traffic signals will be installed per the new roadway geometry and include pedestrian push-buttons at each ADA ramp location
The monument was erected in 1946 on the shoulder of the highway, which soon will be named Richmond Highway in place of the name of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
The stone marker is located along Route 1 near the Pentagon. An Arlington County spokeswoman told ARLnow that it is on VDOT land and that “unless VDOT has information otherwise, the County Manager’s Office has no information at this time on how the marker will be handled.”
When reached for comment, a spokeswoman for VDOT said the department didn’t have specific details about the marker’s future, “but we are working with the County to determine the next steps for this particular piece.”
With the renaming of the highway do we know if this memorial marker will be removed as well? Its located on Highway 1 near the merger with 395. Its usually covered over in weeds @ARLnowDOTcom @washingtonpost pic.twitter.com/GJxKTij7Of
— Mike in DC (@202FSUNole) June 27, 2019
The county agreed to pay $17,000 to cover the cost of new street signs for Route 1 — the updated signs are expected to be placed in October — after the Arlington County Board approved the renaming in April. It’s unclear if any of those funds will be used for the marker.
An inscription on the Route 1 marker indicates the United Daughters of the Confederacy was the organization that placed it along the highway.
Arlington County also removed a Confederate memorial after requests from residents in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville white nationalist rally. The plaque commemorated a Civil War lookout post and was also placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Photos courtesy of Twitter user 202FSUNole
(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) Police and firefighters are on scene of a potentially serious motorcycle crash at the busy intersection of Route 1 and S. Glebe Road, near Crystal City.
The driver of a car struck a motorcycle shortly before 11 a.m. Images from the scene show medics treating the injured motorcycle rider and preparing to place him or her on a stretcher, while a car with a shattered windshield and significant front-end damage sits nearby.
Drivers should expect delays near the intersection due to blocked lanes. As of around 11:30 a.m., southbound Route 1 is currently blocked and eastbound S. Glebe Road is being diverted onto S. Eads Street, according to scanner traffic. A traffic camera at the intersection that initially showed the crash scene appears to have been turned off.
The rider’s injuries “are considered critical but non-life threatening,” according to Arlington County Police. Detectives are in the process of documenting the scene and investigating the cause of the crash.
UPDATE: The motorcyclist's injuries are considered critical but non-life threatening. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) June 27, 2019
(Updated at 5 p.m.) Arlington will now join Alexandria and Fairfax in renaming Jefferson Davis Highway as “Richmond Highway.”
Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board unanimously approved changing the name for the highway, which is also known as U.S. Route 1, earlier this morning.
The state Board’s approval was the last step in the months-long process to strip the Confederate president’s name from the roadway. The Arlington County Board unanimously approved a renaming resolution last month.
One of the attendees at this morning’s meeting asked the CTB “what the direction was for the future” considering that renaming one highway may lead the Board to “be overrun with requests for the future.”
CTB Secretary Shannon Valentine responded by sharing a passage from a letter Gov. Ralph Northam sent the group urging them to approve the name change.
“While it is necessary for us to honestly discuss and interpret Virginia’s history, I feel strongly that commemorating the president of the Confederacy through the name for a major thoroughfare is not appropriate,” Valentine read.
The Arlington Chamber of Commerce shared the news on social media, calling it an “action to support businesses.” The Chamber said hotels along Route 1 have lost business due to the Jefferson Davis Highway name, according to WTOP.
The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted unanimously to rename US 1 to "Richmond Highway". The Chamber supported today's action to support businesses on US 1. pic.twitter.com/5mGQW40uWd
— Arlington Chamber VA (@ArlChamberVA) May 15, 2019
In their request to the state Board, Arlington County requested the CTB change the name to either Richmond Highway or Richmond Blvd.
The county argued to CTB that renaming would help “to avoid confusion and promote consistency” for motorists and businesses.
It’s the same argument local officials used before their own vote last month and one that potentially counters the historical preservation arguments that opposed other local Confederate renaming resolutions like changing Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty.
The county estimated last month that the costs involved in rolling out the new name would be around $17,000.
“No street numbers will be changed, and the United States Postal Service will, in perpetuity, continue to deliver mail to the businesses and residences along the highway addressed to Jefferson Davis Highway,” an April county press release on the name change read.
The General Assembly renamed the highway to honor Davis in 1922. Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey spoke at the CTB meeting, which was held at a Crystal City hotel, and told the Board that the Jefferson Davis’ name “symbolized white supremacy in a Jim Crow south,” reported WTOP.
The Crystal City BID thanked the Board for its Wednesday vote in a tweet, sharing applause symbols with the message.
Thank you Commonwealth Transportation Board for approving the renaming of Route 1 to Richmond Hwy! 🙌🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/hQiDOmVX6j
— Crystal City (@crystalcityva) May 15, 2019
Google Maps already renamed the highway on its maps several months ago.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, whose legal opinion in response to an inquiry from Del. Mark Levine allowed Arlington County to seek the renaming, called the CTB’s vote “a step in the right decision.”
Good news and a step in the right direction. Thanks to the Arlington Board (@kcristol, @Arl_CDorsey, @libbygarvey, @Matt4Arlington, @erik4arlington) and @DelegateMark for your leadership. Glad I could do my small part to help get it done. https://t.co/zwmHTE8vJp
— Mark Herring (@MarkHerringVA) May 15, 2019
Near the end of the meeting, Valentine said the CTB is considering forming a “task force” to handle future Confederate re-naming requests and create guidelines.