Arlington, VA

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

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board voted 4-1 to endorse the County’s application for $25 million in grant money for VDOT’s Arlington Blvd Safety Improvements Project, covering the area from Glebe Road to Fillmore Street.

That grant money, if awarded, would not be disbursed until 2026, meaning construction is at least six years, if not seven or eight years away. VDOT’s decision to select a costly, construction-intensive capital project to solve the safety issues in this stretch means our community will be stuck with six to eight years of additional crashes, injuries and even fatalities when VDOT’s own study makes it clear that a the majority of the safety benefit of their preferred alternative could be implemented in the short-term, with temporary materials and a much lower cost.

VDOT’s preferred alternative consists of a wide median from Glebe Road to Fillmore Street, the creation of dedicated left turn lanes at Irving Street, the extension of the westbound left-turn lane at Fillmore Street and the addition of dedicated left-turn phasing (green arrows) at Irving Street to service those new dedicated turn lanes.

VDOT’s report shows that, had these improvements existed from 2014 to 2018, there would have been 16 fewer crashes with injuries or fatalities. So, the fact that we’re waiting for these improvements until 2016 or 2018 means we can expect between 24 and 32 additional, preventable crashes with injury or fatality in the meantime.

However, all of the listed design elements from their preferred alternative, except for the extension of the westbound left-turn lane at Fillmore Street can be implemented within the existing roadway simple by narrowing some lanes to 10′ (within the Arlington County standard) and by repurposing some of the existing shoulder. A narrow median could be added with jersey barriers or a similar material, the dedicated left turn lanes striped in by repurposing excess lane width and some of the existing shoulder, the dedicated signal phases could be added at Irving Street. This would gain us 87% of the safety gains of the full project, while avoiding the slow and costly widening that VDOT is calling for which will cut down trees, add 2 acres of impervious surface, and reshape this stretch of Arlington Blvd into a defacto limited access highway.

The grant application was opposed by a number of nearby neighbors concerned that it would lead to additional cut-through traffic on Irving Street and I submitted and presented a letter for Arlington’s Transportation Commission for the reasons outlined above. Unfortunately, only one member of the County Board (Takis Karantonis) found the slow pace of implementation and large cost of VDOT’s preferred alternative unacceptable and so the grant application has been endorsed, leaving little incentive for VDOT to make interim safety improvements. The result: a project that costs more money and results in more crashes, injuries and potentially even fatalities.

Bizarrely, this safety study is a result of a program called “Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions” (STARS), a program that would appear geared toward finding quick, cheap solutions to safety problems. Instead, it appears to be yet another vehicle for VDOT to push forward large, slow, expensive roadway widenings wrapped in the veneer of a safety study.

Chris Slatt is the current Chair of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County and a former civic association president. He is a software developer, co-owner of Perfect Pointe Dance Studio, and a father of two.

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Morning Notes

School Year Starts Today — “While the start of this year will certainly look and feel different than previous years, we are all excited to welcome students back for distance learning and to start connecting and building relationships in new ways. Our first days of school will be focused on helping students get to know their teachers and classmates and creating new routines.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Many Still Uncounted by Census — “To have a complete understanding of our community, everyone needs to be counted. Currently, Arlington stands at a 75.2% self-response rate, meaning that a significant portion – almost one-fourth – of the County still needs to be counted.” [Arlington County]

Overturned Vehicle on Route 50 — “[On Saturday] crews freed a driver from an overturned vehicle on Route 50 near Abingdon St. The patient was transported to a trauma center with non-life threatening injuries.” [@ArlingtonVaFD/Twitter]

Why Marymount Is Back in Person — “There are a number of schools that are going entirely online… That’s not what the students wanted, Becerra told the Washington Business Journal. A university-conducted survey found that the majority of students said they felt like they didn’t learn as well remotely as they did in person.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Nonprofits to Merge — “Bridges to Independence, a Northern Virginia provider of housing and vital services for at risk families and individuals, today announced its intent to merge with the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation (BAJCDC), a community-based non-profit with a mission to address the health, education, financial empowerment and social service needs of people living in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.” [Press Release]

Rosslyn Firm Makes Acquisition —  “Innovative Discovery (ID), a trusted partner for law firms, corporations, and government agencies that provides service, guidance, and consultation throughout the information lifecycle, is pleased to announce that it has acquired Integro, a leading provider of information governance and content services solutions.” [Innovative Discovery via Potomac Tech Wire]

Amazon Adding New Jobs in Seattle Area — “Amazon is adding 10k jobs in the Seattle region, aka HQ1. Unclear what this means, if anything, for HQ2 in Arlington. At last check, Amazon was sticking to its original plan of 25k jobs and a second construction phase for another 2m square feet of office.” [@ARLnowDOTcom/Twitter]

Photo courtesy @ArlDuder/Twitter

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The Arlington Transportation Commission voted 8-2 at its meeting last week to not recommend that the County Board submit a funding application for proposed changes to Route 50.

The project would, among other changes, widen the roadway to add dedicated turn lanes.

The application requests $25.1 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation‘s (VDOT) SMART SCALE funding program to make improvements to Route 50, also known as Arlington Blvd, where it runs between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.

This stretch of road, according to VDOT, had 247 crashes on it with 61 total injuries between 2014 and 2018.

“This segment of Route 50 experiences congestion in the morning and evening peak periods and a high number of crashes,” VDOT said in an April presentation. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles a day within the study limits.”

Potential changes would come from recommendations made in a yearlong VDOT study of this area. These include adding new left-turn lanes and expanding current ones, as well as installing raised medians in certain high crash areas.

Constructing a new service road where Route 50 runs eastbound between Glebe and N. Jackson Street, and reconstructing a shared-use path in the section, were also recommended by VDOT.

The commission did pass a motion to recommend the County Board direct the County Manager to lay plans for a Route 50 corridor study between Roosevelt Bridge and Fairfax County.

Members voting against VDOT’s recommendation cited issues with the department’s study — including what they said was a limited scope, a failure to consider how changes would impact speed in this section of road, and a failure to account for more cars driving this road — as reasons for their vote.

Commissioner Darren Buck, the most outspoken critic of VDOT’s recommendations during the meeting, said the fact that VDOT’s study only looked at the area between Glebe and Fillmore and not Route 50 as a whole was among his greatest concerns about supporting the plan.

“I do not want to apply to fund this fundamentally flawed project to fill pressing local needs when a more comprehensive study of the corridor is pushed off indefinitely,” Buck said. “I do not think [the state should be] sinking $25 million into a spot improvement that basically determines how the rest of the corridor is going to look when we still haven’t addressed that long-standing open community question of how the rest of the corridor should look and operate.”

Commissioner Margarita Brose, as one of two commissioners voting for recommending the funding application, said the already high number of crashes in the section outweighed concerns over the project’s cost and a widening of the roadway.

“The safety concerns really weigh heavily on me,” Brose said. “I understand it’s a lot of money for a short period but we’ve seen the statistics on the number of cars that go through there and the crashes.”

VDOT said the study’s recommendations were primarily focused on improving the road’s safety.

“The safety aspect is one of the key things that led us to try and find a solution or a way to reduce those crashed,” VDOT said. “That’s one of the key motivating things that got us to start the study and to come up with the alternatives that we reviewed.”

Still, commission members questioned the actual safety added by VDOT’s recommendations.

“We are adding lanes for cars and making the highway more divided so that cars will go faster,” Commissioner Taylor Reich said. “As a result of this, I am unconvinced this project will improve safety, especially for pedestrians.”

VDOT said its plan leaves three through lanes in each direction on Route 50, which is similar to its current state. The road widening, she said, is to allow room for new left turn lanes.

If the County Board approves a SMART SCALE funding application, there is no guarantee the project would receive the money. VDOT describes SMART SCALE funding as highly competitive.

Images via Arlington County

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(Updated at 11:20 a.m.) A fight in the Penrose Square Giant led to a series of events that closed portions of two major roads and prompted a massive police response.

Police were dispatched to the grocery store around 2:30 p.m. for a report of a disturbance in the store, potentially involving a weapon. After arriving, an officer was nearly struck by a fleeing vehicle.

“A dispute between known individuals occurred inside a business in the 2500 block of 9th Road S.,” said Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “A responding officer, who was on foot, attempted to stop the vehicle in the parking lot. The driver refused to comply, drove through a parking gate and fled the scene.”

More from Wednesday’s ACPD crime report:

A lookout was broadcast and officers located the vehicle at Arlington Boulevard and 10th Street N. A traffic stop was initiated and the subjects were detained without incident. Victoria Lawson, 26, of Washington D.C. was arrested and charged with Felony Eluding, Felony Destruction of Property, Assault and Battery, Felony Child Abuse and Neglect (x4) and Possession of Marijuana.

The eastbound lanes of Route 50 near Courthouse were blocked by the vehicle stop, which involved nearly a dozen police cars.

“Looks like they arrested someone from a car… then it looked like there were some kids pulled out from the car as well,” a tipster told ARLnow.

While responding to the fight at the grocery store, one officer in a marked police SUV was involved in a crash on S. Walter Reed Drive, which closed a portion of the street for a period of time.

“While responding to the incident, an officer was involved in a crash at S. Walter Reed Drive and 16th Street S.,” Savage said. “The officer was evaluated on scene by medics. The driver of the other vehicle was transported to an area hospital with minor injuries. The crash remains under investigation.”

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Arlington and the Virginia Department of Transportation are looking at how to improve the situation along the notably crash prone stretch of Route 50 (Arlington Blvd) between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.

Between 2014 and 2018, VDOT said there were 247 total crashes with 61 crashes resulting in injuries, a few severe but none resulting in fatalities. Most of these crashes were concentrated around intersections.

“This segment of Route 50 experiences congestion in the morning and evening peak periods and a high number of crashes,” VDOT noted. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles a day within the study limits.”

In an online presentation, VDOT proposed three alternatives with a variety of sub-options to cut down on conflict points — places where vehicles intersect. Two of the options would add new raised medians to Route 50, and each of them had sub-options that would limit left turns or turn Irving Street or Fillmore Street into one-way streets.

The three primary alternatives are:

  • Wide Raised Median Separating EB and WB Route 50: the widened, raised medium would reduce conflict points at intersections without signals and at trail crossings. The only four-way intersections would be at Irving Street and Fillmore Street, where there are traffic lights. This alternative also includes left-turn lanes along Route 50 at Irving Street. The increased separation between eastbound and westbound travel lanes, and the additional turn lanes, would require the widening of Route 50.
  • Narrow Raised Median Separating EB and WB Route 50: the narrower median accomplishes the same reduction in conflict points as the first alternative, but would also not include left-turn lanes at Irving Street, meaning there would be reduced widening requirements. Left-turns at Irving would be prohibited and the third lane would likely see more use. But while this plan would improve the situation at Irving Street, VDOT warned that it would not reduce conflicts at Fillmore Street and could create higher traffic volumes and delays there.
  • No Left Turn at Unsignalized Intersections: the final alternative would add no median, but extensive signage prohibiting left turns along the street at all intersections without a signal. The widening impact would be low or non-existent, but VDOT warned that enforcing the new restrictions would be more difficult.

The sub-options to the first alternative include prohibiting any turning onto Irving Street and no left-turns at Fillmore Street, or flipping those so there are no left-turns onto Irving Street and no turning at all onto Fillmore Street.

Traffic signal improvements are also proposed.

VDOT data presented at the meeting said that two of the sub-options within the first alternative — which includes a wider raised median —  would have the highest chance of improving safety conditions, resulting in a total 69% reduction in conflict points, while the other two options reduce conflict points by 63%.

The first alternative is also the most costly, however, at an estimated $14-18 million budget. The second alternative, the narrow median, is cheaper at $12-14 million, while the third alternative is cheapest at $5-7 million.

“Cost estimates will be prepared for alternatives under consideration,” a VDOT official said in the video. “Improvements identified as part of the story have not yet been funded and there’s no timeline for construction”

Other potential additions to Route 50 would be new service roads along either side of the highway. One would be on the south side of Route 50 would extend past S. Old Glebe Road, which would eliminate five residential driveways onto the main lanes. The other would be on the north side of Route 50, extending an existing road west of Irving Street.

Comments on the project can be submitted online until Friday, May 29. Recommendations are scheduled to be finalized and posted online this summer, with Arlington County submitting a SMART SCALE funding application in August.

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All lanes of westbound Route 50 are blocked at the crash-prone intersection with Park Drive in the Arlington Forest area.

The crash happened in rainy weather around 8:30 a.m. Traffic cameras show at least two vehicles that appear to be involved, including one in the middle of the westbound lanes — which firefighters are pushing off to the side.

Traffic is currently being diverted at the crash scene, but at least one lane is expected to reopen shortly.

There’s no word on injuries.

Update at 8:55 a.m. — One lane has reopened while first responders await tow trucks to remove the damaged vehicles from the side of the road.

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Police and firefighters are on scene of a crash along Route 50 that left two people trapped in an overturned van.

The crash happened shortly before 8 a.m. on the ramp from Glebe Road to westbound Route 50.

The ramp and two lanes of westbound Route 50 are closed due to the emergency response. Morning rush hour commuters should expect slow traffic on both directions on Route 50.

The trapped occupants of the vans were quickly freed by rescuers. They’re injured but expected to be okay.

Earlier this morning a portion of eastbound I-66 was closed at Washington Blvd in Arlington for a reported multi-vehicle crash.

More on the Route 50 crash via social media:

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The Virginia Dept. of Transportation is studying possible upgrades to Route 50 between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.

The 0.7 mile stretch, which is notably crash prone and difficult for drivers making left turns and pedestrians trying to cross the street, is a candidate for what VDOT has dubbed “Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions.” Possible upgrades range from new turn lanes to pedestrian enhancements to — perhaps — even roundabouts.

VDOT is holding a public information session about the possible changes on Thursday (Nov. 14) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

More from VDOT:

The concepts being studied will be based on public input and may include improving turn lanes, traffic signal timing and operations, and access management for properties and streets along the corridor. Other concepts being studied may also include pedestrian, bicycle and transit enhancements, turn restrictions and “Innovative Intersections” such as roundabouts and interchanges. Stop by between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to view displays and learn more about the project. A presentation will begin at 7 p.m. Project staff will be available to answer your questions.

“This stretch of Route 50 has long backups and delays during weekday peak commute times and several high crash locations due to the high number of access and conflict points,” VDOT said on a webpage for the study. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles per day within the study limits.”

An online survey for the project asks, among other things, which multimodal facilities are needed along the Route 50 corridor. The multiple-choice options include sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, shared-use bicycle lanes, bus shelters and a park and ride lot.

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Morning Notes

Dorsey in Trouble With Metro BoardUpdated at 10 a.m. — “Metro board member Christian Dorsey to return $10,000 donation from ATU Local 689, the main Metro union, and be reprimanded and removed as chairman of Metro finance committee.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

South Arlington Pupatella Now Hiring — “Official Job Fair at Pupatella South Arlington — 1621 South Walter Reed Drive — Thursday, Nov 7 thru Saturday, Nov 9 between 10am and 4pm – All positions available (kitchen and front of house).” [Twitter]

JBG May Hold Off on Crystal City Office Building — “Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters is expected to generate additional demand for office space in Crystal City and Pentagon City, but for now… the Chevy Chase developer does not plan to start construction on the Crystal City office building without enough commitments from future tenants.” [Washington Business Journal]

Robbery on Columbia Pike — “The suspect then walked around the counter and confronted the victim, implied he had a weapon, and demanded the merchandise. The suspect fled the scene with the merchandise prior to police arrival.” [Arlington County]

Ballston Company Partnering With Google — “AES Corporation and Google have entered into a 10-year strategic alliance which they hope will speed up the expansion and adoption of clean energy. In an announcement Wednesday, the Arlington, Virginia headquartered power firm said it would leverage ‘Google Cloud technology to pioneer innovation in the sector.'” [CNBC]

Arlington Blvd Bus Stop Temporarily Closed — “4A riders: The stop on Arlington Blvd at S. Highland St will close on 11/6 for two weeks. Customers may board/exit at an adjacent stop.” [Twitter, WMATA]

Nearby: Beyer to Host Impeachment Town Hall — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) “is planning to talk impeachment at a town hall meeting later this month. [Beyer] announced today that he will be holding the event on Thursday, Nov. 21, from 7-8:30 p.m., at the T.C. Williams High School auditorium.” [ALXnow]

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Police and firefighters are on scene of a crash with injuries on Route 50.

The crash happened around 9:30 a.m. in the westbound lanes of Route 50 at N. Manchester Street, near Arlington’s western border

At least two vehicles were involved in the crash. Two ambulances have responded to the scene for at least two reported injuries.

Only one lane of traffic is squeezing by the crash scene, prompting backups past N. Carlin Springs Road.

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Morning Notes

Windy Day on Tap — After a windy night, more gusty winds are expected today. The gusts are expected to reach up to 40 miles per hour locally. [Twitter]

Lions Club Seeks County Lot for Xmas Tree Sale — “Christmas is coming early for the South Arlington Lions Club. Arlington County Board members on Oct. 19 are expected to allow, for the second year in a row, the service organization to use county-government property on South Four Mile Run Drive for its annual Christmas-tree sale.” [InsideNova]

Local Affordable Housing Group Expanding — “A leading affordable housing nonprofit in Arlington County is expanding its operations into Montgomery County, another sign of a growing regional focus on preserving or producing homes that lower-earning residents can afford.” [Washington Post, Press Release]

Earthquake Drill Today — “Participate in the world’s largest earthquake drill [today] at 10:17 a.m… Go to the lowest floor of the building, drop to your hands/knees, cover your head w/your arm, and hold on to shelter.” [Twitter]

VDOT Studying Changes to Route 50 West of Arlington — “The Virginia Department of Transportation is holding a public information meeting Monday, Oct. 21 on a study of potential safety and operational improvements for three miles of Route 50 (Arlington Boulevard) between Jaguar Trail and Wilson Boulevard.” [VDOT]

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