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20 mph signage near Bishop O’Connell High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Lower speeds near schools could soon become countywide policy in Arlington.

On Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to consider an ordinance to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour on streets within 600 feet of a school property or pedestrian crossing in the vicinity of the school. This would expand on slow zones around 13 schools instituted last year.

The county says in a report that the proposed slow zones respond to positive community feedback from the first round of school zones and are part of its efforts to eliminate traffic-related serious injuries and deaths by 2030, also known as “Vision Zero.”

The ordinance comes as Arlington County appears to have ended 2022 with fewer severe injury crashes than 2021 — when the County Board approved a Vision Zero plan — but the same number of fatal crashes.

In 2022, there were 44 severe and four fatal crashes, including two fatal pedestrian-involved crashes, per county data available through Nov. 23, 2022. The year before, there were 61 severe and four fatal crashes, none of which involved a pedestrian.

If approved, the Dept. of Environmental Services will lower the speed limit on 36 road segments starting next month, according to spokesman Peter Golkin.

“We expect signs to start posting the new speed limit in February-March,” he said. “We will follow up with additional pavement markings in the spring once weather permits.”

When complete, drivers will notice treatments such as high visibility crossings and school zone signage within the school zone, as well as appropriate speed limits on the school’s beaconed arterial roadways, per a December Vision Zero newsletter.

The new, lowered speed limit of 20 mph, applicable at all times of day, will be in effect and enforceable “as soon as the new speed limit signs are posted,” Golkin said.

To remind drivers of the change, the county will send public announcements during February and March through county email lists, civic associations, APS channels and social media, he said, noting that “news coverage like ARLnow’s will also be a great help.”

In addition, he said, the signs themselves will be a notification.

“Drivers should always be cognizant of the speed limit when driving,” the DES spokesman said. “They also have a bright neon yellow SCHOOL symbol on top of them, which should generate extra attention.”

The Arlington County Board last year took another step to reduce speeds, approving the installation of moveable speed cameras in school and work zones. In response to a rash of critical crashes, including a fatal pedestrian fatally struck near Nottingham Elementary School in October, Board members put more pressure on staff to respond more quickly.

Around where the pedestrian was struck on Little Falls Road, Arlington County police issued 10 traffic ticket in one hour during a one-day enforcement effort last month. Also in mid-December, some “quick-build” improvements were installed along the road, between John Marshall Drive & N. Kensington Street, per the December Vision Zero newsletter, below.

The improvements at John Marshall Drive include:

  • Addition of a high visibility crosswalk on the south crosswalk
  • Tactical curb extensions to sharpen/slow down turning vehicle turns and reduce crossing distances
  • Additional signage

Improvements at N. Lexington Street include:

  • Bus stop/sharrow markings
  • High visibility crosswalks
  • A tactical curb extension to sharpen/slow down turning vehicle turns and reduce crossing distances.

Improvements at N. Kensington Street (north side) include:

  • High visibility crosswalks
  • Tactical curb extensions to sharpen/slow down turning vehicle turns and reduce crossing distances
  • Enhanced signage at the crossing over Little Falls Road
  • Changing the yield to a stop sign (south side)

These improvements are currently in progress and will ultimately encourage slower vehicle speeds, and improved pedestrian and transit maneuvers.

Additionally, DES is conducting an all-way stop evaluation and is collecting footage of the Little Falls Rd and John Marshall Dr intersection to monitor operations between all road users. These evaluations will be considered as DES plans for permanent intersection improvements.

‘Quick-build’ changes to John Marshall Drive (via Arlington County)
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The Ballston Metro station (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A hazardous materials situation at the Ballston Metro station over the summer likely exposed riders to toxic gas from batteries.

That’s according to a report at this afternoon’s Washington Metrorail Safety Commission meeting.

As detailed in WMSC’s Twitter thread, the incident happened the evening of Thursday, Aug. 11 and involved old backup batteries in the station’s Train Control Room that were boiling over due to improper charging. On top of that, gas was released into the station because of a faulty ventilation system, according to WMSC.

A fire alarm went off after gas was detected coming from the room, prompting an evacuation and a fire department response that was later upgraded to a full hazmat response. But at least one train stopped at the station and let out riders during that time, exposing them to the toxic gas, WMSC said.

The hazmat response was noted on social media by at least two local journalists, but did not otherwise get much attention at the time.

Following the incident, Metro “developed a number of corrective actions to address issues identified during this investigation,” according to WMSC’s thread, which is compiled below.

The first report today, W-0189, relates to an evacuation for life safety reasons at Ballston Station on August 11.

On August 11, 2022, toxic gas from overheated Metrorail batteries filled part of the Ballston Station. These batteries support the uninterruptible power supply – or UPS – for the station’s Train Control Room.

The Arlington County Fire Department determined that a fire alarm was due to gas coming from the battery room at the southeast end of the station.

The Metrorail personnel involved in the response did not know about the battery safety switch outside the room that can be used to cut power.

After forcing entry into the room, Arlington County Fire upgraded the response to a hazmat response. This was 47 minutes after the initial alarm.

At that point, responders communicated that trains should bypass the station and riders should be evacuated for their safety.

During the time the station was evacuated and closed to riders for their safety, one train stopped at and serviced the station, placing riders in hazardous conditions.

n addition, Metrorail did not follow its emergency response processes. This includes the incident command process. Information was also not consistently and clearly shared.

Rail Controllers made general announcements on the Ops 4 channel for some trains to turn off environmental systems when bypassing Ballston Station. No similar announcements regarding the environmental systems or bypassing Ballston Station were made on the Ops 2 channel.

Train Operator who serviced Ballston Station during the evacuation was in the Ops 2 radio territory when the announcements were made on Ops 4 The Ops 2 Rail Controller made an announcement on their channel only after the Train Operator serviced the station during the evacuation.

The investigation shows that Metrorail had kept the UPS in service beyond the end of its useful life, allowing it to run to failure.

The battery charger was not working properly. This led to excess energy being fed into the batteries. In addition – the ventilation unit in the room was not operating correctly, and the separate exhaust fan was also not working.

The batteries overheated. System data indicates the toxic gas release began approximately 15 hours after the improper charging began. The acid in each battery began to boil.

The WMSC had raised similar ancillary room maintenance concerns to Metrorail in the spring, and further documented these issues in our August 4, 2022 Train Control Room order, the week prior to this event.

Metrorail had committed in the spring to special inspections of ancillary rooms for these types of ventilation system deficiencies, but had not continued those inspections until after the WMSC’s order.

Metrorail opened the battery disconnect to separate the batteries from the UPS at about 12:30 a.m. The battery bank later cooled down and stopped emitting the toxic gas.

The power cutoff was delayed due to unclear labelling of cutoffs and insufficient training and communication of actions to take in emergencies related to battery-supplied systems.

Metrorail developed a number of corrective actions to address issues identified during this investigation. In addition Metrorail is implementing CAPs tied to the Emergency Management and Fire and Life Safety Programs Audit, August 4 order, and other related findings.

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20 mph signage near Bishop O’Connell High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington is proposing to lower speed limits near schools across the county to 20 mph as the county’s second year of Vision Zero enters the rear-view mirror.

This Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to hear a proposal to expand these slow zones to all schools, after many people said they felt safer walking, biking and driving in 13 school zones where the speed limit has already dropped to 20 mph.

If the Board approves the changes, school zones will all get permanent signs with the new speed limits. The county says this is cheaper and more broadly applicable than flashing beacons, which will only be used on arterial streets within 600 feet of schools during arrival and dismissal times.

This change follows the approval earlier this year of moveable speed cameras to be installed in school and work zones, as well as calls from the Arlington County Board for a quicker staff response to critical crashes, after a driver fatally struck a pedestrian in an intersection near Nottingham Elementary School.

Schools have figured into other notable crashes, including a fatal crash involving a motorcyclist and a school bus in front of Drew Elementary in 2021 and a crash involving a drunk driver who killed a pedestrian near Thomas Jefferson Middle School this summer. In a less serious crash this fall, a driver struck an adolescent cyclist near Kenmore Middle School.

Lowering speeds is one action the county has taken over the last year and a half to work toward its goal of eliminating traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, a plan known as Vision Zero.

“There are no corridors on county-owned roads that have a speed limit higher than 30 miles per hour, which is a big improvement. We’re very excited to say that,” Arlington Vision Zero coordinator Christine Sherman Baker said in a meeting last week.

In addition to lower speeds, the county has set up temporary school walking routes and roundabouts, completed 13 quick-build projects and made improvements to six critical crash sites and 14 crash “hot spots.” Staff are working on procuring speed cameras for school and work zones and red light cameras for six more intersections, which could be installed in 2023.

Amid the flurry of work, preliminary data from the first nine months of 2022 indicate crashes are down overall, according to a Vision Zero report released last month. As of Aug. 30, there were 1,313 crashes in Arlington, of which two were fatal and 34 were severe. (We’ve since reported on two additional fatal crashes.)

Historical severe and fatal crashes in Arlington (via Arlington County)

Pedestrian-involved crashes and crashes in intersections are both slightly lower, while bike crash figures are consistent with previous years. There has yet to be a crash in a work zone.

Alcohol and speed prove to be some of our biggest challenges on our roadways,” Baker said in the meeting.

But some people say the county needs to be clearer in communicating if and how its work is reducing crashes as well as the dangers of driving.

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Police officer talks with a driver during high-visibility enforcement along Little Falls Road (via ACPD)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Police issued a traffic ticket every six minutes, on average, during an enforcement effort in front of Nottingham Elementary on Thursday afternoon.

The several block stretch of Little Falls Road near the school, in the Williamsburg neighborhood, has seen three fatal pedestrian crashes since 2014, including an elderly woman who was struck and killed by the driver of an SUV in October. That driver is not facing criminal charges.

Arlington County police conducted yesterday’s high-visibility enforcement as part of its Street Smart road safety campaign.

“During yesterday’s hour-long StreetSmart activation in the 5900 block of Little Falls Road, which coincided with school dismissal, officers issued 8 speeding citations and 2 citations for stop sign violations,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “Drivers are reminded to slow down, be mindful of pedestrians and obey posted speed limits which change during school zone times and are indicated by flashing yellow lights.”

“Officers will continue to conduct periodic random, rotating enforcement in the area with the goal of compliance even when police are not present,” Savage noted. “Additionally, as part of our education efforts, police have deployed a variable message board on Little Falls Road with transportation safety messaging.”

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services added that safety improvements are in the works for the intersection where October’s crash happened.

“In response to the recent tragic crash fatality at the intersection of Little Falls Rd and John Marshall Dr, the Vision Zero Critical Crash team has developed short-term safety improvements and enhancements for this intersection,” the department said in a brief statement. “We plan to install these improvements by the end of the year, weather permitting.”

More on the fall Street Smart campaign in Arlington, below, via an ACPD video.

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A stretch of Lorcom Lane on the northern edge of the Cherrydale neighborhood is slated to get pedestrian safety upgrades, particularly aimed at improving a school walking route for kids.

Between N. Quebec Street and Nelly Custis Drive, the county will install sidewalks where there are none, widen existing sidewalks and reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Kids walk this stretch of Lorcom Lane to get to Dorothy Hamm Middle School and Taylor Elementary School.

These changes, and others, “originated through community-reported transportation safety concerns, crash data, and the results of the Vision Zero Pilot Safety Project on the north side of this corridor,” per a project webpage.

This summer, a driver struck a woman pushing a stroller at the intersection of Military Road and Lorcom Lane, just west of the corridor slated for improvements. This area had previously been re-striped with the goal of reducing conflicts between drivers and cyclists.

The pilot project responded to safety concerns for the 40% of students who walk or bike to Dorothy Hamm and the 10% who bike to Taylor. Last spring, Arlington Public Schools encouraged kids to walk or bike to school, if they could, to reduce the number of students on the bus, and thus their risk for a Covid exposure.

For kids walking on the northern side of Lorcom Lane between N. Oakland and N. Quebec streets, that meant navigating vehicle and bicycle traffic without a sidewalk. So the county installed temporary parking restrictions to create a dedicated walking path for pedestrians.

Feedback was positive, according to a summary of survey results.

“About 70% of people walking or biking felt safer while traveling here than before the pilot project was implemented,” per the report. “Most respondents for each mode of transportation felt as safe or safer while traveling here than before.”

During a 20-hour period, staff observed about 60 people — nearly one-third of all pedestrians on Lorcom Lane — using the buffered walking path. Nine times out of 10, at least one vehicle drove by when a pedestrian was walking in the buffer area.

Based on that data and positive feedback, staff decided to make the pilot permanent.

Other planned changes include resolving “alignment issues” with the intersection of N. Quebec Street and Lorcom Lane and addressing safety issues at the intersection of Lorcom Lane and Nelly Custis Drive. This intersection is adjacent to a preschool run by Cherrydale United Methodist Church.

There are three other projects within a half-mile radius, including the controversial roundabout pilot project at Military Road and Nelly Custis Drive that could become permanent.

Arlington County also plans to fill in a missing sidewalk at 4100 Nelly Custis Drive and execute a “quick-build” project at N. Quincy Street and Nelly Custis Drive.

This southeast corner of the intersection will get a marked curb extension, while the pedestrian crossing over Nelly Custis Drive will be shortened and the entire intersection will get new, accessible curb ramps. These changes were identified via a safety audit conducted on the Fairfax Drive corridor in 2019.

The project, initially set to be completed this calendar year, won’t be ready until next spring or summer, as county staff are working on an easement there, says Department of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors.

Proposed transportation upgrades along and near Lorcom Lane (via Arlington County)
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Kds from Escuela Key and Campbell Elementary schools can regularly be seen bicycling to school to upbeat music.

Sometimes, there is a theme — like wearing costumes on Halloween — as well as the occasional sweet treat or freebie, like bicycle lights from the county program Bike Arlington.

“I am not above bribing children,” says Gillian Burgess, who leads a group of children to the dual-language elementary school Escuela Key. “Donuts are definitely a big help.”

Burgess is a volunteer conductor of a bicibús (Spanish for “bike bus”) — a weekly bicycling group with a set route that makes two stops to pick up kids on the way to Escuela Key. It has a Spanish name because the concept started in Vic, Spain, to provide safety in numbers to kids intimidated by traffic, per a Duolingo podcast with the woman who started the bicibús.

It has since spread to larger Spanish cities, such as Barcelona, and throughout Europe. And it has gone stateside to Portland, Seattle and now Arlington.

Burgess started the Escuela Key route when APS provided hybrid education in spring 2021, and some parents worried about Covid transmission on buses. Now, families stick with it because they have noticed improvements to their child’s mood and focus in school, she said.

“It’s fun,” says fourth-grader Billy Schnell. “I like biking to school with my friends in the morning. It makes me happy. The regular bus is hot and stuffy, but I feel cool on the Bicibús.”

Burgess said there are two great things about the program: “Kids can go even if caretakers can’t go with them and there is safety in numbers.”

In greater numbers, Escuela Key riders feel safer navigating unlit crossings and getting from the intersection of the Bluemont Trail with N. George Mason Drive to Escuela Key a block away, she said. It also helps families break from their driving routines and gives kids independence.

“We take our kids to all these places. We sit and wait for them to finish their activities. We drive them there and home,” Burgess said. “It sucks for us as parents because we’re spending all this time chauffeuring, and kids are not learning how to be independent and confident.”

Meanwhile, the Campbell bike train, which started this year, provides a bi-monthly alternate route home now that parents cannot drive to pick up their kids directly from school, a decision Burgess said was made to improve student safety.

Burgess has taken other steps to help kids feel comfortable on bikes, such as helping install traffic gardens where kids could learn the rules of the road in miniature two years ago.

At the time, that had support from APS, but she is hoping for more coordination with the schools system now. That’s especially so in the wake of a number of high-profile crashes that involved students or happened near schools and have prompted the community and the Arlington County Board to call for swifter action on traffic safety and drunk driving.

“We don’t have a partner in APS right now,” she said, adding that she has reached out for help but hasn’t gotten much of a response. “We need someone who can come at it as a professional in the school system in terms of what is appropriate for adolescents, children and teenagers. What is the right messaging? What works?”

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Arlington County has drafted preliminary designs to slow speeds and improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians along a busy artery in the East Falls Church neighborhood.

It proposes a number of streetscape changes to N. Sycamore Street between Langston Blvd and 19th Street N., near the East Falls Church Metro station and not far from the W&OD Trail. A fatal crash happened just over a year ago within the project’s boundaries at the intersection of N. Sycamore Street and Washington Blvd.

The plan calls for replacing right-turn-only lanes with protected bike lanes, removing slip lanes — which motorists use to turn while bypassing an intersection — and adding high visibility crosswalks and green skid marks for bicyclists.

It has taken more than a decade to get to this point. The 2011 East Falls Church Area Plan recommended shortening crossings, eliminating right-turn-only lanes and improving curb ramps on N. Sycamore Street. The, the 2019 Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan recommended adding a bike lane along N. Sycamore Street between Williamsburg Blvd and the East Falls Church line.

County staff have studied the street twice, but progress was sporadic, due to two unsuccessful transportation grant applications and budget-tightening due to Covid. The Dept. of Environmental Services reprised the project last fall.

The department gathered feedback about problems with N. Sycamore Street where it intersects with Langston Blvd, 22nd Street N., Washington Blvd, the I-66 off-ramp and 19th Street N. Staff incorporated this feedback into preliminary plans, which can now be reviewed and commented on through Sunday (Nov. 20).

“Generally we heard from you all that the slip lanes in the corridor negatively impact pedestrian and bicyclist safety,” project manager Ariel Yang said in a presentation. “The other overarching thing we heard is a desire for safety and more comfortable crossings for people walking and biking N. Sycamore Street,” including better markings for bike lanes and better signalization for pedestrians.

Yang said participants reported frequent speeding, particularly around 22nd and 19th Street N., a tendency that the proposed changes are designed to address.

“Through design, we are trying to change behavior at the intersection where conflicts tend to happen more,” Yang said.

Other issues include unmarked and long crossings, narrow sidewalks and unclear markings in “conflict zones” between cars and cyclists, per the presentation.

The county proposes changes to five intersections.

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ACPD traffic enforcement in Virginia Square in 2019 (via ACPD)

Arlington County police are set to conduct high-visibility traffic enforcement tomorrow as part of its “Street Smart” road safety campaign.

The enforcement will take place Thursday from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in the Arlington View neighborhood, just south of Columbia Pike, at the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Rolfe Street.

A second enforcement campaign is planned for Thursday, Dec. 1 from 3:30-4:30 p.m. in front of Nottingham Elementary School, in the Williamsburg neighborhood. That’s near the scenes of three fatal pedestrian crashes that have occurred since 2014, including one last month.

“The Street Smart campaign aims to identify and change unsafe behavior patterns amongst motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, with the goal of reducing the number of traffic related collisions and injuries on our roadways,” police said in a press release.

The full ACPD press release is below.

Fall brings cooler temperatures and less daylight hours, meaning reduced visibility during peak commuting times for all road users. As we adjust to the end of Daylight Saving Time, the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) is sharing important transportation safety tips to ensure all travelers can reach their destinations safely. ACPD and law enforcement agencies throughout the region will take part in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Fall Street Smart Campaign from November 7 – December 4. The Street Smart campaign aims to identify and change unsafe behavior patterns amongst motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, with the goal of reducing the number of traffic related collisions and injuries on our roadways.

Street Smart Enforcement Activations

As part of the Street Smart campaign, officers will conduct high-visibility traffic enforcement at the following locations:

  • Thursday, November 10, 2022, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – 12th Street S. at S. Rolfe Street
  • Thursday, December 1, 2022, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. – 5900 block of Little Falls Road […]

Transportation Safety Tips

No matter how you travel, remember to always be a P.A.L. – predicable, alert and lawful.

Drivers are reminded to:

  • Slow down, drive the speed limit and obey all posted traffic signs and signals.
  • Remain alert for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
  • Use caution when passing buses or stopped vehicles.
  • Yield to people walking or biking when turning.
  • Allow for at least 3 feet when passing bicyclists.
  • Avoid using your cell phone and never text while driving. Holding a hand-held communication device while driving is illegal in Virginia.

Pedestrians are reminded to:

  • Cross the street at the corner and use marked crosswalks when they are available.
  • Use pushbuttons when available and wait for the walk signal to cross the street.
  • Look both ways before crossing.
  • Remain visible, especially after dark and in bad weather, by wearing light colored or reflective clothing.
  • Watch for blind spots around trucks and buses.
  • Avoid using devices that distract you, such as cell phones, while crossing the street.

Bicyclists and shared mobility device operators are reminded to:

  • Ride in the same direction as traffic, using bike lanes when possible.
  • Use hand signals to communicate your intentions with other travelers.
  • Wear a helmet, which is required for all bicycle riders 14 years of age and younger and recommended for all other riders. (Arlington County Code 14.2-64.)
  • Keep your eyes on the road and avoid the use of devices that may distract you.
  • Remain visible, especially after dark and in bad weather, by wearing light colored or reflective clothing.
  • Use headlights and taillights, especially when riding between sunset and sunrise.

MORE: Tips for Safe Operation of E-Scooters in Arlington County

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Unmarked or temporarily marked crosswalks along Langston Blvd are slated to be painted today (Friday), weather permitting.

The repainting activity comes nearly two months after the Virginia Department of Transportation paved Langston Blvd from Washington Blvd to N. Glebe Road, in East Falls Church, and from Military Road to N. Kenmore Street, in Cherrydale, according to a paving map.

VDOT, which manages the road, finished the repaving projects at the start of September, as part of its annual road repaving and repainting schedule.

According to the state transportation department, the lag between paving and painting is not uncommon.

“As the line painting contractors are different than the milling/paving contractors, sometimes schedules don’t line up as smoothly,” VDOT spokeswoman Ellen Kamilakis tells ARLnow.

Arlington County and some residents tell ARLnow they have raised concerns about the lag with state transportation department.

“VDOT is aware of our concerns and are working to complete the markings on Langston Blvd,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien said.

The repainting comes while pedestrian safety occupies the minds of Arlington County Board members, local advocates and residents. In recent months, drivers struck and killed two pedestrians: one woman near Thomas Jefferson Middle School was killed by an alleged drunk driver and a woman near Nottingham Elementary School was killed in a crash, which police are still investigating.

While VDOT repaves state routes, Arlington County does take advantage of the state’s schedule to consider changes to the streets under its purview through its Resurfacing for Complete Streets program, O’Brien said.

“For roadways maintained by VDOT, Arlington does coordinate with VDOT on improvements,” she said. “For example, this year VDOT will be adding crossing enhancements on Langston Blvd at our request.”

These include high visibility crosswalk markings, advance yield signs and markings, she says.

She added that the county coordinated with the state to “upgrade the two uncontrolled crosswalks at the intersections of Langston Blvd and N. Oakland Street and Langston Blvd and N. Nelson Street, as well as marking all side streets with high-visibility crosswalks instead of standard crosswalks.”

On Langston Blvd between Military Road and N. Kenmore Street, VDOT will be installing bike lane skip marks through intersections, high-visibility crosswalks along side streets and additional directional markings, according to the county’s first annual Vision Zero report, released this spring.

Arlington County is a year and a half into its Vision Zero initiative that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Between January 2021 and March 2022, the county updated 238 crosswalks to high-visibility crosswalks, according to the report.

It also “added new warning signage, pavement yield and high visibility crosswalk markings, and other minor improvements at 12 multilane crossing locations,” after a review of multi-lane crossings, per an August newsletter.

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Scene from a Fairfax County police chase through Arlington County (via Dave Statter/Twitter)

A number of police chases initiated outside the county have careened through Arlington this month.

An armed robbery last Tuesday at the Home Depot in Seven Corners resulted in a police chase up I-395 before the driver got stuck in traffic approaching the 14th Street Bridge and tried to escape on foot at the exit for the GW Parkway.

In another chase last week, Fairfax County police initiated a chase after a cruiser was struck in Lincolnia.

Two weeks ago, the Alexandria police department followed a car into Arlington and Virginia State Police joined the pursuit — until the driver escaped across the river into D.C. and the chase was called off.

Public safety watchdog Dave Statter keeps records of most these chases from his perch in Pentagon City. While there has been a recent mini-rash of Fairfax County-initiated pursuits, he tells ARLnow this is a less common phenomenon compared to VSP chases.

“From my experience, those two recent chases by Fairfax County Police into Arlington are more of the exception that the rule,” said Statter. “In fact, they are so infrequent I had to put in a new folder in my police video file for FCPD.”

The same night as the Lincolnia chase, Statter said state police troopers were pursuing someone, too.

“Just a few minutes earlier, VSP chased and stopped someone on I-395 N near Washington Blvd,” Statter wrote. “VSP was still working that one when the FCPD chase went by. They had a little warning from the dispatcher and a couple of troopers joined in.”

Other VSP chases through Arlington happened on Saturday and in the early hours this morning. In the early Wednesday morning chase, VSP was following a car in connection to catalytic converter thefts in Fairfax County. On Saturday, VSP was chasing a possibly stolen car.

Recent chases involving or started by VSP that went through Arlington — including those this month — concluded with the cars escaping across the Potomac River and into D.C. Often, state police abandons pursuit once the person being chased reaches the jurisdictional line.

The reason for this is that VSP has relatively loose restrictions for starting a chase, but they tighten when troopers reach state lines.

“Sworn employees may initiate a pursuit when a driver fails to stop after the sworn employee has given a lawful order to stop by activating emergency lights and/or siren,” according to Virginia State Police policy.

Anyone under pursuit for a possible misdemeanor or traffic violation is almost always in the clear if they can cross the 14th Street Bridge.

Meanwhile, Fairfax’s back-to-back chases come 13 months after the police department rolled out new, more restrictive guidance for when officers can chase suspects.

Effective September 2021, Fairfax County eliminated pursuits for misdemeanors, traffic violations and nonviolent felonies. Now, police conduct chases within Fairfax County and within Virginia for violent felonies, serious crimes with the threat or use of a firearm or explosive device, and at the authorization of a commander.

Fairfax officers join chases when they meet the department’s criteria, and officers can only pursue a car into D.C. or Maryland if the driver or passenger has attempted or is wanted for a felony crime.

Prior to the decision, Fairfax had one of the most liberal chase policies in the D.C. area, according to a police presentation from spring 2021. At the time, officials said the updated guidelines would bring the county in line with chase policies throughout the region.

“FCPD updated several pertinent policies in 2021 to further align the department with national best practices; improve officer and community safety and ensure our commitment to transparency,” according to the department’s annual crime summary for 2021. “The most significant revision included a modification to the traffic pursuit policy, which now focuses on apprehending offenders who pose the greatest risk to our community and doing so with an eye on safety.”

A comparison of police chase policies in the D.C. region (via Fairfax County)

Arlington has similar police chase policies: those wanted for relatively minor crimes are usually allowed to flee an attempted traffic stop without a chase, while violent criminals may be pursued, as happened earlier this month after an armed suspect firing shots at police was chased from Arlington to Fairfax County. Arlington’s policy follows a lawsuit nearly 40 years ago by a man who lost his legs when struck in D.C. by bank robbery suspects being chased at high speed by an ACPD officer.

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Vision Zero team representatives during the Arlington County Board meeting on Oct. 18, 2022 (via Arlington County)

Arlington County Board members have indicated their impatience for traffic changes at an intersection where a woman was fatally struck by a driver two weeks ago.

During a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Board members received a briefing from team members from Vision Zero — the county’s initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries — about all the work they do after a critical crash.

But Board members were less interested in the process and dwelled more on getting answers to questions like “How long will this take?” and “What can we do now?” Part of that motivation, according to Board Chair Katie Cristol, was that the death of 85-year-old Gwendolyn Hayes felt preventable.

“Any fatal crash is unacceptable to our community, as I know you feel deeply, as do we. And what feels so difficult about Ms. Hayes’ death is the sense that this is one that should have been prevented, especially because of those who had been killed at the same location before her,” she said.

Scene of fatal pedestrian crash along Little Falls Road in the Williamsburg neighborhood (staff photo)

This was the second pedestrian death and the third notable crash in recent months, and the rash has prompted residents to demand more action. Viviana Oxlaj Pérez died in early August after being struck by an alleged drunk driver on 2nd Street S. and Old Glebe Road. A man charged with involuntary manslaughter related to her death has hearings set for February 2023, according to court records.

Shortly after, a child on a bicycle who allegedly pedaled into oncoming traffic was struck at the intersection of 3rd Street S. and S. Carlin Springs Road. Then, Hayes died at the intersection of Little Falls Road and John Marshall Drive.

All three crashes were near schools: Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Kenmore Middle School and Nottingham Elementary School, respectively. And while school zones are slated to get speed cameras, possibly later next year, it won’t help safety at the intersection where Hayes died, which is just outside the school zone boundaries.

Scene of pedestrian struck in the Williamsburg neighborhood (staff photo)

In light of these crashes, Board members pressed staff to give timeframes for the police investigation into Hayes’ and Oxlaj Pérez’s deaths. They asked when police will choose a vendor for speed cameras, and asked if more red light cameras could be installed. They urged staff not to let new research into this intersection slow them down.

“We’ve got a lot of data, we’ve got a lot of information that doesn’t require a lot of time to initiate original research and study,” Board Vice-Chair Christian Dorsey said. “I would encourage us to use the data that we have and the analytical framework and tools we have to work as expeditiously as we can.”

County Board member Matt de Ferranti said he visited with a neighbor near Little Falls Road who always has first aid supplies ready to take care of people who get into crashes. There have been a total of three fatal pedestrian crashes along a two-block stretch of Little Falls Road near Nottingham Elementary School over the past eight years.

De Ferranti said he has seen videos showing how hazardous the conditions are. These are examples of “qualitative data” staff should use to prioritize changes to this intersection, he said.

“I really hope we can be thinking in weeks and not months in terms of additional action,” he said.

Staff at Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, which builds and maintains local roads, say they’re working on preliminary designs for safety improvements, but are waiting for the facts of the police investigation to finalize these designs.

“We are prioritizing this [intersection],” Transportation and Operations Bureau Chief Hui Wang said. “We are trying to see if there are other data we can utilize without the fresh collection.”

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