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It’s official: The Virginia Department of Transportation recommends turning Route 1, which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th streets, into an at-grade urban boulevard.

“An at-grade configuration for Route 1 provides most desirable characteristics that meet the multimodal and community vision for National Landing,” according to presentation materials from a virtual VDOT meeting Wednesday.

The news caps off one year of study, but is not much of a surprise, as the at-grade solution seemed to emerge as the likely recommendation over the last few months despite some concerns about it being more dangerous for pedestrians. But the newest version appears to take into account concerns among some over the number of lanes, pedestrian safety, and the possibility of traffic overflow onto local streets.

The surface-level Route 1 that VDOT envisions would have wide buffered sidewalks on both sides, six to seven narrowed travel lanes, a 30-mph speed limit, wide crosswalks for pedestrians and bicycles, landscaping and medians with pedestrian refuges.

That is a few lanes fewer than the nine-lane option for the intersection with 15th Street S. that VDOT floated earlier this year. Last night’s presentation said eight- and nine-lane options are “not conducive for pedestrians or the vision for Crystal City.”

According to the presentation, however, even these improvements will not significant reduce crashes and increase pedestrian safety, increase transit effectiveness, or reduce vehicle traffic along an at-grade Route 1.

VDOT indicated two things will be needed to make an at-grade Route 1 safer. First is a travel demand management (TDM) strategy to bring down traffic levels. Second, and in response to public comments, the department said it will consider a separated pedestrian crossing over or under Route 1 at 18th Street S.

A “comprehensive and effective TDM strategy that reduces traffic volumes 20% to 30% below existing volumes” will “reduce future congestion and future diversion of traffic to local and regional roads,” according to the presentation materials.

The pedestrian crossing study would look at cost, aesthetics, use, construction feasibility, maintenance and accessibility, the presentation said. Possibilities for grade-separated crossings include a pedestrian underpass, a tunnel connection to the Crystal City underground, or a pedestrian bridge over Route 1.

Both the TDM and pedestrian crossing proposals will be explored in a second phase of the study. The next phase will likely further examine the department’s third recommendation — based on a concept requested by Arlington County staff — to allow all turns at 15th Street S. but no left turns at 18th Street S., near the Crystal City Metro station.

Realizing the urban boulevard vision could cost $180 million, which is less than the $260 million VDOT projects would be needed to create a split-level highway for through-traffic and local traffic, as envisioned in the ten-year-old Crystal City Sector Plan.

The National Landing Business Improvement District has been a champion of turning Route 1 into an urban boulevard. It recently released renderings of a road transformed by protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and prominent sidewalks, as part of a new campaign, “People Before Cars,” which has featured outdoor signs and public advocacy.

The state transportation department is accepting public comments on these recommendations through July 12. A draft report will come out in August and a final report in September.

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Across the country, vehicular fatalities are on the rise.

According to new data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2020 had the highest number of crash fatalities in more than a decade, despite a 13% drop in overall miles driven.

“While Americans drove less in 2020 due to the pandemic, NHTSA’s early estimates show that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes — the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007,” the agency revealed last week. “This represents an increase of about 7.2 percent as compared to the 36,096 fatalities reported in 2019.”

Arlington has not seen the same level of fatal crashes, particularly those involving pedestrians, as neighboring D.C. But county leaders are still focused on reducing serious crashes via a new Vision Zero Action Plan approved by the Arlington County Board last month.

One way to get drivers to slow down is more active police enforcement — something that more than 80% of ARLnow poll respondents supported in 2016. But that’s a tough proposition with police departments struggling to recruit new officers and ACPD focused on more pressing criminal matters.

Another possible solution: more traffic enforcement cameras. They’re seen as generally effective, without the cost, safety and equity concerns that come with police officers pulling over motorists.

County officials have been asking the state for the authority to place more red light and speed cameras around Arlington. In a partial victory, state lawmakers and Gov. Ralph Northam passed a law last year that allows speed cameras at school crossings, something Arlington has yet to take advantage of.

Putting aside what the county can do within the bounds of state law at the moment, do you — in general — support placing more red light and speed enforcement cameras around Arlington?

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A technology initiative to help Arlington emergency responders — by relying on the heat mapping of crowds — is expected to ramp up next month.

The pilot program looks to equip streetlights with sensors on the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, feeding information to county emergency operations staff and allowing them to monitor potential incidents while helping first responders.

“This means that emergency responders will have more information and more knowledge about an event when arriving upon a situation,” Holly Hartell, assistant chief information officer for strategic initiatives with Arlington County, said in an email.

The sensors won’t provide images of individuals but instead will help with counting people, bicycles and vehicles, according to the county. The devices in the pilot will also be able to gather changes in temperature, relative humidity and air quality, the county says.

Sketch images will be gathered during a one-week testing period to compare actual crowd sizes to an algorithm connected to the sensors, but no images will be captured after that time, Hartell said.

The sensors will be on a wireless network, and non-visual metadata will be anonymized, aggregated and eventually sent to the county’s Open Data Portal and Emergency Operations Center watch desk, a room next to the county’s main dispatch floor that’s typically used for monitoring larger events.

Hartell said the installation and testing of the sensors are scheduled for mid- to late-June. Information gathered by the sensors could be shared on the county’s Open Data Portal as early as this fall.

The project initially considered gathering other kinds of data, such as logging information from nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices like mobile phones, but decided on optical sensors to maximize privacy protection, a county FAQ guide says.

“Arlington County has ownership and full authority over what data is collected,” the county noted in the FAQ.

The county says the technology could improve medical and other public safety response times, as well as awareness of erratic and unexpected incidents.

The project comes through a partnership with Comcast, the nonprofit U.S. Ignite and the state-funded Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

“To launch the demonstration project, the County is accepting a donation of approximately $90,000 from the project partners,” the county said. “The County’s estimated contribution to the project is $13,601 for contractual services needed to mount and maintain the proposed light fixtures throughout the demonstration project.”

The yearlong demo could also help county officials consider using the technology at other locations in the future.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photo 2 via Arlington County

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(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) New renderings from the National Landing Business Improvement District explore what Route 1 would look like if it were surface-level.

These images of protected bike lanes, pedestrian refuges and prominent crosswalks are part of a campaign the BID launched this week touting the benefits of transforming the highway — which is elevated over 12th, 15th and 18th streets — into an at-grade urban boulevard.

People Before Cars” aims to advocate “for the implementation of best practices in urban street design and highway-to-boulevard conversions,” according to the BID.

The new campaign builds on “Reimagining Route 1,” a report it released last year envisioning the highway as a leafy, vibrant urban boulevard. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Transportation is wrapping up a study of how to improve the thoroughfare, which will likely involve making it surface-level.

“The improvement of Route 1 has been a huge priority for the collective community and was even featured in the historic negotiations that brought Amazon’s HQ2 to the area — further cementing its importance in the overall repositioning of National Landing,” said Jay Corbalis, Vice President of Public Affairs for JBG Smith, the largest property owner in the area.

More than half of Arlington residents surveyed by VDOT said Route 1 is not safe, easy or effective to use. About 45% of respondents said cyclists face dangers in the area and 64% want more protected bike lanes.

By 2040, conditions could be worse for drivers, who could experience heavy traffic at snail-like speeds during the morning rush hour, as the National Landing area and the region continues to grow, VDOT projects. Area employment by then is expected to double while the population is expected to grow nearly 50%.

The competing priorities of keeping traffic moving while making the corridor more attractive and safe is a tough balancing act for VDOT, and the BID is pushing a less car-centric approach.

The BID recommends shortening pedestrian crossings, narrowing vehicle travel lanes, dedicating spaces for all modes of transportation and automating traffic enforcement. It also suggests adding lush landscaping, public art and wider sidewalks. Growth does not necessarily equate to more traffic, the BID argues.

“As our area experiences an influx of new residents and workers in the coming years — a population that is anticipated to favor walking and biking as means of transit over cars — we must do all we can to ensure that Route 1 can safely and effectively serve the needs of our growing community,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, President and Executive Director of the National Landing BID.

According to the campaign, traffic fell by 18% between 2000 and 2018, despite 67% population growth during that time. One-quarter of households in National Landing do not have cars, and the number of cars passing through National Landing dropped from 61,000 in 2005 to 47,000 in 2019, the BID says.

Still, JBG Smith and the BID have raised concerns that VDOT still views Route 1 as a highway where drivers are prioritized, the Washington Business Journal reported, after the department previewed a vision of Route 1 that included nine at-grade vehicle lanes at the intersection with 15th Street S.

That worry is shared by some others, who also question whether crossing the road at-grade is safer than the current underpasses.

A group of civic associations, known as Livability 22202, has recommended taking Route 1 below ground instead.

VDOT is slated to issue a new report on possible improvements this summer. A virtual public meeting will be held Wednesday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m.

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(Updated 05/25 at 1 p.m.) The Arlington County Board voted 4-1 last night (Tuesday) to consider establishing a Civilian Review Board for the Arlington County Police Department.

Now the county will advertise a draft ordinance that, if approved in the summer, would outline the roles and responsibilities of this review board. Board member Takis Karantonis dissented.

“As we discuss and debate this ordinance over the next two months, we must both recognize that our community has an interest in additional accountability and transparency related to law enforcement and respect the diligent efforts of our public safety personnel,” said Matt de Ferranti, Chair of the Arlington County Board, in a statement.

What the civilian review board would look like was discussed by the Police Practices Work Group over the last year, which in February presented myriad ways to reform the police department. Some of the powers it suggested the board should have are included in the ordinance.

As written, Arlington’s civilian review board would be able to receive complaints about police conduct, review the police chief’s disciplinary decisions, as well as review finished police investigations, data, policies and the ACPD budget. It would also be able to recommend policy changes and conduct hearings and community outreach.

But it would not have the ability to independently and concurrently investigate officers, which the PPG recommends but County Manager Mark Schwartz does not.

Karantonis said last night the proposed ordinance is deficient in many ways, particularly because the authority to independently investigate a police officer is not baked in. He supported deferring the motion.

“Not a single person who testified for the advertisement of the ordinance as submitted,” he said. “In my inbox, I don’t see a single email in support.”

Fifteen PPG participants, community members and advocates told the County Board to defer action so the ordinance could be rewritten to allow for independent investigations.

“The Black and brown community is telling you that we need a civilian review board with teeth,” said community member Wilma Jones.

Minneapolis’s weak review board allowed Derek Chauvin to remain an officer despite multiple complaints of misconduct before he killed George Floyd, said Michelle Woolley, of Arlington for Justice. Meanwhile, the review board in St Louis, unable to investigate police shootings concurrently with police, had to wait more than five years to evaluate 21 shootings.

Public defender Brad Haywood said in a letter to the county that review-only models found in Virginia Beach and Fairfax are seen as “rubber stamps for police internal affairs.”

“The review bodies rarely recommend corrective action, and so far as I know they have never brought about proactive measures to address broader institutional problems, such as racial disparities in traffic enforcement or over-policing of misdemeanor conduct,” he said.

After the meeting, Julius D. Spain, Jr., the president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, told ARLnow the board needs to revise the ordinance’s “admitted defects.”

“This current version of the CRB is not equitable and will not hold up in the long term to engender trust by our community in the public safety system,” he said. “The voices of communities of color need to be centered in this conversation.”

The public can provide direct feedback throughout June and at the July meeting. After the Board votes in July, assuming the ordinance is approved and not deferred, members of the review board would be appointed in the fall.

In a report, the county articulated many reasons not to include investigative powers.

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The County Board is set to consider a set of projects that would upgrade sidewalks and improve a small park.

Of the four, three focus on pedestrian improvements with an eye toward walkability for Arlington Public Schools students in the Bluemont, Columbia Heights and Fairlington neighborhoods. The fourth would fund improvements to 11th Street Park in Clarendon.

These upgrades, at a cost of roughly $2 million in total, were given a thumbs up last December by Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. This group identifies needed improvements such as sidewalks, street beautification, street lights and parks and recommends them to the County Board.

At the intersection of 6th Street N. and N. Edison Street in Bluemont, the committee proposes to widen some corners and build out the sidewalks as well as upgrade landscaping and accessible ramps.

“It’ll be very visible to cars that people are crossing,” project representative Nick Pastore said during the December meeting. “That will help slow the rate of speed of cars going around those corners.”

Drivers take these residential roads “at a pretty decent speed” to avoid N. George Mason Drive between N. Carlin Springs Road and Wilson Blvd, he said.

At the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Scott Street in Columbia Heights, nearu Columbia Pike, NCAC is requesting $500,000 to conduct a feasibility study for improving the intersection by extending the street corners, and making improvements to the crosswalks, landscaping and accessible ramps.

“This improved crossing will help students walking from nearby S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston [Elementary School] safely cross a busy road,” said Kristin Haldeman, director of multimodal transportation planning for Arlington Public School, in a letter to the county.

She added that the extra curb space “will provide more room for students in the area who attend Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School to wait for their bus at the intersection.”

Columbia Heights Civic Association member Sarah McKinley welcomed the project for the neighborhood of apartment buildings and condos, saying the committee has been criticized over the years for mostly benefitting single-family neighborhoods.

“Here’s an example of an NC project that can benefit both types of neighborhoods,” she said.

In Fairlington, the committee proposes a sidewalk, curb, and gutter along the north side of S. Abingdon Street between 31st Street S. and 31st Road S. — near the STEM Preschool and the former Fire Station 7.

Fairlington representative Ed Hilz said these changes would improve walking paths for students getting to Abingdon Elementary School.

“Currently, there’s a staircase that is not very convenient to negotiate for children,” he said.

Finally, a green space at 11th Street N. and N. Danville Street in Clarendon would get new furnishings, park signage and path lighting. Additionally, the lawn will be aerated.

“I think this park is heavily used so all these upgrades will be a tremendous benefit for the community,” project representative Alyssa Cannon said.

Money for the projects will come from the 2016 and 2018 Community Conservation bonds.

Images via Google Maps

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(Updated 4/5/21) The Arlington Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) will be teaching people how to respond to life-threatening situations until help arrives.

Over the course of a free, 2.5-hour class, anyone who lives, works or volunteers in Arlington can learn skills such as how to stop severe bleeding and provide psychological first aid. The class, “Until Help Arrives,” is part of a national campaign to teach the public how to help during emergencies from car accidents to active shooter situations.

The next hands-on training course is Saturday, April 10 from 10 a.m.-noon at 1429 N. Quincy Street, a site the county had used for drive-thru and mobile COVID-19 testing. The next virtual training will be on Apr. 29 from 6:30-9 p.m.

There has been an uptick in interest during the pandemic, said Lucía Cortés, Engagement Liaison for the Arlington County Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management. That’s not to mention the recent spate of mass shootings in the United States.

“We’ve actually seen a significant increase in class interest over the past seven months, with enrollment increasing by 100% while increasing our class frequency to at least once per month,” Cortés said. “Over 160 people have attended our virtual trainings.”

Attendees will learn how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1, according to the county.

According to Until Help Arrives, the program emphasizes five steps for civilians to take during an emergency while waiting for medical assistance:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Protect the injured from harm
  3. Stop any bleeding
  4. Position the victim so they can breathe
  5. Provide comfort

“The County’s CERT program was created in the wake of 9/11 by concerned residents wanting to assist their communities during emergencies,” Cortés said. “Since 2004, nearly 1,000 community members have completed ArlCERT training.”

CERT asks that interested people register to receive a link to the virtual event. Once registered, class attendees are asked to download the training materials and watch a prerequisite video.

Photo via Arlington County

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) The Arlington County Board is set vote this Saturday, March 20 on a nearly $1 million project to improve the intersection at N. Pershing Drive and Washington Blvd.

The busy intersection in Lyon Park lacks accessible curb ramps and has narrow sidewalks, long crossings and outdated bus stops, per the county manager’s report, creating a harrowing experience for many pedestrians and cyclists.

Concerns about the intersection were first brought up in May 2018. Four other nearby intersections along N. Pershing Drive were approved for “Complete Streets” pedestrian safety upgrades last year.

The requested $987,270 for the newest project will improve safety and accessibility at the Pershing and Washington intersection by expanding sidewalks and updating curb ramps to better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the county says. It also shortens crossings.

Designs were completed last summer.

If approved, construction is expected to start early this summer according to Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesperson Eric Balliet.

More details about the timeline will come after the county’s approval and a contractor is onboard, Balliet notes in an email to ARLnow. The project is being funded by grants from the Virginia Department of Transportation, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, as well as funds from the county’s Capital Projects Fund.

Ardent Company is being recommended as the construction company by county staff, after the firm came in as the lowest bidder out of six.

Ardent has worked with the county on numerous projects, including the Green Valley Town Square project, the Ballston Metro station’s bus bays, and pedestrian improvements in Crystal City.

Photo via Arlington County

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Intersection of N. Carlin Springs Road and N. Edison Street (Photo via Walk Arlington)

Pedestrian safety improvements at N. Carlin Springs Road are nearing completion.

The project’s goal is to increase pedestrian safety on busy N. Carlin Springs Road at the intersections of N. Edison Street and N. Wakefield Street. Work first began in November after the County Board approved the project in July.

The project is expected to be completed this month weather permitting, according to the Department of Environmental Services spokesperson Eric Balliet.

Last month, a Rapid Flashing Beacon was installed at the N. Edison Street intersection. Medians were also restored in January.

At the N. Wakefield Street intersection, all the concrete and base asphalt work was completed earlier this year to extend the curbs and shorten crossing distance, making pedestrian crossings safer amid the fast-moving traffic.

Other work finished includes adding high visibility crosswalks at both intersections and improving ramps to meet Americans with Disabilities Act compliance.

However, there’s still work that needs to be done.

At the N. Edison Street intersection, a retaining wall is currently under construction. Milling and paving still need to be completed as well as adding pavement markings and signage. Due to this, some sidewalks may be closed to pedestrians until the work is finished.

Funding for the project is being shared between the county and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Pedestrian safety has long been an issue at these intersections and on Carlin Springs Road in general. The county has recently increased fines for speeding on number of streets, including a different portion of Carlin Springs Road, as a means to protect pedestrians.

Also, this month, Arlington County is piloting a temporary lane closure to help create a buffer for pedestrians and students as they walk and bike to school. This comes just as some students return to in-person learning in nearly a year.

Photo via Walk Arlington

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A group formed by Arlington County after last summer’s nationwide racial justice protests is recommending myriad reforms to Arlington County Police Department operations.

Leading up to the formation of the Police Practices Work Group, locals were protesting police violence against unarmed civilians and the county had received a number of complaints about police conduct, as well as calls for police reform.

On Monday, 15 Arlington County residents presented the highlights of their report — which included more than 100 recommendations — to County Manager Mark Schwartz. They suggested a model for a civilian review board, changes to how police enforce traffic violations and provide mental health services, and lastly, alternatives to the police for resolving disputes.

“It’s an excellent piece of work,” Schwartz said.

All the recommendations can be found in the final report.

Assuming the county establishes a police review board, members said it should be one made of civilians with an independent auditor presiding. The review board would have up to 15 Arlington County residents and would be closed to current and former ACPD officials. The board would have the authority to conduct independent investigations and compel the release of information.

These authorities would not be used lightly, said Rodney Turner, a committee member.

“We will try to do things without getting a subpoena first and we will look to ACPD reports to see if any investigation by the oversight body is necessary,” he said.

Another group looked for ways to improve road safety without hurting underprivileged communities. It recommended, among other things, more automated traffic enforcement cameras and a sliding payment scale for fines.

But “technology is not the panacea,” member Kathleen McSweeney said. Privacy remains a concern and the county should be sensitive to camera placement so certain communities do not feel targeted, she said.

Implementation of the sliding scale would likely require action by the state legislature, said Allison Carpenter, who chaired the traffic enforcement group.

Additionally, the county should delegate the response to most mental health crises to clinicians and volunteers, said Naomi Verdugo, the chair of the mental health subcommittee. Police would only respond as a last resort or if the risk of violence is high.

Verdugo also said the county’s Crisis Intervention Center should be staffed with more clinicians and advertised as a place where police, emergency services and family members can drop off people experiencing crises. The report recommends upping non-police security staffing at the center.

Finally, a group focused on ways to change Arlington’s “culture of calling 9-1-1,” and finding other ways of resolving disputes between neighbors.

Devanshi Patel, who chaired the alternative dispute resolution subcommittee, noted that many 9-1-1 calls are related to “suspicious activity,” which can take many forms. She recommended a private-public campaign focused on the importance of properly using 9-1-1 and choosing another hotline or resource in other circumstances.

Patel said the legal system needs to be reformed “from entry to exit,” especially to divert people from being detained unnecessarily.

“The focus should be placed on opportunities for ways to avoid criminal records because of collateral consequences not only to the person but also the community,” she said.

In the next few weeks, the county will receive an independent study from law enforcement expert Marcia Thompson, who examined ACPD policies and data on the use of force, training and supervision, body-worn cameras, recruitment and retention and internal affairs.

Image via Arlington County

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As early as mid-spring, light poles along Wilson Blvd in Clarendon will be outfitted with new fixtures that monitor crowds and identify potential emergencies.

The technology will be installed sometime this spring as part of a pilot project involving multiple Arlington County departments as well as Comcast, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and US Ignite — a nonprofit focused on community innovation. The initiative is dubbed the “Safety and Innovation Zone demonstration project.”

During its recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board voted 4-1, with Takis Karantonis dissenting, in favor of the pilot project. US Ignite is donating $90,000 to buy the light fixtures, which Comcast will provide, along with a three-month trial of public Wi-Fi in the area.

Karantonis said his vote should not be interpreted as a vote of no-confidence, but rather, it should signal that he is still skeptical and would like to see more public engagement.

The primary use for the fixtures, to be installed along the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, will be “people counting,” said Holly Hartell, who presented the project on behalf of the Department of Technology Services. In other words, the light fixtures will monitor crowd sizes and flow to recognize unexpected movements that could indicate a potential threat or emergency situation.

“This is an effort to speed things up where seconds and minutes count,” said Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz. “If we could gain information to send the right resource to the right place in a timely fashion that could really accelerate us operationally and also safety-wise.”

The light fixtures do not have the capacity to videotape people, capture images or provide identifying information, Hartell said. They can pick up the presence or absence of an event they have been programmed to detect, such as a large crowd moving quickly. This data will be converted into text and sent to a dashboard in the county’s Emergency Communications Center.

“Everything will be anonymous,” Hartell said. “You will never be able to identify an individual person.”

Later on, the technology could be used to detect falls, blasts, shots, and distress cries, as well as sudden temperature changes or the presence of smoke.

The fire chief added that “this [pilot] is just a start and we hope to be able to build this out in the county in time.”

“We are aware of people who are concerned,” Hartell later told ARLnow, of questions raised about the project. “I understand their concerns, and I want to give them the confidence that what we’re looking at is not going to be in any way impacting their privacy.”

The partners in the project — CCI, US Ignite and Comcast — are all providing best practices on collecting data while respecting privacy, she said. The county has also developed a privacy framework to use as it goes about the project.

“We are protecting people’s privacy while improving our services,” she said.

The pilot project will be in place for about one year. The first few months will be spent refining the uses for the technology, followed by six months of data collection, and finally, an assessment period. Next spring, the county will decide if the project could be replicated elsewhere. At that time, there will be robust public engagement opportunities, Hartell said.

During the meeting, Hartell said the block was chosen because it has a vibrant business district and a “pretty active restaurant and pedestrian activity,” even now during the pandemic.

One incident the technology might have caught in that location, had it been in place a few years ago: the famous 2018 Cheesecake Factory incident, when a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control

The original proposal was to focus on social distancing and mask-wearing, according to the staff report. A small number of business members of the Clarendon Alliance were consulted on the idea, and their concern led to a shift away from coronavirus measures, staff said.

Photo 1 via Google Maps, photos 2-3 via Arlington County

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