Press Club
Scene of a fatal crash involving a school bus and a motorcyclist in Green Valley (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Four people died in crashes in Arlington during 2021, the first year of the county’s initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries.

That’s in addition to 61 severe crashes, according to the first annual report evaluating the transportation safety initiative Vision Zero.

Arlington County is measuring the effectiveness of its five-year action plan by tracking the severity of crashes and factors involved, such as speed, alcohol and whether a pedestrian or bicyclist were injured.

This month marks the kickoff of the initiative’s second year, which will feature awareness campaigns around behaviors that lead to serious crashes. The campaign will run through December and concentrate on different behaviors each month, starting with bike awareness.

The overall number of crashes in 2021 — 1,785 — decreased by about 30% compared to previous years, but that was attributable to lower traffic levels compared to pre-pandemic years, according to the report.

All four fatal crashes occurred at intersections, and did not involve a pedestrian or bicyclist. In 2020, there were four fatal crashes and 50 that caused severe injury, according to the county’s crash analysis dashboard.

The report noted the 174 alcohol-related and 487 speed-related crashes in 2021 marked a slight uptick. Speed was a factor in one of the fatal crashes.

Lessons learned

Many of the more than 90 action items the county lists in the framework have been checked off. Arlington has completed or started 36 small-scale safety projects, finished an analysis of 69 crash hot spots, and facilitated 55 transportation safety classes and events, among other tasks.

A graphic shows some of the county’s accomplishments in the first year of the Vision Zero plan (via Arlington County)

Some of the lessons learned in year one include a need to amp up community engagement, and decrease the frequency of crash hot spot analyses from once a year to every two years.

Two walkability routes that were piloted saw opposite outcomes. A pilot on Lorcom Lane in residential North Arlington was extended and county staff are looking to fund a permanent sidewalk there in the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan.

The report noted the Lorcom Lane path “showed high usage, positive community feedback, and observed benefits from separating cars, bikes, and pedestrians.”

But the county halted a similar effort — temporary bollards and wheel stops on S. Carlin Springs Road — months after placement. Arlington Public Schools, Arlington police and community members raised concerns with the pilot after observing “erratic driving around the barriers.”

That area of S. Carlin Springs Road has narrow sidewalks, little or no pedestrian buffer and a history of crashes. The goal of the pilot was to create a safer walking path for students at Campbell Elementary School, Carlin Springs Elementary School and Kenmore Middle School.

County staff will continue to assess options for “enhancing sidewalks and access along the corridor, including connectivity options when the County redevelops the Virginia Hospital Center site,” according to the report.

Several other efforts to increase safety, particularly around schools, advanced in the first year of Vision Zero. The installation of 20 mph school slow zones around 13 schools in early 2022 is under evaluation and could be extended to all schools in the county.

In January, the County Board approved speed cameras in school and work zones, heralding them as a step toward the Vision Zero goal.

In the upcoming year, the report says, there are two full-time employees confirmed to work on Vision Zero and some studies will be completed, such as the evaluation of roadways that have speed limits above 30 mph.

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The Arlington School Board during its April 7, 2022 meeting (via Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington Public Schools is adding funding to its proposed budget to fund positions supporting student mental health and safety.

The revised budget includes about $800,000 to add the equivalent of 5.5 full-time school safety coordinators and restore four psychologist and social worker positions, which were initially cut due to lower enrollment projections.

“I’m really glad to see our budget is paying attention to mental health, which we know is a significant concern locally and nationally,” School Board member Mary Kadera said during the School Board meeting Thursday night.

Members of the School Board unanimously approved several changes to the proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, but the budget is not yet set in stone — final approvals are slated for May.

The additional safety and mental health expenses come as many schools — particularly the middle schools — are seeing an uptick in fights and instances of students either bringing, or threatening to bring, weapons to school, as ARLnow previously reported. School administrators say they are stepping up their focus on social-emotional learning in response.

Last week week, Arlington police investigated text messages referencing potential violence at Swanson and Dorothy Hamm middle schools, but concluded there was no active or ongoing threat, Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. The week before last, a Swanson student brought a taser to school, according to an email to families.

Additionally, in response to students filming peers in the restroom, teachers have started monitoring bathrooms and confiscating students’ phones during bathroom breaks, Fox 5 reported.

Responding to concerns from Swanson staff and parents, administrators said in a School Talk email, provided to ARLnow, that there will be increased monitoring, more mental health and social-emotional learning and improved communication with families and staff when incidents arise.

This year, APS has leaned on specialized school safety staff after removing sworn ACPD School Resource Officers from its buildings last summer.

None of the newly budgeted “school safety coordinators” will go to Swanson, but they will go to Gunston Middle School, the Langston High School Continuation Program and New Directions programs, and the newly renovated education center building that will serve Washington-Liberty High School. There will also be two substitutes.

The coordinators add to an existing 28.5 full-time-equivalent school safety staff members, who once were called “security resource assistants.” APS aims to have at least one coordinator per middle and high school building, with an additional coordinator per 500 students beyond that. Roaming coordinators support multiple elementary schools.

These staff monitor hallways, watch for student behavior during arrival and dismissal and during night time events and activities, ensure searches of students are performed correctly and conduct drills, Director of Safety, Security, Risk and Emergency Management Zach Pope said during a budget work session last month.

They are required to complete more than 60 hours of training, including compulsory minimum training through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, schools spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow.

“APS has been engaging in conversations since 2018 with Arlington County public safety agencies about the best way to adjust these positions and provide maximum level support to the safety, security and wellbeing of our communities,” he said.

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Gunston Middle School (file photo)

The Arlington School Board is set to consider a $1.6 million contract for safety upgrades to the entrance of Gunston Middle School.

At its meeting on Thursday, Board members will also consider approving a preliminary budget of $2.7 million for three other entrance projects.

In 2020, Arlington voters gave the thumbs up to safety renovations for five schools: Gunston, Thomas Jefferson and Williamsburg middle schools, Taylor Elementary School and Wakefield High School.

Construction at Gunston would start in June and be completed in mid-August before school starts on Aug. 29.

Work includes moving the main school entrance and office closer to S. Lang Street, which will require two science rooms to be relocated. The entrance will feature a vestibule where visitors will check in with office staff.

Planned Gunston entrance change (via APS)

The project scope has also expanded to remediate structural issues related to how the building has settled into the ground over time. APS is budgeting $2.5 million, including contingencies, for the Gunston project and any unspent funds will be used for other capital projects.

This summer, APS will also be making upgrades to Wakefield’s entrance. This project will not have to go out to bid and the school system can move forward without School Board approval.

Design and Construction Director Jeffrey Chambers says the Taylor and Williamsburg projects, meanwhile, have fallen behind. Design work is currently just over halfway complete and staff aim to find a contractor this fall and start work next summer.

“We’re very concerned putting those out to bid or getting pricing or trying to get them constructed this summer because… both from references from our consultants and our experience with regard to projects we’ve recently finished, there are some serious issues still in the supply chain,” he told the School Board last month. “We don’t want to start projects, especially with administrative offices, and not be able to finish them.”

APS staff are recommending that work at Jefferson be deferred until APS is ready to make substantial renovations to the school.

“It was going to require a lot more renovations to that building than what we had budgeted for,” he said. “We felt it was better to defer that to a future, larger project.”

The public schools system is staggering these projects, all part of the adopted FY 2021 Capital Improvement Plan, because “rapid construction price escalation and supply chain delays [have] impacted the anticipated construction cost and completion,” according to the presentation.

APS has made security upgrades to more than half of its school buildings and aims to complete this work “within the next few years,” Chambers said.

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Arlington County is receiving $35,000 of assistance to design more “traffic gardens” to help kids learn about traffic safety.

Earlier this week, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) awarded $250,000 of consulting services to five D.C.-area projects with the intention of improving “safety on the region’s roadways, especially for its underserved communities.”

One of those is a joint project from Arlington County and Prince George’s County to build traffic gardens at schools.

“Traffic gardens are miniature transportation networks with familiar roadway elements, in which children can walk, bike, and scoot to learn the rules of the road and practice their transportation safety skills,” principal planner Christine Baker for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services writes to ARLnow.

The hope is that this project and the consulting services being granted will help develop universal guidance and templates so that schools can build its own gardens on “any budget” using a number of different materials and equipment.

Arlington has had two recent examples of temporary school-based traffic gardens, one at Key Elementary School in the Bluemont neighborhood and the other at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington View. Those schools used common, everyday materials — like spray bottles, measuring sticks, string, and chalk — to construct the roadway.

“We expect that schools will use the guidance to evaluate the traffic garden design possibilities for their own site,” says Baker. “Most schools take advantage of under-used hard surfaces outdoors, like blacktops, courts or other asphalt to create more permanent projects, while those with less capacity can retrofit gymnasiums with tape to create pop-up traffic gardens.”

Baker also notes that young students can take the lessons learned on these mini, safer roads and bring them back to their neighborhood.

“Traffic gardens not only help to educate children on the transportation system now but instill safety habits and transportation values that last a lifetime,” Baker says.

The TPB, which operates under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), will in the coming months be hiring a consultant in the  that will be providing working with both counties on the project. It’s unclear at this point when the Arlington schools will have traffic gardens installed.

The initiative fits in with the county’s Vision Zero initiative, a plan to eliminate transportation-related deaths and serious injuries on county streets and trails within the next decade. This includes the recent implementation of “slow zones” near schools.

“Our Vision Zero transportation safety program is not just about engineering safety improvements on our roadways. There is a big emphasis on community engagement and education around safety,” says Baker. “Traffic gardens are an amazing way to educate our community members from a young age to embrace safe transportation practices.”

TPB approved four other projects for funding in nearby jurisdictions, all related to road safety and pedestrian improvements, including in the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Prince William County, and the City of Falls Church.

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Abingdon Elementary School students cross the road on the first day of school (file photo)

(Updated at 9:35 p.m.) Arlington County is looking to lower speed limits near schools as part of its ambitious Vision Zero initiative to eliminate serious traffic-related injuries and deaths by 2030.

This Saturday, the County Board is set to decide whether to authorize a public hearing next month to discuss and potentially approve creating “slow zones” on residential streets near 13 schools.

The proposed 58 zones, with a speed limit of 20 mph, will be near 11 Arlington public schools and well as Bishop O’Connell High School and St. Thomas More Cathedral School.

“Attempts to reduce or eliminate fatal and critical crashes can be achieved by regulating unsafe speeds on our streets with measures such as signage and pavement markings,” a county report said. “Lowering the speed limit can be a basic and powerful tool for reducing vehicle speeds.”

Traditionally, Arlington has installed flashing beacons to encourage drivers to adhere to reduced speed limits near schools. The report said these signs are inconsistently installed and are costly to maintain, while “static signage” and pavement markings, reminding drivers the speed limit is always 20 mph, are cheaper and easier to install.

The signage and markings will be tested out at these 13 sites before they’re installed across Arlington.

“Slower speeds around schools is a no-brainer, and are beneficial for everyone,” Vision Zero program manager Christine Sherman Baker told the Transportation Commission earlier this month. “We want to prioritize safety in school zones because children are still learning how to travel safely: how to cross the street, how to ride a bike. They’re some of our most vulnerable users.”

And they’re learning these skills in risky areas: according to the report, 10 or more speeding-related crashes annually happen within 600 feet of a school in Arlington.

Some schools were chosen because they’re new or have existing infrastructure in need of upgrades, she said. Hoffman-Boston Elementary, Drew Elementary and Gunston Middle schools were chosen because they’re near high-injury networks — and including them would help meet Vision Zero’s equity component.

This fall, Arlington County Police Department has been collecting speeding data that will be compared with new data collected next spring to see if these zones are effective, she said.

The community can provide feedback in March and April of next year, ahead of the county-wide roll out, she added.

The proposal was met with enthusiasm from Transportation Commission members and some members of the public.

“Bravo,” Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said. “I think it’s fantastic.”

Representing local advocacy group Arlington Families for Safe Streets, Gillian Burgess voiced her support for the program during the meeting.

“Slower speeds around schools are not only great for the safety of vulnerable road users, but it also encourages activity, which addresses both child health and health equity,” she said. “It improves air quality and noise pollution around schools… and it promotes mental health and social inclusion.”

ACPD should also “commit publicly” to enforcing speeding near schools, preferably via speed cameras and not just for speeds 10 mph or more above the limit, while the county should consider closing streets in front of schools to cars, Burgess added.

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The right lane of S. Carlin Springs Road reopens to traffic on Saturday (photo via DES)

Temporary bollards and wheel stops along a segment of S. Carlin Springs Road are set to come down this weekend.

Since March, these barriers — closing off the northbound right travel lane from 8th Place S. to 5th Road S. — have been up to give more room to kids walking to their neighborhood schools. On Saturday (July 24), S. Carlin Springs Road will fully reopen to traffic, according to a tweet from Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services.

“APS and the Department of Environmental Services saw an opportunity to create pilot temporary walking routes not on built sidewalks but rather on space carved out from an original travel or parking lane to help students get to school,” DES spokesman Peter Golkin said.

Campbell Elementary School, Glen Forest Elementary School and Carlin Springs Elementary School are all on or near that stretch of S. Carlin Springs Road that starts in Arlington Mill and ends in Glencarlyn.

The pilot walkability route was part of the county’s five-year Vision Zero Action Plan, aimed at eliminating traffic-related deaths and severe injuries. The County Board approved the Vision Zero safety plan this May.  

“Staff collected information on facility use feedback, community experience, field observation of operation, traffic pattern, crash experience, etc.,” Golkin said. “Staff hope to use the comments and data to inform future decisions.”

DES and APS will continue studying how the road is used to decide any future changes to traffic patterns, he said. They also tested out the idea on Lorcom Lane in residential North Arlington, which has seen prior attempts to improve safety for kids walking to school.

Although the test was part of a long-range plan, the department took advantage of conditions this spring — when there were fewer cars on the road due to the pandemic and kids were starting to walk to school again — to pilot the change, Golkin noted.

He says neither the Arlington County Police Department nor APS observed a notable increase or decrease in the number of collisions during the study period. Instead, they saw “challenging and dangerous encounters, but none resulted in a collision.”

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Morning Notes

Northside Social Sued by Songwriters — Clarendon cafe Northside Social is being sued by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) for “unauthorized public performance of its members’ copyrighted musical works.” [Patch]

Phil Vassar Visits Animal Welfare League — “We had a special visitor at AWLA today: country music singer Phil Vassar stopped by the shelter today to meet three neonatal kittens that are named after his hit songs; Deputy Ray, Carlene, and Amazing Grace.” [Facebook]

Focus on Arlington’s School Resource Officers — The Arlington County Police Department has thirteen School Resource Officers, whose job it is to connect with and protect the 27,000 students at Arlington Public Schools. [WJLA]

Arlington’s First Black Firefighters Faced Hardships — “The first of Arlington County’s black firefighters — members of the Hall’s Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the paid men at Station No. 8 — grappled with taunts and inequities in the days of Jim Crow, according to Arlington Public Library records.” [Arlington Fire Journal]

Dems Want More Social Followers — Arlington Democrats are pushing for more social media followers, particularly on Facebook, with the goal of having the most followers of any Democratic organization in the Commonwealth. At last check, Albemarle County Democrats had more followers than Arlington. [InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

Murder of Crows Pooping All Over Shirlington — A large contingent of crows have taken up residence in Shirlington, and locals are getting fed up with cars and sidewalks being covered in bird doo-doo. [WTOP, NBC Washington]

Design Contest for 2019 ‘I Voted’ Sticker — “In an effort to gin up voter enthusiasm during what is expected to be a slow 2019, Arlington election officials… plan to hold a competition to design a logo for next year’s election.” [InsideNova]

Arlington No. 3 on ‘Best Counties’ List — A new list of “best counties” in the U.S. ranks Falls Church — a city — No. 1 while Arlington is No. 3 and Fairfax is No. 6. The list was compiled by the website 24/7 Wall Street. [WTOP]

Mitten Given the Boot By Grand Rapids — The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan is restarting its search for a new city manager after an outcry from residents and interest groups. Arlington Deputy County Manager Carol Mitten was among the three finalists for the job to speak at a community forum, prior to the city announcing the restart. [Fox 17, MLive]

Police Recruiting for Student Safety Patrol Camp — “The Arlington County Police Department’s School Resource Officer Unit is currently accepting applications to the Summer Safety Patrol Camp. This weeklong camp is offered to incoming 4th and 5th grade students who want to participate in safety patrols during the upcoming 2018-2019 academic year.” [Arlington County]

More on Market Common Redevelopment Approval — The redevelopment of a portion of Market Common Clarendon will widen a narrow sidewalk that was the source of resident complaints, among other community benefits. Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey hopes the project can help “bring a little funkiness back into Clarendon.” [Arlington Connection]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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With schools set to welcome students for the new year this coming Tuesday, Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County Police Department are urging everyone to stay safe on the roads.

Police will conduct highly visible traffic enforcement around county schools starting that day, while electronic message boards placed next to the roads will remind everyone of the start of school.

To ensure everyone’s safety, police reminded drivers to:

  • Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
  • Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
  • Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
  • Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers.
    • On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
    • On a multi-lane paved across road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
    • On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bus must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
  • Have all vehicle occupants wear their seat belts.

Students, bicyclists, and pedestrians are reminded to:

  • Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
  • Look before you cross and follow the direction of school crossing guards.
  • Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths, never along the side of a road.

And for general safety, students and parents are reminded to:

  • Ensure students know their address and phone number.
  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Whenever possible, walk or bike with another person. Stay in well-lit areas.
  • Limit the use of devices that may distract you.
  • Avoid engaging with or answering questions from strangers.
  • If something occurs that makes you feel unsafe, report the incident immediately to an adult such as a parent, guardian, principal, teacher or school resource officer.
  • Parents and guardians are encouraged to roleplay possible situations with students and discuss personal safety and awareness tips.

In a video (below) released by APS, Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Police Chief Jay Farr and School Resource Officer supervisor Lt. Susan Noack, the three urge being safe, like staying within speed limits, avoiding distracted driving and looking out for students on bicycles or on foot.

The trio also encouraged parents practice looking both ways at crosswalks before crossing the street, as well as having a buddy to walk with.

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APS Host SafeBAE (via Facebook:SafeBAE)A survivor-driven program on preventing and responding to sexual violence in middle and high schools across the country is coming to Arlington this weekend.

Arlington Public Schools is hosting the SafeBAE (Before Anyone Else) National Summit at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) this Saturday, Dec. 12 from 2-4 p.m.

SafeBAE is a virtual organization that is focused on students by raising awareness about sexual assault and educating them about their rights under Title IX to prevent dating violence. Its programs are designed to give students resources and skills to advocate for consent and safe relationship education.

During Saturday’s program, attendees will hear the stories of four students who were assaulted and how they now work with the organization toward social change. All of the speakers were victims of rape, some of whose stories made national news.

Other panelists include legal experts and members of the School Board.

The event is open to members of the APS community and their families. Tickets are free and available online, but donations are also accepted.

Photo via Facebook/SafeBAE

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Elementary school students got moving and learned about pedestrian safety on the first day of school in Arlington Tuesday morning.

With a police escort, families walked from Fort Barnard Park to Drew Model Elementary School in Nauck as part of a joint pedestrian and cyclist safety initiative by Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington County Police Department.

The new program encourages families to create healthy habits and discuss how to stay safe, Arlington Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy said.

“The message is safety for students both coming from and going to school,” Murphy said before families strolled in the post-Labor Day heat.

Keeping kids safe on streets using “the 3 ‘E’s” of engineering, education and traffic law enforcement are a top priority of the county, added Larry Marcus, Arlington’s transportation, engineering and operations bureau chief.

As she walked her 3-year-old son Kanoa to his first day of Montessori school, lifelong Nauck resident Jaque Tuck, 30, said she wanted to teach her child healthy habits.

“On his very first day, we wanted to let him know everything is okay and to give him some exercise,” the child protective services employee said alongside her husband, real estate agent Karl Tuck.

Julia Stewart, a substitute teacher at the school, said she opted to walk her 11-year-old son Braden and 7-year-old son Tristan to class as a way to build community.

“I wanted to meet people who live in the neighborhood and go to school with us,” Stewart said. “You make it kind of a walking bus.”

Arlington families were notified about a month ago if they lived in a “bus zone” or a “walk zone” — and were encouraged to walk if possible, a department spokeswoman said.

Principal Darryl Evans encouraged Drew Elementary parents to walk their kids to school and supplement the two crossing guards who have posts near the school.

“We have a lot of children who walk in our community. It’s important that the adults help us out,” he said about school with 671 students enrolled this fall.

In a related pedestrian and cyclist safety campaign, some ACPD patrol cars now have rear stickers — with the words “PAL (Predictable, Alert, Lawful)” — that remind drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to share the road.

The release of the decals coincides with enforcement of the state law enacted July 1 requiring that drivers pass “at a reasonable speed” at least three feet from a cyclist they pass, according to a statement issued by the county.

ACPD stepped up high-visibility safety patrols around schools today for the beginning of the school year.

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