Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) After a launch delayed by the pandemic, mobility company Helbiz has started putting e-scooters onto Arlington and Alexandria streets.

The company announced yesterday that it would immediately move forward with bringing 100 new scooters to locations in Arlington and 200 to Alexandria. Like other scooter companies, like Lime or Bird, Helbiz scooters are unlocked by scanning a code in a smartphone app, with the cost of each ride determined by distance and parking.

“The vehicles will also be able to operate between these cities’ for riders’ convenience,” the company said in a press release. “These fleets follow the company’s successful launch of e-bikes in neighboring Washington, D.C., highlighting Helbiz’s continued growth in the area and its commitment to offering eco-friendly micro-mobility solutions to the community.”

While Helbiz — an Italian-American transportation company founded in 2015 — was approved for e-bike use in Alexandria, the company said those plans have hit a snag.

“We plan to launch a fleet of 200 e-bikes in Alexandria in Q4 of this year,” said Gian Luca Spriano, Director of International Business Development. “Unfortunately, our bike manufacturer experienced delays due to COVID, and we’re working closely with them to get our bikes in Alexandria as soon as possible.”

Helbiz was not listed as one of the scooter operators granted a permit to operate in Arlington earlier this year, though there have been several changes in the local e-scooter world amid the pandemic.

“Helbiz is in the process of obtaining a permit to offer e-scooters in Arlington,” said Eric Balliet, spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services. “Final steps include providing the County a device for testing, which is expected later this week.”

The distribution of and access to scooters have faced some concerns at the Alexandria City Council that the programs disproportionately favored wealthy, predominately white Old Town at the exclusion of lower-income communities. In response, Helbiz said in a press release that it has launched the Helbiz Access Program to provide discounts on rides for low-income residents.

Photo via Helbiz/Facebook

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Arlington County Police are looking for a teenager accused of trying to rob a scooter rider in Virginia Square.

Police were dispatched to N. Lincoln Street, in the area of Arlington Science Focus School and Hayes Park, Monday afternoon for a reported robbery by force.

“Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 1:45 p.m., the victim was riding her scooter in the area when the suspect approached her and attempted to grab her backpack unsuccessfully,” ACPD said in a crime report. “The victim turned around and was struck by the suspect, but was able to run away and seek assistance. The victim sustained minor injuries.”

“The suspect is described as a skinny white male, approximately 15 years old, 5’3″, with curly brown hair, wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans,” police said. “The investigation is ongoing.”

Also on Monday, a scuffle in Virginia Hospital Center left an officer with minor injuries and a 22-year-old man behind bars. More from a crime report:

ASSAULT & BATTERY ON POLICE, 2020-05110041, 1600 block of N. George Mason Drive. At approximately 10:37 a.m. on May 11, officers on scene at the hospital were attempting to restrain a subject who began acting disorderly. A brief struggle ensued, during which the suspect struck an officer with a closed fist. The officer sustained minor injuries. Daunte Butler, 22, of No Fixed Address, was arrested and charged with Assault and Battery on Law Enforcement. He was held on no bond.

Map via Google Maps

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) Five e-scooter firms won approval to operate in Arlington County, but others currently operating in Arlington were told until they have until this Sunday to clear out.

Lyft and Spin, which as of Tuesday still have scooters on Arlington streets, had their permit applications denied, Arlington Department of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet said in an email.

Last fall, Spin was one of the few scooter companies leading the charge in Arlington on docks and incentives for proper parking for scooters.

E-scooter and e-bike company Jump also applied to offer e-bikes in Arlington but was denied. No other e-bike operators, including Lime which had previously deployed e-bikes to local sidewalks, were approved for operation. Lime did not apply for an e-bike permit, Balliet said.

According to Balliet:

Staff reviewed the applications and, based on scoring criteria, denied a permit to the following companies:

  • Lyft — Staff was not presented with a Lyft scooter that has a speedometer, so we denied their e-scooter application due to not providing the required speedometer on their devices, and because their overall application score was insufficient to earn a share of the initial fleet cap
  • JUMP — Their e-bike application was denied due to not providing a speedometer on their bikes
  • Spin — Their e-scooter application was denied because their overall application score was insufficient to earn a share of the initial fleet cap

While Jump’s e-bike permit was denied, the company was one of the five approved to operate scooters in Arlington. The other four are Bird, Jump, Lime, Razor and Skip.

Arlington isn’t alone in slimming down the number of companies operating scooters. In D.C. the number of scooter operators was cut from eight to four: Jump, Lyft, Skip and Spin. This means only Skip and Jump scooters can be ridden in both D.C. and Arlington.

For the scooter operators told to pack up, Balliet said they have until Sunday, March 15, to remove their devices from Arlington.

Photo courtesy Rob Mandle/Crystal City BID

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Morning Notes

It’s Primary Day — Today is Super Tuesday, the presidential primary day in Virginia and 13 other states across the U.S. In Arlington, polls are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Arlington public schools are closed to students today. [Arlington County, Twitter]

Beyer, Lopez Endorse Biden — Following his decisive victory in the South Carolina primary, former Vice President Joe Biden has picked up endorsements locally from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Del. Alfonso Lopez (D). Lopez and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe were stuck in an elevator in Richmond for a half hour yesterday while heading to a Biden event. [Press Release, Twitter]

County OKs Five Scooter Companies — “The lone applicant seeking to provide electric-bicycle service in Arlington has been rejected by county officials, but five operators of electric-scooter devices did make the grade, County Manager Mark Schwartz told County Board members on Feb. 25. The five e-scooter firms – Bird, Jump, Lime, Razor and Skip – were among eight that had sought permission to operate in the county. The other three were rejected for various reasons, including having no speedometers on their devices.” [InsideNova]

Cristol Encourages Volunteering for Erik — “As you may have seen in the news, our colleague and friend, Erik, is facing a tough health challenge…  here’s what we can do for him: Go to a civic association or commission meeting. Volunteer. Embody Erik’s example & make this place better by showing up. And take a picture, and tag it #HereForErik so we can share.” [Twitter]

I-66 Tolling Deemed a Success — “About 700 more people each day total are commuting along the Interstate 66 corridor inside the Capital Beltway now compared to before tolls for solo drivers and an expanded rush-hour period began, and there are also fewer car trips each morning… Virginia state officials have said the goal of the tolls has been to move more people in the corridor, and see the higher count of commuters as a sign the system is working.” [WTOP]

Coworking Space Coming to Courthouse — “Flexible workspace provider Venture X is making its first foray into the Washington, D.C., market, after reaching a deal to take the top floor of the Navy League Building in Arlington, Virginia.” [CoStar]

Cupid the Cat Now Up for Adoption — “Two weeks after undergoing emergency surgery to remove an arrow from his head, Cupid is ready to find a new home. The Animal Welfare League of Arlington’s veterinary director cleared Cupid on Monday, March 2, for adoption.” [Patch]

ACFD Assists With McLean FireUpdated at 8:25 a.m. — Arlington County firefighters helped Fairfax County’s fire department battle a massive house fire in McLean last night. [Twitter]

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By the end of the month, Arlington County will start posting signs making it clear where e-scooters and e-bikes are not welcome.

The county today revealed that the sidewalks along nine different stretches of road, in six Arlington neighborhoods, will be off-limit to scooters and similar personal mobility devices. That follows the November passage of an ordinance allowing e-scooter and e-bike operation in the county, following a temporary pilot program.

The new no-go zone for scooters and the like, deemed “key sidewalk conflict areas,” are:

  • Ballston: North Quincy Street between North Glebe Road and 9th Street North, westbound Fairfax Drive between North Glebe Road and North Wakefield Street
  • Court House: North Veitch Street between Wilson Boulevard and Lee Highway
  • Crystal City: South Eads Street between 12th Street South and 22nd Street South, and between Fort Scott Drive and South Glebe Road
  • Lyon Park: North Pershing Drive between Washington Boulevard and North Barton Street
  • Pentagon City: Army Navy Drive between South Nash Street and South Joyce Street, South Hayes Street between 15th Street South and 18th Street South
  • Rosslyn: Westbound Wilson Boulevard between North Oak Street and North Courthouse Road

“Later this month, new signage prohibiting sidewalk-riding will be installed next to protected bicycle lanes, where people biking are separated from drivers with a parking lane or other physical barrier,” Arlington County said in a press release. “When a protected bike lane is available in the same direction of travel, shared e-scooter and e-bike riders must use it instead of the sidewalk.”

“Signage will be placed at the start of a sidewalk where sidewalk-riding is banned,” the press release said. “Initial enforcement of the new restrictions will focus on education and warnings.”

The county is now evaluating other stretches of sidewalk that are not next to protected bike lanes for possible scooter prohibition, “in the interest of public safety and welfare.”

Arlington has set up a website — ridedockless.com — that lists information about e-scooter and e-bike riding in the county, including rules, parking etiquette and info for businesses.

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Arlington County Police and medics are on scene of a crash involving an Arlington County school bus and an electric scooter.

The crash happened around 3:45 p.m. at the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Oak Street in Rosslyn. Initial reports suggest the scooter rider has serious but non-life threatening injuries.

Students were on board at the time but no injuries were reported on the bus, according to scanner traffic. The students were loaded onto another bus to continue their journey home.

N. Oak Street and at least one lane of Wilson Blvd was blocked at the crash scene as of 4:15 p.m., as police investigate the crash.

Vernon Miles contributed to this report

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Morning Notes

Thieves Hit Three Local Car Dealerships — A group of thieves stole a dozen cars from three car dealerships in Arlington. Some of the thefts were caught on surveillance video. In one instance, five vehicles were damaged as the thieves made their getaway. [WJLA, Arlington County]

Some Amazon Neighbors Wanted More — “Amazon.com Inc. easily won approval this weekend to start work on its first new HQ2 construction in Arlington, yet many of the company’s new neighbors remain exasperated over the benefits the community will receive… Though Amazon’s proposed investments may seem substantial, some people residing close Met Park feel that these benefits will inevitably fall short in mitigating the impacts of the construction.” [Washington Business Journal]

Spotted: Albino Squirrel — An albino squirrel was caught on video in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood. [Facebook]

Accounting Firm Touts ‘Zero-Waste’ Office in Rosslyn — “Grant Thornton LLP has consolidated its workforce in the Washington, D.C., area in the firm’s MetroDC office – its first zero-waste office in the country. The office, located at 1000 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, unites staff from other Washington-area locations and is the firm’s largest, by headcount, in the United States.” [Grant Thornton]

Nearby: Alexandria Bans Scooters from Sidewalk — The Alexandria City Council has voted to ban electronic scooters from sidewalks across the city. [ALXnow]

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Morning Notes

Scooters Can Officially Ride on Sidewalks, Trails — Details about the new, William Shatner-approved permanent e-scooter and e-bike regulations approved by the County Board over the weekend: “Motorized scooters and skateboards will have a top speed of 15 miles per hour, and e-bicycles will have a top speed of 20 miles per hour on streets and trails. When operating on public sidewalks, the top speed of all the devices is restricted to six miles per hour. The devices will not be allowed to operate on sidewalks where a protected bicycle lane is available and may be prohibited from other sidewalks.” [Arlington County]

Progress on Second Ballston Metro Entrance Plan — “At long last, Arlington seems to be making real progress on building a western entrance to the Ballston Metro station — and that includes finding a path to fund the stalled project. County officials plan to set aside an extra $25 million for the Metro station entrance, then ask for $33.5 million in regional transportation funding for the project.” [Washington Business Journal]

Ballston Harris Teeter Development OKed — “A mixed-use redevelopment approved today by the County Board will replace the Harris Teeter and the American Service Center on N. Glebe Rd. with apartments, a new grocery store, other ground floor retail and a new public open space… community benefits will include a $4.1 million contribution to affordable housing; new public street connections; improvements to the traffic signals at Randolph Street and Glebe Road, and the replacement of a large water main under Glebe Road.” [Arlington County]

Talento Not Seeking Reelection — “I have decided not to seek reelection to my School Board seat. Fulfilling my duties as a public servant take first priority for me and, while it is an honor to serve on the School Board, running a campaign while simultaneously fulfilling these responsibilities is not the best way for me to ensure our students have the future they deserve.” [Blue Virginia]

Jennie Dean Park Project Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a $15.5 million contract with MCN Build, Inc. to begin Jennie Dean Park’s long-awaited transformation.” [Arlington County]

Caps Host TAPS Families at Iceplex — “Late Thursday afternoon, family members of fallen soldiers got a chance to skate with Capitals players in Arlington, Virginia. The Capitals hosted the event with an organization called TAPS – the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.” [WJLA]

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Morning Notes

Residents Want Second Pentagon City Metro Entrance — “Some longtime residents have spent years agitating for just such a study of their roads and public transit options, seeing a need long before HQ2 was a twinkle in Jeff Bezos’ eye. They’re eager to see an evaluation of how much new density the area can bear, and what solutions could make it easier for Pentagon City residents to get around — perhaps most notably, they’re pressing to see a second entrance for the neighborhood’s Metro station.” [Washington Business Journal]

Pentagon City Mall Seeking Sidewalk Cafe Upgrades — Simon, owner of the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall, is seeking to make some additions to the sidewalk cafes in front of the mall on S. Hayes Street. Proposed upgrades, to be considered by the Arlington County Board this weekend, include: “light poles, light strings and fencing with tray tops.” [Arlington County]

No, Crystal City Is Not Named for a Chandelier — “According to Robert P. Kogod, the former co-CEO of the Charles E. Smith Companies — which developed Crystal City — the name for the neighborhood’s first building, Crystal House, came first, and the chandelier came afterward.” [Washingtonian]

County Board to Consider Incentives to Keep PBS HQ — “Arlington County Board is considering offering up to $500,000 to retain the Public Broadcasting Service, nearly a year after PBS already committed to doing just that. The Arlington County Board is expected to consider the Economic Development Incentive grant at its meeting Saturday, along with a $450,000 grant to the Incentive Technology Group, which is also staying in Crystal City under a new lease.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Pike Affordable Housing Building Opens — “A ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the opening of Gilliam Place, a former church, and its 173 affordable housing units in Arlington Thursday morning. The complex is aimed at helping lower income and special needs families, and… it’s already home for a nonverbal woman living with autism.” [NBC 4, WJLA]

New Scooter Corral in Rosslyn — “Yee-haw!! New ‘Shared Mobility Device’ corral for Rosslyn’s North Moore Street.” [Twitter/@ArlingtonDES]

Live Action ‘Clue’ Planned in Arlington — “Time to solve a murder mystery while taking part in an incredible game and Scavenger Hunt as we bring the game of CLUE® – without a board – to our own backyard!” [Facebook]

Reminder: I-395 HOV Becoming Express Lanes — “The time has come for big change for local commuters: after two years of work, the I-395 HOV lanes inside the Beltway are becoming express toll lanes… The switch over is slated to take place on Sunday, Nov. 17.” [ARLnow]

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Arlington may soon be making electric scooters a more or less permanent fixture of the county’s streets and sidewalks.

The County Board will vote on an ordinance change during its meeting this Saturday, November 16 to allow e-scooter companies to operate in Arlington — provided companies fulfill the requirements of a new permitting system starting next year.

The code change would make the pilot program for “micro-mobility devices” a permanent part of Arlington’s transit system after officials originally approved a nine-month pilot program in September 2018 — and extended it ever since.

If Board members approve the proposed code changes on Saturday, it would allow scooter companies in Arlington to continue operating as long as they fulfill the requirements of the new permit application and pay the still-to-be-determined application fees by January 1, 2020. Much like the pilot program, the County Manager’s office would also be allow to cap the number of devices permitted per company, demand equitable deployment, and levy penalties.

The program will also specify some “community and information sharing requirement” according to a staff report to the Board — a similar requirement to the one in Los Angeles that Uber refused to fulfill, and which led city officials to rescind the company’s permits over Uber’s objections.

But moving forward on the scooter program in Arlington isn’t a surprise considering a recent Mobility Lab report encouraging county leaders to make the scooter program permanent.

The recent report drew support from bicycle and pedestrian advocates, and also recommended that the county roll out some changes next year, including:

  • Adding more safe infrastructure like protected bike lanes for scooters and cyclists, as outlined in the county’s recently updated Master Transportation Plan.
  • Addressing parking complaints by creating a map of approved parking spots as well as “no-go” areas.
  • Eliminating barriers to lower-income users by waiving company’s requirements that users need credit cards

Users traveled just over 400,000 miles on scooters in Arlington between Oct. 2018 and June 2019, per a staff report, but some crashes and blocked sidewalks have prompted discussions about age restrictions and designated parking spaces as well as allowing scooters on some trails.

“Staff proposes that it be permissible to use County sidewalks (with limitations), trails, and on-street bicycle facilities for micro-mobility travel, unless specifically signed/marked otherwise,” wrote county staff in a report to the Board for Saturday’s meeting. “One of the first steps in implementation of the new ordinance would be to sign/mark as prohibited for riding those key sidewalk conflict areas identified during the Pilot program.”

The question of whether scooter riders should be allowed on sidewalks has been a topic of debate among some local groups. Staff is recommending allowing sidewalk use in areas of the county where bike lanes are not a viable option.

“Key stakeholder groups including the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Bicycle Advisory Committee, and Commission on Aging expressed concern that irresponsible sidewalk-riding could be a danger to pedestrians of any age, however they also expressed support for allowing responsible sidewalk-riding where it was not inconsistent with volumes of pedestrians using the facility, and where safe in-road options are not present,” the staff report says.

The Commission on Aging also expressed concerns that “scooter parking would create an obstruction to safe pedestrian circulation, especially near public transit stops and stations.” County staff seeks to address those concerns with restrictions that specify that scooters should be parked upright and off to the side on sidewalks, if not in a designated scooter dock.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Richmond passed legislation requiring localities to create their own regulations for where users could ride, and park, the devices.

The new ordinance would not, however, preclude future changes to the scooter program.

“Staff commits to a review of the program and consideration of potential refinements to the ordinance at or about one year after ordinance changes go into effect,” a county staff report states.

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

On November 16th the County Board will hold a public hearing on the “micromobility ordinance.”

In addition to providing a permanent framework for “for-hire” micromobility companies like Bird and Lime to offer e-scooters and e-bikes on Arlington streets, the ordinance tries to finally make some sense of Arlington’s vague and conflicting rules and regulations around bicycles, e-bikes, scooters, e-scooters, motorized skateboard and a whole range of other weird and unique ways to get a person around without a car.

Unfortunately, the ordinance still needs some work and time is short – if Arlington does not regulate these devices before the first of the year, state law will take over and the window of opportunity will have closed.

The Good

The draft ordinance gets several things right. First off, it creates clear regulations on where it is and is not appropriate to park micromobility devices. They must not be parked:

  1. Where they would obstruct curb ramps, pedestrian access within bus stops or fire access
  2. On private property without permission
  3. On public property other than streets and sidewalks except where designated.

Finally, it requires them to be “parked upright, in such a manner as to afford the least obstruction to pedestrians and vehicular traffic.” The fine for violation is set at $50.

Second, the ordinance brings much needed clarity and consistency around who can ride where. All micro-mobility devices would be allowed on streets, in bike lanes, on trails, and on most sidewalks.

Finally, the ordinance transitions the framework of “for-hire” micromobility devices from pilot to permanent and adds a requirement for geographic dispersion to help ensure that this new mobility option is available across Arlington.

Giving “for-hire” micromobility a permanent home on Arlington’s mobility menu is an important milestone given micromobility devices’ potential role in replacing cars for short trips. Half of all trips taken in the U.S. are 3 miles or less. If we don’t regulate them into oblivion, these devices can be extremely attractive and competitive at providing a short distance mobility option to driving alone.

We’ve already seen the beginnings of this in the pilot – micromobility devices were used for 70,000 trips per month during the pilot (despite much of the pilot being during the winter) and about one third of scooter trips replaced what would have otherwise been a car trip.

The Bad

Unfortunately, some not-so-good, nasty provisions have made their way into the ordinance and there’s not much time to get them fixed. The ordinance provides the County Manager the option to unilaterally ban micromobility devices (remember that’s not just scooters, it’s also bikes, e-bikes and e-skateboards) from certain sidewalks while defining no clear process for how such a determination would be made.

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