Arlington, VA

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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(Updated at 6:50 p.m.) A woman was struck by a vehicle on N. Glebe Road in Ballston during the Wednesday evening rush hour.

The crash happened around 5 p.m., at the intersection of Glebe and 11th Street N.

Witnesses told ARLnow that the woman was struck by the driver of a pickup truck, who may have run a red light, though that account and other details could not be immediately confirmed.

The woman was conscious and breathing but bleeding from the head, according to scanner traffic. A Fairfax County ambulance crew that happened to be driving by was the first on scene to start rendering aid.

“The pedestrian, an adult female, was transported to an area hospital with injuries that are considered non-life threatening,” said Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage.

Police tell ARLnow that the driver remained on scene and the investigation into the crash is continuing. So far there’s no word of any charges being filed.

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(Update at 12:20 p.m.) Dockless e-scooter company Spin is adding more designated parking spaces and discounts around Arlington.

The San Francisco-based company said it has nearly a dozen “Spin Hub” charging stands for parking — mostly around Crystal City and Pentago City, near Amazon’s new headquarters — and is now testing out financial incentives for users to stow scooters there.

Parking at one of the charging stations (or one of Arlington’s eight scooter parking corrals) will now net riders 50% off their next unlock fee, bring the fee from $1 down to 50 cents. It’s a move the company says will make charging and parking more efficient, and it comes as the county is about to review regulations for its scooter pilot program.

The company began installing the charging hubs in Arlington last month to address the safety and parking complaints long-levied at the county’s scooter program.

Spin’s D.C. area General Manager Josh Bear said in an email to ARLnow:

We realize that in order to be a good partner to cities, we need to play a role in helping them manage the consumer demand for sustainable transportation that we’ve unlocked. With the proper financial incentives and rider guidelines, we can potentially influence the behavior of people who use dockless electric vehicles and create more orderly scooter-share programs. We’re excited to test this parking incentivization pilot in Arlington County and Alexandria, with the goal of keeping the public ROW [Right of Way] clear and helping city governments better manage micromobility operators.

Spin issued a statement last week that the new docks and incentives could help curb the traffic some worry Amazon could bring to the region by enhancing the “transit connectivity between the three neighborhoods — Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard — that comprise National Landing.”

The Ford-owned company noted that it partnered on the project with the Crystal City Business Improvement District.

The new hubs are located at the following locations, among others:

  • 1102 S. Eads Street
  • 2611 Richmond Hwy
  • 251 18th Street S.
  • 220 20th Street S.
  • 520 12th Street S.
  • 1901 S. Bell Street
  • 2231 Crystal Drive
  • 2600 Crystal Drive
  • 2711 Richmond highway

A Spin spokeswoman told ARLnow that the parking incentives will also apply to the 13 scooter parking corrals in Alexandria — another jurisdiction weighing updates to its scooter regulations while also grappling with parking complaints.

Spin currently has 200 scooters deployed in Arlington after first rolling out the orange-banded devices back in February.

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Morning Notes

Scooters May Be Allowed on Arlington Sidewalks — “The Board voted unanimously to advertise a public hearing at the Nov. 16, 2019 County Board Meeting to consider proposed regulations of shared mobility devices. The proposed revisions include allowing the [scooters] to be used on County streets, sidewalks and multi-use trails and putting in place a permit fee structure for private companies offering the devices. During the pilot program, the devices have been prohibited on County sidewalks.” [Arlington County]

Clarendon Cafe Rebrands as ‘Three Whistles’ — “CoworkCafe founder Ramzy Azar rebranded the space this week. In addition to a new name, Three Whistles (2719 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, Virginia) has a new look and a new menu. Azar expects to roll out a menu full of Mediterranean small plates in the next few weeks. He says sharable dishes help create the feeling of a gathering place.” [Eater]

Arlington Man Sentenced for Gun Smuggling — “An Arlington man was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his role in the trafficking of firearms to his native country of Honduras. According to court documents, in October 2018, Chris Rodriguez, 57, attempted to smuggle a firearm and 247 rounds of ammunition out of the United States, concealed in a bucket of roofing tar destined for Honduras.” [U.S. DOJ]

‘Verizon Site’ Building OKed — “Crystal City’s Verizon site will be redeveloped with a 19-story apartment tower within walking distance of Metro that will include 12 affordable housing units… The [County] Board voted unanimously to approve the vacation of a portion of the right-of-way for Old South Eads Street, a rezoning and site plan amendment for the proposed redevelopment.” [Arlington County]

Amazon Avoids Donating to Arlington Pols — “Amazon.com Inc. just sent $23,000 in campaign contributions to a total of 26 Virginia lawmakers, resuming its political giving in the state for the first time in months as a crucial statehouse election draws near… it only sent checks to six lawmakers in Northern Virginia (and did not send money to a single politician representing Arlington).” [Washington Business Journal]

DMV Select Staff Fights Fraud  — “Three members of [the Commissioner of Revenue’s DMV Select office] staff (Isaac Kateregga, Ahmad Abdalla and supervisor Michelle Neves) recently were honored by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles in Richmond. They were presented with ‘Fraud Busters’ awards for their work in disrupting efforts to commit misdeeds… [involving] title fraud.” [InsideNova]

Reminder: Arlington Restaurant Week Kicking Off — “Arlington Restaurant Week, organized by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, will run from October 21-28. Diners can visit a number of Arlington restaurants offering special menu items at discounted prices.” [ARLnow, Arlington Chamber of Commerce]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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Arlington’s Mobility Lab released a recent report on the county’s e-scooter and e-bike pilot program, providing an extra boost to arguments for allowing the devices permanently.

The Arlington County Board voted in June to extend the end date of the pilot program through December, prior to which the Board will need to make another decision on the future of so-called “shared mobility devices.”

The 102page report says that scooters and e-bikes are a “viable complement to the County’s transportation ecosystem that increases mobility options and provides potential sustainability benefits.” However, it also lists eight recommendations to improve the program, including making sure scooters and e-bikes are more evenly deployed in upper as well as lower income areas.

The authors of the report noted that mapping neighborhood income levels over trip origin locations indicate that many people started scooter trips while in neighborhoods with incomes below the Arlington County’s median household income, “suggesting that [scooters and e-bikes] could be appealing to lower-income residents and promoting equity.”

Other improvement recommendations in the report included:

  • Adding more infrastructure for cyclists and scooters, including protected bike lanes along the county’s main travel corridors — a plan outlined in the county’s recently updated Master Transportation Plan.
  • Addressing complaints about improper parking by creating maps with approved spots as well as “no-go” areas.
  • Addressing accessibility for lower-income scooter riders. The report notes the requirement users have a credit card can be burdensome.

“The pilot showed that shared scooters can significantly decrease car trips, which makes streets safer, our community happier and our air cleaner,” Bicycle Advisory Committee Chair Gillian Burgess told ARLnow of the report.

“But we’ve also learned that people are just not comfortable scooting on sidewalks or even our current non-protected bike lanes,” she said. “We want to leave sidewalks to people on two feet and those who are slow rolling.”

The county’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC) wrote a letter in September saying they were “generally supportive” of continuing the program, but remained “concerned about the impact these devices have on the pedestrian environment when they are ridden or parked on the clear zone of the sidewalk.”

The PAC wrote that more bike lanes would remove pedestrian-scooter conflicts, but other measures like barring e-bikes from some trails and capping the hours they can ridden (as one D.C. Councilmember attempted) are “unnecessary.”

The Arlington County Board is due to discuss the future of the pilot program at the end of December.

In April, a staff presentation to the County Board indicated riders tooks 313,166 trips on scooters since the program began with an unsanctioned deployment of Bird scooters last year. Between June 2018 and April 2019, users travelled 307,243 miles with an average length of 1 mile per trip.

And after the county signed off on a pilot program to study their effects, more scooter companies have joined the fray to roll out a combined 2,600 scooters to the county’s streets.

But with more scooters came a flood of safety and littering complaints — which the report notes decreased over time as perhaps riders followed rules better, or because of officials responding to complaints by capping scooters’ speeds, installing parking corrals, and restricting users’ ability to ride on some public lands.

Data from the Arlington County Police Department indicated an increase in the number of reported crashes involving scooters from four in 2018 to eight this year so far. However, measuring the actual number of crashes is difficult as data from the ACPD only captures the incidents reported to the police, and the Dept. of Motor Vehicles did not yet have codes for tracking scooter-related incidents.

The new report also notes that scooters and e-bikes merit more short-term and long-term analysis from county planners. Examples of topics county staff want to study further include:

  • Analyzing demographics of users and where they ride (especially late at night), as well as where complaints most often occur.
  • Learning whether the parking corrals installed for scooters reduced complaints, and whether they created any problems for users.
  • Measuring the impact that sharing sidewalks with scooters has on people with disabilities (for example, when illicitly-parked scooters block the way for people in wheelchairs)

Overall, the report’s recommendations mirror those recently issued in Alexandria, where City Councilmembers urged companies to deploy more scooters outside of the Old Town and Del Ray neighborhoods.

“I look forward to the County Board adopting a permanent shared micro-mobility program before the January deadline,” said Burgess. “I also am hopeful that the Board will fix some of their ableist policies that discriminate against e-bikes and will update their bike lane policies to be inclusive and current.”

Map and graph via Arlington County

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(Updated at noon) New scooter docks have been added to Crystal City in an effort to curb intrusive sidewalk scooter parking.

Four new docks from the electric scooter company Spin were placed throughout Crystal City last week after their debut in D.C., with five more expected to be added sometime in the next week.

“Spin is one of the operators that has been participating in Arlington’s [scooter] pilot,” said Rob Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City BID. “They reached out to us about a pilot that they had initiated, rolling out in D.C. to provide a dock solution.”

Mandle said the BID is working on getting locations spread out across Crystal City, Pentagon City and Arlington’s portion of Potomac Yard.

“Our goal is to enhance connectivity in the core areas,” Mandle said.

The current docks are located at:

  • 251 18th Street S.
  • 220 20th Street S.
  • 520 12th Street S.
  • 1901 S. Bell Street

Though the docks are branded by Spin, Mandle said any scooters will be able to park in them. They also charge the scooter batteries while they’re docked.

“We see it as an interesting approach to addressing how to park scooters throughout the neighborhood without losing the value of dockless scooters,” Mandle said. “We’re a year from when these things first hit the streets, maybe not even, and the industry continues to evolve. The number one concern in any downtown area is ‘how do you manage the parking of the scooters in the downtown core?'”

There’s currently nothing to encourage scooter riders to use the docks outside of good civic values, but Mandle said incentives could be on the way.

“There are other ways to incentivize users to park in those facilities,” Mandle said. “I don’t think anybody’s seen that yet, but that’s where it’s going.”

Photo courtesy Rob Mandle/Crystal City BID

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Morning Notes

APS Students Now Can Identify as Nonbinary — “Students enrolling in schools in the District, Alexandria City, Arlington and Montgomery Counties now have the option to mark their gender as ‘X’ meaning nonbinary or unspecified. That’s in addition to male or female gender categories.” [WAMU]

Traffic Delays ACFD Response to I-395 Crash — “The I-395 incident happened shortly after 1 p.m. near the Duke Street overpass. Blunt said a crash left a woman trapped inside her car, but because of bumper-to-bumper traffic and other vehicles not moving out of the way, it took crews 24 minutes to respond when it would’ve taken them just eight minutes otherwise.” [Fox 5]

Pedestrian Tunnel Closure Date Set — “The 23rd Street tunnel is scheduled to close permanently on Tuesday, Sept. 3. The Virginia Department of Transportation will mobilize its contractor to begin deconstruction of the tunnel’s above-ground structures.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Nonprofit’s Student Program Deemed Success — “AHC Inc.’s college- and career-readiness program had a 100-percent high-school-graduation rate for participating students this year. A total of 24 students living in AHC’s local apartment communities participated in the non-profit housing provider’s readiness program.” [InsideNova]

Kiwanis Sell Lots of NJ Blueberries — “Those who purchased blueberries from the Kiwanis Club of Arlington earlier in the summer weren’t alone. Nearly 10,000 pounds of New Jersey berries were sold in the fund-raiser, netting nearly $10,000 that will be used to support grants aimed at serving children.” [InsideNova]

Storm Last Week Cast a Shadow — “A storm on the western horizon is casting a shadow on a storm on the eastern horizon. It doesn’t happen often. These are photos from last Wednesday.” [Twitter]

Nearby: Scooters Face Opposition in Alexandria — “Why scooters have drawn so much ire is among the most enduring mysteries of Alexandria ‘historic character’ activism. Alexandria’s history is replete with lots of vile historic character, like being a major center in the trade of enslaved people.” [Washingtonian]

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A “block party” style event with a transportation theme is set for later this month along Columbia Pike.

Arlington County is hosting its third annualOur Shared Street Pop-Up” on Thursday, August 22, in the parking lot at the intersection of S. Four Mile Run Drive and the Pike. The event will run from 5-7 p.m. that night, and will feature booths from transportation organizations with activities and answers to transportation questions.

“Our Shared Street is a block party where you can get to know your neighbors and local transportation options,” says the event’s website. “There are also tons of great giveaways happening and fun activities.”‘

The goal of the event is to share information about commuting by bike, rail, bus, car, or feet in the county. The county-run Arlington Transportation Partners is organizing the event along with Capital Bikeshare, BikeArlington, and WalkArlington, and Arlington’s Car-Free Diet.

What’s not yet certain is whether ride-hailing or e-scooter companies like Uber and Lyft will be present during the late August event — as they were for last year’s event. (The county’s e-scooter program was recently extended, but has seen a slight uptick in crashes and injuries.)

Tickets to the pop-up event are free, but attendees are encouraged to register in advance online.

Image via Twitter/Arlington Transportation Partners

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Morning Notes

JBG Focusing on Arlington — “As JBG Smith continues to focus its portfolio on the area around Amazon HQ2, the REIT is unloading an asset in the heart of D.C.’s Central Business District… The developer is currently constructing its Central District Retail project and is renovating the 1770 Crystal Drive office building, which Amazon has leased. It is also moving through the planning process to add nearly 1,000 units to its RiverHouse Apartments property and build two new residential towers totaling 750 units at 1900 Crystal Drive.” [Bisnow]

Man Battles Abandoned Scooters — Washingtonian editor Andrew Beaujon is on a mission this summer to get e-scooter companies to pick up abandoned scooters along the Mt. Vernon Trail, near Gravelly Point. [Twitter]

Church Holding Vigil Following Mass Shootings — “Given the terrible events of last week our service this Sunday will be a prayer vigil w/ prayers & ritual to help us find some kind of sense of peace as well as determination to change the culture of our country.” [Twitter]

Vaccine Change for Va. Students — “Ordinarily around this time of year, Arlington school officials are bombarding parents of rising sixth-graders to remember the need for ‘Tdap’ vaccines. Any student turning up the first day of school without one would be sent home. This year, however… as the General Assembly has changed the requirements – now, it is rising seventh-graders who need the vaccines.” [InsideNova]

Photo courtesy @mashalette/Instagram

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Scooter riders have reported an increasing number of crashes since the county agreed to test the devices last year.

New data from Arlington County Police and the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) indicates that the number of crashes and injuries involving e-scooter riders have increased over time statewide, including in Arlington.

“There have been 12 total collisions involving an e-scooters,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Four incidents were reported in 2018 and eight reported in 2019.”

The number of injuries from scooter crashes is also on the rise, according to data ARLnow obtained from ACPD through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The county recently extended its e-scooter and e-bike pilot program through December to continue to study its impacts. Before the program was extended, hundreds complained about concerns over safety sharing sidewalks and roads with the electric-powered devices, among other concerns.

Since the program began in 2018, officials have capped scooter speeds to 10 miles per hour, and required riders to park the devices out of the way of sidewalks and storefronts, and restricted access to some public lands. Perhaps contributing to the rise in scooter incidents: the number of rental e-scooters has increased as more scooter companies have started operating in Arlington.

ACPD’s number of crashes and injuries involving scooters is higher than that recorded by the DMV, which said it received a report of one crash involving a scooter and a car in 2017, and three crashes between scooters and cars in 2018.

“The crashes reported to us only include crashes involving an electric scooter and a motor vehicle,” said DMV spokeswoman Brandy Brubaker. “For example, if a person fell off a scooter and injured themselves, that wouldn’t be reported to us as a crash report. Or, if a person ran a scooter into a pole, that wouldn’t be reported to us. But, if they ran into the side of a car or got hit by a car, that would be reported as a crash report.”

Arlington’s four scooter crashes is the most the DMV recorded in any Virginian jurisdiction, closely followed by three crashes in the City of Virginia Beach, which recently created a task force to address safety concerns. Statewide, the DMV recorded seven scooter injuries in 2018, compared to one in 2017, and two in 2016. So far in 2019, the DMV has recorded six injury reports.

Tracking this information statewide is difficult, Brubacker said, because scooter crash crash data must be hand counted by staff reading through crash reports. Staff currently have no way to note in their data management system that an accident includes a scooter.

While the number of scooter crashes remains well below car crashes estimates, the tally is likely to factor in to whether the county chooses to keep the e-scooter program come December.

Image courtesy of Joel K., data via Arlington County

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