Arlington is proposing to lower speed limits near schools across the county to 20 mph as the county’s second year of Vision Zero enters the rear-view mirror.
This Saturday, the Arlington County Board is set to hear a proposal to expand these slow zones to all schools, after many people said they felt safer walking, biking and driving in 13 school zones where the speed limit has already dropped to 20 mph.
If the Board approves the changes, school zones will all get permanent signs with the new speed limits. The county says this is cheaper and more broadly applicable than flashing beacons, which will only be used on arterial streets within 600 feet of schools during arrival and dismissal times.
This change follows the approval earlier this year of moveable speed cameras to be installed in school and work zones, as well as calls from the Arlington County Board for a quicker staff response to critical crashes, after a driver fatally struck a pedestrian in an intersection near Nottingham Elementary School.
Schools have figured into other notable crashes, including a fatal crash involving a motorcyclist and a school bus in front of Drew Elementary in 2021 and a crash involving a drunk driver who killed a pedestrian near Thomas Jefferson Middle School this summer. In a less serious crash this fall, a driver struck an adolescent cyclist near Kenmore Middle School.
Lowering speeds is one action the county has taken over the last year and a half to work toward its goal of eliminating traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2030, a plan known as Vision Zero.
“There are no corridors on county-owned roads that have a speed limit higher than 30 miles per hour, which is a big improvement. We’re very excited to say that,” Arlington Vision Zero coordinator Christine Sherman Baker said in a meeting last week.
In addition to lower speeds, the county has set up temporary school walking routes and roundabouts, completed 13 quick-build projects and made improvements to six critical crash sites and 14 crash “hot spots.” Staff are working on procuring speed cameras for school and work zones and red light cameras for six more intersections, which could be installed in 2023.
Amid the flurry of work, preliminary data from the first nine months of 2022 indicate crashes are down overall, according to a Vision Zero report released last month. As of Aug. 30, there were 1,313 crashes in Arlington, of which two were fatal and 34 were severe. (We’ve since reported on two additional fatal crashes.)
Pedestrian-involved crashes and crashes in intersections are both slightly lower, while bike crash figures are consistent with previous years. There has yet to be a crash in a work zone.
“Alcohol and speed prove to be some of our biggest challenges on our roadways,” Baker said in the meeting.
But some people say the county needs to be clearer in communicating if and how its work is reducing crashes as well as the dangers of driving.
While Fairfax County mulls installing speed cameras, it may be some time before locals see speed cameras go up in Arlington.
In January, the Arlington County Board approved their installation in school and work areas to reduce speed-related crashes in these areas. The move is part of its Vision Zero campaign to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries.
The Board made its move after the Virginia legislature allowed municipalities to install them in these locations in 2020.
But the Arlington County Police Department is still working on finding a vendor to implement the cameras, says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien.
“ACPD is in the process of launching a procurement for a vendor, which is estimated to wrap up in spring 2023,” she tells ARLnow.
Once a vendor is chosen, the pace toward implementation could speed up. O’Brien says the county will have a better idea of where the cameras will go and when they’ll be installed “once vendor procurement is complete.”
The same is true for community updates.
“We will begin further community outreach and education once we are closer to procuring a vendor and beginning implementation, which will likely be in spring 2023,” she said.
Camera locations have not yet been chosen, said O’Brien. But Arlington schools have been close to a number of notable crashes, including a fatal crash involving a motorcyclist in front of Drew Elementary School, a fatal crash involving a pedestrian and a driver near Nottingham Elementary School, a fatal pedestrian crash near Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and a less serious crash involving a cyclist near Kenmore Middle School.
Locations will be chosen based on guidelines that DES has worked on with a consultant. That effort, funded by a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments grant, is wrapping up, O’Brien said.
“The County (ACPD, APS, and DES) will then collaborate to refine and finalize specifications and guidelines, using the information from the grant project combined with local needs and knowledge,” she said.
Future progress, such as approving the vendor or camera locations, won’t need County Board approval, O’Brien said.
Once installed, cameras will identify and ticket speeding vehicles using radar, and police officers review footage to confirm the speeding violations. Tickets will be issued by mail to drivers traveling at least 10 mph over the speed limit, per state law.
The tickets will cost $50 and won’t result in a points reduction on your driver’s license or impact insurance rates.
“Speed camera fines are intended to encourage people to drive the speed limit,” the county says. “Fines do not generate revenue for police or transportation programs. Rather, fines issued will be distributed to the County’s General Fund. Therefore, there is no incentive to use speed cameras to fund department budgets.”
Community engagement is not set to begin until spring 2023. Previous outreach conducted as part of Arlington’s Vision Zero initiative, which reached more than 1,000 community members, indicated support for the cameras, according to the county.
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Arlington County could start cracking down on speeding near schools and highway work zones with newly-allowed speed cameras.
This weekend, the Arlington County Board is scheduled to set a public hearing for its Jan. 22 meeting on the question of whether to install speed cameras.
Currently, Arlington County only has cameras that capture red-light violations, but in 2020 the Virginia General Assembly allowed localities to install radar-based speed detectors around school crossing zones and highway work zones. Now, the county is poised to consider adding 10 movable cameras to these zones.
“Automated speed enforcement will significantly advance Arlington County’s transportation safety and equity initiatives as stated through the Vision Zero Action Plan and Police Practices Group Recommendations and leads to considerable reductions in speeding, crashes resulting in injuries, and total crashes — thereby making roadways safer for all users,” the report said.
“Automated speed enforcement also reduces unnecessary interactions between residents and police and further advances confidence in equitable outcomes by reducing or eliminating the possibility of race-and ethnicity-based disparities in traffic enforcement,” the report continues.
State code requires that localities post signs informing drivers of speed cameras and sets the threshold for enforcement at more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Fines cannot exceed $100, and speeding violations do not add points on a driver’s license nor are they considered for insurance purposes, per the state code.
Arlington is proposing a $50 fine for violations. It would match the current $50 fine for red-light violations captured by red-light cameras and fulfill a recommendation from the county’s Police Practices Group, according to the county report.
The group initially recommended calculating fines based on the speeding driver’s income and fixed expenses, the county report said. Since state law doesn’t currently allow such a sliding scale, the group suggested a lower fine and 30-day grace period after cameras are installed.
Before installing the cameras, Arlington County will focus conduct “a robust educational plan,” per the report.
“This plan will include significant outreach across the County to ensure a broad range of residents with different experiences and backgrounds receive information on placement and implementation,” it said.
An unscientific ARLnow poll this summer found that respondents are divided on traffic enforcement: about one-third of respondents wanted to see more speed cameras, while 45% wanted more red light cameras and just over half did not want more enforcement from either type of camera..
Arlington will hire transportation safety consultants to develop guidelines for placing cameras in school zones, using a $60,000 grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Camera placement can change in response to data on speeding, citations, crashes and transportation volumes.
The police department estimates installing and maintaining 10 cameras, and hiring a full-time employee to manage the speed camera program, will cost about $600,000 a year, the report said. Arlington County expects fines to offset the ongoing costs of the program.
Last year, the County Board asked the state to expand the use of speed cameras beyond school and highway work zones.
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Reminder: Vote in This Week’s Arlies — Do you have a favorite preschool or daycare you take your children to? Cast your vote in this week’s Arlies category by midday tomorrow. [ARLnow]