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A bus parked at a new bus bay outside of the Ballston Metro station (staff photo)

(Updated 6:00 p.m.) A new survey shows that a majority of Arlingtonians are satisfied with public transit, but their levels of satisfaction vary by geography.

Mobility Lab, a division of Arlington County Commuter Services, surveyed county residents last year to gauge travel patterns for work and non-work trips as well as concerns about public transit. This “state of the commute” survey was last conducted in 2010 and 2016, and the 2021 results included additional information about the pandemic’s effect on travel in Arlington.

ACCS uses the data to improve how it markets bicycling, walking and transit options to residents, businesses, and commercial and residential property managers, said Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors. Those people-facing efforts include Bike Arlington, Walk Arlington and Arlington Transportation Partners.

“The primary uses of ACCS surveys are to check how well these programs are running,” she told ARLnow.

Of the 4,213 respondents, 71% of residents said they were satisfied with transit in Arlington. But people living along Metro corridors were happier with their options than people living in parts of  South Arlington where the bus is the main transit mode.

People living along the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors were the most satisfied with their options, at 81% and 75%, respectively. And they were more likely to be members of Capital Bikeshare, at 37% and 38%, respectively.

Outside of the Metrorail corridor, the survey found satisfaction levels of 64% in Shirlington, 58% in Columbia Pike and 64% in what was deemed “Other South.” Shirlington residents reported lower rates of availability for various transportation services in general and only 13% said they had a Bikeshare membership.

Pors said a takeaway from the survey for ACCS might be that they need to focus their outreach in Shirlington “to make sure they’re aware of their options… and make sure apartment managers are talking to tenants, and using daily face time to make sure they’re fully informed.”

What the data will not do, Pors said, is set which transit projects to prioritize — for instance, applying more time and staff to improving bus transit along the Pike over adding a second entrance to the Ballston Metro station.

Concerns about safety and long waits

While generally happy with their options, Arlingtonians did have some gripes with the transit system, including how long one must wait for the bus or Metrorail as opposed to driving.

Nearly 40% said they would have to wait too long for transit to arrive while another 35% said the trip would take too long.

As for barriers to bicycling, two-thirds of residents said they don’t feel safe riding a bike in traffic, while another 37% mentioned concerns about the network of bike paths or bike lanes.

The pandemic spurs changes

The survey showed how transit use for non-work trips changed during the pandemic. While remote work contributed to the widely reported steep drop in Metro ridership, between 2015 and 2021, transit use for non-work trips also declined from 87% to 68%.

But one form of transportation increased during the pandemic: walking. About 34% reported walking “somewhat more” for non-work trips and 22% walking “much more.”

In fact, many respondents said the most important transportation needs facing the county post-pandemic are ones that take them outside: walking (58%) and cycling and scooting (42%).

Meanwhile, most respondents said they won’t be changing their commuting mode anytime soon: 81% who drove alone, 82% who used transit, and 71% who biked or walked indicated they would keep doing so post-pandemic.

Still, to chip away at those statistics, Arlington is embarking on extensive marketing efforts to encourage people to swipe their SmarTrip cards and stop driving.

“Through ACCS, [the county is] going to come out with more messaging to get people to feel comfortable on transit again,” Pors said. “There has been that loyal set of riders who’ve stayed through the pandemic. Maybe this is an opportunity for people who shifted to single-occupancy vehicles to try something new, and pitching bus as that option.”

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Innovation Elementary School fifth-graders make solar ovens outside (via APS/Twitter)

A few hundred parents say Arlington Public Schools should prioritize recreating pre-Covid normalcy in the classroom and evaluating the use of electronic devices.

That’s according to a recent informal survey conducted by Arlington Parents for Education, a parent group that began during the pandemic to advocate for reopening schools.

Since schools reopened, APE has evolved into a School Board watchdog group, with priorities such as reversing pandemic-era learning loss. The group says the survey will inform what APE should advocate for, in addition to ending Covid protocols. The priorities don’t surprise School Board candidates and other education advocacy groups, but some groups say the survey does not speak for the parents they represent.

The survey netted a few hundred responses, about 70% of which reside in North Arlington and a little under 30% in South Arlington, with some respondents living outside the county. Most have elementary-aged children, followed by children in middle and high school. Some also indicated they had children in area private schools, which saw an influx in public school families when they returned for in-person school before APS.

“We recently surveyed hundreds of our parents to see how their students are doing in a post-pandemic world at APS and what they want APS and APE to focus on,” APE said in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, parents want a return to normalcy for their students — full resumption of field trips, in-person orientations, back-to-school events and other parental involvement opportunities in all APS buildings.”

“This also means returning to the pre-pandemic golden rule applicable to any illness: if you’re sick, stay home,” the group added.

APS is, in fact, returning to pre-Covid procedures for field trips and events, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.

Masks became optional as of March 1, but students, visitors and teachers have some Covid protocols to follow.

Those with Covid-like symptoms must present a negative test or alternative diagnosis from a medical provider or isolate at home for five days before returning to class. Meanwhile, volunteers, like APS employees, must have proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing to volunteer, Bellavia said.

For APE, that’s not normal. But for Smart Restart APS, a parent group that started to push for protocols such as outdoor lunch and improved ventilation, said there is no return to life pre-2020.

“Smart Restart APS believes we are living in a new reality, and APS should continue to have appropriate, common-sense measures to adapt to living in this new reality, one which includes the ever-present possibility of COVID-19 infection spreading through our schools,” the group said in a statement. “We have to adapt — not ignore — the new situation.”

The spread of Covid still impacts families, whether a parent misses work or a child brings home Covid to a high-risk family member, the group continued.

“Everyone has a right to access a safe and healthy school environment,” the Smart Restart statement said. “COVID-19 in the air should not be a part of that.”

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(Updated at 10:15 p.m.) Residents in Arlington and Alexandria can now report suspected sightings of the spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect spreading around the region.

Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia has launched an online survey for people to report suspected cases of the spotted lanternfly. The organization is a volunteer group working to promote “environmentally sound gardening practices,” in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension, according to its website.

The survey asks people to report the location of the sighting and submit photos of what they have seen, among other information. If the insect shown in the survey is an actual spotted lanternfly, MGNV may then ask the sender to catch the insect and bring the sample to the organization.

“It may not be necessary for somebody to collect the sample, but we definitely would like pictures,” said Cordelia Collinson, a summer intern who helped to set up the form.

Spotted lanternflies are currently present in several Northern Virginia counties, spanning from Augusta to Prince William, according to a national distribution map from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.

The invasive insect was first detected in the state in Frederick County back in 2018. Collinson and others working on the reporting project saw the bug in Leesburg, in Loudoun County, last week as well.

“The spotted lanternfly is spreading throughout Virginia, we predict that it is coming towards us, we just don’t know when,” Collinson said.

This insect is a “potentially very serious” pest that targets grapes, peaches, hops and other agricultural crops, according to an information webpage from Virginia Cooperative Extension. It was first discovered in the U.S. in Pennsylvania in 2014.

“Just going off from the damage that happened in Pennsylvania to agricultural crops, that’s concerning for Virginia agriculturalists, especially for the grape industry, the vineyards, and also apple orchards,” Collinson said.

The state is concerned about spotted lanternflies because they are swarm feeders that suck juice out of plants, where hundreds of them may feed on the same plant at once, which may cause significant damage, Collinson said.

She added that the insect also leaves behind a sweet excrement that promotes the growth of a black mold and can attract insects like wasps. An infestation of spotted lanternflies may lead to a quarantine, where businesses in the area need to get a government permit and inspect their goods leaving the area, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“Shipping and different product transportation [will be] a bit more regulated because [the state wants] to make sure that no spotted lanternflies are hiding under goods or on the other side of the truck, because that’s how they spread primarily,” Collinson said.

Spotted lanternflies are usually in their nymph stage right now and will become adults in late July. As nymphs, they are either black with white spots or red with black stripes and white dots before becoming adults. As adults, spotted lanternflies have wings around an inch long that are tan with black spots on the outside and red patches on the inside, Collinson said.

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A recent survey of Arlingtonians found a majority say the county needs to be more aggressive about preserving historic buildings, monuments and resources from demolition.

Engagement in the survey, administered in 2021, was three times higher than engagement in a similar survey distributed two years ago, before the loss last year of two historic homes — the Febrey-Lothrop House and the Victorian Fellows-McGrath House — to make room for new housing.

The tripling, however, did not result in a more diverse group of respondents. More than 80% of respondents were some combination of white, homeowners and 45 years old and up.

The survey is part of a county effort to update its master plan governing historic preservation, with a new focus on equity and inclusion, says Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development spokeswoman Rachel LaPiana.

Adopted in and unchanged since 2006, the update — if adopted by the County Board by the end of 2022 — will direct the historic preservation priorities and programs for the next decade, she said.

Many respondents said the county should be highlighting century-old properties, historic neighborhoods, archaeological sites and resources connected to Arlington’s immigrant, African American and Native American communities. Some railed against the county and the plan for not preserving sites like the Febrey-Lothrop House, while a few said such teardowns are necessary to make room for more housing and affordable units.

The survey asked broad questions to understand what residents value, with questions like “what stories, traditions, places, buildings, and/or communities are important to you?”

But for some civically engaged Arlington residents, the demographics of respondents were more interesting. They say this survey yielded detailed feedback from passionate individuals but did not reveal how the broader community values historic preservation.

The problem, per Dave Schutz — a civically engaged resident and prolific ARLnow commenter — is how the survey is advertised and where. His oft-repeated remark about community engagement in Arlington: “You ask twelve guys in Speedos whether we should build [the Long Bridge Aquatics Center], you will get a twelve to zip vote yes.”

Schutz suggested the county keep track of how respondents hear of the survey, so they know whose perspectives are being captured.

“I might require that surveys… contain an identifier so that the people tabulating results could see which ones had been filled out by people who were notified through the, say, Arlington Historical Society website and which by people notified through the ‘Engulf and Destroy Developers Mwa-ha-ha website,’ the County Board website — and if the opinion tendencies were wildly different, flag it for the decision makers that that was so.”

Joan Fitzgerald, a local resident who works in surveying populations, says county survey questions are often worded to confirm the biases of the survey writers, while the questions can be jargon-dense.

“County survey questions are often confusing, and participants often need a strong background in the topic to even understand what’s being asked,” said Fitzgerald, who sits on the development oversight committee for the Ashton Heights Civic Association.

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Arlington County is requesting feedback on partial designs for expanded bus bays and pedestrian safety improvements at the East Falls Church Metro station.

The $6.6 million bus bay expansion project, a capital improvement project approved last year, is part of a handful of near-term upgrades planned at and around the Metro station, the parking lot of which was frequently packed pre-pandemic.

Project and regional transit representatives say the expansion will allow for more regional bus routes without causing traffic jams while making walking from the park-and-ride lot safer. The existing bays currently serve nine Metrobus, Arlington Transit (ART) and Fairfax Connector bus routes.

“The East Falls Church Metrorail station currently has four bus bays that are at maximum capacity,” according to the county. “The project will expand bus bay capacity by adding up to three new bus bays and replacing the existing shelters in the off-street bus loop at the East Falls Church Metrorail station.”

Arlington is leading and sponsoring the project, but Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) owns the Metro station, the bus loop and park-and-ride lot.

The county asks locals to say whether the proposed changes will make them feel safer walking, taking the bus, biking, scooting and driving. The survey, open through Sunday, March 20, includes an interactive map people can use to give location-specific feedback.

 

“What this expansion will allow us to do is get buses in and out of the bus loop more efficiently so we don’t have as much gridlock as we currently do at this time,” WMATA planner André Stafford said in a meeting Tuesday.

It may be awhile before more bus routes are added, county transit planner Paul Mounier said in the same meeting.

The county will install seven new bus shelters and is considering adding a new signal and crosswalk at the Washington Blvd entrance to the park-and-ride lot.

Arlington County staff identified this expansion project back in 2011. Four years later, staff found the biggest needs were increasing the capacity of the bus bays, adding refuges to the 150-foot crosswalk that passes in front of the bus loop, replacing the aging, hazardous cement and adding ramps accessible to people with disabilities.

After the expansion work, Arlington will make streetscape and signal upgrades to N. Sycamore Street, Arlington County project manager Kenex Sevilla said Tuesday. The street forms the eastern edge of the Metro parking lot and bus bays.

Meanwhile, both Arlington and the City of Falls Church are expanding Capital Bikeshare stations nearby. The station was once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.

This area is poised to see other development in the future, too. WMATA is studying the site for future transit developments while the Department of Community, Planning and Housing Development is studying it as part of the Plan Langston Blvd initiative. A second entrance to the station was put on hold in 2018.

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Morning Notes

Spotted: Robot Dog in Courthouse — “Several people were standing outside one of the Colonial Place buildings today. I thought it was a fire drill at first, but they were too close to the building. Then I saw it.” [Twitter]

Yorktown High’s ‘Dull’ Scoreboard — “The scoreboard at Greenbrier field is not shattered, opaque or severely damaged, but it is dysfunctional and has been for some time. This is especially frustrating for athletes whose sports play in broad daylight, as the scoreboard’s bulbs are so dim they are nearly impossible to see. Parents of these athletes have voiced their complaints about the dull board, arguing that each of the other high schools in Arlington have modern, working scoreboards, while our school’s model has been in use since 2003.” [Yorktown Sentry]

TR Bridge Delays Could Get Even Worse — “Emergency repairs that will enable the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to safely support the weight of regular traffic will probably last through the summer and cost about $6 million, the District Department of Transportation said, becoming the latest hindrance to the Washington commute as more employees return to in-person work.” [Washington Post]

More Grants for Nat’l Landing Businesses — “A grant program to support restaurants and small businesses in the National Landing area of Arlington will return for a second year… This latest round of funding totals $100,000. Grants will support small businesses’ pay for workers and other operating expenses.” [Patch]

Wakefield Gymnast Going to States — “Gabby Watts will have her opportunity to participate in the girls state gymnastics meet. The Wakefield Warriors gymnast qualified for the Virginia High School League Class 6 competition by winning the balance beam with a 9.583 score at the 6D North Region championships.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: ARLnow’s Reader Survey — If you want to weigh in on some changes ARLnow might make this year, please take our annual, three-minute survey before it closes at the end of the month. [SurveyMonkey]

It’s Wednesday — Today will be mostly sunny and breezy, with a high near 53. Sunrise at 6:57 a.m. and sunset at 5:47 p.m. Tomorrow there’s a slight chance of showers after 1 p.m., otherwise it will be mostly cloudy, with a high near 66 and wind gusts as high as 29 mph. [Weather.gov]

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Once a year, we ask ARLnow readers to take a couple of minutes to provide feedback that sets the stage for everything we do over the next 12 months.

Adjustments in our news coverage mix, changes to our opinion content, and prioritizing weekly in-depth features. These are all things that survey feedback helped to bring about recently.

We have a number of new, key questions that will inform decisions we’ll be making in 2022. If you enjoy reading our site and want to have a voice in how we can best serve your needs, please click the button below.

This year’s survey — posted here in lieu of the Morning Notes today — will close after Feb. 28.

Thank you, Arlington, for helping us to improve year after year.

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Morning Notes

The Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, the Memorial Bridge, and the 14th St. Bridge over the Potomac River in fog (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Free Outdoor Wi-Fi at Libraries — “During the month of January, 2022, two new free outdoor Wi-Fi hot spots were installed at the Cherrydale and Glencarlyn Libraries. Library patrons and Arlington residents have now 24×7 access to the free Arlington County Wi-Fi network ‘ArlingtonWireless’ at all library branches, both outdoor and indoor, and at various locations around the County. No ID or password is required for the free service.” [Arlington Public Library]

Four Arlington Joints on Best BBQ List — Post food critic Tim Carman’s new “best barbecue” list includes a number of Arlington favorites: Texas Jack’s (9), Smokecraft Modern Barbecue (6), Smoking Kow (5), and Sloppy Mama’s (3). [Washington Post]

W&OD Bridge Work Complete — “The re-decking of the bridge east of Wilson Blvd in Arlington is completed!” [Twitter]

County Conducting Satisfaction Survey — “Arlington County is conducting its sixth County-wide, statistically valid community survey to measure satisfaction with major County services and gather input about issues facing the community. The results enable County officials to assess performance across many County agencies and services.” [Arlington County]

AWLA Selling Pentagon Chicken Shirts — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “No-one asked for this but we did it anyways – get your official #PentagonChicken shirt now! With the Henny Penny stamp of approval, proceeds will go to help keep other wayward poultry out of government buildings.” [Twitter]

Beyer Delivers Boxes of Protective Equipment — “A constituent reached out notifying U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) that Restart Partners, a West Coast-based charity involved in planning for and procuring PPE, learned of a significant amount of it available in a local warehouse. Partnering with the owner (who wishes to remain anonymous), Beyer identified two charities (Doorways and PathForward) that needed the items for those they serve and for their staffs.” [Sun Gazette]

De Ferranti Makes It Official — “County Board member Matt de Ferranti kicked off his bid for a second term on Feb. 2 with a call for Arlington leaders to accelerate efforts to enact Democratic priorities and serve as a bulwark against the new Republican majority in Richmond.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Friday — Rain before today 5 p.m., then a chance of rain and snow. Patchy fog before 1 p.m. Temperature falling to around 37 mid-afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 22 mph. Little or no snow accumulation expected. Sunrise at 7:09 a.m. and sunset at 5:35 p.m. This weekend will be sunny with highs in the 30s. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington’s parks department is identifying tennis and basketball courts that could also accommodate the increasingly popular sport of pickleball.

The department is surveying residents to gauge court usage and the need for pickleball courts, and see where they think pickleball lines can be added. The Department of Parks and Recreation currently maintains 18 multi-use courts that allow pickleball and 1 single-use pickleball court.

But that’s not enough to meet the demand.

“Arlington has seen a significant growth in pickleball with increase in requests for single-use and multi-use courts,” DPR Associate Planner and Project Manager Bethany Heim said in a presentation. “While Arlington has 19 outdoor pickleball courts, players are using tape or chalk to create more pickleball courts on existing tennis and basketball courts.”

More and more Arlingtonians have picked up pickleball, especially during the pandemic. The YMCA Arlington Tennis & Squash Center in Virginia Square repainted three tennis courts to make room for six pickleball courts earlier this year, and one local player says membership in the local Facebook group Pickleball Friends of Arlington, Virginia has surged.

Noted local ultramarathoner Michael Wardian has also taken up the sport, and the parks department now offers pickleball classes for all ages and abilities.

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and is played on a court that is smaller than a tennis court, using a modified tennis net, Heim said. It sometimes brings upwards of 40-50 players to a court at one time.

DPR has relied on adding pickleball lines to existing courts, and that’s still the plan in the short term. Arlington has 87 full tennis courts and five half-courts, as well as 76 full basketball courts and 12 half-courts — some allow pickleball, volleyball and futsal, a soccer-like game played on a hard court.

“A growing trend in parks is to have a multi-use facilities so that a wider variety of activities can be enjoyed at one place,” Heim said. “The [Public Spaces Master Plan] references… using multi-use courts to accommodate the growing interest in pickleball.”

The department striped its first tennis court to allow pickleball in 2015, and in 2017 it piloted a basketball-pickleball court at Walter Reed Community Center. Today, there are multi-use courts at Glebe Road Park, Gunston Park, Fort Scott Park, Lubber Run Park and Walter Reed.

Eventually, the Public Spaces Master Plan recommends establishing a dedicated pickleball facility to meet the demand.

“While multi-use courts are effective, Arlington does not have a dedicated pickleball facility with more than one court,” Heim said.

The survey is open through Friday, Nov. 19. DPR plans to use the information to determine how to make sure the changes are done equitably and to identify potential conflicts with making single-use courts multi use.

After the survey closes, DPR will develop draft criteria for converting single-use courts to multi-use courts and identify eligible sites. There will be another public engagement opportunity in January. Finalized criteria and a list of identified sites will later be published online.

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No more than once a year, we survey our readers to help set the direction for how ARLnow will evolve and continue serving the community.

Today we’re releasing our new 2021 ARLnow Reader Survey.

The survey asks about how we’re doing, how we can improve, and what potential new features we can add. It’s critically important that a critical mass of readers take the survey.

The survey should only take about 5 minutes to fill out. We would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time and provide your feedback.

Thank you, Arlington!

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Arlington County is giving residents a chance to respond to proposed changes to the towing code ahead of a County Board vote.

People can share their thoughts in a short online survey before the issue is slated to go before the Board during its regular meeting on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The proposed changes are billed as getting the local code in line with the latest state law, protecting consumers and adjusting to rising costs in the towing industry, according to a staff presentation and additional materials.

Basic towing fee increases are being proposed, from $135 to $150, as well as an increase of the additional fees for night and/or weekend towing, from $25 to $30. That brings the maximum possible towing fee to $210, for a vehicle towed on a weekend night. The “drop fee” for discontinuing a tow in progress, however, will be lowered from $25 to $10.

The online survey has three questions. Among them:

  • “Do you support reconciling the County ordinance with state code for purposes of improving enforcement and making the ordinance easier to understand?”
  • “Do you support the consumer protection measures included in the proposal? These include enhancements to lighting, safety, accessibility and transparency.”
  • “Do you support towing fee increases given the provided financial justification?”

The survey gives the following justification for the fee increases:

In this provided justification, towing operators have indicated increased costs. Staff have included supported materials from towers and Consumer Price Index data has indicated an inflationary increase in our area. Given these economic factors and regulatory requirements that towers have to be within a 3.25 mile radius of Arlington to support private businesses, do you support raising the tow fees to the maximum fees as regulated by state?

These proposed changes come after the county determined, among other things, that some towing and pricing practices are unfair and predatory, signage about towing is inadequate, and people do not have many ways to fight back when their cars are improperly towed and stored, according to a staff report.

“The County Board has found that some members of the public and their property have been placed at risk in circumstances where their vehicles have been towed from private property without their consent and placed in storage,” the report said.

Included in the code would be an updated definition of “immobilization” to mean anything “that does not damage the vehicle,” including using barnacles.

The recommendations were made by county staff with the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.

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