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Planners Plot Out Changes Aimed at Reducing Crashes at Memorial Circle

Transportation officials are proposing a host of safety improvements for Memorial Circle, a confusing confluence of roads connecting Arlington National Cemetery to the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The circle has long been the site of all manner of dangerous crashes, particularly those involving cyclists and pedestrians looking to access the nearby Mt. Vernon Trail or cross into D.C. But the National Park Service has drawn up a series of changes for the roads in the area designed to address the issue, including traffic pattern changes to transform the circle into something more like a traditional roundabout.

“The project area is at a major convergence of regional roadways and modes that interact through a complex series of roadway merges (on-ramps), weaves, diverges (off-ramps), and intersections, resulting in traffic congestion and crashes,” NPS planners wrote in a November environmental assessment. “The proposed action would change the way area users access and circulate through the area by car, bicycle, or foot.”

Officials estimate that the area saw approximately 600 crashes between 2006 and 2012. Lawmakers previously secured some safety improvements for the G.W. Parkway and the circle to try to address the issue. The new NPS proposal would address not only the circle itself, but also the roads approaching the area from both the north and south: S. Arlington Blvd and Washington Blvd.

Perhaps the most substantial change park officials are proposing would be cutting back on one lane of traffic in the circle, in order to “allow the circle to function more like a modern roundabout,” the NPS wrote. That means that drivers in the circle would have the right of way, and anyone entering the circle would need to yield to them.

The NPS also plans to split up an island on the east side of the circle, near where it meets the Memorial Bridge, allowing two westbound lanes coming from the bridge to “bypass the circle and head north onto S. Arlington Boulevard” and one lane of traffic to proceed and enter the circle.

For roads north of the circle, officials are proposing some improved signage at the various intersections, including “fluorescent yellow advance pedestrian crossing warning signs” at some and “rapid flashing beacon” signs at others.

But they’re also envisioning more dramatic improvements, like reducing Washington Blvd down to one lane, and removing both the “existing southern exit ramp connecting S. Arlington Blvd and S. Washington Blvd” and “the existing far left exit lane of S. Arlington Blvd.”

As S. Arlington Blvd exits the circle, the NPS also envisions reducing the road from three lanes down to two leading up to the crosswalk. The existing far left lane leading onto a ramp to S. Washington Blvd is slated to be removed, as is the exit ramp itself.

The NPS is planning similar pedestrian sign improvements for intersections south of the circle, as well as other lane reductions.

One major change would be the construction of a new concrete island where Washington Blvd enters the circle to its south, allowing two lanes of the road to bypass the circle and reach the Memorial Bridge, and one lane to enter the circle. That would require a slightly widening of the road in the area, the NPS wrote.

The plans also call for Washington Blvd to be reduced from four lanes to three south of the circle “in order to simplify merging patterns,” while the G.W. Parkway would be widened “to add an acceleration lane allowing traffic from Arlington Blvd to enter the parkway in its own dedicated lane before merging onto the two-lane parkway.”

Additionally, the NPS envisions relocating two bike and pedestrians crossings south of the circle. One, located as a trail crossing Washington Blvd, “would be relocated closer to the Circle, to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross where vehicle speeds are slower and where drivers are anticipating conflicts.” The other, designed to help people cross the parkway to the southeast of the circle, would be moved slightly further north of the parkway.

The NPS traffic analysis of these proposed changes suggest they’d generate “an overall improvement” in congestion on the roads, in addition to substantial safety upgrades.

People in the bicycling community are pretty skeptical of the latter assertion, however.

The NPS is accepting comments on the plans through Dec. 29.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Heights Gets New Stop Sign — “The Arlington Heights neighborhood became a safer place for students and other pedestrians on Oct. 30,” after the neighborhood got a new all-way stop sign at the intersection of 2nd Street S. and S. Irving Street. Residents collected some 500 petition signatures in support of adding the stop sign. [InsideNova]

Reminder: Daylight Saving Time — Early Sunday morning is the time to “fall back” as Daylight Saving Time ends and clocks get set back an hour. [USA Today]

Clean Air in N. Va. — “This past summer’s air was among the healthiest in memory across the commonwealth. The summer months were the cleanest in terms of ground-level ozone in at least 20 years, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality reported on Oct. 31.” [InsideNova]

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Resident of One-Way Street Is Shaming Speeders and Wrong-Way Drivers on Twitter

In past years, Arlington has been ranked as having some of the worst drivers in the nation. That doesn’t surprise Brian Meenaghan, who has started a Twitter account to document what he views as a never-ending parade of bad drivers on his block.

Meenaghan, an Arlington Heights resident, started the Twitter account @BadDriversof1stRdS at the end of April. The account focuses on the worst offenders on the 3600 block of 1st Road S., a one-way street located in a high traffic area around S. Glebe Road, Route 50 and the Thomas Jefferson middle school and community center.

“I started this account as a cathartic thing because we’ve had a lot of frustrations on our little block. We’re about 400-450 feet long as a block and we dead end at a middle school,” said Meenaghan. “We have people whipping up this block and people coming the wrong way from the middle school. Because of the oddity of the exit for Route 50 around Glebe Road, we also have a lot of people turning around in driveways and going back up the wrong way, trying to go back to 50.”

Meenaghan’s main concern is drivers going the wrong way on the one-way street (traffic is supposed to only flow from S. Glebe Road to Old Glebe Road). From cars to school buses and even Metrobuses, Meenaghan has caught all types of drivers driving the wrong way or speeding — or both — on the narrow street. Photos and video posted to the Twitter account document the broken traffic laws. (See some of the tweets, below.)

“I work downtown and I’m not here physically during the day all that much and I personally see three or four people turning around every day. I’m probably outside maybe 45 minutes to an hour before dinner with my daughter and I see in just that short amount of time a lot of people going the wrong way,” said Meenaghan.

The Twitter account is a joint venture with his neighbors, who often supply the photos he uploads to the website. Meenaghan said he and his neighbors have been trying for years to convince Arlington County to implement traffic calming measures on the block.

“My neighbors are all very involved in this,” said Meenaghan. “I’m not here that much so I’m not here to take a lot of these pictures. You miss a lot of them because they happen so quickly. Probably six of my neighbors have given me photos over the last couple of weeks. It’s kind of a group-wide effort.”

Part of the impetus for the effort is that the block is now chock full of children.

“We now have 15 kids on this block. There are only 23 houses and there are 15 kids under the age of 10. There have been five kids born in the last six months,” said Meenaghan. (One could perhaps see the block as a microcosm of the challenges with burgeoning enrollment facing Arlington Public Schools.)

Along with the kids living on the block, the presence of Thomas Jefferson Middle School at the end of the block means that there is a constant stream of kids on the block during the school year. It’s only set to become busier, with continued growth at the middle school and the construction of a new elementary school on the middle school’s former parking lot.

Meenaghan feels that the persistent speeding and wrong-way driving represent a tragedy waiting to happen. He says he and his neighbors have been advocating for traffic calming measures on the block since 2012, writing letters to Arlington County but being met by frustration.

Arlington will typically only implement traffic calming — speed bumps and other preventative measures — if a traffic study reveals that the average speed of vehicles driving down a street exceeds the speed limit by a significant margin. The problem with Meenaghan’s block, he says, is that it’s too short and narrow for most drivers to work up the speed to break the 25 mph limit.

Without that, county officials said they would need some other form of documented proof of persistent traffic law violations. That, Meenaghan said, was his final motivation for launching the Twitter account.

“One of the things we were told was that the county didn’t believe there was a problem,” said Meenaghan. “They wanted photographic evidence. This is almost a flippant response to that. Here’s some photographic evidence that’s going to go out into the great wide world. Ultimately yes, we want change.”

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Morning Notes

1812 N. Moore Street skyscraper under construction in Rosslyn

Suspicious Package Shuts Down Va. Square Metro — A suspicious package shut down the Virginia Square Metro station yesterday for part of the evening rush hour. The package was determined to be non-hazardous, according to police.

Traffic Calming Coming to Two Streets — Two Arlington streets — S. Hudson Street between Arlington Blvd and 2nd Street, and 7th Road S. between Carlin Springs Road and Greenbrier Street — will be receiving traffic calming measures. The measures include a narrowing of an intersection, a radar speed display, bike lane markings and additional signage, but no speed bumps. [Sun Gazette]

Sequester Could Be Costly for County — The federal budget sequester, set to take effect tomorrow, could cost Arlington County government between $2 and $3 million in direct federal aid. [Sun Gazette]

Support Website for Arlingtonian Accused of Murder — A support website has been set up for Chris Deedy, an Arlington resident and State Department security agent who is accused of second degree murder in the 2011 shooting of a man in McDonald’s restaurant in Hawaii. Deedy’s lawyer says his client was protecting others when he fatally shot the 23-year-old Hawaiian. “Law enforcement officers shouldn’t be treated like murderers when they protect the public,” says the website. [DeedySupport.com]

Interview with Kanninen — The Democratic website Blue Virginia interviewed Barbara Kanninen, who’s running for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board against incumbent James Lander. Asked why she’s running, Kanninen said: “If we don’t have competition, we don’t have anyone even trying to prove that they’re going to be a good School Board member.” [Blue Virginia]

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Morning Poll: Lower Residential Speed Limits?

Two D.C. councilmembers are proposing that the speed limit on residential streets in the District be lowered from 25 miles per hour to 15 miles per hour.

The plan would make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, while adding only a minute or two of travel time to most trips, advocates say.

Critics say such low speeds would be hard for motorists to maintain, would add to the District’s traffic woes and could actually increase incidents of aggressive driving and road rage.

Arlington has been especially conscientious when it comes to ‘traffic calming’ projects in residential neighborhoods. Should the county ask Virginia (a Dillon Rule state) to allow localities to post lower residential speed limits?

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Board to Vote on Douglas Park Traffic Circle Plan

The Arlington County Board is set to vote this weekend on a plan to add three landscaped traffic circles to 16th Street S. in the Douglas Park neighborhood.

The $132,000 project — which also calls for the addition of curb extensions, textured pavement crosswalks and painted parking edge lines — is being recommended by the county’s Neighborhood Traffic Calming Committee, as a way to slow down traffic on 16th Street.

The street has “documented speeding problems,” county officials said in a staff report. According to county data, the average speed on 16th Street between S. Monroe Street and S. Quincy Street is 24 miles per hour, with 48 percent of traffic traveling faster than the posted 25 mile per hour speed limit and 15 percent of traffic traveling at 31 miles per hour or higher.

Speed humps were not considered for the traffic calming project, because the “85th percentile” speed required by law for speed hump projects is 32 miles per hour.

This summer, residents of homes along 16th Street were polled on the plan — to add “mini-traffic circles” to the intersections with S. Nelson, Oakland and Pollard Streets. Of those surveyed, 66 percent supported the plan, just above the 60 percent threshold for the project to proceed.

County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman was likely among those who were polled. Zimmerman’s house is one block away from one of the proposed traffic circles.

(Residents will be asked to maintain the landscaping of the traffic circles.)

One 16th Street resident who opposes the project says she’s worried about the ability of emergency vehicles to navigate the traffic circles.

“My concern is that it’s an emergency response route,” the resident told ARLnow.com, adding that the county should “stop punishing 95 percent of the population for 5 percent — the speeders.”

The stretch of 16th Street in question is located south of Columbia Pike and just west of Glebe Road. The board is expected to vote on the traffic calming plan at its Saturday meeting.

Also on the board’s Saturday agenda is a traffic calming plan for 26th Street between N. Sycamore Street and N. Quantico Street in the East Falls Church neighborhood. The $92,000 project — for a stretch of road that has 71 percent of vehicles traveling above the speed limit — will include curb extensions (numbs) and one “speed cushion.”

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Acrimony Among Neighbors, County Staff During Traffic Calming Fight

Last month, with little fanfare, construction crews arrived in the Chain Bridge Forest neighborhood. By the time they left, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, N. River Street, had two new medians strips, two new speed humps and a trio of intersections enhanced with “nubs” that jut a few feet out into the street.

The changes, designed to slow down drivers on a wide, downhill portion of River Street, can hardly be described as “drastic.” But the two-plus year neighbor vs. neighbor vs. county battle that preceded it can be.

Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by opponents of the traffic calming measures reveal that the fight got so nasty, the acrimony even spread to county staff.

“These people have got to get a life. ‘Inherently unfair.’ Seriously? My 6 year old used the unfair complaint the other night when whining about bedtimes,” a county transportation official said of the opposition’s complaints, in an internal email to a colleague. “I’m sure the residents of extreme North Arlington are routinely disenfranchised. Perhaps they should talk to the Department of Justice about election monitoring and human rights violations.”

But Chain Bridge Forest Homeowners’ Association president Terry Dean, who filed the FOIA request, insists that her group — representing 124 households — had legitimate concerns about being left out of the voting process that cleared the way for the traffic calming. In the end, only the 35 households closest to the River Street changes were asked to vote, instead of the neighborhood at large, Dean said.

“[Arlington County] didn’t believe in participatory democracy… basically, they wanted to do what they wanted to do, and it really didn’t matter what the neighborhood thought,” said Dean, a former congressional staffer. “You see that in banana republics, but it’s not supposed to be happening four miles from the Capitol.”

(Twenty-seven of the 35 households voted in favor of the changes, though Dean says a few votes were miscounted.)

Dean insists that from the outset, nobody was opposed to the idea of speed humps on River Street — the original plan when the neighborhood asked for traffic calming measures. It’s only when the county decided to take the traffic calming further — reconfiguring the entrance to River Street from Glebe Road while adding median strips and curb extensions in an effort to “define the travel lanes, slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety” — did the opposition start to organize.

County staff argued that River Street is too steep between 38th Place and 39th Street to install additional speed humps, and said that the reconfigured entrance off of Glebe Road was necessary to convey to drivers that they were entering a residential neighborhood. Opponents, meanwhile, started to question the necessity and nearly $200,000 cost of the changes, given that the average speed on River Street was clocked at 27 miles per hour. About 15 percent of cars were clocked going more than 32 miles per hour, and attempts at speed enforcement by police yielded only four tickets in five hours on one day, and not a single ticket on another day. One county employee referred to the latter enforcement effort as a “fishing expedition” in an email

Older residents worried that the changes would actually make River Street less safe, Dean said, especially during bad weather when navigation gets trickier.

“They are more concerned about these obstacles in the middle of the street” than they are speeding cars, she said. “I have no doubt someone’s going to hit that median once we have ice and snow on the ground… We hope and pray that nobody will get hurt.”

“From an aesthetic point of view it’s ugly as the dickens… a big, ugly mess,” Dean added.

According to statistics cited by Dean, there have only been three significant accidents on the Arlington County portion of River Street in the past five years. One involved a man who died of a medical emergency while driving; his car ran off the road. Another involved an intoxicated woman whose car ran into a yard on 39th Street. The other involved a woman who was leaning down to pick up a cell phone and drove into the curb, spinning her car. Nobody else was injured in the accidents, Dean said, noting that traffic calming would not have prevented any of the accidents and that traffic calming supporters were “hyperventilating in terms of the danger to their children.”

But another opposition argument seems to have fallen flat. Opponents predicted “compromised accessibility of large vehicles” like school buses. In the FOIA documents, however, the fire department said it would have no problem navigating its big fire engines around the medians and curb extensions. And the hour ARLnow.com spent taking photos revealed no accessibility problems, save a black stretch Ford Excursion limo that tried and failed to navigate around the median at Glebe Road — seemingly the result of a poorly-chosen angle of approach.

Dean said that the medians and curb extensions were actually trimmed back at the Glebe Road entrance due to intervention by VDOT. That, she says, has improved things a bit. Still, she and fellow homeowner’s association members plan to continue fighting. The county now wants to install a street light at River Street and Glebe Road — to allow drivers to  see the newly-installed medians — and Dean says they’re going to fight it on the grounds that some of the necessary equipment needs to be installed on homeowner’s association property.

In the end, though, Dean says she hopes the Chain Bridge Forest community, now divided, put aside their differences and resume neighborly relations.

“The community needs to get past this and come together, but calling people names… is not going to get us there,” she said. “That just needs to stop… you can’t be rude to your neighbors all the time, it will come back to haunt you.”

Dean added that she has been in touch with residents of Arlington Ridge, which recently went through its own acrimonious fight over a traffic calming project.

“Arlington, as a county government, shouldn’t be setting up situations like this,” she said.

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Trees to Be Added to Narrower Pentagon City Street

Newly-narrowed South Joyce Street in Pentagon City is losing a few parking spaces to make way for trees.

Over the winter, crews narrowed the portion of Joyce Street from 15th Street to 16th Street. A sidewalk was added to the side of the road facing Virginia Highlands Park, and the width of the street was reduced from 40 feet to about 35 feet.

The changes were intended as traffic calming measures. Narrower streets, the county says, encourage drivers to slow down.

To slow traffic down even more, Arlington has added six car-length planters — three on either side of the street. Trees will be planted in the planters, which each take up what was once a parking space.

“They serve to visually narrow the roadway on a very long stretch that is not interrupted by intersections,” said Traffic Engineering and Operations Bureau Chief Wayne Wentz.

Wentz said that while one side of the street has cars parked on it throughout the day, the other side sometimes lacks parked cars. The empty parking spaces, in turn, make the street appear wider and result in people speeding up. The planters, Wentz said, will do the job of calming traffic even when parked cars aren’t present.

Wentz noted that the roadwork actually added two parking spots to South Joyce Street, so the net loss of parking is only four spots. But one resident worried that park-goers may soon be forced to leave their cars in the adjacent neighborhood.

“Those barriers on the side take up parking spots that fill up quickly during softball season!” said the resident. “I live at South Joyce and 20th and you can bet neighbors will be complaining about increased parking in their neighborhood.”

The construction was paid for by money set aside by the developer of the nearby Pentagon Row shops.

“The changes to Joyce Street were actually development conditions of Pentagon Row,” Wentz said.

Wentz expects the trees to be planted by mid-April. The county’s arborist will decide which type of tree will be planted. In addition to the six planters on the side of the road, road crews also added a planter in the middle of the road at a pedestrian crossing.

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