(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) This week, the Arlington County Police Department is holding its annual Spring Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Awareness campaign.
This morning and for part of the day Thursday, police will be conducting targeted, high-visibility traffic safety enforcement and public education in Clarendon and Crystal City.
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) April 26, 2016
But is that enough to truly improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in Arlington? In just the past week alone, two young people have been struck and seriously injured — while crossing in marked crosswalks along the pedestrian-heavy Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.
In both instances, nearby residents complained that drivers were chronically ignoring crossing pedestrians, driving too fast and driving while distracted — and that police enforcement is virtually non-existent.
Those two incidents aside, local drivers will tell you that pedestrians in Arlington make a habit of darting out into the road mid-block and crossing against traffic lights, often oblivious to oncoming traffic.
So what should be done about this, to improve safety for all? Should the Arlington County Police Department issue more tickets to drivers and pedestrians in an effort to curb serious accidents and bad behavior on both sides?
(Note: this poll and discussion concerns drivers and pedestrians only. Say what you want about cyclists — and the drivers who sometimes cut them off — but the most pressing issue here is about what to do specifically about pedestrian and vehicle conflicts.)
School Bus Cameras Stop Issuing Tickets — The stop arm cameras on Arlington public school buses are no longer sending citations to those who drive by the buses while the stop signs are activated. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring determined that Arlington does not have the legal authority from the General Assembly to issue summonses from school bus cameras by mail. [Washington Post]
Laundry Room Fire at The Shelton — Yesterday around 6 p.m. a dryer in a laundry room at The Shelton apartment building (3125 24th Street S.) in Nauck caught fire. The fire was reportedly controlled by a sprinkler system, but not before filling the third floor of the building with heavy smoke and prompting an evacuation. [Twitter]
Last Weekend for Hudson Trail Outfitters — The local adventure retailer Hudson Trail Outfitters says this will be their last weekend in business. The company, which has a store on Pentagon Row, is offering 50-80 percent off remaining items. [Hudson Trail Outfitters]
Rep. Beyer Wins Spelling Bee — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) won the National Press Club’s annual Politicians vs. Press spelling bee Wednesday night. Beyer won by correctly spelling “apostasy” in round 23. The win keeps the spelling bee title in Virginia, after Sen. Tim Kaine won last year. [Politico]
‘Most Interesting Man in Arlington’ Contest — Don Tito in Clarendon will be hosting its first ever “Most Interesting Man in Arlington” contest Saturday night. Hosted by Mel, of 107.3’s morning show, the contest will judge based on looks and a series of challenges. [Clarendon Nights]
Discover Cherrydale This Weekend — The Cherrydale Business Alliance will hold its second annual “Discover Cherrydale” festival on Sunday afternoon. The event will feature vendor booths, a beer garden, food trucks and various family-friendly activities. [ARLnow Events]
Red Top Given Green Light for Stickers — An Arlington County Board-ordered review of new stickers on the back window of Red Top taxicabs has found no safety hazard. Lou Gatti, a long-time cab driver who is now an industry critic and who was the one who raised concerns, was disappointed by the findings. “There are no checks and balances in this industry, except for me,” Gatti is quoted as saying. “I can’t understand why no one seems to care about the facts and the laws, except me.” [InsideNova]
Blue Line Issues This Morning — A faulty switch near the Pentagon prompted Metro to route Blue Line trains over the Yellow Line bridge for a significant portion of this morning’s rush hour. [Twitter]
Blowing past a school bus with its stop sign extended may result in a $250 ticket, if the driver is caught by one of Arlington Public Schools’ newly-installed cameras.
Some APS buses are now equipped with cameras to help police officers catch drivers who do not stop when a bus extends its stop sign. APS operates 165 buses to transport about 10,000 kids a day, said Dave McCrae, APS director of Transportation.
“Essentially, the safety of our students is our primary focus,” McCrae said.
McCrae declined to say how many buses have the cameras, saying that revealing that information may encourage drivers to try their luck. Last year APS officials said that 10-20 percent of buses would get the cameras.
There are six total cameras on the buses: five in the front, one of which is a motion sensor camera, and one at the rear. Together the cameras work to capture the vehicle, including the license plate number, as it drives past a bus with its stop. Footage is then wirelessly sent to the Arlington Police Department, where the footage will be reviewed to determine if a violation has occurred, before a citation is issued.
“Cameras are a way of capturing video and providing law enforcement with evidence needed to prosecute a violation,” said Charlie Territo of American Traffic Solutions, which provides the cameras.
The new program is a result of a partnership between American Traffic Solutions, APS and the Arlington Police Department. The program is self-funded with the money collected from tickets paying for the cameras and upkeep.
Without the cameras, it is often difficult to catch drivers who run the bus’s stop sign, said Ken Dennis with Arlington Police Department. If a police officer follows a bus, drivers use their best driving behavior. It’s when they don’t think they can get caught that most drivers will break the law, he said.
Bus drivers told APS that drivers were often ignoring their extended bus stop signs, which led to the program’s implementation, McCrae said.
Driving past the signs is often not malicious, said Daniel Roseboro, a bus driver of 25 years. Instead, he has noticed that people are often just not paying attention or in a rush when they drive past a bus’s stop sign.
“I think the cameras will help, but I think one of the biggest things is the publicity,” he said. “It’s always good to know Big Brother is watching.”
McCrae said that he is hopeful that the cameras will prompt drivers to pay more attention when they see a school bus.
“If I had one goal of the program it would be no gets a ticket,” he said.
Cameras on school buses have proven to be effective, Territo said. American Traffic Solutions has provided equipment for buses in about 30 school districts across the country, he said. And drivers who get violations are often not repeat offenders.
Fully equipped buses rolled out yesterday. From now until the start of school (July 8-Sept. 7), drivers who pass a bus stop sign will receive a warning. Once school starts (Sept. 8), a violation will result in a $250 ticket.
The bus cameras work similar to red light cameras, Dennis said. Tickets are issued to the vehicle so violations will not result in points on a license.
“This is a good thing. This is to stop bad driving behavior,” Dennis said. “And sometimes the only way to do that is with a fine.”
The Arlington County Board unanimously approved the fee at its meeting Saturday. Earlier this year, the state General Assembly passed a provision to a state law this year that allows localities to levy up to a $5 fee on summons for traffic and criminal cases to fund the establishment of an electronic system for filing summons for traffic tickets.
According to the county staff report, the Arlington County Police Department issued 42,761 traffic citations and made 5,102 arrests from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014. The county estimates the new fee would add $200,000 in annual revenue, and that the new system would cost $150,000 for equipment to implement.
“When motorists are stopped by police, it adds an element of danger as both the motorists and officers are exposed to passing traffic,” the staff report states. “An electronic summons system would lessen the chances of a road shoulder accident during the course of the officers’ traffic stop and also provide the motorist with a faster and more efficient transaction.
“An electronic summons system will also significantly improve efficiency and accuracy in the processing of issued citations,” the staff report continues. “With an electronic summons system, citation data would be automatically scanned and electronically entered at the point of activity. Personnel will no longer have to subsequently re-enter data from hand-written summons. Once the citation is completed, the transaction data is sent electronically to the court’s case management systems, usually within 24 hours. This will also allow violators to prepay their fines promptly and aid the courts in managing their dockets while tracking their caseloads. The utilization of the electronic summons system will help reduce data entry errors.”
The money that doesn’t go toward paying for the equipment will fund the summons system’s maintenance. Equipment for the system includes handheld devices for officers, driver’s license scanners, portable printers and and barcode readers. Once maintenance for the next three years is fully funded, the county says, it will consider removing the $5 fee.
The Arlington County board approved a policy on Tuesday night to install high-resolution cameras on the “stop arms” of school buses to catch drivers who don’t stop to protect children.
“Any car passing a stopped school bus, throw the book at them,” County Board Chair Jay Fisette said.
The cameras will automatically capture photos and video of any vehicle that passes a school bus from behind or the front when it is stopped with its driver’s side stop sign extended.
The images will be reviewed by a vendor selected by Arlington Public Schools through a competitive bidding process and then sent to the Arlington County Police Department. Police will then send citations to the vehicles’ registered owners.
The cameras will be installed and operated at no cost to APS, which will share ticket funds with the vendor and reimburse ACPD for reviewing the footage. According to County Board documents, in Falls Church a school bus camera vendor receives 75 percent of revenue in the first year of a contract, 60 percent in the second year and 50 percent in subsequent years.
The $250 fines will be payable to Arlington Public Schools, which may earmark the money for school bus and pedestrian safety programs.
“This is not about money, it’s about safety — and the red light cameras aren’t either. It’s about saving lives and reducing injury,” Fisette said.
County Board members opted to push back the effective date of the ordinance to Feb. 1 to put in place policies on storing, accessing and sharing the recordings.
Board Vice-Chair Mary Hughes Hynes said she wanted to balance children’s safety with privacy concerns.
“I’m very concerned about wandering in here without some conversation about what the limits and our expectations are,” she said.
Lt. Mike Watson said the images caught on camera will be held for 60 days if an infraction is recorded, and then deleted.
“If there are no violations issued, that information will be purged 10 days after use,” he said.
If the cameras were to record another crime, the footage could be released only by court order, Watson said.
Violators will receive warnings, not tickets, for the first month the cameras are used. ACPD has issued an estimated 700 citations in the past five years to drivers who pass stopped school buses.
Photo via Flickr/madame_furie
Tickets Could Become More Costly — Tickets for traffic offenses and minor criminal cases could be getting more expensive in Arlington. The County Board is expected to vote on a new $5 surcharge that would be tacked on to tickets to help pay for an electronic summons system for the Arlington County Police Department. [InsideNova]
Long Wait for Arlington Burials — Arlington National Cemetery has a “burial backlog.” The average wait time to bury a service member at the cemetery is nearly 6 months, according to an analysis by a Florida newspaper. [News-Press]
N. Va. Senior Olympics Kick Off — The annual Northern Virginia Senior Olympics kicked off at Thomas Jefferson Community Center in Arlington on Saturday. “Olympic” events like Scrabble, Wii bowling and badminton are scheduled at the community center and other venues around Northern Virginia through Sept. 24. [Northern Virginia Senior Olympics]
Photo courtesy Erinn Shirley
The Arlington County Board will consider advertising a public hearing on the issue at its meeting this Saturday. The proposal follows about six months of work from Arlington Public Schools Security Coordinator Kevin Reardon to develop a plan to install the cameras on 10-20 percent of APS buses with no additional expense to the county.
Virginia passed a law in 2011 that allows municipalities to install cameras on school buses and issue drivers tickets for $250 if they are recorded passing a bus when its stop arm is out. Last fall, Falls Church installed cameras on eight of its 12 school buses, Reardon said. Fairfax County is considering installing the cameras and they are also in use in Montgomery County, Md., where 300 tickets were issued in three months earlier this year.
If the County Board approves the request to advertise, it likely won’t be able to approve the cameras until September, since there is no meeting in August. If it’s approved, APS is expected to seek an outside vendor to install, maintain and operate the cameras. The vendor would receive a substantial percentage of the revenue from the citations as payment, Reardon said.
“In Falls Church, in their first year, the vendor got between 60 and 70 percent of the fine,” Reardon told ARLnow.com today. Another chunk of the revenue will pay the police, who will review the footage and issue the citations.
“I’m sure someone will look at this and say, ‘It’s just the school system trying to make a lot of money,’ and that is not the case. By the time you pay the police and vendor, most of the revenue is gone.”
Reardon said he proposed to earmark the remaining revenue to pay for school safety expenses. The cameras would reduce police expenses, he said, because police will occasionally follow school buses on their routes to ensure drivers aren’t going around the stop-arms.
Falls Church has averaged about one ticket per bus each day, Reardon said, but the citation rate fell essentially every month. Once a motorist is ticketed, a repeat offense is far less likely. He also suggested a 30-day grace period once the cameras are installed — there’s no estimate for when that will happen until the full item goes before the County Board — which would send citations to drivers but not charge them with a fine.
Despite some people’s reluctance to put traffic cameras on the road, Reardon said in his research, reactions to the cameras have been generally positive.
“Most places are very happy with it,” he said. “If you’re passing a school bus on Lee Highway and a child pops out, the child will be hurt severely. Previous to this, the only way we could enforce it is to have the school bus driver jot down the tag and go to court, or the police department is used to follow school buses. Now we’re automating that part of school safety, and we’re going to free the police up to do something else.”
The department was recognized as having the best traffic safety program in Virginia, for municipal police departments with 301 to 450 sworn officers. The award was announced during the recent Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police conference.
ACPD said it accomplished its traffic safety goals through “education, enforcement and engineering,” and through a number of initiatives, including:
- Traffic Accident Reduction Program (TARP)
- Response to citizen complaints utilizing a traffic complaint database
- Selective enforcement in areas designated as problem locations
- Safe Routes to School program
- Bicycle and Pedestrian safety
- Participation in Virginia’s Street Smart campaigns
- Participation in the Click or Ticket occupant safety programs
“Providing over 70 years of professional police services to the citizens and guests of Arlington County, ACPD continues a long commitment to the enforcement of all traffic laws,” the department said in a press release. “The primary goal of the department traffic safety program is to facilitate the safe and efficient flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.”
Thanks to grant money from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, police will be adding traffic patrols and HOV enforcement details around the county starting today. The patrols will primarily target school zones, frequent accident locations and areas identified by citizen complaints.
While the added ACPD patrols will be enforcing all traffic laws, the Click It or Ticket campaign specifically emphasizes seat belt laws, with the goal of “sav[ing] lives by cracking down on those who don’t buckle up.”
From a police press release:
While Virginia’s seat belt use rate increased slightly to 81.8%, up from 80.5% in 2010, there is still much work to be done. According to the DMV Highway Safety Office’s TREDS (Traffic Records Electronic Data System) in preliminary 2011 statistics, there were a total of 765 fatalities – 306 of them were unrestrained at the time of the crash. Of the total unrestrained fatalities (306), 93 or 30.39% of them were between the hours of midnight – 6:00 a.m. with 69.89% or 65 of those 93 between midnight and 3:00 a.m.
Regular seat belt use saves thousands of lives across Virginia each year. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics show that in 2010 alone, seat belts saved an estimated 272 lives in Virginia. An additional 112 lives could be saved with 100 percent seat belt use.
While this year’s Click It or Ticket enforcement mobilization runs from May 21st – June 3rd, motorists should know that officers are out enforcing traffic laws, including seat belt laws year round.
(Updated at 11:45 a.m.) Arlington County Police Chief M. Douglas Scott has rescinded a controversial memo that seemingly imposed a quota system for traffic tickets and parking citations on the county’s patrol officers.
Scott says the memo, which he saw for the first time yesterday after television station WUSA 9 broke the story, was a “mistake” that has “embarrassed” rank and file police officers. A new memo Scott sent out this morning officially rescinds the March 1 memo, entitled “Proactivity Expectations 2012.”
“As a result of a news story, it became clear to me the public believed the memorandum was calling for traffic violation, parking violation and criminal arrest averages that could best be construed as ‘quotas,'” Scott wrote. “The Arlington County Police Department does not support a quota system with regard to enforcement efforts. Our officers are expected to perform their duties with the utmost professionalism and courtesy and even the insinuation that we are supporting a quota system… goes against the core values of this organization.”
Scott says there would be no disciplinary action taken against the two patrol commanders who issued the memo. At a press conference in front of police headquarters in Courthouse this morning, Scott suggested that the memo was well-intentioned but sent the wrong message.
“I do feel that most employers have performance expectations for their employees,” Scott said. “And I do believe the public believes that it’s reasonable for us to have performance expectations for our officers. However, citing specific squad averages, benchmarks or targets leads to confusion about quotas. We take this issue seriously… we do not have quotas.”
Scott added that the part of the original memo that discussed disciplinary action for officers who didn’t meet performance targets was a “mistake” and part of the reason he rescinded it.
Update at 1:45 p.m. — Arlington County has posted a video of this morning’s press conference, as seen below.
To help hammer home that message, police officers and sheriff’s deputies will be conducting “high visibility enforcement” around school zones next week.
Here’s the police press release:
The Arlington County Police Department, in conjunction with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office, will be out in force next week as the 2011-2012 school year begins. Officers and Deputy Sheriffs will be conducting high visibility traffic enforcement in and around the school zones throughout Arlington County starting on Tuesday, September 6, 2011. This will also coincide with the 3rd Annual Virginia Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Week to emphasis the need to share the road with vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists.Drivers are reminded to:
- Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
- Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
- Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school. Remember, we all share the road.
- Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers.
- Have all occupants wear their seatbelts.Students, bicyclist, and pedestrians are reminded to:
- Cross the street at marked crosswalks and never against a red light.
- Look before you cross and follow the direction of the school crossing guards.
- Dismount from your bicycle and walk it in a crosswalk when crossing a street.
- Always walk on designated sidewalks or paths never along the side of a road.Arlington County will have variable message boards placed along the roadways reminding citizens of the start of school and to drive safely. With a little prevention, all drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians can arrive at their destinations in a timely and safe manner.
Even the rich, influential and famous get traffic tickets in Arlington County. And it seems there’s no limit to how small the infraction or how well-known the offender.
The good doctor Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams — yes, the guy who Robin Williams portrayed in a movie — was stopped for going 44 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone last December. Dr. Adams, a north Arlington resident who travels the world dressed as a clown to bring joy to sick children, paid the fine a week later.
Washington Capitals players practice and often live in Arlington. Thus it’s not surprise that a few players have had their sweet rides stopped by Johnny Law.
Earlier this year Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom was stopped for “failure to obtain a county decal within 30 days.” Charges were eventually dropped.
Two years ago another Caps forward, Alexander Semin, was stopped for having no front license plate, an unlawful window tint, and a child restraint violation. Earlier this year, he was stopped again for having no front plate.