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A newly-reopened segment of the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail in Falls Church boasts a feature that could be replicated in Arlington: separate paths for cyclists and those on foot.

Regional parks authority NOVA Parks widened just over one mile of the trail through the Little City in order to accommodate separate tracks. The organization celebrated the completion of the five-year, $3.7 million project this morning.

The parks authority says something similar should be done along the Arlington segment, which has seen an increased number of pedestrians, leisure riders and commuters competing for the same narrow asphalt strip.

“Our focus was getting Falls Church completed, since we had all the funds and city approval lined up for that,” NOVA Parks Director Paul Gilbert said. “The next step will be to see when we can get the Arlington section done — when we have design work done and we can talk to civic groups.”

Two years ago, the organization signaled its intent to widen the two-mile stretch between N. Roosevelt Street and N. Carlin Springs Road and incorporate separated trails. Work is contingent, however, on when a $5.6 million grant from the Northern Virginia Transit Authority becomes available.

That likely won’t happen until 2024, but having the Falls Church segment done helps the process in Arlington, he says.

“It’s not a theoretical,” he said. “Everyone can experience it, see it, understand how it works.”

Among those trying it out was local cycling advocate Gillian Burgess, who hit the trails this past weekend, ahead of the official opening today.

She says she wants to see similar mode-separated trails for the entire length of the W&OD in Arlington, as well as the Mt. Vernon Trail, the Bluemont Trail and parts of the Custis and Four Mile Run trails.

Gilbert says widening large sections of the Arlington W&OD Trail is “feasible, desirable and necessary.”

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A 1,300-mile network of trails that connects Arlington to the two other sites of the Sept. 11 terror attacks could be granted federal designation next month.

Initially founded in the weeks after the attacks, the expansive September 11th National Memorial Trail, which runs through six states and D.C., has yet to be fully completed.

Federal designation would give the network of trails name-recognition and help the nonprofit alliance administering the trail fund its completion in the coming decades, proponents say.

A bill advocating for federal designation, put forward and sponsored by Northern Virginia Reps. Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer, respectively, is with the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. It passed unanimously in the House of Representatives last week.

If approved by the Senate, locals riding on the Mount Vernon Trail — which is part of the 9/11 Memorial Trail — or near Arlington National Cemetery may see new, standardized signage within the next year heralding the “September 11th National Memorial Trail Route,” according to Thomas Baxter, President of the September 11th National Memorial Trail Alliance, which administers the trail.

“The designation will help in our visibility of the 9/11 National Memorial Trail and will enhance our partnership with the National Parks Service,” the trail’s founder, David Brickley, tells ARLnow. “It’ll enhance the experience of the visitor and assure that that story of what happened on 9/11 are not forgotten.”

Brickley, a Virginian, says the move will be at little to no cost for local municipalities or the taxpayer. Outside of consistent signage across the six states and D.C., other practical implications — such as new construction — have yet to be teased out, according to Beyer’s team.

The trail route from the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial to the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania will be administered by the National Park Service. Brickley said maintenance will remain the responsibility of the trail’s alliance.

Still, the connection to NPS will help, as much of the trail runs through national park land, he said.

To make sure the trail isn’t too much of a burden to municipalities, Baxter said the trail alliance works with local community foundations to maintain individual sections.

In Arlington, “we are in discussions with several community foundations, but one has yet to be selected,” he said.

As for whether designation will bring long-term projects down the road, Beyer’s spokesman Aaron Fritschner said “we don’t know yet.”

“The first step is to get the federal designation, which is what Rep. Connolly’s bill does, and which would create a federal status so the 9/11 Memorial Trail remains protected by federal law along its full length, some of which runs through jurisdictions where you might have less certainty about it remaining protected without a federal designation than you would expect in a place like Arlington.”

About 51% of the 1,300-mile trail is designated for off road multi-use trails, meaning another 49% is not built up or runs through land that could one day be developed, Baxter said. Finishing the trail involves securing property, writing grants and working with local partners.

“It’s going to take a long time, probably decades, to get it all the way complete,” he said.

Designation will make the trail more competitive when applying for state, federal and private grants for building the trails and maintaining them, he said.

With federal designation possibly coming soon, Brickley thanked Beyer and Connolly for their support.

“Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer have been tremendous friends to the trail and the alliance,” he said. “We couldn’t ask for better congressmen helping with this project.”

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The bridge over Four Mile Run near Glencarlyn Park is closed (via Gillian Burgess/Twitter)

(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) Two years ago, torrential rain caused massive flash flooding in Arlington that washed away six pedestrian bridges.

Fast forward to today and two of the bridges that suffered the worst damage in the July 2019 storm — at Glencarlyn and Lubber Run parks — are set be replaced over the next year, and should be ready by the summer and fall of 2022, respectively.

The work is a long time in coming for cyclists and the Bicycle Advisory Committee, which has been asking for regular updates since the flooding. Cycling advocate and former BAC President Gillian Burgess said while roads were quickly repaired for travel, cyclists missing the Glencarlyn bridge have spent the last two years taking long detours or wading through shallow portions of Four Mile Run to reach the other side.

“It’s still not clear to me why all these steps take so much longer for a pedestrian bridge than they would for a street,” Burgess said. She added that of all the bridges destroyed, the Glencarlyn bridge near 301 S. Harrison Street “is by far the most important bridge for connectivity.”

That’s because the bridge provides the most direct access to the Long Branch Nature Center from the W&OD Trail, she said. It also provides cyclists a crossing to get to the Lubber Run trails to the north.

A parks department spokeswoman said the county prioritizes projects based on factors like use and need.

“The County repairs and replaces pedestrian bridges within its park system using a systematic approach, strategically repairing or replacing the most heavily used or most heavily deteriorated bridges until the point is reached that all bridges are in good repair,” Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

According to Burgess, the department has cited finding funding and navigating the permitting and review processes as sources of delays between 2019 and 2021.

Kalish said progress is being made on two bridges, funding for which was included in the county’s 2022-2024 Capital Improvement Plan.

“The County is currently designing a new bridge to replace the one damaged near the dog park at Glencarlyn Park,” she said. The new bridge, in the same location as the last bridge, should be completed by summer 2022, she said.

Location of the pedestrian bridge over Four Mile Run (via Google Maps)  

For now, conditions are sub-optimal for trail users, Burgess said. The current detour adds about 20-30 minutes to those on foot. For cyclists, the problem with the detour is not necessarily the added time, but the fact that it’s along a trail that is badly paved with steep sections.

Most cyclists opt to descend into the stream and wade across at one of two fords to the north and south of the bridge. To the north, cyclists ascend near picnic shelters, where the trail is sometimes blocked by park cars. But the biggest problem for crossing via the north or south ford is the terrain.

“It’s a steep hill down and a steep hill up,” Burgess said. As for the trail itself, she said, “I don’t bike with kids on it. When I’m by myself, I worry about the bike not making it because of the blind curves and lots of hills.”

Cyclist and nearby resident Amanda Lowenberger said that for her and her family, “this is nothing more than a daily inconvenience, but one we can afford.”

She said she doesn’t mind occasionally wading through the stream but would like the bridge re-built soon.

“I do volunteer stream water monitoring for the county, and I have a 9-year-old who likes to splash around in the water, so I end up in the stream on a regular basis,” she said. “But still, it would be great to have that bridge as an option again.”

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Arlington County has taken another step toward developing a county-owned and maintained waterfront park in Potomac Yard.

On Saturday, the County Board approved an agreement with the Arlington Potomac Yard Community Association to accept a gift of three parcels of land within the boundaries of Short Bridge Park. The park is located across Four Mile Run from the Potomac Yard shopping center, along Route 1.

The property “is used by the public as an open space but is privately owned and maintained,” according to a staff report. “[It] has concrete paths, landscaping, a public ‘tot lot,’ open grass, trees, and irrigation.”

Since 2015, the county has had a public access easement over the property, the report said. When the land is turned over to the county, it will cost about $44,000 to maintain annually.

Acquiring the land gets Arlington closer to turning Short Bridge Park into a county park. Although the 3.5-acre open space was created through the Potomac Yard Phased Development Site Plan, adopted in 2000, it remained privately owned by the association and the Eclipse on Center Park condominiums.

That process includes two phases of construction to realizing the vision of the Short Bridge Park Master Plan, adopted by the County Board in January 2018.

(That was also when the name changed from its informal moniker, South Park.)

The existing park amenities were constructed by a developer.

“These improvements were intended as interim improvements until Arlington County funds were available to develop a Park Master Plan and implement permanent park improvements,” the master plan said. “The developer-constructed improvements are minimal and lack typical County park amenities such as trash cans, seating, signage, and Americans with Disabilities Act accessible pathways.”

It will take a few years, however, before the master plan’s vision for the park is implemented.

“The first phase includes a trail connection that links Richmond Highway to the Four Mile Run trail and is estimated to begin construction in late 2021,” a county staff report said.

The trail project is funded through a federal grant and 20% county match, according to the report.

“The second phase of the park master plan will construct the rest of the park and is dependent on Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) funds,” the report said.

As of now, the adopted CIP plan — which schedules out county projects through 2028 — identified construction funding for phase two “in the out-years” or the 2023-24 fiscal year, the county said.

According to the master plan, this phase includes a dog run, a riverfront overlook and an “interpretive plaza.”

Image via Arlington County

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Rep. Don Beyer announced yesterday that he has requested federal funds to go toward a health initiative and two parks projects in Arlington County.

If approved, the funding would fund repaving a section of the Bluemont Junction Trail and repairing replacing a key pedestrian bridge in Glencarlyn Park. It would also purchase vehicles needed by a mobile response team that would respond to behavioral health crises rather than police.

The money would come from the Fiscal Year 2022 Community Project Funding Program, which provides targeted funding for local projects nationwide. Representatives were able to submit requests for up to 10 projects but there is no guarantee of approval. Beyer also requested money for projects benefiting the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County.

“The infrastructure requests would enhance pedestrian routes in the region, support [electric vehicles] and other environmentally friendly initiatives, fund mental health resources, and support a pilot program for the deployment of body-worn cameras for the Alexandria Police Department,” Beyer said. “These are worthy projects deserving of federal funding.”

For the Bluemont Junction Trail, Beyer requested $325,000 to repave a segment of the trail and adjacent connector paths, improvements that the county identified during a 2018 trails assessment.

“The current trail pavement and connectors are in deteriorating condition with limited or poor access from adjacent and intersecting streets,” the announcement said.

Separately, the county is using capital funding to improve where the trail intersects with N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

Beyer requested $800,000 to replace the Glencarlyn Park pedestrian bridge lost during the July 2019 flash flooding. So far, only the Lubber Run Park bridge has been replaced, although the Glencarlyn bridge was also included in Arlington’s adopted 2021 Capital Improvements Plan.

“Of the six pedestrian bridges lost in the flooding event, the most important one for connectivity is the bridge in Glencarlyn Park,” Beyer’s announcement said. “This bridge connects the main park area, dog exercise area and neighboring communities to the west of Four Mile Run to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. The bridge connection is important as both a commuter connection and for recreation and leisure walks on the W&OD Trail.”

On behalf of Arlington County, Beyer requested $390,000 to purchase two medically-equipped vehicles to be used by a team tasked with responding to mental health crises. Arlington’s Police Practices Group recently recommended that the county transition from dispatching police to such incidents to sending out a specialized mobile crisis response unit.

“The requested funds will support a ‘Help not Handcuffs’ approach to ensure that persons in behavioral health crises receive the most appropriate assistance needed when and where they need it,” Beyer’s announcement said. “A behavioral health response vs. a law enforcement response will increase community-based mental health care, decrease emergency department use, reduce inpatient admissions, divert from the criminal justice system and supports racial justice.”

In its lengthy report, the Police Practices Group also recommended procuring specialized vehicles or retrofitting existing ones for the mobile crisis unit.

The vehicles would supplement $574,000 in the county’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget to support an enhanced mental health crisis response program in the Department of Human Services. That allocation would fund a physician’s assistant, nurse, clinician, transport van and operating supplies.

Photo via Flickr pool user Tom Mockler

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Morning Notes

Park Plaque to Honor Gutshall — “A memorial plaque honoring the life and contributions of the late Arlington County Board member Erik Gutshall soon will be a part of the neighborhood he called home… when it is in place near the North Highland Street side of Zitkala-Sa Park, the memorial will be situated within sight of Gutshall’s longtime home.” [Sun Gazette]

Ballston Local Now Open — “A casual new neighborhood bar serving New York-style pizza, smash burgers, cheesy crab fries, and generous “Vegas-style” portions of chicken Parm opened in Arlington, Virginia, over the weekend. Ballston Local (900 N. Glebe Road) comes from Jason Johnston, the opening executive chef at MGM National Harbor, and business partner Jonah Troth. Opening day was Saturday, May 1.” [Eater]

Arlington Unemployment Ticks Down — “Although it continues to report improvements, the latest unemployment date shows Arlington’s jobless rate remains more than twice what it was at the onset of the pandemic… the county’s jobless rate in March was 4 percent, according to figures reported April 28 by the Virginia Employment Commission. That’s down a tick from the rate of 4.1 percent reported in February, but remains well above the 1.8-percent rate of March 2020.” [Sun Gazette]

New Trails May Provide Economic Boost — “A proposal to add more than 400 miles to the region’s existing trail network could create more than 16,000 jobs and generate more than $1 billion a year in revenue from construction and local spending, according to a new report.” [Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

Procession for Long-Time ACPD Chief — “[On Friday] ACPD and our regional law enforcement partners paid final respects to retired Chief of Police William K. ‘Smokey’ Stover. He passed away from natural causes on Friday, April 17, 2020 at 89 years old. His service was held today at” Arlington National Cemetery.” [Twitter, Legacy]

No Local GOP Candidates So Far — “As of yet, Arlington Republicans have not lined up candidates for County Board and School Board. The monthly meeting of the Arlington County Republican Committee came and went April 28 with no candidate announcements for the two local races, and no inklings that there may be possibilities in the pipeline.” [InsideNova]

Pentagon Says No to Motorcycle Rally — “The Department of Defense denied a parking permit to the American Veterans organization to use the Pentagon as a rallying point for the Memorial Day ‘Rolling to Remember’ ride, ending a 32-year tradition… [The Pentagon said] it would reconsider the request once COVID-19 conditions change.” [Washington Examiner]

Tables, Chairs Coming Back to Penrose Square — “Penrose Square plaza tables and chairs coming back soon. Make your outdoor lunch plans for next week accordingly.” [Twitter, Twitter]

History of Arlington’s Rail Lines — “By 1924, the larger Washington-Virginia Railway had 64 trolley stops in Arlington alone, on four branches. Lines crossed the Potomac on the old Aqueduct Bridge and on another branch on what became the 14th Street bridges, taking passengers through ‘Arlington Junction’ in what became Crystal City and all the way to Mount Vernon.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Section of 9/11 Trail in PA — “Somerset County and other officials cut the ribbon Friday in Garrett for the first 1.5 miles of the newly developed, off-road section of the 1,300-mile-long 9/11 National Memorial Trail. Currently, the recreational trail is a patchwork of about 55% off-road trails and 45% roads connecting the three 9/11 memorial sites in New York City, Arlington, Va., and Shanksville.” [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

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(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) A recent Facebook post has hit a sore spot with some Arlington cyclists and mountain bikers. 

The Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation recently reiterated its policy on reserving natural surface “dirt” trails to walkers and hikers while allowing cyclists on paved trails.

The post drew the consternation of mountain bikers who have called on the county to let them use dirt trails for the past couple of years.

“I continue to be disappointed with the refusal of Arlington County Parks and Recreation to listen to the community and the County Board on this,” said one poster. “In both the Bicycle Element of the Master Transportation Plan and in the Public Open Spaces Master Plan, the Board said that Arlington would work towards opportunities for biking on natural surface trails. But 2 years later, DPR has been silent on the issue.” 

There are some indications that the department could consider providing natural trail options for cyclists in the future, however. The county has started developing a Forestry and Natural Resources Plan, which examines the impact of humans on Arlington’s natural resources, parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said.

“As we develop the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan, the county will look into ways we can include mountain biking in Arlington parks,” she said.  

Currently, mountain bikers have to leave the county to ride any trails, said Matthew Levine, who founded Arlington Trails, a group that advocates for a system of managed, multi-use trails in the county. If they want to ride in Arlington, they forge informal trails, also known as “goat” or “social” trails. 

The reaction to the Facebook post, combined with the informal trails and Arlington Trails’ advocacy, all signify that “people want to use their bikes on trails in the county,” he tells ARLnow.

The real problem is that there is not a managed, multi-use natural trail system,” he said, pointing to Montgomery and Fairfax counties, which have miles of shared-use dirt paths. 

That these exploratory paths exist “reveals the need for more trails,” he said, adding that his group is willing to help design and maintain them. 

Not everyone is on board with the idea of mountain bike trails. Last spring, in response to concerns from the Bluemont Civic Association about unauthorized bike trails and jumps in Lacey Woods and Mary Carlin Woods, the parks department upped its enforcement and posted “no biking” signs. Similar complaints about rogue mountain bikers in other wooded areas of the county have been lodged on Nextdoor.

The county only maintains official trails in Arlington because of the negative impact the informal trails could have, Kalish said.

“In cases where damage is persistent, staff makes every effort to close, reclaim, and restore these areas to a natural state,” she said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, there was an increase in the development of social trails, including ones developed by mountain bikers who built ramps and cut down trees.” 

In the past, staff have stopped youth who were found carrying shovels and hoes, removing plants and realigning trails, she said. 

But Levine said it seems like cyclists are unfairly targeted as culprits of harming these natural areas — despite some studies concluding that if mountain bikers and hikers use trails at about the same rate, mountain bikers do not contribute more to environmental degradation.

Kalish indicated a path forward for mountain bikers on natural trails could come if a balance is struck between use and impact. Other, larger communities have done it, she said.  

“We understand that placing signs and closing social trails are only pieces of the puzzle for successfully managing our trail system; so we will be looking at holistic solutions as we develop the Forestry and Natural Resources Plan,” Kalish said. “We look forward to working with the public as we move forward.”  

But Levine is a little more cynical, describing past experiences when the group has been sidelined.  

“The message is to work with stakeholders in the issue, but we have been rebuffed by the Urban Forest Commission and political leadership,” he said. 

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On Saturday, the County Board is scheduled to review an agreement with the City of Alexandria to build a connector trail near Four Mile Run and Route 1, in the Potomac Yard area.

“The Connector Trail will connect a trail to be constructed by Arlington County from Richmond Highway in Arlington County to a portion of the Four Mile Run Trail located in the City of Alexandria,” says a county staff report.

The new trail and the connecting trail are part of a development plan for Short Bridge Park. The waterfront park, adjacent to several bridges over Four Mile Run, is part of both Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

“The first phase of development of Short Bridge Park involves the construction of the New Trail leading from Richmond Highway across a parcel currently owned by Arlington Potomac Yard Community Association and on which the County Board has a public access easement,” the staff report said.

The board will have three years to construct these paths.

“The County shall be responsible for maintenance, repair and replacement of the connector trail and the removal of trash and debris during the term of the agreement,” the report said.

Short Bridge Park was created through a site plan that the County Board approved in 2000. A master plan for the park, including a name change from the informal moniker “South Park,” was hashed out in 2018 after “extensive community engagement.”

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The group Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail are asking for help over the next three weeks to fix a trail bridge next to Theodore Roosevelt Island.

The efforts come after successful fundraiser that raised more money than the friends needed to apply non-skid treatment to the bridge, which is nicknamed the “Trollheim Bridge” and has a reputation for being dangerous to bike riders.

After scrubbing away mold, moss and mildew, the Friends are turning to fixing loose boards and replacing damaged boards, another hazard on a bridge that the organization says is “notoriously slippy.”

The opportunities are part of the ongoing effort to “make Trollheim Bridge a little less trollish,” said the announcement on the website.

This Saturday, the friends will be reattaching boards bicyclists often hear “flopping around” on the bridge. Next Thursday, they will be replacing rotting deck boards. On Saturday, Dec. 5, there will be a second event for fixing boards on the bridge.

“There’s a lot of freaking loose boards,” the announcement said. “If we run out of boards, we’ll start flipping some of the boards to extend their life.”

The Friends encourage those who are interested to register via the above links. According to the registration page, volunteers are asked to bring water, gloves, a safety vest and a cordless drill, if they have one.

Extra money from the GoFundMe fundraiser went toward a pressure washer that is speeding up cleaning, as well as extra non-skid treatment for two other bridges with many crashes, including Bridge 1 north of Mount Vernon estates.

In May, the National Park Service released a study of the trail that recommends widening it in some places, particularly hot spots for crashes. There were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, according to the study, though most were reported in parts of the trail south of the bridge.

The 18.5-mile Mount Vernon Trail sees approximately one million annual users.

The Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail, founded in 2018, supports the National Park Service and helps keep the trail safe through education, trail maintenance and community events.

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A major project to add 70 acres to Arlington National Cemetery while reconfiguring the eastern end of Columbia Pike is inching forward.

The cemetery’s southern expansion project will add about 60,000 burial sites, across 37 acres of new burial plots and an above-ground columbarium, allowing the cemetery to continue military burials through the 2050s. It will also bring the Air Force Memorial within the cemetery grounds, and add a parking garage across Columbia Pike.

The federal government acquired county-owned land for the expansion via an eminent domain suit this summer. In exchange, the feds are paying for the reconfiguration of Columbia Pike and the creation of a new S. Nash Street in the tiny Foxcroft Heights neighborhood adjacent to the Air Force Memorial — a $60 million project.

“The expansion project will benefit Arlington County and its residents by, among other things, burying overhead power lines and incorporating the Air Force Memorial and surrounding vacant land into Arlington National Cemetery,” the federal government said in June. “The project will transform Columbia Pike from South Oak Street to Washington Boulevard by re-aligning and widening it. The project includes streetscape zones with trees on both sides of Columbia Pike, adding a new dedicated bike path, and widening pedestrian walkways.”

In all, the cemetery expansion and the road project are expected to cost $420 million, most of which has already been appropriated by Congress.

Separately, the federal government is also planning a visitor center for the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, across from the expanded portion of the cemetery closer to the Pentagon, as well as a new trail along the cemetery border from Foxcroft Heights to Memorial Drive.

The National Capital Planning Commission discussed the cemetery expansion plan at a review meeting last week. A presentation that preceded the discussion included a number of renderings of the project, as seen above.

The commission largely approved of the plan, but asked the Army to “submit a revised design for the Air Force Memorial vehicular entrance gate to address the unwelcoming experience created by the 60-foot line of bollards and fencing.”

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