Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

It’s Columbus Day — Despite the federal holiday, all Arlington County government offices, courts, libraries and facilities will be open today. Barring breaking news, ARLnow will be publishing on a limited schedule today. [Arlington County]

Theft from Casual Adventure — From an Arlington County Police crime report: “At approximately 11:35 a.m. on October 10, police were dispatched to the late report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that an unknown suspect entered a business at approximately 5:30 p.m. on October 9, selected numerous fleece jackets before fleeing the scene without paying.” [Arlington County]

ACPD Warns of Phone Scam — “Residents have reported receiving unsolicited phone calls from individuals fraudulently claiming to be technicians with Dominion Energy. These individuals accuse the victims of having overdue bills which must immediately be paid, or their power will be disconnected. The caller then provides a fraudulent claim number and phone number where the funds may be paid and often requests payment using a prepaid debit or gift card.” [Arlington County]

Governor Issues Drought Watch — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced a statewide drought watch advisory for the Commonwealth of Virginia. A drought watch is intended to increase awareness of current conditions that are likely to precede a significant drought event.” [Press Release, Capital Weather Gang]

Circus Returns to Rosslyn — Updated at 3:45 p.m. — Conservative provocateurs Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl are holding yet another press conference this week outside Burkman’s Rosslyn townhouse. The duo say they will be joined by a “longtime drug dealer” for prominent Democratic members of Congress. [Twitter]

Nearby: Four Mile Run Trail in Alexandria to Reopen Soon — “A bridge spanning the last gap on the Alexandria side of the Four Mile Run Trail has been put into place, but the trail remains impassable for pedestrians.” [ALXnow]

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Arlington County has made progress in repairing infrastructure damaged in the July 8 flash flood emergency.

Last week Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services reopened a portion of the Four Mile Run Trail that runs under Wilson Blvd. The underpass was partially washed out by the force of the raging flood waters.

Crews “completed the work to repair the bike trail underpass by replacing the curb that was undermined by the stream and placing new concrete slab on the sidewalk surface,” DES spokeswoman Jessica Baxter tells ARLnow. “We also painted the curb on the outer perimeter towards the stream. Overall, it took about two weeks to complete.”

Arlington reported around $6 million in damage to county infrastructure from the flooding. Baxter said DES has completely most of its repairs, though some work remains to be done.

“In terms of repairs, we have substantially completed our tasks — we have minor items to address, such as catch basin repairs,” she said.

A number of footbridges were swept away by floodwaters. At least one, near 38th Street N. in the Old Glebe neighborhood, was recently replaced. Arlington’s parks department is currently evaluating the replacement of others.

“As of Oct. 2, County contractors have removed bridges that were destroyed by the storm, including the bridges at 38th St. N. and N. Chesterfield Street, Bon Air, Glencarlyn and Gulf Branch. Lubber Run will follow,” parks spokeswoman Susan Kalish said. “All bridges and fords damaged in the storm are being assessed for safety and next steps.”

Photo (1) courtesy Dennis Dimick, (3) courtesy @btj/Twitter

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(Updated 3:25 p.m.) After years of planning, Arlington County is ready to put money into the planned renovation of Benjamin Banneker Park.

The 12.5 acres park at 1680 N. Sycamore Street features the head for the Four Mile Run Trail and a section of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, as well as a dog park.

Plans to renovate the park have been in the works for years, capped by the recent acquisition of “the last three properties along 18th Street North” needed for an expansion of the park, according to a county staff report. In 2017, the County Board approved a long-term vision which included replaced amenities and trail improvements.

The County Board is set to approve a $2.6 million contract — which includes $238,554 as a contingency for changes — at the Saturday (Sept. 21) meeting.

The project is funded in part by $2.5 million set aside in the 2015 fiscal year for the park and an additional $750,000 for work on the trails from the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Trail Modernization Program, according to the staff report. The park is expected to have a $117,659 increase in operating costs as a result of the improvements.

Planned work for the park at the western edge of Arlington include a widening of the trails and replacement of:

  • The parking lot
  • Picnic area
  • Rectangular athletic field
  • Playground
  • Walkways
  • Signage
  • Furnishings
  • Stormwater management
  • The dog park

The staff report for the park improvements noted that most of the feedback was positive, but concerns were expressed about the permeability of the trails and the impact widening the trails from eight feet to 12 feet might have on the surrounding environment.

The report notes, however, that county staff is promising “extra attention to minimize impacts on the stream and Resource Protection Area through site appropriate and sensitive erosion and sediment control methods.”

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The widened stretch of the Custis Trail through Rosslyn finally opened to pedestrian and cyclist traffic late yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.

The new improvements widen the Custis Trail along westbound Lee Highway from N. Lynn and N. Oak streets, a popular stretch of the trail that connects the Metro corridor to the Key Bridge and the Mount Vernon Trail.

After months of passing each other in the narrow confines of the slimmed-down path along Lee Highway, cyclists and pedestrians both immediately took to the new trail. The former travel lane has now been blocked off with orange barriers.

Even with the widening wrapped up, the project website said work will still continue on installing permanent signs along the trail, but with a minimal impact on trail traffic.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Gets Best View of Fireworks — On a hazy night, Arlington — particularly Rosslyn — had the best view of the expanded D.C. fireworks. Smoke obscured the viewing for many parts of the District. [Twitter, Twitter, Raw Story]

JBG Trying to Lure Big Tech to Arlington — “JBG Smith Properties CEO Matt Kelly recently met with “a handful” of big West Coast tech firms in a bid to entice them to come to National Landing now that Amazon.com Inc. has chosen the area for its second headquarters.” [Washington Business Journal]

Police Chase Ends in Arlington — A high-speed police chase along I-66 ended in Arlington, near the N. Glebe Road exit. Virginia State Police say a woman fled from police at speeds of up to 120 mph while her three children were in the car. [WJLA, Twitter]

A Modest Proposal for Arlington — In a letter to the editor published by the Arlington Sun Gazette, a man apparently upset by the renaming of Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty suggests also renaming Arlington “Amazon’s bitch.” [InsideNova]

Ebbin Cast as NRA’s ‘Boogeyman’ — “[State Sen. Adam] Ebbin, when told of [state Sen. Bryce] Reeves’s remarks at the town hall, said he never made any of the comments attributed to him. ‘Apparently I’m a radical homosexual who’s misquoted,’ Ebbin said sarcastically.” [Washington Post]

Checking Car Seats in Arlington — Writing about the new Virginia law requiring rear-facing car seats for children under two and below a certain weight, the Arlington County Fire Department noted on social media: “ACFD no longer does child seat safety inspections. Arlington County Police Department offers regular inspections to ensure the child seat is safely installed and secured in your vehicle.” [Twitter]

Warner Highlights Sept. 11th Memorial Trail — “U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are working together to further honor the heroes of September 11th, 2001. In a bipartisan resolution, Senators Toomey and Warner highlight the significance of the September 11th National Memorial Trail,” which runs through Arlington. [Press Release]

Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick/Twitter

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Detours start today along the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to allow for construction of a bridge over Lee Highway.

The trail will be closed between Little Falls Street and Lee Highway and is scheduled to remain closed until fall 2020, when the new bridge is scheduled to open, according to VDOT.

Pedestrians will be detoured north and turn right onto Fairfax Drive, while cyclists will be sent south to Jefferson Street, which does not have a sidewalk.

The new bridge over Lee Highway is planned to offer a safer crossing at a busy intersection for the over 2,000 people who use the trail in this area on peak days.

The W&OD isn’t the only trail facing closure soon. Starting May 6, the Custis Trail is scheduled to close at the I-66 underpass near Bon Air Park to allow for the construction of an additional I-66 East lane.

Trail users will be diverted to an existing pedestrian bridge to the east.

Like the W&OD closure, the Custis Trail closure is expected to last until fall 2020, at which point the trail will be shifted slightly south for visibility and safety improvements.

Both projects are part of VDOT’s Transform 66 project.

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Arlington transportation planners’ latest attempt at crafting the future of the county’s cycling infrastructure has left neighbors, bicyclists and environmental advocates both pleased and disappointed.

The first draft of the 5o-page document, known as the bicycle element of the county’s Master Transportation Plan, originally included 26 cycling infrastructure projects including new trails and on-street bikeways. Since then, county staff has cut a few bike trails from the document, including two major projects: the Arlington Hall trail in Alcova Heights and another connecting the former Northern Virginia Community Hospital in Glencarlyn to Forest Hills, which were chopped after outcry from neighbors and environmentalists.

Still, bike advocates expressed broad support for the plan, but some think the latest draft doesn’t go far enough to ensure pedestrian safety and combat climate change.

“We made a number of changes in response to what we heard,” said Richard Viola, the project manager for updating the plan at the transportation division of the Department of Environmental Services (DES) told ARLnow Thursday. “I don’t think it negatively affects the overall plan, but it certainly shows a little more consideration of our natural resources.”

The plan is a sort of guiding “wish list” for the county, which some refer to as the “Master Bike Plan.” Viola’s group has been revising the document for more than a year, with the final version expected to be adopted later this spring. The latest edition will be posted publicly next week, he said.

During this latest revision, the county dropped its proposal for an off-street, half-mile trail connecting 6th Street S. to S. Quincy Street in the Alcova neighborhood at S. Oakland Street. The trail became a point of controversy because it could mean 6th Street residents lose some backyard privacy, and the county would cut down some important trees.

“We heard from a number of people from that Alcova Heights neighborhood that they did not want to see the trail built,” said Viola. “And then later we heard from a number of people in the neighborhood who want to see the trail build.” Ultimately, his working group shelved the Alcova trail idea for another time.

Another nixed idea was to extend the Four Mile Run Trail a half mile to connect with Claremont Elementary and Wakefield High. The Audubon Society wrote a letter in January warning that the proposal could cause “potential harm” to the rare magnolia ecosystem in the area.

“It’s a useful connection,” Viola said of the proposed trail. “People walk it today. But it would not be a suitable bike route when we thought about it because of the steepness [of the trail] and the proximity to this magnolia bog natural preserve.”

Another plan that became bogged down was a Glencarlyn/Hospital Trail connecting Glencarlyn and Forest Hills neighborhoods via the old site of the Northern Virginia Community Hospital. The half-mile project was envisioned by Viola’s team as a “low-stress route” between Arlington Boulevard and Columbia Pike because it could link up with other bikeways on S. Lexington Street, S. Carlin Springs Road, and 5th Road S.

The Audubon Society wrote that a trail passing through the old hospital site would “destroy valuable natural resources” in the conservation area that protects Long Branch Creek.

As a compromise, Viola’s team suggested instead widening the sidewalk on the east side of Carlyn Springs Road, so bikes and pedestrians can share.

“There are other comments they did not address in their plan,” said Audubon Society member Connie Ericson, referring to the organization’s January letter. “But we are pleased that they took some of our suggestions.”

However, members of the Arlington County Transportation Commission were “not wild” about the sidewalk idea, according to Commission Chair Chris Slatt.

Slatt told ARLnow Friday morning that members felt a paved, woodsy trail was too rare an opportunity pass up.

“There aren’t a lot of places where you could jog or bike without cars next to you,” he said. “It would seem like a shame to give up on that.”

In general, the plan drew praise from Ericson, and other advocates like D.C.-based Wash Cycle who said they couldn’t “spot any holes in the plans” in a January blog post.

Bruce Deming, who runs the Law Offices of Bruce S. Deming, Esq. and is known as the “Bicycle Lawyer,” also praised the Master Bike Plan for being “very thorough” and having a “cohesive strategy.” But he also told ARLnow in a phone call that, when it comes to safety, the “sense of urgency should be greater” in the latest draft.

The plan contains no mention of speed cameras — something Deming admitted is “politically unpopular” but reduces the injury and mortality rates in crashes with pedestrians and cyclists.

Deming also critiqued the plan for not prioritizing more bike lanes protected from cars, something 64 percent of respondents surveyed by the county wish for according to the Master Plan.

“According to the latest version of the plan, we’ve got 29 miles of bike lanes and 10 percent are the protected bike lanes,” said Deming. “I’d like to see that percentage increase substantially.”

Viola told ARLnow that the plan has been updated to language about “traffic safety education.”

The updates to Arlington’s Master Bike Plan are the first in 10 years, and according to Viola, the county doesn’t expect to undergo the process again for another decade. This comes a few months after the U.N.’s report indicating humans have 12 years to cut emissions before global warming causes permanent ecological damage, and reducing trips by car is one way to do this.

The Master Bike Plan acknowledges this, writing that improving the county’s pledges to improve air quality and reduce its emissions “depend greatly on shifting more travel to energy-efficient travel modes such as bicycling and walking.”

For Slatt, this means ensuring the infrastructure is so good it makes people want to ditch cars for bikes — something that would be easier to figure out how to do if the county allocated more resources and invested in high-end data analysis.

“People don’t people pick their transportation option because it saves the planet,” he said. “People pick their transportation option because it works for them because it’s faster or cheaper or makes them happy.”

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Construction is ramping up on the widening of one of the most congested sections of I-66, and that will prompt some changes on county trails and streets lining the highway.

The County Board gave the go-ahead yesterday (Tuesday) for VDOT workers to relocate some local trails and build a noise wall and storm drain associated with the project. Once it’s completed, I-66 eastbound will boast an extra travel lane between Exit 71 in Ballston and the highway’s intersection with the Dulles Connector Road, long one of the worst traffic choke points in the region (and even the country).

The construction will impact areas along the highway throughout Arlington, however, prompting the Board’s latest action.

Perhaps the largest change is the relocation of part of the W&OD Trail near East Falls Church to a new pedestrian bridge running over Lee Highway, and county officials formally gave VDOT workers permission to start work on that project last night.

VDOT just finalized plans for the bridge this past fall, following a bit of controversy over its design, and hopes to start work on it sometime this spring.

Workers also now have the county’s permission to build a new noise wall near the N. Harrison Street bridge over I-66 in the Bluemont neighborhood. But that wall will block off a portion of the Custis Trail as it runs alongside the highway, and workers plan to create a new connection from the trail onto the bridge itself, according to a county staff report.

Additional construction on the highway widening will also force workers to connect a portion of the Custis Trail near Bon Air Park to an underground tunnel beneath I-66.

The county will also construct “park benches, trail signage, lighting, bike shelter and racks, railing and fencing” along the new sections of the trail, the staff report said.

State officials awarded a contract for the $85.7 million project in 2017, and they’re currently hoping to have the new lane open by fall 2020.

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Anyone planning on hitting the Four Mile Run bike trail should watch out for a detour near the county’s Water Pollution Control Plant these next few days.

The county announced a “limited, partial detour” on the trail starting today (Wednesday) as it runs past 3304 S. Glebe Road, in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood along the county’s border with Alexandria.

A tweet from the county’s Department of Environmental Services said the work should last for a “few weeks,” and that it stems from construction at the sewage plant. A subsequent tweet described the primary disruption for trail users to be “a 200-yard one-lane merge.”

The County Board approved a series of repairs at the plant in 2017, with work planned on some aging water tanks at the treatment facility.

Anyone biking or running on the trail should follow posted detours.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Housing and the County Budget — A new Greater Greater Washington article explores ways to add new housing at a time when Arlington County is facing a serious budget gap. [GGW]

Trails Treacherous for Cyclists — Despite efforts to plow local trails, many stretches in Arlington were still icy or snow-covered yesterday. [Twitter]

Police Warn About Phone Scam — “The Arlington County Police Department is warning the public about a fundraising phone scam targeting County residents. Residents have contacted the police department after receiving unsolicited phone calls from individual(s) claiming to be with the Arlington County Police Department and requesting donations to benefit the disabled and underprivileged children.” [Arlington County]

Fraser Among Those Called By Scammers — Arlington resident and local media personality Sarah Fraser was among those to be called by the scammers posing as ACPD. [Twitter]

A Modest Proposal for Stop Signs — “Close observation of local driving practices confirms the view that stop signs have become irrelevant, since no one obeys them. The closest drivers come is to slow and then slide through the intersection. It would be a cost-saving measure if Arlington County were to remove all its stop signs and replace them with ‘Yield’ signs.” [InsideNova]

Va. 8th District Has Most Federal Workers — “The House member with the most federal workers in his or her district is Democratic Rep. Don Beyer, whose Virginia district includes 86,900 federal workers. (Among districts with no military bases, Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly’s neighboring Virginia district has the highest number of federal workers.)” [Pew Research h/t Patricia Sullivan]

Stuck School Bus in Maywood — “#ArlingtonVA school bus stuck this am on N Fillmore St & 23rd St. N 3 days *AFTER* the snow! This hill on Fillmore is NEVER timely plowed or cleared. Do not put children at risk! Can @ArlingtonVA please clear this street.” [Twitter]

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Transportation planners are sketching out a vision to build out a fully connected regional bike trail network by 2045, linking a “Bike Beltway” around D.C. to the rest of the suburbs surrounding the capital.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board voted late last month to endorse a vision for a “National Capital Regional Trail Network,” expanding its long-range plans for cycling infrastructure throughout the region. Though the actual funding and construction of the trails involved remains up to the individual localities, the map represents a potential path forward for the D.C. area’s elected officials to follow in the coming years.

The newly adopted trail network includes the 842 miles of bike paths identified by the Capital Trails Coalition, a group of both local government transportation agencies and a host of advocacy organizations, as ones that regional leaders should pursue to make cycling around the area a bit easier.

The group has been pushing the idea of a more interconnected region for years now, particularly the “Bike Beltway” circling the city. Former Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette was a key backer of the concept, envisioning a loop of trails from the county’s border with D.C. down to Alexandria, then running around the city into its Maryland suburbs.

But with that trail nearly finished, this latest move envisions connecting that “Beltway” with trails in more far-flung jurisdictions, like Prince William and Loudoun counties.

“The Capital Trails Coalition is pleased to see the coalition’s two years of research and mapping make its way into this important regional transportation plan,” Coalition Chair Jack Koczela wrote in a statement.

The National Park Service has embraced the plan as well, and regional planners hope this latest move can help all the jurisdictions involved in crafting the trail network secure funding to make it a reality.

“There has been great interest among the region’s jurisdictions, agencies, and advocacy groups to build on the National Capital Trail, as endorsed by the TPB and adopted by the NPS,” the Transportation Planning Board’s staff wrote in a blog post.

Arlington officials are currently working on their own update of the county’s guiding documents for future cycling infrastructure improvements, set to wrap up in the coming months. The county’s budget squeeze, however, will make it a challenge for the Board to find finding for many bike projects, at least in the near term.

Photo courtesy of the Capital Trails Coalition

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