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County Gears Up to Ask for Millions for Lee Highway Changes, Including Dedicated Bus, HOV Lane

Arlington is gearing up to ask for millions in I-66 toll revenue to fund a series of changes along Lee Highway, including the creation of a dedicated bus and HOV lane along the road during rush hours.

The County Board is set to sign off this weekend on funding requests for six transportation projects, totaling $6.9 million, four of which focus on reducing traffic along Lee Highway as it runs from Rosslyn to East Falls Church.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission doles out a portion of the revenues collected through the year-old I-66 toll program to localities, in order to help afford road improvements along the corridor inside the Beltway. Accordingly, Arlington is looking for cash for the following efforts along Lee Highway, per a county staff report:

Metrobus Route 3Y Service Improvements — $520,000 per year for five years, total request $2.6 million

This project will increase morning peak hour frequency and provide running time improvements for better on-time performance on the subject Metrobus route that connects the East Falls Church Metrorail Station with the Farragut Square and McPherson Square areas in the District of Columbia via Lee Highway and a short section of I-66 from Rosslyn to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.

Intersection Improvements at Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard — $400,000

This project will add a second left turn lane from northbound Lee Highway to westbound Washington Boulevard and provide pedestrian improvements at the intersection north of the bridge over I-66, which is 0.25 miles from the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.

Enhanced Vehicle Presence Detection on Lee Highway — $20,000 per intersection for 15 intersections, total request $300,000

This project will install forward looking infrared (FLIR) video cameras at key intersections along Lee Highway. FLIR technology uses thermographic cameras that improve the accuracy of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle detection in all lighting and weather conditions, and in turn improve optimal signal, intersection, and corridor operations and performance.

Design and Construct Peak Period, Peak Direction HOV and Bus-Only Lane on Lee Highway from just east of N. Kenmore Street to N. Lynn Street — $1.5 million

This project would convert the outside lane of Lee Highway to an HOV and bus only lane through pavement treatment, restriping, and signage. The lane would operate eastbound during the morning peak period and westbound during the evening peak period only; at other times it will continue as a general purpose travel lane.

The final project on the list is one that the county initially considered back in 2016 as an effort to prepare for Metro’s “SafeTrack” schedule disruptions, and the new lane would’ve run from Court House to Rosslyn. However, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that lane was never constructed, and the new proposal calls for it to run from Cherrydale to Rosslyn instead.

The county expects a new lane would be particularly impactful along that section of the highway because about “25 loaded buses per hour” drive along it during peak period, and they often run into heavy delays near the highway’s intersection with N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, according to the report.

In addition to the Lee Highway changes, officials are also hoping to earn $750,000 to add a new traffic light to the Washington Blvd entrance to the East Falls Church Metro station, as well as crosswalks and other pedestrian improvements at the intersection.

Finally, the county plans to ask for a total of $1.3 million over the next three years for “enhanced transportation demand management outreach” along the corridor, educating commuters about public transit and other strategies for getting cars off the road.

The Board is set to approve these funding requests at its meeting on Saturday (Dec. 15), and the NVTC will accept applications through Jan. 16. The organization plans to hand out $20 million in funding across the region through the program next year.

Photo via Google Maps

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County Readies Update of Cycling Infrastructure Plans, Sketching Out Dozens of Potential Improvements

Arlington transportation planners are weighing major revisions to the guiding document for the future of the county’s bike infrastructure, sketching out a wish list of new trails and bike lanes they want to see over the coming years.

County officials have recently begun circulating a draft version of an updated “bicycle element” to Arlington’s “Master Transportation Plan.” The document was last updated a decade ago, and a working group has spent more than a year crafting potential changes for the plan.

In all, it contains 26 new pieces of cycling infrastructure from the last time the plan was revised, including a bevy of new trail segments, additional on-street lanes and trail renovations. The county is now soliciting public feedback on the draft in the form of a community survey, with additional engagement efforts to come.

But the document also includes some broad goals for county officials to pursue to meet the needs of cyclists over the coming decades, with a special focus on how Arlington can make people feel safer while riding their bikes on local streets.

“Many residents have identified that they do not have suitable bicycle facilities within their neighborhoods or ones that connect to the local destinations that they want to travel to,” the draft document reads. “Other bicyclists do not feel comfortable riding with or amongst motor vehicle traffic and they feel that some on-street bikeways do not provide sufficient separation from motor vehicles. While the County has developed many on-street bikeways in recent years, their distribution and connectedness across the Arlington is currently uneven.”

To that end, the updated plan calls for plenty of infrastructure improvements to meet that goal. The county’s budget squeeze, however, will make it a challenge for the County Board to find finding for many of these projects, at least in the near term.

But the document does identify several improvements that have already been funded in the county’s long-term construction plans, including three additions from the plan’s last update. Those include:

McKinley Road Buffered Bicycle Lanes – Revise the roadway markings on McKinley Road between the Custis Trail and Wilson Boulevard to include buffered bicycle lanes. Undertake the roadway marking along with construction of crossing enhancement to provide for improved access to McKinley Elementary School and the Custis Trail.

S. Clark Street Cycle Track – Construct an off-street cycle track that connects the planned Army Navy Drive protected bicycle lane at 12th Street South to 18th Street S. and the Crystal City Metrorail station.

Shirlington Road Bridge – Reconstruct the Shirlington Road bridge, and adjacent sidewalks, to provide an enhanced, wide bicycle and pedestrian path along the west side of the roadway that links the W&OD and Four Mile Run trails.

As for the rest, some the new planned changes only impact small sections of trails or roadways, requiring only small funding commitments. Others are substantially more ambitious.

Among the bigger asks are requests for the renovation of the entirety of the W&OD Trail as it runs through Arlington, and the portion of the Four Mile Run Trail south of W. Glebe Road, totaling about 5.5 miles in all.

“Improvements may include: trail widening, minor realignments, new pavement markings, wayfinding signage and consideration of the addition of trail lighting,” the document reads.

When it comes to new and improved trails, other planned projects include upgrades for the entirety of the Bluemont Junction Trail and and the construction of a new, half-mile long bike and pedestrian trail connecting the site of the former Northern Virginia Community Hospital in Glencarlyn to the nearby Forest Hills neighborhood.

Some of the plan’s more substantial on-street projects include the construction of bike lanes and other improvements along “the entirety of S. George Mason Drive,” stretching about 2.1 miles in all. The document also envisions new bike lanes along N. Highland and N. Herndon streets, between Key Boulevard and 7th Street N., to allow for easier access to the Clarendon Metro station.

Additionally, the document recommends the creation of some new “bike boulevards,” or coordinated infrastructure improvements to give cyclists an alternative to bypass busy roads for quieter side streets.

The county’s previously constructed some off Columbia Pike, and the plan envisions one along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor (on Key Boulevard, N. Jackson Street and 13th Street N. between N. Rhodes and N. Quincy streets) and another connecting Ashton Heights and Lyon Park (on 5th, 6th, 7th and N. Fillmore streets to connect Henderson Road to Pershing Drive as it meets Washington Blvd).

The county is planning an open house to collect in-person feedback on the new bicycle element on Jan. 14 at Phoenix Bikes (909 S. Dinwiddie Street), set to run from 6-7:30 p.m.

Photo via Arlington County

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County Officials See Plenty of Room on Roads, Metro Stations Near Amazon’s Future HQ

To combat growing concerns about how Amazon’s new influx of workers might put a strain on Arlington’s congested roads and Metro’s troubled rail system, county leaders are increasingly embracing the same argument — so many people have left Crystal City and Pentagon City over the years that the area’s transit network is ready to welcome new residents.

There’s little doubt that the 25,000 workers Amazon plans to eventually bring to the region will have an impact on commute times for drivers, and crowd more people onto local trains and buses. But Arlington officials stress that they already planned to move plenty of people through and to the newly dubbed “National Landing,” only to see thousands of federal and military employees flee the neighborhood years ago.

That means the area’s trains and buses still have available seats, ready to accommodate Amazon’s new arrivals.

“Transportation system utilization is reflective of building occupancy,” county transportation director Dennis Leach said during a question-and-answer session live streamed on Facebook yesterday (Thursday). “We’re down about 24,000 jobs and we see it on the rail system, we see it on the roads… so we have that capacity, we just have to get people to use [these options].”

Leach points out that Crystal City has been hardest hit in recent years, particularly by the Base Realignment and Closure process. He noted that he “had to go back to 1986 to find a lower annual passenger count” at the neighborhood’s Metro station; for Pentagon City, he had to go back to 2001.

Similarly, Leach said that traffic volume on Crystal City and Pentagon City roads is “down 20 percent since 2000,” another “reflection of lower employment” in the area. He believes there’s even ample parking available, despite some neighbors’ concerns to the contrary, arguing that the neighborhoods’ “parking assets are incredibly underutilized.”

That being said, Leach admits that the county would much rather see Amazon’s new arrivals using public transit, and the county has some “work to do” in that department. Metro presents a particularly thorny challenge for leaders — even if stations in the “National Landing” area aren’t seeing as many riders as they once did, the rail service is still trying to improve its safety and reliability after years of struggles.

But Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s assistant general manager for customer service, communications and marketing, believes that the agency is moving in the right direction in solving those problems. She’s particularly enthusiastic about General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which would see Metro return to running nothing but eight-car trains and even expand its “Rush Hour Promise” program to offer more refunds to commuters for lengthy rides.

“I think the capacity is really going to be there as these jobs come to Arlington,” Bowersox said. “Especially with these improvements we have in the pipeline.”

Of course, it’s no guarantee that Wiedefeld will win all those promised changes from Metro’s governing board. The full suite of service improvements Wiedefeld is calling for come with a hefty price tag, and Arlington officials have cautioned that they may not be able to afford everything Wiedefeld is asking for. The new budget could end up costing the county another $8 million per year, a particularly worrying prospect for county leaders, given Arlington’s existing budget pressures.

With or without those enhancements, however, Bowersox is confident that Metro’s safety and reliability improvements will be enough to win Amazon employees over.

“We believe in our reliability and we’re standing behind it,” she said.

Leach is optimistic about as well about the state’s planned investments to help the county build its long-planned second entrance at the Crystal City Metro station, making it even more accessible to both Amazon’s future office space and the rest of the neighborhood. The state will also help Alexandria fund another entrance at the soon-to-be built Potomac Yard station, even though funding concerns initially convinced leaders to cancel the project.

Yet officials also recognize that the area is still not as walkable, or accessible for cyclists, as it could be. That’s due in large part to Route 1, which Leach points out acts as a “divider” between Pentagon City and Crystal City with its large, elevated sections of highway.

The state and county are both planning on spending $250 million on Route 1 improvements, but they haven’t identified the exact source of all that money, or even what the improvements will be. Generally, Leach does hope that the change help “knit the Crystal City and Pentagon City neighborhoods together,” and that will likely mean bringing the highway down to the same grade as the rest of the street network.

Renee Hamilton, deputy administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Northern Virginia District, said that officials only have a “broad concept” for what those changes will look like, and are still discussing the exact timeline for how the project will move forward. But, like Leach, she does expect that substantial changes are in the offing.

“It’s very difficult to get from one side of Route 1 to another,” Hamilton said. “So we’re going to look at creating a boulevard feel to it, which will likely require us to lower some of the roadways.”

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Lyft Becomes Third Company to Offer Dockless Scooters in Arlington

The ridesharing company Lyft is now offering its dockless electric scooters around Arlington, making it the third firm to offer the vehicles in the county.

Lyft announced that its scooters will be available in Arlington starting today (Monday), less than two months after the company brought dockless scooters to D.C. Anyone looking for a scooter rather than a driver simply needs to select the option in the bottom left corner of the Lyft app.

Chris Dattaro, market manager for Lyft Bikes and Scooters in D.C., told ARLnow that the company will start off with about 200 scooters in the county, and gradually ramp up its offerings from there. County leaders signed off on a pilot program governing dockless vehicles this fall that allows companies to operate a maximum of 350 scooters or bikes right away, then apply for 50-vehicle increases each month.

“We know Arlington is its own ecosystem, but also that people go between Arlington and D.C. all the time, so we’re excited to connect them together,” Dattaro said.

Dattaro says Lyft’s scooters will primarily be “centered around public transit and where people live, work, and go out,” following a similar strategy to the other companies already operating in Arlington: Bird and Lime.

“Our passengers will tell us if we need to add more in other locations,” Dattaro said. “It’s a continuous learning process.”

Dattaro added that the process of applying to operate in Arlington has been a relatively straightforward one thus far, and the company has been working closely with county officials for weeks now. Though the other companies in the county have chafed a bit at the 10-mile-an-hour speed limit for the scooters included as a condition of the pilot, Dattaro says Lyft has had no trouble complying with that standard.

“We want to focus on being good partners with our regulators,” Dattaro said.

Arlington officials expect that as many as 10 dockless vehicle companies could someday operate in the county. Skip has frequently expressed interest in Arlington, as has Jump, which could offer electric bikes and scooters in the area as soon as January.

The county’s pilot program is set to wrap up next summer, as officials prepare a raft of new policies and ordinances to govern the vehicles.

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County Plans ‘Short-Term’ Safety Improvements Along Fairfax Drive, 10th Street N. Corridor

County officials are planning some improvements along Fairfax Drive and 10th Street N. as the roads run from Ballston to Clarendon, with a special focus on ways to make the corridor safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists alike.

Arlington transportation planners are circulating a survey seeking feedback on how the roads should change, as the county weighs a series of modest improvements over the next few months. In all, the study area stretches from Fairfax Drive’s intersection with N. Glebe Road in Ballston to 10th Street N.’s intersection with N. Barton Street in Lyon Park.

The county is envisioning changes along the 1.5-mile-long stretch of road as “short-term, quick-build projects to enhance safety and mobility on the corridor.” Officials hope to eventually commission more expansive changes, after it took over management of the roads from the state this summer, but the county’s budget crunch means that options are limited, for now.

But, in the near term, the county plans to examine “multimodal traffic volume data, curbspace use, crash data, and transit service data” in addition to the community’s feedback to chart out small-scale changes, according to a project webpage.

The advocates with the group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County certainly have some suggestions for the corridor. The group sent an email to its members urging them to advocate for the transformation of Fairfax Drive into a “low-stress biking corridor, even if it requires re-purposing space from motor vehicles,” in addition to other cycling improvements.

“The existing Fairfax Drive bike lanes are narrow, frequently blocked, and fail to be low-stress due to fast-moving traffic,” the advocates wrote. “The existing, short two-way protected bike lane should be extended all the way from Glebe Road to Clarendon Circle.”

The group also argues that 10th Street N. and Fairfax Drive both lack safe road crossings, particularly as the corridor runs from N. Barton Street in Lyon Park to N. Monroe Street in Virginia Square.

“This makes the corridor a barrier,” they wrote. “Additional safe crossings should be provided and these crossings must be simple and easy to use for cyclists as well as pedestrians.”

The county survey on road improvements will be open for submissions through Dec. 16. Officials hope to have short-term recommendations ready by sometime early next year, then install those by the spring or summer of 2019.

Photo via Arlington County

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County Officials Wrestle With Legal Strategies to Keep Young Riders Off Dockless Scooters

Arlington will soon see even more dockless electric scooters cropping up on its streets, but officials remain a bit vexed about the best way to keep underage riders off the vehicles.

While county transportation officials say they haven’t seen any major safety issues with the scooters beyond a handful of accidents, they also told the County Board Tuesday that the community response to the pilot program expanding the number of dockless vehicles in Arlington has been far from unanimously positive. In all, county commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen told the Board that his department has received 550 scooter-related complaints from Oct. 1 through Nov. 19.

Most of those have centered around people riding scooters on county sidewalks or trails, a practice banned by the county’s pilot program, or teenagers riding scooters in violation of company rules. Both of the scooter companies currently operating in Arlington — Bird and Lime — ban anyone under the age of 18 from riding the vehicles, and require users to submit a photo of a driver’s license before riding.

Nevertheless, Larsen says the county isn’t quite sure how to tackle the latter issue, in particular.

The whole point of the pilot program, which is set to run through July, is to test out the best policies for the county to adopt surrounding the scooters. And nearly two months in, after the scooters recorded nearly 69,200 rides in the month of October alone, Larsen says there are still more questions than answers.

“Education is the key,” Larsen said. “But there are still challenges.”

Larsen noted that his staff is working with the dockless companies, county police, school officials and parents on educating kids that they should stay off scooters. Even still, he foresees it being a tough issue to fully resolve — he theorizes that parents are either unaware of the ban on young riders, and could be giving kids permission to use the scooters, or that teens have simply figured out ways to “hack the apps.”

“We fine people if they’re driving a car when they’re not supposed be,” said County Board member Libby Garvey. “Is there a way to fine somebody for this?”

But even when a police officer or teacher catches an underage rider on a scooter, Larsen noted that there’s not much they can do about it. After all, he points out that state law actually allows anyone 14 or over to ride a motorized scooter, though the definition of what constitutes a scooter has certainly changed drastically since the law was written.

“The commonwealth has a lot of work to do to bring their regulatory scheme forward a number of years,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “I won’t say what century it’s in.”

Yet, with so little of the pilot completed, county officials are hesitant to ask Arlington’s General Assembly delegation for too many changes just yet. They’re also wary of a repeat of the way the state chose to regulate ride-sharing companies, removing control from localities in favor of a light-touch regulatory scheme managed by state officials.

“Our goal is to craft common sense regulations coordinated across localities, but ones that preserve that ability to maintain that regulation on the local level,” said county transportation chief Dennis Leach.

Larsen would caution, however, that Bird and Lime have already both hired lobbyists in Richmond to make their case to lawmakers, so the county will need to have some answers by the time the legislature reconvenes in January. To that end, he suggested convening interested county staffers, including Arlington’s legislative liaisons, in a working group to focus on the issue.

There will certainly be plenty of pressure to act fast — Larsen says Lyft is nearly finished with the application process to offer its scooters in the county, and a dockless electric bike company could offer its wares on Arlington streets by January.

But policymakers do have one factor working in their favor as they work to craft solutions; it’s no longer the ideal temperature for scooter-riding.

“In winter months, as things get slow, we expect they won’t keep them all out there,” Larsen said. “Especially if we get bad weather, as we’re expecting.”

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New Commuter Bus Route Set to Provide First Direct Link Between Haymarket, R-B Corridor

Commuters to, and through, Arlington from Northern Virginia’s western suburbs will soon have a new bus option.

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, commonly known as PRTC, is starting up a new bus route to connect Haymarket to stops along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Starting Dec. 17, buses will stop at four locations in Haymarket, including a soon-to-be-completed commuter parking lot, and five stops in Arlington.

The new “OmniRide” route, approved by PRTC’s governing board earlier this month, will provide the first direct link between western Prince William County and Arlington’s urban core. PRTC currently runs buses connecting Woodbridge to Rosslyn, Ballston and Crystal City (and one route linking Gainesville to the Pentagon), but commuters along I-66 previously had to hop on Metro or another bus to reach the area.

“New routes always start with four trips in the mornings and four trips in the afternoons/evenings, and this route will follow that pattern,” PRTC spokeswoman Christine Rodrigo wrote in an email. “As ridership grows, additional morning and afternoon/evening trips can be added.”

Stops in Arlington will include:

  • The intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Taylor Street, near the Ballston Metro station
  • The intersection of Fairfax Drive and N. Kansas Street, near George Mason University’s campus
  • The intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Herndon Street, near the Clarendon Metro station
  • The intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Veitch Street, near the Courthouse Metro station
  • The intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Kent Street, near the Rosslyn Metro station

Del. Danica Roem (D-13th District) expects that the new bus route will be incredibly meaningful for her constituents in her western Prince William district — so much so that she says she was “over-the-moon ecstatic” when she heard the news that the route was becoming a reality.

Not only does she expect it will help Haymarket residents commuting to the Pentagon or other jobs around Arlington, but she sees plenty of local benefits too. The PRTC bus will provide yet another option for people traveling between Rosslyn and Ballston, and could ease some of the relentless traffic pressure on I-66 around Arlington.

“Arlington and Prince William County don’t exist in a vacuum without each other,” Roem told ARLnow. “We are connected. My constituents routinely work in and commute through Arlington. And Arlington relies on our highly skilled workers, just as they rely on Arlington to provide them with high-paying jobs to make those long commutes worth it… so I’m hoping this linking bus will enhance our connectivity, not just in terms of mass transit, but also in encouraging stronger working relationships between eastern Northern Virginia and western Northern Virginia. We need to realize we really are in this together.”

With no small degree of pride, Roem notes that the new bus route wouldn’t be possible had the General Assembly not acted to set a floor on the region’s gas tax this year, providing a stable source of funding for PRTC for the first time in years. Without that provision, included in the sweeping deal to provide dedicated funding for Metro, Roem expects PRTC wouldn’t have been able to afford the Haymarket-Arlington connection until next September.

However, she notes that new money will only get the new route “off the ground,” not fund it in perpetuity. Money from the I-66 tolls will eventually help keep the service running, but PRTC will still need to scrounge up additional funds until the toll money arrives, according to the transit service’s documents.

Even still, Roem has every confidence that PRTC will find a way to make the math work, especially because she fully expects to be popular among riders. She notes that many commuter lots in western Prince William are already thoroughly overcrowded, so there should be a constituency for the new route right away.

Additionally, Roem notes that Arlington Transit plans to honor PRTC’s tickets, allowing riders to easily connect from Rosslyn and Ballston to the Pentagon, or even Crystal City.

“Now, you’ve got yourself a commute connecting Haymarket all the way to the Pentagon,” Roem said. “And with Amazon coming in, we’re going to need a lot more mass transit going out to Crystal City. This is a small step in that direction.”

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As Pentagon City Transitway Expansion Gains Steam, County Convenes Open House Tonight

Arlington is gearing up to extend its bus rapid transit system to better connect Crystal City to Pentagon City, and county officials are inviting people to learn more about the project at a meeting tonight (Thursday).

The county is holding an open house to show off details of the planned Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway extension, running from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Crystal City Shops (2100 Crystal Drive).

The Transitway currently operates between the Crystal City Metro station and the Braddock Road station in Alexandria, with dedicated bus lanes and stations covering about 4.5 miles in all. The expansion would add another .75 miles to the route, linking the Pentagon City Metro to the Crystal City stop.

The $27.7 million project is part of ongoing efforts to better connect the two neighborhoods, and the county recently earned millions in regional transportation funding to make it possible. The effort will involve the construction of seven new bus stations by the time it’s wrapped up.

It also includes new dedicated bus lanes set for the following streets, per the county’s website:

  • Crystal Drive from 15th Street S. to 12th Street S. and Long Bridge Drive (Includes curbside rush hour bus lanes and two stations, one on northbound Crystal Drive at 15th Street S., and one on westbound 12th Street S. at Long Bridge Drive).
  • 12th Street S. from Long Bridge Drive to S. Hayes Street (Includes exclusive bus lanes in the median, mixed traffic lanes, traffic signal upgrades, signage and pavement markings and three stations: east and westbound 12th Street S. at Elm Street, and eastbound 12th Street S. at S. Hayes Street)
  • S. Hayes Street from 12th Street S. to Army Navy Drive (This segment will connect to WMATA’s planned Pentagon City Center bus bays project on Army Navy Drive)

The Crystal Drive segment is currently the farthest along, with transportation planners currently in design discussions for the effort. The county is still in more conceptual discussions about the other two segments.

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More Scooter Companies Coming to Arlington As Safety Concerns Linger

Arlington officials say the first month of the county’s dockless vehicle pilot program has largely gone smoothly, though enforcing rules about where to ride the pervasive electric scooters remains a challenge.

Two companies — Lime and Bird — have been offering their dockless scooters around Arlington ever since the County Board signed off on a “demonstration project” for the vehicles in late September. Though Bird previously operated in the county without any explicit government involvement, the Board’s pilot program was designed to set some standards for dockless vehicles and allow companies to operate hundreds in the county at a time.

County commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen told the Transportation Commission last Thursday (Nov. 1) that two more scooter companies could soon enter Arlington as well: Skip and Lyft, which only recently began offering scooters in addition to its ridesharing service.

Then, by January, Larsen expects that Jump could also make the move from D.C. into Arlington and offer both electric bikes and scooters in the county.

“The dynamics of this change weekly, if not daily,” Larsen told the commission.

Larsen added that, since Oct. 1, county police have responded to a total of nine crashes involving scooter riders, though he noted that there’s been “nothing major” among the accidents so far.

Still, one of those incidents did involve a student riding a scooter who was struck while in a crosswalk, Larsen said. The scooter companies generally ban anyone under the age of 18 from riding the vehicles, and Larsen said the county is working closely with the school system to make that clear to students.

Larsen also noted that the top public complaints the county has received about the program relate to “illegal sidewalk and train riding, improper parking, unsafe riding, underage riders and speed.”

Those were concerns echoed by Transportation Commissioner Audrey Clement, who noted that she’s seen teenagers riding scooters without helmets on the Custis Trail in the past, which would make for three violations of the county’s policies.

“There’s no way you could even ask Arlington Police to monitor the length of the Custis Trail or any of the trails in this county,” said Clement, who is also mounting an independent bid for School Board this year. “Absent a realistic enforcement policy, this pilot program is both reckless and irresponsible.”

Larsen conceded Clement’s point, but did stress that county staff are working closely with both the dockless companies and police to ensure the safety of riders and drivers alike.

County police, meanwhile, also trying to spread the word about scooter safety as part of a broader traffic safety campaign this fall, and have even started using electronic signs reminding scooter riders to stay off sidewalks.

Others on the commission were less willing than Clement to attack the program’s legitimacy. Commissioner Jim Lantelme was interested in comparing the number of scooter-involved crashes to those involving bikes, noting that they “might actually be safer than bicycles or other methods” of getting around. Larsen, however, didn’t have such data available.

By and large, commissioners said they were satisfied with the program’s early results, and Larsen agreed. He noted that Bird and Lime have both done a “pretty good job” of balancing the number of scooters available in D.C., which has its own dockless pilot program, and Arlington.

Larsen praised Lime, in particular, for employing 21 people to monitor the scooters around the county and operating its own warehouse in Arlington.

“They’re really trying to go around and self-police,” Larsen said. “We’re really trying to push the operators to emphasize safety themselves.”

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Ridesharing Service Via Expands into Arlington, Offering ‘Virtual Bus Stops’ for Riders

Arlington is getting a new ridesharing service that will offer “virtual bus stops” to encourage more efficient trips.

Via announced yesterday (Monday) that it plans to expand from D.C. into Arlington. The company says that for now it will not offer service to Reagan National Airport as part of its Arlington expansion, but it plans to do so “in the coming months.”

Via first launched in the District in 2016, in a bid to take advantage of commuters abandoning Metro during the height of the “SafeTrack” maintenance work. But unlike its more prominent competitors, Uber and Lyft, Via encourages multiple passengers to split each ride by default.

Once a would-be rider enters their destination, the Via app directs them to a nearby street corner, dubbed a “virtual bus stop” by the company, in order to offer “quick and efficient shared trips without lengthy detours that take riders out of their way,” according to a press release.

The company hopes this cuts down on the number of car trips and vehicles used by other taxi and ridesharing services, which it believes “reduces congestion and emissions, providing an inexpensive, eco-friendly, and convenient transportation alternative.”

“Via’s powerful technology is seamlessly integrating with public transit infrastructure around the globe, redefining the way people get around cities,” Daniel Ramot, co-founder and CEO of Via, wrote in a statement. “We’re delighted to be expanding into Arlington, extending our convenient, affordable and congestion-reducing service to residents of Virginia.”

The company also plans to briefly cap the cost of shared rides at $4 to entice riders to try the service, and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Via launched in New York City in 2013, and also operates in the Chicago area as well. Other ridesharing alternatives to Uber and Lyft like Split and Sidecar have briefly operated in D.C. before shutting down, while local Arlington option Sprynt also seems to have ceased offering rides.

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Lime Becomes Second Company to Bring Dockless Scooters to Arlington

Lime has become the second company to start offering dockless electric scooters in Arlington, expanding into the county soon after officials signed off on a pilot program to allow more of the vehicles around the area.

The company successfully applied for that program and is so far only offering scooters, not bikes, in Arlington, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. Bird was the first company to drop its dockless scooters in the county this summer, though Lime has been courting support from the county’s business community for months now.

Even still, the company, which also operates in D.C., has been reticent to mirror Bird’s approach and deploy scooters in Arlington without the county’s blessing. But after the County Board signed off last month on a nine-month “demonstration project” for companies to test out dockless vehicles, allowing each company to operate up to 750 vehicles in Arlington over the length of the pilot, Lime jumped in.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many scooters its deployed in Arlington. The terms of the pilot program allow dockless companies to deploy up to 350 vehicles right away, then increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles per month, so long as they can meet ridership targets.

Bird is the only other company to sign up to participate in the pilot program as of yet, Balliet said. County officials previously warned the Board that as many as 10 companies could ultimately apply, given the other firms already operating bikes and scooters in D.C., which is why they initially pressed for a lower cap on the number of vehicles allowed in the county.

County staff specifically mentioned Skip as one company looking to expand into Arlington right away, and CEO Sanjay Dastoor previously told ARLnow that the company is indeed interested in bringing its scooters to the county. Dastoor did not respond to a request for comment on his plans for the pilot program, and a quick scan of Skip’s mobile app shows only a handful of scooters currently in Arlington.

Not everyone seems thrilled to have more scooters on Arlington’s streets. A photo taken by a passerby and sent to ARLnow this morning, below, shows a Lime scooter snapped in half in front of P.F. Chang’s in Ballston.

Photo (bottom) courtesy Richie F.

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Metro Needs Better Reliability, Not Service Increases, to Attract Riders, NoVa Officials Say

As Metro’s leaders wrestle anew with the question of how to bring riders back to the troubled transit service, Northern Virginia officials are offering their own suggestions: focus on reliability, and create new fare card plans to entice riders.

In a new report to Gov. Ralph Northam and the General Assembly set to be considered tonight (Thursday), the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to urge Metro to use those strategies to boost ridership, and put WMATA on sounder financial footing in the process.

The document is the first such set of recommendations delivered to state lawmakers from the regional transportation planners at the NVTC, as part of the new oversight powers the group won through legislation to provide Metro with dedicated state funding.

Notably, however, it does not include any recommendation that Metro increase service to bring back riders. The push for service boosts, long backed by transit advocates, has become a particularly hot topic in recent days, after the Washington Post uncovered an internal Metro report insisting that service changes are the surest way for reversing WMATA’s declining ridership.

Members of Metro’s Board of Directors, including Arlington County Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey, expressed no such certainty on a path forward when questioned by the Post, and said they had no knowledge of the internal report on service increases. But the NVTC report represents a chance for regional leaders — including NVTC commissioners like Dorsey, County Board Chair Katie Cristol and Board member Libby Garvey — to offer some of their own thoughts on the matter to Metro and its overseers.

The group’s “2018 Report on the Performance and Condition of Metro” notes that just 79 percent of trains arrived at stations “at or close” to their scheduled times in fiscal year 2017, underscoring the NVTC’s recommendation that improving reliability should be WMATA’s prime long-term focus in bringing riders back to the service. To do so, NVTC expects the system will need to devote plenty of cash to capital projects.

The report deems the $500 million in annual dedicated funding that Metro will now receive from D.C., Maryland and Virginia “an invaluable tool” in achieving its maintenance goals. Even still, the group notes that Metro reported an “unconstrained capital need” of $25 billion in projects in 2016, and will need to focus on the area for years to come to catch up on many years worth of work.

In the short term, however, the NVTC recommends developing “new fare-pass products” to “ease the transit riding experience.”

Examples could include the expansion of passes designed for college students, or new partnerships with hotels and conventions “to provide fare products directly to visitors as a part of hotel and/or convention registration.” Metro’s internal report also cites the importance of developing new fare pass options, recommending strategies like offering shorter term passes and making all passes useable on both Metro trains and buses, but those options are listed firmly below the priority of increasing service.

Yet the NVTC expects that exploring those fare pass strategies would also improve fare collection and boost Metro’s coffers, another key point of emphasis of the NVTC report. The document suggests that Metro “develop the next generation of fare collection technology” in the long term, and test methods for “off-vehicle fare collection” on Metrobus routes to juice revenues.

The report also includes recommendations on how Metro can control costs, with a special focus on labor costs. With a new Government Accountability Office analysis of WMATA’s pension liabilities igniting new debates on Metro’s relationship with its unions, the NVTC is urging Metro’s board to consider private contracting in select situations and other collective bargaining tactics to keep labor costs down.

Metro only recently cooled tensions with its largest union, which briefly threatened a strike this summer.

Photo courtesy of Metro

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County Signs Off on Program to Draw In Hundreds More Dockless Bikes, Scooters

Arlington officials will soon allow dockless vehicle companies to operate up to 750 electric scooters and bikes in the county over the next nine months, reversing earlier plans to set a much lower cap on the vehicles as part of a new pilot project.

Starting next week, companies will be able to participate in the “demonstration project” the County Board unanimously approved Tuesday. While an earlier version of the program called for a cap of 350 vehicles per company, the Board ultimately opted for a much larger limit over concerns that a smaller cap would stymie the success of the dockless vehicle firms.

Bird first dropped its scooters in the county in June, becoming the first company to cross from D.C. into Arlington, but that move caught county officials a bit flat-footed. Arlington decided against retaliatory action on that front, choosing instead to launch the nine-month pilot to better evaluate how it manages the bikes and scooters going forward.

“I’m really proud that we’re not going to react to this major change to our transportation network in a kneejerk way,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “We’re going to do it through data.”

The program will set some new standards on dockless companies, forcing them to pay $8,000 for a permit to participate, post a “surety bond” in case they go out of business and share ridership data with the county. It will also require them to remove an improperly parked bike or scooter within one hour from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. each day.

But the top issue the Board hopes to suss out as part of the pilot is just how many dockless vehicles Arlington can realistically handle.

Cameron Kilberg, senior manager of government affairs for Bird, told the Board that her company already had 500 scooters in the county, with each one averaging roughly three trips per day. County staff initially only expected to allow companies to reach the 350 vehicle cap if they could demonstrate a six-trip average per day, strictures Kilberg warned would hurt Bird’s ability to operate in Arlington. The county’s Transportation Commission also urged against the lower cap in a letter to the Board.

Some dockless companies have already pulled out of D.C., citing the city’s 400 vehicle cap, and the Board feared a similar development in Arlington if they mirrored that approach.

“What would be the goals of a pilot coming in at a scale lower than what you’re actually seeing on the ground?” said Vice Chair Christian Dorsey.

Even still, transportation staffers told the Board that they’re wary of just how many vehicles could show up in the county all at once.

For instance, commuter services bureau chief Jim Larsen pointed out that Skip, another dockless company operating in D.C., told him that they envision deploying 500 vehicles to the county right away in the near future. He added that he foresees as many as 10 companies applying as part of the new pilot program, meaning the county would soon be awash in thousands of the vehicles.

“Those jurisdictions that don’t have a cap have run into problems, and in some cases have had to entirely pull back, pull all the devices off the market and start over,” said county transportation chief Dennis Leach. “We don’t feel that’s a good way to move forward.”

Yet Board member Erik Gutshall pointed out that if the 350-vehicle cap forced companies to leave the county, “we could find ourselves midway through the pilot, and our hands are tied.” That’s why the Board ultimately decided to allow dockless companies to immediately deploy 350 bikes and scooters, then apply for an increase of 50 vehicles each month over the duration of the pilot, so long as they can prove they’re being ridden three times each day.

Dorsey added that an increase in the number of scooters and bikes might also force companies to deploy the vehicles beyond just the heavily trafficked Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, which he deemed an “equity issue.”

“I’d hope with this more permissive approach, we can get these companies really thinking about how they deploy on Columbia Pike, Lee Highway, Shirlington, all these areas not served by the multiplicity of modes on the R-B corridor,” Dorsey said.

Gutshall even proposed someday moving to a “free for all” approach, where the county would require companies to “draw down” if they can’t provide data demonstrating they’re hitting a target number of trips per day. Dorsey even suggested setting a cap on the total number of vehicles in the county, then putting forth some sort of competitive bidding process for companies looking to meet that demand.

The new policy also bans people from riding the scooters on sidewalks and county trails — staff believes the county would need to pass a new ordinance to allow them on the trails, yet lacks the authority to do so under state law — and caps their speed limit at 10 miles per hour.

Kilberg suggested changing both provisions, particularly the speed limit, as the company’s scooters are currently capped at 15 miles per hour.

“Most people aren’t going 15… and if you’re only using them on the street, you’re competing with other cars,” Kilberg said.

But any of those proposed changes would only come once the county gets a chance to evaluate the results of the pilot, Cristol said. County staff plans to collect data from the companies on the scooters and bikes, and gather comments from the community to gauge how the dockless vehicles are working in practice.

“We want complaints, commendations, to know if you’re enjoying the program, or possibly not,” said Paul DeMaio, the pilot program’s manager.

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County Unveils Dockless Vehicle Pilot Program, Plans to Cap Number of Scooters and Bikes in Arlington

(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) Arlington is rolling out its promised pilot program to guide the use of dockless vehicles, clearing the way for more companies to offer electric scooters and bikes in the county.

County officials have been mulling how best to regulate dockless vehicles since Bird started offering its scooters in Arlington this June without any warning to the local government. Now, the County Board is set to approve a program requiring companies to register with the county to avoid similar surprises, while also capping the number of vehicles they can deploy in Arlington.

The nine-month program limits companies to operating a total of 350 vehicles each within county limits. Under its terms, any business looking to deploy dockless scooters or bikes will have to pay the county $8,000 for an operating permit, and would then be able to operate a fleet of 200 vehicles. The companies could then apply to increase the size of the fleet by 50 vehicles each month, up to the 350 cap, so long as it can demonstrate that each vehicle is recording at least six trips per day.

Those strictures are similar to D.C.’s own strategy for managing dockless vehicles, which the District put in place last year and caps companies at 400 vehicles each. Transportation advocates in the region have been especially critical of those limits, with some companies ditching D.C. due to the caps, and county staff noted in a report prepared for the Board that the county’s own Transportation Commission “recommended that the demonstration refrain from capping numbers of devices.”

“This proposal retains what staff considers a reasonable cap, reflecting other community input,” staff wrote. Bird started off its deployment in Arlington with 50 scooters, staff wrote, but the company has declined to release exact numbers on how many vehicles it’s since brought to the county.

Staffers added in the report that county officials consulted with some “vendors” last month to gauge their thoughts on the design of the program. Lime, in particular, has spent months working with local business leaders to ensure a more favorable regulatory environment in the county, while Skip, the third dockless scooter company operating in D.C., has also signaled an interest in expanding to Arlington.

Staff also wrote that they fully expect that this pilot program could encourage the remaining dockless bike companies operating in D.C. — Spin and Jump — to start operating in the county as well.

Additionally, the program clarifies that there is no helmet requirement for scooter riders, the county plans to bar anyone younger than 16 from using the scooters, and that the scooters can’t be used on county sidewalks, without some policy tweaks. The policy also adds that both scooters and electric bikes won’t be permitted on county trails.

“While there is enabling authority for localities to ban electric scooter riding on sidewalks, it does not grant localities authority to affirmatively allow such riding,” staff wrote. “Thus, to enact an ordinance authorizing electric scooter riding on sidewalks would require a legislative change.”

The county is also planning on collecting community feedback on all manner of dockless vehicle issues, and will require the companies themselves to regularly turn over ridership data, which can then be released publicly.

The Board first has to sign off on the policy at its meeting Saturday (Sept. 22). It’s currently slated to be considered as part of its consent agenda, generally reserved for non-controversial items to be approved as a block, though it can be pulled from the consent agenda at the request of Board members.

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Letter to the Editor: Don’t Overlook the Dangers of Electric Scooters

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Daniel Berkland, an Ashton Heights resident who was recently involved in an accident on a Bird electric scooter.

The dockless vehicles first arrived in Arlington in June, and county officials are planning to unveil a new policy governing their use later this month, as scooter-related injuries appear to be on the rise as the vehicles gain popularity nationwide.

Flippin’ the Bird:  A Cautionary Tale

On Labor Day afternoon I was in Clarendon when I decided it was time to go home. I texted my daughter and told her that I was on my way. Then I saw a Bird scooter and thought to myself it is so hot I really want to just ride this scooter home.

I rented the device and was soon on my way. About six blocks from home I turned down Irving because I thought it would be safer not to ride on the busier Wilson Boulevard. I noticed a couple of trucks coming towards me and I remember slowing down — that is my final memory until I woke up in the EMS vehicle. They were taking my vitals and asking me what year it was – a question that I could not answer. I was transported to GW Hospital because I had passed out and had a concussion. There I received a CT scan and a bed. They kept me over night so they could do a follow up scan and monitor my condition.

The good news is there was no bleeding in my brain and I could be released. The bad news was I had bruises on my head, shoulder, hands, elbows, and knees. I am going to be stiff and sore for quite a while. I’m getting a little better every day, but anyone who has been in this condition will recognize the special horror that is sneezing when one is hurt like this. The pain is simply excruciating.

The very worst part was I was given an alias when I checked into GW Hospital so my family couldn’t find me for a couple of hours. A terrifying experience for them while I was in the ER.

I also want to give special thanks to the unknown neighbor who called 911 for me. Who knows how long I would have lain there without someone’s intervention. I owe you one!

So take my unsolicited advice – stay off the scooters. While they may be convenient, they can also be very dangerous! Walking is good for you.

A postscript after this appeared in the Ashton Heights newsletter — the kind neighbor who helped me out was Doug Williams, the AHCA treasurer.  Neighbors helping neighbors is what Ashton Heights is all about!

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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