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An Arlington Transit (ART) bus outside the Ballston Metro station (staff photo)

To generate some savings in its new budget, Arlington County is targeting low-performing bus routes in North Arlington.

It proposes axing one route between Courthouse and Ballston, along Lorcom Lane, that saw just 2.1 passengers per hour in the 2023 fiscal year (ART 62) for a savings of $348,613. Two bus routes — ART 61 and 53, serving the Ft. Myer and Radnor Heights neighborhoods and the Ballston to East Falls Church Metro stations — saw just 3.4 and 4.3 passengers per hour, respectively could be combined for a savings of $316,940.

“This restructuring eliminates service to the least performing sections of both routes and maintains service for lower-income and minority neighborhoods that are more transit-dependent,” per the proposed 2024-2025 budget.

ART ridership is continuing to recover steadily but remains below pre-pandemic levels, given employment behavioral changes with telework. For some, these cuts are hard but make sense; for others, they are a few drops in a bucket, given low farebox recovery ratios.

“I think it’s regrettable they’re cutting those but it’s understandable, given the low ridership,” Joan McIntyre, chair of the Climate Change, Energy and Environment Commission said in a County Board budget work session Tuesday. “It’s also an indication the county should start looking to rethinking some of its transit and how it can, literally, meet people where they are. “

ART performance in passengers (via Arlington County)

Former Transportation Commission member Joseph Warren, a transit budget hawk who has criticized the $1 million bus “super stop” and the Columbia Pike streetcar proposal, tells ARLnow that “it’s time to be serious about trying to control the costs.”

Projected operating costs are expected to increase from $25.3 million in the 2025 fiscal year to nearly $33 million by 2034, according to the county’s 10-year Transit Strategic Plan for ART. These projections do not include recommended service expansions projected to add another $20 million through 2034.

Warren says ART should pump the brakes on more weekend service until cost-recovery rates improve from current levels — around 11% as of the 2023 fiscal year and a projected 12% in the FY 2025 budget. That is under county goals of 20% for most routes and 35% for more popular ones — meaning less money to pay for new services, Warren says.

“This is the dilemma that people don’t understand. So when they say, ‘We want shorter routes, we want faster service with fewer stops,’ that means there’s going to be more service,” he continued. “The whole process is biased toward more service that doesn’t provide riders, or potential riders, with [financial] information to make a useful and helpful decision on that.”

The county says more weekend service responds to requests from residents for more service outside work hours.

“That’s why, with our [transit plan], we focus on increasing weekend and evening service and increasing frequencies — specifically the times of day that people are moving toward,” Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers, who notes ridership recovery trends in Arlington are similar to those elsewhere in the region, said in the budget work session.

Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors tells ARLnow the department does not yet have a timeline for when frequency and weekend service will be expanded.

ART monthly ridership (via Arlington County)

McIntyre, meanwhile, urged the county to study micro transit, arguing on-demand van service would be ideal for North Arlington, and to take on at least some of the transportation needs of middle and high school students. Rivers says DES has applied for funding for a micro transit study.

County Board members were likewise keen on micro transit as a way to serve students, observing ART’s fare-free program for students, iRide, generated a 50% increase in student ridership. This includes the low-performing North Arlington routes: for instance, ART 62, which served Washington-Liberty High School, had 817 student rides.

“How confident are we that we’re not cutting off our hand in removing service to several high schools where we were seeing increased participation?” asked Board member Susan Cunningham. “And, to C2E2’s point, [can we] imagine a better-coordinated transit system that supports all our needs, including all our school children?”

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A map of the Langston Blvd Intelligent Transportation Systems project (via Arlington County)

Traffic signal upgrades and more pedestrian-friendly crosswalks may be coming to several Langston Blvd intersections.

The Arlington County Board on Saturday is slated to consider a $1.5 million contract for improvements to the intersections of Langston Blvd at N. Adams Street, N. Cleveland Street and Spout Run Pkwy.

Traffic signals at these intersections currently hang from wires, a county report notes. Sidewalks are narrow, pedestrian crossings are long and curbs lack wheelchair-accessible ramps.

“The proposed sidewalks, ADA curb ramps, high-visibility crosswalks, and traffic signal upgrade will provide safe, accessible, and user-friendly intersections,” the report says.

Arlington County has been gradually replacing older, hanging traffic lights with those mounted on sturdier mast arms.

The contract with Ardent Company, LLC includes $1.3 million plus $200,000 as a contingency for change orders or increased quantities.

The county noted that it will keep surrounding communities informed about the project through a variety of channels.

“Staff plans to provide updates to the community and stakeholders a few weeks prior to construction via the existing email group list, the construction notification letter, the project webpage, and the social networking service known as NextDoor, as well as providing periodic updates during construction,” said the report. “Impacted properties were visited in person to discuss minimal impacts and will be updated as the project goes to construction.”

The initiative is part of the Langston Blvd Intelligent Transportation Systems Improvement project, which seeks to improve intersections along the road from East Falls Church to Rosslyn. Construction along Langston Blvd is anticipated to begin this spring, according to a county webpage.

The county is also pursuing ITS projects on Glebe Road, Washington Blvd and the Crystal City and Pentagon City corridor. All of these projects are funded through a grant from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

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This spring, drivers may notice the county testing out a new road treatment to reduce speeding through left turns.

In the next month or two, the county will start installing small raised bumps called hardened centerlines along the yellow centerline at five local intersections. That’s according to Christine Baker, who coordinates Arlington’s Vision Zero efforts, which aim to eliminate road deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

Hardened centerlines are designed to make intersections safer for pedestrians by encouraging drivers to make wider, “safer and more predictable” left turns at slower speeds, without reducing traffic capacity, per an explainer for the pilot. Another goal is to increase the visibility of pedestrians in crosswalks.

Drivers will find the centerlines at five intersections that were chosen through crash hot spot reviews and other crash analyses showing these locations experience noticeable left-turn crash patterns, the county says.

The intersections — and the number of serious and fatal crashes they have seen between 2013-2023 — are:

  • Clarendon Blvd at N. Rhodes Street, between Courthouse and Rosslyn (three four severe-injury crashes, including three involving pedestrians)
  • Fairfax Drive at N. Randolph Street, in Ballston (six severe-injury crashes, equally split among pedestrian and angle crashes)
  • Columbia Pike at S. Dinwiddie Street, near Arlington Mill (26 severe-injury crashes and one fatal crash, including 10 pedestrian crashes and nine angle crashes)
  • Columbia Pike at S. Four Mile Run Drive, near Barcroft (a fatal pedestrian crash in 2019)
  • S. Kenmore Street at 24th Street S., in Green Valley (no data on critical and fatal crashes in the last decade)

“We are excited to be piloting new in-street centerline hardening devices in Arlington later this spring,” said a February Vision Zero newsletter announcing the pilot. “Hardened centerlines are a proven safety tool used to reduce turning speeds and increase visibility of pedestrians for turning motorists at intersections.”

Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services will install the devices and collect data over the course of spring. This summer, the county will monitor how road users take to the new devices and collect feedback from the community before evaluating next steps in the fall.

Similar devices have been installed at numerous intersections in D.C.

A new report on crash “hot spots” in Arlington, published this month, says centerline hardening is also coming to Langston Blvd and Fort Myer Drive, in Rosslyn.

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(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Arlington County is home to one of the busiest Goodwill donation centers in the country and this location, on S. Glebe Road, is now being teed up for redevelopment.

Last week, Planning Commission members recommended the Arlington County Board approve plans from Goodwill and affordable housing partner AHC to redevelop its storefront with a 6-story building consisting of a new retail and donation center, 128 units of affordable housing and space for a child care center.

The Board is set to review the proposal — which includes requests to rezone the property and label it a “revitalization area,” a designation intended to boost AHC’s application for low-income housing tax credits — on Saturday.

Still, some criticism over pedestrian safety for elderly residents and children tempered that enthusiasm, as did questions to affordable housing partner AHC Inc. about its ability to manage an affordable community following livability issues residents and advocates revealed at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike.

“There’s just so much to love about this project,” said Planning Commissioner Leo Sarli. “We cannot have enough housing… childcare or upcycling — which is what Goodwill does — which again, keeps things out of landfill and has a massive environmental impact.”

Despite all this, he had lingering pedestrian safety concerns around the site entrance, given all the foot and vehicular traffic that apartments, retail and childcare are expected to generate. This led him to propose that the Planning Commission recommend the County Board defer its approval until Goodwill addresses them. While other commissioners likewise stressed their pedestrian safety concerns, his motion failed 9-1, with one abstention.

They later supported a resolution from Vice-Chair (and Arlington County Board candidate) Tenley Peterson to recommend county staff continue to work with the applicant to design streets around the building that use “pedestrian-forward design practices.”

“We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” she said. “This project offers so much value to the community.”

Land use attorney Andrew Painter said the proposal actually improves pedestrian safety by separating donor, resident and retail traffic, reducing surface parking from 54 spaces to four accessible ones and closing one of two existing site entrances.

Goodwill site circulation (via Arlington County)

County staffer Kevin Lam, meanwhile, assured Planning Commissioner members that transportation staff thoroughly reviewed the proposal and do not believe the site poses a significant safety issue, though it is a “conflict point between pedestrians and vehicles.”

Like Peterson, the Transportation Commission approved the project, though several had pedestrian safety concerns. Chair Chris Slatt said commissioners hope these are addressed post-approval and commended Goodwill for transportation upgrades it has committed to, including one-way parking access, fewer surface parking spaces and a wider, raised sidewalk across the driveway.

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A cyclist rides in front of the under-demolition RCA building in Rosslyn this past spring (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Arlington County Board will consider accepting a $7.1 million grant to encourage people to plan more trips without their cars.

Nearly $5.7 million of the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Program grant comes from federal funding, with $1.4 million coming from the state. Arlington County is not required to match funding.

“Funds will be used to provide educational and promotional support to… efforts to help facilitate and market alternative commute options such as transit, biking, walking and shared ride options,” per a county report.

The grant would fund efforts by Arlington County Commuter Services to encourage private-sector employers to provide commuter benefits to employees who commute using transit or vanpools. This county agency was formed to reduce traffic congestion, decreasing parking demand and promote driving alternatives.

The funding would also pay for events designed to promote the use of alternative travel modes, such as carpool and vanpool. Lastly, it would help employers, commercial property owners, schools and individuals provide information on telework, parking management strategies and alternative transportation benefit programs.

The cash infusion emphasizing commuting alternatives comes as, regionally, more people are working from the office at least part-time and more people are driving alone.

This year, the remote work rate in the D.C. region dropped to 25% from a high of 33% in 2021, Axios reports.

Meanwhile, the region ended 2022 with 78% of commuters driving alone, a 14% increase from 2019, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Council of Governments

Despite the uptick in single-occupant trips, Metro ridership continues recovering from a pandemic-induced hit. Revenue, however, has not seen the same growth, compounding the budget shortfall WMATA faces, which could trigger significant service cuts.

Locally, Arlington Transit (ART) ridership saw a 50% Covid-era drop, though it was insulated from deeper declines because many essential workers continued taking the bus during the pandemic. Going into 2020, ridership had already been declining, however.

Last year, Arlington County contributed to a regional effort, backed by state funds, to launch a campaign to generate interest in taking transit.

In another bid to encourage ridership, county staff intend to apply for $400,000 in regional transportation funding to increase bus frequency on ART Route 75.

Currently, two buses per hour travel between the Shirlington Transit Center and the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations. The grant application, if endorsed this weekend by the County Board and later approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, would bring that to three buses per hour.

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Costs are rising for some traffic signal upgrades in Courthouse.

Developer Greystar is installing new traffic signals at three intersections near its new, 423-unit, 20-story building that replaced several restaurants, including Summers Restaurant, in an area known as the “Landmark block.”

The new signals are part of a host of other county-funded projects the developer agreed to undertake in January 2022, along with pavement, sidewalk and curb and gutter improvements to public streets.

These improvements have progressed on a separate timeline from the building, approved in March 2021 and on which Greystar broke ground that fall. This July, as construction on the apartments drew to a close, Greystar received extra time for the transportation projects.

Earlier this year, when the civil engineering plan for the traffic signals was under review, county staff made some “refinements to technical details” regarding the signals, per a county report.

These tweaks increased the overall project costs by $1.1 million, according to the county. Greystar is requesting the additional funding to complete the work and the Arlington County Board is set to review this ask on Saturday.

The overall cost of the project is now $3.5 million, up from $2.4 million.

The traffic signals will be installed where N. Courthouse Road bisects Wilson and Clarendon Blvd as well as the intersections of N. Courthouse Road and 15th Street N. and N. Uhle Street and Clarendon Blvd.

The changes, which the county describes as “refinements to technical details,” are as follows:

A. Increases in all mast arm lengths, which require more costly structures and foundations.
B. Increases in the lengths of trenched conduits due to the density of the underground utilities.
C. Changes to equipment specifications to accommodate newer technologies in the control cabinets.
D. Increases in signal and civil design costs.
E. Additional duration of maintenance of traffic due to the complexity of the anticipated work.

DES obtained an independent cost estimate of this work, $2.77 million. The county says Greystar’s $2.75 million request is thus “fair and reasonable.”

As for the apartment building, the first set of tenants were set to move into “The Commodore” starting last month. The first retail tenants in a slate of restaurants and fitness studios were also set to move in last month, too, though others will not open until next year.

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The Gillig bus rolls through Ballston (courtesy Dept. of Environmental Services)

(Updated at 9:30 a.m. on 8/23/23) Arlington County’s efforts to electrify transit just jolted forward.

Arlington’s transit system, ART, is getting its first batch of battery electric buses, or BEB, as it pursues carbon neutrality by 2050, according to a press release. The vehicles will be deployed in late 2024 after work wraps up on the new Operations and Maintenance Facility on Shirlington Road.

With $3.3 million in state and $1.2 million in local funds, the county is buying four American-made buses by the company Gillig, which drivers and riders tested out along with other options over the last year.

“Delivering transit service is at the core of who we are and what we do, when it comes to realizing our vision of smart growth that is environmentally conscious and sustainable,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in a statement.

Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers said in a statement that this purchase is the county’s second step toward a “greener, healthier future for Arlington Transit.”

“The first step began with our public vehicle demonstrations of BEB technology,” she said. “The partnership with Gillig points us in the right direction for a reliable and resilient zero-emission transit fleet that contributes to a cleaner, healthier County.”

The release says the battery electric buses are part of an effort to test out new technologies while maintaining current reliable levels of service.

Arlington’s Transit Bureau could also be testing out advances in fuel technology for 15 buses it is buying to replace aging vehicles within ART’s 78-bus fleet.

Unlike the four electric buses, these 15 will be powered by compressed natural gas — essentially compressed methane — like the rest of the ART fleet. While compressed natural gas produces fewer emissions than petrol, is still considered nonrenewable because underground reservoirs make up its largest source.

For the 15 new buses, the transit bureau is looking at using renewable natural gas, or methane that has already been used or captured from landfill emissions, Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors told ARLnow.

Meanwhile, the county is outfitting its forthcoming bus operations and maintenance facility with electric charging capabilities.

Initially, the county aimed to get electric buses operating from the facility in 2025, but the 2024 deployment date means it is ahead of schedule.

“The facility is projected to reach substantial completion in 2024 — a little faster than initially expected, and we are expecting to receive revisions of the 100% design for BEB infrastructure in the fall of this year,” Pors said.

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A reconfigured 15th Street N. in Courthouse along one edge of the “Landmark Block” development (staff photo)

A slate of public improvements associated with the construction of a new apartment building in Courthouse are experiencing slight delays.

A year and a half ago, developer Greystar agreed to take on public improvements on behalf of the county in exchange for more units at its redevelopment project. The 423-unit, 20-story residential building dubbed “The Commodore” also has 17,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and an underground parking garage.

The upgrades include pavement, sidewalk, curb and gutter improvements to public streets and the sidewalk adjacent to the California Tortilla, Brooklyn Bagel and Ireland’s Four Courts.

Greystar also agreed to improve and relocate traffic signal equipment and install parking meters — or pay to cover the costs of these upgrades — and install historic markers and a communication conduit.

Designing and constructing these upgrades has progressed on a separate track from the apartment building, and the developer and county staff are still working on getting a civil engineering plan approved, according to a county report.

The long approval timeline could have jeopardized when tenants would move in because the initial agreement conditioned occupancy permits on these street upgrades getting done, the report said. This weekend, the Arlington County Board relieved the developer of this requirement so it can open the apartments this fall and complete the projects on a new schedule.

County staff say the civil engineering plan could happen later this summer.

One reason for the slow progress, per the report, is that Greystar has to coordinate with its other Courthouse development project on the nearby Wendy’s site, which will deliver “similar, though not as extensive” public improvement projects.

“This has resulted in the applicant being delayed in completion of the Off-Site Improvements work in a timely manner, as delays related to design work are compounded by the long lead times required for delivery of materials and installation of the improvements,” it says.

“The Commodore” redeveloped a site that once had a series of single-story commercial buildings called the Landmark block. Together, the two projects are set to realize a significant part of Arlington’s vision for Courthouse’s development.

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A runner uses a rapid flashing beacon to cross N. Park Drive (staff photo)

In a bid to increase pedestrian safety, Arlington County may require drivers stay stopped for longer at crosswalks.

The Arlington County Board is set to consider on Saturday changing its code so that drivers will have to stop when a pedestrian enters an adjacent travel lane and heads their way. Currently, drivers need only yield right of way when a pedestrian enters their lane.

The change follows on a revision to state law that went into effect on July 1. The local change is another way Arlington aims to eliminate serious and fatal crashes — particularly for pedestrians, who made up one-third of serious or fatal crashes between 2018 and 2022.

“Pedestrians are one of our most vulnerable road users because their bodies are not surrounded with a metal frame and airbags,” a county report said. “It is critical for drivers to look for, be aware of, and stop for pedestrians to help get to Arlington’s goal of Vision Zero transportation deaths or serious injuries by 2030.”

In Arlington, the change would apply to local and state roads, says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Katie O’Brien. This includes major arterials that see the county’s highest concentration of serious crashes, such as Arlington, Langston and Washington boulevards and Glebe Road.

The county says the intent of its ordinance change is to reflect wording changes in state law.

This March, the state put a finer point on what drivers are required to do when they see a pedestrian looking to cross.

Before, drivers were required to “yield right-of-way to pedestrians by stopping” when pedestrians are crossing in front of the drivers.

Now, state code says drivers “shall stop” when a pedestrian is within the driver’s lane or within an adjacent lane and approaching the driver’s lane. Drivers are required to stay stopped until the pedestrian has passed their lane.

Any driver who does not stop is guilty of a traffic infraction and can face a $100-$500 fine, according to the new law.

Staff intends to inform the public of the new law via a press release, emails, and social media posts on NextDoor, Twitter and Facebook, per the report.

O’Brien says new signage will be also added.

“We are working on plans to make signage and marking changes to be in compliance with the new code,” she said.

The law also lets localities require pedestrians and cyclists to stop before crossing a highway at crosswalks without signals or face a fine of up to $100.

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Work is underway to make a 53-year-old bridge S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 safer and extend its overall life, per the Virginia Dept. of Transportation.

The 53-year-old bridge is located between the I-395 interchanges for King Street and Shirlington Circle in the Fairlington neighborhood. It was last rehabilitated in 1994 and is in need of attention, according to a press release from the state transportation department.

The planned repairs will use $8.4 million in federal and state funding and will wrap up in late 2024, the press release said.

Work includes rehabilitating the bridge deck, repairing deteriorating concrete, replacing all steel bearings and eliminating bridge joints, per a project overview video.

Arlington County also identified S. Abingdon Street, from 34th Street S. to Fire Station 7, for resurfacing. It is coordinating with the state on those changes, including a buffered bike lane to improve the cycling experience and narrower travel lanes to manage vehicle speeds.

Bridge deck rehabilitation work will last about 12 weeks and occur in three stages, the video says.

In the first phase, all traffic will be shifted to the east side of the bridge, with two shared bicycle and traffic lanes and one five-foot-wide sidewalk. A temporary crosswalk will be added near 36th Street S. In the second phase, all traffic will be shifted to west side of the bridge.

In the third stage, traffic will be split on both sides of the work zones and the crosswalk will be removed.

“When one sidewalk along the bridge is closed, pedestrians will be detoured to the sidewalk on the opposite side,” VDOT said in the press release. “Drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are reminded to use caution when traveling in active work zones. Be alert to new traffic patterns and limit distractions.”

The I-395 main and express lanes may see periodic daytime and overnight lane closures, VDOT says.

“Most of the work below the bridge will be performed during nighttime operation to avoid impact to normal daytime traffic particularly peak hour traffic,” the project video says.

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A sliver of an apartment building is being proposed for Crystal City along Route 1.

Developer Dweck Properties proposes to construct a new, 412,975-square-foot building with 403 residential units and additional mixed-use space near the existing Crystal Plaza Apartments (2111 Richmond Hwy), according to an application filed with Arlington County on May 3.

Doing so will require demolishing 70,899 square feet of the northern portion of the existing North Crystal Plaza Apartments building. Dweck says in its application that it will develop, with county staff, a plan to relocate tenants affected by the demolition.

Parking for the project at 2111 and 2101 Richmond Hwy would be provided in an underground garage that will connect to an existing garage under the Crystal Plaza Apartments complex.

The new apartment building would be wedged between Richmond Hwy and S. Clark-Bell Street, a new contiguous street created by realigning the current S. Clark and S. Bell streets. This is called for in the Crystal City Sector Plan, the planning document guiding development in the neighborhood.

“The realignment of Clark-Bell Street will remove elevated portions of the existing street, provide greater distance from Richmond Highway/US-1 at critical locations, establish a more regular street grid, create new development sites, and facilitate two-way traffic flow,” per a document included in the application.

The realigned S. Clark-Bell Street (via Arlington County)

S. Clark Street will shift east and tie into the existing S. Clark Street while the northern end of the road would line up with S. Bell Street north of 20th Street S.

Another major Crystal City property owner, JBG Smith, is realizing part of this reconfigured street — west of the Crystal Plaza Apartments — as part of a separate redevelopment project building two multifamily buildings. Construction on the two buildings, immediately north of Dweck’s proposal, started in January 2022.

If approved, 2111 and 2101 Richmond Hwy would tackle another part of the realignment. Filings with Arlington County highlight the work as a primary community benefit of this project.

“The proposed development will include significant site improvements, including (but not limited to) partial implementation of realigned Clark-Bell Street, improved onsite circulation, and new infrastructure,” writes Kedrick Whitmore, a land-use attorney representing Dweck.

“The proposed development will help to create the 18-hour active environment, provide substantial transportation upgrades, particularly along Clark-Bell Street, and enhance the retail environment,” he continued.

Bringing retail and residents to the heart of Crystal City realizes a “significant” goal of the Crystal City Sector Plan, Whitmore said.

“The influx of new residents and mixed uses will not only activate the existing fabric of Crystal City, but they will also provide a built-in market for the recently proposed retail projects on this same block,” he said.

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