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Skip Becomes Sixth Company Offering Dockless Electric Scooters in Arlington

Arlington now has its sixth dockless electric scooter company: Skip.

The San Francisco-based firm was just approved to start operating its vehicles in the county under Arlington’s pilot program this week, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow.

Skip CEO Sanjay Dastoor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his plans for the county, but Balliet says the company has been cleared to deploy 350 scooters around Arlington — that’s the minimum number of vehicles the county is allowing firms to operate in the area upon first joining the pilot, which the County Board crafted this fall as a way to test out the best methods for managing dockless devices.

Skip has been eyeing Arlington for an expansion dating back to this summer, when Bird became the first scooter company to drop its scooters in the county.

The company also told county officials it was planning to offer scooters in both Arlington and D.C. this fall, and it now joins Bird, Lime, Lyft, Spin and Jump in renting out dockless vehicles around the county.

Spin just started offering its scooters around Arlington, while Jump will do so sometime in the next few weeks.

The county’s pilot is set to run through this summer. Once it wraps up, officials will have to consider the best way to craft permanent regulations for the scooters, and will likely be helped along by a new state bill making its way through the General Assembly.

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A War in the Streets: In Arlington, Cars and Bikes Battle for Space, Safety and Respect

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There’s an ongoing war being fought on the streets of Arlington.

The skirmishes are fought amongst us daily, for turf, for respect, for safety — and, some would say, for outright survival. The combatants are cars and bicycles, jockeying to safely share a common infrastructure.

Arlington has long prided itself as a “bike friendly” locale. Every bicycle on an Arlington street is potentially one less car on the road, thus reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  Cycling also meshes nicely with Arlington’s reputation as one of the fittest communities in the nation.

Consequently, the county has taken numerous steps toward encouraging bike ridership. Recent years have seen the addition of many miles of dedicated bike lanes, including protected lanes, a move supported by a majority of Arlingtonians. Further, Arlington’s enviable network of interconnected bike paths provides a safe and efficient venue for pedal-powered transportation.

But it’s not always possible to physically separate bikes and automobiles. The problem arises from the fact that two modes of transportation, consisting of vehicles of differing size and weight, traveling at different speeds, with different degrees of visibility, often must share the same physical space.

Far too often, the two sides view each other as adversaries. One Arlington cyclist cited his top complaints against motorists as “parking/standing totally or partially in the bike lanes, and not allowing the Virginia state three-foot minimum of clearance when passing a cyclist.”

Drivers find their share of faults in cyclists, as well. “They act as if traffic laws don’t apply to them,” said one motorist. “So many times I’ve waited to safely pass a bicyclist on the road, only to have them zoom by me when I stop at a red light. They then blow through the light, and I have to wait to pass them all over again.”

Undoubtedly, there is bad behavior on both sides. And while these actors may represent only a small portion of each group, they are the ones that tend to stick out, not the majority of thoughtful, law abiding Arlingtonians.

Arlington County law enforcement officials monitor all modes of transportation for potential safety infractions, not merely automobiles.

“The police department’s overall vision for transportation safety in Arlington County focuses on the safety of all travelers. We encourage all who use our roadways to comply with the law and proceed with care and caution to ensure their safety and the safety of others who may be sharing the roads,” said county police spokeswoman Kirby Clark. “Officers observing traffic violations issue citations, based upon their discretion, to travelers, regardless of their mode of transportation.”

The stakes for cyclists are high — according to ACPD’s 2017 Annual Report, there were 80 bicycle-related crashes in Arlington County in 2017, ending a multi-year downward trend. There were 32 such crashes reported in 2016 and 46 in 2015.

It doesn’t require a degree in physics to understand that in a direct encounter between the two, bicyclists are at a far greater safety risk than are drivers. As one cyclist put it, “Any generally bad driving behavior and/or willful ignorance of traffic laws is exacerbated when you are cycling since one doesn’t have the protection of sheet metal and the bulk of a car.”

Arlington County has taken a number of steps in working toward a negotiated truce between the two sides.

The Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) advises the County Manager on issues that affect cycling in Arlington, including safety, education, community involvement, awareness and promotion, and the development, operation and maintenance of on- and off-street bicycle transportation and recreation facilities. Elsewhere, county staff and members of a citizens working group are in the final stages of developing a draft update to the Bicycle Element of Arlington County’s Master Transportation Plan.

Education is a critical element of the solution, as well. The county’s PAL program — encouraging drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to be Polite, Alert and Predictable — seeks to educate all Arlingtonians about ways that they can remain safe regardless of their selected mode of transportation.

The Safe Bicycling Initiative (SBI), a cooperative venture between ACPD and BikeArlington, utilizes education and enforcement to make Arlington’s roads safer for bicycles. SBI’s targeted enforcement throughout the county resulted in numerous citations of both bicyclists and motorists, all of which served as an opportunity for police to increase awareness of the SBI and related traffic laws.

In the end, however, the solution lies out on the roads. The “us versus them” mentality adds to the problem, not the solution. It is critical to respect all users of shared spaces, and to look out for their safety needs. Both sides need to be well educated, and need to be willing and able to put that knowledge into practice.

And when somebody, somewhere, does something wrong — as they inevitably will — it’s important to realize that they are merely an individual behaving badly, and not representative of an entire group.

While such efforts will not be easy, they will make Arlington’s roads safer, and less stressful, for all.

Photo courtesy Sal Ferro

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Two More Companies Will Soon Offer Dockless Scooters, E-Bikes in Arlington

Two more companies are planning to bring their dockless scooters and e-bikes to Arlington in the coming days.

Spin will soon be dropping its electric scooters around the county, while Jump will offer both e-bikes and scooters in Arlington. Both companies currently operate in D.C.

Ariella Steinhorn, a Spin spokeswoman, told ARLnow that the company’s scooters will be available for Arlingtonians to rent starting Friday (Feb. 8).

Jump has told local officials that they will follow suit “within the next few weeks,” according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on its plans.

The companies will become the fourth and fifth firms to offer dockless vehicles in the county when they arrive, joining Bird, Lime and Lyft. All of the companies are participating in a pilot program set up by the County Board last fall, allowing firms to deploy hundreds of the devices around Arlington through the end of the tentative test period this summer.

The county generally hasn’t recorded too many problems with the suddenly ubiquitous scooters thus far, outside of some scattered accidents and concerns about younger riders using the devices when they shouldn’t be.

State lawmakers are also currently hard at work crafting legislation to allow localities to set additional regulations for the vehicles once similar pilot programs end.

Both of the new firms are owned by much larger companies — the ridesharing service Uber owns Jump, while Ford recently acquired Spin.

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Legislation Allowing for New Regulation of Dockless Scooters, E-Bikes Gains Steam

New legislation working its way through the General Assembly could set new state standards around dockless scooters and e-bikes, giving localities like Arlington full authority to ban the vehicles on sidewalks and regulate where they’re parked.

A bill from Del. Todd Pillion (R-4th District) unanimously cleared the House of Delegates Monday (Feb. 4), setting the stage for state lawmakers to pass their first regulations governing the devices since they began popping up in Arlington and other urban communities around the state last summer.

The legislation shouldn’t change much about the county’s current dockless vehicle pilot program, which the County Board created last fall to set new standards guiding the use of the suddenly ubiquitous scooters. But the bill would codify into state law many of the regulations the county has already created as part of the program.

Perhaps most notably, the legislation would allow people to ride scooters and e-bikes on sidewalks, unless a local ordinance specifically bans the practice. The county has barred scooters from both sidewalks and trails as part of the pilot, and this bill would allow Arlington to take the next step and pass its own law doing so once the program wraps up.

“Under this, we can have the ability to adopt an ordinance that takes care of all of our specific issues,” said Pat Carroll, the county’s main lobbyist in Richmond, during a Jan. 29 House committee hearing on the bill.

The legislation also bars scooter and e-bike riders from parking the vehicles “in a manner that impedes the normal movement of pedestrian or other traffic or 456 where such parking is prohibited by official traffic control devices,” another key headache for county officials. Arlington staff have set up some “scooter corrals” around Metro stations to encourage the orderly parking of the devices, but otherwise don’t have the ability to enforce where the vehicles are parked beyond bringing complaints to each company individually.

The legislation also caps all scooters at a top speed of 20 miles per hour — Arlington currently mandates a speed cap of 10 miles per hour, which initially irked some owners of the vehicles who’d hoped to use a 15-miles-per-hour cap instead.

Finally, the bill gives other localities until Jan. 1, 2020 to set up their own pilot programs for the dockless devices — once that date passes, companies will be able to deploy the scooters and bikes without abiding by any sort of pilot, much as Bird did when it dropped its scooters in Arlington back in June.

In general, the scooter companies seemed broadly pleased with the legislation. Lobbyists for several dockless vehicle companies spoke in support of it at the Jan. 29 committee hearing, and the firms were certainly well represented in Richmond — state records show that Bird has hired five lobbyists on its behalf, while Lime has three, Lyft has two and Uber (which owns Jump scooters) has six.

“We know for a lot of folks it’s a complicated issue around a new and emerging technology and we look forward to continuing to work with all legislators and stakeholders,” said Ryan O’Toole, a lobbyist representing Lime.

The legislation now heads to the state Senate, where lawmakers have until the end of session on Feb. 23 to take action on the bill.

Should it clear that hurdle and head to the governor’s desk, it’s anyone’s guess who will be waiting to sign it — Gov. Ralph Northam is still facing an overwhelming chorus of voices calling on him to resign over revelations that a racist photo appeared on his medical school yearbook page, while new allegations of sexual assault against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax complicate any designs he might have on the governorship.

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Contractor Raises Salaries for County Bus Drivers, In Bid to Reverse ART’s Recent Shortage

As Arlington’s bus service grapples with a shortage of drivers, the company responsible for doing the hiring says it’s bumping up starting salaries to lure more applicants.

Arlington Transit told riders last week that a lack of bus drivers has been a prime factor in a series of service delays over the last few months, putting most of the blame on the National Express Transit Corporation, the company that employs the drivers.

The bus service lamented that it’s “lost a number of bus operators to other companies in the region, and the resulting operator shortages are contributing to many missed ART trips each day.” With a tight labor market, it’s a problem that many bus services around the country have been experiencing recently, analysts say.

But National Express is taking new steps to remedy the problem, according to company spokesman Ed Flavin. He told ARLnow that the contractor recently “implemented a considerable increase to our starting wage in cooperation with our local labor union,” which went into effect on Jan. 1, in order to reverse this trend.

“We also provide sign-on bonuses, as well as other employee incentives to help improve recruitment and retention,” Flavin wrote in an email. “Our efforts have provided promising results, with a [recent] increase in qualified applicants.”

Flavin did not answer follow-up questions about the size of the salary bump, or what sort of resulting increase in hiring the company has seen.

However, online job advertisements show that National Express is currently offering $20 per hour for new bus drivers, so long as they have at least one year of “commercial driver” experience. By contrast, the contractor working with the neighboring Fairfax Connector service is currently offering anywhere from $17 to $19 per hour for entry-level drivers.

“We recognize the importance of providing safe, reliable public transit for the ART community and we will continue to work hard to improve the reliability of ART service,” Flaven said. “Our number one priority will always be the safety of our customers.”

In the meantime, ART has still recorded some serious service issues. The “ART Alert” Twitter account, which announces all bus delays and cancellations, shows that the service has experienced 47 missed trips or other delays since Monday alone, though some of those problems are attributable to Tuesday’s snow and mechanical issues.

The bus service has indeed struggled with maintenance issues in recent months as well, in addition to problems with its real-time tracking service and phone service for disabled and elderly riders.

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Arlington Transit Blames Bus Driver Shortage, Maintenances Woes for Recent Service Disruptions

Arlington’s bus service says a shortage of drivers and persistent maintenance problems are to blame for its struggles in providing consistent service these last few months.

Arlington Transit issued a statement to riders this past Friday (Jan. 18), explaining that some problems with the service’s contractor have caused a variety of “missed trips” recently.

The contractor in question, the U.K.-based National Express Transit Corporation, provides both bus drivers and maintenance services to run the county’s local and commuter buses. ART said in its blog post that National Express has recently “lost a number of bus operators to other companies in the region, and the resulting operator shortages are contributing to many missed ART trips each day.”

To make matters worse, ART says the company is also continuing to “deal with maintenance issues with our aging bus fleet, which is causing a number of buses to be out of service daily.”

ART last experienced similar problems this past June, when it commenced an expedited round of safety inspections. At the time, county officials also chalked up many of the problems to the age of its buses, though it was able to bring on 13 new buses this summer.

“The county continues to work with our contractor to improve service and ensure each ART route is operating with the number of buses needed each day,” ART officials wrote. “We apologize for these issues and will continue to do all things possible to hold our contractor accountable for providing reliable ART bus service.”

A spokeswoman for National Express did not immediately respond to a request for comment on these issues. ART has contracted with the company dating back to at least 2012, when National Express acquired a contract to provide ART service as part of the acquisition of the county’s old contractor.

The “ART Alert” Twitter account, which announces all bus delays and cancellations, reveals that bus service has indeed been inconsistent recently. The bus service reported 55 missed trips, mechanical issues or other delays over the course of the last week alone, according to the account, with routes running all across the county affected.

When it comes to the contractor’s problems retaining bus drivers, at least, it seems the company is hardly unique. Karen Finucan Clarkson, a spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, noticed the post from ART and pointed out that many other bus agencies are dealing with similar “bus driver shortages.”

“It is a statewide, regional and national issue, especially with unemployment so low,” Clarkson told ARLnow.

These service disruptions are simply the latest woes for ART, following a tough few months. Technical problems have also plagued its real-time bus tracking service in recent weeks, while its phone system to connect disabled and elderly riders to bus service crashed briefly this summer.

Photo via Facebook

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NoVa Congressional Delegation Pushes for Funding for Major GW Parkway Rehab Work

Federal officials think they have a good shot at winning $126 million in grant funds to make a series of badly needed repairs on a long section of the GW Parkway, and Northern Virginia’s congressional delegation is throwing its weight behind the effort.

The National Park Service, which maintains the road, is currently applying for a hefty U.S. Department of Transportation grant to fund rehabilitation work on a roughly eight-mile-long stretch of the parkway, as it runs between the Spout Run Parkway in Rosslyn and I-495. Now, both of Virginia’s senators and three local members of Congress are lending their support to the funding push, in a bid to finally afford some changes on the aging roadway.

“The proposed project will address serious deterioration of the GWMP and implement significant safety improvements,” the lawmakers wrote in a Jan. 8 letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “This project will improve a critical link in the National Capital Region’s transportation network while preserving the historical and cultural characteristics that make the parkway one of the most scenic roadways in the country. These proposed improvements will increase the safety of visitors while significantly extending the life of the parkway.”

Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (both D-Va.) both signed the letter, as did Virginia Reps. Don Beyer (D-8th District) and Jennifer Wexton (D-10th District). Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s lone, non-voting representative in Congress also added her support.

The NPS says the construction work, set to cost about $150 million in all, will start at the parkway’s Spout Run Parkway exit and include:

  • Making drives smoother by replacing the asphalt pavement
  • Replacing guardrails and repairing walls
  • Repairing stormwater management systems to keep excess water from damaging the road
  • Constructing new concrete curbs
  • Rehabilitating parts of two historic, scenic overlooks
  • Lengthening entrance and exit lanes at some interchanges

Officials also hope to use the cash to replace the stormwater drainage grates that line the parkway, which have long made for a bumpy ride for drivers. They’re also envisioning adding four “emergency turnarounds,” in order to allow police to more easily redirect drivers who stop on the road due to a crash or inclement weather.

The construction would also include improvements at the parkway’s interchange with Chain Bridge Road in McLean, like adding a new traffic signal to the area.

The lawmakers note in the letter that this northern stretch of the parkway was first built in 1962, and with more than 33 million vehicles using the road each year, it’s badly deteriorated in the decades since.

The NPS is hoping to win the funding through the Department of Transportation’s “Nationally Significant Federal Land and Tribal Projects” program. In a release, park service officials said they believe the project “will compete well” for cash through that program, given the parkway’s “significance” and the fact that the NPS has already wrapped up schematic design work for the construction.

If all goes well, officials hope to kick off construction sometime next year.

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Spurred on by Amazon, VRE Looks Set to Find Funding for New Crystal City Station

Virginia Railway Express leaders think they’ve just about nailed down funding for a new and improved Crystal City station, a key component of the area’s impending transportation transformation with Amazon on the way.

VRE officials have been eyeing improvements to its existing station, located at 1503 S. Crystal Drive, for years now, considering that its platform isn’t quite long enough for the commuter trains. Right now, anyone hoping to get off at the station needs to walk to one of their train’s first four cars, even though many are 10 cars long.

The station is also only set up to serve one train at a time, and sits a bit far away from the neighborhood’s Metro station, a challenge for commuters from Northern Virginia’s outer suburbs who use VRE to reach destinations in D.C. or elsewhere in Arlington. A new, relocated station could solve all of those problems at once.

The challenge, of course, is coming up with money to pay for the roughly $41 million project. But on that front, VRE officials seem to be nearing a solution, according to documents prepared in advance of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission’s meeting tonight (Thursday).

The VRE is asking the NVTC, a collection of regional leaders that helps oversee the rail service, for permission to make a variety of budgetary moves, including strategies to fund the new Crystal City station. Primarily, the VRE plans to ask for a combined $30 million in state funding for the project: half would come from a grant from the state’s rail agency, half from gas tax revenues set aside for VRE capital projects as part of the dedicated Metro funding deal last year.

Notably, the station overhaul was not included among the promised transportation improvements designed to lure Amazon to the area. But, with the tech giant expected to bring 25,000 jobs to the neighborhood, VRE officials are ready to get moving on the project sooner rather than later.

“VRE’s commuter rail service will also be critical to serving these expected new workers, and the planned relocation and expansion of VRE’s Crystal City Station has taken on additional importance,” staff wrote in a report delivered to the NVTC.

The rail service previously won $4 million in regional transportation dollars to cover design and engineering costs, and is nearing completion on a final design for the station now, VRE staff wrote.

The Arlington County Board and VRE agreed on a new location for the station in fall 2017, selecting a site behind 2011 Crystal Drive. The new station will be accessible via a tunnel to 18th Street S. between the Crystal Place residential buildings and the Crystal City Water Park, in addition to a pedestrian bridge from the second level of 2121 Crystal Drive.

It will also sit across the street from a new second entrance to the area’s Metro station, set to be located at the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street S. Considering that VRE estimates that about 18 percent of passengers headed to the Crystal City station then transfer to the Metro, county officials have long viewed improving the connection between the two rail services as a key way to boost transit ridership.

The station will also include an “island platform” to serve two tracks simultaneously, and work on the project is set to move in conjunction with the state-backed “Atlantic Gateway Initiative” to construct a new rail track between D.C. and Fredericksburg. The old station will eventually be demolished.

There are no firm dates for when the project might be completed, but VRE estimates suggest it wouldn’t be finished until 2023 at the earliest, depending on how quickly officials secure the necessary funding.

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Transportation Planners Sketch Out Vision for Region-Wide Bike Trail Network Through 2045

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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Demolition of Crystal City’s Elevated Section of S. Clark Street Moves Ahead

Demolition work on the elevated section of S. Clark Street in Crystal City is slowly moving forward.

Workers kicked off a project to demolish the road and transform the area’s transportation network in earnest this summer, when they tore down S. Clark Street’s overpass over 15th Street. S. Since then, the county says workers have still had to use “10 to 15 dump trucks per day” to remove all the soil that supported that structure.

“To date, the contractor has hauled approximately 12,000 cubic yards of soil material off-site, out of an estimated project total of 22,000 cubic yards,” county staff wrote on Arlington’s website this month.

Crews have also recently finished “demolishing the concrete walls and abutment next to the 15th Street off-ramp and the south abutment on 15th Street S. eastbound,” leaving just a few pieces of the old overpass structure remaining.

Now, workers are moving their “excavation and demolition activities to locations between 12th and 15th Streets” as Crystal City approaches Pentagon City. Workers are also busily installing “new traffic signal and street light equipment at the intersection of Route 1 and 20th Street S. and along the median and northbound right shoulder of Route 1 between 15th and 20th Streets.”

Eventually, contractors will also demolish S. Clark Street’s bridge over 18th Street. S., prompting more detours. However, the county says it has yet to set a firm date to start that work, and will provide two weeks’ warning before it begins.

The county’s ultimate goal for the $6.6 million project is to create new open space along Route 1, opening up more development opportunities along a suddenly quite popular section of the county. Workers are hoping to wrap up construction by this coming summer.

Officials are also aiming to bring Route 1 itself down to the same grade as other nearby roads as part of some of the transportation improvements it promised Amazon, leading to a complete transformation of the area’s roadways in the coming years.

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County Creates New Dockless Scooter ‘Corrals’ to Encourage More Orderly Storage

Arlington has now created seven “scooter corrals” around the county, in a bid to make the storage of the pervasive dockless electric vehicles a bit more orderly.

County workers set up the new storage spaces over the course of the last week, generally using some spray paint to cordon off specific areas for the scooters.

Officials have been considering such a step dating back to this fall, when the scooters first started popping up around Arlington and concerns about where the vehicles might be scattered began cropping up. Other cities, from Austin to Santa Monica, have adopted a similar technique.

The corrals are mostly clustered around Metro stops, as that’s where many riders first pick up the scooters. Per the county website, locations include:

Ballston

N. Stuart Street & 9th Street N.

Courthouse

Clarendon Blvd & N. Uhle Street

Crystal City

18th Street S. & S. Bell Street

Pentagon City

S. Hayes Street & 12th Street S.

Rosslyn

N. Lynn Street & Fairfax Drive
N. Lynn Street & 19th Street N.

Virginia Square

N. Monroe St & 9th Street N.

George Mason University has set up a similar “corral” near its Virginia Square campus, after briefly trying to establish a “no scooter zone” in the area (drawing fierce criticism from students and staff alike).

Bird, Lime and Lyft all currently offer electric scooters in the county, with a variety of other dockless companies eyeing Arlington, given the county’s pilot program to test the devices.

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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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