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Commuters in Ballston now have access to new bus bays on Fairfax Drive, outside the entrance to the Ballston Metro station.

The refreshed bus bays feature “new bus shelters, sidewalks, and planters,” said Eric Balliet, a spokesman for Dept. of Environmental Services. He added that work along Fairfax Drive should be “substantially complete in August.”

These upgrades are part of a four-phase project to update the transit facilities and public areas surrounding the Metro station. Improvements to multimodal facilities along Fairfax Drive comprise the project’s first phase.

The county expects the project will be 100% complete next summer, he said. The goal of the project is to increase transit usage and safety, improve the facilities as well as access to them and circulation around them, and enhance their design and provide sustainable infrastructure.

With phase one nearing substantial completion, the county is embarking on the second phase. Access to bus bays and pedestrian paths along the east side of N. Stuart Street will be impacted during this phase, which is expected to last until spring 2022, the project webpage said.

“Access to businesses along east side of N. Stuart Street will be maintained throughout this phase,” the webpage noted.

Since Sunday, some ART and Metrobus service along N. Stuart Street and N. Stafford Street has been relocated to the new bus stops on Fairfax Drive and temporary ones on the west side of N. Stuart Street. On Monday, attendants could be seen helping commuters get to the right bus stop.

WMATA say it is still working to provide printed schedules for riders.

Phases three and four will focus on upgrades to two plazas, one on N. Stuart Street and one on Fairfax Drive, and each phase is expected to last three months. Once all four phases are complete, commuters will see a number of additional upgrades, such as additional bike parking, expanded public space along Fairfax Drive, a dedicated “kiss-and-ride” curb space and a dedicated shuttle bus curb space and bus shelter.

In addition, “landscaping and benches for the planter areas, bus stop flag poles and real-time bus information displays will be added toward the end of the project,” Balliet said.

The County Board approved the project in December 2019, and construction — expected to last 18 months — was slated to begin in the summer of 2020.

“The project experienced delays due to the need to relocate telecom and electric utilities lines,” Balliet said. “We now expect the entire project to be completed in summer 2022.”

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The good news for users of the Mount Vernon Trail is that a proposed widening project was selected for state funding. The bad news? It will be 2026 before work even starts on the project.

As anyone who has bicycled or walked along the popular trail could likely attest, there are parts that can feel dangerously narrow. Last year, the National Park Service released a report recommending widening. The report noted that there were 225 reported bike and pedestrian crashes on the trail between 2006 and 2010, many of them at crash hotspots near National Airport and the 14th Street Bridge.

Some spots along the trail are in notoriously poor condition, like the infamous Trollheim Bridge section south of Roosevelt Island, where the trail’s wooden planks often become slick in icy or rainy conditions.

The goal of the approved project is to improve and reconstruct approximately 6.5 miles of the trail, from the access point to Roosevelt Island down to Jones Point Park in Alexandria. One of the most narrow stretches of the trail, a single-lane tunnel under Memorial Bridge, is on Columbia Island, which is technically part of D.C.

According to the application, the project would “widen the trail’s paved surface from between seven and eight feet to 11 where feasible.”

The total project cost is estimated at $33 million, with $29 million funded by the Virginia SMART SCALE grant — which doesn’t fund the needed improvements on Columbia Island. The grant was on the list of projects approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board at a meeting on June 23.

The widening is likely a few years down the road. The National Park Service previously said work could begin on the trail starting in 2026, Greater Greater Washington reported.

https://twitter.com/TrailsCoalition/status/1417887666671128578

 

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Amazon wants its employees to bike to work so much it will pay them to do it.

The e-commerce and cloud computing giant announced today it will be paying employees $350 a month to HQ2 employees to cover the costs associated with cycling, from rentals to maintenance to parking at public transit stations.

The news comes as the company prepares to return its still-remote employees to in-person work. In Arlington, Amazon is currently leasing a number of office spaces in Crystal City while the two phases of its forthcoming permanent campus in Pentagon City, Metropolitan Park and PenPlace, continue to take shape.

As of May Amazon had more than 1,600 Arlington employees and was in the process of hiring for 1,900 new positions in a variety of technical and non-tech roles.

More from the bike announcement on then Amazon blog:

“We are looking forward to welcoming our employees back to our offices and want to encourage them to rethink the way they get to and from work, so we’re creating new incentives to pick a greener way to commute — even if it is just one to two days a week,” said John Schoettler, vice president of Global Real Estate and Facilities. “Reducing our carbon footprint is a multifaceted effort that includes building urban and well-connected campuses, designing buildings that use renewable energy, and making it easy for employees to choose public transportation over their single-occupancy vehicles.”

Amazon employees who bike to work will receive a subsidy to cover associated costs, including:

  • Bike leases: Employees can lease a take-home bike, including e-bikes, for a monthly fee eligible for reimbursement.
  • Bike share: Employees can expense costs for dockless or docked short-term, app-based rental bicycles.
  • Maintenance: Employees can take advantage of two complimentary tune-ups each calendar year.
  • Bike parking: Employees can access bike parking at public transit facilities or offices without Amazon bike cages.

These bike benefits are available to all employees who haven’t signed up for ongoing parking in an Amazon parking garage.

The plans for HQ2’s two phases include a number of bike and transit-friendly facilities.

Each office building will have dedicated street-level bike entrances, and the campus will feature one-quarter mile of new protected bike lanes and more than 950 on-site bike spaces.

The bike subsidy announcement notes that other bicycling amenities are included at Amazon offices.

“In addition to offering bike cages for employees to store their bikes, most of Amazon’s corporate offices also have showers for bikers to get ready at work,” the announcement said.

On social media, local cyclists were generally complimentary of the new benefit, though with some reservations.

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A mobility advocacy group is asking the county to build a three-year plan for funding projects that make non-car transit faster, more desirable and safer.

And the group, Sustainable Mobility, is trying to capitalize on signs that people are interested in bicycling and walking more coming out of the pandemic. 

“We have to seize that opportunity before everybody gets into their cars again,” said Chris Slatt, the group’s president, who is also chair of the Transportation Commission and an opinion columnist on ARLnow. “This is an inflection point. Arlington has let too many opportunities pass during COVID-19 — we never achieved open streets, when people demanded more space to walk, sit and eat — we need them to do better now.”

Its recommendations respond to a draft document outlining the large projects that Arlington County intends to embark on over the next three years. This plan, called the Capital Improvement Plan, is winding its way through review processes and is set to be approved by the County Board in July.

Volunteers from Sustainable Mobility, or SusMo, combed through the transportation projects and identified a handful to nix, postpone or kick to developers for funding and implementation, which they say could free up about $17 million that could fund 20 projects or programs.

The alternative projects fall into five of SusMo’s priority areas:  

  1. Funding Vision Zero
  2. Speeding up transit 
  3. Building safe routes to every school 
  4. Building out the bike network for all ages and abilities   
  5. Expanding and connecting the trail network 

“None of what’s in our plan is really our idea,” Slatt said. “It is all things that are in sector plans, projects that… the county already has [identified], projects that were identified in the bicycle element of the Master Transportation Plan, or just ways to fund priorities that Arlington says they already have.” 

Highlights include:

  • Changing the signals to reduce the time buses spend at intersections
  • Completing the Arlington Blvd Trail
  • Conducting a feasibility study of dedicated transit and high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Columbia Pike
  • All-door bus boarding and off-vehicle fare collection, to speed up buses
  • A trail on the west side of Carlin Springs road, with a connection to the W&OD Trail, to provide a safer route to Kenmore Middle School
  • Protected bike lanes on S. George Mason Drive between Route 7 and Route 50, providing a safe connection to Wakefield High School
  • Additional capital funding for other Safe Routes to School projects
  • Protected bike lanes on a portion of N. Highland Street in Clarendon
  • A two-way protected bike lane on Fairfax Drive between Ballston and Clarendon
  • Other “neighborhood bikeways”

Some projects are already in the County Manager’s draft Capital Improvement Program proposal, including a feasibility study for a trail underpass under Shirlington Road near the Weenie Beenie, and a new trail along the Arlington National Cemetery wall between Columbia Pike and Memorial Avenue.

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Arlington County is considering lowering the speed limit along a number of corridors with lots of pedestrian activity.

On Saturday, the County Board will decide whether to authorize a public hearing next month to discuss and potentially approve the reductions, which would impact seven corridors throughout Arlington.

The proposals were generated from traffic studies conducted at the request of some citizens, staff and Arlington County Public Schools, according to a report. These studies looked at speeding and crash statistics as well as anticipated pedestrian and bicyclist activity and future projects, among other considerations.

Overall, the studies concluded that lower speed limits would help the county reach its new goal of zero transportation-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030, also known as Vision Zero. Two reductions along Army Navy Drive would also prepare drivers for an upcoming construction project that would rebuild the road to be more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly, the report said.

“As part of the Streets Element of the Master Transportation Plan, a policy was established to design streets to generally favor lower vehicle speeds without impeding or diverting existing vehicle volumes,” the document said. “One of the implementation actions for that policy is the adoption of lower speed limits for arterial streets on which there are high volumes of pedestrian crossings and higher density land development.”

The studies recommend lowering the speed limit along Army Navy Drive from S. Joyce Street to 12th Street S. from 35 to 25 miles per hour.

Speed limits on six other road segments would be lowered from 30 to 25 miles per hour:

The project to rebuild Army Navy Drive as a “Complete Street” is in its final design and review phases, according to the county. During construction, the county is recommending a reduced speed along Army Navy Drive of 25 miles per hour. Making the change now would get drivers accustomed to the change, the document said.

“Significant roadway enhancements are included in this project, so to decrease the speed at the onset of construction would provide for a safer work zone for workers and roadway users and support the expectation of lower speeds once the project is completed,” the report said.

The Army Navy Drive project is intended to improve local connections between the Pentagon and the surrounding commercial, residential and retail services by reducing the number of lanes and their width, enhancing pedestrian and cycling activity, and improving transit facilities.

The studies also found that along all seven corridors, “the majority of motorists are comfortable driving within 5 mph of the existing posted speed limit and the proposed decreased speed limit of 25 mph.” Lower speed limits can help accommodate new development and more robust transit infrastructure in the future, the studies suggest.

These changes would cost about $1,500 per corridor to purchase and install new speed limit signs, for a total of $10,500.

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If you see some fresh red paint on the pavement in Arlington, that’s a lane that has been designated for use by buses only.

County crews could be seen painting the new lane markers in Courthouse last week.

The new “bus only priority lanes and stops” are intended “to help improve transit safety, service and reliability,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Kathryn O’Brien tells ARLnow.

Seven red-painted portions of roadway are planned throughout the county, O’Brien said, including:

  • 27th Street S. and Potomac Avenue in Crystal City
  • 33rd Street S. and Crystal Drive in Crystal City
    S. Hayes Street and 12th Street S. in Pentagon City
  • Crystal Drive and 26th Street S. in Crystal City
  • 15th Street N. and N. Uhle Street in Courthouse
  • Clarendon Blvd and N. Uhle Street in Courthouse
  • Wilson Blvd and N. Uhle Street in Courthouse

“They should all be completed within the next week,” O’Brien said of the painting effort.

Photo courtesy Lisa C.

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By 2030, Arlington County aims to have zero transportation-related deaths and serious injuries on its streets and trails.

The County Board took its first step toward this ambitious goal in July 2019, the same year that Arlington registered six fatal crashes, according to county data. The board adopted a “Vision Zero” resolution that, at the time, offered few details. Its second step was to draft a five-year action plan.

After more than a year of work by county staff and review by advisory commissions, the final draft of the first five-year Vision Zero Action Plan, with those long-awaited details, is set to be reviewed by the County Board next Saturday (May 15).

This plan — informed by local crash data, public engagement and talks with other Vision Zero communities — lays out one-time and ongoing projects aimed at improving public safety. These range from installing automated traffic enforcement cameras and lowering speed limits to maintaining a crash data dashboard and educating children about safety with help from Arlington Public Schools.

If adopted, the plan will result in a number of changes locals will see and experience, Principal Planner Christine Baker told the Arlington Transportation Commission in February.

She said these will include enhanced intersections (shown below) and improved warning signs, as well as more education programs and messaging from the Arlington County Police Department.

“It’ll take time to see these improvements on every single street in the county, but in the meantime, we’re going to be reporting our progress on the program,” Baker said. “We’re really excited to be diving into this program.”

The county will update its website and send emailed updates telling people “when they’ll be able to recognize Vision Zero is on the streets,” she said.

Folks may be seeing some recent changes made in the spirit of Vision Zero: Over the last year, the county has sought lower speed limits while raising fines along 11 mostly residential streets in Arlington.

The County Board also made installing speed cameras a legislative priority in the 2021 General Assembly assembly session, a move toward more equitable law enforcement that also would reduce public interactions with police officers.

According to the action plan, there are a dozen target areas to tackle, from pedestrian safety and intersections to drunk or distracted driving and speeding.

Pedestrian safety is the most at risk, according to county data. One-quarter of serious crashes and more than half of fatal crashes involved a pedestrian, though pedestrian-involved crashes account for 5% of total crashes. Bicyclists and motorcycles comprise 2% and 1%, respectively.

The plan also cites data indicating that speeding and turning-related crashes are more common than alcohol-related ones, but almost half of all fatal crashes involved alcohol and more than half occurred at night.

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A lot happens on N. Oak Street between Clarendon Blvd and 17th Street N. in Rosslyn.

To the east is an office building where the internet was invented. It now serves as an annex for the State Department. To the west is a very busy, standalone Starbucks.

What the block lacks, at least on the west side, is a sidewalk.

A new project set to kick off next week aims to rectify the lack of a pedestrian walkway, with a makeshift path along the road. More from an Arlington County transportation update:

During the week of May 10, weather permitting, the County will create a pedestrian pathway along the west side of North Oak Street between Clarendon Boulevard and 17th Street North.

Currently, there is no sidewalk on the west side of Oak Street. After receiving a request from the community, County staff conducted a traffic investigation for this location and determined that adding a pedestrian treatment would help improve safety and access.

The pedestrian pathway will be installed by adding a barrier between the travel lane and the curb. This will slightly narrow the southbound lane, but access for vehicles, including the driveway to the coffee shop, will be retained.

What to expect during this work:

  • Once installation begins on the pathway, we anticipate completion within 1 week.
  • The installation will be done during work hours, generally 8 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday.
  • During installation, there may be some impacts to the southbound travel lane on North Oak Street.

Photos (1) via Arlington County, (2) via Google Maps

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With COVID-19 cases declining and 31% of the local population fully vaccinated, more people appear to be out and about in Arlington, according to recent county parking data.

Arlington County logged more than 266,500 and 263,000 parking meter transactions in March and April, respectively — the highest these numbers have been since October when cases started mounting for the second time in 2020.

The figures are one indication that Arlington has returned to a level of activity last seen in Arlington late last summer when case numbers were low and the state lifted many of the restrictions on daily life.

While parking numbers have recovered from the second and larger wave of coronavirus, the road to pre-pandemic parking levels may still be a long one. The transactions this spring are roughly 40% lower than they were in the spring of 2019.

The parking transaction trends appear to be the inverse of COVID-19 cases in Arlington.

Parking transactions dropped dramatically between October to November, during which time coronavirus cases started rising. Parking transactions bounced back in March and remained at similar levels in April; meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have reached their lowest point since October.

Today, the Virginia Dept. of Health reported only five new cases in Arlington, after nine new cases were reported yesterday — the first two-day stretch of single-digit new cases in the county since Sept. 1-2.

Arlington’s recently-adopted budget projects parking revenue getting close to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the 2022 fiscal year, “but there is a lot of uncertainty about that assumption,” parking manager Stephen Crim said.

The county has a long way to go to recover lost parking revenue, which plummeted from a 2019 peak of nearly 500,000 transactions in August to fewer than 60,000 transactions in April 2020.

If the revenue trends from April continue into May and June, however, parking revenue for the second quarter of 2021 could surpass the $1.4 million that the county logged through March, county officials say.

“A return to pre-pandemic levels will depend not only on how quickly jurisdictions lift restrictions on places like restaurants but also on how comfortable people feel going back to their usual activities,” Crim said. “Also, there may be medium- or long-term changes to the way people shop, socialize and conduct business meetings, which could affect parking in Arlington, just like everywhere else.”

In February, Gov. Ralph Northam rolled back a 10 p.m. alcohol curfew for restaurants to midnight, and by mid-May, he is expected to raise the caps on venue capacity and social gatherings, while lifting the curfew on liquor sales. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared Americans to be outside without a mask in most situations. Soon after, Virginia followed suit.

Although transactions levels are lower, the overall patterns of where people park are generally similar to pre-pandemic patterns, Crim said.

“A quick look at some of our meter data indicates that areas that were popular pre-pandemic remain popular today and areas that were less popular are still less popular,” he said.

He did not indicate whether the county expects a new pilot program that prices parking by demand along Metro corridors — approved by the County Board in December — will impact parking transaction rates.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services will be conducting the performance parking pilot to improve parking management, “regardless of the overall number of people who want to park in Arlington,” Crim said.

“We started planning for this pilot well before the pandemic struck and we don’t see the pilot as an opportunity to shore up revenue,” he said.

Charts compiled by ARLnow using data from Arlington County and Virginia Department of Health  

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(Updated 4:30 p.m.) For National Walking Day on Wednesday, April 7, locals are being encouraged to explore Arlington on foot.

Among the new options for doing so: a virtual scavenger hunt.

“Join us on a virtual hunt for hidden gems in your own neighborhood that you may not have known existed,” the county-run WalkArlington program said on its website.

The initiative from WalkArlington and Arlington Transportation Partners is virtual this year due to the coronavirus. Instead, the organizers have assembled resources for local residents, workers and visitors to take self-guided walking tours through any of the county’s 10 urban villages on National Walking Day — or any day, for that matter

“Walking in Arlington is inspiring, full of surprises, peaceful — like finding a gem,” WalkArlington said in a video, below.

Walkers can use an interactive map to find these gems, which include nature escapes, historical sites, local businesses and public art.

Participants will need to register to access the map. Those who register by Friday (March 26) will receive a free item in the mail, according to the registration page.

Photos via WalkArlington/YouTube

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A major redevelopment proposal in Rosslyn is facing pushback from those who think it doesn’t do enough for cyclists and pedestrians.

McLean-based Jefferson Apartment Group is proposing a 27-story mixed-use residential complex with 424 units at 1901 N. Moore Street, replacing the 1960s-era RCA building. Two towers will be connected at the top by a penthouse and at the base with ground floor retail.

But as the project moves through the public review process, some have expressed concerns a number of transportation-related issues: the proposed unprotected bike lanes along 19th Street N., the project’s parking ratio, and the pedestrian experience along the block.

These three topics are likely to resurface during a follow-up Site Plan Review Committee meeting on Monday, March 15 — and perhaps later this spring, when the project will go before the Planning Commission and the County Board.

“We’ve been identifying issues, responding to citizen comments, and having very good discussions with surrounding community groups,” said Andrew Painter, an attorney with land use firm Walsh Colucci, during the first SPRC meeting last month.

Staff members are considering some protections for the proposed 19th Street bike lanes in response to public input.

“It may be possible to provide an additional level of protection in one direction” on the block from N. Lynn to N. Moore streets, said Principal Planner Dennis Sellin, adding that staffers “don’t see the capacity to do it in both directions.”

Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt said 19th Street N. has enough traffic to qualify it for protected or buffered bike lanes.

Another hot issue was the parking ratio of .625 spaces per residential unit. Jefferson is proposing 290 total spaces, split among 265 residential spaces, 15 retail and 10 visitor spaces, according to a staff report.

“The goal is to right-size the garage to meet the market demand but not provide extra that incentivizes people to drive,” Painter said.

Although the proposal is within county guidelines, Sellin said “we would certainly accept a lower ratio.” The minimum is .2 spaces per unit but the lowest Sellin said he has seen proposed is .38 spaces per unit.

North Rosslyn Civic Association representative Terri Prell said people, particularly the elderly, still need cars for tasks such as grocery shopping.

“You have to understand this is a residential community, not a business community,” she said.

Lowering the ratio would attract people who want to lead a car-free lifestyle, Slatt said, asking for data on space utilization rates.

The parking needs to be built partially above ground due to “particularly dense rock” and Metro tunnels. To conceal the parking above the retail and below the residential units — and add public art — the architect is exploring adding graphics by local artists, said architect Shalom Baranes.

The Metro tunnels add another complication: a longer expected demolition process.

As for the pedestrian experience, some members were concerned that the block will be too long and there will be no opportunities for cutting through it. Sellin said the block is comparable to others at 400 feet long.

SPRC Chair Sara Steinberger said knowing the length “may not change the community’s feelings on what feels like a longer stretch of block when you have large buildings covering a greater area.”

In 2017, Weissberg Investment Corp., which developed the RCA building in the 1960s, filed plans to redevelop the RCA site — but those plans were put on hold indefinitely in 2018. Jefferson started filing application materials in May 2020.

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