Arlington, VA

After serving as a local fixture and punchline for nearly a month, the Arlington Transit bus lodged into the side of a truck depot on Columbia Pike has been removed.

On Aug. 5, a bus carrying roughly 10 passengers lost control and careened through the Pike and S. George Mason Drive intersection, veering over the curb and smashing into the side of the Penske Truck Rental building at 4110 Columbia Pike.

When it crashed into the building, pushing another truck into the side of the structure along with it, the bus became load-bearing — meaning extraction was impossible until a temporary structure could be built to support the building while the bus was removed.

The bus was removed this past Friday, Aug. 30, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet.

A wooden wall is now in place, supporting the side of the building where the bus had crashed. A sign on the side of the building says the building is still considered unsafe and the Penske phone line said the location is currently closed.

Penske couldn’t be reached for comment and a security guard working outside the building said he wasn’t sure when it would be open again.

Balliet noted that the contractor that runs the ART service, National Express, will be responsible for the cost to repair the building.

“National Express’ insurance company will assess and determine the estimate for repairs,” Balliet said.

The investigation into the crash is being conducted by Arlington County Police, Balliet said, declining to comment on what might have caused the wreck. As for the bus itself?

“The bus will be put back into service,” Balliet said. “It’s currently being inspected by National Express’ maintenance team to determine how to address repairs.”

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A “block party” style event with a transportation theme is set for later this month along Columbia Pike.

Arlington County is hosting its third annualOur Shared Street Pop-Up” on Thursday, August 22, in the parking lot at the intersection of S. Four Mile Run Drive and the Pike. The event will run from 5-7 p.m. that night, and will feature booths from transportation organizations with activities and answers to transportation questions.

“Our Shared Street is a block party where you can get to know your neighbors and local transportation options,” says the event’s website. “There are also tons of great giveaways happening and fun activities.”‘

The goal of the event is to share information about commuting by bike, rail, bus, car, or feet in the county. The county-run Arlington Transportation Partners is organizing the event along with Capital Bikeshare, BikeArlington, and WalkArlington, and Arlington’s Car-Free Diet.

What’s not yet certain is whether ride-hailing or e-scooter companies like Uber and Lyft will be present during the late August event — as they were for last year’s event. (The county’s e-scooter program was recently extended, but has seen a slight uptick in crashes and injuries.)

Tickets to the pop-up event are free, but attendees are encouraged to register in advance online.

Image via Twitter/Arlington Transportation Partners

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(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) Scooters are all the rage in Arlington now thanks to a newly-extended pilot program, but there are some places they can’t take you.

Geofencing is the limiting of where the scooters can ride or park. Certain areas are set as fenced off by Arlington County government as part of the Shared Mobility Devices (SMD) pilot, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet.

“For now, the County is using geofencing to discourage users from ending their trip and parking these devices in certain areas,” Balliet said. “Based on agency input, the County has requested that SMD companies prohibit parking of their devices at federal lands such as the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, National Park Service lands, and NOVA Parks.”

But enforcement of the geofencing is left to the companies running the scooters.

“SMD companies are handling the parking prohibition in a couple of ways, including charging a fine, suspending accounts for multiple infractions, as well as prohibiting riding through geofenced areas,” Balliet said. “We will soon be providing the companies a map to ensure each is using the same parcel data that accurately reflects the areas where parking is prohibited.”

Geofencing can result in scooters slowing down below a certain speed cap, stopping altogether inside certain boundaries, or not allowing the user to end their ride and park in certain areas, depending on the company’s policy.

But while geofencing is designed to keep scooters inside authorized zones, it may be a contributor to the mysterious spate of abandoned scooters littering certain trails in Arlington. One tipster told ARLnow that the geofences near the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial near Rosslyn forced him to abandon his scooter into a pile of other scooters at the border of the invisible barrier.

Another hot spot for abandoned scooters: along the Mt. Vernon Trail near Roosevelt Bridge and Gravelly Point.

Meanwhile, across the river, one government official is advocating for scooters to be allowed on one particular piece of federal land. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter today asking U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to allow scooters on the Capitol grounds, where they are currently prohibited.

In her letter, Norton describes scooters as an “affordable, environmentally friendly and efficient mode of transportation relied upon by increasing numbers of Hill staffers, D.C. residents and visitors to our nation’s capital.”

Photo via Bird/Twitter

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Proposed changes could help transform a major street in the Pentagon City and Crystal City area into a more pedestrian and bicycle friendly corridor, though it might make traffic a little more congested.

The Army Navy Drive Complete Street project would provide a physically-separated, two-way protected bicycle lane along the south side of Army Navy Drive from S. Joyce Street to 12th Street S. Changes would also make pedestrian crossings shorter and safer, with options to build dedicated transit lanes in the future.

According to the project website:

The project will rebuild Army Navy Drive within the existing right-of-way as a multimodal complete street featuring enhanced bicycle, transit, environmental and pedestrian facilities. The goal of the project is to improve the local connections between the Pentagon and the commercial, residential and retail services in Pentagon City and Crystal City.

The tradeoff for keeping all of this within the right of way is reduced motor vehicle lanes, with slowing traffic through the area billed as a feature rather than a detriment. For most of the route, traffic in each direction is at least two lanes wide, though east of S. Eads Street the plans call for it to narrow from two lanes to one in each direction.

At an open house yesterday (Tuesday) at the Aurora Hills Branch Library (735 18th Street S.), most of those in attendance were local cyclists expressing enthusiasm for the project.

“This is an unspeakably huge improvement for cycling,” said Chris Slatt, chair of the Transportation Commission. “This is a critical piece for connecting bicycle infrastructure.”

Cyclists at the meeting also took the opportunity to note that the improvements planned here were still a stark contrast to plans to realign Columbia Pike near the Air Force Memorial. Cycling advocates at the open house said the Pike plans would turn the nearby intersection of S. Joyce Street and Columbia Pike, which feeds into Army Navy Drive and is already not ideal for bicycling, into a “death trap.”

Photo (3) via Google Maps, project map via Arlington County Department of Environmental Services

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New projects approved by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) could improve some bus offerings around Arlington.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted yesterday (Wednesday) to use nearly $20 million in toll revenue to fund commuter projects along I-66.

“We [will] fund 13 projects that will provide connections to places people want to go, add options for commuter and local bus riders, encourage ridesharing and make it easier to choose transit,” said NVTC Executive Director Kate Mattice in a press release. “The projects funded through I-66 Commuter Choice will save Northern Virginia commuters approximately 485,000 hours of travel delay each year and move over 3,000 additional people through the corridor during rush hour.”

Additional bus trips are funded for some of Arlington’s major commuter destinations:

  • Metrobus 3Y: Lee Highway-Farragut Square — The $1 million project will increase the frequency of Metrobus 3Y, a peak-direction route that operates between the East Falls Church Metro and downtown D.C. via Lee Highway (I-66).
  • OmniRide Express: Gainesville-Pentagon — The $4.7 million project will add  three new buses and eight total trips to the route from Gainesville to the Pentagon. The route averages 300 riders daily, according to the project description, and connects riders to multiple Metro lines.
  • OmniRide Express: Haymarket-Rosslyn — The $776,700 project would add a new express bus between Haymarket Park and Ride lot to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. The lot was built in December and offers 230 parking spaces.
  • New Bus: Stone Ridge-Pentagon — The $1.3 million project would fund a new bus line running from Stone Ridge II Park near Dulles to the Pentagon. The route will feature two morning and two evening peak-direction trips.

Five other bus routes enhanced or newly funded would pass from the outlying suburbs into D.C. along I-66.

The NVTC also agreed to spend $1.4 million to support I-66 marketing and outreach efforts of Arlington County Commuter Services — an agency that works to reduce traffic congestion and parking demand through programs like BikeArlington and The Commuter Store. The project will be continued for another three years.

“The approved projects for the FY 2020 Commuter Choice program provide connections to key destinations, address the needs of commuter and local bus riders and encourage commuters to use transit, carpools and vanpools,” the NVTC said in a report.

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The Arlington County Board needs a little more time to see how it likes e-scooters and e-bikes.

At a County Board meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the Board voted to extend the e-scooter and e-bike pilot project through Dec. 31. to allow for continued public comment and additional time for analysis.

More than 300,000 trips have been taken on e-scooters and e-bikes since the pilot launched last October, according to a press release, with 21 reported injuries during scooter-related incidents. A total of 307,243 miles have been traveled through April, with the average trip length at little over 1 mile.

The extension will allow county staff to collect data for warmer months, showing year-round usage numbers.

Meanwhile, the County Board is weighing how to regulate the devices, after legislation signed by Gov. Ralph Northam in March authorized local governments to do so. The legislation also authorizes scooter use on sidewalks unless otherwise prohibited, though riding on the sidewalk is currently prohibited under the terms of Arlington’s pilot program.

“Great transportation options are an important feature of life in Arlington County,” County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said in the press release. “On a day-to-day basis, we are learning a lot about what’s working and what isn’t working with dockless scooters and bikes. Before this Board considers how to permanently regulate these devices in Arlington, we need a complete analysis from staff of information from operators, staff experience, adopted plans and policies, and feedback from our community.”

Seven companies have participated in the pilot program, each paying an $8,000 fee per mode of transit to assist with the cost of program administration. Scooters are capped at 10 miles-per-hour while e-bikes are capped at 20 miles-per-hour.

According to the press release, most trips have been in the Rosslyn-Ballston and Route 1 corridors, though some ambitious riders have taken the scooters out to Columbia Pike and other sites outside of the main transit corridors.

The county has received over 600 emails about the pilot so far, with complaints centering on use of the scooters on sidewalks, scooter parking that blocks pedestrian or vehicle traffic, erratic behavior and riders under 18-years old. Feedback can be submitted via email to [email protected] or by filling out an online form.

“Through June 30, the County is conducting a formal public feedback process for the demonstration project,” the press release notes. “Those who live, work and visit in Arlington are invited to complete the online feedback form to help the County gauge interest, issues and concerns around dockless e-bikes and e-scooters. All feedback is welcome, even if you have never used shared mobility devices in Arlington.”

In October, the analysis of the pilot and a recommendation is scheduled to be presented to the County Board. Ordinance changes are scheduled for November, with potential adoption in December.

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(Updated on 04/14/19) A European company’s car-sharing service will expand into Arlington in July after rolling into D.C. last October.

The service, Free2Move, allows users to pay a flat fee per the minute, hour, or day that they rent a car and allows users to drive anywhere as long as vehicles are returned to a legal parking spot in the District of Columbia. With the new expansion, users will be able to pick and park vehicles in Arlington, too.

A company spokeswoman said the latest expansion means that the app’s 15,000 users in the Greater Washington area “can now start and end their trip within D.C. or Arlington city limits.”

Free2Move’s parent company is French car manufacturer Groupe PSA, which makes Opel, Citroen, Vauxhall, and Peugeot.

Groupe PSA’s decision to open Free2Move in the D.C. area is part of the company’s first foray back into the North American market since leaving in 1991, per the business news site Global Atlanta.

Free2Move currently uses a mix of 200 Chevrolet Equinox SUVs and 400 Chevrolet Cruze sedans in D.C., per the spokeswoman.

The company has said it operates in 11 other countries and has served 1.3 million customers in total, according to an April press release.

Images via Free2Move

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Within the next decade, a new transit group wants to make the bus the go-to transit option in the D.C. area

Earlier this year, the Washington Area Bus Transformation Project — which is backed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — released a draft strategic plan with a variety of short and long-term goals and strategies for improving the D.C. region’s bus network.

“The national capital region is adding 40,000-60,000 jobs and households each year,” the group said in its strategic plan. “But its transportation system is struggling to keep pace, leading to some of the longest commutes and worst traffic congestion in the nation.”

Potential ways to improve D.C. area buses and thus help alleviate traffic issues were broken into six categories, ranging in complexity and potential cost.

  • Ease of use: make simpler, consistent maps, naming conventions, and pricing. Another recommendation would be free transfers between Metrorail service and local bus lines.
  • Prioritizing buses on roads: potentially with bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority, though regional coordination will be needed.
  • Frequent, reliable, convenient service: overhaul existing routes to create a more efficient system and provide flexible, on-demand transit services for areas not well served by conventional buses.
  • Balance regional and local bus systems: develop a 10-year plan to allocate services between bus systems and applicable routes. The plan also includes a recommendation to “revise the cost local jurisdictions pay WMATA for local service to better match the actual cost to provide service.”
  • Streamline back-office functions: most of the recommendations in this category are behind-the-scenes improvements, like consolidating support functions and developing regional standards for bus data collection and analysis.
  • Centralizing regional bus networks: form a regional coalition of jurisdictional representatives with authority to implement strategy recommendations.

The bus system has a long way to go if it wants to turn its image around. Since 2012, bus ridership has fallen 13 percent across the region. The project will also require cooperation from the region’s nine bus service providers.

Much of the project also depends on local jurisdictions to implement strategies like restricting parking to facilitate better bus transit. This is why representatives from Arlington Transit and several Arlington County departments are in the group’s technical team and strategy advisory panel.

Meanwhile, most of the technical team and all of the leadership team are WMATA employees.

So far there are no cost estimates for the plan’s recommendations. Allison Davis, a member of the project team, said the price tag will come later in the process.

The project started in September. The group is currently in the middle of a public outreach campaign to sell the public on the idea and gather feedback. At an open house yesterday at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, the room was covered with boards for collecting thoughts on the project and the direction it should take. A survey is also available online.

The plan goes to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the WMATA board this summer for review, with a roadmap planned for development in the fall.

“We’re trying to look at this from a customer perspective,” Davis said. “This [plan] is a tool we have to make better [transit] choices.”

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Arlington County is in the midst of a number of major projects, from road construction to new recreational facilities, and a newly-published county video provides updates on eight of those projects.

The projects included in the video on the Arlington TV YouTube channel include:

  1. Demolition along S. Clark Street in Crystal City to make a more open, and walkable streetscape
  2. Construction in Clarendon Circle to simplify and shrink the intersection between Wilson Blvd, Clarendon Blvd, and Washington Blvd
  3. Repaving a section of Washington Blvd in Westover and removing brick crosswalks
  4. Green streets” improvements along 22nd Street N. to add gutters, curbs, and a rain garden, a project county staff said in the video should be completed later this month.
  5. Water main replacement under 1 mile of S. Arlington Ridge Road to increase water pressure for residents and first responders during emergencies.
  6. Re-building the Lubber Run Community Center, which is expected to open in 2021.
  7. Constructing the foundation of the long-awaited and controversial Long Bridge Aquatic & Fitness Center. But don’t hold your breath: staff says construction is still scheduled into 2021
  8. Converting the natural field at the baseball field in Gunston Park to synthetic turf.

“Note that these projects are all actively underway, so they might be further along now than they appear in the video,” a description below the video reads.

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Virginia needs to do more to catch people evading tolls, county officials said at an Arlington Transportation Commission meeting last Thursday.

Virginia Department of Transportation officials attended the meeting, with plans to boast about boosted speeds on I-66, but local officials were more concerned about what some saw as underenforcement of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) rules.

David Caudill, the division administrator for tolling for VDOT, explained that the current enforcement relies on Virginia State Police counting heads in passing cars in conjunction with checking a beacon that lights up on a gantry if the passing car registered as HOV.

But Commission member Audrey Clement said that fewer people are receiving citations for I-66 toll violations than would be even if there were a 99 percent toll-compliance rate.

“There were 702 HOV citations for a year, that averages to 2.7 citations for every eight hours of tolling. That’s three per day,” said Clement. “So we’re concerned that this phenomenon is being undercounted and underenforced, and that may be driving up tolls.”

According to VDOT staff, there are at least four state troopers assigned to enforcement on I-66 every day. Rather than just being able to focus on HOV rules, however, troopers also respond to emergency calls and traffic violations like speeding.

Caudill recognized that there is a lapse in toll enforcement and said that during enforcement “blitzes” the HOV usage rates drop by 3 percent, giving VDOT a rough estimate for how many drivers are ducking out of the toll.

“It’s a challenge, I’ll admit that,” Caudill said. “[It is] challenging to look at the light, count number of heads, and then chase them down… We’re not catching everyone, not by any means.”

VDOT staff said the group is partnering with Transurban to put together a pilot program for an electronic sensor system.

“We think there’s an opportunity there for better enforcement,” Caudill said, “[and] it does impact the tolls, probably.”

Clement was not alone in expressing her disappointment at the lack of enforcement. Chris Slatt, chair of the Transportation Commission, said the lapse in enforcement goes against what VDOT told Arlington when the toll lanes were first proposed

“When VDOT was here before tolling went into place, one of the main reasons presented [to us] was HOV violations were rampant then,” Slatt said. “We were told that this was going to be the solution to HOV violation problem, that we were going to do enforcement. And yet here we are, having this conversation again.”

Caudill said the new HOV lanes have also led to complications — for instance, electronic passes mean officers can’t get an estimate on toll-violators by just counting heads.

“I’m glad to hear pilot programs at least are in the works to try to get a handle on this, because HOV violators are slowing down legitimate HOV drivers,” said Slatt. “[They’re] driving up costs of people legally paying tolls, and taking money that could be used for multimodal transportation projects to keep us all moving.”

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Morning Notes

GW Parkway ClosureUpdated at 9:15 a.m. — “All lanes of the GW Parkway are now closed during Friday morning’s rush hour due to a large sinkhole that was discovered overnight.” [Tysons Reporter]

HQ2 Impact to Be Bigger Than Expected? — JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and George Mason University’s Stephen S. Fuller both think many are underestimating HQ2’s impact on job creation in the region. [Washington Business JournalWashington Business Journal]

Arlington Gets High Marks for Dog Parks — Arlington is No. 10 on the Trust for Public Land’s ranking of cities with the most dog parks per capita. Arlington has eight dog parks, or 3.5 for every 100,000 residents. D.C. ranked No. 22 on the list. [Trust for Public Land]

Wilson Blvd to Close Again in Ballston — “That stretch of Wilson Boulevard at @BallstonQuarter that’s now closed eastbound on school nights 8pm-6am for 8 weeks? It’ll also be closed both ways this weekend, Friday 8pm to Sunday 6pm. Lots of pedestrian bridge to do.” [Twitter]

Road Closures in N. Arlington — “The Nottingham/Discovery Elementary Schools 5K race will take place on Saturday, March 23, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will close several roads from approximately 7:00 AM to 10:00 AM to accommodate the event.” [Arlington County]

Basketball Fundraiser Tonight — “New Directions High School students will play Arlington County’s heroes — including some of the police department, fire department, probation and prosecutor’s office” tonight at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School to raise money for New Directions. [Twitter]

No Hyperloop for Va. for Now — “Virginia transit officials flew to California to check out Elon Musk’s Boring Co. tunnel. They say they’re gonna stick with traditional roads and railways for now. ‘It’s a car in a very small tunnel.'” [Virginia Mercury, Twitter]

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