(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) After a launch delayed by the pandemic, mobility company Helbiz has started putting e-scooters onto Arlington and Alexandria streets.
The company announced yesterday that it would immediately move forward with bringing 100 new scooters to locations in Arlington and 200 to Alexandria. Like other scooter companies, like Lime or Bird, Helbiz scooters are unlocked by scanning a code in a smartphone app, with the cost of each ride determined by distance and parking.
“The vehicles will also be able to operate between these cities’ for riders’ convenience,” the company said in a press release. “These fleets follow the company’s successful launch of e-bikes in neighboring Washington, D.C., highlighting Helbiz’s continued growth in the area and its commitment to offering eco-friendly micro-mobility solutions to the community.”
While Helbiz — an Italian-American transportation company founded in 2015 — was approved for e-bike use in Alexandria, the company said those plans have hit a snag.
“We plan to launch a fleet of 200 e-bikes in Alexandria in Q4 of this year,” said Gian Luca Spriano, Director of International Business Development. “Unfortunately, our bike manufacturer experienced delays due to COVID, and we’re working closely with them to get our bikes in Alexandria as soon as possible.”
Helbiz was not listed as one of the scooter operators granted a permit to operate in Arlington earlier this year, though there have been several changes in the local e-scooter world amid the pandemic.
“Helbiz is in the process of obtaining a permit to offer e-scooters in Arlington,” said Eric Balliet, spokesperson for the Arlington County Department of Environmental Services. “Final steps include providing the County a device for testing, which is expected later this week.”
The distribution of and access to scooters have faced some concerns at the Alexandria City Council that the programs disproportionately favored wealthy, predominately white Old Town at the exclusion of lower-income communities. In response, Helbiz said in a press release that it has launched the Helbiz Access Program to provide discounts on rides for low-income residents.
Photo via Helbiz/Facebook
Arlington and the Virginia Department of Transportation are looking at how to improve the situation along the notably crash prone stretch of Route 50 (Arlington Blvd) between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.
Between 2014 and 2018, VDOT said there were 247 total crashes with 61 crashes resulting in injuries, a few severe but none resulting in fatalities. Most of these crashes were concentrated around intersections.
“This segment of Route 50 experiences congestion in the morning and evening peak periods and a high number of crashes,” VDOT noted. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles a day within the study limits.”
In an online presentation, VDOT proposed three alternatives with a variety of sub-options to cut down on conflict points — places where vehicles intersect. Two of the options would add new raised medians to Route 50, and each of them had sub-options that would limit left turns or turn Irving Street or Fillmore Street into one-way streets.
The three primary alternatives are:
- Wide Raised Median Separating EB and WB Route 50: the widened, raised medium would reduce conflict points at intersections without signals and at trail crossings. The only four-way intersections would be at Irving Street and Fillmore Street, where there are traffic lights. This alternative also includes left-turn lanes along Route 50 at Irving Street. The increased separation between eastbound and westbound travel lanes, and the additional turn lanes, would require the widening of Route 50.
- Narrow Raised Median Separating EB and WB Route 50: the narrower median accomplishes the same reduction in conflict points as the first alternative, but would also not include left-turn lanes at Irving Street, meaning there would be reduced widening requirements. Left-turns at Irving would be prohibited and the third lane would likely see more use. But while this plan would improve the situation at Irving Street, VDOT warned that it would not reduce conflicts at Fillmore Street and could create higher traffic volumes and delays there.
- No Left Turn at Unsignalized Intersections: the final alternative would add no median, but extensive signage prohibiting left turns along the street at all intersections without a signal. The widening impact would be low or non-existent, but VDOT warned that enforcing the new restrictions would be more difficult.
The sub-options to the first alternative include prohibiting any turning onto Irving Street and no left-turns at Fillmore Street, or flipping those so there are no left-turns onto Irving Street and no turning at all onto Fillmore Street.
Traffic signal improvements are also proposed.
VDOT data presented at the meeting said that two of the sub-options within the first alternative — which includes a wider raised median — would have the highest chance of improving safety conditions, resulting in a total 69% reduction in conflict points, while the other two options reduce conflict points by 63%.
The first alternative is also the most costly, however, at an estimated $14-18 million budget. The second alternative, the narrow median, is cheaper at $12-14 million, while the third alternative is cheapest at $5-7 million.
“Cost estimates will be prepared for alternatives under consideration,” a VDOT official said in the video. “Improvements identified as part of the story have not yet been funded and there’s no timeline for construction”
Other potential additions to Route 50 would be new service roads along either side of the highway. One would be on the south side of Route 50 would extend past S. Old Glebe Road, which would eliminate five residential driveways onto the main lanes. The other would be on the north side of Route 50, extending an existing road west of Irving Street.
Comments on the project can be submitted online until Friday, May 29. Recommendations are scheduled to be finalized and posted online this summer, with Arlington County submitting a SMART SCALE funding application in August.
A plan is currently in process to transform the Arlington Court Suites hotel into an apartment complex, but at a Transportation Commission meeting last week the project hit a small snag as commissioners unanimously agreed the project might have too much parking.
The plan would convert the 187 hotel rooms in the Arlington Court Suites into a 180-unit residential property called Park Arlington at Courthouse. The current plans do not call for any major demolition work and staff said the proposed residential units would likely be less expensive than new construction at the same site.
The applicant could maintain as hotel use, staff said, but this project would help meet the demand for mid-rise housing at a middle-income level.
While the project is only two blocks south of the Court House Metro station, the parking ratio would increase in the new plans. Currently, there are 153 parking spaces and the proposal would elevate that to 171 spaces. Many of those would be located on a surface parking lot, with the rest in a garage under the building. The plan also calls for 76 bicycle parking spaces.
Transportation Commission member Audrey Clement, who earlier in the meeting had expressed opposition both the Veitch Street redevelopment and the Missing Middle housing study, shared her general support for the Park Arlington project, with one main objection.
“I really do support this project,” Clement said. “This is right up my alley. It does not involve the demolition of an existing property… I’m very impressed with this project, but in one respect it is not consistent with County policy, and that is the parking ratio.”
In 2017, the county adopted a new policy that said the parking ratio should be reduced from one space per unit to as low as 0.2 spaces per unit in certain areas near Metro stations.
“I do believe this project would be more consistent with county policy if it reduced the number of parking spaces and what I’m particularly interested in is the surface parking. Has the developer considered replacing some or all of the surface parking with green space? This would be a benefit to the residents of this facility.”
Am I going crazy? Is Audrey Clement really asking a developer to build *less* parking??
— Stephen Repetski (@srepetsk) February 7, 2020
“It is a huge parking lot and the only way to get into the building is through the parking lot,” said Transportation Commission member Jim Lantelme. “It’s still way too auto-oriented… This parking lot is just enormous and it really doesn’t work for me. There’s nothing like this site anymore. If we’re going to have adaptive reuse, we have to adapt it to the current requirements.”
The agreement on the Transportation Commission took some of the members by surprise.
“I never thought I would hear myself say this, but I 100% agree with everything you just said,” said Transportation Commission member Richard Price. “I never thought I would hear myself say this, but Commissioner Clement hit it right on the head… All I see is ugly surface parking and I’m glad you’re going to address it. There are lots of sites that all you have to get the front entrance is walk through a parking lot. That is disturbing and that needs to change, and it needs to start changing now.”
Others said that along with the parking lot reduction, the sidewalk needs to be widened.
The developer said that an alternative plan could eliminate the surface parking, but more market research needs to be done. If the building winds up as condos, the developer said there would be a higher demand for parking. The developer noted that the widening the sidewalk on N. Courthouse Road, however, is complicated by things like utilities and a retaining wall.
Photo via Google Maps
A bus station on Washington Blvd is temporarily closing for improvements to an intersection a couple blocks north of the Virginia Square Metro station.
The intersection of Washington Blvd and N. Nelson Street is considered a “hot spot” of crashes, according to an Arlington County project webpage. It’s located on the northeast corner of Quincy Park, one block from Washington-Liberty High School, and several blocks from intersections that have seen a number of notable crashes involving pedestrians.
“Three pedestrian crashes occurred at this location in the three-year analysis timeframe,” staff said in a webpage for the project. “Traffic speeds are generally higher than the posted speed limit. Auto and pedestrian volumes at this location are also relatively high for the facility type.”
The County plans to install rectangular rapid flashing beacons for pedestrians and to make additional crossing and curb improvements to make the intersection more accessible. The changes will also make the sidewalk wider on the northern side of Washington Blvd.
A county staff presentation from December suggests construction will take place over the course of this spring and summer. WMATA says the bus stop at the intersection will be discontinued starting today (Monday) and passengers should board or exit at N. Quincy Street and N. Lincoln Street a block west and east respectively.
Other parts of Washington Blvd have also gone through changes to make the street safer, including the nearby intersection of N. Utah Street.
38B Riders: Due to a long-term construction project in Arlington County, the bus stop on Washington Blvd at N. Nelson St will be temporarily discontinued on Monday, February 3. Customers may board/exit buses at an adjacent bus stop. Details: https://t.co/5omSGj65jt #wmata
— Metrobus Info (@Metrobusinfo) January 31, 2020
Map via Google Maps
The Virginia Dept. of Transportation is studying possible upgrades to Route 50 between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.
The 0.7 mile stretch, which is notably crash prone and difficult for drivers making left turns and pedestrians trying to cross the street, is a candidate for what VDOT has dubbed “Strategically Targeted Affordable Roadway Solutions.” Possible upgrades range from new turn lanes to pedestrian enhancements to — perhaps — even roundabouts.
VDOT is holding a public information session about the possible changes on Thursday (Nov. 14) from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).
More from VDOT:
The concepts being studied will be based on public input and may include improving turn lanes, traffic signal timing and operations, and access management for properties and streets along the corridor. Other concepts being studied may also include pedestrian, bicycle and transit enhancements, turn restrictions and “Innovative Intersections” such as roundabouts and interchanges. Stop by between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to view displays and learn more about the project. A presentation will begin at 7 p.m. Project staff will be available to answer your questions.
“This stretch of Route 50 has long backups and delays during weekday peak commute times and several high crash locations due to the high number of access and conflict points,” VDOT said on a webpage for the study. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles per day within the study limits.”
An online survey for the project asks, among other things, which multimodal facilities are needed along the Route 50 corridor. The multiple-choice options include sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian signals, shared-use bicycle lanes, bus shelters and a park and ride lot.
A new, eco-friendly form of transportation is in the works for some residents along Columbia Pike.
Electric shuttle company FLARE Technology and Services is in the process of securing contracts with several apartment buildings in south Arlington. Once finalized, residents those buildings will be able to use the free service — offered as an amenity — to shuttle anywhere they might not have immediate access to, such as a Metro station or grocery store.
The service will be exclusive to the apartment residents, meaning those who stumble upon the cars along Columbia Pike will not be able to hop in, clarified FLARE CEO Andres Delgado.
Delgado said he hopes to have FLARE ready by the start of next year. In the meantime, the business will host a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Arlington Economic Development office in Ballston today (Tuesday).
“There are many desirable places to live within Arlington County, but everyone is not able to live in locations with easy access to transit,” said Delgado in a statement. “We created FLARE as a solution to solve the connectivity problem within Arlington and in the greater D.C. metro area.”
The company’s white vehicles, which look a bit like stretched-out golf carts with doors, have spent the last several weeks testing rides in the Shirlington area.
“We were able to drive people in Shirlington from a farmers market, to their apartments, to the grocery store,” said Delgado, “and it was awesome.”
Delgado emphasized that he is working with his co-founder, Chris Yeazel, to eventually have an app-based subscription service available for public use.
“Then anyone in the neighborhood will be able to jump on,” he said.
Photo courtesy FLARE
(Updated at noon) New scooter docks have been added to Crystal City in an effort to curb intrusive sidewalk scooter parking.
“Spin is one of the operators that has been participating in Arlington’s [scooter] pilot,” said Rob Mandle, chief operating officer of the Crystal City BID. “They reached out to us about a pilot that they had initiated, rolling out in D.C. to provide a dock solution.”
Mandle said the BID is working on getting locations spread out across Crystal City, Pentagon City and Arlington’s portion of Potomac Yard.
“Our goal is to enhance connectivity in the core areas,” Mandle said.
The current docks are located at:
- 251 18th Street S.
- 220 20th Street S.
- 520 12th Street S.
- 1901 S. Bell Street
Though the docks are branded by Spin, Mandle said any scooters will be able to park in them. They also charge the scooter batteries while they’re docked.
“We see it as an interesting approach to addressing how to park scooters throughout the neighborhood without losing the value of dockless scooters,” Mandle said. “We’re a year from when these things first hit the streets, maybe not even, and the industry continues to evolve. The number one concern in any downtown area is ‘how do you manage the parking of the scooters in the downtown core?'”
There’s currently nothing to encourage scooter riders to use the docks outside of good civic values, but Mandle said incentives could be on the way.
“There are other ways to incentivize users to park in those facilities,” Mandle said. “I don’t think anybody’s seen that yet, but that’s where it’s going.”
Photo courtesy Rob Mandle/Crystal City BID
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.”
A “block party” style event with a transportation theme is set for later this month along Columbia Pike.
Arlington County is hosting its third annual “Our 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.
— WalkArlington (@WalkArlington) August 7, 2018
Thanks to everyone who joined us for #OurSharedStreet Pop-up last week! Here's a recap of all the activities and #transportation information shared to empower Arlington communities: https://t.co/FeV2JKDEw8 pic.twitter.com/GiURNJHjBM
— ArlingtonTransPrtnrs (@ATPcommutes) August 13, 2018
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.
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.
— Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) June 27, 2019
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
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