Four people died in crashes in Arlington during 2021, the first year of the county’s initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries.
Arlington County is measuring the effectiveness of its five-year action plan by tracking the severity of crashes and factors involved, such as speed, alcohol and whether a pedestrian or bicyclist were injured.
This month marks the kickoff of the initiative’s second year, which will feature awareness campaigns around behaviors that lead to serious crashes. The campaign will run through December and concentrate on different behaviors each month, starting with bike awareness.
The overall number of crashes in 2021 — 1,785 — decreased by about 30% compared to previous years, but that was attributable to lower traffic levels compared to pre-pandemic years, according to the report.
All four fatal crashes occurred at intersections, and did not involve a pedestrian or bicyclist. In 2020, there were four fatal crashes and 50 that caused severe injury, according to the county’s crash analysis dashboard.
The report noted the 174 alcohol-related and 487 speed-related crashes in 2021 marked a slight uptick. Speed was a factor in one of the fatal crashes.
Many of the more than 90 action items the county lists in the framework have been checked off. Arlington has completed or started 36 small-scale safety projects, finished an analysis of 69 crash hot spots, and facilitated 55 transportation safety classes and events, among other tasks.
Two walkability routes that were piloted saw opposite outcomes. A pilot on Lorcom Lane in residential North Arlington was extended and county staff are looking to fund a permanent sidewalk there in the upcoming Capital Improvement Plan.
The report noted the Lorcom Lane path “showed high usage, positive community feedback, and observed benefits from separating cars, bikes, and pedestrians.”
But the county halted a similar effort — temporary bollards and wheel stops on S. Carlin Springs Road — months after placement. Arlington Public Schools, Arlington police and community members raised concerns with the pilot after observing “erratic driving around the barriers.”
That area of S. Carlin Springs Road has narrow sidewalks, little or no pedestrian buffer and a history of crashes. The goal of the pilot was to create a safer walking path for students at Campbell Elementary School, Carlin Springs Elementary School and Kenmore Middle School.
County staff will continue to assess options for “enhancing sidewalks and access along the corridor, including connectivity options when the County redevelops the Virginia Hospital Center site,” according to the report.
Several other efforts to increase safety, particularly around schools, advanced in the first year of Vision Zero. The installation of 20 mph school slow zones around 13 schools in early 2022 is under evaluation and could be extended to all schools in the county.
In January, the County Board approved speed cameras in school and work zones, heralding them as a step toward the Vision Zero goal.
In the upcoming year, the report says, there are two full-time employees confirmed to work on Vision Zero and some studies will be completed, such as the evaluation of roadways that have speed limits above 30 mph.
Arlington: a highly educated and affluent riverfront county looking over D.C. Some say it has a kindred spirit in Hoboken, New Jersey, described as a “vibrant, walkable” city with waterfront views of New York City.
What makes Hoboken walkable seems to also make it safe for pedestrians. For the last four years, the city has not logged a single pedestrian death.
Arlington, like Hoboken, has adopted a Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic-related serious injuries and deaths by 2030. The county saw seven deaths between 2018 and 2020, and — depending on the exact location on the D.C./Arlington dividing line — one death in 2021. So what can Arlington and its 26 square miles (population ~237k) learn from the “mile-square city” (population ~53k)?
Hoboken transportation planner Gregory Francese credits the city’s success to Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s top-down, interdepartmental approach that involves residents. He says Hoboken regularly tackles challenging roads with temporary fixes that are made permanent later.
But the city wasn’t always pedestrian-friendly, he said. Cars could park up to crosswalks, which were faded, and intersections were in poor condition.
Those conditions began to change through repavement projects under the last mayor, and the work accelerated under Mayor Ravinder Bhalla when he established a Vision Zero task force, made of department leaders and residents.
“A big part of Vision Zero is removing the silos between transportation, enforcement [and other departments],” Francese said. “It takes someone who can remove those silos to unite people around Vision Zero.”
Planners test out quick, cheap and temporary solutions to find creative solutions to Hoboken’s main challenge: fitting safety improvements on narrow roads while balancing driving and parking needs. He said this approach translates well to bigger cities.
Like Hoboken, Arlington’s Vision Zero initiative has improved county government-wide cooperation, project manager Christine Baker said.
“The Vision Zero program has truly allowed County staff to place a spotlight on safety for all transportation-related projects and programs,” said Baker. “Our staff are coordinating interdepartmentally in a way that we have not in the past, which has streamlined the ability to get safety improvements on the ground.”
County staff map crash locations and respond with quick-build or capital improvement projects and pilot programs. The Arlington County Board, meanwhile, is setting policy. It has voted to further limit speeds and install speed cameras around schools and road construction areas, as a change in state law recently allowed.
Local transit and safety advocates say the county is on the right track but can still take notes from Hoboken.
Bicycling enthusiast Gillian Burgess picked up on Bhalla’s top-down approach. She also said Hoboken has more concrete actions and deadlines that are easier for the public to find and read, and the city’s emphasis on encouraging drivers to be more careful is front and center.
“When you have good leadership and concrete plans, you get something done,” she said. “We need the County Manager and the County Manager’s office and leadership at the Department of Environmental Services to take more ownership.”
New cameras enforcing speeding could be coming to Arlington school and work zones by the end of this year.
The County Board voted on Saturday to have speed cameras installed throughout the county near schools and on public roads where construction work is ongoing.
Board members heralded the cameras as a tool for protecting children, lowering severe and fatal crashes — an initiative known as Vision Zero — as well as reducing race- and ethnicity-based disparities in traffic enforcement and providing relief to overworked Arlington County Police Department officers.
“The idea that we can keep our community safer, address this behavior and then reduce demand on the police and reduce interactions with police is just a really heartening step for us to take,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol.
The vote follows the passage of state law in 2020 allowing municipalities to install speed cameras.
It also coincides with an anecdotal increase in speeding around schools, according to Board member Libby Garvey (although speed-related crashes in school zones have remained relatively constant at 10 per year, per county data).
“Maybe there hasn’t been a huge increase in crashes, but there has been an increase in bad behavior, and that’s pretty worrisome,” she said. “This is about children and safety.”
Last fall, Arlington County took steps to make school zones safer by lowering speed limits to 20 mph around 13 schools.
County staff are reviewing best practices, crash data, equity concerns and other local factors to determine where to place the cameras, Vision Zero project manager Christine Baker told the County Board. School zones encompass a 600-foot radius of a school crosswalk or school access point.
“We plan to be strategic and intentional about where we place speed cameras to ensure they’re effective in reducing speeds and promoting fairness and equity as well,” Baker said.
Board members said this should reassure motorists who also travel in D.C. and feel that camera locations are chosen to “trap” them and generate revenue rather than correct behavior.
Here’s what drivers need to know.
When will the program start?
Locations could be selected by this fall and the program could start as soon as cameras and warning signs are installed, either this winter or in early 2023.
Who will get citations?
Anyone going 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Every citation will be issued after a sworn ACPD officer reviews the footage.
How much will citations cost? What are the other penalties?
Citations for the first 30 days of the program will be warnings that carry no fines. After that, they are $50 a fine, the same as red light-camera violations. The fines will go into the general fund.
Violations will be civil, not criminal, meaning they won’t add points to a person’s driver’s license or be considered for insurance purposes. Drivers can contest the violations.
How much will the program cost?
The program will cost $600,000 a year, and for now, ACPD anticipates the fines will offset the program’s costs, Capt. Albert Kim told the County Board. The costs include the purchase of 10 cameras, which can be moved, camera installation, program operations, ticketing and the salary of the full-time police employee reviewing the footage.
Where can I learn more about speed cameras?
Information in multiple languages will be available on the county website. The county will increase communication about the program through community email lists and the communication channels of APS and ACPD as the start date draws closer.
How will my data be protected?
State law requires Arlington police and the third-party vendor to delete footage and shred physical documents with personally identifiable information within a certain time frame: 60 days of reviewing the footage and determining the driver wasn’t speeding, or within 60 days of a driver paying a fine, Kim said.
Earlier this week, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) awarded $250,000 of consulting services to five D.C.-area projects with the intention of improving “safety on the region’s roadways, especially for its underserved communities.”
One of those is a joint project from Arlington County and Prince George’s County to build traffic gardens at schools.
“Traffic gardens are miniature transportation networks with familiar roadway elements, in which children can walk, bike, and scoot to learn the rules of the road and practice their transportation safety skills,” principal planner Christine Baker for Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services writes to ARLnow.
The hope is that this project and the consulting services being granted will help develop universal guidance and templates so that schools can build its own gardens on “any budget” using a number of different materials and equipment.
Arlington has had two recent examples of temporary school-based traffic gardens, one at Key Elementary School in the Bluemont neighborhood and the other at Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington View. Those schools used common, everyday materials — like spray bottles, measuring sticks, string, and chalk — to construct the roadway.
“We expect that schools will use the guidance to evaluate the traffic garden design possibilities for their own site,” says Baker. “Most schools take advantage of under-used hard surfaces outdoors, like blacktops, courts or other asphalt to create more permanent projects, while those with less capacity can retrofit gymnasiums with tape to create pop-up traffic gardens.”
Baker also notes that young students can take the lessons learned on these mini, safer roads and bring them back to their neighborhood.
“Traffic gardens not only help to educate children on the transportation system now but instill safety habits and transportation values that last a lifetime,” Baker says.
The TPB, which operates under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), will in the coming months be hiring a consultant in the that will be providing working with both counties on the project. It’s unclear at this point when the Arlington schools will have traffic gardens installed.
The initiative fits in with the county’s Vision Zero initiative, a plan to eliminate transportation-related deaths and serious injuries on county streets and trails within the next decade. This includes the recent implementation of “slow zones” near schools.
“Our Vision Zero transportation safety program is not just about engineering safety improvements on our roadways. There is a big emphasis on community engagement and education around safety,” says Baker. “Traffic gardens are an amazing way to educate our community members from a young age to embrace safe transportation practices.”
TPB approved four other projects for funding in nearby jurisdictions, all related to road safety and pedestrian improvements, including in the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Prince William County, and the City of Falls Church.
Arlington County could start cracking down on speeding near schools and highway work zones with newly-allowed speed cameras.
This weekend, the Arlington County Board is scheduled to set a public hearing for its Jan. 22 meeting on the question of whether to install speed cameras.
Currently, Arlington County only has cameras that capture red-light violations, but in 2020 the Virginia General Assembly allowed localities to install radar-based speed detectors around school crossing zones and highway work zones. Now, the county is poised to consider adding 10 movable cameras to these zones.
“Automated speed enforcement will significantly advance Arlington County’s transportation safety and equity initiatives as stated through the Vision Zero Action Plan and Police Practices Group Recommendations and leads to considerable reductions in speeding, crashes resulting in injuries, and total crashes — thereby making roadways safer for all users,” the report said.
“Automated speed enforcement also reduces unnecessary interactions between residents and police and further advances confidence in equitable outcomes by reducing or eliminating the possibility of race-and ethnicity-based disparities in traffic enforcement,” the report continues.
State code requires that localities post signs informing drivers of speed cameras and sets the threshold for enforcement at more than 10 mph over the speed limit. Fines cannot exceed $100, and speeding violations do not add points on a driver’s license nor are they considered for insurance purposes, per the state code.
Arlington is proposing a $50 fine for violations. It would match the current $50 fine for red-light violations captured by red-light cameras and fulfill a recommendation from the county’s Police Practices Group, according to the county report.
The group initially recommended calculating fines based on the speeding driver’s income and fixed expenses, the county report said. Since state law doesn’t currently allow such a sliding scale, the group suggested a lower fine and 30-day grace period after cameras are installed.
Before installing the cameras, Arlington County will focus conduct “a robust educational plan,” per the report.
“This plan will include significant outreach across the County to ensure a broad range of residents with different experiences and backgrounds receive information on placement and implementation,” it said.
An unscientific ARLnow poll this summer found that respondents are divided on traffic enforcement: about one-third of respondents wanted to see more speed cameras, while 45% wanted more red light cameras and just over half did not want more enforcement from either type of camera..
Arlington will hire transportation safety consultants to develop guidelines for placing cameras in school zones, using a $60,000 grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Camera placement can change in response to data on speeding, citations, crashes and transportation volumes.
The police department estimates installing and maintaining 10 cameras, and hiring a full-time employee to manage the speed camera program, will cost about $600,000 a year, the report said. Arlington County expects fines to offset the ongoing costs of the program.
Last year, the County Board asked the state to expand the use of speed cameras beyond school and highway work zones.
Temporary bollards and wheel stops along a segment of S. Carlin Springs Road are set to come down this weekend.
Since March, these barriers — closing off the northbound right travel lane from 8th Place S. to 5th Road S. — have been up to give more room to kids walking to their neighborhood schools. On Saturday (July 24), S. Carlin Springs Road will fully reopen to traffic, according to a tweet from Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services.
Based on community feedback and field study, the northbound right travel lane of S Carlin Springs Rd from 8th Pl S to 5th Rd S will reopen to traffic this Saturday. The lane had been used for a temporary pilot walkability route. #VsionZero https://t.co/Lj1Zw8i2MH pic.twitter.com/P0UemcJhzf
— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) July 22, 2021
“APS and the Department of Environmental Services saw an opportunity to create pilot temporary walking routes not on built sidewalks but rather on space carved out from an original travel or parking lane to help students get to school,” DES spokesman Peter Golkin said.
Campbell Elementary School, Glen Forest Elementary School and Carlin Springs Elementary School are all on or near that stretch of S. Carlin Springs Road that starts in Arlington Mill and ends in Glencarlyn.
The pilot walkability route was part of the county’s five-year Vision Zero Action Plan, aimed at eliminating traffic-related deaths and severe injuries. The County Board approved the Vision Zero safety plan this May.
“Staff collected information on facility use feedback, community experience, field observation of operation, traffic pattern, crash experience, etc.,” Golkin said. “Staff hope to use the comments and data to inform future decisions.”
DES and APS will continue studying how the road is used to decide any future changes to traffic patterns, he said. They also tested out the idea on Lorcom Lane in residential North Arlington, which has seen prior attempts to improve safety for kids walking to school.
Although the test was part of a long-range plan, the department took advantage of conditions this spring — when there were fewer cars on the road due to the pandemic and kids were starting to walk to school again — to pilot the change, Golkin noted.
He says neither the Arlington County Police Department nor APS observed a notable increase or decrease in the number of collisions during the study period. Instead, they saw “challenging and dangerous encounters, but none resulted in a collision.”
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.
- Funding Vision Zero
- Speeding up transit
- Building safe routes to every school
- Building out the bike network for all ages and abilities
- 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.”
- 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.
Redevelopment Proposal Near Rosslyn — “The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) is moving forward with a proposal it previewed to redevelop part of the Marbella Apartments. APAH has filed a zoning application to replace 72 units across a pair of low-rise apartment buildings at 1300 and 1305 N. Pierce Street (map) with two 12-story buildings, delivering a total of 561 affordable units.” [UrbanTurf]
Vision Zero Plan Approved — “Arlington County Board approved a five-year Vision Zero action plan over the weekend, joining other jurisdictions throughout the region that are trying to curb traffic fatalities. The county’s goal is to reach zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Currently, Arlington has about four traffic fatalities per year and about 55 severe crashes.” [GGWash, Sun Gazette]
Trump Aides Are Still Working in Arlington — “Taxpayers are still footing the bill for Donald Trump to pay aides, Business Insider reported Monday… For Trump, accepting public money has meant employing 10 transition aides in Palm Beach, Florida — where Trump has been living since he left the White House — and another seven aides in an office building in Arlington, Virginia.” [Raw Story]
Metrobus Service Changes Planned — Adjustments are coming to numerous Metrobus routes starting Sunday, June 6. Service is being restored to a number of routes, but one notable pandemic-era service reduction will stay in place: the 16Y, a limited-stop service route which once connected Columbia Pike stops to McPherson Square in D.C., will remain out of service. [WMATA]
Longtime Arlington Judge Honored — “Its presentation was due to the pandemic, but Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr. on May 11 was honored with the 2019 Harry L. Carrico Outstanding Career Service Award by the Judicial Council of Virginia. The award is presented annually to a Virginia jurist who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in court administration while exhibiting the traits of integrity, honest, courtesy, impartiality and wisdom.” [Sun Gazette]
YHS Dominating in Boys Lacrosse — “Pick one: Stingy defense; a potent, high-scoring offense; scads of talent, especially at midfield; depth and experience with 17 seniors; versatility; and a willingness to work hard, achieve and improve. That describes this season’s undefeated Yorktown Patriots high-schoolboys lacrosse team, which began the week with a dominating 6-0 record. The Patriots’ accomplishments include a shutout and outscoring opponents 96-18.” [Sun Gazette]
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.
Arlington County will be soon implementing an additional $200 fine for speeding on eight mostly residential streets.
The additional fine was approved by the County Board last January, but it has taken a year to fully implement due to the need for collecting speed data, as well as pandemic-related installation delays.
It’s part of the county’s Vision Zero program, first adopted in July 2019, designed to take a holistic approach in eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
Signage is expected to go up over the next couple of months for the first four street segments, discussed at last night’s County Board meeting:
- 28th Street S. from S. Meade Street to Army Navy Drive
- N. Ohio Street from 14th Street N. to Wilson Blvd
- 23rd Street S. from Army Navy Drive to Fern Street
- John Marshall Drive from Little Falls Road to Lee Hwy
Then, come the spring, four more streets will receive signage and enforcement, according to the county Transportation Engineering and Operations Bureau Chief Hui Wang. They include:
- N. Harrison Street from Lee Hwy to 37th Street N.
- Patrick Henry Drive from N. George Mason Drive to Wilson Blvd
- S. George Mason Drive from S. Dinwiddie Street to S. Four Mile Run Drive
- 7th Road S. from Columbia Pike to S. Carlin Springs Road
All of these streets have a 25 mph speed limit, except for S. George Mason Drive from S. Dinwiddie Street to S. Four Mile Run Drive (which is 30 mph).
The eight new streets are in addition to those that were instituted early last year:
- S. Carlin Springs Road from Columbia Pike to S. George Mason Drive
- Military Road from Old Glebe Road to Nelly Custis Drive
- Lorcom Lane from Military Road to Spout Run Parkway
The installation of these signs began in February 2020 and was completed in April, in the midst of the pandemic.
The $200 fine is in addition to the standard $6 for every mile per hour above the speed limit and the $66 in court fees. So, for example, if a motorist is given a ticket for being 10 mph over the speed limit in one of these corridors, the fine would be $326.
Wang explained the corridors were chosen based on five years worth of data that showed a “documented speeding issue.” Those are mostly near residential, school, park, and other pedestrian-heavy areas.
She also said that this a relatively cheap method to deal with speeding.
“This is a low cost measure to address speeding,” Wang said. “It’s just additional signage.”
There’s also potential for other coordiors to be chosen for this increased fine, but further data collection and analysis is ongoing.
Spurred by a question from County Board member Libby Garvey, Wang said that placards or warning flags are being considered for the new speed signs to ensure they are catching the attention of motorists. Those will be taken down after residents get used to the new fines and signs.
“Yeah, which may take a few fines,” said Garvey.
Arlington is planning to host an open house to mark the start of the development of the county’s Vision Zero Action Plan.
Last July, the County Board directed County Manager Mark Schwartz to develop goals and an action plan for a comprehensive analysis of traffic safety in Arlington as part of the County’s Vision Zero goals — the name for a series of initiatives aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities.
Details on the plan were vague at the time, though similar plans have been enacted in Alexandria, where some changes like traffic calming measures and lane reductions have been famously controversial.
The open house is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28, from 5-8 p.m. at Washington-Liberty High School (1301 N. Stafford Street). An event listing said visitors will be able to learn more about current Vision Zero plans and share their priorities for improving transportation safety in Arlington.
Staff photo by Vernon Miles