Arlington, VA

Without in-person school, play dates and activities, many kids have lost their primary sources of social interaction and exercise due to COVID-19.

But volunteers in Arlington say a new traffic garden, a space where kids can play and learn how to travel roads safely, could restore some of the lost opportunities for play.

“It was clear we needed new stuff for kids to do,” said Fionnuala Quinn, who makes and consults on traffic gardens. “This is a friendly, happy place for them at a time when a lot has been taken away from them.”

After getting approval from the Women’s Club of Arlington (700 S. Buchanan Street) in Barcroft to use their parking lot, a group of 10 bicycling enthusiasts, community members and engineers grabbed some chalk paint and duct tape and got to work. Three-and-a-half hours later, the parking lot was transformed into space with railroad crossings, crosswalks, streets and roundabouts that kids can walk, bike or skateboard along.

“It’s a bright spot in a tough time,” said Gillian Burgess, a cycling and walking advocate and former chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, who helped with the effort.

Families seem to enjoy it and kids find it intuitive, she said.

“It’s funny, parents will ask us how to use it, but kids just do it naturally,” she said.

The crew in Arlington is one of about 30 nationwide that have repurposed parking lots and constructed these temporary traffic gardens since the start of the pandemic, Quinn said.

“Once you start looking and thinking about this, you realize there is asphalt lying neglected everywhere,” she said. “As soon as you do it, small children appear.”

The original traffic gardens were built in the 1950s in Denmark and the Netherlands. They resembled miniature cities, with tiny buildings and kid-sized roads and traffic signs.

The trend made its way to the U.S., with a large concentration of them in Ohio, where they are called safety towns, Quinn said. She has catalogued about 300 installations in the U.S.

Quinn, who lives in Reston, left her engineering job to engineer and consult on traffic gardens full-time. She said the 50s-era gardens ertr amazing, but expensive to maintain and most kids only ended up going once during their childhood.

Her job is to make these gardens easier and cheaper to build and maintain so that they can be replicated on a smaller scale, more locally, and be more accessible to all kids.

She has helped with permanent installations at two Washington, D.C. schools, and spearheaded two in Alexandria and one in Fauquier County. They required months or years of planning and work.

But temporary pop-ups, including the one in Arlington, use little resources and take less time. Once people see how much kids love them, the pop-ups also advance the community conversation toward permanent versions, she said.

The Barcroft traffic garden will be in place for a few months. Burgess is working on getting the message out through schools and neighborhood email lists and has started looking for other locations in the county. She aims to add more gardens by this spring.

The group is working with the Arlington Safe Routes to School coordinator to apply for grants to fund permanent traffic gardens at Arlington schools.

With kids learning remotely, Safe Routes to School grants are going toward different educational initiatives, including traffic gardens, Burgess said. In the meantime, she and Safe Routes are also working with the school system to make walking and biking routes to school safer.

Photos courtesy Gillian Burgess 

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As the summer approached with lockdowns in place, many cities, including D.C. and Alexandria, closed some streets to drivers and expanded walking and biking options.

Arlington did not, although many residents supported the idea, according to an ARLnow poll from April that found support for closing streets among 80% of respondents.

The county did not close roads primarily because it lacked materials and manpower, Director of Transportation Dennis Leach told the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee during its meeting on Monday. The explanations angered members.

Gillian Burgess, the former chair of the committee, told ARLnow that the meeting was “frustrating.” Members were told to advocate for increased funding to close streets and to attend other meetings, which she said deflected the responsibility away from the department.

“No one is willing to say ‘Yes, how do we do it?'” she said.

Burgess started championing the cause in March, when she rallied together people from various organizations to ask the County Manager for more space for non-drivers. Their efforts were unsuccessful.

Transportation and Operations Bureau Chief Hui Wang told ARLnow that the department looked at the roads people suggested for closures, considering safety, feasibility, resources and the opinions of neighboring businesses and residents.

“We had a hard time to find a good piece of road that was suitable for the treatment that was suggested,” she said.

Obstacles included frequent bus stops and curb cuts, pick-up and drop-off zones next to businesses and access for emergency responders, Wang said. Closing streets, she said, is not as easy as just putting up a few signs.

Signs must meet national standards, for instance, while getting placed in safe spots, checked for damage and replaced when necessary, she said. Safety requirements like these make the task difficult.

Wang said the pandemic revealed what her bureau lacked in order to respond. Her team did manage to procure temporary outdoor seating areas within sidewalks, and closed some parking lanes to allow people to walk around the new outdoor dining areas, but does not have the resources for large-scale temporary pedestrian-only zones, she said.

Another factor in the action: questions of equity and whether closing streets in certain areas would benefit those hardest-hit by the pandemic.

Burgess said she understood these reasons at the beginning of the pandemic. Eight months later, it is “super disappointing that Arlington can’t be creative, nimble or quick and can’t try something that would serve residents,” she said.

Arlington transportation officials have now turned their attention to Arlington Public Schools an an anticipated return to school for students. They are working to identify the best routes for walking and changing the timing of lights to make crossing the street safer.

Buses will operate at a lower capacity, meaning more parents may drive their kids when they could walk or bike instead, Burgess said. She said a silver lining of decreased busing may be a growing realization that Arlington should prioritize making streets more biking- and walking-friendly.

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A stone’s throw from Crystal City is Roaches Run, a waterfowl sanctuary on the northern flight path to and from Reagan National Airport.

The body of water, surrounded by woods, is home to birds, ducks and dragonflies. Accessible primarily from a small parking lot off the southbound GW Parkway, most human activity is confined to fishing and birdwatching.

But that may eventually change.

Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey toured a portion of woods around Roaches Run last week with the chair of Arlington’s Planning Commission and representatives of Crystal City property owner and Amazon landlord JBG Smith.

Though Roaches Run is controlled by the National Park Service and is part of the GW Parkway, JBG owns parcels of land adjacent to the waterfowl sanctuary and could help link it to Crystal City. That would give the rapidly-developing neighborhood newfound accessibility to natural spaces.

“JBG owns a lot of the land over there and is in communication with the Park Service,” Garvey told ARLnow, noting that the developer invited her to last week’s tour. “Can we take this land and turn it into an accessible, usable space for people?”

Garvey said Roaches Run is “a lost area” that’s “not very accessible for anybody” at the moment. Active railroad tracks currently separate it from Crystal City and Long Bridge Park.

JBG declined comment for this story.

Among the ideas for Roaches Run are walking and biking trails, a floating dock for boaters in canoes or kayaks, and bird observation stations. Roaches Run would remain a nature preserve, however, and is not envisioned for other sports or recreation uses.

“It’s going to take some cooperation” to see this idea come to fruition, Garvey said.

The county, the Park Service, JBG and even the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority would likely be involved. That’s not to mention local civic associations, which have floated the idea of establishing connectivity to Roaches Run from Long Bridge Park and the Mt. Vernon Trail as part a series of improvements to the Crystal City and Pentagon City are dubbed Livability 22202.

“I think it’s an advantage for everybody…. making that whole area spectacular for people,” Garvey said. “You could get on an airplane and go hiking and boating within a mile radius.”

While discussions about Roaches Run have been informal in nature so far, with Amazon moving in nearby and demand for recreational opportunities growing it’s likely to advance to a more formal planning process at some point in the near future.

“It’s all very tentative but this is how ideas start, you have to start somewhere,” Garvey said. “Nothing is happening tomorrow or even next year… it’s probably 5-10 years out.”

Map via Google Maps

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The Arlington County Police Department is reminding drivers to expect more kids and parents walking and biking to school tomorrow.

Wednesday is Walk, Bike and Roll to School Day, a yearly “international celebration that encourages students to walk or bike to school while teaching them about the health, environmental and transportation benefits of walking and biking,” according to Arlington Public Schools.

More from APS:

Held annually on the first Wednesday in October, Walk and Bike to School Day also helps to raise community awareness about the importance of pedestrian and bicycle safety education, safe routes to schools, well-maintained walkways, and traffic calming in our neighborhoods and around our schools.

APS schools and students are encouraged to walk the walk all year long by adopting weekly walking and biking promotions like “Walking Wednesdays” and “Foot Fridays,” supporting formation of Walking School Buses, Bike Trains and other creative commutes, and sharing important pedestrian and bike safety information for all ages. […]

Arlington Public Schools celebrated Walk and Bike to School Day 2018 on Wednesday, October 10. All 37 schools and programs took part, contributing to a record-breaking 364 events across Virginia, second only to California.

“Drivers can expect to see increased pedestrian and bicyclist traffic” on Wednesday, Arlington County Police said last week. “Remember: our students rely on all of us to keep them safe. Slow down, avoid distractions and proceed with care and caution.”

More from ACPD:

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Rosslyn is set to see a few more pedestrian safety improvement over the course of the next year or so.

The neighborhood’s Business Improvement District, which advocates for Rosslyn businesses by collecting a small property tax, is planning a variety of short-term fixes to make the bustling streets a bit safer for walkers.

In plans delivered to the County Board Saturday (Feb. 23), the BID says it hopes to use some of its tax revenue to work with county police on the fixes, as part of a broader initiative to make the area more walkable. County officials have even contemplated the more drastic step of make certain roads in Rosslyn “car-free,” though they have yet to settle on a precise strategy for the neighborhood beyond some guiding principles.

In the short term, the BID plans to build new “crash-grade planters to help delineate safer pedestrian crossings” at several intersections. Many of the roads crossing Wilson Blvd are often the site of robust crowds in the morning and evening rush hours.

The BID also hopes to expand some of its “wayfinding” efforts “that will eventually encompass not only pedestrian signs, but also traffic signage” to better brand each section of Rosslyn. The BID has already done some work in that department, setting up area maps, and even rolling out efforts to improve green space in the area, including the county’s first “parklet.”

In the long term, the BID plans to continue to work on efforts to someday convert streets like N. Fort Myer Drive, N. Lynn Street and N. Kent Street into two-way roads, though those changes are still a ways off.

Other, more ambitious efforts could someday remove the Fort Myer Drive tunnel under Wilson Blvd, or replace the existing Rosslyn skywalk system in favor of an all-pedestrian and cycling corridor leading up to the area’s Metro station. Some new developments in the area could help spur progress on the latter effort.

But all of these changes won’t be on the way until the new fiscal year, according to the BID’s proposal. The group is also asking the Board to hold its tax rate on local businesses level at $.078, though ever-rising real estate values will send the BID an extra $166,000 in revenue from a year ago.

Photo via Rosslyn BID

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Washington Blvd is about to get a bit of a makeover as it runs between Bluemont and Westover, and county officials are looking for some input on potential changes for the area.

VDOT is planning on repaving the road between its intersection with N. Frederick Street and N. McKinley Road later this summer.

As part of that process, workers expect they’ll remove the brick crosswalks and median in the Westover area, as the road runs between N. McKinley Road and N. Longfellow Street. The county is currently working to replace all of its so-called “brick pavers” across Arlington in favor of crosswalks that are both easier to maintain and a bit more visible at night.

Accordingly, the county is looking to accept feedback on what sort of road features could replace those and make the area a bit safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Officials are holding an open house tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Westover Branch Library (1644 North McKinley Road) from 6-7:30 p.m. to accept suggestions.

The county is hoping to make it a bit easier to access the library, the nearby Post Office and the area’s popular businesses, like the Westover Beer Garden and the Italian Store.

“The county is considering several re-striping options, including high visibility crosswalks, bike treatments, and a limited change option,” staff wrote on the county’s website.

That should come as good news for some neighbors concerned about pedestrian safety in the area, especially after a driver struck an elderly woman with a car in a Westover crosswalk in November.

The county is also examining some potential improvements as the road runs between Westover and East Falls Church, including some new bike lanes, additional pedestrian crossings and clearer markings for existing crossings.

Officials are also planning on holding a “pop-up” engagement session at the Westover Farmer’s Market in the library plaza Sunday (March 3) if you can’t make this week’s meeting. Starting later this week, the county will also accept online comments through the end of March on its website.

Photo via Google Maps

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Some work to repair stream erosion will prompt a weeks-long closure of two trails in the Dominion Hills neighborhood starting next week.

The W&OD trail and Four Mile Run trail will both be impacted by the construction, aimed at reversing the impacts of erosion along Four Mile Run as it nears I-66. Construction is set to kick off on Monday (Feb. 18).

The work will force the closure of the W&OD trail for about a month, the county says, shuttering a section between N. Ohio Street and its intersection with the Custis Trail.

The section of the Four Mile Run trail in the area, between N. Madison Street and Patrick Henry Drive, will be closed for about six weeks.

“Tree impacts will be avoided to extent feasible,” the county wrote on its website. “Some trees will be pruned along the Four Mile Run trail in the vicinity of the staging/access area.”

Workers will post detour signs near the closed sections of the trails. Cyclists and pedestrians will be directed onto N. Manchester Street, then 10th Road N. to avoid the construction.

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Anyone planning on hitting the Four Mile Run bike trail should watch out for a detour near the county’s Water Pollution Control Plant these next few days.

The county announced a “limited, partial detour” on the trail starting today (Wednesday) as it runs past 3304 S. Glebe Road, in the Arlington Ridge neighborhood along the county’s border with Alexandria.

A tweet from the county’s Department of Environmental Services said the work should last for a “few weeks,” and that it stems from construction at the sewage plant. A subsequent tweet described the primary disruption for trail users to be “a 200-yard one-lane merge.”

The County Board approved a series of repairs at the plant in 2017, with work planned on some aging water tanks at the treatment facility.

Anyone biking or running on the trail should follow posted detours.

Photo via Google Maps

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Plans to make Rosslyn a bit easier to navigate for pedestrians and bicyclists are coming together, though county officials are concerned that some of the proposed changes might further snarl traffic in the area.

The county unveiled its latest designs for future of the “Core of Rosslyn” at a public meeting last Tuesday (Oct. 2), which includes plans to convert several streets around the Rosslyn Metro station into two-way roads, remove the Fort Myer Drive tunnel under Wilson Blvd and add a host of new connections for cyclists and walkers.

However, transportation planners worry that these alterations will produce “significant increases in gridlock” over the next decade or so, according to meeting documents.

In all, they’re projecting that the proposals will increase wait times at intersections in the neighborhood by a total of 19 minutes during the morning rush hour (with especially acute problems at the already jammed intersection of the Key Bridge, G.W. Parkway and Lee Highway) and a total of six minutes during the evening rush. They’re hoping to refine these designs in the coming months to address those issues, while maintaining the positive parts of the plan.

Certainly, planners expect the changes will result in substantial improvements in Rosslyn’s offerings for people who aren’t relying on cars to get around. The designs included 14 new or improved crosswalks for pedestrians, and more than 1.3 miles of new protected bike lanes included in the design. The lanes, largely set to run along Fort Myer Drive, N. Moore Street and N. Nash Street, are designed to ease bike connections to the Key Bridge and Mt. Vernon and Custis Trails.

The plans also keep alive the county’s long-considered possibility of building a car-free, “pedestrian corridor” running from 18th Street N.’s intersection with N. Oak Street to N. Kent Street, a change that would replace the Rosslyn skywalk system to make the Metro station more accessible.

Yet the county expects that this design would create some new challenges for walkers and cyclists as well. In particular, allowing two-way access on roads like N. Fort Myer Drive, N. Lynn Street and N. Kent Street will create a host of new “conflict points,” where cars are turning across crosswalks, prompting further delays for all involved.

That’s why Arlington officials are still accepting feedback on tweaks to the design.

Among the questions they want answered is whether people actually want to see the Fort Myer Drive tunnel filled in and transformed into a regular, signalized intersection with Wilson Blvd. The change would prompt additional delays at the intersections, and would involve “extensive construction costs and [a] long timeframe,” but could make it substantially easier for people to access the Rosslyn Metro station.

Similarly, planners want to know if making N. Lynn Street a two-way road is worth the extra traffic headaches it might entail. The county projects that the change “reduces confusion and allows for more direct routing” if it’s put in place, but it would also force officials to find new access points to the G.W. Parkway, I-66 and the Key Bridge.

The county plans to finish collecting feedback by Friday (Oct. 12), then unveil revised designs in the coming months. Officials hope to have final study recommendations for the area ready by sometime this winter.

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Morning Notes

Bike and Walk to School Day — Today was Bike and Walk to School Day for Arlington Public Schools. The yearly event encourages families to use their feet — rather than cars — to get to school, at least for a day. [Twitter, Twitter, Twitter]

Hospital Expansion Meets Some Resistance — Some neighbors are at odds with Virginia Hospital Center over its plan to expand its campus. Complaints include objections to “height and mass in close proximity to single-family homes” and the large number of proposed parking spaces. [Greater Greater Washington]

Machinery Topples Over, Blocking Road — A piece of heavy machinery toppled over on Little Falls Road at N. Sycamore Street in the Williamsburg neighborhood yesterday. The cleanup temporarily blocked Little Falls Road. [Twitter]

Fourth High School Could Cost >$250 Million — “Redeveloping portions of the Arlington Career Center campus near Columbia Pike to accommodate a fourth general high school in Arlington could end up costing a quarter-billion dollars or more depending on amenities, according to preliminary cost estimates being fleshed out by school officials.” [InsideNova]

Another Farmers Market Opens — Arlington County is now home to ten farmers markets, with another on the way. The Arlington Mill farmers market opened over the weekend and hosted a Latin jazz band and Arlington’s Art Truck, in addition to numerous food vendors. [Arlington County]

More on Controversial Favola Auction Item — “Brian White of Winchester was the winning Democratic bidder. He said in an interview Monday that he thought the offer blurred the line of appropriateness, but had an idea: ‘I was looking at how much it was and I was like, Dominion [Energy] pays a whole lot more for this type of access.’ He said he plans to offer the day in Richmond to Theresa ‘Red’ Terry, the Roanoke County woman who spent 34 days living in a tree stand to protest incursion of a natural gas pipeline through her land.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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