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Morning Notes

Here Comes the Next Cicada Generation — “Cicada nymphs have started hatching during the past week. They’re the offspring from our recent cicada swarm, and they’ll rain down from above for the next few weeks, with numbers totaling in the billions… wearing a hat in the woods is a good idea for the next few weeks. Just in case you walk under a tiny, divebombing nymph.” [Capital Weather Gang]

Rent Rising in Arlington — “It was upended during the worst of the COVID crisis, but the Arlington apartment-rental market continues roaring back to life, according to a data analysis by Apartment List. With an average rental rate of $1,962 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,375 for a two-bedroom unit, Arlington’s month-over-month rental rate in August grew 3.6 percent from July, compared to a 2.6-percent increase nationally, ranking the county 22nd among the nation’s 100 largest urban areas.” [Sun Gazette]

Unusual Robbery in Crystal City — ” At approximately 11:26 p.m. on July 29, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim observed an undisclosed amount of cash on the ground and collected it in an attempt to return it to its owner. The unknown male suspect approached the victim and attempted to take the money from his hands. The victim began to walk in the opposite direction and entered a nearby business, where Suspect One followed him and was joined by two other male suspects. Suspect One successfully took the money from the victim’s hands and all three suspects fled from the business in a vehicle.” [ACPD]

County Covid Testing Location Closing — “The #COVID19 mobile testing unit at Lee Community Center is officially retiring today, after administering nearly 15,000 tests throughout the pandemic. If you need a test, visit one of our three locations, open daily from 11 AM – 7 PM.” [Twitter]

Community Pantomime Performances — “As it prepares to resume in-person performances at its Crystal City venue, Synetic Theater will be headed into the community with a series of free public performances of the family-focused ‘The Miraculous Magical Balloon.'” [Sun Gazette]

Long-Distance 9/11 Walk Kicks Off — From the Arlington County Fire Department: “We were honored to host the kickoff for [the Tunnel to Towers Never Forget] Walk. The over 500 mile walk for CEO Frank Siller is meant to honor the heroism of first responders who lost their lives on 9/11.” [Twitter, Yahoo News, Twitter]

Reminder: Vote in This Week’s Arlies — Have a favorite real estate agent for selling your home? A favorite home renovation company? Let us know by the time voting closes at noon tomorrow. [ARLnow]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights include:

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

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

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Morning Notes

Proposed HQ2 ‘Helix’ Tower Is Too Tall — “Amazon.com Inc. may need to lop off the tip of its proposed drill-bit-like structure, the Helix, at its PenPlace development to ensure the safety of flights coming into and out of Reagan National Airport. Engineers working for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority determined the 15-story building is roughly 13 feet taller than the maximum allowable height for structures that close to the airport.” [Washington Business Journal, WJLA]

Homeless Population Down This Year — “The number of individuals counted as homeless across Arlington [this year] was down 14 percent from 2020 and declined by 26 percent since 2017, according to new figures from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). A total of 171 individuals were counted as homeless – either in shelters or living on the street – in the annual ‘Point in Time’ survey.” [Sun Gazette]

Update on Arlington Policing Practices — “Our Police Department has created an internal workgroup to review current policies and ensure they are aligned with best practices. Although excessive use of force has never been tolerated and our officers have been providing emergency medical treatment for years, additional language was added to our Use of Force policy to formalize current practices.” [Arlington County]

Arlington Man Has Big TikTok Following — “Tri Phan of Arlington, Virginia, has amassed 1.5 million followers since he began posting workout and healthy cooking videos in November. The 23-year-old, who is working on his master’s degree in data and business analytics at American University, often does two versions of his content, one in English and one in Vietnamese; about 60 percent of his followers are Vietnamese, he says.” [Associated Press]

Vets to Hike to Arlington from Connecticut — “On Tuesday, June 1, Will Reese will set out on “Ruck to Remember (R2R) – a 380-mile trek from Avon, CT, to Arlington, VA, to raise awareness and funds for APK Charities. Reese, who launched R2R in 2019, this time will be joined by hundreds of active and retired Military from all around the world who will all don “ruck-sacks” – military backpacks – for the 7-day march, which will culminate on Tuesday, June 8.” [We-ha.com]

Soon: No Tour Bus Parking at AF Memorial — “The removal of motorcoach parking at the entrance to the Air Force Memorial will present mobility issues, she said. “‘It will ultimately limit the number of people visiting the memorial,’ added [Guild of Professional Tour Guides] colleague Maribeth Oakes. Walking from the main cemetery entrance to the Air Force Memorial is a round trip of three miles and the trams, which cost $15 for adults, can fill up before the group of 58 could board. The guild would like a southern expansion with short-term parking for motorcoaches.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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The County Board is set to consider a set of projects that would upgrade sidewalks and improve a small park.

Of the four, three focus on pedestrian improvements with an eye toward walkability for Arlington Public Schools students in the Bluemont, Columbia Heights and Fairlington neighborhoods. The fourth would fund improvements to 11th Street Park in Clarendon.

These upgrades, at a cost of roughly $2 million in total, were given a thumbs up last December by Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. This group identifies needed improvements such as sidewalks, street beautification, street lights and parks and recommends them to the County Board.

At the intersection of 6th Street N. and N. Edison Street in Bluemont, the committee proposes to widen some corners and build out the sidewalks as well as upgrade landscaping and accessible ramps.

“It’ll be very visible to cars that people are crossing,” project representative Nick Pastore said during the December meeting. “That will help slow the rate of speed of cars going around those corners.”

Drivers take these residential roads “at a pretty decent speed” to avoid N. George Mason Drive between N. Carlin Springs Road and Wilson Blvd, he said.

At the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Scott Street in Columbia Heights, nearu Columbia Pike, NCAC is requesting $500,000 to conduct a feasibility study for improving the intersection by extending the street corners, and making improvements to the crosswalks, landscaping and accessible ramps.

“This improved crossing will help students walking from nearby S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston [Elementary School] safely cross a busy road,” said Kristin Haldeman, director of multimodal transportation planning for Arlington Public School, in a letter to the county.

She added that the extra curb space “will provide more room for students in the area who attend Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School to wait for their bus at the intersection.”

Columbia Heights Civic Association member Sarah McKinley welcomed the project for the neighborhood of apartment buildings and condos, saying the committee has been criticized over the years for mostly benefitting single-family neighborhoods.

“Here’s an example of an NC project that can benefit both types of neighborhoods,” she said.

In Fairlington, the committee proposes a sidewalk, curb, and gutter along the north side of S. Abingdon Street between 31st Street S. and 31st Road S. — near the STEM Preschool and the former Fire Station 7.

Fairlington representative Ed Hilz said these changes would improve walking paths for students getting to Abingdon Elementary School.

“Currently, there’s a staircase that is not very convenient to negotiate for children,” he said.

Finally, a green space at 11th Street N. and N. Danville Street in Clarendon would get new furnishings, park signage and path lighting. Additionally, the lawn will be aerated.

“I think this park is heavily used so all these upgrades will be a tremendous benefit for the community,” project representative Alyssa Cannon said.

Money for the projects will come from the 2016 and 2018 Community Conservation bonds.

Images via Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos via WalkArlington/YouTube

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Morning Notes

Snow Removal Ordinance in Effect — “A recent weather event has concluded and deposited snow/ice accumulations of less than 6 inches. Arlington’s sidewalk snow removal ordinance requires residents and businesses to clear adjacent public sidewalks of snow and ice by 1:00 PM on Wednesday, February 3.” [Arlington County]

More Back-to-School Dates Expected Soon — “We look forward to welcoming Level 2 Career & Technical Education students to the Arlington Career Center for hybrid/in-person instruction starting [today]. We continue to assess additional student return dates… The next group to return will be Level 2, PreK through second grade and countywide elementary special education students. Return dates for this group will be communicated at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Arlington Rent Declines Slowing — “Arlington’s COVID- and shutdown-caused drop in apartment rents appears to be hitting bottom for now, according to new data from Apartment List, but the county’s rental market is still significantly more affordable than before the pandemic. For the year ending in January, rents in Arlington were down 14 percent from a year before… the drop from December to January was just 0.5 percent, lower than in preceding months.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Ranks No. 14 in ‘Walk-Friendly’ List — “About 30 years ago, Arlington took the lead in suburban redevelopment in Virginia, creating walkable urban areas around the metro system. Now that momentum has pushed Arlington (and its most walkable neighborhoods of Clarendon-Courthouse, Ballston-Virginia Square, and Lyon Village) into the top walkable cities — something we can expect to continue when Amazon moves in.” [MSN]

Hope’s Prison Oversight Bill Dies — From Del. Patrick Hope (D): “This is not the end — only the beginning. Every agency in Va must be transparent and accountable to the public which they serve. We will regroup and come back next session with a bill that prioritizes [Virginia Dept. of Corrections] oversight.” [Twitter]

Case of the Stray Hockey Sticks — A shipment of hockey sticks destined for the Washington Capitals practice facility in Ballston, to be used by new Caps acquisition Zdeno Chara, was apparently mis-delivered to a random New Jersey man’s home. [ESPN, Barstool Sports]

Bezos Relinquishing CEO Role at Amazon — “Jeff Bezos said Tuesday that he will step down as chief executive of Amazon, leaving the helm of the company he founded 27 years ago. Bezos will transition to the role of executive chair in the third quarter of this year, which starts July 1, the company said. Andy Jassy, the chief executive of Amazon Web Services, will take over as CEO of Amazon.” The company yesterday revealed designs for the second phase of its Arlington HQ2. [NBC News]

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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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