Arlington’s County Manager has apologized for the frustrating user experience on the new county website, which has left thousands of broken links in the wake of its launch.
The new website, sporting the new county logo, was implemented one month ago and since then those trying to navigate the site or search for information on the site via Google are frequently getting “Page or Site Not Found” errors.
“Not only are members of the community members frustrated, I’m frustrated — as are a lot of county employees,” County Manager Mark Schwartz told Board members yesterday. “We use the website all the time.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Schwartz provided County Board members with an update on staff’s efforts to restore many of the broken links — 6,634 by the county’s count — to working order by Thanksgiving. Progress is being made and users can expect next week a “marked improvement” to the broken links, as well as the website’s internal search engine, Schwartz said.
Despite knowing broken links would pose a problem, Arlington forged ahead with the move to the new website anyway because the old platform was, according to Schwartz, not secure and on the brink of collapse.
“We didn’t do it on a whim. Our old platform was wobbly and about to fall over,” he said. “We were forced to go a little bit earlier than we wanted to, given that the alternative was that our old website — which everyone now misses — was about to fall over.”
He also tried to take a swipe at ARLnow’s article yesterday about the broken links, which included a screenshot of a platform that tracks broken links to websites.
“If it didn’t make me cry, it was funny, in ARLnow there was an article published today saying there were 900,000 broken links on our website,” he said. “We only have 187,000 [links]. I think there’s something broken in that article.”
The number, generated by a broken link checker on the search engine optimization website Ahrefs, in fact refers to the number of inbound links to the county site — from other websites including those of news outlets, local civic associations, etc. — that are now broken.
Those who encounter broken links can reach out to the county or use the reporting function at the bottom of the “Page or Site Not Found” page, officials said.
Board member Libby Garvey thanked those who have already written the county with links to fix.
“It reminds me of snow plowing. There might be cul-de-sac somewhere we might have missed and people let us know,” she said. “I know they’re often upset but that helps us get in there because we really don’t know everything all the time.”
Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol said she appreciated Schwartz’s explanation of the timing of the website transition.
“People, Board members included, expect a high level of service from Arlington, and are disappointed when it’s not met,” she said. “Understanding there was some urgency, security reasons being part of that, is really helpful context.”
Still, the website launch promised “exciting things to come” and has yet to deliver, Board member Christian Dorsey said.
“You heightened people’s expectations they were going to get a fully finished product,” he said, drawing attention to other unfinished aspects, such as missing photos or icons and inconsistent grammar and syntax.
In response, Schwartz said every department will have someone click through each page to pinpoint those inconsistencies.
Two fixes will take more time, officials said. First, about half of the broken links are associated with old press releases, which are low on the county’s list of things to fix. Second, there are still issues with searching for PDFs uploaded to the website.
“We’re working through the challenges,” Assistant County Manager Bryna Helfer said.
Last month, Suzanne Smith Sundburg was preparing to make public comments at an upcoming Arlington County Planning Commission meeting. As someone who is a passionate about weighing in on local issues, she uses the county website often for research and updates on county happenings.
But, starting in mid-October when the new website launched, Sundburg started having issues accessing information through the county website. She’d click a link and it would take her to a dreaded “Page or Site Not Found” error message.
“I searched for something on Google and tried to click on several of the county links that popped up. All were broken,” Sundburg writes to ARLnow in an email about her troubles. “So I then went to the site to see if I could use a more direct method to find what I needed. No dice.”
The changeover to the new site caused links from both search engines and websites like ARLnow to break. As of last week, one link-checking website listed nearly 900,000 broken links to arlingtonva.us pages.
Arlington County launched its brand new website, complete with the county’s new logo, on Oct. 18. The intention was to improve the website’s security, performance, look and navigation.
“The County website is the first and sometimes only stop for important information about Arlington for many of our residents,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said in a press release. “This upgrade will help ensure that the website is an easily accessible, safe, and reliable resource for our residents and businesses to engage with their government.”
For website users encountering broken links, however, that’s not yet the case.
Sundburg isn’t the only one who has noticed a number of dead-end links. ARLnow has received a tips in recent weeks from other users who have encountered broken links preventing them from accessing county webpages, documents and information, such as information on how to pay a parking ticket or the county’s Community Energy Plan.
“The Arlington County revised website is horribly broken, with links that don’t work,” said one anonymous tipster. “It’s a travesty.”
The Lyon Village Civic Association says it is still working with the county to update all the county links on its own website.
“We have asked the County webmaster to get these reestablished, some have, but not all,” it said in a recent post.
Last week, Sundburg wrote an open letter to county officials expressing her displeasure about this missing information.
“This revamp of the county website has been akin to the burning down of a library with half of the books still inside,” she wrote. “In this case, the ‘books’ still exist — the community simply has no access to them.”
County officials acknowledge the issues and say they’re working on it, noting the broken links are a result of issues migrating from the old site to the new site.
“The County is aware and actively working to resolve the issue of broken links on our new website, which launched last month,” county spokeswoman Jessica Baxter said. “Website migrations are highly iterative processes and we want to thank our residents and other website users for their patience during this time.”
Searching through Google for county webpages does result in a “higher prevalence” of broken links due to a “glitch,” she said.
“Our website provider, OpenCities, worked on resolving this glitch and we are beginning to see improved external search results to County webpages,” Baxter said.
Various county departments are prioritizing fixing broken links connected to current projects, plans, programs and services, since these are accessed most frequently, Baxter said.
“Our goal is to resolve as many of these broken links as possible by Thanksgiving,” she said. “An overall website clean-up is targeted to begin by the end of the year.”
Sundburg notes that, overall, county staff has tried to help and is “relieved” the link problems are being worked on, but she remains disappointed in so much older information remaining inaccessible.
“I understand prioritizing current items, that leaves out a significant portion of the site’s repository of documents,” she writes. “For those of us long in the tooth who have been around for decades, we have a greater knowledge base. But it’s not encyclopedic, and referring back to historical materials is frequently useful.”
APS Enrollment Down — “Despite intensive efforts to get them back, Arlington Public Schools has about 4 percent fewer students in class than it did pre-pandemic, according to new figures. Superintendent Francisco Durán on Oct. 14 said the school system’s official count for the 2021-22 school year is 26,911 students, based on enrollment Sept. 30 that will be submitted to state officials as is required by law. That’s down slightly from the 26,932 students reported on hand at the start of classes in August.” [Sun Gazette]
Update on Metro Woes — “While Metro aims to provide service consistent with the announced basic service plan through the rest of the week, customers should anticipate trains every 15-20 minutes on the Red Line and every 30-40 minutes on all other lines to account for any unplanned disruptions. There is currently no capacity to fill unforeseen gaps, which will result in longer wait times. Crews are working as quickly as possible to put more trains into service.” [WMATA]
County: Update Your Bookmarks — “With the launch of our new website, your favorite page or service has a new home! While we have redirect links for our most visited and discussed pages, we couldn’t do it for all 5,000+ pages. But the content you want is still there!” [Arlington County, Twitter]
Birds Banging into Arlington Windows — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “We’re starting to see a lot of migratory birds come into the shelter, likely due to hitting windows as they fly. But we are here to help! This little Golden-Crowned Kinglet stayed with us overnight before heading off to a licensed rehabber this morning!” [Twitter]
IPO for Local Multinational Company — “Renewable energy storage firm Fluence Energy Inc said on Tuesday it is aiming to fetch a nearly $4 billion valuation in its U.S. initial public offering, as investor interest in such technologies soars alongside growing calls to limit climate change… Arlington, Virginia-based Fluence serves major utilities, developers, as well as commercial and industrial businesses, promising increased efficiency through its digital platform designed for renewables.” [Reuters]
Event to Mark Genocide Anniversary — “November 4, 2021 will mark exactly one year to the day that the Ethiopian & Eritrean regimes waged a devastating and ongoing genocide on the people of Tigray. You are welcome to visit our Arts & Photo Exhibition ‘Call It A Genocide’ which runs from November 5 to 7, 2021 at the ECDC in Arlington.” [Eventbrite]
Halloween Bike Ride for Families — “The Kidical Mass Arlington Halloween ride is BACK! Meet Sun 10/24 4pm at Zitkala’Sa (nee Clay) Park Costumes and decorations encouraged! Enjoy some pizza from our friends @TrekBikes Clarendon after the ride.” [Twitter, Facebook]
It’s Wednesday — ☀️ It’s another sunny day today, with a high near 76. West wind 5 to 7 mph. Sunrise at 7:23 a.m. and sunset at 6:22 p.m. Tomorrow is will be sunny, with a high near 78.
Join the ARLnow Press Club and get the Morning Notes via email, four hours earlier.
Metro Delays All Week — “Reduced Metrorail service is expected to continue until at least Sunday, October 24, as the investigation into the October 12 derailment continues. Beginning tomorrow, trains will operate every 15 minutes on the Red Line and will continue to operate every 30 minutes on all other lines. Silver Line trains will operate between Wiehle-Reston East and Federal Center SW only.” [WMATA]
WMATA Knew About Defects — “Wheel assemblies on Metro rail cars like the one at fault in last week’s Blue Line derailment had failed 31 times since 2017 — and renewed inspections last week identified almost two dozen similar defects, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board said Monday. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority pulled the 7000 series cars from service Sunday night, leaving the agency down more than half its fleet.” [Washington Post, WJLA]
Beyer on Metro Mess — From Rep. Don Beyer: “This is going to be a very frustrating week for commuters. I’m maintaining close contact with WMATA and NTSB as we seek a safe return to regular service.” [Twitter]
Issues With New County Website — From Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt: “The new @ArlingtonVA website has broken SSSSOOO many links. The fact that the old link for the County’s IT Advisory Committee is broken and doesn’t redirect is the most ironic though.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Flags Lowered in Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered flags lowered throughout the Commonwealth in honor of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a McLean resident, who passed away from COVID-19 complications on Monday. [Commonwealth of Virginia]
It’s Tuesday — ☀️ Sunny, with a high near 71 today. West wind 5 to 10 mph. Sunrise at 7:22 a.m. and sunset at 6:23 p.m. Tomorrow is will be sunny, with a high near 75.
Join the ARLnow Press Club and get the Morning Notes four hours earlier.
Blue Line Reopens — “On Friday, October 15, normal service will resume on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines. Intermittent delays are possible as the investigation into Tuesday’s derailment continues.” [WMATA, Twitter]
New County Website Launching Soon — “Arlington County Government is launching a new website, the first major refreshment of the County’s online presence in more than seven years. The site will launch Monday, Oct. 18. Users will continue to access the site by visiting www.arlingtonva.us.” [Arlington County]
Spotted: Bizarre Banner Bedecked Bus — From Nicole Merlene: “Outside the Courthouse today… What in the world? Civil service sure ain’t for wimps with crazies like this.” [Twitter]
New Utility Vault Near Clarendon — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Behold the 40-ton concrete utility vault installed under Washington Boulevard yesterday between N Kirkwood and Wilson. That stretch’s big safety upgrades and lane-shift makeover continues into next year.” [Twitter]
National Airport Getting Busier — “New data suggest the airport, which has had one of the most sluggish returns to normal(ish) performance in the COVID era, may be seeing better times for the rest of the year. New data from the trade group Airlines for America suggest that the airport will see just 11 percent fewer flights during the fourth quarter than during the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. That projected performance also is less than the 14-percent drop reported nationally, based on current flight schedules.” [Sun Gazette]
Water Main Break Closes School — Updated at 9 a.m. — Arlington Science Focus School is closed today due to a 6-inch water main break on the 1400 block of N. Lincoln Street that’s affecting about 200 water customers. [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]
Arlington County has launched a beta version of new website.
The updated county government website is intended to be easier to navigate than the current version, which was last updated 7 years ago. That update was also focused on improving navigation.
The new version is expected to officially launch this fall. Before then, the county is collecting online feedback about the new site, asking about ease of use, among other questions.
The beta site features a small selection of webpages that will allow users to experience some of the upcoming site changes in the areas of design, content, navigation and more. https://t.co/LMEO0yDma0 pic.twitter.com/nuP6ileaYI
— Arlington County (@ArlingtonVA) August 2, 2021
More from an Arlington County press release:
Arlington County Government today unveiled its beta website, a preview of the new upgraded website set to launch later this year. The beta site features a small selection of webpages that will allow users to experience some of the upcoming site changes in the areas of design, content, navigation and more.
Users can access the beta site from the banner at the top of the current Arlington County website or by visiting it directly using the temporary address: https://arlington.prelive.opencities.com/Beta. Users will be directed to a “page not found” page if attempting to access content not included in the Beta.
The beta version launch paves the way for the completion of the new upgraded public website, which will bring the first major refresh of the County’s online presence in more than seven years. The yearlong effort is focused on delivering needed improvements to the website’s stability, security and performance. Work is also being done in the areas of design, information architecture, and content strategy, to create an enhanced user experience that better serves the community’s information needs.
Arlington residents are encouraged to try out the beta site and share feedback using an online form. This form and a link to the beta are accessible on the main website in a banner at the top of the page. Comments are welcome through Sunday, August 15.
The new website is slated to go live in fall of this year.
The writer, editor, translator and political activist of Yankton Lakota Sioux descent lived in Lyon Park for 13 years before her death in 1938.
She is featured in the doodle with illustrations of cardinals, as her name translates to “Red Bird,” as well as a violin, which she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music.
She recently received recognition from Arlington County as well. On Dec. 12, the Arlington County Board approved a request by the Lyon Park Citizens Association to rename Henry Clay Park after her. The park at 3011 7th Street N. remains closed while it undergoes extensive renovations, which the county expects to complete by April.
Born in South Dakota in 1876, Zitkala-Ša left her reservation at eight years old to attend a manual labor school. There, she was given the name Gertrude Simmons, her long hair was cut and she was forbidden from speaking her native language.
“Although she enjoyed learning to read and write, she experienced first-hand the damage of having her heritage stripped away,” Arlington Public Library wrote about her. “Feeling torn between her life on the reservation and her forced assimilation into white mainstream culture, Zitkála-Šá pursued higher education and distinguished herself as a public speaker on social and political issues.”
Before diving into political work, she attended college, taught at a boarding school for Native Americans and studied violin at a conservatory.
In 1925, she moved with her husband Capt. Raymond Talefase Bonnin to 261 N. Barton Street in Lyon Park, where they lived until their respective deaths in 1938 and 1942. Both are buried in Arlington National Cemetery and their home still stands at the corner of 3rd Street N. and Barton Street.
The couple founded the National Council of American Indians and advocated for voting rights, healthcare, legal standing and land rights, the library said.
Screenshot via Google
Seven years since its last major refresh, Arlington County is planning upgrades to its website.
To prepare, the county is seeking feedback on the current website and potential changes. The public has until Jan. 8 to provide comments on what needs improvement.
County spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel tells ARLnow that Arlington is in the process of migrating a large portion of the public website to a new content management system and that the project will be finished some time next year.
“The project will enhance website stability, security, and performance while also providing a light refresh to help us better serve our digital audience,” McDaniel said.
The survey, which takes minutes to complete, asks how often respondents have visited the site over the past year, how it can be improved and whether it’s easy to navigate.
We're planning an update to the County website–and we need your feedback. Tell us how you use our website, what you like about it, and how it could work better for our entire community. https://t.co/C0GbGFuQHk pic.twitter.com/iEjoyJsuBd
— Arlington County (@ArlingtonVA) December 14, 2020
Screenshot via Arlington County
Update at 7:45 p.m. — The county website is back up, though some users who accessed the site while it was down may still have their visits redirected to the temporary page, for now.
Earlier: Bad news: More than 24 hours later, Arlington County’s website is still down as of Wednesday afternoon. Good news: the county’s voting information pages and payment portal are among the things currently up.
As of 3 p.m. the county website was still reduced to a temporary, static page with a few links. That’s despite Arlington Public Schools recently announcing that its tech troubles, caused by a fiber optic line cut, had been resolved.
A county spokeswoman told ARLnow that the county was, in fact, also affected by the fiber cut, but it was not the reason for the website outage.
“Arlington County Government’s fiber was cut as well yesterday,” said Shannon Whalen McDaniel. “However, we are not experiencing a disruption due to a redundancy in our system.”
There is still no estimate as to when the county’s full website might be back online.
“We can’t provide an estimate at this time, but staff are working to resolve it as quickly as possible,” Whalen McDaniel said.
In addition to the CAPP payment portal, library website, service request page, real estate search and County Board meeting agendas, the Arlington voting and elections sub-site remains up. Whalen McDaniel said that is due to some good planning.
“Given the criticality of the voting site, we had a back-up site for it already in place for redundancy sake,” she said. “Yesterday, we simply expedited the move to this replacement site to ensure there would be no impact on voting information.”
The county’s last major update to its website was made at the end of 2013, when it switched to a more flexible WordPress-based system — the same underlying Content Management System as ARLnow and millions of other sites — for most pages.
(Updated at 10 p.m.) Arlington County’s website has been down for most of the day and remains down as of Tuesday night.
The county is working to fix the technical difficulties, which brought down the website completely. The homepage was working this morning, while many interior pages were bringing up error messages, before the entire site went down.
Those hoping to participate in today’s County Board meeting, which starts at 3 p.m., should be able to do so on YouTube or on local cable TV. Those hoping to speak at the meeting are being asked to call 703-228-3130 to register to do so.
A county spokeswoman said that there are no signs, at least so far, that the outages are the result of hacking.
“We are actively investigating the current technical issues related to the County website,” said Shannon Whalen McDaniel. “At this time, it is too early to offer a conclusive statement about the root cause of the issues, however we do not see any overt signs of malicious activity. We will provide an update as soon as it is available and appreciate the public’s patience at this time.”
The county previously posted a page on the site explaining the technical difficulties. That page is now inaccessible. Later Tuesday, the county homepage was replaced by a static page, explaining the outage and providing links to online services that were still available, like the library website, the service request page and the county payments portal.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Arlington Public Schools also announced to families that it was having tech troubles.
“APS is experiencing an internet outage that is affecting applications and services, such as MyAccess, on the APS platform,” APS said. “We are working with our vendor to address the issue and will let families know when it has been resolved. Thank you for your patience.”
Despite the problems, the main Arlington Public Schools homepage was still operable. Later Tuesday evening, APS said that the disruption was caused by “a major fiber [optic line] cut in Vienna.”
Our ISP notified us of a major fiber cut in Vienna causing a service disruption for APS. The vendor is working to restore service, but there is no estimate for restoration. An update will be provided in the a.m. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) October 21, 2020
In time for the holiday season, but before there’s any measurable snow in the forecast, Arlington officials have unveiled a new snow plowing map intended to track snow clearing activity in the county.
The map is the successor to a previous online snow cleaning map — which didn’t work correctly, caused confusion following a blizzard in 2016 and was ultimately removed from the county website.
The new map is not perfect, County Manager Mark Schwartz acknowledged during a presentation at Tuesday’s County Board meeting, but should prove useful and reflects an “innovation culture” in county government.
The map does not represent whether a street is clear of snow, but instead shows snow plow activity down to the street level. It also links to Arlington’s traffic cameras.
The map is not currently active and will have other limitations during snow events. It displays data on a 15 minute delay, for instance, and will not reflect activity by plows contracted by the county to respond to major snowfalls.
County officials touted other snow response changes during the meeting, including the use of new electric salt spreaders, which are said to be easier to use and maintain while also being more environmentally friendly than the old gasoline-powered spreaders.
The full Arlington County press release about its Winter 2019-2020 initial snow preparations is below, after the jump.