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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

An increase in extreme weather events and community power usage has made the need to modernize our power grid’s resilience a pertinent topic of discussion.

For that reason, it is past due for Arlington to update its 15-year 2002 Underground Utility Plan and for the Virginia Legislature to have Dominion spend some Strategic Undergrounding Program funding to underground main lines in urban/suburban corridors instead of exclusively undergrounding suburban/rural tap lines as is current practice.

In Arlington, over one-third of our energy usage comes from electric energy, which is primarily provided by Dominion Power. A known way to reduce energy loss in the process of distributing electricity while also reducing prolonged power outages is to underground power lines.

Virginia Legislature and Dominion Energy’s Strategic Undergrounding Program
How it currently works

All Dominion Power users pay a portion of their utility bill towards the multibillion-dollar Strategic Undergrounding Program that has been authorized by the Virginia Legislature. The parameters are set in Code 56-585.1 A6.

Virginia requires undergrounding project areas average nine or more outages over a 10 year period, that the project doesn’t cost customers over an average of $20,000 per customer and, specifically, the code references upgrades to ancillary tap lines and does not mention main lines which are what typically line major corridors. Dominion representatives confirmed tap lines are what are chosen for improvements. In Arlington, Dominion’s Program financed tap line undergrounding on N. Marcey Road (2016), N. Kenmore Street (2018), 16th Street N. (2018), N. Somerset Street (2020) and another project is expected on N. Kensington. The estimated cost of all four completed projects was about $750,000.

As you can see, these projects are located in leafy neighborhoods and not where a majority of residents live. Dominion representatives stated that the reason behind this choice also lies in that it is easier for their trucks to access main roads than suburban areas during storms which is why there is a better cost benefit analysis for those areas.

Moving forward

Virginia Legislators should dedicate a portion of the Strategic Undergrounding Program towards main line undergrounding. Notably, the relative cost per project would increase and, for that reason, I suggest only a portion of the fund for the highest priority main lines.

Leaving out urban ratepayers in areas passes on these costs to either 1) renters of apartments or office tenants, by way of developers needing to pay for undergrounding to get an approved site plan; or 2) all taxpayers in those urban jurisdictions, by way of local governments needing to put undergrounding efforts on a bond referendum. This creates a negative financial burden on areas like Arlington, Alexandria, Norfolk, Richmond or Virginia Beach from benefiting from this program — adding to already high local rents and putting pressure on local governments for bonding measures.

Additionally, this past week the Virginia State Corporation Commission that regulates Dominion, found that Virginia customers paid Dominion more than $1.1 billion above fair profit over four years and might need to pay back or cut rates to the tune of $312 million. This might be one of many ways the General Assembly might choose to reinvest those funds (as well as investments in renewable energy, etc.).

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last year’s Redistricting Commissioning Constitutional Amendment approved by Virginia voters changed how we will draw lines for the Virginia Legislature and United States House of Representatives from state legislators to a process to be determined by an independent redistricting commission.

This 16-member commission composed of eight legislators and eight citizen participants has been hosting meetings since July 13 and will continue to do so through October.

The clock has begun ticking since the Census released population data on Aug. 12. The commission will have 45 days from the release to draw maps of Virginia’s House and Senate districts to the State Legislature for consideration, and 60 days for a map of U.S. House districts.

This past Monday August 23, the commission voted 12-4 for an agreed-upon bipartisan group of independent, but politically aligned, map-drawers to start from a clean slate, rather than beginning with current district lines.

This was a positive step in the right direction, but what happened via a proposed motion from George Barker, a Democrat representing parts of Alexandria City, Fairfax, and Prince William and leading Senate Republican Steve Newman. They proposed starting from old maps because it “could help the commission gain needed support for the maps from the General Assembly, which will have to approve the maps for them to be enacted,” as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Luckily the proposal failed 9-7, but is still a disturbing development for many reasons.

This shows that A — it is likely that the Republicans will block votes against the new lines, and B — that there are incumbent Democrats that are hesitant to vote for new lines in fear of losing their seats, including in extremely liberal districts adjacent to Arlington.

Democrats hold a thin lead in the Legislature and we need every vote possible to pass these independently drawn lines. The result if these lines aren’t approved by the General Assembly: redistricting will be handed over to the conservative leaning Supreme Court of Virginia. This is a large part of why most Republicans will vote in block against any proposal given by the independent commission.

This is likely the most important administrative task that the Virginia legislature will vote on this decade as it will re-draw lines for the next 10 years. We cannot leave this process to a court process where six out of seven judges were appointed by a Republican-led General Assembly.

I would like to laud Delegate Marcus Simon of Falls Church, who has been a champion of a fair and independent redistricting from the very beginning and throughout these commission hearings, for being able to see through the technicalities of every step in this process.

After this process is through, my hope is that the commission will have done a commendable job of drawing fair, compact and non-discriminatory lines for our new General Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives. If you believe this to be the case, reach out to your Delegate and State Senator encouraging them to support the measure. Even strong Democratic districts are at risk of legislators voting for their own self-serving interests. Find your legislators online.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As some say, local government is primarily pothole politics. Why aren’t the water fountains working? When will the snow be removed? How do I make sure dogs are leashed in my local park? How do I fix this big crack in the sidewalk on my path to the coffee shop? Why is the crosswalk sign not working?

Some of these things like snow removal, sidewalk repair, or crosswalk sign maintenance can be done as simply as using the Service Request/Report a Problem function on the County’s website. For items that fall into this category it consistently amazes me how quickly and efficiently the system works. If all other venues don’t work, you can always tweet the Arlington Department of Environmental Services and our personal miracle worker seems to never fail.

After a discussion started by the Clarendon/Courthouse Civic Association President, David Cheek, it reminded me of the ongoing efforts to improve the Neighborhood Conservation Program that provides funding for larger neighborhood projects.

Recently, a large six-foot sign was erected by the county in the 11th Street Park in Clarendon reminding patrons not to unleash their dogs in the park. Cheek immediately recognized that the underlying problem might not be that park but neighbors’ dismay at Clarendon’s James Hunter Dog Park. He compiled ideas from the community for park improvements and is working with the county for potential solutions.

Typically, improvements to existing parks for improvements suggested by the community would be submitted for consideration by the Neighborhood Conservation Program. The recently released 2021 Neighborhood Conservation Review notes that the Program continues to be cut significantly year after year resulting in only six projects getting approved out of 30 per year, and that the process generally favors low-density neighborhoods by a rate of two to one.

The review generally recommends 1) clarifying the County’s priorities for neighborhoods and their infrastructure, ensuring priorities are supported in plans and streamlining the procedures to achieve these priorities; 2) expanding financial resources to the NC Program; 3) Offering NCAC representatives to expand community outreach and provide a bridge to other neighborhood planning efforts; and 4) simplifying NC participation requirements for civic associations.

These considerations are important for empowering neighborhoods to make a difference in their own backyard.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

It is my hope that Amazon will commit a significant portion of their $2 billion Housing Equity Fund to households that are low income or have an income that is under 50% area median income (AMI).

If a fund is being created and advertised as creating affordable housing it should do that, instead of primarily providing average market rate rental housing. Amazon’s recent commitment at Crystal House was primarily for those making 60-80% AMI. That is a housing supply that we have in abundance (see image 1). Additionally, this is middle class housing, not affordable housing.

For renters in the 60-80% income bracket participating in the affordable housing program, there is a maximum rent allowed of $1,935. That is higher than our natural market rate average rent of $1,908 for a 1 bedroom apartment in Arlington (see image 2). If funds continue to be invested in housing development that primarily produce 60-80% AMI units, it would be inaccurate to qualify their investment as a philanthropic community benefit, as it is higher than the market average.

Our community is lacking in both <30% AMI rental units and 30-49% AMI units, compared to the population that exists in those income brackets (see image 1).

In Amazon’s press release, their stated goal was for the Fund to support their commitment to affordable housing and to ensure moderate to low-income families can afford housing in the communities that they operate. While their commitment to moderate income housing in Crystal House and other local investments is appreciated, it is necessary to provide investment towards low-income populations in their next round of distributed funds.

If Amazon is to fully commit to providing affordable housing, they should do so for the population most in need — those making under 50% AMI. If the Housing Equity Fund does not increase focus towards their stated commitment to low-income families, this should be viewed as failing to achieve their goal.

Nicole Merlene grew up in Arlington County and has been a civic leader in both policy and political arenas. She has been an Economic Development and Tenant-Landlord Commissioner; Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee, Pentagon City Planning Study, Rosslyn Transportation Study, and Vision Zero member; Arlington County Civic Federation and Rosslyn Civic Association Board Member. In 2019 she sought the Democratic nomination for the 31st District of the Virginia State Senate. Professionally Nicole is an Economic Development Specialist where she works to attract businesses to the region. She lives in an apartment with her dog Riley and enjoys running and painting.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

This Sunday is the last day to provide feedback on “Plan Lee Highway“, a multi-year planning process for the corridor that has now produced specific proposals for development levels, street improvements, stormwater impact, and other significant changes.

My biggest piece of feedback on Plan Lee Highway and every ongoing area and sector plan is the lack of consideration for our schools. We should be including school generation factors in our area and sector planning process.

Plan Lee Highway is one of three ongoing planning processes for entire areas of our county in addition to Pentagon City Planning and the Clarendon Sector Plan. For background, I am currently serving on Pentagon City Planning which has allowed me to dig into the “why” of this situation.

Background on Student Generation Factors

An average generation factor is available in the annual Arlington Profile and school facilities staff can further refine that generation factor based on neighborhood. For example, an apartment building in Crystal City will generally produce slightly more children than an apartment building in Rosslyn.

On average, a market rate apartment with an elevator produces .066 students per unit whereas a single family detached home produces .489 students. This means single family homes generally produce 7.5 times more than one apartment building unit.

In terms of Plan Lee Highway, I will use two examples of how these factors impact the planning process:

  • If we consolidate 10 single family homes into one 5-7 story elevator apartment building that has ten units per floor we would reduce our students generated from 4.98 students from the single family homes in that area to 3.3 – 4.62 students from the new apartment building. This is an example from Area 3 at the north east intersection of Lee Highway and Old Dominion.
  • If we transform a zero population shopping center into two 7 story elevator apartment buildings with 10 units per floor, we increase the number of students in that area from 0 to 9.24 students. This is an example from Area 2 in the south east corner of Lee Highway and George Mason.

While each example either increases or decreases expected school seat generation, it is at least a known quantity. We have the data to produce a seat generation factor and the Planning Department should be able to ballpark the estimated number of units we can expect in these study areas over the next few decades.

Contemplating Schools in Area/Sector Plans Rather Than a Building by Building in the Site Plan Review Process

We are reviewing school impact too late in the planning process.

Right now, we determine the school seat impact each time a new construction project is brought to the Site Plan Review Commission. That means that those new anticipated seats will be brought on in a year or two. As a result, we have a seemingly biannual fire drill about how to shift kids around to accommodate changing enrollment projections.

If we contemplate changes to school seats in the area/sector plan process, we can anticipate the number of seats added decades in advance instead of our usual fire drill situation.

This is also important for the reservation of limited public facilities and open space. In a 2019 memo county manager Schwartz identified a number of potential new school sites which is a useful tool to use in these area/sector planning processes.

In the chance that we do not have the land availability in the future for new schools, we also need to know that. Will we need to develop a fund for land acquisition? When? These are the types of answers we would only know with this long-range perspective found in area and sector planning.

Precedent for an Imperfect Estimation for Infrastructure Impact

We already have estimated infrastructure impact equations in the Comprehensive Planning process as it relates to transportation. In my capacity on the Pentagon City Planning group we had 2-3 meetings on the “level of service” calculation for roads/public transportation and almost an entire meeting for bike infrastructure level of service. All of these projections are important infrastructure considerations, but also produce an imperfect result that we can generally accept.

With schools constituting almost half of our operational budget and a significant amount of our capital improvement plan’s bonding, it seems negligent to not include these calculations in the same way we calculate other infrastructure impact in our comprehensive plan.

Conclusion

My opinion is not against increased density around major transportation corridors such as Metro and state highways like Lee Highway. Encouraging growth along corridors with accessible public transportation and lower commuting times is better for the environment and a diversity of housing supply will help create varying housing costs (see page 5 in the Arlington Profile 2021 for varying housing type costs).

I would find it hypocritical though to advocate for this added density without also advocating for sufficiently planned infrastructure to support that added density, and encourage us to incorporate schools in our comprehensive planning.

Nicole Merlene grew up in Arlington County and has been a civic leader in both policy and political arenas. She has been an Economic Development and Tenant-Landlord Commissioner; Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee, Pentagon City Planning Study, Rosslyn Transportation Study, and Vision Zero member; Arlington County Civic Federation and Rosslyn Civic Association Board Member. In 2019 she sought the Democratic nomination for the 31st District of the Virginia State Senate. Professionally Nicole is an Economic Development Specialist where she works to attract businesses to the region. She lives in an apartment with her dog Riley and enjoys running and painting.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

For the past week I have been fuming at the ears mad about the situation at the Serrano and the impossibly difficult situation any Virginia renter that lives in poor housing conditions lives with.

Even after appreciated commitments from local leaders, systemic failures in local code enforcement and bare minimum renters rights laws in Virginia continue as a result of systemic failures. A long-term assessment of the system that has allowed this situation to happen must be taken.

Policy action items laid out in this column include near-term code enforcement by Arlington County and long-term policy changes in the General Assembly such as bare minimum living standards being included in building code, strengthening of law for the prohibition against retaliatory eviction, warranty of habitability, and remedy when a premise is condemned.

Long Term — Changes in the General Assembly

Include Bare Minimum Livable Standards in Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code

Livable building standards are currently included in the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (“the Act”) instead of in Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code (“Code”). Basic living standards that were broken at The Serrano include significant mold presence, rodent infestation, and other utility grievances. Not having these standards included in code is a problem for multiple reasons.

To prove a violation of the Act a tenant must hire a professional expert to attest to these standards being violated in court after attaining a lawyer. Hiring a professional expert is a significant expense even if you are a low income resident that would qualify for free legal counsel from Legal Services of Northern Virginia. If these basic standards were included in Code a county inspector would be able to require correction of the violation or issue an abatement order and/or write a letter of attestation for use in court. These options aren’t currently available since it is not required by code.

For example, DC Housing Code requires rental dwellings: be free of insects and rodents, have A/C that is 15 degrees less than outside, have heating equipment that heats to 68 degrees, water temperature that can reach 110 degrees, paint that is not flaking, removal of lead paint, mold removal, no plumbing leaks, among other things.

Strengthen Prohibition Against Retaliatory Eviction

One of the most heartbreaking stories we heard on the most recent Tenant-Landlord Commission call was the stories of retaliatory actions by AHC’s property management team. This made some scared to bring up problems in fear of retaliatory action that could lead them to being evicted.

Technically Virginia law has a prohibition against retaliatory eviction but proving it is next to impossible. Judges generally will not apply retaliatory eviction to the landlord’s refusal to renew a lease. Other states presume that an eviction brought within a certain period (e.g., 6 months) after the tenant asserts rights is retaliatory. This presumption should apply to a refusal to renew as well.

Warranty of Habitability

Many states have a warranty of habitability for items such as heat and running water. To enforce the warranty of habitability, a tenant need not be current in rent nor have provided written notice to the landlord. In a non-payment of rent case, if the tenant proves the housing conditions entitle them to a rent abatement (a rent credit) equal to or greater than the unpaid rent, the tenant gets to stay.

Remedy When Premises are Condemned

Under existing law, if the rental premises are condemned, the tenant must vacate immediately. The tenant is entitled only to the return of unearned rent and the security deposit. The premises did not fall into such disrepair overnight. Instead, the premises must have been deteriorating for months. There should be a rebuttable presumption that the tenant is entitled to a refund of the last three months of rent. 

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

From the local to state to federal level it finally feels like there is momentum to make an impact on climate change. In order to meet our collective goals, it is incumbent upon us all to take responsibility for these aspirations in our everyday actions.

Arlington released bold energy goals in the 2019 Community Energy Plan. The county resolved to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2025 for government operations, achieve 100% community renewable electricity by 2035, and become carbon neutral by 2050.

In 2020, Governor Northam signed the Clean Economy Act (sponsored by Arlington’s Rip Sullivan) that directed sweeping environmental standards. It set a path to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2045, required Dominion Energy to supply 30% of their power from renewables by 2030 and close all carbon-emitting power plants by 2045, made it “in the public interest” for generation of that 5,200 megawatts of offshore wind and 16,100 megawatts of onshore wind and solar, expanded net metering for solar credits on Dominion electric bills, required expanded energy storage capacity for solar by Dominion, among many more provisions.

Today on Earth Day, President Biden pledged to cut US emissions of greenhouse gasses in half by 2030 — a goal twice as ambitious as what President Obama originally agreed to upon the initial signing of the Paris Climate Agreement. A significant amount of funding will be found in the upcoming Infrastructure Bill for improvements to the grid, public transportation, and other items.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s. Today’s post was guest written by Nicholas Beirne.

Whitlow’s oh Whitlow’s
We will miss you so
Booths from St. Patrick’s
That beautiful woodwork show

A storied place for the townie Arlington crew
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving
Whatever will we do

A friendly staff that always had your back
Thank you for sneaking us the coffee
Giving us our evening comeback

Crab legs & lobster mac
A classic birthday brunch
That alone keeps us coming back

The beach bar and tiki rooftop
Lines so long it’ll make your heart stop

Did you really want to play the ring game
Or were you just bored with your crew

Soja and Footwerk – our local tried and true
Those vibes that make your feet hurt
And DFMOs to make your Sundays hurt

The smokers tent —
Was it legal?
Now we’ll never know

Whitlow’s oh Whitlow’s
We will miss you so
This is an ode to Whitlow’s
Ever sad to see you go.

Nicholas Beirne is a lifelong Arlington resident. His best Whitlow’s memory: Ryan Zimmerman buying him a drink on his 21st birthday, on Thanksgiving eve, oh so long ago. Whitlow’s Crew, you will be missed.

Mar. 30, 2020 – A cyclist passes Whitlow’s in Clarendon, which was closed at the time due to the pandemic (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)
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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

A majority of Arlington’s affordable apartments are not built into typical new apartment or condo buildings, but rather separated into their own building complexes.

Over the course of decades this has created segregated housing in Arlington. Although the dynamic is improving, the equation and incentive structure at the heart of this issue must change.

In 2006 a group of Arlington developers lobbied and successfully codified in the Virginia General Assembly an equation that disincentivizes developers from building affordable units in their market rate buildings. This equation alternatively incentivizes developers to pay a cash contribution to a housing trust fund — in Arlington this is called the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHIF) — instead of building affordable units in normal market rate apartment or condo buildings.

Arlington ordinance provisions (image via Arlington Community Foundation). Source: Arlington Community Foundation: Status Report on Affordable Housing Ordinance Review, November 2020.

According to multiple developers in an Arlington Community Foundation review it is significantly cheaper to simply contribute cash to AHIF than build affordable units in their new buildings.

With the understanding that it is cheaper for developers to contribute to AHIF using this equation than building on site affordable units in mind, the following regional comparison makes the state policy decision to zero-out and force Arlington to use this equation even more starkly disturbing.

Developers are currently paying a cash payment equal to less than 5% of on site units instead of the 6.25%-12.5% of on-site affordable housing units that are typical in our surrounding jurisdictions. This is compounded with the policy conundrum that our affordable units are not in the more “desirable” parcels that developers are building market rate units, like is done in other jurisdictions, and thus creating a segregated housing situation. A double whammy.

I implore our state legislators to reevaluate the unfair discrimination against Arlington in Virginia’s affordable housing ordinance laws. Our County Board is just as capable as any other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia to make ordinances that make sense for our community and should not be unfairly zeroed out to abide by this obscure rule.

Nicole Merlene grew up in Arlington County and has been a civic leader in both policy and political arenas. She has been an Economic Development and Tenant-Landlord Commissioner; Community Development Citizens Advisory Committee, Pentagon City Planning Study, Rosslyn Transportation Study, and Vision Zero member; Arlington County Civic Federation and Rosslyn Civic Association Board Member. In 2019 she sought the Democratic nomination for the 31st District of the Virginia State Senate. Professionally Nicole is an Economic Development Specialist where she works to attract businesses to the region. She lives in an apartment with her dog Riley and enjoys running and painting.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

TW: suicide, mania.

Arlington has begun an effort to improve mental health services in our community with dollars attached to these priorities. Taking this initial first step is significant, but we still have miles to go. Next Tuesday you can learn more about this topic at the Civic Federation monthly meeting.

Movement on mental health services all started with the overwhelming support for the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. Thousands marched, hundreds of first time speakers came to County Board hearings, and policy change was demanded. The County Board convened and the County Manager appointed a “Police Practices Group” (PPG) to recommend policy changes.

This working group narrowed their scope to four major sections: mental health crisis intervention, police civilian review board, traffic enforcement, and alternative dispute resolution. For purposes of this analysis I will focus on the mental health aspect of the recommendation.

Current State of Play

If an Arlingtonian is facing a crisis situation such as a manic episode, suicidal thoughts, or substance abuse, the response from Arlington is predominantly from the police. There is limited co-response with both a clinician and responding police officer. While it is impressive that ¾ of Arlington’s police force is “Crisis Intervention Trained” (CIT), police acknowledged during this process that their presence with flashing lights and uniforms immediately escalates a crisis situation even with the best trained officers.

There is little that is done for those in crisis after the initial police point of contact. In a situation where you experience a physical medical emergency, like a car crash, there are follow up services that are needed for treatment. Ultimately there are not currently adequate follow up services available for those in mental emergency situations.

With little support from federal or state agencies, we are left to our own devices to create a solution. This issue is too great to continue to push off a response. We have a number of best practice models to look at in other local jurisdictions and our police practices group recommendations put together a great target implementation framework.

What’s Budgeted for Improvements

In the County Manager’s budget there is a proposed $574,000 dedicated to supporting Arlington’s Crisis Intervention Center (CIC) and a medically equipped vehicle dedicated to crisis transit.

Additional staffing will be helpful to taking the CIC closer to being able to have a 24/7 response capacity, since crises takes place at all hours of the day, and provides services from a team of individuals who are adequately trained to respond to these specific types of medical emergencies.

One of those positions will be an emergency services clinician that presumably would be an additional co-responder to emergency calls, bringing our response team to a whopping two people dedicated to respond to the entire county’s mental health related calls around-the-clock.

The additional vehicle would hopefully eliminate the anxiety of flashing lights, from what have otherwise been a police or ambulance transit vehicle, while maintaining the medically necessary materials during transport time.

What’s Next

Some implementation items are process and coordination oriented, while others will require long-term funding commitments. What is included in the Manager’s Budget is able to address some of the important short-term funding oriented goals. There is still a tremendous amount of work to do though that is effectively summarized in the PPG Recommendation.

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What’s Next with Nicole is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Arlington is beginning to wrap up an important long-term plan for Arlington street safety: Vision Zero.

In July 2019 the County Board resolved to the concept that no death or severe injury in Arlington County streets or trails is acceptable. To achieve these ideals staff and community members have joined the Vision Zero Network to create a comprehensive plan based on analysis of traffic collisions in the county.

Vision Zero recommendations have been made in engineering, enforcement, education, and data analysis. Focus has also been paid to ensuring no one is disproportionately affected by crashes and creating a culture of safety so every member of our community feels responsible for contributing to the safety of our transportation system.

Last year I was able to join this working group and see how it has incorporated some of the best parts of urban planning and also exposed some of the systemic issues that exist in many transportation related planning initiatives.

Two of the most important and impressive parts of Vision Zero has been their data driven evaluation and the partnerships with the many agencies that make up our transportation network. One hurdle to this process, and many other transportation related processes, is a complex network of agencies that are required to be involved in the implementation of these improvements.

The data collected for Vision Zero is vast and detailed. The High Injury Network captures about 80% of all serious or fatal crashes and is able to zero in on just 7% of the roadways in the county. This is further broken down by transportation mode, and hot spot locations.

As shown in the map, a significant amount of these incidents occur on state owned (VDOT) roadways such as Arlington Boulevard, Glebe Road, Lee Highway, I-395 and I-66. If improvements need to be made to any of these areas there is a more onerous process that is needed to alter the landscape of these roads.

In order to receive funding for a project on these roads local jurisdictions must apply to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). Recently this has been in six year program plans that are conducted every other year. Recently there has also been a decrease in total NVTA funds available from the state legislature.

All of this makes it more likely that local jurisdictions will apply for major funding projects that will have a big impact on our regional transportation network and less likely that localities will apply for smaller projects or improvements that would help with safety concerns like crosswalk improvements.

In my opinion it would be helpful for NVTA to create a small separate fund with an expedited process for smaller scale projects that are needed more immediately for safety improvements.

Overall the Vision Zero program will be a significant help in creating regular system-wide checks for street safety and reducing serious injury or death in our community. The last opportunity for feedback closes this Sunday February 28th and I encourage everyone to provide your own thoughts on the process.

Nicole Merlene is an Arlington native and former candidate for Virginia State Senate. She has served as a leader in the community on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation and North Rosslyn Civic Association, as an Arlington Economic Development commissioner, in neighborhood transportation planning groups, and as a civic liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District.

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