As early as mid-spring, light poles along Wilson Blvd in Clarendon will be outfitted with new fixtures that monitor crowds and identify potential emergencies.
The technology will be installed sometime this spring as part of a pilot project involving multiple Arlington County departments as well as Comcast, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and US Ignite — a nonprofit focused on community innovation. The initiative is dubbed the “Safety and Innovation Zone demonstration project.”
During its recessed meeting yesterday (Tuesday), the County Board voted 4-1, with Takis Karantonis dissenting, in favor of the pilot project. US Ignite is donating $90,000 to buy the light fixtures, which Comcast will provide, along with a three-month trial of public Wi-Fi in the area.
Karantonis said his vote should not be interpreted as a vote of no-confidence, but rather, it should signal that he is still skeptical and would like to see more public engagement.
The primary use for the fixtures, to be installed along the 2900 block of Wilson Blvd, will be “people counting,” said Holly Hartell, who presented the project on behalf of the Department of Technology Services. In other words, the light fixtures will monitor crowd sizes and flow to recognize unexpected movements that could indicate a potential threat or emergency situation.
“This is an effort to speed things up where seconds and minutes count,” said Arlington County Fire Chief David Povlitz. “If we could gain information to send the right resource to the right place in a timely fashion that could really accelerate us operationally and also safety-wise.”
The light fixtures do not have the capacity to videotape people, capture images or provide identifying information, Hartell said. They can pick up the presence or absence of an event they have been programmed to detect, such as a large crowd moving quickly. This data will be converted into text and sent to a dashboard in the county’s Emergency Communications Center.
“Everything will be anonymous,” Hartell said. “You will never be able to identify an individual person.”
Later on, the technology could be used to detect falls, blasts, shots, and distress cries, as well as sudden temperature changes or the presence of smoke.
The fire chief added that “this [pilot] is just a start and we hope to be able to build this out in the county in time.”
“We are aware of people who are concerned,” Hartell later told ARLnow, of questions raised about the project. “I understand their concerns, and I want to give them the confidence that what we’re looking at is not going to be in any way impacting their privacy.”
The partners in the project — CCI, US Ignite and Comcast — are all providing best practices on collecting data while respecting privacy, she said. The county has also developed a privacy framework to use as it goes about the project.
“We are protecting people’s privacy while improving our services,” she said.
The pilot project will be in place for about one year. The first few months will be spent refining the uses for the technology, followed by six months of data collection, and finally, an assessment period. Next spring, the county will decide if the project could be replicated elsewhere. At that time, there will be robust public engagement opportunities, Hartell said.
During the meeting, Hartell said the block was chosen because it has a vibrant business district and a “pretty active restaurant and pedestrian activity,” even now during the pandemic.
One incident the technology might have caught in that location, had it been in place a few years ago: the famous 2018 Cheesecake Factory incident, when a promotion for free cheesecake got out of control
The original proposal was to focus on social distancing and mask-wearing, according to the staff report. A small number of business members of the Clarendon Alliance were consulted on the idea, and their concern led to a shift away from coronavirus measures, staff said.
Black Lives Matter Protest Held Saturday — “As protests continue around the nation following the death of George Floyd, the Black Parents of Arlington group welcomed families and neighbors on Saturday for a special gathering and vigil for the man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May. Over 100 people gathered at Drew Model Elementary School, some bringing signs while others wore shirts and face masks showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.” [WUSA 9]
Dorsey Discusses ‘Defund’ Demands — “‘We’re getting a lot of letters with the ‘defund the police’ calls,’ says [County Board member Christian Dorsey, on the WAMU Politics Hour]. He says that over the past few years, the police budget has only risen slightly above inflation. He said he’d be open to cutting tactical weapons and gear.” [Twitter]
Pentagon Entering ‘Phase 1’ Today — “Pentagon and Pentagon Facilities Employees: This Mon., June 15, begins Phase One of re-entering the buildings. Welcome back! Don’t forget your face covering and to social distance while inside.” [Twitter]
Current COVID-19 Hospitalizations Fall — “Fewer than 1,000 Virginians are now hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19, and the number of cases continued to slow both statewide and in Northern Virginia, according to reports Saturday morning. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association reported only 959 coronavirus patients in state hospitals, the lowest number since the organization began providing data in early April… Only 342 of those patients were in Northern Virginia, down from a high of 818 on April 30.” [InsideNova]
County Expanding Free Wi-Fi Spots — “Arlington residents can now access free Wi-Fi in the parking lots of the Charles Drew Community Center and Barcroft Sports & Fitness Center as part of the County’s ongoing effort to help residents without reliable internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with these two new locations, public Wi-Fi is available via the ArlingtonWireless network in the parking lots at Aurora Hills, Central and Columbia Pike libraries.” [Arlington County]
PTAs to Distribute Face Masks — “County staff from a variety of departments packing up more than 4,300 cloth face covers for [Arlington Public Schools] PTAs to distribute to families. Face covering is required in Virginia public indoor spaces. ” [Twitter]
Restaurants Seek Expanded Outdoor Dining Spaces — “Arlington County has allowed 19 restaurants to add new space for outdoor dining or expand existing options, as part of the growing trend of shifting tables outside and allowing safer dining while the Covid-19 pandemic persists… Through June 9, the county has seen a total of 66 applications and approved just under a third of them.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo courtesy Jean and James Knaack
Governor Extends Business Closures — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will extend Executive Order Fifty-Three for two weeks, through Friday, May 8, 2020. Executive Order Fifty-Three originally signed on March 24, bans crowds of more than 10 people; closes recreation, entertainment, and personal care businesses; and limits restaurants to offering takeout and delivery services only.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]
Wi-Fi Available in Two Library Parking Lots — “Arlington residents who lack reliable internet service at home during the COVID-19 pandemic can now benefit from two new free County Wi-Fi hotspots. Access to the ArlingtonWireless network is now available at the Central Library and Columbia Pike Library parking lots.” [Arlington County]
Lane Closures on I-66 This Weekend — “Extended lane closures will occur this weekend beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 17, on I-66 East between the Dulles Connector Road and Sycamore Street for bridge work and other construction for the I-66 Eastbound Widening Project.” [Press Release]
Buses to Toot Horns in Unison — “[Today] at 3 p.m., ART buses will join transit agencies around the country in honking their horns to honor transportation and other essential workers. Thank you to the ART bus drivers and staff, and all essential workers, for your work!” [Twitter]
Police Warn of Coronavirus Scams — “FRAUD ALERT: Be aware of COVID-related scams and know how to protect yourself. ACPD reminds you that the IRS will not call, text, email you or contact you via social media to request money or personal information related to economic impact payments.” [Twitter]
Disastrous Debut for Fairfax Distance Learning — While Arlington Public Schools catches flak for deciding not to teach new material until the fall, Fairfax County public schools have cancelled online classes for the rest of the week after the school system’s distance learning technology suffered a series of major failures. [Fairfax County Public Schools, Washington Post]
Simple Greek Now Open — Fast-casual restaurant chain The Simple Greek has opened its new Rosslyn location in the Colonial Plaza shopping center. A ribbon cutting ceremony yesterday was followed by long lines at lunchtime. [Twitter, Twitter]
WiFi Available in Underground Metro Stations — As of today, free wireless internet service should be available in every underground Metro station. Per yesterday’s announcement from Metro: “Customers can log-in by selecting the ‘Metro-Public’ network in their device’s Wi-Fi settings.” [WMATA]
Signs Up for Sfoglina — “Coming soon” signs are up for the new Rosslyn outpost of the acclaimed Fabio and Maria Trabocchi restaurant Sfoglina Pasta House. The restaurant is located on the street level of the office building at 11oo Wilson Boulevard. [Twitter]
Water Rescue Near Chain Bridge — D.C. police and firefighters rescued two people whose kayak overturned in the Potomac River near Chain Bridge last night. Both were evaluated by medics but “neither have physical injuries,” per DCFEMS. [Twitter, Twitter]
Fox News Coming to Iwo Jima Memorial — On Sunday, Fox News Channel will broadcast a portion of its America’s News Headquarters program (noon-2 p.m.) from the Marine Corps War Memorial near Rosslyn. Elizabeth Prann will co-anchor “ANHQ” from the Memorial, “where the nation will be preparing for the Fourth of July fireworks celebration,” according to a Fox press release.
Arlington Has Millions in Prepaid Taxes — “The Arlington treasurer’s office still has about $8 million sitting untouched in its coffers, waiting to be applied to future tax payments. But that’s less than half the $17.2 million in total prepayments submitted by Arlington taxpayers in the waning days of 2017, hoping to beat changes to federal tax law that made some mortgage-interest payments non-deductible in 2018.” [InsideNova]
As part of an expansion to 24 more stations, users at Rosslyn, Clarendon, Courthouse, Crystal City will now be able to access the free wireless internet. Free Wi-Fi is now offered at 30 underground Metro stations throughout the system.
Metro said it expects that all other underground Metro stations — which includes the likes of Ballston, Virginia Square and Pentagon City — to have free Wi-Fi by mid-2018.
And for those riding Metrorail on New Year’s Eve, special late-night service will run until 2 a.m. for those returning from festivities. And in addition, track work will be suspended from 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve through closing New Year’s Day.
“We are pleased to offer extended hours on Metrorail during New Year’s Eve as a service to our customers who will be ringing in the New Year,” Metro general manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld said in a statement. “I also want to thank our employees who will be working to provide the public with a safe and responsible option to get around.”
Baba Now Open — Baba, the comfy bar and cafe in the basement of Ambar in Clarendon, is now open after some unexpected delays. The “big draw” of Baba, according to the Post’s Maura Judkis, is its made-from-scratch cocktails. [Washington Post]
Ballston Wi-Fi to Launch Today — The “BLinked” gigabit wi-fi service in Ballston is expected to launch today. The free service will offer a high-speed and seamless internet connection throughout public spaces in Ballston. [Twitter]
Signature Theatre 2017-18 Season Announced — Shirlington’s Signature Theatre has announced the lineup for its 2017-18 season, with eight marquee shows and six short-run cabarets. [Signature Theatre]
Reminder: Storm Drains Empty to Waterways — “Our local waterways literally go with the flow. That means rain water heads into nearby storm drains and then quickly ends up in local streams like Four Mile Run. Those streams flow into the Potomac River, the source for much of the region’s drinking water.” [Arlington County]
Obit: William Coleman — William T. Coleman, Jr., a civil rights lawyer and cabinet member who broke racial barriers, has died. Coleman is noted in Arlington for his role, as U.S. Secretary of Transportation, in authorizing the controversial construction of I-66 inside the Beltway. [NBC News]
Arlington Players Rack Up WATCH Awards — The Arlington Players have received seven Washington Area Theatre Community Honors awards, tying an Alexandria theater company for the highest award total of 2017. [InsideNova]
Hat tip to Eric Dobson. Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
APS says it has disabled wireless internet access for student-owned devices during school hours, due to excessive web traffic on APS’ network — mostly from smartphones.
“Over the past two years APS has seen a massive increase in the use of mobile technologies,” said Linda Erdos, Assistant Superintendent for School and Community Relations. “Staff and students at some schools are increasingly wanting to connect personal cell phones or other mobile devices to the APS Wi-Fi network. As a result, there have been periods where the demand for access to the network has exceeded the APS capacity, resulting in slow internet performance for all users, particularly for classroom use.”
“To restore network integrity, APS has temporarily removed Wi-Fi access for the lowest priority devices, preventing student-owned devices from connecting to the APS wireless network between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.,” Erdos continued. Students tell us the new policy has been in place for nearly a month.
APS is in the “final stages” of a procurement process that will build more bandwidth into the APS network, Erdos said. When that added bandwidth is in place — APS is hoping the work is complete by December — student-owned phones and other devices will be allowed back on the network.
“It has been decided that we will allow student-owned devices back on the network once the increased capacity is in place and we have tested it to ensure there are no problems,” said Erdos. “I just can’t give an exact date.”
Students, meanwhile, are none too pleased with the lack of internet access. Cell phone service is spotty within schools, students say, and those without school-issued laptops and tablets — which are still allowed on the network — say they need internet access to complete school work at a time when APS is emphasizing technology in classrooms and removing computer labs.
Diana, a Yorktown High School student, wrote the following to explain that internet access is now an educational need, not just a means to slacking off in class.
Technology is seen as a very important part of curriculums and education in APS, which is why students should access to Wi-Fi.
Many places in Yorktown do not even have service so using cellular data is not always an option if students have to use their phones to do schoolwork, which as a senior I frequently have to do. Students can no longer log into Wi-Fi with personal laptops but students who are freshman and sophomores still can log in through their MacBooks since they are APS issued. This puts juniors and seniors at a disadvantage.
Google Docs is widely used at Yorktown and at APS and I use for typing up many notes and papers including for my independent study. Not having access to the Wi-Fi to be able to use Google Docs or just the Wi-Fi in general for my independent study can hinder my success in the class.
Yorktown did have two computer labs with laptops but those laptops were taken away and now those two places are just empty classrooms. Junior and Senior teachers are limited to just computers at the library to bring their class to or request a computer cart. These teachers can no longer tell students to pull out their phones to do something since they just don’t have the access to do so with no Wi-Fi while the underclassmen just use their MacBooks and don’t have to worry about a reliable internet connection.
On Twitter, other students were less reserved with their assessment of the situation, offering comments like:
- “@APSVirginia @YorktownHS I’m dropping out of school if the wifi doesn’t get fixed”
- “Turn on the f-cking wifi @APSVirginia”
- “@APSVirginia has enough money to give thousands of MacBooks to freshmen and sophomores but can’t give the rest of us wifi?”
- “@APSVirginia GIVE US BACK OUR WIFI THIS IS NOT NORTH KOREA”
Lawmakers Punishing Arlington for HOT Lanes Suit — Arlington may have succeeded in blocking a state-backed plan to build High Occupancy Toll lanes on I-395 last year, but the lawsuit the county filed against the HOT lanes project is coming back to haunt it in Richmond. State lawmakers have proposed budget amendments that would reduce Arlington’s share of road maintenance funds by $100,000 — a form of punishment for the county’s legal tactics. [Washington Times]
Wardian Wins D.C. Marathon — Arlington’s Michael Wardian won the SunTrust Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon in the District on Saturday, completing the race with a time of 2 hours, 26 minutes and 35 seconds. The 37-year-old father of two had previously won the race’s predecessor, the National Marathon, five times. [Competitor]
Sliced Shopper Demands Wi-Fi — A woman has penned an open letter to the Clarendon Trader Joe’s insisting that the store install free public Wi-Fi internet service. The letter writer says the store’s lack of Wi-Fi led her to accidentally slice her finger while cutting avocados at home. [Patch]
Signature Production Connects with Younger Audience — A production at Shirlington’s Signature Theater is accomplishing the difficult feat of connecting with a younger theater-going audience while at the same time shining a critical light on their generation. “Really Really,” by 26-year-old playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo, examines “the self-absorbed mindsets often exhibited by the twentysomething members of ‘Generation Me.'” The show runs through March 25. [Variety]
(Updated at 9:35 a.m.) Imagine taking your laptop to the Crystal City water park and getting work down while enjoying a crisp fall day. If not for the rain, you could be doing just that.
Crystal City is just finishing up an expansion and upgrade to its free public Wi-Fi network, which is available in many of the neighborhood’s public spaces.
The service is available under the SSID “Crystal City Beta.” See a map of the hotspots here.