Arlington, VA

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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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Historic numbers of Virginians voted in the 2020 Presidential election. Virginia Democratic legislators have introduced important new voting rights legislation which deserves to be enacted. The 2021 Virginia Legislative Session is expected to adjourn about February 28.

Virginia Voting Rights Act

The Virginia Voting Rights Act is a centerpiece of these 2021 Democratic voting reform initiatives:

[I]t is designed to prevent last-minute poll closures and other election changes that could disproportionately affect voters of color. … Backers say it’s partly a response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that effectively stripped the federal government’s close oversight over elections across the South, including Virginia.

The House of Delegates version of this legislation is HB-1890.

HB-1890 prohibits:

  • any standard, practice, or procedure related to voting from being imposed or applied in a manner that results in the denial or abridgment of the right of any United States citizen to vote based on his race or color or membership in a language minority group.
  • at-large methods of election from being imposed or applied in a locality in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class, defined in the bill, to elect candidates or influence the outcome of an election, by diluting or abridging the rights of voters who are members of a protected class.

Certain unlawful actions, including knowingly communicating false information to voters, that are currently subject to criminal penalties will create civil causes of action under the bill.

The bill also authorizes the Virginia Attorney General to commence civil actions when there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of an election law has occurred, and the rights of any voter or group of voters have been affected by the violation. Civil penalties are payable into a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established by the bill.

The sponsor of HB-1890, Delegate Cia Price (D-Newport News), noted:

[T]here are still attacks on voting rights today that can result in voter suppression, discrimination and intimidation. …We need to be clear that this is not welcome.

Price also said she has compiled examples of voter suppression ranging from moving polling places off public transit lines, or from a community center to a sheriff’s office. Read More

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The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

On Saturday the County Board met and slashed parking permits for some residents while paving the way to move forward on the county and school budgets.

The County Board resisted the urge to raise the real estate tax rate, but only because residential assessments went up by 5.6% over last year, which means the average Arlington homeowner will already pay $382 more in taxes this year in a addition to the new proposed stormwater tax. This residential increase offsets a drop in commercial assessments. The Board is also counting on a new round of federal COVID spending to backfill local needs.

One of the budget savings proposed is eliminating 56 currently vacant positions. Many residents may push back at the decision not to fill 10 police officer positions as well as cuts to 9-1-1 dispatching. There were 16 carjackings in Arlington in 2020 after just three the past two years.

You can check out the full budget proposal here or the summary presentation here.

Arlingtonians will also see the proposed schools budget later this week, but the county budget documents suggest they will not see a significant revenue boost. With enrollment down by 10% over projections for the current school year, it will be interesting to see whether APS will assume that those students will return. We do know that according to Superintendent Durán’s most recent presentation, Arlington is operating with a projected $6 million surplus for the current school year even after paying for COVID mitigation measures.

The schools do face a very real challenge of a lost year of learning. Not every student fell behind, but many did. Hopefully the superintendent and School Board use the current circumstances to not only evaluate the needs created by virtual learning, but how to come back better when it comes to preparing our students academically.

The new parking permit program cuts permits from four to two for people who have a driveway. It does not matter how many cars can practically use the driveway. It does not matter how many people of driving age who are related to each other live in the house.

While this is unlikely to create a hardship for a lot of families, it gives no flexibility to families who have a retired parent living with them or an adult children home from college or working while living at home. County Board member Libby Garvey was particularly dismissive of these concerns. Her response was that kids coming home from college in the future probably wouldn’t have cars. Speaking from personal experience, many of them do in fact have cars and now they may have no place to park them.

The County Board should at the very least consider an amendment to the plan that allows a family to apply for additional permits in certain situations before the changes go into effect on July 1st.

Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’. 

“A thankless job.”

“Your life is not your own.”

“A toxic environment out there.”

These are perceptions among some in the community of what it’s like to be on the School Board these days. If even some of the comments are true, why should a good person run? And why should we care?

For starters, the decisions the School Board makes deal with two things most valuable to many people who live here–their children, and their property values. Good schools are a top factor in choosing where to raise a family and they contribute to strong property values. Good schools also strongly influence what makes Arlington an attractive place for businesses to locate and grow. With all that at stake, we need strong, principled, experienced leaders making the decisions on the School Board and thinking strategically.

Given the upcoming School Board vacancy and a Democratic caucus likely in May, the Progressive Voice editors sat down with a few knowledgeable experts to ask their thoughts on what makes a top-notch board member.

Big-Picture, Whole System Outlook. “The primary quality I want to see is somebody that sees all of Arlington,” says Stacy Snyder, who has served on the APS Advisory Council on Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) and is currently vice-chair of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC). “They understand that every decision, whether a boundary or something else, affects all of Arlington.” Snyder understands that “we all come with our own perspectives, experiences with certain schools,” but says, “I’d want to see someone who’s open to learning, evolving.”

Long-Term Perspective. The Arlington school system has had challenges with growth and capacity of buildings over the past decade, leading to a slew of construction projects amid frustration over a lack of land. Greg Greeley, a veteran of FAC over several years, refers to this situation when explaining why he’s looking for a candidate’s long-range mindset. “The thinking has been more ‘Where can we build the fastest?’ when it should have been ‘Where can we build to best fit the needs of the system?'”

Greeley adds that “There’s a good chance we’ll need a fourth high school in the next 20 years.” Hearing a candidate detail how she or he would approach the problem would “reveal a lot.” Greeley explains that in discerning a candidate’s long-term perspective, he would be listening for depth in how “they describe the problem.”

Deep Knowledge of Facts, Strong Work Ethic. Many candidates list various organizations they’ve been involved with. But a person’s depth of experience and contribution can vary greatly. To get a clearer picture, former School Board member Tannia Talento says, “I’d zero in, like ‘I see you were on the Budget Committee. What did you think of last year’s budget?’

Snyder observes, “When candidates talk…I want to see that they know their facts. If I heard a candidate talk about an inequity that’s not really based on fact, but more in outrage, then it’s a sign.” She worries “when people choose outrage over information.” Snyder says, “If x percent of third-graders aren’t reading at grade level, I don’t want [candidates] giving a solution without showing me how it’s going to work.”

Greely agrees that School Board candidates and members must go beyond platitudes. “The question should be ‘How would or could you make this good idea happen?'” Read More

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A bill that has passed the Virginia House of Delegates would allow bicyclists in the Commonwealth to treat stop signs as yield signs in certain situations.

HB 2262 would legalize a common practice: cyclists rolling through stop signs when no other traffic has the right of way.

“Supporters say it will make roads safer for bicyclists after increases in traffic injuries and deaths, while opponents argue it makes the movements of cyclists less predictable,” the Washington Post reported. “The bill also would require drivers to change lanes when passing a bicyclist if three feet of distance isn’t possible and would allow two cyclists to stay side-by-side in a lane.”

The bill is now set to be considered by the Virginia State Senate.

What do you think?

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It may not be a holiday for Arlington County this year, but Monday is still a state and federal holiday.

Except in the case of breaking news, ARLnow will not be publishing on Presidents Day, aka George Washington Day in Virginia. Our normal news coverage schedule will resume on Tuesday, though don’t be surprised to see some weather coverage on Saturday if the predicted iciness materializes locally.

Here are the most-read articles of the past week in Arlington:

  1. CVS To Begin Administering Vaccines in Va. on Friday
  2. Marriott Cedes Rosslyn Location to New Hotel Operator
  3. APS Sets Dates for Return to In-Person Learning
  4. Vaccinations Numbers Rise Amid Long Lines at County Facility
  5. Metro’s Blue Line To Shut Down For Three Months Starting Saturday
  6. A New Bill, Inspired by Purple Lounge, Would Make it Easier to Deny Liquor Licenses
  7. Morning Poll: What Do You Think of the APS Return to School Plan?
  8. St. Charles in Clarendon Envisions New Parish and New Housing
  9. Popular D.C.-Based Restaurant Lucky Danger Set to Open in Pentagon City

Feel free to discuss those stories, or anything else of local interest, in the comments. Have a nice holiday weekend and please stay safe on the roads. Oh, and happy Valentine’s Day!

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Most Arlington students will be heading back to classrooms next month.

Arlington Public Schools announced Tuesday that in-person learning — with students in classrooms two days per week — will resume for all grade levels between March 2 and March 18, with younger students starting earlier. Students who opt out will remain in full-time virtual learning.

The announcement follows prodding by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who last week encouraged school systems to return by March 15.

The news is being met with jubilation from many APS families, but others are not as happy. Many teachers wanted more time for vaccinations, while a contingent of parents think in-person learning should have resumed much earlier.

(Half of APS staff members have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Superintendent Francisco Durán, who cited improving health metrics as an impetus for his return-to-school decision.)

What do you think?

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Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

March 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic forces APS to shut down in-person instruction. APS is caught with many students, many digital devices, but no real plan to continue meaningful learning virtually. Teachers are left to create virtual lessons, delivering inconsistent curriculum and outcomes.

All this happens despite APS’s insistence — pre-COVID-19 — that APS already had adopted “Personalized Learning.” APS claimed that its version of personalized learning (heavily dependent on digital devices) ensured “instruction, curriculum and outcomes are connected to our learners’ unique talents, skills and interests and [use] technology to provide flexibility and choice for our learners.”

The pandemic exposed a very different reality: Failing grades — despite really hard-working teachers and staff. Critically missing: in-person interactions among teachers and students. Overall: declining test scores and inconsistent supports for students most in need.

May 2020: APS superintendent Francisco Durán inherits this chaotic and challenging situation. Since then, much of our community’s focus appropriately has been on when, where, and under what safety protocols APS should re-open for in-person instruction.

But for years before Dr. Durán arrived, and continuing today — whether our students are trying to learn in or out of a school building — APS has dropped the instructional ball. Dr. Durán and the current School Board now own it and must fix it.

APS must refocus on instruction, especially remediation for learning losses suffered by at-risk groups, and adopting evidence-based resources, particularly for reading, writing and math.

ATSS

Instructional challenges have been exacerbated during the pandemic version of virtual learning, with no solid countywide remediation plan in place. The Arlington Tiered System of Support (ATSS) was a pre-COVID-19 program created to provide time each day to help with interventions in areas like reading, writing, and math: “Research does show that in order for an intervention to be effective targeted instruction should range from 20-40 minutes 4-5 days a week.” But this program has gone radio silent since March 2020. Why isn’t APS prioritizing the continuation of this program and creating small groups to remediate the learning deficits of those children who need ATSS services (regardless of school)?

Literacy

As ARLnow.com has reported, at the elementary and middle and high school levels, more students are struggling to make passing grades this year: ” Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are experiencing the deepest drops.”

Over half of rising 6th graders are reading below grade level. Black and Hispanic students, English-language learning students, and students with disabilities are seeing literacy declines, with inconsistent or no interventions to address pre- and current pandemic-related academic concerns.

Dr. Durán’s February 4, 2021 presentation (Slides 22-31) displayed this Fall’s DIBELS reading scores for grades 3-5, underscoring the urgency for intensive reading interventions for at-risk students.

Read More

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The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Thumbs Up to Governor Northam for announcing schools should reopen by March 15. If Arlington meets this deadline, it will be one full year since the schools were shut down on March 13, 2020. But this must mean in-person instruction, not a glorified study hall where kids learn virtually while sitting in a school classroom. States across America and countries around the world have figured out how to do it safely and responsibly. We have the resources to do it, so hopefully the Superintendent and APS School Board will provide the detailed roadmap soon.

Thumbs Down to those saying it cannot or should not be done. Too many of our kids have fallen behind during this lost year. Too many families have been stretched thin trying to make school happen at home. The time for excuses is over. The time to make it work is long overdue.

Thumbs Up to the bipartisan effort in Richmond to provide tax relief to small businesses. In December, the federal government made tax changes to the administration of the Paycheck Protection Program to allow the funds to flow to small businesses completely tax free. Without a conforming change to the Virginia code, these businesses which are just trying to make it through the pandemic will get an unwanted and unexpected tax bill from the Commonwealth. The compromise proposals currently under consideration in Richmond would cap the benefits so that the smallest businesses would benefit most. Hopefully one will be signed into law very soon.

Thumbs Up to former County Board member John Vihstadt for working toward more transparency for the financial disclosure forms that are required to be filed by our elected officials, top staff, and those appointed to boards and commissions. As Mr. Vihstadt suggested, forms should be available online, particularly for our elected officials. There is no reason this cannot happen, and in short order.

Thumbs Up to county officials for scrambling to make the best of a bad situation on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution front. In January, Governor Northam’s administration suddenly pulled the rug out from under the County Board’s partnership with Virginia Hospital Center resulting in thousands of cancelled appointments. While there have been a few bumps in the road since, and we all wish for faster progress, our officials are on the right track.

Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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As of Monday, a total of 189,689 coronavirus testing encounters have been reported in Arlington County.

That’s nearly one test for every adult in Arlington since the start of the pandemic. Of course, not everyone has been tested.

With steady growth in the county’s COVID-19 case count, we’re wondering how many ARLnow readers have been tested, compared to those who have yet to experience the big cotton swab thing up the nose.

Which of the following best describe you?

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