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Public Spaces


Rosslyn's sidewalks are getting a makeover

Sidewalks are critical parts of where we live. They connect us to restaurants and businesses, make for a safe environment, and foster a sense of community. A plan for Rosslyn's future is focusing on making its sidewalks easier and more pleasant to use.


All images from the Rosslyn BID.

Cities today are focused on sustainability and on developing mixed-use areas, with businesses and residential sharing the same space. Passed in 2015, "Realize Rosslyn" is Arlington County's long-term sector plan to transform the city into a "live-work-shop-play" urban center. To make access by foot, bike, or car easier, one element of the plan is a call for smarter street designs wider sidewalks.

The plan also prioritizes expanded parks and public spaces and better access to public transit, including Metro.

In a separate but connected project, the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) launched the Streetscape Elements Master Plan. During the planning process in 2013, the BID collaborated with Arlington County and Ignacio Ciocchini, a New York-based industrial designer, to develop the streetscape initiative that would extend the benefits of the public sector improvements envisioned by the larger plan down to the sidewalk and pedestrian levels.

To do this, the BID carried out a comprehensive look at Rosslyn's sidewalks to determine what was missing and what could help create a unified and active streetscape. The BID also studied examples of other dense urban districts that had successfully transformed their pedestrian environments.

After researching, the BID decided on what to install as part of the streetscape. New benches, newspaper corrals, and planters will improve the pedestrian experience; way-finding signs and a mobile informational kiosk will make it easier for visitors to navigate; bike racks will encourage multimodal transportation; and the mobile curbside parklets will support retail and dining establishments. Many of these elements are mobile, meaning they can be moved to where they'll best support the community at a moment's notice.

Combining form and function, the sidewalk elements also complement the unique identity of the neighborhood and the business and residential development happening all around us. For example, the perforated design used in many of the street elements, including benches and chairs, is unique to Rosslyn and derived from the window lights of prominent buildings on our skyline that were simplified and digitally transferred to form the pattern.


Benches with etchings of the Rosslyn skyline.

Currently, the streetscape project is in a demonstration phase: the public can see many of the elements at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Oak Street. The hope is to eventually roll out over 600 elements in all of Rosslyn's 17 blocks.

A key aspect of this project was the proactive communication and collaboration between all of the stakeholders, from city planners and policymakers to business leaders and the public. While the Rosslyn BID leads the streetscape initiative, it has received immense support from Arlington County. The BID will use private money to fund the project.

The guiding mantra behind the Rosslyn BID's efforts has been to ensure that all development is people-centric and a reflection of the community's identity. Much like the BID did with the mobile vending zone pilot, the BID will be actively gathering feedback from the community and using that input to guide the next phase of the project as it expands to the rest of Rosslyn.

We hope that everyone who lives or works in Rosslyn—or who visits from DC and elsewhere in northern Virginia—will come and experience our new streetscape elements and let us know what you like, what can be improved upon and what additional steps we can take to build a better Rosslyn.

Transit


Crystal City's Metroway BRT is open and carrying passengers

The Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway officially opened on Sunday, upgrading Metroway bus service to bona fide bus rapid transit in Arlington.


27th & Crystal station. All photos by the author.

Metroway runs between Pentagon City and Braddock Road Metro stations. For much of its route between Crystal City and Potomac Yard, it runs in dedicated bus lanes, making it the Washington region's first real foray into BRT.

The Alexandria portion of the transitway opened in 2014. Arlington's portion through Crystal City opened yesterday, Sunday, April 17.

Through Potomac Yard, the transitway runs in a totally exclusive busway—a completely separate road from the regular lanes.


27th & Crystal station.

Stations in the busway have substantial arched roofs and attractive wall panels.


South Glebe station.

Through Crystal City, bus lanes and bus stations hug the curb.


18th & Crystal station.

Since northbound buses run a block away from southbound buses, bus stations are smaller through this section. They're more like large bus stops.


23rd & Clark station.

Crystal City is pretty quiet on Sundays, so there weren't many opening day riders, and buses only came every 20 minutes. During the week there'll be a lot more riders, and buses will run every 6-12 minutes depending on the time of day.

Head over to Crystal City and check it out! Or see more pictures of both the Arlington and Alexandria transitway sections via Flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Politics


A chat with Arlington County Board candidate Erik Gutshall

Arlington businessman Erik Gutshall has thrown his hat in the ring for the county board democratic primary, challenging incumbent Board member Libby Garvey.


Erik Gutshall. Image from his campaign.

A resident and former civic association president of Lyon Park, it would be easy for Gutshall to sit back and hope that the democratic electorate punishes Garvey for endorsing independent John Vihstadt in his successful 2014 election to the county board. The result there was the death of the Columbia Pike streetcar along with Board members Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes deciding not seek re-election.

Gutshall, however, views his race as more a referendum on the future of Arlington than one on Garvey's actions in office.

"Are we going to stay true to progressive values or turn inward and insular? Does Arlington want to be push bold ideas, or be stagnant?," he said in an interview with Greater Greater Washington. According to Gutshall, Garvey told the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was "no initiative."

Gutshall has Planning Commission roots

Gutshall is a proponent of smart growth. He has worked on the Arlington County Planning Commission for almost three years and understands how important it is to develop urban, mixed-use districts, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor that is known nationally as a prime example of transit oriented development.

He has also been a member of a number of local committees, ranging from the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study Task Force to the Site Plan Review Committee involved with Clarendon area projects.

Gutshall says that his background provides him with a solid understanding of how to balance urban planning with economic development, noting that the latter drives the ability to effectively accomplish the former. Without urban planning, he says, Arlington could end up a developer-driven, auto-oriented suburb like Tysons Corner.

He also believes smart growth is connected to all of the other issues that affect Arlington. For example, on the issue of Arlington county schools, Gutshall says "it is important to incorporate school development into long-range land use and transportation planning."

"We have to look at how many students a density plan will result in and how transportation systems would address this," he says. "We have to be forward thinking, rather than just coming up with short-term solutions."

When it comes to housing costs, Gutshall points out that Arlington has done a great job keeping single-family homes while encouraging high-rise development. However, it has not accomplished its goal of building intermediate housing—something he calls the "missing middle"—for those who earn between 80% and 120% of area median income (AMI), he says.

In order to attract the best employees for the new Arlington business climate, Gutshall advocates for market rate housing alongside housing affordability. Although Arlington has seen a decline in commercial high-rise occupancy, it continues to push forward in becoming a hub for technology and health-oriented small- and medium-size businesses even as it faces stiff competition from other developing communities, such as Tyson's Corner.

He's also a local business owner

Gutshall brings a unique background of both business—he owns the home improvement contractor business Clarendon Home Servicesand civic engagement to the county board race. He hopes this background will help address some of the major issues that resulted in former county board member Alan Howze's loss to Vihstadt in 2014.

The Arlington County Board frequently gets criticism that it ignored the concerns of residents, and Gutshall points to his successful business as reason to believe he would help reverse that course—losing the trust of customers, the thinking goes, is a costly endeavor.

Transportation is on Gutshall's radar

Gutshall says widening I-66 is not consistent with smart growth. He says the original compromise, which would have delayed widening 66 for at least five years until multi-modal improvements have a chance to reduce congestion, was a good deal. He doesn't think so about the more recent regional compromise announced in February, in which the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will build a third lane in each direction on the interstate to Fairfax Drive inside the Beltway. In exchange, outer-suburb legislators will support the governor's plan to convert the current peak-direction HOV-2 operation to HOT-2 lanes.

Gutshall notes that Arlington will have a seat at the table and be able to use toll revenue to develop other modes of transportation, like bike trails, bus service, and Metro.

Arlington has long opposed widening I-66 inside the beltway, favoring instead more of the alternative transportation options Gutshall mentions.

One thing Gutshall says he would do if elected to the council is push for Arlington to have an advanced transportation system, though he's not firm on exactly what that system would look like. This would undoubtedly include some form of improvements along the Columbia Pike corridor, though he agrees that the streetcar there is dead.

Correction: The original version of this post said that Gutshall supported the most recent I-66 widening deal. He emailed us to clarify that he supported a previous agreement, but that he sees the recent regional compromise as "short-sighted and disappointing."

Transit


Both DC and Arlington open bus lanes this month

April is going to be a huge month for bus lanes. On Monday, April 11, DC will open a four block stretch on Georgia Avenue. Then on Sunday, April 17, Arlington will open the Crystal City transitway.


Crystal City transitway station. Photo by Arlington.

Georgia Avenue

Georgia Avenue's bus lanes will run just four blocks, from Florida Avenue to Barry Place. They'll be curbside lanes, with normal bus stops on the sidewalk.


Location of Georgia Avenue bus lanes. Image from DC and Google.

Four blocks is short, but this location is specifically one of the slowest stretches WMATA's busy 70-series bus line passes through. Bus lanes here will speed the entire line.

Just as importantly, this will be a test project for DDOT to study, and to learn about bus lane implementation. In May, crews will add red paint to the roadway to make the bus lanes more visually obvious. By adding the red surface later, DDOT will gather data on whether the red really does dissuade car drivers from using the lanes illegally.


Red-painted curbside bus lane in New York. Photo by NACTO.

If Georgia Avenue's four block bus lanes prove successful, they could provide a model for the citywide transit lane network envisioned in moveDC. They could also one day form the backbone of a future Georgia Avenue streetcar.

They're short, but they're important.

Crystal City

Get ready for bona fide BRT.

On Sunday the 17th, Arlington will open the second half of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, better known as Metroway. The first half opened in 2014 in Alexandria, and was the Washington region's first foray into BRT.

The new Crystal City transitway section will run from Crystal City Metro south to Alexandria, where it will join the existing busway. It'll be a mix of curbside bus lanes and fully exclusive bi-directional busway.


Crystal City transitway. Image by Arlington.

The DC region once had 60 miles of bus-only lanes. With these projects finally happening, and others like 16th Street on the horizon, it's exciting to see a reborn network begin to take shape.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Development


Arlington's Lee Highway will transform into an urban main street, if vision becomes reality

Community leaders in north Arlington are hoping to achieve a new vision for Lee Highway. If vision becomes reality, significant stretches of the largest commercial highway between I-66 and the Potomac River will become a walkable urban main street.


An illustrative concept for part of Lee Highway. Image from Arlington County.

Lee Highway is the main commercial road through north Arlington. Unlike other parts of Arlington, it's still mostly a car-oriented, suburban-style place. But it's so close to the region's core that development pressure is mounting, and rather than let that happen haphazardly, the community wants a plan.

That makes a lot of sense, so the community worked with an internationally recognized consultant team led by Dover Kohl and Partners to provide their perspective on what the vision for Lee Highway should be. They quickly discovered that most Lee Highway residents seem to want the kind of walkable, urban amenities that much of the rest of Arlington enjoys.

Now the draft vision is online, and it clearly reflects that theme. If the vision becomes reality, Lee Highway will see a string of neighborhood centers between Rosslyn and East Falls Church, along with new transportation options, better public spaces, and more.

What's in the vision

A series of unique neighborhoods will emerge where there are large commercial nodes today. Rather than an extended strip of retail land as exists today, Lee Highway will become a collection of distinct, walkable, mixed use neighborhood centers, surrounding the corners where other major roads intersect Lee Highway.

Each new node will have a carefully planned, unique scale and character. Some will be small village centers, others will be comparatively dense.


Proposed nodes showing higher and lower densities. Image from Arlington.

The biggest neighborhood centers would be where Lee Highway crosses Spout Run Parkway, and at Glebe Road.

The vision assumes bus and bike improvements along Lee Highway, potentially including bus lanes, but it doesn't include bigger transit investments like a new Metro line.

Thus, even the densest proposed neighborhood centers are less intense than what surrounds Arlington's Metro stations.

The popular Lee Heights shopping center in Waverly Hills is one place there's a hint of walkability already. This vision would preserve the best parts of the existing shopping center and add development nearby to make it a strong center.


Illustrative concept for Lee Heights shopping center, before and after. Image from Arlington.

Overall, the vision hopes to transform Lee Highway into more than just a through road, into a place for people and community.

It will preserve and create more affordable housing, help protect existing businesses, and provide new community gathering spaces, complete streets, and better streetscapes. There will be new parks and open spaces, and low-cost, temporary pop up parks and parklets.

Currently Arlington has a lot of high-rise apartments and detached single-family homes, but not much in the middle. The Lee Highway vision will focus on adding more of those "missing middle" housing types. Rowhouses, stacked flats, and small-scale apartment buildings will dot the corridor and bring new life to areas that are now strictly commercial.

Organizational efforts such as a unified network of Lee Highway businesses will foster the health of existing local businesses, while welcoming the new shops gravitating to the new neighborhood centers.


Affordable housing will increase. Image from Arlington.

What happens next

You can view the full draft vision online, and provide comments up until March 31.

After that, community groups will look over the comments and make changes this spring, then the Arlington County Board will review it in May.

But even then, this community-based vision is aspirational. It won't have the force of Arlington County law behind it, at least not yet. Nor are the proposals in the vision ready for construction. For now, it's food for thought to stir the imagination, and provide the framework for more formal county plans and studies that will come later.

Bicycling


A short new trail connection will go a long way in Arlington

After years of delay, a trail connection between Columbia Pike and the Arlington Boulevard Trail is close to becoming a reality. The wait was frustrating, but the new trail will do less environmental damage and be more pleasant to ride.


Image by the author.

Built in 2009, Phase I of the Washington Boulevard Trail begins where the Arlington Boulevard Trail crosses Washington Boulevard. It continues along Washington Boulevard until crossing over the South Courthouse Road exit, where it ends abruptly.

Last week, the Penrose Neighborhood Association unanimously endorsed a new trail design for Phase II, which which will pick up where Phase I ends and continue along the west side of Washington Boulevard and up into Towers Park, ultimately connecting to Columbia Pike via South Rolfe Street.

The trail is an important connection in Arlington's bike network, extending the reach of the Arlington Boulevard Trail and providing a low-stress alternative to portions of Columbia Pike and South Courthouse Road. Combined with a planned Army Navy Country Club connector, the Washington Blvd Trail & Arlington Blvd Trail would provide a much-needed North-South bicycle connection in the eastern portion of Arlington. It will especially aid those who live in Aurora Highlands and would like to bike to areas to the north and west, like the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.


Base map by Google, Modifications by the Author

Environmental concerns led to delays

90% of Phase II's design was ready in the spring of 2012, but then it ran into significant opposition. Both the Penrose Neighborhood Association and Arlington's Urban Forestry Commission opposed the design due to its significant tree impact, as the original design was expected to require the removal of 186 trees (though six were already dead and some were invasive species).

As a result of that opposition, Arlington County staff went to the Naval Research Facility for an easement that would allow the trail to preserve more trees.

At the same time, local activists and State Delegate Alfonso Lopez lobbied VDOT for a design exception that would allow a portion of the trail to go closer to Washington Boulevard.

The trail is ready to go now

Both the easement and the design exception recently came through, so much of the trail will go in on what is currently Washington Boulevard's shoulder, protected by a curb and five feet of landscaped buffer. Environmentally, that means losing fewer trees, and there will be much less of an increase in impermeable surface.


The new design. Plans by Arlington County, with labels and simplification by the author.

This version of the trail will also be better to ride on. Prior designs put the trail farther from traffic, but they also made it feel as though you were walking or riding in a ditch. That's because without a design exception, VDOT required a median barrier between the trail and Washington Boulevard's shoulder. Putting the trail next to the shoulder rather than on the shoulder itself would have required cutting into the hillside, which would have placed retaining walls on the far side of the trail as well.


The old design. Image from Arlington County.

The project will follow the County's tree-replacement formula, meaning about three new trees will be planted for every two that come out. County staff have said that all of the trees will be placed along the trail, including some along Phase 1.

The bidding process for building the trail should start this summer, and for construction to start in the fall. Hopefully it's wrap up in late spring or early summer of 2017.

Despite trails being Arlington's most-used recreational asset, the Washington Boulevard Trail is one of the only new trails planned in Arlington. Should Arlington build more? If so, where do you think they should go?

Bicycling


Memorial Bridge fixes could help more than just cars

Arlington Memorial Bridge needs serious repairs, or perhaps even a full replacement, in the next five years. As the National Park Service works to make that happen, there's also a chance to address some surrounding conditions that are hazardous for people on foot and on bike.


Photo by Bernt Rostad on Flickr.

NPS first sounded the alarm about the bridge last year after an inspection forced emergency repairs that partially closed the bridge, and started a ban on heavy vehicles, like buses, that's still in place today. Now, NPS says those repairs didn't do enough, and that it's inevitable that without $250 million in repairs, the bridge will be too dangerous for automobile travel by 2021.

Northern Virginia's Congressional delegation is on board with funding the effort to fix it, citing the fact that 68,000 people cross the bridge daily. Hopefully, they can convince their colleagues to join them.


Rust underneath the Memorial Bridge. Image from NPS.

The bridge is unsafe for more than just cars

Memorial Bridge bridge itself has wide sidewalks that usually allow enough room for most cyclists and pedestrians to share space. But the routes that connect to the bridge aren't safe for people on foot or bike.

In Virginia, the bridge connects to the George Washington Parkway and its accompanying trail, which is one of the region's most popular. Despite its popularity the trail has some particular challenges, namely that it intersects with the parkway—a limited access, high speed highway—in several places. Drivers are supposed to yield or stop for anyone trying to use the crosswalks, but there have been a number of crashes thanks to people rear-ending cars that were stopped to allow people to cross.


Image from Google Maps.

Issues on the DC side of the bridge stem from a confusing web of roads that force cyclists on their way to the Mall or downtown to either ride in very busy car traffic or on a narrow sidewalk.


One of the crosswalks where few drivers slow down. Image from Google Maps.

NPS has actually known about these issues longer than they have known about the bridge being in disrepair. But the agency has been resistant to do anything to fix them except in small ways where the first priority was not to slow down cars using the parkway.

Here are some ideas for fixing the bridge

NPS is straightening out some parts of the trail near Washington National Airport, where curves snake around a large tree and make it hard to see. The agency is also working to make it so cyclists don't have to travel through a busy parking lot near Teddy Roosevelt Island. But closer to the bridge itself, the trail could still get a lot safer.

One option is to create separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians on popular parts of the trail. NPS could also keep working to remove some of sharp curves and blind corners that are on the trail beyond what is being fixed at the airport. Finally, NPS needs to decide what to do about the crosswalks. If the GW Parkway is going to remain a high speed highway, then crosswalks more appropriate for a city street just won't work. Solutions might include rerouting the trail, slowing down speed limits, or even adding trail overpasses.

For the bridge itself, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) put forth its own idea for removing two car lanes and creating protected bike lanes a while back:


Diagram of a redesigned memorial bridge. Image from WABA.

Cutting the number of car lanes on the bridge would work since congestion there is pretty low. Average speeds at rush hour are higher than the speed limit, and a new bridge wouldn't need six car lanes.

The crux of the Memorial Bridge issue is safety, and that of cyclists and pedestrians shouldn't go ignored. But a safe bridge and surrounding area for them would also mean a safer place for drivers, as deciding to follow the law and share the road would become far less dangerous. Both NPS and leaders in Congress should be concerned about all bridge users.

If a concern for safety is a big reason why NPS is sounding the alarm now then they should also be using this opportunity to fix the persistent hazards that cyclists and pedestrians have faced on the trails around the bridge.

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