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A chat with Arlington County Board candidate Libby Garvey

Libby Garvey is running for re-election to the Arlington County Board against challenger businessman Erik Gutshall. She wants to continue to streamline and ease county regulations to make it a place residents can call "great."


Libby Garvey. Image from the Arlington County Board.

Garvey is all about attracting people to Arlington, which she described as "a smart, capable, and educated community," in an April interview with Greater Greater Washington. Good transit, affordable housing (especially for middle income earners), education, and making the county friendly to businesses all play a part in this effort.

First, however, Garvey wants to set the record straight about her "initiative" as board chair. Her opponent, Erik Gutshall, has made a point of her comments to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was "no initiative." But Garvey says those comments were taken out of context.

"My push is to work on strategic planning, to get us thinking holistically about things," she says, pointing out that historically the incoming board chair would have a pet project or agenda—an initiative—that they would push forward. This process led to a new initiative every time there was a new chair, which is something she wants to avoid.

"Moving forward, if I've got an initiative I want to make sure my whole board is on board," says Garvey.

Good transit for Arlington is a priority

Garvey believes Arlington should provide people with "good transit," giving them the ability to get around the county without a car. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and other improvements to the county's bus network are an important part of this.

She points to the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway that opened in April and plans for a bus rapid transit line along Route 7 as examples of BRT investments in the county that are moving forward.

However, Garvey insists that dedicated lanes are not a requirement for BRT.

"A dedicated lane is something you want to have and would like to have but don't need it," she says.

Los Angeles has implemented what is "essentially" a BRT system without dedicated lanes, says Garvey, adding that 90% of US BRT does not have such lanes according to multiple experts.

She is likely referring to Los Angeles's Metro Rapid bus service. The dense network of frequent bus lines with limited signal priority across the county is widely considered a successful express bus network—just not BRT.

Transit experts generally agree that Los Angeles' only BRT line is the Orange Line busway, which runs in a dedicated transitway from the North Hollywood subway station to the Warner Center and Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

"There are a lot of tools in the basket," says Garvey on transit improvements. A countywide transit development plan, which is likely to include things like signal priority and off-board fare payment for buses, is in the works.

One tool that is likely not in Garvey's basket is a streetcar. She is well known for her opposition to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars that were cancelled after the election of county board member John Vihstadt in 2014. She argued at the time that similar transit improvements could be achieved through improved bus service at a far lower cost.

I-66 could be a new source of revenue... and park space?

Garvey is watching the plans to widen I-66 inside the beltway in exchange for the addition of tolls from 2017 closely.

"We've been assured that when [the Commonwealth of Virginia] is talking about widening they're not going to widen the roadbed," she says. "We're watching very closely."

The compromise came after years of Arlington objecting to the widening of any of the highways in the county, including a controversial lawsuit against Virginia to stop the I-395 HOT lanes. Asked why the county did not object to the latest proposal, Garvey says she feels the county can achieve more by working with elected representatives in Richmond than by working against them.

"It's all about soft power," she says.

Garvey has some interesting ideas for how Arlington can use the revenue generated by the new tolls on I-66. For example, a BRT line on Route 50 could help alleviate some of the congestion on I-66, she says.

Another idea Garvey has for I-66 is acquiring the air rights over the freeway to build new park space. Discussions with officials over acquiring the rights that would allow Arlington to deck over the depressed highway are on going, she says.

The deck would have a lower level for parking and buses with new green space and pedestrian paths above.

"We need the ability to knit our community back together," says Garvey.

Schools and housing influence quality of life

Garvey stresses that she wants to make Arlington a "great" place to live. The topic is clearly an important one to her, as she repeatedly returns to quality of life and attracting new residents to the county in her comments.

A key part of this is keeping housing affordable, especially for those in the middle of the economic ladder. Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says.

"There's a lot of really local government regulations and code that we can look at and improve," says Garvey.

In addition, she wants to preserve existing affordable housing stock, like older garden apartments, when there is pressure to replace them with new development.

Quality education is key to a great Arlington for Garvey. County schools have improved from unattractive to new parents to ones that are considered a great place to raise kids during the more than 15 years since she first joined the school board, she says.

Garvey sees room for further improvement. She wants to bring Arlington schools into the twenty-first century by increasing access to technology and improve training opportunities outside the classroom, she says.

Improvements are also needed for the county's business climate. In addition to easing the approvals process for developers, Garvey wants to energize Arlington's economic development office to go out and actively recruit new businesses, especially technology businesses.

On the whole, Garvey focuses on largely process improvements—streamlining regulations to review the zoning code for example—for Arlington rather than hard goals.

The Arlington county primary election is on June 14th.

Roads


Make space for bikes on the GW Parkway

The George Washington Parkway was originally just supposed to help tourists get to Mount Vernon, and its keepers' main mission is to preserve natural resources, not maintain roads. Could there be fewer driving lanes and more space for other modes of transportation?


Photo by Roger W on Flickr.

The southern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway opened to traffic in 1932. Conceived as a means to ease tourist access to George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, it morphed throughout the latter part of the 20th century into a motorist commuter route for far-flung suburbanites heading to DC.

Both the road and the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail are maintained by the National Park Service (NPS), whose mission is to "preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources" of the United States. You will not find anywhere in its mission statement that it is to provide fast, convenient commuter routes for the suburbs of Washington, DC.

Average daily traffic (ADT) volumes on the parkway within the last few years have been approximately 16,000 vehicles, a number that isn't huge but certainly lessens the road's original scenic purpose. Birdsong is impossible to hear with the din of SUVs in the background.


Note how close the four lanes of traffic are to the trail on the right. Also, note that no crosswalks are present at this busy intersection. Nor are there any signals to stop traffic for people crossing on foot or by bike.

That ADT number is also well within the 20,000 ADT set as the maximum for the practical implementation of a road diet as decreed by the US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). That FHWA maximum is, itself, arbitrarily low based on real-world observations. For example, no significant increase in regional congestion was caused by the 2015 closure of two lanes on the far more heavily used Memorial Bridge just to the north.

Parallel to the four-lane parkway is the Mount Vernon Trail, a winding, narrow multiuser trail. In recent years, this trail has become a major commuter route for people who bike to and from DC. Upwards of 2000 bikes per day hit the trail, despite the trail's narrowness.

People who walk and bike must share this trail, as signs along the road prohibit bicycles from the road. Interestingly, the federal code governing the road's usagedoesn't reference bicycles explicitly. Nor does the code prohibit changes to the amount of space on the roadway given over to motorists.


Bikes are not allowed on the lightly-traveled GW Parkway. Instead, they are forced onto the adjacent Mount Vernon Trail.

Recently, the National Park Service released its National Capital Region Draft Paved Trail Study for comment. The study is an update of the 1990 plan written in an era when bicycling in the US was less of an everyday transportation mode and more of a recreational activity. The plan tends to view the trails in isolation. There's no mention of what mode will get priority when there is conflict, such as when people on bikes or on foot must cross the road for access to trails. It also does not address the feasibility of road diets that would balance out mode space on routes like the southern section of the parkway.

Does it make sense that cars on the southern section (below Alexandria) of the parkway are given four lanes of space while bikes and pedestrians are crammed onto the narrow, winding MVT? Both are major commuter routes, but whereas the MVT is overcrowded at 2000 ADT, the parkway is half-empty at 16,000 ADT. In essence, the trail is under-built, while the road is over-built.


This is the George Washington Memorial Parkway today: four high-speed lanes, no traffic lights, controlled access, and a narrow multiuser trail parallel to the roadway. All of this is next to the Potomac River. All images from the Virginia Bicycling Federation.

If the draft paved trail plan truly acknowledged the modern and future needs of this particular route, discussion of a road diet on the GW Parkway would be on the table. The road could easily be shrunk to one vehicle lane in each direction with adjacent buffered bike lanes. The MVT could be given over entirely to people who walk, eliminating potentially hazardous bike-pedestrian conflicts.


A road diet on the parkway would leave two lanes for motorists, buffered bike lanes on the remaining space, and leave the Mount Vernon Trail exclusively for use by those on foot.

This is not without precedent. In 2001 the state of New York closed two out of four lanes on the Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara Falls region. As with the GW Parkway, this highway was controlled access with an eye towards enhancing tourist traffic while providing access to scenic beauty. Instead, it proved to be such a failure in all regards that local advocates didn't stop with a road diet. They pushed through a plan to remove it entirely for at least a two mile stretch. If the state of New York can pull this off, despite actually having a mandate to provide speedy transportation options, why can't the National Park Service?


The Robert Moses Parkway in the Niagara River region was very similar to the George Washington Parkway, until a road diet was implemented. Now a two-mile portion will be removed to allow better river access.

NPS has an opportunity to shift its focus in the National Capital region away from an old-school, road-centric mindset to a more sustainable approach that also recognizes the changing commuter habits of younger generations. If you agree, send the National Park Service your comments via their comment page. You have until May 19th to do so. After that, you may have to wait another quarter-century to get your input to them.

This post originally ran on the Virginia Bicycling Federation's blog.

Bicycling


Green means go (for bike lanes)

Washington is one of many cities going green, literally: green paint is becoming a go-to way to make bike lanes stand out so that using the street is safer for everyone.


The bike lanes along 14th Street NW, between V and U Streets, just turned green. Photo by Rodney Hunter.

The latest green lanes in DC were just painted on 14th Street NW between V and U streets. But that's just the latest in what has been regularly happening in DC for the past few years. Why has the city gone green for bike lanes all of a sudden?

It wasn't always green

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, an early 1990's test in Portland used blue paint to see whether or not painted lanes made cyclists safer and more visible. The overall test results found that the treatment was generally popular and both drivers and cyclists felt that it helped reduce confusion and conflict.

But cities gradually started switching to green paint because blue pavement markings because blue is often the color used to mark handicapped-accessible spaces. Meanwhile, other colors like red and yellow are used to warn people or signal that something is prohibited. Before it became the color for bike lanes, it was rare to see green paint on the street.


Green Paint on First Street. Image from Google Maps.

In DC, green lanes are found in a few places. The entire First Street NE protected bikeway, which runs from Union Station through NoMa, is painted bright green. The L and M street bikeways also have green sections where there are turn lanes for cars, to make sure that bikes going straight have a path around turning vehicles.


Green Paint on L Street. Image from Google Maps.

Places where bike lanes cross turning lanes or tricky intersections are also spots where you're likely to find green paint in DC. That's the case at R Street and Rhode Island Avenue where the diagonal avenue makes for an awkwardly long intersection. And at Eye Street SW, numerous entrances have green paint so drivers know to check for cyclists and to merge carefully rather than just turning (check out this shot of I before it got green paint and a bike lane, and this one after).


Green paint along R Street across Rhode Island Avenue. The paint helps keep bikes and cars straight across a long intersection.

Other places around the region are getting in on the act as well. Arlington has painted portions of the bike lane along Clarendon Boulevard green at some of the tricky intersections and along Hayes Street near Pentagon City as well.


Green Lanes in Rosslyn. Image from from Google Maps.

Green paint has also shown up in Montgomery County, first appearing on Woodglen Drive in Bethesda.


Green Paint in Bethesda. Image from Google Maps.

Other places get the point, but they use different colors

Other countries seem to be fond of different colors, as standards in those countries have developed differently over time. Red is a popular color for bike lanes in the Netherlands and Copenhagen while painted bike lanes in the UK are probably going to be blue.

No matter the color, the intent is that a bike lane should stick out so that people know to watch out.


Blue bike lanes in London. Image from Google Maps.

At least one town in the Netherlands decided that all of those colors were too boring and decided to install LEDs that mimic the whorling patterns found in the famous Van Gogh painting Starry Night.

Still, while green seems to be a popular color for more and more bike lanes, it isn't universally beloved. Recently, automobile advertisers found themselves in a lurch when a bright green bike lane was painted in LA along a street that is often used for filming car commercials.

Hollywood's troubles and all, it appears that green lanes in the US are sticking around and will soon be a regular part of the landscape. Where should the next splash of green go in the region?

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.

Pedestrians


This Annandale park is getting a new foot bridge, after all

In late March, a foot bridge in Annandale disappeared altogether because Fairfax County officials said they couldn't afford to fix or replace it. On Wednesday, however, the county said it will build a new one.


This bridge is gone, but a new one will replace it soon. Photo by Rick Carlstrom.

On March 23, the county removed the bridge, which crosses a tiny stream in Annandale's Broyhill Crest Park, after determining it was in danger of collapsing. At that time, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross told residents that, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority, a replacement bridge would cost $80,000 and there was no money in the budget for a new one.

But in an April 20 email to the Broyhill Crest community, Gross said she and Frank Vajda, the Mason representative on the Park Authority Board, continued to work with Park Authority staff on finding a way to replace the bridge. "Leaving the community bereft of a pedestrian crossing for a long period of time was unacceptable," she said.

"I am happy to report that the Park Authority came through, funding has been identified, and the order for a new fiberglass bridge has been placed," she continued.

A prefabricated bridge should arrive in about four weeks, and the project should be finished in about six.


The trail between Murray Lane and Lockwood Lane where a new pedestrian bridge will be installed. Photo by the author.

"In the meantime," Gross said, "Park Authority maintenance staff will be working at the site to stabilize the stream banks and prepare for installation of bridge foundations prior to the placement of the new bridge."

Gross estimated using park maintenance staff instead of contractors for some of the work will save about $20,000. She can't say what the final cost will be because "we don't know what problems they might run into." The county will still have to hire contractors to install the piers and do some of the stream restoration work, she said.

Local residents who had spoken up about the unsafe bridge for years and urged the county to fix it had been disappointed that the county would simply remove it without any plans for replacing it.

Crossposted from Annandale VA. Also, this post was updated to reflect Penny Gross' comments on costs and savings.

Transit


BRT on Route 7 is getting closer to actually happening

In the fall, there were two leading options for new transit along Route 7: bus rapid transit or light rail. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently settled on plans to move forward with BRT.


Rendering of a future BRT station. Image from Envision Route 7.

Virginia's Route 7 is a major road in Virginia that connects a number of dense communities that already use a lot of transit. The road is also one of the region's oldest, with some sections dating back to colonial times. It runs through both Bailey's Crossroads and Seven Corners, some of the densest places in Northern Virginia that don't have direct access to a Metro station. Both also have a large number of low-income families, meaning much of the population is pretty dependent on transit.

Route 7 also connects a number of places that are becoming more urban, like Tyson's Corner and Falls Church, along with growing employment centers like Alexandria's Mark Center.

Right now, Route 7 is a fairly straight shot between Alexandria and Tysons. But heavy traffic slows down current transit options, and a connection via Metro isn't nearly as direct, which eliminates the time savings the train usually provides. Better transit for Route 7 would mean quicker journeys between these major and already dense destinations.

Here's the plan for Route 7 BRT

As part of its Envision Route 7 project, an effort to bring better transit to Route 7, the NVTC studied both light rail and simply expanding current bus service. Earlier this month, though, it picked a BRT system that would run from the Spring Hill Metro Station in Tyson's Corner to the Mark Center in Alexandria.

The BRT plan would include more frequent buses and dedicated bus-only lanes. Both would speed up bus trips for people who need or want to take public transportation along Route 7, with less waiting and less time sitting in traffic.

Bus lanes wouldn't be everywhere. In some places, like downtown Falls Church, the road is comparatively narrow and hemmed in by buildings, so new lanes wouldn't fit. But bus lanes will go in some of the places where congestion is usually the worst, like at the Seven Corners interchange.

Other ideas plan to improve the bus stations themselves by making them bigger and more comfortable for people waiting for the bus. This would also include changes that would make it easier to walk to a bus stop from a nearby neighborhood. Another proposal is making sure traffic lights can favor buses via signal priority, which would cut time spent waiting at red lights.

BRT won out for a few reasons, but the biggest was cost

BRT scored well on factors like how it would affect future zoning changes and overall trip times and speed, but the main reason NVTC went with BRT is because it's much cheaper to build than any rail option.

Planners think they can put BRT on Route 7 for between $220 and $270 million. None of that money has been committed yet, so leaders in Fairfax, Falls Church, and Alexandria will have to work together and with the state and federal government to come up with it.


Some of the ratings criteria in picking a travel mode for Route 7. Image from Envision Route 7.

The initial planning considered a few different route options that would require a system to veer off of Route 7 to make some connections easier. For example, a number of people surveyed pushed hard for a connection to the East Falls Church Metro Station, which is about a mile from the road. Another reason BRT won out was that it's easier to be flexible in planning its route.

Opponents often chip away at BRT projects

BRT does face challenges and pitfalls, and those haven't gone anywhere for this project. "BRT creep," for example, is when the product on the road don't exactly match the nice renderings of buses gliding along dedicated lanes because fears of vehicle congestion meant chipping away at project features. Other examples of BRT creep include shortening dedicated lanes or eliminating them altogether, or cutting the frequency with which buses run.


Route 7 near Seven Corners, with enough right of way to fit in some bus lanes. Image from Google Maps.

Another fear is that even when dedicated lanes go in, the desire to maintain a certain number of other travel lanes could mean a roadway that's impossibly wide to cross on foot. An example of that is in Rockville, where a desire to fit BRT lanes in with cars, parking, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks led to a road that is almost hilariously wide.


A Route 7 bus stop today. Image from Envision Route 7.

Is a Northern Virginia BRT network forthcoming?

The region's first BRT system, Metroway, is already running in Northern Virginia between Alexandria and Arlington. That route links growing communities in Potomac Yard and Crystal City to various Metro stations. Alexandria is also planning for BRT along Beauregard Street as well. Further down the line, Fairfax is thinking about transit solutions along Gallows Road between Merrifield and Tyson's Corner, and it may go with BRT.

BRT along Route 7 could link up with all of these services in a variety of ways. Here, the flexibility of buses could be a big help, as some routes may be able to use dedicated lanes or special stations even on different routes.

This is an opportunity where the region could turn the threat of BRT creep into a positive thing. Bus service already runs along Route 7 and there is even an express service. Frequencies on both could be increased (with the express getting all day service) and advertised to potential riders.

Meanwhile other features like bigger stations and dedicated lines could come along gradually. As Seven Corners adds more housing and a street grid, Fairfax could begin painting dedicated lanes and building nicer bus stations. This could also happen towards Alexandria and Tysons as sections of Route 7 come up for redesign.

We're still quite early in the planning stages. Right now, the governments involved need to think about if they're willing to fund the project. But if they can get it done, the project could be a big hit right out the gate since many communities along Route 7 already have what it takes to make up a great transit corridor. They just need the transit to prove it.

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.

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