Category: Transportation

Bike Activist Who Opposes W&OD Trail Widening Supports Mt. Vernon Trail Widening

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting on July 21, 2020.

Some who oppose NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD Trail widening in Arlington, support widening the northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail. Longtime bicycle activist Allen Muchnick says the proposed Mt. Vernon Trail widening is not really comparable to NoVA Parks’ proposed W&OD widening for multiple reasons:

1) Due to past NPS policies and funding constraints, the Mt. Vernon Trail has generally been paved no wider than 9 feet. For busy shared-use paths, an 11-foot paved width is the minimum recommended. Consequently, much of the Mt. Vernon Trail is clearly substandard and needs work.

2) Unlike NoVA Parks’ proposal to build dual adjacent pedestrian and bicycle paths for the W&OD totaling 22 feet in width, the widened Mt. Vernon Trail would generally consist of only a single path just 11 feet wide. Thus, the Mt. Vernon Trail widening would generally only approximate the current width of the W&OD Trail and would be only about half as wide as NoVA Parks seeks to make the W&OD in Arlington.

3) The northern section of the Mt. Vernon Trail in Arlington carries a very high level of weekday trail traffic, about 300 trail users/peak hour. It’s much more heavily used than the W&OD Trail in Bluemont Park.  Because it provides a) a vital route for several long-distance, interstate bikeways, b) foot and bike access to four existing Potomac River crossings, and c) sweeping views of our nation’s capital, the Mt Vernon Trail is one of our nation’s preeminent bikeways.

4) Unlike the W&OD Trail in Arlington, the Mt. Vernon Trail lacks any nearby parallel path, such as the existing Four Mile Run Trail, that could accommodate much of the trail user volumes.

5) Unlike the W&OD Trail that follows Four Mile Run in Arlington, the Mt. Vernon Trail is generally located much farther away from the Potomac riverbank, and the Potomac River is a navigable tidal river, not an eroded urban stream.

6) Although the Mt. Vernon Trail widening would be funded with VDOT money, it is subject to NEPA review because it’s on federal land and VDOT money includes federal transportation funds.

Nevertheless Muchnick endorses Arlington civic activist Bernie Berne’s recommendation that County Board approval for project construction be contingent on review of the environmental assessment by relevant County advisory bodies.

Shirlington Village Slated for Densification

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, July 18, 2020.

I am the Independent candidate for Arlington County Board. I also am a member of the Transportation Commission speaking on my own behalf only. On July 2 the Commission voted unanimously to recommend deferral of a vote on the Shirlington General Land Use Plan (GLUP) study until outstanding transportation issues can be addressed.

While I agree with most of the Transportation Commission report, I disassociate myself from the following:

“While the commission feels confident and satisfied that the automotive trips generated by the additional homes, businesses and offices proposed in the GLUP Study Plus can be readily handled by the existing street network, the comission is concerned that the recommendations and planning for transit, walking and biking are insufficient and will leave Shirlington ill-equipped to support non-automotive modes as it grows under this study.”

Actually I am concerned about inadequate attention given to all modes of transportation in the area, particularly the study’s claim that “even a level of density greater than what would be approved for the Village at Shirlington could be accommodated without a noticeable diminution of service at the key intersections in and around the study area.” 

On July 2, I asked staff how it is so sure of this, given that no Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) had been done. Staff advised that GLUP studies don’t require TIAs. The TIA will be produced at site plan review. This reasoning is circular, since we all know that the adopted GLUP study will provide the rationale for approving several site plans in Shirlington irrespective of the TIA. Circular reasoning also explains why there is no discussion in the GLUP study of impacts on schools, green space, historic structures and public safety—in other words, all the things that matter.

My concerns are heightened by the applicant’s objection to the height limits imposed by the study and the fact that under the GLUP amendments soon to be adopted, the applicant could in fact double the density of the entire neighborhood.

Equally alarming is the applicant’s objection to building preservation. Instead it proposes to preserve facades on a case by case basis. Shirlington Village’s selling point is its historic restaurant district. When those structures are reduced to rubble and replaced with mere facades, its attraction as a destination will disappear.

While full scale densification will surely ruin the Shirlington Village restaurant district, partial densification will also fail unless impacts are addressed.

What Goes Around Comes Around on North Vermont Street in Ballston

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, June 13, 2020.

Plans to redevelop the North Vermont and 11th Street site in Ballston have been on the drawing boards for more than four years. During this time Ballston has added 2,000 additional high-rise housing units with 1,000 more on the way.

Residents of the neighborhood protested the first site plan adopted by the Board in February, 2018 because of unmitigated impacts in the form of impaired views and increased traffic congestion. Now comes a new developer with a plan to increase density even more.

At an LRPC hearing in 2017, North Ballston neighbor Annette Lang, explained why the original site plan had little community support. She put it this way.

“Specifically, residents should not bear the burden of proving that exceptions to land use plans and modifications to zoning codes are appropriate. Rather, developers should bear the burden of establishing that unless an exception and/or modification to current plans and zoning codes is granted, development of a particular property will not occur. That is the core meaning of ‘exception’.”

County staff, were as unswayed by this argument then as they are today. The fact that the Vermont Street developer needed a GLUP amendment to rezone the site is irrelevant. All that matters is that the Ballston Sector Plan encourages high density development.

The fact that a sector plan trumps the zoning ordinance makes the zoning ordinance a dead letter. Any developer with sufficient financial resources can leverage any site plan he wants irrespective of its impacts on streets, schools, open space and/or public safety. In 2018 residents of North Ballston had reason to feel discouraged because they had lost a battle to preserve their neighborhood. Today they have reason to believe that what goes around comes around, because the pandemic thrives in densely packed neighborhoods, such as the future Vermont Street development

NOVA Parks CEO Says Not to Worry About Doubling Width of W&OD Trail

Reply to Paul Gilbert, June 3, 2019.

In recent commentary in the Sun Gazette, NOVA Parks’ CEO Paul Gilbert argued that concerns about doubling the paved width of the W&OD Trail are misplaced, because NOVA Parks plans to improve storm water management. First, how is the public to assess this claim when neither a preliminary design nor an environmental assessment have been produced?

Second, Gilbert claims that a combination of swales, meadows and wetlands will be installed to control runoff. Yet on a one mile stretch of the widened trail between East Falls Church and Bon Air Park—half the length of the project area–there is no room to put in these structures without ripping out the existing rain absorbing understory along Four Mile Run.

Gilbert allays concerns about tree removal, saying that only 7 mature trees are slated for removal from the trail widening project west of Lee Highway. This is not the scenario relayed by Falls Church residents in a recent letter to the editor of the Falls Church News-Press, who oppose “the proposed elimination of valuable, usable space, and natural assets, including almost 100 trees (oaks, cedars, maples, Japanese cherry, dogwoods, etc.) and bushes adjacent to the proposed trails.”

Gilbert says that trail widening is environmental, because it will induce more bike and foot traffic. Yet NOVA Parks refuses to consider the less damaging alternative of redirecting foot traffic to the adjacent Four Mile Run Trail.

Mr. Gilbert indicates that dual trails are the wave of the future, and Arlingtonians should get on board. I’m all for dual trails, namely an existing paved trail on either side of Four Mile Run. I also insist on a full environmental assessment including an alternatives analysis for W&OD trail improvements.

NoVA Parks Wants to Double Width of W&OD Trail in Arlington Flood Zone

Comments to Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), May 23, 2020

Greater Greater Washington (GGW) has trotted out the commentary of deceased, former Arlington County Board member Erik Gutshall to defend NOVA Parks’ plans to widen a two mile stretch of the W&OD Trail between East Falls Church and Carlin Springs Road.

In November, 2019 Gutshall marveled that bike advocates and environmentalists were pitted against each other on the wisdom of widening the W&OD without the benefit of an alternatives assessment or an environmental impact statement. In his mind, biking is good for both the environment and congestion relief. So everyone should be on board.

Yet it is well known that pavement induces runoff, and runoff induces flooding, which is not good for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is also known that the closer the pavement gets to a Chesapeake Bay tributary like Four Mile Run, the more runoff it induces.

Evidence of that phenomenon occurred during the July 8, 2019 DC area flood event. Runoff from I-66 put an entire Arlington neighborhood north of the interstate under water. Yet an equal if not greater amount of damage occurred along the existing W&OD bike trail when Four Mile Run breached its banks—taking with it tons of infrastructure from two County parks—including part of the trail–and pouring thousands of gallons of polluted water into the Potomac River.

Doubling the width of the W&OD Trail can only exacerbate an already hazardous situation, where erosion of the Four Mile Run stream bank is now a common occurrence. Yet GGW says that opposition to the project is premature, as it hasn’t even been funded. This turns logic on its head, since without a study assessing impacts and alternatives, NTVA cannot know what it should fund.

When NOVA Parks gets $5.6 million to widen the W&OD Trail, alternatives like using the parallel Four Mile Run Trail to mitigate congestion will be off the table. The money for the project has already been earmarked. So reprogramming it on something better or different isn’t going to happen even if a future environmental assessment recommended it.

Pointing to trail work done on widening the trail in West Falls Church, GGW insists that the storm water mitigation will be adequate. Even though Falls Church neighbors are protesting massive tree removal along the trail west of Lee Highway, the impact on the Four Mile Run itself might be limited, since the stream surfaces only a short distance from the trail head at Lee Highway.

Not so the impact of the trail east of Lee Highway, which is located in a stream valley and a flood zone. For a full mile between East Falls Church and Bon Aire Park, the trail is sandwiched between the I-66 retaining wall a few feet to the left and Four Mile Run a few feet to the right. There is no place to divert the stream let alone plant trees or add to the under story.

Finally GGW argues that widening the trail will provide congestion relief. Yet the Toole Design report commissioned by NOVA Parks to support the project indicates much of the traffic along the trail is recreational rather than commuter.

Thus even if this stretch of trail is congested some of the time, NOVA Parks has not demonstrated that widening the trail will provide congestion relief relative to cost (CRRC) on nearby roads. Without that key metric, NVTA cannot legally fund this project.

Marriott Hotel Redevelopment To Dump More Traffic at Key Bridge

Comments for Arlington County Board Meeting, March 24, 2020

I am speaking on my own behalf and not on behalf of the Transportation Commission of which I am a member.

Approval of the Master Transportation Plan for the Key Bridge Marriott site was heard by the Transportation Commission on March 5.

While I spoke in favor of the design, I abstained from the vote for want of an adequate traffic impact analysis (TIA).

Specifically I objected to the fact that traffic impact of three important pipeline developments was excluded from the TIA: Rosslyn Gateway, Rosslyn Plaza and the Ames Center at 1820 Fort Myer Drive.

Failing to report the impact of the latter site is egregious since the Transportation Commission heard that item on March 5 also, and a TIA for it has already been prepared.

The Ames Center alone will dump 630 vehicles from 788 new residential units on Rosslyn streets a block away from the Marriott. The redeveloped Marriott site will dump another 623 vehicles. The Holiday Inn site directly across the street from the Marriott will dump 818 vehicles housed in two garages.

These three developments could easily triple the amount of traffic at Lee Highway and Fort Myer Drive, an intersection that the TIA says is currently operating at LOS F.

According to the Marriott TIA, the combined impacts of the Holiday Inn and four other major developments in the immediate vicinity will generate 21,517 weekday trips exclusive of the Marriott (Table 5-1, p.44).

Rosslyn developers refuse to scale back the amount of built parking, even though Arlington County recommends doing just that. These developers evidently believe that they can’t market their luxury condos unless they provide at least 1 parking space per unit.

Will someone tell them that if buyers can’t get their car out of the garage, and can’t make headway on Lee Highway at rush hour, they will sell?Developers should focus on marketing spectacular views of the DC skyline, not the ability to park a car.

WMATA to Slash NoVA Metrobus Service

Comments at WMATA Public Hearing in Ballston, February 24, 2020

In its latest operating budget WMATA proposes to slash bus service in Northern Virginia for a savings of $7.5 million. Affected are a dozen Arlington routes, including: 2A, 3A, 5A, 7Y, 10N, 15K, 16C, 16E, 16G, 16H, 22A, 22C.

Lower ridership accounts for the reduction or elimination of service on only about half of these lines. The rest are being cut because alternative service is available on ART or Metrorail. Thus the heavily used 5A to Dulles will be eliminated. The Pentagon to DC leg of routes into and out of Arlington will be eliminated, including service provided by 7Y, 16C, and 16E. Routes to outlying sections of Arlington and Fairfax County will be gutted entirely with no convenient alternatives available on the 3A to Annandale, the 3T to Tysons and the 15K to McLean.

These service cuts are draconian, and I say this advisedly because as a regular Metrobus patron I can vouch for the fact that a lot of buses–both Metrobus and ART—ride empty during off peak hours.

Metro should not be cutting service on those routes with sustained ridership like 5A and 16C. Metro should also not use the rationale that alternative service is available from end point to end point, when the purpose of bus service is to shuttle passengers between end points. It does no good to a 3A rider who lives on Annandale Road to know that alternative service is available on Leesburg Pike and Little River Turnpike.

If Metro wants to triage bus service in favor of extended rail service fine. Then the localities that fund Metrobus should reprogram Metro subsidies to local transit service or other priority needs.

Arlington Sets Up Motorist Speed Traps With $200 Fines

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, January 28, 2020

I am speaking on my own behalf as a non-car diet commuter, not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

This item was heard at the January 9 Transportation Commission meeting. While there was considerable discussion of the merits of penalizing excessive speeds, there was no attention given to the actual criteria for designating speed traps.

The staff report defines the types of road segments that could qualify as speed traps and indicates that it will evaluate existing traffic data, police reports and citizen complaints in targeting “residential streets that carry relatively higher traffic volumes and have documented speeding issues.”

But nowhere is “documented speeding issues” defined. When I asked a question about how the County determines a speed zone, County staff said this information is available elsewhere in Section 14.2 of County code. I couldn’t find it there and shouldn’t have to. Basic information about a proposed regulation should be in the ordinance itself or in a document linked to it.

Accepting at face value the information or lack thereof provided by planning staff is referred to in public policy literature as staff driven decision-making. Staff driven boards and commissions ill serve the public interest, since an uniformed decision is generally a poor one. The fault lies not with staff, but with the decision makers who fail to solicit the information they need to make intelligent decisions.

I recommend that County Board require language inserted into this ordinance that stipulates what constitutes a speed zone. Otherwise it will lend itself to abuse.

County Board Member Dorsey Hasn’t Reported Return of Union Donation

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, January 25, 2020

This letter was directed on 1/18/20 to the WMATA Board Ethics Officer and/or WMATA Inspector General pursuant to WMATA Board Code of Ethics, Article XI: Other Reports of Conflicts of Interest and Suspected Ethics Violations, in the matter of WMATA’s Board’s earlier determination that Board Member Christian Dorsey had violated the code as a member of the Board.

On or about November 7, 2019, the WMATA Board sanctioned Board member Christian Dorsey for failing to report timely a $10,000 campaign contribution he received in 2019 from Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 689, which represents Metro transit workers.

The Washington Post reported Dorsey’s conflict of interest on November 7 as follows:

“Dorsey received the union donation on June 21 and reported it to Virginia authorities in accordance with state campaign finance law. It was one of the two largest contributions he received this year, the other being a $10,000 contribution from the InternationalBrotherhood of Electrical Workers.

“But he waited until Oct. 30 to report the ATU Local 689 contribution to Metro.

“The board resolution said that because of the reporting lapse, ‘Dorsey participated in several matters as a Board Member from which he should have recused himself during the period June 21, 2019 to October 30, 2019.’

“Metro Board Chair Smedberg said Dorsey had participated improperly in three “high-level briefings” on contracting matters, all held in executive session, where no board action was taken.

“’The Board reprimands Mr. Dorsey for violating the Board Code of Ethics by failing to timely disclose the Local 689 campaign contribution and failing to recuse himself from Board matters where Local 689 had an interest,’ the board resolution said.”

The minutes of the November 7, 2019 WMATA Board Meeting read in relevant part:

“The Ethics Committee determined that, despite Mr. Dorsey’s good faith disclosure and return of the $10,000 campaign contribution from Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 689, he violated the Code of Ethics and should be reprimanded and removed as Chair of the Finance and Capital Committee.”

While WMATA Board minutes clearly indicate that Dorsey returned the $10,000 ATU contribution in accordance with its direction, I can find no evidence of the return of the contribution in Dorsey’s campaign finance reports available here:

As an Arlington resident who ran against Dorsey for Arlington County Board in 2019 and exposed his conflict of interest vis-a-vis ATU 689 during the campaign, I am requesting that the WMATA Board provide proof that Dorsey has indeed returned the contribution from ATU 689, as it directed him to do.

It is one thing to demand compliance with WMATA Board’s Code of Ethics. It is another to determine whether this has actually occurred. Transparency requires both.

***

Dorsey explained at the meeting that the check he wrote to return the union donation never cleared, and he can’t return the check till it does. Just the opposite. According to the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) official I spoke to “checks must be recorded when they’re written.”

Arlington County Opposes Laws Requiring Police To Verify Immigration Status

Comments at League of Women Voters Hosted Hearing For Arlington Legislators, December 19, 2019

On Immigration:

I oppose an initiative included in the County Board legislative package to the General Assembly that would:

“Oppose any state mandate to localities requiring local law enforcement officers to evaluate the immigration status of individuals encountered during lawful stops or other routine police activities.”

First, this language turns the law on its head, because police officers are required to enforce the law, including immigration laws. See 8 U.S. Code § 1373 and 8 U.S. Code § 1644.

Second, proscribing traffic stops for immigration offenses amounts to selective enforcement, insofar as it requires police to ignore immigration offenses while citing non-immigration offenses. Selective enforcement of the law is a per se violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Third, it is well known that the principal victims of crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants are legal immigrants. Barring police from citing undocumented persons will serve to oppress the many thousands of legal immigrants and naturalized citizens who reside in Northern Virginia.

Fourth, those who promote non-enforcement of immigration laws are using the issue as a cudgel to score political points by race baiting opponents. This type of demagoguery should not be tolerated by the General Assembly.

On Transportation:

A recently published VDOT report indicates that average speeds are down and travel time is up on eastbound I-66 Inside the Beltway toll lanes.

The likely culprit is tolling cheating on eastbound I-66 resulting from lack of enforcement by Virginia State Police due to unsafe road shoulders from which to monitor toll traffic. I urge the General Assembly to consult with VDOT regarding the installation of electronic detection devices at toll gantries to enable adequate surveillance of road traffic on eastbound I-66.

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