Category: Transportation

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, 1/25/20

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.

County Board Loosens Regulations on E-Scooters

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, November 16, 2019

Last month I protested the advertisement of this regulation as an exercise in reckless endangerment. As an example I related an experience reported by my physical therapist.

Several months ago, the therapist was biking on the Mount Vernon Trail near Gravelly Point, when he approached a helmetless 10 year-old travelling in the same direction on an e-scooter. Since the e-scooter was moving erratically, the therapist attempted to pass him from the left. As he did so, the e-scooter swerved into his path, causing the biker to wipe out.

I further related that the biker, a young, physically fit adult male, was not seriously injured. I have since learned that I was misinformed. The therapist suffered lacerations the length of the left side of his body and required physical therapy to alleviate the pain in his badly bruised left shoulder. The therapist further reports that his facility has been treating e-scooter riders for elbow injuries. His colleagues report a surge of ER visits from people with e-scooter injuries.

With adoption of this regulation, incidents like that reported by the physical therapist will become routine rather than incidental. Even those who want this regulation acknowledge that its limited protections are unenforceable. Absent an enforcement mechanism, it represents a public hazard.

Image the consequences of adding a complement of e-scooters to the additional traffic County Board authorized today at the intersection of Glebe Road and North Randolph Street. Personal injury lawyers will benefit from this regulation. No one else will.

County Board Doubles Down on Massive Parking Facility at HT Development Site

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting: 11/16/19

I am speaking on my own behalf as a long-time bike commuter, not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

However, I voted with the majority of the commission on October 30, when it recommended that this item be deferred until the developer produces a more realistic parking plan. HT currently proposes 946 parking spaces or 812 more than the current HT parking lot. The Parking Guidelines for Multi-Family Residential Projects requires only 506 spaces for this site. So HT is effectively doubling what the County recommends.

The Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA) produced by Gorove/Slave discounts the impact of the development at the intersection of Glebe Road and Randolph Street, trotting out its usual argument that since the intersection is already operating at an unacceptable level of service (LOS F), the predicted net increase of about 100 cars during peak hours isn’t going to make things worse.

According to neighbors at nearby Hyde Park Condominium the intersection at Glebe and Randolph is already dangerous, because due to the lack of a westbound left turn lane at Glebe and Henderson Road, residents of Hyde Park must use the Glebe and Randolph intersection to execute westbound turns into the condominium.

The staff report indicates that the project provides almost 300 bicycle parking spaces, with bike access afforded by bike lanes on adjoining streets. But there are no current or planned bike lanes along Glebe Road. 300 bikes competing with hundreds of cars and thousands of pedestrians to get into and out of 600 Glebe Road every day gives new meaning to the term “traffic hazard”.

To get an idea of just how dangerous the HT location already is, the other day I road my bike during rush hour on the sidewalk of Glebe Road from Fairfax Drive to Route 50 and back. En route I jockeyed for space with numerous pedestrians, other bikers and turning cars on uneven pavement. It was a hazardous trip that will become exponentially more dangerous with new HT development. Time to hit the reset button on 600 Glebe Road and come up with a new safety conscious parking plan.

County Board Set to Loosen Regulations on E-Scooters

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, October 19, 2019

I am speaking on my own behalf as a long-time bike commuter, not on behalf of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

The proposed Ordinance Revisions that Regulate the Use and Rental of Micro-Mobility Devices–read e-scooters–are a sop to group of self-interested entrepreneurs and their mostly young, male, thrill seeking clientele and a hazard to the public at large.

When the Shared Mobility Device (SMD) Pilot Project was implemented last year, it excluded SMDs from sidewalks and bike trails and banned users under 16. These regulations proved to be meaningless due to lack of enforcement.

The result was a public outcry against the inconvenience and hazard to pedestrians and bikers by SMDs travelling on and obstructing sidewalks and multi-use trails.

Instead of responding to these concerns by developing the means to enforce existing regulations, the County proposes to essentially eliminate them. Thus SMDs will now be permitted on both sidewalks and multi-use trails, with a speed limit of 6 mph on sidewalks and 15 mph on trails. While non-enforcement of a lax regulation is irresponsible, loosening lax regulations further constitutes reckless endangerment.

As an example I point to an experience related to me by my physical therapist on October 3 shortly before the Transportation Commission recommended these revisions to Chapter 14.2 of County Code.

Several months ago, the therapist was biking on the Mount Vernon trail near Gravelly Point, when he approached a helmetless 10 year-old travelling in the same direction on an e-scooter. Since the e-scooter was moving erratically, the therapist attempted to pass him from the left. As he did so, the e-scooter swerved into his path, causing the biker to wipe out.

The biker, a young physically fit, adult male, was not seriously injured. Nevertheless I ask you to consider the likely outcome if the e-scooter had collided with a woman walking a stroller or a person in a wheel chair at 15 mph on the Mount Vernon Trail.

Toll Cheating Drives Up Tolls on I-66

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, 5/18/19

I am speaking on behalf of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), not on behalf of the Arlington Transportation Commission, of which I am a member.

On May 2, 2019, VDOT Tolling Division Administrator David Caudill and NOVA Assistant District Administrator Monica Bhatia provided the Arlington Transportation Commission with a performance report on tolling operations on I-66 Inside the Beltway since their inception in December, 2017.

The good news is that headway on the corridor has improved with east bound speeds between Route 7 and Lee Highway increasing 30.2% from 41.4 mph to 53.9 mph and west bound speeds between Route 7 and I-495 increasing 25.4 percent from 40.1 mph to 50.3 mph.

The bad news is that tolling enforcement operations by Virginia State Police (VSP) are lax. On May 9, 2019, Caudill further reported:

“since December 4, 2017, Virginia State Police troopers have issued 258 citations eastbound and 615 citations westbound. 91 citations have been written between 7:30AM and 8:30AM.”

91 peak hour HOV citations in the 356 tolling days during the 74 week reporting period reduces to only about one peak hour citation for every four days of tolling or 0.256 HOV citations per peak-toll-price hour.

A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility’s 14,000 daily HOV vehicle trips would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day or 17 citations per toll-price-hour. Yet actual HOV citation numbers are a fraction of that.

Significantly lower numbers of citations on eastbound I-66 further indicate that toll cheating contributes to higher peak hour toll prices documented in the a.m. on inbound I-66. Absent an adequate enforcement regime, tolls will continue to spike on eastbound I-66, fueling political opposition to the program, despite its success at reducing congestion.

Public Spaces Master Plan Calls for Widening Bike Trails

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 4/25/19

The same environmental considerations that govern the Bicycle Element should guide the Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) especially for those areas that are located in Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) governed by the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act (CBPA). This includes the entire linear regional park along Four Mile Run and all of the local parks that abut it.

Dr. Bernard Berne has forwarded to you amendments to the draft PSMP to remove language to widen trails located in urban parks, on the grounds that:

“Wide paved trails within natural areas and Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) add impermeable surfaces that disturb natural areas, harm nearby trees, reduce the size of adjacent meadows and other natural features, and increase stormwater runoff.  Further, wide trails detract from the experiences that people visiting the areas for reasons other than transportation wish to enjoy.”

Dr. Bernard Berne

Dr. Berne cites the 2012 AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities, which recommends designing trails for lower speeds in urban parks (p. 5-12).

He also recommends removing Section 2.3.4 (p. 90): as inconsistent with preservation of natural areas stipulated in Section 3.2 (p. 98):

2.3.4 Explore ways to safely separate modes, where space allows, on high traffic trail routes and where user conflicts commonly occur, while minimizing impact on natural resources and trees.

Separating bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the most heavily used routes will enhance the safety of all users.

And adding a second sentence to Section 6.1.4 (p. 128):

Mowed buffers adjacent to paved trails in natural areas should not exceed three feet in width, except where environmental conditions prevent this.

As authority, Dr. Berne cites the AASHTO Guide (p. 5-5), which recommends that:

. . . a graded shoulder area at least 3 to 5 ft (0.9 to 1.5 m) wide with a maximum cross-slope of 1V:6H, which should be recoverable in all weather conditions, should be maintained on each side of the pathway.

Finally Dr. Berne recommends an appendix that contains all existing County maintenance standards for parks and trails, so that the public can determine if the County is adhering to them.

Toll Cheating on I-66 Drives Up Tolls

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, March 16, 2019

I’m speaking on my own behalf as an Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST) director, not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

Recently, ACST made FOIA inquiries with Virginia State Police (VSP) and VDOT to determine whether toll cheating on I-66 Inside the Beltway (ITB) by solo motorists is inflating the toll prices.

Reportedly, pursuant to the attached, redacted Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between VDOT and VSP, during the first year of tolling, VDOT reimbursed VSP approximately $550,000 from I-66 toll revenue for new VSP enforcement activities, including at least four additional state troopers to monitor the gantries along I-66 for toll cheaters.

Under this MOU (p. 4), the VSP Area Commander is supposed to issue daily, monthly, and quarterly HOV-enforcement reports–“with vehicle information and the time/date of violations”–to VDOT’s “I-66 ITB Facility Manager”. VSP indicated that it does not routinely do this.

Instead, it produces database-generated summary reports showing incidents and citations by incident type. The incident summary report for the first 53 weeks of I-66 tolling shows 1,326 HOV stops resulting in 702 citations.

Dividing the 702 HOV citations by 253 8-hour tolling days in this 53-week reporting period, yields an average of 2.77 HOV citations for every 8 hours of tolling.

A 99% HOV-compliance rate among the I-66 ITB facility’s 14,000 daily trips vehicle trips/day taken with an E-ZPass Flex set in the HOV mode would equate to 140 toll-cheating trips/day, whereas the VSP has cited fewer than 3 vehicles/day, on average, for HOV violations.

Moreover, ACST suspects that HOV enforcement on I-66 is largely limited to westbound travel, allowing eastbound solo motorists to routinely cheat the tolls with near impunity.

Populist outrage over the “sky high” AM eastbound tolls threatens to undo the Transform 66 initiative, leading to more traffic congestion in Arlington and DC and an even wider I-66. Unless elected officials and VDOT get serious about enforcing I-66 tolls, I fear that will happen.

Arlington Civic Association Says VDOT Responsible for Erosion of W&OD Trail

Comments At Arlington County Board Meeting, 2/26/19

I am speaking in my capacity as a director of the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation (ACST), not as a member of the Transportation Commission.

I support VDOT’s request for temporary and permanent easements along the W&OD and Custis Trails to implement needed trail improvements between East Falls Church Metro and Ballston.

I pulled this item from the consent agenda because it does not include a plan to address the root cause of flooding of Four Mile Run in the immediate vicinity of the work VDOT has outlined.

You should have received a recent letter from the Madison Manor Civic Association (MMCA) thanking you for undertaking to shore up erosion along the W&OD trail in the vicinity of the Patrick Henry overpass.

However, MMCA is concerned that unless the cause of the erosion is addressed, it will recur. Members of the civic association have identified the problem as clogged intakes to a storm water diversion bypass tunnel about one third mile upstream.

It is irresponsible for the County to ignore this situation, of which it is surely aware. County Board itself in approving the I-66 widening project on 1/28/17 in agenda item 37.C.e stipulated to VDOT that:

any new stormwater management facilities proposed with this project be adequately maintained, specifically that erosion and sediment controls should be outlined and contain information on inspection and enforcement actions.

County Board should direct staff to contact VDOT and stipulate the repair and upgrade or replacement of the existing intakes as part of the I-66 eastbound widening project, which authorizes such improvements as long as they are within the scope of the project.

Insofar as the bypass tunnel runs directly under the I-66 ROW before emptying into Four Mile Run, it is definitely within the eastbound widening project’s scope of work. Thus it is well within the authority of Arlington County Board to make this request.