Thursday, August 27, 2009

Is this a good place for a bus shelter?

A bright shiny new bus shelter was erected recently along West Glebe Road. The shelter stands near Valley Road across from Virginia Dominion Power, just to the west of the newly constructed townhomes (dubbed Ellsworth Place by the developer). The shelter was one public benefit exacted from builder NVHomes to win development approvals when the townhomes were proposed.

It's a very nice shelter. But it's not a bus stop.

The DASH bus stops along West Glebe Road are clearly designated on this
map and neither of the two closest stops is less than 200ft from the approximate location.

Of course, bus stops can be relocated. At least in theory.

Back in 2003, the City of Alexandria embarked upon planning for funding a number of capital improvements cited in the Arlandria Plan approved earlier that year. Among these were streetscape improvements, including benches and bus shelters for Mount Vernon Avenue. We'll tell the full story of the Capital Improvement Plan for Arlandria another day, but when funding did become available in late 2006, it was announced that the bus stop locations could not accommodate new street furniture because of a combination of lack of space in the right of way and the need to coordinate with nearby property owners. I floated the idea then (specifically, February 2006) of potentially relocating bus stops to areas that
could accomodate bus shelters. I even suggested a few preferred locations, but, while I later saw City staff scouting these locations, I have yet to hear what became of the idea.

I have heard, however, about the City's reluctance to interact with WMATA (the regional Metro bus authority) on bus stop placement...among other things: A citizen-initiated effort to provide bus schedule information akin to what they've done in Arlington was quashed even though there was to be no cost to the City.

We have seen Alexandria quite willing, however, to take developer contributions for placing new shelters (like the one mentioned above at Ellsworth Place) and government grants for new-fangled, solar-powered, illuminated bus shelters elsewhere in Alexandria....
we mentioned this before: even though none of these new shelters up-dated Arlandria's few remaining decrepit shelters, a few were placed in Del Ray and near Potomac Yard. Funding, by and large, has been haphazard...basically, just the "we'll take what we can get" approach...rather than based on any sort of needs assessment.

City Council recently challenged a similar approach that used to be taken with regard to trash cans and street trees. For years, Councilman Smedberg railed against an ad-hoc approach where some business approvals required trees to be planted and trash cans to be supplied (at a cost of over $1000 each) when others did not. Where new businesses used to play a game of 'trashcan roulette' (some new business had to plant a tree or buy a trashcan, others did not), a new scheme has all businesses contributing to a common fund from which these amenities are provided where most needed.

It's not the only way. Other localities in the region have entered into public-private partnerships to fund such amenities. The
Clear Channel bus shelters in DC are one example. In exchange for revenue from advertising on the bus shelter, Washington gains modern bus shelters that provide extensive area bus schedules and neighborhood information. Clear Channel not only provides the shelter and the information, but provides for the maintenance, which is costly when these expensive pieces of street furniture are vandalized.

A similar effort has recently begun in San Francisco where they have just
begun installing even newer bus shelters provided by Clear Channel with even more features (solar power lighting and electronic bus information).

New technologies to provide bus information are evolving quickly. DASH info is available on Google Transit and Metro bus times via NextBus, but getting these to riders on the ground and on the fly is still an issue.

Commentators are having vigourous discussions about how to best present bus information that is neighborhood-oriented rather than bus route specific. But there really is no better way and no better place than to present such information on the ground where it's needed, as Metro has begun to do at their rail stations. Bus route and way-finding information is not only good as a way to promote public transit use, but as a means to promote neighborhood economic development.

Alexandria, alas, has a bias (if not a policy) against advertisements at bus shelters and, there are no plans to follow Arlington's lead in creating transit centers like in Shirlington (we talked about that
here) or Crystal City or as planned along Columbia Pike.

But as we wait (and wait) for new bus shelters and amenities where we dearly need them along Mt Vernon Avenue in Arlandria, a more pressing question is: who's going to maintain that orphan shelter on West Glebe Road?

It was vandalized yesterday.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Help local teens with SOHO, August 27th

"Space Of Her Own" (SOHO) is an art-based program serving pre-teen girls, ages 10 to 12. The program offers participants yearlong mentoring through engagement in creative art activities and meaningful community service projects. Each volunteer mentor makes a one-year commitment to the program, which fosters long-term relationships. This program utilizes evidence-based life skills curricula and the National Mentoring Partnership's model program guidelines.
As a result of a citywide survey of Alexandria's teens and parents, and community focus groups, it was concluded that at-risk girls would be most successful in avoiding juvenile criminal activity and improving social skills and self-esteem, through engagement in long-term mentoring involving art activities. Consequently, a partnership between the local Court Service Unit and the non-profit Art League was developed and a "Space Of Her Own" was conceived.
Girls are matched with adult, volunteer female mentors, who work with them in weekly art classes as part of the yearlong program. Homework support, life skills, communication and anger-management classes are infused into every program day. The mentors are not professional artists. They and the girls learn artistic concepts and techniques throughout the course. Both mentor and youth work together to create expressive and attractive artwork for the girl's bedroom, which may include a "dream" chest, mirror, personalized chairs, lamps and wall hangings.
SOHO is loosely based on popular HGTV programming because upon completion of the program, girls and mentors work in teams to remodel other girls bedrooms, being sure to include ample lighting and study space. Each girl is then required to "pay it forward" by completing community service projects with her mentor. Artwork and a before-and-after renovation video are exhibited at a community reception. 
The promise of gorgeous new bedrooms is the program's hook, promoting near-perfect program attendance, which also attracts mentors. Because of the program's non-threatening approach, mentors, program administrators, and seasonal volunteers are welcomed into the girl's homes during renovations. This often results in connecting families to appropriate city services. The success of this program is not only the one-year commitment by mentor and youth, but also the three-year follow-up of activities and supportive services through the SOHO Sisterhood Club, which is available to graduates throughout their middle school years. 
The SOHO program's evaluation measures assure the program's effectiveness.  The following items are measured:  the duration of the mentor/mentee relationships, the quality of the mentor/mentee relationships, developmental assets (via pre/post tests), criminal involvement and teen pregnancy.  Since its inception, SOHO has serviced 93 girls, only 3 of which have subsequently become involved in the court system.

Thursday, August 27 Orientation for Prospective SOHO Mentors
The Space of Her Own (SOHO) program invites creative female mentors to enjoy a light dinner with a wonderful group of women and learn details about an exciting art-based mentoring program for pre-teen girls in Alexandria. The orientation will occur from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at The Art League Annex, 1 Duke St. Each mentor makes a one-year commitment to attend Thursday evening sessions with her mentee. Together they participate in team-building activities, learn life skills and artistic concepts, techniques and processes. To RSVP for the mentor orientation, e-mail For more information, visit

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Community Garage Sale in support of Rebuilding Together Alexandria

The Lynhaven Civic Association is holding a Community Garage Sale to raise money in support of a Lynhaven Rebuilding Alexandria Team.

Where: Chez Andree Parking Lot, 10 East Glebe Road, Alexandria

When: Saturday, August 22, 8am to Noon

What: Clothes, furniture, books, kitchenware, household accessories and much more!

NO Earlybirds, Please!

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Help Kids in Arlandria

As you shop for your kids to go back to school.. maybe you could pick up a few extra items to donate to neighborhood kids.

Community Lodgings has 78 at-risk Arlandria neighborhood children who come everyday to their youth programs where they help them succeed in school. They have a 'school store' for them to use their earned learning center 'dollars' to buy items they need for schoolwork.

The store will be Sept. 9th and 10th. Donations can be dropped off  any time between 10am & 6:30pm at the learning center at 607 Notabene Drive or the administrative office at 3912 Elbert Avenue. Thanks for helping!

 Questions? Call Bonnie Baxley...703-549-4407

Needed Items:

Box of crayons (12 or 24)
Box of tissue
Box of #2 pencils
Mechanical pencils
Handheld pencil sharpener
Box of blue or black pens
Pencil case or box
3-subject spiral notebooks with pockets
3-ring binders
Packs of subject dividers
Folders with pockets
Graph paper
Index cards
Colored pencils
8 pack fine tip washable markers
Scotch tape
Small stapler with staples
Glue sticks
Elmer's glues (16 ounce)
Book bag or backpack
Wide rule lined notebook paper
College rule notebook paper
12 inch rulers
Pink erasers
Pencil pouch for notebook
Five subject spiral notebooks
One subject spiral notebooks
Dry erase markers
Ziplock bags: gallon freezer, quart freezer, sandwich size or snack size
Pump bottle hand sanitizer

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alexandria Police Seek Help to Identify Neighborhood Burglary Suspect

This just in:

Police Seek Help to Identify Burglary Suspect

The Alexandria Police Department is asking for the public's help in identifying the suspect in an armed burglary that occurred in the 100 block of Lynhaven Drive.

On Wednesday, July 15, at approximately 1:00 P.M., a female resident was leaving her house and was forced back inside by two suspects. One of the suspects was armed with a handgun. They acted as if they were looking for somebody. The person was not found and the suspects fled the area. There were no injuries.

The first suspect is described as a black male, in his mid 20s, unshaven and wearing what appeared to be a United States Postal Service uniform. He had a tattoo on the inside of his forearm that appeared to be in a script type font. A composite of the suspect and a sample of his tattoo are attached.

The second suspect is described as a black male, in his mid 20s, with medium length dreadlocks. He was wearing a black cap, black shirt, dark blue jeans, black gloves and white Nike "Air Force" shoes.

Detectives would like to remind witnesses that they can remain anonymous. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call Detective Chris Whelan at the Criminal Investigations Section of the Alexandria Police Department at 703.838.4726 or the Crime Solvers tip line at 703.838.4858.

Rewards up to $1,000.00 can be paid for information that leads to the arrest and indictment of criminals.

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Late risers in Arlandria may start waking up next week to pounding that's not all in their heads.

This just in from the folks at Arlington's Wastewater Treatment Plant (aka the Arlington County Water Pollution Control Plant):

Pile driving at the Water Pollution Control Plant is scheduled to resume next

week and continue for approximately three months.

To hear more, the plant is conducting a public meeting about the project:

The next WPCB Community Liaison Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 27 at 7:00 pm in the Operations Control Building (OCB) of the Water Pollution Control Plant. Issues addressed will include updated construction schedules, the resumption of pile driving this summer, construction related impacts on streets and roadways, the perimeter fence, and Four Mile Run water quality. Enter through the gate at 3151 South Fern Street near the intersection with South Glebe Road.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

EYA Marketing Arlington Amenities to Glebe Park/Alexandria Crossing Buyers

Real Estate development site DCMud reported Saturday that EYA, the Glebe Park developer, is already beginning sales. The 18 townhomes up for sale will help fund the mixed-income development. See our recent post about the redevelopment activity. Prices for workforce homes begin from $300K and market-rate homes at $479K.

A. Gold's GYM
B. Blockbuster Video
C. Birchmere Theater
D. Harris Teeter
E. Potomac Yard
F. Village At Shirlington
G. Signature Theater
H. Shops At Crystal City
I. Pentagon City Mall
J. Reagan National Airport
K. Shops At Del Ray

Here's EYA's page listing the property details. The map and locations listed above are from the Neighborhood section of the details page. They're touting the walkability and proximity to various conveniences as a selling point. The telling portion of the graphic is how few of the conveniences they tout are actually in Alexandria. EYAs goal is to sell its townhomes and it will choose what it deems the highlights of the area to do so. It just so happens that the market thinks most of the best selling points near Arlandria are in Arlington, not Alexandria. This highlights the need to build and improve the retail in the North End of Alexandria.

It's tough to Buy Alexandria when you live in the North End and apparently the best nearby places aren't even in Alexandria. This will likely take major redevelopment of Arlandria's portion of Mt. Vernon Ave, such as the Safeway/Datatel site. For more information about redevelopment, check out some of our articles from earlier this year: If we build it, will they come?, City discussion of redevelopment from a Feburary City Council meeting, and notes from a meeting with then City Council candidate Frank Fannon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tutu Visits Arlandria

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Arlandria earlier this week reports The Alexandria Times (Alexandria Times | Tutu Brings Medal to Town)

"Tutu emerged from the van at Community Lodging's Learning Center in Arlandria to a group of about 25 onlookers — kids and staff from the center and residents from around the neighborhood eager to shake the hand or grab a picture with the jovial and larger than life world figure."

What's Happening at Glebe Park

Activity abounds at the Glebe Park project. The buildings slated for replacement were leveled in anticipation of Friday's groundbreaking. There were a couple articles on the site last week, as well -- one before and one after last Friday's groundbreaking ceremony.
First, DCMud put out an article discussing the Glebe Park Project early in the week (link to article). They announced the groundbreaking that occurred Friday and gave an overview of the project. Eight buildings in total were leveled, with 2 others gutted for a complete overhaul. In all, the end result will be 102 new and renovated units. Most will be 2 and 3 bedroom, ranging from about 1000 sqft to 2000 sqft. The 10 biggest units will be sold at market rate, with 8 others sold as work-force (moderate income) housing. The remaining 84 are slated to be low-income public housing run by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Agency (aka ARHA).
Following the groundbreaking, posted the only summary of the event that I could find (link to article). There are some inaccuracies (misquoted two officials as saying the development was "mixed-use" instead of "mixed-income") and omissions (Rob Krupicka was left out of the summary, even though he was mentioned by speakers as instrumental to getting the project done), but it summarized the event and briefly talked to the history of the project.

A little more history

This project (now dubbed "Alexandria Crossing" according to signs that have been erected along West Glebe Road) has been far from controversial. Some 40+ units of below market-rate housing were moved from one concentrated below market-rate housing area (Parker Gray) to another (Arlandria). An expressed ARHA goal is to deconcentrate low-income housing, and this project did little towards that goal. Arlandria is home to numerous non-profit organizations -- several immediately adjacent to Glebe Park -- that provide low-income residents with housing and assist with career services (see chart here, but make sure to read the footnote). The mix of incomes, races, and cultures in the neighborhoods of the North End provide much of the eclectic energy of the area, but over-concentration of public and other below market-rate housing often leads to increased crime and decreased quality of life for all residents. Indeed, in the 1990s, Alexandria City Council adopted Fair Share housing goals that promised to promote HUD's mandate to affirmatively further fair housing by placing new affordable housing units in neighborhoods that aren't already poor or primarily minority. While the City's Community Service Board still follows that mandate with respect to assisted living and group homes, ARHA has not been as cooperative. Glebe Park will be a (much needed) significant upgrade to the substandard housing that got the wrecking ball, and it provides much needed affordable housing, but it is far from the ideal scenario.

ARHA is in a rush to get back to management of 1150 public housing units, the number that under City Council Resolution 830, ARHA and the City agreed to preserve since the 1970s. Preferably, ARHA and the City would have worked with developers to incorporate more below market-rate housing into new and ongoing projects throughout the city. More often than not, developers have the option to pay out of the obligation and often do. There should be a covenant to the below market-rate sidestep that only allows such exceptions in areas that have a high concentration already . The folks that worked on the Arlandria Plan back from 1998 to 2003 knew this and hoped to set the standard. Their vision led to re-zoning of the Arlandria CDDs (Coordinated Development Districts) that required 10% of any new development be slated for affordable housing. Their hope was that no neighborhood would turn its back on its affordable housing obligations and as neighborhood planning processes proceeded, such provisions would become commonplace throughout Alexandria. Instead, ARHA and other non-profit providers sought City financing to increase the number of affordable and public housing units in Arlandria, while successive neighborhood plans stayed silent about affordable housing provisions elsewhere. Even just a few months ago, the Landmark Gateway project was approved under the new approved Landmark/Van Dorn plan with hardly any affordable housing incorporated into it.
Discussions about affordable housing throughout Alexandria have to be more substantive that just a few photo ops (which is how the Alexandria Gazette Packet covered last week's groundbreaking -- see above), but I'll save a discussion of managing public and below market-rate housing more holistically (that is, something much better than Resolution 830) for another day. Let's just say the goal should be to improve the quality of life for residents of those properties and their neighbors, not to preserve ARHA's political power for its own sake.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Four Mile Run Restoration News for August 2009

The latest edition of the Four Mile Run Restoration Newsletter is now available. Click on images to enlarge or follow the link for a PDF version.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Four Mile Run Park Expansion Meeting

At long last, the Four Mile Run Park expansion kickoff meeting has arrived (See a few past posts: 1, 2, and 3). This Thursday, come out to the properties and get involved with the planning process. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission has done a lot of work creating a vision for Four Mile Run and surrounding areas. Now, you can help form that vision into something real that could be an amazing recreational space for Arlandria and the whole city.

This meeting is a first step, and attendance is important to show the city that this is a priority. We will struggle to get money for this expansion if there doesn't appear to be much energy for this major boon to the neighborhoods of the North End.

Here's the official release:


The Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities invites the public to attend an informational meeting, to discuss the upcoming park planning and design process for the open space properties at 4109-4125 Mount Vernon Ave. The informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 6, at 7 pm on site at 4109 Mount Vernon Ave. The site was acquired in January of 2007 as part of the City’s Open Space Program.

The purpose of the meeting is to provide information and begin a discussion with the community about the park planning process in coordination with the Arlandria Small Area Plan and the Four Mile Run Restoration Master Plan. For additional information, call Laura Durham, Open Space Coordinator, at 703.838.5095, ext. 350.

It's just a short walk for many of us, so let's show up in force.