Thursday, September 24, 2009

Best Metro Alternatives for Arlandria Thrown Out

Unfortunately, I can give no explanation as to why alternatives C & D are thrown out in this post. All I can decipher from Tuesdays Potomac Yards Metro Feasibility Presentation (PDF here) is that options for a Metro location within Landbay F, the current Potomac Yards shopping center, are no longer under consideration. This is an extremely disappointing result for our area, as it moves the future Metro stop at least 1/5 mile further away from the front door of... well, just about everyone that lives in the more densely populated areas within Arlandria, southern Crystal City, and the eventually densely populated Landbay F. This also means this alternative will provide the smallest relief from traffic possible with this infill station. See previous posts on Metro Feasibility here from May and here from April.

The recommendation of the Mayor's Institute on Urban Design, which included Brookings Fellow Christopher Leinberger, are apparently not under consideration. They recommended moving the station location into Landbay F and maximizing Landbay F's density as the best option for the city. One of the main reasons for moving the Metro to this location is any locations (A & B) East of the railroad tracks require a lengthy walk from the closest property to the station just to cross the tracks from the West. Hopefully the city will eventually release the findings of the Mayor's Institute on Design so everyone has an opportunity to consider the recommendations of the panel.

We'll follow up with more information on this decision as information becomes available. If you thing this is a bad idea, it wouldn't hurt to voice your displeasure with this option to the Mayor and City Council (send e-mail here).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Results of Survey About Dog Park at Reed Ave Open Space

View Reed Avenue Dog Park? in a larger map

The survey we talked about previously here is now closed. After about 2 weeks, we had 112 completed surveys. Complete survey a results, including all of the comments left by participants are available here.

A Little Analysis of the Results

Here is a little bit of breakdown that you can't get just by looking at the summary numbers. First off, 66% of people, overall, said that a configuration of the space including a dog-park is most-preferred alternative. The split between those that want a dog park and those that don't include it as a top choice breaks convincingly between people that want to see something done soon and those that want to plan and come up with something big. Let me explain:

78% of respondents prefer to do something in the near-term. Of those 78%, 81% prefer that the end result include at least some portion fenced-in dog park as their first choice. However, of the 22% of respondents that would prefer to wait, plan, and come up with something big for the space, 85% did not choose a result that included a fenced-in dog park as their first choice. In fact, of that group, 53% said a fenced-in dog park is their least preferred alternative.

One of the benefits of the way that splits is that we might be able to appease both groups. A dog park is a relatively low-cost alternative compared to landscaping, playgrounds, or other more formal open space configurations. The City has stated that it will be several years before they have the resources to plan and execute something with this space. The City's Open Space Coordinator, Laura Durham, ran down the current plans for the future of this space:
With an opportunity for funding in the future, staff will initiate a community park planning process with the Park and Recreation Commission. This planning process will not occur in the immediate future, though the property will be available to the public as open space when it is fully decommissioned by VA Power.
With city approval, we could utilize the space for a fenced-in dog park for several years before a larger planning effort can take place to convert the space to something else. Based on what I've seen in the City budget, the "opportunity for funding" is a long way off.

Dogs Don't Walk Themselves
Some of the dog park dissenters expressed disdain with utilizing open space for the benefit of dogs, stating that parks should be for people, dogs don't pay taxes, etc. Here are 2 examples (by far the minority, but worth discussing):
I wasn't aware that dogs were paying taxes. Asdog owners who have chosen not to provide their own private property for their dog to play in/on a dog owner and property owner, I am tired of my tax dollars being spent to take care of those . Chain link fencing is cheap and unattractive looking and will do nothing to help property values... Let's start spending tax dollars on actual tax paying residents.
Do dogs pay taxes? Then why are we building parks for them? And please don't try to equate dogs with children. Our children will grow up to pay more than their fair share of taxes -- our dogs won't.
The problem with these comments is they don't take into account the fact that the dog is a driving factor in getting the owner outside to enjoy the open space. 50% of dog owners that took the survey use a fenced-in dog park at least once week, with 69% using a fenced-in dog park at least once a month. People take their dogs to the park to get some exercise and they themselves get some exercise, while availing themselves the opportunity to chat with neighbors. The dog owner benefits nearly as much as the dog, and the dog owner most certainly pays taxes. And several years ago, Alexandria raised its dog licensing fees specifically to pay for dog parks.

Aesthetic Details
I'll keep discussion of aesthetics short. 56% of respondents said they'd want to see a wrought-iron type fence if a dog park is installed. Another 33% don't care between a wrought-iron and chain link fence. Chain link is, of course, much cheaper, but more landscaping is required to make it look nicer -- and that adds cost. As for leaving the rectangular hedge of gangly-looking pine trees instead of replacing them with smaller trees, about half the respondents said no, the other half said maybe or yes. I personally think what probably should be done is to remove some of the trees so it's not like a 30' tall wall-like hedge, but leave the healthier specimens in place to retain some of the shade they provide. These then could be supplemented with some smaller trees. In hindsight, based on the comments we received, we should have also included a question regarding mulch versus gravel and grass, but that can be left for further discussions should we go forward.

Don't Give the People What They Don't Want...

Now we'll take a look at what people don't want instead of what they do. The plurality doesn't want yet another empty and purposeless open space, with 43% or respondents being most unhappy if we did nothing. There is a noticeable contingent that does not want a dog park: 21% of survey takers. Of these, 75% of that group does not have a dog, but of non dog-owners overall, 48% include an option with the fenced-in dog park as their top choice for the space. 19% don't want to see an unfenced dog exercise area. On a space located by the intersection of two arterial roads an unfenced dog area is not really a logical alternative -- especially given that, of the 20 dog exercise areas in the city, there are only 4 fenced-in dog parks.

Least Preferred Option of Those Given
21% All fenced-in dog park.
13% All landscaped
19% All unfenced dog exercise area.
43% Remains grassy area
4% All Others

Any Other Ideas?
The survey was intended to get an idea of how much interest people had in turning the area into a dog park. If resources were not an issue, we could have a survey that includes any and all options. But resources are limited and truthfully, if anything gets done here, it will require donated materials and volunteer work. The good news is that these are things that we think we can get.

As for other options, one or two respondents expressed interest in more athletic fields, but this site is far too small for any kind of athletic field, so that is not a viable option. One neighbor requested that we consider a labyrinth, but the cost of hardscape or manicured landscaping would likely be prohibitive as a short-term option. The long-term solution could include a labyrinth as part of a larger landscaped space -- a very interesting idea. We did not include a playground as an option since there are three within 1-2 blocks of the site.

We also did not include a community garden as an option. 5 commenters expressed interest in a community garden, but at only 1/2 acre, the space is fairly small for that purpose. There are portions of Four Mile Run Park that would provide more utility as a community garden, in part because they could use gray-water runoff from Cora Kelly Magnet School as a water source instead of fresh water from the spigot on site at the Reed Ave open space. With the development of a fenced-in dog park at the Reed Ave open space, the unfenced exercise area in Four Mile Run Park could be removed and a similarly sized plot could be used as a community garden. Also, eliminating a dog exercise are within Four Mile Run Park removes the risk of fecal coliform bacteria from running off into the stream.

Long Story Short and Next Steps
The fenced-in dog park is an extremely popular idea. Other great ideas were brought up, but the dog park is one of the few feasible short-term options due to its low cost to set up and maintain (especially if it's mulched). It is certainly not a lock to occur, even if we can cover 100% of costs. The city has a set of guidelines for Dog Parks (Draft copy - 1.4MB PDF) and the Reed Ave site is borderline on size and proximity to residential property according to that document. Our police community liaison officer mentioned it as an idea and Kevin and I ran with it, thinking it would increase the "eyes on the street" in our area, act as a crime deterrent, and bring something positive to the neighborhood. We had people offer e-mail addresses and phone numbers so they could lend a hand with the effort, which will be a big help. We'll also need to find some kind of sponsorship to get a fence installed. We need to work with the adjacent Glebe House Apartments to make sure whatever we do, we consider the neighbors and screen the property with trees. We will begin a planning process of our own as soon as possible. Contact me if you're interested in participating in coming up with and, maybe executing, a plan (

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Arlandria's Capital Improvement Plan: A Fractured Fairy Tale

If we could join Mister Peabody in his wayback machine, we could go back to that day in 2003 when neighborhood stakeholders got up early for a morning meeting just before the passage of the Arlandria Plan -- an effort on which, in various forms, the community had been working for nearly a decade. That effort involved looking at the neighborhood holistically; pursuing revitalization by creating the basis for raising the quality of life of everyone involved. To do this, the plan identified the desire to improve park and recreation opportunities, the need for parking improvements to support the small businesses and area affordable housing, problems with walkability and transit access, and even ideas to improve traffic flow. But many things -- many desirable things, such as better, pedestrian-oriented lighting -- were left out because costs were so high that funding seemed remote. So, at that 2003 meeting, an idea was floated: create a pool of funds to address the main priorities over the short to medium term and leave the rest to revisit in the future as things changed.

Later that year, Alexandria City Council followed this recommendation and included a fund for "Redevelopment of Arlandria" in the City's Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) on the order of $500,000. The money wasn't scheduled to be immediately available, but, rather, in a few years, by which point plans to use the money would be firmed up. City staff ranked the fund as having the highest priority, "Essential".

City staff, meanwhile, drafted an implementation schedule for the Arlandria projects. A number of low cost items, and a number of higher cost items which utilized other funds, were accomplished and rightly checked off the list. City staff continued to hold a series of meetings in those early days and the community was kept abreast. In 2006, it was announced that the half million dollars would become available later that year at which point a number of streetscape improvements could be implemented; a list that included park benches, bus shelters and a few bigger items such as intersection enhancements and improvements to the entrance to Four Mile Run Park.

And that's when the fairy tale broke. There were no new updates and no responses to questions regarding the status of the plan. The City budget, with its hundreds of pages easily accessible online, merely said, "A feasibility study has been completed for the Plan-recommended improvements to the gateway into the City of Alexandria, connections to Four Mile Run Park, and pedestrian safety improvements." Updates to the implementation schedule stopped and many of the staff and citizens who worked together for years, simply moved on or moved away.

Now, word comes that City staff is studying the intersection of Mt Vernon Avenue & West Glebe Road in an effort to improve the pedestrian crossing and traffic flow. A public meeting has been scheduled for next Wednesday the 23rd (7pm at Cora Kelly Rec Center), but nothing about that study is included in the the City's list of current engineering projects. Still missing is discussion about the much anticipated streetscape improvements or the corrections to the Four Mile Run park entrance. The feasibility study, reportedly finished a while back, is also still absent.

So what happened to the streetscape plan? Attention has waxed and waned along with community efforts to draw attention to areas of deterioration. A few crosswalks have appeared, some trash cans and a few benches were put in neighborhood parks. But those benches were quickly taken away when 'problems' erupted (drinking, vagrancy and suspected drug dealing). Blighted parks have been cleaned up and fallen again back into disrepair. Nothing on the order of major changes that would signal the City's interest in the neighborhood where years of accumulated neglect are still evident in the disinvestment at many properties. And the money? In the current budget, the Arlandria Revitalization money still remains unspent. Whereas, new pocket parks in Del Ray will have half that much spent just this year alone, Arlandria is still struggling to get answers.

What does the current CIP say? Well it says, what the CIP has said for years:

Pedestrian improvements at Russell Road and Mount Vernon Avenue were completed. Additional revitalization projects are planned for the area which includes: pedestrian bulb-outs and crosswalks along Mount Vernon Avenue and East Glebe Road, installation of speed tables on Four Mile Run and Old Dominion Boulevards, installation of pavers along sidewalks on Bruce Street, Gateway improvements, and connections to Four Mile Run Park and improvements to the Commonwealth Avenue/Mount Vernon Avenue intersection. Short and long term safety improvements are planned at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and West Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue and West Reed Avenue.

But wait, what's that? There's something new for FY2010: "improvements to the Commonwealth Avenue/Mount Vernon Avenue intersection." That wasn't there in the 2009 CIP (page 8).

Maybe that's the answer: The money rolled further down the Avenue.

Excerpted from Warwick Village Voice, March 2004

What's the moral to this story?

When I watched them as a kid, I knew that the Fractured Fairy Tales weren't meant to teach any life lessons. They were just pure, silly, cynical humor. One story would end with a moral such as, "a Mule and his honey are soon parted". Another about a kingdom where not much changed would say that that "only goes to prove that fairy tale endings can be completely arbitrary".

Well, maybe the absurdity of it was a pretty important life lesson after all.

Arlandria Plan Intersection Improvements Community Meeting -Wednesday, September 23rd

View Larger Map

The City of Alexandria invites residents to attend the Arlandria Plan Intersection Improvements Community Meeting Wednesday, September 23 from 7:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. at the Cora Kelly Recreation Center located at 25 W. Reed Avenue.

The City is currently assessing recommendations for short term and long term improvements to the intersections of Mt. Vernon & W. Glebe and Mt. Vernon and Reed, which will focus on pedestrian safety, improving the geometry of the intersection, driveway access and general intersection efficiency and safety.

For more information contact Sandra Marks at 703.838.4411 ext 170 or at

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 411 on 4MR


The Four Mile Run (4MR) Restoration project is in the news today. The DCmud blog is carrying a story entitled, "Arlington and Alexandria Hope to Lure Developers for Restored Waterfront Property".

What prompts the story is the review of the Four Mile Run design guidelines that have been undergoing a public process for the last couple of years. These have already received unanimous backing by the Alexandria Planning Commission and await approval by Arlington's County Board at the end of the month.

The story does a nice job of summarizing current events related to 4MR: the upcoming design content for the Eads-Commonwealth pedestrian bridge, the progress on the pilot restoration project for the tidal reach of the run, and the current planning efforts over at Potomac Yard that will inevitably contribute to further improvements. The blog concludes:

As long as developers strive for greener building practices, do what they can to incorporate public spaces and the newly improved stream in their designs, and take into account storm water management, they'll be welcomed by city planners in Alexandria and Arlington.

It's a good read and welcome attention to a worthy project that is intertwined with the future of Arlandria.

Still much anticipated, however, is the final report from the Mayor's Institute on City Design that recently reviewed Potomac Yard and looked at Four Mile Run. The preliminary info on that suggests that 4MR will be getting a lot of attention that might carry the restoration forward.

Obsessed with bus shelters.


Somewhat time timely given previous discussions about Arlandria bus shelters (here and here), the Infrastructurist blog has this article today: "Bus Stops of the Future"

Here's an excerpt:

"If our research proves accurate, the future looks very exciting. Some will have vegetative roofs. Others will be beautiful and expensive to build yet cost cost cities $0 each. Still others look like something you might see after your second ayahuasca cocktail. And all this creativity stands in service of the laudable goal of making public transportation more appealing."

Somewhat related, DCist has an article today on the soon-to-be-opened bicycle shelter at Union Station.


And elsewhere, another blog called Beacon Hill Public Art is documenting how public art is being incorporated in utilitarian structures like sidewalks, light rail station and of course bus shelters, such as the one shown close-up at the top.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bike / Pedestrian Meeting TONIGHT!!!

Arlington County and the City of Alexandria's bicycle and pedestrian
advisory committees will host a combined meeting on Monday, September 14th (TONIGHT!!!) at the Arlington Parks & Rec conference center at the "Trades Center" on Arlington Mill Drive in Shirlington, starting at 6pm.

Topics will include:

  • Four Mile Run Restoration Plan
  • Four Mile Run Trail connection to Potomac Avenue and Potomac Yard
  • Hot Lanes at Shirlington Circle
  • Signage at the south end of the Shirlington overpass
  • Regional Bike Sharing application
  • King & Beauregard intersection status

Parks and Rec conference room, Trades Center, 2700 S Taylor St, 2nd Floor in Shirlington.

PRCR's conference center at the corner of Arlington Mill Drive and S. Taylor Street.

Friday, September 11, 2009

UPDATE: Bus Shelter now a Bus "Stop"

Who needs to ponder trees falling in forests? Here's a question for our era: "If a bus doesn't stop at a bus stop because there's no one there to stop for, is it still a bus stop?"

Yesterday, I noticed that one of the DASH bus stop signs along West Glebe Road had been moved to the new bus shelter we talked about last week. The switch was obviously hastily made -- bus stop signs aren't typically attached to lamp posts and the post for the former stop is still standing --but it's good to see that someone is paying attention.

While at other bus stops this morning, crowds waited out in the pouring rain, this spiffy new shelter still goes unused; keeping only the pavement dry. And at most of the area apartment buildings, shopping areas, rec centers or parks, if they are lucky enough to have a bus stop, there is no shelter. And where there are shelters -- like the one and only (next to a gas station) on Mt Vernon Avenue in Arlandria -- they aren't well placed (that shelter floods when it rains).

The attempt to provide such an amenity with the new development on West Glebe, might have been well intended, but, with competing needs, is this money well spent? And how about those funds that were allocated years ago -- and remain unspent -- to provide shelters where they are actually needed.

And how about placing stops were people who use buses actually live? Kind of a no-brainer, right? I'll be pondering that too whenever I see this stop and the vandalism that is still un-repaired.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Should Arlandria's New Open Space Be a Dog Park?

Please read below, then click for a quick survey to let us know what you think.

View Reed Avenue Dog Park? in a larger map

Despite the current fiscal climate, the City of Alexandria recently added to our neighborhood stock of open space. Using money left over in Alexandria's open space fund, the City recently shelled out some cash to purchase the property at 3550 Commonwealth Avenue at the intersection with Reed Avenue (across from Cora Kelly Rec Center). Residents will know this property as the place where an electrical substation sat for many years. Apparently, it was a dormant substation, though no one in the community knew that as far as we can tell.

The deal the City struck seems like a good one. As part of the purchase agreement, Dominion Power has dismantled the substation (see pictures, below) and will soon turf over the spot where it once stood. This is very good news. Any time you turn a dormant substation into practically anything else, we doubt you'll have many naysayers.

The question now is: what do we do with this land?

There are 3 existing playgrounds within a block and a half of the property and recreational fields are just down the street in Four Mile Run Park. At only 1/2 acre, the new park probably isn't big enough for playing fields or any major activity. The main options seem to be: an empty field, a field with some landscaping and sitting areas, or... how about a fenced-in dog park?

Top left: Water Source for site, Top Right: Looking south through existing gates, Bottom: Looking North at back of site at existing screening

Alexandria has only four fenced dog parks. The next closest one to 3550 Commonwealth (or should we call it Reed Avenue Park?) is 1.5 miles away at Simpson Park, on Monroe Avenue near Route 1 in Del Ray. There are, however, several "off-leash" exercise areas, but these areas don't draw in nearly as many users as the fenced-in areas as not everyone feels comfortable letting their dog run free without the safety net of a fence.

One such "off-leash" dog exercise area is in Four Mile Run Park at the cul-de-sac end of Edison Street. The delineated area, as in other such places, consists of simply a few low-standing posts that mark the area where dogs can run. The Edison Street dog run lies near the Four Mile Run wetland preserve and adjacent to the jogging/cycling path (sometimes known at the Anderson Bikeway). As far as we can tell, it is the only sanctioned off-leash dog run in our rather densely-built section of Alexandria.

With funds being short, we understand that there are no current plans for 3550 Commonwealth beyond the turfing being done as part of the purchase agreement. The City doesn't have another $260,000 to create another "pocket park" like what was approved last year for 1 & 7 East Del Ray Avenue for the land that was acquired there last year. 3550 will likely stay a vacant lot for a long time short of being made useful with some quite smaller investment.

How much investment? The 2000 City of Alexandria Master Plan for Dog Exercise Areas and Fenced Dog Parks gives some ideas. That plan recommends a list of amenities necessary for dog parks: fencing, trash cans, turf (the most expensive investment), water, etc. Luckily, 3550 has some of these and we surmise that the main expense would be the installation of some kind of fence.

The City's dog park master plan calls for siting new dog runs such that there is "appropriate set back from bodies of water." Why is that? Well, the Four Mile Run pollution control implementation plan says that dog waste accounts for 42% of controllable sources of bacteria that pollute the stream. It concludes, "Dog parks are a benefit to the community for a variety of reasons, and can be considered a water quality Best Management Practice (BMP) themselves." In short, a new dog park in this location would keep dog waste much further from Four Mile Run than people using parks closer to the stream to walk their dogs.

We think 3550, therefore, looks like a good candidate, but we're going to try something new here on The Arlandrian. We're going to ask you to take a short questionnaire to get an idea of whether or not we're touting a solution in search of a problem or if people would really like a dog park. We'll collect responses for a week or so, then put the data out there for all to see. Alexandria and Arlington residents only, please (unless you would make the drive for a nice Dog Park in the North End of Alexandria)! Please pass this along to friends, too, we'd like to see what folks think.

Please let us know either way. It only takes 2-3 minutes:

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

New Bike Wayfinding Signs To Arlandria... and a Pitch For a Bit More Bikeability

While biking and walking around town in the last couple of weeks, I've noticed a few new bike wayfinding signs. I had an e-mail discussion with Yon Lambert, the City's Bike and Pedestrian planner, earlier this summer and he told me, "the on-street bike signage we use will be the NEW national standard in the [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices]". He's referring to the reflective white text on green background design. Indeed, in the weeks following the discussion, I began to notice more and more of these signs. The nearly completed Alexandria Wayfinding Design Guidelines will include information about standard bike signage.

The sign to the right just popped up near the Mt. Vernon Commons construction site on southbound Commonwealth Ave. The arrow to Arlandria has you go to the corner of Mt. Vernon Ave and hang a right. It doesn't include distances as some other signs do, but it's an improvement over limited to no wayfinding in the Arlandria area.

The second sign I snapped a photo of is on northbound Commonwealth Ave all the way down in Rosemont. It points you to Four Mile Run instead of Arlandria, but since the bike lane terminates at the trail in Four Mile Run Park, this probably makes the most sense. The distance markers are a nice touch.

Additional bike wayfinding is necessary for the area, but signs like these are a good start in getting to and from Arlandria on the Commonwealth Ave bike lanes. The next thing we need is a safe east-west route to get between Potomac Yard and points throughout the neighborhoods of the North End. Glebe seems the obvious choice, but there may be limitations with the width of the road in some spots. A combination of bike lanes and "sharrows" might be the best we'll get there.

To understand how we might be able to get a bike lane onto the 4-lane to 2-lane to 4-lane to 2-lane schizophrenic W Glebe Rd, see a previous post on our proposed Mt. Vernon and W Glebe Rd diets. This would give an off-street recreational option (Four Mile Run Park Trail), a north-south option that connects to Metro (Commonwealth Ave), and an east-west option that goes from Beverly Hills/Lennox Place at Sunnyside all the way to Potomac Yard (E/W Glebe). That, plus good wayfinding on all routes, would be a nice boon to Arlandria's bikeability. Considering Alexandria's new Transportation Master Plan and its emphasis on multi-modal streets, the main thing holding us back is simply the availability of the green stuff (money, not reflective signs).