FCPS to Highlight Need for Safe Gun Storage — “Fairfax County Public Schools will notify parents and guardians about Virginia’s new secure firearm storage law, why secure storage is essential, and other ways to prevent gun violence or seek help for a child who could be a threat to themselves or others. The communication will be sent in January and then annually before the start of each school year.” [Karl Frisch]
Lawsuit Accuses FCPD Officers of Sexual Assault and Complicity in Sex Trafficking — “The woman, who is referred to only as Jane Doe because she is a trafficking victim, alleges that the Fairfax County, Virginia, police department, including its former chief Edwin Roessler, knew that some officers were possibly participating in and protecting the ring, but allowed the officers to retire with full pensions rather than prosecute them.” [Reuters]
County Awarded for Mosaic Autonomous Shuttle — “The @fairfaxcounty Relay Shuttle project was presented the Fairfax County TAC Transportation Achievement Award on December 7, 2021. The award is given to the person or group that has made the most significant contribution during the year. The Relay project team accepted the award” [Virginia DRPT/Twitter]
Meet the Tysons Corner Center Santa — Tennessee resident Mike Graham has been serving as Santa at Tysons Corner Center for the past 34 years. He was first sent to the mall by a photo company that was looking for more Santas, and that initial appearance got such “a tremendous response” that the management team asked if he’d like to work with them exclusively. [Northern Virginia Magazine]
McLean 7-Eleven and Merrifield BMW Center Burglarized — Two men entered the 7-Eleven at 8110 Old Dominion Drive around 1:36 a.m. on Dec. 11, implied they had a weapon, and took property. Another commercial burglary was reported on Dec. 12 at the BMW Collison Center at 2730 Dorr Drive after someone forced their way into the business and took property around 10:30 a.m. [FCPD]
Winners of Vienna Holiday Lights Contest Announced — For the 2021 Light Up Vienna contest, first place in the business category as voted on by the town business liaison committee was split between Vienna Rexall Drug Center and Judd Tile. Public voters awarded the People’s Choice prize to Vienna Pet Spaw on Church Street, and 121 Casmar Street SE (also known as Casmar Street Lights) came out on top in the residents category. [Town of Vienna/Facebook]
County Board to Vote on New Electoral District Map — “The Board of Supervisors’ last full meeting of 2021 will include an agenda of district-specific and countywide proposals. The major items up for consideration are redistricting of the Board of Supervisors and School Board districts as well as expansion of tax relief for seniors and people with disabilities.” [Patch]
Wet Snow Possible Tomorrow — A cold front headed for the D.C. region could bring the first measurable snowfall of the season. Forecasts suggest up to an inch of accumulation is likely, with a ceiling of 3 inches, and the precipitation isn’t expected to stick around long, though the timing could cause some trouble in coinciding with the morning commute. [Capital Weather Gang]
Falls Church Shuts Down New Taco Restaurant — The popular Arlington-based food truck La Tingeria has occupied its new brick-and-mortar site at 626 S. Washington Street in Falls Church for less than a month, but the city plans to revoke its certificate of occupancy, citing complaints about customers parking in nearby residential neighborhoods. [ARLnow]
Santa Hitches Ride in Mosaic District Autonomous Shuttle — “Santa Claus gave Rudolph and the other reindeer a night off as he rode to his Target appearance in the latest driverless technology, RELAY. Santa waved happily to the crowds in Mosaic as his sleigh, aka the autonomous shuttle, wound its way down District Avenue.” [Department of Economic Initiatives]
Kansas Gives Preview of Capital One Hall Show — “Carry on all you wayward classic rock listeners! Kansas is ready to rock the brand new Capital One Hall in Tysons, Virginia, on Dec. 19…The band will perform the full “Point of Know Return” album, as well as other huge hits.” [WTOP]
Photo by ERTRIPP9/Twitter
(Updated at 6 p.m.) Fairfax County’s first venture into self-driving public transportation has encountered impatient drivers and other difficulties, but the autonomous shuttle in Merrifield could still serve as a roadmap for expansion and future projects.
Operating between the Mosaic District and Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station since October, the high-tech Relay service navigates through bustling areas and amongst shoppers, giving free rides and demonstrating the possibilities offered by autonomous vehicles.
Eta Nahapetian, a manager with the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, remembers watching “Star Trek” as a kid, along with flying cars in the animated TV show “The Jetsons.”
“Here we are, trying to make some of those childhood cartoons a reality,” she said on June 10 during a webinar about autonomous technology, “Creating an Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem in Virginia.”
Sarah Husain, a transportation planner with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said the technology has elicited high interest from the community for how it helps people with disabilities.
During the presentation, Husain also described some of the challenges that have emerged during the pilot project, which is a joint effort between the county and Dominion Energy.
She said drivers can get impatient and illegally pass it, so officials with the project worked on adding signage and enlisted the Fairfax County Police Department to help with the issue.
In response to complaints about vehicles passing the autonomous shuttle, the McLean District Station has assigned officers to conduct extra patrol and enforcement to address drivers “speeding or passing Relay,” the FCPD said.
“We’d like to ask for our community’s patience when driving behind the shuttle,” police said. “Relay should only be passed, with care, when a full lane is available.”
According to the county, “Do not pass” signage was installed alongside Eskridge Road and Merrilee Drive in March 2021. Stickers with the same message were also placed on the shuttle.
“We sought out these challenges with the pilot,” Husain said, noting several solutions that came forth, such as installing monitoring devices that detect if the shuttle needs more time to pass through an intersection.
The technology remains limited in some ways. For instance, if an idled vehicle, such as a parked car, is in the way, a shuttle attendant has to take over in manual mode to advance the shuttle.
The shuttle runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday from the Dunn Loring station to the Barnes & Noble in the Mosaic District. It’s designed to fill the “first/last mile” need in public transportation, connecting travelers to their ultimate destinations.
Fairfax County is seeking additional funding to continue Relay’s length of service and expand the routes that it serves. The pilot project is slated to end in August.
Dominion Energy, which supplied the shuttle, says an expansion of the pilot is among many options that it is considering for future uses of automated vehicle technology.
“Dominion Energy is considering other opportunities that may include an expansion of the current project,” Dominion Innovation Strategist Julie Manzari said. “The purpose of the pilot is to learn and gather information that will help us adjust or pivot to other concepts.”
Nearly a year after an autonomous shuttle first traveled in the D.C. metro area, Fairfax County leaders are looking at ways to extend that kind of technology to the rest of the state.
The county’s Department of Economic Initiatives has partnered with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to host a series of virtual panels next Thursday (June 10) for an event titled “Creating an Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem in Virginia.”
“This virtual event will address where we are today and what we need to do to make the dream of a network of fully autonomous vehicles a reality in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the event page says.
The event will feature three panels on autonomous transportation in Virginia, including a case study of the electric, driverless Relay shuttle that Fairfax County and Dominion Energy are currently piloting in Merrifield.
Relay launched passenger service in October and travels between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and the Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District. The shuttle, which travels at 10 miles per hour, can transport up to 12 people but has been limited to three people and a public safety attendant for social distancing.
The Relay panel will feature Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives consultant Dale Castellow, Smart Community Innovation and Strategy Manager Eta Nahapetian, and Fairfax County transportation planner Sarah Husain.
There will also be panels with experts from the private and public sectors to talk about how technology can “safely enable vehicles to function in even the most complicated scenarios” and why it’s important to navigate the first mile and last mile of trips to successfully implement autonomous vehicle technology.
Mike Mollenhauer, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Technology Implementation, will talk about the university’s partnership with VDOT to evaluate and test partially assisted autonomous vehicles in Fairfax County, including sections of I-66, I-495, Lee Highway, Arlington Boulevard, and areas where numerous crashes occur.
The free event runs from 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Registration is free but should be done in advance to get information about how to attend.
McLean Private School Announces New Leader — “We are excited to announce that Jason Shorbe, current Head of School at BASIS International School Guangzhou, will join the BASIS Independent McLean community as Head of School for the 2021-2022 school year.” [BASIS Independent Schools]
Researchers Seek Public Input on Merrifield Self-Driving Shuttle — “Relay will be available to public riders for about a year, and George Mason University School of Business is seeking public feedback on the pilot program.” [Greater Greater Washington]
Vienna’s Jammin’ Java Awarded COVID-19 Assistance Grant — “The Live Music Society has committed to giving $2 million in grants in its first two years of operation to support the live music ecosystem around the United States.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Salesforce to Purchase Acumen Solutions in McLean — “On Dec. 1, the same day it announced that it was acquiring workplace communication service company Slack for $27.7 billion in cash and stock, cloud-services company Salesforce.com Inc. revealed that it’s also acquiring McLean-based professional services firm Acumen Solutions.” [Virginia Business]
Haycock Elementary Teacher Turns Treehouse into Classroom — “For Haycock Elementary School teacher Nellie Williams, creativity took on new heights as she and her husband decided to upgrade their backyard treehouse for her to use as a classroom.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
Fairfax County and Virginia state officials kicked off passenger service on Thursday (Oct. 22) for Relay, the first test of autonomous technology in public transportation in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
“Won’t it be great to look back and say, ‘We remember the day in 2020 when we were sitting in the Mosaic and this Relay vehicle successfully proved to the country that you can do this in a safe way and also look toward future innovations in transportation,” Jeffrey McKay, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said.
Relay, a 100% electric, autonomous vehicle, runs 10 miles per hour from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metrorail Station to the Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District. It makes the trip every 15 to 20 minutes, Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Relay can transport up to 12 passengers — six seated and six standing — but to encourage social-distancing, it will currently only take three passengers and a safety attendant at a time. The shuttle is fully accessible for people with disabilities.
The project represents a public-private partnership between Fairfax County and Dominion Energy aimed at improving road safety, encouraging the use of public transit, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It received a $200,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and a $50,000 match from Fairfax County. The county is contracting with Transdev to manage the operations of Relay.
EDENS, the developer of the Mosaic District, provides shuttle storage and stop improvements. The Virginia Department of Transportation provided signage, lane striping and bus stops.
The ribbon-cutting event held Thursday, three months after its first test run, was abuzz with officials talking about the future and innovation.
Mark Webb, the chief innovation officer for Dominion Energy, said Relay “is just plain cool.”
“It’s the sort of thing we’d see in a Star Wars movie or Blade Runner movie without lift-off capabilities,” said Webb, whose company purchased the shuttle and contracted with EasyMile, a driverless technology company that mapped the route and manufactured the vehicle.
Even without the futuristic promises, Relay improves road safety, extends public transit, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, Webb said.
Connecting the two ends of the Mosaic District will encourage people to ride public transit who are dissuaded by getting to and from transit stops, said Catherine McGhee, the director of research and innovation for the Virginia Transportation Research Council.
“Relay serves a real purpose. It’s not a one-off demonstration in a parking lot,” she said. “It is part of the transit ecosystem here in Fairfax County.”
Officials also reminisced about the underutilized, industrial, dull feel of the Mosaic District before serious efforts were undertaken to develop it, spearheaded by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia).
“Without a Mosaic, there would be no Relay. There would be no autonomous vehicle project,” McKay said.
Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik wants to see the development extend to the older, industrial, and partially vacant zone in between the two Relay stops.
“I really hope it will help develop the areas between the two stops,” Palchik said. “We don’t stop here.”
(Updated at 10:43 on 10/21/2020) Members of the public will get to ride “Relay,” Merrifield’s new autonomous, electric shuttle service, for the first time this Thursday (Oct. 22), the Fairfax County Department of Transportation announced on Monday.
The shuttle will transport its first public riders along its designated route between the Mosaic District and the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro Station at the conclusion of a celebration that will also feature comments by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), and other officials.
Face coverings and observance of social distancing protocols will be mandatory for attendees.
“We’re all really excited about it,” Fairfax County Economic Initiatives Coordinator Eta Nahapetian said. “It’s been so hard with the pandemic. It’s so many less people [at the Mosaic District]. All the retail businesses are suffering, and this is actually, hopefully a really good opportunity for some good news.”
The first state-funded, autonomous, electric vehicle designed for public transportation to be tested in Virginia, Relay will operate free of charge from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays.
While the shuttle can accommodate up to 12 passengers, ridership will generally be limited to four people – three passengers and a vehicle safety operator – when it launches to ensure compliance with COVID-19 social distancing protocols.
Nahapetian says the county is considering whether to have some flexibility with the ridership cap for families or other groups who have been staying together in the same household during the pandemic.
Other partners on the project include Mosaic District developer EDENS and the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, which provided a $250,000 grant matched by $50,000 from Fairfax County. Dominion paid for the shuttle and related charging infrastructure, and Transdev is responsible for managing the operations and maintainance of the vehicle.
Since the Relay shuttle went on its first test run on July 28, Fairfax County and Dominion have tweaked the technology and enhanced the infrastructure along its route, adding more signs and engineering a traffic signal priority at the two intersections where it will cross traffic.
“We’ve been working through all those details during the past several months,” Nahapetian said.
The autonomous electric shuttle demonstration project is expected to last about a year.
In addition to using that time to gauge public opinion of its experiment with driverless vehicles, Fairfax County will gather data on the technology used in the pilot through an independent research study conducted by Virginia Transportation Research Council and Virginia Tech.
The county has also partnered with George Mason University’s School of Business for a separate study on “human factors” of the project, such as how the shuttle is being used and how it affects Merrifield’s economy.
Research on the Relay shuttle’s economic impact could be especially meaningful as it launches amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, which forced many restaurants and retail businesses in the Mosaic District and elsewhere to close earlier this year.
“Hopefully, there will be a lot of interesting technology findings and economic findings that come out of the project,” Nahapetian said. “Can we use this technology as a first-mile/last-mile [option]? We are so single-occupant-vehicle dependent. We need to change that.”
Correction: This article has been edited to state that the company responsible for managing the operations and maintenance of the Relay shuttle is Transdev, not Transurban as previously stated.
Photo courtesy Peggy Fox/Dominion Energy
Dominion Energy plans to roll out an autonomous, electric shuttle named “Relay” for testing in Merrifield as early as next week.
The self-driving shuttle will make a loop between the Mosaic District to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station. Fairfax County and Dominion Energy teamed up last year to start the pilot program to improve connectivity between the station and the shopping center, which are just under one mile apart according to Google Maps.
Peggy Fox, Dominion Energy’s spokesperson, told Tysons Reporter that testing is expected to start soon on the pre-mapped route. “It will be several weeks before we’re able to accept passengers,” Fox said.
Currently, the autonomous shuttle, which was made by the French company EasyMile, is in Alexandria awaiting its move to Merrifield next week, Fox said.
According to Dominion Energy, Relay is the first test of autonomous public transportation in Northern Virginia.
Photos courtesy Dominion Energy
Autonomous vehicles connecting the Mosaic District to the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro may arrive as soon as next spring.
Earlier this year, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors decided to start a pilot program for self-driving vehicles as a shuttle service. Dominion Energy and the county decided to partner up on the program.
Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn said at a Bisnow event today (Thursday) that the autonomous vehicles are expected to arrive in the spring or summer.
The vehicles will come from EasyMile, which is based in France, she said.
Flynn also said that the county has received a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, but did not disclose the amount.
Photo via Facebook/EasyMile
The Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board approved $250,000 in grant funding for Fairfax County to test driverless technology in public transportation, according to a press release. Fairfax County will provide $50,000 in local match funding to the pilot.
The program was the topic of extensive discussion at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors work session yesterday (Tuesday). The pilot project will have an autonomous shuttle running from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station to the Mosaic District, closing a 1-mile transit gap between the two locations.
The project is a collaboration between Fairfax County and Dominion Energy, which would identify, select and purchase the shuttles.
The shuttle would be free to ride with no ticket or pass needed.
The work session included a discussion of safety challenges related to operating an autonomous shuttle, particularly the challenge of getting the shuttle across Lee Highway. The press release noted that the shuttles will undergo extensive testing before passenger service can begin and a safety steward will be on board to monitor operations.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is set to consider the formal partnership agreement at the Tuesday, June 25, Board of Supervisors meeting.
Rendering via Optimus Ride