Newsletter
The side of Alma Street SE slated to be studied for a sidewalk (via Google Maps)

Tensions are brewing in the Town of Vienna should pursue adding sidewalks.

Most, and possibly all, of the neighbors on Alma Street SE have voiced opposition to a new sidewalk there, signing a petition to try to prevent the project that’s being evaluated for the western side of the street.

Meanwhile, others argue that a lack of sidewalks creates safety and accessibility issues, where vehicles and pedestrians share the road and visual obstructions can heighten the potential for danger.

Town leaders have been racing to advance a slate of sidewalk projects — primarily in residential neighborhoods — and use money in a $7 million trust left by former Councilmember Maud Robinson after her death in 2019.

The money dedicated to the Robinson Trust Sidewalk Initiative, which seeks to fill gaps in the town’s network, expires in fall 2024.

How should the town proceed? Should Vienna use its right-of-way to build sidewalks as a public good, even if they cut into a resident’s lawn or driveway, or should the town only build projects when it has the support of adjacent properties?

Photo via Google Maps

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Metro is no stranger to safety challenges.

Last week’s train derailment in Arlington was just the latest in a long history of perilous, occasionally fatal incidents that have plagued the D.C. region’s primary transit system, from track fires and smoke-filled tunnels to the Red Line crash that killed nine people in 2009.

While no injuries were reported from the derailment, the ensuing investigation disrupted rail service on the Blue, Orange, and Silver lines throughout the week.

Initial findings of that investigation are now in, and they could be a devastating blow to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s campaign to lure passengers back after the COVID-19 pandemic sent ridership tumbling last year.

Metro pulled nearly 60% of its fleet out of operations Sunday night (Oct. 17) after the National Transportation Safety Board uncovered wheel axle defects on multiple 7000-series trains, which were introduced in 2015. The federal agency reported today (Monday) that these issues have occurred at least 31 times since 2017, including twice on the derailed car before it actually went off the tracks.

With use of the 6000 trains already suspended due to recent car separations, Metro was left with just a few dozen trains today and reduced service to just one six-car train every 30 minutes, resulting in crowded trains, platforms, and buses.

While WMATA hasn’t announced its upcoming service plans yet, it seems like a safe bet that the challenges facing the transit system won’t be solved overnight.

How will Metro’s safety issues and new service limitations affect your travel plans going forward? If you were a regular rider, will you continue that habit or seek alternatives when possible?

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By this time next year, the I-495 Northern Extension project (495 NEXT) could be under construction.

The Virginia Department of Transportation secured required federal approvals in July for its $550 million effort to add express lanes on three miles of interstate from Tysons to the American Legion Bridge area in McLean.

With that hurdle surmounted, state transportation officials expect to advance the project fairly quickly over the next year, awarding a design-build contract this winter and finalizing the design next year. Right-of-way acquisitions and construction work could also start in 2022, putting the toll lanes on track to begin operations in 2025.

While traffic volumes are projected to increase roughly the same amount regardless of whether 495 NEXT is implemented, VDOT says extending the I-495 Express Lanes toward the American Legion Bridge will reduce travel times and congestion, moving 2,500 more people per hour through the corridor when they open in 2025.

A chart showing how extending the I-495 Express Lanes will improve travel times, according to VDOT (via VDOT)

The project also includes transit in the form of new bus service between Tysons and Montgomery County, a trail for bicyclists and pedestrians parallel to I-495, and funds to assist with stormwater management and stream restoration efforts along Scott’s Run.

However, 495 NEXT has encountered some resistance from McLean residents concerned about its potential impact on their neighborhoods, and environmental advocates.

An environmental assessment found that the project will affect 4.11 acres of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, 19.8 acres of wetlands, and more than two acres of land around George Washington Memorial Parkway, though the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) and National Park Service (NPS) determined that the effects could be mitigated enough to be outweighed by the benefits.

Some residents and elected officials have questioned whether that would be the case, though, if Maryland’s plans to replace the American Legion Bridge and widen its part of the Beltway fall through, which remains a possibility even after the state approved a pre-development contract.

Now that it’s getting closer to becoming a reality, how do you feel about 495 NEXT?

Would the project make your life easier, or are you more concerned about the inevitable environmental and neighborhood impacts of a major infrastructure project? Should Virginia hit pause until Maryland fully commits?

Chart via VDOT

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An FCPS employee gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at an Inova clinic earlier this year (Photo by Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools)

The first day of school is less than a week away, and for many students, teachers, and parents, it’s coming with even more anxiety than usual.

For the first time since mid-March 2020, nearly all Fairfax County Public School students will attend in-person classes five days a week starting on Monday (Aug. 23).

With COVID-19 still in the air and students younger than 12 unable to get vaccinated, FCPS has an array of health protocols aimed at curbing the risk of infection, including an indoor mask requirement, outdoor classes and dining where possible, and diagnostic testing for people who display symptoms.

However, the school system is not requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for employees or eligible students. Arlington Public Schools is the only Northern Virginia district to issue a vaccine requirement for staff so far, though the Alexandria City school board is expected to discuss the issue today (Thursday).

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the union that represents FCPS educators and non-administrative staff, said earlier this week that it would support a mandate, and FCPS says it will “continue to consider all options that keep our staff and students safe.”

While many colleges and universities have issued vaccine mandates for students, legal and political concerns make it unlikely that any K-12 schools will take a similar stance, even though they already require other immunizations.

According to Fairfax County Health Department data, 78% of adolescents aged 12-17 and 65.6% of all Fairfax Health District residents have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“While mandatory vaccination is a policy decision and not a policy that the health department would be in charge of making, we do really support and urge everybody to get the information they need in order to make a positive decision to get vaccinated, which is really more important than ever with the Delta variant,” FCHD Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said during a virtual town hall on Monday (Aug. 26).

With the COVID-19 vaccines shown to be effective at preventing serious illness, albeit slightly less so against the Delta variant, should FCPS require the shots?

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This summer was supposed to be a celebration, or at least a period of transition, when the U.S. could go from grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic to recovering from it.

For a while, things looked promising. Infections were down, and vaccinations were up. With the end of Virginia’s distancing and capacity restrictions came the return of eating at restaurants, summer concerts, traveling, socializing, and large-scale events, including Fourth of July festivities.

Just as white-collar offices were starting to bring workers in and students are preparing to head back to school, however, the Delta variant took over, and the immediate future doesn’t look quite so rosy. Mask-wearing is back in, and vaccine mandates could follow suit, since about a quarter of Fairfax County adults have yet to get a shot.

According to a recent poll by The Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School, 59% of respondents from D.C.’s Virginia suburbs say they have mostly or fully returned to normal, pre-pandemic lives. That’s lower than the national rate of 66% but higher than the overall D.C. region (50%).

Published on Sunday (Aug. 8), the poll surveyed 1,000 people nationwide and 1,000 people in the D.C. area from July 6-21, but conditions have changed since then, with all of Northern Virginia going from moderate to substantial community transmission in the past two weeks.

Has the rise of the Delta variant convinced you to change or cancel any plans recently? Are you thinking twice about eating at a restaurant or taking a summer vacation, or has the pandemic stopped factoring into your decision-making? If you’ve made a change that isn’t included in the poll, share in the comments below.

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Electric scooters have arrived in Fairfax County.

The devices started appearing early last week after the county introduced the companies Bird and LINK as the first two vendors in its Shared Mobility Device program, which was established in 2019 after the Board of Supervisors approved regulations for motorized scooters and skateboards.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, e-scooters had overtaken docked bicycles as the most popular form of shared transportation in the U.S. They have been embraced by some as a quirky, more environmentally friendly alternative to cars, particularly for short “first mile/last mile” trips, though research suggests more work needs to be done to make them truly sustainable and accessible.

The recent explosion in dockless e-scooters around the country spurred states and localities to start regulating the devices, partly in response to complaints that they clutter up sidewalks and pose safety hazards for pedestrians, particularly people with disabilities.

In Fairfax County, vendors are limited to an initial fleet of 300 scooters with an option to expand to 600 vehicles depending on demand. The scooters must have a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour and can be prohibited on sidewalks by signage.

The county also requires vendors to pay a $5,000 bond to cover potential clean-up costs, and users that leave scooters in places that block car or foot traffic could be hit with a misdemeanor and fines.

Bird has deployed several e-scooters around Tysons, according to its app (via Bird)

Now that e-scooters are here, how likely are you to use one? Are you excited to have this travel option, or do they seem like more of an obstacle than a convenience?

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Months after Virginia started lifting its mask restrictions, the once-ubiquitous face masks that were a defining symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic have started becoming more scarce. But with the delta variant starting to cause a COVID-19 resurgence, some are saying masks in public should make a comeback, even for people who have been fully vaccinated.

The delta variant now accounts for 83% of new COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated earlier this week. The delta variant is more contagious than other strands of COVID-19 and could potentially have more severe symptoms.

In official channels, mask requirements have continued to ease up. The Commonwealth is set to let a statewide mandate on indoor mask wearing in schools expire on Sunday (July 25), though the state guidance remains that teachers, students and staff should still wear their masks indoors.

While the virus now appears to be almost exclusively spreading among unvaccinated people, some fully vaccinated people have continued wearing masks for a variety of reasons, from a desire to fend off other illnesses or to protect young children and other people unable to get a vaccine to concern about being judged.

Have you stayed in the habit of wearing a face mask, or does it depend on the setting?

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This coming weekend is the Fourth of July, and unlike last summer when — well, you know — travel is on the table for many Tysonians and neighbors.

Nationally, 47 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend, many of them by car, according to Travel and Leisure. It’s an estimate in line with pre-pandemic figures.

Are you planning to head out-of-town this weekend? How are you planning on traveling? List your mode-of-choice in the comments if it’s not a plane or car.

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One of the longest-running stories on Tysons Reporter has been plans to overhaul McLean’s downtown. The aim is to make it more vibrant and active, but critics of the plan say it still misses the mark on parking and stormwater management.

The McLean Community Business Center plan divides the 230 acres of central McLean into a few zones with greater residential density opportunities than currently exist — the idea being to incentivize more development in exchange for those developments including more public open space and community amenities.

The expanded density will allow for up to 3,850 residential units in McLean, more than triple the 1,280 units currently built in that area.

Robert Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said that in spite of some changes, the MCA still opposes the draft plan, due to a lack of specificity around water management requirements and changes that will shift the emphasis to underground parking garages, rather than surface parking.

“Some changes made, and we are pleased with some of them, but [those] two major issues remain unaddressed satisfactorily,” he said at a public hearing held by the Fairfax County Planning Commission on May 26.

Other concerns that emerged during last week’s public hearing included calls for more assurance that the new development won’t add to McLean’s flooding issues.

“The focus needs to address flooding and streambed erosion concerns,” local citizen Barbara Ryan said, “particularly as we are seeing downstream erosion in Pimmit Run.”

After the public hearing, the planning commission deferred its decision on whether to recommend approval of the proposed comprehensive plan amendment to June 9. The plan will then go before the Board of Supervisors on June 22.

Image via Fairfax County

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Virginia is no longer requiring that people wear face masks indoors if they have been fully vaccinated, a move that reflects the COVID-19 pandemic’s waning threat in the state as vaccination rates rise and case rates fall.

However, there are some exceptions to the new rules. In addition to maintaining the state’s mask mandate for health care facilities, public transportation, and schools, the revised guidance lets businesses continue requiring masks within their establishments.

In the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement, some businesses are continuing to mandate masks for all customers, while others are letting fully vaccinated customers go mask-free, depending on local and state regulations, though a few, like Trader Joe’s and Starbucks, are still requiring masks for employees.

With masks still “strongly recommended” in all settings for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, however, businesses largely seem to be relying on an honor system, raising questions for parents with children who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet and service workers who have to interact with a wide variety of customers.

Gov. Ralph Northam said earlier this month that he has not ruled out the possibility of vaccine “passports” as a means for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated before participating in certain activities, but for the time being, there are no plans to implement any such system.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Tysons Reporter that he is “not aware of any concerns” from businesses about enforcing the new mask guidelines.

“I’m not aware of any concerns we have heard at this point, but per state guidance, businesses can make their own decisions about masking,” McKay said. “I encourage our businesses to do what they feel is best for the health and safety of their staff and customers.”

What approach makes you most comfortable when it comes to masks right now? Would you prefer that retail stores, theaters, and other businesses keep requiring masks to minimize confusion and risk, or should they let customers and workers go without masks, trusting that they’ve been vaccinated?

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