Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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My recent screeds against arrogant pedestrians in crosswalks who seem to taunt drivers drew varied reactions.

“Roads are for cars,” said one friend. Another said he actually maneuvers his car to gently “brush back” pedestrians who challenge him on ownership of those uncontrolled stripes, each seeking to “educate” the other on safety.

But most healthy was the invite I received from hearty volunteers with the county’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

A dozen of them escorted me, during evening rush-hour, for a “Walk the Walk” across Washington Boulevard at its treacherous stretch between Virginia Square and Washington-Lee High School.

Fresh in everyone’s memory was the April accident at Utah Street that injured a teen pedestrian and earned a driver a ticket for failure to yield.

My hosts included activists from the committee that since its formation in the 1990s has met monthly to advise the county on its transportation plan safeguards and to make Arlington “a better place to walk.” They were joined by exuberant members of BikeArlington, Walk Arlington and the Ballston-Virginia Square Civic Association.

Lots of sharp-eyed expertise assembled. The boulevard has no median strip or bike lanes, and its bus stops have no shelter lane, thus obscuring the vision of both drivers and pedestrians, they explained. There are few stoplights—none in five blocks between Stafford Street and Glebe Road, so cars emerge from the last light and pick up speed, said Lauren Hassel.

Pedestrians here have long faced “very difficult challenges trying to cross legally,” said Pam Van Hine. And now Metro’s current SafeTrack repairs put more cars on side streets, plus more bicycles and pedestrians, she added. “People are not used to it.”

The white-painted crosswalks aren’t always visible to drivers from a distance, especially in the sun’s glare, and their plastic markers are often knocked down. Even when one car stops for a pedestrian, noted John Armstrong, a second car in the adjacent lane often barrels through obliviously.

Many cars run red lights, said civic association president Nia Bagley, reporting that a police cruiser stationed near Utah Street recently issued 23 citations in 90 minutes. School kids from nearby Science Focus are at risk, as are high schoolers and Metro walkers in the wintertime dark.

The intersection at Quincy and Washington Boulevard is “badly designed,” Bagley said, calling for turn lanes. The boulevard will “only get worse” after tolling begins on I-66, she added. Activists want a long-term pedestrian safety plan.

These pedestrian advocates have met with the county board and county staffer Dave Goodman—who showed up and expressed optimism about funding for solutions, perhaps flash signals.  They boost the county’s PAL(Predictable, Alert and Lawful) campaign for sharing the roads.

But I winced when one member purposefully marched out in a painted crosswalk defying oncoming cars “to see if they stop,” he announced. That’s the kind of pedestrian-rights dogma that angers many at the wheel of a car who are doing the speed limit and feeling eager to get to their destination without frequently slamming on their brakes.

In the end, I was impressed with Van Hine’s notion that pedestrians and drivers convey “mutual respect. We need to change the culture on the streets from me to we,” she told me.  The need for pedestrian-driver eye-contact negotiating is best communicated with the slogan “Stop, Look, Wave.”

***

Perhaps you noticed Donald Trump’s Republican running mate is a former Arlingtonian.

Mike Pence, who returned to Indiana when elected governor in 2012, spent a dozen years in my neighborhood. His brick colonial at 6543 N. 28thSt. near O’Connell High School actually became a campaign issue that year—his opponent blasting ownership of a Washington area home as a sign Pence had gone native.

Pence’s next-door neighbor, Louis Emery, told me the future vice presidential candidate bequeathed a basketball hoop to neighborhood kids (which sported a Pence bumper sticker). Without betraying his own voting plans, Emery assures me Pence is “a nice guy.”

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