What an unexpectedly busy summer week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Our top story was on an Alexandria woman who claims she was roofied at a restaurant on the waterfront on the evening of July 9. A police report has been filed, and no charges have been made.

This week we sat down with acting Police Chief Don Hayes, who said that he’s thrown his hat in the ring with City Manager Mark Jinks to keep the top job. Hayes, a 40-year veteran of the Alexandria Police Department took over after the sudden departure of Chief Michael Brown last month, and will have to contend against candidates in a national search.

The Tokyo Olympics also start this week, and the games will include three T.C. Williams High School graduates — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley. In fact, Lyles just had a comic book biography published in the Washington Post. If you’re a fan of the Olympic games, check out this list of local restaurants celebrating with special events and meals.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Woman claims she was roofied at Old Town restaurant
  2. Residents protest against conditions at West End apartment complex
  3. Developers eye Beauregard redevelopment with West End upgrades on the horizon
  4. Former chef at ‘The Alexandrian’ opening new restaurant in Arlandria on Monday
  5. No injuries after shots fired in Braddock area on Wednesday
  6. DASH takes lessons from D.C., Baltimore and Oregon in eliminating bus fares
  7. ‘Call Your Mother Deli’ signs lease in Old Town
  8. After last month’s Democratic primary, Republican Darryl Nirenberg tops campaign donation leaderboard
  9. New city health improvement plan aims to fix inequities
  10. Poll: Have you been to the Winkler Botanical Preserve?
  11. Lee-Fendall House to throw speakeasy party to finance building repairs

Have a safe weekend!

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Alexandria is getting ready to go fare-free this fall, and at the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) on July 1 the architects of that plan shared some of the challenges ahead.

Josh Baker, general manager of DASH, said a fare-free bus system had been brought up before, but transit authorities started looking at an emergency pandemic-program as a way to test what the program could look like on a larger, more permanent scale.

“We saw an opportunity in being fare-free as option in pandemic [as a way to] take a deeper look at what fare-free meant for our system and how that impacted our community,” Baker said. “Ultimately what it came down to for us: here’s an opportunity to do something that requires less admin burden, less intricacies, less details.”

Baker said that the cost in lost-revenue would typically be around $4 million, one of the main challenges of implementing the program, but decreased ridership during the pandemic put that lost-revenue estimate at roughly $1.5 million.

In a presentation to the NVTC, DASH staff said the aim of the program is to reduce cost-related barriers to transit and promote awareness, as well as increasing efficiency and reliability by reducing dwell times and keeping busses moving.

The first ten months of the program are funded by the city, but staff noted that additional funding is required to cover an estimated $670,000 gap.

Zero-fare opportunities and challenges, via NVTCIn preparation for going fare-free, Baker said staff spoke with leadership at the D.C. Circulator, the Corvallis Transit System in Oregon, and the Charm City Circulator in Baltimore.

Baker said ridership increases varied between 26-59% over previous years for systems that switched to fare-free, but that success required a dedicated funding source to keep consistent quality. Customer complaints also increased initially, but fell after 2-3 months.

The DASH bus service is scheduled to start going fare-free on Sept. 5.

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An electrical malfunction has prompted the required evacuation of a 17-story apartment building in the West End.

The power went out at Key Towers at 6060 Tower Court shortly before 5 a.m., and the city’s DASH bus service is helping transport evacuated residents to a cooling center at Patrick Henry Recreation Center, which is just over two miles away. There are 140 units in the 1960s-era building and Monday’s temperature is expected to reach the mid-90s.

“Evacuation is required and is being ordered by the Fire Marshal’s Office,” AFD Senior Public Information Officer Raytevia Evans told ALXnow. “Dominion Energy is on-scene now, and they have been for a while along with us. The building has been evacuated because the power had to be cut in order to make those repairs on what they’ve discovered.”

Dominion determined that a privately owned underground transmission line went down, Evans said.

“The property managers have their private contractors on scene as well,” Evans said, adding that that the city’s Office of Emergency Management is working with the property manager to inform residents that the building will be without power for “a while”.

Courtesy Google Maps

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This weekend, Alexandria bus network DASH suffered its first death from COVID-19.

The bus service is not releasing the victim’s name, but marketing and communications manager Whitney Code said the victim was a bus driver.

“It is with profound sadness that we mourn the passing of one of our DASH bus operators due to complications related to COVID-19,” the Alexandria bus company said. “The operator’s last day at work was June 21. We learned the employee tested positive of COVID-19 on June 23. We are devastated by this loss and extend our deepest condolences to the family.”

DASH has had 30 reported cases — 29 DASH employees contracted COVID-19 and and one contractor.

Code said the bus driver died on Saturday, June 26.

“In response to this case, we have completed a contact tracing investigation with the Alexandria Health Department and identified no close contact,” DASH said in the press release. “In an abundance of caution, full disinfection of all equipment was performed.”

The city is hovering at around 59% of its residents being fully vaccinated, but has struggled to close the gap to its goals of getting 80% of the city vaccinated.

DASH said that, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, all passengers and operators on the bus service must wear masks.

“The CDC continues to require that all passengers and operators wear masks on public transportation and DASH provides masks as needed to protect our community,” the press release said. “We remain committed to slowing the spread of the virus by actively communicating our policy to passengers and encouraging all DASH employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

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A new Duke Street overhaul that aims to make the street more transit-friendly is starting its community outreach phrase.

The Duke Street in Motion plan aims to create a corridor of more reliable and frequent bus service along Duke Street between the King Street Metro station and Landmark Mall — where developers is in the early phases of redeveloping the site into a mixed-use corridor and hospital.

Other potential changes could include the addition of dedicated transit lanes along Duke Street and additional bus stations. Some local residents are concerned the project won’t tackle one of Duke Street’s biggest issues, but the city said a separate project going forward later this year should help with those.

The project is the latest in a series of Alexandria transportation projects that aim boost the reliability of the city’s bus network, from a West End Transitway to an overall reshaping of the city’s routes.

Part of the city’s approved budget for this year will also include making ridership on DASH buses free starting later this year, part of a move to increase ridership.

Has your ridership of DASH or Metrobus changed throughout the pandemic? Sound off in the comments below the poll.

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Alexandria’s history with slavery makes Juneteenth a particularly important holiday.

June 19 recognizes the emancipation of slaves in the United States, and the date is expected to soon be a federal holiday, even though Alexandria has recognized it since 2019.

But because June 19 falls on a Saturday this year, the City is also recognizing Friday, June 18, as a holiday.

“We should all be looking at ways that we can help our community, especially in the context of a pandemic which has particularly ravaged communities of color,” said Audrey David, executive director of the Alexandria City Black History Museum, in a recent blog post, “Start by exploring the Black History Museum’s Preserving Their Names online only exhibition, released to coincide with the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, which features images of objects and digital photographs from the new Black Lives Remembered Collection.”

The Alexandria Black History Museum is also presenting a virtual performance on Saturday with the Washington Revels Jubilee Voices.

The holiday means most, but not all, City employees will have Friday off. Parking restrictions will also be lifted at legal parking spaces throughout the city, however Alexandria City Public Schools will be open.

What’s open

City-run facilities and services that will be open include:

Closures

The following City services are closed Friday:

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Morning Notes

Face masks still required on DASH buses — “Riding public transportation in Alexandria anytime soon? Don’t forget your mask.” [Zebra]

Bike to Work Day is Friday — “The free Bike to Work Day event features over 100 pit stops around the DC region in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The first 15,000 people who register and show up to a pit stop will receive a T-shirt. Staggered hours and COVID-19 policies will be in place.” [Patch]

Friendship Firehouse welcoming visitors on May 22 — “On Saturday, visitors can view equipment from that period and learn about the history of the firehouse, built in 1855. Families with young children will be given take-home kits, which will include plastic fire helmets (while supplies last).” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Sunny. High 86F. Winds light and variable… A few clouds from time to time (in the evening). Low 59F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Temporary COVID POD vaccinator — “Work as a team with Vaccinator Assistant to ensure best practices in vaccine administration, education, safety, and efficient vaccine throughput in a mass vaccine POD (Point of Distribution) setting.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria is seeking state funding for a couple of transportation projects, but competition is fierce in a region full of localities hoping to overhaul their transit systems despite the pandemic’s dire financial ramifications.

The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently announced the shortlist of proposed transportation projects that could receive funding through the Commuter Choice program. Each project is scored based primarily on technical merit — like how many people benefit and how much travel time is saved — but also on criteria like cost effectiveness and interagency collaboration.

The top project submitted by DASH, the city’s bus network, is for “enhanced bus service from Van Dorn Metro to the Pentagon.” The funding request is for $5.7 million, making it the most expensive project on the list, and netting an application score of 66 out of 100 and sixth place on the list of potential projects.

DASH’s other proposed project is enhanced bus service from Mark Center to Potomac Yard. The funding request is $3.6 million but the project also has a lower application score of 56 points.

Both projects aim to boost service on lines to-and-from the West End, which is one of the goals of an overhaul later this year that seeks to provide greater service at higher-density residential areas like parts of the West End at the cost of reducing geographic coverage through some of the less-dense neighborhoods.

Members of the public are invited to submit feedback on the proposed projects before May 17.

Graph via NVTC

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Morning Notes

TikTok captures promotion for first Hispanic Alexandria Fire Department battalion chief — “‘Hi dad, it’s Nicholle,’ the voice said before listing all the other people in the room. ‘It is my honor to announce your promotion to battalion chief.'” [7News]

Emergency alert at 10 a.m. announcing 16+ eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine — “On Monday, April 19, around 10 a.m., #Virginia will be issuing a Wireless Emergency Alert System message alerting everyone 16+ that they are now eligible to register for a #COVID19 vaccine under phase 2. More information: bit.ly/3mXUfTC #VaccinateVA” [Twitter]

Police honor good samaritan who identified crash suspect — “The Alexandria Police Department honored a man and his family with the Chief of Police Award on Tuesday, April 13, 2021, for their assistance in a deadly pedestrian crash from last year.” [Twitter]

DASHing Words in Motion Poetry Bus honors 10 Alexandria Poets, Poet Laureate — “On April 15, ten local poets were honored by the Alexandria Transit Company and The City of Alexandria Office of the Arts for their poetry submissions. Their winning submissions are posted inside each bus of the entire DASH bus fleet and on the Office of Arts website.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Considerable clouds early. Some decrease in clouds later in the day. Slight chance of a rain shower. High 68F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph… Clear (in the evening). Low 47F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Group fitness instructor — “This is an exciting opportunity for the right person to be an inspiring member of our team and help us to continue to share the Row House brand and experience to all people, everywhere. Coaches are hired as employees (not independent contractors) as we invest in your development and growth as a rowing-based fitness professional.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria’s DASH bus network could soon be completely free for all passengers.

In a recent newsletter, Mayor Justin Wilson said he is proposing to make DASH free for all riders to go along with a planned overhaul of the bus network going into effect in September.

“To coincide with the implementation of this new route structure, I will be proposing that we use this opportunity to make DASH free for all riders,” said Wilson. “Free transit will expand ridership by an estimated 23%, bring riders back to transit following the pandemic, help achieve the City’s environmental goals and disproportionately benefit our lower-income residents. With ridership depressed due to the pandemic, the initial cost to implement this change is dramatically reduced.”

The move comes after a brief window when DASH stopped collecting fares during the pandemic, a practice it resumed last month.

In answer to a budget question from Mayor Justin Wilson, staff included full fare elimination as one of four possible scenarios, which also included off-peak fare elimination and free or reduced fare for low-income residents.

While Wilson said in the newsletter that the initial amount of revenue lost in the change would be relatively low at first, staff noted in the response that over the next few years the amount of money not-collected in fares would go up as ridership returns.

According to staff, the levels of funding left off-the-table by eliminating fare collection is project to look something like this:

FY23 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $3,912,107
FY24 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $4,961,078
FY25 Full DASH Fare Elimination: $5,512,309

Staff said the change would require the city to increase it’s funding to DASH over time.

“It should be noted that due to one time use of $2.9 million in one time federal relief funding in FY 2022, the City support of the DASH budget will need to increase by approximately $0.9 million in FY 2023, assuming the projected return of passenger revenue,” staff said. “This increase does not include current services adjustments or any supplementals that may be approved. Therefore, any fare reduction initiative will add to that subsidy increase.”

The change would come in the middle of DASH shifting from a coverage-based system, that prioritizes bus access geographically, to a service-based system, which would realign bus routes to prioritize areas of greater density to increase service quality for more Alexandrians while leaving some in less-dense parts of the city with limited or no access to the bus.

There has been some haggling over how much service would be cut to less dense areas, with DASH agreeing to restore some bus lines through the Seminary Hill area. But staff has noted that the level of coverage could depend on the upcoming budget with City Manager Mark Jinks saying fully funding both a geographic coverage and greater service in areas of higher density are incompatible with his suggestion to decrease the real estate tax rate.

While the City Council has ruled out increasing the tax rate, it’s not clear yet whether the Council will go along with the proposed tax rate reduction.

“The City Council will ultimately determine the future of this proposal as we work to finalize our budget this month,” Wilson said.

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