Alexandria, VA

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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If Alexandria Police are going to be outfitted with body worn cameras, then City Council is going to have to find $13 million in the upcoming budget.

The program would cost $12.9 million over six years and would work incrementally, with 110 officers getting the cameras in the first year, 110 officers in the second year and a total of 325 officers wearing them by the third year.

Police Chief Michael L Brown said he supports them.

“The real issue has been the cost to the city,” Brown told West End residents in a Zoom call last week. “I’ve been an advocate of the body worn cameras. Many of the officers want the body worn cameras… It’s a good public policing practice. So, we’re really looking forward, if we can, to getting those.”

City Council adopted a resolution last summer stating that “the City of Alexandria and all government officials have a duty to ensure the protection of all communities through actions and reform, including in the justice system.”

Council then directed city staff to develop a proposal for body worn cameras.

Mayor Justin Wilson also wants body worn cameras, but has a few other priorities that he wants to get funded, such as free ridership on all DASH buses. That proposal alone will cost about $2 million, and Wilson will be rolling it out in the coming days.

“I am a supporter of body worn cameras and believe we need to make them happen,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Whether this is the year will be the subject of our budget deliberations over the next few weeks.”

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman is hearing mixed messages from the community on the issue.

“I’ve thought about it in the past, but I’m hearing mixed messages from the community as to whether it should be included in a near-term budget,” he said. “There is the entire ‘defund the police’ movement and adding body worn cameras gives extra funding to law enforcement.”

City Manager Mark Jinks has included the cameras as a line item in his is fiscal year 2022 budget. He is asking Council to approve $62.7 million in the police department’s budget, a 3% decrease, or a $2.1 million reduction over last year. Under the proposal, police would defer replacing 20 vehicles, reallocate administrative support, and reduce non-personnel expenditures and overtime expenses.

Below is a chart detailing the costs of body worn cameras.

Photo via Tony Webster/Flickr

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After years of public outreach, a new planned overhaul of the DASH but network is scheduled to launch this fall.

At a meeting last night, DASH representatives said the phased replacement of the current coverage-focused network — a design with a focus on ensuring all Alexandrians have access to some level of bus service — to a service focused model — one that decreases coverage but increases frequency and reliability of its bus lines.

The first phase of the overhaul is scheduled to launch in September, staff said.

Tristan Cunningham, senior planner with DASH, said the new bus lines will offer “more useful transit where people can use it” and better mobility midday and on evenings and weekends.

During the meeting, DASH highlighted a few of the new routes that will provide better access to the incoming Potomac Yard Metro station and nearby redevelopment.

  • Line 36 A/B, replacing AT 9, will run from the Mark Center to Potomac Yard by way of Alexandria High School.
  • Line 34 will run from the Lee Center and the Braddock Road Metro station up to Potomac Yard

DASH emphasized that the new routes will dramatically increase access to all-day service for low-income residents, minority residents, and seniors.

The tradeoff is some routes through less densely populated areas could have reduced service or be cut entirely. There has been some back-and-forth over which lines will be axed, with DASH eventually restoring a replacement for the AT2 line through Seminary Hill. Two routes through North Ridge, the 103 and 104, will only operate during peak service hours.

DASH is accepting feedback on the plan through April 16.

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Morning Notes

Volunteers needed at Casa Chirilagua — “Casa Chirilagua Volunteers are needed to help collect, sort, organize, and distribute donations. Casa Chirilagua needs volunteers to help tutor/mentor children and adults virtually and in-person during
their Kids Club, Teen Club, Mentoring program, Spanish Tutor program, and Adult English Classes.” [Volunteer Alexandria]

Bishop Ireton is raffling off a Ford Escape — “Want to win a brand new 2020 Ford Escape (courtesy of Ourisman Chrysler Jeep Dodge of Alexandria)? You’re in luck! We’re raffling off a brand new car to support the BI Annual Fund. There are only a few raffle tickets left so don’t delay!” [Facebook]

DASH bus drivers have spare face masks just in case — “#MaskUp for every DASH trip and while you wait for the bus. If you cannot delay your trip to obtain a mask, simply ask your operator for one when you board the bus.” [Facebook]

Former Mayor Silberberg on panel with Attorney General Mark Herring on Thursday— “Please Join Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, Prince William County Supervisor Andrea Bailey, Fmr. Mayor of Alexandria Allison Silberberg, State Senator Ghazala Hashmi, State Senator Jennifer Boysko, and Delegate Wendy Gooditis for a Women’s History Month discussion.” [Facebook]

Stomping Ground closed Tuesday to get employees tested for coronavirus — “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we are reporting that a kitchen member on our staff has tested positive for COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution we will be closed today to get our entire staff tested at both @stompbiscuits and @bageluprising and to sanitize buildings. It makes us wary as our team has gone and continues to go above and beyond recommended safety protocols. The city of Alexandria website does not require us to report it unless another employee tests positive. If that is the case we will continue to be transparent with our guests. Please be safe and we will keep you posted on our progress.” [Facebook]

Today’s Weather — “Cloudy (during the day). High 58F. Winds light and variable… Light rain developing after midnight. Low near 45F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 60%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Sushi helper — “The Handover is hiring sushi assistants willing to work hard and be open to learning new skills. We are a small restaurant looking for candidates with the ability to accurately prep, cut vegetables, prepare maki rolls and follow chef’s direction. Both full- and part-time positions are available. Competitive hourly pay commensurate with experience level.” [Indeed]

New job: DASH bus mechanic — “Join the DASH team! DASH is seeking a B Mechanic to join our Maintenance team! We strongly encourage anyone interested to apply: https://bit.ly/3t4hUUa.” [Facebook]

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You’ll need $2 per trip and a face mask if you want to take the DASH bus now.

For the first time in more than a year, today (Monday, March 15), DASH brought back collecting fares and front door boarding,

“This policy change brings us closer to resuming a ‘new normal’ of transit service while continuing to prioritize the safety of our employees, riders and community,” said Josh Baker, DASH CEO/General Manager.

In response to the pandemic, DASH discouraged city residents against traveling from home, suspended fare collection, moved to rear-door boarding and added face mask requirements. The King Street Trolley has been completely suspended since last March and will stay shut down until further notice.

DASH has made enhancements to its DASHbus app, which allows passengers to recharge their their bus fare on their phones. The app is available on Google Play and at the Apple Store.

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Morning Notes

Officer Celebrates 25 Years with Police Department — “A special time for one of our officers. Officer Bennie Evans officially received his commemorative clock representing 25+ years of service with the Alexandria Police Department. We thank you for all you do.” [Twitter]

Beloved Bishop Ireton Faculty Member Dies — “It is with sadness but also with great faith in our Lord that we share that Brother Rick Wilson, a beloved faculty member at Bishop Ireton for more than three decades, passed away last night on March 3, 2021. He is now at peace with our Lord and has most assuredly opened a Word Write Shop for all the writers in paradise. He loved Bishop Ireton. In his last conversation with Head of School Kathleen McNutt, he reiterated his great love of teaching, his love for Bishop Ireton High School, and his desire to do God’s will. He shared with passion, ‘God put me on this Earth to teach. Bishop Ireton is my home.’ Let us pray for the repose of Brother Rick’s soul; for his family who mourns his loss; and for his beloved Bishop Ireton family who will always remember him. May choirs of angels receive him into everlasting life.” [Facebook]

Sheriff’s Office Warns Against Scam — “ALERT! Scammers are at it again! If you get a phone call from someone saying they are with the Sheriff’s Office and that you have to pay money, HANG UP! Real law enforcement agencies in Virginia will never call you and demand money or credit card info” [Twitter]

Alexandria Libraries Open March 15 — ” Each branch will have limited hours under the third phase of the Library reopening plan. A number of safety measures will be in place to guard against the spread of COVID-19.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny (during the day). High around 70F. Winds ESE at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 51F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Assistant Director of Fleet Maintenance — “DASH is looking for an Assistant Director of Fleet Maintenance and Facilities to join our Maintenance team! We strongly encourage anyone interested to apply: bit.ly/3kZOtQe.” [Twitter]

New Job: Fitness Instructor — “New Coaches Start with Guaranteed Hours. Free Protein Bars, Energy Drinks, and Coffee. Free Open Gym and Fitness Classes. Flexible hours (work as many hours as you like)” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Surge in COVID-19 Deaths Occurred in January and February — “The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) is reviewing and accounting for COVID-19 deaths that occurred during the post-Holiday COVID-19 surge between January and the end of February. As a result, there have been recent increases in deaths reported in Alexandria’s COVID-19 dashboard. AHD and the City extend their sincere condolences to all community members who have lost someone during the course of the pandemic.” [City of Alexandria]

Resident Launches DrainALX Website on Flooding — “After Waynick’s first flood experience, she started talking to neighbors on her own street, letting them know that they should submit information through Alexandria 311, sign up for City alerts and more — and her communication efforts kept growing from there. Her email list now has more than 250 people across at least a dozen neighborhoods from the West End to North East Alexandria and Old Town.” [Alexandria Living]

AlexRenew Provides Details on Alexandria’s RiverRenew Project — “The project AlexRenew is undertaking now means reducing the millions of gallons of rainwater mixed with sewage that sometimes pollutes Alexandria’s waterways via four outfalls located around the City. These outfalls are at the eastern end of Pendleton Street, the southern end of Royal street, and two along Hooffs Run.” [Alexandria Living]

Front Boarding, Fares To Resume On Dash Bus In Mid-March — “Other regional bus systems, including Metro, Fairfax Connector and Arlington Transit, resumed front boarding and fare collection in early January.” [Patch]

Health Department Gives More Doses to Ladrey Senior Highrise — “The Alexandria Health Department (AHD) has allocated another 100 first doses to ARHA for seniors. In addition to the remaining residents at Ladrey who want to be vaccinated, ARHA is reaching out to seniors at other sites who have not yet been vaccinated to offer them the opportunity. The clinic will be held in the Community Room at the Ladrey Highrise on this Wednesday, March 3 from 1:00PM – 4:00PM.” [ARHA]

Elnoubi Out of Council Race — Abdel Elnoubi, the co-vice chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee, is not running for City Council. Elnoubi, a project manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, filed to run in the upcoming democratic primary on Dec. 30, but told us that he’s now thinking about running for the School Board. [ALXnow]

Today’s Weather — “Sunny (during the day). High around 45F. Winds NW at 10 to 20 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low 31F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: School Classroom Monitor — “Positions start as soon as possible. Temporary/Contract – Through June 2021.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria’s DASH bus service is at 40% of pre-pandemic ridership, and near-term changes include bringing back fare collection and adding a partition protecting drivers from passengers, according to an annual presentation given to City Council by the transit system on Tuesday night.

“We have some exciting things going on,” DASH Board Chair David Kaplan told Council. “We have been creative, we have worked together with other departments, with the health department and others to ensure that it is safe to use transit.”

In response to the pandemic, DASH discouraged city residents against traveling from home, suspended fare collection, moved to rear-door boarding and introduced face mask requirements. Additionally, the King Street Trolley has been completely suspended since last March. Now, however, DASH is working on expanding its mobile ticketing app.

“We are getting ready to move back to fare collection here hopefully in the coming months,” DASH General Manager Josh Baker told Council.And that is contingent upon our board’s approval at their upcoming meeting, as well as the completion of the installation of driver barriers, which will create a partition between the passengers who are boarding… and when they’re paying their fares.”

Baker said that in addition to the three electric buses it got last year, that DASH will get eight new electric buses this year and then a dozen more in 2022. At that point, he said, Alexandria will have the largest fleet of electric buses in region.

The pandemic also pushed back the implementation of the Alexandria Transit Vision plan from July to September. The plan adds weekday-only N12 bus service on Seminary Road and Janneys Lane, replacing the current AT-2 route segment. It will also expand off-peak weekend service by 50%, with buses arriving every 15-30 minutes all day.

“We have seen our largest drop in ridership on our commuter routes, but we continue to see people… who need to move around Alexandria,” Baker said. “Essential workers, people who don’t have other options, they need to ride transit and you see them riding throughout the day all hours and all times.”

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