Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Local Housing Alliance Says Rent Assistance is Underutilized — “It is estimated anywhere between 263,000 and 384,000 households are at risk of eviction in Virginia. NVAHA Executive Director Michelle Krocker said local governments have been so busy aiding that they have not been able to compute proper data, but she predicts thousands of tenants and landlords in Northern Virginia are missing out on funds meant for them.” [WUSA9]

Zebra Profiles Alexandria Gazette GoFundMe — “Ask any group of people in town about the historic Alexandria Gazette Packet, and voices will quickly rise up, volunteering things like “I used to deliver the Gazette”, “My dad delivered the Gazette on his bicycle in Rosemont”, “My birth was announced in the Gazette” or “I remember when they merged with the Port Packet back in the eighties.” [Zebra]

Metrobus Resumes Fares, but DASH Remains Free — “With other regional bus systems preparing to resume fare collection in early January, Alexandria’s DASH Bus will remain fare free.” [Patch]

Drive-In First Night Sells Out — “Usually a crowded street affair, First Night Alexandria was celebrated with two drive-in events instead because of the pandemic. And at a $60 admission charge, both the 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. events sold out.” [NBC4]

COVID-19 Cases Hit New High in Virginia — “Virginia and two of its five health regions hit new highs Saturday for average daily COVID-19 cases reported, the state wrapped up one of its worst weeks yet in terms of deaths from the virus, and test positivity rates are rising rapidly.” [Inside Nova]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Starting this coming Sunday, Jan. 3, riders on Metrobus will have to start paying for their fare once again.

During the pandemic, WMATA briefly ended charging fares for travel on Metrobus. But with the Metro facing a “doomsday scenario” in its budget, the city is planning to start reinstating fare collection and front-door boarding on Sunday.

“With everyone wearing masks, shields for operators on every bus, and enhanced daily cleanings, front-door boarding is safe, expands our capacity for more riders, and helps us resume some normalcy,” said Metro General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld in a press release. “We also need to collect fares from every rider to keep essential Metro transit employees working and continue to provide essential service.”

The move comes as regional transit organizations start to recover some service, though the situation is unsteady with COVID-19 figures continuing to climb in Alexandria.

According to the WMATA website:

Metrobus will resume fare collection and front-door boarding beginning Sunday, January 3, as part of Metro’s pandemic recovery plan that aims to preserve service and transit jobs.

The current rear-door boarding policy was implemented in March under Metro’s comprehensive plan to protect frontline employees at a time when less was known about the coronavirus and its means of transmission. Because the farebox and SmarTrip equipment is located at the front of the bus, the Metro Board authorized the temporary suspension of fare collection…

Beginning January 3, customers should board at the front of the bus. The cost per trip is $2 payable in cash or with SmarTrip. Customers can save considerably by purchasing a 7-day bus pass for just $15, providing an unlimited number of bus trips on a Metrobus, RideOn, ART, DASH, Fairfax Connector, and The Bus.

For a faster, contactless way to pay, customers can add SmarTrip passes to their Apple Wallet and then pay using iPhone or Apple Watch. Simply hold the mobile device over the SmarTrip target, just as you would a SmarTrip card. To get started, download the SmarTrip app from the App Store. Payment support for Google Wallet on Android devices is coming soon.

The return of front-door boarding and fare collection is consistent with recovery efforts by major transit agencies across the country including Baltimore, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Portland, Oakland and San Francisco.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Honestly, kind of a slow week in Alexandria — must have been the tryptophan in the Thanksgiving turkey.

As we head into the end of the year, the city and many local organizations are working to lay the groundwork for a better 2021. Even as the Campagna Center recoils from cancelling the Christmas Parade, the organization is working to ensure fundraising stays consistent for the local non-profit’s early childhood programs. The City, too, is planning for a looming budget setback when CARES Act funding expires.

On the bright side, unemployment figures continue to go down for Alexandria and adoptions from the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria are on the rise. The West End could also get also be getting that Capital Bikeshare expansion sooner than expected.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Planning Commission Approves Potomac Yard Park Expansion
  2. New Report Recommends Making Voluntary Affordable Housing Contributions Mandatory in Alexandria
  3. Cars Stolen With Fake Checks in Alexandria, Suspects Selling Cars
  4. Alexandria Refines Accessory Dwelling Units Policy and Cuts Parking Requirement
  5. Women’s Clothing Store LOFT Closes in Old Town
  6. Officials Debunk Conservative Study on Registered Alexandria Voters
  7. Alexandria Announces Rolling Expansion of Bikeshare Program to the West End Next Year
  8. Man Shot in Old Town, Police Increase Patrol Coverage with Spike in Shots Fired Calls
  9. Beyer Blasts Metro Plan to Cut Service and Eliminate Alexandria Stations
  10. Del Ray Christmas Tree Lighting Scheduled This Week

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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With Alexandria poised to potentially lose two Metro stations due to funding cuts, Rep. Don Beyer issued a statement blasting the proposed cuts as “apocalyptic” and said Congress should rally to pass a new set of funding.

Proposed cuts include ending service after 9 p.m., ending weekend service, reducing the number of trains, and closing operations at 19 stations. Two of those stations, Eisenhower and Van Dorn Street, are located in Alexandria.

“The proposed WMATA budget cuts would be apocalyptic for Metro service and devastate its workforce,” Beyer said in a press release. “This catastrophe must not be allowed to happen, and Congress can prevent it by passing a new aid package. WMATA is not alone in its massive funding shortfall, which is a direct result of the pandemic. Cuts like this will hit across the country without robust aid for state and local governments and specific targeted funding for transit.”

Metro had already been facing a death spiral before the pandemic, but the bad situation was significantly exacerbated by the loss of ridership — around a 90% decrease — due to COVID-19.

“On the Joint Economic Committee we predicted massive, urgent need for state and local government funding at the beginning of April,” Beyer said. “The House passed a legislative package that addressed that problem and included $32 billion in transit funding in May, but Mitch McConnell has blocked additional aid.”

WMATA is currently facing an estimated $500 million shortfall.

Beyer was not alone. Other local leaders also shared frustration at the proposed cuts and said measures must be taken to prevent the worst-case-scenario cuts.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

WMATA Considers Closing Two Alexandria Metro Stations — “The 19 stations that could face closure include those that are within one mile of other stations and those that are seeing the lowest usage. In Alexandria, that means the Eisenhower Station and Van Dorn Street station are on the list.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Local Program Supports Artists With Disabilities — “Coletta Collections, an artisan program for people with disabilities, is helping Alexandrians celebrate the holidays safely and sincerely.” [Zebra]

City Looking for Firefighters — “If you’re interested in working for the vibrant City of Alexandria, we invite qualified candidates to apply for our Firefighter I position.” [City of Alexandria]

Watchdog Group FOIA Shows Internal Disagreement in City Over Seminary Road — “[Yon Lambert] said roads for ‘all users’ were more important than roads that met fire department response needs. More to come.” [Twitter]

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This week, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is asking the public whether or not they’d want to see Virginia Tech added to the name of the new Potomac Yard Metro station.

The name would be associated with Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus, which is promised to bring a massive redevelopment to the area.

Several Metro stations in the system have other locations included, like Vienna/Fairfax-GMU. The additional names can pose a challenge though, like requiring removal if the facility closes — as is the case with West Falls Church Metro station, which has University of Virginia in the name despite UVA no longer operating a school near the station.

In September, the City Council unanimously approved the potential change, but final approval of the change still rests with WMATA.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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What should the future Metro station at Potomac Yard be called?

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is seeking public input on what local residents and Metro users want the station to be called. While “Potomac Yard Metro Station” seems to be the obvious answer, there have also been efforts to tack “Virginia Tech” on to the name as well.

WMATA is also seeking feedback on the West Falls Church Metro station, which has University of Virginia in the name despite UVA no longer operating a school near the station.

“Metro is also seeking feedback on formalizing Potomac Yard Station as the name of the station currently under construction between National Airport and Braddock Road stations, expected to open in 2022,” WMATA said in a press release. “The station will be located less than a quarter of a mile from Virginia Tech’s new Innovation Campus, which is expected to eventually enroll between 2,000 and 3,000 students. The City of Alexandria Council passed a resolution recommending the addition of ‘VT’ (Virginia Tech) to the proposed station name.”

According to the press release, WMATA’s naming guidelines include:

  • Names should identify the station locations by geographic features such as landmarks or centers of activity.
  • Names should be distinctive and evoke imagery in the mind of the patron.
  • Names should be no longer than 19 characters, except for transfer station names, which should be no longer than 13 characters.

Rendering via City of Alexandria

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No one was injured after shots were fired near the Braddock Road metro station on Monday night (October 26), according to the Alexandria Police Department.

The incident occurred at around 9 p.m. in the 700 block of North West Street. The area is near public housing, the Braddock Road Metro station and a number of local businesses.

A parked car was struck and no suspects were arrested, police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow.

Earlier this month, police asked the public for help in identifying suspects after a surge in gun-related incidents. There have been a number of violent incidents in the city over the last several days, including a shootout that left a suspect dead and an officer injured on Monday. Two people were also shot last week and there were two robberies.

Map via Google Maps

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Alexandria is opposed to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s plan to eliminate bus routes in the West End to the Pentagon, and has asked the transit system to reconsider its proposed service changes.

“These are difficult times for all transit agencies and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is facing a dire financial crisis,” Mayor Justin Wilson wrote on Facebook. “While cuts are necessary, we have provided input to ensure that Alexandria’s most vulnerable populations do not lose mobility and that as ridership returns, service should return.

Wilson told Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in an October 16 letter that “some of the bus service cuts may have too great a negative impact on our essential workers and travelers who have limited other options for getting to where they need to go.”

Earlier this month, Metro asked for public feedback on its proposed cuts.

“The pandemic has cost Metro hundreds of millions of dollars and ridership remains extremely low,” WMATA said in a public survey. “The service provided today is only possible thanks to federal funding (CARES Act) that will soon run out. Without additional federal help, Metro will have to use every option to balance the budget. This includes resuming Metrobus fare collection, limiting contractor use, furloughing employees, and deferring some capital program expenses. But service cuts and layoffs may also be needed this December.”

Specifically, Wilson said that the city is concerned about service cuts from the West End of Alexandria to the Pentagon with cuts to the 8’s and 21’s.

“WMATA is proposing $20 million more in cuts that it is budgeting will be necessary,” Wilson wrote. “Therefore, the City encourages you to consider restoring a greater level of bus service with that funding.”

Wilson continued, “While we understand that these routes may not be the most productive, they do serve a high share of low-income and households of color, who may work as janitorial or other support staff at the Pentagon, use the Pentagon to connect to other work centers in the region, and not get commuter benefits or have good alternative transportation options.”

These are difficult times for all transit agencies and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is facing a dire…

Posted by Justin Wilson on Thursday, October 22, 2020

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What a week it’s been in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the report that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. sends one of his children to Bishop Ireton High School. In case you missed it, the story first broke in Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School newspaper.

Hutchings also presented his plan for a phased reopening of ACPS starting next month. The results of a survey over virtual schooling were also released, revealing that screen time and childcare were among the top concerns of students, staff and families.

On the health front, Alexandria exceeded 4,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the first case was reported on March 11.

Additionally, more than 200 people participated in our weekly poll on traveling this holiday season, and 56% reported they will not travel, 27% still plan on traveling, and 17% still haven’t decided.

Crime-wise, we reported that a woman was assaulted in Arlandria on October 11; an arrest was made after an attempted armed robbery in the West End; a West End gas station was robbed of $1,700 in tobacco products; a woman ended up not being charged after firing a warning shot at a man in the 4300 block of Duke Street; and the mother of a man whose truck was stolen in Del Ray received an unexpected phone call from the thief.

There was some good news.

The southern entrance of the Potomac Yard Metro station is really taking shape, at least on paper. This week, the final plans going to the city were made public. The Board of Architectural Review will look at them at their meeting on Wednesday, October 21.

And in recognition of Oyster Week, ALXnow on Thursday emceed the first-ever “Pearl of Alexandria Oyster Eating Contest” between rival Del Ray and Old Town business owners.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  2. Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
  3. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  4. BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
  5. ISIS ‘Beatles’ Held in Alexandria Jail, Charged with American Murders in Syria
  6. Here’s What the Potomac Yard Metro Station’s Southern Entrance Will Look Like
  7. Superintendent Proposing Phased Reopening of Alexandria City Public Schools Starting in November
  8. A Dozen Restaurants are Participating in Old Town Oyster Week
  9. VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
  10. ‘Brewski’s Barkhaus’ is Opening This Saturday
  11. Old Virginia Tobacco Co. Moves Directly Across Street from Longtime Old Town Tobacconist

Have a safe weekend!

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