Alexandria, VA

Alexandria will be looking into new safety improvements for the King Street, Braddock Road, and Quaker Lane intersection after a car overturned last week in a crash.

The city made improvements to the intersection a few years ago — with changes to the traffic signal and improvements to the service road. The city implemented other safety measures to the surrounding area, like reducing the speed limit on Quaker Lane. Despite this, the junction remains congested and, some believe, dangerous.

“It is still one of most challenging intersections in Alexandria because traffic is over capacity during peak hours,” said Sarah Godfrey, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Environmental Services. “A total redesign or overhaul of the intersection would require significant right-of-way and engineering changes.”

In 2017, the city noted that the intersection saw daily traffic in excess of 46,000 cars and projections for 60,000 cars-per-day by next year. The intersection also sits right between T.C. Williams High School and the Minnie Howard Campus, with plans potentially including students going back and forth between the two schools.

“The crash… will be reviewed at a Vision Zero Crash Task Force meeting, where a multi-disciplinary group examines details of crashes that occur within city limits, with an eye toward improving high-crash intersections,” Godfrey said. “There’s not a large-scale project currently planned, but City staff are currently looking into additional safety improvements in that area as part of Vision Zero.”

Staff photos by Vernon Miles, map via Google Maps

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(Updated 8:50 p.m.) A series of fire alarms at George Washington Middle School has reignited outcry from parents who say more needs to be done to modernize the school.

Not only did the fire alarms go off several times in November at the school, but during one incident where there was a fire — when a poster was set on fire on Nov. 14 but was quickly extinguished — concerns were raised that no alarm went off.

Also, on Nov. 21, the school was evacuated due to the smell of gas. The fire alarm went off during that incident, but firefighters had trouble turning the alarm off, according to scanner traffic.

At a school board meeting last week, parent Kevin Jahns raised the issue of the fire alarms, saying that it seemed like the alarms went off at times when there wasn’t a fire but when there was one, later on, some of the alarms didn’t go off. Concerns about the fire system were repeated throughout the meeting.

“If the fire alarms don’t work in the building, don’t send children to the school,” said one parent. “It’s that simple.”

But Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said some of the concerns are the result of a misunderstanding about how fire alarms in schools work.

“There are no smoke detectors in [classrooms],” Hutchings explained. “The [fire] code for a school is very different than codes for a home.”

Hutchings said the parameters for what sets off an alarm at home are geared towards monitoring areas where there are no people, which he said is not a concern in a school where there are more people in the building.

However, Hutchings did admit that during tests done at the school some alarm systems were found to be inoperable.

“On Nov. 11, [we] did determine that there were some bells in the school for a fire alarm that were not ringing,” Hutchings said.

Jamie Bartlett, director of safety and security for Alexandria City Public Schools, said the alarm system was fixed after they became aware there was a problem. The cause of the alarm, Bartlett said, was a gas smell created as the building switched from air conditioning to heat.

Staff at the meeting also insisted that, despite parent concerns, George Washington has never been deemed unsafe. An update released on Nov. 25 said the issues related to the alarm have been fixed and the school passed an inspection from the Alexandria City Fire Marshal.

We understand that while these repairs resolve the immediate issues, ACPS is committed to continuing our work on long-term upgrades to George Washington. Both the Fire Marshal and the fire and life safety consultant agree that the fire alarm system and related infrastructure for George Washington Middle School is in need of modernizing. We will keep you informed about these next steps as soon as we have information to share.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Home Sale Prices Rise Above Arlington — “The Amazon HQ2 effect on home prices in Northern Virginia continues and, at least by one measure, the Alexandria housing market is now more expensive than Arlington County. At least it was in October, the most recent month for which data is available.” [WTOP]

Trampoline Park Hoping to Open By End of Year — “Management for Get Air Trampoline Park, an indoor recreation and amusement park, confirmed that the Alexandria location is scheduled to open in the second half of December. The space Get Air is occupying at 340 S. Pickett St. was formerly a U.S. Post Office in the West End Village shopping center.” [Alexandria Living]

Trash Will Be Picked Up on Thanksgiving — “Thursday trash/recycling routes: your trash and recycling WILL BE collected starting at 6AM this Thursday so the route can be completed in advance of the Turkey Trot. If you are not up that early, please set your material out Wed. night!” [Twitter/@AlexandriaVATES]

Meeting About Southern GW Parkway Safety — “On Tuesday, Dec. 3, the National Park Service will host a meeting to discuss George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP) visitors’ recommendations about how to improve safety at key intersections between the City of Alexandria and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.” [National Park Service]

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Local residents and local officials came out for this weekend for a march in Arlandria to remember those killed in traffic.

The march was hosted on Sunday, Nov. 17, by Alexandria Families for Safe Streets to honor World Remembrance Day, an international memorial event dedicated to raising awareness of traffic violence.

The husband and daughters of Rosemarie Cruz, who was killed in an Arlandria crosswalk in 2016, marched in the crowd with over 100 residents of Alexandria and Arlington, according to a press release. Photos and video of the event show marchers in the street around the intersection of West Glebe Road and Mount Vernon Avenue, where Cruz was killed.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, and Alexandria Chief of Police Mike Brown also joined the march.

Alexandria has committed to Vision Zero, a plan to get to zero traffic fatalities. Part of the plan involves changing roadways to make them more accessible to non-car uses, like bicycles, but the implementation of the plan on Seminary Road has been the subject of significant local controversy.

“Vigilance on the part of drivers, cyclist and pedestrians alike plus improvement in safer road designs and higher enforcement visibility are ways in which traffic violence against pedestrian and other road users can be reduced,” the organization said in a press release.

The press release also notes that the event was preceded by another fatal pedestrian crash, on Duke Street.

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Morning Notes

Residential Parking Permit Changes in the Works — “Changes to the city’s residential parking permit program are underway and both residents and businesses are concerned about what the proposed changes could mean… The most controversial change, which staff has since removed from its list of recommended changes, would have eliminated the three-hour parking option for non-permit holders in RPP districts.” [Alexandria Times]

Port City Brings Home Gold Medal — “Several Northern Virginia craft brewers brought home medals from the 2019 Great American Beer Festival, including two gold medals… Port City Brewing in Alexandria won a gold medal for its German Pilsner in the Kellerbier or Zwickelbier category.” [WTOP]

T.C. Grads Raise Money for Scholarships — “Nobody remembers the T.C. Williams Titans like former graduates, and this week the final totals were tallied in the annual Clash of the Titans fundraiser for the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria. In all, T.C. alumni raised $46,736 for the fund, which annually gives $1 million in scholarships. And this year, bragging rights for the class to raise the most goes to… the T.C. Williams Class of 1993, which raised $5,870.” [Zebra]

More Plaudits for the City — “Southern Living Magazine has named Alexandria the perfect setting for a Hallmark Christmas movie… “You’ll find yourself wondering: ‘Was that Candace Cameron Bure I just saw crossing King Street?'” Southern Living wrote. [Alexandria Living]

Smoke Alarm Drive This Weekend — “VOLUNTEER OPP: We’re partnering with @RedCrossNCR to install smoke alarms for residents in the Westover area on Saturday, Nov. 16.” [Twitter/@AlexandriaVAFD]

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Several Alexandria community members spoke out against Alexandria City Public Schools’ active shooter drill training during a school safety forum yesterday (Wednesday).

Despite a rainy evening and a World Series final, several dozen community members attended the meeting at T.C. Williams High School Minnie Howard Campus. City officials, including ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and Alexandria City Police Chief Michael Brown, gave presentations and answered public questions.

“[Gun violence] is our reality,” said Hutchings. “We need to make sure we are providing as safe of an environment for our kids as possible.”

In order to prepare students for an active shooter situation, ACPS uses the ALiCE method, which stands for:

  • Alert
  • Lockdown
  • Inform
  • Counter (Distract)
  • Evacuate

According to Jamie Bartlett, the director of ACPS Security and Safety Services, ALiCE is an effective, situational-based option for active threats. However, several community members spoke out in opposition to the “Counter” step.

When practicing “Counter,” students are directed to throw objects at a shooter, to provide a distraction so they can evacuate.

Bartlett stressed only students in the third grade and up are taught the distraction method. However, one audience member shouted that her five-year-old child came home saying their teacher taught them to throw things at shooters.

“I had a third-grader who said they were going to throw pencils at the intruder,” said another audience member. “This seems like it’s not effective at all. You have to do something unless you can say ‘That was the goal, for my third grader to throw pencils at a shooter.'”

Superintendent Hutchings said the school committee that handles such drills will meet soon to discuss the feedback.

“We will act on this,” Hutchings said. “As we go through the curriculum every year, it’s open to interpretation.”

Hutchings added, however, that training for violent incidents in school is an sad reality of modern life.

“It’s unfortunate that some young people who say ‘Have a great day, and I’ll see you when I get home,’ don’t come home,” he said. “We need to make sure we are providing as safe of an environment for our kids as possible. We can do everything in our power to make sure it is safe.”

“Let us continue to have an open mind,” Hutchings said.

All ACPS staff members must take an online course on ALiCE, as well as complete four hours of practical exercise.

In addition to discussing active shooter precautions, ACPS mental health specialist Faiza Jackson spoke about school resources like psychologists, social workers, nurses, and counselors, which are available for students who need help. Such resources are also available during and after active shooter drills.

Jackson also pointed to preventative measures in place at ACPS, like a program that flags student searches for self-harm-related keywords on school-issued laptops to administrators.

The evening meeting was organized by ACPS, Alexandria PTA, and Parents for Safe Alexandria Schools.

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