(Updated at 3 p.m.) Micro-mobility company Helbiz is poised to be the first company in Alexandria offering both e-scooters and e-bikes in Alexandria.
“Helbiz… has been awarded a permit to operate both its innovative e-bikes and e-scooters in Alexandria, Virginia, making it the only company to offer both transportation solutions in the market,” the company said in a press release. “This permit follows the launch of the company’s fleet of e-bikes in neighboring Washington, D.C. and highlights Helbiz’s continued commitment to offering eco-friendly micro-mobility solutions in the area.”
Gian Luca Spriano, a spokesperson for the Italian-American company, said it would be partnering with Alexandria’s Department of Transportation to ensure safety is prioritized and the company has met all the regulatory standards.
The press release noted that the company plans to operate 200 e-scooters and 200 e-bikes in Alexandria, deployed at some point “in the coming weeks.”
The e-scooters and e-bikes are accessible through the Helbiz app, in which users can locate, rent, and unlock the devices.
Photo via Helbiz/Twitter
Don’t worry. Even though Hal Hardaway just closed on a house in Williamsburg, he’ll still be around half the time.
If you don’t know the 70-year-old Hardaway by sight, you might know his famous garage, or the emails the Old Town resident sends to more than 1,000 people on a daily basis railing about the Alexandria waterfront or videos he shares of electric scooter violators.
“I see four-year-old kids on scooters,” Hardaway told ALXnow. “Multiple kids on scooters, fathers with their little toddlers, you know, hanging on, going full speed down the street without helmets. I mean, that is just wrong. And then you get to the point, and we could talk about this for three hours, of how are we going to enforce the law?”
When not fixing up classic sports cars (he has five), Hardaway, a retired U.S. Navy captain, can routinely be spotted walking around lower King Street in his baseball cap, jeans and Navy jacket. He’s a historian at heart and wants to keep the city’s historic appearance in tact, and jokingly refers to last year’s Mirror-Mirror art display on the waterfront as “Technicolor Stonehenge.”
He also once unsuccessfully sued the city for what he viewed as height violations in the Robinson Terminal South development. Recently, he made a Freedom of Information Act request for information related to scooter companies operating in Alexandria. He found that there have been no fines levied against the companies since their introduction in Alexandria last year.
Lately, Hardaway’s been impressed with the Alexandrians Against The Seminary Road Diet Facebook group, and has commented on a few posts.
“This Seminary Road page is the most organized group I’ve seen on going after the city on these kinds of issues, and a kind of fun thing,” Hardaway said. “It’s really interesting, because people have got their their broad swords out now about City Hall… I wish I could have done something like this, and so I’ve made a couple comments this morning. I hope it expands into something greater, something beyond just Seminary Road.”
An only child, Hardaway grew up with an affinity for fixing things in his father’s machine and welding shop in the small town of Crewe, which is about 45 miles southwest of Richmond. After graduating with a physics degree from The College of William & Mary, he spent 30 years in the Navy and lived all over the world as a cryptologist (code breaking), even working a three-year stint as inspector general of the Naval Security Group Command under the Chief of Naval Operations.
Hardaway moved to the area in the late 1990s for his final naval tour at the Pentagon, and never left. He retired from the Navy in 2002 and then worked for eight years in the private sector before officially retiring in 2010. That was around the time that he got interested in local politics.
“I started attending waterfront meetings,” Hardaway said. “The entire reason the city is here is because of the waterfront, and there isn’t any signage or historical markers telling tourists why it’s so important.”
Hardaway is a member of the Environmental Council of Alexandria and sits on the organizing committee for the Old Town Festival of Speed and Style classic car show, the latter of which he co-founded. He recently bought a house in Williamsburg that will be able to accommodate four of his cars, and will soon be spending about half of his time there.
Like classic cars in need of repairs, he looks at Alexandria as a beautiful but broken machine, and he wants to help fix it.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to be here for years,” he said. “I think some progress is being made mainly because lots more people are engaged. Look at the development of the wetlands at Potomac Yard. That’s another one. The city is driven by money, and I like it here, but it’s hurt the quality of life, which is going downhill.”
It was quite a year in Alexandria. It’s safe to say that 202o will be just as busy, but in the meantime let’s take a look at the top stories from the last year.
1. The Seminary Road Diet
Few local transportation stories have gotten as much attention as City Council’s 4-3 decision on the Seminary Road diet. The move seems simple enough — consolidating from four to two lanes in both directions between N. Quaker Lane and Howard Street with a turn lane in the middle and bike lanes on both sides. Public discord over the change prompted the creation of a Facebook page, which has dramatically turned up the temperature on the issue, even leading to City Councilwoman Amy Jackson to publicly call for a complete reversal on the decision and restart of the process.
See: More Work on Seminary Road This Spring If the State Will Pony Up the Cash
More: Virginia Theological Seminary Weighs In Favor of Seminary Road Diet
2. Legendary Titans Pass Away
Alexandria lost a number of inspiring figures in 2019, including members of the state championship-winning 1971 T.C. Williams High School football team. The team, who were immortalized in the 2000 film “Remember The Titans” starring Denzel Washington, lost coach Herman Boone, assistant coach Bill Yoast and players Petey Jones and Julius Campbell.
3. ACPS fully Accredited for First Time in 20 Years
It took two decades, and in September Alexandria City Public Schools system announced that all of the city’s public schools reached their state mandated benchmarks to be fully accredited for the 2019-2020 academic year. Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings said that the success didn’t come by chance and that it took six superintendents and a lot of “planning, preparation and dedication for all students to experience success regardless of their life circumstances” to get ACPS where it is today.
All ACPS Schools Fully Accredited for First Time in 20 Years – ACPS Express https://t.co/mjsBbdCHM9
— Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. (@DrHutchings) September 30, 2019
4. Ground Broken at Potomac Yard Metro Station
After decades of finalizing plans and making deals, ground was finally broken in December for the construction of the Potomac Yard Metro station. The plan is to open the $320 million station by spring 2022, and while development will result in the demolition of the Regal Potomac Yard movie theater, the area will positively be booming with the eventual addition of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus, a new mixed-use redevelopment, Amazon HQ2 in Crystal City and much more.
“This has been a quarter-century in the making,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at the groundbreaking. “This is a big… deal.”
5. Alexandria’s Summer Metro Shutdown
Did you have to get creative in your commute over the summer? You weren’t alone. Thousands of commuters in the area were forced to make alternate plans so that Metro could make crucial improvements to all of the station platforms south of the Reagan National Airport station. The shutdown meant expanded Metro and DASH bus routes, morning trolley rides from the King Street station, Potomac Riverboat Company Water Taxi ferries from the Alexandria Waterfront into the District and more. The renovation is part of a $300-$400 million project to rebuild 20 outdoor platforms throughout the Metro system. Once reopened, commuters were introduced to new speakers for clearer public announcements and emergency notifications, stainless-steel platform shelters, passenger information display screens and energy-efficient LED lighting.
— The Zebra (@ZebraAlexandria) September 9, 2019
Electric scooters’ tempestuous relationship with Alexandria sidewalks has just come to an end.
At the City Council’s public hearing on Saturday, Dec. 14, the council voted to approve a second phase of the pilot program with a few notable changes from the current program.
The biggest change is the removal of scooters from sidewalks. Under the current system, scooters were only prohibited from two sidewalks near the waterfront, where bicycles are also banned from sidewalks. The original plan for the second phase of the pilot program was to have scooters banned from Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray and a large portion of Old Town, but concerns were raised by some on the City Council about enforcement and education of the public on where exactly scooters could or could not be ridden.
Instead, at the Saturday meeting, the City Council amended the language to ban electronic scooters from sidewalks across the city. The new ordinance reads: “Riding a micro-mobility device on all sidewalks within the city shall be prohibited.”
Other changes included requiring the scooter companies to distribute scooters more equitably across the city, one of the goals pushed for by several members of the City Council. Of scooters in the city, 15 percent will be required to be located west of Quaker Lane and east of I-395, while 10 percent will be required west of I-395. An additional five percent will be required to be placed in Arlandria. Currently, most are scattered around Old Town.
Council members Amy Jackson and John Chapman also pushed for the language to be refined to ensure that the Ad Hoc Scooter Task Force include representatives of the West End, rather than being monopolized by Old Town residents.
City Council members noted that scooter corrals recently added to Old Town — intended to reduce instances of scooters being scattered across sidewalks — could also be coming to Del Ray, Carlyle and Potomac.
The new regulation also specifically banned more than one person from riding a scooter, though Mayor Justin Wilson joked that after passing the regulation the companies would come back with tandem scooters.
Staff photo by Jay Westcott
It’s one thing to make rules for scooters, but on Alexandria’s City Council, there are concerns about how the city can enforce proposed new restrictions in Old Town.
During the City Council meeting last Tuesday (Nov. 26), the council worked to fine-tune the next phase of the city’s electric scooter pilot program and shape how that implementation looks when it’s applied on Alexandria streets.
The first phase of the program saw 230,000 scooters trips taken by 15,000 users, as WTOP reported, noting that the indiscriminate parking of scooters on sidewalks was a major concern among city residents. Another concern: the unsafe operation of scooters on sidewalks teeming with pedestrians.
The latest development for the second phase of the scooter pilot program is that scooters will be banned from sidewalks in a large square section of Old Town — from Montgomery Street in the north and Wilkes Street in the south, and from West Street at the western edge to the waterfront.
But Councilman John Chapman said he was concerned the specific boundaries could be confusing to those who don’t know the layout of city streets. Chapman compared the approach to San Antonio, where he visited the week before and which, he said, benefits from a simple citywide “no sidewalk” rule.
“As a tourist to Alexandria, they don’t know how far Wilkes Street to Montgomery street is,” Chapman said. “Some of the stops people will have to do will be people who don’t know the area. Setting that up as a potential conflict is also concerning.”
Staff said signs would have to be posted regularly throughout areas where the electronic scooters are banned. Council members were unconvinced, though, that the best use of police time was monitoring Old Town’s sidewalks for electric scooter riders.
“How realistic is enforcement?” asked Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “Is that something we really want to push to the Police Department? It’s nice to say ‘it’s not allowed here’ but is it worth having a police officer patrolling this square? Is that the most efficient way of utilizing our resources? I don’t know how realistic the enforcement is, to be honest with you.”
Seifeldein said enforcement would be a challenging and complex operation. He was uncertain that it merited the end result of adding the criminal offenses to people’s records.
In another comparison to San Antonio, Councilman Canek Aguirre said the city has time restrictions on scooters to limit the risk of them being operated by people coming home intoxicated. Aguirre urged staff to consider similar time restrictions near bars, but Mayor Justin Wilson cautioned that time restrictions are a double-edged sword.
New scooter regulations have blocked scooters from parking in a multi-block stretch east of N. Union Street, between Oronoco Street and Prince Street. The result has been an 80 percent decrease in scooter parking on the waterfront, staff told the Waterfront Commission at its meeting last week.
When users try to end their ride in the restricted area, a message will appear on their phone telling them to move the scooter elsewhere.
The city also tried to incentivize legal scooter parking by adding two parking corrals to the area, which have had roughly 400 scooters parked there per month.
This hasn’t stopped scooters from riding through the areas, despite signs encouraging visitors not to do so, but there has been a 50-65 percent decline in scooters riding through the waterfront, staff said.
Geofencing isn’t a fix-all solution. Staff noted that the geofencing can only cover large areas, with accuracy up to only about 20-30 feet. Despite the decline, neglected scooters littering the waterfront are still a common sight.
“It’s bad behavior and it’s going to continue,” said Mark Michael Ludlow, a member of the Waterfront Commission.
The scooter corrals have also become something of a victim of their own success. Staff noted that corrals have frequently been overflowing and scooters have been left on nearby sidewalks.
Staff is currently collecting feedback from the city’s boards and commissions, with Phase II of the scooter program going to City Council for approval next month, for implementation in January.
Map via City of Alexandria
When Alexandria officials said they hope to see birds return to the Four Mile Run wetlands, they weren’t referring to Bird scooters — but yet, there was at least one there, in the water.
Concerns about scooters on sidewalks have dominated the local debate about the personal mobility devices, but the issue of abandoned scooters is nonetheless something with which Alexandria policymakers will have to grapple.
— Zack Scooter (@mrpresident1776) October 10, 2019
City staff told ALXnow that the role Alexandria plays in the recovery of the scooters is relatively minimal. If scooters are found illegally parked, staff said those who find it should report the scooter to the respective scooter company. If illegally parked scooters are reported to the city, those reports are passed on to their respective company.
Streamlining the reporting process for abandoned scooters is part of the second phase of the scooter pilot program, currently being considered for implementation early next year.
“It’s on companies to retrieve the scooters, not the city,” staff said. “If the companies don’t retrieve the scooters, part of the second pilot program could include pulling that company’s permit, but so far they’ve been cooperative with us.”
Seven companies have been authorized to operate scooters and e-bikes in Alexandria. According to the mobility program’s website, the best way to identify and reporter the scooters is:
- Lime — green and yellow scooters. Can be reported at [email protected] or 888-546-3345
- Lyft — black and purple scooters. Can be reported online
- Jump — red and white scooters and bikes. Can be reported online at 844-505-9155 for scooters or 833-300-6106 for bikes.
- Bird — black and white scooters. Can be reported at [email protected] or 866-205-2442
- Bolt — yellow and black scooters. Can be reported at [email protected] or 866-265-8143
- Skip — blue and yellow scooters. Can be reported at [email protected] or 844-929-2687
- Spin — orange and white scooters. Can be reported at [email protected] or 888-262-5189
Over 200,000 trips have been made on e-scooters in Alexandria this year, but a sticking point with local officials is equitable access to scooters throughout the city.
Now the City Council is considering pushing scooter companies to ensure more scooters are available in parts of Alexandria outside of Old Town and Del Ray.
At an update on Alexandria’s dockless mobility pilot program — a fancy name for electric scooters — at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting, city officials noted the concentration of scooters in just a couple of areas.
“It seems more like we’re following a company’s model than focusing on equity across our community,” said Councilman John Chapman. “Our focus, for folks here on the Council, is to make sure all of our residents have the same opportunity. That’s not happening for docked and dockless mobility.”
With scooters becoming an increasingly prevalent transit option throughout the region, Chapman and Council Members Mohamed “Mo” Seifeldein, Canek Aguirre, and Redella “Del” Pepper pushed for requirements that scooter companies improve the equitability of access.
“If there’s a way to hold the companies accountable so that they are making sure to place scooters in different parts of the city, whether that’s by the Berg, Arlandria, the West End or the Beauregard corridor, I want to see that happen,” said Aguirre. “There’s no reason 99 percent of them should be in Del Ray and Old Town. It should be in other places because people have mobility needs across the entire city, not just in certain places. We, as a city, are looking to build out infrastructure to help that.”
There was recognition on the Council from Chapman that the business model incentivizes companies to concentrate most of their scooters in the busiest parts of town.
“I know that goes in the face of many of the business models for these companies, but as we experiment we need to focus on what the theme of our government is, which is equal access,” Chapman said. “I want to see us make a pretty significant change in what we’re willing to accept from these companies.”