Alexandria, VA

The coronavirus pandemic has meant less traffic on Alexandria roadways, fewer accidents and collisions, although there is a noted increase in the number of reported reckless driving incidents.

There was a 67% increase in reckless driving tickets issued by the Alexandria Police Department in 2020 over 2019. There were 184 reckless driving tickets issued in 2019 and 307 in 2020. With 98 incidents so far this year, the city is on track to exceed last year’s number. However, APD started doing eCitations in late May 2019, and as such the 2019 Reckless Driving ticket numbers are incomplete. All other tickets before that point were filled out manually, skewing the numbers as they were not broken up by citation type.

There is some good news. There was a 40% reduction in driving while intoxicated tickets; a 40% reduction in speeding tickets; and a 37% reduction in traffic collisions.

Last week, Alexandria Police Chief Michael L. Brown confirmed to residents in Del Ray that there is a rise in speeding around the city. He also said that Alexandria Police will soon test automated speed enforcement in school zones and construction zones.

“Our traffic safety section is fully operational during traffic all over the City of Alexandria,” Brown said, adding that the speed enforcement technology will be implemented in troublesome areas. “I will tell you some of the speeds people we were stopping for during the pandemic were extraordinary. I mean, 65 miles an hour down Duke Street.”

Broken rules of the road

At the onset of the pandemic, Alexandria Police did not “proactively address” tickets for minor traffic infractions to limit person-to-person contact. Roads were less busy, and still are, when compared with the days before the coronavirus.

“This, we believe, was in the best interest of our community and our valued law enforcement professionals,”APD Senior Public Information Officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow. ” That said, traffic offenses which posed a risk to public safety were never avoided and appropriately addressed with education and enforcement. APD will continue to consider the hazards associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and will proceed to participate in traffic education and enforcement when it is in the best interest of public safety.”

Still, police will continue suspending enforcement against displaying current state vehicle registration decals, Paga said, due to the three-month appointment backlog with Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

While existing vehicle registrations may typically be renewed online, new registrations and certain other services require in-person appointments.

By the numbers

Paga said that the 2020 traffic enforcement numbers are still being finalized, and that the 2021 numbers run through March 15.

  2019 2020 2021
DWI 240 144 33
Speeding Tickets 4,212 3,695 691*
Reckless Driving Tickets 184** 307 98
Traffic Collisions 1,112 699 115
Collision-Related Fatalities 4 4 0

*This represents handwritten citations for January and eCitations only for February-March.

**This number only represents eCitations from the end of May-December.

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The 14th Street Bridge going into Washington, D.C. has been completely shut down, and the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office and Police Department are among the law enforcement agencies that have blocked traffic on the bridge since 6 a.m. this morning.

“We’ve never been asked to do anything like this before,” Captain Sean Casey of the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office told ALXnow. “We’re at the bridge right now. It was quite a sight this morning, because there was still plenty of traffic. We started at just before 6 a.m. securing and shutting down the bridge. You now cannot cross the 14th Street Bridge, with very few exceptions.”

It’s all part of the heightened security around the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, a direct result of the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump.

Alexandria is just a participant in the U.S. Secret Service’s joint transportation plan surrounding the inauguration. Supporting agencies that have shut down bridges into the District include the Virginia State Police, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Arlington County Police, the Herndon Police Department and the U.S. Capitol Police.

“We want to help and be a part of a regional response when it’s necessary,” Casey said. “We want to be a part of whatever we can to make the region safer.”

There are about a dozen Alexandria Sheriff’s deputies assigned to the detail, and until ordered to leave are planted at the exit for the bridge along the George Washington Memorial Parkway going northbound.

Casey said that the department could spare the deputies, as the Alexandria courthouse will be closed over the next several days.

According to the Chief Judges of the Alexandria Courthouse:

“Due to potential threats to safety of employees and the general public due to the possibility of environmental and/or transportation disruptions, and due to Sheriff’s office personnel having to assist with maintaining security in the D.C. Metropolitan area on January 19 and 20, 2021, the Chief judges declare a judicial emergency pursuant to Va. Code Section 17.1-330, and, therefore, it is hereby ordered that the Alexandria Courthouse shall be closed to the general public on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 and Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Normal court operations will resume on Thursday, January 21, 2021.

Photo via Alexandria Sheriff’s Office

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The Alexandria Sheriff’s Office and Police Department released a statement yesterday supporting a new state law requiring law enforcement officials to ask drivers racial information during all traffic stops.

The Virginia Community Policing Act went into effect on July 1 and requires all state and local law enforcement officials to ask drivers their race, ethnicity, age and gender — in addition to tracking why the individual was stopped and if they were searched, arrested or given a warning.

“The law also explicitly prohibits law enforcement officers from engaging in bias-based profiling, defined as actions based solely on the real or perceived race, ethnicity, age, gender, or other noncriminal characteristics of an individual,” according to the city, which says that the police already collect this information. “Statewide data will be analyzed to determine the prevalence of bias-based profiling and complaints alleging the use of excessive force.”

The city has compiled annual traffic citation data for 2018 and 2019, and information on police use of force is available for 2019, according to a city release.

The city is currently developing a plan for a community police review board, and the process has been criticized by groups as being too insular. Activists in the city are also calling on greater data transparency over arrests and other confrontations, as 54% of all arrests last year in the city were of Black men.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Morning Notes

City Releases Annual Homeless Data — “The 2020 Annual Point-in-Time (PIT) Count revealed 207 persons experiencing homelessness (i.e., unsheltered and in temporary shelter made available by homeless services providers) in the City of Alexandria.” [City of Alexandria]

Alexandria Police Release 2019 Traffic Stop Data — “The vast majority of traffic stops — 80 percent — occur on weekdays, with Tuesday and Wednesday being the most common days.” [Alexandria Living]

Carpenter’s Shelter Gets Hydrated — “Did you know today (Tuesday) is National Hydration Day? Thanks to Trezur C of Tres Outreach for donating twenty five cases of water to keep our residents nice and cool during these hot summer days!” [Facebook]

Fire Department Conducting Virtual Station Tours — “So instead of in person tours and visits, we thought we would provide a couple of virtual station tours for the community, especially those who are frequent visitors at their neighborhood stations and couldn’t drop by during the past few months. First up, Fire Station 206, located at 4609 Seminary Road…our tech rescue station.” [Facebook]

ALX Community Hosting COVID Coping Workshop June 25 — “Hosted by Elena Jimenez, founder of Execute Your Destiny, this series offers a rare opportunity to navigate the current social and racial climate in search of new perspectives and solutions.” [Eventbrite]

New Job: Part-Time Dance Teacher — “Looking for experienced dance and acro teachers. Openings on weekdays and Saturday. Primarily classes for children aged 3 and older.” [Indeed]

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Members of the Alexandria City Council are looking to curb cut-through traffic through city neighborhoods.

Last week, Mayor Justin Wilson, Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilman John T. Chapman sent the city manager’s office a memo, requesting staff look into implementing a residential permit program restricting cars from driving through streets during peak periods, and imposing higher fines for drivers speeding through residential areas, as Arlington recently did.

“Given the risk of death or serious injury from speeding in our neighborhoods we believe these higher fines may act as an appropriate deterrent to this dangerous activity,” notes the memo, which does not outline specific neighborhoods.

Congestion is likely to get worse. The city’s population (at 151,300 residents in 2018) is increasing an average of 1% every year, and is expected to grow by 13,600 people between 2020 and 2030, according to a 2019 report. Additionally, employment in the city is expected to rise 20 percent by 2030, from 102,000 to nearly 120,000 jobs, which will mean more cars on city roadways.

The memo comes as the city is updating its Transportation Master Plan, which was last approved in 2008, and has been renamed the Alexandria Mobility Plan. According to the memo, a community survey for the plan found that:

  • 71% of the survey respondents cited congestion as one of the biggest challenges to mobility
  • 35% of the survey respondents, a plurality, cited “reducing impacts of regional traffic on City streets” as a desired focus
  • 53% cited reducing congestion as an area to invest resources
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Morning Notes

Alexandria Man Killed in Southern Va. — “A man and a woman from the Washington area were found dead Saturday on a road in a quiet part of southern Virginia, and state police said the two were homicide victims. Ntombo Joel Bianda, 21, of Alexandria, Va., and Ayanna Munne Maertens Griffin, 19, of Germantown, Md., were found at about 2:50 a.m. Saturday.” [Washington Post, WSET]

APD Crosswalk Enforcement in Del Ray — “APD’s Traffic Safety Officers successfully completed a crosswalk enforcement operation in the 400 block of E. Monroe Ave. today. This resulted in 23 citations being issued in 4 hours.” [Twitter]

Bus Barn Work Starts — “Demolition has officially started on the former Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) ‘bus barn’ to make room for a large new residential development. That development of 286 apartments will include 12 affordable units.” [Alexandria Living]

Local Resident Stands Up to Cancer — “The man with the open heart and time for hundreds of community causes can now use a boost to help him with his passion for cancer research. He needs pledges. Starting at 4:26 p.m. on Monday, February 10, [Pat] Malone will ‘Stand Up to Cancer’ for 24-hours straight at Fire Works American Pizzeria and Bar in Arlington.” [Zebra]

Naturalization Ceremony in Alexandria — “For nearly two decades, Vinod Krishnkumar had been waiting for this day to come. It was a day his father in India dreamed about but never got to experience for himself: On Jan. 31, Krishnkumar was among 170 individuals from around the world to take the Oath of Citizenship during the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.” [Gazette Packet]

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The City of Alexandria announced today (Wednesday) that several thousand drivers who received speeding tickets could be eligible for a refund.

Insufficiently tested equipment is being cited as the reason for the refunds, according to a press release. Eligible motorists were mailed notifications today, the release said, and can request refunds online through March 15, 2020.

According to the release:

A City supervisor first identified in October 2017 that speedometer tests on five police vehicles were not properly conducted. Following an initial internal review, the City Manager directed in January 2019 that the City’s internal auditor conduct a formal investigation. The inquiries identified concerns about certain speedometer tests conducted between March 2016 and May 2019. Some vehicles had not been tested frequently enough, and some service technicians applied inconsistent test standards. The City voluntarily initiated a process to void these tickets because it may not be able to sufficiently defend the tickets if challenged in court.

Out of the nearly 20,000 speeding tickets issued over that three year period, staff identified 2,169 speeding tickets that are now in question because of the faulty tests. Resulting convictions were vacated and the cases dismissed yesterday (Tuesday). The release says the city will refund any fines or court costs paid by motorists who received citations.

“At the City’s request, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is working to reverse adverse actions resulting from the original convictions, including demerit points and driving record notations,” the release said. “The City has implemented additional recommendations of the internal auditor, including improved testing protocols, enhanced staff training, better communication between City departments, and increased supervision and monitoring of the testing process.”

The audit did not find evidence that officers were aware that the speedometers were not properly tested. To prevent it from happening again, however, copies of the current speedometer tests will now be added to police cruisers and test records are now required to undergo secondary review.

“We recognize the burden placed on those affected, and we have taken significant proactive steps to restore public confidence and prevent future errors,” City Manager Mark Jinks said in the release. “Our community and our police officers should be able to expect that speeding tickets are based on properly tested equipment, and we sincerely regret that the City did not meet that expectation in certain cases.”

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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