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Our Greatest Failure is our Unsafe Streets

Date: Monday, August 1st.

Time: Evening, around 7:30pm after the sun had set and it was getting dark.

A life was taken on one of Arlington’s streets.

Three weeks ago yesterday, at the intersection of South Glebe St and 2nd St South, mother of six children Viviana Oxlaj Pérez was walking her bike when she was struck and killed by a driver in a in a hit-and-run incident.

Our local elected leaders have been largely silent outside of initial “thoughts and prayers” platitudes.

But I’m still angry and wanting real solutions now so that this never happens again – so that there never has to be another tragic news headline – so that no family ever has to post flyers for a GoFundMe to cover funeral expenses.

I’m still angry because THIS. KEEPS. HAPPENING.

Even two weeks ago there was a very close call that could have easily turned into greater tragedy in the Courthouse neighborhood.

From currently available accounts a driver was speeding as they tried to take the turn from Courthouse Rd onto Wilson Blvd, but lost control and crashed 20 feet into the local restaurant Irelands Four Courts, injuring 20 patrons – 8 seriously so.

Screenshot of article from Arlington Now: Restaurant on fire after crash in Courthouse

Safety of our streets is especially important for our schools, hospitals, and recreation centers. Well-designed streets protect drivers and their passengers just as much as cyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchair users. Creating a complete network of frequent bus routes, low–stress bike lanes, and a functional Metro is needed for a truly safe community.

Arlington has announced intent to eliminate all fatalities or serious injuries on our roadways by 2030. This is called “Vision Zero”, and it’s a noble goal that can actually be achieved. But right now it’s just fluffy words, with little action and very little of the much-needed funding to make specific projects happen.

With a 1.5 BILLION (with a “B”) annual county budget, the only major changes for street safety is a new Vision Zero Program Manager position at $164,000 a year in 2023, and recent one-time funding of $300,000 for a sidewalk condition assessment back in 2021.

The major ongoing programs for street and sidewalk improvement are truly small and underfunded compared to the overall tax revenue of our wealthy county. A mere $851,000 is going to our various street and sidewalk safety programs such as BikeArlington (bike lanes, some trails, and bike racks), WalkArlington (sidewalks and crosswalks), Neighborhood Complete Streets (mostly traffic calming and signage), and implementing the Vision Zero Action Plan.

Hold on, let me grab my calculator… That’s… not even 1/10th of 1% of our county budget.

However, most improvements are planned as part of the 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and funded through bond referenda, “pay-as-you-go” funds, and added-on as “community benefits” from developers as part of major site redevelopments. Sadly, even those are not enough.

$754 million dollars (pdf) for various multi-modal and street safety projects may sound like a lot until you realize that’s for an entire decade as the 10-year $3.9 billion (again with a “B”) CIP. So even then, all of our street safety and transit improvement projects don’t even account for 20% of every single dollar the county plans on spending (usually by taking on debt) on infrastructure over the next 10 years.

There are too many glaring failures in Arlington to ignore. We have numerous dangerous intersections where injuries and fatalities regularly occur. Our build-out of protected bike paths is far behind DC’s progress, our buses are consistently unreliable, and of course Metro is still a “dumpster fire”. Our leadership needs to do better.

Above: A map of every injury (blue dots) and fatalities (red dots) on our streets. It’s horrifying.

I’m sick and tired of the glacial pace of action by our county leadership. Every year they have the opportunity to invest in safer streets, and every year they just do a small fraction of what’s needed. We don’t need “thoughts and prayers”. We need real projects backed up by real funding.

This is why I am focusing on a number of key projects and issues to finally ensure that every street is designed for safety. Click through to the campaign’s new policy page on street safety to read more about the following pledges:

  • Safe Routes to Schools
  • Access for All
  • Expand Ridership
  • Bonus Climate Benefits
  • Finally Fix Metro
  • Implement 
  • Smarter Traffic Enforcement

“Design every street and transit to eliminate injuries and fatalities. No more delays. We need real projects with real funding so that taking transit, biking, and walking are the safest options – especially for people with disabilities and our children.” – Adam Theo, independent candidate for Arlington County Board