Arlington PD: We Serve Many Masters

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 1, Edition 179 (8/8/2019)

This a paid subscriber edition of Street Justice. Upgrade to the premium subscription for multimedia recordings of events and data sets from our reporting. Sign up and pick whatever price you want. Individual multimedia available for $10. Donations of any size welcomed. Street Justice has funding through September 20th.


On July 10th, Arlington County’s Bicycle Advisory Committee met jointly with the Pedestrian Advisory Committee. I dropped an audio recorder in their room before heading out to cover a few other simultaneous events. Now that I have some time, I edited the audio from the BAC-PAC meeting. Here was their agenda for the meeting and some notes from my listening back. The full recording is available in the content archive for premium subscribers.

After listening to the first segments of the audio, it’s clear the big story is Arlington County PD’s Dan Murphy talking about safety goals, crash reporting policies, and the “more than one master” he serves — placing safety in competition with moving car traffic.

0:00:20 mark in recording > Call to Order; Introductions - Gillian Burgess (ArlCo BAC) & Eric Goldstein (ArlCo PAC)

0:01:48 > Public Comment/New Business

Resident in attendance concerned by W&OD Trail detour at Lee Highway and I-66, where VDOT is building a new bike/walk bridge over Lee Highway. The marked detour (red in the map below) — which will be in effect for at least another 18 months — takes trail users southwest onto Washington St/Lee Highway, turning onto to W Jefferson St going northeast, turning right again onto Little Falls Rd up to the W&OD Trail intersection.

Gillian Burgess said that many trail users have been getting off the W&OD sooner (green in the map below), going southwest on Sycamore St, then turning right onto E Columbia Street — which takes you all the way to Little Falls Rd without using the wider, busier Washington St/Lee Highway. There’s also a signal at Columbia and Lee Highway.

Another variable for this detour is Benjamin Banneker Park. The Park is about to be closed for revitalization starting in 4-6 months. The pre-construction meeting was that same week of July 8th. W&OD Trail users will not be able to use Banneker Park; they’ll be spit out at the intersection of 19th Street N and Sycamore. Using the green Columbia Street route would be going further out of your way.

Throughout the audio recording of this meeting, you’ll hear BAC and PAC members mention the heavy July 8th rainstorm that caused flooding in many of the park and trail areas the groups discuss.

0:09:05 > Arlington Police Department - Lt. Murphy

Looked at first six months of bike/ped crashes in 2019, and compared to 2018 and 2017. Pedestrian incidents are up and bike crashes are down. 10 bike crashes each in May and June 2019. Cyclists at fault 32% in this years’ crashes, compared to last year’s 20% at fault rate. Lt. Murphy speaking:

“The problem I have with Vision Zero is that I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal to have, and I don’t know if we can hold ourselves accountable to that level. …. There were 18 jurisdictions that were recognized for having zero fatalities last year: wasn’t Fairfax, wasn’t Alexandria, wasn’t Richmond, Virginia Beach. It was places like Emporia, Falls Church. Well, bravo. When I have 240,000 thousand people, and my daytime population goes up to 450,000 because of people driving through Arlington to get to DC, it’s a little bit more challenging for us than it is for Emporia to get to Vision Zero. … This is going to be my recommendation to VDOT: let’s look a population comparison and let’s have divisions. Just like in high school they have 6A and 1A, I don’t think I should have to compete with Emporia as far as safety goes.”

“The three fatals that we have this year. I think that we could enforce it and educate it, and engineer the heck out of it. And I don’t know if we could’ve prevented them. That’s why I don’t like using the fatals as a very good metric. … The one thing they [all the fatal crashes] all have in common is that the person that was struck was over sixty years old. The survivability goes down the older a person gets. … All three of these people were crossing [the street] against the signal. In the top accident, the gentleman…got off the bus, pushed the [pedestrian signal] button at Route 50, tried to cross it three times before he was struck.”

After recounting that crash summary, several BAC and PAC members jumped in to make the point that the victim may still be alive if the pedestrian signal had turned on quicker after they pushed the “beg button.” That seems true, as Lt. Murphy explained the guy tried to cross three times before seeing an oncoming car and retreating back. A car fatally struck him on his third attempt, in the farthest-most lane to the other side.

Lt. Murphy responded that he “can’t, in good conscience, say I want a push button to stop traffic to cross the street. We have to be fair. This is a multi-use county, it’s pedestrians, and vehicles, and bicycles, an multi-modal. I’ve talked with many of you [BAC and PAC members], and…you talk about the pedestrian lead — where you get 30 seconds to cross before traffic gets … I know that that’s what your desire is. But, I serve more than one master here. We have to make it so traffic moves. We have to make it so pedestrians can cross safely. And we have to make it so that the bikes can travel safely.” ArlCo PAC head Eric Goldstien jumped in to say, “We have to make it so people aren’t dying.” Lt. Murphy responded, “you’re absolutely right.”

The second pedestrian fatality this year in Arlington was someone who didn’t press a pedestrian signal and attempted to run across the crosswalk. The third, most recent, victim was also a victim who did not have a pedestrian signal. But, a car in the curbside lane on Columbia Pike stopped to let her cross. She proceeded, but an oncoming car in the left lane didn’t stop, hit her, and killed her. She was 77 years old.

Lt. Murphy said the vary important user experience and behavior variable here — how long the pedestrian has to wait from button press to signal change is among the details that “are rarely available." ArlCo PD obtained footage from a street-facing homeowner camera in the first incident. That’s how they know the victim pushed the button, waited, got frustrated, and attempted to cross twice before a third, fatal, time. Also, “People are looking at their phone. We rarely get a witness who’s objective like the one in the third, where he [the witness] was sitting at the light where he saw the guy run across. … The guy that hit [the victim], knew [the victim]. They had worked together.”

Lt. Murphy went on to explain that on a fatal crash like those three, ArlCo PD deploys a critical action team, “which is usually six to eight detectives.” “There are anywhere from two to three crime scene re-constructionists, we do laser reconstruction of the accident, we download all of the digital information from the car, we do a canvas of the neighborhood to look for witnesses, to look for video. We closed down Route 50 for about four hours that day. … There’s photography, there’s measurements.” Lt. Murphy adds that in those fatal cases, and “in [even the] most basic accidents.” The crime scene police will push the pedestrian signals, will observe it, and that “in a lot of the accident reports, they say the signal was functioning correctly. … I can promise you [that signal testing] is done in every pedestrian action.”

Lt. Murphy goes on to say “I think we’re asking two different questions. We’re worried about these three accidents — the critical ones. And last year, out of 125 [bike/ped] accidents that we had, 90% of them were extremely minor in injury. It was a matter of bumping. Many jurisdictions — NYC, Baltimore, DC — you’re not going to get an officer to come out. Period. We [ArlCo PD] do a full investigation. Go out, interview the two parties, do a diagram. It’s a four-page report. … Everything from the time-of-day, the lighting, the condition of the roadway, the condition of the driver. All those of those things are included.”

It’s important to point out here that Arlington County has, by far, the best data collection and data-driven approach to road safety via the Police. DC Police regularly attends DC BAC meetings as well, but DC — as Lt. Murphy points out — does almost no accident reporting for bike/ped crashes and even car vs. car crashes where the damage is incidental.

I’m sharing Lt. Murphy’s comments at length to give proper context to his “many masters” line. Like, yeah, the policy-level priorities and choices Arlington makes are above his pay grade. The best he can do is create and implement the best bike/ped accident report in the United States. He literally did that. He has an award for it.

A lot of the policy assumptions and biases toward dangerous cars is VDOT, requiring speedy removal of debris and resumption of traffic flow. On balance, after attending these citizen advisory groups in all the DC-area localities, Arlington County’s police is doing as much as it can in the preference set-up of the Arlington County Council, VDOT, and the State Assembly. Recall that Virginia’s Assembly has historically banned all red-light and speed cameras — and only this year — began allowing a watered-down bill for speed cameras in construction work zones, so long as a human police officer is operating the camera/speedometer thingie. At state-level, Virginia’s public policy is not pro-safety and pedestrian, compared to DC and Maryland.

0:26:35 > Signals - Transportation, Engineering, and Operations (TE&O) for Signals Planning within Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services - Josh Nicholas

They discussed Arlington’s guidelines and rules for where signals go, and why they operate a certain way, and how to request changes. The PDF with signals guidelines is available in the archive for premium subscribers.

1:05:54 > Micro-Mobility -Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Manager, Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services - Ritch Viola

They discussed Arlington’s current shared e-bikes and e-scooter pilot, which will result in elected official deliberation this autumn. “We are trying to come out with an actual series of regulations — an ordinance — that would address how these sorts things are. I see them as many sorts of classes of related devices that might be addressed differently.” Viola went on to explain that Virginia’s Assembly adopted a law giving Commonwealth localities until the end of CY2019 to set their own rules on these shared, electric mobility devices, “after which, what would be imposed on us [Arlington County] is whatever the state determines. So, we’re trying to make sure — whatever we do — we can have it adopted by the County Board before the end of this year.”

1:39:15 > State-level Legislative Priorities - Gillian Burgess & Chris Yarie

In the last item, members of ArlCo’s BAC and PAC discussed potential legislative priorities for next year’s state legislature session. The PAC had met previously and discussed goals. Here’s what Gillian said bike stakeholders requested as leg priorities:

  • Fix contributory negligence

  • Distracted driving ban

  • More automated enforcement for speed and light violations

  • Leading pedestrian intervals

  • STOP at crosswalks, instead of YIELD at crosswalks

  • Local authority to lower speed limits, Gillian mentioned she’s been told by County staff that Arlington can only lower to 25 mph on normal roads and 15 mph around schools

  • Legalize the Idaho Stop

  • Authority to ban right-on-read in the whole County

  • Authority to remove the requirement to build driveways (is that just local zoning?)


  • AUDIO - Arlington Advisory Bike and Ped Advisory Joint Meeting 7.10.2019 (Multimedia Content Archive > 2019 > July)

  • PDF - Arlington County Traffic Signal Ops Guidelines and Procedures - Updated July 2019 (Multimedia Content Archive > 2019 > July)


“About 1 in 15 miles driven in the District is in an Uber or Lyft vehicle, according to a study that offers long-sought details of the services’ impact on traffic in urban areas. Supporters of the ride-hailing apps have long billed them as a way to ease traffic woes by encouraging people to give up their personal vehicles or leave them parked. But company data released this week demonstrate how the firms represent a significant part of the traffic mix.”

Uber and Lyft “are likely contributing to an increase in congestion,” Chris Pangilinan, Uber’s head of global policy for public transportation, said in a statement. But, he added, “its scale is dwarfed by that of private cars and commercial traffic.” The data show that about 7 percent of the “vehicle miles traveled” in the District are in Ubers and Lyfts, and the other 93 percent are other cars and trucks. That 7 percent includes time the company drivers spend circling while they wait for a fare or driving to pick up passengers. The companies’ share of the vehicle miles traveled for the entire Washington region was about 2 percent, according to the study.”

DDOT head Jeff Marootian is quoted in the story, but he doesn’t address the study. He talks about DDOT’s new curb-management experiments with pick-up/drop-off zones. This is reporting by Michael Laris in WaPost.


“You generally expect something to happen when you push a button. Especially when a sign encourages you do so. But that’s not generally the case with pedestrian buttons in the District. They often don’t accomplish what you’re hoping for: the ability to cross the street faster.”

“Back before computerized traffic signals were popular, pedestrians often had to push the walk button in order to get the right-of-way to cross the intersection. These were known as “beg buttons.” (Montgomery County still uses these in places with lower pedestrian volumes). Now, traffic lights are timed to move cars efficiently through an intersection. Pedestrians automatically get the walk signal at most D.C. intersections when it’s their turn.”

“‘More than 80% of the signals in the District, if there’s a button, you don’t need to push the button,’ says George Branyan, who heads pedestrian programs at the District Department of Transportation. ‘You’re going to get the signal no matter what.’ If there is a push button, it generally won’t make the walk signal come faster. But pushing the button does provide key information to those with visual impairments.”

That’s reporting by Jordan Pascale in WAMU-FM.



  • [VA] Rehabilitation of N Glebe Road Bridge running over Pimmit Run -> Project | Submit Comments via Email | Aug 23

  • [DC] Transportation Safety Survey for South Columbia Heights/Shaw/U Street Area, conducted by ANC 1B -> Details and Form | Spanish Form | ASAP

  • [VA] Feedback for City of Alexandria in re Alternative Routes Offered during WMATA Metrorail’s Summer Station Shutdown -> Project | Form | N/A

  • [MD] General Comments on MD’s Plan to Widen 270 & 495/Beltway - Currently in the Environmental Study Phase -> Project | Form | N/A


Bold = I plan to cover in person

Washington, DC

  • Thurs 8/8: Ward 8 Traffic Safety Meeting, hosted by Washington Area Bicyclists Association [Details]

  • Sat 8/10: Sustainable Urban Agriculture Workshop [Details]


  • None for the rest of the week


  • None for the rest of the week

Whole Region or General Interest

  • None for the rest of the week