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Counterpoint: A Streetcar Supporter’s Take

by ARLnow.com — January 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm 1,858 137 Comments

The following op-ed is written by Chris Slatt, an advocate for streetcars in Arlington County. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Rendering of a streetcar along Columbia PikeI’m Chris Slatt, a supporter of Arlington Streetcar Now — a group of local citizens committed to seeing Arlington County continue its investment in high quality transit through the installation of a modern streetcar network. There are many reasons that Streetcars are the right transportation system for Columbia Pike, and we highlight many of them on our web site, but for me it all comes down to one main reason, ridership.

What good is a transit system if few people ride it?  People, at least in US, seem to prefer rail transit even in cases where it isn’t faster or more frequent than equivalent buses. For instance:

  • When Seattle temporarily substituted buses for streetcars on its Waterfront line while the streetcar vehicles were being overhauled, ridership dropped to 1/15th of what it had been with Streetcars, despite the buses providing “equivalent service”.
  • When Memphis surveyed its transit riders it found that 83% of those who rode their streetcar system didn’t utilize any other form of public transit — it was the streetcar or nothing at all.
  • In 2003 the City of Tacoma converted an existing bus line that ran every 12 minutes to a streetcar line that runs every 10 minutes. Despite that only being a small increase in “performance,” ridership increased by 500%.
  • The Arlington County Resident Study, a survey that was completed in 2009, found that while 36% of Pike residents use the current bus system at least once a week, 59% of respondents indicated they would use a proposed streetcar at least once a week.

Some folks may note that Arlington’s own Alternatives Analysis shows only a small ridership benefit for the Streetcar Alternative. This is because it is Federal Transit Administration policy to only allow a 5% “mode factor” for rail in federal alternatives analyses — despite many examples like those above that would indicate that it should be much higher.

True Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) can be great. Bogota has a great system, as does Guangzhou, China. These systems attract their ridership by emphasizing the “rapid” part of Bus Rapid Transit; they have dedicated lanes in which to travel. Such a system can’t exist on Columbia Pike, we don’t have the available right-of-way unless you take travel lanes away from existing traffic.

Instead you would have “limited” BRT, or what some would call “BRT Light” or “Faux BRT”. Essentially bigger buses, nicer stops and potentially off-board fare collection (although WMATA who operates all other regional buses in the area is apparently unwilling to offer off-board fare collection).  This “BRT light” is what was studied in the Alternatives Analysis as the “TSM 2” or “Articulated Bus” option. While calling this BRT sound great because you can associate your proposal with other successful systems around the globe, there are few if any existing limited BRT systems that attract significant ridership.

When you hear about how great BRT is, look closely at the systems being held up as examples.  Are they similar to what would be achievable on the Pike?  Or are they more like “light rail” systems operating at high speeds in their own travel lane with widely spaced stops?  At Arlington Streetcar Now we try to avoid using statistics or comparisons to light rail systems for this exact reason and we encourage others to do the same.

After decades of neglect, Columbia Pike deserves a great transit system, not just a “good enough” transit system; Columbia Pike deserves a Streetcar.

For more information, see our FAQ section at http://arlingtonstreetcarnow.org/frequently-asked-questions.aspx or declare your support at http://arlingtonstreetcarnow.org/declare-your-support.aspx

  • NPGMBR

    You’ve got my support.

    • PikeHoo

      Street Car! Booyah!

  • John Fontain

    Chris, you point out the difference in ridership levels between the two modes of transporation. To me, the real question is whether the incremental cost justifies the incremental ridership.

    • drax

      A fair point, except this is not a business venture. A low ridership doesn’t accomplish much at any cost, so what’s the point?

    • AL

      That is a question, for sure, but it’s not just about the ridership. It’s about the investment in the Columbia Pike Corridor. A streetcar has the potential to revitalize the whole streetscape. A bus does NONE of that.

      • Mary-Austin

        I don’t think putting down tracks that will be a hazard to motorists and cyclists will revitalize anything in a positive way.

        • drax

          They are not hazardous to motorists at all.

          Maybe to cyclists, but riding on the Pike is already hazardous to bikes.

        • Dezlboy

          @Mary-Austin, there are methods (construction material, “bike sneaks”, etc) that cities have used to minimize hazard to cyclists. You might find some interesting solutions via “google” that was my source.

          As for motorists (cars) – I don’t see a problem, and Motorcycle tires are wide enough that there shouldn’t (as far as I see) a problem either.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    So what is the operational cost difference between these – AND ESPECIALLY – at an equivalent level of service/user experience. Aren’t the street cars you are talking about better maintained, charge more per mile and turn around and give a better user experience. Why couldn’t this work for a bus system if properly run/maintained?
    In areas with longer light rail histories – like Phila. the user-experience difference has disappeared and so has any advantage – leaving you with nothing but a more capital intensive and draining system.

    • ArlRes

      Columbia Pike is already at capacity with its bus system. Also, I’ve never heard of a bus route that spurred development. More development equals more tax revenue. Additional tax revenue offsets the cost of the system. I doubt very much that the R-B corridor would be what it is today if instead of metro there was BRT (and not that there is no true BRT system in the US, only partial BRT). The fact is, Arlington is and needs to continue growing. In order for Columbia Pike to reach its full potential it needs the streetcar (particularly as there is a near zero chance of Metro going in).

      • nomore

        Lots of us who live along the pike DON’T want more development. More development means more people means more schools, libraries, more concrete, more trash, more sidewalks. All these services drain the revenue not add to it.

  • 22204-er

    Why is it that people continue to ask for more studies to be done of studies that have already been done. Stop the madness and put the damn trolley down CoPi already. Stop talking about it. Bring the trolley to our neighborhood and stop fighting about an investment in OUR neighborhood that will raise property values, increase ridership, and more.

    • that guy

      +1000

      • Ok….then

        We’d be completely fine with it if it was just YOUR neighborhood that foots the bill for it. Unfortunately we’re in this together and since you expect US to pay for YOUR new toy, then sit back and let the process work itself out.

        • PikeHoo

          Are you suggesting that S. Arlington should not have to pay for anything related to Metro in N. Arlington? If so, will you be sending cash or cashier’s check (plus interest) for the last 30+ years? We currently have plenty of check cashing places, so no sweat if you don’t have the cash handy.

          • Proud to be a Southie

            As Sheldon Cooper would say, “Bazinga” :)

          • The Real SW DC

            So you dont think the revenues from the pentagon and crystal city workers helped finance the rossyln-ballston corridor before it got overhauled? pssssh!

        • Sam

          I live in S. Arlington. Please let me know how I can redirect the dollars I pay to maintain your Metro access in N. Arlington. I’d rather not pay for your toys.

          • Sheldon Cooper

            Bazinga!

    • Sebastian Melmoth

      totally agree. just do it already.

    • Mitch Opalski

      I live on the PIke and I say no way the increase in ridership does not justify the cost. Stop spending my money on vanity projects like this and GIVE ME A TAX CUT for a change.

      • JohnB

        Your tax rate is lower than Fairfax County.

      • dras

        Somebody probably said the same thing about paving the Pike 100 or so years ago.

  • KalashniKEV

    I think the opposite is true- *nobody* is going to get on this trolley and it’s going to destroy tractability on the Pike.

    • KalashniKEV

      *Trafficability

    • drax

      Streetcars are working just fine all over the country. No basis for saying this one won’t have riders.

    • ARL-VA

      I will use the streetcar once the system is in place.

  • Flactacular

    In the interest of full disclosure, should the author’s membership on the County’s Transportation Commission be mentioned.

    Guess I just did.

    • ArlRes

      Seems to me that this only adds to his credentials as someone who knows what they’re talking about.

      • SomeGuy

        The members are appointed by the County Board to four-year terms…

        He very well might know what he’s talking about. But he’s also likely to show bias in favor of the county board that’s pushing for this project and which appointed him for the first time in late 2011.

        http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/Commissions/tc/EnvironmentalServicesTransportationCommission.aspx

        http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/Commissions/tc/EnvironmentalServicesTcMemb.aspx

        • Chris Slatt

          Anybody who follows the Arlington22204 mailing list knows I’ve been a Streetcar supporter since long before being appointed to the Transportation Commission. Make of that what you will I guess.

          • SomeGuy

            Chris, I’m not attempting to impugn your reputation on the matter, so I hope it didn’t come across that way. You clearly seem to have a working knowledge of this process, and I respect your thoughts on the matter. I’d merely question (openly here) whether the board is likely to appoint equally knowledgeable members who’d often oppose its initiatives.

          • Obvious

            That is most likely the reason you were chosen to be on the commission.

  • Piking Hot

    -Think about this for the Memphis example: 100% of the people in Columbus Ohio who use public transport use a bus. Thus, in 100% of other jurisdictions (including Arlington), we should use buses. This reveals the poor logic in the Memphis talking point.

    -The steetcar surey was done by a biased poll operator using leading questions. (Don’t forget that there were polls predicting a President Romney.) Yes, trolleys are cute and will always win popularity contests, but the data says that it’s speed and reliability that result in sustained rider gains for transit. Experienced transit studies, not popularity contests, should be the driving force for how we get better transit.

    -The Tampa streecar continues to disappoint. http://www2.tbo.com/news/business/2012/sep/30/4/streetcars-destination-uncertain-ar-517429/ Why is Arlington more like Tacoma and not Tampa?

    • JohnB

      Why is Arlington more like Tacoma and not Tampa? Coordinated land use planning. The area around the street car in Tampa is low level suburban sprawl type development.

  • G Clifford Prout

    But what happens when the trolley hits the fire truck that is responding to the bicyclist stuck in a track while he was looking at the water main break under the Pike?

    • Oh, hi

      I’d venture that a tailgating Prius plows into the back of said trolley.

      • Jackson

        A Prius with automatic transmission and Maryland plates, which then flips over, no doubt.

  • South Awwlington

    Thank you Chris!

  • Buckwheat

    I honestly do not see much difference between the BRT and the street car.

    Both require dedicated lanes. Both look like trains. One appears to have ugly overhead wires.

    Which one is cheaper? Go with that one. If you do not like it, amortize it a few years, then replace it with something else.

  • http://nationleprechaun.com/ jinushaun

    This comment will “ruffle some feathers” on here, but fact of the matter is is that white people won’t ride buses, which makes rail the only viable option if Arlington wants to revitalise that area. A BRT option in Columbia Pike is DOA if not enough people will ride it.

    • Brandon Walsh

      I am white, and I ride both ART and Metro buses. When I ride, I see many other white people riding too. Now, I only ride the bus once or twice per week, on average. But I run or bike by many bus stops every day and see many white people waiting in line.

      My opinion is that the biggest impediments to greater adoption of bus transportation along Columbia Pike are:

      1) the additional cost of transferring to Metro train
      2) the less-frequent service during off-peak hours
      3) the delays caused by adding value to SmarTrip cards while boarding

      Obviously, the first issue would require serious reconsideration of the fare structure throughout the Metro system. But, 2 & 3 can be addressed more easily. As development continues along the Pike, off-peak buses should be added to reduce wait times. SmarTrip fare machines should be placed at major stops (Super Stops?) to allow riders to add money before boarding. In fact, I inquired about adding these fare machines and was told in September 2012 that Metro was investigating this option. I hope that they make this happen soon.

      • bum

        This is true. I’ve seen Dylan McKay riding the ART buses.

    • John Fontain

      jinushaun said: “which makes rail the only viable option if Arlington wants to revitalise that area.”

      Interesting point. Is this project about moving people or redevelopment/increasing property values?

      If it’s about moving people, my understanding is that a new bus system will do the job equally as well for a lot less money.

      If it’s about redevelopment, isn’t Columbia Pike already seeing massive change for the better? If a street car isn’t installed, will developers say to themselves, “You know what, I’m tired of making money by redeveloping properties along the Pike.”

      • Sheriff Gonna Getcha

        the redevelopment has started, but is still very incomplete

        • I see

          That would be a self-fulfilling statement, wouldn’t it?

    • Rory

      I take the ARTS bus every day. My bus is full of white people

    • John Fontain

      jinushaun said: “white people won’t ride buses, which makes rail the only viable option if Arlington wants to revitalise that area.”

      Are you saying that only white people can revitalize an area?

      • PikeMan

        that appears to be exactly what he is saying.

    • LOL

      HAHAHAHAHA. Thank you for siding with the trolley people. We’d not want “your kind” (that is, the stereotyping-type of people, of course) on “our side” of the argument.

    • PikeMan

      “white people won’t ride buses, which makes rail the only viable option if Arlington wants to revitalise that area.”

      so a key argument in favor of the streetcar is that it’s better for white people?

  • Bill

    Note the cherry-picking: the author tells you about Tacoma but fails to metion the extrememly disappointing ridership number for the Tampa streetcar.

    http://www2.tbo.com/news/business/2012/sep/30/4/streetcars-destination-uncertain-ar-517429/

    • Chris Slatt

      I tried to highlight routes where Streetcars replaced buses or vice-versa, to highlight the effect that mode change alone can have. I also didn’t highlight Portland or Seattle both of which have highly successful Streetcars which is some pretty poor “cherry picking”.

      The article you linked lays out a good chunk of the problems with Tampa’s Streetcar. Primarily it’s a tourist attraction rather than a transit system. It doesn’t link anywhere that residents want to go. The Columbia Pike Streetcar will build upon existing demonstrated ridership demand and then add to it with better service and a type of service that people are demonstrated to prefer.

  • Real Talk

    ” … white people won’t ride buses … ”

    Ridiculous.

    • BBMS

      And it’s not that it’s even a controversial or taboo statement to make. It’s just wrong.

  • all day errrr day

    I am white. I ride the bus.

    • confused

      of course some white people ride the bus. however there is evidence from the newer streetcars out west and elsewhere, that the ridership boost to rail is well over the 5% that FTA allows in cost benefits analysis. That will make it easier to support the density that is coming to ColPike, since fewer would use their cars. Whether that is due to social stigma, the (not always unjustified) belief that bus operations standards will be low, or the inherent quality of the ride, is a matter of debate. Also, to carry the same volume, will require articulated buses, which are costlier than conventional buses, and are said to be costlier to maintain.

  • Guy

    @jinushaun. I am white and i stayed on the Hill in DC for over a decade. I rode many buses and many times i would be the only white guy on the bus with alot of dudes. I rode the X2, the 90 buses, D6. Alot of whites were riding the bus, but every once in awhile it was just me and alot of dudes. I liked to sit in the back of the bus too.

  • FedUp

    $250 million is a lot of money for a 5-mile stretch, without guaranteed federal funding, and without Fairfax County’s and Alexandria’s participation. So, we’ll have BRT in FFX and Alx, and 5 miles of streetcar in Arlington. Interesting.

    • fairfaxian

      actually Fairfax has agreed to do streetcar from the Arlington County line to the PikeRail terminus near Skyline.

      Fairfax has no commitment to any other light rails, BRTs, street cars or transitways, at this time. (though they will be running express buses on the new HOT lanes)

  • mickey_

    I am old enough to remember when DC had street cars and it was a nightmare. Cars thrown all over due to the tracks, streetcars being cut off and hitting cars, jaywalkers being hit because they didn’t hear the cars, etc. Most places that I have visited in the world, have a system of street cars that runs down the center of a large thoroughfare protecting the streetcars and the passengers and separating them from vehicular traffic. I fail to see where that can be done on Columbia Pike because of lack of space.

    • Finally

      +1

    • drax

      Sounds like a typical day in DC streets now.

  • FED

    Views don’t reflect the views of ArlNow? When will ArlNow publish a photo of a state of the art BRT? Like the BRT everyone (black, white, asian, etc.) likes to ride in Las Vegas?

    While we’re at it, how about some information about streetcar tracks and accidents? Oh, and also a progress report on the BRT system being constructed on Route 1 in Alexandria?

  • confused

    that runs on dedicated lanes, with off vehicle fare payment. that cannot be done on ColPike.

    • FED

      does not necessarily have to run on dedicated lanes; does not necessarily have to have off-vehicle fare payment, but so what if it does? WMATA is going with off-vehicle fare payment.

  • roadtonowhere

    What I don’t understand is: why is this needed? I mean, there’s no big bustling businesses on Columbia Pike so where is it that everyone is going from one end of the pike to the next? To the coin laundromat? Where will people park that don’t live on the Pike and want to take the trolley to the… I’m grasping here for what businesses even exist on Columbia Pike…. um… Bob & Ediths? How many people ride the bus up and down JUST columbia Pike every day? Meaning, they don’t keep going on the bus route to get to, say, a metro station. I’m guessing the number is VERY LOW. So where are these riders riding to? A bus stop at either end of Columbia pike, where they can continue their commute? I just don’t get it.

    • bobbytiger

      It’s the “build it, and they will come” philosophy. Works in the movies.

      • roadtonowhere

        Okay so they’ll come…. but where will the riders go? the trolley is still going to end on either end of Columbia Pike… So commuters will still have to find another mode of transportation to get to their jobs. Who would opt for that? Oh, yeah, now instead of taking the bus to the metro, I now have to take the trolley to the bus to the metro??? And people that want to come to these businesses that will magically appear on the revitalized Columbia pike…. where are they going to put their cars so that they can right the shiny new trolley? Is there a massive parking lot going in at the corner of carlin springs road and columbia pike or something? Besides the almighty dollar associated with property taxes, has anyone given any thought to just how non-sensical this is?

        • WM

          Not everyone in Arlington owns a car. If you don’t have one you don’t need to park. I decided not to get a car when I moved to Arlington. I don’t live on the Pike, but lets say someone lives in Clarendon and wants to go to the Pentagon. We could say that for the purpose of that person the orange line will take you from Clarendon to Rosslyn (since you need to transfer). That individual could formulate similar questions. Also, how the streetcar links to the long term transportation plan? Columbia Pike (CP) streetcar is supposed to also follow the Crystal City (CC) route in the long term, providing a one sit ride from CP to CC and possibly Alexandria. A lot of the arguments of the functionality of the streetcar would be resolved if Arlington was “bolder” and actually took a lane each way just for the streetcar (eventually, when the transit culture gets more engrained and the pike has a greater density to be self sufficient) since a lot of the traffic could be from people just passing through (not sure about this).

          • VA SQ Denizen

            Someone who lives in Clarendon and wants to get to the Pentagon can take the ART 42 bus. It is faster than Metro and direct. The bus stop is on Wilson Blvd in front of Pacers running shop.

            As for long term plans, as appealing as they appear, streetcars may not be a good solution to our traffic problems. The Pike is not wide enough to accommodate all modes of tranport sufficiently. Streetcars will cause more problems than they are worth.

        • FrenchyB

          Maybe some of the streetcar passengers will be commuting to jobs in all the high rise office buildings in either Pentagon City or Bailey’s Crossroads.

        • drax

          roadtonowhere, were you against Metro too? Probably.

        • bobbytiger

          But, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that it would work with this trolly thing.

    • Chris Slatt

      Well the Pentagon City Metro, Bob & Edith’s, Dama, P. Brennan’s, Twisted Vines, Menchie’s, Bangkok 54, Atilla’s, the Air Force Memorial, the Pentagon City Mall, DSW, Pappilon Cycles,Target, Giant…

      Once the Crystal City Streetcar is built you can add onto that list the Crystal City Metro, Long Bridge Park, Costco, Legal Seafood…

    • CW

      @roadtonowhere – Man am I glad that this country was not built by people who think like you.

      “Erie Canal – what do we need that for, no one is shipping anything from the great lakes to NYC”.

      “A standing army? Why do we need that; there aren’t any wars going on.”

      “Rural electrification? Those hilbillies aren’t worth it.”

      “Interstate system? Shove it, Ike, we’ve done just fine without it.”

    • Hokie

      They’re counting on this moving people, and people using this to go to businesses that will locate there because there’s a trolley. Of course the problem is, that it is only viable for use by people that live immediately on the pike. If you don’t live right on it, you’ll never use it, becuase you’d have to drive to get to it. People that live 1/2 mile to a mile could walk, sure. But that adds 30mins-40 mins to their day- which then would cancel out any time saving from driving.

      I’m all for smart growth, and the use of trolley lines when you’re planning a community. But to go back in and install something of this scale and cost after an area is built out simply does not make sense.

      For all the issues on this project- I wish this would be a single item on a referendum to let people vote.

  • Swag

    Chris Slatt – South Arlington resident, member of the Arlington County Transportation Commission, and Secretary of the Penrose Civic Association.

    • South Awwlington

      Lol and let’s see – you’re either a N Arlington or a S Arlington resident on a 50/50 bet….big deal.

  • P/S

    Note the rhetorical slight of hand: “This is because it is Federal Transit Administration policy to only allow a 5% “mode factor” for rail in federal alternatives analyses…” The professional transit staff at the FTA maintain that using a streetcar over a comparable bus results in only modest gains in ridership. He’s free to disagree with that conclusion, but the fact that he’s taking on the experts’ conclusion is glossed over in his post.

  • Walking in Memphis

    “When Memphis surveyed its transit riders it found that 83% of those who rode their streetcar system didn’t utilize any other form of public transit — it was the streetcar or nothing at all.”

    This logic does not prove the point. 100% of the transit riders in Columbus Ohio use the bus – and no other form of transit. That doesn’t prove we need to use buses. All his fact proves is that Memphis put a streetcar in a busy transit corridor. As the alternatives analysis shows, if we put in an articulated bus, it would also have ridership gains compared to the existing bus; that’s because the Form Based Code is adding residents to the Pike and at least some of them will take transit, whatever we have.

    • Chris Slatt

      It may not prove the point, but it at least suggests strongly in that direction. Especially when you factor in that you can transfer from the Memphis trolley to more than 20 different bus lines.

    • FearThePyramid

      Half the trolley riders in Memphis are tourists.

  • Cycle Chick

    If you bring in the street car you should also bring in bike lanes and Capital Bikeshare to help connect the routes and offer folks another cost-efficient alternative. Yes.

    • Chris Slatt

      I agree. Bikeshare is coming and is a good start, as are the Bike Boulevards – but we need to hold the County’s feet to the fire on completing the bike infrastructure along the Pike. I hope the hold up with the Navy Annex land swap is that the County is holding out for some additional right-of-way in the East end for a cycletrack. The West end needs a lot of help as well especially with the terrible street grid connectivity down there.

  • TransitRider

    First, there is no Waterfront Streetcar in Seattle. That service was eliminated in 2005 and is not likely to come back anytime soon. So much for streetcars being permanent or overwhelmingly desirable. Second, the Tacoma Link is a free service — no fares are charged. Not hard to get people to ride when the service is subsidized 100 percent. Third, Memphis has a decent system of historic trolleys operating as a downtown circulator, which is the best application for streetcars. Columbia Pike would not be a downtown circulator. Fourth, the author criticizes BRT for it inability to have a dedicated lane on Columbia Pike, but ignores the fact that the streetcars also would not have a dedicated lane. The lack of a dedicated lane is a problem regardless of whether the vehicles has tires or steel wheels. A BRT system, however, could address this problem more effectively, because it is not stuck on a track, and thus can change lanes, and queue jumps can be used at intersections. Fifth, the author ignores the Tampa streetcar, which Arlington used to justify the Columbia Pike streetcar. The Tampa system is so bad that it carries only about 900 trips per day and termination of the service has been under serious consideration for some time. Sixth, the author did not mention that the Columbia Pike “streetcar” is not actually a streetcar project — it is a bus project. There would be a total of 44 vehicles operating in the corridor — 34 of which would be buses. They are even creating a new bus route to parallel the streetcars and stop at the streetcar stations, thus making the service appear more frequent and carrying more riders. Finally, the author ignores the experience with development and BRT corridors, which is actually better than the experience with streetcars. For example, Cleveland has about $6 billion worth of development associated with its BRT line — Portland has about $3.5 billion associated with its streetcar.

    • Chris Slatt

      The bus service that predated Tacoma Link was also free, so I fail to see what that has do with the 500% increase in ridership.

      Many call Columbia Pike “Arlington’s Main Street” – you don’t think the Streetcar would function as a downtown circulator?

      With only 600 words to work with I chose to focus on only one aspect, ridership. My point still stands that when making comparisons we should make them as apple-to-apples as possible and Cleveland’s system operates primarily in dedicated right-of-way so how applicable is the experience to Arlington? On top of that most of that “$6 billion” in investment occurred in University Circle which also has…wait for it…a Light Rail Station. So was that investment from the BRT or the Light Rail? Hard to say, but it certainly wasn’t from “BRT light”, “modified BRT”, “articulated bus” or whatever you want to call an enhanced bus project on the Pike.

      • Hokie

        Columbia Pike is the old Main Street of Arlington. It isn’t anymore, and it never will be anymore. That now belongs to the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor. To continue to call Columbia Pike Arlington’s main street is to continue to call baseball (my favorite) America’s #1 sport. It’s inaccurate, and we all know it. The only people that do are simply unable to accept that times change.

      • TransitRider

        Ridership is a reasonable issue to focus upon. However, you should provide accurate and complete information. Ridership on the Tampa streetcar has been declining rapidly, even though it just opened about a decade ago. Arlington relied heavily on the Tampa streetcar as a justification for Columbia Pike, and thus i think it is misleading not to inform people about it.

        About the Tacoma Link, i suspect any ridership increase was the result of restructuring local buses as feeders, the construction of the convention center, and other factors not related to the vehicle type.

        I have lived in Arlington a long time, and i have yet to meet anyone who thinks that Columbia Pike is downtown Arllington. Downtown is the R-B corridor and that is not likely to change soon.

        The county’s proposed bus-streetcar project is not a circulator. Circulator systems generally circulate around a central point . They often go in a loop, as in Memphis. The county’s proposed bus-streetcar system is linear — it would not circulate. Moreover, it does not even connect to the major trip attractor in the corridor — the Pentagon.

        Regarding Cleveland, the Urban Land Institute, the city of Cleveland, and others attribute the development along Euclid Avenue to the advent of the Healthline BRT, not to the city’s rail system. Pointing out that there was a pre-existing rail station at University Circle is a non-sequitur. There were bus stops in the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor before the Metro — does that mean that the redevelopment of the corridor is attributable to a significant degree to the pre-existing bus service? I don’t think so. Moreover, ridership on Cleveland’s light rail lines is quite low, even by US standards. Daily boardings on Cleveland’s two light rail lines are lower than the daily boardings for its one BRT line. The Waterfront light raill line opened in the mid-1990′s and service was slashed about 10 years later due to low and declining ridership. If you want to focus on ridership, I think that would have been important to note as well.

    • Uh oh

      Oh man, you owned him. That was hilarious.

      I love how he has no facts to back up his statement, just “feelings”. I especially enjoyed how he’s resorted to sarcasm in an attempt to discredit your views.

  • Biker Bob

    @ Cycle Chick The streetcar plan will remove the current ability to ride (relatively) safely on the street on your bike because of the rails. The Pike Bike Boulevards will not extend the length of the Pike, and the County’s solution (make one of the sidewalks a little wider on one side of the Pike) is totally insufficient as a replacement for bikers. They do plan to bring Bikeshare here though.

    • Cycle Chick

      Well, that’s lame. Biking on the sidewalks will cause more accidents with peds and is not acceptable… So the Bikeshare will come and there will be no where to bike. So smart. #whosinchargehere?

    • WM

      As a casual to frequent biker, so many ways to fall and so many ways to avoid it…. but usually it will happen. A small distraction is enough. How could we improve the bike infrastructure? This issue will probably affect motorcycles too.

      • Cycle Chick

        To help with bike infrastructure: We need to talk to Bike Arlington and we should attend meetings with the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) on the first Monday of each month. County staffers are always present and it would be a good place to start the discussion. The meetings are held at Court House Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Blvd @7PM. Here’s a link: http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/get-involved/

    • Chris Slatt

      I agree that they need to do more, but going from an existing 4′ sidewalk to a 10′ sidewalk should probably be described as something more than “a little wider”.

      • Hokie

        A sidewalk is not equal to a dedicated bike lane no a street. A street allows for high speed to facilitate a commute. putting everybody onto a sidewalk on bikes, and you’re mixing high speed bikers with low speed walkers and kids, telephone poles, trolley stop signs *ahem*, newspaper stands, etc. Not to mention that the sidewalk is then a bumpier ride.

      • Cycle Chick

        Chris, you’re MISSING the point. Bikes DO NOT BELONG ON THE SIDEWALKS. EVER. Unless you’re on training wheels, that is. It’s way too dangerous. Even with 10′ of space, peds STILL walk with earphones and don’t pay attention as it is. You’re asking for people to get killed by “suggesting” we ride on the sidewalks.

        • Chris Slatt

          As a stated in an earlier comment I agree that sidewalks are worse than bike lanes which are worse than a protected lane like a cycle track. Bike boulevards belong somewhere in that “better than sidewalks” continuum too.

          Second, I challenge the assertion that sidewalks some wildly dangerous place to bike. Much like riding in traffic there are certain dangers you need to be aware of and account for – primarily intersections. Nobody expects something going bicycle speeds to be going down a sidewalk, so you’ve got to slow way, way down anytime you cross a driveway or street. If you’re willing to do that, you can bike very safely on a sidewalk.

          With that said, the wider sidewalk is something that’s achievable short-term and other accommodations aren’t so why not accept the wider sidewalk as something that will help some cyclists and not others? I don’t feel comfortable staying in the travel lanes when biking westbound up the hill from the Washington Blvd bridge, so I ditch to the sidewalk now (which is abysmally narrow, absurdly bumpy and a veritable minefield of poles and other obstructions) so I’ll gladly see a wider, flatter, clearer sidewalk there. I’ll also fight for any achievable on-street accommodations. Different cyclists have different comfort levels, and if we’re going to get more people on bikes we’ve got to accommodate as many of them as possible so in my mind we need more of everything – wider sidewalks, more shared use paths, more bike lanes, more bike boulevards and more cycle tracks.

          Also bikes coexist with Streetcars in many cities. I’m not saying it’s ideal – God knows the last thing you need as a cyclist on the Pike is one more danger to think about, but it’s still possible and can be done safely. See for instance this brochure: http://parking.arizona.edu/maps/documents/SC-Bikebrochure.pdf and this video: http://bikeportland.org/2012/09/20/portland-streetcar-inc-bta-release-new-safety-video-77710

          Again, I agree. The Pike needs better bike accommodations. A wider sidewalk won’t cut it. The bike boulevards won’t cut it until the County expends the money and the effort to see them through from end to end. But I disagree with any assertion that the wider sidewalk isn’t at least an improvement. Also I encourage you to get involved with advocacy if you aren’t already. We have a very bike friendly staff and a very bike friendly board, but many bike projects run smack into massive walls of community opposition (see Bike Boulevard detour in Arlington Heights, Washington Boulevard Trail phase 2 opposition, Shirlington Road Road Diet opposition, pretty much any attempt to make room for bike lanes by eliminating on-street parking) – the bike community needs to make itself heard.

          • Southarlington

            Not ever one wants to get rid of there cars so please stop forcing that agenda on people and too many other people from outside this area drive into to Shirlington so that totally is not a option to take parking spaces away….

          • Cycle Chick

            Yeah, either way riding on the Pike is sketchy and probably always will be. I suggest that bikes ride in the residential areas (8th and 9th streets) that run parallel to the Pike. I do a mix of both and it’s way safer and nicer.

  • http://www.espn.com Todd Todd

    The inherent point is made in this article’s title…support for the streetcar is counter to public opinion.

    • drax

      No, it’s counter to the previous column, that’s all.

    • FrenchyB

      Saying it doesn’t make it so.

  • Interested Arl Resident

    Mr. Slatt,

    You do yourself and your cause a disservice with your use of the word “deserves” in your penultimate sentence. Usually when I hear that word, the person (often a teenager) using that term is arguing for something that he/she wants but can’t or doesn’t want to pay for and, instead, wants someone else will pay for. I don’t find that entitlement mentality the least bit persuasive; in fact, it makes me want to run in the opposite direction. If it’s good public policy to have a streetcar on Columbia Pike, make that argument (esp. the cost/benefit analysis), but leave your moral judgment out of it.

    • Chris Slatt

      Thanks for the feedback – I hadn’t thought about it being read that way. I intended it more as a “We invested in high quality transit in the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor and it has clearly paid off – we shouldn’t cheap out now just because it’s Columba Pike – this corridor can blossom too” sort of “deserves”. Perhaps there is a better word.

      • ArlRes

        Chris – Couldn’t agree more!

      • Orange Rider

        The comparison to Metro between Rosslyn and Ballston is not valid for the streetcar argument. The Orange line gives you a no-transfer ride to a regional transit network. The streetcar will not do that.

        I doubt the R-B corridor would look like it does today if instead they had installed a streetcar down Wilson Boulevard and riders had to get off at Rosslyn and go downstairs to join the Metro rail system. That is exactly what the Columbia Pike proposal will do. It provides no new connectivity to Metro, and will just be for trips along the Pike, which current or enhanced bus service could accomplish for a tiny fraction of the price of the streetcar, and still remain flexible to adjust to future demand or lack-thereof.

  • electricbill

    Thank you Chris for taking the time to inform people with real facts (unlike the column bellow). I am looking forward to the street car.

  • DNFjoe

    How many people a day will need to ride the streetcar for it to be financially stable and not need continuous annual County assistance to stay in business?

    Metro trains and buses have a large ridership. They also continuously need to raise rates to keep the service rolling.

    How many residents currently live along the 5 mile route? how long will it take for those few riders along that 5 mile route to recoop the costs of the 250 million price tag?

    10,000 riders a day? how much is that 5 mile ride going to cost? $1? $2? $3?

    say 3 dollars times 10,000 riders= $30,000 a day X 5 days a week= 150,000 X50 weeks= 7.5 million a year.

    a little over 33 years just to recover the 250,000,000. now add in maintanance, cost over runs, repairs from water main breaks etc.

    Does this really make sense?

    Some of the folks that ride the bus will use the streetcar but is there really enough folks along this 5 mile stretch for this to be financially smart?

    What am I missing on the revenue side that makes this a good idea?

    • FrenchyB

      The missing piece would be the increased tax revenue from property redevelopment.

      • Obvious

        You mean the re-development that is already occuring without the streetcar investment.

    • Chris Slatt

      No transportation system pays for itself; not Metro, not ART, not the Interstate Highway system (DC’s portion of Capital Bikeshare comes quite close though)

      Transportation Infrastructure is one of the most important of government’s responsibilities and if we’ve learned anything since the 70s, it’s that when you get to the density of a city or inner ring suburb, you’ve got too many people in too close a proximity for everybody to drive their own car everywhere they want to go.

      • DNFjoe

        I understand roads need to be maintained. I just do not understand the importance of this 5 mile stretch vs 250 million dollars and more.

        I live in south arlington and work in north arlington. I bike it in the warm weahter and drive in the cold weather.

        I can bike it in 18 minutes. When I drive it takes slightly longer. If I wanted to take the bus it would be longer still. I am not sure what the cost would be, but I am using a gallon of gas every 3-5 days. That works out cheaper than the bus rides and gives me the flexibility to go shopping after work, to the gym, to where ever I need to get to worry free. If the bus was cheaper OR quicker I would be interested in taking the bus.

        I still don’t see how the streetcar is a better idea than buses along columbia pike. If ridership falls off the bus could be added to different routes, rotated in service or sold elswhere buses are used (everywhere!) Streetcars don’t have that flexability.

        Streetcars seem like a charming idea, just not a practical one. If they really made sense wouldn’t more places be using them in mass transit projects?

        And tax revenues from property redevelopment? is there going to be that much extra taxes coming in? School me on the numbers. How was it determined that this new revenue was not going to be a benefit to the regular county budget and that we needed to find another project to rush the money into? I know I have read about many different businesses closing in arlinton on this site. Granted most were in the food industry. Is arlington really thriving that much?

        • Chris Slatt

          Reconnecting America keeps a database of planned, in-design and under-construction mass transit projects. Depending on how you count them there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 50 Streetcar proejcts in various stages of development. Certainly not all of them will be built, but clearly Arlington isn’t the only locality looking to replicate the results from Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland.

          http://reconnectingamerica.org/spacerace/spaceracemap.html

  • Douglas Park

    Go Streetcar! I can’t wait to have it on the Pike.

  • Fay Jissette

    If it is in deed such a good idea, why is the county board afraid of putting a measure in front of the voters of the county to let them have their say ??

    • southarlington

      THey are scared sh@@less because they know it is a waste of money and they do not want to face that …I say let us vote on it …it is not a good idea right now it maybe further down the road…Columbia Pike is getting revatalized but the condo buildings and store fronts are still empty …so what does that say ???

    • drax

      Who says they are afraid? Should they put every single issue on the ballot just because someone asks for it?

      • southarlington

        It is more than one person it is a lot of people …..they want a ballot question and this costs tax payers a lot of money so hell yes I do want to vote on this !!!! I do not want to be steamrolled ….The schools need the money before this trolley to allivate overcrowding ….

  • Paul

    I have a condo on the pike now and not once have I checked any bus schedule to ride up to anywhere. If there was a streetcar I would certainly take it up and down the pike to see different restaurants, bars, and to get where I need to go. More buses seems like a cop out, it already sucks to drive down the pike with all the buses and traffic and just adding more buses will make things worse.

    • Hokie

      So your point is that busses that stop, and block traffic from going around them when they stop, make it annoying. You do realize that like busses, street cars will stop, block traffic while people get on and off.

      • ArlRes

        I think his point is that many people simply don’t ride buses. Their routes are confusing to figure out, can often change, and who knows if they’ll actually show up or not. Whereas the streetcar is simple. You know the route, the route won’t change, and its more reliable. Also, streetcars are far more comfortable vehicles to ride in.

  • Crystal Resident

    1) Tampa and the waterfront car in Seattle are tourist attractions, not mass transit systems
    2) Seattle is pouring billions into a it’s rail transit system and Not it’s tourist attraction.
    3) A rail system makes a statement about the long-term future. If I am going to build a new building, a rail system is not going anywhere and bus routes change.
    4) Development in Pentagon City and Crystal City demand a better transit system.
    Having said all that:
    1) The lack of a dedicated lane is worrisome.
    2) The overhead lines will be an eyesore
    3) The lack of Alexandria in the system is a problem.

  • Paul

    Yes the point is that nobody rides the bus, a streetcar has been proven to dramatically increase ridership thereby reducing the amount of cars on the road. That is why there are streetcar projects going up nationally at a record pace because they have proven to be more effective than just putting more buses on the road. Just google “streetcar projects united states” to see what I mean. What if Clarendon had decided that instead of a metro transit system theyre just going to have a ton of buses or the same with San Fran.

  • nom de guerre

    If nobody rides the bus, why are the buses on Columbia Pike currently running at capacity?

    • Paul

      Do you have any link or article saying that? I would be curious to read it.

  • JohnRambo

    From a Emergency response perspective a Streetcar is a nightmare…another choke point. Buses can re-route; streetcars cannot. Look at what happens at Pentagon City when the Pentagon metro is closed off. Where is the energy coming from as well for those of you who claim it is more Green? The electricity most likely comes from coal plants….at least we know the buses run on Natural gas.

    • LexxiFoxx

      The electrical power generation and distribution follows this Green model:

      1. Green Energy
      2. ?
      3. Profit

      This seems to be the business model of Fisker, Solendra, a bunch of battery makers and other green garbage. I guess the ‘?’ could be replaced with “Massive Taxpayer Fraud/Government Subsidy”, followed by “Bankruptcy”

      • drax

        LexxiFoxxNews?

  • pdarl

    If the buses are attractive, white people will ride them. The CP corridor has the most use of public transportation in the state, so to say buses won’t work is crazy.

    I think the real reason for the street car system is to provide incentive for mega development on the pike that will increase taxes. So long to the less affluent who are happy to ride buses.

    It’s really a vanity project, in my opinion. Too expensive, disruptive to build, and the road is too small to accommodate it.

  • John Fontain

    Given the complete lack of consensus on this issue, it seems the best option is to retool and instead begin plans for another underground metro line. This would undoubtedly be a very long term project costing lots of money, but in the very long run it is probably the best answer.

  • LexxiFoxx

    Rember this when you point to Seattle Light Rail as a program to emulate:

    1) Ridership on the $2.6 billion light-rail starter line is still below the agency’s original forecast, used to justify $500 million in federal aid, of 45,000 passengers by 2020.

    2) Sound Transit’s commuter-rail, light-rail and bus services all missed their ridership goals last year, a problem agency officials blame mainly on the poor economy. However, the goals were set in 2009, after the economic downturn was under way.

    3) The low ridership raises the question of when the taxpayers’ multibillion-dollar investment in Sounder and Link rail might be rewarded by heavy ridership; something political boosters have promised since the mid-1990s.

    4) Sound Transit has met some goals – the only thing they can’t do is get people to ride their trains and buses thet we’re spending billions of dollars on.

    5) Sound Transit loses $6.45 per passenger trip on light rail, while nationally, light rail systems lose an average of $2.36 per passenger trip – 2011 numbers.

    Lots and lots of problems with Seattle Light Rail and Sound Transit. If Arlington opts into Street Car – it will go the same way as the mess in Seattle – all that money could have been used to move the I90/I5 2 lane intersection which is in the middle of downtown Seattle, to a more realistic location – like 50 miles away inland.

  • http://GoodIdea Donald

    A streetcar on Columbia Pike would go a long way towards transforming the pike into something better than it is today. I am not sure Arlington is being bold enough though – a streetcar running down Lee Highway or Arlington Boulevard could transform those tired corridors as well. The sucess of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor shows it can be done.

  • Mike B

    Invest in my neighborhood please.

  • FED

    Las Vegas BRT runs like a city bus downtown and on dedicated transitways in the suburbs. Take a look:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x30ivqQEGao

  • Native

    Photo caption says it is along Columbia Pike, but that is actually Jefferson Street.

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