Police Answer Resident Questions About Murder — Arlington County Police held a community meeting in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood last night to answer questions about the murder of Bonnie Black. Police said that Black was stabbed in the chest and neck. Officers have been conducting extra patrols but police say no immediate danger to the community. Meanwhile, it was revealed that police are searching the home of Black’s estranged husband, who so far is not being named as a suspect. [MyFoxDC, WTOP]
Judge Considering Deaf Inmate’s Suit — A federal court judge is considering testimony in the lawsuit against the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office by a deaf inmate who says he was denied access to an American Sign Language interpreter during a jail stay last year. [Associated Press]
TDM For APS Teachers — Arlington County has launched the first transportation demand management (TDM) program in the U.S. for public school faculty and staff. The program is “aimed at reducing the drive-alone rate of the more than 5,000 employees of Arlington Public Schools (APS), one of the top employers in the county.” [Mobility Lab]
No ‘Bells and Whistles’ for Lubber Run — Arlington County is in the early stages of a plan to renovate the Lubber Run Community Center (300 N. Park Drive), but the officials are already tamping down any expectations of gold-plated features. “We’re not going to build everyone’s wish list,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes on Tuesday. A community forum about the renovation project is scheduled for next Wednesday at 6:30 at the community center. [InsideNova]
Arlington Native Named People’s ‘Most Beautiful’ — Actress Sandra Bullock, a 1982 graduate of Washington-Lee High School, has been named People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman of 2015. [Patch]
Photo courtesy @TheBeltWalk
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Arlington County Police will be holding a community meeting in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood Wednesday to provide anxious residents information about the department’s investigation into the murder of 42-year-old Bonnie Delgado Black.
Police confirmed Monday that they’re investigating Black’s death — at her home on 18th Street S. — as a homicide, saying that the 42-year-old single mother of two was stabbed to death. No other new details about the crime or the murder weapon were released.
Investigators were back at the house this morning, processing evidence. There is still no suspect in the case, according to police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck, and Black’s ex-husband, who lives a few blocks away, is “fully cooperating with the police investigation.”
“We’re continuing to remain on scene with a 24/7 security detail,” Sternbeck said, “and officers continue to canvas the neighborhood.”
Black’s children, ages 3 and 5, have been placed in foster care, according to police.
The community meeting will take place at Our Lady of Lourdes Church (830 23rd Street S.) Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. The police district commander, criminal investigations commander and acting police chief Jay Farr are among those expected to discuss the case. There will also be an open question-and-answer session with Chief Farr.
The meeting was arranged “to address the community safety concerns,” said Sternbeck.
“We were receiving a lot of inquiries from residents down there and we thought it would be appropriate to participate in this community discussion,” he said.
Wilson Boulevard west of George Mason Drive will go from a four-lane road to two through lanes with a center turn lane this spring, and it’s a plan many residents who live nearby are happy with.
The plan will result in increased travel times for the stretch of Wilson that will be affected, from N. Manchester to N. Frederick Street. In addition to the lane reduction, the reconfiguration will also add bike lanes on either side of the road, which will serve a dual purpose as a buffer between the sidewalks and motor vehicles.
“Wilson Blvd is unacceptable and we all deserve better,” Chris Healey, the co-chair of the Bluemont Civic Association sidewalk safety task force, told the attendees. “That’s what we’re here to try and accomplish.”
The road restriping will occur in the spring, when that stretch of road is up in Arlington’s repaving schedule. The reconfiguration doesn’t make an impact on the county budget, but it also won’t help the state of the sidewalks, which residents and staff agreed are too narrow and too dangerous.
What will one day become Phase II of the reconfiguration will include sidewalk widening and other improvements, but Arlington Bureau Chief for Transportation and Operations Engineering Larry Marcus told ARLnow.com that those improvements are currently unfunded and have no timeline for construction.
“This isn’t a total solution, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Marcus said. “Phase II is why we’re here, to hear from people and to look over the winter and what needs to improve.”
Arlington Department of Environmental Services engineers predict that travel time will increase on the road, but only between five and 20 seconds between N. Manchester and Edison Streets each way during rush hour. The greatest concern about the change for some residents was turning off onto the cross streets. Staff predicts that those maneuvers will take as much as 35 seconds longer on some cross streets.
One resident who said he lived on N. Manchester Street, which is where the lane reduction will begin, said it will only make his street more dangerous.
“My opinion is you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” he said. “You’re adding a choke point to [Manchester] which is already a cut-through. My biggest concern is already having to worry about my kids because I’ve got cars screaming back and forth between 50 and Wilson. We’re putting higher-density living spaces on Wilson Blvd and we’re trying to increase businesses in Wilson Blvd, and we’re operating on the assumption that none of those people are going to drive, which is ridiculous.
Gillian Burgess, the chair of the county’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, attended the meeting and said she was still concerned about the bike lanes, since they will have no protection from cars, and since buses will be expected to pull into them when they pick up and drop off passengers.
“The entire Wilson Blvd corridor is a huge gap in the current bicycle network,” she said. “We appreciate that that’s being recognized. As we go forward, we appreciate that there will be more bicycling accommodations, but we really need to make sure that they’re safe.”
Ed Fendley, the other co-chair on the sidewalk task force, said after all of the residents were able to talk to staff individually, the reaction was generally positive.
“The report-outs from the tables highlighted that the great majority of the comments received were in the form of positive support and constructive suggestions for improvements,” he told ARLnow.com.
Could another Ferguson happen in Arlington?
Yes it could, admitted Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott, but it’s not likely.
Scott and other local law enforcement and community figures were speaking at a community forum on policing last week at Wakefield High School when he was asked by WJLA’s Jeff Goldberg whether a police shooting — like the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — could happen and spark unrest here. Yes, he said candidly, but Arlington County Police has been doing its best to ensure it does not.
For one, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, Arlington officers are well-trained in the proper use of force.
“The level of professionalism, training… and the degree to which Arlington police exercise restraint in terms of the use of force,” make a controversial police shooting very unlikely, she said.
However unlikely, though, Scott said the department was prepared for a Ferguson-like shooting, in which the suspect turns out to be unarmed and conflicting witness statements are given. ACPD would stay in close contact with the local community in the wake of the shooting, would release information in a timely manner and would thoroughly investigate the shooting, he said.
“Part of my charge as the Chief of Police and working with members in the community, is to assure them that we’re going to do a comprehensive, objective and fair investigation,”said Scott. “We’re going to put the officer on restricted duty. [He or she] is going to be compelled to give us a statement. There are going to be two investigations, a criminal investigation and an administrative investigation.”
Scott said the Ferguson police department seemed to be “trying to hold something back” after the shooting. “I think that those kind of things fueled the mistrust.”
Despite the police department’s efforts to build trust with minority communities — like Nauck, Arlington’s oldest African American neighborhood — speakers at the forum expressed concern about policing in the community. Some accused specific officers of being too aggressive, while others said that officers don’t spend enough time trying to be a part of the community.
“We should not be prisoners in our own house. Were were born and raised here,” said one Nauck resident, who said she was concerned about police “harassing” her sons. “You don’t go to my church. You only come out what, during Community Day? How are we supposed to trust you?”
“The way they speak to us is unacceptable,” said another woman. “The way they treat us in Nauck is not right.”
One young woman said she gets pulled over by ACPD at least once a week because she’s mistaken for her boyfriend, the co-signer on the car, whose drivers license is suspended. Another speaker said Nauck residents get stopped for riding bikes without helmets.
“Yet you put bikes without helmets in here,” he said, referring to Capital Bikeshare stations.
After the forum, Chief Scott said it’s clear that ACPD has more work to do.
“I thought I had a pretty good pulse on some of the issues that are out there in the community,” he told ARLnow.com. “I heard some things tonight that really have made me pause and think we have work to do in some of these communities in terms of trust in the police department.”
BU-GATA, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants rights and Latino issues, issued a statement during ACPD’s community outreach meeting last night asking the ACPD to step up its hiring practices so its department reflects the demographics of the community it serves.
“[The] lack of Latino, Spanish-speaking police officers is a major problem,” the group’s statement says. “In Arlington where 15.3 percent of the population is Latino, only 6-8 percent of the police force is Latino.”
The group charged that the lack of a “Latino, go-to liaison within the police department” and the lack of professional interpreters at community meetings have helped foster a “lack of trust between police officers and community members.”
“There continues to be great concern in the Latino community about rising numbers of Latinos being stopped and arrested by Arlington County police,” BU-GATA states. The ACPD only compiles demographic statistics based on “white” or “black” arrests, with Latinos largely grouped into the white demographic, an issue BU-GATA says should be rectified for a broader analysis of why Latinos are arrested at a higher rate than other demographics.
BU-GATA analyzed arrest data from 2011, it said, and found that Latinos made up for 23 percent of all those arrested in Arlington, based on “Spanish last names.” Many of the arrests were for one of three crimes: drunk driving, driving without a license and drinking in public.
Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott responded to the call for hiring more Latino officers with an acknowledgment that the ACPD can do a better job.
“Our numbers of Latino officers may not be exactly where we want to be, but more and more we’re recruiting officers who are bilingual, so we’re trying to address some of those issues,” Scott said. “We do our best to have a police department that reflects the community that we serve.”
The ACPD offers incentives for bilingual officers, but BU-GATA said it does not do enough outreach to find bilingual candidates. The police department also has a standard of two years of college for its officers, which it recently has decided to waive for some with military or prior law enforcement experience.
BU-GATA said Arlington could create a “basic patrol” position, which other jurisdictions have, in an effort to hire more Latino officers who don’t qualify for the education requirements. After being hired, the “basic patrol” officers could then be reimbursed for tuition costs, the group proposed.
Scott said that although the numbers don’t fully match up demographically, he’s pleased with the department’s recruitment and diversity efforts. He said federal and local law enforcement agencies in the D.C. area are all competing to recruit Latino officers.
“Our numbers are pretty good in terms of the demographics of Arlington and the demographics of our police department,” he said. “We do quite a bit in terms of targeted recruiting for more African American officers, Latino officers, Asian Pacific officers. In fact the county manager gave an award to our recruitment staff for meeting our goals.”
The Arlington County Police Department wants to build its relationship with the community in light of the national unrest surrounding the events in Ferguson, Mo., this summer.
To help strengthen the community’s trust in the ACPD, the department is hosting a forum this Wednesday at the Wakefield High School auditorium (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
“With recent national media coverage of law enforcement and community relationships, the Arlington County Police Department feels it is imperative to continue to build relationships through open dialogue,” ACPD said in a press release. “The Arlington County Chief of Police, along with Commonwealth Attorney, County Sheriff and other distinguished panel members, will conduct a community forum focusing on the community’s trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.”
Police Chief Doug Scott, Sheriff Beth Arthur, Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos, NAACP Arlington President Elmer Lowe, community activist Andres Tobar, who is the director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, and ARLnow.com founder and editor Scott Brodbeck.
WJLA’s Jeff Goldberg will moderate the panel, which will hold a discussion with topics including use of force, community policing and the use of police body cameras, according to the police department. After the discussion, the panelists will answer audience questions.
The event is free and open to the public. ACPD will be live-tweeting the event at its Twitter account for those who can’t attend.
Those who live in and around Crystal City questioned the noise and safety impacts of the planned Crystal City streetcar at a public forum last night (Wednesday), but many in attendance seemed generally pleased with the county’s presentation.
County officials gave a presentation explaining the current vision for the streetcar now that the planning process is underway. The six-stop transit system will connect with the Columbia Pike streetcar in Pentagon City to the north, and will go as far south as Four Mile Run, running primarily along Crystal Drive.
One change to the design since the last community forum on the streetcar earlier this year is moving the southbound streetcar alignment directly adjacent to Jefferson Davis Highway, and off Clark and Bell Streets, as had been previously planned. The northbound and southbound tracks will both be on Crystal Drive from S. Glebe Road to 18th Street before diverging.
About two dozen residents were in attendance, most of whom asked questions of Senior Transportation Planner Matthew Huston, who gave the presentation. Huston said the impacts to environmental and cultural resources in the surrounding area were close to nonexistent, and said the noise generated is consistent with a busy urban, commercial area like Crystal City. Some attendees seemed unconvinced, however.
“My understanding of the Crystal City Sector Plan is a better balance between residence and commercial,” said one woman in the audience. “You’re putting a streetcar in an area that’s largely residential. I think you need to consider treating the residents not as office buildings.”
Many of Huston’s answers were simple acknowledgments that residents’ concerns would be addressed in the ongoing environmental study, which will continue until next spring.
“We consider residential buildings sensitive users,” Huston said. “We specifically look at the impact to sensitive users in the environmental study.”
Other residents questioned the alignment — one wondered why it the streetcar tracks don’t run further along Jefferson Davis Highway, which he said would make it more accessible to the residents of Aurora Highlands to the west and would reduce what he sees as a potential safety hazard at the intersection of Crystal Drive in 12th Street.
Still, opposition to the streetcar was relatively subdued, especially compared to some of the heated public dialogue over the Columbia Pike streetcars system.
“I’m pleased that they’re looking at all the right issues and asking the right questions,” said Crystal City resident Gerry Fuller after the forum. “There’s a lot of things they can’t do much about, like the width of the street… I’m in favor of any proposal to get people out of their cars. I think it’s the direction they have to go.”
Huston said “the assumption” is the Crystal City streetcar will connect with the Columbia Pike streetcar once both systems are complete, and that travelers will be able to ride from the Skyline section of Fairfax County to Four Mile Run with no transfer. Huston said the streetcar would be funded with a mix of state and local funds.
The Arlington County Board is considering ways to update the Rosslyn Sector Plan, which determines the county’s policy in future development to the neighborhood. The Realize Rosslyn Community Workshop will run Saturday, Oct. 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the Artisphere Ballroom (1101 Wilson Blvd).
The formal presentation will begin at 9:00 a.m. with breakfast and lunch served. Those interested in attending can register online. There will also be an open house from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Rosslyn Business Improvement District office at 1911 N. Fort Myer Drive, LL-10.
From the county’s press release:
Arlington County is asking the public to weigh in on planning concepts that will transform Rosslyn’s future built environment, public spaces and transportation connections at a workshop on October 5.
“We want Arlingtonians to get involved in reinventing Rosslyn,” said Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “This is an exciting opportunity to help us create a Rosslyn that is more vibrant and walkable, that has great public spaces and a better mix of homes and offices.”
Participants will be able to engage with project team members and neighbors on the emerging alternatives for the Rosslyn Sector Plan, and to review preliminary proposals and draft alternatives. The County is looking for guidance on:
- Key decisions to translate proposed design ideas into an action plan
- Bold and compelling options for the future of Rosslyn, such as:
- Potential shape of the skyline and preservation of key view corridors
- Possibilities for a new 18th Street corridor through Rosslyn’s core
- Transformation of Fort Myer Drive and Lynn Street
- New destinations for outdoor events, including a re-imagined Gateway Park and an Esplanade that will connect Rosslyn to the Potomac River
Safeway Seeks New Developer in Bluemont — Safeway is looking for a new developer to work with for the redevelopment of its Bluemont store at 5101 Wilson Blvd. Developer Mark Silverwood pulled out of a partnership to build a new Safeway store topped by 160 apartments after Bluemont residents rejected it, saying the proposed building was too tall and would generate too much traffic. [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington’s Recycling Rate Reaches New High — The recycling rate in Arlington hit a new all-time high in 2012. The county’s recycling rate was 51.1 percent in 2012, according to the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality. [Sun Gazette]
Wakefield Seniors Names Scholarship Semifinalists — Three Wakefield High School seniors have been named National Achievement Scholarship semifinalists. The scholarship program recognizes academic excellence among African American students. [Arlington Public Schools]
Affordable Housing Forum Tonight — Arlington County is holding a public forum on the topic of affordable housing tonight. Arlington residents are encouraged to attend and weigh in on the county’s affordable housing goals. The event is being held at the Navy League Building auditorium (2300 Wilson Blvd) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. [Arlington County]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
A noted streetcar critic will address a meeting of the Northern Virginia Tea Party on Tuesday.
The event is scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Westover Branch Library (1644 N. McKinley Road). Randal O’Toole, a transportation expert at the libertarian CATO Institute, will “speak about current transportation policy issues, including the Columbia Pike streetcar.”
O’Toole wrote the book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities in 2001, and published a policy analysis entitled “The Great Streetcar Conspiracy” last year. The analysis says municipal streetcar systems are being encouraged by the federal government and by “engineering firms that stand to earn millions of dollars planning, designing, and building streetcar lines.”
“Streetcars are the latest urban planning fad, stimulated partly by the Obama administration’s preference for funding transportation projects that promote ‘livability’ (meaning living without automobiles) rather than mobility or cost-effective transportation,” O’Toole wrote.
“Based on 19th-century technology, the streetcar has no place in American cities today except when it functions as part of a completely self-supporting tourist line. Instead of subsidizing streetcars, cities should concentrate on basic — and modern — services such as fixing streets, coordinating traffic signals, and improving roadway safety.”
(Supporters argue that a modern streetcar system is a clean and efficient transportation solution that reduces traffic congestion and promotes economic development.)
Tuesday’s event is free and open to the public. “Extensive free parking in the evening is available at the rear of the adjacent elementary school,” according to the event invitation.
Photo via CATO Institute
Entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Out Broken Immigration System,” the Moran-organized forum attracted several dozen attendees to Kenmore Middle School’s auditorium. The congressman and the panelists told the audience that immigration reform would energize the economy, bring in additional tax revenue, and enable immigrants to live a more productive and fulfilling life.
In his opening remarks, Moran said bipartisan immigration legislation that’s currently being crafted in the Senate has a better shot at becoming law than any other recent attempt at immigration reform.
“The possibility for reform today may be better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Now is the best time in recent memory for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed… in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything of consequence.”
Moran said immigration reform is particularly important in Northern Virginia, where 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. (Of that foreign-born population, 38 percent of come from Latin America, 36 percent from Asia, 16 percent from Africa and 10 from Europe, according to statistics cited by Moran.)
Panelists made moral and economic arguments for immigration reform.
Patrick Oakford, who researches immigration issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, said that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could boost the economy by $832 billion over 10 years while raising the wages paid to immigrants.
Arlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said immigration reform would help cash-strapped local governments. It would also help police departments, he said, by facilitating better cooperation with an immigrant community that’s currently fearful of law enforcement.
“The future of our nation is brighter by providing a path for citizenship,” Tejada said. “We really need to get behind and support our leaders in Congress.”
Other panelists tried to shoot down some of the arguments against immigration reform.
Kristian Ramos of the New Policy Institute, pro-immigration think tank, said immigration reform won’t open the floodgates to Mexican immigrants. He said that Mexico’s growing economy has helped to significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States by providing more jobs and opportunities in Mexico. He also pointed out that that crime is down near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Two months after holding a raucous forum on gun violence, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is planning a public forum on another hot-button topic.
On Tuesday, May 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road), Moran will host a forum entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Our Broken Immigration System.”
Just as the gun violence forum featured panelists that largely shared Moran’s gun control views, the immigration forum will feature panelists who favor liberal immigration policies: County Board Chair Walter Tejada, plus representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“The panel discussion will outline systemic problems in our current immigration system and layout the comprehensive reform plans that are currently under consideration in Congress,” said a press release for the event.
“There are an estimated 10 – 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America, the majority having settled here more than a decade ago,” the press release said. “Reforming the broken immigration system to resolve the status for these individuals has the potential to boost the entire U.S. economy, adding over $800 billion to the national GDP over the next decade and creating over 100,000 more jobs per year.”
Streetcar Forum Tonight — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a forum tonight entitled “Streetcar for Columbia Pike: Are the Benefits Worth the Costs?” The forum will be moderated by Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey and the scheduled speakers are Arlington Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Decamp (speaking in favor of the streetcar) and ARLnow.com columnist Peter Rousselot (speaking against the streetcar). The event will take place at 8:00 p.m. at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road). [Arlington Committee of 100]
Pricey Streetcar FOIA Request — Local fiscal watchdog Tim Wise is decrying the price tag attached to a Freedom of Information Act request he made regarding the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The county says Wise’s wide-ranging request will cost $2,858 to process. More than 80 percent of that cost would go to AECOM, a consultant working on the county’s transit program. [Sun Gazette]
Record Temperature Possible Today — The official high temperature at Reagan National Airport might be tied or even broken today. The high temperature at DCA for today, April 10, is 89 degrees, set in 1922. [Capital Weather Gang]
Mary Marshall Scholarship Applications — The Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women is now accepting applications for the 2013 Mary Marshall Memorial Scholarships. The $1,500-2,000 scholarships are intended for Arlington high school graduates who intend to attend Northern Virginia Community College and pursue careers in public service. [Arlington County]
Fisette will moderate and George Mason University’s Arlington campus will host “a special public forum to discuss the environmental and economic implications of single-use plastic water bottles,” from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15. The forum, entitled “Say NO to Bottled H2O,” will be held at GMU’s Founders Hall Auditorium (3351 Fairfax Drive).
In addition to a panel discussion with environmental and water experts, the event will feature a screening of the documentary “Bag It,” which critically explores the use of single-use disposable bags. The forum is being co-sponsored by GMU, Arlington County, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Arlington Public Schools, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Marymount University and the George Mason Environmental Law Society.
The forum is also the kick-off for a new grassroots organization called “Tap in Arlington,” which asks residents to “choose to drink tap water instead of purchasing single use plastic water bottles.”
The organization says 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce billions of single-use plastic water bottles annually, and less than 30 percent of those bottles are recycled. Bottled water is 2-4 times the price of gasoline, according to statistics cited by Tap in Arlington.
Fisette said the effort reflects the public commitment he made on New Years Day to bring attention to the use of bottled water and its environmental impacts.
“I raised the issue on January 1, stating that I would begin a ‘personal crusade’ to reduce the use of plastic water bottles,” Fisette said. “Well, the crusade is about to begin.”
(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Four members of the Arlington County Board, along with county staff, made their best cases for streetcars in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike Wednesday night, to a largely skeptical audience that peppered them with questions about why the streetcar would be superior to buses.
The streetcar townhall meeting at Kenmore Middle School attracted a near-capacity crowd of up to 500 people, according to one county staff estimate. Based on the relative volume of applause at various points, the crowd seemed to be almost 2:1 against the streetcar.
The Board, like the audience, was divided. On one side was Chris Zimmerman, Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, and Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar “encourages people to get out of their cars, and encourages developers to invest,” while also increasing ridership capacity.
“Streetcars are at the center of the vision for the Route 1 and Columbia Pike corridors,” Tejada said. “Buses alone cannot provide the transit capacity and capability that we need to transform these areas. By themselves, buses cannot serve the projected ridership.”
Sitting at the end of the County Board table on stage was Libby Garvey, who garnered applause as she led the charge against the streetcar and in favor of an enhanced bus system. Garvey said she was concerned about the streetcar’s price tag ($250 million for the Columbia Pike line alone) and about disruptions to small business during construction.
“I believe Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will get as much development as a streetcar, maybe even more,” Garvey said. “You can get the same benefit for a lot less money, which means that there’s a lot of money left over to actually help small businesses. My biggest concern is [the construction process]… no matter what we do, people will not be able to get to those small businesses, and they can’t survive.”
Those points were countered by county staff, who that said studies have shown that fixed rail attracts more investment, that BRT without dedicated lanes (like it would be on the Pike) does not attract development, and that the rail construction process will take place in small sections that will only take about a month to complete. Staff also said that a survey of Pike residents indicates that nearly 20 percent of respondents would ride a streetcar but not a bus.
Garvey was skeptical, calling into question some of the studies done that supported the streetcar option over BRT.
“The statistics that are cited, it’s really fact of fiction,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest round of applause of the evening came during the nearly 90 minute question and answer session, when a resident asked about having a referendum on the streetcar.
“If this is such a good idea, why don’t you allow the county to vote on it?” one man asked. Wild applause, and a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!” ensued.