Fairfax May Be ‘Big Winner’ From Streetcar — The Columbia Pike streetcar may be an economic boon to Fairfax County. Fairfax is planning to use its portion of the future streetcar system to lure office tenants to the Skyline and Baileys Crossroads areas. Already, promise of the streetcar might be helping to sway the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to move to Skyline from Ballston. [Sun Gazette]
Office Absorption Down as Sequester Takes Hold — The D.C. region, particularly Northern Virginia, is shedding office tenants. The region typically “absorbs” about 900,000 square feet of office space per quarter, but posted a negative 100,000 square foot absorption figure between April and June. Tenant downsizing and federal job losses and budget cuts are being blamed for the poor absorption figures. [Globe St]
Brink Unopposed in Upcoming Election — Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D) is running unopposed for reelection in November, after the Libertarian candidate he was set to face dropped out of the race. Del. Patrick Hope, Del. Alfonso Lopez and Del. Rob Krupicka, all Democrats, area facing a Libertarian, an Independent Green and and independent candidate, respectively. So far, no Republican challengers have been announced. [Sun Gazette]
Library Seeking LEGO Artists — Arlington Public Library is seeking LEGO builders ages 18 and under to help design and build LEGO structures for display at a library. [Arlington Public Library]
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
Beauty Pageant in Crystal City — The annual Miss United States beauty pageant is taking place at Synetic Theater in Crystal City today and tomorrow (Saturday). Single women between the ages of 20 and 29 come from 55 states and U.S. territories to compete in the pageant. [Miss United States]
Marymount Launching Baseball Program — Arlington’s Marymount University is launching a baseball program, with a team composed largely of freshmen from Northern Virginia high schools. The team will play at Bishop O’Connell High School’s baseball field. [Washington Post]
County Still Reviewing Streetcar Finance Options — Arlington County officials are still trying to decide on their preferred funding mechanism for the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The streetcar could be built and in operation as early as 2017. [Sun Gazette]
Yelp Details ‘Yuppie’ Concentration in Clarendon — The business review site Yelp has published a map that shows the concentration of certain words in reviews. In the D.C. area, the word “yuppie” has the highest concentration in Clarendon. It also shows up to a lesser degree in Ballston, Courthouse and the Columbia Pike town center area. [Yelp]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
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
Fiscal Year 2014 — which starts on July 1 and ends on June 30, 2014 – will be busy for the county’s procurement office. While residents are still debating the merits of the Crystal City and Columbia Pike streetcar systems, and while county officials regroup after being initially denied federal funding for the Pike streetcar, Arlington is moving forward with the projects by soliciting bids for engineering and construction.
Among the anticipated procurements in FY 2014, according to a presentation given to transportation industry representatives earlier this month:
- Construction of Columbia Pike multimodal project segment from S. Jefferson Street to Four Mile Run
- Program management for the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems
- Engineering services for the Columbia Pike streetcar
- Construction of phase 3 of the Crystal Drive two-way project, from 26th Street to 27th Street
- Construction of 15th Street extension in Crystal City
- Construction of reconfigured Clark/Bell Street in Crystal City
- General contractor for construction of the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway
- Construction of a Crystal City Multimodal Transit Center (“Improved and expanded bus bays at Crystal City Metrorail Station; Facilities for longer distance commuter buses, local shuttles, and kiss-and-ride”)
- Design/build contract for a second elevator at the Pentagon City Metro Station
One longer-range project mentioned during the briefing but not included in the procurement list was a second entrance to the Crystal City Metro station. The entrance would be located near the intersection of Crystal Drive and 18th Street, and would, among other benefits, offer easier access to the Crystal City VRE station.
County procurement and transportation officials told industry reps that they would seek to keep the procurement process as transparent as possible, while avoiding conflicts of interest.
“We aim to be transparent,” said Arlington County Transportation Director Dennis Leach. “We want to [stimulate] competition and we want good bids for these projects.”
In response to a question from the audience, Leach noted that the county still has not settled on which type of streetcar vehicle it will use – a key decision that could impact how the streetcar system is designed and built. He said there was no time frame for making that decision.
Arlington Homeless Population Increases — Despite a decline of 2.4 percent across most of the region, Arlington’s homeless population rose by six percent between 2012 and 2013. The figures were gathered during the annual homeless census on January 30. The county’s new homeless count stands at 479 people, up from 451 the previous year. [Sun Gazette]
Streetcar Cost/Benefit Test — An article criticizing Libby Garvey’s op-ed in the Washington Post contends streetcars do indeed pass the cost/benefit test, contrary to Garvey’s thoughts. The author favors a streetcar to buses based on points such as the streetcar having a greater passenger capacity, faster rate of travel and bringing more development to the area. [Greater Greater Washington]
Raise the Roof Service Project — The Arlington Teen Network Board has teamed up with Rebuilding Together Arlington/Fairfax/Falls Church for a service project called “Raise the Roof.” Tomorrow (April 27), volunteers will begin repairing the Borromeo Housing, Inc. group house, which is a transitional home for teen moms and their children. Volunteers are collecting money to continue with the next phase of the service project, which involves a facelift of the interior and exterior of the home. Those interested in contributing can do so through the project website.
Police Seek Tips in Two Theft Incidents — The Arlington County Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance in finding suspects involved in two separate theft incidents. The first incident involved shoplifting at South Moon Under (2700 Clarendon Blvd) on March 1. Suspect descriptions are available online, along with contact information for reporting tips. The second case involves tracking down persons of interest in the theft of a victim’s wallet. The victim’s credit cards have since been used around the area. Suspect information and contact information for reporting tips for that crime can also be found on the police department website.
Arlington County officials are pressing forward with plans for a Columbia Pike streetcar system, despite the federal government’s initial rejection of the county’s funding request due to projected cost overruns.
Officials explained last night, at a County Board meeting, that the Federal Transit Administration rejected its request for $75 million in grant funding because the total project cost was estimated to exceed the $250 million — the cap for projects to receive funding under the FTA’s Small Starts program.
Though pegged by the county at $245.9 million, a contractor hired by the FTA estimated the project cost to instead be between $255.9 and $402.4 million, including contingencies, and thus ineligible for a Small Starts grant. The contractor said $310.1 million was “a most likely cost.”
County officials said the contractor’s report and a subsequent in-person meeting with senior FTA staff lead them to believe the project is still likely to receive federal funding.
“They made it very clear that their action wasn’t based on the merits of the project,” Arlington County Transportation Director Dennis Leach told the Board. “It was really that technical factor that they felt our cost estimate was likely to be somewhat higher.”
Arlington will actually be eligible to receive more than the initially-requested $75 million in federal funding if it applies under the FTA’s New Starts program. Unlike Small Starts, New Starts doesn’t have a cap on total project cost.
“If the county were to choose to reapply as a New Start, the project could qualify for more federal funding,” said Stephen Del Giudice, Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief. ”We have a high likelihood of success in addressing the goals of the project.”
“What’s clear at this point is that changes to the evaluation criteria will most likely have a positive impact on FTA’s future rating of our project,” echoed Brian Stout, the county’s federal liaison. ”We’ll continue… to work with our partners at FTA to identify federal opportunities for them to support the Columbia Pike streetcar project.”
Even before the report on the FTA’s rationale for its decision, County Board Chair Walter Tejada said the county was not abandoning plans for the streetcar.
“Moving forward with a modern streetcar is our stated policy, and that’s what we’re committed to doing,” Tejada said. “We can repeat it many times, but nothing’s going to change.”
Tejada’s vote of confidence for the project came after Libby Garvey, the lone streetcar critic on the five-member County Board, gave a PowerPoint highlighting problems with other streetcar systems around the country. News reports cited by Garvey include:
- Walking is often faster than riding streetcar in Portland (The Oregonian)
- Portland streetcar fare revenue nearly 50 percent below projections (The Oregonian)
- Tampa streetcars could require city subsidy (Tampa Tribune)
- Cincinnati streetcar facing $26 million cost overrun (Cincinnati Herald)
- Tucson streetcar operating costs 4 times initial estimate (Arizona Daily Star)
“I have not made up the articles, I have not made up the facts,” Garvey said. “These facts are facts. They’re inconvenient, but true.”
Arlington House Rededicated — Arlington House, the family home of Robert E. Lee and an iconic symbol of Arlington County, has been rededicated by the National Park Service following a six year restoration effort. The ceremony was held on Saturday, on the 152nd anniversary of Lee’s decision to lead the rebellion in the Civil War. [Sun Gazette]
County’s Bond Ratings Reaffirmed — Arlington County has had its top Aaa/AAA debt ratings reaffirmed by rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The ratings will allow Arlington to borrow money at a lower interest rate. “The Aaa rating reflects the county’s strong long-term credit characteristics including a sizeable and affluent tax base, stable and carefully-managed financial operations with sound reserves, and moderate debt position with manageable future borrowing needs,” Moody’s wrote of Arlington. [Arlington County]
Garvey: Streetcars Fail Cost/Benefit Analysis — In an op-ed in the Washington Post, County Board member Libby Garvey says streetcars on Columbia Pike “are not a good investment for anyone.” Streetcars would not solve transportation challenges on the Pike, and would instead “siphon resources away from other important needs,” Garvey wrote. [Washington Post]
Arlington to Help Train Vets in IT — Arlington County has accepted a $150,000 state grant that will help train military veterans for high-demand Information Technology (IT) jobs. The grant will go to a joint Arlington/Alexandria job training program, which is expected to serve more than 50 veterans over an 18-month period. [Arlington County]
Reporter Verbally Assaulted, Mooned While Investigating Arlington Arrest — A WJLA reporter was met with hostility while looking into the case of two daycare workers arrested near Weenie Beenie for reckless endangerment of children. The two women are accused of driving seven children in a vehicle without securing them in safety restraints. The reporter discovered notices posted on the daycare’s door informing parents that it had been shut down. A woman who said she was a neighbor took down the notices with the cameras rolling, engaged in a verbal assault on the crew and then mooned the camera. [WJLA]
Trash and Hazardous Material Recycling Event on Saturday — The biannual Arlington Collection and Recycling Event (E-CARE) will take place this Saturday, April 20, at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road) from 8:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Residents are able to bring items such as hazardous materials, metals, bicycles and electronics to be recycled or disposed of. The full list of accepted items is available online.
Man Rescued After Falling onto Metro Tracks — A man fell onto the tracks at the Pentagon City Metro station last week and was rescued by two bystanders. The man reportedly walked right off the train platform while texting on his cell phone as a train was approaching. A bystander in his 70s, along with his daughter, pulled the man to safety before the train arrived. [Washington Post]
Rosslyn ABC Store Closes — The Virginia ABC store at 1731 Wilson Blvd. has closed. A Virginia ABC spokeswoman told ARLnow.com last month that the store would not be renewing its lease, which expires April 30.
Streetcar Critics Keep Watch on Financing — The Arlington County Republican Committee vows to keep watch on county officials to make sure they follow the rules when finalizing the project’s financing package. The group opposes the streetcar plan and contends the County Board will go to any lengths to secure financing in order to avoid a voter referendum on the issue. Last week, the federal government declined the joint funding application from Arlington and Fairfax counties for the project. [Sun Gazette]
The Federal Transit Administration has declined Arlington and Fairfax County’s joint application for funding for the planned Columbia Pike streetcar system.
In a press release (below), both counties say they will continue pursuing federal funding for the streetcar.
Arlington and Fairfax Counties have been informed that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has not included the Columbia Pike Streetcar Project in its Small Starts program for Fiscal Year 2014. The FTA today released its FY 2014 Annual Report on Funding Recommendations.
Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada today reaffirmed the County’s commitment to the Columbia Pike Streetcar Project and noted that the County has not received any official evaluation of the project or explanation for the FTA’s decision. He cautioned against speculating about the reasons for the FTA’s action pending clarification.
“Arlington, in partnership with Fairfax County, is committed to building a modern streetcar line along Columbia Pike as the best long term transit investment,” Tejada said. “We will continue to explore all financing options, including federal financing. While we are disappointed at not being included this year, we believe our application was strong, and will continue to work with FTA for inclusion into the Small Starts/New Starts program.”
“The Pike streetcar will address the community’s needs by providing greater capacity on one of the Commonwealth’s most heavily traveled corridors,” Tejada said. “It will encourage more people to use transit, will reduce congestion, help us meet our affordable housing goals, and will support the sort of development that the community wants.”
Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross reaffirmed Fairfax County’s commitment as well. “The Columbia Pike Streetcar Project is vitally important to the economic revitalization of Columbia Pike and the Skyline/Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County, which has long desired connection to a rail transit network,” Gross said. “Although I am disappointed that our joint application for Small Starts funding was not approved this year, I am confident that the strong community and business support for the project and the long collaborative partnership between Fairfax and Arlington counties will merit federal funding in the future.”
Project work on the Columbia Pike Streetcar continues, including conceptual engineering and environmental efforts to finalize project facilities and secure required environmental approvals.
Streetcar funding to come from variety of sources
Arlington and Fairfax applied to the FTA’s Small Starts program in September 2012. The program offers up to $75 million in funding for projects costing less than $250 million to design and build. The funding plan for the Streetcar relies on a combination of federal, state and local funding, with Arlington’s local funding coming from the tax on commercial properties that is dedicated to transportation. Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell recently signed into law a new transportation funding bill that makes more money available to Northern Virginia for infrastructure investments such as the streetcar.
In the spring of 2006, both the Arlington County Board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors endorsed a streetcar line for Columbia Pike that would stretch nearly five miles from Pentagon City to the Skyline Drive area of Fairfax County. The streetcar would serve a corridor that is in the midst of a dramatic transformation into a more transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly, vibrant Main Street, a vision developed through years of community planning. Arlington’s plan for the streetcar includes an aggressive plan to preserve affordable housing and diversity along the Pike.
Both the Arlington and Fairfax boards reaffirmed their decisions in the summer of 2012, when they chose streetcar as the locally preferred alternative for Columbia Pike and opted to apply for federal funding under the FTA’s New Starts/Small Starts program.
To learn more about the Columbia Pike Streetcar, visit the County website.
Va. Sq. Giant Celebrates Changes – The Virginia Square Giant grocery store (3450 Washington Blvd) is celebrating its “grand reopening” following recent renovations. A representative for Giant says new features include a redesigned produce department with a better fruit and vegetable assortment, a new gourmet cheese case, a new bakery and an expanded natural foods section. Customers at that location will have the opportunity to take part in tastings, raffles and prize giveaways over the next four weekends.
Event Examines Seniors’ Transportation Needs — A Mobility Lab regional symposium held at George Mason University yesterday focused on the transportation needs of residents aged 65 and older. Speakers voiced the need for better coordination of senior transportation programs that would keep seniors mobile in their communities. Suggestions for improvement included better marketing and promotion, using volunteers and issuing performance surveys. [Mobility Lab]
Streetcar Debate Focuses on Types of Riders — At the Arlington Committee of 100 streetcar forum on Wednesday, speakers addressed which riders prefer different modes of transit. Speakers debated whether the Columbia Pike streetcar or a bus rapid transit system would better draw in “choice riders” — those who have access to a car but could be persuaded to take transit under the right circumstances. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Jason OX4
(Updated at 2:20 p.m.) While the planned Columbia Pike streetcar has been making local headlines, Arlington County has been quietly moving forward with a project that’s bringing significant infrastructure improvements to the busy thoroughfare.
Arlington County’s Columbia Pike Multimodal Street Improvements Project seeks to implement “streetscape and related improvements for pedestrians, bicycles, transit, and vehicles along Arlington’s 3.5 mile Columbia Pike corridor.” The improvements include a completely reconstructed roadway, new left-turn lanes, planted medians, additional street trees, enhanced pedestrian crossings and so-called bicycle boulevards.
The $80 million project is currently in progress, and expected to run through 2018. About $72 million of the $80 million price tag coming from the county’s commercial tax-funded Transportation Capital Fund.
The turn lanes in particular are expected to “lessen delays and improve traffic flow,” said Bill Roberts, Transportation Program Manager for Arlington County. Meanwhile, the bike boulevards, which will run parallel to Pike along 9th and 12th Streets, will combine with planned 10-foot-wide shared bike and pedestrian sidewalks to make it easier for cyclists to traverse the Pike away from traffic. But residents might be happiest to learn about the roadway reconstruction.
The project will ultimately result in the reconstruction of the entire stretch of Columbia Pike from the Pentagon to Fairfax County. That should be welcome news for road users, who have been grumbling about the pockmarked state of portions of the Pike.
Currently, road crews are working on the stretch of Columbia Pike between S. Wakefield Street and Four Mile Run Drive. That work is expected to wrap up this fall, according to Roberts.
The stretch of road is in especially bad shape, Roberts said, thanks to runoff from multiple water main breaks, which seeped into the project area, and heavy bus traffic, which has caused depressions in the roadway, particularly around bus stops. Even with plans to reconstruct the roadway, Roberts said crews will be doing some temporary repaving in the westbound lanes in the next 2-3 weeks.
Following that work, the county expects to start road reconstruction between the Fairfax County line and Four Mile Run Drive. That portion of the project is slated to start in the spring of 2014 and end 24 months later, in the spring of 2016.
Next up after that is S. Wakefield Street to S. Oakland Street, and Walter Reed Drive to S. Scott Street. Those projects will happen concurrently between early 2015 and early 2017.
Project work has already been completed between S. Oakland Street and Walter Reed Drive.
The work is necessary, Roberts says, because the underlying roadbed has become uneven due to its age and the patchwork nature of previous roadwork. Some of the existing infrastructure along the Pike dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, while the Pike itself was first built in 1810.
“What we’re going to be doing is installing a consistent sub-base and a thicker layer of asphalt,” Roberts said. “We’re completely reconstructing the roadbed.”
While the road improvements will be the most visible part of the project, much of the funding will actually going to work well below the roadway. Aging and leak-prone 8-inch water and sewer pipes under the road will be replaced by new 12-inch pipes, and existing overhead utilities will be placed underground. The utilities are all being placed in the middle of the roadway, so that water main breaks or other utility work doesn’t disrupt the future streetcar.
The timeline for the final piece of the multimodal project — from Washington Boulevard to S. Joyce Street — is still up in the air. The county is currently in talks with the federal government about a land swap that would allow the county to “realign” Columbia Pike to make a straighter, more direct connection with S. Joyce Street. If all goes well, Roberts says that work could be completed in 2018.
The Multimodal Improvements are a necessary warm-up act for the ultimate construction of the planned Pike streetcar, but the project is being run independently of the streetcar project. County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who lives along the Pike, said that improvements to the Pike are necessary regardless of whether the streetcar gets built.
“We’re going to have big traffic challenges in the next few years on the Pike, streetcar or no,” he told ARLnow.com late last year. “It’s been a good road for a long time but it’s really old now. The street itself has to be upgraded.”
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]
Concealed Carry Permits Spike in Arlington — The number of applications for concealed-carry permits in Arlington has quadrupled in the past 8 years, and continued to spike. Last year the Circuit Court received 1,042 applications from whose who want to carry concealed weapons. This year the office is expecting nearly 1,600. [Sun Gazette]
Whipple Pens Pro-Streetcar Op-Ed — In an op-ed, former state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple compares the heated debate over the planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems to the debate over the construction of Metrorail through Arlington in the 1970s. “A small but vocal faction of our community claimed that the proposed Orange, Blue and Yellow lines were too expensive and risky and argued that we should just use buses instead,” Whipple writes. “After much deliberation, Arlington invested in rail.” [Washington Post]
New Gym for George Mason? — George Mason University’s Arlington campus currently lacks a fitness center for students. A plan to build a new gym, put in place after a student petition in 2011, has not moved forward because it was determined that the project would go over budget. The university is currently exploring options for either constructing a new fitness center or partnering with a nearby office building to use its gym. [Connect2Mason]
DCA Fight Attendants Protest Knife Decision — Flight attendants have been handing out flyers to passengers at Reagan National Airport, encouraging them to sign an online petition against a recent TSA decision that will allow small knives to be carried on to planes. [WAMU]
At a Wednesday night townhall meeting, residents joined the County Board in a sometimes heated discussion about bringing streetcars to Crystal City and Columbia Pike. Two opposing local organizations are also sounding off on the issue.
Following the townhall, John Snyder, president of the pro-streetcar group Arlington Streetcar Now, issued the following statement:
“Arlingtonians strongly support moving forward with the streetcar which neighborhoods and
businesses have been working to bring about for a decade. The streetcar represents a next-generation transit solution that will increase capacity, improve ridership, and spark new investment that will enhance and revitalize our community.
“Arlingtonians acknowledge the foresight of those who supported Metro over the naysayers, and know that this generation has a similar choice to make. Tonight Arlingtonians demonstrated that they know the streetcar is an extraordinary opportunity to support an transportation investment in our future that will pay dividends for South Arlington neighborhoods and the well being of the county as a whole.”
Peter Rousselot, spokesman for Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, issued a statement presenting an opposing viewpoint:
“We continue to be deeply concerned about the unwillingness of the County Board to fairly consider transit options for Columbia Pike, other than the fixed-rail streetcar. There is much evidence that rational and viable alternatives exist.
“Unfortunately, as the County Board has done on other occasions, it used most of the Town Hall merely to restate the same claims in favor of the streetcar proposal without allowing a full discussion of other options. As we have said, there is at least one highly attractive alternative – modern bus rapid transit (BRT) – which:
- Produces virtually the same increase in transit capacity,
- Would have the same positive impact on commercial development,
- Would have far less adverse impact on small business,
- Is far less expensive,
- And thus would preserve more scarce financial resources to support affordable housing and many other priorities.”
(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.