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Peter’s Take: Support Sensible Transit

by ARLnow.com January 22, 2013 at 2:30 pm 1,239 66 Comments

Modern BRT bus (via sensibletransit.org)Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column published on Tuesdays. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Last week, ARLnow reported on the formation of a new citizens’ advocacy group: Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST).

I am an AST supporter. You can check AST out here. I urge you to sign up if you support AST’s mission.

AST’s mission is to convince the Arlington County Board to do something it has not yet done:

  • hire truly independent experts to do a cost-benefit analysis of the Columbia Pike (CP) streetcar compared to a modern bus rapid transit system (BRT) and other alternatives,
  • share the results with the community, and then
  • have a community conversation about whether the CP streetcar really is the best transit choice in these challenging economic times.

Several streetcar supporters posted comments to last week’s ARLnow story saying the streetcar has been studied for years, and it’s time to move on. However, the vital studies AST recommends have never been performed. Because these studies have never been performed and shared with the community, the “Arlington Way” has not been followed appropriately. Moreover, the CP streetcar’s price tag has soared during these years, as ARLnow has documented .

AST supporters have identified quite a few misunderstandings and misconceptions about both the CP streetcar and alternative BRT systems. Several of the comments posted to last week’s ARLnow story reflected misunderstandings and misconceptions like these:

  • You can only have a BRT service if you have a dedicated lane for it
  • White collar professionals will ride streetcars but not BRT
  • Given projected density on the Pike, only streetcars will be able to handle the anticipated increase in ridership
  • Streetcars, but not BRT, will attract needed economic development to the Pike
  • BRT service on the Pike really wouldn’t be any different from current bus service

Every one of the above statements is incorrect. To learn why, check out the Get the Facts, Resources, and FAQ sections of the AST website.

BOTTOM LINE: if you think that all or some of the above statements are correct, while AST does not, that’s one more reason why the Arlington County Board needs to hire independent experts to study and report back on all these issues, and share their conclusions with the Arlington community.

Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

  • drax

    You want to do studies to answer questions, but then you tell us the answers. Why should you get to do that if you don’t want the county to?

  • Douglas Parker

    Alright Gentlemen, lets have a clean fight. Nothing below the belt and nothing in the face. We’ve all got work tomorrow.

    Annnnnnnnnnnnnd go!

  • John

    Didn’t the county spend 20 plus years weighing the pros and cons of various types of transit for the Pike? Let’s not do it all over again.

    With Pike Ride and the new Superstops we will already have BRT-lite. The Gold Standard of BRT will never work on the Pike.

    • Mitch Opalski

      Not true your comment about BRT-Lite. We can have BRT technology on the Pike without a dedicated lane just like we can have the streetcar

      • South Awwlington

        No, you can’t. The entire point of BRT is that it operates in its own dedicated lane. That is what allows BRT to achieve time savings over other modes of transit.

        You cannot have true BRT without a dedicated and reserved travel lane. Mixed travel lanes cut against the very definition of BRT.

        • SomeGuy

          Are you aware that the streetcars also won’t have dedicated lanes?

          • South Awwlington

            I am absolutely aware of that fact. Are the BRT supporters aware that it too will not have a dedicated lane? They ignore that fact in their images and illustrations.

        • MOpalski

          So you are saying we can’t have off-board fare collection, level boarding, longer busses, more doors, modern busses that look just like streetcars on the Pike without putting it in a dedicated lane? Of course it won’t be true BRT because it won’t be rapid. But neither will the streetcar be rapid. So why don’t we save the money and employ all the features and technology except the rails and overhead wires (by using busses).

          • South Awwlington

            A.) No one is saying anything about the “need” for the transit option to “look like” a streetcar in order to effective and successful. This statement is just gross and shows that you don’t get it and haven’t even tried to understand the side of the pro-streetcar group.

            B.) Having “off-board fare collection, level boarding, longer busses, more doors, modern busses” does NOT equal BRT, it equals enhanced bus service. Call it what it is and make an attempt to understand the concept if you are going to have an opinion of it. (This statement is not aimed at anyone in particular but rather the whole anti-streetcar group.)

      • John

        The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy publishes the BRT scorecard, as based on various standards. There are no Gold Standard BRTs in the US. None come even close. Pike Ride and the Super Stops already exceed what other US cities have or are planning for their BRT systems.

        • Think again

          Ever heard of Pittsburgh? Lots of BRT on competely separated BRT-only roads.

    • Mitch Opalski

      It doesn’t matter how long we have been weighing pros and cons, it is now time to look at the cost/benefit of spending $250+ million on a 5 mile transportation system. That doesn’t sound like good value to me regardless of teh benefits!

      • drax

        “That doesn’t sound like good value to me regardless of teh benefits!”

        You do know what “cost-benefit” means, right?

      • ArlRes

        Its called a long term investment in something that will be used for generations. I’m glad that billions were spent to create the metro system. Metro wouldn’t have been built and streetcars won’t if everyone is just concerned with short term thinking myopic thinking.

  • drax

    The county has already done studies. Are you simply complaining that they aren’t independent and therefore can’t be trusted, Peter?

    • DCBuff

      I’m sure since the Co. Atty. has said there is no conflict of interest, there is no conflict of interest. Why should we have an independent study to discuss?

      • drax

        I’m asking Peter.

        This has nothing to do with the county attorney or Zimmerman’s thing.

      • Heflin

        WHY?? Simply because in the end it will be the tax paying Arlington County citizens who will bear the brunt of this. Estimated to cost $250,000,000?? Who is kidding whom?
        It will be far more than that.
        Citizens of Arlington County have every right to be involved in the potential fiasco. The county board should not have the right to spend millions of tax payer dollars without the citizens having a big part in this?? What lies ahead? In the middle of the night the illustrous Zimmerman will issue an executive order??? lol lol

  • Trolly Trolling

    According to the AST web site:

    “We believe a BRT has advantages over a streetcar”

    How can one “group” question the need for studies when it’s already formed an opinion with out any studies?

    This group is just the opposite version of the Arlingtonian Property Developers for Sensible Trolly Transit. (APDST) which will probably exist next week when someone makes a website for it.

  • South Awwlington

    I take issue with the “illustration” you are using to allude to what BRT on the Pike will look like. It is a false representation and you know that if you are as well versed in transportation engineering and planning as you are rumored to be.

    You know full well that there is NOT room for a dedicated right of way for anything on the Pike, Light Rail or BRT.

    Furthermore, as a County taxpayer, I do not see the advantage of continuing to study this system into oblivion.

    • CW

      I think it’s really funny and ironic that they chose this picture since he puts forth a clear effort in the article to mention that BRT does NOT require its own lane. Whoops!!!

  • Piker

    I think most people, regardless of political affiliation, would agree that, before we drop the kind of money the Board is talking about dropping on the streetcar, it would be prudent to prepare a detailed cost benefit analysis comparing the proposal with all other options.

  • 22204-er

    This is crazy. The cost hasn’t soared. The difference between the two transit options is ~ $70 million. The cost has increased to include more rail line, needed cost buffers for overruns, as required by the Feds.

    BRT is not possible on the pike. Who wants one lane for bus and one for cars. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

    • Mary-Austin

      The cost of the streetcar has already gone up by 10’s of millions of dollars and the project hasn’t even begun yet. That’s whats crazy.

      • ArlRes

        And you think that won’t happen with BRT?? Cost is the reason that every attempt at BRT in this country has failed. Fact: Investments in long term infrastructure costs money. Fact: A lack of long term investment in infrastructure will cost even more money. I suppose you would have opposed Metro too.

        • BBMS

          Every attempt at BRT in the US has failed? Really?

        • Mary-Austin

          I think there is a far greater potential for cost overruns with a streetcar line.

          And no I would not have opposed Metro because it actually makes sense. You can travel across the region on one system as opposed to riding a trolley up and down a few miles of Columbia Pike.

          • FrenchyB

            I can travel across the region on one system? Great, where’s the Metro station for Bailey’s Crossroads?

          • PikeHoo

            Mary, quite contrary! Your region doesn’t include S. Arlington.

          • Heflin

            I agree 100% Mary. If the subway had been built when Metro began, it would have solved everything. Money is found for everything else, why wasn/t it found then?
            We can throw away money on so-called Artisphere and all kinds of studies Arlington County pays consultants to conduct, when we have more than 3,000 employees??
            We have all kinds of “experts” employed by the county, so why call in a consultant when it comes to matter of the School Board, for instance??

      • Dezlboy

        @ Mary-Austin. Most public work projects costs increase, I don’t think that is a significant reason to not want a streetcar. A BRT or other alternatives increase also.

        ArCo is looking into a public-private partnership that may take mitigate some concerns via cost.

  • columbia might

    The AST website is full of misleading statements and light on data to support their claims. It’s an unabashed BRT sales pitch, definitely not a fair analysis of what’s best or sensible for Arlington. I agree, enough with the studies, a waste of time and money when a decision has already been made.

  • Zimmerman

    Me like trolley

  • Douglas Park

    Go Streetcar!!

  • Piker

    I love the basic premise of the pro-streetcar folks: We have been talking about this for ten years, so even though in those ten years we have never actually analyzed the costs of potential alternatives, we MUST ACT NOW!

    • Chris Slatt

      No, we’ve analyzed the cost of alternatives twice, talked it to death twice and the board has voted twice. I don’t see how doing it’s worth spending the money to study it a third time.

    • Heflin

      Yeah, Zimmerman, you like trolley because you think it will be named after you. lol lol
      Zillerman’s Folly Trolley, something like that.

  • KalashniKEV

    I still don’t trust this Rousselot, but he makes a lot of sense here.

    …except when he mentions “The Arlington Way”, which is exactly the way this thing has been going.

  • Max

    BRT doesn’t look like that. BRT is impossible on Columbia pike unless you want to reduce it to two lanes.

    • CW

      Could someone please explain the difference between that “thing” in the picture that is apparently the salvation of mankind – and a streetcar? I am guessing the differences will be semantic at best, but go ahead, try me, I’m a technical guy and am curious as to what you can throw out there.

  • ColFor

    I will ask it again- lets see the neighborhoods that the AST “supporters” live in…what % live about Rt. 50. This is all such a joke at this point. The County has spent many years and had numerous studies done…the trolley is the answer and ridership is absolutely key. Get on with it! The Pike deserves the same revitalization the rest of the county has had and one they have had a hand in supporting with very little support in return.

    • CW

      From this article and their website it is clear they are trying a bait and switch to save their personal dollars because they have nothing to personally gain. The picture here is the most misleading part. What that picture shows is 100% a streetcar – in fact, it would cost MORE than a streetcar – because it has its own infrastructure built into the median, something that isn’t even possible on Columbia Pike. So these people are trying to pitch something that isn’t even feasible, claim it’s an order of magnitude better than what’s already been studied for a decade – and at the end of the day, keep their 22201/3/7 money in their pockets.

    • Mopalski

      Spending $250 million for 11 street cars to ride in traffic with cars and mostly busses is what really is a joke. Do we really think that people who will not ride the bus will get on a streetcar that is stuck in the same traffic and moving at the same speed as the bus? I think that assumption is false.

  • JohnB

    Peter, I’d like to respond to your assertion that the following statements are incorrect:

    1 – You can only have a BRT service if you have a dedicated lane for it.

    Proponents of the “sensible” alternative keep pitching BRT as a viable option. What you fail to point out is that based on the rating system of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the “No Build” alternative studied under the Analysis of Alternatives achieves a 35 out of 100 and the TSM-2 alternative achieves a 48 out of 100. In order to achieve a “Bronze” level BRT system you need to get at least 50 out of 100. So while you don’t technically need a dedicated lane to have a BRT system, the alternative that is put forward by you and pro-BRT folks is a misleading one because what you are suggesting is spending 100 million dollars and not ending up with BRT. That is penny wise and pound foolish.

    2 – White collar professionals will ride streetcars but not BRT.

    First, I’ve already shown that your proposal is not BRT so this should read, “White collar professionals will ride streetcars but not enhanced bus service.” Second, it is well documented that there is a mode preference among choice riders for streetcars over buses. People who have the financial means to choose a single occupancy vehicle for a trip are more likely to make that trip in a streetcar than in a bus.

    3 – Given projected density on the Pike, only streetcars will be able to handle the anticipated increase in ridership.

    No one has made this argument. People have correctly argued that the increased capacity from Streetcars will handle increasing population much further into the future than the TSM-2 and therefore will not have to be revisited in 10 years.

    4 – Streetcars, but not BRT, will attract needed economic development to the Pike

    Again, you are pushing an alternative that is not a BRT system. We have already enhanced the bus service along the Pike in 2003 with the Pike Ride service while the analysis of alternatives that was to choose a long term solution was conducted. At the same time, the Columbia Pike Form Based Code was adopted to encourage redevelopment of the pike. Between 2003 and 2005 while the Form Based Code and enhanced bus service were in place approximately zero development projects broke ground. This during a MASSIVE real estate bubble and over development of EVERYTHING. Once the streetcar was selected as a locally preferred alternative, the Halstead, Sienna Park, and Penrose Square projects were initiated. Furthermore, the examples you give of Cleavland and Boston have significant differences in the corridors and the systems that were implemented and are not comparable to Columbia Pike or the TSM-2 alternative.
    5 – BRT service on the Pike really wouldn’t be any different from current bus service.
    I actually agree that this statement is false. A BRT system would be significantly different from current bus service but as I mentioned previously, the TSM-2 alternative is not BRT.

    Finally, your cost comparisons are phony. You quote the AA/EA submitted to the FTA for the grant application but you keep pushing for BRT which the TSM-2 alternative is not. If you and your friends are arguing for something other than TSM-2 then using the cost estimate for the TSM-2 is disingenuous. Furthermore, the cost estimates in the AA/EA are not comparable. It understates the capital and operating costs of TSM-2 relative to the streetcar alternative for two obvious reasons. First, articulated buses last less than half as long as the streetcar vehicles but the AA/EA only speaks in terms of purchase cost, not annual depreciation cost. Second, the capital cost of the streetcar alternative includes reconstruction of the roadway with reinforced concrete which will last MUCH longer than the current asphalt roadway but it gets no credit for the reduced maintenance costs to the general fund. Conversely, the TSM-2 alternative will run MUCH heavier buses along the existing asphalt roadway but incurs no cost in the AA/EA for the increased maintenance costs to the general fund.

    Bottom Line: The issue has been studied, the public has been involved, and the choice is clear to anyone who is a rational observer. I’m looking forward to hopping on.

  • Pike Resident

    good lord, haven’t you people beaten this horse enough on the local email listservs? I am happy to see ARLNow giving this some airplay. But please bring up new points-counterpoints and stop rehashing the past 4+ years of neighborhood arguments.

  • Jack

    Arlington would be nicer with escalators on all the hilly sidewalks BUT we have surprisingly few tax-paying households already paying for Artisphere, ART, the pending aquatic center, and countless other vanity projects of the Board. How much of your income do you want the County Board “investing” for you?

    • PikeHoo

      Please quote your source for the “surprisingly few tax-paying households.” I want to see if I’m as surprised as you are.

  • SinSA

    I’m really looking forward to this streetcar.
    I am so over this bus situation…bring on the streetcar! Bring on the new businesses! (Hell, bring on my higher property taxes, happily)

    • Streetcar rules

      (opens real estate assessment- really) Nope. Assessment is exactly the same as last year (in 22201) I’m delighted that the county is doing this- in a few years those Pike neighborhoods will be like the Orange line corridor- vibrant and desirable. Flame on haters.

      Your head is full of flipping rocks if you think that a bus is going to have the same impact as a streetcar. It ain’t all about transportation. (12 years in DC, never been on a bus- would absolutely ride the ‘car)

      • SachaKobatchnik

        I’m curious, Streetcar rules, Why won’t you ride in a bus?

      • Heflin

        Yeah, right, “Streetcar rules,” my assessment on a condo just increased by $5,000.

  • Les Bergen

    I would have been completely open to Peter Rousselot’s push for an economic and transportation review of the proposed light rail system BEFORE the County Board vote in 2012.

    However, this campaign to defeat the light rail system is too late. The analysis this debate is based on was made public AFTER County Board policy votes to construct the system around 2006-07, as reconfirmed in 2012 after changes in the economics and scope.

    Peter R. has been a wonderful civic leader and who had a professional career in transportation issues. While a very different personality with different professional experience, those two traits also pertain to Chris Zimmerman. So we’re seeing a difference of opinion led by two men with significant pertinent professional and Arlington civic backgrounds.

    A 2007 County Board candidate’s focus was opposition to the then-recent recommendation of the Transportation Commission to construct the light rail system. That candidate came in a distant 4th out of four candidates, following several public debates. It is incorrect to assert the issue was not publicly vetted at the Transportation Commission, County Board, and political campaign levels in the mid-2000s.

    Since 2007, the US 1/Jeff Davis Hwy/Crystal City line has been planned to supplement the Columbia Pike route. That future piece of a single system strengthens the positive aspect of a rail transit system.

    The discussion seems to be focused only on the comparable costs of the Columbia Pike line in isolation, and only on the relative costs of the transportation system initial and operating costs. Proper economic analysis should encompass the entire impact, in this case including impact on growth and peak load capacity in the three jurisdictions over perhaps a 60-year or longer expected life. But again, the anti-Pike proponents should have raised these issues when appropriate in 2006-07, or well before the 2012 County Board policy vote.

    No legislative body can afford the time to keep revisiting major issues. That applies even more to a part-time County Board. That consideration should trump a review of the substance of the issue now, AFTER the policy vote.

  • Cate

    I read quite a bit on the website – though I live near the Pike, I honestly don’t have a solid opinion on the streetcar issue. I have to say I’m leaning more against it, just because driving with a streetcar/the tracks embedded in the road is a pain, particularly when rainy.

    I do take issue with using Boston’s Silver Line as an outstanding example of successful BRT. There are different branches of it, but I think the most relevant comparison is the Washington Street Silver Line. (SL4/SL5). The Silver Line was put in there as a substitute for the former Orange Line El, which was rerouted north of the Washington corridor. The area with the Silver Line has zero subway service, and is completely reliant on buses.

    Only part of that route has a dedicated busway, which I think is necessary. Otherwise…it’s just another bus. And where it doesn’t have its own lanes, which is most of it, the Silver Line has the same traffic issues to deal with as any other bus – double-parked cars, cyclists, stoplights, etc. The only huge difference between the Silver Line and regular buses are that the Silver Line vehicles are larger and articulated (except for a few lines on the MBTA, like the 39, that run articulated buses).

    Furthermore…economic development along the Washington Street Silver Line isn’t really a thing. Its southern terminus is in one of the more dangerous parts of the city, and the area hasn’t had much in the way of revitalization. The Seaport branch has experienced redevelopment, but…there wasn’t much there to begin with.

    It’s well worth comparing the streetcar and BRT, but BRT without extremely frequent buses and dedicated lanes isn’t really any different from a regular bus.

  • electricbill

    As other posters have stated, this has been studied over and over again. If you are against the street car fine, but don’t waste any more of my tax payer dollars for another unneeded study. If you don’t want the street car, there are lots of other places in the DC metro area that won’t be getting one. You are free to move there.

    • MOpalski

      Are you kidding me?!?! Don’t waste MY taxpayer dollars – $250 million of them – on a streetcar that is not needed and for which the cost does not not justify the benefits.

      • PikeHoo

        Technically, those tax dollars are OUR tax dollars or you have the worst accountant of all time.

    • nom de guerre

      I like your argument. If you like streetcars so much why don’t YOU move to a jurisdiction that already has them.

    • Heflin

      electricbill, I could not disagree with you more. Just because someone does not agree with a certain item/project, etc., doesn’t mean they have to move. Think about it.

  • electricbill

    I have read the studies. Have you? As I also said, if you don’t want it you can move! Where were you when they were having the planning meetings for the redevelopment of the Pike? They were open to everybody and they listend to people’s input.

  • Dezlboy

    I’m always wary of organizations that name themselves such that you can’t tell what their position is. Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST) could be for or against the trolley, or for blimps?

  • Mad dog 54

    I’m all for the street car but what if we had it go down 12th street instead of Columbia Pike? Dedicated lane? Solved!

  • Mike B

    The street car will still be there a hundred years from now. Additional busses can be sold.
    Please invest in my neighborhood.

  • FED

    I want Pike transit to be able to conform to traffic conditions, not be a hazard to bicyclists, and be a fiscally prudent investment. Also be attractive to residents and passengers. What’s not to like about the BRT shown in this YouTube video, in downtown Las Vegas? Oh, as you can see, a dedicated transitway is not required.


  • Heflin

    We have to be very careful these days of those who are hell-bent on attempting to shove and/or ramrod any and everything that comes down the pike? No pun intended. We don’t have to look far for blatant examples of that.
    Does the illustrous Mr. Zimmerman have executive power??? lol
    Why is he so obsessed with the street car item??? How many board members live on or near Columbia Pike, would be interesting to know.
    I have lived and owned property in the country for at least 60 years and I have never seen anything quite like this. Have owned and lived in the same house since July 1963. These days the county board would have us believe that we, the citizens, are here because of THEM and not the other way around. It is exactly the opposite.

  • Gustav

    Thank goodness for County Board member Libby Garvey. Thank you, Libby.

  • Jimmy Jazz

    If this includes over head wires, that will seriously impede fire department access along the pike to any apartments facing the street using the aerial ladders they have. They cant use them near power lines, not sure how high or how much power will be running through these lines.

    So if someone WAS within reach of the ladder, it would not be used due to the danger of over heard lines blocking or endangering those working.


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