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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com February 14, 2013 at 8:55 am 69 Comments

Ballston apartment building by Wolfkann

Va. Senate Passes Transportation Bill — The Virginia state Senate yesterday passed a Democrat-backed transportation bill that would raise gas taxes and index them to inflation, impose a gas wholesale tax, and would allow Northern Virginia localities to impose a sales tax surcharge to pay for transportation projects. Unlike a version of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan that passed the House of Delegates, it does not increase the overall statewide sales tax rate. [Washington Post]

House Rejects Income Tax Proposal — A bill that would have allowed Arlington and other Virginia localities to impose a one percent income tax in order to pay for transportation improvements has failed in the House of Delegates. The House Committee on Finance voted to reject the bill. [Sun Gazette]

GGW: Pike Bus Proposal is Not BRT — Those who are proposing a more modern bus system for Columbia Pike as an alternative to the county’s streetcar plan are falsely calling calling it Bus Rapid Transit, writes David Alpert. Also, the proposed bus system might be just as expensive as the streetcar, Alpert said. [Greater Greater Washington]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

  • John Fontain

    There’s not much funnier than watching a transit nerd get worked up into a lather because his internet enemies used the wrong picture on their website. Victory is his he douth proclaimeth!

    • CourthouseChris

      Well his point is valid that the streetcar opposition group, AST, is citing untenable alternatives. Columbia Pike isn’t wide enough for dedicated bus lanes required for the BRT option they are putting forth.

      • And CP is wide enough

        for a Trolley?

        • CourthouseChris

          Streetcar. Yes, it is because the streetcar won’t have a dedicated lane.

    • drax

      I see a reasonable, calm post about how a proposed policy alternative can’t possibly happen and is therefore misleading.

    • BBMS

      It does seem like an entirely unnecessary article that just raises other issues. I didn’t realize that even with the streetcar option most of the transit vehicles on Columbia Pike will still be buses during peak time. I thought the idea was that you needed all new streetcars to attract the new riders who will not ride buses, even though buses are always packed on Columbia Pike.

      And even an earlier study by Arlington referred to a “BRT alternate”. It’s semantics, and based on a standard that both sides seem to agree does not even apply in the US.

      Anyway, I stopped reading Alpert a long time ago, but that article was looser than any of the stuff he was putting out 2 or 3 years ago.

      • drax

        Well, yeah, the study referred to a BRT alternative – and then that study said BRT, with a dedicated lane, wasn’t possible.

        • BBMS

          No, look at the linked 2005 Arlington study in Alpert’s article. Even their evaluation of the “BRT” alternative said it would operate in mixed traffic lanes. And they were still using the BRT label to describe it. That’s my point, it’s not a valid or important point of criticism when everyone is using poor definitions.

          • drax

            Okay, valid point. Didn’t see that part.

      • The StreeCar

        doesn’t connect in with the Pentagon Bus Depot either. You will have to walk 10-15 minutes to transfer. So, one some level it is a line from nowhere to nowhere. But no pro-streetcar people mention that either.

  • nom de guerre

    The streetcar won’t have a “dedicated lane” either and I’m not too sure what is going to make it “rapid transit.” Maybe it will be the bells.

    • drax

      But nobody is going around saying the streetcar would have a dedicated lane.

    • Paul

      Clang, clang, clang went the trolley. Ding, ding, ding went the bell. Zing, zing, zing went my heart strings… The streetcar fancier’s anthem.

      • Ren

        Ah, that’s poetic beauty…except shouldn’t the last piece be “Zim, zim, zim went my heart strings!”? 😉

  • FED

    What’s “wrong” with a Las Vegas type BRT that uses either city streets or dedicated lanes? No tracks, no wires. When will we see a photo of what state-of-the-art BRT vehicles look like?

    • drax

      Read the GGW article.

      A dedicated lane is impossible on the Pike.

      • Hank

        I’m not sure Girls Gone Wild is qualified to assess Arlington’s transportation needs.

        • m

          Haha, comment of the week!

          • CourthouseChris

            For the IAm14AndThisIsFunny crowd, sure.

    • G Clifford Prout

      The best in the USA is in Cleveland. They’re “brozne” level BRT. And boy it certainly brought life back downtown. Oh wait, that was the casino. http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2013/01/25/health-line-is-top-of-the-line-at-least-in-usa

    • WM

      I think the article is trying to say… that based on the condition of the pike any enhanced bus service would not meet the definition of BRT (since usually you need some right of way/dedicated lanes). So the enhanced bus service would be more like nicer buses, articulated buses have less capacity than the proposed streetcar. So the streetcar will not be “rapid transit” but will add much more capacity. But well… how to define “rapid” metro is supposed to be “rapid”.

      • BBMS

        From what I have read, I don’t even think streetcars will provide “much more” capacity as you say. I think the extra capacity is marginal. Plus, they are saying most of the technical advantages of the new streetcar (fare prepay, superstops, traffic signal priority) can be done with buses too.

        Neither get their own dedicated lane. Streetcars require more infrastructure (rails in the street, special maintenance facilities).

        It’s very much a tossup between the two. But clouding the argument by quibbling over BRT semantics comes off as kind of prankish.

        • South Awwlington

          EXACTLY!!! So you could you please do all of us a favor and kindly ask your people to start referring to it as Enhanced Bus because it’s not BRT.

          • BBMS

            What do you mean by “your people”?

          • South Awwlington

            I mean the crowd that tries to dilute the argument by alluding to the enhance bus option as BRT when it’s not. “Your people” was meant to encompass everyone who plays fast and loose with the technical aspects of this project. That above all else, are what matters. You don’t call a football a rabbit. If we are going to have a logical and sensible discussion of the alternatives, let’s at least know what we are talking about. My comment was intended to sound snide or snarky. This is a sensitive topic for most and when people willfully use misleading terminology, they ought to be held accountable.

          • South Awwlington

            *wasn’t intended*

          • BBMS

            OK, serious question: do you think when most people here BRT they immediately have a picture of a bus in a dedicated lane? Meaning, is John Q walking down the street that up to speed on all the details of the various BRT levels that the first thing he thinks about is dedicated ROW? Or do the separate words Bus….Rapid…..Transit denote a different paradigm to consider as an alternative to Streetcar?

            I really think, as I referenced above by pointing out that even Arlington’s study used the term “BRT” as a system traveling in mixed use lanes, that for all but transit geeks, BRT means fast enhanced bus service, and the technicality of the ROW is probably about 4th on the list of features that most people would think about.

    • R. Griffon

      The general argument that I hear about a bus-based system (besides the fact that uppity types won’t ride buses) is that it won’t inspire economic investment due to the lack of a lasting infrastructure investment (i.e. a dedicated tracks and/or wires). So when a developer or business is thinking of dumping money into building, near a Metro they may think it’s a safe bet b/c the Metro line isn’t going anywhere. Whereas the County could easily decide to stop running the buses tomorrow or next year. Once you dump all that money into dedicated infrastructure, you’re kind of dedicated to keeping it up for better or for worse. And this permanence tends to tip the scales towards private investment.

      • FED

        Las Vegas BRT vehicles use city streets downtown and dedicated lanes in the outer burbs. Check out the videos on YouTube.

        • South Awwlington

          Have any of you traveled to or can provide examples of “Las Vegas BRT” in other cities?
          Surely if this is the end all, be all; it has been replicated 100 times over throughout the country.

      • Brian M

        Having rails doesn’t commit anyone to frequent or reliable service – ask the people who live next to a MARC or VRE station. Sure, developers make this point because they want the government to build streetcars in the hopes they can sell their properties at higher prices. Doesn’t mean it’s true though.

        • Oscar

          And streetcar systems have been abandoned and paved over in the past. Nothing is permanent. Good point about developers too.

        • South Awwlington

          MARC and VRE services share track infrastructure with CSX and Amtrak. That’s an awful lot of service being put through one track system and with a mutual scheduling function. It only takes one issue with one provider to have a domino effect. If you are a frequent MARC Brunswick rider, you would know that Maryland is making spot improvements along the the line (to allow faster moving trains to pass the slower, freight trains). There is also talk of completing the second track to Union Station from Frederick one day. VRE is another issue…lower grade, singular track will bedevil this service until they figure out how to have their own dedicated track.

  • Garden City

    A real BRT system has a dedicated roadway, traffic signal priority, a limited number of stations, payment before boarding, and entry/exit from all doors. All the opponents of streetcars want is the current bus service, maybe running more frequently. I have not decided if I’m for or against the streetcar plan but I do find the streetcar opponents every bit as disingenuous is the proponents.

    • Ballstonian

      Agreed. It would be much more accurate if the streetcar opponents said they were backing “improved bus service” as the alternative. GGW often annoys me, but here they make a valid point – using a picture of BRT vehicle in a dedicated right of way, and calling their alternative proposal “BRT,” gives a completely false impression.

      The problem here is that the Pike is too congested for buses OR streetcars to really move very fast, and it isn’t possible to build a dedicated right of way on the Pike. What the Pike really needs in order to have “rapid” transit is an underground metro line, which isn’t likely to happen in my lifetime. But did they consider the possibility of a dedicated streetcar right of way, or true BRT system, on some alternative route – roads a block or two off the Pike, where maybe they could actually move faster than Pike traffic? That is the only hope for a “rapid” system I can think of.

      • Arlingtoon

        The original design for Metro included a Columbia Pike line. It was (unfortunately, imho) nixxed at some point along the way, although you can see the beginning of the tunnel when you’re going southbound on the Yellow or Blue lines as you’re leaving the Pentagon station.

        I’ve always thought that a monorail, elevated above the road, would make sense for the Pike. But I think I’m probably a minority of one.

        • Garden City

          I’m really surprised that it took so long for Monorail to appear.

  • Deadite

    Glad to see the income tax bill failed, just as I predicted.

  • R. Griffon

    Great to see some good news on the legislative front with both the transportation and income tax bills. Although I’d personally like to see the gas tax go MUCH higher, it’s a good start.

    • MeowMeow

      I am for a 900% increase in the gas tax. I’d like to see the taxes go to installation of electric car recharging stations and other green projects to make Virginia a better place to live.

      • WoofWoof

        I am for a 900% increase in electricity rates. I’d like to see the rates go to installation of trolleys all over the commonwealth to make Virginia a better place to live.

        • drax

          Transit riders pay fares.

      • Libby

        Out of curiousity, are you suggesting that the charging stations provide free electricity for electric cars?

        • MeowMeow

          Electricty comes from magic trick-knowlogy, the tax is to make people understand they need to change to a new and better way.

          • Libby

            OK, so no answer to my question. Thanks.

  • Hee-Haw

    Bravo, House Committee on Finance, Bravo.

  • Hikin’ the pike

    Ok….the following statement has been approved by the legal department of the BRT certification team:

    “BRT-style” transit option.

    • drax

      Basically, a bus.

      • Busser

        The people who live along Wisconsin Avenue NW have packed buses and a walkable environment. Many existing Pike residents ride the bus as is. So yeah, a nicer bigger bus isn’t so bad to many of us.

  • KRS

    Good news on the gas/transportation tax front and that locality tax increase. Keep the sales and income taxes right where they are.

  • pol

    And yet “dooring” bill failed. Lame

  • Mary-Austin

    The GGW guy claimed in the title that a bus system might cost as much as a the streetcar but then offered no real evidence of this.
    If you are going to tell people what to say and do on this issue how about stop misleading people about the facts!…Another streetcar hack living in fantasyland.

    • Jane-Dallas

      What are you talking about? This is the title: Columbia Pike streetcar opponents deceive about “BRT”. Not a word about cost.

      Another antistreetcar hack living in fantasyland.

      • Mary-Austin

        It’s in the headline…maybe read the whole thing instead of trying to be cute.
        It’s like he just had to throw in a lie about a bus system hoping most people wouldn’t read the article.

        • Ballstonian

          No, it is not in the headline or title, which Jane Dallas quotes accurately.
          There is a sentence deeper in the article saying that “Building something like the Eugene transitway would cost far more, perhaps more even than the streetcar.” What it would cost “more” than is the enhanced-but-not-BRT bus service that anti-streetcar folks are promoting. The comparison to the streetcar is explicitly labeled as speculation (“perhaps.”), so it’s hard to call that a lie. It sounds very plausible actually – a dedicated right of way, with boarding stations, and very sleek modern vehicles, sounds like something that could be as much or more than the cost of the streetcar. _

          • Mary-Austin

            GGW: Pike Bus Proposal is Not BRT —…”Also, the proposed bus system might be just as expensive as the streetcar, Alpert said. [Greater Greater Washington]”
            Reading is fundamental folks.
            Misleading at best.

        • Joan Fountain

          It’s in the headline

          You are delusional, girlfriend.

          • South Awwlington


  • GGW plan

    Is to do away with cars. That is Alpert’s main goal and for the rest of America to live in NYC cities.

    What is somewhat ironic about Alpert is that his two goals – more mass transit and affordable housing naturally conflict.

  • Tenessee Williams

    I desire a streetcar in Arlington. Make it so.

    • m

      That depends on the kindness of strangers

      • Stanley

        I blanche at your response …….

        • xarl

          finally! arlnow commenters getting their groove back

          • WeiQiang

            wow. nice. i see what you did there. very sophisticated.

  • Aunt Mabel

    Greater Greater Washington is merely the personal whim of its creator. The guy has no urban policy experience but sounds off as if his personal opinion has great merit simply because he says so. The person who screams the loudest or the most does not necessarily have valid ideas.

    • Ballstonian

      It started as his personal whim, but he has since attracted a number of like-minded people to write for the blog. The blog gets attention because people read it and find its arguments persuasive, or at least interesting. This is the nature of the internet – if you want to start a pro-car, pro-suburban, anti-transit blog, have at it!

  • Ashton Heights

    I thought a streetcar had tracks. If the CoPi streetcar has tracks but no dedicated lane, does that mean that cars also drive on the tracks? What I remember about the previous version of streetcars in the DC area is that the tracks were raised a bit above ground.

    • m

      The tracks would be embedded in the street, and cars would be able to drive over them. That is how streetcars work in many other cities. New streetcar tracks can now be seen on H Street, NW in DC – the cars are not scheduled to start running until later this year, but the tracks have been installed. They are flush with the pavement and cars drive over them with no problem (though bikes have to be careful).

      • m

        sorry, make that H Street, NE – the hipster neighborhood to the east of Union Station.


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