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Pro-Streetcar Group Announces Formation

by ARLnow.com February 25, 2013 at 11:15 am 64 Comments

Rendering of a streetcar along Columbia PikeThough it was formed last month, the pro-streetcar group Arlington Streetcar Now formally announced its formation at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.

The counterpoint to the anti-streetcar group Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, Arlington Streetcar Now says the proposed Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems will be a boon for residents and businesses along those respective corridors.

From a press release:

A pro-streetcar group, Arlington Streetcar Now, announced its formation at the Arlington County Board meeting on Saturday, February 23. Longtime Arlington resident and civic activist John Snyder made the announcement and presented the Board with a list of principles the group will promote in support of the proposed streetcar system that would link Fairfax County and Alexandra through Columbia Pike and Crystal City.

Arlington Streetcar Now is a growing group of Arlington residents and other strong supporters of the streetcar system. Calling the redevelopment plans for South Arlington “an exciting vision for the future,” Snyder called the streetcar system “the best way to achieve that vision.” Arlington’s vision for Columbia Pike and Crystal City depends on a qualitative upgrade and an increase in transit capacity which cannot be achieved merely by enhancing existing bus service.

Arlington Streetcar Now has been formed, Snyder said, to help “explain how a modern streetcar operates, how it is integral to growth of a locally-oriented business district, to affordable housing preservation on the Pike, and to environmental stewardship.”

Mary Margaret Whipple, former Arlington County Board member and state senator, pointed out that opposition today is similar to resistance to the installation of the Metrorail system in Arlington. “They made similar claims then – that it cost too much, that we should use buses instead, that kind of thing. It doesn’t matter how sensible or popular a transit proposal is,” said Whipple. “There are always going to be a few people who make it their mission to oppose it.” Today, Arlington’s investment in the rail system is widely regarded as a principal factor propelling Arlington from a community in economic decline in the 1970s to one of the most desirable locations in the region to live and work.

Local businesses have come out in strong support of this system and the vision for growth and sustainability it represents. Chamber of Commerce member David DeCamp, also a founding member of Arlington Streetcar Now, strongly agrees with the group’s mission. “The investment in the Streetcar will induce mixed-use development and pay us back with growing annual revenues as new buildings are developed – in much the same way that development along Arlington’s Metro corridors has produced a virtuous circle of growing tax receipts that keep a lid on our tax rates and contribute enormously to the quality of life in Arlington.”

  • South Awwlington

    Very impressed with the number of supporters of Arlington Streetcar Now! Now let’s make sure we come out in droves to support the Board on March 27th @ Kenmoore Middle School!

  • novasteve

    Why don’t these proponents send in more of their income to the tax au thorities to pay for their trolley folley then?

    • ph7

      Because the voters already approved the bond measure.

      • novasteve

        ARlington residents would vote to kill themselves if it had a (D) after it or the board supported it.

        • ph7

          Bond measures carry no party affiliation on the ballot.

          • drax

            Before you make this mistake again – there was no bond measure for the trolley.

          • novasteve

            Yeah, but when everyone in the county government IS a democrat, guess what gets put on the ballot?

        • @novasteve. the most republican county in VA is Scott County, Virginia. Not to be rude, but why don’t you move there, so you can stop complaining? I bet you don’t answer, you never do.

          http://uselectionatlas.org/FORUM/index.php?topic=109325.0(McCain 70.68 – Obama 27.59 = R + 43.09)

      • Nick

        When did we vote on the bond measure?

        • drax

          I’m sure it was in there somewhere hidden, like with the pool.

          • Pete B

            The public was never given a vote on streetcar funding. On purpose. The funding arrangement is designed to avoid having to ask citizens for money. Too risky. Might have failed.

  • TMP

    Because spending $250 million on a trolley when the county is facing a $35 million short fall, cuts to the police and fire departments, and tax increases is a wise thing to do…

    • novasteve


    • ph7

      “cuts to the police and fire departments” – a cut of 10 jobs total, all by attrition. Rhetoric is nice, but facts prevail. Infrastructure investment will provide a positive net return on investment as redevelopment contributes to tax base…plus improve quality of life for residents. Look to the Hampton Roads streetcar development for historical proof this is an excellent economic investment that revitalized an aged corridor and saw an immediate boost to the tax base that annually is exceeding bond financing obligations. Win/Win

      • novasteve

        $250 MILLION because the snobs in arlington are too insecure to be seen on a bus. Sounds like a great use of money. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars we don’t have. Great idea.

        • ph7

          Buses don’t lead to economic redevelopment. Trolleys do. Once again, look at Hampton Roads trolley experience before offering argument based solely on conjecture.The trolley turned an aged corridor into a new residential and business corridor. The trolley attracts commuter residents in a similar manner as the subway – look what the orange line did to the Rosslyn/Ballston corridor.

          • novasteve

            Where will the poor live after that corridor becomes incredibly expensive like clarendon did? I guess taxes will have to go up to subsidize their rents.

          • drax

            They’ll live in your neighborhood.

          • jackson

            It’s not exactly the “slums” now, Steve.

          • ph7

            For new developments, the developers, not the taxpayers, subsidize the affordable housing.

          • novasteve

            Wrong ph7: If the developers aren’t getting tax breaks in return for agreeing to to “affordable housing” than the rest of the people in the area subsidize the rents because their rates go up to pay for the “affordable” units. Developers aren’t going to take a loss out of the kindness of their hearts. Someone else is paying for for affordable housing, and when the cost of all housing goes up, it will go up even more when the costs of affordable housing is placed on others. I mean how much more expensive do you want arlington to get? If everything goes your way, the costs will skyrocket from their already outrageous levels. This isn’t Manhattan, this isn’t Park Avenue.

          • ph7

            The only people subsidizing the rents are the other occupants of the building – the developers aren’t getting tax breaks. Because developers displace affordable housing to sell to the upscale market, they and the volunteer wealthy renters/condo purchasers agree to subsidize the units. It’s the perfect market solution for those anti-government, anti-tax types. Otherwise, you’d get no new development, which would inhibit the tax base, burdening existing taxpayers. The sit-and-do-nothing ideal you propose is the worse possible outcome.

        • @novasteve, hint….calling people “snobs” doesn’t help your argument.

      • drax

        Well, possibly by attrition. And don’t forget 15 cuts to health services for very vulnerable people.

    • Josh S

      Let me dust off an oldie but a goodie.

      It’s more complicated than that.

    • Chris Slatt
    • drax

      Yes, it is.

      You can’t just stop all long-term projects in their tracks because of a short-term deficit. You want to cancel all school construction projects too? Yeah, that’ll turn out well in a few years.

      The streetcar is a transportation project, not a luxury thing like a theatre or a pool.

      • strategic planner

        It’s not just a short-term deficit – they have no strategic plan or vision that they can quantitatively assess and adapt to as contingencies arise. They come up with a figure and then adjust the tax rates and assessments to match the figure (hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat). Then when business occupancy tanks, they don’t have sufficient revenue. Long-term projects by definition require planning, and this area is one where the county fails. Not sure if it is willful disregard or just a propensity for being obtuse, but if you can’t account for $50M this year, how are you going to manage when next year’s shortfall is now over $100M? You can’t borrow it all, especially not if sequestration and/or budget cuts make the business occupancy worse, because ultimately that affects both the bond rating and interest.

        • JC

          Actually the county does a great job with master planning and sector planning. There is a very well thought out, community based development plan for Columbia Pike and the Crystal City area, developed with much stakeholder involvement over years of meetings. There is an affordable housing plan, a master transportation plan. Lot’s of stuff to belie your comment. Check it out.

        • Josh S

          I think you’re failing to take into account the full process. Budgets are developed for one year at a time. Theoretically (and actually some jurisdictions do this), all programs, departments, etc would go to zero each year and have to re-justify their budgets. Yes, the budgets do include projected revenue. There are no guarantees with these projections. I don’t see how it could be otherwise. Keep in mind that $50 million is actually a fairly small percentage of the budget and really within any sort of reasonable person’s allowance for how far off a projected budget could be.
          Long term capital projects are not paid for in one year. So no one has to find $250 million tomorrow for the streetcar (and of course Arlington County will never have to pay that entire number, a fact which is conveniently forgotten by all those who repeatedly bring up the number in making their opposition known). Instead, the county, just like anyone who borrows, has to certify that their projected revenues are likely to cover the annual expenses of paying for the bonds. Again, I don’t see how it could be otherwise. When you borrow for your house or car, you have to make the same projections. With equal, if not greater, uncertainty.

      • novasteve

        Why is it that Columbia pike has existed for decades without a streetcar? Why has virtually every other area in the USA the same why? yet now we need one? It’s the salvation, right? I notice people don’t even deny the only reason you “need” the streetcare is because the snobs in this area are too insecure to be seen on a a bus. Is that worth the extra money?

        • drax

          Thanks for a great argument for never ever building anything ever, steve.

          • JC

            Streetcar also provides more capacity than buses. It’s not just aesthetics.

          • novasteve

            Too bad busses can operate when the electricity is out, and busses can be moved when they break down.

          • drax

            So steve, Metro runs on electric power – did you oppose it for that reason too?

          • novasteve

            Drax, is the trolley going to have it’s own generators/power supplies and backups? And does the trolley have a third rail or does the power wire dangle in the air?

      • DCBuff

        Transportation “projects” can indeed be a luxury or a folly. See a bridge to nowhere. And, who said stop ALL long-term projects here? There you go again.

        • Sim City

          And the bridge to nowhere in Ketchikan, AK, is actually a bridge to the airport. The only access without it is by ferry — pretty inconvenient when air travel is as important as it is in a place like Alaska.

          • drax

            A $398 million bridge to serve a town of 8,500 people, you mean.

            Yeah, living in a tiny town in Alaska is inconvenient. The taxpayers shouldn’t pay $398 million to make it a little less convenient for 8,500 people.

  • AL

    I support the streetcar!!!!

  • Native

    I believe that photo caption is wrong. That looks like Jefferson St. looking towards the Pike.

    • drax

      Nah, looks like Prague. Can’t wait to sip my latte and feel European on the Pike! It’s the only reason I want a streetcar. I can take the trolley to vote for whoever has a D next to their name.

      • novasteve

        YOu can have the ARlington KGB grab you off the street car for improper thoughts and improper recycling habits.

        • drax

          No, I can’t, and neither can you, steve, because no such things ever happen, except in your mind.

  • esmith69

    The board has already voted on this issue and declared they are moving forward with building this. The time for citizens to influence whether or not this gets built has already passed.

    At this point, shouldn’t we focus on issues that we, as regular citizens, can actually have an effect on?

    • speonjosh

      You give up easy, don’t you? What was that huge bruhaha a few years back about whether Boeing or Airbus would build the new huge transport plane for the Air Force? One side lost in what seemed to be a final decision, but then lobbied, lobbied etc and the process was re-opened. I don’t remember whether the original decision was overturned or stayed the same. The point is that until the streetcar is clanging away down the street, there is plenty of room and reason for people to continue to organize in favor and against.

  • BallstonBomber

    They got their street car didn’t they? Isn’t Crystal City getting one? Aren’t we building a giant deficit builder in the aquatics center? Seems to me the paltry million or two here and there for an arts center or a community center is chump change by comparison. Nix any of those big ticket projects and we don’t have to cut cops, arts, community centers or most other items on the chopping block.

  • Pete b

    The formation of this groups after the board approved the streetcar last year makes me think that the state and federal money isn’t coming and this is pr groundwork for a large tax hike or bond issue to pay for it.

    • EBJ

      You might be on to something. The time for debate about this project is over, according to the Board. This new astroturf organization really has no reason to be, unless there might be some future electoral consideration required to keep the project from failing.

      • drax

        The same could be said for the group opposing the streetcar.

        In any event, there will be federal funding to secure, and lawsuits to file or defend against.

      • DCBuff

        Exactly. If there is no more debate, this organization has no more reason for being than the streetcar alternative group, and I am certain that the ArlCo board will not allow this pro-trolley group to participate in any board-led discussions since the alternative group cannot.

      • speonjosh

        No reason to be?
        It’s a public interest group in favor of the streetcar. I think that if the streetcar were magically to appear tomorrow, they still would have a reason to be.

        And yes, there has always and continues to be uncertainty about the streetcar because of the question of how to pay for it. If the state and/or feds don’t contribute, it’s not going to happen.

        • Pete B

          Josh, I’m not sure I agree that it won’t happen without federal funds. My impression is that the Board really wants it and will get the money come hell, high water, or worse, another bond issue that will leads to millions more in annual debt service payments, crowding out other priorities.

    • confused

      Its clear opponents want to stop it, why shouldn’t proponents organize as well?

  • Becoming Indifferent

    If you think this going to be a short-term deficit, I’ve got some swampland in Florida to sell you.

    • drax

      Show us your data.

  • snarl

    Just take that street car that’s goin’ up town

  • dd

    I’d like to announce the formation of my new group:

    Arlington Streetcar . . . Maybe?

  • Mary-Austin

    The whole attitude that people who want to look at other options are ignorant is really getting old. I’m not sure what’s worse- the streetcar plan or the condescending attitude of those trying to force it.

  • Ballstonian

    The support of Mary Margaret Whipple may be important to those of us of a certain age – as Mrs. Whipple says, please don’t squeeze the streetcar!

  • Trev

    Are the major proponents of the street car the new developers on the Pike?

  • I have an idea, lets not spend $250 million on this trolly we don’t need, not lay people off, and not raise our taxes. How sad we don’t have a vote in how our money is spent. I have not voted for any of our board members in 20 years, and never will. Too bad they keep getting elected.

  • TheDelRay

    bump streetcars we need a bullet train and homless shelters

  • overtaxed

    The bottom line is that there is enough opposition to this project by taxpayers who don’t want $250 million spent, that the simple solution is to let the citizens vote on this. Why won’t the Board do that? They are stifling democracy. I don’t care that the project has been discussed and “decided upon” for the last 10 years, the citizens have not been asked or had the chance to vote on spending a huge chunk of their taxpayer money. Yes it is OUR taxpayer money, it doesn’t matter where the funds came from.


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