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Progressive Voice: Improving the Streetcar, Respecting the Process

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Andrew SchneiderArlington County Board candidate Alan Howze has announced a set of proposals to improve the streetcar system that would link Arlington with Alexandria and Fairfax and improve transit along one of the busiest corridors in the region.

The streetcar project will also provide significant financial returns to Arlington through economic development that, in turn, will generate revenues to help create needed schools while protecting neighborhoods and preserving affordable housing.

I support Alan’s campaign and his fundamental tenets of engaging Arlington’s voters and communities to improve on a project that has been the centerpiece of multi-year revitalization efforts for Columbia Pike and Crystal City. I applaud the many Arlingtonians who participated in those efforts.

In making his proposals, Alan has respected the long-standing and inclusive community planning process while looking for innovations to improve upon project implementation.

After talking to thousands of Arlington residents at their doors, he has made five proposals based on their suggestions:

  1. Timely construction should be a key contract requirement to minimize disruption, protect taxpayers, and accelerate streetcar benefits. Speed and accountability in government matters.
  2. Create a small business contingency plan to support small businesses affected by construction.
  3. Create a business and residents advisory council to ensure community issues arising during construction are dealt with promptly.
  4. Examine the feasibility of streetcars that run without wires for sections of the streetcar line to reduce use of overhead wires.
  5. Secure 100 percent renewable energy power supply for the streetcar to ensure a zero emissions system.

I have known and worked with Alan as a community leader. These proposals reflect his approach to meeting community challenges — thoughtful discussion, community input, considering needs of neighborhoods and the broader Arlington community, finding innovative solutions, looking to conserve community and taxpayer resources, addressing the vital imperative of climate change and environmental protection, and respecting community processes in order to encourage Arlingtonians to participate actively.

These attributes are important to me as a lifelong Arlingtonian dedicated to service making a difference.

More importantly, they are important to me as someone serving as President of the Yorktown Civic Association and taking a leadership role in the Lee Highway Revitalization project.

Formed in 2013, this project is a grassroots strategic partnership for re-visioning Lee Highway, involving the presidents and other interested members of the civic associations along Lee Highway. Moreover, this project has taken its template/lead from the thoughtful, inclusive, and deliberate Columbia Pike revitalization process that has been undertaken since the 1990s.

We anticipate developing a joint community vision for a more economically vibrant, walkable, attractive Lee Highway corridor to benefit neighborhoods and the business community. I expect that our vision will lead to a corridor that avoids disjointed development and that will support improved transit options as well.

We also anticipate that our joint community vision will be sent in 2015 to the County Manager’s office with a recommendation that the County Board appoint and fund a task force to develop a Lee Highway Sector Plan guiding future rezoning and development applications.

I hope that our years of effort and the plans that result from them will be recognized as community-developed plans that have been studied carefully with opportunities for input from leaders across Arlington — much as was the case with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Plan and the Crystal City Sector Plan. I hope that our years of effort would be respected by county residents, leaders and elected officials.

I believe that Alan’s proposals respect the years of effort with numerous opportunities for community input that led to the streetcar project — from the 1985 creation and 1990 adoption of the Pike revitalization plan, the 2002 Columbia Pike Initiative, the 2003 adoption of a commercial form based code, the 2006 recommendation of the streetcar project, the 2012 adoption of the Neighborhoods Area Plan, to the 2015 Capital Improvement Program and the many steps in between.

My hope for Lee Highway and for Arlington County is that we take advantage of a generational opportunity to plan for an Arlington future as vibrant and successful as the Arlington where Alan Howze and I grew up. Forethought, vision, and deliberate community planning has made Arlington a model for urban planning and development. The prudent investments, wise long-term planning and vision of previous generations of leaders like Joe Fisher and Ellen Bozman made that possible. I hope, for all of our sakes — along Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, and throughout the county — we continue this thoughtful, deliberate, and visionary tradition.

Andrew Schneider isa lifelong Arlington resident and currently serves as President of the Yorktown Civic Association. He was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 48th District House of Delegates seat. He works for the College of William & Mary engaging the nearly 20,000 alumni in the D.C. area.

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