The Columbia Heights Civic Association will meet next month to discuss the possibility of a pod transit system on Columbia Pike.
Such a system could help ease congestion on the Pike, which is currently choked with tightly spaced and frequently stopping buses, particularly during the morning and evening rush hours.
The Columbia Pike streetcar was supposed to be a solution to that problem, but many Arlington residents objected to the system’s cost and the fact that it ran in mixed traffic. Ultimately, the project was canceled.
While a cost-effective, monorail-like transit system that runs above traffic seems ideal in theory, there are questions about the system’s real-world feasibility, cost and the trustworthiness of the company that’s proposing it.
(The system, as conceived, would be built with private funds and would be privately owned.)
Overall, what do you think of the pod transit idea that the civic association will be proposing?
(Updated on Aug. 27 at 10:50 a.m.) Might a monorail-like system be the solution to Columbia Pike’s transit woes?
The Columbia Heights Civic Association is holding a meeting on Sept. 28 to discuss JPods, a transit system that uses suspended railcars, as a possible solution for Columbia Pike in light of the cancelled streetcar.
“We’re excited about this possibility,” said Sarah McKinley, one of the Columbia Heights Civic Association Board members.
The owner of JPods, Bill James, has looked at the Pike and thinks it is a good location for the gondola-like system, McKinley said.
JPod users would get into a pod at a station and then program in an address for where he or she wants to go.
“Think of it like a chauffeured car,” James said.
There could be several hundred to 1,000 pods on the Columbia Pike network. There is a possibility of turning the transit system into a grid, with JPods running from Columbia Pike to Metro stations and other parts of Northern Virginia, he said.
The solar-powered pod system would be privately funded, according to James. The JPods website lists the average cost for installing a network as $10 million, though there’s no word on how much it might cost to construct along the Pike.
Before the project was canceled, the cost of the five mile Columbia Pike streetcar line was estimated at $358 million.
If JPods were approved for Arlington, a network could be built along the Pike in a year, James said.
“[With JPods] you’ll be able to get around most cities like [you can in] New York, without cars,” he said.
Arlington County has been “made aware” of the JPods system, said Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet.
“It’s too early to comment on it because we have not received any detailed technical or cost information that can be evaluated,” he said. “The JPod information we have seen says it would not require any public funding.”
Arlington County does not expect to decide on an alternative transit plan for the Pike until next year.
A third entrance to the Pentagon City Metro station is slated to open as soon as next month.
Arlington County is wrapping up work on a Metro entrance on the northeast corner of S. Hayes Street and 12th Street S., next to the offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Transportation Security Administration, the latter of which is moving to Alexandria in two years.
The stairs-only entrance and pedestrian access tunnel connect to what is currently a set of glass doors in the station’s mezzanine. While no official opening date has been set yet, the opening is “tentatively scheduled for the end of September,” according to Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet.
The entrance and tunnel was actually first built in 1984, but “for a number of reasons, was never opened to the public,” according to the county. In order to open it, the county needed to rehabilitate the tunnel, repairing lighting, electrical connections, leaks, deteriorated doors and gates, floor tiles and other 30-year-old infrastructure. The county also added security cameras, an emergency call box and new signage.
The total cost of the project is $1.3 million. The county says the expense is worth it in order to provide another entrance to a busy station next to the Arlington’s largest shopping center. The new entrance may also help accommodate a coming influx of riders from new development in the area, including a new Whole Foods.
“The opening of the entryway will provide an additional access/egress point to this busy Metrorail station, one of the County’s highest ridership stations, and to the adjacent retail center, Fashion Centre,” the county said in its recent Capital Improvement Plan.
The county, not WMATA, will be responsible for ongoing maintenance of the tunnel.
Just as Metro was recovering from yesterday’s derailment in D.C., a train became stranded between the East Falls Church and West Falls Church stations around 6 a.m. due to a reported power problem.
Arlington firefighters helped to unload passengers, who walked down the tracks to the East Falls Church station.
Orange and Silver Line service was suspended between the two station for more than an hour. Trains are now single-tracking between the two stations, with delays in both directions. The train that lost power is still sitting helplessly on the track.
Orange and Silver Line commuters weren’t the only ones affected by Metro problems this morning. A Yellow Line train suffered a reported brake problem at National Airport around 7:30 a.m. The train was offloaded and taken out of service, but not before causing delays.
— NBCWashington (@nbcwashington) August 7, 2015
Arlington County has added eight new buses to its fleet in order to provide more frequent bus service along several routes.
Additional bus service will be added to the ART 41 (Columbia Pike, Ballston and Courthouse), 43 (Crystal City, Rosslyn and Courthouse) and 87 (Pentagon Metro, Army Navy Drive and Shirlington) routes starting Monday, July 6, according to press release.
The new bus service on Columbia Pike is just an initial step in improving transit on the Pike, said Eric Balliet, spokesman for the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services.
“This is definitely one of the first steps we can take to show our commitment to the corridor and our commitment to transit,” he said.
The ART 41 route will have more frequent service with the bus coming every 15 minutes during the day and every 23 minutes during weekday and Saturday nights.
The enhanced service is one way Arlington is addressing the transit needs that remained after the streetcar program was cut, Balliet said.
The ART 43 route will have buses run about every 10 minutes with extended service until 10:35 a.m. during morning rush hour and 7:47 p.m. during the evening commute.
The ART 87 will be getting new Sunday service, which will run from 7:14 a.m. to 7:11 p.m. The route will also have extended service until 11:41 p.m. on weekdays and 11:53 p.m. on Saturdays. On the weekends, the service will run to the Pentagon City Metro Station instead of the Pentagon Metro Station.
The county is also adding a new ART 87P line, which will run between the Pentagon and S. Lang Street. During rush hour, service will alternate every 10 minutes between the full ART 87 line and the ART 87P line.
“Anything we can do to make [commuting] more convenient, we think customers will appreciate,” Balliet said.
In order to provide the advance service, the county added eight new 40-foot buses to the ART fleet. The new buses are 5 feet longer than the standard ART buses, which allow for more seats and more standing room, he said.
The new buses are being added to routes with high ridership.
“These bus service improvements are a first step in meeting the current transit needs for Columbia Pike and Crystal City-Pentagon City, as we work to create vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods along these corridors,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said in a statement. “Every day ART helps thousands of Arlingtonians get to work, school and other activities, and the additional service will make ART an even more reliable transportation choice all week long.”
Arlington County paramedics were called to the station around 1:30 this afternoon, to treat the suspect after the pepper spray incident.
According to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel, then man had “rammed” the Crystal City station manager while attempting to run through the emergency gate to evade the transit fare. Metro Transit Police officers responded to the station and found the man sitting on the floor in the station entrance area, smoking a cigarette.
“As they began talking to the man, the suspect abruptly kicked one of the officers from his position on the floor,” Stessel said. “The officers moved in to make the arrest, and in that process, utilized [pepper] spray to gain compliance. The suspect was arrested without further incident.”
The man is being charged with assault, for bumping the station manager, and assaulting a police officer. The station manager was not injured.
Yesterday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority began work on improving the bus bays at the Pentagon, according to WMATA spokesman Richard Jordan.
Jordan said that the bus bay improvements, which include expanding pedestrian walkways and replacing the pavement with concrete, are the largest component of the transit center renovations, which are intended to move pedestrians more efficiently and make the bus bays more comfortable. Jordan said the project also aimed to improve traffic circulation, access and security, although he was unable to speak to specifics.
Both WMATA and Arlington Transit buses serving the Pentagon will be rerouted beginning Thursday (June 18), said Jordan.
ART spokesman Steve Yaffe said delays are currently expected to be less than five minutes.
According to a service update on ART’s website, ART buses 42, 87 and 92 will enter the Pentagon reservation as usual but will exit via S. Fern Street. Again according to the update, the two bus stops between S. Fern and S. Eads Street will be closed for the duration of the construction; an alternate stop has been set up at the corner of S. Fern and Army Navy Drive.
WMATA buses will also experience delays due to rerouting, but there are no planned changes to where the buses stop.
“[The construction] isn’t going to affect where riders get on and off the bus,” said Jordan.
During morning and evening rush hour times, police will be at the Pentagon to direct buses to their detours. During all other times of the day, flaggers will be present to indicate where the buses should go.
WMATA has listed all affected routes on their website and encourages commuters to plan for slightly longer traveling times.
Part of a $58.8 million TIGER grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation is funding the project. According to Jordan, construction is expected to last about two months and should be completed sometime in August or September.
Metrorail service is suspended between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom due to a reported arcing insulator outside the Foggy Bottom station.
Firefighters were originally called to the Rosslyn station around 8:20 a.m. for a report of smoke in the station.
The station was evacuated but first responders only found a slight odor of smoke, according to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Lt. Sarah Marchegiani.
Having not found any smoke or fire in Rosslyn, Arlington firefighters are currently scaling back their initially large response. However, Arlington police remain on scene, assisting with crowd control.
Large crowds of commuters seeking alternate means of transportation have been reported outside the Rosslyn station and other Arlington stations along the Orange Line.
— JensueFerrell (@JensueFerrell) May 11, 2015
Outside Rosslyn Metro pic.twitter.com/o1S4DsuGSd
— Elizabeth Widas (@emt211) May 11, 2015
— Valerie Insinna (@ValerieInsinna) May 11, 2015
— Kymberly Escobar (@kymesco) May 11, 2015
— David Hawkins (@khnashi) May 11, 2015
— Ashley Pratte (@AshPratte) May 11, 2015
— Micah Himmel (@Micah_Himmel) May 11, 2015
Photo (top) via @WashingtonFlack
After the public outcry, poor design and organizational problems that warranted an independent review of the $1 million S. Walter Reed Drive Super Stop, Arlington’s scaled back plan for the rest of Columbia Pike is being met with general approval.
The new plan, to build 23 more transit stations at key intersections along the Pike for a total cost of $12.4 million, was brought before the public yesterday evening at the Arlington Mill Community Center. The stations will cost an average of 40 percent less than the prototype built at Walter Reed Drive.
The transit stations are 50 percent designed and now the county’s Department of Environmental Services, which is leading the project, is looking to incorporate public feedback.
“We want to improve on what happened with the Walter Reed station,” project manager Matthew Huston told the group of about a dozen community members last night.
The designs are modular, and some of the stations will have smaller or bigger overhangs, seating areas and boarding displays, based on demand. After installation, they can be added to once ridership increases, and it likely will; Huston said the county projects bus ridership to double on the Pike in the next 20 years.
Among those in attendance yesterday was David Dickson, the transportation chair for the Mount Vernon group of the Sierra Club. He and other attendees walked among panels county staff had laid out, showing residents the choices they had regarding side panels, layout of the information signs and seating.
“I think it’s good, and they’re working out the details,” Dickson said of the new proposal. “To the layperson, the redesign seems far superior to the prototype. It’s cheaper and seems like a better design.”
Huston compared the designs to transit stations in other communities, which cost roughly $500,000 on average. The “standard” size transit station on the Pike is projected to cost $469,000, and “extended” stops coming with a $672,000 price tag.
The examples from other jurisdictions Huston gave — Norfolk, Va., Charlotte, N.C., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Eugene, Ore. — all serviced either bus rapid transit or a light rail system. Columbia Pike, for now, is planned to have neither.
Among the questions and preferences attendees expressed on the stations were: a request for side panels, handicap accessibility and debating over how much protection from the elements should be provided when sacrificing sidewalk space.
The design for the first eight transit stations — two each at the Pike’s intersections of S. Glebe Road, Oakland, Buchanan and Barton Streets — is expected to be completed by July, after which construction can begin, Huston said.
Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach was also on hand to give residents an update on the county’s overall transportation plan and vision for the Pike corridor. With the additional bus service coming to Arlington Rapid Transit on the weekend, the county is trying to mitigate the delays in long-term transit planning caused by the streetcar’s cancellation.
The Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City together are projected to account for 65 percent of the county’s population growth and 44 percent of its job growth in the next three decades, and Arlington doesn’t have a long-term transit plan in place for the Pike to accommodate that growth. So far, much of the discussion has revolved around bigger and better buses.
But there is another option, a much bigger, bolder and pricier option than even the streetcar: taking advantage of an existing stub tunnel at the Pentagon Metro station and building a new Metrorail line under Columbia Pike. Such a line was envisioned as a likely expansion by the Metrorail system’s original planners in the 1960s.
When the proposal for Arlington’s short-term plan for the former-streetcar corridor comes before the Arlington County Board next year, two of the five members of the Board will be newly elected, replacing the retiring Board chair and vice chair, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada.
So far, seven candidates have declared they’re running for the two open seats: Democrats Christian Dorsey, Peter Fallon, Katie Cristol, Andrew Schneider, James Lander and Bruce Wiljanen, and independent Audrey Clement. Will this new crop of Arlington leaders revive the idea of Metro as long-term a solution for the Pike’s growth?
Dorsey tells ARLnow.com that he’s open to Metrorail as part of a more holistic discussion of the Pike’s transportation future.
“We haven’t undergone a process to really do that in a sufficient way, where we’ve looked at a variety of transit options that are possible — not feasible, but possible — and determining whether or not that matches long-range projections,” he told ARLnow.com. “I absolutely think that’s something that needs to be done in consultation with regional partners on heavy rail.”
The county is still planning to install 23 more transit stations along Columbia Pike, for a total of $12.4 million — redesigned to cost far less than the Walter Reed Super Stop prototype — and those stations are designed to accommodate enhanced bus service. However, other than assumptions that more, bigger and fancier buses will be coming to the Pike, it’s unclear how those stations will be integrated. The county has vowed to spend $200 million on the corridor’s transit over the next six years.
Cristol agreed with Dorsey, saying Arlington needs to consider all long-term options in the corridor’s future.
“I believe we need to keep everything on the table as we contend with the forces shaping re-development and transit demand in Arlington,” she said. “Rapid population growth and demand for public transit on the Pike will be a defining feature for Arlington’s coming decades … I will always be for considering and discussing big ideas — even the expensive ones that seem infeasible in the immediate — as we look to address those dynamics.”
WMATA already has a 40-year plan in place for Metrorail’s future development, but that plan, adopted in 2013, includes a connection between Arlington’s since-cancelled and D.C.’s embattled streetcar lines. WMATA has since discussed plans for a second tunnel in Rosslyn and another line in Virginia, but public discussions from the agency have not included Columbia Pike.
Wiljanen said Arlington taking on that discussion would distract from the immediate needs of the Pike’s residents.
“If a Metro line opened tomorrow under Columbia Pike, I would be elated,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “However, given the current political and budgetary climate, starting the process now will prove to be an exceedingly heavy lift, and the timeline could easily extend 30 years or more into the future. I think we need quicker solutions.”
Clement, a perennial candidate for Arlington public office, thinks Arlington needs to take up these discussions as soon as possible.
“It is definitely time to plan for a Metrorail line under Columbia Pike,” she said. “One of the principal reasons I opposed the Pike trolley was the fact that the trolley tracks would have to be dug up to accommodate the subway, which is the ultimate solution to congestion on the Pike.”
(Fallon, Schneider and Lander did not respond to ARLnow.com’s email asking for comment.)
Dorsey also opposed the streetcar, while Cristol, a Pike resident, and Wiljanen didn’t say whether they supported the project, only that Arlington needs to move on.
The Blue Line will be the recipient of the first of Metro’s next generation of trains next month.
The first 7000-series train is scheduled to enter passenger service on Tuesday, April 14, Metro announced today.
“The introduction of the first new train will be the most significant milestone to date for a project that has spanned nearly five years from approval and funding, through design and engineering, to testing and certification,” Metro said today, in a press release.
The brand new eight-car is expected to depart the Franconia-Springfield station shortly after 7:00 a.m. on April 14, serving Blue Line stations in Fairfax County, Alexandria, Arlington County, the District and Prince George’s County. The Blue Line has weathered service cuts since Metro began Silver Line service last summer.
The 7000 series will feature a blue-and-gray interior color scheme and “new technologies that are generations ahead of Metro’s current railcars.” Among the features riders can expect, as detailed by Metro:
- Stainless steel car body for increased durability
- 64 vinyl padded seats and seat-back hand grasps
- Six different station destination signs, including two dynamic LCD route maps and four video screens in each car
- LCD map displays to allow customers to easily track their location
- LED screens that provide current and upcoming station information
- Improved seats that provide more knee room and better lumbar support
- Wider aisles (34 inches verses 32 inches on older cars) to facilitate movement within the car
- Additional space near the doors for standees and wheelchairs
- Resilient nonslip flooring, rather than carpet
- High-tech automated public address systems
- Closed circuit cameras for added safety and security
- More reliable door systems using proven technology
- Added handholds in the door area and vertical poles added at each seat – for a total of 25% more linear feet of bars than in Metro’s 6000-series cars
- Enhanced lighting and privacy screens in the vestibule area
There are also a number of significant new safety features, as outlined in the Metro press release, excerpted after the jump.
For the third time in a week, Arlington County firefighters are responding to the Rosslyn Metro station for a report of smoke in the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.
D.C. firefighters are also responding to the Foggy Bottom station.
For the second day in a row, Arlington County firefighters are investigating a report of smoke in the Metrorail tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom.
No smoke was found in the Rosslyn station upon firefighters’ arrival.
ACFD responded to the Rosslyn Metro station last night (Saturday) for a similar report of fire and smoke, in the same part of the tunnel as tonight’s incident. It was later determined that the fire was extinguished after power was cut to the third rail.
The Blue, Orange and Silver lines are single-tracking between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom as a result of the incident. No injuries have been reported.
The Metro tunnel began to leak in the fall because a stormwater-retention system built by the county was overflowing, Metro spokeswoman Caroline Laurin told WUSA9. The county built that system in the median of S. Hayes Street as part of street upgrades for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
WMATA has placed pieces of sheet metal where the leaks are occurring, deflecting the water down the wall and away from passengers.
“When that retention pond overflows, water enters our station,” Laurin told the TV station, which first reported the leaks after seeing a tweet from a curious Metro rider. “This temporary solution will be in place until Arlington County can address the issue with the storm water retention structure.”
Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services, which oversaw the road construction, said WMATA approved the work it did around the Metro station, and denies that it is to blame for the leaky tunnel.
“It’s not unusual to have leaks in tunnel systems, especially systems like the Pentagon City Metrorail tunnel that are 40 years old,” Katherine Youngbluth, the project manager for the S. Hayes Street improvements, told ARLnow.com in an email. “The rain garden facility that was constructed as part of the County’s Pentagon City Multimodal project (and all other aspects of the project that were adjacent to WMATA facilities) was fully vetted through WMATA’s review and approval process and received a permit for all construction work.”
Youngbluth said the county has known about the leak since the fall, but has only had preliminary talks with WMATA about whose responsibility it is to fix the leak. The county is “continuing to explore technical studies and solutions that are available for an investigation of this type” and doesn’t yet have a timeframe or cost analysis for the repair, she added.
The multimodal improvements wrapped up last year, and included new sidewalks, crosswalks, street lighting, landscaping, new street crossing areas and bicycle amenities to go with the rain garden. The total project cost was $9 million.
Photo via @jurbanchuk
Update at 2:50 p.m. — The Courthouse station will be reopened shortly. A “test train” is being used to see if it’s safe for Metro to start using the affected stretch of track again. Metro and fire department personnel tell ARLnow.com that there were no communication or coordination problems during the incident response.
The Arlington County Fire Department and Metro personnel are on the scene at the Courthouse Metro station due to an electrical issue on the tracks.
The fire was reported just before 2:00 p.m. It’s said to be an insulator fire in a tunnel just outside the Courthouse station, similar to the electrical malfunction that caused smoke to fill a Yellow Line tunnel last month, killing one person.
The station was evacuated and riders exiting the station said it was moderately smoky inside but not stifling. A slight haze and an electrical smell of something burning was also present outside the station for a period of time.
Firefighters were “working with WMATA to shut down power and extinguish” the fire, according to the ACFD Twitter account. Numerous Metro and fire personnel are on the scene. Police have shut down 15th Street near the station.
As of 2:32 p.m., ACFD said the track fire was extinguished there were “light smoke conditions” inside the station. Some fire trucks have started leaving the scene.
Orange and Silver Line trains are single-tracking past the station, according to Metro.
No injuries have been reported.
Fort Myer and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority firefighters also responded to the incident.