Arlington County Board members wrestled last night with a plan to substitute car parking spaces for spots for bike and car-sharing at new apartment and condo buildings near Metro stations.
The proposal, put together by county staff as part of a number of changes to parking policy under discussion at a Tuesday work session, is meant to encourage developers to contribute to other transit options.
Staff recommended that a developer providing a Capital Bikeshare station could substitute that for for up to four car parking spaces, depending on its size, or bike parking could be exchanged for two parking spaces. One car-sharing space, provided for a private company like Zipcar, could be in place of five spots.
But Board members questioned why the provision for different transit means is tied to reducing car parking spaces, especially near Metro stations, as adding such amenities is becoming a more standard practice in developments across the region.
“It bothers me that going to suggest that we’re not going to get these things until we go down to the minimum [parking ratio],” said Board chair Jay Fisette. “These are things that should be part of every site plan.”
Among the other recommendations put forward by staff, developers could request fewer parking spaces the closer a property is to a Metro station, with some committed affordable housing units not being required to have any parking spaces if they are within an eighth of a mile of a station.
Board member John Vihstadt argued that orienting the changes in parking policy around Metro, which would allow developers to provide fewer spaces at new buildings if they are close to a station, might be misguided given the drop in ridership due to the system’s ongoing safety concerns and year-long SafeTrack rebuilding program.
Vihstadt said that drop in ridership was “casting a pall” over the discussion, but county transportation director Dennis Leach said it was important to attract residents to such buildings who “build a lifestyle” around Metro. Vihstadt requested further data on the county’s declining ridership, which Leach said has also been hampered by more teleworking and other factors.
A major addition by staff to a report in March, by a residential parking working group on the new parking policy, is a requirement that developers provide for dedicated visitor parking.
Stephen Crim, a parking planner in the county’s Department of Environmental Services, said that change came after concerns from nearby residents that cars would park on their residential streets, especially those of visitors who have few options.
Leach noted that the parking garages in neighborhoods like Crystal City and Pentagon City are under-utilized, especially by visitors, and that DES could do even more to promote use of those spaces alongside the various Business Improvement Districts in the county.
Staff and County Board members agreed that while the policy still needs work before approval, it is aspirational and designed to attract residents who would prefer to have minimal, if any, car use.
“We are all seeking to hasten a future that we are interested in, which is a more multimodal corridor especially with fewer cars and more people taking alternatives to the extent that it suits them and choices that allow them to do so,” said Board vice chair Katie Cristol.
(Updated 2 p.m.) Some changes are coming to several Metrobus routes through Arlington County next year, as the county prepares for the Columbia Pike “Premium Transit Network.”
At a work session with the Arlington County Board on Thursday, county staff put forward a plan that would end seven lines that run through Arlington in FY 2019, which begins on July 1, 2018, and save the county $5.8 million:
- The 4A between Seven Corners and Rosslyn
- The 16B, E and P along Columbia Pike
- The 16G, H, K along Columbia Pike
A spokesman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services said the changes along the Pike would help make way for the so-called “Premium Transit Network,” which is projected to cost $6.9 million and launch next summer after delays. The various routes would be consolidated under that network, which the spokesman said would “result in more bus service in the county, not less.”
The new bus system was put together after the Columbia Pike Streetcar project was cancelled in 2014, with Board members at the time promising a system that would be just as good, if not better.
To try and lessen the impact of the service cuts, staff proposed improving the frequency and hours of the 4B that largely overlaps the 4A, and similar efforts for the 16A on Columbia Pike. Those improvements would cost just under $850,000.
The 4B would then be discontinued as a Metrobus route in FY 2020, saving the county $1.7 million, and made an ART route.
The 16X service from Columbia Pike to Federal Triangle in D.C. via the Pentagon would have its hours improved, at a cost of $3.2 million to county coffers. The 15K and 15L routes between the East Falls Church and Rosslyn Metro stations would also be realigned.
All told, the various service reductions and increases will cost the county just over $2.6 million more in its Metrobus subsidy, bringing that figure to $40.5 million in FY 2019.
The possibility also exists that the 22A, B and C routes through Barcroft and South Fairlington could be converted into locally-run ART routes. That would save $2.4 million in the county’s Metrobus subsidy, but would require funds to be made available through ART instead.
Cuts had been planned for FY 2018 under the county’s Transit Development Plan approved last year, but were pushed off to FY 2019. The county did not cut any Metrobus routes for FY 2018, and improved the frequency of the 2A route between the Ballston and Dunn Loring Metro stations.
That came in part due to funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s “Transform 66” project to widen I-66 from the Dulles Connector Road to the Fairfax Drive exit in Ballston.
Metro staff will analyze the actual costs and savings from the various changes, and bring forward a proposal to the agency’s board of directors. The board would then take public comment on any proposed changes region-wide before making a decision next year.
Image via county staff presentation
Staff from the county’s Department of Environmental Services studied the feasibility of dedicated lanes along the Pike, but at a work session on Tuesday said they would likely not work.
Transportation director Dennis Leach described Columbia Pike as a “challenging corridor” for dedicated lanes and priority traffic signals for buses, like the Transitway between the Braddock Road and Pentagon City Metro stations. He said that the configuration of the road would not work for dedicated lanes, while they may also violate form based code that regulates development on Columbia Pike to make the area more walkable.
“There are no easy solutions. there are lots of tradeoffs, and some options would make things far worse,” Leach said. He added that giving traffic signal priority to buses might cause problems at some cross streets with Columbia Pike, especially those with heavy traffic.
Board members said they would like to see further study, and that such plans should not be ruled out even if in just one area of the Pike if it provides a benefit.
But the buses could be in for a unique look like the Transitway, which would mark them as separate from the other Metrobus and ART services along the Pike. Staff recommended pursuing a distinctive bus appearance, while using Metro’s standard stock of buses rather than ones powered purely by electricity or hydrogen due to cost.
Arlington’s buses could also be set for more advertising after staff issued a Request for Information last week. Responses are due from vendors by July 13 as staff gathers information about what could be done to generate additional transit revenue.
A separate suggestion by the Board to have buses arrive every six minutes on the Pike even in off-peak hours comes with a heavy price tag, as DES staff said it would cost an extra $2.5 million and require buying another bus. Staff also said demand might not be enough to help defray those costs.
But Board members said providing more service could help encourage more people to take the bus. Vice chair Katie Cristol said the idea is “also trying to induce demand,” especially when considering statistics provided by staff that show many bus riders in the area go to points along the Pike rather than beyond it.
“The objective here is not simply to meet current demand, but to create a transit system in which people can go to their bus stop, get on their bus and know they will be able to ride to where they want to go at some point,” Cristol said.
Board chair Jay Fisette agreed, noting that there is an “expectation” among Columbia Pike residents that transit improve. When the proposed streetcar was cancelled in 2014, Board members promised a system that would be just as good, if not better.
Cristol agreed, and asked why the county needed to wait for increased demand, or could “make a stretch, or place a bet?”
The new bus service is on track to open next summer. The county will engage in meetings with Fairfax County on the project, and is set to submit a version of it to WMATA’s Board of Directors to vote on ahead of finalizing a service plan later this year.
Also delayed but moving forward: the construction of 23 “premium transit stations,” along the Pike. The successor to the nixed $1 million “Super Stop,” the new stations will be factory assembled to save money.
The county will be issuing a Request for Proposals for the stations later this year, according to a staff presentation, with the goal of wrapping up installation by the second quarter of 2021 in coordination with multimodal improvements along the Pike.
Arlington County will not be asked to pay for more from its local coffers to cover dramatic funding hikes for Metro, the agency’s general manager promised Tuesday night.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said he hoped to cap any requests for increased contributions from the various jurisdictions that make up the transit authority at 3 percent per year.
More money for Metro was a factor in the Arlington County Board’s decision to hike property taxes by 1.5 cents, meaning residents can expect to pay an extra $277 on average. Arlington will contribute $70.7 million for FY 2018, compared to $56.6 million in FY 2017.
And while Wiedefeld’s pledge does not rule out Arlington’s contribution rising, it would be a lower increase than the 23.85 percent hike taxpayers funded for Metro’s fiscal 2018 budget.
Wiedefeld, during his presentation to the County Board, said smart fiscal management would avoid asking jurisdictions for more money, as would a new dedicated revenue source. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments adopted a resolution earlier this month calling for a dedicated funding source, but it would need buy-in from Maryland and Virginia’s state assemblies as well as D.C.’s government.
County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the FY 2018 contribution was a “big number for a locality like Arlington,” and said he welcomed a cap on funding.
Board Vice Chair Katie Cristol said she was “delighted to see [the promised funding cap] having just gone through a pretty difficult budget process and like many other jurisdictions are struggling with the idea of trying to do that again.”
Wiedefeld also promised that local riders of the Blue and Yellow lines would see more frequent trains as Metro looks to adjust its rail service, starting June 25. He said that the plan is for the Blue Line to arrive on platforms every eight minutes during rush hour, instead of every 12 minutes, as is current practice to accommodate the Silver Line.
Board member John Vihstadt pointed out that riders of the Blue and Yellow Lines in Arlington might have “a little different perspective” on Metro’s reliability from those who use the Orange and Silver Lines in the county.
“I think we have to roll this out in June, let’s start to rebuild the base around that, deliver that and be much more consistent in that service, and then as we start to get better and better we can look at ways we can expand that,” Wiedefeld said. “But we have to start with looking at the realities of where we are.”
On ARLnow’s 26 Square Miles podcast last week, County Board and Metro board member Christian Dorsey said that while Metro still has work to do to increase reliability, delays have decreased as SafeTrack has wrapped up.
A new report says Arlington County should use ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft to supplement under-performing ART bus routes and better connect residents with Metro stations.
Graduate students at George Mason University’s Schar School of Government and Policy compiled strategies to improve transit in the county, and concluded that using ride-hailing is one way to do so.
The report says the current fixed ART bus system is a disadvantage to some areas that are highly populated due to overcrowding, while there are service gaps for areas that are less densely populated. Based on their research, the ART 41 route from Columbia Pike to Courthouse is the busiest, while the 53, 62, 74 and 92 are all underused and failed to recoup much of their operating costs through fares.
The solution of using the likes of Uber and Lyft to supplement buses on routes that are underutilized is based on a similar program in Pinellas County, Florida called Direct Connect. Through the program, the county pays for half of a commuter’s Uber fare if it begins and ends at certain points and stays within a specific area.
A similar partnership can improve connections to the county’s Metro stations, GMU students concluded. While the report gives Arlington credit for the use of car- and bike-sharing with the likes of Capital Bikeshare and Car2Go, it says partnering with ride-hailing companies could be helpful for those who right now struggle to integrate Metro into their commutes.
“Mobile networks play a vital role in day-to-day life and real-time tracking of services has become a necessity for busy commuters,” the report says. “Developing this tool as a mobile application would create greater convenience for commuters.”
The report also said that the county could benefit from talking to the community. It suggests facilitating a two-way dialogue between riders and county staff, and using strategies like surveying riders at Metro stations and other major transit hubs.
“Arlington County, if it were to embrace advances in information technology and extend its history of community engagement even further, could implement cost-effective yet innovative transportation solutions in its neighborhoods,” the report says.
The center on 18th Street S. between S. Eads and S. Clark streets — next to the Crystal City Metro station — now has more bus shelters for use by local and regional buses, wider sidewalks, improved lighting, bike lanes and a kiss and ride zone where shuttle buses can also load and unload.
Funding for the $3.4 million project came a $1.5 million grant from NVTA, a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, a developer contribution and money from the Crystal City tax increment financing area.
“With these infrastructure improvements, Arlington is making it easier and safer for people travelling to and through Crystal City — whether they are arriving by bus, Metro, on foot or by car,” County Board chair Jay Fisette said. “It’s the latest example of how the county continues to invest in Crystal City and continues to build on the community’s vision of enhanced access and connectivity.”
NVTA funds projects across four counties and five cities in Northern Virginia, and officials said improvements such as those in Crystal City help the entire region. NVTA board chair Martin Nohe gave the example that a stopped train in Arlington at 7 a.m. can cause parking problems in Woodbridge at 8 a.m., and the center will help ease congestion worries.
“The people of truly every Northern Virginia jurisdiction are benefitting not just from this project, but every other project throughout Arlington,” Nohe said.
Fisette said that such projects and an emphasis on transit helped Arlington be recently named the best city for millennials. Without planning and the community’s input combined with bodies willing to help with financing, projects like these could never come to fruition, he said.
“We can’t do it all ourselves,” Fisette said. “We have to partner to make things like this happen…That’s what makes a community good. You can’t do the last part [delivering a project] without the first part [money], and you can’t do the first part without the community and the vision.”
Fares for Arlington Transit and Specialized Transportation for Arlington Residents could increase next month, subject to County Board approval.
The plan would raise the ART adult bus fare from $1.75 to $2 and the ART discount fare for seniors, students and people with disabilities from 85 cents to $1.
Local STAR trips would increase in cost from $3.50 to $4, while trips inside the Capital Beltway and trips beyond would increase 50 cents each, from $5 to $5.50 and from $9 to $9.50, respectively.
All fare increases would go into effect on June 25.
Under the proposal, ART’s iRide program offering discounts for teens would be extended to elementary school students, while the program allowing free use of ART by personal care attendants accompanying MetroAccess-certified riders would also be extended. ART adult fare tokens would also be withdrawn from circulation, and could then be exchanged for Metrobus tokens or added to a SmarTrip card.
The fare rise would be in line with Metro’s decision to hike its Metrobus fares at the same level, and would offset increased operating costs of 6 percent for ART and 5 percent for STAR.
Staff recommended the County Board adopt the proposed change at its recessed meeting on Tuesday.
The Crystal City station in the Virginia Railway Express system is set for a major facelift, including a new entrance and a longer platform to add ridership capacity.
The station, one of the busiest in the VRE commuter rail system and the destination of around 18 percent of riders, will eventually be fitted with a 700-foot island platform. Currently, Crystal City’s station has a 400-foot platform beside its three tracks.
VRE staff said the shorter platform creates an “operational bottleneck,” and lengthening it would allow more — and longer — trains to pass through. It would also enable VRE to be used by more local residents as a commuter rail service to Union Station, near Capitol Hill.
Any plans to add a second track within the station’s current footprint would also be coordinated with a future track being designed by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s proposed high-speed line between D.C. and Richmond.
As well as adding a longer platform, the station’s entrance would be altered for better connections for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as other transportation options like Metro, the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway, local buses and shuttles and taxis.
VRE staff are currently considering three initial locations for the new platform and either a tunnel or overpass connecting that platform to the rest of Crystal City.
At the County Board’s meeting on Tuesday, vice chair Katie Cristol, who serves on VRE’s operations board, said the agency’s staff presented the criteria to analyze those three options to the public for feedback. In June, staff will return to present their analysis of the three options against the criteria while continuing to receive public comment.
Cristol said that an initial concept design and cost projections would be expected in the summer under that timeline. County Board chairman Jay Fisette said Arlington is looking to schedule a date for a future work session to weigh in on the subject and select its preferred choice.
Metroway operates between the Braddock Road and Pentagon City Metro stations via U.S. Route 1 through Potomac Yard and Crystal Drive in Crystal City. It opened last April after collaboration with the City of Alexandria but ran into construction delays and cost challenges.
According to statistics provided by the county’s department of environmental services, there have been an average of 3,805 boardings and disembarkings at all stations in Arlington every weekday.
County staff said there have been an average of 474 weekday boardings and disembarkings at the S. Glebe Road station, just north of Arlington’s border with Alexandria. The station has the most riders in Arlington by that metric.
County staff estimate that riders starting their journeys at S. Glebe Road saved two-and-a-half minutes on their journeys with the dedicated bus lanes, compared to when they rode the Metrobus’ 9S service, which was replaced.
Designs for the project to improve 12th Street S. in Crystal City are coming together, and now the public can take a look themselves.
The “Ask the Project Team” event for the Complete Street project between Clark and Eads streets is scheduled to take place on Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. at The Connection pop-up library at 2100 Crystal Drive. The designs are 30 percent complete, so this event means residents can provide feedback on any major concerns in the plans.
The project will help create dedicated bus lanes for the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway in that section of 12th Street S. — the same stretch in which a commuter bus crashed into an apartment building last week — as well as provide pedestrian improvements.
It will add two-way bicycle lanes under the Route 1 bridge, which will link a future two-way bicycle track on Army Navy Drive to a planned two-way bike lane along S. Bell Street heading toward the Crystal City Metro station. Those new bicycle facilities will then link to Long Bridge Drive.
The design will also include improved landscaping, sidewalks, pedestrian ramps and streetlights, as well as new north/south crosswalks at Army Navy Drive. It is adjacent to the 12th Street S. extension project from S. Eads Street to S. Fern Street in Pentagon City.
After the meeting, the project display boards will remain at the library for public viewing until April 15.
(Updated at 11:50 a.m.) Those who live and work along Columbia Pike will have to wait another year for the implementation of a “Premium Transit Network” along the corridor.
ARLnow.com has learned that the plan for enhanced bus service along the Pike has been pushed back from 2018 to 2019 due to “WMATA’s focus on SafeTrack and core operations.”
Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services issued the following statement on the delay.
Originally proposed for summer 2018, implementation of the Columbia Pike Premium Transit Network is now planned for summer 2019. Much of the new service for this network depends on Metrobus, but Metrobus service improvements have been hampered by Metro’s SafeTrack program and the need for Metrobus to focus efforts on moving passengers around rail disruptions. The County is still working to improve local ART service on the original schedule, and we’ve started the purchase process for new buses needed for future service improvements.
Arlington’s Transit Bureau is working with WMATA and Fairfax County to develop an implementation plan for Columbia Pike service improvements. Metrobus has executed a contract to begin the planning and combine improvements included in both Arlington and Fairfax County’s Transit Development Plans.
The Premium Transit Network was criticized as not ambitious enough when it was approved last year, especially compared to the Columbia Pike streetcar plan it essentially replaced. County staff was directed to consider other enhancements to transit along the corridor to supplement it.
The streetcar project was cancelled in 2014. At the time, Arlington County Board member and streetcar critic Libby Garvey promised a transit replacement that “will do everything the streetcar could and more.”
The transit network is intended be “fast, frequent, reliable and easy to use, with features including simplified routes, increased weekday and weekend service, and a new one-seat bus ride from Skyline to Pentagon City-Crystal City,” according to a county press release last year. “In addition to new service, the Premium Transit Network includes new transit stations along Columbia Pike that will provide near-level boarding, longer platforms, real-time bus arrival information and off-vehicle fare collection.”
Although the transit network implementation has been delayed, Arlington County and WMATA have already implemented a number of planned enhancements to bus service along Columbia Pike and elsewhere in Arlington, according to slides from a Dept. of Environmental Services budget presentation that were posted online.
(Updated 2:40 p.m.) Engineers completed repairs of the tunnel leak, and trains are no longer sharing a track on the Yellow Line.
Trains are single-tracking on Metro’s Yellow Line from Pentagon City into D.C. after water entered the tunnel south of the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station.
Metro received the report of the infiltration shortly after 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Crews removed power to the electrified third rail on the nearby northbound tracks. After an inspection, engineers found water breaching the tunnel under pressure.
As of 1:25 p.m., trains were still single-tracking. Metro officials said an estimated repair time will be posted once more information is known.
Metro posted video of the leak online:
More from a Metro press release:
Shortly after 11:30 a.m., Metro received a report of water entering the Yellow Line tunnel south of L’Enfant Plaza. Metro removed third rail power on the inbound Yellow Line track. Upon inspection, engineers found water breaching the tunnel wall under pressure (see video below).
While there is no risk to the structural integrity of the tunnel, Metro has taken this action to prevent water from spraying on the electrified third rail. Yellow Line trains are single tracking between L’Enfant Plaza and Pentagon City. The source of the water has not been determined, but all indications are that the water is originating from outside the Metro system.
Yellow Line trains are subject to delays due to single tracking. Green and Blue line trains, while not single tracking, may experience congestion-related delays due to Yellow Line trains waiting to proceed through the single-track zone. Customers on both lines are advised to allow additional travel time.
Metro will provide an update on an estimated time of repair once more information is known.
The incident happened around 10 a.m. on S. Eads Street at 22nd Street S.
“The lid of a trash dumpster that was being pushed down the street was blown open by the wind striking the windshield of a Metrobus,” a Metro spokesman told ARLnow.com. “The bus operator was treated on site for minor injuries due to broken glass.”
The bus was not in service at the time and no other passengers were reported to be on the bus.
Metro’s next SafeTrack “surge” will include a temporary shutdown of the entire Blue Line, starting Saturday.
Blue Line trains will not run at all between Feb. 11-28, according to Metro. Instead, Yellow Line “Rush Plus” trains will run all day between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt. Those trains will run in addition to regular Yellow Line trains between Huntingdon and Mount Vernon Square.
The Arlington Cemetery station will be closed and will be served by buses from the Pentagon during the latest round of maintenance work.
During rush hour, trains are scheduled to arrive every four minutes at stations normally served by both Blue and Yellow Line trains, Metro said. Orange and Silver Line trains will not be affected by the latest track maintenance effort.
Metro originally planned to only run Blue Line trains between the Franconia-Springfield and Reagan National Airport stops. But the transit agency updated that plan on Jan. 27 after concluding the original one wasn’t necessarily “in the interest of minimizing customer impact.”
“The new service plan means that riders from Virginia will experience less crowding and will be able to ride into D.C. without changing trains,” the agency said in a release.
Next month, track work will primarily affect riders heading to and from Alexandria. From March 4-26, Metro trains will share a single track on the Blue and Yellow lines between the Braddock Road and Huntington/Van Dorn Street stations. Blue Line trains will run every 24 minutes during that time, while the Yellow Line between National Airport and Mt. Vernon Square will run every 6-12 minutes, according to Metro.
From March 26 through April 2, only Blue Line Trains will share a single track. Then, from April 3-9, Yellow Line trains are slated for single-tracking.
Later this year, likely around May and June, a portion of the Orange Line between the Minnesota Avenue and New Carrollton stops is also scheduled to undergo maintenance and single tracking. The SafeTrack program is currently slated to wrap up in late June, though the final dates haven’t yet been announced.
Flickr pool photo by Brian Irwin
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld last year announced a $3.1 billion “reality check” budget that includes fare hikes, longer wait times and cuts to bus routes throughout the D.C. area.
Among other changes in the 2018 fiscal year budget, riders would have to pay an additional 10 to 25 cents more for train and bus trips.
Metro would also consider eliminating the following routes that run through Arlington:
- 5A D.C.-Dulles
- 13Y Arlington-Union Station
- 15K, L Chain Bridge Road
- 17 A, B, F, M Kings Park
- 18 P, R, S Burke Centre
- 28X Leesburg Pike
The proposal would also modify the 16H Columbia Heights West-Pentagon City route to “provide two-way service 7 days a week between 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. with service every 10 minutes during weekday rush hours and service every 20 minutes at other times,” Metro said. The 16G and 16K would be eliminated.
Additionally, the proposed budget could shorten the 16X Columbia Pike-Federal Triangle route by eliminating service between between the Pentagon Transit Center and the Federal Triangle Metro Station.
Metro riders gathered at the transit agency’s headquarters last night to weigh in on the proposed cuts. Some daily commuters pleaded with Metro officials not to cut their stops, according to WAMU.
Still, the agency must plug a budget gap of about $290 million, a number it said was “larger than recent years due to growing expenses to operate and maintain the system, and declining ridership.”
Riders who want to weigh in on the proposed changes have until 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 6 to do so. Those interested can also fill out a survey to tell the agency how they feel about the budget.