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An Arlington Transit (ART) bus outside the Ballston Metro station (staff photo)

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) Starting today, morning ART bus rides into Arlington and evening rides out during weekday rush hours will be free until the end of December.

The initiative is designed to ease I-66 congestion by encouraging the use of public transit, according to a county press release. It is funded by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) Commuter Choice grant program.

“Skip the driving, save money on gas and tolls, and get to your destination stress-free,” the county says on the ART bus website. “When you ride instead of drive, you’re taking single-occupancy vehicles off the road, reducing both traffic and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.”

Free fares will end on Christmas Day, per the release. To ensure passengers do not accidentally pay, fare boxes will be covered on buses headed in the direction with higher demand during rush hours.

Arlington received $1.35 million from NVTC, about $566,000 of which pays for free fares, Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors said. The rest funds activities by Arlington County Commuter Services, which educates commuters and employers about sustainable transportation options.

The grant funding applies to routes along the I-66 corridor. Three ART routes outside the corridor will be free during the same period “for a seamless experience for all ART riders,” Pors said, noting the county’s transit bureau is paying $19,000 for these fares.

The county says it also supports expanding the free-ride initiative to include routes beyond the I-66 corridor. Funding for free fare initiatives comes from revenue from the Express Lanes on I-66, I-395 and I-95, which help finance various transit projects across the region.

ART already offers free transfers for rail riders who transfer from Metro to bus within two hours of taking Metro. Rides are also free for Arlington Public School with registered Student iRide SmarTrip cards.

In addition to the free bus initiative, NVTC funds are also supporting a proposed west entrance to the Ballston Metro station.

A list of free bus routes and times is below.

Free fare routes on ART through Dec. 25, 2023 (via Arlington County)
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A rendering of a bus rapid transit station pulled from a similar project in Seattle (via Northern Virginia Transportation Commission)

One day, a new bus rapid transit line could connect East Falls Church to Alexandria and Tysons Corner.

But the planning effort for the bus line, Envision Route 7, needs more studies and outreach, according to Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, or NVTC, which is leading the planning effort.

Although it received federal and state funding, NVTC appealed to the jurisdictions served by the bus line — including Arlington — for additional local funding to advance that work. This weekend, the Arlington County Board approved chipping in $70,000 over two years.

The bus rapid transit line would run between the Mark Center in Alexandria and the Spring Hill Metro station in Tysons, mostly making stops along Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads and the City of Falls Church. Along the way, it will briefly pass through Arlington via the East Falls Church Metro station.

Envision Route 7 route (via NVTC)

Envision Route 7 is now in its 10th year of planning and its fourth planning phase.

During this phase, NVTC will study traffic and environmental impacts and conduct extensive public outreach.

To do that work, it received $2 million in federal funds, requiring $500,000 in non-federal match. It then received $500,000 this fiscal year from the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation, requiring local match of $500,000.

Arlington previously contributed into earlier planning stages, which helped to decide on using bus rapid transit along the corridor.

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Passengers board an ART bus on Columbia Pike (file photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington is looking to operate buses more frequently and expand service with more off-peak and weekend service.

These are just some of the recommendations that could be implemented as part of an overhaul of the municipal bus service, called Arlington Transit, over the next decade. The changes are part of an update to Arlington’s Transit Strategic Plan, which it is required to have by state law and update every six years.

As part of the update, Arlington County will be redesigning service in North Arlington and enhancing service along Columbia Pike, in Pentagon City and Crystal City, and around the under-construction Shirlington Transit Center. The proposed changes also include closing down some underutilized routes, adding service to community destinations such as Long Bridge Park, and ensuring schedules use easy-to-remember time intervals.

This update comes as ridership continues to recover from being slashed in half by the pandemic.

From July 2022 to this March, the most recent ART Bus ridership report available, monthly ridership increased from 130,299 to 164,516. Today, the highest concentration of riders is taking the bus north-south between Columbia Pike or Shirlington and the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor or east-west along Langston Blvd.

Still, there are gaps in service and barriers to bus use that this update is intended to address. In preparation for the strategic plan update, the county says it heard from users that their biggest asks are reliability, frequency and efficiency, as well as a better user experience.

“People want more direct routes with fewer transfers, taking less time to make their trips… [as well as] a better user experience (clean buses, safe and accessible waiting areas, and high levels of customer service and transparency) overall,” the county said.

Right now, reliability can depend on which route users take. ART bus data from March, for instance, shows that on-time performance is higher from Rosslyn to East Falls Church and from Crystal City to Courthouse but lower from Columbia Pike to Rosslyn and Courthouse. The Columbia Pike routes, however, see four to six times the number of riders.

The county tracked where bus service and demand are mismatched, plus researched popular places people congregate and want to go to — but currently cannot get to easily by bus. County staff specifically looked at places with higher concentrations of people without cars, seniors and people with disabilities or limited English proficiency, among other socioeconomic factors.

It found the following communities, circled in the graphic, could benefit from expanded service.

Areas where service could be improved (via Arlington County) 

New routes serving these identified neighborhoods include a new ART 43 providing a “one-seat ride” between Clarendon, Courthouse, Rosslyn and Crystal City — a potential time and cost-saver compared to Metrorail — and a new ART 85, linking Shirlington, Long Branch Creek, Aurora Highlands, Crystal City and Potomac Yard.

These have the support of transit advocacy group Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County (SusMo), which evaluated each of the proposed route changes on its website.

“We’ve looked at the proposed route changes in detail and have a bunch of recommendations, both for routes that need improved frequencies, as well as for routes that are overly meandering, duplicative and should not be a priority in this constrained fiscal environment where both buses and bus drivers are at a premium,” SusMo said.

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Arlington County is applying for regional funding to run buses every six minutes between Fairfax County and Amazon’s second headquarters in Pentagon City during peak hours.

The Arlington County Board on Saturday authorized staff to apply for up to $8 million in Northern Virginia Transportation Commission funding. Funding would offset the operating costs associated with running 10 buses per hour during peak times for two years along a new Metrobus route dubbed the 16M, connecting the Skyline complex in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County down Columbia Pike, to Pentagon City and Crystal City.

The report suggests that the county is preparing for an increase in ridership after the opening of the first phase of Amazon’s HQ2, despite work from home trends.

“The 16M service will provide a direct connection to Amazon HQ2 with its first phase of construction (2.1 million square feet of commercial space) coming on-line in Summer/Fall 2023,” per a county report. “This service will also take advantage of the recently built portions of Columbia Pike and [eight] new transit stations located on Columbia Pike.”

But recommendations to increase frequency along this route date back well beyond Amazon’s decision to move into Arlington, says Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Claudia Pors.

She says the request acts on a 2016 study, which “recommended creating a route connecting Skyline with Crystal City through Columbia Pike in anticipation of growth in Crystal City.” That followed the cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which would have followed largely the same route.

“The study evaluated ridership forecasting, current service patterns, like bus and seat availability, and travel patterns, like trip lengths, ridership rates and traffic volume in the area to make the recommendation to increase frequency,” Pors said.

Sometime this spring, the new 16M route will begin revenue service with a base frequency of buses every 12 minutes during the service day.  The new route will replace existing 16G/H service.

Pors said the average weekday ridership for the last four-and-a-half years along the 16G/H line peaked at a little over 4,500 average weekday riders before Covid, and is now about 60% recovered compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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Morning Notes

Kayakers on the Potomac near Key Bridge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Driver Crashes into Trooper’s Cruiser — A Virginia State Police trooper was radioing in a license plate during a traffic stop on I-395 near Shirlington when his cruiser was rear-ended. The trooper finished giving the tag number before telling the dispatcher about the crash. [Twitter]

Circulator Strike Continues — “The first day’s negotiations between a bus drivers union and the operator of D.C. Circulator since workers began striking were unsuccessful through Wednesday evening, increasing the prospects of a potentially lengthy outage of the city’s only public bus service.” [Washington Post]

Marymount Planning Child Care Center — “Marymount University is setting up a new child care center on campus in a renovation project that it said is designed to fill a critical, and deepening, local workforce need as those with young children return to the office. The Marymount Early Learning Academy for children aged 3 to 5 will open in the summer or fall of 2023, reviving the idea of an on-campus preschool that the university used to run in the 1990s before it closed down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sexual Battery Incident in Pentagon City — “500 block of 12th Road S…. at approximately 11:40 p.m. on April 29th the male victim had entered into the elevator of a secure residential building when the unknown suspect followed behind him. The victim exited the elevator and walked down the hallway, during which the suspect grabbed his buttocks. The suspect then fled the scene.” [ACPD]

Air Force Colonel on Trial — “An official with the California National Guard charged with indecent exposure in Arlington in March is scheduled to go to trial in Arlington on July 18… the suspect entered the business and exposed himself to female victims, according to the ACPD.” [Patch]

Falls Church Lowers Property Tax Rate — “On Monday night, the Falls Church City Council approved a $112.8 million Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) that invests in public schools, core government services, walkability and traffic calming, environmental sustainability, and more, all while reducing the real estate tax rate by 9 cents… To mitigate the 11 percent overall increase in real estate assessments, the adopted budget includes a decrease in the real estate tax to $1.23 per $100 of assessed value.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Cinco de Mayo — Mostly cloudy, with a high of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

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In the next couple of months, Arlington County will launch a campaign encouraging transit use and thanking people who rode Metro and the bus during Covid.

The campaign, aimed at restoring transit ridership rates to pre-pandemic levels, should kick off later this spring or early this summer and will last at least one year, says Department of Environmental Services Director of Transportation Dennis Leach.

“This is an ongoing effort,” he said. “It’s going to take a couple of years to rebuild transit ridership.”

Metrorail use plummeted in March 2020 as large swaths of federal and private employees were directed to work from home. Since then, rail ridership has picked up in fits and starts, most recently recovering by 33% in the fall before the Omicron variant hit. Leach predicts a long recovery for Metro that will depend in large part on federal return-to-work guidelines.

Local bus ridership rates, meanwhile, fell to 50% of pre-Covid rates, as many essential workers continued to take the bus, and had also been recovering quickly before Omicron, he said.

Rates for both modes were ticking up in late February as more people seem to be out and about, as well as commuting to the office, he said. With ridership creeping up and Covid cases remaining low, Arlington County, the Northern Virginia region and the state are all embarking on efforts to further boost public transit use.

Arlington will focus on promoting bus ridership and encouraging Metro trips for accessing entertainment and cultural sites. Targeting Metrorail is paramount, he said, as the lion’s share of Arlington’s pre-pandemic transit riders used Metro, and work-from-home may be around for good.

The county will be seizing on historically high gas prices — fueled by a host of supply issues, most recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine — as a reason to choose public transit.

In Arlington, a gallon of regular gas costs an average of $4.19, up from $2.80 per gallon in 2021 and $3.05 per gallon last month, according to the pump price watch group GasBuddy.

https://twitter.com/GasBuddyGuy/status/1501920976958803969

“Any time gas prices really spike, it’s an opportunity to promote transit as an affordable way to get around,” Leach said. “The ART bus and Metrobus are $2, we offer free transfers from the bus to Metrorail and Metro has introduced a lot of discounts to promote the return to rail.”

Locals can expect to see and hear messages on social media and on Spotify — targeting commuters who listen to music and podcasts — and promotions on buses and in Metro stations.

“Spotify has been helpful in the past for Arlington Transportation Partners to localize where those listeners are and target them where they are,” DES spokeswoman Claudia Pors says. “Hopefully, people are still listening to podcasts on their commute to the living room.”

The local effort is part of a push by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission to encourage transit ridership. NVTC used a one-time, $500,000 state grant to launch a campaign and asked the jurisdictions in its borders to each contribute to a 20% match, or $100,000.

Arlington is contributing $10,000, which the Arlington County Board approved on Saturday. Other participating localities include Fairfax and Loudoun counties, the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church, and entities such as Virginia Railway Express and OmniRide.

NVTC’s effort and Arlington’s plans dovetail from a statewide transit recovery marketing initiative, for which the Commonwealth has set aside $2 million, and are geared toward an already well-connected region.

“We’re the most transit-centric part of the state — about 70% of state transit ridership is in Northern Virginia,” Leach said. “At the state level, they’re much more focused on commuting. In Arlington, that’s important, but you’re going to see us pivot to transit for lifestyle and using transit to do multiple things.”

Virginians can expect to see the state and region promoting public transit in various news outlets and on social media.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Arlington County is requesting feedback on partial designs for expanded bus bays and pedestrian safety improvements at the East Falls Church Metro station.

The $6.6 million bus bay expansion project, a capital improvement project approved last year, is part of a handful of near-term upgrades planned at and around the Metro station, the parking lot of which was frequently packed pre-pandemic.

Project and regional transit representatives say the expansion will allow for more regional bus routes without causing traffic jams while making walking from the park-and-ride lot safer. The existing bays currently serve nine Metrobus, Arlington Transit (ART) and Fairfax Connector bus routes.

“The East Falls Church Metrorail station currently has four bus bays that are at maximum capacity,” according to the county. “The project will expand bus bay capacity by adding up to three new bus bays and replacing the existing shelters in the off-street bus loop at the East Falls Church Metrorail station.”

Arlington is leading and sponsoring the project, but Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) owns the Metro station, the bus loop and park-and-ride lot.

The county asks locals to say whether the proposed changes will make them feel safer walking, taking the bus, biking, scooting and driving. The survey, open through Sunday, March 20, includes an interactive map people can use to give location-specific feedback.

 

“What this expansion will allow us to do is get buses in and out of the bus loop more efficiently so we don’t have as much gridlock as we currently do at this time,” WMATA planner André Stafford said in a meeting Tuesday.

It may be awhile before more bus routes are added, county transit planner Paul Mounier said in the same meeting.

The county will install seven new bus shelters and is considering adding a new signal and crosswalk at the Washington Blvd entrance to the park-and-ride lot.

Arlington County staff identified this expansion project back in 2011. Four years later, staff found the biggest needs were increasing the capacity of the bus bays, adding refuges to the 150-foot crosswalk that passes in front of the bus loop, replacing the aging, hazardous cement and adding ramps accessible to people with disabilities.

After the expansion work, Arlington will make streetscape and signal upgrades to N. Sycamore Street, Arlington County project manager Kenex Sevilla said Tuesday. The street forms the eastern edge of the Metro parking lot and bus bays.

Meanwhile, both Arlington and the City of Falls Church are expanding Capital Bikeshare stations nearby. The station was once a popular station to ride to that is still recovering from the pandemic-era hit to commuting. A new $2 million, 92-spot bike facility to accommodate cyclists made its debut in August 2020.

This area is poised to see other development in the future, too. WMATA is studying the site for future transit developments while the Department of Community, Planning and Housing Development is studying it as part of the Plan Langston Blvd initiative. A second entrance to the station was put on hold in 2018.

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A Metroway bus at the Transitway bus stop at 27th Street S. and Crystal Drive (staff photo by Matt Blitz

Many are predicting that the pandemic will drastically affect how we commute and use public transportation for the foreseeable future.

How that will impact long-term transportation projects, like the Metroway bus rapid transit line and the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway extension to Pentagon City, is a puzzle that local officials are trying to put together.

In 2021, according to Metro’s data, bus ridership overall is down by close to two thirds from 2019. And those numbers may not increase a whole lot for at least a couple of years.

“It really is something that we all are literally struggling with to understand,” Arlington County’s Transit Bureau Chief Lynn Rivers told ARLnow. The transit bureau was responsible for building out the initial Transitway infrastructure, as well as the forthcoming Pentagon City extension. “Now… we’re talking 2023 when we’re going to start seeing the same levels [of bus riderships] that we had before.”

Even as more people head back to the office and lockdowns are no longer in effect, traffic patterns have shifted particularly on the roads. There’s now less traffic in the mornings, allowing cars and buses to get to their destination quicker.

“People are changing their patterns and how they are using the service,” Rivers said. “The huge rush hours in the morning and in the afternoon, we may not see that.”

Instead of seeing huge jumps in use during peak times — 6-9 a.m. in the morning and 3-7 p.m. in the evening — Rivers said there may be a leveling-out of how commuters use train and bus transit.

“Throughout the day, there will be constant movement,” she said.

This shift could be at least somewhat permanent and largely due to still a large number of folks continuing to work from home. Those that are going to the office, meanwhile, are spending fewer hours there.

(Nearly half of readers who responded to a ARLnow morning poll in October said they were still working from home.)

In response, and to encourage more people to use the bus system, Metro increased the frequency of the Metroway back in Sep last month (as well as other bus lines). It now runs every 12 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., in a bid to encourage ridership.

This shift in commuting patterns comes just as the county unveiled design plans last months for Pentagon City extension of the Transitway. While it comes with a price tag of nearly $28 million, most of the cost will be financed by the state and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Arlington is contributing about $1.8 million to the project, according to county officials.

Nonetheless, that’s still a significant use of tax dollars at a time when commuting is down and there are plenty of competing priorities. When the rapid bus transit system in Arlington was first conceived more than a decade ago, an airborne illness was not infecting millions across the globe.

With the knowledge that Covid spreads more easily in indoor settings, there could be hesitation among some commuters to be in crowded spaces with strangers despite relatively high local vaccination rates.

“Are we really going to cram back on a bus?” Chris Slatt, Arlington Transportation Commission chair and founder of Sustainable Mobility for Arlington County, asks rhetorically. “Are we going to want to be crowded into a Metro train as we were two or three years ago?”

John Vihstadt, former County Board member who vehemently opposed the Columbia Pike streetcar project, which he helped to scuttle, agrees that shifting commuter behaviors could make the Transitway not as a sound an investment as it once appeared.

While an avid public transit user himself and, generally, in favor of bus rapid transit — opponents of the streetcar argued that BRT along the Pike was a cost-effective alternative to a light rail system — Vihstadt thinks the county needs to do more modeling and forecasting of people’s commuting patterns before moving ahead with the build out.

“We can’t stick our heads in the sand and just expect that everything is going to ultimately return to the status quo,” he tells ARLnow.

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A Metroway bus (Staff photo)

When Metroway, the region’s first rapid bus transit line, launched in 2014 it was hailed as the future.

Dedicated lanes, more frequent service, covered stations, and bigger, newer buses along a 4.5-mile route connecting Arlington and Alexandria would boost bus ridership in sections of both jurisdictions that were rapidly developing.

The price tag was big — more than $42 million, split nearly evenly between Arlington and Alexandria — but officials believed it was worth it and could have the added benefit of revving up rapid bus transit elsewhere in the D.C. area.

“A lot of people will be looking to this project as a test concept to find out what lessons they can learn from it,” said Eric Randall, a senior transportation engineer at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), at the time. “It offers us an opportunity to apply some concepts for the first time — things like off-board fare collection, a design of bus stops with higher platforms and custom design shelters, a new branding and frequency of buses.”

It’s now 2021, seven years since Metroway’s launch, and it seems like a good time to ask the question: what have we learned from Metroway, the region’s first rapid bus transit?

Despite less-than-stellar ridership numbers and outside factors, rapid bus transit with dedicated infrastructure remains a worthy investment, according to local officials and public transportation advocates.

“I live in Alexandria and take Metroway monthly, from my perspective as a user, I think it’s a success,” Randall told ARLnow earlier this fall. He remains a transportation engineer with MWCOG.

“[Metroway] is doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” said Lynn Rivers, Arlington County’s Transit Bureau Chief. “Which is getting people out of their cars and onto the transit lanes.”

“Metroway is great,” said Sustainable Mobility for Arlington founder and Arlington Transportation Commission chair Chris Slatt . “It’s fantastic to have an example in Arlington of a dedicated space for transit. We really want to make transit time competitive with other ways to get around… and I think it does that.”

What’s more, the county is investing further into the needed infrastructure. In September, the county unveiled designs to extend the Transitway by an additional five stations and 1.1 miles so that it connects with the Pentagon City Metro station (not to mention areas close to Amazon’s new HQ2). While some advocates expressed their frustration about the lack of community engagement on street designs, their complaints were not necessarily about the concept of rapid bus transit or Metroway.

The extension is costing nearly $28 million, though most of it will be financed by the state and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Arlington itself is spending about $1.8 million, according to Rivers, which is only about 6% of the project’s total cost.

Construction on the first segment is expected to start in the winter of 2022 with completion in late 2023.

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. Off-board fare collection, even though it was promised, has not been implemented yet. There’ve been sightings of confused motorists, as reported by ARLnow readers, driving their cars the wrong way in the dedicated bus lanes, despites signs and marked roads. Ridership hasn’t been as high as perhaps expected, leading to 2016 reports that shutting it down was being considered.

For that, the lack of steady progress in terms of development at Potomac Yard and issues with opening the Metro station there are being blamed.

“Certain forecasts way back when were perhaps based on more optimistic assumptions in terms of development [in Potomac Yard],” admitted Randall.

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Morning Notes

Running Store Coming to Pentagon City — “Federal Realty Investment Trust has leased the last bit of vacant retail space at Westpost, the 14-acre mixed-use development a short walk from where Amazon.com Inc.’s new headquarters buildings will stand. The leases put the roughly 297,000-square-foot retail center on course to be fully occupied in the first half of 2022 after a handful of notable vacancies, including the nearly 34,000-square-foot former Bed, Bath & Beyond to be replaced by a Target store, and the roughly 4,500-square-foot space where Road Runner Sports will replace a shuttered Unleashed by Petco.” [Washington Business Journal]

Library Seeking Latino History Donations — “Over the last three decades, Arlington’s Latino community has rapidly grown and stockpiled a wealth of history. And this week, librarians and historians at the Center for Local History at Arlington Public Library are asking for donations of documents to archive the county’s Hispanic history. The project is called Re-Encuentro de Arlington Latinos.” [WTOP]

Rock Climbing Gym Goes Green — “Earth Treks Crystal City prides itself as a rock climbing outlet for people living in a metropolitan area and the business in northern Virginia hopes its roots in rock climbing can bring forward better environmental practices… Earth Treks announced recently its partnership with a Virginia company that allows its climbers to bring in old and rundown equipment — shoes, water bottles and harnesses — which will be reused in a variety of ways, including to make dog harnesses.” [WUSA 9]

Synetic Returns to Theater — “Last night night found me in Crystal City, where Synetic Theater was back in its performance venue for the first time since the pandemic, staging a production of ‘The Madness of Poe…’ Performers were not masked, a nice change after recent experiences with a number of troupes who use Arlington Public Schools facilities and are not allowed to let their actors, though all vaccinated, go without masks.” [Sun Gazette]

New Commuter Bus Service Funded — “The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission plans to fund a new express bus service, part of efforts aimed at reducing congestion connected with Interstate 66 and the Beltway. The commission approved a plan yesterday to fund the bus service with over $5.1 million for two years. Routes would run from the Reston South Park and Ride lot to key destinations in Arlington County that include the Pentagon, Pentagon City and Crystal City.” [Reston Now]

More Studies for Route 7 Bus Route — “A regional study of the proposed bus rapid transit (BRT) route from Tysons to Alexandria is moving into a new phase that will assess options through the Seven Corners area. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission voted last night (Thursday) to approve a contract for the fourth phase of its Envision Route 7 mobility analysis study.” The bus might also make a stop at the East Falls Church Metro station in Arlington. [Tysons Reporter]

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A discussion about improving Georgetown-Rosslyn connectivity last night was not supposed to be about the controversial yet ironically beloved gondola.

But the gondola — which 47% of respondents to a recent, unscientific ARLnow poll said they support — was nonetheless on Arlington transportation commissioners’ minds during their Thursday meeting.

The same coalition of D.C. nonprofits and organizations that studied the feasibility of the gondola five years ago is now embarking on a study of other ways to improve transit in and out of Georgetown. Last night, Federal City Council (FC2), a nonprofit dedicated to advancing life in the District, presented the scope of the study to the Transportation Commission.

“I think it’s important to start by saying that tonight, I’m not here to talk to you about the gondola,” said FC2 representative Laura Miller Brooks.

A few commission members had to ask just to be sure. The gondola resurfaced this summer when the D.C. Council approved $10 million in 2022 budget to purchase the old Exxon gas station in Georgetown, a location the could work well as a gondola terminus.

“Is this truly a broad look at transit connectivity between Georgetown and Rosslyn, or [are we] all just doing that wink-wink thing where we pretend it could be anything but everyone knows what’s going to come out at the end?” asked commission Chair and ARLnow opinion columnist Chris Slatt.

Commissioner Richard Price warned against re-exploring the gondola. He endorsed an extension of the Blue Line recently proposed by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which would include a second Rosslyn Metro station tunnel and a new Georgetown Metro station.

“Don’t run down a rabbit hole with the gondola — that’s going to make us a laughing stock,” he said. “We need a second Rosslyn tunnel. We need a station in Georgetown. That is the future.”

The $250,000 study is a partnership among FC2, the District Department of Transportation, the Georgetown Business Improvement District and Georgetown University. While the gondola seems off the table, it is why these organizations originally came together in 2016 and partnered with Arlington County. The need for better connectivity remains, study organizers said.

“The core question from the gondola feasibility study — can transit access to Georgetown be improved, especially access to jobs? — still has not been met,” Brooks said.

With 23,000 jobs, Georgetown is one of region’s largest employment centers without convenient Metro access, she said. Better transit would enhance access to jobs, healthcare, hospitality, retail and education for D.C. area residents, putting more people within 30 minutes of a Metro station.

How transit access would improve with a Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola (via Arlington County)

Commissioner Jim Lantelme countered that the proposed gondola would only get folks to the old gas station, leaving them to walk uphill to get to Georgetown University, its hospital, M Street retail or to the West End.

“I always look at that map as being a little disingenuous,” he said.

In addition to encouraging the group to study destinations within Georgetown, commissioners said the group should look into “low-hanging fruit” such as exclusive bus lanes on the Key Bridge and enhanced DC Circulator bus service.

“There are so many more improvements that could be made in terms of frequency, reliability, and customer service,” said commissioner Donald Ludlow.

As for Arlington’s involvement in the new study, Brooks said some transportation staff members are providing input, and FC2 will occasionally present to the Transportation Commission and the County Board.

The public can weigh in now through next Friday to inform the drafting of the study. People will have another opportunity, later on, to provide input on proposed solutions.

Brooks told the commissioners that FC2 sees the study and its possible outcomes as beneficial for Arlington. It will help the county understand how current congestion levels affect bussing, cycling, walking and ride-sharing, she said.

“It will also… hopefully provide a new platform for imagining how Arlington County can connect with Georgetown and create a bigger corridor that benefits economic development, place-making initiatives and creates more cohesive Rosslyn-Ballston, Rosslyn-National Landing, Arlington-Georgetown connections,” she said.

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