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ART Prepares to Roll Out 13 New Buses Over the Next Few Months

Arlington Transit is prepping 13 new buses to start picking up riders in the coming months.

County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow the bus service received the new vehicles a few months back, and hopes to have three making the rounds before the month is out.

He expects the rest will hit the road as the county continues to beef up bus service in the coming months, likely “later this summer/early fall,” as part of the Transit Development Plan the County Board approved in 2016. That plan is designed to bridge gaps in bus service around the county, particularly along Columbia Pike, where ART and Metrobus just started teaming up to offer enhanced service last month.

ART has also dealt with a series of mechanical issues recently, particularly on some of its older buses, but Balliet says the county is still being cautious in putting these new buses in the field.

The 40-foot-long, natural gas-powered vehicles are the first buses the county has purchased from New Flyer of America, the same company that provides vehicles to WMATA for much of its Metrobus service. Accordingly, Balliet says ART’s service contractor “has been in the process of reviewing the buses for acceptance and training operators and technicians” since the agency got its hands on the buses earlier this year.

In all, the county’s Transit Development Plan calls for ART to expand its fleet “by over 20 vehicles” in total through 2026.

The county projects that these additions and service changes will help it boost ridership by 24 percent over the same time period, though ART’s ridership figures have flagged in recent months, similar to other bus services nationwide.

Photo courtesy of Abigail Wendt

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ART’s Phone Line for Seniors, People with Disabilities Goes Down, Prompting Headaches

(Updated at 3 p.m.) Arlington Transit’s phone system to connect disabled and elderly riders to bus service has been hobbled by technical problems all week, prompting big headaches for people who rely on the program.

ART’s “Specialized Transit for Arlington Residents” service, commonly known as STAR, has been dealing with “technical difficulties” at the agency’s call center since Tuesday (June 26), according to a series of alerts sent out to riders.

The main STAR phone line hasn’t worked since then and remains down today (Friday). County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says ART is working on the issue with service provider Verizon and even the state’s technology agency, with a temporary solution on the way.

“The temporary solution, estimated to be in place later today, will forward the main STAR number to a number provided by Red Top Cab, which dispatches service for STAR,” Balliet wrote in an email. “STAR personnel have been taking calls on this temporary line and will continue until the issue is resolved.”

The phone system is designed to connect riders who might have trouble using ART’s regular service with a scheduled, shared-ride service to take them wherever they need to go around the county. Accordingly, this week’s outages have created big problems for riders with disabilities, in particular.

ART has also dealt with a series of problems with its real-time alert service in recent weeks, not to mention a host of bus maintenance woes necessitating some service disruptions.

Photo via Facebook

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Long-Awaited Columbia Pike Bus Service Changes Kick Off Sunday

Bus riders along Columbia Pike will see significant service changes starting Sunday (June 24), as part of the long-awaited “premium transit network” planned for the corridor.

Metrobus will soon offer five streamlined routes along the Pike, down from 11, and offer more frequent service across all of those routes, Arlington transportation officials told the County Board Tuesday (June 19).

The changes will move in tandem with some other Metrobus service alterations recently approved by WMATA’s governing board, and bring the county closer to delivering on its promise to improve transit options along the Pike after abandoning the contentious streetcar project four years ago.

“You may not necessarily move through the corridor faster, but you won’t have to wait as long for a bus to take you somewhere, particularly during the peak hours,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey.

Lynn Rivers, the county’s transit bureau chief, noted that Metrobus will offer 30 additional hours of service across all the different routes on the 16 line, with the ultimate goal of running buses once every six minutes along the most crowded stops on the Pike.

The county has also kicked off the process of finding a contractor to build 20 new bus shelters along the Pike.

Dennis Leach, the county’s transportation director, told the Board that the county started soliciting bids for the project last Wednesday (June 13). By July, he expects the county will know how much each shelter will cost, a key point of interest for Board members after the Pike’s “$1 million bus stops” prompted community outcry years ago.

Yet Rivers believes the more noticeable change for riders right away will be the alteration to Metrobus routes along the Pike. She noted that buses won’t be changing where they drop off and pick up riders, but Metrobus will be tweaking how it describes its various routes to be less confusing.

“The idea was to streamline that to make it easier not just for those who are using it, but also bring more people onto the system,” Rivers said.

Moving forward, the five routes on Columbia Pike will be known as 16A, 16C, 16E, 16G and 16H. Rivers added that 16Y service will still be available as well during peak hours, though only to Farragut Square, and service along the 16X route to Federal Triangle will still be available during peak times as well.

While these changes came as good news to Board members, John Vihstadt did point out that “our communities have been frustrated with the pace” of the county’s work to implement bus service changes along the Pike. Rivers believes this first phase of improvements is the equivalent of starting off “with a bang,” but she did acknowledge there’s lots of work left to be done.

Eventually, the county and Metro plan to offer nonstop bus service between the Pike and Crystal City, and extend the Transitway, or dedicated lane bus service, out to Pentagon City — the latter effort just won some new regional funding as well.

“This is just the beginning of many more phases,” Rivers said.

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Arlington’s Metrobus Service Set for Route Changes Starting Next Month

Metrobus 5A to Dulles from Rosslyn

Metro is making some changes to a handful of its bus routes around Arlington, in a bid to make service more efficient and save a bit of money.

WMATA’s Board of Directors approved a series of changes to Metrobus routes across the region on Thursday (June 14), including adjustments along six routes in the county. All of the alterations will take effect on July 1, and they mark the latest in a slew of recent changes to Metrobus service in Arlington.

The biggest change will be the elimination of the 22B route, which currently runs from the Ballston Metro station to a stop at the intersection of S. Four Mile Run Drive and Columbia Pike in Barcroft.

Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly notes that “alternate service is available on routes 22A and 22C,” and that buses once running the 22B route will be used to provide more service between Pentagon City and Shirlington. Eric Balliet, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, added that the “majority of the 22B is redundant with the 22A and C” and suggested that the change will complement the county’s planned expansion of dedicated-lane Transitway service in Pentagon City.

“The public reaction was neutral, and the change nets $108,000 per year in savings,” Balliet told ARLnow via email.

Another significant change approved by the WMATA board is the truncation of the 10E route, which currently runs from the Rosslyn Metro station to Hunting Point in Alexandria. Now, the route will end at the Pentagon instead of continuing on to Rosslyn.

Balliet said county transit officials have planned on making the change since July 2016, noting it’s redundant with Metro’s Blue Line and some Arlington Transit routes. In all, he expects the change will save about $232,000 each year.

Other changes include increasing the time between buses on routes 7A and 7F between the Pentagon and Shirlington, and a series of changes along Columbia Pike to account for bus service improvements designed to take the place of the abandoned streetcar project. In all, Metrobus will tweak the schedule of buses on routes 16A, 16B, 16C, 16E, 16G, 16H, 16J, 16K, 16P and 16X.

Finally, Metro will rearrange the schedules of routes 4A and 4B between Pershing Drive and Arlington Boulevard, eliminating 4A buses in the middle of the day in favor running 4B buses more frequently.

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DEVELOPING: ART Warns of Ongoing Delays Due to ‘Mechanical Issues’

Arlington Transit bus riders could see delays across several routes over the course of the next week.

Unspecified “mechanical issues” are causing the delays, according to an ART service alert issued today (Monday). ART did not list specific routes that will be impacted, noting only that the routes will operate “at reduced frequencies” and that it will issue alerts about upcoming delays “as needed.”

A spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, which oversees ART, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the nature of the mechanical issues. ART buses have on occasion suffered brake failures, leading to significant crashes, though it is unclear whether this week’s delays are in any way related.

So far, buses on ART Route 77 between the Courthouse Metro station and ART’s Shirlington station have recorded several delays, and some departures have been canceled entirely, according to county service alerts.

“Staff is currently working to quickly resolve these problems but we anticipate service disruptions on ART routes throughout the week,” ART wrote in the alert. “We apologize for the inconvenience as we work to ensure the safety and reliability of our fleet.”

ART opened a new, $17.6 million “light maintenance facility” on S. Eads Street last fall, and the county is planning to someday open a “heavy maintenance facility” in Springfield, after the County Board approved the purchase of a site there for $4.65 million.

File photo

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Arlington Plans to Renovate Dozens of Bus Stops Along Washington Boulevard, Eliminate Others

(Updated 12:25 p.m.) Some big changes are on the way for bus stops around Arlington, as county workers kick off plans to shutter several lightly used stops and renovate dozens more.

The county is starting construction work this spring on a whole host of changes to its Metrobus and Arlington Rapid Transit stops along Washington Boulevard from Sycamore Street in East Falls Church to the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Route 50 in Lyon Park. In all, the county plans to add new amenities to busy stops and make every stop along the corridor more accessible for people with disabilities, according to a news release.

While the county is still waiting on some final approvals from local landowners, transportation officials are hoping to relocate some stops, and add new shelters, benches or trash bins to others.

In all, the county is planning on closing stops at eight locations around Arlington, due to a lack of riders:

  • 3rd Street N., westbound
  • N. Stuart Street, westbound and eastbound
  • N. Utah Street, westbound and eastbound
  • N. Frederick Street, westbound and eastbound
  • N. Inglewood Street, westbound and eastbound
  • N. Kenilworth Street, westbound
  • N. Kentucky Street, eastbound
  • N. Nottingham Street, westbound

The county expects construction work on the stops to continue through the summer of 2019. Arlington is funding the project using some of the county’s share of revenue generated by the new tolls on drivers on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway during the morning and evening rush hours.

Full details on the planned construction across the county are available on Arlington’s website.

Photo via Google Maps

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Crash Involving DASH Bus on King Street

Several lanes of King Street are blocked near Arlington’s Fairlington neighborhood due to a crash involving an Alexandria DASH bus.

At least three vehicles, including the bus, appear to have been involved in the crash, at the intersection of King Street and Menokin Drive, between I-395 and the Bradlee Shopping Center.

So far, there is no word on injuries, although numerous ambulances and fire trucks from Alexandria and Arlington responded to the scene following the crash.

https://twitter.com/DASHBus/status/938086288271568896

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Morning Notes

County Board Stalls on VRE Decision — The Arlington County Board, at a Tuesday meeting that stretched into early Wednesday morning, declined to endorse one of the options for a proposed new Virginia Railway Express station in Crystal City. VRE officials, county staff, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Arlington’s Transportation Commission backed Option 2, which places the station closer to the Crystal City Metro station and transit center. Some local condominium residents and the Planning Commission, citing concerns about noise, wanted Option 3 — which places the station behind an office building — to be considered as well. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Michelle Obama Stops By Arlington for Salon Opening — Former first lady Michelle Obama and her Secret Service entourage were among “a crowd of about 40 VIPs” who came to Arlington Tuesday night for the opening of a new salon. The business, Aesthetics Salon, is owned by stylist Yene Damtew, who was part of Obama’s “glam squad” while she was in the White House. Aesthetics Salon is located at 2412 26th Road S. in the Long Branch Creek neighborhood just south of I-395. [Washington Post]

Clarendon Day Closures — Expect lots of road closures in central Clarendon on Saturday for the annual Clarendon Day festival, which is taking place from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. On Sunday morning Wilson Blvd will be closed from Clarendon to Rosslyn for the Clarendon Day 5K, 10K and Kids Dash races. [Arlington County, Arlington County]

More on Proposed Columbia Pike Bus Revamp — “Recently Metro unveiled the latest proposed changes to the Metrobus network which includes a major restructuring to the 16 series bus lines on Columbia Pike in Arlington. The long-awaited restructuring is aimed at simplifying and improving bus service in the corridor.” [Greater Greater Washington]

County Seeking Pike Bus Feedback — While WMATA continues to collect feedback on the proposed Columbia Pike bus changes via an online survey, a public meeting is scheduled tonight (Thursday) to discuss the changes in person with residents. The meeting is taking place at the Arlington Mill Community Center from 6-8 p.m. [Arlington County]

Local Nonprofit Lender Steps Up Loan Volume — “Arlington-based Capital Impact Partners said Wednesday it provided $75 million in private financing in the second quarter of 2017, the largest quarterly loan volume in its history. The nonprofit community development financial institution backs projects that support increased access to health care, education, affordable housing and healthy food in the United States.” [Washington Business Journal]

Flickr pool photo by Alan Kotok

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Metro Seeks Feedback on Restructured Pike Bus Service, Other Local Changes

Metro is seeking feedback on proposed changes to numerous bus lines, including the plans for new Columbia Pike service as well as other services that run through Arlington County.

Under a series of proposed changes put forward for Metrobus in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, Metro has put forward a plan to “restructure” service on Columbia Pike, in keeping with Arlington’s transit plan for the Pike.

A so-called “Premium Transit Network” is planned for the Pike and is set to open next summer instead of the cancelled streetcar. It will offer limited-stop service and “new or enhanced connections between Crystal City, Pentagon City and Skyline City.”

The buses are set to have a unique look, have additional service in Arlington to keep up with demand and consolidate all current Metrobus routes — the 16A, 16B, 16G, 16H, 16J, 16K and 16P — under the new network.

Other proposed changes to bus lines that run through Arlington are:

  • 4A, 4B (Pershing Drive to Arlington Blvd)

Provide additional 4B trips in response to ridership, with the 4A operating only during weekday rush hours, with weekday midday and evening service eliminated. The county has proposed the 4A become a local ART bus route in FY 2020.

  • 7A, 7F (Lincolnia to North Fairlington)

Modify service to operate via Pentagon City between the Pentagon and Shirlington to serve Pentagon City. New timetables will reflect an increase in the time between buses of approximately five minutes to accommodate additional travel time between the Pentagon and Pentagon City.

  • 10E (Hunting Point to the Pentagon)

Eliminate 10E service to Rosslyn, and have the route operate between Pentagon and Hunting Point in Alexandria only.

  • 22A, 22B (Barcroft to South Fairlington)

Modify Route 22A to operate via Pentagon City between the Pentagon and Shirlington to serve Pentagon City.  New timetables would reflect an increase in the time between buses of approximately five minutes to accommodate additional travel time between the Pentagon and Pentagon City. Route 22B would be eliminated, with alternate service on Metrobus 22A and 22C.

  • Metroway

Service would be every eight minutes during rush hour between Pentagon City and the Braddock Road Metro station on all trips to better match Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines.

Per a Metro press release, there are several ways community members can have their say:

  • Complete an online survey.
  • Fill out a paper survey and drop it in collection boxes located near the fare gates at Metrorail stations closest to the impacted routes. There is no need to take multiple surveys.
  • Provide feedback to outreach staff September 6 – September 21, at designated times and locations on-board buses or at Metrorail stations.
  • Attend an open house Tuesday, September 26, 2017, beginning at 5:30 p.m. followed by a public hearing from 6 – 7 p.m. Speaker registration is onsite only. Venue: Metro Headquarters Building (600 Fifth St. NW, Washington, DC 20001)

The deadline for providing feedback is 9 a.m. on Monday, October 2.

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Columbia Pike ‘Premium Transit Network’ Gets Cautious Approval

The new “Premium Transit Network” on Columbia Pike is being greeted with cautious optimism by some community members after years of discussion and delays.

But some raised questions about what will mark the new bus system as “premium,” considering it will not run in dedicated lanes due to the layout of Columbia Pike and will have a fleet of standard buses, at least for now.

The mood appears to be more positive than previously, when a group of civic association leaders derided the service for a lack of ambition in a letter last year.

“A bus is a bus,” said Ric Birch, president of the Arlington Mill Civic Association, one of several along the Pike. “You can dress it up, you can paint it a different color, use different fabric on the seats, it’s a bus. I’m not sure what the real drive is for a premium bus.”

Staff explained at a work session about the network last month that the standard buses are being used for cost reasons, as electric vehicles or ones powered by alternative fuels would be too expensive at this stage.

County Board vice chair Katie Cristol, a Pike resident, said that most important for the new service beyond the buses themselves will be the frequency, which she said she hopes to see at six-minute intervals for at least a large portion of the day.

“I think it’ll be more incremental, but I do think once the system is operational and its component pieces are in place, Pike residents will feel something different, we’ll experience something different,” she said.

Residents did give staff credit for looking at ways to keep costs down when constructing the 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, and include features like electronic arrival boards and the option to pay a fare before getting on the bus.

However, some questioned the need for the technology in the bus stops, given the proliferation of smartphones and bus tracking apps.

“Adopting all the technology, I’m a little ambivalent about it,” said Maria “Pete” Durgan, president of the Penrose Neighborhood Association. “I know they put a lot of effort in coming up with a design and they want it to be distinctive but that’s a lot of money for something that doesn’t have to be quite so elaborate.”

“I don’t know that they’re making that same mistake there [with the $1 million bus stop],” said Birch. “The county learned to watch the price on it. But I do think it’s tying a bow on it and calling it something that it already is. It’s a bus stop. They don’t really shield you from the elements that well, and I don’t understand all the need for all the electronic connectivity in the bus stops.”

With the new network set to begin operations next summer, Cristol said she hoped it would help spark more economic development and revitalization along the Pike, as businesses look to capitalize on more regular service. Cecilia Cassidy, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, did not respond to requests for comment.

But Birch said he would like to go further, and see long-term planning for Columbia Pike include a long-range goal of an elevated light rail system, as well as maintaining good bus service. Durgan said plenty of people were “totally bummed” when the streetcar project was cancelled in 2014, as it would have been something different for the Pike.

“You’ve got to get the transit out of the lanes of Columbia Pike,” Birch said. “[In] today’s political climate, I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a long-range plan that even if the county were to start today, we’re talking 15 years. I think someone needs to be courageous and start doing that.”

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Dedicated Lanes Unlikely for Columbia Pike ‘Premium Transit Network’

(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) Dedicated lanes look unlikely for the proposed “Premium Transit Network” along Columbia Pike, which is set to open next summer after delays.

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.

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Columbia Pike ‘Premium Transit Network’ Delayed

Slide from Dept. of Environmental Services budget presentation

(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.

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Morning Notes

A mobile food vendor on Columbia Pike

County Considering Rideshare Subsidies — Arlington County is studying a plan that would subsidize rides on Uber and Lyft for residents who live in “more remote residential areas of the county where bus service to Metro stations is limited.” The plan, if implemented, would “replace some fixed bus service in north Arlington.” [Washington Post]

APS SOL Results — The results of the Virginia Standards of Learning tests are out. In response, Arlington Public Schools released a press release with the title “APS Continues to Make Progress in Closing the Achievement Gap.” It says: “In 2016, the APS met or exceeded the state passing rates on 28 of 29 assessments, across all grade levels and subjects. APS exceeded the state passing rates by 5 to 13 percentage points on 16 of the assessments.” [Arlington Public Schools, InsideNova, Washington Post]

APS Doesn’t Make Newsweek ListUpdated at 2:05 p.m. — Newsweek is out with its annual list of the top 500 public high schools in the country, and no Arlington public school made the list. In fact, only four Virginia high schools made the list. In 2010, every APS high school was on the list. APS says it has not been submitting stats to Newsweek over the past few years. [Newsweek]

Boxing Coming to Arlington This Weekend — A nine-card boxing bout will take place at the Crystal City Hilton hotel Friday night. [Fight News]

ACPD Wreath-Laying Ceremony at ANC — Arlington County Police brass laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday. [Instagram]

Lost Dog On the Pike — A woman is trying to find her lost chihuahua, which was last seen near the intersection of Glebe Road and 9th Street S., near Columbia Pike. [Twitter]

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County Board Approves New Transit Plan, With an Asterisk

16G Metrobus (photo courtesy WMATA)The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved a new 10-year transit plan that provides a vision for “more frequent bus service, more late night and weekend service, better north-south connections, and a new Premium Transit Network along Columbia Pike.”

There’s an asterisk to the Transit Development Plan’s unanimous approval and the subsequent cheery press release, however. Responding to criticism from residents and the county’s own Transportation Commission, the Board directed County Manager Mark Schwartz to report back next year on possible improvements to the post-streetcar transit plan for Columbia Pike.

The Board’s guidance to Schwartz and county staff:

This generally ambitious and robust Transit Development Plan nevertheless falls short of the urgency and innovation needed to create a transformative transit network serving Columbia Pike and to realize its potential as a thriving and dynamic residential and commercial corridor.

Therefore, in adopting the FY 2017 -FY 2026 Transit Development Plan, the County Board also gives the following guidance to the County Manager and staff:

Look and Customization of Vehicles. The current TDP phases in the most modern version of current vehicles, WMATA buses and ART buses, with no unique features beyond re-skinning the buses on WMATA routes. Recognizing the significant logistical, cost and inter-jurisdictional challenges, please provide to the Board for consideration and analysis, during Q2 2017, the details of a possible path to customized and unique vehicles.

Articulated Buses. In consultation with WMATA, provide a plan by Q2 2017 to add articulated buses to the highest-demand routes on Columbia Pike (on either a pilot or permanent basis). Continue to assess effectiveness of articulated bus service and determine sustained levels of service for these routes through FY2026.

Headways. The current TDP identifies 6-minute peak headways and 12-15 minute off-peak headways for the Metrobus Connector “trunk line.” Please provide to the Board, by Q2 2017, a cost/benefit analysis (to consider efficiency, capacity, ridership impacts) of reducing the off-peak headways and ultimately achieving a 6-minute headway for 18 hours/day.

Coordination with Other Agencies. To effectuate this guidance, the County Manager and staff will coordinate as appropriate and necessary with WMATA and other federal, state, regional and local government agencies and transportation bodies.

Most of the public comments at Saturday’s Board meeting were complimentary of the overall plan, save the plan for the so-called Premium Transit Network. That plan seemed in many ways diminished from the “TSM-2” enhanced bus plan the county and supporters originally said was inferior to its since-cancelled streetcar plan for Columbia Pike.

Among the public speakers at the Board meeting was John Snyder, member of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and a former streetcar booster. Snyder said the plan for Pike transit presented by county staff was inadequate to support growth along the corridor.

We had a debate for several years [about] TSM-2… and the streetcar. TSM-2 won the debate. Now, when I look at the plan, what is written in the plan has disappeared. The whole idea of premium new vehicles that have higher capacity: it’s gone. This wasn’t announced and it wasn’t part of a public process. We found out about it by looking at the Capital Improvement Plan. There’s no money to buy new buses. There’s still money in the plan for the transit stations if they’re maintained at the current level but the buses have disappeared. There’s great things in the Transit Development Plan, what’s in there is great and the consensus is that the county board supports all of it. But the concern is what’s not in there. We don’t see anything that’s going to help businesses with more frequent service on the off-hours. People go out to dinner not during the commuting hour, they go out to dinner after that time and they come back after that time. The idea of six-minute intervals all the time makes it reliable, frequent, easy and simple to use. We have the simplicity, the new 16M line is great in the way that it simplifies many of these different routes but it needs to have that frequency to help our businesses and connect our residents to that so we get out of the car mentality. Seventy percent of the people on the Pike do not use transit even to get to work. The percentage on other sorts of trips is even higher. We need to change that. That’s the whole idea behind the Pike plan and it has been supported by the Board for the last 15 years.

There is no plan to increase capacity. We understand that you’re going to be coordinating with WMATA on how we can get articulated buses. I heard the same thing in 2003 at the first meeting I attended regarding transit on the Pike. WMATA has a lot on its plate. What we need in that regard is a statement that says Arlington will. Arlington will go do this, we will go get the additional buses, we will get the additional facilities needed to maintain them and we’re going to do that by a particular date.

Some were more charitable about the plan as currently conceived.

“These critics failed to appreciate that no amount of service upgrades will defeat car culture,” said perennial County Board candidate Audrey Clement, who’s running as an independent this year. “If state of the art transit technology were the solution, the Silver Line would not be running half-empty in the I-66 median with cars parked on the interstate on either side every day.”

Dennis Leach, Arlington’s Deputy Director of Transportation, said the enhanced transit stations and other amenities included in the Premium Transit Network plan will, in fact, move the needle in terms of making transit a more attractive option along the Pike.

“The premium amenities are proving those high-quality stations with near-level boarding, longer platforms and real-time information,” he said. “These stations are the front door of transit in the corridor. It is shifting this entire corridor to off-vehicle fare collection. We’ve already started work on transit signal priority and we are committed to actually implementing it in the full corridor.”

“We are actively coordinating with Metro to replace the current buses with modern low floor vehicles,” Leach added. “The intent is to implement a unified brand for this premium transit network.”

“I would say this was the most intensive and comprehensive transit update that the county has ever done,” Leach said of the overall transit plan. “I was here for 2011, this effort well exceeded that. We looked at every route and every part of this community to bring these recommendations before you.”

The full press release from Arlington County, after the jump.

More frequent bus service, more late night and weekend service, better north-south connections, and a new Premium Transit Network along Columbia Pike  – this is the new vision for bus service in Arlington. On Saturday the County Board, unanimously adopted a new Transit Development Plan that provides a road map for Arlington Transit and Metrobus service improvements through 2026.

“This plan demonstrates Arlington’s continued commitment to excellent transit service that makes it easier for people to move around the County without a car,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “It includes a plan for improving bus service along Columbia Pike and the Crystal City-Pentagon City corridor that will offer fast, frequent, reliable and easy-to-use bus service. Riders should see much improved service along these important corridors by 2018. We are also planning ahead to make sure we have the capacity to handle anticipated increased ridership along the Pike in the future.”

The Commonwealth of Virginia mandates that every transit operator in the Commonwealth have a Transit Development Plan (TDP). The plan must be updated annually and comprehensively revised every six years. The plan identifies transit needs in the County, as well as modifications to the system that will increase productivity or improve efficiency, and identifies the resources required for improving service. The plan makes County projects and services eligible for State funding, one of the County’s main funding sources for transit.

Responding to community concerns that service improvements may not support the Columbia Pike corridor’s growth and revitalization, the County Board also directed the County Manager to explore improvements to the Premium Transit Network such as customized bus vehicles, larger articulated buses and more frequent off-peak service that could encourage more people to use transit.

By summer 2020 the County plans to make the following improvements to bus service:

  • A new north-south connection between Rosslyn and Shirlington
  • More frequent service from Dunn Loring to Ballston, via Arlington Boulevard
  • More frequent service along Glebe Road
  • A new connection between Crystal City, National Airport and Shirlington
  • A new connection between Buckingham and the County’s Department of Human Services facility at Sequoia

The new TDP also includes innovative on-demand services to maintain connections in neighborhoods where bus ridership is low and demand does not warrant fixed route service. To be fiscally responsible, the plan calls for converting some Metrobus routes to lower cost Arlington Transit (ART) service and consolidating or shortening some bus routes.

Route-by-route details are available on the County website.

The new services proposed in the TDP are dependent on resources appropriated through the County’s annual operating budget. For ART, the proposed services are estimated to cost an additional $10.6 million annually by fiscal year (FY) 2026. These additional operating costs are expected to be covered by additional fare revenue and state aid and savings from converting two Metrobus lines to lower-cost ART service. New Metrobus service called for in the TDP would cost an additional $7 million annually by FY 2026, which would be funded by County general funds, state aid and regional gas tax revenues. The TDP will be updated on an annual basis to reflect current needs and available resources.

Premium bus service planned for Columbia Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City

A major feature of the plan is creation of a Premium Transit Network connecting Columbia Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City. The premium network will offer bus service that is 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.

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. The premium service is planned to start in summer 2018, with transit stations and other amenities implemented in phases through 2021.

The premium network is designed to accommodate projected demand along Columbia Pike during the next six to ten years. As the corridor develops and more riders are attracted to the service, larger vehicles can be used to add capacity and meet the growing demand.

Community helped shape the plan

To develop the 10-year plan, the County surveyed Arlington residents about how they currently use transit and where they want to see improvements. More than 1,000 persons responded with comments on the draft recommendations, presented to the community in February. The feedback included strong support for additional off-peak and weekend service and new direct connections to activity centers. These comments and suggestions, along with extensive technical analysis of the County’s current bus service, helped shape the final TDP.

Community input timeline:

  • Spring 2015: Surveyed 3,396 people to get input on transit usage and needs, helping County staff to analyze existing system and service area.
  • Fall 2015: Hosted 406 people in four workshops and five focus groups; also hosted online input form, providing input on initial findings of technical analysis. With the input, staff prepared draft recommendations.
  • Winter 2016: More than 1,000 people participated in six workshops and via an online form, to provide input on the draft recommendations.

Next steps

This month, in addition to adopting the new TDP, the County Board will adopt a new Capital Improvement Plan that includes projects such as a heavy maintenance facility, new bus vehicles and transit system technologies needed to implement the bus service improvements.

Specific bus route changes will involve more public input before implementation.

Adrian Cruz contributed additional reporting for this article

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Pike Leaders: Transit Plan ‘Does Not Even Come Close’ to Streetcar-Level Service

Original Columbia Pike streetcar rendering. The streetcar plan has since been scrapped.(Updated at 1:50 p.m.) A group of Columbia Pike civic association leaders are speaking out against what they say is an inadequate plan to enhance bus service along the busy corridor.

The Pike Presidents’ Group sent is sending a letter to Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey yesterday, saying that the county is not delivering on its promise to communities along the Pike to “provide services that are equivalent of the abandoned streetcar plan.”

The letter was drafted in advance of a presentation by county staff on Arlington’s 10-year Transit Development Plan and its plan for a “Premium Transit Network” along the Pike and through Pentagon City and Crystal City.

The county’s plan “does not even come close,” to providing transit service similar to the original streetcar plan, wrote the chair of the group, Adam Henderson.

“We ask that you uphold to your prior statements and instruct staff to honor the commitment to Pike… to achieve the Pike transit system we have all worked diligently to achieve,” said Henderson.

The full letter, which we’re now told was a draft and not the final version, is after the jump.

File photo (above) shows rendering of the since-canceled Columbia Pike streetcar.

Update at 4:05 p.m. — The final version of the draft letter below is available here.

On 18 November 2014, the Arlington County Board abruptly cancelled the long-planned streetcar projects for the Columbia Pike and Crystal City/Route 1 corridors. At that time — and indeed during the vigorous debate ahead of the 2014 elections — advocates of the streetcar cancellation assured the Pike communities that an alternative to the streetcar could be rapidly implemented that would provide the same level and quality of service. While we applaud the intent and effort of County staff on the draft Transit Development Plan, the Plan clearly does not provide services that are equivalent of the abandoned streetcar plan. In fact, it does not even come close.

We have specific concerns about a number of the proposed recommendations.

  • The proposed realignment of MetroBus line 10B to eliminate service along Walter Reed Drive and South 2nd Street is unacceptable to the community. This is an essential link to Ballston and the Orange/Silver Line corridor. The eliminated segment must be reinstated.
  • Non-rush hour headways of 12-15 minutes are proposed for the premium service. Under the defunct streetcar plan, headways were to be every 6 minutes at all times. This level of service is only half or less as frequent, even in prime transit hours.
  • There are glaringly few mentions of full weekday and weekend service commitments in the draft Plan. The streetcar plan promised 18+/7 availability which is essential to providing Pike residents with reliable options to conduct their everyday business without reliance on automobiles.
  • There is no mention in the Plan of either the higher-quality vehicles or the larger- capacity articulated vehicles that were promised during the streetcar debate. The PPG does not understand how the existing smaller, lower-quality vehicles will be able to provide the capacity needed to adequately serve planned growth along the Pike or deliver the better, more comfortable ride that helps increase ridership and meet County goals for public transit utilization.
  • MetroBus line 16Y is the most heavily used route on the Pike on a per-bus basis with many buses at full capacity in the morning and evening. Many riders are expected to stand for the majority of the ride while others are unable to board due to the lack of room and must wait for follow on buses. Yet there are no plans to add capacity to this route by adding more buses or larger buses.
  • Procurement of articulated buses cannot occur until a maintenance and storage facility can be built to accommodate such buses. Because of the lead time involved to put such a facility in place, we are puzzled why the TDP does not immediately prioritize plans to put such a facility in place.
  • While not specifically addressed by the TDP, a key part of the enhanced transportation system promised for the Pike Corridor was greatly upgraded transit stations, incorporating level-boarding, offboard fare collection and multiple alighting/disembarking points and other features to speed and promote ridership. We understand these enhancements are separately under consideration as part of the CIP process; but we are deeply troubled by reports that the Board may be backing away from its commitment to these enhanced transit stations even though they are far more durable than current stops and will reduce County expenditures over their anticipated lifespan while providing a better transit experience to riders and improving the aesthetics of the Pike.

In summary, the 2017-2026 TDP Draft falls far short of fulfilling the transit needs of Columbia Pike and its residents today, let alone providing a framework for future growth and consequent increased transit demand. Overall, the plan is geared towards moving people through the Pike corridor and ignores the needs of the burgeoning Pike community for everyday needs. The Plan as written is inadequate for the Pike today; it falls far short of the needs of the Pike of the future. Significant changes must be made if we are to receive the quantity and quality of service that is demanded by — and indeed promised to — the Pike community.

The County Board should make an unambiguous statement in the Transit Development Plan that the county is committed to implementing bus capacity and quality improvements as soon as possible through purchase and deployment of new larger premium vehicles of the type, size and quality described in the TSM-2 alternative already specified and studied by the county in the streetcar alternatives analysis. This effort must include obtaining sufficient maintenance and storage facilities inside or outside of Arlington County. The first priority of this effort should look to provide larger vehicles on the MetroBus 16Y route to address current overcrowding.

We ask that you uphold to your prior statements and instruct staff to honor the commitment to Pike transit by addressing the noted deficiencies and proposed changes to the Plan in order to achieve the Pike transit system we have all worked diligently to achieve.

Sincerely,

 

Adam R Henderson
Chair, PPG
President, Douglas Park Civic Association

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