49°Partly Cloudy

by Bridget Reed Morawski April 5, 2018 at 2:00 pm 0

Real-time arrival information for ART buses is suffering another outage today (April 5).

The outage comes less than a day after the service was restored from a separate, five-day outage.

Eric Balliet, an Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman, said that today’s outage was due to “intermittent connectivity issues.” He added that there is not an estimated restoration time at the moment.

An ART service alert was issued at around 1 p.m. today regarding the outage, though commuters were tweeting about the outage as early as 10:37 a.m. this morning.

The repeat outage comes the same day that commuters faced a major WMATA service disruption between the East Falls Church and Clarendon Metro stations. WMATA supplements the ART’s bus service, but is separately operated.

by Bridget Reed Morawski February 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

(Updated at 2:05 p.m.) Arlington County’s plan for a Columbia Pike corridor “premium bus service network” will start this summer, with more frequent, condensed bus service, improved bus transit stations, and off-vehicle fare collection points in the works.

A Columbia Pike service evaluation briefing from WMATA to the Arlington County Transit Advisory Committee on January 16 laid out the major bus service plan: streamlining eleven 16-line routes down to six main routes, with further streamlining implemented in multiple phases.

Current Columbia Pike corridor service routes include the 16A, B, E, J, and P daily lines and the 16 G, H, and K lines, which run from Columbia Heights West through Pentagon City daily. There are also three peak period bus lines: the 16L, which runs from Annandale, Va., to the Pentagon via Skyline City; the 16X, from Columbia Pike to Washington’s Federal Triangle; and the 16Y, from Columbia Pike to Washington’s Farragut Square.

The first phase of the premium bus service network would eliminate the 16E and J lines, while maintaining daily service for the 16A, G, H, and X. Peak period service will continue along the 16L and Y. The 16X’s extension into Federal Triangle would be maintained only during peak periods.

Phase two would maintain the initial phase’s route streamlining, while adding a transfer-free, bus-to-bus Crystal City connection. The evaluation notes the possibility for weekend service for the 26A bus line, which runs from Annandale to East Falls Church, but that component of the plan is still under consideration.

Further route streamlining would occur under phase three, which would maintain the daily 16A and X routes, as well as the peak period 16L and Y routes, but would strike out the 16G and H lines. A new line — a 16M line to run from Crystal City to Skyline City — would be added. Arlington Transit (ART) routes 41 and 45 would continue serving the Arlington Mill and Columbia Pike corridor after the 16G and H merge, according to Lynn Rivers, the Arlington transit bureau chief and the project’s manager.

Phase three opens up the possibility of an extension of the 16X and Y bus routes service hours, but it’s currently marked as a future consideration. The county is also reviewing transit signal prioritization as a bus rapid transit solution to give buses a head start at traffic lights, allowing for decreased public transit times. Rivers told ARLnow.com that this initiative “can be achieved with minimal impacts to vehicular travel.”

Updated bus transit stations are also in the works, with “near-level boarding” and real-time bus tracking and system information. Passengers would be able to pay for their bus fare prior to entering the bus.

Photos via Arlington County

by ARLnow.com December 11, 2017 at 10:00 am 0

The Arlington County Board will consider a resolution at its meeting this week that could help pave the way for HOV or bus-only lanes on Columbia Pike.

The county took over management of the Pike from VDOT in 2010. The Board is considering an amendment to its agreement with VDOT that would provide for “active lane management practices and associated restrictions.”

Whereas the 2010 agreement specified that the county must maintain two through lanes in each direction, the amendment would allow “use by certain specified modes only, e.g., buses, high occupancy cars, and similar high capacity modes, in order to optimize person throughput during specified times of the day.”

Such restrictions may be in place during rush hour or any other peak demand period determined by the county. At least one lane in each direction “will be available for through traffic for all modes at all times.”

The language of the amendment was approved by VDOT’s oversight body, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, on Dec. 5, according to a staff county report. The County Board is now considering a resolution formally requesting the amendment from VDOT.

The overall goal, according to the staff report, is moving more people — but not necessarily more cars — along the constrained Columbia Pike corridor.

County staff has been reviewing options related to the County’s secondary road system for how the County can support the mutual goals of the Department and the County to use the existing public right-of-way to support transportation improvements and enhancements that move more people more efficiently. While the County has demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing mobility along Columbia Pike, the constrained right-of-way limits the extent to which the County can increase the movement of people. Because Columbia Pike has restrictions on how the County can use the public right-of-way, County staff, at the direction of the County Board, has been working with the Department to develop language that would provide the County with greater flexibility now and in the future to manage Columbia Pike in a way that supports the movement of people within and through the corridor.

The change could allow for a version of Bus Rapid Transit, which was often touted as an alternative to the since-cancelled Columbia Pike streetcar. The county said in 2016 that it was “looking at…the possibility of creating locations with dedicated bus lanes, along with other innovations” along the Pike.

The county has not solicited public feedback on the amendment itself, according to the staff report.

“Public outreach is not appropriate for an administrative amendment to the Agreement,” the report states.

by Chris Teale April 17, 2017 at 4:30 pm 0

One year after it began service through Arlington, the Transitway appears to have picked up steam, and thousands of riders each day.

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.

The Transitway also played a role in providing alternate transportation routes for Arlingtonians during Metro’s SafeTrack surges that affected Metrorail’s Blue and Yellow lines.

by ARLnow.com March 23, 2017 at 9:45 am 0

Rosslyn tunnel (Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman)

Pike Booster ‘Disappointed’ By Transit Delay — Cecilia Cassidy, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, said the group is “very disappointed” by the latest delay in bringing enhanced transit service to the Pike. Cassidy said the cancellation of the streetcar cancelled much of the planned development along the Pike and that the delays in providing a viable transit alternative have put other development into a holding pattern. [WAMU]

More on DCA Plans — The airports authority has released more details about “Project Journey,” its $1 billion plan for upgrading Reagan National Airport. “Scheduled to mobilize in summer 2017, Project Journey includes construction of two new security checkpoints that fully connect the concourse level of Terminal B/C to airline gate areas, buildout of an enclosed commuter concourse to replace the 14 outdoor gates currently serviced by buses from gate 35X and future improvements to roadway and parking configurations.” [Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority]

Good News, Bad News About Tech in Arlington — Arlington has risen in the rankings of the best places in the U.S. for women in tech, from No. 34 to No. 22 this year. However, women in tech in Arlington still earn less than men, there are significantly more men than women employed in tech in Arlington and overall tech job growth in Arlington over the past four years is flat. D.C., meanwhile, ranked No. 1 on the list. [DCInno]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

by ARLnow.com January 25, 2017 at 10:00 am 0

It has been four years since Arlington County and WMATA opened the infamous $1 million bus stop at the corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed Drive. So where are the rest of the upgraded transit stations planned for the Pike?

They’re coming, starting next year, the county says.

“The County Board approved $13.3 million for the planned 23 stations in Arlington’s FY 2017-2026 Capital Improvement Plan,” says a county webpage for the project. “Construction of the transit stations is expected to begin in 2018 and proceed in phases through 2021.”

“That schedule still holds,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokesman Eric Balliet confirmed to ARLnow.com on Monday. “Design of site-specific improvements for the first six stations is underway. Design and construction for the remaining stations will be coordinated with the County’s plans for Columbia Pike street improvements and utility undergrounding.”

The per-station cost is still pegged around $575,000, well under the cost of the original prototype station. Originally, the stations were planned to serve the Columbia Pike streetcar, but with that project’s cancellation the stations will now serve WMATA and ART buses.

County staff is expected to present proposed revisions to its Transit Development Plan for the Pike in the second quarter of this year, with possible improvements to bus service along the corridor.

by ARLnow.com June 24, 2016 at 10:30 am 0

Streetcar-like bus in Las Vegas (photo via Twitter)

Next month the Arlington County Board will consider the county’s final Transit Development Plan, which includes the post-streetcar plans for transit on Columbia Pike.

Just don’t hold your breath for the aesthetically-pleasing “streetcar-like” buses mentioned occasionally by streetcar opponents before the project was cancelled.

The Transit Development Plan includes provisions for “premium bus service” along the Pike, but “premium” refers more to the usability and frequency of the bus service than the vehicle itself.

“The premium network would offer bus service that is fast, frequent, reliable and easy to use, with features including simplified bus routes, increased weekday and weekend service, and a new one-seat ride from Skyline to Pentagon City-Crystal City,” said a county press release.

The plan does include a series of 23 enhanced bus stops along the Pike, with a price tag north of half a million dollars apiece, providing “near-level boarding, longer platforms, real-time bus arrival information and off-vehicle fare collection.”

Articulated Metrobus, downtown Washington, DC (photo by M. Ortiz via Wikipedia)It will also call for larger, articulated buses on some heavily-used routes, but those will be operated by Metro and won’t be put into service until Metro and the county can establish the infrastructure needed for such buses.

“Higher capacity (articulated) buses will be addressed in the 10-year Transit Development Plan,” said Marti Reinfeld, Arlington’s interim Transit Bureau Chief. “The routes that will need the additional capacity are Metro-operated; therefore, we are coordinating with Metro to include articulated buses in their fleet expansion plan and to address how an articulated fleet will be stored and maintained in Virginia.”

(Here’s more information on the articulated buses currently in use by Metro.)

“As maintenance and storage details for articulated buses are worked out, we will revise the TDP in an annual update, as needed,” said Reinfeld.

“To be clear, no plans for any especially fancy ART buses or anything like that, besides the eventual possibility of articulated buses?” asked ARLnow.com.

“Correct,” said a county spokesman.

Photo (top) of a bus in Las Vegas via Twitter. Photo (bottom) by M. Ortiz via Wikipedia.

by ARLnow.com April 19, 2016 at 9:20 am 0

Man in Bernie Sanders shirt (photo courtesy Kevin Wolf)

Local Schools Rank High in Challenge Index — One Arlington high school and one high school program cracked the top 10 of the Washington Post’s local 2016 Challenge Index. Washington-Lee High School ranked No. 4 and the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program ranked No. 7. The two other Arlington high schools — Yorktown and Wakefield — ranked No. 11 and 82 respectively. [Washington Post, Washington Post]

Larger Fire Station 8 Possible at Current Site — Arlington County is changing its tune when it comes to Fire Station 8. The county now says that it is possible to build a larger fire station on the current Fire Station 8 site. Before, the county had said the fire station would likely have to be relocated in order to build a larger, four-bay station. [InsideNova]

More on Crystal City BRT — The new Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, the region’s first bus rapid transit system, officially opened Sunday with the opening of the Crystal City portion of the busway. The transitway features bus-only lanes and stations with “substantial arched roofs and attractive wall panels.” [Greater Greater Washington]

More on Michael Wardian’s Marathon — Arlington resident and prolific marathoner Michael Wardian ran the Boston Marathon in 2:31:39 yesterday. It turns out he did so while wearing a GoPro camera. Having completed Boston, Wardian is planning to run the London Marathon on Sunday. [Hartford Courant]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

by ARLnow.com April 18, 2016 at 9:20 am 0

Tree looking up at a beautiful day (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

Arcing Insulator Causes Metro Delays — An arcing insulator in the tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom caused some Metrorail delays this morning. Arlington County firefighters responded to the track fire, which occurred around 6 a.m. [WUSA 9]

New Bus Lanes Open in Crystal City — A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Sunday for Arlington’s portion of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, the region’s first bus rapid transit system. The system’s 1.5 miles of bus-only lanes that run through Crystal City are now open and serving riders. Cars that use the lanes during rush hour face a $200 ticket. [WTOP]

Gutshall Out-Raises Garvey, Speaks at Board Meeting — Erik Gutshall, who’s challenging incumbent Libby Garvey for the Democratic Arlington County Board nomination, raised almost $52,000 during the most recent quarter, while Garvey raised about $34,600. Garvey still maintains a cash on hand advantage, however. Gutshall, meanwhile, spoke at Saturday’s County Board meeting and called for the Board to do more to oppose the gun store in Lyon Park. [InsideNova, InsideNova]

Wardian Running Boston Marathon Today — Elite runner Michael Wardian is among the many Arlington residents competing in the Boston Marathon today. The 42-year-old, known for his prolific pace of race running, has been particularly prolific as of late — so much so that his international adventures recently prompted him to get his passport expanded. [Competitor]

Board Approves Car2Go, Google Proposals — The County Board on Saturday approved a proposal to allow the Car2Go car sharing program to operate seamlessly between Arlington and D.C. (approval is still needed from the District). The Board also voted to join Google’s Connected Citizens Program, which facilitates the sharing of traffic and road condition data. [Arlington County, Arlington County]

Van Doren, Talento Endorsed By Education Association — The political action committee of the Arlington Education Association, which represents local teachers, has endorsed incumbent Nancy Van Doren and newcomer Tannia Talento in the race for the Democratic School Board endorsement. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

by ARLnow.com April 7, 2016 at 9:30 am 0

Parking lot puddle (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

Crystal City Bus-Only Lanes Opening Soon — Bus-only lanes in Crystal City, part of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, are set to open April 17. It’s the region’s first Bus Rapid Transit line. [Washington Post]

Civ Fed Wants Lower Taxes — The Arlington Civic Federation voted Tuesday to call for a one cent reduction in property taxes. The current annual rate is 99.6 cents for every $100 of assessed value. [InsideNova]

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Visits Today — Anthony Doerr, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “All the Light We Cannot See,” will discuss this best-selling novel at the Washington-Lee High School auditorium from 7-8:30 tonight. The discussion is part of Arlington Public Library’s 2016 Arlington Reads program, the theme of which is “the human displacement of World War II.” [ARLnow]

WW2 Exhibit at Library — In addition to the Doerr event and two other author talks, Arlington Central Library is hosting “an artifact-rich exhibition on Arlington County in World War II. It’s the story of a community undergoing rapid transition from fading farms to new home to the Pentagon, all while sending its young men to fight in Europe and the Pacific. ” [Arlington County]

GMU to Hold Talk With Camille Paglia — On Tuesday, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University’s Arlington campus will be holding a discussion with Camille Paglia, the “cultural critic, intellectual provocateur, and feminist icon.” The discussion will be hosted by GMU’s noted economics professor Tyler Cowen. RSVP is required. [Mercatus Center]

Former Willow Team is Now at the Watergate — Tracy O’Grady, the chef and owner of the former Willow restaurant in Ballston, is now running Campono, an Italian restaurant in the Watergate complex. O’Grady’s husband Brian, who also worked at Willow, is on the Campono team as well. [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

by ARLnow.com January 29, 2016 at 10:30 am 0

Rosslyn and the frozen Potomac River (Flickr pool photo by J.D. Moore)

ARLnow Celebrates Sixth Anniversary — Six years ago today, ARLnow.com launched with a brief post about an upcoming snow storm and an early mission statement.

In Rosslyn: WJLA Stays, Politico Implodes — In Rosslyn yesterday, there were two big pieces of local media news in the same building, on the same day. First, it was announced that Sinclair Broadcast Group signed a five-year, 100,000 square foot lease that will keep WJLA and NewsChannel 8 in the 1000/1100 Wilson Blvd twin towers. Later, it was revealed that Politico — which renewed its lease in the same complex in 2014 — would soon be losing CEO Jim VandeHei, chief political reporter Mike Allen and three senior executives. [Washington Business Journal, Huffington Post]

Arlington OKs Gondola Study Contribution — Arlington County will kick in $35,000 to study the feasibility of a gondola running from Rosslyn to Georgetown. Some County Board members expressed skepticism of the plan, though the county’s economic development director said it would at minimum give local hotels and tourism a boost. [Washington Post]

Apartment Complex Deemed Historic District — The Arlington County Board yesterday voted to designate Cambridge Courts — “a garden apartment complex built from rationed materials to house defense workers during World War II” — a local historic district. The apartment complex along Route 50 will now be protected from redevelopment. [Arlington County]

New Rules for Bus-Only Lanes — New rules have been approved for the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. After it opens this spring, the transitway’s lanes in Crystal City will be designated bus-only during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Police will issue warning to drivers who violate the rules during the first 30 days, then will issue $200 fines to lane violators after that. [WTOP, Arlington County]

EatBar Returns… On Capitol Hill — EatBar, which closed in 2014 in Lyon Park, will be coming back as a new bar/restaurant on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row in D.C. [Barred in DC]

County Board Approves ‘Complete Streets’ Guidelines — The Arlington County Board has approved a set of guidelines intended to “help transform busy neighborhood streets into ‘Complete Streets’ – ones that will be safe for users of all ages and abilities whether they are walking, driving, cycling or using transit.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by J.D. Moore

by ARLnow.com January 27, 2016 at 11:10 am 0

ART busPremium bus service will be coming to Columbia Pike, and Arlington County is studying the possibility of establishing dedicated bus lanes as part a series of transit improvements.

That’s the message from County Manager Mark Schwartz, who spoke at a County Board meeting yesterday afternoon.

More than a year in the making, since the Nov. 2014 cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, the new transit plan for Columbia Pike will include bus service that’s “fast, frequent, reliable, easy to use, comfortable,” Schwartz said.

“Staff has identified several features that could be part of premium bus service on the Pike that would be similar to the Metroway service already operating in Crystal City,” Schwartz told the Board. “We are looking at near-level boarding platforms, traffic signal priority for buses, and the possibility of creating locations with dedicated bus lanes, along with other innovations.”

Near-level boarding, as depicted in the photo above, makes for faster boarding and shorter stops. The infrastructure to allow it is in the works, as Arlington County already has a plan to build 23 new, enhanced transit stations along Columbia Pike. The stations are expected to cost about 40 percent less than the infamous $1 million “Super Stop” prototype at the corner of the Pike and Walter Reed Drive.

Off-board fare collection (photo via Arlington County)Other considerations to make bus service faster include include off-board fare collection — so riders can pay for their fare before the bus arrives — and traffic signal prioritization, which would allow green lights to stay green until a bus passes.

More frequent service and simpler route structures — including limited stop and express service — are also being considered, as are new connections to Crystal City and the Skyline section of Fairfax County. The new service would be provided by specially “branded” buses with “comfortable and attractive amenities.”

Though it would require state approval and potentially costly acquisition of Right-of-Way, dedicated bus lanes are currently being studied by county planners.

One of the most lethal criticisms of the streetcar plan was that it would operate in mixed traffic without dedicated lanes. The county is studying the possibility of dedicated lanes for at least portions of the Pike — potentially allowing buses to make stops without blocking a lane of car traffic, for instance.

Dedicated lanes are part of the Metroway Bus Rapid Transit service that’s being implemented in Crystal City.

“Premium bus service would build on transit improvements already underway in these corridors. Columbia Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City are among the most transit-rich areas of Arlington, with the Pike’s 600 bus trips carrying more than 17,000 passengers each weekday,” the county said in a press release.

The new Pike bus service plan will be included in the county’s state-mandated Transit Development Plan. Arlington will be conducting public outreach on the plan over the next couple of months. It’s expected to be ultimately approved by the County Board in May.

by Jennifer Currier December 17, 2015 at 3:00 pm 0

After a series of complications, construction delays and cost challenges, Arlington’s first dedicated transitway is expected to be completed this spring.

Stations for the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway are taking shape now that officials have overcome the unforeseen construction challenges.

“We had complications during construction that caused delays and threatened to push the project over budget,” Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement. “But we have made changes, including scope modifications, to ensure that we finish this project within budget and get it done by next spring.”

In a presentation to the County Board earlier this week, construction managers outlined changes to the project scope and design to compensate for these issues.

The station roofs will now be made of a less expensive material that’s also easier to produce than what was originally proposed. County crews will also assume the fabrication and installation of signage and pavement markings at all the stations to cut costs.

However, the stations will all still have higher curbs for easier boarding, lighting and real-time arrival information.

The transitway is a joint project between Arlington and Alexandria to complement the Metrorail system. Arlington’s portion of the project includes seven stations, 0.75 miles of new, transit-only roadway, and 1.5 miles of dedicated transit lanes on existing streets.

The transitway runs in a loop around Crystal City, running from Crystal Drive to S. Clark Street and back to Crystal Drive.

Once open, vehicles and other traffic will be restricted from the dedicated transit lanes between 6-9 a.m. and 3:30-7 p.m., three and a half total hours less than first proposed. During these hours, vehicles cannot use the lanes to bypass traffic or to travel through an intersection and cannot obstruct the transitway buses.

Weekly construction updates will be published online throughout the winter. Transitway project managers will also work with Metro representatives to select the initial opening date.

by ARLnow.com October 16, 2015 at 4:30 pm 0

16G Metrobus (photo courtesy WMATA)Fear not, Columbia Pike residents — a post-streetcar transit plan for the corridor is on track, county officials tell ARLnow.com.

Arlington County is formulating the Pike transit plan as part of its Transit Development Plan (TDP), a state-mandated, ten-year strategy for bus service in the county. The process is expected to conclude by May 2016.

The county will be holding a series of workshops on the TDP starting Tuesday, Oct. 27. Input from the public is “critical to the success of future bus service in Arlington,” says the county’s TDP webpage, which has the full schedule of all four workshops.

This winter, following months of community outreach, the county expects to release preliminary recommendations for transit service improvements. The county will then gather more community feedback and make more tweaks before the plan is presented to the County Board next spring.

Eric Balliet, a county spokesman, said that officials have already gathered input from 3,300 survey respondents. Via email:

We’ve made significant progress on preparing the TDP update since the consultant team came on board in July. The consultants have been compiling and analyzing a large array of data to evaluate how existing ART and Metrobus services in the County are performing, including on-time performance, ridership and productivity. The input received from over 3,300 survey respondents, as part of the first phase of TDP outreach conducted this spring, was also reviewed and incorporated into the service assessment.

We are coordinating with our regional partners including Fairfax County, City of Alexandria and the District of Columbia to obtain their input, as well as WMATA staff related to the evaluation of transit services on Columbia Pike and in Pentagon City and Crystal City. We remain on track to prepare the TDP update by May 2016, when it is due to the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Following the streetcar’s cancellation last November, residents and business owners who were looking forward to the economic development the streetcar promised to bring to the Pike asked “what’s next?” Streetcar opponents said enhanced bus service would take the place of the streetcar and provide many of the same benefits.

“People need to understand that we will get a bus rapid transit system going,” County Board member Libby Garvey said on the day the streetcar was cancelled. “It will do everything the streetcar could and more. They’re going to be just fine.”

Nearly a year later, with little public discussion about transit save an online survey, some have expressed frustration that the Pike is still clogged with the usual buses and traffic, with no viable streetcar alternative in sight. A number of residents have even taken it upon themselves to propose exotic transit solutions, no matter how infeasible.

In May, County Board member John Vihstadt, who helped lead the charge against the streetcar, floated the idea of “Circulator-type buses” on the Pike. That was greeted with a collective groan from the pro-transit crowd at Greater Greater Washington.

“It’s sad that in a couple years, Arlington’s sense of itself and its national reputation for excellence, innovation, and forward thinking in transportation planning has degraded so much,” wrote Richard Layman, in the comments.

by Ethan Rothstein March 18, 2015 at 2:55 pm 2,286 0

The Arlington County Board at its March 17 meeting(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) More than five months after the Arlington County Board canceled the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, the county is still a year away from any alternative plan.

“Transportation is complex,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan told the Board yesterday in an update on the area’s transit plans. “We really need to move forward in a deliberative way. We want a transit alternative very fast, but we’re going to make sure that the community is involved in whatever we do in terms of coming up with an alternative.”

Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach said the post-streetcar plan for Columbia Pike and Crystal City will likely mean more buses — buses that may be larger and fancier than those currently serving the corridors. While the county did previously study alternatives to streetcar, Leach said those plans need to be updated.

The future of transit in the area will be determined by the results of the county’s upcoming Transit Development Plan, to be completed by spring 2016. The TDP will be submitted to the state to make the county’s transit projects eligible for funding.

Top on the list of priorities, Leach told the Board, is building a facility for maintenance and storage for whatever buses the county decides to run on along the Pike.

“The facility issue is a really critical issue for Arlington, both for our existing ART service and for expanded service,” Leach said. The under-construction ART bus facility on S. Eads Street “does not quite meet the storage need for our fleet that we anticipate having this year. For Northern Virginia, we have some really serious facility challenges. These facilities are really hard to site.”

The county is already planning on expanding ART bus service — it’s cheaper than the equivalent Metrobus service — and Donnellan has asked the Board for funding to increase service for the ART 41, 42, 43 and 45 lines by this summer.

The county continues to progress on its major Columbia Pike multimodal improvements project, the Columbia Pike transit station project and projects in Crystal City and Pentagon City, but a unified, enhanced transit plan is not coming until next year. In all, county staff says it will spend $200 million in the next on transit improvements to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City corridors over the next six years.

The TDP will encompass countywide transit projects, but Leach said staff’s focus will be on the Pike and Crystal City.

Some County Board members used Leach’s update on post-streetcar planning to rehash old arguments made by both sides before the streetcar’s demise.

“People were told there would be another option that can be built faster and at a fraction of the cost, and it would be bus rapid transit,” Board member Walter Tejada said to Leach, referencing streetcar opponents, specifically John Vihstadt and Libby Garvey. “I’m not hearing you say that those are being considered as alternatives right now.”

Vihstadt responded by asking Donnellan if any developments had been cancelled or scaled back after the streetcar cancellation, to which Donnellan responded it was too early to tell –“I have not gotten any indication” that development was slowing, she said.

Fisette and Tejada went back and forth asking Leach to explain the federal definition of Bus Rapid Transit. According to the Federal Transit Administration, BRT is defined as 50 percent or more of a line using a dedicated lane during peak traffic periods. Columbia Pike is not feasible for a dedicated lane, but, theoretically, a combined Pike-Pentagon City-Crystal City-Potomac Yard line, using dedicated lanes in Crystal City, could meet the definition of BRT.

“I’m all about providing factual information to the community, not incorrect information that could unintentionally mislead,” Tejada said.

Board Chair Mary Hynes and member Jay Fisette — the two members who changed their votes to join Garvey and Vihstadt in cancelling the streetcar last year — admonished both sides for hijacking the discussion.

“The last 45 minutes has been disappointing,” Fisette said. “I don’t like seeing us devolve into last year’s competing facts. It’s certainly not appealing. It’s best that we, jointly, keep our eyes moving forward.”

Garvey, meanwhile, said she wanted to see the transit planning proceed expeditiously.

“Now we have to do a whole countywide process before we can look at the Pike again, and I think that’s not the intention,” she said. “I understand it all has to go together, it’s a good thing… The more I can hear a sense of urgency about moving forward the happier I will be and I think the happier our citizens will be.”

Leach responded that county staff has a leg up in the planning process due to the “body of work” already in place. He said a contract is in place for the design of new transit stops — the cheaper successor to the infamous $1 million Columbia Pike “Super Stop” — but construction isn’t likely until “early 2016.”

Hynes said the study, which will join the community facilities study and Long Bridge Park aquatics center study, also announced yesterday, is important to keep the community reminded of the Board’s effort.

“I don’t want anyone listening today thinking that we are abandoning Columbia Pike,” she said, citing the multimodal improvements and transit station projects and examples. “We need the community to understand that our commitment to those things is deep, is strong, is ongoing and it’s funded.”

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