Almost three years to the day since the cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, the nonprofit behind revitalizing the Pike and its neighborhoods believes it is on the right path.
The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization received extra funding in April when the Arlington County Board approved its FY 2018 budget, and CPRO president John Snyder said the money has already helped.
He said the extra funds are helping pay more CPRO staff as full-time employees rather than part-time, and has also provided an extra staff member in the county’s Solid Waste Bureau within the Department of Environmental Services to pick up litter, empty trash cans and keep the area tidy.
“It’s been a big boost, and I think we’re going to see some more visible changes as we’re able to really execute on some of the things that we’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t had the resources to do,” Snyder said.
Being able to employ more full-time staff means CPRO can support more events, Snyder said, including the soon-to-relaunch Arlington Mill Farmers Market in addition to the market already at Pike Park. (CPRO also puts on the annual Columbia Pike Blues Festival.)
He also pointed to this summer’s outdoor movie screenings at the Arlington Mill Community Center and Penrose Square, which were about much more than watching movies.
“Last summer we had a big increase in our movie nights and really advertised them a lot,” Snyder said. “So we got pretty big crowds at both Arlington Mill and Penrose Square, and that’s not just about the movies. They’re all 1980s movies that probably everybody has already seen, but it’s about getting together as a neighborhood.”
And to encourage more businesses to move onto the Pike, Snyder said CPRO will partner with Arlington Economic Development on a market study of the potential customers who live near the Pike and demographics. That way, businesses would have more of an idea of their customer base before moving in.
“[If] some business is thinking, ‘Gee, would I like to relocate to the Pike?’ we can give them some concrete data that would tell them what the demographics are like, what the buying power is, to help them make those decisions,” Snyder said. “It will also perhaps help us guide policies so we know what are things that would help the businesses.”
With new projects coming online soon, like the “Columbia Pike Village Center” anchored by a Harris Teeter grocery store in place of Food Star, as well as a condo building next to S. Buchanan Street, Snyder said it will be imperative for the planned “Premium Transit Network” of buses to work as planned.
“I think it can help, particularly if we make sure that we’re going at regular six-minute intervals all through the week,” he said. “One of the most consistent traffic days on the Pike is Saturday. If we make sure that we’ve got the transit coming by on a reliable six-minute interval so that people can really just walk to the stop, use it, walk back home, I think it’ll start getting a lot of that sort of business.”
Candidates Largely Favor Land Swap — During a debate, Democratic County Board candidates generally indicated they want the county to move forward with a land swap agreement with Virginia Hospital Center. VHC has offered the county various pieces of land in exchange for a 5-acre parcel of county-owned land on N. Edison Street, just north of the VHC property. [InsideNova]
Impact of Pike Streetcar Cancellation — There’s speculation that the county’s 2014 cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar plan may have contributed to stalling revitalization efforts in the Bailey’s Crossroads area of Fairfax County. [Washington Post]
New Assistant County Manager — Arlington County has named Samia Byrd as a new assistant county manager. Byrd has more than 20 years of planning experience and will serve as a senior adviser to County Manager Mark Schwartz. [Arlington County]
Historic District Proposal — Next month the County Board will consider a proposal to designate “The Hermitage,” a home at 4025 N. Randolph Street, as a local historic district. [InsideNova]
It’s the end of the road for P. Brennan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant at 2910 Columbia Pike.
The cavernous local pub will shutter after closing on Friday. Owner Brian Dolphin, who also owned the ill-fated McGinty’s near Potomac Yard, says P. Brennan’s “did pretty well” by staying in business for seven years, but never made much money.
“It never kicked off to the extent we thought it would,” Dolphin told ARLnow.com Thursday morning. He said P. Brennan’s liquor license expires after March 31 and he chose not to renew it.
Also contributing to the bar’s demise: its large size — “too big,” Dolphin said, in retrospect — and the cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar, which seemed to deflate some of the excitement and prospects for change along the Pike.
“Things went south on us a bit and never picked up,” said Dolphin regarding the aftermath of the cancellation.
Nothing out of the ordinary is planned for P. Brennan’s last day tomorrow, but Dolphin said he expects that many long-time patrons will be there enjoying a pint or two.
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
(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.
Struggling Skyline Sold — Vornado has taken its properties in Skyline off of its balance sheet after the 2.6 million-square-foot, half-vacant complex sold at a foreclosure auction last week. The cancelled Columbia Pike streetcar project would have run to Skyline, with Fairfax County set to pay 20 percent of the project’s cost. [Washington Business Journal]
More on ‘Pop-Up’ Hotel — The inauguration will be the big test for WhyHotel, the “pop-up” hotel in the new Bartlett apartment building in Pentagon City. Developer Vornado sees this as an experiment that could yield temporary revenue while a building is leased up. Arlington County planning commissioner Erik Gutshall says the county could benefit from additional tax revenue and a more lively streetscape. [Washington Post]
Arlington = NYE Destination? — Travelers coming to the D.C. area for New Year’s Eve should consider staying in Arlington due to its proximity to the District and lower hotel rates, says an article on “last minute deals for New Year’s Eve hotels.” [Travel + Leisure]
Transracial Adoption in Arlington — Arlington is “a fantastic community in which to raise a transracially blended family,” says the father of (now grown) adopted children from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India. [Arlington Magazine]
Clarendon Post Office Murals — A local man has written a 44-page book on the artist who painted seven New Deal-era murals in the Clarendon post office. [Washington Post]
Reporting Issues to the County — Arlington County is reminding residents that they can report out-of-sync traffic signals, crosswalks with broken buttons and other non-emergency service requests via an online form. [Twitter]
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey addressed transportation and affordable housing on Columbia Pike at her State of the County address Tuesday morning.
Garvey said the county needs to “fix the transportation” on the Pike, “not that it’s too bad now.” She referenced the Transit Development Plan for enhanced bus service on Columbia Pike, which the Board is expected to consider at its July meeting.
Garvey noted that there has been continued development along the Columbia Pike corridor. The cancellation of the streetcar project — Garvey led the charge against it — “hasn’t affected people as much as some would suggest,” she said.
Garvey also said the county needs to “slow down a bit” the pace of affordable housing development along Arlington’s western end of Columbia Pike, to avoid an over-concentration of affordable housing in one place.
“It’s great what we’re doing, but I think we have to be aware that you don’t want to concentrate it too much,” she said.
That should be welcome news to the Coalition of Arlingtonians for Responsible Development (CARD), a particularly vocal civic group formed last year in opposition to what it views as a clustering of affordable housing on Columbia Pike. The group says it favors a more even geographic distribution of affordable housing throughout Arlington.
Some Developers Are Pessimistic About the Pike — “The mood is not good,” Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization chairman John Murphy said of developers. “Some of them made big investments, big bets based on the county saying we’re going to do the streetcar. They feel betrayed, they’re not happy at all.” [Bisnow]
Board to Buy Bungalow to Bolster Benjamin Banneker — The Arlington County Board this weekend is expected to approve the purchase of a $637,500 property on 17th Street N. in order to expand Benjamin Banneker Park, near the East Falls Church Metro station. [InsideNova]
DCA Flight Path Changes — The Federal Aviation Administration is considering changes to flight paths for planes departing Reagan National Airport, in response to complaints from D.C. residents. Meanwhile, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is organizing a community meeting to discuss “recent changes to departure procedures for aircraft taking off to the south of the airport.” [WTOP, Rep. Don Beyer]
Chaplain at DCA Mourns Son — Rev. Nace Lanier, the chaplain at Reagan National Airport, is mourning the loss of his 10-year-old son to a brain tumor. [Washington Post]
Sehkraft Makes ‘Hottest New Bars’ List — Sehkraft Brewing in Clarendon is one of the 10 hottest new bars in the D.C. area, according to Zagat, which writes: “This sprawling, pulsating Arlington brewhouse, gastropub, butcher shop, beer garden and live-music venue is powered by the brilliantly colored art on the walls, robust smoked and grilled American fare and curated craft beers.” [Zagat]
Free Smoothies Today — Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which has a location at 3811 Fairfax Drive in Virginia Square, is celebrating National Flip Flop Day by raising money for charity and giving out some free smoothies. The store will offer free smoothies to customers wearing flip flops from 2-7 p.m. [Tropical Smoothie Cafe]
Photo courtesy @rydaka
Just over a year ago, the Arlington County Board voted to scuttle the county’s controversial streetcar project.
The next day we conducted a poll, asking whether the County Board made the right decision. About 62 percent of 3,280 respondents said yes, while 38 percent said no.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post published an article entitled “How D.C. spent $200 million over a decade on a streetcar you still can’t ride.” The article details a decade-plus-long string of delays, questionable decisions and cost overruns.
Meanwhile, Columbia Pike — for which the streetcar was to provide an enhanced transit experience — continues to be clogged by traffic and long lines of buses at rush hour. The Pike is continuing to develop, albeit slowly.
Given the continued bad news about the crash-prone and long-delayed D.C. streetcar — or a year of reflection on the current state of traffic and development on Columbia Pike — we’re wondering whether any Arlington residents have changed their minds.
A year later, do you agree with the decision to cancel Arlington’s streetcar project?
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.
Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes told the Arlington Chamber of Commerce today that the cancellation of Arlington’s streetcar project was the toughest decision she made during 20 years in office — and she’s still not sure of the long-term consequences.
Hynes, who’s retiring at the end of the year, made the remarks during a question-and-answer session following her “State of the County” address.
“The hardest decision I had to make not just on the County Board but in 20 years of elected office was to discontinue the streetcar,” said Hynes, who previously served on the School Board for 12 years.
“The reasons had to do with my belief and care for the community overall,” Hynes explained. Given the strong opposition to the streetcar, “I really didn’t believe there was enough bandwidth in our community to address these other pressing needs. Everything was being evaluated under this streetcar lens, not on its own merits. I was worried that we were going to miss other things that needed to be attended to if we continued to keep it alive.”
Hynes still suggested that the streetcar was a sound plan to improve transportation on Columbia Pike.
“Let me just say for myself personally, if the plan that the Board adopted for Columbia Pike continues to build out, I don’t have a whisper of a doubt that bus service will be insufficient in the long run,” Hynes said. “But our community wasn’t there, our community didn’t understand it, and it was just coloring the conversation to an extent where we couldn’t move forward.”
Hynes said her second-toughest decision was on the 2012 update to the county’s sign ordinance. The Board was considering more restrictive measures, including a ban on roofline signs on office buildings that was supported by Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman. Ultimately, Hynes sided with Board members Jay Fisette and Libby Garvey, plus county staff and the business community, in arguing that banning such signs would discourage businesses from locating in Arlington.
“I was the swing vote,” she recounted. “I thought my job was to find the compromise.”
During the speech, Hynes said Arlington is unlikely to experience the rapid economic growth of the early- and mid-aughts again, at least any time soon, due to economic pressures from federal government belt-tightening to regional competition with Fairfax County and the District.
“The reality is that those incredible ups that Arlington experienced will not be coming again,” she said.
Hynes encouraged the business community and the next generation of Arlington leaders — she and Tejada are both retiring from the Board at the end of the year — to continue to honor Arlington’s values of diversity and inclusiveness, make long-term investments in infrastructure like Metro, and build consensus for decisions through robust community processes involving residents and other stakeholders.
“I challenge each of you to be part of the solution,” she said. “I look forward to watching it on TV.”
At a forum last night, the candidates for Arlington County Board discussed ways to address the high amount of empty office space in Arlington while discussing how the county can be more attractive for businesses.
The eight candidates — six Democrats and two Independents — discussed transportation, commercial office vacancy and a diverse workforce during a candidate forum held by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and Rosslyn Business Improvement District.
The empty space largely comes from the shrinking footprint of the federal government, the candidates agreed.
Arlington has to realize that it cannot rely on the federal government as an employer like it once could, Democrat Bruce Wiljanen said. He suggested that the next major business sector may be high technology companies.
“I’m really encouraged by things happening in Crystal City right now,” Wiljanen said.
To fill the empty space, Arlington needs to do more to encourage businesses to move and stay here, the candidates said. It needs to be easier to open a business in Arlington, Democrats Andrew Schneider and Christian Dorsey said.
“I had a small business owner that said after a year of starting his business that he didn’t have to start — both he and his wife work full-time jobs downtown — that he would have started his business in Falls Church,” Schneider said.
Arlington needs to look at its regulatory processes and weed out what is unnecessary and harmful, Dorsey said. Having a business ombudsman is good — the county recently created the position — but it’s just the first step.
“These are the things, little as they may seem, that give a community the character of a place where business is welcome and it is a good place to do business,” said Dorsey.
Arlington also needs to foster a diverse workforce, candidates said.
Arlington needs to be attractive to both millennials and older workers, Democrat Katie Cristol said. This can be done through affordable housing, she said. Cristol, the youngest candidate in the race, lists affordable housing as one of her top issues.
A commitment to affordable housing is needed, Democrat Peter Fallon said. Arlington has a highly skilled workforce, but in order to keep it, there needs to be housing for Arlington’s employees.
With a more diverse workforce comes a need for more diverse businesses. One area Dorsey listed was through grocery stores. If neighborhoods are more diverse there is a need for standard grocery stores like Giant or Safeway but also for ethnic grocery stores, he said.
James Lander also encouraged a focus on millennials in the new workforce. Lander, a Democrat who is the chair of the Arlington School Board, emphasized the need to focus on invest in community amenities, specifically schools. He also said the county should invest more resources into helping small businesses.
“We can’t turn our back on investment,” Lander said.
The candidates agreed that transportation is one of Arlington’s best features, but also one that has area to improve.
“We have great people and we move them well,” Cristol said.
The Metro has allowed Arlington to be easily accessible and allowed it to be attractive for businesses. Many of the candidates argued that it is necessary for the County Board to get its seat back on the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority Board. With a seat on the board, County Board members could advocate for more investment in Metro infrastructure.
Congestion on Columbia Pike also needs to be addressed, candidates said. The candidates had different views about the need for the streetcar system that was canceled last year, but all agreed it was time to move forward.
“We need to wake up from our post streetcar hangover,” Dorsey said.
Fallon echoed Dorsey in saying that the County Board needs to start planning now for new transit options on Columbia Pike. Such plans need to be reasonable in scope, without requiring too much infrastructure, he said.
Cristol suggested enhanced bus service on Columbia Pike. The buses need to be able to move more fluidly, which could be accomplished with off vehicle payment system and/or doors at both ends, she said.
Wiljanen suggested that a mobile app for the bus may improve service. A real-time location app would help residents know when a bus was coming and, possibly, how many seats were on the bus.
(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.”