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Arlington candidates discuss streetcars and Crystal City

5 Democratic candidates are vying for Barbara Favola's vacated seat on the Arlington County Board. Where do they stand on the issues? 3 of the candidates responded to a Greater Greater Washington questionnaire about the major issues facing Arlington.

Left to right: Melissa Bondi, Libby Garvey, and Kim Klingler. Images from the candidates's websites.

Favola was elected to the Virginia State Senate in November, leaving an open seat on the 5-person board. Arlington Democrats will hold 2 caucuses on January 19th and January 21st to nominate a replacement. No Republicans will challenge the Democratic candidate.

Since the race got underway in November, candidate Melissa Bondi has received notable endorsements from sitting board members Walter Tejada and Chris Zimmerman, while former School Board member Libby Garvey just announced an endorsement from Favola for her own former position.

I distributed a questionnaire to 5 participating candidates, and received responses from Bondi, Garvey, and Kim Klingler. The questionnaire asked about the candidates' positions on the Crystal City Sector Plan, the Columbia Pike streetcar, the need for more affordable housing, and more. The candidates also participated in a January 4th debate at GMU's Founder Hall that featured many similar questions.

While the 3 respondents agreed on many points, key distinctions emerged. Bondi and Klingler offered more pointed, direct suggestions for bolstering Arlington's affordable housing stock, while Garvey's experience serving 15 years on the Arlington County School Board gave her detailed knowledge of the ACPS system's current efforts at mitigating the capacity crisis.

All 3 candidates, when asked about the County Board's October 2011 decision to approve Boeing's new regional headquarters in Crystal City, cited concerns with poor urban planning and citizen involvement throughout the process.

Below are exerpts from the candidates' positions on some of the most significant urban issues in Arlington County right now.

What do you see as the most pressing issue facing Arlington County today?

From the need for more affordable housing to transparent governance, each candidate expressed a different view on Arlington County's greatest challenge. What all three candidates appeared to agree on in their answers, however, is the need for collaborative, systematic planning between the County Board and the County's citizens for Arlington's growth.

Melissa Bondi:

I think the most pressing issue is to mitigate the continued threats to, and losses in, Arlington's affordable housing stock. A significant portion of our diverse Arlington population, from immigrants to seniors to persons with disabilities and young families need access to safe, decent affordable housing.
Kim Klingler:
As Arlingtonians, I believe our most pressing issue is to be able to maintain our identity, diversity, and quality of life as we continue to grow as a community. Therefore, we must pay special attention to:
a. Smart Growth and Transportation.
b. County/Schools Collaborative Planning.
c. Maintaining a Diverse and Caring Community.
Libby Garvey:
I think the most pressing issue is the need for more intentional and transparent systems for planning and improvement to manage growth: an overall strategic plan with clear goals, measurable data points and monitoring systems to see if we are progressing towards our goals and working as efficiently as possible.
What are your thoughts on the practicality and cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar? Is this project a good use of funds?

Arlington plans a $261 million streetcar project along Columbia Pike, which leaders say will drive economic growth and improve mobility far beyond what buses can provide, but critics charge is too expensive to justify the benefits. Bondi is a strong supporter of the project, while Garvey and Klingler expressed some doubts in their answers.


While I can see many benefits from a streetcar, the question for me and many people is, are those benefits worth the cost. Arlington needs a clear cost benefit analysis for the streetcar so we can make an informed decision as a board and a community.
In order to determine whether this $261M investment is justified, we need to take a step back and address the following:
a. What do Arlingtonians want? What is their strategic vision and plan for Arlington?
b. How will the street car project be implemented?
c. Can we afford it?
d. Do we have the resources to appropriately manage the contractors?
With the appropriate planning I think the Columbia Pike streetcar could be a promising investment; however, per my points above, I would need to be convinced that now is the right time.
I am a supporter of the Columbia Pike Streetcar, as an integral piece of Arlington's transportation network that will insure mobility for the residents of Columbia Pike in the near term, and for the region in the long term. Major transportation efforts, like a modern streetcar system, require extensive planning and are subject to rising costs. We need to be able to explain any changes in costs and to provide context that helps to reinforce the overall value Arlington residents will realize through such an important investment.
What is your opinion of the Crystal City Sector Plan and its impact on the economic development of Crystal City?

In response to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, which could take up to 18,000 jobs from Crystal City and leave millions of square feet of office space empty, Arlington embarked on a years-long planning process to develop a Sector Plan to shape the neighborhood's future growth.

The plan calls for a modified street grid and a shift in demographics to better balance workers and residents. In their responses, Bondi and Klingler are supportive of the Sector Plan, while Garvey is skeptical that Crystal City residents truly had their voices heard throughout the planning process.


If it can be fully executed, the plan will favorably impact the economic development of Crystal City. [However], the plan will need to be updated to address: offering competitive pricing per square foot, lowering and maintaining emergency response times to Crystal City, planning for additional school and health services, and designing appropriate transitions between denser areas and traditional neighborhoods.
Among the positive achievements I see in the plan are: 1) generally better urban design, more walkable streets, enhanced parks and public spaces; 2) affordable housing targets, perhaps the most ambitious yet included in an Arlington sector plan; 3) a commitment to transportation infrastructure, especially streetcar, which is essential; 4) inclusion of a vehicle for on-going citizen participation and monitoring in implementation, through the "CCCRC," a permanent advisory body led by residents.
Residents of Crystal City value the underground networks for their convenience and protection from the weather. They value the small open spaces that provide relief from many tall buildings. [With the Plan], these amenities will be lost. I've heard from several the sense that excellence in planning, emphasis of transit use and preserving the amenities valued by residence were not included in the plan. Only two residents were on the task force and many residents who tried to participate and work on the plan as citizens, finally quit the process in frustration and anger. This is very unfortunate.
Tomorrow, we'll post Bondi's, Klingler's, and Garvey's responses on the impact of defense spending cuts on the Arlington economy, the capacity crisis in Arlington County Public Schools, and what each candidate would most like to improve about Arlington County.
Alison Crowley works in real estate development with a focus on drawing educational, health, and recreational resources to neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. 


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It's pretty obvious that Melissa soaked up a lot of good ideas during her stint at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

by Chris Slatt on Jan 10, 2012 10:52 am • linkreport

Agree with Chris Slatt. You can certainly see why Melissa deserves to be the frontrunner in this race.

by Some guy on Jan 10, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

Bondi's repsonse is good on crystal city, but weak on the streetcar.

Who is going to pay for the streetcar? And what you need is more transit options into DC, not just a streetcar to the (somewhere near the pentagon).

I wonder how much a privitized streetcar would cost.

by charlie on Jan 10, 2012 11:03 am • linkreport

I don't know if a mixed-traffic streetcar would really help the Pike. I think Arlington wants to recreate the success of the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, but to do that the streetcar ought to have its own lanes.

That said, I'm commenting from much ignorance on the subject. Is there something technical preventing a center-running streetcar line? Is there an advantage over buses for a mixed-traffic streetcar line?

by OctaviusIII on Jan 10, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

First, I am glad Bondi campaign manager stepped up with such thoughtful comments on Bondi. Second, I am glad Chris Zimmerman, who has Bondi in his back pocket and thus, will provide no independence from Zim replied.

I am quite sure that Bondi is the most unqualified candidate of the 5 running in the caucus but has essentially been a sycophant to Zimmerman and Tejada since the beginning of her alleged involvement.

I saw she is unqualified based on several actions:
1) She does not have a college degree that in and off itself does not disqualify her but add in the rest makes her unfit.
2) Every position she seems to have last only a short time - at most she spends 2 years in the various community activities. This demonstrates that she lacks any ability to stay continually involved in any group and just wants to appear to be involved but not really do anything. This falls in line with her inability to graduate from college.
3) Her jumping around groups demonstrates just trying to meet the right people to progress up the chain and not actually do anything. Ironically, she looks like a high school student trying to get into college listing 30 activities that gives the appearance of being involved without getting involved.

by Burger on Jan 10, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

I think for the streetcar to have any chance of succeeding/being used, it should connect Ballston and Clarendon to Crystal City. As it is currently designed, I can't use it. The projected service area for the street car services people who own cars and are likely to prefer driving. On the other hand, people in the Ballston-Rossylen corridor are less likely to own cars and prefer public transportation.

by jinushaun on Jan 10, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

As much as I'd love to see dedicated lanes for the Pike Streetcar, sufficient right of way simply doesn't exist for the vast majority of the Pike, unfortunately.

That said, rail has been shown time and again to attract higher ridership and increased developer investment over equivalent bus service even when operating in mixed traffic. That's why a streetcar is right for the Pike.

by Chris Slatt on Jan 10, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

The Piketransit website says that we can't add more buses to Columbia Pike because the roadway is only so big. So why does Mr Slatt suggest that a streetcar is needed to *attract* ridership? His "time and again" comparisons are not apt: the Pike already has the busiest bus corridor in VA, unlike his examples (which involve places where few rode the bus previously). Bendy/articulated buses are the answer for the capacity problems on the Pike, with the cost savings going into expanding ART and direct-to-DC bus service, CapitalBike share and a real East-West bike route.

by PikeSpotter on Jan 10, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

PikeSpotter ignores the external benefits of having the streetcar drive new development and revitalization of the frankly run down Columbia Pike corridor. This process has begun with the new Penrose Square development, Siena Park and the Halstead, along with the millions that businesses are investing due to the expectation of the streetcar construction. Buses don't drive development to anywhere close to the same degree - they also rarely make enough revenue to cover their operations. The streetcar, while expensive, will increas long term tax revenues in both new businesses and higher property values along the entire corridor.

by South Arlington on Jan 10, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

@pikespotter; you raise some good questions. And that is what our elected politicans should be doing as well.

That being said, as I understand it, Arlington wants MORE people on the PIke. So I can see the argument we can't keep stuffing buses there.

by charlie on Jan 10, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

My understanding is that the ride charecteristics for street cars are slightly better than for articulated buses, and the speed slightly higher, which would attract more riders, and accommodate more riders. They

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

A streetcar is needed to attract ridership because we shouldn't say "We've got the busiest bus corridor in Virginia, I guess we've succeeded - our work here is done." We should say "Wow, a lot of people are taking the bus on Columbia Pike even though it's loud, crowded, confusing, unreliable, stops too frequently and jars your fillings out every time it hits a pothole. Imagine what would happen if we actually spent some money investing in high quality transit that people would WANT to ride rather than being people's only fall back to get to the metro."

by Chris Slatt on Jan 10, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

Shorter Chris Slatt -- let's get white people on transit.

by charlie on Jan 10, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

A streetcar would help connect South Arlington to DC via an easy transfer at Pentagon City. This in turn would help Columbia Pike continue to become a more vibrant neighborhood where people want to live and shop. The bus system is good; a streetcar would make it even better.

A comparison to Georgetown might be worthwhile: Georgetown has buses, but decades later there's a lot of regret that they didn't include a metro stop. My understanding is that it's only a myth that Georgetown voted to reject the metro. But now, Arlington will have a real chance to reject a streetcar and live to regret it later.

by Avery on Jan 10, 2012 12:41 pm • linkreport

Charlie, is that a bad thing? It's basically what the Metro does. I think it'd be more accurate to say "let's get the middle and upper middle class on transit".

by South Arlington on Jan 10, 2012 12:45 pm • linkreport

Bendy/articulated buses are the answer for the capacity problems on the Pike

Bendy buses are less reliable, difficult to maintain, cost more per passenger, last approximately 4 years less than a normal bus, have been shown to get into a considerably higher number of accidents with injuries, and only expand capacity by approximately 30%. Generally speaking, streetcars have high capital costs, but are much cheaper to operate.

Bendy buses can temporarily expand capacity on a busy bus corridor. WMATA is doing exactly this on H St NE with the X2 line until the H St streetcar can be completed.

by andrew on Jan 10, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

yet another irrelevant mention of race. Suggests a GGW drinking game?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

Can I add that I like some of Pike spotters ideas (especially a direct to DC columbia pike bus similar to the 38B) but it be great as a complement to the street car?

by Canaan on Jan 10, 2012 1:05 pm • linkreport

dont the 16f and 16t already run to dc from columbia pike?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 10, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

16y, not 16t sorry

by walker on Jan 10, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

@southarlington; "bad thing"? depends on who you are. But is it the best idea to spend $350M in order to accomplish that goal?

@Canaan; unfortantly. the elected officals don't see if that way. You need to articulate and put into plans other ways to bring more transit to the Pike. I know the bike path idea was put forward, that is great. But the other stuff, no. Andrew brings up the conventional arguments against bendy buses and as a driver I tend to agree. But I think there are a lot of small changes which need to be done. And pikespotters big point -- that the streetcar essentialy replaces one bus line -- is still valid.

Arlington loves to neglect corridors. Lee Highway is another example. You have to think the goal is concernte development until the corridor hits the skids then allow developers to buy it up and turn it into condos. Again, great for developers. For Arlington residents?

by charlie on Jan 10, 2012 1:40 pm • linkreport

Burger, you forgot to add the fact that Melissa Bondi can't even pay her own taxes and has a lien filed against by the IRS for about $20k. Here's the original document:

Sorry, I don't vote for tax evaders/deadbeats.

by jadedlens on Jan 10, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Charlie: it's not just $350 million for a marginal increase in transit users. It's $350 million dollars as a kickstart for new investment in a traditionally ignored and undercapitalized corridor.

by South Arlington on Jan 10, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport


You also failed to mention Bondi failed to register her car and pay personal property taxes for 3 straight years.

by TGEOA on Jan 10, 2012 5:24 pm • linkreport

Why does Columbia Pike need a streetcar?

Because it's been shown in many other places in the country that streetcars attract the kind of resident who pays far more in taxes than they use in services (typically, upper middle class childless people). Attracting those sorts of residents will attract development and high paying employers that should more than pay for the streetcar (unless the project's cost spirals out of control...a definite possibility).

As for why those kind of people refuse to use the bus and only like streetcars...I don't know. You'll have to ask them.

by Falls Church on Jan 10, 2012 6:19 pm • linkreport

@Canaan They could serve as a complement to streetcar, but I'm recognizing the limits to funding for Pike transit priorities. @andrew Fair point except the numbers on this stuff depend on who you ask, and I can't seem to find the hard data on the alternatives analysis from piketransit or the county. And as charlie says, the issue remains that we are only replacing 1 or 2 of over a dozen bus lines. @AWalkerInTheCity I think we need more bus lines like the 16Y and F, and some weekend service as well, like N Arlington has w/38B. Finally, the development argument is tricky, but @South Arlington - don't your examples prove that development does not depend on the streetcar? @Avery, to me Georgetown proves that you don't need fixed rail to thrive. The Circulator has been a huge success in DC, so models for non-rail, expanded transit exist locally. All - good discussion with little name calling, nicely done.

by PikeSpotter on Jan 10, 2012 9:06 pm • linkreport

The Pike is being revitalized already, and there is NO hard evidence that the proposed trolley is doing anything to contribute. And speaking of anecdotal evidence, I rode the SF trolley a few weeks ago. The ride was just as rough as a bus.

by TGEOA on Jan 10, 2012 9:46 pm • linkreport

Look, a streetcar would be nice. But you need -- our at least our elected officals need to realize -- that there has to be a backup plan. The cost is escalating, I don't see where the federal grant money is coming from, and we're putting too many eggs in one basket.

If the streetcar is such a great deal, issue a 500M bond and build it. I doubt the county board would go along with that.

by charlie on Jan 10, 2012 9:58 pm • linkreport

As a candidate seeking to earn a seat on the Arlington County Board, I would have appreciated the opportunity to answer the questionnaire. Sadly, Greater Greater Washington did not contact me nor my campaign. Nevertheless, I am still open to a conversation to discuss my candidacy.

by Terron Sims on Jan 10, 2012 10:30 pm • linkreport

Here are all the candidates' responses to the question, "Does Arlington need a streetcar?" (from ADCD forum). Same link also gets you all the candidates' responses to five other key local government questions.

by Douglas Galbi on Jan 10, 2012 10:40 pm • linkreport

@ Terron Sims,

I did in fact try to contact your campaign twice. On your campaign website, there is a contact form, which I filled out once requesting that you contact me directly, and a second time with the questions attached. I apologize that for any reason you didn't receive those questions.



by Alison Crowley on Jan 10, 2012 10:44 pm • linkreport


Thanks for introducing yourself in person. Not too many candidates pound the pavements anymore.

by TGEOA on Jan 10, 2012 10:52 pm • linkreport

@Pikespotter: It doesn't prove anything. I don't believe those new developments would have come to the neighborhood if not for the streetcar plans. I don't believe business owners would be investing millions in new upscale businesses if not for the streetcar plans. The owners of the new William Jeffrey's Tavern said as much when they stated about the streetcar "'We’ve been waiting for it. I think it’s going to be really, really cool when it comes through,' said Lubar. 'That was one of the selling points to this area, that that should be down here some day. I think connecting this area with Fairfax and making it a little more Metro accessible can only help develop this whole area.'"

@TGEOA: Terrible argument. So you're comparing the San Francisco cable cars to a brand new streetcar system? You mean the cable cars that were built in 1878 and are still in operation? Sorry your ride was rough. I can't understand why. As long as we're dealing in personal anecdotes, I rode the Portland streetcar and San Diego Trolley lately and found them smooth and efficient. They were at least built in the last century.

by South Arlington on Jan 11, 2012 9:02 am • linkreport

The Pike is being revitalized already, and there is NO hard evidence that the proposed trolley is doing anything to contribute. And speaking of anecdotal evidence, I rode the SF trolley a few weeks ago. The ride was just as rough as a bus.

Well, considering there is no hard evidence that the streetcar will actually happen anytime soon, it's not surprising that developers aren't counting on it. But, if you want to look for a streetcar's contriburtion to re-vitalization, you have to look no further than H ST.

Yeah, go figure on streetcar rides being rough. I have no idea why the coveted upper middle class childless folks love to ride these things yet won't ride buses but there's no evidence of that preference changing anytime soon. There's a saying...the Customer is King...even if you don't understand why they like something.

If the streetcar is such a great deal, issue a 500M bond and build it. I doubt the county board would go along with that.

No investment is a true "sure thing" and financing the project with debt greatly increases the risk. Also, significantly increasing Arlington's debt burden would put the county's bond rating in jeopardy.

by Falls Church on Jan 11, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

A lot of clever 'rhetoric' and very little substance. Sure we all want diversity. Sure, we all want seniors and children well cared for. Yes, we want transportation options. Now, how about a few specifics? The best response was about the lack of resident guidance on future plans for Crystal City. The idea that you'd give up on the underground is insane...but then insane planning (or lack thereof) is standard for the Arlington County Board.

We already learned on GGW that the Columbia Pike Streetcar is way over budget and beyond the funding guidelines. Therefore, the project should be DEAD. Why beat a dead horse? Too costly and far too optimistic rider projections. This will be a taxpayer boondoggle. Let's hope one of these candidates would simply say so.

by Pelham1861 on Jan 11, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport


The tolley I rode was the transit, not the tourist toy. And H st isn't Columbia pike. H st is light years ahead in nastiness. Maybe it needs the infrastructure boost, but CP doesn't.

by TGEOA on Jan 11, 2012 5:32 pm • linkreport

What do you mean by "light years ahead in nastiness," TGEOA?

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Jan 15, 2012 9:37 pm • linkreport

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