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Streetcar will revitalize Columbia Pike corridor

Columbia Pike's proposed streetcar line will help revitalize one of Arlington county's busiest corridors. Nonetheless, the plan has stirred an unusual amount of controversy, especially with increased cost estimates published last December.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The project has the potential to bring a lot of benefits to the Columbia Pike corridor, the county and the region. There are three reasons in particular to look at the project favorably.

First, the project would enrich the area's broader transit network. Second, it will help spur Columbia Pike's ongoing revitalization. And third, it's the latest chapter in the decades-long story of Arlington's coordination of land-use and transit planning to develop successful communities.

Residents can give their input on the project online and at meetings on June 6 and 7.

Columbia Pike is the busiest local bus corridor in Virginia. Buses now come every 3 minutes in peak periods on some parts of the road. Streetcars' higher capacity will help accommodate a projected increase in ridership in the corridor from 16,000 today to 25,000 when the line begins service.

Columbia Pike streetcar will strengthen the existing transit network

Even more importantly, the line's benefits will extend beyond the immediate corridor. The project will connect to the regional Metrorail system, "extending the reach of Metro," as Dennis Leach, Arlington's Director of Transportation, put it in an interview.

Leach added that Metrorail "isn't enough. To really get the full value out of these mixed-use neighborhoods that we're planning, you need a whole range of travel options: local bus, good regional bus, and this high-quality surface rail along with all the other things we're doing: improving sidewalks and crosswalks, building bike lanes and bike trails, putting in Capital Bikeshare, making sure that Zipcar is readily available ... It's all of those things together that make this work."

The streetcar will enrich the current transportation mix, connecting at Pentagon City with the planned Crystal City streetcar line, which will run south into Potomac Yards. Eventually, the streetcar network could extend through Alexandria to the south, and elsewhere in Fairfax to the west.

The system will also connect with bus lines, enhancing the reach of the transit network well beyond the busy corridors that would be served by streetcars.

A recently updated study found that "cities with large, well-established rail systems have significantly higher per capita transit ridership, lower average per capita vehicle ownership and annual mileage, less traffic congestion, lower traffic death rates, lower consumer expenditures on transportation, and higher transit service cost recovery than otherwise comparable cities with less or no rail transit service." Enlarging and enhancing our existing rail system will help Arlington and neighboring communities achieve these benefits.

Streetcars are integral to the long-standing Columbia Pike revitalization plan

The streetcar line is just one piece of the comprehensive effort to improve Columbia Pike, "one of the county's busiest and most run-down corridors" according to the Washington Post.

The streetcar is part of a much bigger effort by Arlington County to revitalize the corridor. Arlington's Transportation Bureau Chief, Stephen Del Giudice, summed it up in an interview: "The county made decisions that go back a decade to convert this auto-oriented strip to a transit-oriented main street. The vision for Columbia Pike is ... to knit the community together around town centers and villages, and to connect them. And that's one of the interesting things about streetcar. They serve not only a commuter, but they have proven to be a very good technology for capturing local tripmaking."

In 1986, local civic representatives, business leaders, landowners, and Arlington County formed the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) with the vision of "a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly urban corridor," realized through planning along smart growth principles.

Steady progress crystallized in 1998. A revitalization plan called the Columbia Pike Initiative took shape with ample public input at numerous community meetings. The County Board adopted it 2002. The plan called for mixed-use buildings lining the sidewalks, and emphasized walkability and mass transit.

The next year, a voluntary "form-based code" encouraged new construction to follow that vision. Today, the code's influence is clearly visible at large recent developments like Penrose Square and the adjacent Siena Park.

Streetcars strengthened the picture in 1999. WMATA "identified the Columbia Pike corridor as ... well-suited for high-capacity fixed guideway transit service," and a coalition of local governments reached a similar conclusion, according to an Arlington document.

In 2002, WMATA completed a study of rail transit's feasibility on Columbia Pike and Leesburg Pike in Arlington and Fairfax Counties. In 2004, Arlington passed a rule that any future transit service on Columbia Pike must share its lanes with automobile traffic—effectively calling for streetcars.

The next step in the revitalization process, the Columbia Pike Transit Alternatives Analysis, or Pike Transit Initiative, added to the chorus for a streetcar solution. The two counties and WMATA considered various transit options, and in the spring of 2006, they approved what was called the "modified streetcar alternative." Cheaper than the full streetcar option, it called for streetcars with 6-minute headways, using buses to achieve 3-minute headways during peak hours. This video provides an animated view of the route.

The last phase of the Columbia Pike Initiative is a Neighborhoods Plan, focusing on residential areas along the Pike. The County Board will consider adopting it in July. The draft CPNP takes advantage of the future streetcar line, concentrating density and reducing parking requirements near streetcar stops.

Streetcar plans are backed by County's solid expertise

Arlington's history of transit excellence, reflected in both national recognition and local surveys, means we can be confident in the county's committment to the project's success. The county's experience with transit-oriented development goes back several decades.

"I know people are skeptical of big infrastructure investments," said Dennis Leach. "Arlington has done very well by continuing to invest in infrastructure, by almost every measure. Real estate values, household employment, household income, retail sales per square foot, every single indicator is higher here than just about everywhere else in the country."

When Metro was in its early planning stages, county leaders insisted on running the Orange Line under a main street instead of a cheaper route in the I-66 median. They spaced the stations to help create a continuous series of compact, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, each with its own sector plan, in addition to a corridor-wide land-use plan to guide development toward desired outcomes.

Arlington is a "very good" place to do business, according to 87 percent of business leaders in a 2007 survey. 40 percent cited transportation as the biggest reason. Residents are generally pleased, too: in a 2009 survey, 75 percent were very satisfied with the transportation system, and 95 percent of that group gave the county a high rating for quality of life.

As Del Giudice explained, "where the county made investments in transit that helped shape the community, it shaped people's lifestyles. A lot of people live car-free or car-light, because they can take transit, walk, ride bikes, and they don't need to use their cars. It's an urban lifestyle, similar to what we see in urban cores. That's the experience with the prior investments and decisions that were made."

Rail transit investments have also yielded fiscal benefits for the county. The Metro corridors make up just 11 percent of land in the county, but account for about half of Arlington's assessed land value—and tax revenues.

The county's research shows household auto trips in the Metro corridors averaging 1.1 to 1.4 per day. For comparison, that number can be 6 to 8 in suburban areas of Arlington. Put another way, transit's share of household daily travel is about 20 percent in Arlington's Metro corridors; the regional average is 6 percent. (Columbia Pike is at about 12 percent.) The story is similar for walking and biking.

Arlington's low reliance on cars explains how, as land use expert Chris Leinberger recently wrote, "housing density in the walkable urban areas doubled between 1985 and 2010 ... while the absolute traffic counts on Wilson Boulevard have gone down."

While there are differences between heavy rail like Metro and streetcars like the proposed Columbia Pike line, even a few of the benefits Arlington has seen through its planning around Metro would mean major improvements for the Columbia Pike corridor.

Looking forward, Leach said, "Arlington continues to develop. So we need to continue to invest in transportation options. We have the experience of those last 40 years. We fund extensive research ... to show that these investments really pay off. So we're looking to the next generation of investments: high-quality, high-capacity surface transit as an excellent way to continue the county's progress in terms of travel options and creating high-quality environments."

If you have an opinion about the streetcar line, share your views now. The county is soliciting public comments online and at public meetings on June 6 and 7.

Ryan Arnold earned a master's degree in Architecture from the University of Michigan. He currently lives in Arlington's Bluemont neighborhood. 


Add a comment »

Do you think that the Columbia Pike metrorail line will ever be built?

by andrew on May 30, 2012 1:19 pm • linkreport

Maybe the Columbia Pike line and the H Street line will start running around the same time. Around 2032 or so.

by Juanita de Talmas on May 30, 2012 1:22 pm • linkreport

Arlington and fairfax still want to move forward, and are now holding public meetings as mentioned in the article. The big obstacle now is the higher cost, which IIUC moves the project out of the FTA Small Starts range - if they have to wait for conventional FTA New Starts dollars, thats a problem (More paperwork and more competition). The localities could try to move ahead without federal $$, but not sure if that is realistic.

If they do NOT build the street car, they need to move towards articulated buses SOON as ridership grows. Waiting for decades isn't really an option.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport


I would think that building a streetcar would, if anything, delay or prevent any chance for building a full metro line along this corridor. Once you've gone with a half-measure, the cost and time involved will predujice those involved against trying a bigger and more difficult project in the exact same area later on.

by Nick81 on May 30, 2012 1:27 pm • linkreport

A heavy metro rail line is probably out of the question - there is limited funding for such an expensive project, and corridors in Va that the region is likely to prioritorize. To justify the cost of heavy rail on Col Pike would involve higher densities than the 6 story buildings that the county has approved and are being built. Building to higher densities would be controversial, assuming its economically viable.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport


I see your point about the modest densities planned for the Pike, and that those do not support heavy rail.

I still have my doubts, however, that the right solution is a streetcar mixed with traffic along its entire route - a clogged street that will get worse as development progresses. Shouldn't we look for something that is better than a streetcar, which will be at the mercy of traffic?

I understand that existing buildings preclude a fully lane-separated light rail along the route, but this is true only in certain sections. Surely we could build this so it is separated from traffic whenever possible. This would allow the light rail to actually bypass some of the traffic, making it more efficient as a means of transportation than the buses and cars filling the street now. What we're getting instead is a glorified bus - yes, it will attract more people than buses because some people won't ride buses; but not enough to actually reduce traffic, only to slow its growth somewhat. And it will still get stuck whenever traffic is bad, which means during every rush hour and many other times as well.

by Nick81 on May 30, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

If you built a Metro line along Columbia Pike, you would:

a) increase density along the line - but the current and planned densities aren't all that bad, either.

b) massively redevelop the whole Bailey's Crossroads/Skyline City area

c) continue the Metro line south from Bailey's to the Mark Center, and then along towards the Landmark section of Alexandria.

I think that would be a tremendously valuable addition to the Metro system, but it would have to be planned as part of a broader expansion of Metro. Perhaps some sort of Metro 2: a plan that would split up all of the interlined portions of the original system as to increase capacity on existing tracks as well as open up new parts of the core for service. That means separating the Orange and Blue lines in DC, the Yellow and Green lines in DC, and the Yellow and Blue lines in VA - and the Columbia Pike line would be a great alternative for that split.

by Alex B. on May 30, 2012 2:29 pm • linkreport

If were dreaming about metro, I'd love to see a Pink Line from the Pentagon to Franconia-Springfield on top of the HOT-lanes. It should have stops at the Air Force, Shirlington, VA-7, Mark Center, Landmark, Edsall Rd and the Springfield Mall between those two. It could even be extended to Newington and Lorton, and into town from the Pentagon.

No, the placing on top of the HOT lanes is not ideal, but that's is where it would fit, and it would serve Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. With a good connection to VRE it would take a massive amount of traffic off of I-395 and also reduce the amount of passengers on the Blue Line, and probably a bit on the Yellow Line.

The route follows a route that already has quite some dense spots, as well as many places for infill density.

Unfortunately, with the Columbia Pike streetcar being built (also a good idea), there will never be a Pink Link.

by Jasper on May 30, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

Revitalization is going on already without the streetcar.

The public input meetings are a joke as the County Board pretty much decides they are going to do something and sets up these meetings as a means of praising their plans. Any criticism is totally ignored.

The whole point of this thing is essentially to look cute at a price tag of over $300 million.

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport


going in reverse - there are already plans for a transitway (starting as bus, eventually light rail) on dedicated lanes from Shirlington (and from the Seminary i395 exit) down beauregard to Landmark and Van dorn metro. That would be part of the Beuregard small area plan. Note there is already a metro rail station at Van Dorn, and this would provide fast access to it from Landmark. The Beuaregard area would be more distant from metro (via the transitway s to Van dorn, or N to pentagon) but this about all the planned density in Beauregard could support. The planned density is already controversial, and its not clear that higher density in that area is politically or financially feasible.

a. similarly its not clear to me that higher density on Col pike is politically or financially feasible . with regard to the politics, opposition in Alex and Arlington comes from both the "right" ("anti" homeowners) and the left (affordable housing advocates). While high rise rather than midrise shouldnt matter to the affordable housing folks (heck, they should support it - they are losing the cheap low rises anyway, and they might get MORE affordable units with high density) the opposition from nearby homeowners is likely to be more intense as density increases (despite the benefits of heavy rail). As for financial feasibility, there are legitimate questions about how deep the demand of multifamily really is region wide when things like this are happening all around, and the construction cost per unit for higher than 6 stories would be be greater, IIUC.

b. redevelopment of baileys is already in prospect - powered by both this light rail, and possible extension up rte 7 toward Tysons. However its unclear how much density will be acceptable, and again, it would need to be alot to generate a new heavy rail line under current financial conditions. Since I imagine major redevelopment at Baileys would include offices as well as residential/retail, the issue of cannibalizing Tysons Corner would also come up.

All of this has to face the limited pool of funds for transit - and the post silver line desire for heavy rail to Centreville, somewhere south of Alexandria, and the need for light rail radiating from Tysons (Gallows Rd, Falls Church, and maybe Vienna) If there were to be heavy rail on this corridor, it would be so far in the future anyway, that it wouldnt really impact the case for the street cars that much. I think the dangling of heavy rail is something of a distraction in the col pike street car discussion.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

@mary austin

AFAICT the recent developments, and those currently planned (there is nothing UC now) all are gambling on at least the probability of the street car.

The opponents tend to focus on the marginal (though non zero) incremental ridership vs the higher upfront costs of the street car. Thats a legitimate starting point, but I have not seen anyone address the full life cycle costs, including maintenance and replacement for articulated buses.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport


The recent developments have been successful on their own. No gamble involved. If you build a new building in Arlington people are going to come for the most part. 1 Bedroom rents go for 1800 in the new places without a streetcar and more places like this are on the way. They will continue to come even if the streetcar doesn't happen.
People are not going to give up their cars for a streetcar that goes up and down Columbia Pike. Developers are having their parking requirements lowered and those cars will be going onto neighborhood side streets.
All the facts support new buses being a far lower cost option although not as cutesy and that is what this boils down to.

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

When I lived on "the pike" back in 2000 my neighbor, a member of CPRO, excitedly told me how the street car was coming "very soon". I learned that the street car had been coming "very soon" for about 10 years by then and it's been 10 more years since.

Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE to see the street car. I'm just surprised by how long it has taken (and will still take). I'd rather it be delayed further and the do it right than take a half-measure like Alexandria has with their so-called "trolley" on King street.

by Old Piker on May 30, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport


if the street car comes, there is the real possibility that those new developments, like Penrose, will either command slightly higher than current rents, or will maintain their current rents longer as they age. I think its likely that those prospects affect developer decisions. As for success, I note that there is currenly a hiatus in construction on Col Pike - I am not at all sure that all of the Pike will redevelop without the streetcar, and if it does, at the same pace.

As for lowering parking requirements that certainly makes sense. People will either go car free, or car lite, because of the combination of streetcars, buses, and good biking and walking access (and of course the street car, like the buses, goes to the metro). If there is an issue of parking on side streets, that can be addressed with residential parking permits.

As for new buses being a far lower cost option, if you have a link to a study that shows that, and that includes the higher maintenance and vehicle replacement costs associated with articulated buses, I would like to see it. AFAICT the anti street car people cite articulated buses when they want to indicate street cars wont provide additional service, but they do not generally look at the actual costs and operating issues with articulated buses. As for cost, they usually focus on the upfront capital costs, not on the bus replacement problem.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

@old pike

the "trolley" on King Street was always a rebranded bus, and was never intended to be street car transit.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

@walker For costs, County says articulated buses are much cheaper, see p.32 of this presentation.

Every positive of the streetcar listed in this article would also exist with an articulated bus network, plus articulated buses could go to both Pentagon & Pentagon City and various destinations in Fairfax/Alexandria on the other end (streetcar will go only to P-City and Skyline). Also, articulated buses are a fifth of the cost so that would leave many more dollars for other transist needs in Arlington like North/South ART routes, buses to DC, etc.

Revitalizing the Pike is awesome but there just really is no need to spend the money on this when cheaper alternatives exist with very similar results. One doesn't have to be a tea partier or NIMBYist to want government to prioritize transit funding to best bang-for-buck.

by pikespotter on May 30, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport


I'm not sure if you are familiar with the what is actually occurring development wise on the Pike.
The rate of development is picking up if anything. There is a massive new development coming at the corner of Glebe, a new one where the shell station up by Greenbrier, and a new one directly across from Penrose Square.
I don't know of any buildings in Arlington where the rent is going down as they age. It might actually be nice to have some housing stock that is just plain expensive as opposed to Clarendon expensive. Developers are still making a ton of money on all of these projects.
Also residential parking permits will not address the problem (they are a 9-5 deal in Arlington). People will be free to come and park in the neighborhoods in the evenings and certainly will. People are not going car free over this silly thing. It's not like the metro where you can connect to the wider region. You would have to ride the streetcar to the metro in Pentagon City to connect with the metro and only a few people with too much time on their hands may give up their car to do that.
People are coming to Columbia Pike because they realize it's a 5-10 minute drive to DC not because of a future trolley. It's not crazy expensive yet let's keep it that way.

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

@ pikespotter what do you do when the articulated buses are full again in the next 5 years? The corridor is maxed out for bus traffic already and bunching is a huge problem currently.

Streetcar for the local traffic with limited stop Express buses combined with Circulator frequency buses on the major north south corridors (Glebe, Walter Reed, George Mason etc) is the solution that moves the most people.
None of the calculations account for the increased tax revenue from real estate development that will accompany a streetcar. There are plenty of empty lots along the pike that need to be put to a better use- (see corner of G Mason and Pike)

@Mary-Austin - one might say revitalization is going on because of the hope of the streetcar. And plenty of people will get out of their cars (or not buy another one in the first place) and ride the streetcars when they realize its easier and cheaper than driving - which allows for more money to be spent in the county instead of sent to car manufactures and gas companies.

by Chris R on May 30, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

"There is a massive new development coming at the corner of Glebe, a new one where the shell station up by Greenbrier, and a new one directly across from Penrose Square."

its planned. Nothing under construction now. Development has its ups and downs. Generally not all planned developments come to fruition - how many do will likely be impacted by the street car.

"I don't know of any buildings in Arlington where the rent is going down as they age."

thats because demand has outstripped supply in the recent past. There are good reasons to think that wont happen forever.

"It might actually be nice to have some housing stock that is just plain expensive as opposed to Clarendon expensive."

If you dont think the street car will increase rents, than thats not relevant.

"Developers are still making a ton of money on all of these projects."

Landowners - you do realize developers have to buy the land from them. Also the absence of development in many areas where market clearing rents are only moderately less, suggests that the economics is dicier than you suggest.

" People are not going car free over this silly thing. It's not like the metro where you can connect to the wider region. You would have to ride the streetcar to the metro in Pentagon City to connect with the metro and only a few people with too much time on their hands may give up their car to do that."

There are already thousands of people who take the bus to the metro. Go visit the bus transfer area at Pentagon metro one day. You also assume that the only choice that reduces parking needs is being car free, and you neglect going car lite.

"People are coming to Columbia Pike because they realize it's a 5-10 minute drive to DC not because of a future trolley."

"It's not crazy expensive yet let's keep it that way."

If no one is coming to Columbia Pike for the trolley, why would building it make the area more expensive?

"Also residential parking permits will not address the problem (they are a 9-5 deal in Arlington)"

Why can't Arlington change that to cover evenings?

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport


I don't see bus replacement in that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 4:28 pm • linkreport

I gather there are not any plans to ever utilize the stub tunnels near the Pentagon station. Have there been any studies or at least semi-serious proposals to build a Metro Line starting from those stub tunnels in the past 2 decades? Meanwhile maybe the street car project can get built sometime in the next decade or two.

Still, there is a large area in Arlington and Falls Church that is not served by the Metro. Wonder what the price tag would be for a Metro line that ran (mostly) underground from the Pentagon stub tunnels along Columbia Pike to Bailey's Crossroads, then NW under Rt. 7 to Seven Corners, then north to merge with the Orange & Silver line east of the East Falls Church station. That would allow a new color route, probably coming from the Silver Line through Seven Corners, Bailey's Crossroads, and then onto the Yellow Line across the river into DC. One seat ride from Reston, Tysons to Gallery Place, Convention Center. Saves some money by not needing a new storage yard to be built. Roughly 7 miles, so 3 to 4 billion? I guess that is a variation of the Pink Line proposals?

by AlanF on May 30, 2012 4:45 pm • linkreport


That "cost estimate" doesn't actually have annualized costs. So it just compares buying one round of buses with building a streetcar system. But the streetcar system (including vehicles) will last much longer than the buses.

by MLD on May 30, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport


Developments in Arlington tend to go up very quickly as these likely will because there is already a ton of demand. There is a ton of demand because we are right next to the federal government money tree.
You make it sound like development on Columbia Pike may come to a stop if they do not build the streetcar.
Adding a streetcar will give large development companies an excuse to charge higher rents which people will pay simply because they want to be close to DC. Why artificially inflate rents for something that is not even that useful?
Also, do YOU have any real evidence of what maintaining buses will be? What about the streetcars? How will they be maintained? Who is going to pay for increases in maintenance when costs run over projections? Who is going to pick up the tab if the General Assembly in Richmond decides they don't want to pay for 15% of a trolley in Arlington? These concerns and many others are why we are talking about the upfront cost of this thing in addition to the long term costs.
You and all the pro streetcar people never address the legitimate concerns neighbors along Columbia Pike have.

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

Why artificially inflate rents for something that is not even that useful?

If the rents are artificially high, why would people pay it? Isn't rent normally set at what the market will bear?

by David C on May 30, 2012 4:54 pm • linkreport

"Also residential parking permits will not address the problem (they are a 9-5 deal in Arlington)"

Actually, they start at 8:00 in most areas, and in some (Clarendon, for instance) they go until midnight.

by Vicente Fox on May 30, 2012 4:58 pm • linkreport

"Adding a streetcar will give large development companies an excuse to charge higher rents which people will pay simply because they want to be close to DC. Why artificially inflate rents for something that is not even that useful?"

If its not useful, why would people pay higher rents? Higher rents reflect an increase in demand, from would be renters. If they are willing to pay more than currently, that implies they find something useful in the street car.

"Also, do YOU have any real evidence of what maintaining buses will be? What about the streetcars?"

I don't have a link, but from what Ive read here and elsewhere, street cars have much longer service lives than buses, and articulated buses are more expensive to replace and to maintain than conventional buses.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 4:58 pm • linkreport

"You and all the pro streetcar people never address the legitimate concerns neighbors along Columbia Pike have."

Im trying to, but to do that it is necessary to seperate the legitimate concerns from simple confusion.

For example some folks are concerned that the street car WILL induce new development, and that that will drive out affordable units, change their way of life, etc. Thats a legitimate concern, but its not really compatible with the belief that the street car will have no effect on development.

certainly its difficult to argu based on facts without the acknowledgement that there are people (with choice) who currently take buses to the metro.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 5:02 pm • linkreport


Like I said earlier rents could potentially go sky high because South Arlington is extremely convenient to DC via the 14th street bridge. People will pay for that location.
Developers will say look at our cute little streetcar. You can take it a few blocks up the street to get a frozen yogurt instead of walking. Now pay us 2300 for a slapped together 1 bedroom. People will pay these prices because of the location and already are. Why make it worse?

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 5:02 pm • linkreport

"If the rents are artificially high, why would people pay it?"

the way I understand it is that landlords need "excueses" for the rent they charge. If someone is willing to pay $2000 a month rent for a 1 BR, but the unit does not have certain useless bells and whistles, the landlord can only charge $1800, per the Rent Justification Board. When theres a useless, old fashioned, obsolete, silly trolley, they get to charge the full $2000 rent.

If theres a bike lane, they can charge as much $3000.

Someday, I pray, we will be able to tax ignorance.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 5:05 pm • linkreport

The streetcar will make what worse exactly?

The rent? The traffic? Why is 300 million too expensive? How much have other systems around the country cost?

And yes South Arlington will become more expensive as people realize its better to live closer to work, what needs to be done to ensure that the county can handle the additional population?

by X on May 30, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

"Developers will say look at our cute little streetcar. You can take it a few blocks up the street to get a frozen yogurt instead of walking. Now pay us 2300 for a slapped together 1 bedroom. People will pay these prices because of the location and already are. Why make it worse?"

You said they are paying 1800, less than in Clarendon. Why would they pay a clarendon rent when they wouldnt without the street car? If they would without the street car, then how has the street car made it worse?

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

$300 million is too much because the exact the same service can be provided with new buses at the fraction of the cost.
Yes it will make the rent worse and traffic worse.
I can't even imagine how traffic will be throughout the installation let alone once it's in place and people trying to navigate around these things. The deluded streetcar proponents say they would make traffic better. what a joke.
All this is about is so the County Board can say "look at us Portland we're awesome too"

@AWalker You keep missing the pretty simple point. They will pay the price the developer says because they want to be near DC. Renters do not get to decide what their rent is. You better hope they don't implement that ignorance tax in your lifetime

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 5:23 pm • linkreport

"AWalker You keep missing the pretty simple point. They will pay the price the developer says because they want to be near DC. Renters do not get to decide what their rent is. "

They get to pass up on an apt and rent elsewhere. If they did not, why don't the buildings on columbia pike already charge clarendon rents? whats stopping them? Columbia Pike is ALREADY close to DC. If thats the driver of rents, that wont change because of the streetcar, so why would rents change because of the street car.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 30, 2012 5:31 pm • linkreport

Developers will see it as an opportunity to gouge people on rent whether it is actually useful or not.
I am just trying to say it would be nice to have somewhere close to DC where the rent is somewhat more reasonable.
I just think it sucks for the people who will have to pass on the apts because some arrogant a-holes wanted to show off with a streetcar.

by Mary-Austin on May 30, 2012 5:42 pm • linkreport

"I just think it sucks for the people who will have to pass on the apts because some arrogant a-holes wanted to show off with a streetcar."

And really, on what better basis should development decisions be made?

by just a lurker on May 30, 2012 5:53 pm • linkreport

I am just trying to say it would be nice to have somewhere close to DC where the rent is somewhat more reasonable.

Once again, if the streetcar is not worthwhile, then no one will pay the extra money to live there, vs. some other part of the city without the streetcar.

by JustMe on May 30, 2012 6:09 pm • linkreport

Don't build the streetcar because rent will go up and will go up anyway without it thus proving we never needed a streetcar.*
I fail to see how this makes sense.

Costs are one thing but will buses provide a better benefit at their lower cost? If we're already at 3 minute headways at rush hour I don't see how we can improve that outside of separated lanes. Which by then you might as well lay the rails for a streetcar. Which holds more people than an articulated bus and is easier to maintain and drive.

*despite the fact that a streetcar is first a transportation device and its only our effed up political climate where we have to prove that transit will bring development rather than simply be a way to move people.

by X on May 30, 2012 6:16 pm • linkreport

@X -

I think you've hit on an important point. This is planned to be a transportation device - to move people.

I'm a skeptic (not an anti) of the streetcar because I don't think its a very big improvement in moving people. It won't really move them any faster than buses or cars because it is still at the mercy of traffic, which is bad and will get worse despite the streetcar's positive effects. If there were an option that cost a little more but included at least partial lane separation, I would be much more enthusiastic. As the plan exists now, I'm doubtful it will move people - especially from the Metro at PC to Skyline/Bailey's at the far western end - very quickly or efficiently.

by Nick81 on May 30, 2012 6:28 pm • linkreport


If developers can charge more rent because of streetcars and homeowners can sell their house for more because of stfeetcars it seems like everyone comes out a winner except for renters. That's usually how gentrification works.

by Falls Church on May 30, 2012 7:17 pm • linkreport

Streetcar networks have been extremely successful and very positively received in the west coast cities of Seattle and Portland. These systems are working as planned. In fact, they are so successful, they're being expanded—not planned or talked about, but under construction. New walkable communities, many of which sparkle with vitality, have been created. Mobility has improved and pollution reduced. The streetcars are proving their worth many times over.

Doesn't it follow that a streetcar system in Arlington might succeed as well? It's time to push forward with the Columbia Pike project. Not later, but now. There's much to be gained and so little to lose. And why not Arlington? The Pike project is modest in size and not particularly expensive. It has an excellent chance to meet expectations and succeed.

What if 45 years ago, the naysayers had succeeded in blocking the development of Metro? Where would be now as a region?

by Sage on May 30, 2012 8:54 pm • linkreport

Is Arlington planning to pay for this boondoggle? Or do they expect all the poor counties in the country to cover for them?

by JAY on May 30, 2012 8:59 pm • linkreport


Yes, Arlington and Fairfax County, with some assistance from the Feds (hopefully) will fund this project.

Why do you think it's a boondoggle? It's not a billion dollar project, not even close. It's a modest streetcar project, and nothing more.

Would you think differently if the project was an underground subway or a light-rail project with its own right of way? Would that lessen its boondoggle qualifications?

Personally, I believe bringing Metro down Columbia Pike and beyond is a wonderful idea. But it ain't gonna happen in the foreseeable future, if ever. Unless, of course, there's a sea change in thinking and the creation of a new funding source, like a modest increase in the sales tax.

by Sage on May 30, 2012 9:42 pm • linkreport

There is a reason almost no streetcars exist in america! They are way more expensive than buses, this is a way for the Board to allow developers to build less parking, and a total boondoggle at the taxpayer's expense. Buses are FINE. Buses are in all US cities, people know how to use them, driver's know how to get around them. But the County Board wants streetcars, these same people wasted our $ on Artisphere, and now streetcars. Maybe some day they'll put sidewalks on streets that lead to schools so the kids attending Yorktown or playing at that field don't have to walk in the street (but that makes sense so they won't do it).

by Kelli on May 30, 2012 10:02 pm • linkreport

Forget about having a Metro down the Pike. The Metro is full and I see no one pushing for a new Blue line to ease the congestion. Besides all those bitching about Boondoggles will not support a Metro at 20 times the price.

Trams have several advantages over buses.
1 They carry more people than buses. They can get pretty long if you want. In Europe the record holder is at 55m in Budapest, with a tram that holds 300 that runs one every 90 seconds in peak.

2 because they carry more people, they don;t have to have so many vehicles and pay for more drivers to carry the same number of people.

3 Trams run on electricity and therefore less polluting.

4. Electric motors are more reliable than diesel engines. Trams last. You can easily run them for up to 40 years compared to a bus that will have trouble lasting 10 years.

5 . Fewer higher capacity vehicles take less road space than lots of buses.

by Rational Plan on May 30, 2012 10:14 pm • linkreport

Nobody in their right mind would contemplate a long distance tunnel right now. I've heard estimates of $75 million to $125 million per mile. And those costs will only escalate with prices for cement and steel being what they are.

by Frylock on May 30, 2012 10:18 pm • linkreport

Electric motors are more reliable than diesel engines. Trams last. You can easily run them for up to 40 years compared to a bus that will have trouble lasting 10 years.

The acceleration with electric is a lot better, as well.

Buses really only work reasonably well in cities where there is little competing traffic and where we can rely on service arrivals every 10 minutes or so. Plus, the area along the bus route doesn't benefit from in-place infrastructure, so developers and retail owners are less willing to invest to take advantage of the transit route because the bus service can be terminated at any time with little cost to the city.

by Tyro on May 30, 2012 10:51 pm • linkreport

They are way more expensive than buses, this is a way for the Board to allow developers to build less parking, and a total boondoggle at the taxpayer's expense.

How is this a boondoggle or costing taxpayers anything if homeowners, businesses, and landlords will all profit? Yes, renters will get priced out as progress is made and land values rise and something should be done for them but the harm to renters is far less than the gain by everyone else. Those who will gain can contribute a little of their gains to mitigate the losses of renters who are harmed (maybe through affordable housing set asides).

The bottom line is that the cost/benefit favors streetcars. They are proven to increase property values by more than their costs. Buses are proven money losers. They have little impact on property values and have substantial operating & maintenance costs.

As for reducing parking regulations, that's a good thing. Let the free market decide how much parking people should create. The only thing we need are laws protecting people's existing right to park on their own street and not have outsiders take their spots. That can be effectively accomplished through residential parking permits like they have in Clarendon.

by Falls Church on May 30, 2012 10:59 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by NikolasM on May 31, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

@Alex B 05 30 2012 1429

That what the WMATA planers envision more the 45 years ago:

by Sand Box John on May 31, 2012 10:05 am • linkreport

Here is one comparison, that shows even in a short time period (12 years) streetcars are cheaper than buses:

There are a lot of other similar comparisons around. Most of them don't take in to account the savings when expanded to 30 to 40 years. Amazing that even in a short time frame streetcars cost less (including all capital costs!)

by H Street Landlord on May 31, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport


This was a wonderful article. I wish you the best!!!

by Ryan on May 31, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

That's a 5 year old study developed by a pro-light rail group. Find me an independent study, and then you'll have more basis for argument. Be sure its recent as the fixed costs associated with light rail have skyrocketed since 2007 (rail ties (wood or concrete), steel rails), etc.).

by Frylock on May 31, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

I'm as pro-transit as they come, but that "analysis" of St. Louis is semi-bogus. By starting in 1996 they leave out the initial capital construction cost of the system (but they do include the capital construction costs of some significant expansions in 2001 and 2003.)

Once you build the system, the capital and operating costs of light rail are cheaper. And I think when you annualize the construction cost and spread it out over the life of the bonds you use to pay for it, the cost is still competitive with bus service, and you get more and better transit service with rail.

Of course, the real tragedy in all this is that we are now having to build these rail systems all over again after cities foolishly abandoned and tore up billions of dollars worth of existing infrastructure 50 years ago.

by MLD on May 31, 2012 2:21 pm • linkreport

@MLD - I don't know St. Louis, but they have 844 million for capital costs (not including rolling stock). Far as I can tell the initial phase was included - $465 million, plus $340 million for the St. Clair County MetroLink, then $75 million for a 2003 extension. Which all approximately adds up to the capital costs cited. I also see that there was later a $430 million bond issue for a cross county connector. Not sure if that was to pay for some of hte above projects or a new one. Again I don't know STL transit - it appears that didn't open until 2006 so that wouldn't make sense to count it (in the analysis) if the line hadn't opened yet (no way to assess passenger usage/costs). I agree its not a perfect study, but the point is that the (operating) costs of rail are not just cheaper - they are significantly cheaper! Like a factor of 3 or 4 times less. Which is extremely remarkable!

By the way Salt Lake City's transit agency has similar numbers. Both studies use national transit data.

by H Street Landlord on May 31, 2012 2:41 pm • linkreport

Btw MLD looking forward to your response - I would love to learn more and that's what I come here for. Frylock - would love to hear from you also (other than just attacking the source).

by H Street Landlord on May 31, 2012 2:45 pm • linkreport

They aren't adding the numbers up the way you are. They're using the actual NTD data for those years (1996-2005). You may be right that the new extension and the original construction balance each other out - I'm not sure. But they have excluded capital spending from before 1996 which would be the original construction of the system.

Take a look at tables TS2 and TS3 here:

I do agree with you though that bus and light rail overall are cost-competitive, and that ongoing capital and operating costs for light rail are much cheaper than bus.

by MLD on May 31, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

This street car nonsense is the product of a county board that has its head up its collective rear end and clearly has too much free time. They have already had to concede that the cost will be DOUBLE what they originally projected. It has zero chance of ever happening.

by Joe on May 31, 2012 4:35 pm • linkreport

Columbia Pike does not need "revitalization". It is already "vital".

"Revitalization" is a word that developers use whenever they want to make big bucks by evicting low-income residents and low-rent businesses from their long-standing homes and establishments.

by Arlingtonian on May 31, 2012 5:29 pm • linkreport

There is absolutely no comparison financially between bus and light rail/streetcar (no, there is really no difference) as ridership goes up. High-capacity modern streetcars can move over 200 people per streetcar (400-500 when two are coupled together!) They can run more frequently than than every two minutes (go to Istanbul, and you will see the wonder of an bursting-full 500 passenger double-traction streetcar arriving every 90 seconds - that is nearly 15,000 people an hour!). Even in a fantasy world where it were possible to load and unload 5-10 buses needed to meet this demand in 90 seconds, it would be financially disaster: 5-10 buses! 5-10 drivers!

This is why anywhere in the world where you expect ridership to go up, where development is expected and where buses are at capacity, streetcars are going in.

Buses simply don't make economic sense for high-capacity transportation in a growing urban environment (in the first world).

by egk on May 31, 2012 5:55 pm • linkreport

On the one hand it'll be good to have such an important corridor connected to Metro via rail. Not to mention all the development it COULD spur.

That being said, people do make a good point about how slow it could be. I remember talking with a guy from Melbourne on a forum and he said while he likes the extensive system, it can be rather slow.

Metro I think would have to reroute some buses off the pike other wise it could be untolerable.

by Billy Bob on May 31, 2012 7:40 pm • linkreport

I think an important alternative has been left out of the discussion. That would be the use of trackless trolleys instead of streetcars. It would have a lower build cost because tracks wouldn't have to be installed. It would reduce exhaust pollution to the same degree as streetcars. And it would provide increased flexibility in that a trackless trolley can go around a stalled vehicle where a streetcar cannot.

I've lived in both Boston and San Francisco. My experience tells me that streetcars work best in a dedicated right of way. I do not believe that Columbia Pike, which isn't wide enough for a center right of way, is the proper environment for this type of transit. Trackless trolleys, also available in articulated versions, are the best answer.

by ggriffin on Jun 2, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

If it has fewer stops and multi door entry it won't be a slow as buses. If it is successful and eventually street cars are double units running every few minutes, then people may accept closing a lane to cars.

by Rational Plan on Jun 2, 2012 6:49 pm • linkreport

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