Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Columbia Pike needs streetcars, not articulated buses

Some Arlington residents argue that the planned Columbia Pike streetcar is too expensive, and that cheaper articulated buses would be just as good. But they would not transform Columbia Pike in the way Arlington wants.


Image from Pike Transit Initiative.

Articulated buses are appropriate in many places, but they are not the same as streetcars. They don't accomplish the same goals, and are not merely a less-expensive substitute.

If Arlington wanted only to provide more transit capacity for existing riders, then better buses would make sense. However, Arlington's goal is to transform Columbia Pike from a suburban commercial strip into a dense, walkable, urban mixed-use neighborhood.

Arlington has a long history of using investments in rail to support smart growth goals. It redeveloped the Orange and Blue Line corridors after Metrorail opened, creating national models of transit-oriented development.

Before Metro, those areas looked very much like Columbia Pike does today. Arlington wants to create the same kind of transformation on the pike, and needs a rail investment to do so.

While it is true that the proposed streetcar will not offer the same level of service as Metrorail, Arlington can't pay for a new subway line. Meanwhile, streetcars have proven to produce similar results at a price the county can afford.

In addition to smart growth and economic development benefits, streetcars are more comfortable to ride than buses, last longer than buses, are quieter than buses, don't spew exhaust, need less energy per passenger than buses, attract more riders than buses, and, depending on the situation, can be less expensive to operate and maintain than buses.

More buses didn't cause change in the past

It's true that articulated buses are even more affordable than streetcars, and that Arlington could save a lot of money by abandoning rail and simply running longer buses. However, Arlington already significantly enhanced Columbia Pike's bus service in 2003, so that buses run every 2 to 3 minutes. That was a nice improvement for riders, but didn't spark much, if any, redevelopment.

While there has been a limited amount of development since 2003, it likely had more to do with Columbia Pike's development-friendly "form-based" zoning code. The code also took effect in 2003, at the same time as the bus improvements.

2003's changes were relatively easy to make and did improve the corridor, but the pace of redevelopment over the last decade has been paltry compared to what's expected with a streetcar. The easy changes have already been made. Columbia Pike needs a greater incentive, or it will continue to lag behind other areas. Simply running bigger buses, as streetcar opponents want to do, isn't enough.

Other regional examples can be instructive. DC, for instance, has more experience with articulated buses than any other jurisdiction in the area. It recognizes that streetcars and articulated buses are not equal. The 2 corridors in DC with the most articulated buses, H Street (on the X2 route) and Georgia Avenue (the 70), are some of the top priorities in DC's streetcar plan. DC already has articulated buses, and yet they are adding streetcars to those very corridors precisely because streetcars offer advantages that buses do not.

Arlington is planning a streetcar because of these distinctions. It has been planning the line for the past decade, has been fully transparent, and enjoyed wide support.

Articulated buses are not a substitute for streetcars. Buses do not accomplish the planning goals set out by the county and approved by its voters. The arguments put forth by streetcar opponents neither address nor refute the reasons for building a streetcar on Columbia Pike, and are not convincing.

Arlington is accepting comments on the option to replace the streetcar with articulated buses until June 21. Let them know that longer buses will not cut it. To realize the smart growth vision for Columbia Pike, Arlington needs a streetcar.

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

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The kind of dense high end development that is taking place on Columbia Pike will continue regardless of whether the streetcar is built.
A huge new development is about to break ground on the corner of Columbia Pike and Glebe, further snarling that intersection for years to come as hundreds of new residents move in and bring their 3-series with them.
The development will continue along the Pike because it is prime real estate in Arlington and people think they are getting a "deal" there.
Let's save the county $300 million and just as many headaches and stick with the articulated buses.

by Mary-Austin on Jun 18, 2012 2:53 pm • linkreport

While I agree with the value of streetcar to Columbia Pike, and I personally think it's a better choice for that corridor on the basis of some of the transportation merits Mr Arnold describes, I cringe a little bit every time the impact on development is mentioned. It's a real and important effect, but is it a proper use of Federal transportation money? Because with Arlington changing course, and planning to apply for Small/New Starts money, we must recognize that it's a zero sum game - a dollar to pay for a project where the marginal benefit of streetcar over art-bus is mostly in building a community, not providing exponentially more/better transit service, takes from projects that are wholly defensible based on their ability to improve mobility/accessibility.

In this imperfect world where basic transit service is being gutted due to lack of funding, I wish that marginal redevelopment benefit was not paid from that finite pot of money.

Provide a separated ROW for the streetcar, and all of these concerns are moot.

by darren on Jun 18, 2012 2:56 pm • linkreport

Mehhhhh, I am still skeptical.

What sort of zoning laws did Portland have before and after it's streetcar for example.

And for that matter, I still am unconvinced about the metro vs. streetcar example. Metro is underground and doesn't have to deal with car traffic or bad weather which creates much better service.

It looks to be similar to an express bus in amount of stops. But I am skeptical as to weither it will create that much of a quicker journey to Metro especially for long haul riders.

I guess my beef is, while it definetly can work as a development catalyst, it really doesn't seem very useful as a transportation medium. The only way I see it achieving real justification is if in 10-15 years, Columbia Pike becomes the second Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

by Billy Bob on Jun 18, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport

"The only way I see it achieving real justification is if in 10-15 years, Columbia Pike becomes the second Rosslyn-Ballston corridor."

I'm pretty sure that's the idea.

But dedicated ROW needs to be considered. If not immediately, then going forward.

by kidincredible on Jun 18, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

Can someone point me to an explanation of how streetcars would be faster than buses when the streetcars are operating in mixed traffic? (or is that not one of the advantages of this kind of streetcar? the FAQ say something about how less bunching of buses will occur, but I don't see how streetcars couldn't also get bunched/backed up just as easily.) The last time I lived on Columbia Pike was 2005/2006 and there has certainly been development taking place along the Pike since then, so I agree with the first commenter that this will continue with or without the streetcar.

by grumpy on Jun 18, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

No way you are going to take cars away from the lane. You cannot discount more long haul travelers coming from Bailey's and points further south and west.

What is key then is development and that the Pike, Skyline and Bailey's become much bigger DESTINATIONS rather than drive through areas.

by Billy Bob on Jun 18, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

The problem is that aside from the sexiness factor, the streetcar does not provide any advantages over improved bus service. The travel time between the two options is virtually identical, as is the capacity and estimated ridership. The streetcar will not have its own right of way, and is subject to the same traffic delays that a bus is. In fact, the streetcar may be even more suseptible to delays because it runs on a fixed track, whereas a bus can maneuver around any disruption.

I agree that streetcars are more emotionally exciting, and have more potential to generate interest in a neighborhood. But in these economic times, it's incredibly difficult to justify building a streetcar line that costs nearly $200M more than the improved bus service, but provides no tangible, measurable advantages. I'm disappointed that the EA did not evaluate a bus option that used specially-branded "streetcar-esque" vehicles, rather than the articulated (extended) Metrobus. To me this is the best option - take some of the money you're saving by not building the streetcar tracks and invest in modern, easy-to-ride buses and stops. This would also allow Arlington to do a full BRT along Columbia Pike sometime in the future.

by Rebecca on Jun 18, 2012 3:17 pm • linkreport

Thank you for this article. I am growing increasingly tired of the go-to response of 'just use buses' to any proposed transit project. As a resident of Pentagon City, I would love that streetcar!

Also, times like these make me mourn the Colombia Pike line that was included as a 'future extension' in a 1968 map: http://i.imgur.com/QyvJg.png . The spur at Pentagon is already there, as far as I know! It feels like there is a great gap in service without it. (Source: The Great Subway Society, apologies for the resolution)

by pdovak on Jun 18, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

I have to agree with @Billy Bob on this one. Yes, it will help with much of the planned development getting going. And that's a good thing.

But it won't be much of an improvement as a mover of people. Despite any new development, most of Columbia Pike will remain residential and local commerce - denser and better than now, but still mostly those two.

Most of the residents will still need to commute elsewhere for work, and this is where the streetcar provides very little gain over the current set-up. It will be just as likely to get stuck in traffic as anything else, and will not provide a faster journey for commuters in any way. As development increases traffic on the pike, it will slow the streetcar just as much as it will slow buses and cars. Yes, a few more people will ride the streetcar than a bus, which will slightly slow the growth of car traffic. But not much.

The problem overall, as I see it, is that Arlington only proposed streetcars and a couple lesser options - buses. If it had proposed and worked out an option better than a mixed-traffic streetcar, I would be much more enthusiastic.

I don't know exactly what that would look like - perhaps LRT that ran in traffic in some cases (in those areas where the road is too narrow for anything else) but ran separately in those wider areas (like areas where there currently are street-facing parking lots or where building fronts are set back from the street - a significant portion of the length of the pike is like that). This, plus some add-ons like signal priority, would greatly assist the LRT to be more than just a bus on tracks that's at the mercy of traffic like everything else.

I'm also annoyed by the addition of overhead wires for the streetcar (right after a project, currently on-going I believe, put utilities underground on the pike). It adds to the visual clutter and doesn't look all that attractive, though I guess that's a minor quibble. The real problem is the lack of even partial lane/grade separation on any portion of the route. This thing is going to be so slow that it won't take many commuter cars off the road.

by Nick81 on Jun 18, 2012 3:21 pm • linkreport

The streetcar won't have a dedicated lane -- it won't be any faster than buses. The streetcar won't be able to dodge stopped cars, while a bus can -- so the street car might be much slower. The streetcar will run on coal-powered electricity -- when the buses can use natural gas. Columbia Pike east of George Mason is already plenty walkable without a street car. The best thing the county and WMATA could do for transit along the corridor is to eliminate extraneous bus stops and put in shelters on the stops they keep.

Spending money on expensive geegaws to attract future residents is an unjust use of present resident's tax dollars, especially when development for those residents might price out the folks who live here.

by M. Townes on Jun 18, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

Development east of Glebe/Mason is already developing density - because of upzoning.

Past there-- well, maybe.

Why doesn't the Pike have bus lanes?

by charlie on Jun 18, 2012 3:28 pm • linkreport

The problem is that aside from the sexiness factor, the streetcar does not provide any advantages over improved bus service.

I suppose it's time for someone to post that list of a dozen or so ways that streetcars are preferable to buses that was trotted out the last twenty times we had this discussion (i.e. "smoother ride", "cheaper to operate", etc, etc...)

Ah, here's one:

http://beyonddc.com/log/?p=1733

by oboe on Jun 18, 2012 3:30 pm • linkreport

Interesting. Although the argument -- which I understand as (1) so far it "has not worked" on Columbia Pike and (2) DC has decided to switch from articulated buses to streetcars -- is not convincing, IMO.

Other authors have discussed the differences between the two and the case for why streetcars are better than buses is far from overwhelming. The difference in cost is large, streetcars might be more affected by weather and random impediments. Moreover, there are other "good" things that could use more resources. So the direct comparison between buses and streetcars may be inappropriate.

Anyway, I'm more indifferent than for or against streetcars. But there is a lot of resources at stake so I'm inclined to say streetcars are a big gamble when cheaper alternatives seem to satisfy the fundamental task of moving people efficiently.

Is there any research on the effects of streetcars versus buses from more independent sources? Unless we've lowered our standards for what is *proven* that one document falls short.

by Geof Gee on Jun 18, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

As part of the agreement between Arlington County and VDOT when VDOT gave control of Columbia Pike over to the county, VDOT required that whatever Arlington did, there would not be a lane removed to be dedicated to transit.

So either way, bus or streetcar, there will not be a dedicated lane.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 18, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

re Articulated buses vs streetcars

1. IIUC its not just the sexiness factor, but actual improved ride quality

2. While the benefits of the above may be small, the cost savings are NOT as great as advertised - the cost savings quoted ignore the subtantial costs of replacing costly articulated buses (buses require more frequent replacement than street cars and the greater expense of articulated buses raises the cost of that further)

I'm not certain building the street car on the Pike now is the way to go, but there are lots of anti arguments that are really misleading. I wouldn't mind a fair comparison, but I see only ones that ignore real costs of articulated buses, and focus on issues with street cars that have been dealt with in other cities (they seem in general NOT to be backed up for stopped cars regularly, for example).

As for a "street car like bus" if you mean one of those tourist trolley things, thats not going to have close to the capacity of either a modern street car or an articulated bus - right now the existing bus line is capacity contstrained, IIUC.

as for transit lanes, there isn't room on much of the pike. And there's no real alternative place for a seperate ROW at grade. Its this, or heavy rail, and thats not a real possibility anytime soon. Also, to justify heavy rail, you'd need to zone for much higher than the current 6 story buildings - you'd need to build more like in Clarendon. I wonder if the neighborhood antis would go for that?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2012 3:38 pm • linkreport

"As part of the agreement between Arlington County and VDOT when VDOT gave control of Columbia Pike over to the county, VDOT required that whatever Arlington did, there would not be a lane removed to be dedicated to transit."

Is this an ongoing agreement? Is there an expiration on the limitation? Is it a handshake agreement or would there be consequences to Arlington County doing it anyway (i.e. reverting back to VDOT)

by kidincredible on Jun 18, 2012 3:41 pm • linkreport

Geoff,

Is there any research on the effects of streetcars versus buses from more independent sources? Unless we've lowered our standards for what is *proven* that one document falls short.

C'mon, that's a just a debating point. Of course the link I posted isn't "proof". The assertion up-thread was that streetcar supporters can't name any benefits over buses other than "sexiness". That's just false.

If you want to debate the individual points, go ahead. But lets skip the whole, "the New York Times is *not* a peer reviewed journal" song and dance.

by oboe on Jun 18, 2012 3:47 pm • linkreport

@oboe, to the list of streetcar benefits, i would add my suspicion that a fixed-guideway vehicle is going to be safer on the curvy undulating Columbia Pike, rather than a big floppy wide bus.

But I would say that most of the benefits noted in the link are either not projected to produce ridership benefits (in this case) to justify the added cap cost, or relate to development outcomes rather than purely transportation ones.

by darren on Jun 18, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

"But I would say that most of the benefits noted in the link are either not projected to produce ridership benefits (in this case) to justify the added cap cost,"

Has anyone done an estimated LIFE CYCLE Cost - take the EIS numbers and add maintenance and vehicle replacement? cause if, as I suspect, the life cycle costs are relatively close then it makes more sense to use
"development outcomes rather than purely transportation ones" in determining the preferred option.

I go back and forth - a heavy rail option is really what we need more, and would have far more dramatic impacts on corridor development (after some cycling amidst the less lovely low density suburbs a bit further out on columbia pike I was feeling this rather strongly) - but then we come back to the large scale resources needed to make heavy rail real, and the lack of will to do it (arlington cannot do heavy rail almost alone)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

There are also advantages to buses over fixed systems and over rail systems in general. Why is there nothing about the good things about buses in addition to the good things about streetcars

by kk on Jun 18, 2012 4:07 pm • linkreport

The expense of buses is illusory: buses wear out faster, break down more often, have smaller capacities, and can't be entrained together. There is also a persistent glossing-over of road re-surfacing costs. Transit buses are extremely heavy, and their weight is disproportionately distributed on the rear axle. The degree of damage to a road from a passing vehicle scales as the *fourth* power of axle weight. This means that a bus does as much damage to a road as about 5000 cars. (Search "transit bus ESAL" for more details).

So if a program of express buses does what its boosters say it will, and you have a high frequency of heavily loaded buses on a route, the road will wear quickly and this wear will be largely due to the buses. (Search "LA orange line rutting" for an example.) The cost to repair the damage that regular bus routes do to roads is subsumed in regular road maintenance budgets, but that becomes harder to justify in the case of a successful high-frequency bus operation. Especially if you're going to try to maintain the road in a way to provide a ride quality that can be considered anywhere near equivalent to that of a streetcar. So maybe the solution is to repave with concrete--and now the cost of the whole thing isn't so much less than using rail in the first place.

The vaunted "flexibility" of buses means that there is also the flexibility to chip away at a program, to skimp in "bad budget years," to give in to demands of motorists as they complain that some aspect of a busway operation is unfait to them. The HOV lanes on I-395 were originally for express buses only, but motorists saw the existence of space between buses and demanded to be allowed to fill it and now the lanes mostly provide more space for cars. In LA's Metro Rapid, it was hardly a year after the first exclusive bus lanes opened that proposals were floated to rescind it.

This ability to rot, to be whittled away at, is well known to developers and entrepreneurs and is one of the primary reasons that bus projects don't generate the sort of inspiring, walkable development that rail can bring. Whether subway, light rail, or streetcar, it's easy enough to find places where the rail connection becomes a major selling point and foundation of a place's identity. Show me an example where that's happened with buses.

by thm on Jun 18, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

I think one of the primary benefits of streetcars is reduced pollution, both in emissions and noise. However, Electric trollybuses can work just as well and cost about 1 million per bus and one million per mile for the overhead wires. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolleybus

That would seem a significant cost savings worth considering.

by Jefferson on Jun 18, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

The main problem people are having with streetcars on Columbia Pike is the intermixing of traffic. It doesn't seem all that different from typical bus service, except for the rails. This issue really needs to better addressed to temper continuing opposition to the project.

A dedicated ROW needs to be seriously looked into as well. With modest modifications, Columbia Pike should be able to accommodate side-by-side streetcar trackage, and, at the same time, have room for three lanes of vehicular traffic (two through, one turn). At major intersections, the ROW could be grade separated, with streetcars running underneath or above, much like Muni does in San Francisco. Has a dedicated ROW received any consideration? Has it been analyzed to any extent?

While this idea, of course, would be a much more expensive project, it may be more amenable to Arlingtonians, many who now see the current proposal as a pricey, "bus like" misadventure.

by Sage on Jun 18, 2012 4:41 pm • linkreport

Oboe wrote ...

C'mon, that's a just a debating point. Of course the link I posted isn't "proof".

OK. I can accept that. FWIW, I am more than ready to accept well documented and written but not "peer reviewed" research.

by Geof Gee on Jun 18, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

@thm:

The expense of buses is illusory: buses wear out faster, break down more often, have smaller capacities, and can't be entrained together. There is also a persistent glossing-over of road re-surfacing costs. Transit buses are extremely heavy, and their weight is disproportionately distributed on the rear axle. The degree of damage to a road from a passing vehicle scales as the *fourth* power of axle weight. This means that a bus does as much damage to a road as about 5000 cars. (Search "transit bus ESAL" for more details).

You realize all of these things apply to streetcars as buses, right? And the capacity of most streetcars (the ones planned for use in DC, for instance) is pretty much the same maximum capacity as an articulated bus. Also, buses don't necessarily wear down more often or break more frequently - it's a question of use and mainteennce, and National Transit Database and other data consistently bears this out. (Also, the new generation of electric drive buses largely will erase this wear and tear disparity)

The HOV lanes on I-395 were originally for express buses only, but motorists saw the existence of space between buses and demanded to be allowed to fill it and now the lanes mostly provide more space for cars.

This isn't true either. The Shirley busway was originally intended to allow for express rapid bus service (it was an UMTA project, actually), and once Metro was built, a lot of that express capacity was no longer needed as riders shifted to Metro (express buses still use the busway, as you know - especially transit from PWC (Omnitrans)

by AA on Jun 18, 2012 5:06 pm • linkreport

"The Shirley busway was originally intended to allow for express rapid bus service (it was an UMTA project, actually), and once Metro was built, a lot of that express capacity was no longer needed as riders shifted to Metro (express buses still use the busway, as you know - especially transit from PWC (Omnitrans)"

actually most buses in the HOV lanes are metrobuses, mainly serving Fairfax county, not PWC buses. Mostly carrying riders from the large areas of South FFX NOT served directly by metro TO the Pentagon Metro station. Most of the ridership on metro rail in Virginia (other than that transferring from buses at Pentagon) is in areas not particularly suitible for using the Shirley busway.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2012 5:13 pm • linkreport

(Also, the new generation of electric drive buses largely will erase this wear and tear disparity)

are those what are prposed? What the articulated bus cost estimates are based on?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 18, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport

I'm pro streetcar for the medium term but have a question. Everywhere in DC where a streetcar is proposed will first go through a phase where articulated buses are used prior to building a streetcar. I've never heard anyone oppose that plan. So why is using articulated buses first, then graduating later to streetcars later a good idea for H ST, Georgia, 16th, and Wisconsin but not Columbia Pike?

by Falls Church on Jun 18, 2012 5:50 pm • linkreport

What would happen to the non-duplicative bus routes service areas outside of the streetcar corridor, such as the 16Y to/from downtown DC or ART bus 41 to/from Ballston-Clarendon-Court House?

@AWalkerInTheCity: You're right -- I would bet there is a slightly larger number of WMATA/local transit buses /vs/ long haul buses to locations far outside the Betlway during rush hours. The Metrobus routes using the Shirly Hwy HOV lanes are the 7 (Alex. and FFX Co), 17 (FFX Co), 18 (FFX Co), 21 (Alex. and FFX Co), and 29 (FFX Co) series routes; a sole Fairfax Connector Route 395, and two DASH routes. Other than PRTC, what other public communter service is there? Anyone heading farther than Potomac Mills along I-95 is probably using VRE.

by Transport. on Jun 18, 2012 6:00 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

Who said it was good except for the people here; I would bet the streetcar vs bus debate would be different if those bickering about it were the passengers.

I personally see no reason for streetcars I believe it should be bus then lightrail as the tradeoffs are worth compared to a streetcar.

1 Streetcar will get stuck in traffic also
2 Streetcar will have less stops than a bus
3 Streetcar will not be able to move around accidents/closures (think protest, summits etc)

1 Lightrail will not get stuck in traffic has its own lane (most of them)
2 Will have less stops but will be better due to own lanes (though I dont like taking anyones stop away)
3 Lightrail will have same problem as streetcar when dealing with accidents or closures

If an area is going to have a streetcar it should also have some bus service to feel in the blanks between streetcar stops.

by kk on Jun 18, 2012 8:51 pm • linkreport

Essentially, it comes down to what the blogger Bikesnob calls cultural mulch. Streetcars provide it. Busses do not. If you want to be a vibrant extended-hours mixed use mecca, then you go with streetcars. You can't quantify it, but you can feel the effects when it's placed in the proper environment.

by Crickey7 on Jun 18, 2012 10:41 pm • linkreport

@AA, on the HOV lanes: plans for exclusive bus use of reversible lanes on I-395 began in 1964 and began operating as such in 1969. They were opened to HOV-4 in 1973 and HOV-3 in 1989. Metro opened in 1976 and didn't make it to Van Dorn until 1991, Springfield until 1997. That is, the changes to HOV rules on the busway changed well before Metrorail became a viable alternative for users of the express buses. The busway wasn't conceived and built with the notion that express buses on dedicated lanes would be inferior to rail transit, nor that it was simply a temporary measure put in place until rail was built. It was intended to be serious transit infrastructure, but they weren't able to keep it that way.

by thm on Jun 18, 2012 11:39 pm • linkreport

“Dense walkable” are code for far less cars and less car lanes. As Columbia Pike is not a hamlet or a boutique neighborhood now this envisioned transformation would suggest it no longer function as an artery. I wide swath of large families, contractors, military, tourists, commuters, and trucks currently use this artery. It is also being affected by construction traffic. Attempting to block traffic to force it to go away will lead to lost economic activity and the surrounding residential roads becoming dangerous and noisy bypass arteries. Are the current residents and businesses supportive of this kind of heavy transformation?

by AlexW on Jun 19, 2012 5:26 am • linkreport

FWIW, I like streetcars. I think that they are preferable over buses when the costs (and associated benefits) make sense. I'm just not sure that in this case, given the information in the EA, the extra expense for the streetcar is justified.

Anyway, my point earlier was just that we need to think very critically about what benefits the streetcar provides over the bus, and whether or not this is worth the extra $200M. With the way the political winds have been blowing recently, it is important for us planners and urbanist types to be pragmatic and consider other and cheaper ways to advance our goals, or else risk not accomplishing anything at all.

And before anyone flips out, I am NOT saying we should abandon every great transit project in the works to appease Tea Partiers and others calling for less government spending. I am saying that if we should find ourselves on the losing end come November, we need to be prepared to a) defend expensive transit projects like the streetcar with hard data and reasons other than "the ride is smoother", and b) get creative and consider less expensive alternatives that still meet the original goals of a project.

by Rebecca on Jun 19, 2012 8:53 am • linkreport

@AlexW

Thank you for pointing out the obvious jargon of the smart growth advocates. Virginia needs to focus on the transportation mode that is currently under construction -- the Metro which is not only faster but carries far more people than buses or streetcars.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) can't seem to get its plans for streetcars finalized, which is what happens when an agency changes its mission. It's amazing when you look around at the numbers of bicycle racks, bikelanes and markings, the new fangled parking meters and other gimmicks DDOT is placing throughout the city. It isn't making it one bit easier to get from point A to point B. Ahhh, that's where the streetcars come in -- connecting neighborhoods. Does GGW really think connecting apartment complexes along Columbia Pike is connecting neighborhoods.

When was the last time the residents of those buildings got involved in an issue? Apartment dwellers are not know for their community activism or community involvement. Columbia Pike is not Columbia Heights!

One of the problems I have with GGW and the Smart Growth movement is the sense of entitlement. They feel it appropriate to tell me how to live. Not going to happen.

by Karl on Jun 19, 2012 8:57 am • linkreport

"Dense walkable” are code for far less cars and less car lanes. As Columbia Pike is not a hamlet or a boutique neighborhood now this envisioned transformation would suggest it no longer function as an artery."

I don't see why it would cease to function as an artery. There might be fewer cars, as more people use transit and walk/bike, but the road would still serve well - look at North Arlington where the arterials still function.

Also, if streetcars are no different from articulated buses, as is claimed, shouldnt you oppose that too? Some of the antis are claiming that the street car is a waste of money because it will have NO incremental effect on development. You and Karl seem to be claiming its a bad idea and imposition on your way of life because it WILL.

Can you antis at least get your story straight?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

Well, thanks karl for defining for us how all apartment dwellers think, perceive and act on an issue.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

"Anyway, my point earlier was just that we need to think very critically about what benefits the streetcar provides over the bus, and whether or not this is worth the extra $200M."

I remain unconvinced that it WILL cost $200 mill more, over the lifecycle, compared to the replacement costs of articulated buses. I am all for dialogue, but what I hear from those opposed to the street car is people whose minds are mind up.

'And before anyone flips out, I am NOT saying we should "abandon every great transit project in the works to appease Tea Partiers and others calling for less government spending. I am saying that if we should find ourselves on the losing end come November, we need to be prepared to a) defend expensive transit projects like the streetcar with hard data and reasons other than "the ride is smoother", '

but the smoothness of the ride impacts the ability to draw riders to transit, the ability to handle volume, and yes, the cache of the line and its impact on real estate. Those are real factors.

As for November, I will remind folks that in Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney was an advocate for Smart Growth, non-auto modes, etc. What will happen when the etch a sketching is done, I do not know, but making our infrastructure choices based on attempt to game the 2013 political situation, rather than their merits, seems premature.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2012 9:16 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity, not to mention that the measure that would make for a radically better transit service at little additional cost, but would actually reduce capacity for the put-upon "wide swath of large families, contractors, military, tourists, commuters, and trucks currently use this artery", has been barred by the institutional "anti", VDOT. Separated ROW (whether for bus or train) could move many more people, quicker, majority of distance between two major employment centers (Pentagon and MARC Center).

@Karl and @AlexW, what exactly is your problem with enhancing transit on one of the very busiest bus corridors in the region without taking away general purpose lanes? 4 lanes before, 4 lanes after. People with cars continue their winning streak.

by darren on Jun 19, 2012 9:19 am • linkreport

@Karl

There are a wide variety of living environments in the DC metro area, ranging from highly urban to quite rural. In theory, you are free to live wherever you choose.

The problem is that there is more demand than supply for housing units in vibrant, urban, transit-accessible neighborhoods, making rents and housing prices in these areas out of reach for many. Another problem is that these urban neighborhoods often lack amenities that families desire - good schools, park space, playgrounds, backyards, etc., which encourages families to move further into the suburbs. Both of these factors are major contributors to the daily traffic snarls that plague the DC region.

My interpretation of the Smart Growth movement is that it is actually quite market-based - numerous studies and surveys have shown that increasing numbers of people of all age groups desire to live in walkable, transit-accessible, vibrant communities. Smart Growth aims to ensure that all who desire this type of living environment have access to it. Those who prefer to live a more car-dependent lifestyle are of course still welcome to, and will find ample, inexpensive housing stock that will satisfy their desires.

by Rebecca on Jun 19, 2012 9:23 am • linkreport

"Dense walkable” are code for far less cars and less car lanes. As Columbia Pike is not a hamlet or a boutique neighborhood now this envisioned transformation would suggest it no longer function as an artery."

What was just said is code for "I want to be able to speed through here, damn the residents present and future.

And what walker said about North Arlington. Clearly the development has driven people away from using wilson (or lee, or washington blvd) to get through that area. That's what no one goes through those areas.

Preventing development and preserving the status quo will make Columbia Pike more of a boutique neighborhood than building up will. And if you're opposition to development stems more from the quality of restaurant than the design/form of the building and infrastructure then there isn't much I can help you with. I can give you a list of restaurants I'd like to be near but the beauty of density is that the more you allow the greater chance something you want to see will locate nearby.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2012 9:24 am • linkreport

@AWalker,
I remain unconvinced that it WILL cost $200 mill more, over the lifecycle, compared to the replacement costs of articulated buses.

And your evidence for this is...?

I think @Falls Church has the right idea here regarding the implementation of art-bus with potential follow through with a street car (or maybe even light rail).

by Fitz on Jun 19, 2012 9:40 am • linkreport

I am so sick of the streetcar/bus debate. Streetcars are an economic development tool and buses are a mode of public transportation. Period. There is no point in arguing about the mode: instead, argue about the goals of the proposed project.

However, a good merging of the two is BRT, where dedicated right-of-way construction (in lieu of rails in a mixed use ROW) can be perceived as the "permanent infrastructure investment" that can be used to spur economic development along a corridor while still providing high quality transit. It's the best of both worlds, except that maybe it requires more ROW than one is willing to give over.

But seriously, arguing over streetcar vs. bus is like arguing about the relative merits of apples vs. wrenches.

by MDE on Jun 19, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

I am not sure why streetcars have become the end all in some transportation circles. Portland envy? They are expensive, have a significant environmental footprint, and raise transportation equity issues. One former Chinese transportation planning student of mine was shocked at how "old fashion" the US had become in its use of streetcars.

Let's not forget the problems on H Street, NE: the streetcars do not connect to metro on the west side (thank you Mr. Klein and Mr. Fenty for that), there are historic preservation concerns with the overheard wires, and the city is now battling a community on where to keep the cars. Perhaps we need to change people's perceptions of buses.

by EmmJF on Jun 19, 2012 10:53 am • linkreport

To truly evaluate the use and effectiveness of streetcars versus busses, we really need to get a streetcar line up and running, whether on H Street, NE or in Arlington. Until that happens, the jabbering over the respective costs and benefits of each mode will continue unabated.

by Sage on Jun 19, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

@MDE,

I think your stance regarding streetcar vs. bus is too black and white. A streetcar can be an economic development tool, but the primary function must still be for public transportation.

The permanent nature of a streetcar provides economic certainty to residents and business along the Columbia Pike corridor, but that permanent nature, along with the estimated capital costs, does rightly give serious viability to alternatives to a streetcar. I think the lack of a means to provide a right-of-way for the streetcar is a huge limitation here as well.

I think part of the problem is that some people want a "mixed-use mecca" when maybe a "good mixed-use corridor" at a much lower cost could suffice for the near future.

by Fitz on Jun 19, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

@EmmJF

Because we're not doing the really complicated, really expensive work of building new heavy and commuter rail. On a 40-50 year time frame, a metro line under Columbia Pike would do impressive things to the area. But we're not even *contemplating* that kind of scale. It's a national thing - we just don't have that kind of ambition anymore, either because it's too controversial or we don't want to pay for it.

by Distantantennas on Jun 19, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

A streetcar can be an economic development tool, but the primary function must still be for public transportation.

How are you defining the difference between economic development tool and public transportation? The only time when public transportation is not an economic development tool is when it is merely subsidized transportation for the poor or disabled. That is, when public transportation is meant to further goals of societal equity rather than economic growth.

I am not sure why streetcars have become the end all in some transportation circles.

Because they provide a large return on investment through economic development. Unlike most buses.

Attempting to block traffic to force it to go away will lead to lost economic activity and the surrounding residential roads becoming dangerous and noisy bypass arteries.

There is plenty of research and evidence showing that streetcars enhance economic activity and provide a high return on investment in most cases.

One former Chinese transportation planning student of mine was shocked at how "old fashion" the US had become in its use of streetcars.

We should not be taking our lessons in transportation planning from the Chinese. The traffic and pollution in China is mind boggling.

You could say that Cloud Computing is "old fashioned" because it's very similar to mainframe computing from decades past. But, just because an idea borrows from the past, doesn't automatically make it ineffective.

by Falls Church on Jun 19, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

I think the may issue at least with me is that we did not get to vote on this street car project like with new schools we approve that money. The County Board clearly knows that this is voter issue and they did not want there pet project to fail. I think it is not fair to ask tax payers to fund a project that clearly as a lot of issues ....I actually think the better street car project is in Crystal City, you will get the tourists and you then are meeting up with the metro.

by Elizabeth on Jun 19, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

"I think the may issue at least with me is that we did not get to vote on this street car project like with new schools we approve that money."

new schools arent voted on by the public - BOND ISSUES for new schools are voted on. Untill A. The street car is approved B. Its determined to finance it with bonds - there's no requirement for a referendum.

BTW, the Columbia Pike street car will also link up with metro.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

"Let's not forget the problems on H Street, NE: the streetcars do not connect to metro on the west side (thank you Mr. Klein and Mr. Fenty for that), there are historic preservation concerns with the overheard wires, and the city is now battling a community on where to keep the cars. Perhaps we need to change people's perceptions of buses."

A. they will come pretty close to union station
B. I think most people in DC are fine with the wires
C. Most people realize the car repair shop will be just fine

I take an express bus every day, and GGW regularly covers proposed bus improvements. That said, streetcars will do better in ridership than even bus service as equivalent as possible, for reasons discussed above. And of course its often not equivalent - note a comment above in which someone opposes the street car because of "too few stops" A quality BRT line would also have few stops, to ensure speed. A big part of the problem is "brt creep" where BRT is proposed as a substitute for rail, and then gets nickel and dimed down towards a more conventional bus line. Bus advocates would do well to spend more time fighting such nickle and diming on the BRT lines that are going to get built in the region, rather than constantly moaning about the disrespect BRT gets from rail advocates.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2012 12:39 pm • linkreport

How are you defining the difference between economic development tool and public transportation? The only time when public transportation is not an economic development tool is when it is merely subsidized transportation for the poor or disabled. That is, when public transportation is meant to further goals of societal equity rather than economic growth.

My statement was not made in a vacuum, it was in response to MDE's distinction between a streetcar and bus; it was not meant to distinguish between an economic development tool and public transportation.

by Fitz on Jun 19, 2012 12:44 pm • linkreport

WHEN WAS THIS PUT TO THE VOTERS?

by Jackie Chan on Jun 19, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

The HealthLine BRT in Cleveland has helped to catalyze about $5.5 billion in reinvestment along Euclid Avenue while drawing over 15,000 riders per day. The project has challenged the notion that only rail-based transit can achieve quality TOD. Following is a link to our project profile on our website for some additional information.

http://www.sasaki.com/project/105/cleveland-euclid-avenue-healthline-brt/

by Jason Hellendrung on Jun 19, 2012 12:59 pm • linkreport

btw, with regard to Natural Gas buses as a GHG improvement

from Climate Progress

"Indeed, the other shocker in this study is how bad natural gas vehicles (NGVs) are for the climate. In particular, many are trying to pass legislation for switching heavy duty diesel vehicles to natural gas. The study concludes that such a switch sharply increases Technology Warming Potential for many decades, and no one alive today would ever see a climate benefit from that switch.

This new research, coauthored by two EDF scientists as well as other leading scientists, appears to have led EDF to strongly oppose NGVs. As the National Journal reported last month:

“The president has proposed we switch trucks to natural gas, and I’m here to tell you today that every truck we switch to natural gas damages the atmosphere,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said at the IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates annual conference here. Krupp said the little data available about how much methane — a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide — escapes during the production of shale natural gas compels him to refuse to support a shift toward more natural-gas vehicles.

“We’re against what the president called for in the State of the Union until they [the natural-gas industry] can demonstrate they can get the leak rate down below 1 percent,” Krupp added. The Environmental Defense Fund’s opposition to the proposal is notable; it is one of the only environmental groups willing to work with industry on the concerns surrounding shale natural gas, which has been discovered in vast amounts all over the country in the past few years.

The problem for NGVs, as study coauthor and EDF chief scientist Steven Hamburg explained to me, is that the extra steps involved in using natural gas as a transport fuel — including fueling and onboard storage, increases the system leakage rate significantly. And these leaks are probably much harder to address. So the possibility that, say, the entire leakage rate for the heavy-duty vehicle infrastructure, from fracking to fueling, could ever be brought down to below 1% is pretty darn small."

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Jackie Chan:

WHEN WAS THIS PUT TO THE VOTERS?

Excellent point. It's a good thing you shouted that!

Every public policy decision should obviously be put to a direct vote. I know of no possible system that might allow us to elect people to make decisions for us.

by Gray on Jun 19, 2012 1:03 pm • linkreport

Streetcars for the all local riders. Limited Stop "Express" Buses for people in a hurry or going farther distances. Circulator frequency buses on the main N/S routes (Glebe, Walter Reed, G. Mason, Carlin Springs).
Lets try and make it easy for people to get around without all this pandering to the pro-car set. We have tried it that way for the past 50 years and you can travel down the Pike and see what the result is - parking lots, auto sales and repair shops and a hostile environment for the people.

by Chris R on Jun 19, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

One small correction: The public comment period ends on the 21st, not the 22nd. The text has been edited to reflect the change.

by Dan Malouff on Jun 19, 2012 5:09 pm • linkreport

A shame that Chris R is so quick to bash the existence of auto sales and repair shops along the Pike: if he paused a moment he'd recognize that delightful sight for what it is. A slew of independent business men and women earning a living - and paying taxes! I guess if folks like Chris R are telling me that they don't have a car, never drive, never need an honest sales professional to help them source a reliable vehicle or get their car fixed by an honest repair professional than all is well in their world. Sorry but I neither can build or REbuild my vehicles. I need these honest hard working professionals to be there. My vote? Keep the cars - lose the fantasy of a car free society. Ain't. Going. To. Happen.

by Rcar on Jun 19, 2012 5:29 pm • linkreport

Remember that the trolley will not replace buses. It will not go to Pentagon and those buses will still ply the Pike. It will cannibalize the transport budget and leave the poor, brown people on the same infrequent buses.

by JohnO on Jun 19, 2012 6:40 pm • linkreport

Streetcars! Love 'em! One of the greatest features about San Diego is their use of streetcars. We live in a world where - if you choose to do something, you can also choose your own unique path: in this case the objective is to move people from Point A to Point B. You can go with buses, which are ugly functional, and have a host of other issues or - you can go with the streetcar option which is both highly functional AND offers an opportunity to perform a task with style. I don't know how many folks here have seen streetcars in action but of all the city-based transportation modes available to communities like Columbia Pike the streetcar really does offer up a sense of style in addition to its proven ability to deliver the goods from a functionality standpoint.
The streetcar experience is cleaner, quieter, and from what I saw the streetcars spend more time actually moving versus buses that sit at red lights and wait for riders to board and pay.
And - for you fans of economic development - Portland and other cities that have followed suit have data that showed the launch of streetcar systems spurred economic development in the areas where the streetcars operated.
It's great to see that we are having this discussion and great to note that members of the community are turning a spotlight on what may seem like a mundane subject to some but one which - if we listen to these voices of reason - will significantly help to form a great pathway to helping communities in this area and across the country form the basis for a new way of thinking about mass transit and how communities can rebuild and re-imagine themselves for the dawn of a new era in city dwelling.

by Bixby on Jun 20, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

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