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Streetcar backers ask NoVA officials to cooperate on transit

When the Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition formed in early 2010, we thought it would be pretty easy to bring Northern Virginia officials to our way of thinking: streetcars should be part of each jurisdiction's array of transit options to connect Northern Virginia people, homes, and jobs.

Photo by fairfaxcounty on Flickr.

Since then, there have been notable successes:

  • After completing a NEPA process, both Arlington and Fairfax Counties selected streetcars as the "Locally Preferred Alternative" for the Columbia Pike Line between Skyline and the north end of Crystal City.
  • Arlington adopted its Crystal City Sector Plan that includes provision for streetcar service through Crystal City to Four Mile Run, connecting to the Columbia Pike line.
  • After almost three years, funds Congressman Jim Moran earmarked to study transit options along Route 7 are finally close to release. The City of Falls Church will finally get a chance to consider streetcars (along with other transit options).
  • Fairfax County is a participant in several transit studies that may identify potential streetcar corridors.
  • The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition was able to pull together a TIGER II grant application coordinated by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and signed by the City of Alexandria and Arlington County. Unfortunately, the application did not win a TIGER grant.
And there have been some disappointments:
  • Northern Virginia Community College's bid to host a streetcar maintenance facility on their Alexandria campus was found to be infeasible by the Columbia Pike Transit study team, foreclosing the option of serving the campus and possibly the BRAC-133 building at Mark Center by streetcar.
  • Along the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor (Route 1), Alexandria selected Bus Rapid Transit as the preferred mode of transportation to connect to Arlington's Crystal City streetcar line, with the option of converting to streetcars later. NVSC is suggesting Alexandria continue the Arlington streetcar south of Four Mile Run at least to the planned Potomac Yard Metro Station.
  • The Alexandria Transportation Master Plan corridor studies have all selected bus or BRT as the preferred mode of transit.
As DC's streetcar system moves forward, and as we get closer to the Columbia Pike line's planned opening in 2017, there should be many opportunities for local officials to support studies of potential alignments for streetcars, connection of streetcar stations and terminus points with other transit facilities, and other options for high-capacity transit to connect activity centers in Northern Virginia.

The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition is hosting its Annual Meeting on November 14, 2012 from 7 to 9 pm at Skyline Technology Center, 5275 Leesburg Pike. The meeting is open to the public and free of charge. We have invited Mary Hynes, Chair of the Arlington County Board; Penny Gross, Supervisor, Mason District, Fairfax County; Paul Smedberg, Alexandria City Council; and David Snyder, Vice Mayor, Falls Church to discuss opportunities for cooperation among jurisdictions in planning for high capacity transit solutions to connect Northern Virginia.

What questions would you want to have asked of this panel? Please comment with some specific questions our moderators could ask.

Agnès Artemel became interested in revitalizing cities after growing up in France and Germany, where livable and walkable have always been the norm. She is a founder of the Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition and Alexandrians Delivering smart growth Around Metro (ADAM). Her professional focus is on market and feasibility studies, real estate development approvals, and economic development partnerships. Agnès has a Masters in urban and regional planning. 


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We all know that the streetcar and other transportation options can improve an area's mobility but we can also point to numerous examples about how changing the land-use around transit can make a good project that much more successful. As elected officials, what do you want to see in the land use around new transit lines and how will be able to persuade that the changes are good for the areas immediately around the new lines and the jursdiction at large?

by drumz on Nov 12, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

Two widely discussed but competing options for improved transit are improvements along Rt. 7 vs. Gallows Rd. Which of these two options would result in more TOD, lead to more walkable communities, and help re-vitalize our urban environment?

by Falls Church on Nov 12, 2012 7:14 pm • linkreport

What is the status of the federal funds application that has been put in for the Columbia Pike streetcar? Do you anticipate the line will still be open for service by 2017? Is there a timeline available for any of the other streetcar projects?

by Chris R on Nov 12, 2012 9:06 pm • linkreport

Opinions on the benefits of light rail vary almost as widely as official estimates of light rail benefits. Have you conducted any formal, structured public outreach to determine the opinions of everyone in your communities about the desire for light rail?

by paul on Nov 12, 2012 11:39 pm • linkreport

Wouldn't alternatively-fueled buses marketed a la DC Circulator with dedicated lanes achieve much the same transportation goals as streetcars, only with much less infrastructure costs and impact?

Moreoever, wouldn't a streetcar line drastically limit future line flexibility and adjustment that might be advisable due to other future developments versus a bus line? (Once you've built it out, like Metrorail, it's extremely unlikely to be adjusted in any significant way.)

Also, is anyone considering the amount of long-term cost to maintaining a fleet of streetcars which figure to ahve the same issues with obsolescence and replacement parts/replacement cars down the line that Metrorail goes through now? If you need a new bus, on the other hand, you don't have to order new ones from Spain or go through retrofitting issues when no one's making the original models anymore; instead you just buy a new bus or paint an old one.

As for dedicated lanes, they need to stop north of the neighborhoods in North Old Town. Fissette et al have appeared to browbeat Alexandria officials into extending dedicated transit line through there, removing hundreds of parking spaces in an area where they're already hard to come by and putting streetcars feet away from dozens of residential structures, many of which are over 100 years old.

Those residents have already "given at the office" transportation-wise with the impact of scores of pass-through vehicles that come through on three lanes every day. If the Arlington Board has no problem putting local residential concerns above regional traffic concerns in the case of I-66 and its opposition to lane expansion there, it has no business pressuring Alexandria officials to put regional concerns above residential concerns and quality of life issues.

by JD on Nov 19, 2012 10:41 am • linkreport

"Wouldn't alternatively-fueled buses marketed a la DC Circulator with dedicated lanes achieve much the same transportation goals as streetcars, only with much less infrastructure costs and impact? "

to some degree, and I suspect dedicated transitways with buses will precede street cars in most of the corridors at issue. Though Im not sure how compatible a fleet of alt fueled (plug in electric?) buses will be with the existing bus mtnce facilities. They also probably will not get quite as high ridership for reasons discussed here previously, and WHEN the transitways approach saturation, street cars will have capacity advantages.

As for permanence that plays a lot of different ways - a truely quality BRT system will ALSO have investments that are not easy to move - OTOH, to the extent it does not, it doesnt provide the same inducement to development. I think thats one of the things holding back BRT - we can't all agree on what we want it to be - a street car equivalent, that saves on the track investment, and gets almost the same advantages and ridership as street cars - OR do we want something almost as cheap and flexible as conventional bus service. because you can't do both - the more cheap and flexible you make it, the farther you get from getting all the advantages of streetcars.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 20, 2012 10:09 am • linkreport

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