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Arlington ditching streetcar, will build "modern BRT"

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

Arlington County officials announced today that they have decided to cancel plans for a streetcar on Columbia Pike, after revelations first reported in the Washington Post that higher-quality transit which moves more people, stimulates economic development, and enables preserving affordable housing also requires the use of "dollars" by the county.

The new plan. Image from AST.

Instead, the county will build a "modern BRT" system with low-floor buses, fare payment at the stop before riders board, signal priority, and platforms allowing level boarding with no gaps.

"The first two studies, in 2005 and 2012, considered and rejected a bus alternative as not having enough capacity for the ridership on Columbia Pike," said county transportation director Bacchus Seep, "but when we looked again a third time, we realized for the first time that buses are cheaper."

The program will slightly resemble the very successful BRT in Eugene, Oregon, which runs in dedicated lanes and highway medians. However, Arlington's system cannot run in a dedicated lane, as an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) prohibits Arlington from reducing the number of general traffic lanes.

"I never realized the picture of a Eugene bus, prominently plastered across websites, wasn't what we could get here in Arlington if we built BRT," said ArlNow commenter "Piker," who opposed the streetcar plan. "I don't like this new BRT plan either. Everyone who came up with it should be fired."

Group forms to oppose new BRT plan, says it's too expensive

Following the news, the group Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit changed its name to Arlingtonians for Sensibler Transit (ASerT) and immediately blasted the new bus plan, saying that it would be "too expensive," had not undergone enough analysis, and that a regular bus would be more cost-effective.

"The so-called 'modern BRT' alternative that Arlington County is now considering is a waste of taxpayer dollars," said Paul Rousselittle of ASerT. "The low-floor buses, off-board fare payment, and signal priority which AST recommended are unnecessary as they do not add capacity along the Columbia Pike corridor."

Board member Harvey Glibbey also criticized the BRT plan as unrealistic. "A number of these [BRT] lines are not performing as advertised," said Glibbey. "In many cases, ridership is much lower than anticipated, costs are much higher."

In response to the pushback, officials promised to conduct a fourth study to determine whether rapid buses are the most cost-effective mode. That study will analyze whether to scrap the BRT plan and replace it with a set of regular buses along Columbia Pike with their own branding, tentatively dubbed "Pike Ride."

Artist's rendering of the bus alternative by cliff1066™ on Flickr.

"That is a good start," said Glibbey, "but I question whether we need the separate branding, as that brings extra marketing and painting cost. This new study is a good step, but needs another alternative where the buses have no names or identifying marks at all and riders simply ask the driver which bus it is when the bus arrives at a stop."

Glibbey also recommended the county save on costs by not printing any maps.


Add a comment »


by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 1, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

Damn it. You had me going on this one, even after I read the morning links.

by Nick on Apr 1, 2013 9:42 am • linkreport

This is good, I bet they could add more capacity and comfort to this BRT by replacing the rubber wheels of the bus with steel wheels that run on tracks embedded in the street.

by drumz on Apr 1, 2013 9:44 am • linkreport

This site is useless every April first.

by Sand Box John on Apr 1, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

April Fools or not, the subject of unique branding for limited-stop or BRT routes vs. a standard branding for all limited-stop and BRT routes in the region is a fair question. Would customers be better off if they had one brand for these enhanced services regardless of corridor vs. a plethora of names for special services depending on which jurisdiction you are riding the bus in? DDOT has encouraged WMATA to brand all of the limited-stop service in the District as MetroExtra to provide uniformity of message for customers. Similarly, all District limited-stop routes have a "9" in the route designation.

by Steve Strauss on Apr 1, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

Making fun of Libby Garvey and Peter Rousselot? They may or may not be wrong about Arlington's streetcar, but they certainly aren't anti-transit cranks. In any event, they were apparently right to criticize the million dollar Super Stop, given that the County admitted last week that it had royally bungled the whole project and was going to reconsider designs and costs before building any more bus stops.
This isn't exactly the way to bolster your credibility and non-snarkiness, GGW.

by Mike on Apr 1, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

I was spooked until I remembered the date. Good one!

by Mike B on Apr 1, 2013 10:22 am • linkreport

Had me until the very last line. Good one! :)

by Frank IBC on Apr 1, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

@ Steve:the subject of unique branding for limited-stop or BRT routes vs. a standard branding for all limited-stop and BRT routes in the region is a fair question.

Yeah, cuz branding is what's gonna solve congestion, not capacity.

by Jasper on Apr 1, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

I am so glad that somebody has retained a sense of humor about this!

by Randy S on Apr 1, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

And after reading the last line, I read the second-to-last paragraph again, and said to myself, "how on earth did I miss that"?

by Frank IBC on Apr 1, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

Well played, sir.

by Stan on Apr 1, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

Last picture makes it.

by Alan B. on Apr 1, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

The Columbia Pike Streetcar project can provide April Fool's fodder for many years because it's ridiculously both impractical and a waste of money. Back in 2004-2006, wasn't the Columbia Pike Streetcar supposed to be operational by now and cost no more than $165 million?

by Allen Muchnick on Apr 1, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport

@Allen -
I lived along the Pike back in 2000 and had a neighbor (who I love) who was very gung-ho about how the streetcar was going to be running in just a few short years. She also freely admitted that she'd been working on this (as part of the community effort) for many years already. I think that if/when it is eventually built/operating, it will be a huge asset for the Pike and Arlington. But I'm not holding my breath on if/when it comes to fruition...

by Former Piker on Apr 1, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

That's because the originally expected source for funding became unavailable when a law was changed in 2007. Adjusting for inflation alone, something that cost $165 million in 2004 would now cost $203. Further the plan now also includes more cars, slightly longer routes and further upgrades to the route.

by TS on Apr 1, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Speaking of impractical, how about that Metrorail system? Don't you just wish everyone just drove everywhere in the region?

by Alan B. on Apr 1, 2013 3:50 pm • linkreport

I read with glee the comments of a bicycle activist opposing the streetcar.

Something tells me if it floated on air, he wouldn't give a damn.

PS - that's what the bike boulevards are for.

Good Day.

by South Awwlington on Apr 2, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

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