Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Arlington streetcars do pass the cost-benefit test

Last Sunday, Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey criticized the Columbia Pike Streetcar in an op-ed in The Washington Post, "Arlington streetcars fail the cost-benefit test." Contrary to Ms. Garvey's assertions, Arlington County is on the right track.


Photo by EnvironmentBlog on Flickr.

Ms. Garvey opined that streetcars won't improve transit on Columbia Pike and pointed out that buses can stimulate development as well as streetcars. She also stated that the streetcar does not have a proven track record of success.

Ms. Garvey asserted that the streetcar does not have the capacity needed to adequately serve the Columbia Pike corridor. Finally, she also informed us that she has studied the latest available information regarding streetcars. Unfortunately, Ms. Garvey may have skipped over some information that might clarify her thinking regarding the streetcar.

The streetcar is not a bus

Actually, there is a great deal of difference between a streetcar and a bus.

The streetcar has greater capacity. Ten streetcars do not equate to 10 buses. The current mayor of Toronto, Canada, recently campaigned on ridding central Toronto of its iconic streetcar system. He said they were too slow and got in the way of cars. Once elected, he found that he needed 550 buses to replace those 300 darn streetcars. Guess how far his proposal got?

The streetcar has greater acceleration and deceleration rates than diesel buses. This means that the streetcar can and does travel faster than the bus. It can do this because the electric motor is more efficient than the diesel engine. When America was fixated on replacing the streetcar in the 1940s and 50s, it was found that time after time it took about 13-15 buses for every 10 streetcars that they replaced, even though they both operated in mixed traffic.

Regardless of the capacity issue, a lesser number of streetcars can better meet the schedule simply because they are faster. The Columbia Pike streetcar will increase connectivity and thereby mobility options by providing better access to shopping, recreation and the Metro at Pentagon City.

Yes, as Ms. Garvey mentioned, people will have to transfer from the streetcar to other modes, principally Metro, if they want to continue their trips to other destinations. But the bus has that same issue.

Streetcars will foster more development

Ms. Garvey claims that there are some that say that only the streetcars can stimulate desired development. I know of no one who makes that claim. However, experts widely acknowledge that streetcars have an advantage over buses in sparking quality development.

While bus lines can easily be re-routed or discontinued, the streetcar represents a permanent investment in the community, something developers really like. The H Street, NE streetcar in the District clearly demonstrates this fact. Developer after developer has stated that the streetcar was a major reason why they decided to invest in that corridor.

The currently under-construction Cincinnati streetcar has already had a measurable effect of stimulating development in the Over-the-Rhine (OTR) community. The city of Minneapolis is planning a city-wide streetcar system. Dallas is building its first streetcar line.

Seattle's first streetcar line connecting downtown with the South Lake Union District has been such a resounding success that Amazon has offered to buy an additional streetcar to alleviate overcrowding. Seattle is also building a second streetcar line and is planning a city-wide network to complement its successful LRT system.

The Sugar House streetcar line will open in Salt Lake City this year. Officials there are especially pleased with the development spawned by the streetcar. Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly approved a downtown streetcar and the LA City Council just approved a long term (30 years) source of funding for operating costs. And in Portland, Oregon, an expanding streetcar network has and is stimulating development in the central city.

Right now across the nation, 10 streetcar lines are under construction (9 are new systems while one is an extension to an existing system). Maybe they are all misguided or, just maybe, they are confident in the evidence that the streetcar can draw quality development, generate significant ridership and integrate into the urban fabric to a much better degree than the bus.

"Modern" Bus Rapid Transit isn't an option, nor a desirable one

Ms. Garvey may have let the cat out the bag when she said that they (streetcars) would make traffic worse. And how would they do that? By impeding the automobile? Arlington County is trying to expand mobility options by upgrading transit and making it a more attractive option than having to use the automobile for even trivial trips.

While I personally would prefer that streetcar get its own right of way, an agreement with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) prohibits that.

Ms. Garvey identifies Cleveland's BRT Health Line as an example of fostering development with buses. However, the Health Line has its own dedicated lane, an option that's not available to Arlington for either bus or rail. This continues the trend from streetcar opponents of comparing the project to an impossible alternative while citing costs for much cheaper buses.

Besides, a number of analysts have concluded that much of the development along the line would have occurred in any event. The Health Line was built to LRT standards in many places to facilitate easy conversion when ridership justifies an upgrade. The Cleveland BRT line had a price tag similar to many streetcar projects ($30 million/mile). The HealthLine was completed in 2008 and carries about 15,000 per weekday.

Ms. Garvey says that Portland, Oregon and Tampa, Florida were strained by decreasing ridership and ballooning annual operating costs. Tampa's operation was partially funded by a trust fund that took a grievous hit during the recession. Tampa is a tourist operation, pure and simple, primarily geared to transporting cruise travelers/tourists between Ybor City and downtown Tampa. The Tampa streetcar was also recently extended to provide better access to the downtown area.

The Portland Streetcar has been shown to be a proven catalyst for development along both the original route and the recently opened extension across the Willamette River to East Portland. While the abolition of the fareless area in downtown Portland last year (through which much of the Portland Streetcar operated) has caused some adjustments, ridership has held up amazingly well.

Buses don't carry more people

I would take the greatest issue with Ms. Garvey's erroneous comparison of streetcar capacity with bus routes in other cities. She writes, "The best US streetcars carry a fraction of the number of riders carried by the highest-capacity US bus routes, even where the buses do not have dedicated lanes." Comparing the highest-volume US bus routes to streetcars is simplistic and has no relevance to Columbia Pike.

The Toronto example above is a good case in point. The Orange Line Busway in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley is strangling on its own success. The busway cannot expand capacity without adding another bus (and driver), which means that the busway will reach its full capacity, probably sooner than later.

A rail facility (streetcar or light rail) has the ability to easily tailor service to demand by simply training rail vehicles together, all driven by one operator. This is the reason why Ottawa, Canada, is building a light rail line to replace its existing busway. The number of buses trying to access downtown Ottawa is simply staggering. Simply put, they have a capacity problem and it will be solved by building a rail facility.

As conservatives, we believe that streetcars bring solid economic development, reinforce walkable environments, and encourage and cement cohesive, stable neighborhoods. Providing a viable, attractive alternative to the automobile also strengthens our national defense posture as it further reduces our reliance on foreign oil. The Columbia Pike streetcar will further all of these objectives. I look forward to seeing it become a reality.

Glen Bottoms is Executive Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, which works to build support for public transportation, especially urban and intercity rail, as a non-partisan, non-ideological infrastructure issue. Glen is retired from a 25-year career with the Federal Transit Administration. 

Comments

Add a comment »

Ms. Garvey is trying to throw everything at the streetcar just to see what sticks. Unfortunately that just leads to more bad comparisons or metrics that don't make sense.

As an aside, one thing that has people incensed is that the streetcar will go to Pentagon City and not the Pentagon. I don't really see why that matters. You still have access to the blue and yellow line. If you're someone who takes an express bus to the Pentagon to hop on a local bus to a job down on Columbia Pike then you'll still have that option, the buses aren't going away. Meanwhile there will be a rail link between the Pike and all the retail and stuff in Pentagon City where eventually you'll be able to ride a streetcar down to Potomac Yard.

by drumz on Apr 25, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

@drumz:

One thing that Rush Plus should have taught us is that people value the concept of a "one-seat" ride to an almost illogical degree. Head on down to Van Dorn Street at rush hour and take a look at the number of people who stand around and wait for a Blue train over taking the Yellow when it shows up.

The Columbia Pike streetcar going to Pentagon City instead may seem like a non-issue to you and I, but we're on the outside looking in. Joe Commuter might very well choose not to take the streetcar based on the fact that he would need to change to a Blue or Yellow train at Pentagon City instead of being able to ride directly to Pentagon - and if enough people follow Joe Commuter's lead, it's going to be a very noticeable data point and leave people scratching their heads, wondering why everyone is still riding the express buses instead of making the switch to the streetcar.

by Ryan on Apr 25, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

But buses to the pentagon aren't going away. So if you're final destination is the pentagon and you ride the bus then you're good. Everyone else who is just waiting to transfer onto metro can just hop on whatever shows up first.

by drumz on Apr 25, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

As far as economic development is concerned, the fact that rail transit has greater prestige than buses is crucial.

Where would you rather invest in real estate, next to Tiffany or next to Zales? Even if the Zales sold more jewelry?

by Ben Ross on Apr 25, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

ryan

most people who get off buses at the pentagon are getting on the metro anyway.

And many of the people passing up a Yellow for a blue face a shorter ride compared to changing at L'enfant. Its not just about the one seat ride.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

Some of the Columbia Pike buses already go to Pentagon City. They have a healthy ridership comparable to those that go to the Pentagon.

And one of the big points of the streetcar is to create a higher-quality connection to a big activity center (Pentagon City). Not just for it to be a commuting tool. And if you're going to the Metro it doesn't matter one way or the other.

by MLD on Apr 25, 2013 4:15 pm • linkreport

@MLD: Fair enough. I don't have the ridership numbers in front of me, so I'll take your word for it.

by Ryan on Apr 25, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

@ Ryan:Head on down to Van Dorn Street at rush hour and take a look at the number of people who stand around and wait for a Blue train over taking the Yellow when it shows up.

At Franconia-Springfield, it's about half-half I'd say, with a bit more people for the Blue Lines.

What's odd is that when I hope on in Crystal City during the pm rush, the outbound Yellow Lines are often much more quiet than the Blue ones.

by Jasper on Apr 25, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

Mr. Bottoms: Your article does a great job pontificating about cost-benefit analysis without once mentioning the price. Why is that? Could it be that the price was determined by the USG to be over $300m? If we are going to go 19th century let's go all the way and trade in our iPhones for gramophones. Why not run the trolley right to the doorstep of DARPA? It would be better to embrace future forms of transportation. Let's shed the anachronism of trolleys, and while we're at it-- it is also high time for Arlington County to shed good old fashioned political influence peddling and corruption!

by Futurist on Apr 25, 2013 4:26 pm • linkreport

"Could it be that the price was determined by the USG to be over $300m? "

it could be, but alas, its not. thats a misstatement of what FTA said.

"If we are going to go 19th century "

Autos were invented in the 19th century. buses before than, but diesel powered buses not till 1920, so missing the 19th century by a couple of decades.

Monorails, OTOH, have been the mode of the future since the mid 20th century - and probably will still be in the mid 21st c.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

Surely going with some sort of vague futuristic transportation option would cost less than a streetcar, which is featured in dozens of cities across the globe.

by drumz on Apr 25, 2013 4:34 pm • linkreport


"While bus lines can easily be re-routed or discontinued, the streetcar represents a permanent investment in the community, something developers really like."

is negated by

"When America was fixated on replacing the streetcar in the 1940s and 50s, it was found that time after time it took about 13-15 buses for every 10 streetcars that they replaced, even though they both operated in mixed traffic."

It is not a permanent investment, as history has shown.

by dml on Apr 25, 2013 4:37 pm • linkreport

Those sound like a lot of baseless charges, Futurist. Care to back them up? I don't think you can, which is the problem with a number of anti-transit activists. First, you misstate what the FTA actually said. Then you call it a trolley, which it is not, ignoring that modern streetcars are no throwback but a 21st century transit solution that is being embraced by more and more communities, including nearby DC and Alexandria. And Arlington County, by any measure, has one of the least corrupt, most trustworthy group of public officials anywhere. Your defamatory charge is beneath you and the beneath the many fine people in public office and on our citizen commissions who work very hard to make Arlington a great community that values good government.

by Jason on Apr 25, 2013 4:38 pm • linkreport

This rebuttal just reinforces the Ms. Garvey is absolutely right. Streetcars are faster than buses because they have better acceleration? Please.

The author criticizes Ms. Garvey's capacity comparison as having no relevance to Columbia Pike, then compares the capacity of the Toronto streetcar to the Orange Line Busway in California. Really??? How, exactly, does the Orange Line Busway have any relevance to Columbia Pike? It has no relevance whatsoever. However, high capacity bus routes, operating in similar environments to Columbia Pike, are absolutely relevant to Columbia Pike.

The author also states that Portland is a "proven catalyst" for development in Portland. Huh?? Perhaps he has not read the National Academies synthesis of the studies on this issue, which found that development in Portland likely would have occurred "irrespective of the streetcar." No causal relationship found. Even the Portland Development Commission indicated that "it is difficult to single out the streetcar as a key factor in the downtown’s success.” That's right. The Portland Development Commission does not think the streetcar was key to Portland's development success. So much for Portland being a "proven catalyst."

Finally, the author states that Portland ridership has held up pretty well. Really??? It is down 13% since its peak in 2010, despite opening the eastside extension, which nearly doubled the number of track miles. Moreover, the Fareless Square was eliminated in 2012, long after ridership started declining.

I'm guessing the streetcar folks must be feeling pretty desperate after being disqualified for Small Starts funding, if this is the best rebuttal they can conjure up.

by TransitRider on Apr 25, 2013 4:56 pm • linkreport

@drumz: I'd assumed - based on no real knowledge - that Pentagon City is the preferred endpoint because it avoids getting into a huge wrangle with the Military. "Streetcar? How can you secure *THAT*!?" The fact that the Pentagon is already a bus hub probably won't help - they'd probably never allow it to be set up these days.

@dml: Permanent for some values of permanent. A bus route can be changed to tomorrow at (relatively) little cost without sacrificing much installed infrastructure. Removing a streetcar is a much more significant decision. Certainly it can happen but it'll get a lot more attention and thought than changing a bus route.

by Distantantennas on Apr 25, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

yes, id say its held up well. Went up a huge amount, then declined some, and now seems to be going back up

http://www.portlandstreetcar.org/node/28

without employment and other numbers, hard to say whats driving the minor decrease.

by national academies, do you mean TRB? This?

"Staff perspective, shared by many other planners and economic development practitioners in Portland, is that it is difficult to single out the streetcar as a key factor in the downtown’s success; rather it is one among a host of urban amenities creating the conditions for success."

I would say that is SUPPORTIVE of the role of the street car. Your cherrypicked paraphrase is misleading. Of course on Col Pike the street car will NOT be the ONLY element - there will be a form based code, public amenities, improved streetscape, etc. PikeRail will be ONE element, as in Portland.

I sometimes see posts from street car adversaries, and wonder if they are in fact street car proponents, trying to undermine the street car adversaries by posting dishonest arguments against the street car.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

Why on the 21st century would think of building a light rail system without dedicated ROW completely beats me. It makes no sense whatsoever.

by Miguel on Apr 25, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

Jason, to quote Lawrence Lessig: "The great threat to our republic today comes not from the hidden bribery of the Guilded Age....The great threat today is instead in plain sight. It is the economy of influence now transparent to all, which has normalized a process that draws our democracy away from the will of the people...." Arlington does have a good record (aside from the odd $40m pet projects of Board friends) and losing our cherished Arlington Way through stong-arm politics would be a greater loss than blowing $249,999,999.99 any well-intentioned if mind-numbingly short-sighted project. Jason, believe me brother, I have no ax to grind whatsoever and I don't even care about the taxes. I hate fossil fuel dependence too and believe that Alfred P. Sloan is roasting in hell for tearing out the trolley lines, but we just can't go back there. For safety reasons, traffic, and the fact that the funds can serve the people (and not consultants) better in other ways. My concerns are: 1) influence peddling; 2) resulting in a the wrong decision. As a futurist, I have to tell you that those streetcars would have been an expensive, dangerous obstruction, just like they are in Austin, where they sit idle, an expensive and embarrassing wart on an otherwise navigable downtown. In the future context, they would have made even less sense and would have been even more of an obstruction.

by Futurist on Apr 25, 2013 5:26 pm • linkreport

"Why on the 21st century would think of building a light rail system without dedicated ROW completely beats me. It makes no sense whatsoever. "

theres no place on the Pike for a dedicated ROW for either a bus or LRT. There isnt enough money for an underground metro line. This is most serious option for increasing the demand AND capacity of transit on the pike.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2013 5:31 pm • linkreport

@Futurist

You still haven't proposed any alternatives. You hate fossil fuel dependence but don't care to do anything about it? I guess we'll just carry on with the 19th century automobile then.

by MLD on Apr 25, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

Why is a dedicated ROW just such a complete nonstarter here?

by andrew on Apr 25, 2013 6:00 pm • linkreport

VDOT won't give up the road space, and the cost to condemn the private property to widen the total ROW is too high (even at current densities, its fairly built up) Thats my understanding.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2013 6:08 pm • linkreport

@andrew

There simply is no space. Columbia Pike has two lanes in each direction. A dedicated RoW would halve capacity to Arlington's southern arterial road to something more akin to a neighborhood street. Not an option.

by ImThat1Guy on Apr 25, 2013 6:24 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity: There is a place for a dedicated ROW if the area is willing to consider an elevated solution. Unfortunately, however, they are not.

My one real complaint with the Columbia Pike streetcar is that it most likely blocks a Metrorail extension if and when the money is found for such a project - which, to be fair, very well might be "never."

by Ryan on Apr 25, 2013 7:30 pm • linkreport

AWalkerinTheCity:

You have the right report, although there was nothing misleading about how I characterized it. According to the report, the Portland Development Commission did say that you cannot conclude that the streetcar was a key factor in the development of Portland. I did not say that it was not a factor at all. The truth is that no one knows whether it was a factor or not and, if it was, to what extent it contributed.

For example, the report says that there were a host of reasons for development in Portland, including: (1) "an extensive light rail system (also traversing the downtown), (2) the Fareless Square (free bus, light rail, and streetcar in the downtown), (3) extensive streetscape improvements, (4) substantial allowable density, (5) fine-tuned parking regulations, (5) strong design guidelines and review, and a host of financial incentives offered by the Portland Development Commission (e.g., (6) land writedowns,
subsidies for affordable housing, (7) loans and grants
for economic development, and (8) façade improvements)."

That's at least 8 factors, in addition to the streetcar. So, please tell me, what was the percentage contribution of the streetcar to development? Was it 1%, 5%, 10%? Maybe it was 0%. I would think that the zoning, financial incentives, and other factors were much stronger motivators, especially since the area was already served by MAX.

That's why, if you keep reading the report, the Hovee study concluded that all of these factors likely resulted in the development "irrespective of the streetcar." In other words, the streetcar's influence was marginal, at best, and probably negligible, it it existed at all.

That's also why the author of the rebuttal to Ms. Garvey was highly misleading when he said that Portland streetcar was a "proven catalyst" of development in Portland. It has not been proven and, indeed, the report we are both citing obviously questions whether it had a role at all, or at least a meningful one.

Finally, I don't need to be dishonest to discredit the streetcar. It's doing a fine job of discrediting itself.

by TransitRider on Apr 25, 2013 8:05 pm • linkreport

How many units times cost do you need of bus vs streetcar to make a comparison? I would like to know that, then you're free to make additional arguments.

by andy on Apr 25, 2013 9:34 pm • linkreport

So we don't know if Portland streetcar alone brought development. That's fine, it's just one city anyway and we can still reasonably infer that some development on Columbia pike could happen because of the streetcar.

Meanwhile streetcars still hold a number of intrinsic advantages over buses so its still smart from a strictly transportation perspective and will do a better job supporting growth on Columbia pike than a bus only option regardless of why that growth is happening.

by Drumz on Apr 25, 2013 9:35 pm • linkreport

Sigh. The original op-ed has a lot of grounds to rebut on, thanks to making several logical fallacies. Unfortunately, the rebuttal here also makes many of those same fallacies.

There are two egregious fallacies here. The first is that she is comparing the results of building the streetcar with the current status quo, not with the no-build alternative, and thus concludes that no-build is superior to streetcar. I don't have hard numbers to make claims on what those would look like, so I won't venture a guess there.

The other, worse, fallacy (which is also committed by the rebuttal here) is comparing apples to oranges. The telltale sign is use of the surprisingly vague term "best" streetcars and "best" buses. Without specific examples, it is not clear that the comparisons are fair. What is in the cards for the Columbia Pike is a non-dedicated right-of-way, so all comparisons should be to those options. Mentioning Cleveland's bus rapid transit (dedicated right of way) or Toronto's streetcars (whose highest passenger/km lines, and arguably "best" ones, are dedicated right-of-way) in comparison is a bait-and-switch.

Another point of contention is in how she says that "the best streetcars carry a fraction of the highest-capacity busses" (wow, even changing qualifiers mid-sentence; cherry-picking our data are we?). Again, without specific examples, it's hard to tell what's being compared. The naive count is to just measure ridership and call it day. A fairer comparison is to note ridership per mile (which is how I compared TTC streetcars earlier). The fairest comparison would take into account factors such as stop density, overall system interconnectedness, population and employment densities, etc., to really make sure that the comparisons are fair. However, no one is going to do that much work, so the next best options is to compare lines that are in as similar situations as possible, which neither the original op-ed nor this rebuttal does.

by Joshua Cranmer on Apr 25, 2013 10:03 pm • linkreport

Luckily we have the alternatives analysis done by the county that looked at what was likely to happen with either enhance bus service or streetcar service and found that the streetcar will better handle the capacity that is anticipated and this justifies a higher capital cost.

by Drumz on Apr 25, 2013 10:07 pm • linkreport

The only comparison made to Toronto is that the Toronto plan to get rid of streetcars found you needed 40% more buses to replace them.

This is what every city in America found when they got rid of streetcars.

Glen seriously knows what he is talking about, he has decades of transit experience. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by MLD on Apr 25, 2013 10:34 pm • linkreport

The capacity of the largest articulated buses currently used by WMATA and the streetcar proposed by Arlington in the FTA application have a nearly identical rider capacity (+/-1). Longer streetcars aren't a viable option due to the gap between streets along the Pike.

Further, in a non-dedicated right of way system, buses will *always* be more reliable than streetcars because they can change lanes/routes when traffic/water main breaks/accidents require it (as many buses do today on Columbia Pike).

Any wonky urbanist should know that there is plenty of data to support the idea that there is an emerging generation of people that aren't afraid of the bus; rather than spending half a billion dollars trying in vain to get boomer suburbanites "out of their cars," a much better approach in a re-developing area inside the Beltway is to build mutli-family housing with fewer parking spaces and invest in multiple reliable, frequent bus routes that take people to the places they want to go.

Even in places with arguably successful streetcar corridors, those metro areas didn't have existing transit-centered development (like Dupont or Clarendon) to compete with - comparing the Pike to Portland or Cincinnati just isn't apples-to-apples. If you want to live in a transit-centered place in those towns, the streetcar corridor is it. Not so in this region.

Does the Pike need the streetcar to develop? GGW contributor Canaan Merchant writes "regardless of whether the streetcar is built or not...overall market pressures on the entire region and the desire to live both closer to work and in more urban settings..." will lead to more people wanting to live along Columbia Pike. Inadvertently, Canaan makes the best arguments for investing in affordable, reliable, quick bus service that Arlington so desperately needs and deserves, rather than handouts to the developers seeking to juice their returns on car-centric development along the Pike.

by Peter Piker on Apr 25, 2013 11:02 pm • linkreport

Well, that argument that I made was that if you oppose the streetcar because you'll think it'll erode affordable housing in the area then you'll be delighted to know what Arlington has planned.

Meanwhile I think it's ok for me to want to see a Columbia pike streetcar AND robust bus service that can serve residents living in buildings that doesn't have that much parking because it really isn't needed. I think the county is capable of handling all of those things.

by Canaan on Apr 26, 2013 12:34 am • linkreport

"While bus lines can easily be re-routed or discontinued, the streetcar represents a permanent investment in the community, something developers really like."

If streetcars are so permanent than why dont we still have them from 50/60 years ago

Name some major bus routes that have been re-routed or discontinued ?

The only time you had significant re-routing of buses was when Penn Ave was closed in front of the White House and around the Capitol after 9/11

The 30's are basically the same

The X's have changed over the years but the portion between 13th Street NW and Minnesota Ave NE has never changed for the X2, The other routes X1, X4, X5, X6, old X9 are another story

The 70's have been cut in half but that could also be done with a streetcar route

The 80's are mostly the same except for where some have been split in half, which can be done with a streetcar

The 90's have actually gotten extended over the years

by kk on Apr 26, 2013 2:41 am • linkreport

If the tracks are not on isolated lanes then these large vehicles will travel with the traffic and be subject to the impediments of traffic flow we all know well. If they are then to have overhead lines that impacts the characters of the entire place. If they do accelerate and decelerate much faster than buses then they will be less responsive to incidents in front and more susceptible to rear end hits. If the vehicles will have more entrances than the stops will be much longer. If the vehicles are very long findings blocks long enough to berth them at stops while staying away from street intersections will be complicated. If they are electric some people won’t hear them and if they make extra noise so people hear them the condo canyons probably planned for that pike will resound with the noise all day and night. While the tracks and overhead lines and stops are constructed the mom and pop businesses will likely close. Hybrid busses and nice (not nutty) stops are a much safer bet.

by AndrewJ on Apr 26, 2013 7:24 am • linkreport

Since there are not a lot of conservative rail buffs any more, it would be great to hear the broader case for how Pat Buchanan and friends have come to supporting streetcars funded by the US government, and how that fits within the thinking of the Republican party.

by JimT on Apr 26, 2013 7:50 am • linkreport

"The streetcar has greater acceleration and deceleration rates than diesel buses. This means that the streetcar can and does travel faster than the bus."

Really? This kind of ridiculous comments is how people lobby for a street car. I am for the street car but am embarrased at justifications like this, and many others above.

by Streetcar on Apr 26, 2013 8:33 am • linkreport

Really? This kind of ridiculous comments is how people lobby for a street car. I am for the street car but am embarrased at justifications like this, and many others above.

Do people just not understand physics?

It's the same reason pointed out in a GGW article a few days ago about DMUs and EMUs vs locmotive-hauled commuter rail. The service is faster because stops take less time because vehicles take less time accelerating and decelerating and more time at higher speeds.

I'm not sure why this is so "ridiculous" to some people.

by MLD on Apr 26, 2013 8:50 am • linkreport

The people arguing about the idea that busses can bring as much development is such a non-starter.

@kk

You are opposed, thats fine. But to say that streetcars wont bring more development is ridiculous. My wife and I currently live in DC, but her company is moving to Tysons (Intelsat) and I am looking to start a business with family that would likely be Northern Virginia based. With streetcar, we would look at Columbia Pike area. Without, it is just bus lines, and no chance are we going to make a large investment by purchasing a home there.

by Kyle-w on Apr 26, 2013 9:12 am • linkreport

Luckily we have the alternatives analysis done by the county that looked at what was likely to happen with either enhance bus service or streetcar service and found that the streetcar will better handle the capacity that is anticipated and this justifies a higher capital cost.

This is what frustrates me most about the general anti- perspective on any sort of development effort, whether it's a streetcar, a subway, etc. It's not like the county just pulled things out of a golden bucket of magic suppositions and the one they grabbed first said "Streetcars!" AoAs and CBAs of some sort are a major contributor towards how funding decisions are made in nearly every single (successful) organization of scale in both the public and private sector. Process! Process is good!

by worthing on Apr 26, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

The capacity of the largest articulated buses currently used by WMATA and the streetcar proposed by Arlington in the FTA application have a nearly identical rider capacity (+/-1).

On page 10 of the county's alternatives analysis the county predicted that at peak capacity the streetcar will be able to handle 150 more people per hour than the TSM-2 alternative. FTA then said that they reccommed a larger vehicle than the one Arlington looked at to provide more capacity. Streetcar capacity is a lot more than articulated bus capacity.

http://www.columbiapikeva.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/3-Transportation-Conditions.pdf

by drumz on Apr 26, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

There is room, the street could be widened. Elevated is another option. Both would make the project much more expensive. It is probably more feasible to do it as a street car and then later try to make the pike 6 lanes wide.

by Richard Bourne on Apr 26, 2013 9:57 am • linkreport

@Ryan - I would love to see a Metro rail extension, but I don't think a Columbia Pike streetcar necessarily blocks that, any more than a K Street streetcar blocks a future separated Blue Line through downtown. A Metro line under Columbia Pike would not just stop there and serve Pike residents, but would presumably go to points well south of Arlington and provide better transit to places like the Mark Center. In fact, it could be part of a strategy to separate the Blue line from the Yellow Line -- Franconia could become a station on the new line rather than having to meet up with the Yellow Line in Alexandria. Metro and streetcar serve somewhat different uses, with the latter ideally being a more local system for short trips.

by Mike on Apr 26, 2013 10:03 am • linkreport

To the antis, in what situations would you say that a streetcar w/o dedicated ROW would be better than a bus w/o ROW? Or, are you implying that a streetcar never has a better cost/benefit than a bus for any situation ever? Because, if there was ever a place where a streetcar would be a good idea, CP would seem to be it. If streetcars w/o ROW are simply a bad idea in all situations, why are so many cities building them?

Also, I don't understand the argument that Arlington is only building the streetcars because developers want it but streetcars have no affect on development. If that was the case, why would developers be pushing for streetcars? You would think they would be indifferent if it had no affect on development.

by Falls Church on Apr 26, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation?? Holy oxymoron Batman! What manner of fiendish scheme is this?

by Chris S. on Apr 26, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

"Also, I don't understand the argument that Arlington is only building the streetcars because developers want it but streetcars have no affect on development."

The argument is made that fiendish developers will raise rents, which will be paid by silly trolly loving hipsters, enriching the landlords. This will not lead to more units being built however, because thats just not how housing is built in the real world, dont you know? THEY keep the supply at want they want it to be to maximise profits.

No it doesnt make sense to me either (it does vaguely resemble a model of a perfect monopolist, setting Q = to a profit maximizing point that does not change with a shift in the demand curve - but in the absence of such a monopolist, or a cartel that behaves like one, it falls apart)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 26, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

MLD,

It is ridiuclous because no one is going to spend hundreds of millions in a cost premium on a streetcar system over a similar bus system because it "accelerates better". It sounds inane and just provides fodder for anti's. What is the next awesome reason to build it, because it is "shinier" than buses?

I mean, its stuck in regular traffic as it is. There is not going to be any inherent benefit to its acceleration. I don't care if it goes off the line like a ferrari, it will be estuck in the same traffic everyone else is.

by Streetcar on Apr 26, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

I want an article like this in the Washington Post. We need to go toe-to-toe with the BS flowing from AST and their sock puppet, Libby.

by South Awwlington on Apr 26, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

It is ridiuclous because no one is going to spend hundreds of millions in a cost premium on a streetcar system over a similar bus system because it "accelerates better"
It's one of a bunch of reasons why streetcars would be better. Faster service means cheaper to operate service as you can squeeze extra runs in the same amount of time. Those seconds at each stop add up to a lot over the course of an entire day of service.

What is the next awesome reason to build it, because it is "shinier" than buses?
If that means more people will ride it, then yes of course that is a valid reason. You don't think the appearance or comfort of the vehicle has any effect whatsoever? Should we just go back to hulking rattling buses that spew black smoke everywhere, if they're cheaper then who cares?

by MLD on Apr 26, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

@MLD,

Good points. We seem to have lost something in modern-day America. When you travel out to rural county seats, inevitably there's a town square with a courthouse with columns, maybe a statue. Nowadays any politician who dared erect such a public building would be tarred and feathered.

After all, it would be a waste of money, and a betrayal of the public trust. Much better to cram your public services into a Quanset hut and give the money back to the taxpayers.

by oboe on Apr 26, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

It is ridiuclous because no one is going to spend hundreds of millions in a cost premium on a streetcar system over a similar bus system because it "accelerates better".

No is spending money on a streetcar because of that in Arlington either.

The Streetcar is being built because (taken from the County)

"Offer greater capacity and increase transit demand in the heavily traveled corridor,
Improve travel time and reduce congestion along the Pike,
Serve as a natural extension of the Metro transit corridors, and
Have a stronger positive effect on economic development than buses."

Now, why bring up acceleration? Because critics are somehow enamored with the idea that the streetcar will be "slow" and thus not worth it and that buses will be faster. As you point out, the traffic will be the same (except more people filling less vehicles in a streetcar) so that's a moot point, and now its not even factually correct based on what was said in the article.

by drumz on Apr 26, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

Streetcars faster than busses? Umm, no. Even the County Board and the "Streetcars Now" folks admit that the top speed of the streetcar is ... a whopping 9.7 miles per hour. Given the relative traffic on Columbia Pike at rush hour, however, that would seem fast. If only it weren't for all those darn cars. And accidents. And stop lights. And water main breaks.

by Leiford on Apr 26, 2013 2:55 pm • linkreport

Even the County Board and the "Streetcars Now" folks admit that the top speed of the streetcar is ... a whopping 9.7 miles per hour.

[citation needed]

Certainly the only answer to the mobility issues on the Pike is MOAR CARS.

by MLD on Apr 26, 2013 3:02 pm • linkreport

Nothing like a good old streetcar-vs-bus debate to liven up a Friday afternoon.

I am so tired of this type of comment thread, where everyone is an expert and seem to know facts that also seem to contradict the facts known by others.

Streetcar is a redevelopment tool, transit priority is a transportation tool. Let's all just acknowledge this fact and move on. You want to move people AND do redevelopment, put your streetcar in a dedicated lane. If you want to move people, put them on buses that can navigate around delays. If you want redevelop, just put the tracks in the ground and they will come: you don't even need to run the service, apparently.

Streetcar vs bus is like Apple vs Blue. They are two solutions to two different problems, and arguing over the mode misses the opportunity to argue over which problem you're trying to solve.

by recyclist on Apr 26, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

@Leiford

Yes congestion and lights slow everything down on Columbia pike and it's only going to get worse with inevitable growth. Right now when I take the bus from Jefferson to Pentagon it almost never takes less than 30 minutes to go those 3.8 miles. So actually buses are slower according to the stat you’re quoting.

All those accidents, cars and lights apply to buses and the fake-BRT just as much. It's bogus to claim (by Libby-ista's) that buses can magically overtake a mile worth of traffic caused by an accident or whatever. They will sit in traffic and what their due turn just like everyone else.

by Tom on Apr 26, 2013 5:20 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or

Support Us

How can our region be greater?

DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC