Greater Greater Washington

With its biggest supporter gone, will the Arlington streetcar stay on track?

One of the Columbia Pike streetcar's biggest supporters has been Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman. Now that he's stepping down, who takes his place could have a big impact on the project's future.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Of the four candidates running to replace Zimmer­man in a special election this spring, one is opposed to the streetcar between Bailey's Crossroads and Pentagon City, while three others haven't shown strong support or opposition to it. But they are raising concerns about the streetcar's cost and the county's ability to manage projects like the million-dollar "Super Stop" and Long Bridge Aquatic Park, whose cost estimates are rising.

Meanwhile, streetcar supporters are gearing up to defend the embattled project. A study the county commissioned on the streetcar's economic benefits is due soon, and officials have yet to decide if it will once again seek federal funding to build it.

Streetcar looms over upcoming special election

One candidate for Zimmerman's seat, independent John Vihstadt, has already come out firmly against the streetcar project, citing it as one reason to break up Democratic Party control of the board. Vihstadt is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, an anti-streetcar group, and has the support of Libby Garvey, the sole streetcar opponent on the county board.

None of the three candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination at its caucus in January have indicated their position on the streetcar. Alan Howze comes the closest, listing endorsements from many streetcar supporters on his website, including board member Jay Fisette and retired State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple who penned a pro-streetcar op-ed back in April.

Meanwhile, candidate Peter Fallon notes on his website that the county must support both transit and driving. And the third Democrat, Cord Thomas, recently told ARLnow that he wants more analysis before deciding on whether he supports the streetcar or not.

The Democrats' reluctance to support the streetcar suggests that while Arlington is generally known for aggressive investments in transportation, the party base may be reconsidering its priorities. But a streetcar on Columbia Pike has been in discussion for years, and it's hard to believe that a politically active person in Arlington doesn't have specific opinions about it. And candidates only have a few weeks to make their views known before the caucus.

Tejada responds to critics

Sitting board members are continuing Zimmerman's push for the streetcar. Chairman Walter Tejada recently wrote an op-ed defending the streetcar in the Washington Post. He responded to specific criticisms made by Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, particularly about the project's estimated $310 million cost.

Tejada noted that that figure includes streetscape improvements, new bus stops, and burying utilities, things that would benefit everyone traveling on Columbia Pike, whether or not they are on a streetcar. He also explained why AST's proposed alternative, Bus Rapid Transit in a dedicated lane, wouldn't work on Columbia Pike due to a limited road width and the Virginia Department of Transportation's requirement that there remain four general travel lanes.

But he focuses on the biggest advantage of streetcars over buses: the ability to carry more people over time. "The bottom line is not difficult to grasp: Streetcars have up to 100 percent more capacity than buses and attract more riders," Tejada writes. "Providing more capacity on fewer vehicles and substituting streetcars for some bus routes will minimize the impact of expanded public transit on the street network, allowing other modes of travel, including cars, to continue to move freely."

County waiting on new study

In September, Arlington commissioned a new study on the streetcar's capacity and its return on investment, with the results due any day now. It will likely influence whether the county tries to secure funding from the FTA's New Starts program after it was rejected for funds from FTA's Small Starts program back in April.

The county is making decisions for other aspects of the Columbia Pike corridor as well. Officials recently approved an affordable housing plan which allows for tax increment financing and the transfer of development rights, which could preserve and increase the amount of affordable housing in the corridor.

Next year, streetcar service will begin in DC. Arlington could soon follow, but only if current and aspiring county officials fully commit to it.

Canaan Merchant was born and raised in Powhatan, Virginia and attended George Mason University where he studied English. He became interested in urban design and transportation issues when listening to a presentation by Jeff Speck while attending GMU. He lives in Falls Church.  

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It's interesting that DC is now a leader regional leader when it comes to building public transportation infrastructure. wouldn't it be great if Arlington could literally meet the District halfway?

by Randall M. on Jan 2, 2014 10:23 am • linkreport

Wait, AST seriously thinks that we can fit a bidirectional, dedicated lane BRT system on the Pike? I thought that was just a talking point to deceive people... do these people even live in Arlington? It just doesn't work.

by ImThat1Guy on Jan 2, 2014 10:44 am • linkreport

The most fraudulent opposition to the streetcar comes from opponents who say "We can't afford a streetcar, we should be spending money on education!" A) Arlington is one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country with one of the lowest tax rates in the state - it can afford to do both and more. B) We're supposed to believe that if this austerity crowd crushes the streetcar after an extended "we can't afford any nice things" campaign, they'll turn around and flood schools with funds?

by Miles Grant on Jan 2, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

To me the burden of proof is on the streetcar supporters that this will be a beneficial investment. Without a dedicated right of way, why would this perform better than a bus? To me Tejada doesn't answer that question. All I see is a bunch of preaching to the choir.

I guess I don't really care but I do find it notable that Alexandria is not planning to build streetcars on the Rt. 1 Transitway. What does Alexandria know that Arlington doesn't? Or is it really the other way around?

by movement on Jan 2, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport

1. What it adds is A. More capacity B. More inducement to development C. Possibly attracts more transit riders (this last is a matter of dispute)

2. Alexandria's plan, IIUC, is to start with buses on the CCPY transitway, and then to examine change to rail at a later point. Among other reasons could be a sense of less imminent need for greater capacity on the Alexandria end of CCPY, and a different approach to development. also that Alexandria wants to focus on the new infill metro station. I'm not sure how any of those issues plays WRT to Columbia Pike, which unlike CCPY, will not be in seperate ROW.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 11:14 am • linkreport

@ Randall M:It's interesting that DC is now a leader regional leader when it comes to building public transportation infrastructure.

Really? I thought the Silver Line was being built in Fairfax and Loudoun. And the Purple Line in PG and MoCo. Those are many miles longer than the few miles of streetcar (and bike lane) that DC has produced recently. Sure, DC has plans for many more, but plans are just that: plans. The miles of expansion are being built outside DC.

by Jasper on Jan 2, 2014 11:14 am • linkreport

@movement - This performs better because it carries more people vs buses.

Alexandria is leaving itself open to run streetcars in its BRT lanes once the demand is there for it (and the money).

by JDC on Jan 2, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

As for burden, there was already an econ analysis done, and apparently it will be revisited for the New Starts application. Hopefully it will address, among other things, the portions of the investment that would be needed anyway even if the Pike did not get rail, as well as more directly addressing mode share and capacity issues.

@jasper - the Purple line is not yet under construction.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

The county's alternatives analysis found that the increase in investment along the corridor justified the higher cost of the streetcar vs. a higher capacity bus.

http://www.columbiapikeva.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/LPA_Report_7-16-12.pdf

WRT to Alexandria, the reasoning I remember at the time was that they felt they were taking on too much by planning both the Potomac yard station and a streetcar alternative and opted to build lanes for buses now and elect to switch to street car operations in the future if need be.

by Canaan on Jan 2, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

"Streetcars have up to 100 percent more capacity than buses..." -Walter Tejada

This is either massively disingenuous or a bold-faced lie (take your pick). The streetcar vehicle described in the County's planning documents has a nearly identical capacity to the largest articulted buses in the current WMATA fleet. Comparing today's standard buses with the streetcar isn't apples-to-apples, as most streetcar critics (inlcuding AST, whose criticism Mr. Tejada was replying to) accept the need to upgrade from the tranit status quo along Columbia Pike (and note that today's regular Metrobuses would continue to run up and down the Pike under the Board's streetcar scheme).

Which begs the question - if Mr. Tejada has to rely on lies and readily disputable talking points (the "ridership" claim is based on streetcars that replaced infrequent, inconvenient services and fails to include streetcar flops, like Tampa) - what is the purpose of the extra $450+ million for the streetcar over bendy buses?

by Big Bus on Jan 2, 2014 11:40 am • linkreport

A. There is evidence of significant mode preference for rail independent of frequency.

B. Street cars can accommodate more people than even articulated buses.

C. articulated buses are more expensive to buy and maintain than conventional buses, and have shorter service lives than street cars.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 11:45 am • linkreport

here's a chart showing the passenger capacity of a bus, a bendy bus, one streetcar, and one Metrorail car: LINK.

the streetcar isn't double the bendy bus, but it is way higher.

by ballston guy on Jan 2, 2014 11:49 am • linkreport

I'm unconvinced that streetcar would actually have the higher capacity anticipated. Since it would be stuck in the same traffic, it isn't like it would be any faster. Who are these people who would be riding the streetcar that wouldn't ride the bus? I guess what I'm getting at is that I don't really trust the study. There is way too much of a chance of bias.

That said, I'd like to see a good old fashioned debate.

by movement on Jan 2, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

It can be faster since fewer vehicles are needed to move the same amount of people. But faster isn't really what the streetcar is allowed to compete on here since a dedicated lane isn't in the cards (because the county would need permission from VDOT and doesn't want to try and seek that for whatever reason). Speed is one consideration sure, but it's not the make or break one for this project here.

So then the things left to compete on is capacity (check) and the greater economic return (check: people like streetcars and will pay more to live near one. So they will choose a streetcar over a bus. There are myriad reasons for this but it exists all the same).

by Canaan on Jan 2, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

"Who are these people who would be riding the streetcar that wouldn't ride the bus?"

I'll be brave enough to admit that I am one of those people. I'm a bit of an elitist that doesn't really deserve to be at all elitist. I gladly and enthusiastically take Amtrak, I used Metro when it was better for my commute, and so on. But there's something about getting on a bus that's just...ew.

I can't imagine I'm unique at all.

by Another Nick on Jan 2, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

movement

the increased capacity comes from increased capacity per vehicle.

The study actually reflected a smaller mode preference for rail than many people think is the case, since FTA limits that for studies like this. The source of the preference is debatable - some attribute it to bus stigma, some to ride quality.

Incremental impact on development may be due to the permanence of high volume transit - but it may also have to do with the aesthetics of rail vs frequent articulated bus service.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

I ride express buses regularly, and local buses occasionally. Noise is an issue that would be better on a street car (though presumably an electric bus would be a match - but the proposed articulated bus alternative is not electric, IIUC). Some have side ride quality is better - I do not always find ride quality pleasant on buses - I have not ridden a street car recently, and cannot speak to its ride quality.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

Someone a year or so ago posted on ARLNOW, and I can’t seem to find it but it painted a pretty stark picture as to the actual life cycle costs of a streetcar versus additional buses. Without its own dedicated ROW, there is no additional benefit.

It incorporated the assumption that the rolling stock would last 40 years, and that Metro rebuilds its buses every 7 years for a 14 year life span. With the infrastructure needed, the expense of new street cars, maintenance facilities etc, factored in to the cost of buying enough new articulated buses to match capacity, adjusting for inflation, cost of the bonds/debt to build and farebox recovery assumptions it etc, the posters long detailed post figured it was a 55-60 year breakeven point (cost wise) for heavy additional cost of street cars.

Even with the proposed pie in the sky numbers of the additional tax dollars from additional development the County is using (the corridor seems to be pretty hot all on its own), that only brought down the breakeven point 12 to 15 years. So, best case scenario, assuming all the rolling stock lasts as long as it is supposed to, there aren’t any cost over runs (in the County of million dollar bus stops, I doubt it) and the highly “aggressive” development projections are hit, it takes 40 years for the streetcar to break even.

If Arlington was putting it in its own ROW, that would be one thing, but there is absolutely nothing this streetcar is proposed to do that buying a couple extra buses can’t match, and with a best case scenario of a 40 year pay off, this is nothing more than a ridiculous fool’s errand.

by CPiker on Jan 2, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

I recall an analysis, it was posted on ArlingtonTroll.com, that showed the street car would have a payback of 5 years. Too bad I can't find a link to it.

by LinksAreNeeded on Jan 2, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

There is no way it is going to get built without Chris. Too much opposition and it costs too damn much. I give this thing a one in ten chance of breaking ground in the next 20 years.

by Huh on Jan 2, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

The Columbia Pike trolley is all about development. If you want more development and its resultant environmental degradation, you should support the trolley. If you don't, you should oppose it.
Some people refuse to take buses, but might take trolleys. This is a personal and cultural preference. It is not a valid reason to support a trolley.

Commuter rail is all about promoting development and degrading the environment. Don't ever forget it when you see your trees and open spaces and distant views disappear near rail lines.

It happened with Metro's Orange Line. It will happen with Maryland's Purple Line, Virginia's Silver Line and Columbia Pike's trolleys.

by Realist on Jan 2, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

Some people refuse to take buses, but might take trolleys. This is a personal and cultural preference. It is not a valid reason to support a trolley.

Why not? Government (and the private sector for that matter) is meant to serve the people (see: Gettysburg Address). Not tell the people what they're supposed to want. The customer (or citizen as the case may be) should be king.

by Falls Church on Jan 2, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

CPiker,

Are you forecasting a nuclear holocaust that would wipe Arlington off the map? Not sure why a 40-year investment is intrinsically bad.

by JDS32 on Jan 2, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

Considering the surge in bus versus rail ridership the past ~5 years in this town, I think it is pretty clear that "people don't like to ride buses" justification is no longer useful.

by Huh on Jan 2, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

More development on Col pike means less on the edge of the metro area - ergo, less enviro degradation. Denser places produce less GHGs, preserve rural land, and are thus better for the environment.

As for the preference for rail, it may be for better ride quality. Or it may be something else. In either case, it means fewer people in cars, if you build what attracts more riders.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 2:22 pm • linkreport

I dont think its a matter of people just not liking to ride buses, but whether more people will use transit if its in the form of rail.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

The lack of dedicated right-of-way for the streetcar is a huge shortcoming in my opinion. It seems that mixing a streetcar along with the high volume of traffic on Columbia Pike would make for a toxic mix, or at least far enough from being optimal that the costs for this project maybe can't be justified.

by Fitz on Jan 2, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity claimed: "More development on Col pike means less on the edge of the metro area - ergo, less enviro degradation. "

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Development near the core of an urban area increases (not decreases) development at the area's edges. Development anywhere in an urban area promotes additional development throughout the entire area.

New development increases area workplaces, residences and population. Many new residents and workers don't live near their workplaces. They commute from somewhere else, often from other recently developed places.

All local jurisdictions, whether near or far from the core, promote their own development. They don't decrease these promotional efforts when development occurs in other jurisdictions.

In first-world nations, the most densely populated central cities invariably have the most extensive suburbs and exurbs. The suburbs and exurbs are often in local jurisdictions outside of the cities. Look at the satellite images and maps of different urban areas throughout the U.S.. and Europe to confirm this universal fact.

by Realist on Jan 2, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

Most of the development planned for Col Pike is residential, and will not draw suburban commuters.

Even office development in Col Pike is likely to mean less in peripheral areas where it would otherwise go. Total metro area growth is not likely to be slowed by reducing growth on Col Pike.

Some metro areas are less dense. Some are more dense. The denser ones use less land. Metro areas in europe often have very dense center cities, and less extensive suburbs than typical American cities.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

@Realist

So your 'realist' plan is zero/very little economic growth? OK then.

by MLD on Jan 2, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

MLD

even in the unlikely event that not building pike rail meant less development in Metro DC, one expect those people and jobs to end up in other metros, possibly with greater enviro impact. Unless not building Pike Rail would mean a lower birth rate.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 3:13 pm • linkreport

Office development in Columbia Pike will increase (not decrease) residential and office development elsewhere. Some people new to the area will commute to work along the Pike from the suburbs/exurbs. Their spouses/partners will commute to work in other other places, some of which will be further from the core than are their residences.

Many of the people in the many new residential buildings along Columbia Pike will commute to workplaces elsewhere. Some will commute to developing suburbs/exurbs in places like Tyson's Corner, Herndon and further out. Many will drive. These people will increase traffic congestion along the Pike, even as others use the trolley.

As I earlier stated, denser central cities in first-world nations have the largest and most sprawling suburbs/exurbs. One of the best examples (and the most relevant) is the Northeast Corridor, which presently extends from Boston to Northern Virginia. The centers of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington are densely developed. Their edge cities, suburbs/exurbs are spreading outwards, forming a megalopolis that will become completely developed within the foreeeable future. New rail lines will hasten (not delay) this sprawling development.

by Realist on Jan 2, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

Boston, NYC, etc are denser metro areas than many sunbelt metros, because they have transit and high density areas. If they lacked them there would be more sprawl. Look at most sunbelt metros.

If there are fewer people residing on Col Pike, where do you expect them to live instead? Do you believe that the USA and world populations will be smaller?

Also, the prediction of worse congestion has not taken place in the Rosslyn Ballston corridor of North Arlington, which illustrates that increased density can avoid increased congestion. Col Pike may not do that well, but it will still have higher transit share that sprawl areas where development would otherwise go.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

"Some will commute to developing suburbs/exurbs in places like Tyson's Corner, Herndon and further out."

why will they do so, when residential propery is less expensive in places like Herndon?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 3:50 pm • linkreport

Trains make the babies. Not the people.

by drumz on Jan 2, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

@Realist
Office development in Columbia Pike will increase (not decrease) residential and office development elsewhere. Some people new to the area will commute to work along the Pike from the suburbs/exurbs. Their spouses/partners will commute to work in other other places, some of which will be further from the core than are their residences.

OK, and what is the alternative? Those people who would commute to jobs on the Pike or live on the Pike, where do they go in your no-development scenario? Do they just cease to exist?

by MLD on Jan 2, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

Its the choo choo in the tunnel that makes the babies.

by TrainsMakeBabies on Jan 2, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity stated: "Also, the prediction of worse congestion has not taken place in the Rosslyn Ballston corridor of North Arlington, which illustrates that increased density can avoid increased congestion."

Wrong again.

I-66 opened shortly after the Orange Line did in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. I-66 is now far more congested than it was before the corridor's high density development occurred. People living or working in the corridor are contributing to that congestion.

Rush-hour congestion has greatly increased on those streets in Rosslyn and Ballston that are near entrances to I-66. People who live or work in and near these urban centers are causing this congestion. Traffic congestion has also recently increased in Clarendon, which is being redeveloped in an area that is not near an entrance to I-66.

The major reason that traffic congestion has not increased elsewhere in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor is that many people are driving on I-66, rather than on local streets. This may change in the future, when I -66 becomes so congested that many drivers will choose to use alternative routes within the corridor.

Nobody is planning to construct an interstate highway that parallels Columbia Pike. Therefore, the new development planned for the Pike will certainly increase traffic along the Pike, whether or not a trolley exists.

by Realist on Jan 2, 2014 4:47 pm • linkreport

I66 is mostly congested with folks from beyond Ballston. Its hard to beleive any sane driver would get on I66 in preference to the arterials in RB corridor.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 4:54 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity stated: "Boston, NYC, etc are denser metro areas than many sunbelt metros, because they have transit and high density areas. If they lacked them there would be more sprawl. Look at most sunbelt metros."

Boston, NYC, etc. are denser metro areas than many sunbelt metros because their rapid growth began long before the sunbelt metros began to quickly grow. The waves of immigration that expanded and filled the centers of northeastern cities during the 1800's and early 1900's largely bypassed the sunbelt.

This had nothing to do with transit.

Transit began to increase both density and sprawl during the early 1900's in Boston, NYC, etc, Development spread along the trolley, subway and suburban rail lines, creating additional density and sprawl.

This process did not begin in the sunbelt cities until much later. That is the reason that sunbelt cities are still less dense than Boston, NYC, etc.

by Realist on Jan 2, 2014 5:23 pm • linkreport

Many sunebelt metros have larger total populations than Boston. They have lower density because they are auto oriented. The difference had everything to do with transit.

And street car suburbs are denser than auto oriented ones.

Please post this on ArlNow. People need to see the quality of anti street car arguments.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 2, 2014 5:33 pm • linkreport

@Ballston guy - outdated propaganda isn't facts. Modern 62' articulated buses, which Metro has ordered, have a capacity of 116.

http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/docs/metrofacts.pdf

That's comparable to modern streetcars like Arlington plans to use.

by More Truth on Jan 2, 2014 9:00 pm • linkreport

I would like to know what do people think are the real world benefits of streetcar vs bus to the people that are riding the bus now and maybe riding the streetcar in the future.

Will there be less traffic stopping the streetcar vs the bus
Will the Streetcar run more often than the bus
Will the Streetcar run earlier/later than the bus
Will the fare of the Streetcar be more or less than the bus
Will the same trip take less time on a streetcar (point to point including walking etc from current stops to closest Streetcar stops)

Everyone saying a streetcar can carry more people that does not help the riders that helps the operators what are the benefits for the riders.

by kk on Jan 2, 2014 9:30 pm • linkreport

More Truth,

The county's Alternative Analysis looked at articulated buses as well and found that the streetcar alternative still carried more people. That couple with the greater investment along the corridor is why the county picked the streetcar. Table 5.2 breaks down the capacity measure.

http://www.columbiapikeva.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Chapter-5.pdf

kk,

More capacity means less need for buses which can mean less bunching.
The streetcar is expected to arrive every 6 minutes during rush hour.
Operating hours haven't been determined but the bus runs pretty late.
Fare hasn't been determined but its likely that it'll be same since it's running the same routes.

Also, a streetcar doesn't need as much room for its wheel wells or diesel engine. Meaning a lower floor and much easier boarding for disabled passengers. Braking and acceleration are also smoother on rail.

In short: there are many advantages to riders beyond just capacity.

http://www.columbiapikeva.us/streetcar-transit/columbia-pike-streetcar-faqs/

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

by canaan on Jan 2, 2014 9:59 pm • linkreport

@ Canaan

You still didnt answer my question what is something that can be said that is 100% better due to streetcar than bus in all circumstances be it in the USA or abroad. Many things are possible in ideal circumstances but in real world cases that is not true and many things could happen that also effect buses or the riders.

Traffic, accidents, passenger issues, street closing (how does the streetcar get around that buses can detour)

The expected arrival of every 6 minutes cannot be assured due to it not running on a separate track.

Lower floor is not of importance to 85 % of riders, most buses nowdays also have low floors so that is not Streetcar specific.

With the spacing out of streetcar stops the bus will be better for some riders without a doubt as can be seen with Metrobus Express so riders are not going to the stops served by it so it doesn't help them one bit.

by kk on Jan 2, 2014 10:31 pm • linkreport

Well I don't know how to quite quantify as 100% better. But those are all things that give an advantage to streetcars over buses for riders.

Sure a bus can change lanes but I've been stuck in traffic on a bus plenty of times to know that a bus (especially an articulated one) is much better suited for zipping around obstacles. And it can't break its route too much anyway. It's not that big of a factor.

Dedicated lanes will not happen in this corridor. That issue has been decided. It's not something the county forgot to study somehow. Mr tejada covered that explicitly.

So yes, a bus can do anything a streetcar can. Except for the things that it can't: like be a smoother and cleaner ride and encourage development that helps pay for the overall cost and drive up the transit mode share.

by Canaan on Jan 2, 2014 10:58 pm • linkreport

And really those questions about what's better for riders is examined and answered in te alternatives analysis.

by Canaan on Jan 2, 2014 11:04 pm • linkreport

Finally, it's nt about how a streetcar must be better in ALL circumstances. It's about how it's the best choice for this one. We've maxed out on buses and we can't build a separate lane so then we must go with the highest capacity vehicle. That's a streetcar.

by Canaan on Jan 2, 2014 11:13 pm • linkreport

@More Truth
outdated propaganda isn't facts. Modern 62' articulated buses, which Metro has ordered, have a capacity of 116.

Uhh, the thing he linked to says they can fit 115, so it seems you are quibbling over 1 person? The streetcars DC has can bit about 160.

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 9:47 am • linkreport

According to the link to the Alternatives Analysis posted by Canaan (thank you BTW), in Table 5.2-1, the estimated number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) along the route is 130M and 160M for 2016 and 2030 respectively. The table also notes that for the Streetcar Build option the number of VMTs would be reduced by 16,323 and 18,740 for 2016 and 2030 respectively.

If am understanding the report correctly, this means that estimated VMT would be reduced by 0.013% and 0.012% for 2016 and 2030 respectively. If that's the case then it seems to me that Columbia Pike with the Streetcar Build option would remain a congested, high traffic route. Plus the consequences with failure of a streetcar would be increased quite a bit because not only would this affect users of the streetcar but traffic as well.

Perhaps a streetcar along Columbia Pike isn't a good idea at the associated asking price ($320M per the federal government's estimate, right?).

by Fitz on Jan 3, 2014 11:09 am • linkreport

Well, I'd caution against just using the one chart. Columbia Pike is congested today and will be as long as it is a popular place to live/visit. But with a streetcar more people will be able to travel along the corridor in the same (albeit congested) time as the other options.

I wouldn't worry about failure considering that so far other streetcars/light rails that have opened across the country have exceeded their expectations pretty much every time. Not saying it's impossible but it seems very unlikely. The land use is already primed for transit already.

by canaan on Jan 3, 2014 12:25 pm • linkreport

A railed streetcar is a GREAT idea on Route 7 from Tysons to Baily's X-Roads, where the right-of-way exists to construct DEDICATED LANES, ample stations with pre-boarding, and there is enough land to redevelope to make the co$t worthwhile. Same goes for Gallows Road through Merrifield to Tysons - railed construction in DEDICATED LANES could be done here as well.

Columbia Pike from Pentagon to Baily's X-Roads is too narrow with limited development opportunities. The rails with be in mixed traffic, vehicles will back up automobile and bicycle traffic...it is a MESS waiting to happen.

by steve_occoquan on Jan 3, 2014 2:20 pm • linkreport

Usage of a street car would be limited to Pike residents traveling to Pentagon City Metro. So benefits are rather lilmited. That population is already served by buses.

A redeveloped Pike is hoping to attract a nightlife and a new dining scence. Is there any expecation that new susers, let say from North Arlington, is going to get on Metro and than take a Trolley at 11pm for drinks rather than drive 10 minutes.

by Hondo on Jan 3, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

Pike residents wouldn't use the streetcar to travel along the Pike? People who live in Pentagon City aren't going to take the streetcar to destinations on the Pike?

You've cherry-picked two scenarios and then declared the whole project useless based on that. Analysis done by the county takes more into account and determined the streetcar was a good idea.

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 3:17 pm • linkreport

You might have a few people from Pentagon City taking a trolley to the Pike. However, that population is not enough to make the project worthy.

My point is their are few who would take the trolley who are not Pike residents (certianly not enough to justify the $$$). Their is not a significant night life/dinner scene nor is there a large work force requiring to get to the Pike.

Even if their is a demand to get reach the Pike, public transist would not be choice for many.

by Hondo on Jan 3, 2014 3:45 pm • linkreport

Well the actual research done by the county says otherwise; I think many are more likely to rely on that for evidence than your musings on the subject.

And why are Pike residents left out of your calculations?

My point is their are few who would take the trolley who are not Pike residents
So? If there are Pike residents who would use it why are they not important?

by MLD on Jan 3, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

This article includes several erroneous statements.

First, Democrats Howze and Fallon have both clearly stated that they support the proposed Streetcar project.

Second, the $310 million estimate for the Pike Streetcar project is for the streetcar infrastructure alone and EXCLUDES the costs of "streetscape improvements, new bus stops, and burying utilities" AND to relocate underground wet utilities for the Streetcar and COMPLETELY rebuild Columbia Pike. All of those costs, which easily will exceed $100 million, have been separated from the Pike Streetcar project.

Third, AST has NOT proposed BRT IN A DEDICATED LANE as an alternative to the Streetcar. Rather, it has correctly noted that an articulated bus alternative modeled in the County's own 2012 Alternative Analysis study (dubbed TSM-2) provides essentially the same transportation benefits of the Streetcar for one-fifth of the capital cost and a lower annual operating cost.

Fourth, it seems likely that Arlington County will seek to use the new state, regional, and local transportation funding in lieu of seeking a federal New Starts grant.

by Allen Muchnick on Jan 3, 2014 4:28 pm • linkreport

The numbers cited by ballston guy about a 40' bus being able to fit 76 and an 60' bus able to fit 115 are false under typical transit operations. Service standards of most transit agencies specify a "load factor" of 1.25 relative to the seated capacity. Because of the tendency for additional space for wheelchairs, strollers, and the like, 40' buses tend to have around 35 seats, and articulated buses have about 55 seats. At a 1.25 load factor, 44 and 69 customers are "planned" for each vehicle; at a higher 1.5 load factor, those numbers are 53 and 83, respectively.

The United Streetcar 100 model used in Portland (and planned for Columbia Pike) comes with 29 seats, at the load factors mentioned above this would mean each streetcar can hold 36 or 44 customers. Even accounting for their intentional designing of the car with fewer seats, a 2.0 load factor (one customer standing for every seated customer) would mean a planned capacity for 48, and a relatively unheard of 3.0 (meaning two standees for every seated customer) load factor would have a planned capacity for 87. Only by requiring far more customers to stand compared to typical transit buses, and requiring them to stand squished together (which takes out all of the supposed "rail bias"), can streetcar boosters begin to claim their preferred mode can carry more customers.

by Zmapper on Jan 3, 2014 4:40 pm • linkreport

If you have a link to statements by any of the candidates in support of the streetcar I'd appreciate it. It wasn't reflected on any of their websites/social media pages/stories I found about the candidates.

by Canaan on Jan 3, 2014 4:46 pm • linkreport

Well, I'd caution against just using the one chart. Columbia Pike is congested today and will be as long as it is a popular place to live/visit. But with a streetcar more people will be able to travel along the corridor in the same (albeit congested) time as the other options.

According to the alternatives analysis transit ridership with the TSM2 option could provide almost as much as the Streetcar Build option and at a much lower cost.

We've all seen how traffic can be unpredictable around here, especially during commuter hours. If the streetcar isn't projected to decrease a significant amount of VMTs along what we all recognize as a congested route then how can the proposed mixed-traffic nature of the streetcar not be seen as a huge shortcoming, and potentially even a fatal flaw?

by Fitz on Jan 3, 2014 4:57 pm • linkreport


Well the actual research done by the county says otherwise; I think many are more likely to rely on that for evidence than your musings on the subject.

The federal government found that their cost projections were low-balled by a significant amount, which doesn't say much about the county's analysis regarding the proposed streetcar.

Link

by Fitz on Jan 3, 2014 5:05 pm • linkreport

The increase in costs is justified because streetcar brings in greater private development along the corridor as well. That's why it's the preferred alternative despite being more costly.

Mixed traffic may be a flaw but It's one that is present in every alternative no matter what. And plenty if streetcars exist and thrive in mixed traffic environments.

Finally, the streetcar was too expensive for Small Starts. Otherwise FTA was very positive about the project and reccomended a larger vehicle than what the county proposed. It was rejected due to the nature of the program not because they don't see te streetcar as viable.

by Canaan on Jan 3, 2014 5:34 pm • linkreport

The position of the first four declared candidates to replace Chris Zimmerman on the Arlington County Board has been reported here: [ http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2013/dec/20/streetcar-dominates-arlington-special-election/ ]

by Allen Muchnick on Jan 3, 2014 6:31 pm • linkreport

Thanks!

by Canaan on Jan 3, 2014 6:36 pm • linkreport

If you assume an average of four standing passengers per square meter of available floor space, the United Streetcar 100 model has a passenger capacity of 115 with 29 seated passengers and the remaining 86 passengers standing.

To obtain a capacity of 158, as in the chart posted by ballston guy, 29 passengers would be seated and the remaining 129 passengers would average six passengers per square meter of available floor space.

To evaluate whether this would provide superior transit to buses, I suggest an experiment where four or six people, with the backpacks, bags, carts, bikes and strollers that they might bring on a streetcar, practice standing in a square meter of floor space.

I do wonder whether a transportation service where over 80 percent of the passengers are standing and where there are six standing passengers per square meter will be better at spurring private development than reliable bus service with most of the passengers seated.

by OtherMike on Jan 3, 2014 6:46 pm • linkreport

I've been on buses where people chose to stand even when there were seats available, because of the time involved in getting into and out of seats. Its even more common on metro (I assume the better ride quality of rail makes that a better choice)

I've also ridden on the 16 bus, and found it packed. Have you ever ridden the bus on Columbia Pike OtherMike?

I also note developers on Col Pike, have, IIUC, stated that the prospect of rail is important to their decisions to develop.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 3, 2014 7:16 pm • linkreport

I believe there could be merits but no way this thing ever pays for itself. Its gonna be an operating cost albatross around the necks of Arl co taxpayers w most benefit going to ffx skyline and the developers, esp with this TIF. I say make th TIF pay every cent of operating this thing first. I bet subsidizing cab fare for the number of riders would be cheaper without tearing up the Pike. Metro heavily subsidized by feds and used by commuters and it barely makes it out of the red. This neither, and it hooks to blue line which is about to get the rush hour shaft when the silver line opens. This is going to make the taj mapool and artisphere look like the amuse buche to the broken budget. A fixed rail system paid for by all of Nova on better arteries as suggested by others should be what they ought to be working on but arl co doesnt play well with others when they can just soak us instead.

by arlington resident on Jan 3, 2014 11:19 pm • linkreport

Arlington resident,

Yes, Metro is heavily subsidized. But then so our the streets & highways. And while the subway system is heavily subsidized, Metro buses are even more heavily subsidized.

In 2012 it cost Metro $1.36 per passenger mile to move people using buses, and the riders covered 24.29% of that via the fare box. It cost Metro 53 cents per pax/mile to move people using the subway and the riders covered 67.47% of that via the fare box.

And it cost Metro $5.30 per pax/mile to move people using Demand Response Taxi service. Granted that's not quite the same as just paying for taxi service to run up & down the Pike, but still it is highly unlikely to cost less than either bus service or Streetcar service.

by ahblid on Jan 4, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

@OtherMike
If you assume an average of four standing passengers per square meter of available floor space, the United Streetcar 100 model has a passenger capacity of 115 with 29 seated passengers and the remaining 86 passengers standing.
To obtain a capacity of 158, as in the chart posted by ballston guy, 29 passengers would be seated and the remaining 129 passengers would average six passengers per square meter of available floor space.

To evaluate whether this would provide superior transit to buses, I suggest an experiment where four or six people, with the backpacks, bags, carts, bikes and strollers that they might bring on a streetcar, practice standing in a square meter of floor space.

I do wonder whether a transportation service where over 80 percent of the passengers are standing and where there are six standing passengers per square meter will be better at spurring private development than reliable bus service with most of the passengers seated.

OK, I will play.

Your United Streetcar data:
"Reasonable" load: 115: 29seat+86stand @4persons/sqm
"Crush" load: 158: 29seat+129stand @6p/sqm

New Flyer 60ft Artic (the buses WMATA has):
65.9 square feet of standing space, 6.12 square meters
(http://146.186.225.57/buses/reports/112.pdf?1268425148 page 8)
48 seats
"Reasonable" load: 73: 48seat+(4*6.12=25)standees
"Crush" load: 85: 48seat+(6*6.12=37)standees

So tell me, which one holds more? You can't call out capacity numbers as crap and then compare crush loads for one vehicle to normal loads for another vehicle. By your measure, the streetcar holds at least 50% more passengers than an articulated bus, and at crush loads can hold 85% more.

zmapper's "load factor" of 1.25 isn't anything I've ever heard of in the transit industry. Vehicles have all different types of seating configurations and seating to floor space ratios. That ratio might hold for a bus but is not relevant to a rail vehicle.

by MLD on Jan 4, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

I found this letter in the Sun Gazette last year to raise some salient points re: equity between N & S Arlington. Worth a read:
http://www.sungazette.net/arlington/commentary/nixing-the-streetcar-would-further-alienate-south-arlington/article_6b668d50-b19c-11e2-8b6a-0019bb2963f4.html

by Steve O on Jan 16, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

The letter that Steve O cites is mistaken on several grounds, including the central premise that a once-proposed Metrorail line for Columbia Pike was re-routed to become North Arlington's Orange Line. In fact, the proposed Columbia Pike Metrorail Line was moved southeast to become the Blue Line serving Pentagon City, Crystal City, and National Airport in SOUTH Arlington and continuing into Alexandria and South Fairfax County.

Opposition to the proposed Columbia Pike Streetcar is quite strong among Columbia Pike residents, many of whom view the project as fiscally wasteful, problematic, and counterproductive to smarter growth and livability.

by Allen Muchnick on Jan 16, 2014 3:32 pm • linkreport

I read this line: "The key reason has been access to rail transportation – the decision to build the Orange Line along Wilson Boulevard rather than down Columbia Pike." as more notional than literal. I did not ask the letter writer his intent, so I can't be sure what he meant.

In any case, if one interprets that as hypothetical (not that a literal decision were made, but rather that it's one way and not the other), then his point about how the level of investments in N. Arlington have benefited N. Arlingtonians to a greater degree than reciprocal investments in S. Arlington, I think his point is fair.

I do not dispute Allen's point that there are opponents to the streetcar along the Pike. There are supporters, too, many of whom view the project as wise, forward looking, and economically beneficial.

I know that Allen opposes the streetcar. I am personally somewhat ambivalent, with less of a dog in the fight. I cited the letter not because I support or oppose the project, but because for me it offered a perspective which I had not previously considered.

by Steve O on Jan 16, 2014 4:31 pm • linkreport

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