Greater Greater Washington

Arlington starts work on the region's first BRT line

Alexandria is putting the finishing touches on their part of the region's first Bus Rapid Transit line, the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway, and Arlington has begun work on their section. The transitway's first phase will open this summer, and it will be completely open in 2015.


Buses called "Metro Way" will serve the transitway. Image from WMATA.

This project will speed up bus service along the Route 1 corridor between Arlington and Alexandria by creating transit-only lanes. Buses will come every 6 minutes and will operate earlier in the morning and later at night. Stations will have real-time arrival screens and ticket kiosks to allow people to pay before boarding the bus, speeding up service.

Arlington has already created a limited-stop bus service, the Metrobus 9S, as a precursor to what's coming. In addition, a new Metrobus 9X route branded "Metro Way" will travel the entire busway between Braddock Road and Crystal City and continue to Pentagon City. Other buses will use the transitway as well, including the Fairfax Connector and private shuttles.

The transitway is a joint effort between Arlington, Alexandria, WMATA, and the federal government. It will serve Crystal City and Potomac Yard, which are both growing rapidly. Alexandria is planning a new Metro station at Potomac Yard as well. But many of these areas are too far to walk to that station or the existing Crystal City and Braddock Road Metro stations, so officials are hope the transitway will make them easier to reach.

Eventually, Arlington will run streetcars in the transitway that connect with the future Columbia Pike streetcar at the Pentagon City Metro station. Meanwhile, Alexandria no longer has any streetcar plans and will use the transitway for BRT indefinitely. Alexandria may also eventually add streetcars to their portion, but Alexandria's planning is on hold while they focus on their infill Metro station.

I asked county officials why Arlington didn't put in streetcar infrastructure in the first place. The federal government provided a grant for busway construction, and although Arlington is free to upgrade to streetcar later, the original construction has to follow that busway agreement. But Arlington's Capital Improvement Plan, to be released this spring, will include an updated streetcar construction schedule.


Rendering of a future BRT station from Arlington County.

This project has largely flown under the radar, and without the controversy that has followed other transit projects in Arlington like the Columbia Pike streetcar or the "million dollar bus stop." I asked why this was, and was told that the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway enjoyed a lot of community support from residents and businesses who want better transit service.

It seems that people generally agreed that the transitway could help make Crystal City easier to get around. And since the line passes mainly through office buildings and what are currently empty fields, there weren't the same concerns about gentrification on Columbia Pike. The county should definitely look at the specific differences for why these projects were received so differently, and how to apply those lessons in the future.

Bus ridership in the DC area is growing, and in some congested corridors, buses carry half of all traffic. Regardless of mode, dedicated transitways are a great way to provide dramatic improvements to transit riders. This will be a great BRT line, and eventually a great rail line as well. Metro Way and the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway are a big, but not final, step in the right direction.

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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.  

Comments

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I support this project, an ACTUAL BRT. However I have been trying to find out the total cost of the BRT but can't seem to find it.

My understanding is that Arlington and Alexandria are each spending about 20-21 million for their part of the 4.5 mile route. According to Arlington, 75% of the project is funded by the Feds and VA. From that I surmise the total cost, including the cost to Feds and VA, is about $160-170 million. Can anyone confirm that?

I think this is in line for average cost of a BRT ($30-35 million/mile). Similarly MoCo was recently mentioned on this site as looking at an 11 mile route for $350 million.

by Tom S. on Mar 4, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

I'm conflicted on this one. It is one thing to get people from Alexandria to points north. I'll be interested to see what gets built in Potomac Yard to attract people TO Alexandria. Mount Vernon Ave. is a half mile away from the transitway so few will take BRT if that is their final destination. If Potomac Yard doesn't become a destination in its own right, will BRT ever get the ridership to justify the cost?

by movement on Mar 4, 2014 3:31 pm • linkreport

@movement - Well, the first phases of Potomac Yard are well underway, all of which are residential. I ride past here daily, and there is a huge amount of construction taking place with numerous projects at various levels of completion. All of these folks will be within a half mile of a Metro Way stop, which will easily and quickly connect them to Braddock Rd or north to Crystal City. These would be daily riders I imagine. The commercial parts of this project don't seem to be moving much right now, and that's a concern. But the market is very soft. I invite everyone to review the Potomac Yards redevelopment page: http://alexandriava.gov/PotomacYard

by JDC on Mar 4, 2014 3:36 pm • linkreport

Speaking of the Transit Way; will all buses that travel along portions of the road (Dash, Metrobus etc) where there is the Transit Way use.

The 9X is what the 9S should have been who even designed the 9S route to not serve a shopping center that is beyond stupid for it to terminate about 4 blocks north. It could have went further south and looped around the damn parking lot, as many Metrobuses do at Shopping Centers and Malls in the area see 2B, 1C, A12, J1,2,3, R3, K6, P12, J7,J9 etc.

by kk on Mar 4, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

When Arlington upgrades to streetcar and Alexandria is still using buses, will one have to transfer at Four-Mile Run just to get from Potomac Yard to Crystal City?
That seems silly and counter-productive.

by Steve O on Mar 4, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Metro just completed its study of how Metro bus would operate in multi-modal corridors. http://planitmetro.com/2014/03/04/study-of-metrobus-operations-in-multimodal-corridors-completed/

by JDC on Mar 4, 2014 4:58 pm • linkreport

Honestly,I'd prefer Potomac Yard get a CaBi station. Not only would it get you there from Crystal City Metro,but it would also help connect the system from Pent City to Old Town.

by dynaryder on Mar 4, 2014 6:27 pm • linkreport

@dynaryder
CaBi is scheduled to come to Del Ray and I am confident it will be successful there. I'm sure Potomac Yard will be added in due time.

@Steve O
You're getting way ahead of yourself. We don't actually know if the Metro station will get built yet. We're years from resolving the migration to a streetcar.

by movement on Mar 4, 2014 8:52 pm • linkreport

First brt? Not exactly. Someone should do a story on the abandoned Shirley busway and how it operated.

by Paul H on Mar 4, 2014 9:11 pm • linkreport

The article's headline announces that Arlington has started work on the BRT. The first sentence then states "Arlington has begun work on their section." How about some details, like where, how long is this segment, and when will it be finished? Or does "begun work" mean drawing up plans?

by John F on Mar 5, 2014 7:52 am • linkreport

Re retail in Potomac Yard

Commercial space is still being built. The Bell Del Ray at the intersection of East Monroe and Main Line Bvld will be open soon and will have a few retail spaces. There is a large, multi-use development being built at the intersection of E. Glebe and Route 1 that will have a Giant grocery store and other retail spaces as well.

by Fitz on Mar 5, 2014 9:07 am • linkreport

County staff say the transit changes near Crystal City Metro will prevent any sort of bike infrastructure on 18th St S, which would connect Pentagon City with the Mt Vernon Trail entrance. Which stinks, since it's the only crossing of Route 1 that doesn't have a conflicty intersection. Oh well.

by darren on Mar 5, 2014 9:54 am • linkreport

That corrected line really wasn't necessary. Alexandria has declined to adopt Arlington's streetcar plans. The correction is just spin for the corporatist streetcar crowd. Once FFFX does the same (their budget is in terrible shape with lots and lots of transit demands), Arlington's streetcars plans will be finally finished. Sadly, all that money money spent on consultants and all these wasted years on a doomed plan will then be proved to have deprived Arlington of the needed improvements in frequency, reliability and better (bigger) bus vehicles.

Changing from streetcars to buses on the same dedicated lane is *crazy*. That is Arlington's plan!

Arlington needs to fire all of its transit staff, hire Jarrett Walker and start over with a serious, transit-first plan.

by South Arlingtonian on Mar 5, 2014 4:11 pm • linkreport

Fairfax is committed to the redevelopment of Baileys Crossroads - in large part to help address their budget issues. I find it very dubious that they will give up on PikeRail, and I know of no evidence for that.

As for Alexandria, the have made it clear that the reason they don't want a street car on CCPY any time soon is their commitment to the Pot Yd metro station, and that they may eventually reconsider.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 5, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

Tom S. what ridership number is expected with that $350 million expense - and what regular operating costs? Dollars going to BRT mean cut RideOn and MetroBus funds

by asffa on Mar 5, 2014 6:13 pm • linkreport

Looking at K9 route http://youtu.be/djUTDNg5Up4 Express bus already going up.

by asffa on Mar 5, 2014 6:27 pm • linkreport

This story, and a story in today's Washington Post about bus transit on 16th Street, NW, are proof that people will ride buses. Arlington County need not spend 600% more to provide streetcars on Columbia Pike that don't have dedicated lanes, and that can be stopped by disabled vehicles or crashes in their lanes. Arlington County voters can stop the madness by voting against candidates for the County Board who support the misguided streetcar project.

by Chip Watkins on Mar 9, 2014 8:10 pm • linkreport

The evidence for people riding buses is on Columbia Pike itself. In fact, the bus is so popular that there are capacity issues and because of a variety of factors that have been covered (conflicts with VDOT, development opportunities, etc.) over and over again.

Arlington can re-purpose lanes easily on Crystal Drive because there's no conflicts with VDOT and the corridor is explictly slated for streetcar as well.

I wouldn't chalk this as a victory for those not wanting to see a streetcar run on Columbia Pike.

by drumz on Mar 10, 2014 12:50 am • linkreport

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