Greater Greater Washington

Columbia Pike streetcar becomes the central issue in Arlington's special election

Arlington voters will pick a replacement for county board member Chris Zimmerman in a special election April 4 April 8. While the two candidates have a lot in common, their take on the Columbia Pike streetcar sets them apart. One calls it an important part of the county's transportation network, while the other says it's a waste of money.


Rendering from Arlington County.

Democratic nominee Alan Howze, who was selected in a January caucus, and independent John Vihstadt aren't that far apart on most issues. Both support the county's efforts on smart growth and affordable housing. They also both support the county's move to establish a new homeless shelter at Courthouse, and they agree on some national issues, like marriage equality.

But they're divided over the Columbia Pike streetcar, the 4.9-mile line between Pentagon City and Bailey's Crossroads which has the support of most of the current board, but strong opposition from some.

Vihstadt is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, an anti-streetcar group which argues the streetcar is too expensive and will not move as many people as estimated. If elected, Vihstadt would join board member Libby Garvey, who also opposes the streetcar.

He told the pro-streetcar group Arlington Streetcar Now that he wants to evaluate how BRT performs on the Crystal City/Potomac Yard transitway before committing funds to any project on Columbia Pike. AST has been advocating for Bus Rapid Transit on Columbia Pike, but their comments, and Vihstadt's statement here, glosses over the issue that BRT is not possible on Columbia Pike since there is no room for a dedicated lane, unlike for Crystal City-Potomac Yard.

Vihstadt would split the money dedicated to the project between buses on Columbia Pike and other projects throughout the county, which is appealing to some voters elsewhere in the county that want more resources spent on projects in their area.

Despite initially being publicly on the fence about the project, Howze does support the streetcar. He believes it will move more people and help support new development. In a position paper on the subject, he rejects the criticism that funds for the project will take away resources from other county priorities like schools, noting that schools take up half of the county's capital projects budget, and the streetcar hovers at around 10%.

But it's clear that calls to rein in county spending have had an effect on him. Howze has repeated that he's not someone who will just rubberstamp projects and not pay attention to costs. He says that "no project has a blank check" in regards to the county's proposed Long Bridge Aquatic Center. At a recent candidates' forum, he said the county spent too much money on a new dog park in Clarendon.

The special election's unusual date means that voter turnout will be low. Howze will have to count on Democrats being happy with the way the county has performed and the priorities it has set. Vihstadt, meanwhile, is banking on support from unhappy voters across the political spectrum who want to reverse or slow down the pace of some projects in the county. He says being the only non-Democrat on the board would be a strength, arguing the board needs more political diversity.

At the same time, there is a primary election coming up on June 8 to select a nominee to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Moran. That primary features many local leaders in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax, which means it has gotten a lot of attention while many voters may not be focusing closely on the county board race.

Some observers think that by taking a reluctant stance toward many county projects, Howze may generate lower levels of enthusiasm among his potential supporters as compared to Vihstadt, who has been trying to appeal to various groups of voters that have a specific bone of contention with the current board. If few people vote and enough disgruntled Democrats in Arlington vote with independents and Republicans, Vihstadt is likely to win.

The victor will not have much time to rest, as the winner will have to defend his seat again in November's general election.

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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.  

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As an Arlington resident/homeowner, the streetcar in and of itself isn't so much of an issue as it's part of a set: the streetcar, the $1.7M dog park, the aquatics center which seems to get more expensive every time it's examined, the constant money drain called Artisphere, that when placed against water main breaks, streets that will shake the fillings out of your teeth, the tension between the school budget and the county appropriation, and the provision of other basic services make those who provide the county with funds to spend start to question the priorities of the Board. Even long-term supporters of "the Arlington way" are starting to express some concern.

by ksu499 on Mar 21, 2014 11:49 am • linkreport

If you want to have nice things, you have to spend money. That dog park in Clarendon is a great draw, for instance. I think the streetcar would be a positive as well, although I am sympathetic to those who'd like to use the money for buses instead.

by DE on Mar 21, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Artisphere? "Arlington Way"? This is GGW not ArlNow.

The streetcar is barely an issue when compared to what the populace are concerned about.

by selxic on Mar 21, 2014 12:06 pm • linkreport

I view the streetcar as a critical investment in transit infrastructure that will make the Columbia Pike more accessible to millions of people...but the Arlington County Board is putting the streetcar at risk by being wasteful, IMO, on projects like the million dollar bus stop or the aquatics center. Vihstadt could not be attracting as much attention as he is if not for these questionable expenditures.

GGW will appreciate that come April 4 I'll hold my nose and vote for Howze solely on the streetcar issue.

by Hadur on Mar 21, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

The election is on Tuesday, April 8th, not the 4th, which is a Friday.

by Paul on Mar 21, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

The special election is Tuesday April 8th, not April 4th. The House primary is on Tuesday June 10th, not June 8th. Please see http://vote.arlingtonva.us/ for correct dates and absentee voting information.

by tdr on Mar 21, 2014 12:21 pm • linkreport

I think that frankly the Columbia Pike streetcar is a worthless proposal, and I would very much like to see the money invested into better bus service instead.

Without dedicated space, what exactly are the real advantages of the streetcar for the people using transit on this corridor? It's clear what the advantages are for developers and development - but the corridor is probably attractive enough that it will be developed anyway.

Making investment choices based on how much development capital we could get on return instead of how we can improve service for the people using it is not and should not be the role of public transit investment dollars. Let private developers finance 100% of the streetcar if it's being done primarily to encourage development, and more pointedly, as a shiny toy that avoids "bus stigma."

Meanwhile, that money can be put to far better use on expansion of conventional, bog-standard bus service. Alternatively, that money can be put to far better use exploring just how exactly we can create a dedicated transit-way here.

by Ryan on Mar 21, 2014 12:36 pm • linkreport

There isn't room for more conventional bog standard bus service on Col Pike. Add too many buses, you get bunching problems. The advantage of a street car is you get more capacity per vehicle - thats why the counter from AST is not bog standard conventional but articulated (bendy) buses. But they have issues with maintenance costs, IIUC. And there is a widely observed ridership boost from street cars vs buses - whether thats bus stigma, or better ride quality, is a matter of dispute - but it appears to be quite real, and substantial.

As for development, its likely it will be more and faster with the street car than without. A dedicated tax district would have been a worthy idea, but given that much of the benefit will accrue to existing buildings (the older hirises will likely be renovated, not redeveloped) there are all kinds of equity and political issues with that. As it is the County funding comes from a special tax on commercial property that is devoted to transportation improvements.

And I would also note that FFX county is counting on the street car to help jump start development in Baileys Crossroads. ArlCo has vetoed the full extension of the HOT lanes to the Pentagon, often stating that transit is a better approach. If ArlCo also stops this important rail transit initiative, that will impact FFX County. I am not sure what steps FFX county would take, but I do hope that regional cooperation is something ArlCo takes into consideration. Certainly its in the interest of ArlCo to see Baileys, which adjoins Arlco, improve.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 12:51 pm • linkreport

Mr Howze has interesting things to say about biking:

http://bikearlingtonforum.com/showthread.php?6366-What-Would-You-Ask-Arlco-Democratic-Candidates&p=73857#post73857

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

"There isn't room for more conventional bog standard bus service on Col Pike. Add too many buses, you get bunching problems. The advantage of a street car is you get more capacity per vehicle"

The streetcar isn't planned to be in it's own dedicated ROW, so exactly how is it that a streetcar isn't going to suffer the same problem.

by CPike on Mar 21, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

Good article but bad headline. The issue in this election is whether a pretty disparate group of people who are unhappy with the county board can get out an d vote.

And of course, as far as I can tell this is a "safe" vote -- even if you are positive on the streetcar 2 dissident votes on the board won't kill it. It might even make it better.

by charlie on Mar 21, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

Let's not forget that the other end of "developers" benefiting is that a lot of people get a place to work or live.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 21, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

@CPike

The problem won't be solved entirely, but will be mitigated by significantly higher capacity per vehicle. Higher capacity per vehicle -> fewer vehicles -> reduced bunching and congestion.

Of course, a dedicated ROW would provide an even higher level of service. But VDOT will not allow general traffic lanes to be taken away.

by JDS32 on Mar 21, 2014 1:01 pm • linkreport

@JDS32,

The United Streetcar 100 model used in Portland (and planned for Columbia Pike) comes with 29 seats, this would mean each streetcar can hold 36 or 44 customers based on standard load factors. 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.

Secondly, according to the Alternatives Analysis in Table 5.2-1 of Arlington’s study, 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, in other words, almost an immeasurably low reduction. If that's the case then it seems to me that Columbia Pike with the Streetcar Build option would remain highly 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.
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.
Perhaps a streetcar along Columbia Pike isn't a good idea at the associated asking price ($450M)

You can buy and maintain a heck of buses for a very long time for the ~450 million this thing is going to cost. Seems like an awful value.

by CPike on Mar 21, 2014 1:29 pm • linkreport

IIUC the study used a relatively small ridership boost for rail to comply with FTA rules, which set a maximum mode share boost.

As for standing, its not uncommon as far as I know to stand on the 16 buses now, and its not comfortable given the bus layout. Once we decide its acceptable to stand, does the ratio to the number of seats matter that much?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 1:34 pm • linkreport

You will also have to replace those buses much more frequently.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

Based on the timetables I'm looking at on the WMATA website, we're nowhere near the limit of bog standard bus service on Columbia Pike. The combined 16_ bus routes all average together to about "some Columbia Pike bus is going to show up every 10 minutes or so during the peak, and every 15 minutes off peak."

Invest the money into getting those numbers to 5 and 10, respectively, and then talk to me about the threat of bus bunching. Doing that costs a fraction of what the streetcar would and leaves us with plenty of money to invest into other bus services in the area, or perhaps a study on what the true cost of ripping Columbia Pike up to dig a Metro tunnel might be (prohibitive, but wouldn't it be nice to know that?), or what the true cost of expanding the Pike to support a dedicated transit-way without taking traffic lanes might be. Anything relevant to transit, really, is a better use of the money.

by Ryan on Mar 21, 2014 1:45 pm • linkreport

First I think you are missing some buses (the ART buses that run on Col Pike - if youve spent any time at a bus stop on Col Pike you should surely know about the ART buses - I usually am only on Col Pike on weekends, and ISTR buses closer than that) Also it will take years from approval to project completion - so we can't go by current ridership.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 1:51 pm • linkreport

The other issue, not suitable for a benefit cost analysis, but a real thing for citizens to consider, is BRT creep. We already see that expenditure on bus stops on Col Pike is a controversial issue, with many questioning the need for anything more than a 10K bog standard bus shelter. Yet the alternatives analysis cited above assume investment in high end transit stops for the bus alternative - to both directly attract ridership and to enable off vehicle payment to improve times. Will those survive the mindset that puts cost savings first?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 1:54 pm • linkreport

" perhaps a study on what the true cost of ripping Columbia Pike up to dig a Metro tunnel might be (prohibitive, but wouldn't it be nice to know that?)"

Silver line, built mostly in a highway ROW, cost about 6 billion for under 24 miles, or over 250 million a mile. Alexandria is talking about spending a couple of hundred million to build one infill station. I'd rather spend money to get an actual piece of infrastructure that will add capacity and almost certainly enable development than for a study to show the painfully obvious.

"or what the true cost of expanding the Pike to support a dedicated transit-way without taking traffic lanes might be. "

Also prohibitive, and politically unfeasible even if it were not.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

BTW the 2nd avenue subway in NYC is costing 2 billion a mile.

cut that in half to 1 billion a mile. At 4.7 miles thats close to 5 billion.

Is there any prospect of attaining the density to justify that?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 2:08 pm • linkreport

The United Streetcar 100 model used in Portland (and planned for Columbia Pike) comes with 29 seats, this would mean each streetcar can hold 36 or 44 customers based on standard load factors. We already went over this with you - this accounting of "standard load factors" is incorrect. Nobody in the transit industry calculates load factors based on seats - they calculate it based on square footage of open area in the vehicle. By your accounting, a vehicle with zero seats and all open space would have a capacity of zero people.

by MLD on Mar 21, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

forgive me, but what does the term "bog" mean in "bog standard"?

by Michael Perkins on Mar 21, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

MLD,

Wrong, and you know it. Standard load factor is a well used and documented standard used by every single mass transit agency for bus and rolling stock. Simply because it doesn't paint as glorious a picture of the pike street car as you would like it to, doesn't mean you get to ignore it.

Yes, you can cram more people into a streetcar, than you can cram into a bus. But "cramming" is only a rush hour requirement, and the differential between what buses hold and the streetcar is proposed to hold is pretty marginal, certainly not enough to spend ~450 million on a streetcar system that is then going to cost far more to operate and maintain in perpetuity.

Load capacity, headways for the streetcar are all pie in the sky, (6 minute headways, yeah ok then) 100% perfect scenarios 100% of the time when we all know that will never, ever happen.

by CPike on Mar 21, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

And standard load factor as a metric of service depends on other factors - for example the desired standard load factor is lower on high speed express buses, due to standing being less desirable there. On a street car with better ride quality standing may be even less of an issue.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

Wrong, and you know it. Standard load factor is a well used and documented standard used by every single mass transit agency for bus and rolling stock.

You keep tacking on these extra words. Yes, there are "load factors" (of about 1.5-2 for "crush") that transit agencies use to describe level of service for BUS service, because most buses in the US are the same.

But to then extend this exact same number to rail vehicles is ludicrous. A WMATA railcar and a NYCT subway car have very different layouts - you can't measure their max capacity based on the same factor vs. the number of seats. Likewise, a streetcar vehicle isn't a bus.

Peddling around these numbers as gospel for a vehicle that has twice the square footage dedicated to standing as sitting is bunk.

by MLD on Mar 21, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

From the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, Chapter 5
http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp_rpt_165ch-05.pdf
For transit vehicles designed for mostly seated passengers-that is, where seats are provided for half or more of the vehicle's design load-passenger load can be defined by load factor (passengers per seat). These vehicles include nearly all buses (except for special-purpose buses designed to serve short trips, such as Denver's 16th Street MallRide), all ferries, all commuter rail, and potentially other rail vehicles with narrow aisles and many seats. For transit vehicles designed for mostly standing passengers, average standing passenger space, expressed in square feet (meters) per passenger, can be used to describe the level of crowding on board the vehicle.

Emphasis mine. Hopefully that clears things up.

by MLD on Mar 21, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

Where are you getting $450M for the streetcar line? The most I've ever seen is $310, and that includes the funds to be provided by the Pen Place (or nearby, I forget which on) development to construct a segment of 12th street that Arlington won't have to pay for.

@AWalker: Ah, it's a Britishism and not used commonly here in the US. Got it.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 21, 2014 3:02 pm • linkreport

Making investment choices based on how much development capital we could get on return instead of how we can improve service for the people using it is not and should not be the role of public transit investment dollars.

If your transit investments yield a high rate of return, that generates additional tax revenue for additional transit investment. Also, if you're going to see a healthy payback on your investment, you can afford to invest more in transit.

It's the difference between "investment" and "consumption". Transit with a high ROI like streetcars is an investment while transit that merely improves service without providing a financial return is consumption. Investments are like a renewable resource while consumption is like fossil fuels that are depleted after use.

by Falls Church on Mar 21, 2014 3:09 pm • linkreport

@MLD: “For transit vehicles designed for mostly standing passengers, average standing passenger space, expressed in square feet (meters) per passenger, can be used to describe the level of crowding on board the vehicle.”

As stated earlier, the streetcar will have 29 seats, and a capacity of 156, with 127 standees. This means that are approximately 6 standees per square meter of standing area (or 0.167 square meters per standing passenger). Is this level of crowding acceptable? Would the assumed level of crowding affect the dwell time at popular stations? Will this transit with level of crowding spur economic investment?

by OtherMike on Mar 21, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

Is this level of crowding acceptable? Would the assumed level of crowding affect the dwell time at popular stations? Will this transit with level of crowding spur economic investment?

We're only talking about theoretical capacity, not what the actual conditions on the ground will be. The max capacity is not an assumed level of crowding.

The only thing I took issue with is the bunk idea that the streetcar can't hold as many people as a regular or articulated bus. The advertised "max capacity" of both is based on a 6 standing per square meter assumption.

by MLD on Mar 21, 2014 4:04 pm • linkreport

im looking at the United streetcar specs.

its about 50 sq meters. Says 70% low floor area - I think that means area for standing . so thats 35 sq meters. MAx standing capacity is 127 persons. So thats less than 4 people per square meter.

Can you tell me how you calculated the floor area available?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

btw, even jarret walker, a strong supporter of BRT and a street car skeptic who has criticized Portland, says that streetcars have a real capacity advantage over bus (he question the use of streetcars in corridors where bus lines are not close to capacity)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

from an APTA guide

"Four passengers per square meter of suitable standee space (2.7 ft2 per standee) is a commonly used loading level for comparing vehicle capacity. Some transit systems will, however, use more conservative numbers in capacity calculations, such as 3.5 passengers per square meter. Six passengers per square meter (slightly more than 1.5 ft2 per standee) is sometimes used to calculate crush loading conditions. Even higher loadings are used in structural calculations but do not generally represent practical in-service loading levels."

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

okay, I see low floor area is something else. It does seem that 4 per sq meter is considered reasonable.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:26 pm • linkreport

"We're only talking about theoretical capacity, not what the actual conditions on the ground will be. The max capacity is not an assumed level of crowding"

Oh, so now it's theoretical. It is odd that proponents of this system try to add shine to it by discussing all it's attributes (capacity, speed, comfort development inducement) never once admitting that all of it is highly theoretical, and the only way their numbers pan out is if every single supposed "benefit" hits theoretical capacity. They won't.

The cars won't be 6 minutes apart, their overall capacity which is slightly more only matters during "crush load"except when MLD says they will.

This will be an enormous waste of taxpayer money to build and operate and it only reduces VMT by fractions of a percent. But I guess we are supposed to be blinkered into doing it because they are shiny, hipsters tell us we should ride it, and "someone" read a "study" from "somewhere" that says it "could" induce development of anywhere between 10 million and 10 billion in value. Sorry, try harder.

I can't wait until this thing is canceled, and it's looking like it's going to happen.

by Huh on Mar 21, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

@AWITC, There are seats in the low floor area. My calculation was based on the more detailed manufacturer’s specifications for a similarly configured streetcar.

And 6 persons per square meter is significantly more crowded than the standard of 4 persons per square meter.

by OtherMike on Mar 21, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

"Oh, so now it's theoretical. It is odd that proponents of this system try to add shine to it by discussing all it's attributes (capacity, speed, comfort development inducement) never once admitting that all of it is highly theoretical, and the only way their numbers pan out is if every single supposed "benefit" hits theoretical capacity. "

If you check the alternatives analysis table 1-8, here is the capacity they assumed for analysis purposes

"66-foot electric tram, capacity of 44 seated passengers/71 standees."

71, not 127. 127 is in the specs and IS theoretical and is NOT what Arlco used in their alternatives analysis - they used the much more conservative 71 standees. thats a little over half the theoretical capacity. So if the theoretical capacity assumes 6 per sq meter, the capacity used in the analysis assumes slight over 3 per sq meter. Which APTA says is reasonable.

This is the problem with the streetcar opponents, you have to dig so far so find out how their arguments are misleading.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:38 pm • linkreport

"And 6 persons per square meter is significantly more crowded than the standard of 4 persons per square meter."

its a good thing in the alternatives analysis they used even less than 4 persons per square meter.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

in section 3.2.1 they say

"Capacity is defined as the “comfortable standing load” for a transit vehicle, which is measured using the ratio of total passengers on board (sitting plus standing) to the number of seats on the bus. WMATA uses a ratio of 1.2 to estimate comfortable standing load, which translates into capacities of 63 passengers on a 43-foot bus, 94 passengers on a 60-foot bus, and 35 passengers on a 35-foot ART bus. The comparable load for a streetcar vehicle is 115 passengers (4 passengers per square meter)."

I am not sure why here they say 4, when it appears from the table that they used less than 3.5 Perhaps the 4 is to let people know the standard, while they used less than the standard to be conservative. Or perhaps they estimate the standing area of the vehicle in a more conservative way than the vehicle specs. In any case it does not look to me like they used 6.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:44 pm • linkreport

Ding - 71 - 44 - 115. they either used a different floor area estimate to get 4, or they rounded (or the 6 is itself rounded)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2014 4:45 pm • linkreport

This will be an enormous waste of taxpayer money to build and operate and it only reduces VMT by fractions of a percent

Page 7 of this,

http://www.columbiapikeva.us/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/AA-EA_Executive_Summary.pdf

Shows that the daily VMT savings of the streetcar build will be 18k miles compared to TSM2's savings of 15k miles. That's more than a fraction.

Total daily VMT will still be high sure, but the streetcar will do much better at reducing what's there.

hipsters tell us we should ride it, and "someone" read a "study" from "somewhere" that says it "could" induce development of anywhere between 10 million and 10 billion in value. Sorry, try harder.

The "someone" is county staff who had to have a report good enough to meet the requirements set forth by the federal government. Remember, FTA agreed with Arlington's facts. There rejection was based on the requirements of the small starts program, not because they didn't think the project wasn't viable.

by drumz on Mar 21, 2014 5:05 pm • linkreport

Oh, so now it's theoretical.

Good Lord, at least pay attention to what we are arguing about. If you want to talk about the alternatives analysis we can talk about that, but it's a completely separate issue from someone claiming a streetcar vehicle can only hold 44 people.

The AA used 115 passengers as its benchmark. USC says the max capacity of the streetcar is 156 passengers. So clearly there is a difference between the "theoretical max" that anti-streetcar people seem to be harping on about, and what the situation on the ground is expected to be.

You might as well say "I think this will be a giant waste of money because I don't understand what I'm talking about."

by MLD on Mar 21, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

CPike/MLD

Full disc: I don't live anywhere near the DC area, any Columbia Pike project won't affect me, and my interest in this blog in general is more about applicability to other areas more relevant to me personally.

In general, long-range planners (often contracted, or done by institutions not directly connected to the transit agency operations) tend to state standing capacity numbers based on square feet divided by a stated amount of space per person, while short-term operations departments (usually in-house) that oversee the transit agency anywhere from an immediate dispatching (we need the backup bus at this intersection NOW) to planning near-future service changes tend to use standing capacity based off of seated capacity.

While standee ratios based off of seated capacity tend to more accurately reflect actual conditions, strict adherence to one number leads to situations where removing seats for additional standing capacity would, on paper, reduce standing "capacity". Different ratios would then apply, as more space for standing, relative to seats is available. Additionally, transit customers don't really like standing that long; while it is completely acceptable for the intra-airport train or a "motorized sidewalk" shuttle like the 16th Street Mall to have few or no seats as one is only on board for a few minutes at most, few transit customers with any reasonable option are willing to stand for too long. My understanding is that 15-20 minutes is often cited as the maximum amount of time a transit customer will "comfortably" stand, therefore based off of intermediate station turnover, enough seats should be provided to ensure the customer isn't standing for over 15-20 minutes.

In short, I don't care how many your computer or mathematical model estimate can stand, I care how many transit customers will stand under real-world day-to-day operations, and how customers react to what they consider to be over-crowding. Customer behavior is far more relevant over computer behavior!

by Zmapper on Mar 21, 2014 11:37 pm • linkreport

Some reference links showing that transit agency operations do estimate standees based off of seated loads:

http://media.metro.net/board/Items/2010/07_july/20100715OPItem14.pdf (page 5; includes many large transit agencies)

http://www.fcgov.com/common/pdfs/spotlight-pdf.php?id=734 (page 8) The second link is the standards used (in theory) by my local transit agency. The "Rapid Transit" route is the MAX BRT line that will open in two months, which uses NABI 60' buses with 45 seats (some were removed for interior bike racks), while the routes near the university and the regional route that do see standing loads on a semi-regular basis use NABI 40' buses with 35 seats.

by Zmapper on Mar 21, 2014 11:52 pm • linkreport

1. A dedicated lane is not required for BRT. This is GGW's oft-stated but false opinion. There are plenty of projects around the world that officials call "BRT" that don't have a dedicated lane.

The best transit lines - both rail and bus - have a dedicated right of way. Neither the planned streetcar nor AST are advocating for dedicated right of way transit on Columbia Pike. This is clear on AST's website if one reads it.

But worse than being wrong, it's pedantic to complain that the "better bus" advocates don't back "real BRT". Let's have this conversation without this petty, misleading and irrelevant talking point.

2. The technical debate over capacity is a bit above my pay grade, but WMATA has articulated buses on order whose manufacturer claims have a nearly identical capacity as Arlington listed in its own Alternatives Analysis for the streetcar. Simply put, capacity is determined by the size of the vehicles, which is limited by the length of the stops on Columbia Pike, not rail vs. wheeled vehicle.

by Pikecycle on Mar 22, 2014 8:49 am • linkreport

"There are plenty of projects around the world that officials call "BRT" that don't have a dedicated lane."

you mean officials touting their own systems?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 22, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

A dedicated ROW for most of its route is definitely a defining characteristic of BRT. There are a few routes in the US that meet those criteria (LA, Cleveland). While the other components are part of it, it is probably the most important feature so it's pretty disingenuous to say that it's just as BRT without dedicated lanes.

by BTA on Mar 22, 2014 10:46 am • linkreport

I analyzed in detail the question of whether it can be BRT without a dedicated lane in this article which Canaan linked to. I wrote:
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), the leading group of genuine BRT supporters, calls dedicated lanes a "vital" part of any BRT system in a BRT rating system they devised. Like LEED, ITDP's system gives points for different elements; systems with a certain number of points are "gold," then "silver" and "bronze."

ITDP's system tries to help define what really is "BRT" and what is just an overhyped regular bus line, and to differentiate higher-quality BRT lines from ones that have made more compromises. The US has not yet built a single gold-standard BRT system, or even silver, and most projects dubbed "BRT" aren't at all.

I went through the ITDP rating system and tried to match each category to the description in that study. Assuming the most optimistic choice each time, this would yield a score of about 61, or just barely enough to rate as Bronze BRT. Compromise on even the tiniest element, like only some off-board payment or lower off-peak frequency, and that proposal wouldn't qualify as BRT at all.

So yes, it's *possible* to do a line for Columbia Pike that barely qualifies as BRT without a dedicated lane, but that would have to have the most gold-plated everything else, like the super stops which AST has already objected to as costing too much.

It's pretty clear that what AST envisions is not something ITDP would deign to call BRT by any stretch. AST is posting pictures of real BRT lines which aren't possible on Columbia Pike, saying we can do BRT on Columbia Pike, but using cost estimates for an option that is not even close to actual BRT and using that to attack the streetcar.

by David Alpert on Mar 23, 2014 8:36 am • linkreport

I'm sick and tired of hearing about the BRT, and more studies blah blah blah. The reality is that those living in North Arlington don't want to pony up for upgrades to south arlington. It's interesting that John Vihstadt makes quite a big deal about his time spent living around the pike on his web page, it almost gives the impression that he still lives there and would be personally affected by the addition of the street car. Read a bit further and you learn he's just another guy living north of 50 who thinks the bus is just fine for the lower class living on and around the pike. The buses do not attract development. A trolley will. I believe the county board is making a sincere commitment to maintain affordable housing, while trying to upgrade a sore spot in the county. The blight around the pike has got to go, and a trolley will push that process along. Everyone in the county had to pay for metro, whether it increased their property values or not. It's time the favor was returned along the pike.

by Douglas paker on Mar 23, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

What would BRT supporters do to the already great bus service on the pike?

It sounds like they'd push for BRT but there wouldn't be dedicated lanes, the enhanced bus stops would be too expensive, and the larger articulated buses would be less reliable, and beat up the pavement too much.

by Michael Perkins on Mar 23, 2014 6:02 pm • linkreport

Are you kidding? The two candidates have nothing in common! Republican John Vihstadt republicanjohnvihstadt.org is a major funder of right-wing Republicans and Tea Party candidates. Democrat Alan Howze is progressive, pro-environment, and pro-innovation.

by Ed Fendley on Mar 24, 2014 10:29 pm • linkreport

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