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Columbia Pike streetcar would generate $3 billion more benefit than enhanced bus

A new return on investment study shows that for the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar, the additional benefits of rail over buses far outweigh the additional costs.


Watering can image from Shutterstock.com.

Streetcar opponents in Arlington have been arguing that better buses on Columbia Pike could provide as many benefits as streetcars, for much lower cost. This new study shows that claim simply isn't true.

Although streetcars on Columbia Pike will cost $200 to $250 million more than enhanced buses, rail will return $3.2 to $4.4 billion in economic benefits, compared to only $1.0 to $1.4 billion for bus.

This means the $2.2 to $3 billion worth of additional benefits from streetcars are approximately 10 times as great as the additional cost.

Arlington commissioned this new study to analyze the economic costs and benefits of streetcars and enhanced buses on Columbia Pike in a side-by-side, apples-to-apples way. The study also takes into consideration new data that's come out since previous studies, leading to more realistic forecasts.

An independent firm, HR&A Advisors, conducted the study. They took several steps, including literature reviews, case studies, and interviews, to establish the study's credibility as not advancing a predetermined outcome.

Enhanced bus isn't BRT

Streetcar opponents had hoped this report would demonstrate stronger benefits for buses, citing analysis from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) that examined the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects around the country.

The Columbia Pike study found that while many BRT projects do indeed have strong returns on investment, the conditions in those cities cannot be replicated on Columbia Pike.

Labels for transportation projects matter, and "enhanced bus" is not the same as "BRT." While the enhanced bus option on Columbia Pike would mean longer buses and off-board payment, these improvements wouldn't be enough to see the gains of true BRT. According to HR&A, citing the benefits of "full BRT" on Columbia Pike makes for "flawed comparisons."

The bus option costs more than earlier studies assumed

Although the streetcar option is more expensive than the bus option, the difference isn't as great as previously believed. The return on investment study notes some additional costs for enhanced buses that weren't a part of previous analysis.

Since the bus option would bring new articulated buses into the corridor, that would require building a new operations and repair facility for the buses somewhere nearby. Previous studies only counted a cost for a maintenance and operations yard for the streetcar, not for bus.

Also, adding more heavy 60-foot buses on Columbia Pike would require repaving the roadbed using more durable concrete, to handle the weight of the new buses. Previous studies assumed the streetcar would require roadbed and track construction, but didn't for the bus alternative. They had instead projected that buses would use the existing roadbed for no additional cost.

Enhanced buses are a good tool in many corridors, but the claim that they can provide equal benefits to streetcars on Columbia Pike should be put to rest once and for all.

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 even cheaper just to upzone Columbia Pike and promise something in the future.

by charlie on Mar 27, 2014 10:30 am • linkreport

It's even cheaper just to upzone Columbia Pike and promise something in the future.

But that's not a long-term strategy for actual results.

We aren't talking about getting stuff built in the next 5 years or 10 years. We're talking about how people will move around the metro area 20, 30 years from now.

by MLD on Mar 27, 2014 10:36 am • linkreport

Yeah, I think the point is to increase density along the corridor without creating complete gridlock.

by BTA on Mar 27, 2014 10:52 am • linkreport

Can we all agree that without traffic separation neither concept is worth it? People keep saying just provide BRT, but then also say without traffic separation. Thats just buses. Thats not an improvement considering this corridor is already maxed out on what buses can do.

I personally don't care what the wheels/tracks look like so long as it means rapid transit and without traffic its pointless.

Whether businesses prefer streetcars vs BRT, is nuanced, but I think they all can agree that they don't just want congestion. If a real BRT can be a reality within 18 months vs a street car which might take longer, then I say go with a real BRT.

But under no circumstance should traffic separation be removed from the equation.

by Navid Roshan on Mar 27, 2014 10:54 am • linkreport

Yeah as I'm sure you know the holdup there is VDOT because they aren't approving dedicated lanes for either.

by BTA on Mar 27, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

RE: dedicated lanes, my understanding is that the original Alternatives Analysis concluded trying for dedicated lanes wasn't really worth it anyway - that the delays encountered on Columbia Pike, even during rush hour, are largely traffic light delays not traffic congestion delays.

But yeah, at the end of the day VDOT's response to any request for replacing general purpose lanes on CP is basically "over my dead body".

by Chris Slatt on Mar 27, 2014 11:01 am • linkreport

Can we all agree that without traffic separation neither concept is worth it?

No, because apparently it is worth it otherwise the study (and others) would have said so.

Whether businesses prefer streetcars vs BRT, is nuanced, but I think they all can agree that they don't just want congestion. If a real BRT can be a reality within 18 months vs a street car which might take longer, then I say go with a real BRT.

It's a false choice, real BRT isn't an option and that's detailed in this and many other reports. There'd have to be a big political fight with VDOT and that'd definitely take more than 18 months.

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

Also, I think it's even clearer that Crystal City should get a streetcar, and if you take that as a given then the Pike line should be a streetcar also so you get a one seat ride.

by Chris Slatt on Mar 27, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

Regarding trollies on Columbia Pike, they can do whatever they want just so my taxes paid do not go up and my services received do not go down.

by ksu499 on Mar 27, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

I would be careful citing ITDP in this debate. While I would imagine that ITDP would strongly agree that enhanced bus is certainly not BRT, they might also point out that streetcar is certainly not light rail. Both light rail and BRT are more rapid forms of transit, while both streetcar and regular bus are decidedly not.

IIDP also did a study about North American transit projects and the resulting development, including BRT, streetcar, light rail, and enhanced bus. The take away is that the biggest determinants of development in an area with a transit improvement are the promotion of development by the city (through upzoning and publicity) and the strength of the market for development in that area. The type of transit improvement doesn't seem to matter very much.

https://go.itdp.org/display/live/More+Development+for+Your+Transit+Dollar%3A+An+Analysis+of+21+North+American+Transit+Corridors

by Rapid Transit? on Mar 27, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

It's the streetcar opponents relying on ITDP for their arguments. This report said that the conditions that Columbia Pike faces aren't the same conditions that led to the most success in the projects profiled by ITDP.

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

Oh, man...

I knew when that report came out yesterday, all the proponents of the system would take the highly subjective and non-data based speculation at full 100% face value.
And when given a range of numbers you ignore the lower band assumptions and instead assume the full, yet exceedingly optimistic and highly unlikely 4.4 billion in economic benefits as “the” answer.

And "magically" the cost of the bus option went up by ~34%. Why? Oh, because now we have to repave the entire road to deal with these buses, at a spectacular cost increase of 34% of for the bus option. Yeah, ok...how many streets in DC were repaved specifically because Metro started using articulated buses? What about Montgomery County? The answer, is of course, zero. The repaving wasn't in the original report, because it is completely unneeded, but hey, when you are desperately looking to gin up some numbers, anything works I guess.

And magically, the cost of streetcar option remained exactly the same in this study. Imagine that...
This despite every system used in the study ended up on average, just under 30% over budget. We will of course leave the so far thrice priced DC Streetcar out of the data, cause man…does that look bad and pretend that “these” numbers are legit.

"They took several steps, including literature reviews, case studies, and interviews, to establish the study's credibility as not advancing a predetermined outcome."
HR&A is no different than a hired witness for the defense, who comes to "court" and simply sells the story they were hired to sell. Arlington already paid for this report back in 2012. The problem was is that the numbers in “that” report didn't sell the project. So what do you do when you get the answer you don't want? Pay to get another of course, and "voila" this report magically finds 4.4 billion in economic benefits, 350% MORE, than the same study commissioned 2 years ago (1.2 billion).

The “example” systems used for successful examples are again, highly subjective and misleading, all using 2000 to 2007 time frames as their basis. Remind me again what was occurring during that period nationwide? Was it the largest and most inflated real estate development boom in the history of the United States, focused on urban areas like Portland, San Diego and NJ?

Sure, if you credit 100% of the additional development and job creation in these places to the streetcar, and forget for a second about the highly inflated national real estate bubble that “happened” to be occurring at the same time then sure, then these quantifying examples are “totally” legit.

This report “estimates” that 6600 new jobs (660 per year) will be created in this corridor alone in the first ten years after construction starts. Wow. Arlington’s year end 2013 Report shows that Arlington anticipates total county job growth of 2,700 per year from 2013 to 2030 and a full 90% of all job growth the past 13 years has been in the Ballston/Rosslyn and Crystal City Corridors.

So what they are expecting us to believe is that a full 25% of all Arlington County’s job growth is going to move to this corridor because of the streetcar? I’m trying hard not to laugh.

DC didn’t have a streetcar and the metro system was 35 years old then, yet DC saw 45 billion in private commercial real estate development in the downtown central business district in the 2000-2008 time frame. Why don’t we go ahead and credit the Portland Streetcar for that too.

by Columbia Pike on Mar 27, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

I don't have much time, so I'll admit to having only skimmed over the report.

But near as I can tell, the alternatives analysis is only comparing the return on investment along Columbia Pike itself, correct? In other words, no consideration has been given to redirecting the "unspent" capital represented by that $200-$250 million difference in cost into bus service enhancements elsewhere in Arlington and the return on investment from that/those projects?

Columbia Pike is not going to be an instant panacea for all transit woes in Arlington, and while it makes some sense to ignore the fact that that money could be reinvested elsewhere in the context of a study scoped to Columbia Pike itself, I don't think it's really fair to ignore the fact that bus service enhancements to parallel corridors (Arlington Boulevard, Little River Turnpike / Duke Street as two examples with the goal being to enhance east-west travel along a wider swathe of the region) are or should be on the table as options in addition to purely investing into Columbia Pike and letting everyone else hang out to dry.

I've been arguing for enhanced bus service because I believe very strongly that the increased expenditure is not worth anything, much less the $2+ billion suggested by this report, without dedicated space. That argument doesn't change if it's buses instead because I don't pretend that the bus would ever get a dedicated lane either.

But investing on buses in multiple corridors within the region (and it's extremely important that investment happens inside the region - I don't want to see the money taken and spent somewhere else or the entire argument I'm trying to make here falls apart) makes far more sense for the region than throwing all our eggs into a single streetcar that, I'm sorry, without space preserved - just won't be very good.

by Ryan on Mar 27, 2014 12:00 pm • linkreport

"Was it the largest and most inflated real estate development boom in the history of the United States, focused on urban areas like Portland, San Diego and NJ?"

actually that development boom focused more on suburban areas, esp lower value ones where the new loan products were more important. It certainly did not lead to a universal revival of inner city areas.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

HR&A is no different than a hired witness for the defense, who comes to "court" and simply sells the story they were hired to sell. Arlington already paid for this report back in 2012.

So the only way to get a truly independent report like this is hope that someone does it for free?

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport

Columbia Pike: Your comment gets at the essence of the challenge with "BRT."

BRT is not just longer buses. BRT is a system of making a very high-quality transitway, similar to light rail, which happens to just use rubber-tired vehicles on pavement instead of steel on rails.

LRT and BRT systems both involve considerable capital expense. You do rebuild the transitway to better standards, put in fancy stops, and almost always give the route a dedicated lane for a lot of its route.

Streetcar opponents keep saying we can do "BRT." When it's pointed out that BRT usually has some dedicated transitway but that's not possible here, they say BRT is still possible without dedicated lanes. Which based on ITDP's taxonomy, is barely true, but only if you really gold plate everything else.

Rebuilding the transitway to higher quality standards is absolutely a part of that. So are things like the "super stops" which have gotten a lot of derision. So are maintenance yards and much more.

Streetcar opponents keep saying we can do "modern BRT" that can be good transit, but then people scoff at every small expense involved, and say why not just use articulated buses and nothing else.

Sure, those are cheaper, but they don't make transit better and don't provide economic development value. People can wish all they want that some super-cheap transit will do what fancy transit does but without having to build fancy transit, but it's false.

This discussion seems to validate the April Fool post from last year that joked about Arlington picking BRT, only to have the BRT proponents start opposing BRT for being "too expensive" because all of the features were unnecessary and it could just be buses.

There are 3 options:

  1. Streetcars
  2. Enhanced bus that's not quite BRT
  3. Just articulated buses
#3 won't bring the benefits. #2 costs more than people expect because they're assuming it's #3. And #1 has the greatest benefit.

by David Alpert on Mar 27, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

@Chris Slatt

And to your suggestion that the true issue with Columbia Pike is traffic signal delays and not congestion delays - implementing any degree of transit preemption region-wide would go a long way towards solving that problem, as would regional signal coordination (the "green wave").

Where's the cost/benefit analysis for a purely electronic solution, with no actual building? I'm willing to bet you get the same c/b as you would on the streetcar, if not better. That doesn't mean you necessarily get the same returns as preemption technology probably ends up costing less, just the same ratio of dollars in to capital out. The other difference is that regional transit priority initiatives and signal coordination benefit everyone.

by Ryan on Mar 27, 2014 12:05 pm • linkreport

"In other words, no consideration has been given to redirecting the "unspent" capital represented by that $200-$250 million difference in cost into bus service enhancements elsewhere in Arlington and the return on investment from that/those projects?"

Cost is cost. If something costs 250 million, thats what you use for cost benefit analysis - you dont assume there is some other project that costs 250 million but has 1 billion in benefits. If there is such another project, you need to add more bucks, from the BCA POV.

Also note, you include projects outside Arlco, which Arlcos own bucks cannot be used for.

There is a place where analysis is done across the region, and where the impacts of projects on each other assuming constrained financing is done - thats the constrained long range plan, done by MWCOG. As far as I know DukeStreet/LRT is not in it, as City of Alex and FFX are not ready with a plan, nor is there a plan for Rte 50 (where increased development is going to be MUCH more limited, esp in Arlco)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 12:06 pm • linkreport

Drumz,

Whether they pay someone for it or not isn't the issue.

The issue is they already had this report. When it failed miserably to garner support for the project they again paid for another. This report didn't tell the story they wanted it to, so within 6 months of that report being issued, Arlington decided to try again.

Magically, with all the same data and only one year after the first report was written, this company managed to increase the number by 350%.

And the transit folks are eating it up with a spoon without once explaining the clear and enormous discrepancy between the two reports.

by Columbia Pike on Mar 27, 2014 12:09 pm • linkreport

"Where's the cost/benefit analysis for a purely electronic solution, with no actual building?"

IIUC the enhanced bus option in the original alt analysis assumed signal priority as well as off vehicle payment and articulated buses, and still did not get the volumes that street car gets.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

Col Pike

the earlier report, IIUC, did not completely address the enhanced bus alt that has been widely discussed, nor did it go into as much detail on development impacts. A long point by point comparison would be interesting - one could then determine which methodology is more realistic. To toss it out because it got higher numbers than the earlier study is not justified, IMO.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 12:11 pm • linkreport

"Whether they pay someone for it or not isn't the issue."

AST says that IS the issue. They particularly object to the County reviewing intermediate work product, even though thats standard procurement practice.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

Ryan - On a corridor with heavy transit ridership, you can't do signal pre-emption with buses. The buses come so frequently that if you had signal pre-emption, the cross streets would never get a green light.

Rail cars can be hooked together, so the train comes less frequently. This makes signal pre-emption possible with higher passenger volumes.

by Ben Ross on Mar 27, 2014 12:13 pm • linkreport

Won't the streetcar just get stuck in traffic? Plus how will it get from Washington Blvd down to Pentagon City?

This ranks up there with the million-dollar bus stop as far as Arlington boondoggles go.

Instead, they should reserve a bus-only lane during rush hour in the peak direction.

by Arlington Taxpayer on Mar 27, 2014 12:14 pm • linkreport

This debate seems endless, but it surely will end. Can someone more invested in this process point me to any study or any part of a study where Metro service was looked at?

Columbia Pike from just past Route 7 to the Pentagon is approx. 4.5 miles. I know Metro extensions are insanely expensive, especially for tunneling and underground stations. But if the fight here keeps coming back to "LRT on Columbia Pike costs billions but doesn't really do much because it's not in a dedicated lane, so let's pay a lot less for BRT-esq service", why not really "go big" and make the case for a Metro line? Turn Columbia Pike into the Orange line from Rosslyn to Ballston, give the streets to the car lovers, and doubledown on Metro 2025/2040.

by JDC on Mar 27, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

The issue is they already had this report. When it failed miserably to garner support for the project they again paid for another.

Yes, and people said the problem was that bus options weren't given enough consideration. Now it has been with basically the same results. To me, that says the county was right the first time and should go ahead.

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

JDC

The neighboring SFH areas would not accept that level of development.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

I think the reason that they arent just using the money to enhance bus service around the county is that this is about targeting an area for new growth like they did in Rosslyn-Ballston and Crystal City-Pentagon City in the past. Arlington is not interested in adding a lot of density all around the county, they prefer to do it in targeted areas. Improving transit service incrementally around the county is not likely to have the same level of impact as targeting one area for intense improvements. Improving frequency and span without concomitant housing/jobs development will not have the same impact on getting more people on transit. Large chunks of the county are just too suburban to be transit oriented.

by BTA on Mar 27, 2014 12:24 pm • linkreport

Just for my own records, because it's mentioned here very often and I haven't yet found it in state law or code or what-have-you, where exactly is the VDOT ban on dedicated lanes located?

by LowHeadways on Mar 27, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

LowHeadways,

It was part of an agreement reached by VDOT and Arlington County a while back. VDOT "gave" arlington the road to maintain but one of the conditions was that the number of travel lanes be kept the same.

Slide 10 of this Powerpoint,

http://www.ctb.virginia.gov/resources/2010/feb/cm_5_Columbia_Pike_21710.pdf

and here's a MOU that has it in the county's resolution.

http://arlington.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=&clip_id=1866&meta_id=84056

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

@drumz:

Thanks for that! But does that mean it applies only to Columbia Pike? I was under the impression that all roadways statewide were prohibited from repurposing vehicle travel lanes for transit use only. If that's not indeed the case universally, so much the better!

by LowHeadways on Mar 27, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

It's because Arlington (along with Henrico county outside of Richmond) opted to retain control of its roads a long time ago (like, decades). That said basically any highway through arlington (29, 50, 395, 1) is still under VDOT's aegis but Arlington has a lot more flexibility on its local roads than its neighbors. Columbia Pike was one of those but that agreement moved the resposibility to Arlington (with the stipulation that they keep 4 travel lanes open).

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

Won't the streetcar just get stuck in traffic? Plus how will it get from Washington Blvd down to Pentagon City?

Looks like it will travel down Joyce St.

Columbia Pike from just past Route 7 to the Pentagon is approx. 4.5 miles. I know Metro extensions are insanely expensive, especially for tunneling and underground stations. But if the fight here keeps coming back to "LRT on Columbia Pike costs billions but doesn't really do much because it's not in a dedicated lane, so let's pay a lot less for BRT-esq service", why not really "go big" and make the case for a Metro line? Turn Columbia Pike into the Orange line from Rosslyn to Ballston, give the streets to the car lovers, and doubledown on Metro 2025/2040.

Not sure those along the pike want to turn their neighborhood into Ballston II, nor do I think the region has the money for it. Getting another crossing of the potomac is already going to be difficult(going 'big') so I dont know if the region can go much bigger.

by Richard on Mar 27, 2014 12:49 pm • linkreport

The "region can't get bigger" isn't an argument. People say that about villages of 500 people. Tremendous density can be accomodated, slums in third world countries have some densities upwards of 100k/sq mile. Obviously no one thinks that is a good idea, but Columbia Pike is nowhere near maximum reasonable build out either. A potomac crossing isn't necessarily key here either, there are plenty of people who work in Pentagon City and Crystal City and a lot of development still to come for that area.

by BTA on Mar 27, 2014 1:04 pm • linkreport

BTA - of course physically Col Pike could reach the densities of the RB corridor. I think its quite politically unrealistic to expect that to be allowed anytime soon. There is already pushback from some against the densities projected now and associated with Pike Rail (higher than suburban and lower than RB - mostly 6 story buildings) and supported by the BoS (perhaps the most pro urbanist local govt in the region.) An attempt to build a new RB corridor would arouse many who are not now pushing back.

As for a potomac crossing, I do think that would be needed if a new heavy rail metro line were built. While some would work in Arlington, inevitably many would commute to DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

My impression is that VDOT has expressed opposition to repurposing such lanes on roads in Fairfax County. They would probably be okay on a completely uncongested road, but those are not the places where dedicated transit ROW is at issue. Fairfax's plan is to add dedicated lanes by widening, rather than repurposing. City of Alexandria is looking at repurposing - as a city, they have powers over roads that counties do not have, IIUC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 1:15 pm • linkreport

David Alpert

"Streetcar opponents keep saying we can do "BRT." When it's pointed out that BRT usually has some dedicated transitway but that's not possible here".

I fully admit that dedicated ROW would be enormously better for both modes. But, the proposed streetcar isn't going to have its own dedicated ROW either. So, if we are set on choosing one of two severly handicapped systems, then the one that costs 1/5th the cost of the other and doesn't rely on enormously inflated and subjective benefit numbers is the smart choice.

by Columbia Pike on Mar 27, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

I knew when that report came out yesterday, all the proponents of the system would take the highly subjective and non-data based speculation at full 100% face value.

Similarly, I think pretty much everyone, supporter of a streetcar on the Pike or not, knew that any streetcar opponent would discount the results of this CBA just as they discounted the results of the earlier study. If your baseline position is "I don't believe or trust you unless you validate my position, Arlington County," then perhaps you should reconsider your level of engagement in any civic process. Calling this report "highly subjective" and "non-data-based," along with the "what if we spent $250 million elsewhere" question, suggests a degree of misunderstanding about how CBAs and AOAs are researched and executed.

by worthing on Mar 27, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

" So, if we are set on choosing one of two severly handicapped systems, then the one that costs 1/5th the cost of the other and doesn't rely on enormously inflated and subjective benefit numbers is the smart choice."

unless, of course, the real life cycle costs are significantly closer than that, and there are real and important incremental benefits to the costlier choice.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

Ben Ross: The argument you're making with regards to chaining streetcars together is an argument to reduce frequencies. Maybe that's not where you're actually trying to go with your point and if that is the case I apologize, but if there are truly too many buses on the road to make preemption viable, then even more so the streetcar is a waste because of the fact that frequencies would go down in consolidating many buses that you can guarantee one is coming soon after you show up into a single jam-packed streetcar that may be ten minutes away.

I wouldn't accept that deal. If it's the case where "a bus every three minutes" factoring in non-WMATA service really turns into "three buses bunched together every ten minutes and then nothing," then I would say that trading the three buses for one streetcar carrying three buses worth of people didn't actually get you anything which you didn't already have. And so, even more so, I would argue against the investment as a development generator and the investment as a 'look how cool our streetcar is' booster for transit, and want that money directed elsewhere in Arlington for enhancements to bus services across the county and for implementing transit preemption where we can get it and for implementing signal coordination where we can't.

But somehow, I struggle to believe that we're actually at that point where we can't preempt signals for high-frequency transit because if we were, then there would be calls for Metrorail here, and dedicated space for transit would still be on the table. There aren't and it isn't.

AWalkerInTheCity: In direct reply to your comment,

"The neighboring SFH areas would not accept that level of development."

I would suggest that the real obstacle to Metrorail here is insurmountable barriers to entry from a pure cost perspective and extremely low desire for Metrorail expansion outside of the District unless and until we fix our problems in the core. Certainly, the fact that the Blue Line is being steadily Rush Plus'd out of existence and cannibalized for Orange/Silver service through Rosslyn makes any proposal for more VA expansion insanely problematic.

If you were to find some way to overcome both of these terminal issues and Metro could expand down Columbia Pike, then Metro would and no amount of NIMBYism could or would stop it. Remember, the primary reason to go with the streetcar as is is because of development returns.

(I also would stand behind any assertion that the ridership is there for Metro today and you could justify it with zero development incentives attached, but for - again - the insurmountable technical and fiscal barriers to entry.)

by Ryan on Mar 27, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

"If you were to find some way to overcome both of these terminal issues and Metro could expand down Columbia Pike, then Metro would and no amount of NIMBYism could or would stop it. Remember, the primary reason to go with the streetcar as is is because of development returns."

Development returns at lower densities on the Pike. I disagree with you about the strength of resistance to that level of development.

"(I also would stand behind any assertion that the ridership is there for Metro today and you could justify it with zero development incentives attached, but for - again - the insurmountable technical and fiscal barriers to entry.)"

While I have seen no studies, I do not believe that either.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

unless of course by fiscal barriers, you mean - what it actually costs to build underground heavy rail in the US. Sure, make the cost per mile whatever you want, and sure you can justify it with low ridership. Thats just arithmetic,

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 27, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

Didn't ya'll know that streetcars are H-O-T in this country? Come to San Francisco and ride the light-rail lines that run in mixed traffic and see how fast you move.

If CP wants to grow up then transit needs to go under. There is already a Metro bulb out at the Pentagon station. Build a Metro extension.

by Mark on Mar 27, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

So, if we are set on choosing one of two severly handicapped systems, then the one that costs 1/5th the cost of the other and doesn't rely on enormously inflated and subjective benefit numbers is the smart choice.

If you think the benefit numbers are inflated, that's true for both the rail and bus alternatives.

Buses aren't 1/5 cheaper when you look at the total lifecycle cost.

Why is rail so much more expensive upfront? Well, first you have to install tracks. But, you're getting value from that investment because you're not damaging the roads by running heavy buses on them and running on rails generates less friction, so it's more energy/cost efficient. Second, streetcars are sturdy and use a lot of steel. But, sturdy things last longer and provide better and more reliable service when in use.

It's similar to remodeling your kitchen or bathroom. You can go with the cheap plumbing fixtures that look good at first but have plastic parts that will eventually leak or break or get wobbly handles. Then it's a PITA to have your fixture out of service and you have to spend time/money fixing it or installing a new one. Or you go with something sturdy and long lasting (but more costly) that will provide nicer service from the get-go and avoid the time/expense/hassle of having it break in a few years.

by Falls Church on Mar 27, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

All of these studies should breakdown how it will benefit and whom. There are 4 different categories of people that truly have an option on the issue

1 Nearby residential land owners
2 Nearby business owners
3 Nearby renters for office/retail space
4 Nearby renters for housing

5 Jurisdiction in terms of taxes (its a win/win no matter what)

Groups 1 and 2 do great out of any development of streetcar as long as they can afford new taxes.

Groups 3 and 4 lose out period as their rents will increase its not question if but a question of when does your lease end. Group could be priced out of the area whereas Group 3 could be priced out, or get more clientèle (this depends on their business and the demographics of the area), pass the price onto the clientèle.

@ Falls Church

Sturdy things don't always last longer there are more issues that needs to be mentioned in terms of your bathroom, kitchen example. Where something is built, where the materials come from, climate/environment, design etc.

I have lived in different climates and environments and wood, metal, stone, PMMA, plastic (all types of plastic and you can make durable plastic its just super expensive). It depends on the level of dryness, moisture, climate, seismic activity, etc. of the given place.

by kk on Mar 27, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

"unless of course by fiscal barriers, you mean - what it actually costs to build underground heavy rail in the US. Sure, make the cost per mile whatever you want, and sure you can justify it with low ridership. Thats just arithmetic,"

What it actually costs to build underground heavy rail in the US is a technical barrier to entry. No new tunneling will happen anywhere in this country until we all figure out how to stop the madness.

Look at the Big Dig in Boston, and Seattle's answer to it. Then look at East Side Access in New York, and then look at projected costs of tunneling on transit or other projects nationwide. This isn't a modal problem and it isn't just "well, that's what it costs to dig a tunnel."

It's a technical issue and until we figure out how to tunnel better - which we are more than capable of doing - then any new tunneling project anywhere in the country is going to face this technical barrier and it should be treated as entirely separate from the fiscal barriers to entry.

Those fiscal barriers, by the way, are mostly tied up in acquisition of property on the surface for support infrastructure including station entrances and in paying for lobbying and legal support for our projects. The cost of a tunnel only becomes a fiscal barrier once we figure out how to get our costs down to a realistic level.

Until that point in time, the reaction to any new tunnel proposal should be "it's impossible to dig a tunnel." And it is, for what we as a country have been deceived into thinking tunnels 'should' cost.

That having been said, I don't believe Columbia Pike is a "low ridership" corridor and even at $400 million per mile there's probably enough ridership to justify Metro - but, again, since we can't dig tunnels at realistic costs and it's impossible wishful thinking to ask for a tunnel until we figure out how to dig tunnels at realistic costs, there's no point in trying to justify Metro here.

Of course, once we do figure it out, sending the Yellow Line down Columbia Pike instead of having it double up with the Blue Line makes too much sense not to do.

by Ryan on Mar 27, 2014 5:59 pm • linkreport

Gosh Virginia, stop being so miserly and unimaginative. Sometimes you must pay for nice things.

by Orgasmaddict on Mar 28, 2014 8:39 am • linkreport

According to the planning documents:

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

by 2030, the streetcar will generate an additional 5000 trips per day over TSM1. Extending that over the next 30 years and charitably assuming that weekends have the same additional trips is about 55 million additional trips. At the 3% discount rate in the study (which is deeply questionable, why on earth would you use that when the 30-year Treasury yield--a lower bound--is 3.5%), the benefits of the streetcar are about $3 billion over what I assume is roughly comaprable to TSM1. The implication is that each additional trip is worth about $60. Unbelievable.

by Jon on Mar 28, 2014 3:41 pm • linkreport

I am not sure it makes sense to normalize the development impact by number of incremental trips. While the additional capacity and demand is important, its not the only driver of the RE impact, which I think is in part due to the relative aesthetics/noise/etc of the street car vs the articulated bus option.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 28, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

Sadly, GGW refuses to offer streetcar skeptics an opportunity to formally voice their views (despite the diversity of opinion among transit professionals and other urbanists).

Fortunately, Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit has released a comprehensive rebuttal to this "study".

http://www.sensibletransit.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/AST_Response_to_County_Study_4_2_2014.pdf

Doesn't journalistic integtrity mandate at least a link to this tomorrow morning (even with a snarky lead)?

by South Arlingtonian on Apr 2, 2014 12:34 pm • linkreport

We've had like a dozen or more discussions of Pike Rail here, and ArlNow has had I bet over a hundred. Unless there is something new in there, I suspect such a linke will generate more heat than noise.

And why does everyone always forget FFX county's stake in this?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 2, 2014 12:39 pm • linkreport

"despite the diversity of opinion among transit professionals and other urbanists"

as far as I can tell the leading street car skeptic among transit professional is Jarrett Walker, and he specifically cites corridors where capacity is an issue as places where mixed traffic streetcars are most likely to be appropriate choices.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 2, 2014 12:41 pm • linkreport

@AWITC

Stephen J. Smith, too, though his main concern is generally the mixed-traffic one. I agree entirely, but Virginia complicates that possibility thanks to VDOT (the "D" is for "Dinosaur").

by LowHeadways on Apr 2, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

For some, the streetcar notion is all fine and dandy, but in my experience they are *incredibly* difficult to make fully accessible for disabled passengers.

Since basically ALL mass transpo busses are now equipped with ramps for passengers in wheelchairs, how much more will it cost to make each and every one of these streetcars accessible at each and every stop?! I can imagine that there will be several places along the route where 100% accessibility will be VERY difficult (bordering on impossible), and that could result in injuries and other problems. If that happens, how much will that cost taxpayers in lawsuits and settlements? (I can guarantee that now, some 24 years after the ADA was signed into law, that if even one stop isn't 100% accessible, someone WILL sue. It's just that simple.)

Busses help many kinds of passengers travel more conveniently. Drivers can assure that passengers in scooters, wheelchairs, who use walkers, and even people pushing strollers or other carts are let out on sidewalks or other safe spaces. Passengers with bicycles would have more access thanks to bike racks. Busses also allow flexibility in times of inclement weather. For instance: if the snow ploughs lump all the snow up and block access at the *immediate* stop, the driver can then find a clear space to load and unload passengers.

Basically...I can see where streetcars would "look nicer" and tend to be MUCH more punctual, in my 15+ years of riding mass transportation, busses have tended to be more accessible to ALL, and usually allow for greater flexibility. (The Metro is, of course, 100% beautifully accessible...even though the station operators have posed a problem to me...and other people w/disabilities.)

I'm sure many of you are actively rolling your eyes at my concerns about wheelchairs, accessibility, and even bike riders, but it's important. As a wheelchair-user, I have personally experienced the repercussions when buildings, businesses, and transportation systems aren't built to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (and other laws in place to protect disabled individuals). I've been discriminated against by Metro station managers and the Transit Police because of the 'chair. I've been denied access to transportation systems that have cost me employment opportunities and even a job I adored. People have tried to pile stuff around -- and IN -- my wheelchair aboard Amtrak and MARC trains, causing huge problems. I couldn't get back into my 'chair to use the washroom, had my wheelchair almost destroyed, almost missed my stop, and had to deal with conductors who don't know/understand the law. (The little blue sign next to the Wheelchair Seating Area is pretty straightforward and unambiguous.) Arrogant, anti-social lawbreakers who opt to park illegally in parking spots for the disabled (and in the Access Aisles/Loading Zones between them...areas that are often more important that the parking spots themselves) have kept me from being able to get into my own vehicle for hours at a time. One such time, in Baltimore, I was stuck outside my van for six hours...in the rain...in a power wheelchair. My wheelchair shorted out as a result, and his car insurance company refused my claim. And my health insurance did, too, since it was caused by someone actively breaking the law. So, I had to use a manual chair until I saved up the $thousands to buy a new one.

Oh, and because a D.C.-area hotel didn't have the chairs in their roll-in showers bolted down (legally required by the ADA, I later discovered), I broke my neck. An ADA violation caused me to BREAK. MY. NECK.

All of this prompts me to want to ask if the streetcars will be fully up to code and 100% legally accessible for persons with disabilities. Long-winded response? Yup. Is it coming from a place of genuine trepidation from repeated issues and trauma? Double-Yup. Sorry for taking up space...and, thank you.

by A.J. on Apr 6, 2014 4:36 am • linkreport

The streetcars have level-platform boarding like the Metro. No ramps or lifts required. I haven't heard of any issues with modern streetcars and ADA users.

by MLD on Apr 6, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

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