Greater Greater Washington

Two Virginia candidates want a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar. That is pointless and possibly destructive.

Two Virginia political candidates have called for a voter referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar. This is a bad idea.


Photo by wagaboodlemum on Flickr.

Alan Howze, one of the two, is running for Arlington County Board in November's special election. He just lost in a relatively low-turnout special election against John Vihstadt, who made the streetcar one of his main issues. The other is Patrick Hope, one of ten candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to succeed retiring US Representative Jim Moran.

But a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar is unecessary both practially and legally. It wouldn't change the status of the project in any material way and would just add extra time and expense to a process that has already been clear and democratic.

Debate is over for the streetcar

There is not much left to discuss about the relative merits of a streetcar versus its alternatives. In July 2012, the county board chose the streetcar after a thorough analysis of alternatives. This concluded a process that began in the 1980's and started considering transit options in 2004.

After the announcement, those who insisted that bus-only options could generate the same return for less cost challenged the decision. In response, the county commissioned another study by an independent firm. The results echoed the previous analysis that the streetcar is the best option for Columbia Pike.

When the facts are this clear, a prolonged campaign on the merits of a streetcar will not reveal anything new about the project. However, there would be plenty of opportunity for misinformation to spread widely and affect voters on election day.

This tactic doesn't make sense for streetcar supporters

It's understandable for opponents of a project to seek to delay implementation. They don't want to see something built and hope that a delay will give them more time to persuade people of their arguments or add time and expense to a project that will make it look worse than it is. We have seen this in DC, where delays to the zoning update have just added more time to a process and just watered down the changes more and more.

But a referendum that would just lengthen the process and muddy the waters doesn't make sense coming from project proponents like Howze or Delegate Hope. At best, the referendum would confirm the project is popular but delay the actual project. At worst, it would give ammunition to opponents and introduce further delays as political fights continue.

A referendum would also let opponents divert the argument away from facts. By just saying, "Let the voters decide," they would deflect any heat about false facts or mistruths they have spread about other options for the corridor.

Results would be meaningless anyway

In Virginia, a referendum is required when a local government wants to sell bonds. But neither Arlington nor Fairfax county plans to fund the streetcar with bonds. An "advisory" referendum would not have any material effect on the project. Opponents could have petitioned for a binding referendum, but if they thought they had the numbers for such a petition, they would have done it long ago.

Moreover, to hold any non-bond-related referendum, the counties would need permission from the General Assembly in Richmond. That means another layer of government to wade through for a local project that won't use any significant state funds.

Northern Virginia already has enough problems getting the state to give it control over specific regional issues. It doesn't make sense to punt this issue back to Richmond for something they never had to be involved with in the first place.

Is it just politics?

Supporters, including Howze himself, already argue that even if unpopular now, the streetcar will ultimately prove popular, as Metro and Capital Bikeshare, and other county transportation decisions are today. It's good that these candidates feel confident enough in the project that they think it can stand up to a direct electoral challenge. But there's no need to do so, the project is good, and the process has been clear.

So why hold a referendum? Hope might be seeking to stand out in a crowded field and perhaps draw some votes from streetcar opponents while remaining a supporter of the streetcar.

Howze seems to be trying to have it both ways on the streetcar: continue to appeal to voters who support it, but also give opponents less reason to work against his election. Howze started out his nomination campaign equivocating on the streetcar, and only later came out as a strong supporter.

Meanwhile, Vihstadt was able to bring together blocs of voters, often who opposed a particular county project. They were more motivated to turn out, especially in a special election. Howze may have a greater advantage in November when many voters might already be at the polls and would pick a Democrat purely based on party identification, but he also seems to be trying to hedge his bets by running to the middle on issues.

Instead, Howze, already on the defensive after losing last month's special election, should find ways to attract more pro-streetcar voters in the regular election in November. That would provide far more security for the project than trying to bet on its popularity via a referendum that ultimately wouldn't matter.

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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I'm on the Arlington Transporation Commission. Many developers come to us for endorsement on projects and buildings that include bonus density, reductions in parking and other benefits that depend on there being high quality transit in the area, so that we can assume based on Arlington's data and studies that fewer people will need cars or use cars.

Now that there are calls for a referendum, I'm not sure how to proceed. Can I still vote for such projects until a referendum is actually approved, and then I must vote against until the referendum is held? Do I have to start voting against now, since we're talking about having a referendum, and either way the November election goes, the County Board looks like it's going to have three votes in favor of a referendum?

Can the county spend any money to continue engineering of the streetcar project? Can the contracting people still solicit bids and answer potential bidders' questions on the project or do they just have to put everything on the shelf for a year and a half?

What is this going to do to the cost of the project? Certainly inflation will continue to drive the cost up because we'll be building it a year or two later than it otherwise would be built?

by Michael Perkins on May 5, 2014 12:04 pm • linkreport

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by Tim Kaine on May 5, 2014 12:15 pm • linkreport

Sounds like Howze and the Arlington Dems are starting to panic. I'm not sure why they're running Howze again, other than they had no back-up plan. Apparently they didn't anticipate losing the special election. That said, the referendum idea is a non-starter because it would require special legislation, and the people calling for it know that. It's political theater at its finest.

by Paul on May 5, 2014 12:17 pm • linkreport

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by Kim Jong-un on May 5, 2014 12:30 pm • linkreport

Basically, this article makes an argument against all referenda in a representative democracy.

It is unsustainable to first elect representatives to do the governing, and then reduce part of their complex job to a yes/no question.

by Jasper on May 5, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

again the better way to describe the dynamics is people who are unhappy with the zimmerman-machine era are effectively using the streetcar issue to punish the ACDC.

Thanks to this idiocy, they managed to switch an all-D board into 3 Ds and 2 "others". Walter is the next weak link as he is more of less the last zimmie ally left. I'm not sure his voter base in South Arlington is that delighted to be evicted for the new streetcar.

by charlie on May 5, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

The Soviet-style tactics and arrogance of streetcar supporters is striking. The people don't know what's best for them; we do! Elections? They're pointless and destructive! Deviate from the party line? You're purged!

by Brandon on May 5, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

Arlington has done many things well, but all of DC's tiffany jurisdictions have had periods of political ineptitude (e.g., MoCo for most of the last 20 years). The post recounts the various steps but doesn't really get at why it's come to this and what that has to do with the validity (or invalidity) of the referendum. It seems like a failure of political leadership and the democratic way to challenge that is with elections.

by Rich on May 5, 2014 12:52 pm • linkreport

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by Let us speak! on May 5, 2014 12:55 pm • linkreport

The author is correct that a referendum in a streetcar would be silly--especially since the policy makers are up for re-election anyway.

Referendums over transportation projects do have their place. Opposition to Metrorail was laid to rest by the overwhelming support by PG, Arlington, and Fairfax voters in 1968.

But the current situation is more analogous to the Intercounty Connector. In 2002 Doug Duncan and allies made the Montgomery Council Council election a referendum on the ICC, the pro-ICC slate won, and the project moved forward within that county. (Prince Georges County opposed the ICC and blocked all but about 2 miles within the county.)

by JimT on May 5, 2014 1:03 pm • linkreport

If the tactics were really Soviet-style, than Howze would have won with 99% of the vote.

by David C on May 5, 2014 1:05 pm • linkreport

You know, I did raise concerns when Howze lost and was told by drumz and AWITC, among others, that it was NBD and not to worry about... this is thek ind of stuff and direction that I was worried about.

I think the California experience offers us a telling example of why direct initiatives and referenda are a bad idea, even in a left-leaning jurisdiction.

In this specific case, though, you have not just issues of political communication and leadership, but also the "lack of constituency" problem. Better off Arligntonians, even the liberal ones, have little use for the Columbia Pike streetcar, since that corridor is in many ways economically depressed. The people found along that corridor today tend to be politically disengaged (many are immigrants and are ineligible to vote even if they wanted to). They may also have the concern, alluded to by charlie, that the streetcar will be the engine of their own displacement.

That doesn't exactly leave a broad-based constituency in support. Sure, there's plenty of people who support it in general terms or as a matter of progressive (but not too progressive, in the Green Party sense) policy. But is it a majority? Especially in a special election/referendum setting?

by Dizzy on May 5, 2014 1:12 pm • linkreport

I'd still say that I'm correct in noting that not much legally can be done to block the streetcar. That's why Howze and hope are asking for the law to change.

Now, they definitely should have just let this lie and not done this. It's simply bizarre and why I never considered something like this a possibility. So my bad.

by Drumz on May 5, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

This is slightly off-topic but still related to the streetcars. Will the rails make it more difficult to ride a bicycle down Columbia Pike? I've know people who have had spectacular spills on streets with rail crossings.

by Mary on May 5, 2014 1:47 pm • linkreport

Howze's behavior, not just now but in the special election as well, indicates to me that either he is an inept candidate or he has polling data showing that the streetcar is deeply unpopular.

In the special election, Howze notably did not talk about local issues like the streetcar or the aquatics center, he tried to make it about national issues like Medicare, gay marriage, etc - issues that the Arlington County Board does not have a say in. A lot of people found this intellectually dishonest. I'm sure there are people out there who are perhaps not as far to the left as Howze on social/national issues, but who enjoy getting to work on time, and he may have turned these off. Of course now, he's basically flip-flopping on the streetcar, risking making himself look weak and flimsy.

But all these crazy moves make sense if he believes the streetcar is a radioactive issue. Maybe he has number showing that it is. I don't know.

by Hadur on May 5, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

@ Hadur; of course the streetcar is deeply unpopular.

It may or may not be a good idea in 25 years, but current voters aren't going to be around to benefit from that. In the meantime, they are very unhappy about their increasing tax bills.

And there is a real lack of confidence that the current Board is being careful with money.

by charlie on May 5, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

The million dollar bus stop and the aquatics center have probably done more damage to the streetcar cause than any combination of Vihstadt or Garvey have. I can certainly admit that as a streetcar supporter, our challenge is to distinguish the streetcar from those two.

That said I don't think I've seen poll data from anytime soon about the streetcar. I'm sure the Howze campaign has some that its holding close.

by Hadur on May 5, 2014 1:59 pm • linkreport

Charlie,

People unhappy with tax bills that are going to be lowered this year.

And the actual evidence that the county is spending irresponsibly is weak as well.

Meanwhile, the streetcar is an example of planning for wht the area will look like in 25 years.

by Drumz on May 5, 2014 2:10 pm • linkreport

Hadur,

At the same time. The county is actively reviewing and re considerin those projects. Aka doing what people are demanding they do. Somehow this is hardly acknowledged.

Howze also won the precincts along the pike. You'd think he wouldn't want to risk that when this can easily be viewed as people in other parts of Arlington deciding the fate of Columbia pike.

Aside,

Opposition to the streetcar comes from three places:

A: the disproven assumption that buses are the more effective option.
B: general anti-spending sentiment
C: people who think it's all a scam to gentrify the area (and ignore all the other plans that are in place for the area).

None of those are reasonable positions anymore.

Further let's say a refernwdum happens and the streetcar fails. What then? No matter the alt. decision is it means that years of paying people to figure out the most effective way Of moving people (aka the streetcar) has now been a waste. How is that an example of "efficient" spending?

The referendum asks people to ignore all evidence and go with a bad solution based on misplaced outrage.

by Drumz on May 5, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

@Mary: I would say that the rails will make the street more hazardous for bicyclists, but it's already not a great ride on a bike. Try the parallel routes the County has created on either 9th or 11th north or south of the Pike. When we reviewed the neighborhoods plan for the area, we commented that making sure those streets connected and gave good parallel routes for bikes was a high priority.

by Michael Perkins on May 5, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

Drumz,

Thanks to increased assessments, the 1-cent decrease in the tax rate will not result in a smaller tax bill. Plus water rates and trash collection fees are increasing. The average County homeowner will be paying more to the County.

Unmentioned here is Fisette's ham-fisted handling of the 2015 County budget. The Board had county employees taking it in the shorts (no merit or step increases), at the eleventh hour. The Board hastily back-pedaled restored the increases while finding cuts elsewhere. Hardly confidence inspiring leadership. All this have the makings of a "tax revolt" in one of the country's most left-leaning jurisdiction. As I wrote above, I think the Dems are panicking. And, they ought to dump Howze, who's damaged goods at this point to show they're "listening."

It will be a shame if the streetcar succumbs due to largely unrelated issues, but that's the way politics works out sometimes.

by Paul on May 5, 2014 2:32 pm • linkreport

"Increased assessments" = my property is worth more than it was before

by MLD on May 5, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

Exactly, the increased assessments can just as likely be a result of good county stewardship and planning. People complain about their tax bill but will fight tooth and nail against anything that would impact their home values in the same breath.

If the county is in some sort of tax revolt they have absolutely no reason to be. By and large, by cutting taxes and looking at what they're spending, the county is doing what taxpayers are asking for.

by drumz on May 5, 2014 2:44 pm • linkreport

The argument against the streetcar is short and pretty easy to understand. The argument for the streetcar requires a lot more work to understand the projections and estimates ... and perhaps some faith in the models/comparisons. It's no surprise that there is considerable resistance.

It's unclear what the Democrats can do to get over this hump since there is a core of somewhat interested constituents -- they show up an vote -- that are not going to read a 120-page report (I read it) nor have a bud that is top of the issue that can successfully articulate answers. Simply based on local conversations, I'd guess securing federal assistance would be a big boost. It's both easy to understand and lowers risk to Arlington tax payers. To some extent, the streetcar has had some bad luck with an expensive bus stop and the proposed water park giving an impression of an "out-of-control spending board". I'm guessing that axing the pool would help. Given the the Green and Republican Parties supported Vihstadt pro-streetcar folks need to push into the center.

In the end, I'll speculate that pursuing a referendum would net hurt the streetcar but help Democrats win their elections.

by Geof Gee on May 5, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

Exactly, the increased assessments can just as likely be a result of good county stewardship and planning.

I definitely agree that rising property assessments are the result of good planning. However, good planning doesn't necessitate increasing spending at a rate substantially above inflation every year. Actually, I'd say that good planning results in lower costs, not higher costs because a well planned area is more efficient.

by Falls Church on May 5, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

...good planning doesn't necessitate increasing spending at a rate substantially above inflation every year.

Nor does it preclude it. Good planning involves spending at the rate that is best for the plans. That might be above the rate of inflation, and it might be below.

by David C on May 5, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

Property taxes are a cash expense. Increased assessments (which may or not be "real") only benefit those who are re-financing or selling soon. Equity is not something you can routinely convert to cask. The County may also find itself in court on steep rises in commercial assessments. Some of the increases seem indefensible. That said, most counties would love to have the "problems" Arlington has. A case of affluenza...

by Paul on May 5, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

However, good planning doesn't necessitate increasing spending at a rate substantially above inflation every year.

But there's not that much evidence of that either. There's a few events (aquatics center, the bus stop) that are actually under review and effectively suspended. Other concerns are misplaced (like thinking the streetcar isn't "core" and that the money should be spent on schools, which it can't btw) or simply non-existent (again, saying the county is ignoring schools when that's its biggest spending priority and will remain so, or continuing to assert that buses are a better option for the pike). These things lead me to believe that the county gov't isn't nearly as tone deaf as asserted.

But the call from supporters for a referendum definitely is tone deaf, therefore the Ds on the board should ignore that as well, and if Howze is elected in November then he should drop the issue as well.

So yeah, there's a lot of outrage. I recognize that it's there. I won't say that much of it is justified though.

by drumz on May 5, 2014 3:11 pm • linkreport

good planning doesn't necessitate increasing spending at a rate substantially above inflation every year.

Nor does it preclude it.

Agreed. There is little relationship between good planning and increased spending. So, the question is why is spending consistently increasing faster than inflation and the rate of economic growth? I think we've ruled out good planning.

Part of the reason is increased spending on schools as Arlington's demographic dividend (lots of high earning households without no kids) becomes a demographic negative (those same households are now having kids enrolling in schools -- the Arlington Baby Boom) but that's probably not the whole reason.

by Falls Church on May 5, 2014 3:16 pm • linkreport

However, good planning doesn't necessitate increasing spending at a rate substantially above inflation every year.

But there's not that much evidence of that either.

Did you mean there's isn't evidence that the county's spending increases much faster than inflation? If so:

FY2009 Budget: $744M, 85 cent tax rate
FY2015 Budget: $1.1B, $1.01 tax rate
Spending increase: 48%
Inflation increase: somewhere around 10%

by Falls Church on May 5, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

I'll rephrase: evidence that the increased spending is "reckless" which is a favorite term that is tossed around whenever it's announced that something will cost money.

by drumz on May 5, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

So, the question is why is spending consistently increasing faster than inflation and the rate of economic growth? I think we've ruled out good planning.

When did we do that?

by David C on May 5, 2014 3:28 pm • linkreport

David C

We've ruled out the possibility that good planning necessarily means there needs to be an increase or decrease in spending. Good planning doesn't have to cause increased spending, nor does it preclude it.

Of course, that leaves the possibility that Arlington has adopted a version of good planning that does require large increases in spending.

by Falls Church on May 5, 2014 3:36 pm • linkreport

Right. If Arlington is spending at such a rate, it could be the result of good planning (finding many investments where benefits exceed costs), bad planning (choosing investments where costs exceed benefits) or neither. So, I'm not sure why it was even brought up.

by David C on May 5, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

Falls Church - one would want to factor population growth across that span right? Spending per capita seems like a better metric than total spending.

by Chris Slatt on May 5, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

Spending per capita adjusted for inflation makes sense.

by TS on May 5, 2014 4:19 pm • linkreport

...There's a few events (aquatics center, the bus stop) that are actually under review and effectively suspended...

Apparently tomorrow we find out about the Superstops after its review. This will most likely include recitation of all the costs again, where mistakes were made and plans to build future stops similar to the $300k stops being built for the BRT in Crystal City-Potomac Yard transit way. 80% Fed funded!

I'm thinking the aquatic center in its current design will be cancelled upon review and will go back to the voters for much more pared down version.

I've read in a few places that the county might not seek FTA funding for the streetcar. That doesn't make sense to me. The opposition is primarily about spending. Getting some funding, even 25-30% from FTA, with Fairfax paying it share and hopefully some funding from NVTA and/or VA, could go a long way towards mollifying the opposition. I’m curious to see what the county says in a couple of weeks when we get a county spending plan including details about streetcar spending.

by TS on May 5, 2014 4:40 pm • linkreport

Why is Arlington so addicted to wasting taxpayer money? Wasteful, and borderline idiotic projects, such as $1 million bus stops, a $100 million "swim center", and now a $1 billion streetcar that no one wants. It's as if the county feels the need to make up for the frugality (except when it comes to even more useless highways of course) of the other 95% of the state.

Glad the feds returned that part of the District to Virginny.

by K Street on May 5, 2014 7:11 pm • linkreport

K street,

Good news. The aquatic center is on hold until costs can be justified and the streetcar will cost less than a third of what you say it will.

by Drumz on May 5, 2014 7:55 pm • linkreport

@Drumz

Uh huh.... I guess thats why the Feds laughed Arlington out of the room when they wanted Federal money for the thing, telling Arlington their cost projections were laughably low.

If the thing gets built, and thats an uphill battle now that the County tax payers are in a revolt mode not seen since...ever, it will cost atleast double what Arlington is trying to convince it will cost.

As far as spending increase, thats not something y'all really want to see.

FY2009 Budget: $744M, 85 cent tax rate
FY2009 Pop: 217,500 ($3,420/capita)
FY2015 Budget: $1.1B, $1.01 tax rate
FY2015 Pop 233,200 (Est)($4,721/capita)

Spending increase per capita: 38% !!!

Pretty ridiculous. Population increase obviously requires additional gross spending, but on a per capita basis the spend should hold about the same. Except in Arlington I guess.

by geoffre on May 6, 2014 8:54 am • linkreport

I guess thats why the Feds laughed Arlington out of the room when they wanted Federal money for the thing, telling Arlington their cost projections were laughably low.

You and I must have very different definitions of what "laughing" is. FTA was explicit that the merits of the project was good and the county should reapply to new starts where there was the opportunity for MORE money than what Arlington was asking for.

by drumz on May 6, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

I wouldn't call Bike Share popular; please don't equate it with Metro.

by Kill da Trolley on May 6, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

Canaan,

You write that "...neither Arlington nor Fairfax county plans to fund the streetcar with bonds..."

You must know something that we Arlingtonians do not, so please share it with us.

What exactly is Arlington's plan to finance its share of the Pike streetcar?

by Wayne Kubicki on May 6, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport

"I've read in a few places that the county might not seek FTA funding for the streetcar."

Only place I've read that is in the comments on ArlNow. I do not believe it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 6, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

Yes, isn't TIF bonds part of the Arlington package?

The streetcar is also a bit of zombie. I understand that you've got to look 15-25 years out, but the economic model (Pentagon contractors in Crystal City and Skyline) is pretty much over with BRAC. That is a secular decline.

I'd agree that we might see a bouceback on the CRE market in Arlington but even with a streetcar I don't see why I'd want an office there.

If anything we need a N-S transit route in Arlington more than a streetcar under Columbia Pike.

by charlie on May 6, 2014 10:07 am • linkreport

The TIF is for affordable housing.

There's still a ton of residential demand and the current buses are at/near capacity anyway.

We have a NS Transit route in Arlington. It's the Blue Line. And they just added a new route as well that goes from Courthouse to Crystal City as a part of the overall Crystal City-Potomac Yard Plan.

Then you've got the 10B 23 buses and ART 41 (and a few others that I can't recall) that all go N-S in Arlington.

by drumz on May 6, 2014 10:22 am • linkreport

@Drumz; I agree the residental market is still strong -- but where are those people going to commute to? Takng the streetcar into pentagon city? A two line transfer into DC? I'd rather stick with the bus.

Better transit to skyline made a lot of sense when contractors were intersted in that.

And I'll admit that i am not current on Arlington stuff, but the last i remembered is yes they did a TIF for affordable hosing there, and were lookign at another TIF to fund Arlington's portion of the cost of streetcar.

The funding picture is very opaque and I don't see how you do this without the FTA.

by charlie on May 6, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

The only thing I've heard about any TIF was for affordable housing but you may have read something I haven't.

People's transfer situations will be unchanged after the streetcar. There are some direct to DC lines and those are remaining. What will be left is more people on fewer vehicles making the same trip.

by drumz on May 6, 2014 10:51 am • linkreport

In 2009, we were in the middle of a recession. As a result, Arlington had a hiring freeze and eliminated all discretionary funding. Not sure that is the best baseline to start with. Though I think we should boost spending and borrowing in a recession and then taper it and pay down debt when times are good, almost no government does that. So it's not unreasonable to think that Arlington has a lot of budget cuts to restore and deferred maintenance to take care of.

I guess I would need to see a breakdown of spending to understand if growth has been unreasonable or not.

by David C on May 6, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

@David C: yup, cherry picking is rampant. Compare with the previous year's numbers (2007) of $888.5M budget and a population of 204,568 and you get $4,343 per capita and an increase of <9% per capita over 7 years (less than inflation rate). THE SKY IS FALLING! Obviously, the county board has been tremendously irresponsible.

by Mike on May 6, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

I suspect that opposition to a referendum is based on fears about the outcome. I think there is a clear majority against the streetcar.

I tend to agree with those who disfavor referenda in favor of elected official accountability. But when a local political body becomes tone deaf and unresponsive it can restore public confidence. Sadly, we appear to beat that point.

by s Arlington Observer on May 6, 2014 6:11 pm • linkreport

Yeah, those tone deaf politicians who have kept expenditures flat while a vocal minority complains that their spending is out of control. How dare they!

by Mike on May 7, 2014 7:42 am • linkreport

I don't think streetcar opponents are a vocal minority. If they are a referendum will settle that point.

Streetcar supporters are missing the point and deluding themselves if they think all the opponents are fiscal conservatives. Trying to ram through that project has split the Democratic Party and Arlington's dominant progressive consensus.

It is the board majority that is giving oxygen to otherwise unpopular attacks on government.

by s Arlington Observer on May 7, 2014 8:28 am • linkreport

A process that started in the 90's is hardly "ramming through".

by drumz on May 7, 2014 8:51 am • linkreport

what strikes me as very hollow is the rhetoric and logic of streetcar boosters.

Arlington has a good track record on the "urban villages" which is why, even though I disagree about the parking in Falls Church metro, they should move along with their ideas.

Going back further, Metro was clearly a good thing although the investment by the county was smaller.

My fears about the streetcar are they are operating off a 25 year old idea to connect Skyline and the Pentagon, and I'm not sure the demand is there anymore. And the cost issues -- both the size and financing have not been well thought out.

And the final point -- is the streetcar a superior solution to the buses already there -- is pretty open to debate. Unless you can use streetcars to cut labor costs it often doesn't seem to make sense to invest the extra capital.

by charlie on May 7, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

Charlie - the demand for transit on the Pike exists and is growing, and the potential for (residential) growth there is very significant. The added benefits of rail on a corridor like this have been discussed extensively - you can agree or disagree, but accusing supporters of using hollow rhetoric seems unfair.

S Arlington Obs - As drumz said, its hardly been rammed through. As for a referendum, I think its clear that the turnout and the demographics you get from a referendum, depend on what other offices are elected at the same time. I think to get the closest to a full representation of Arlington citizens, will mean waiting till a presidential general election - IE November 2016. That will delay the project yet further.

by AWalkerInTheCity on May 7, 2014 9:06 am • linkreport

Charlie,

It's just one study but it's the easiest one I can find when I need it. http://www.brooklynrail.net/images/new_brooklyn_streetcar/streetcar_vs_nyct_bus_operating_cost.pdf

But this lays out a good case why its reasonable to expect a lower overall cost for a streetcar, especially in labor.

The demand is there because the pop. on the pike is growing and the buses are already at/near capacity. It's not about the end destinations. It's about what's between them.

At this point, it's no longer logic/rhetoric. It's the actual evidence by transportation planners that has said time and again that the way to improve public transportation on Columbia Pike is by putting in a streetcar. It's in the Alternatives Analysis, it's in the ROI study, it's even in FTA's rejection of small starts funding (they said we should have a longer streetcar vehicle!).

At this point the only reasons I can think someone can still argue for another mode is either complete ignorance of everything that has happened so far or they're being disingenuous.

by drumz on May 7, 2014 9:08 am • linkreport

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