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Budget


Arlington can't forget what made it what it is

It's a truism in politics that if you repeat a statement often enough, people will believe it, regardless of whether it's true. In Arlington, a cohort of commentators and activists has been chanting that the County Board is full of profligate spenders. Now that claim has started to have currency in county politics, even though it's grounded in little at all.


Historic photo of Rosslyn via Arlington Fire Journal.

Fifty years ago, Arlington was an aging suburb that progress had passed by on the way to greener pastures in Fairfax County. Outdated retail strips, struggling businesses and a declining population portended a bleak future. State and federal planners saw Arlington mostly as space to be traversed between home and work, and they proposed cutting up its neighborhoods for commuter roads.

County residents and leaders did not respond to this challenge by spending as little as possible in the vain hope that doing so would attract people and economic growth. Instead, they campaigned to build an expensive Metrorail subway and put it under Wilson Boulevard, with the goal of transforming it from a tired suburban strip into a new downtown. They planned walkable centers with more housing, jobs and retail, plus new streets and sidewalks.

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

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Bicycling


Arlington will build its first cycletrack this fall

Despite being an early leader in bicycle friendliness, Arlington has been slow to join the growing trend of building cycletracks (not counting a tiny 30-foot fragment in Rosslyn). While there are plans for cycletracks on Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City and a re-aligned Clark/Bell street in Crystal City, a new pilot project on Eads Street will likely precede both.


South Eads Street today. Image from Google Maps.

Arlington needs to repave several sections of Eads, and multiple development projects are in the works along the corridor. The time is ripe to re-imagine how Eads Street can function to serve pedestrians, cyclists, cars and buses, and the county is kicking off a South Eads Street Corridor Study.

Right now, Eads functions primarily to move cars, with roomy lanes that encourage speeding (some as wide as 19 feet), more lanes than necessary for the volume of traffic, few street trees, and limited bike facilities. Technically, there are bike lanes on the southern end, but the markings have faded to almost nothing.

Next Wednesday, Arlington will host a workshop to get feedback on options for various segments of Eads, which parallels Route 1 from I-395 to the border with Alexandria. The options vary quite a bit based on the shifting width of the street. They include buffered bike lanes, a street-level cycletrack, and a raised cycletrack at sidewalk level. All would provide continuous bike facilities from the Four Mile Run Trail connection in the south all the way to a connection with the future Army Navy Drive cycletrack in the north.


Options for one section of Eads Street. Image from Arlington County. Click for larger version including cross-sections.

The visioning process and corridor study will set out the long-term plan for Eads, but officials plan to build a short-term pilot project this fall between 23rd Street and 15th Street. This section of Eads is on the paving list for this year, and Arlington is going to take advantage of that to do a cheap pilot.

The roadway will be re-striped from its existing four lanes to become two lanes and a center turn lane. A two-way cycletrack of some sort will be added, pedestrian crossings upgraded, and parking lanes reconfigured.

Arlington will be gathering significant data on how people travel along this section of Eads both before the changes and after, including bicycle, pedestrian and traffic counts, as well as travel time measurements. Analysis of these metrics from the pilot program will inform the ultimate design of Eads Street as well as future cycletrack projects in the county.

South Eads Street has the potential to be a vital cycling connection in Arlington. North-South travel by bicycle in Arlington is notoriously challenging, with few good options. This project will connect the planned Army Navy Drive cycletrack to the Four Mile Run trail and, from there, the Mt Vernon Trail. Someday it may connect to the planned bike/ped bridge over Four Mile Run, taking cyclists to one of Alexandria's main cycling corridors, Commonwealth Avenue.

If you're free, come out the workshop on Wednesday evening, May 21, 7 pm at the Aurora Hills Community Center and provide your feedback. If you can't make the meeting, the county has an online survey you can take instead.

Transit


Arlington's streetcars will carry more riders than VRE or the entire Richmond bus network combined

Here's the simplest reason to build a streetcar on Columbia Pike: Absolutely tons of people will ride it. The latest ridership projections show that by 2035 there will be more streetcar riders on Columbia Pike and in Crystal City than there are on VRE or riding buses in Richmond today.


Streetcar and buses in Toronto. Photo by Sean_Marshall on flickr.

The latest ridership projections for the streetcar are huge. By 2035, 37,100 riders per day are expected to use the combined Columbia Pike / Crystal City line, which will operate as a single through route. Another 22,700 will ride buses daily, for a total of 59,800 riders in the corridor.

For comparison, VRE carries about 20,000 per day, and as of 2011 (the most recent data available), the entire Richmond metropolitan area bus system carried an average of 35,200 riders per day. That's every bus route in the whole region put together.

Granted, comparing 2035 projections to contemporary ridership is not exactly valid. Surely by 2035 VRE and Richmond's GRTC will be carrying more riders than they are now.

But these comparisons are useful nonetheless. They give us a sense of the scale of transit demand on Columbia Pike.

Let's keep going. According to the American Public Transportation Association's 4th quarter 2013 ridership report, here are more total networks that the Columbia Pike / Crystal City streetcar's 37,100 daily riders in 2035 will beat or approximately match:

  • MARC commuter rail (34,100 riders per day)
  • Regional light rail systems in Baltimore (26,800), San Jose (34,300), New Orleans (20,200), Minneapolis (30,100), Charlotte (15,400), Buffalo (17,400), Pittsburgh (28,300), Houston (38,300), Seattle (33,200), Norfolk (5,000 in 2012)
  • Regional bus networks in Indianapolis (35,000), Memphis (28,700), Nashville (31,200)
  • Fairfax Connector bus system (36,300)
  • Prince William County Omni-Ride bus system (13,400)
Of course there are plenty of bigger systems out there. Here's a sampling from the same data:
  • Subway systems such as New York (8,733,300), WMATA (855,300), Atlanta (221,200), and even Baltimore (48,500)
  • Light rail systems such as Los Angeles (200,900), Sacramento (46,400), Portland (115,300), Dallas (98,300), and Saint Louis (53,000)
  • Bus networks like Baltimore (237,600), Montgomery County Ride-On (86,600), WMATA (441,100), and Norfolk (52,800 in 2012)
Now let's compare the ridership projections for Columbia Pike / Crystal City with other rail projects near the DC region:Each of those projects will carry more riders than the Columbia Pike / Crystal City streetcars, but each of them also has a price tag in the multiple billions of dollars. Streetcars in Arlington will cost hundreds of millions, but produce great bang for the buck.

The bottom line

With 16,000 daily bus riders today, Columbia Pike is already Virginia's busiest bus corridor. By 2035 there will be nearly 60,000 combined streetcar and bus trips on the Columbia Pike / Crystal City corridor, with 42,800 of those coming on Columbia Pike.

Streetcar detractors want you to believe it's practical to move more people on Columbia Pike by bus alone than the entire Richmond or Norfolk regional bus networks move in sum total. They want you to believe it's practical to move more people on Columbia Pike with buses than MARC or VRE move on commuter rail, or that Baltimore, Minneapolis, or Houston move on light rail.

That's ridiculous. The huge transit demand on Columbia Pike easily justifies rail, and it comes at a better cost value than other rail projects around the region. To suggest otherwise ignores reality.

Transit


Million dollars no more: What's in and what's out of Arlington's redesigned Columbia Pike bus stations

Arlington has redesigned and value-engineered a series of transit stations proposed along Columbia Pike, after the original prototype drew criticism for costing a lot and not adequately keeping out the weather. The new design is both less expensive and more effective.


The new design. All images from Arlington County.

Controversy and review

Last year Arlington unveiled the first of a planned series of "super-stop" bus stations along Columbia Pike, near the intersection with Walter Reed Drive. The prototype cost nearly one million dollars, outraging many in the community who felt it extravagantly expensive for "just a bus stop."

But that wasn't the only criticism. The prototype's angled roof and undersized rear and side panels don't offer much protection against the elements.

Arlington heard the outrage and suspended further construction to review the design. The review came out last week, and proposes a new design that's significantly cheaper, but also better in a number of ways.

The new design


Elevation (top) and plan view (bottom) of the new design.

Like the prototype, the new design includes a large glass canopy and glass walls, seating, displays with real-time arrival information, and platform-like curbs.

Unlike the prototype, the canopy is a simple boxy shape that's cheaper and easier to manufacture, more flexible to multiple configurations, and better at keeping out rain and snow. The roof is lower and slopes more gently, meaning rain will have to be falling nearly sideways to get in from the front.

From the back, the rear panels extend higher, closer to the roof. They leave a much smaller gap between the wall and roof, adequate for air circulation but much less prone to let in rain or snow.

Likewise, the side panels are more carefully placed, boxing in the waiting area more effectively.


The new design, showing more effective side panels

The new design eliminates one of the most controversial elements from the prototype, an underground heating system that melts snow and ice. But with this improved canopy and wall layout, fewer elements will get into the station in the first place.

Another major improvement is that real time information will come in multiple ways: On a large main display to one side, and also on displays hung from the roof. The hanging displays will be easier for waiting passengers to see from afar.

And all of this comes via a relatively inexpensive standardized tool kit.


Tool kit of standardized parts.

Since the pieces can fit together any way Arlington wants, they'll use different configurations at different locations. There will be longer stations with more seating at bigger corners, and smaller ones at more constrained sites.

If the new tool kit proves effective, Arlington may even use some of the same pieces elsewhere, such as in Crystal City.

Arlington is planning to move ahead with construction of the new design at 8 locations up and down Columbia Pike, with more coming after that. The county expects the next 8 stations to be open by 2017.

Events


Events roundup: Forums, freight, and financing

This week, learn about infrastructure and support smart growth advocacy. Next week, weigh in on projects that will make communities better in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria. And enjoy the nice weather, get outdoors, and explore the Washington region with more walking tours.


Photo by Loco Steve on Flickr.

CSG Livable Communities Leadership Award: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's annual awards ceremony is an important way for all of us to support smart growth advocacy and honor people who have made a difference.

This year, CSG will be honoring Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada for his work supporting transit, revitalization, and affordable housing on Columbia Pike, and upper Northwest's Ward 3 Vision which pushes to make Ward 3's neighborhoods more walkable and sustainable.

Tickets are $125 and go toward furthering the goals many of us share on this blog. The reception is Thursday, May 15, 6:30-8:30 at Epic Studio, 1323 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Buy your tickets here.

Infrastructure Week, 2014 is this week, May 12-16. Join the US Council on Competitiveness, US Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, and the Brookings Institution for a week-long discussion of our nation's infrastructure. Topics will include transportation, freight movement, and water management. Below are several highlights of the 20 events happening this week:

  • Funding and financing America's infrastructure, Tuesday, May 13 from 9-11 am.
  • Bridging the financing gap panel discussion, Wednesday, May 14, from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm.
  • Forum on high speed train technology, Wednesday, May 14, from 2:30-4 pm.
  • Economic impact of transit investment, Thursday, May 15, from 12:30-2 pm.
Check out the Infrastructure Week website for the full calendar and for registration infofmration. Plus, Young Professionals in Transportation is having an Infrastructure Week happy hour on Wednesday, May 14, 6-8 pm at the Brixton, 901 U Street NW.

Great spaces: What makes a great space? Listen to experts from the Urban Land Institute, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Arlington County Center for Urban Design and Research, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth talk about the benefits of "great spaces" at the 2014 State of Affordable Housing talk. The talk is Wednesday, May 14 from 4:30-7:30 pm at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th St South) in Arlington. Go here to RSVP.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading three more Saturday walking tours over the next month. Next up: Twinbrook, on May 17, Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7. Come hear about the past and future of these changing neighborhoods while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 17: Visit the Twinbrook Metro station and see how a community is taking shape on an area that used to be an expanse of parking lots.
  • Saturday, May 31: Come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: Explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

MLK library renovation forum: The DC Public Library is exploring renovation options for its central facility, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, and is looking to the community for input. The architect team of Martinez & Johnson and Mecanoo will host a public forum to present preliminary design ideas on Monday, May 19 from 6-7 pm at the MLK library (901 G Street NW).

Arlington Transit forum: Give Arlington's government your input on transit service at a public meeting from 7-9 pm on Monday, May 19 at the Arlington Mill Community Center, 909 South Dinwiddie Street. If you can't make it, you can take an online survey to give your feedback.

Monroe Avenue, a complete street: Alexandria wants to redesign Monroe Avenue in Del Ray to calm traffic and better accommodate bicyclists. Officials will present options and hear from residents on Tuesday, May 20, 6-8 pm at Commonwealth Academy on Leslie Avenue.

Have an event for the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Email it to events@ggwash.org.

Bicycling


Bike "fix-it" stands appear at Arlington Metro stations

Arlington is deploying bike "fix-it" repair and maintenance stands at Metro stations around the county. The stands include all the tools cyclists need to change a flat tire, add air, or adjust brakes and derailleurs. Just hang your bike on the kiosk and go to work, free of charge.

So far there are stands at the bike parking stations in Clarendon and Ballston. Watch for one soon in Pentagon City.


Clarendon bike fix-it stand, on the right. Photo by the author.
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Transit


The DC region has over 250 miles of planned light rail, streetcar, & BRT

What do you get when you plot onto a single map every known light rail, streetcar, and BRT plan in the DC region? One heck of a huge transit network, is what.


Every planned light rail, streetcar, and BRT line in the DC region. Click the map to open a zoom-able interactive version. Map by the author, using Google basemap.

This map combines the DC streetcar and MoveDC bus lane plan with the Arlington streetcar plan, the Alexandria transitway plan, Montgomery's BRT plan, and Fairfax's transit network plan, plus the Purple Line, the Corridor Cities Transitway, the Long Bridge study, the Wilson Bridge transit corridor, and finally the Southern Maryland transit corridor.

Add the route mileage from all of them up and you get 267 miles of proposed awesomeness, not including the Silver Line or other possible Metrorail expansions.

To be sure, it will be decades before all of this is open to passengers, if ever.

The H Street Streetcar will be the first to open this year, god willing, with others like the Purple Line and Columbia Pike Streetcar hopefully coming before the end of the decade. But many of these are barely glimpses in planners' eyes, vague lines on maps, years or decades away from even serious engineering, much less actual operation.

For example, Maryland planners have been talking about light rail extending south into Charles County since at least the late 1990s, but it's no higher than 4th down on the state's priority list for new transit, after the Purple Line, Corridor Cities Transitway, and Baltimore Red Line. Never mind how Montgomery's expansive BRT network fits in.

Meanwhile in Virginia, the Gallows Road route seems to be a brand new idea. There's yet to be even a feasibility study for it.

Even if governments in the DC region spend the next few decades building this network, there are sure to be changes between now and the day it's all in place. Metro's original planners didn't know Tysons would become the behemoth it is, and contemporary planners can't predict the future with 100% accuracy either.

Last year the Coalition for Smarter Growth published a report documenting every known route at that time, and already a lot has changed. More is sure to change over time.

Holes in the network

With a handful of exceptions these plans mostly come from individual jurisdictions. DC plans its streetcars, Montgomery County plans its BRT, and so on.

That kind of bottom-up planning is a great way to make sure land use and transit work together, but the downside is insular plans that leave gaps in the overall network.

Ideally there ought to be at least one connection between Fairfax and Montgomery, and Prince George's ought to be as dense with lines as its neighbors.

But still, 267 miles is an awfully impressive network. Now let's build it.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Walk and hack around Washington

Enjoy the warm weather and learn about area history at events this month. Over the next two weeks, hear about how to plan great communities, help make Montgomery even greater, and hack on tools to help people understand DC laws.


Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading three more Saturday walking tours over the next month: Twinbrook, on May 17; Pentagon City, on May 31; and H Street NE, on June 7. Come hear about the past and future of these changing neighborhoods while enjoying some spring sunshine.

After the jump: details about the walking tours, a hackathon, and talks about designing better communities.

On Saturday, June 7, visit the Twinbrook Metro station and see how a community is taking shape on an area that used to be an expanse of parking lots.

On Saturday, May 31, come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.

And finally on Saturday, June 7, explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.

Each of the CSG walking tours runs from 10 am to noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Hack on the DC Code: DC has become a pioneer in making its laws freely available to the public and open in computer-readable formats, thanks to strong support from the DC Council's General Counsel, David Zvenyach. The open data lets anyone write tools to browse and understand the laws of the District.

Coders started building such tools at a "hackathon" a year ago, and this Saturday, they're having another. From 10 am to 5 pm, people will talk about what the "DC Code Browser" can do better and start making it happen. The hackathon is at Mapbox Garage 1714 14th St NW.

Great spaces: What makes a great space? Listen to experts from the Urban Land Institute, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Arlington County Center for Urban Design and Research, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth talk about the benefits of "great spaces" at the 2014 State of Affordable Housing talk. It's Wednesday, May 14 from 4:30-7:30 pm at the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th St South) in Arlington. Go here to RSVP.

Urbanism book talk: Urbanism and transit are hot button issues, but should they be? Ben Ross, a Greater Greater Washington contributor and author of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism will discuss why these ideas face opposition from suburban value systems in a book talk at the National Building Museum (401 F Street NW) on Monday, May 12, 12:30-1:30 pm. You can RSVP here.

Healthy community design summit: Live Healthy Fairfax is sponsoring the Healthy Community Design Summit, a forum where residents and professionals alike can discuss how economic, environmental, and public health play a role in good communities. Local businesses and industry professionals will present and then discuss topics like planning, urban design, architecture, and real estate. For more info and to RSVP, go here.

Zoning update open houses: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses conclude this week with two chances to ask questions and provide feedback on the proposed changes. Planning staff will be in attendance to discuss the updates. The schedule of remaining open houses is below:

  • May 5: UpCounty Regional Services Center, Germantown (6-8 pm)
  • May 6: B-CC Regional Services Center, Bethesda (6-8 pm)

Politics


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.

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