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Politics


Arlington's upcoming County Board election is a big one. Here's the scoop on the candidates.

Elections for two seats on the Arlington County Board are on November 3rd. The results will have big implications for the county. Here's a rundown of where Arlington's candidates stand on issues related to I-66, bike safety, and transit.


Photo by Mrs. Gemstone on Flickr.

This is the first time since 1975 where two seats are open on the five-member Arlington County Board. Meet the candidates:

  • Katie Cristol, though a newcomer to the Arlington political scene, won the most votes in June's heated Democratic primary.
  • Christian Dorsey, the second Democratic nominee (he finished behind Cristol in the primary), is a long-time political activist in Arlington, though he has been less visible in recent years.
  • This is Audrey Clement's fifth attempt at securing a County Board seat, though this is her first as an Independent rather than under the Green Party label.
  • Mike McMenamin has had two failed campaigns under the Republican banner, but is hoping to follow in John Vihstadt's footsteps and launch a successful campaign as an Independent this year.
  • Of note: there are no incumbents. Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada were both up for re-election to the Arlington County Board this year, but after John Vihstadt won a full term and the board canceled the Columbia Pike streetcar, Hynes and Tejada announced they would not run again, leaving the two open seats.
Arlington's board has undergone massive turnover in the last four years. After this election, Jay Fisette will be the only active board member who was also around at the start of the 2012 session. Will this be a new board finding a new way forward? Will it search out and implement "Smart Growth 2.0," as departing chair Mary Hynes suggested? Or will it slide back toward the car-dependent policies some of its neighbors are known for?

On Friday night, all four candidates participated in a candidate forum sponsored by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and the Sierra Club's Mount Vernon Group, all organizations that can comfortably be described as pro-urbanism.

Here's what the candidates had to say:

What to do about I-66

Virginia's Department of Transportation has long wanted to widen I-66, and Arlington has a long history of fighting it. VDOT finally agreed to do a study that would not just examine widening, but also a range of ways to make traveling inside the I-66 corridor easier.

The results of that study formed the basis of the current VDOT proposal for I-66 inside the beltway: High Occupancy Toll Lanes during both peak travel periods in both directions, the toll money going toward multimodal travel solutions. Also, a a commitment to only widen if the conversion to tolls and multimodal solutions were insufficient to handle congestion on I-66.


Photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr.

Dorsey says that the current VDOT plan needs more work and that he is still waiting to see more data on what effect it will have on traffic. He also is concerned that the tolling project is just a setup for pushing through a widening of the highway.

Cristol, the other Democrat, says she still has a lot of questions about the proposal such as what multimodal solutions the tolls will fund, what impact it will have on Arlington's local streets and whether tolling the non-peak direction is truly necessary.

Clement supports focusing on better enforcement of the existing HOV rules via "high tech cameras" that can "definitively determine the number of occupants in a car" and stated that if enforcement is insufficent to improve congestion on I-66, that it should switch to HOV-3.

The other Independent, Mike McMenamin expressed support for widening I-66 and stated that Arlingtonians must face that widening is inevitable.

Build more protected bike lanes?

Protected bike lanes are the new gold standard in bicycle infrastructure, as they're the kind of thing that makes biking attractive and pleasant for everyone, not just the bold or athletic. DC has been moving forward with a network of protected lanes, and Montgomery County has put forth a bold vision for White Flint and is working on a county-wide plan.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Arlington, on the other hand, has a bike plan from 2008 that still thinks sharrows are an exciting new innovation in bike infrastructure, and there's no concrete plan to update it.

Cristol supports building protected bike lanes "where possible" throughout the community but also stressed that community engagement is key to bike lanes' success.

In contrast, Dorsey admits that he has a lot to learn when it comes to bike infrastructure, and is open to what people's experiences are. He isn't fully convinced that it's necessary to protect cyclists from cars and noted that he spoke to some cyclists in DC who said they preferred riding in traffic over riding in protected bike lanes.

Clement supports more lanes, but says she's against building more trails because it would require cutting down trees.

McMenamin says he would consider protected bike lanes on a case-by-case basis and that their impact on drivers is a major concern for him.

How to expand transit

With the Columbia Pike and Crystal City Streetcars cancelled, Arlington is re-examining what the future of transit is for the County as a whole and for Crystal City and Columbia Pike specifically. Will it be Bus Rapid Transit? Personal Rapid Transit? Metrorail expansion?

At the forum, all four candidates spoke in favor of improving Arlington's transit network, though McMenamin tempered his remarks by asserting that transit is important but not enough; Arlington, he said, also needs to increase its parking supply.


Photo by Cliff on Flickr.

Both Cristol and Dorsey spoke at length about a transit network that supports car-free living by serving trips beyond the regular commute. They also spoke about the current state of Metro and how important it is to turn Metro around, while acknowledging that Arlington cannot do so alone.

Clement wants a reversible lane on Columbia Pike to speed buses in the peak direction of travel and an extension of Metrorail from the Pentagon to Skyline. Beyond that, she claims that Metro's problems are the direct result of Congress cutting the transit benefit.

Transit-oriented development and parking

Arlington has been a leader in Transit-oriented Development, concentrating growth around its Metro stations to create a series of "urban villages." The county has seen great success, growing its population and tax base without large increases in traffic congestion.

McMenamin says Arlington needs to get "smarter about smart growth" because in his mind, more cars join the road when places get denser.

Clement has issues with Arlington's development practices, but for a different reason, saying that while she likes Transit-oriented Development, Arlington has engaged in too much "densification," which has, in her estimation, increased land values and therefore housing prices.

Dorsey says that Transit-oriented Development is important, but that there are certain types of residential units that can support reduced parking requirements and others, such as large family units, cannot.

Cristol says "stopping development doesn't solve our problems," that "growth is better than stagnation," and that the key to parking reductions is to put alternative transportation options in place.

Arlington residents should be sure to cast their votes in the County board race on November 3rd. What stands out to you? Which candidates are getting your vote? What smart growth messages are getting through to candidates, and which issues do urbanists need to do a better job on?

Politics


A chat with DC Council candidate David Garber

David Garber, a former Navy Yard ANC commissioner and author of the And Now, Anacostia blog, is running for the at-large DC Council seat currently held by Vincent Orange. Already a popular voice of the District's revived urbanist crowd, Garber says he wants a more sustainable, inclusive, and safe city.


David Garber. Image from the candidate.

Really, Garber is running against Orange in the Democratic primary, which isn't until June. But his schedule is already packed with everything from visiting urban farms in Ward 7 to sharing his views on the RFK Stadium redevelopment. He recently set some time aside to chat with Greater Greater Washington about some of the issues facing the District.

On transportation: bike and bus lanes, the Streetcar, and cars

On transportation, Garber envisions a multimodal future where everything from improved buses to better dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure and cars has a place in the District.

"When we talk about actually putting dollars towards infrastructure, we have to remember that we get the city that we invest in and we get the modes that we put real dollars into," says Garber. "I know that there's interest in spreading [investment] to modes and infrastructure upgrades that promote a more efficient, healthier, and stronger city. And getting to that more sustainable place requires more investment in a built environment and in transportation modes that get us there."

Bus, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure are examples of such modes, he says.

"I think it's really important that we invest in things like better dedicated bus service and 16th Street NW is a great example of that," says Garber. "That's a corridor where improvements to the current status quo have been discussed for a number of years now and a lot of people have asked for more efficient bus service. It's one of those types of projects that feels like it gets studied and studied without actually ever moving forward. I'd love to see leadership take initiative to make it happen."

Better bus service on 16th Street may actually move forward before the 2016 election. DDOT announced that it was studying a variety of options, including dedicated bus lanes for the corridor, earlier in October.

Asked his view on DC's delay-plagued streetcar, Garber says: "[The streetcar] is something that I've been a supporter of and excited about but, unfortunately, like a lot of people around the city, I've been disappointed with the roll out and the way that it has been built. I don't think there was as much planning early on as could have happened."

"That said, I don't think that the hurdles and hiccups are a reason to not do more of it in the future," he adds. "Just that we have to take a step back, rebuild the public trust, and learn lessons for next time."


Maybe we'll get the next one right. Photo by Dan Malouff.

Garber is supportive of dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure but feels the District could take more of a lead in developing these amenities in outlying neighborhoods.

"With any changes to infrastructure, you often have the lead with real investment before people take a chance on it or believe in it," he says. "People feel safest taking a chance on a new transportation mode when the infrastructure is in place and they feel protected in it. And if we're truly committed to upping the sustainability ante, we have to be consistently investing in the infrastructure that will get us there."

While a clear advocate of transit, cycling and walking, Garber contends that personal vehicles have a place in the city's transportation infrastructure.

"A lot of communities east of the river and closer to the city's edges are less dense, have fewer local amenities currently than areas closer to the center of the city and a lot of people do rely on personal vehicles," he says. "I think [it's important] that we consider that there are a lot of different types of built environments, that this is a diverse city, and that for many, vehicles are a big part of the equation when we're thinking about the city as a whole."

On changing neighborhoods and housing supply

Housing affordability is an ever-growing point of contention in the District. While new construction continues apace, well-established communities are increasingly being displaced by newcomers as prices rise driving fervent calls for more affordable housing in popular neighborhoods.

"The city's growing and I've been a big booster of a lot of that growth, as long as it's done well," says Garber. "But if we grow as a city and we don't take care to include the diversity that exists [today], and don't, from an economic development perspective, invest equitably across the entire geography of the District, then we'll have failed at the end of the day."


Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.

Putting more money into the city's affordable housing trust fund and making sure a variety of affordable units are included in new developments are two examples of ways to maintain the city's diversity, he says.

Garber is a big proponent of making sure affordable housing goes into neigborhoods where people want to live. He cites the new development at 965 Florida Avenue NW as an example of affordable housing being included in a new development in popular neighborhood.

"These places are attractive because they're close to transit and they're close to amenities," he says. "Too much of the time we only put affordable housing where it's least expensive to do so... We need to do a better and more intentional job of spreading housing for earners of all levels across the city."

The neighborhood-supported 965 Florida Ave project has also been a point of contention for the DC Council. Earlier this year, the council dragged its feet approving the project due to the cost of the affordable component.

"I do think that in some circumstances it's worth exploring the possibility of selling some of our District-owned properties and parcels outright and using that money in more targeted ways for affordable housing across the District as long as, via a comprehensive analysis, we're able to get more money for affordable housing at the end of the day," says Garber.

At market rate, the land at 965 Florida Avenue was appraised at nearly $27 million dollars. A law requiring 20-30% of units in public land deals to be affordable to people making 30-50% of the Area Median Income brought estimates of a fair price down to just under $6 million (the difference going to affordable units that the District would otherwise be building), but the city wound up selling the land for only $400,000.

The DC Council approved the project in September.

On fighting the surge in violent crime, and supporting police

With the alarming rise in deadly shootings in the District over the summer, residents have taken a renewed interest in public safety in the city.

"I've had a lot of conversations with residents and community leaders, and I've spent a lot of time around the District riding along with police officers, and there are a couple of things I consistently hear," says Garber. "Leadership could probably do a better job at listening to the on-the-ground experiences of the officers that are working in neighborhoods across the District and implementing strategies based on that input."


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Garber wants to bring back plainclothes vice units around the District, attract new officers to the force especially as retirements climb as well as improve and increase access to vocational training for city residents, a campaign video shows.

"On council, I would absolutely be having a conversation with the mayor and the [police] chief about whether or not that is something we need to look at again," says Garber on disbanding the vice units. "I do think it's important to have people in positions of public safety around the city who are really tied to the specific communities they're working in. If everything's centralized, you lose some of that institutional knowledge of who the players are in a community, where the hotspots are, and creating a culture of safety."

There's a long road ahead

Garber faces a tough campaign. Vincent Orange, who has been on the council for more than a decade 12 years (though non-consecutively), will likely be a formidable opponent despite his admonishment by the ethics board for intervening to stop public health officials from shutting down a wholesale food business with a rat infestation in 2013.

Orange won his last primary in 2012 with just a 42% plurality of the vote while respected councilmembers Sekou Biddle and Peter Shapiro, along with other opponents, split the remaining votes.

Outside observers fear a repeat of the split vote, especially if Andy Shallal and Robert White enter the race. Garber is, so far, nonplussed at the prospect.

"Right now I am just focusing on my campaign," he says. "I know I'm going to run a viable campaign and I've gotten a lot of enthusiasm and support from all corners of the District."

Asked why he decided to run for the at-large council seat, Garber says: "I want to take more of a leadership role citywide so that I can serve the District as a more effective advocate on issues that really matter to people from the council level."

"I loved being in the position of an ANC commissioner," he continues. "It really taught me a lot about getting community input and feedback, and it engaged me with a lot of the issues that neighborhoods go through when they're growing or changing. I'm running for council because I'm invested in taking that same communities-first focus city-wide."

Politics


Will vote-splitting help Vincent Orange win again?

Vincent Orange has been a terrible at-large member of the DC Council. David Garber is running to unseat him in the coming Democratic primary, and now there are reports that Robert White will jump in as well. Can DC avoid the vote-splitting that has stymied reformers' past electoral efforts?


Photo by Sheila Sund on Flickr.

In his last primary in 2012, Orange faced a crowded field of challengers. In the end, Orange won the nomination with 42% of the vote. Sekou Biddle got 39%, Peter Shapiro 11%, and E. Gail Anderson Holness 8%.

Many voters, including a lot from the Greater Greater Washington community, were torn between Biddle and Shapiro, both of whom would have been good councilmembers in their own right, not to mention far better than Orange.

The same thing happened in the special election the previous year, when Orange got into office with 29% of the vote versus 25% for Patrick Mara, 20% for Sekou Biddle, and 13% for Bryan Weaver, all of whom, again, would have been good councilmembers.

What's so bad about Orange?

Vincent Orange made headlines in 2013 for intervening to stop public health officials from shutting down a wholesale food business with a rat infestation.

Orange was admonished by the then-new ethics board. He was the first public official to face sanction by the board, which was created after multiple councilmembers resigned for ethical issues spanning a spectrum up to outright corruption.

Orange has a poor record on housing and transportation as well. He rushed to propose a blanket moratorium on homeowners adding onto their homes or renting out parts of their houses in row house zones. His overly broad (and likely illegal) bill would have exacerbated DC's housing crunch and shut the doors to new residents.

When the council was hotly debating whether to tax out-of-state bonds, Orange agreed to support an amendment by Tommy Wells on the condition that Wells would agree to set aside $500,000 for an Emancipation Day parade at the Lincoln Theatre, whose board Orange serves on.


David Garber. Image from the candidate's website.

Will the field narrow before the primary?

At David Garber's campaign kickoff, supporters likened him to Brianne Nadeau, who took out long-serving Ward 1 member Jim Graham in part by focusing on Graham's scrapes with ethics issues.

Nadeau also had one more advantage: a clearer field. She was able to build up a strong enough campaign that others decided not to run as well.

That's now not going to be the case. Personally, I like both Garber and White and would love to see both on the council. But I worry that both will draw from overlapping, though not identical, bases of support, again threatening a vote split.


Robert White. Image from the candidate's Facebook page.

Absent technology to fuse the two into a super duper "Dobert Warber," either one of them would have to singlehandedly amass more votes than Orange, or convince the other to drop out of the race either early or late in the process. (Or the DC Council could institute instant runoff voting or some similar system, though that's very unlikely to happen in time, if at all.)

In places with real competition between two parties, primaries serve this role. There's a vote, and most of the time the loser of a primary goes and supports the winner in that same party. But everyone's a Democrat this time. In some places, like California, the primary is nonpartisan, and the top two winners go on to the general even if both are Democrats or Republicans. We don't have that either.

In a presidential primary, the series of state primaries and caucuses helps winnow the field by demonstrating which candidates have real electoral strength and which don't. DC also does not have any kind of rotating set of ward primaries.

What could narrow the field?

What to do? We need some sort of mechanism for fairly identifying one who has the better electoral strength, whether through polls or some other method. Both candidates should then take a pledge that whichever one wins this kind of pre-primary will go up against Orange one-on-one.

To get candidates to sign on, voters, volunteers, and donors also need to agree only to support a candidate who himself signs the pledge and/or to ultimately support the pre-primary winner.

If I had more time, I'd try to meet with candidates, political operatives, big donors, and others behind the scenes to push this idea. But I don't, so I'll just write it on a blog. What do you think?

Politics


Virginia has a primary Tuesday. Here's the urbanist scoop on the candidates

Virginia's elections for many local offices are this year, and the primary is Tuesday, June 9. There are competitive races in the Democratic primaries for Arlington County Board, Alexandria mayor, two Fairfax supervisor seats, and the 45th legislative district.


Virginia voting image from Shutterstock.

I asked our Virginia-based contributors what they think of the candidates in these races. Who is good on smart growth, transit, walking and bicycling, and other issues we cover? Who has a strong vision and the ability to work with people to achieve it?

Arlington

Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada were both up for re-election to the Arlington County Board this year. After John Vihstadt won a full term and the board canceled the Columbia Pike streetcar, Hynes and Tejada announced they would not run again, leaving two open seats.

The streetcar aside, Vihstadt, fellow member Libby Garvey, and their political backer Peter Rousselot have built their political bases by criticizing county spending on a wide range of infrastructure projects. Perhaps some initiatives were unnecessary or overly expensive, but Arlington now needs board members who can articulate a vision to make the county better instead of simply doing less.

Just as some people accused the former board of acting too often as a single bloc, there's the possibility that Garvey and Vihstadt would gain an allied third member and have a bloc of their own which would move the county in a much more conservative direction, halting investment in the county's future rather than continuing the kinds of policies which have made Arlington County a national model for sustainable growth.

There are six Democratic candidates for the two seats. Arlington Democrats will have the ability to vote for two apiece. Chris Slatt says,

Peter Fallon and Katie Cristol are both solid pro-smart-growth candidates. Peter has the experience (he's been on practically every commission you can be on), while Katie brings a new perspective, youth and energy.

Peter has a track record of supporting transit, biking, and walking. Katie doesn't have a record she can point to, but even a brief conversation with her makes it clear that she sees Arlington's commitment to smart growth as what has made it so desirable as a place to live and she's committed to doing whatever needs to be done to keep it moving forward.

James Lander isn't anti-smart-growth, but it doesn't appear to be a focus or a passion. There is nothing smart-growth-y on his issues page, for instance. Andrew Schneider is in the midst of his first term on Arlington's Transportation Commission and has largely voted in a smart growth way. He also turned in some of the most spot-on answers in a cycling issues questionnaire, but he has taken some potentially anti-transit positions such as a lengthy soliloquy about even the cheaper, redesigned Columbia Pike transit stations being too costly.

Christian Dorsey is a passionate, compelling candidate but has the support of Peter Rousselot (publicly) and Libby Garvey (privately), which is troubling for many given not just their opposition to the streetcar but also the destructive and negative way in which that opposition was presented. Bruce Wiljanen hasn't devoted enough time and effort to his campaign to have a chance at winning.

Steven Yates adds,
I actually know Katie Cristol. I was the stage manager for a production of Clybourne Park that she was in (which was a Greater Greater Washington event, in case any of you went). I can tell you she was a pleasure to work with.

She's a newcomer, so she doesn't have an extensive record on issues to point to, but she is at least saying the right things. On housing she's proposing modest increases in density through things like microunits and allowing renovations to convert single into multi-family housing.

She also supports transit-oriented development and wants to accelerate the TSM 2 alternative on Columbia Pike which includes off-vehicle fare collection and multi-door boarding, as well as greater frequency. She doesn't say the streetcar was a bad idea, just that it's in the "rearview mirror."


Peter Fallon (left) and Katie Cristol (right), two candidates for Arlington County Board. Images from the candidate websites.

Alexandria

William "Bill" Euille has been Alexandria's mayor for twelve years, and for the first time, faces primary competition—in fact, two competitors: councilmembers Kerry Donley and Allison Silberberg. Euille has been an alternate member of the WMATA board since 2000.

One contributor, who wasn't comfortable being named, said:

The article that accompanied the Washington Post's endorsement of Mayor Euille portrayed each candidate succinctly and brilliantly.

Allison Silberberg is a lovely person who is caring and delightful to know one on one; regrettably her votes have been anti-growth of any kind, even to the point of voting against an Alzheimer's care facility on busy Route 7 between a cemetery and a nursing home. She also has no concrete proposals on how to pay for the causes she espouses such as better schools, historic preservation, more parks and open space, etc.

Kerry Donley was mayor for a number of years, as well as being on and off the council subsequently. He is in favor of the Potomac Yard Metro and economic development projects such as the PTO and NSF, which he helped attract to Alexandria, yet he antagonizes many in the community by being dismissive of concerns.

Mayor Euille appears to strike the right balance between listening to citizen input and getting things done, and as the Post says, he was able to limit the recession's impact on the city. Many are concerned that Donley and Euille will split the pro-growth, smart growth, fiscally responsible vote and that both will lose.

Jonathan Krall takes a different view (which, perhaps, helps illustrate the potential for vote-splitting between Euille and Donley):
According to my friends in the bicycling community, they are supporting Donley, even though Euille mentions bicycling more often in the campaign. They cite his comments and votes when he served on the Transportation Commission, Euille's abandonment of the Royal Street bike boulevard project, and Silberberg's weak support on bicycling issues.
Krall wanted to emphasize that all of the views he's talking about are individual people's personal opinions and not the position of any cycling advocacy group.


Bill Euille (left) and Kerry Donley (right), two candidates for Alexandria Mayor. Images from the candidate websites.

Fairfax

The Mason district covers the part of Fairfax County which borders Arlington and the west side of Alexandria. It includes Fairfax's portion of Columbia Pike and the south side of Seven Corners.

That last spot has been a source of major controversy, where a county plan would transform Seven Corners' big-box stores and giant parking lots into mixed-use, walkable (though perhaps only marginally transit-oriented) urban villages.

As the Washington Post's Antonio Olivio reports, current Supervisor Penelope "Penny" Gross supports the transformation, but some neighbors do not, warning it could turn Seven Corners into San Francisco or downtown Washington. That has drawn her two opponents, Jessica Swanson in the Democratic primary and Mollie Loeffler in the November general.

Both say they oppose greater density in the Seven Corners area. The Washington Post endorsed Gross for reelection.

In the Mount Vernon District along the Potomac, four candidates want to succeed retiring delegate Gerald Hyland. This district includes one side of much of Route 1, where Hyland and Lee District supervisor Jeff McKay have taken different positions on the corridor's future. Will Route 1/Richmond Highway remain a traffic sewer flanked with strip malls that divides communities? Can it be a chain of real places with real transit?

The next supervisor could have a significant impact, but our contributors did not have input on this race. If you do, please post it in the comments.

District 45

Delegate Rob Krupicka is retiring, and five candidates are vying to represent the district which includes Alexandria, some of Arlington, and a bit of Fairfax. As Patricia Sullivan explained in the Washington Post, there aren't a lot of clear policy differences between the candidates.

Our contributors felt similarly. One said, "All five candidates are good people, and it's hard to differentiate them on issues. All have built their campaigns primarily on education and women's issues; none have particularly addressed smart growth, planning, or transportation." Jonathan Krall added,

I attended two 45th district debates and took notes on the number of times various candidates mentioned biking, walking, transit, smart growth, etc. In fact, these issues were not discussed a great deal. Transit was only discussed by Craig Fifer, Julie Jakopic and Clarence Tong, who each mentioned it twice.

Tong was the only candidate that mentioned biking, noting that he hears from friends that the National Park Service should plow snow from the Mt Vernon Trail in the winter. Larry Altenburg, Mark Levine, and Tong lost points with me by suggesting that traffic congestion should be addressed rather than made irrelevant by adding transit.

What do you think?

If you have followed any of these races and identified actions or statements from the candidates that relate to urbanist issues, share them with our Virginia readers in the comments. And if you live in Virginia, please vote Tuesday! (Especially if you are a Democrat, because the competitive races are only in the Democratic primary.)

Transit


Without a streetcar, what's next for Columbia Pike, technically and politically?

After a decade of planning, officials in Arlington cancelled the Columbia Pike streetcar this week. If streetcars aren't going to be the answer on there, what might realistically happen instead?


Columbia Pike. Photo by harry_nl on Flickr.

In the wake of the streetcar's cancellation, some have suggested Metrorail, BRT, or light rail. None are likely. The county will probably just end up running articulated ("accordion") buses on Columbia Pike. Voters might be surprised how long that takes, how much it costs, and how little capacity it adds.

It's also time for the anti-streetcar forces to prove that when they claimed they supported better transit, they meant it and weren't just using the issue to divide voters. That means they now have to get involved in finding a solution and making it a reality.

There's tremendous demand for good transit on Columbia Pike. It's already the busiest bus corridor in Virginia, and by 2040 there could be more transit riders on Columbia Pike alone than in the entire Richmond metropolitan area. Doing nothing isn't a viable option.

As we discussed yesterday, Metrorail is (unfortunately) not financially realistic, and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has told Arlington it may not dedicate a lane to transit—if even that were politically possible over drivers' inevitable objections.

So what can happen now?

How soon can Arlington beef up bus service?

Unfortunately, large transit projects take years to plan and, if they cost a significant amount, even longer to fund. The funding process is what really held up the Columbia Pike streetcar; Arlington and Fairfax leaders thought they had the money together in the past, like in 2007, when Virginia handed some taxing authority to a regional authority to build transportation. But then courts ruled the plan unconstitutional, and it took more years to get funding together again, culminating in Governor McAuliffe's pledge this year for the state to pick up a significant amount of the tab.

One plan has gone through some detailed studies: the option called "TSM-2" in the streetcar alternatives analysis. That includes running longer articulated buses on Columbia Pike along with larger bus stops, machines to pay the fare before the bus arrives ("off-vehicle fare collection"), and rebranding the buses as MetroExtra or Metroway.

But even that isn't so simple.

First, WMATA doesn't have any bus storage or maintenance yard in Virginia equipped to handle articulated buses. Arlington will have to find land and build that, just as it would have had to do for a streetcar railyard.

Second, Columbia Pike's pavement isn't strong enough to handle the wear and tear of hundreds of articulated bus trips per day. It wouldn't crumble the first week, but before long Arlington will have to reinforce and repave the street, just like it would have had to do for streetcar tracks.

Finally, a lot of planning work will have to re-done. Just how much is not yet clear. At the very least, contracts and design work that had been progressing will cease, and Arlington will have to prepare new contracts and possibly hire new contractors. At the higher end of the scale, it's possible the entire alternatives analysis process that produced the TSM-2 option will have to start anew, with a different set of constraints.

Whatever the specifics turn out to be, it's definitely not a simple matter of buying some buses and calling it a day. It's going to take years.

That likely won't last for long

The Alternatives Analysis estimated that at current growth rates, ridership will outstrip the capacity for articulated buses before long.

There are three likely scenarios here:

  • Columbia Pike will not grow as leaders and residents hope, in which case it will remain depressed relative to the rest of the county and not need more transit ridership. A streetcar might become necessary to jump-start the economy, or voters will keep letting it languish.
  • It will grow, demand will increase again, and we'll be back where we started. Maybe the county will again consider a higher-capacity streetcar, just years later and at an even higher cost.
  • The AA is totally wrong and everything will be hunky-dory with just articulated buses, as Libby Garvey and others have argued. That's worked with voters, but no transit experts have really said it holds water.
What about dedicated lanes?

Several readers have said they believe that transit is just not worthwhile without dedicated lanes. Certainly dedicated lanes are better, but elected officials have to make a judgment about what is politically possible and what is not.

Columbia Pike used to be a state road (and still is in Fairfax). The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) turned it over to Arlington, but with the condition that the number of lanes open to cars not drop below four—and it's a four-lane road.

It's theoretically possible that a transit-friendly governor in Virginia could order VDOT to change this condition and let Arlington dedicate lanes on Columbia Pike. Or maybe in another decade or two, VDOT will come to that decision naturally.

The McAuliffe administration stuck its neck out in support of the streetcar. After Arlington hung them out to dry, will they take even more of a risk to take lanes away from cars?

And what evidence do we have that the voting bloc that would fight against losing any car lanes is smaller than the bloc who opposed spending money?

It's about politics now

All of the above is, essentially, the calculus that folks inside Arlington government are or will be working through. What should they plan for now? What contracts are necessary?

But this project didn't lose because of insufficient planning. It lost because of politics.

Arlington has long operated on the "Arlington Way," where civic leaders and other residents discuss issues calmly in advisory committees, the staff formulate recommendations, the board debates them, and ultimately passes things usually with unanimity.

This works pretty well when residents are willing to trust their elected leaders and county officials. But that system is now dead. The faction opposed to the current board members told voters that the consensus on the county board was a sign of the board not listening to people, and eroded popular trust in the county board and staff.

The county board has no committees. There's just one political party. The executive isn't independent. Everything is set up around the idea that everyone acts together. But a faction that now represents 40% of the board isn't interested in doing it that way (unless they are in charge, maybe).

If the board members just ask the transportation department to devise some options, recommend them to the board, and pick the best one, some people will still be unhappy with whatever happens. There will still be opportunities to blame Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, and Jay Fisette for not doing it the right way, because there's no perfect way that will satisfy every person.

Transit supporters need to start thinking of this as a political fight and not a transit planning fight.

Streetcar opponents: You won. Now, get something done

Libby Garvey, John Vihstadt, and Peter Rousselot have consistently claimed they are for better mobility on Columbia Pike. They just don't want the streetcar. Well, now the streetcar is gone, so there's no apparent division.

Either they were genuine, in which case they can and will work to make transit better, or they were just using it for political advantage. The trick is to now set things up so that voters will be able to see which it is. (Update: Rousselot, at least, has stated his spending priorities and none of them is transit of any kind on Columbia Pike.)

How about putting Garvey and/or Vihstadt in charge of some sort of committee to analyze transportation on Columbia Pike and recommend solutions? And hold a vote putting the county on record that it does want to ask Virginia for a dedicated lane, and send Garvey down to Richmond to push for it. She sure had nearly boundless energy to meet with state officials to criticize the streetcar; how about doing the same for something that would help Arlington County?

If she succeeds, then that's fantastic! We get better transit. I don't think it'll happen, but I'd love to be proven wrong here. I'd love to be able to praise Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt for making things better instead of just breaking things. Then transit supporters can start seeing them as friends and support their re-election.

But if a dedicated lane can't happen, articulated buses turn out to cost almost as much as the streetcar, and they're still too crowded, then voters should blame them, not Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada who tried to do something and got shot down.

Politics


The DC council will stay somewhat colorful... literally

Views, backgrounds, and many other factors are important qualities for candidates for office. One that doesn't matter at all: Whether their names are also colors of the rainbow. But it's fun nonetheless to chart how many of DC's elected officials share surnames with parts of the palette.

Orange was the first hue to join the council, as the Ward 5 member in 1999. He left to run for mayor (and lost), but when returned to the council after winning a special election for an at-large seat in 2011. Then, the District reached an all-time high of four chromatic elected officials: Vincent Gray, mayor; Kwame Brown, chairman; and Michael Brown and Orange, at-large councilmembers.

As I noted in a similarly-frivolous post on this topic in 2011, the tally does not count foreign-language names; Carol Schwartz (who was an at-large member from 1985 to 2008) has a name that derives from "schwarz," the German word for black.

Now, with both Browns off the council (both having pled guilty to lawbreaking) and Gray having lost his seat as mayor (in large part because of a federal investigation), Orange would have been again the only official with an RGB formula... except he will have a partner: Elissa Silverman, who won the race to succeed David Catania.

There will also be a special election in 2015 for the Ward 4 member. A few people (whose last names are not colors) are already running, but most say it's far too early to speculate.

One who isn't yet running but might is Robert White, who just gained 7% of the vote in the race Silverman won. If you count first names, there's also Graylan Hagler.

The real vote should depend more on the candidates' views, and in reality will depend even more on whom Muriel Bowser endorses. But a White or Graylan victory would, as an unimportant side effect, again boost the council's chromaticity.

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