Boiled down to its basics, our region and each locality stand between two options –continue auto-dependent growth and try to expand highways and arterial roads to support that growth, or invest to a much greater extent in transit and transit-oriented communities with a focus on redevelopment of commercial corridors
The shockwaves around the re-election of John Vihstadt to the Arlington County Board last night continue to reverberate today, with many around Arlington wondering if the county is about to undergo a major policy shift.
“The streetcar is dead,” local political blogger and strategist Ben Tribbett told ARLnow.com last night at the Democrats’ election party in Crystal City. “The voters spoke so overwhelmingly tonight. There’s absolutely no way that [County Board members] Mary [Hynes] and Walter [Tejada] can win re-election if they’re running as pro-streetcar candidates next year. The voters have spoken on this now. It’s over.”
The growing chorus that the majority of the County Board — Chair Jay Fisette, as well as Hynes and Tejada — are out of touch with the voters was bolstered by Vihstadt’s margin of victory. The Republican-endorsed independent won 55.76 percent of the vote to Democrat Alan Howze’s 43.8 percent — less than his margin of victory in the April special election but still a big surprise to many who follow Arlington politics, who haven’t seen a non-Democrat win a County Board general election since 1983.
Howze won just 13 of Arlington’s 52 precincts. By comparison, Democrat Sen. Mark Warner won the majority of votes in every one of Arlington’s precincts, and took 70.59 percent of Arlington ballots.
It’s that result that led Arlington County Democratic Committee President Kip Malinosky to determine that Vihstadt’s victory was not from a lack of Democratic voter turnout, but rather the issues and candidates themselves.
“At this point, I’m not prepared to say what the message [voters sent] was, I’d like to look deep into it and hear a lot more,” he told ARLnow.com last night. “Arlington is a wonderful place to live, it’s well-governed, low crime, low unemployment rate. But people are obviously unsatisfied about something, so we’re going to have to do better.”
County Board member Libby Garvey, a Democrat, threw her support behind Vihstadt before the April special election to replace Chris Zimmerman, and was forced to resign from the ACDC executive committee for it. Last night, she experienced a mix of elation and relief at Vihstadt’s home in Tara-Leeway Heights, realizing her efforts had been validated by tens of thousands of Arlington voters.
“This is a mandate,” she said emphatically. “I think our colleagues on the Board have gotten out of touch with what people want, including Democrats. It’s just really a wonderful validation of what we’ve been saying and what we’ve been thinking. I think the people of Arlington are taking back control of their county and that’s a good thing.”
Tribbett agreed, taking it a step further. He said Howze shouldn’t take the blame for the loss; instead, it’s on the Board’s own lack of trust with voters and on the local Democratic leadership.
“It’s on the County Board 100 percent,” Tribbett said.
“This is the problem with Arlington Democrats. They spent the time after they lost the special election, and here’s the arrogant response: ‘When we get more voters, they’ll just take our sample ballot, and they won’t know the issues, so they’ll vote for our candidate,’” he continued. “Their plan is to hope that people aren’t informed? Well, this is one of the most educated electorates in the country, and they just told them basically to eff themselves with that kind of strategy, to rely on them being misinformed. Gimme a break. They ought to be embarrassed.”
While Tribbett believes the Columbia Pike streetcar to be a political impossibility at this point, groups that support it say the election shouldn’t be seen as a referendum on the streetcar.
“It would be reading too much into Arlington voters’ intentions to ascribe the election of John Vihstadt to a full term on the Arlington Board over Alan Howze primarily to the debate over the Columbia Pike streetcar,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a press release this afternoon. “Streetcar opponents linked the price tag of the streetcar to general concerns over government spending and the state of the economy… [but] we are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny and prove to be the best investment for the Columbia Pike Corridor.”
Tejada said he hopes the Board can “work together in a respectful manner” and “find as much common ground as possible.” He deflected questions about the future of the streetcar and concerns over his and Hynes’ ability to win re-election in 2015. Instead, Tejada championed the achievement of agreeing on the streetcar plan without sacrificing any affordable housing on Columbia Pike.
Tejada also obliquely referred to Garvey and Vihstadt’s rhetoric as “divisive,” saying many of the Board’s critics are “condensing” the issues into “sound bites.” He said he looked forward to “continue to inform details to the community, particularly factual information that it took quite a long time to get to.”
“I think this is a crossroads moment in time for Arlington,” Tejada said. “We need to decide whether we’re going to become a timid and stagnant community or are we going to continue to be bold and innovative and craft difficult strategic policies that will sustain us in the future in all parts of the county.”
Read the original article here.
“Arlington’s proven smart growth track record had given us confidence in their analysis and ability to create a great transit corridor. The streetcar’s ridership capacity was integral to the plan to use density bonuses to preserve thousands of units of affordable housing.”
Whatever happens on Columbia Pike, both sides agree that it needs to happen soon. In the next 30 years, county leaders say, 65 percent of Arlington’s population growth will be along Columbia Pike and Route One — the two areas where the streetcar lines have now been cancelled.
The proposed streetcar would have run a 7.4 mile path between Fairfax County and Arlington, much of it along Columbia Pike in Arlington. The route was estimated to cost between $250 million and $400 million.
“The Coalition of Smarter Growth is disappointed by the Arlington Board’s decision,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the group, in a statement following the announcement, “but far more so by the deeply negative and frequently inaccurate campaign against the streetcar.”
The Coalition for Smarter Growth, which backed the project, trained its anger not so much on Fisette and Hynes as on “the deeply negative, and frequently inaccurate, campaign” by opponents. “Failure to invest in modern, high-capacity transit will mean more traffic and less economic development,” the group said in a statement.
Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth in the District, said that opposition to the streetcars went against Arlington’s history as a place that has fostered transit-based development. “Arlington represents, perhaps, the top national smart-growth story,” Schwartz said. “It went from a declining inner-ring suburb to a very economically successful community.”
Opposition was rooted in resistance to the idea of streetcars in general, Schwartz said, and public transportation projects’ reliance on local tax dollars. “Unfortunately, transit projects face many more hoops and require more local funding than highway projects,” Schwartz said.s
Coalition for Smarter Growth executive director Stewart Schwartz acknowledges that if Howze had won, advocates for the streetcar would have interpreted it as a win for the project.
“It would have a been a positive for the streetcar for sure,” Schwartz says. But he also says that supporters of the streetcar do not view Vihstadt’s victory last week as a sign that voters are rejecting the streetcar.
In the days following Vihstadt’s re-election victory, the Coalition for Smarter Growth – which supports the streetcar – said the election shouldn’t be taken as a de-facto referendum on the project. “We are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny,” the organization said. Its executive director, Stewart Schwartz, said he couldn’t get into the politics of the matter because he worked for a non-profit that isn’t allowed to take political stances. But he said the organization would “join with Arlingtonians in making a substantive case for this as a critical long-term economic-development and transportation investment.”
In the days following Vihstadt’s re-election victory, the Coalition for Smarter Growth – which supports the streetcar – said the election shouldn’t be taken as a de-facto referendum on the project.
“We are confident that the streetcar will continue to stand up to scrutiny,” the organization said.
Its executive director, Stewart Schwartz, said he couldn’t get into the politics of the matter because he worked for a non-profit that isn’t allowed to take political stances. But he said the organization would “join with Arlingtonians in making a substantive case for this as a critical long-term economic-development and transportation investment.”