Tag: Columbia Pike

Testimony: Seven Corners Community Business Center (CBC)

Chairman Bulova and members of the Board, the Coalition for Smarter Growth strongly supports the Seven Corners Plan but we also have equally strong recommendations. Our reasons for support are as follows: First, if not here then where? Fairfax will continue to grow and the best way to grow without impacting single family home neighborhoods is in the county’s commercial corridors.

Arlington’s streetcar is dead. Now what?

As streetcar projects around the U.S. continue to be a magnet for either giddy anticipation or derision — and often both — officials last month voted to kill one such transit plan just outside of Washington, D.C. After an election last month where a county board member who had campaigned on an anti-streetcar platform won a seat by a large margin, the Arlington County Board voted to cancel its long-planned, 7.4-mile streetcar system.

John Vihstadt (I) won his seat in a low-turnout special election last year but on Nov. 4th, won re-election by a wide margin, again campaigning on an anti-streetcar platform. The election, board members said, was a proxy for voter sentiment against the streetcar, which was approved eight years ago and has been in the planning stages since.

“It was disappointing,” board chairman Jay Fisette says. In a statement he made last month, he elaborated: “We … were caught flat-footed when organized opposition to the streetcar surfaced in just the last year or so.”

Just outside of Washington, D.C., Arlington County has an exceptional smart-growth record, with an “incredible” track record of “planning and integrating land use, transportation and … housing,” Fisette says. Forty percent of transit trips in the Commonwealth of Virginia begin or end in Arlington, and while the county’s population has increased by 40 percent over the past three decades, traffic on many major arterials has remained at 1979 levels or even dropped.

So the decision to terminate the streetcar wasn’t just surprising, it was somewhat unprecedented in Arlington. Yet, the motion adopted by the board Nov. 18th authorizes the county manager to “terminate all … agreements the purpose of which are to implement the streetcar projects.” It also instructs the manager to research how the discontinuance of the streetcar will affect the county’s plans for transportation, development and affordable housing and to come up with an alternative solution.

Some advocates — including Fisette himself — are a little skeptical. “I continue to be … supportive of the streetcar as the preferred, the optimal way forward, for transit, for moving people, for creating place and for generating future revenue for the county,” he says.

Others are a bit more blunt. “Really, there’s no plan B,” says Stewart Schwartz, director of the D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth, which supported the streetcar plan.

Streetcar opponents like Vihstadt argued that bus rapid transit would have been just as efficient but cost much less than the streetcar, whose price tag had reached $550 million. But on much of the streetcar’s proposed route on Columbia Pike, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) said it wouldn’t allow a dedicated lane for BRT (it wouldn’t have allowed a dedicated streetcar lane either). That makes true BRT impossible, “so what you’re really comparing it to is the most enhanced bus possible,” says Fisette, “with different features of the streetcar like off-board fare collection” or articulated buses with larger capacity. All those options are on the table for county staff to examine, but come with additional complications, Fisette notes.

Bendy buses would be the first in Northern Virginia, so the county would have to find a place to store and maintain them, which adds additional cost. Streetcar advocates have also noted the extra wear and tear on the road of hundreds of bus trips per day, and the costs of having to re-do some of the county’s planning work.

Affordable Housing Plan in Limbo

The streetcar was part of a plan for growing and preserving affordable housing in one of the remaining affordable areas of the increasingly wealthy Arlington.

“They [the county] worried that they were losing affordable housing through attrition,” Schwartz says. “Garden apartments were being upgraded with granite countertops and then rented back out at higher rents, resulting in gradual displacement over time.” To combat this, the county planned to incentivize development along Columbia Pike and offer density bonuses for developers willing to include affordable housing.

This area is now expected to attract two-thirds of the county’s population growth and half of its employment growth over the next 30 years, and some of that — no doubt spurred in part by the streetcar planning process — is already underway. Without the streetcar, that growth will either wither away, or grow as planned, but cause more traffic jams than the county wants.

What’s sad, Schwartz said, is how the debate turned. “This is a county … known for their consultation with the community over many years, and they’d done their homework,” he says. But there was a “concerted campaign” on the anti-streetcar side. “An election is the worst place to debate a complicated land use and transportation problem … so enough doubt was cast and the project went down.”

View the original article on Next City.

Analysis: Demise of Columbia Pike streetcar now possible, but not imminent

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.”

Arlington election shouldn’t stop streetcar

But a hard look at the streetcar and the record of transit and transit-oriented development in the region demonstrates that new transit investments are a critical economic development tool for Northern Virginia, according to the coalition. A 2013 study for the U.S. calculated that the economic value of transit for a jurisdiction could be up to $1.5 to $1.8 billion.

Columbia Pike Streetcar Fact Sheet

Columbia Pike Streetcar Fact Sheet

The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the streetcar as a key element of bringing new life to Columbia Pike. The streetcar is a good idea. Here’s why:
Economic Development: Streetcars outperform regular buses in spurring economic development, a key need in Columbia Pike. The permanence of streetcar infrastructure has already boosted developers’ confidence in investing in the corridor.

Comments on Arlington County’s Columbia Pike Plan and Streetcar

The key to a sustainable and equitable future for our region is a network of transit-oriented communities which mix a range of housing with jobs and services. We need the next generation of transit including streetcar, light rail, and bus rapid transit to expand high capacity transit service to more of our region, expanding access to jobs, reducingvehicle trips and fighting climate change. TOD not only maximizes transit trips but it also maximizes walking and bicycling trips as demonstrated by recent Council of Governments’ travel surveys.