“We want to be sure we’re doing what we can to look out for the mobility needs of D.C. residents,” he said. D.C. residents can express their frustration in an email to Bowser sent through the organization’s website. “I believe that the streetcar can be a prominent part of a larger transit investment strategy — with the right modes selected for the right corridors,” the email says.
An ANC that covers the H Street NE corridor is urging Mayor Muriel Bowser to get the streetcar up and running and expand the system to avoid creating a “useless” service. ANC 6A unanimously voted last night to send a letter to Bowser asking her to save the project. Killing the project would undercut development along H Street, the ANC said.
As the H Street streetcar meets its possible end by the end of this month, various news outlets, organizations, and businesses have confessed their own feelings on one question: to kill or not to kill the streetcar? While controversy has circled around the project since the very beginning, there are still many who hope for the development to come to fruition.
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.
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.