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Op-Ed: County Board Should Recognize Opposition to Columbia Pike Trolley

Matt Wavro, a Republican running for Arlington County Board, says residents 'deserve better.'

The Wavro campaign distributed this piece to media outlets Wednesday afternoon.

The residents of Columbia Pike and Crystal City deserve a better plan for the future of our community than a blind rush toward the vanity project that is the planned circulator trolley. The current plan to spend what could end up being nearly $500 million installing two trolleys is not the right plan for Columbia Pike, Crystal City or the region.

I think we all support the goal of a pedestrian friendly Main Street on Columbia Pike and an active, accessible Crystal City. The guidelines in place for such development — the Form Based Code on Columbia Pike and the Crystal City Sector Plan in Crystal City — are starting to change the development dynamic in these neighborhoods. Many, including me, did not agree with all of the underlying decisions of these plans, and we have all started to see the effects of these development guidelines. Some have even started to build ideas on how we can improve upon the current plans as the full effects of development are known.

Development in these areas will indeed have a significant impact on how residents, commuters and visitors traverse these communities. We should not hamper the ability of our community to continually improve our plans and development decisions by installing an inflexible, impractical and egregiously expensive circulator trolley that many citizens do not want.

The current adjustments to Metro rail — known formally as “rush plus” but often referenced as “rush minus,” especially by Blue Line riders — have undermined and complicated current transportation demand management efforts. This calls into question the extent to which any development in South Arlington can continue to be called transit-oriented development.

The vote that our current County Board members will cast on the issue of the Columbia Pike Trolley on Monday will represent a stark choice.

If the board votes to approve the trolley, we may lose the best opportunity we have had since the planning and construction of the Metro to better connect residents in South Arlington to the regional transit system. Approval by the County Board is widely expected. Arlingtonians should know that, were I a member of the County Board, I would focus on transit projects and planning strategies that would support better transit connections and smarter development over vanity projects that don’t address regional issues.

Instead of a circulator trolley, I would promote and support enhanced bus service from Columbia Pike and Crystal City through Pentagon City and on into Rosslyn. This plan would address the mobility challenges of local residents without committing the taxpayers of Arlington to unnecessary future outlays of commercial property tax surcharges for a project that is not part of the solution to our regional transit problems.

For between a fifth and a quarter of the cost of the trolley projects, we can connect thousands of current and future residents to more transit options and maintain a funding source to continue to address transportation challenges throughout the county.

Connecting Columbia Pike and Crystal City to the Rosslyn Metro Station necessitates enhancing the current bus service by using articulated buses — those buses that appear to have an accordion in the middle — express service, and super stops to increase transit capacity and extend the bus service north to Rosslyn, a valuable connection to our regional transit system that no trolley can accomplish. These investments are needed even more after the June 18 service cuts to Blue Line circulation, which have reduced the mobility of South Arlington residents that move north and south along the Potomac to connect with other transit lines.

The $300 million that the County Board would have Arlington taxpayers spend on vanity development projects such as the Columbia Pike trolley, combined with Metro rail service cuts that will already be in effect before the first shovel would hit the pavement, will set back worthy transportation projects across the whole county.

The loss of the South Arlington’s connection to transit due to Blue Line cuts and the current plan to install circulator trolley’s is bad transportation policy and an ineffective use of local, state and federal funds.

I invite Arlingtonians to stand up with me against the trolley and insist that we make smart development investments that will establish the connections necessary to create a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly Main Street on Columbia Pike and in Crystal City without putting an undue financial burden on the taxpayers of Arlington.

The residents of Columbia Pike and Crystal City deserve a better plan for the future of our community. Email the County Board at countyboard@arlingtonva.us to politely remind them that you expect a better plan and a better policy than the trolley.

Matt Wavro is a Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

Mark Blacknell July 18, 2012 at 10:48 PM
What's a "vanity project", Matt? A project that you think you can hitch your wagon to for a few more votes? You're in favor of superstops and better bus service for Columbia Pike? Huh, I don't recall you talking about that before this year. I'm not a vigorous streetcar defender, but this isn't a very convincing piece.
Don July 19, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Sure convinces me. Scrap the streetcars
Don July 19, 2012 at 05:18 AM
Oh, BTW, I notice Portland bicyclists are up in arms about streetcar - bicycle accidents. Guess they haven't been bought by the local political machine.
Allie July 19, 2012 at 11:21 AM
I encourage everyone to do a Web search on 'streetcar bicycle accidents'. The local media are totally biased towards anything that any special interest group aligned with county government proposes.
I agree with Matt Wavro on the need to scrap the Pike trolley in favor of upgraded bus service. However, I prefer compact double decker buses instead of articulated accordian style buses on the Pike's congested roadway. Also in addition to the exhorbitant cost, I oppose the Pike trolley, because it will induce demand for housing, thus accelerating the gentrification of the Pike. What's the point in providing a public subsidy in the form of the commercial real estate tax to evict low income families from the Pike? This is not only unfair to those earning less than median income, it's also inflationary, and that can't be good for the local economy. Audrey Clement, Green Party Candidate, Arlington County Board
T July 19, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Instead of doing what's good Matt Wavro wants to do what's cheap. Worse yet, it is only cheap in the short run. It doesn't seem to matter to him that light rail would give us a greater benefit or that the long-term maintenance costs are lower for light rail. Matt Wavro only wants to spend as little money as possible in the short run. This is short sighted, bad management, not smart.
Janet July 19, 2012 at 03:33 PM
Do a Web search on 'Las Vegas Wright ACE articulated buses'. Less expensive, look great, not cheap, perform 300% better than streetcars.
Janet July 19, 2012 at 03:36 PM
P.S. Shame, shame on the bicyclist groups. They know how dangerous streetcars are to bicyclists but they say nothing.
David Dickson July 19, 2012 at 05:46 PM
As a 25 year Columbia Pike transit user I wonder where Mr. Wavro got the terms “vanity project” and “circulator trolley.” Likely from the same place where he got his inflated $300 million figure for construction of the Columbia Pike Streetcar project and his implication that Arlington County residents will suffer tax increases to pay for it. The truth is the proposed Columbia Pike Streetcar is exactly what Mr. Wavro is calling for. It is a smart development investment that will establish and improve connections necessary to create a vibrant pedestrian-friendly Main Street on Columbia Pike. The Pike needs enhanced transit capacity to meet future population and job growth in the corridor and to encourage sustainable development. Of the four alternatives studied the Streetcar does the most to move more people through the corridor more quickly. The Streetcar also does the most to address automobile traffic and congestion in the corridor. As to the cost and how it will be paid for, the truth is that Arlington’s share won’t be $300 million but about $114 million and will be paid for by bonds backed an existing levy on commercial properties in the County.
Allen Muchnick July 19, 2012 at 11:05 PM
@ David Dickson, Last I checked, the owners of commercial properties (and their tenants and tenants' customers) are also tax payers. Just because this tax is levied only on commercial properties does not mean that all Arlingtonians don't pay it indirectly through higher commercial rents, higher costs of goods and services, and the flight of businesses to other jurisdictions. Nearly everything achieved with a streetcar system could be done at least as well--and at a small fraction of the cost--with quality bus service. Wasteful public expenditures are never smart.
ArlVaPete July 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Columbia pike is simply too narrow to support a trolly. It's a bad idea for many, many reasons. I support the articulated bus instead. Same transit capacity, at one fifth the cost. BTW, the Feds required that the articulated bus system be explored. They might not support their part of funding for the trolly. One can hope.
T July 20, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Janet, please cut the stream of misinformation. A web search comparing rail to bus will quickly reveal that rail vehicles are much more durable, with a service life several times longer than buses. A bus moves fewer people than rail. Rail attracts more riders: people who won't take a bus will ride rail. Consider our current situation: how many regular Metro Rail riders would never consider taking a bus? Buses pollute the street in a way that rail doesn't. The only advantage of the bus proposal is that it is cheap in the short run. That is a bad way to make decisions. We need a solution for the long term. Not a quick, cheap, less-effective, short-term, second-rate system.
T July 20, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Shall we ban everything except bicycles? As a bicyclist who has ridden next to streetcars I can tell you that there is a safety advantage to knowing that the streetcar is going to follow its rails. The real danger comes from those automobiles veering wildly on the street. How about we ban those?
T July 20, 2012 at 03:02 PM
OMG, the street is too narrow! Do I see someone grasping at straws? That is not true, but if it were true then you need to be logically consistent. Please explain why we should fail to do something effective to reduce the number of vehicles that must crowd this "too narrow" roadway? Rail would be the best solution.
C.D. July 20, 2012 at 03:13 PM
We should be talking about the three bus options (no new service, improved bus service, articulated buses). Shared street streetcars have too many negatives, which should have been adequately explored several years ago, not by people having to Google "Portland streetcar bicycle accidents". Not by people having to Google "Las Vegas Ace bus". In fact there has been no alternatives analysis, only massive boosterism by streetcar advocates. Thanks to Mr. Wavro and Ms. Clement for their dedication to better government in Arlington.
Norm July 27, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Call the Pike Trollet a "Vanity Project" or a "White Elephant", the county board is trying to shove it bown our throats as a way to put public funds into private/corporate pockets. If they really want to know how the county residents feel about it, put it up on a reforendum vote ! Too many lies about funding, the State can't even come up with funds to finish the Metro line to Dulles, and Federal says to consider more options. The trolley does not remove any traffic from the Pike, only changes the form to a less flexable form.

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