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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.

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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