No Arlington streetcar, so now what?

ARLINGTON, Va. — With the Arlington streetcar dead, lawmakers are discussing what will happen on Columbia Pike and what alternatives can help revitalize the corridor.

County Manager Barbara Donnellan presented the county board with a summary on shutting down the streetcar. She also discussed how to decide what comes next.

One option might be large articulator buses, which hold many more people than the traditional Arlington Transit (ART) buses. Proponents of this concept call it bus-rapid transit, although technically that label only applies to buses with a dedicated lane where cars cannot travel. In this case, both the streetcar and the articulator buses would drive in the same lanes that everyone uses.

“Our economic analysis said we will get economic growth from buses,” Donnellan said. “We will not get it at the pace, the report suggested, or it may not achieve the same height as streetcars. Streetcars would have brought more money, but buses will bring economic development to the corridors.”

Board member John Vihstadt expressed his gratitude to Donnellan for shutting down the streetcar program so quickly. Political experts say they believe Vihstadt’s election win in November was the final straw that caused the streetcar project to be scrapped.

Board member Libby Garvey, who stood up with Vihstadt against streetcars, told Donnellan that she hopes they can move quickly to implement other transit options.

“I’m hoping what we can look at is the most like a streetcar that we can provide with buses. Signal prioritization. Level boarding. Multi-door boarding. I hope we can do these things quickly,” says Garvey, also using the term “fast-tracking.”

But board members Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes expressed concern with such a quick move to any particular option. Several pointed out there are many unanswered questions with the articulator buses.

“We don’t even have a facility that can house the larger bus vehicles. We don’t even have a place to put them,” says Fisette.

Hynes expressed similar concerns, urging the county staff to carefully engage the Columbia Pike community to pick an option that will get widespread support.

“I don’t want our conversation to lead people to think that this board is not committed to enhancing transit along Columbia Pike. We are committed. There are questions to be answered and there’s hard work that needs to be done,” says Hynes.

Also, Donnellan briefed lawmakers on the progress in shutting down the streetcar program. She says many of the contracts have been terminated, but there are still a few reports that Arlington wants to receive from contractors, which should be completed in March. Donnellan adds these reports will cost Arlington less than $60,000.

Board members have also asked Donnellan to brief them again in March about specific options available on Columbia Pike.

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