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Posted at 1:45 PM ET, 11/16/2010

Columbia Pike streetcar plans take shape

By Kafia Hosh
Kafia Hosh

Community feedback is being heard on a proposed streetcar linking Arlington and Fairfax counties that could launch by late 2016, helping spur redevelopment of the Baileys Crossroads and Skyline area.

The Columbia Pike Transit Initiative is a proposal to bring a streetcar line along a five-mile stretch between the Baileys Crossroads and Skyline area in Fairfax and Pentagon City in Arlington. Stops would be between half and one-fourth of a mile a part.

On Monday, dozens of people attended a public meeting in Falls Church to hear more about the streetcar project, which is being led by Arlington and Fairfax counties and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. At the meeting, officials announced their plan to apply for a small starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help pay for the streetcar.
To help facilitate the project and the area's redevelopment, Arlington County recently took control of Columbia Pike from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The streetcar is also a vital component of Fairfax's long-term plans to redevelop 530 acres near Leesburg Pike and Columbia Pike into a town center-style neighborhood with tree-lined streets, sidewalk cafes, and clusters of apartments and offices above retail stores. The densest development would be in areas near the streetcar stops.

The streetcar's proposed route would run from Pentagon City on South 12th Street, South Hayes Street and Army Navy Drive to South Joyce Street, along Columbia Pike to the Arlington and Fairfax County line and then along South Jefferson Street to Skyline.
Officials are also considering an extension to the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College, which could also be the site of the streetcar's maintenance facility.

Metro's involvement is part of a plan to extend the reach of trips involving Metro and to supplement crowded routes, in part, as it notes in a presentation, because "MetroRail will be maxed out by 2013."

The corridor is already a high-transit area with about 15,000 bus riders per day. About 16 percent of households do not have a car.

Another meeting for Arlington residents is scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the Walter Reed Community Center at 2909 16th St. South in Arlington.

By Kafia Hosh  | November 16, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Commuter Rail, Commuting, Northern Virginia  
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If they're going to extend it to Northern Virginia Community College, they ought to go the short distance past there to Mark Center, which is the location of that new BRAC monstrosity. It would be utterly foolish NOT to do so if they're going to build the thing anyway, as the marginal cost for the extension compared to the cost of the whole project would, on the whole, be minimal.

Posted by: 1995hoo | November 16, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Are streetcars somehow more efficient at moving people than buses are?

Seems something like the Circulator buses in DC could be put into effect with no major changes to infrastructure.

Posted by: Joel_M_Lane | November 16, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Joel - The reason for the streetcars and not the busses is that white people don't like riding busses. I live on Columbia Pike, about half a mile from the Columbia/Leesburg interchange. People with money don't want to live there because there's a lot of poor brown people on the bus - which hasn't stopped developers from putting fancy lux apartments up, which are sitting more than half empty. People who can afford the rent won't live on Columbia Pike; people who will live on Columbia Pike can't afford the rent.

I wonder where Fairfax plans to try and shift the street gangs to, is it like a catch and release program and they're going to move them to Louden county?

Posted by: anoel | November 16, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I have discussed the Columbia Pike Street Car Plan with numerous people, most of them old enough to remember streetcars in various cities, and the consensus is "stupid idea". Streetcars are quaint, cute, and suggest the good old days.

I worry about the law of unintended consequences. I have not seen on any of the sites I viewed a "compare-and-contrast" advantages/disadvantages discussion. It all looks so positive. Perhaps modern technology may make the difference. Questions regarding assumptions and the possible unintended consequences follow:

The fantasy pictures on the sites show streetcars on tracks in the outside lanes with an overhead trolley. Cars may be linked. Is that a realistic picture?

Every time I drive down CP I notice construction crews digging holes in the street to repair, replace, and upgrade various underground systems. When this is necessary in the streetcar future, what is to be done? You cannot assume that excavation will no longer be necessary.

When a streetcar breaks down, how will that be dealt with? Present day buses can be moved to a side cutout. Is this possible with streetcars?

Postulate a big snow. Streetcars will come to a halt. Plow the Pike? As it is, plows push more snow into the walks and drives of buildings along the Pike. And in the future may tear up streetcar tracks. Heated tracks?

Will the advent of the SC result in discontinuance of the local bus lines or will we have to deal with both?

As attractive as the streetcars envisioned may seem, how will commuters in the area deal with the slow speed? These people came from all kinds of places, are career driven and don't have the time to enjoy lengthy tourist- oriented multi-stop SC rides.

Why were the SCs abandoned in the first place? Force of the automobile-petroleum industries? Or practicality?

What is the sound of the assumed metal wheels on metal track with seemed joins? How close are the nearest units of sleeping residents? Personally, I would prefer the whish of rubber on the road. Another overhead cable for the trolleys?

Exactly where will the expanded roadway cut into existing property? I envision a SC running under, maybe five feet away from my window. This should be spelled out in advance.

An additional consideration is the effect of steel wheels, tracks, and resulting vibrations on nearby brick and mortar construction, especially in some areas along the Pike.

At present the Pike is a stream of shifting construction work. What are the plans for the future construction for the SC line? How will the construction of the SC line impede Pike traffic?

A Politically-subsidy driven project?

Streetcars? Consider the present state of the Metro escalators. I do not believe that we are ready technologically. It would be helpful to have the preceding points (I am certain there are more) addressed as part of a detailed online overview for those unable to attend presentations.

Posted by: hardD | November 16, 2010 6:36 PM | Report abuse

What I can't get past is that the streetcar will not have it's own dedicated lane, it will be operating in the automobile traffic lane. How will this make transportation better? It will be stuck in traffic just like cars and buses. Not any faster, so what's the point? I would actually be for it if it had its own lane, otherwise, it's a huge waste of money.

Posted by: Arlme | November 16, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

I see street cars in European cities. They share roads with cars. They are not that fast. The thing is, because people have a choice to take street cars there aren't many cars on the roads. In my opinion, if there are street cars, then driving cars in dense areas will be costly and inconvenient which will force people to be street car users.

Posted by: DCene | November 23, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I see street cars in European cities. They share roads with cars. They are not that fast. The thing is, because people have a choice to take street cars there aren't many cars on the roads. In my opinion, if there are street cars, then driving cars in dense areas will be costly and inconvenient which will force people to be street car users.
It's definitely a life style change. More and more young people are flocking to the city unlike their parents. I think the trend for urban life is on the rise.
It will be a nuisance for those who come from far with their cars. But at the same time leaving their cars somewhere outside the city and using the SC may get them to where ever they are going faster and cheaper.
It calls for a lifestyle change and I think it's a good one. American cities are not navigable enough unless you drive and that's not sustainable for the environment to say the least.

Posted by: DCene | November 23, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

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