This is the second of two conversations with leaders in the streetcar discussions. Last week, we spoke with Peter Rousselot of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, which can be found here.
This is a discussion of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, approved last year by the Arlington County Board. It would connect the Skyline area of Fairfax County to Pentagon City in Arlington. A separate planned streetcar would run from Pentagon City to Potomac Yard in Arlington. --Editor.
According to the county’s Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment of 2012, a streetcar would cost around $250 million while a Bus Rapid Transit system would cost around $50 million. Last week, Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit’s spokesperson Peter Rousselot asked why choose the streetcar when the AA/EA analysis shows that Bus Rapid Transit (called TSM2, in the study) performs almost as well.
This week, I spoke with board Chair Walter Tejada and board member Mary Hynes--both voted for the streetcar last year--to learn why that extra money is worth it. Both believed that the streetcar better served the vision of the revitalization of the Columbia Pike, and it could more adequately provide the capacity needed in the area.
Their reasoning for the streetcar ties into the vision of a revitalized Columbia Pike, as described by various neighborhood plans and other documents. Each board member emphasized the extensive public outreach and comment process that gave birth to the vision and the streetcar’s role in it.
Columbia Pike serves two major purposes in Arlington. One, it connects the rest of Virginia to DC, tapering down into a bottleneck the closer it gets to the city. Two, it is a dense neighborhood filled with diverse communities and relies heavily on cars.
They said the streetcar addresses the importance of mitigating traffic congestion while providing a high-capacity, reliable transportation option for the residents on the Pike. It connects directly to a larger network of public transportation, Tejada and Hynes said.
The most important issue for Hynes and Tejada is capacity. According to Hynes, the projected ridership on the Pike will jump from 16,000 passengers today to 30,000 passengers in 2030.
For Hynes, it’s a math question. Current buses carry up to 60 passengers, standing and sitting. BRT carries 100 passengers, she said, but the streetcar has an even higher capacity.
“The streetcar vehicles can carry up to 150. So right away I say to myself, ‘Then I can put one streetcar vehicle in and it carries the same amount as two and a half buses,’” Hynes said. “And as a long-term strategy to achieve the ability to carry 30-plus-thousand people a day, I need to choose the system that has the greatest potential to carry people.”