Home 2014 Races Shuttleworth, Beyer, Levine, Ebbin Statements on Columbia Pike Streetcar Project

Shuttleworth, Beyer, Levine, Ebbin Statements on Columbia Pike Streetcar Project


I’m working on gathering responses from 8th CD Democratic candidates regarding their positions on the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar project. There are three main reasons I’m doing this. First, there’s a huge debate taking place over this right now in Arlington, yet to my knowledge none of the Democratic candidates for Congress in the 8th CD, of which Arlington is a major part, have been asked about this project on the record. Second, the outcome of this debate will have a major impact on the Columbia Pike corridor, as well as potentially the broader 8th CD. Third, this is primarily but not only a “local issue,” as it has broader implications (e.g., possibly for streetcar systems elsewhere), and also given that Arlington has previously applied for federal funding and could very well do so again.

As I write this, I have received statements from three candidates and promises of statements from three other 8th CD Democratic candidates. I’ve decided that I’ll start posting them in the order I receive them, rather than waiting for all of the 10 candidates to send something (or not) before posting any of them, as that could take a while at this rate (and we’ve only got a bit over a month to go until the election, so time’s running out rapidly). With that, we’ll start with statements by Don Beyer, Mark Levine, and Bruce Shuttleworth (on the “flip;” click on “There’s More”). I welcome statements from all the candidates.

UPDATE: See comments section for further statements, the first one being from Adam Ebbin.

Bruce Shuttleworth

Shuttleworth said he agrees with my option “b” — “Support it with reservations.” He adds, “I support our local elected officials studying this project in greater depth than I have time for and making the best decision for the long-term return on investment to the community.”

Don Beyer

I support the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

As you know, I’m a strong supporter of public transit, both for environmental reasons and because I believe it makes our communities more appealing and livable.  I believe the streetcar is the best option for Columbia Pike for three main reasons.  It is environmentally preferable to buses, both because of the volume of passengers it holds and because it runs on electricity instead of gas.  Streetcars tend to spur long-term investment in a region, according to numerous studies of various metropolitan areas; this investment would raise residential property values in that portion of south Arlington and bode well for high-quality retail and residential development.  And third, based on an Arlington option for developers — which gives them the right to develop greater density in exchange for including a certain portion of affordable housing units — this is the best chance for preserving affordable housing, which is a critical issue facing northern Virginia.

Mark Levine

I support clean energy and efforts to reduce global warming. Well-designed public transit certainly helps keep gasoline-burning, carbon-polluting cars off the roads, and electric public transit in theory is a good idea because eventually, I would hope we’d get electricity from clean renewable resources.  Unfortunately, much electricity in Northern Virginia is still created by coal-fired plants which pollute our air and water and cause global warming.  So, on balance, at this time, I don’t see the street car as a significant clean-energy issue.

Having talked to thousands of voters, I have heard from a large number of Arlingtonians pro- and con- on the street car.  The opinions on both sides are vociferous and heart-felt.  While federal-funding may eventually be involved, this is, at heart, a local issue that should be decided by Arlingtonians themselves making the case (or lack thereof) to their fellow citizens. I would therefore support a referendum on the issue. Let democracy decide the street car’s fate

  • Because the county has not indicated they will continue to seek federal funding for the Columbia Pike streetcar, I do not believe it to be a federal issue.

    However, I continue to believe that the streetcar is the best option to meet the future transportation needs on Columbia Pike.

    • The streetcar holds more passengers than a bus and will also attract more riders, taking vehicles off the road.
    • Streetcars are the most environmentally friendly option for transit. They will encourage commuters to leave their vehicles at home and to will also encourage concentrated development, reducing sprawl. As our power grid moves toward renewable energy sources, the carbon footprint of the streetcar will lessen.
    • Arlington has proven with Metro that transit can successfully leverage investment. 50% of Arlington’s tax base comes from 10% of its land providing important funding for schools and tax relief for homeowners. Many parts of the country are trying to model this success.
    • The recent Return on Investment study provided an updated assessment on how and why the streetcar option works for Columbia Pike.
    • The streetcar will help in the development of affordable housing because the streetcar will accelerate redevelopment by 2.5 to 3 years, The County’s negotiations with developers for affordable housing will in turn, be accelerated and the additional tax revenue generated will allow for more spending on affordable housing.
  • From the Washington Post:

    “It’s pretty clear our community is deeply divided over this issue,” Hope said. “I think it’s time we have a full public debate and a public referendum . . . and we need to respect whatever the public decides.”


    Hope noted that his state legislative district includes parts of Columbia Pike, and he reiterated his support for “major transportation investments in that corridor that will ease congestion and stimulate job creation and economic development.”

    “We need to move forward quickly with those improvements,” Hope said. “I don’t think there’s a clear support, a mandate [for the streetcar] right now. But I think when you explain the economic benefits all around the community, and not just along the Pike, they will be supportive. But we can’t keep doing what the voters don’t want us to do.”

  • Whitaker

    I have expressed some of my thoughts, from a public transit advocate’s perspective, about the streetcar elsewhere so I won’t repeat them here, but I have a few thoughts about the five candidates statements posted so far.

    Bruce Shuttleworth: I respect Bruce’s response, which encourages further study and acknowledges the complexity of this and presumably most transportation investment decisions.

    Don Beyer: I appreciate Don’s response but believe he errs by making claims about a complex matter for which there is little basis. To begin with, while I like that Don is a strong supporter of public transit, the strongest public transit position doesn’t entail support of the $300 M streetcar — the strongest public transit position would be to support the $50 M enhanced bus alternative and to support the use of the remaining $250 M to provide enhanced public transit service elsewhere throughout Arlington and Fairfax.

    Don thinks that the streetcar holds more passengers and runs on electricity instead of gas, therefore making the streetcar the better choice for the environment. It is true that Arlington’s official Alternatives Analysis / Environmental Assessment (AA/EA) predicts that the streetcar will have a 5.5 percent capacity advantage over enhanced buses. Taking this figure at face value, it seems that this difference is insignificant and hardly worth the 600.0 percent difference in cost. As for running the streetcar on electricity versus the buses on petroleum, both energy sources generate greenhouse gases. Arlington’s report doesn’t address greenhouse gas emissions at all, much less does it compare such emissions between the streetcar and buses, so we don’t have much information on which to make this determination.

    Further on the environmental matter, both the streetcar and the enhanced bus service are predicted to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2030 by 159.6 M miles which, at an estimated 10,000 miles per vehicle per year, amounts to taking 15,961 vehicles off the road. Assume for the moment that the entire $300 M was invested in enhanced buses throughout Arlington and Fairfax. If an equivalent level of vehicle mileage was eliminated, the equivalent of 95,767 vehicles could be taken off the road. This would result in tremendous environmental and other benefits, not the least of which are reduced congestion, reduced demand for highway construction, and reduced automobile deaths. As a major automobile dealer, it seems appropriate to consider Don’s conflict of interest when it comes to transportation, and it would seem appropriate to ask whether he would put his holdings in a trust or use some other vehicle to avoid even the appearance of such conflict.

    Don believes that streetcars would spur long term investment and while that claim remains subject to debate, it is supported by Arlington’s analysis. However, anyone who has been on Columbia Pike recently realizes that there is a tremendous amount of development underway today — with neither a streetcar nor an enhanced bus.

    Finally, surveys reveal that voters have different concerns at different income levels — higher income voters are more concerned with issues such as development, while lower income voters are more concerned with issues such as jobs and access to jobs. More important than providing affordable housing is providing people with jobs and access to those jobs, something that a robust public transit system is uniquely able to do.

    Mark Levine: Mark seems on point regarding both clean-energy and the fact that the Columbia Pike transportation choice is an issue that people feel strongly about. Mark calls for a referendum. I think the Arlington County Board election earlier this month was one referendum on the streetcar and that we’ll see another one this November.

    Adam Ebbin: Adam says he supports the streetcar because it holds more passengers — by which I assume he means it offers more capacity — and, according to Arlington’s analysis, this statement is marginally true. Arlington’s analysis predicts that the streetcar will have 5.5 percent greater capacity than enhanced buses, but at six times the cost. His statement that the streetcar would take more vehicles off the road is not true if he means whole vehicles: Arlington’s analysis predicts 159,612,181 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 2030 with a streetcar versus 159,615,713 VMT predicted with an enhanced bus system, for 3,532 fewer miles or less than one single vehicle’s difference!

    Adam doesn’t provide any support for his claim that streetcars are the most environmentally friendly option, and there is scant support elsewhere. There is also scant support for the claim that more commuters will leave their vehicles at home. Adoption of renewable energy for our electrical power will reduce carbon emissions but the timeframe is uncertain. Likewise, there is a significant amount of effort being invested in development of electrical buses, which would similarly benefit from renewable energy. When any of this will occur is subject to speculation.

    While direct comparison of the planned streetcar to the existing Metrorail is tempting, these are entirely different systems with very different attributes, not the least of which is their speed. The streetcar is predicted to travel from one end to the other — between Jefferson Street to Pentagon City — a distance of 4.3 miles in 23 minutes, a speed of 11.2 miles per hour, while the Orange line travels the 2.5 miles between Rosslyn and Ballston in 8 minutes, a speed of 18.75 miles per hour, which is over 50 percent faster.

    Arlington deserves great credit for concentrating its tax base in such a small portion of land. Whether the prospect of further increasing the tax base justifies this high a level of concentrated public transit investment is a matter of judgment which, as others have suggested, might well be left up to the voters.

    One of the best things that government can do for people is help them get jobs, get to jobs, or create jobs in order that people can afford their own housing.

    Patrick Hope: I appreciate Patrick’s recognition of the deep division over this issue and his call for a full debate and public referendum. I also appreciate his support for major investments that will ease congestion, stimulate job creation, and economic development.

    Finally: the question of how or why the streetcar is a federal issue is a question that is relevant to each candidate. I believe that the most important contribution our congressional representative can make is to support transportation legislation that supports our progressive values.

  • Whitaker

    Both Don Beyer and Adam Ebbin tout the streetcar as being better environmentally than buses, but neither of them offered any evidence to support this claim and the environmental assessment that Arlington made does not support this claim. Arlington’s assessment did not examine CO2 emissions, and while we still don’t have an analysis of the CO2 emissions likely to result from these two particular alternatives, we now have a report, “Updated Comparison of Energy Use & CO2 Emissions From Different Transportation Modes,” April, 2014, from the American Bus Association, comparing CO2 emissions from different transportation modes. The findings: urban transit buses emit 136 CO2 g/pass-mi, which is 48 percent less than the 264 CO2 g/pass-mi emitted by light rail. The ABA clearly has an incentive to favor buses over light rail and I would be delighted to see a response from whoever can speak for the light rail industry. In the meantime, it seems that buses are better for the environment and that these candidates should reconsider their positions.


    Light Rail – A transit mode that uses self-propelled electric-powered passenger cars operating on an exclusive or shared above-ground rail right-of-way to provide scheduled service within an urban area. Typically the system is designed to accommodate lower passenger volumes than heavy rail, and passenger cars are operated singly or in two-car sets. The electricity to power the vehicles is drawn from overhead wires.

    Urban Transit Bus – A transit mode that includes the use of primarily diesel-powered, rubber-tired vehicles for fixed route scheduled service within an urban area, and usually operated in mixed traffic on city streets. The buses used for this mode are typically between 20 and 40 feet in length.