Home Transportation Video: Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette Pulls Plug on Streetcar Project

Video: Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette Pulls Plug on Streetcar Project

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As a strong supporter of smart growth and transit-oriented development, I find this announcement to be very disappointing. Beyond that, I hate to say “I told you so,” but I’ve been warning for a LONG time now that the pro-streetcar folks needed to get their act together, that the opposition to the streetcar was a serious threat, and that there needed to be a seriously ramped-up effort to fight for the streetcar (a la “TysonsTunnel.org”) and against the anti-streetcar arguments.

For whatever crazy reason, none of that happened. Instead, as Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette stated a few minutes ago, pro-streetcar Democrats (Fisette, Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, Alan Howze, etc.) were caught “flat footed.” To me, that’s just mind boggling, as many of us in the community were NOT caught “flat footed” at all. So what about pro-streetcar members of the Board, who are in the community all the time? Is this about arrogance? insularity? incompetence? overconfidence? all of the above? I’m just beyond frustrated with these people. Now, the question is whether this is not just bad policy but also “too little too late” politically for Mary Hynes and/or Walter Tejada. We’ll see in the next few months…

P.S. Miles Grant and I were just chatting, and were both looking forward to the anti-streetcar folks pushing for the “BRT” option they’ve been pushing, even though BRT is not feasible on Columbia Pike, as there’s no chance for a dedicated lane. Details, details. Anyway, let’s see how serious they were about what they kept referring to as BRT.

  • Statement from Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova and Supervisor Penny Gross regarding Columbia Pike Streetcar Project

    November 18, 2014

    We are both saddened and disappointed by the Arlington Board’s decision to end the Columbia Pike Streetcar project.  More than a decade of work has gone into the project, and the streetcar alternative for Columbia Pike has been approved by both the Arlington and Fairfax County boards on multiple occasions.  Recently, considerable progress has been made towards completing the project in 2020.  We continue to believe that the implementation of the streetcar would provide both transportation and economic development benefits to the corridor, as demonstrated repeatedly through multiple analyses. In addition, businesses and residents in both counties have been eagerly waiting its arrival.

    We also want to express our sincere appreciation to Governor Terry McAuliffe, Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne and Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Jennifer Mitchell for their personal and professional interest in the project and their support for their financial support of the project. We are grateful for their willingness to assist with this important transportation priority for eastern Fairfax County.

    Although we believe the decision to end the project is short-sighted, we recognize that the project cannot happen without the support of the Arlington Board. However, we remain committed to providing high quality transit for the residents, workers and businesses in the Bailey’s Crossroads area. Such transit is important to unlocking the potential in this area of Fairfax County and will assist the area in transforming itself into the attractive, urban destination with a supportive transportation system.  

  • fendertweed

    describes Fisette’s and others’ position on the streetcar, and they have reaped the result.  Another way of saying “flat footed”.

    They just didn’t make the case IMO (regardless of which side you’re on, on the main issue) and were so self-satisfied that I guess they didn’t think they needed to.

    Tejada’s still toast IMO (as far as I’m concerned), won’t get my vote based on general lack of substance observed over his term.  Reserve judgment on Hynes.

  • The Coalition for Smarter Growth is disappointed by the Arlington Board decision today to cancel the Columbia Pike Streetcar, but far more so by the deeply negative, and frequently inaccurate, campaign against the streetcar.

    Arlington’s proven smart growth track record had given us confidence in their analysis and ability to create a great transit corridor. The streetcar’s ridership capacity was integral to the plan to use density bonuses to preserve thousands of units of affordable housing.

    The most sustainable way to handle growth, manage traffic and fight climate change is through high-capacity transit and transit-oriented development (TOD). Failure to invest in modern high-capacity transit will mean more traffic and less economic development. Therefore, we have to keep fighting for transit projects and funding across the DC region.

    Looking ahead, the question is whether the most strident opponents of the streetcar will support continued investment in mixed-use TOD, transit, affordable housing, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. The Coalition for Smarter Growth will continue to work with all Arlingtonians and residents across the DC region to advance the smart growth policies and investments that increase transportation choices, expand housing affordability, fight climate change, and clean up our air and water.

  • JimWebster

    “I can not tell you the depth of my disappointment at your decision to abandon the Columbia Pike streetcar. It is an abdication of all that has been progressive about Arlington in the 40+ years since I moved here.”

  • essequamverderi

    I’ve made no secret of my deep skepticism about the Columbia Pike streetcar project and am glad to see it canceled at this time. Time for smarter growth.

    In the coming months, as a Democrat, I’ll be looking to the Board to see how what their plans are to help the least fortunate among us Arlingtonians. That, not a giveaway to developers, will be a true guide to Arlington’s progressive ideals.  

  • satyreddy

    I don’t understand something.  I’ve heard you say multiple times that the BRT does not have a dedicated lane.  But the streetcar also did not have a dedicated lane, right?  Why is that a criticism of the BRT but not streetcar?

    And the opposition to this has much more to do with the inability of the board to assure that they can complete projects without wasting money and going well over budget. The thing that probably killed them was that expensive bus stop.  There was no reason for it to be that expensive.  None.  That’s when the opposition started getting higher.  If it costs them this much to build one stop, what happens when they have to do the whole thing?  Look at the Clarendon dog park.  Millions in costs and delays for what?  A water fountain that is there for aesthetic purposes only, which dogs have to stay away from even though they are dogs, and will go to it anyway!  It was the absence of trust that had a lot to do with it.    

  • PassionateJus

    As someone who has lived in REAL cities such as Portland and Seattle (which have real mass transit, including streetcars), I find this cowardice disgusting.

    I graduate from grad school next year; can’t wait to move away from this place.

  • Uh, guys? Why weren’t you issuing statements like this starting, oh, 2+ years ago when that “negative and frequently inaccurate smear campaign” got going? Is your theory “better late than never” or something?

    The Arlington Board’s decision to cancel the Arlington Streetcar System is deeply disappointing, as is the negative and frequently inaccurate smear campaign that led to it.  The streetcar was the lynchpin in a carefully built up plan to preserve affordable housing in Arlington’s most diverse neighborhood, to convert an aging auto-oriented corridor to the type of walkable, vibrant community that so many people want to live in, and to remake Crystal City from an aging office complex shaken to its core by BRAC into a “complete community” and revitalized economic engine for our tax base.  Huge amounts of community time and energy went into the Columbia Pike Initiative, the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Plan and the Crystal City Sector plan, and that time and energy has just been thrown away.

    We advocated for a streetcar because we believe it be the best solution for Columbia Pike and Crystal City’s transit and development needs.  We are Arlington citizens who care deeply about our community and we will not being going away simply because a streetcar is off the table, we will be there to fight for the best possible non-streetcar solution for Columbia Pike and Crystal City’s needs. We hope those who fought the streetcar because they believed, for whatever reason, that it was not a good solution will join us in that fight for the best possible non-streetcar solution.  Perhaps we need to lobby VDOT to allow dedicated transit lanes on Columbia Pike, perhaps we need to re-work the Pike Plans and Crystal City Sector Plans based on the new realities of our transit capacity, perhaps we need to ensure that we build large, high quality, attractive, comfortable, protected-from-the-elements bus shelters with off-vehicle fare collection and level boarding.  In all setbacks there is an opportunity, let us seize this opportunity to work together for the best possible outcome for Columbia Pike and Crystal City.

    The Arlington Streetcar Now Steering Committee

  • Courtesy of Nicholas Evans. Bolding added by me for emphasis:

    So the streetcar is dead. What comes next?

    I don’t consider myself a pro-streetcar zealot. Both sides made very good arguments. In the end, living a few blocks from Columbia Pike and seeing that it wouldn’t work to have so many more cars on the road, I was generally supportive of the streetcar as the best way to spur growth and alleviate congestion. There was also an element of needing to keep a promise that had been made to developers and local business owners that has far greater ramifications beyond any single project. However, I understood the passionate arguments made by many friends of mine in opposition. These are good people, who care about the community.

    That said, we wake up today to some harsh new realities. The Columbia Pike area is now a much less attractive place to buy a home or locate a business. Arlington has sent a signal to potential residents, businesses and other local governments that it cannot be counted on to hold up its end of the bargain when it makes a large commitment. Governor McAuliffe has been told, “No thanks. Take the money you were going to give us and spend it elsewhere in Virginia.” Those aren’t political statements. Those are facts. Elections have consequences. So do major policy decisions.

    I’m going to take all five County Board members at their word that work will continue to develop new transportation options along the Pike. We’ll see where that goes. However, for people who are celebrating today, your work is unfinished and I have some assignments for you:

    *To County Board Member Vihstadt: Congratulations. You were successful twice in taking on the establishment and providing a channel within the system to combat the streetcar. Throughout your campaigns, I heard you say that you opposed the streetcar because you wanted to do more for “core services”–education, affordable housing and rebuilding our current infrastructure. OK, there is no more streetcar bogeyman to fight so let’s see you keep your promises. I expect big proposals and results from you and, no, you are not allowed to pass the buck to the School Board on the school overcrowding issue. Education is as core as it gets, so get to work. If you deliver on your promises, you absolutely will earn my trust and support as well as my vote in 2018.

    *To County Board Member Garvey: Over the past few years you repeatedly suggested that the notion of dedicated funding for this project was a farce and that “money is money.” This was a very effective argument–should we be spending money on a streetcar when we have so many other pressing needs? Well, no more streetcar so I expect that you will have some bold and potentially expensive policy proposals involving significantly expanded funding for those core services described above, especially for more school construction projects. Although I might be disappointed about the streetcar, I am very excited that we have more money to spend in other areas requiring investment. I would imagine your proposals are ready to go since you have analyzed this so thoroughly over the past few years. I look forward to seeing and supporting them.

    *To My Neighbors in South Arlington Opposed to the Streetcar: Your assignment is simpler. No whining about what happens next. If development continues along the Pike, you don’t get to complain when you have vehicles parked in front of your house at all hours and the Pike itself turns into a parking lot choked with thousands more cars every day. On the flip side, if development stagnates or regresses, no complaining about a lack of restaurants, unsafe streets or crumbling infrastructure. Hopefully, neither of these scenarios comes to pass, but you need to be prepared for either possibility.

    *To My Neighbors in North Arlington Opposed to the Streetcar: Same as your South Arlington allies. No whining. I am going to assume that some of the more inflammatory stuff I’ve read about North Arlington taxpayers not wanting to spend money in South Arlington is pure bunk. I have many good friends north of 50 who have opposed this project and I know they don’t share this world view. In any event, folks in odd numbered zip codes likely won’t feel the same impact that we will except for your periodic trips to Dick’s sporting to buy a baseball glove or new set of cleats for your kids. However, there will be an impact and you don’t get to whine about it either. If development along the Pike stalls, the tax base won’t broaden. This could be exacerbated as it becomes harder to lure businesses to any part of Arlington as most businesses aren’t interested in locating in a jurisdiction that can’t be trusted to keep its word. Regardless of how severe the impact is, you all will be on the hook to fund more of the proposals that I expect to be coming from Board Members Vihstadt and Garvey. I’m assuming my home assessment won’t be increasing due to yesterday’s decision, so perhaps the tax rate will need to increase more to pick up the slack.

    Finally, there is one team project for all of the folks identified above. I expect that you will continue to be vigilant about spending in all parts of the County. There have been plenty of “vanity projects” in my 13 years here and many of you were completely silent on all of them. I am going to assume at a minimum that all of you are opposed to the proposal to establish a second Metro line through North Arlington. From your collective perspective, it would seem to be an enormous expense that we cannot afford right now. I’ll look forward to seeing the Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit group ad campaign against that effort should it gain momentum. Going forward, there will be plenty of other projects that don’t meet the criteria you have now put in place. I trust that you will be consistent rather than selective in the bar you have now set for big investments in the County.

    A bit of snark, sarcasm, etc. in there? Yeah, I’d say so – but WELL called for!