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David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington on Why “streetcars are Arlington’s best bet”


There’s been so much misinformation (and, frankly, DISinformation) spewed around about the Arlington streetcar project, that it’s great to see people who know a TON about transit options respond. For instance, David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington, who has a new op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, Rail, streetcars or BRT? The definitions matter.  A few key points.

1. As I’ve pointed out, and as others – Arlington County Board experts, for instance – have explained time and again, “modern bus transit” (whatever that is exactly) or “Bus Rapid Transit” (which requires a dedicated right-of-way) are simply not possible on Columbia Pike. As Alpert explains, “It would be fantastic to dedicate lanes on Columbia Pike, but the Virginia Department of Transportation isn’t willing to consider reallocating space from cars to transit, even if more people would be moved in the higher-capacity trains or buses.” End of story. Next subject!

2. BRT supporters can deny or hand-wave this point away as much as they want, but it doesn’t make it (aka, “reality”) disappear. As Alpert humorously puts it, “Personally, I favor ‘Star Trek’-style transporters on Columbia Pike, which would be far faster than any car, bus or train, but those are just as nonexistent.” LOL – exactly! Nor are there dedicated lanes for any BRT or “modern bus transit” (whatever that is; it remains undefined by people who throw that phrase around as if it actually means something).

3. Among the MANY advantages of streetcars, Alpert explains, is that they “can transport more people than buses can and usually stimulate more economic development than an equivalent bus project.” Let’s see, it transports more people and brings more economic value to the community than adding more buses. Hmmm…gee, this is a really tough call! (not)

4. Of course, nobody’s arguing that streetcars are the right fit for every situation. You have to analyze the specifics of each particular case, which is exactly what Arlington’s done for over a decade now. And, not surprisingly, Arlington’s come to the same conclusion over and over again, that – as Alpert puts it, “streetcars are Arlington’s best bet” – the “right mode” for Columbia Pike.

The bottom line here is that the Columbia Pike streetcar’s almost certainly going to happen, barring a truly bizarre turn of events (e.g., the Tea Party takes over the Arlington County board?). For starters, it’s conceivable that somebody could primary leading streetcar advocate and County Board member Chris Zimmerman next year (in fact, I’ve heard VERY strong rumors that this is EXACTLY what’s in the works) and try to replace him with someone who opposes the streetcar. That would be a huge mistake, to put it mildly, and we should all strongly oppose any candidate who runs on such a platform.  

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