I just got done watching Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt (Republican; not sure why the media keeps calling him “independent,” since that’s just a big charade) on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. I was hoping they’d really tear apart this guy’s bogus anti-streetcar, pro-BRT arguments, or at least expose him as a world class b.s.’er. Prior to the show, David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington had encouraged Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood to ask Vihstadt:
*”What is @voteforvihstadt going to do now to ensure that good transit does get built on Columbia Pike?”
*”And if he says ‘BRT,’ please remind him that the leading BRT organization defines BRT as requiring a bus lane…Which VDOT has said isn’t allowed on Columbia Pike. So I’d like to hear his view of actually possible transit.”
In the interview, which begins at around 33:40 of the video, Vihstadt basically just lies, misrepresents and dodges his way around the questions. The guy’s certainly a good talker, no doubt about that. The problem is, his torrent of words basically just amounts to meaningless “blah blah blah blah,” because none of it adds up or makes any sense the minute you look into it. For instance, Vihstadt claims that his campaign was all about putting an emphasis back on “core services.” The problems that he doesn’t mention, of course, are: a) the streetcar funding was “dedicated,” much of it from the state, none of it from Arlington residents having to pay more taxes, and not in any way “fungible” with education or anything else; and b) by killing the streetcar project, Vihstadt and his merry band of naysayers just killed $3.2-$4.4 BILLION (that’s right, “billion” with a “b”) in funding that could have gone to…wait for it…that’s right, “CORE SERVICES!” Brilliant, huh?
Vihstadt then goes on to simply outright lie, claiming that we can have “Bus Rapid Transit” (BRT) on Columbia Pike, and that this election supposedly wasn’t a choice “between a streetcar and doing nothing.” Except that Vihstadt’s alternative to a streetcar, BRT, is not possible, for a variety of reasons. As Greater Greater Washington explained yesterday, the “Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) turned [Columbia Pike] over to Arlington, but with the condition that the number of lanes open to cars not drop below four-and it’s a four-lane road.” Ergo, no dedicated lane. The problem, of course, as GGW further points out (and that many of us have pointed out for years now), is that real BRT is not possible without a dedicated lane. Period. To the contrary, real BRT requires a dedicated lane, by definition. Details, details.
Also note how, when Vihstadt is called out on his b.s. about BRT, he simply dodges by attacking the idea of putting a streetcar on a road without a dedicated lane. Vihstadt actually has the chutzpah (or cojones if you prefer) to claim that the absence of a dedicated lane is a greater problem for a streetcar than BRT. Uhhhhh…okey dokey then. Again, this really isn’t that complicated: you simply can not have BRT, by definition, without a dedicated lane. End of story. As for a streetcar system, you absolutely CAN have one without a dedicated lane, and it CAN work fine, although obviously in a perfect world it would be great to have dedicated lane(s) for streetcar. But again, that’s just a distraction from the core point here, which is that you can’t have BRT on Columbia Pike. The fact that this is such a simple concept really makes you wonder whehter Vihstadt’s just willfully refusing to acknowledge the fact that he’s wildly wrong on this.
The bottom line is that Vihstadt and company, through their antics over the past couple years, have severely harmed the future of Arlington County. At a time when we desperately need to be investing in our future, diversifying our economy, and working to compete with new job centers like Tysons, DC, etc., Vihstadt et al have just made all that significantly more difficult. Why? Because projects like the Columbia Pike streetcar system would have been, and still should be, a crucial part of a strategy aimed at making Arlington a more attractive place for business and residents to locate and to spend their hard-earned dollars on a variety of services. By killing the streetcar, with no serious alternative — e.g., as GGW points out, “no transit experts have really said [that meeting ridership needs on Columbia Pike using “articulated buses”] holds water” — Vihstadt et al have now led us down one of two paths, neither of which are in any way good for the county:
1. “Columbia Pike will not grow as leaders and residents hope, in which case it will remain depressed relative to the rest of the county and not need more transit ridership. A streetcar might become necessary to jump-start the economy, or voters will keep letting it languish.”
2. “It will grow, demand will increase again, and we’ll be back where we started. Maybe the county will again consider a higher-capacity streetcar, just years later and at an even higher cost.”
The question is, why would anyone have voted for a candidate leading Arlington down such a dark, blind alley? That’s what I really can’t figure out.