Arlington Board Talks Nuts & Bolts of Columbia Pike Streetcar
Streetcars cost up to $4 million each; buses, up to $800,000.
The Arlington County Board spent two hours Tuesday night receiving information and asking questions about mostly highly technical considerations of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar.
They talked about the potential length of the streetcar — or cars, as Arlington is in line to buy 20-plus — their width, how low their floors will be to the ground, how close they can go to the curb and how different types of streetcars make right turns.
The conversation, at one point, turned into how many inches the county would gain or lose at so-called "super stops" — stations along Columbia Pike where a streetcar and bus can pick up and drop off people — based on different streetcar dimensions.
Arlington County Transportation Director Dennis Leach later called the night part of "an ongoing effort" for the larger "long-term, community-shaping investment."
"Ultimately, some decisions have to be made in terms of dimensions," he told Patch. "It's about what is the right fit for the community."
Leach cited the extensive input Arlington County had in the development of Metro in the 1960s and added: "You want to get to get it right."
Most of the practical conversation focused on capacity — bigger cars, obviously, can hold more people. They also can present more problems and cost more. The wider streetcars, which the board seemed to favor, can hold two rows of two seats, plus standing room.
A streetcar system is a 100-year investment, according to the consultants on hand to brief and answer the board.
The cars themselves last 30 to 35 years and costs up to $4 million each. That compares to the average bus, which board member Libby Garvey brought up several times, that has a life of about 12 years but costs only between $700,000 and $800,000.
Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes appeared noticeably displeased whenever Garvey asked about comparisons to a bus system. At one point, Hynes gently cut off her line of questioning. In November, Garvey won election to what will be her first full four-year term on the board. All three candidates in that race opposed the streetcar.
The planned Columbia Pike streetcar will run from the Skyline/Bailey's Crossroads area of Fairfax County to Pentagon City.
A policy committee comprised of Arlington and Fairfax elected officials — board members Chris Zimmerman and Jay Fisette represent Arlington — will work with the consultants to develop preliminary design recommendations that both counties will need to approve.
Transit use along Columbia Pike is projected to increase to 20,710 by 2030 — without factoring in a streetcar or increased housing along the Pike.
A streetcar system, working in tandem with buses, will see ridership grow to 30,457 by 2030 — about half of that using each form of transit.
The working operations plan suggests a bus or streetcar will approach any given station along the route every two to three minutes.
Leach said it was helpful to have the board and the county's senior management briefed on the more technical aspects of the system design so that they would be familiar with it when asked to make decisions.