Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Streetcar Named Insufficient Desire

So Arlington’s “streetcar election” resulted in the streetcar advocate losing (my background here, Washington Post story here).
As I said before, it’s easy to read too much into special elections.  The WaPo story notes that turnout was only 16%.  And although some of the voters interviewed referred to the Columbia Pike Streetcar issue, I doubt that anyone did any sort of exit polling to determine the actual leverage this issue had.  Also, transit advocates can take some comfort in the fact that the anti-streetcar candidate did not oppose all transit improvements in this campaign: his basic argument was that bus rapid transit is the best solution in the corridor.
Still – there is no blinking at the fact that the streetcar project sustained a setback.  For many of us, the virtues of a walkable/bikeable, transit-oriented-development corridor, based on a transportation spine using a modern, electrified public transportation system, seem to be obvious.  And, indeed, Arlington is a showcase for TOD planning and development, with the Orange Line communities sustaining a high quality of life in bustling, sustainable, mixed-use settings.
Nevertheless, streetcar advocates need to work harder to get their message across.

And despite the potential benefits of the Columbia Pike streetcar, both for the community and for TOD planning and development nationally, Arlington has gotten very little support from the state and federal governments.  Much more needs to be done at those levels.  FTA and Virginia DOT, I’m looking at you.

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