Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Arlington Considers Streetcars

The Macaca Post reports:

Plans to build a Northern Virginia streetcar network, once considered fanciful, received a major boost last week, when officials unanimously voted to give the project its first big infusion of funding.

The project was among the top dollar winners in the funding package passed Thursday by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the body instituting new regional transportation taxes put in place last year.

It also was the focus of sparring in the long-running philosophical contest between advocates of mass transit and those who emphasize the need for major road construction to address the Washington region's snarled traffic.

Backers hope the initial 4.7-mile Columbia Pike line, which will connect Pentagon City in Arlington County to the Skyline area of Fairfax County, will seed a much broader streetcar network, which eventually could stretch from Alexandria to Tysons Corner.

I was intrigued when I first saw the story. Although I live just barely inside the Beltway, I do all of my shopping in much more accessible Fairfax County. I would rather drive 10 miles south to a store than 3 miles north. Few destinations are Metro accessible - and those that are become crowded with refugees from DC. However, this proposal has one giant looming problem:
In the Columbia Pike plan, the line will generally run along the outside lane of traffic, beside the curb. Streetcars share the lanes with other cars and can get caught in traffic snarls just like other vehicles...
Ultimately, road capacity will be reduced. Streetcars will get stuck behind cars. Cars will get stuck behind streetcars. Unlike buses, streetcars won't be able to get around vehicles that are "blocking the box."
Skeptics, such as Arlington Republican activist Wayne Kubicki, worry that the streetcar project will cost more than current projections and might not have the advertised development and congestion-alleviation benefits. "It sounds half-cooked," Kubicki said.
Big problems need big solutions. The remote possibility that it "could stretch from Alexandria to Tysons Corner" isn't very reassuring.

Instead of big solutions, we get small, overpriced, and unnecessary projects like this:
Installation of escalator canopy at Huntington south entrance to provide sheltered customer access to the station.
Total Funding Required = $2,000,000

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