Arlington promoting 'next generation of transit'

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

As existing streetcar lines continue to struggle, Arlington County officials are forging ahead with plans for their impending lines, even spending thousands of dollars to create a video promoting them.

Officials spent $3,400 to make a video called "the next generation of transit," because they felt there was a general "lack of public awareness and education" surrounding the streetcars, said Arlington spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel.

In addition to creating animated depictions of the lines running through the county, officials hired contractors in Portland, Ore., to shoot footage of their streetcars and interview business owners and riders who use the system to include in the video.

"Arlington is choosing to invest in streetcars, just as it invested a half-century ago in Metrorail," the video says, noting its commitment to Metrorail transformed the community from a fading innersuburb to a dynamic model of transit-oriented development.

The video also says property values around streetcar lines are expected to increase in value, but Marcia Mejia, a spokeswoman for a streetcar line in Tampa, Fla., said declining property values have led officials there to delay services.

Reports on Tampa's line, which is in its 10th year of service, also showed a slight decrease in riders, the cause of which is still being determined, Mejia said, and a city subsidy may soon be required to rescue the system.

Some cities, including Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo., have started taking steps to incorporate streetcars into their communities but faced opposition because of steep costs. A 2006 streetcar study in Seattle found that operating costs of a line ranged from about $117 million to $134 million, whereas a bus system could operate between $12 million and $15 million.

In his 2012 paper, "The Great Streetcar Conspiracy," Randal O'Toole, a Cato Institute senior fellow, called streetcars "the latest urban planning fad" and said they cost more to build, maintain and operate than buses.

"[A] typical bus has more seats than a streetcar, and a bus route can move up to five times as many people per hour, in greater comfort, than a streetcar line," O'Toole wrote. "[T]he streetcar has no place in American cities today except when it functions as part of a completely selfsupporting tourist line."SClBBut nationwide struggles don't necessarily mean Northern Virginia's line, scheduled to be completed by 2017, will fail.

Julie Gustafson, a spokeswoman for Portland's streetcar system, said their streetcars have been successful because developers were able to integrate them into the larger regional transit network, allowing for easy connections and transfers.

Northern Virginia's line will have stops at two Metro stations: Pentagon City and Crystal City.

McDaniel said the county will now apply for federal funding, which preliminary estimates for the Columbia Pike streetcar project show to be $75 million of the estimated $250 million cost.

The remaining funds will be financed with $35 million in state funding and $140 million from Fairfax and Arlington counties.

Preliminary estimates for the Route 1 streetcar, which will run between Arlington and Alexandria, have Arlington paying $144 million for its development, as well.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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