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Arlington County businesses and property owners – both large and small – gathered Wednesday to discuss their perspectives on the Arlington Streetcar project at a Business/Politics Talk-back Forum. Hosted by the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) and the Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID), the standing-room only crowd emphasized the importance of moving forward with a fixed rail investment to support Arlington’s long-term economy and vitality.
The Arlington streetcar effort combines two separate projects into a unified line spanning from the Skyline and Bailey’s Crossroads developments in Fairfax County to Potomac Yard in Arlington serving the Columbia Pike, Pentagon City, and Crystal City neighborhoods along the way.
Panel member Mitch Bonanno of Vornado/Charles E. Smith outlined the importance of high quality transit in creating great walkable communities. Specifically, the proposed streetcar would provide a reliable, easy to understand alternative to buses and private automobile that would successfully attract riders not just for their commutes, but also for shopping, entertainment, and recreational trips.
David Peete of B.M. Smith & Associates added that the streetcar is critical to incentivizing the redevelopment prescribed in County planning initiatives. B.M. Smith plans investments of over $100 million in development along Columbia Pike. Mr. Bonanno added that fixed rail transit systems have a much greater capacity to catalyze County-desired redevelopment because it instills investor confidence because the system is permanent and will be highly utilized and valued by prospective tenants.
The discussion touched upon the well-documented debate over whether the County should focus on a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or a fixed rail transit option. Josh Robinson, Co-owner of Twisted Vines Bistro and Bottle Shop, a Columbia Pike small business, referred to his own experience when providing transit directions to his potential customers.
“The moment I mention the word bus, the conversation is over,” said Mr. Robinson.
This point was further emphasized by Greg Godbout, owner of the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse, "In the case of the streetcar versus bus, perception IS reality when it comes to consumer choices."
Mr. Robinson continued that while the bus has proven successful for commuters, as demonstrated by current crowding conditions, buses will never attract the consumer ridership that would serve his and other Columbia Pike businesses. Mr. Bonanno added that a fixed rail system with a clearly defined route and regular stops provides the kind of user experience that can attract ridership.
Responding to attendee calls for urgency in implementation, County Board members Tejada and Hynes underscored that the Arlington Streetcar project has been discussed extensively in the public realm, and has been voted on and approved twice by the County Board, and, in fact, has never had a "no" vote from a County Board member.
The business community is invited to continue to offer their perspectives at the Streetcar Town Hall Meeting hosted by Arlington County Board Chairman, Walter Tejada on Wednesday, March 27th from 6:45 to 9:00PM at Kenmore Middle School (details below).