As the 10th anniversary of the demise of the proposed but never inaugurated Columbia Pike streetcar project starts to loom over the horizon, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce is pressing county officials to do more to improve transit service in the Columbia Pike corridor.
In its 2023 policy priorities, the business organization calls on the county government to support bus-rapid-transit (“or similar”) for the Columbia Pike corridor, which has the highest concentration of bus ridership in the commonwealth.
Bus-rapid-transit, or BRT, typically uses dedicated travel lanes to ensure more expeditious bus service than would be possible if the buses were integrated into regular travel lanes, as is the case now on the Columbia Pike corridor.
A BRT system has been developed for the Crystal City area, and is under review for the Route 7 corridor between Tysons and Alexandria, touching in parts on Arlington’s southern boundary.
The problem for BRT proponents will be the same as for those who sought a streetcar system for Columbia Pike: Without room to expand the Pike’s current footprint, it could be difficult to shoehorn an additional lane for use exclusively by mass-transit. Even the streetcar proposal anticipated the transit line sharing travel lanes with personal vehicles.
Columbia Pike in Arlington runs from the Pentagon area west to the Fairfax County line, largely with two travel lanes in each direction.
It was in November 2014 that two members of the Arlington County Board – Democrats Mary Hynes and Jay Fisette – who previously had supported the five-mile, $350 million streetcar system for the Pike corridor switched sides and voted with board members Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt to kill it off. (Walter Tejada was the lone remaining supporter of the project on the 2014 board after the defection of Hynes and Fisette; of the five 2014 board members, only Garvey remains in office.)
In the years since the streetcar was killed off, there have been efforts to upgrade bus service and infrastructure in the corridor, as well as some unique but ultimately unsuccessful proposals, such as a gondola network that would have travelers floating above the roadway.
The Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 policy positions also call for study of BRT-or-similar service in the Langston Boulevard (Route 29) corridor, which is set to see significant redevelopment in coming years.