Streetcars desired or not?

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If streetcars ever reenter the Alexandria cityscape there will be no overhead wires. That was the emphatic proclamation of Richard Baier, director, Alexandria Transportation and of the Environmental Services Administration.

He made that pronouncement during the April 22 Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition forum at the Hilton Mark Center Hotel. He was the only presenter to totally decry overhead power lines in future regional transportation plans to include the return of the classic trolley as a means of commuter transit.

“We have spent millions of dollars in removing overhead power lines from Old Town and we have no plans to reinstitute them,” he told the audience of 50-plus assembled in the hotel ballroom. “We are trying to change the thinking in Alexandria to a multi-model means of transportation,” he said.

Baier and Deputy Director Abi Lerner joined transportation experts from Arlington and Fairfax counties, the Washington Council of Governments and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission in an information session to “present their transit plans for streetcars, bus rapid transit, light rail and other options.” The forum was under the aegis of the Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition.

Lerner noted that there are three vital corridors in Alexandria that “are important to the city as a way of life.” They are Route 1, the Beauregard corridor and the Duke Street corridor.

“We are looking at how to build the infrastructure for these corridors in such a way as to have the least environmental impact,” Lerner said. He also noted the city has a $500,000 contract to study these three corridors.

The primary purpose of the forum was to offer an educational session on the future development of streetcars as an alternative mode of transportation, according to former Alexandria City Councilman Tim Lovain, chair of the Streetcar Coalition. John Mason served as moderator of the session.

Steve Del Giudice, Transit Bureau chief, Arlington County, noted that, “Arlington County has adopted a Master Transportation Plan. We have a history of integrating planning and transit. The approach Arlington has always taken is that all things are done incrementally.”

He emphasized that, “A major goal of Arlington County is to receive federal funds and maintain the federal funds we already receive.”
He also stressed that Arlington hopes to “implement streetcar planning and design by 2011.”

Arlington is now moving 15,000 commuters per day, according to Del Giudice. “If we go to streetcars we hope to be able to double that,” he said. “Our plans do call for streetcars in future plans for Crystal City.”

Alexandria’s planning for the Jefferson Davis Highway portion of the Route 1 corridor has been focused on Bus Rapid Transit. The city’s main concern has centered on whether the BRT lanes should be in the median area or along the curb lanes.

“A major consideration is always where are you going to put your facilities. Nobody wants maintenance or garage facilities near them,” Del Giudice said.
In a memorandum dated April 22 from Alexandria City Council members Rob Krupicka and Paul Smedberg to Alexandria City Manager James Hartmann and distributed at the forum, the councilmen stated, “The vision of a Northern Virginia dedicated transit way is beginning to move from concept to initial implementation. As such, it is important that Alexandria play a constructive role in the process.”

They also noted, “Alexandria and Arlington need to develop a coordinating approach for the Crystal City Potomac Yard route. We should also be mindful of the future need to connect this route to Columbia Pike and ultimately to other areas of the region.”

The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition was formed in January to educate and advocate for a connected network of streetcar lines throughout the region. 

“We believe that streetcars are a significant option to improve the livability of Northern Virginia communities by providing better connectivity between neighborhoods and jobs, shopping and recreation,” the group states in their brochure.

The coalition is presently operating with a five-member interim board of directors chaired by Lovain. A permanent board will be elected at the coalition’s annual meeting presently scheduled for October. Its activities are focused on four principal areas of concern: Advocacy, regional coordination, communication and outreach; and organization building.

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