Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

‘The world needs books’: Watch the world’s most adorable 8-year-old reading ambassador, Washington Post, November 26, 2014

So while the Fairfax County Public Library system has reduced Juvenile book collection County-wide by more than 100,000 books in the last decade according to its own Collection Inventory, it seems that kids still read books according to this article by WaPo.

Here's the lede:
Books seem like such a quaint relic of a bygone age. Written word that lives on a physical piece of paper? In a time of snapchats and emojis?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯
But fear not, book lovers! Because the children are our future — and the children love books.
Especially Madison Reid, an 8-year-old Cleveland girl who delivered a moving and enthusiastic ode to books in a recent interview with NBC affiliate WKYC about Little Free Libraries. . . .
A couple of thoughts from this insightful 8-year old:
Q: “What do you like about the library?”
Madison breaks it down: “I like that we can get a book, and in the same token, we can give a book back. So the environment isn’t without a book. We have a book but we also give a book, so we both win.”
“The world needs books. What would the world be like, without books? They fuel our mind like cars and gas. The cars can’t go without gas. Our brains can’t go without books. The world, needs books! We — need books.”
 “It would break my heart if one book was lost,” Madison says. “Just a page. Just a word. Just a letter was gone. I would be heartbroken.”
Who’s stealing this kid’s books?!
Again, Madison imagines a world without books. “The world would be empty. Like a bucket without water. Like a brain without knowledge. Like a filing cabinet without papers.”

Click on this link and read and see Madison's response to questions about her love of books. 

Apparently County officials believe our children and grandchildren don't need books even if the rest of the world does.

What’s going on at Reston National Golf Course?


The future of the Reston National Golf Course (RNGC), the neighborhoods that surround it, and County and RA infrastructure that supports that area of southern Reston—schools, streets, parks, open spaces, and natural areas—are in jeopardy because golf course owner Northwestern Mutual (NWM), operating as RN Golf Management, wants to turn its $5 million golf course purchase into a one billion dollar-plus mega-housing extravaganza.  That could be some 8,000 new homes and more than 20,000 added people living on its 166 acres, limited only by Reston’s overall density ceiling of 13 people per acre.  
  
For reasons that defy understanding, NWM’s attorneys believe the existing plan and zoning for the golf course area allows it to build several thousand multi-family housing units where the golf course now stands without any re-zoning as its 231-page appeal details.  If we may be so bold as to reduce that more than 200 pages of legal gibberish—multitudes of misrepresented legal citations, tormented and twisted logic, and a cornucopia of bluster and blather intended to obfuscate rather than enlighten—to a single sentence, we would suggest this is the core of NWM’s argument:  Nothing in the current Reston Master Plan or County zoning ordinance explicitly prohibits the redevelopment of RNGC into thousands of dwelling units; therefore, we have absolute “by right” authority under state law, the Reston Master Plan, and the County zoning ordinance to build them. 

OK, so—in simple terms—what do County planning and zoning documents say and show?
  • To start with, the existing Reston Land Use Plan map (p. 203 of the Upper Potomac Planning District Comprehensive Plan)—the specific official guidance element of the plan for land use--shows the existing RNGC as open space.   Moreover, the map shows the existing medium density housing (largely townhomes) that surrounds the golf course.  There is no room for more development around the course periphery.
  • Just so there would be no confusion, the Community Facilities Plan map on the following page shows RNGC as an existing “Major Open Space:  Parks, Golf Courses, Nature Center.”
  • Item #4 in the Land Use Recommendations section of the plan—which is intended to guide future development and redevelopment—states the following:
Well-defined stable residential neighborhoods exist throughout Reston.  However, because of nearby commercial and other nonresidential uses, these neighborhoods can be threatened by development or redevelopment, and therefore are particularly in need of protection.  The design of all new infill projects or redevelopment projects should be compatible with existing and planned residential neighborhoods.
  • The reason that NWM doesn’t want to seek re-zoning for the golf course, insisting that it already has the right to redevelop under current zoning, is that the zoning ordinance for planned development states, under General Standards,
A rezoning application or development plan amendment application may only be approved for a planned development under the provisions of Article 6 (which covers planned development like Reston’s PRC) if the planned development satisfies the following general standards:
1. The planned development shall substantially conform to the adopted comprehensive plan with respect to type, character, intensity of use and public facilities. . . . (that is, go see the maps and text referred to above in the Reston Master Plan).
So, in black and white, the Reston Master Plan and the County’s zoning ordinance are pretty clear on the matter:  If you want to turn RNGC into thousands of multi-family dwellings, you will have to change the plan and go through a re-zoning process.  And that is just not going to happen.  

More broadly, the Reston Master Plan, like the rest of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, is an affirmation of what should be done to achieve certain community development goals.  It is not a listing of prohibitions although it restricts densities and occasionally specific uses in certain areas.  That said, the core assertion by NWM and its attorneys that a plan omission means permission is absurd.

Seeing what we’re seeing in the Reston Master Plan and County zoning ordinance as well as the input and recommendation of the Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ) staff, the County’s Zoning Administrator rejected NWM’s claim of “by right” development more than two years ago.  NWM immediately appealed, but then deferred their appeal at least four times, the last one “indefinitely,” possibly because of the petitioning and protesting of literally thousands of Reston residents led by Rescue Reston (a Reston citizens group focused on preventing RNGC’s redevelopment), the Reston Citizens Association, the Reston Association, and Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins.

Now NWM has a critical reason to revive its zoning appeal:  New language in the draft Reston Master Plan (p. 47) for the community’s neighborhood areas says:

The Reston National (Tax Maps 17-4((11) 4A, 26-2 ((2)) 8, 26-2 ((5)) 4) and Hidden Creek Country Club (Tax Maps 17-2 ((24)) 1 and 17-4 ((10)) 2) golf courses are planned for private recreation use, more specifically to remain as golf courses.
That is as explicit as it gets.  If this is approved by the Board of Supervisors, NWM will not have a legal leg to stand on no matter how many pages of ink they spill on a new appeal or a subsequent court action.  And this draft language will almost certainly be included in the approved new Reston Master Plan next spring given the outrageous community controversy NWM has created.  

Now NWM is suddenly in a hurry. This may be their last chance before the new Reston Master Plan is approved that completely takes away the foundation of their development “by right” argument.  So they have asked the County that their appeal to the County Board of Zoning Appeals (BZ) be re-scheduled. 

One of the three specific responsibilities of the County’s BZA is “(h)earing and deciding appeals of administrative decisions made pursuant to the Zoning Ordinance.”  And that is what they will do with regard to NWM’s scheme.  In most cases, the BZA makes its decision at the time of the hearing.  According to the Fairfax County BZA webpage, “The BZA may affirm or reverse, wholly or partly, or may modify the order, requirement, decision or determination that is at issue in the appeal and the concurring vote of four (4) members of the BZA is required for any such action.” 

NWM’s appeal hearing is now scheduled for January 21, 2015, at 9 AM in the Fairfax County Government Center Board Auditorium.  All Restonians have a strong vested interest in the outcome of this hearing and should attend if at all possible.  Your presence will be a strong continuing symbol of Restonians opposition to this outrageous proposal.

If the BZA rejects the NWM appeal, we anticipate they will appeal further to the Circuit Court as is their right.  It is quite possible they will take the case all the way to the Virginia Supreme Court if their position is not upheld by lower courts.  From their perspective, they have little to lose and a billion dollar payout prospect at stake!

Column: RELAC—A Museum and Environmental Problem, John Lovaas, Reston Connection, November 25, 2014

UPDATE, 11/27/2014:  RA has clarified in a public statement that approval of the referendum requires only a two-thirds vote of those voting, not the entirety of the RELAC-served community.  The RA statement is self-serving in that it states, "It was previously reported that two-thirds of all 343 members was required for the referendum to pass."  In fact, that was the official position taken by the RA Board at its last meeting, November 20, on the advice of its counsel, Ken Chadwick.  Both the Board members and Chadwick should know well that the RA Deed states that a referendum needs only the approval of 2/3 of those voting, not the eligible community.  Once again, Reston was ill-served by its Board and long-time attorney, and they got called on it this time.

Last Saturday the new owners of Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning, RELAC, held an open house at their plant, a first in living memory. The event is part of a PR campaign by the new owners to persuade RELAC users to vote to continue RELAC’s 50-year-old monopoly in the RA referendum coming in January.

I took the tour and found it interesting, like a visit to a museum. The guys had obviously cleaned it up, but you just cannot hide old. The centerpieces of the plant are the four giant water chillers, which look like small submarines. They are the originals, 50-plus years old. The RELAC President assured us they were built to last forever. He also acknowledged that they are less than half as energy efficient as their modern equivalents. Replace them? The cost would be at least $250,000 each; one million for all four. They don’t have the resources to make the investment needed.

The plant also has a dozen powerful pumps—four large lake water intake pumps, originals with recently rebuilt motors. In addition, there were more large distribution pumps, also originals, to move water through miles of underground pipes to all 343 townhouses and two condominium associations. The new owners have done some restoration work on the motors of the old pumps. Still, the pumps are not up to modern efficiency standards and waste a lot of energy.

Then there is the chemical coolant to chill the thousands of gallons of water. That coolant is FREON, a CFC banned by international treaty about twenty years ago. RELAC’s use of Freon is grandfathered until they replace the equipment handling it. You guessed it—an expensive change not in sight. Freon was banned because it harms the environment, but it is OK for those locked in to the RELAC monopoly by RA covenant!

Then there are the miles of deteriorating original underground pipes which spring leaks—such as the one in front of our home. Replacement should have begun way back. At a cost of millions, replacement is nowhere in sight.
Two giant cooling towers occupy the far end of the site. If updated to meet allowable noise levels, and properly installed, they could enable the plant to operate when Lake water levels drop too far. They have never been used by RELAC and there are no plans to do so—both too noisy and too expensive.

Summary: RELAC is an inefficient, outdated chilled water system and an environmental nightmare. Most commercial units at Lake Anne switched to reliable standard A/C and many residential users have been granted health exemptions to switch as well--because standard A/C is better for their health. For some, this museum piece delivers adequate cooling most of the time, especially for homes getting less direct sunlight or having high power pumps in apartment buildings (including a couple of RA Board members). Others are not so lucky, and simply cannot get reliable cooling on warm days.

After 50 years of monopoly and a failure by earlier owners to maintain and update outmoded equipment and technology, it is time for some fairness, time to allow all residents the basic right to comfort in their own homes—be it with RELAC or standard A/C that better meets their needs. Yet the Reston Association proposes changing rules of the upcoming referendum to make it more difficult for a free choice outcome. Now, they want to require a two-thirds vote of all users rather than two-thirds of those actually voting as called for in the Reston Deed and applied in the 2005 referendum. Go to www.freefrom15.org for frequently asked questions, more info.

Friday, November 21, 2014

. . . stop this insanity . . .

From: Ray Wedell
To: raywedell@comcast.net
Subject: Fwd: Petition update – Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals, Virginia:Stop the proposed development of Reston National Golf Course in Reston, VA
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 2014 11:44:57 +0000 (UTC)
 
I am forwarding this email because the entire community could use your support in this issue which will have a dramatic impact on life in Reston: your lives; your family's lives; your friends and future residents of Reston and the entire Northern Virginia community.
 
Most of us are aware that the owners of the Reston National Golf Course are diligently attempting to have a zoning change which will allow this critical open space to be re-zoned, so that it can be put to supposedly higher economic use. I will not even attempt to outline the disastrous effects that would have on residents, the environment, the life style, and the negative impact economically, as Reston loses its cache as one of the ten best places to live in America.
 
Those who know me know that I am not a "tree hugger." I come to you with that rarest of modern-day commodities: common sense. I am drawn to issues in which there should be 100% agreement, and these are few and far between. The issue of beating down this re-zoning application once and for all is one of those rare occurrences. It is one of critical and immediate importance to you and your neighbors. Better yet, it is one in which your voice DOES matter. Your voice WILL be heard. We are not fighting global warming, solving world peace, or taking a stand against or for gay marriage here. No, this is a no-brainer which we can all agree on, in which time is of the essence, and an issue which, nonetheless, can and will likely be ramrodded through the Fairfax County Board unless we continue with strong community opposition.
 
Previous efforts to stop this insanity have been successful. In withdrawing its request for a hearing on this matter last year, the development interests realized that they did not have the power or authority to overcome common sense and community unity at that time. In having this proposal recast on short notice and in the midst of the holiday season, this has every indication of a well-timed effort to sneak an approval through in the darkness of night. They believe that residents have already fought this fight and are likely to be be either weary or complacent now, or both. They believe that residents will be too pre-occupied with the holiday season. Is there any doubt that those who seek to make a mockery of the Reston Master Plan and the Reston way of life in exchange for personal financial gain have been regrouping with exceptional legal teams to overturn this open space designation? Is there any doubt that they will have a well-prepared, super-slick, faux-passionate plea planned, telling the Board and others how their wonderful proposal will lead to a more idyllic Reston community? Of course they will do this! And it will be a Hollywood-perfect presentation.
 
The bottom line is this..... support Rescue Reston. The organization is well organized and needs people to line up in full support and walk with them in doing what is right for Reston and Northern Virginia.  The task is not easy, and Rescue Reston should be commended for their efforts.
 
There is a preliminary rally scheduled for January 10. Show your elected officials that you expect their support in this matter (by all means contact them directly as well. They are elected to support YOU). 
 
The hearing is at the Fairfax Government Center on January 21 at 9:00 am. Yes, these important matters are taken up during times when most of us work. However, for those who can attend, mark the calendars and show up! Actual physical presence at the location and time for this hearing is likely to have a major impact.
 
It is your life, your community, your family....... this is a rare local issue of dramatic importance in which you CAN and SHOULD make a difference.
 
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and thank you in advance for your support.
 
 
Ray Wedell
RE/MAX Gateway
703-855-7299
www.raymaxteam.com
 

From: "Reston, Rescue"
To: "Wedell, Ray"
Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2014 12:09:19 PM
Subject: Petition update – Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals, Virginia: Stop the proposed development of Reston National Golf Course in Reston, VA
 
Petition update

Hold the Date – We Need YOU There!

Nov 20, 2014 — The Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, January 21, 2015, at 9:00am, 12055 Government Center Parkway, Suite 801, Fairfax, VA 22035. Reston needs to... Read more
Read more

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! County Hearing on Redevelopment of Reston National Golf Course



January 21, 2015
MARK YOUR CALENDARS!
Take the day off work - this is important folks!!

Fairfax County confirms that Reston National Golf Course is zoned as recreational open space, but Northwestern Mutual and its "secret" developer say otherwise and they have greedy plans to add to our traffic, overcrowded schools and alter our quality of life in Reston.

On January 21, this case will go before the Board of Zoning Appeals. This 7 member board of private citizens who are appointed by the Circuit Court is a wild card. We need a packed auditorium at the Fairfax Government Center to let them know what Reston values before they vote to alter our lives.

Rescue Reston volunteers are working to get t-shirts and signs ready for your orders.  More updates coming soon. Follow us on Facebook
and Twitter
for breaking news.

Connie Hartke & the Rescue Reston Team
571-205-8874

SAVE THE DATE
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
BZA Hearing 
9 a.m, Auditorium, 12000 Government Center Pkwy, Fairfax
 
Supporters
Supervisor Hudgins
11/13/2014 Press Release


Reston Association
11/14/2014 Press Release


Reston Citizens Association
11/17/2014 Press Release


Walkable Urbanism on the Rise

Time for something a little different:  An "infographic" we thought might interest those living or thinking about living in Reston's Silver Line station areas.  

Click to Enlarge Image

Walkable Urbanism on the Rise

Walkable Urbanism on the Rise
Infographic by CustomMade

Check out the NEW Fairfax Library Advocates blog!

Fairfax Library Advocates has created a new public blog.  Below is its first post:  a statement of principles.  Check it out at  http://ffxlibraryadvocates.blogspot.com/

Statement of Principles





The Public Library is a Vital Component of Public and Private Education
We state unequivocally that the public library is a fundamental component of the public and private school systems in our community.  Fairfax County Government places education first on its list of priorities.  Our public library must be an indivisible part of that priority.  A creative high performing public library is an indispensable pillar supporting the education structure in this County as well as providing crucial support to parents who choose to home school their children.
 
The Public Library is an Essential Service
We support the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations’ effort to introduce and pass legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to categorize the public library as an essential service in the Commonwealth.  We will work with Delegates and Senators who represent Northern Virginia to enact this proposal into law.
 
Restoration of Funding Needed Immediately
Everyone loves the library but libraries cannot live on love.  Adequate and stable funding is required.  Public libraries in jurisdictions surrounding Fairfax County score higher on every measure of output.  We believe that the residents of Fairfax County want and deserve a high performing public library on par with their neighbors.  We call upon the Board of Supervisors to reverse years of diminished funding by adding the $2 million requested by the Library Board of Trustees last year to FCPL’s FY2016 budget.
 
Opposition to Staffing Cuts for Fiscal Year 2016
All agencies were directed by the County Executive to submit proposals to cut their FY2016 budgets by 3%, equaling an $800,000 loss for FCPL.  We oppose the proposed elimination of 21 merit positions, positions which deliver direct service to the public, to accomplish a $500,000 reduction in the Library’s budget with the remaining $300,000 coming from unspecified savings in personnel expenditures.  We support retaining and filling these positions to remedy the staffing shortages the Library is now experiencing.  The number of unfilled positions has made continuous use of overtime necessary and has seriously weakened staff morale.  
 
Restoration of the Library’s Print Collection
Since 2004 in a deliberate action to downsize the library, the collection has sustained a net loss of over 400,000 holdings.  That’s the equivalent of four regional libraries’ worth of books.  Nonfiction books—religion, history, philosophy, art, art history, geology, physics, poetry, engineering, mathematics, travel, and biography represent the record of our culture and our civilization.   In an effort to create a collection focused only on popular reading materials, nonfiction books were systematically removed from our library.  We support the restoration of the library’s collection of nonfiction print books to one worthy of the highly educated residents of Fairfax County.    
 
An Exceptional Library Director is Needed to Take the Library Forward
We support the Library Board of Trustees’ Search Committee in its declared intent to conduct a nationwide search for the best-qualified candidate to become FCPL’s new Director.  We urge the Committee to select a candidate with a proven record of successful outreach and connection to public and private education, the business community, and the philanthropic sector.  The new Director must demonstrate the ability to articulate a clear vision for the future direction of a public library that can win support, both popular and financial, from our political leaders and our diverse community for the long-term security and success of an institution that serves everyone.
 
FairfaxLibraryAdvocates@gmail.com            
FFXLibraryAdvocates.blogspot.com
https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/FairfaxLibraryAdvocates/info
fairfaxlibraryadvocates-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reston Citizens Association Reiterates That Reston National Golf Course Must Be Preserved As Open Space

The owner of the Reston National Golf Course (RNGC), RN Golf Management, LLC (RN Golf) is reactivating its appeal for rezoning the golf course. Reston Citizens Association (RCA) reiterates its position that the use of RNGC land should be preserved as a golf course.

In response to RN Golf’s bid in Summer 2012 to explore rezoning of RNGC land for non-open space uses including residential development, RCA passed a resolution on August 27, 2012 rejecting the use of the land for anything other than its current use as open space, specifically its current use a golf course or as open space dedicated to parks and recreation.

RN Golf requested an indefinite deferral of its hearing before the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals in July, 2013. That hearing was in regards to RN Golf’s appeal of the Fairfax County Zoning Administrator’s determination that the golf course could not be developed without an amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

With more development contemplated in Reston due to the adoption of the Reston Transit Areas Master Plan Amendment to the Fairfax County Comprehensive , preserving open space dedicated to parks and recreation is critically important, and RNGC is integral to Reston’s longstanding vision and plan as a diverse “planned” community in which people are able to live, work and play.


The planning principles as envisaged in the currently ongoing Reston Master Plan Phase II planning process (Reston Master Plan Phase II Working Draft Document) are explicit in stating that Reston continue to have two golf courses (RNGC and Hidden Creek Country Club). 

Sridhar Ganesan, President, RCA said: “Just as in 2012, Reston organizations such as Reston Association (RA), Rescue Reston (RR) and RCA are aligned in their opposition to any potential rezoning of the land.  Fairfax County Supervisor Ms. Cathy Hudgins, Hunter Mill District (which covers RNGC land), has also said that she continues to support the Fairfax County Zoning Administrator’s determination with regards to RNGC and RCA thanks her for publicly stating her support for the original zoning determination.” 

RCA continues to support RR’s efforts (RR RNGC Release) to defend Reston’s open spaces and encourages Restonians to actively support its efforts during the public hearings on RN Golf’s appeal.

RCA also strongly endorses RA’s opposition to any redevelopment (RA's RNGC Release) and like RA, RCA believes that RNGC can remain as it is today and operate profitably. RCA also supports RA’s willingness to consider purchasing the golf course if needed to continue to maintain it as a Reston recreational asset.

RCA will continue to follow the developments with regard to RN Golf’s appeal and work with RR, RA and Fairfax County governmental leaders and agencies to ensure that RNGC land is preserved as open space and as a golf course.  We encourage Restonians to remain actively engaged and attend the public hearing at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, January 21, to express their support for this important Reston recreational asset.

What do you mean the County can't find someplace to add parks in Reston's station areas?

Look at what's happening in New York City:
Media mogul Barry Diller and his wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, have committed to funding a floating public park and performance space on a pier in the Hudson River.
Their pledge of over $113 million will be the single largest private donation to a public park in New York City history, according to Capital New York.
The new addition to the waterfront will be called Pier 55 and is expected to cost more than $130 million. The City of New York will provide $17 million to the project, while New York State will provide a separate $18 million for the construction of a public esplanade that will lead into the pier. 
Pier 55
The billionaire couple has partnered with the Hudson River Park Trust to build the 2.7-acre square-shaped pier and community art space to replace the deteriorating Pier 54.
The park will be built on top of a platform 186 feet off the Hudson River shoreline, which will be supported by 300 mushroom-shaped concrete columns, according to The New York Times. The new space will be built above the flood plain required post-Hurricane Sandy. 
Pier 55
Pier55, Inc./ Heatherwick Studio.It will sit atop 300 concrete columns.
The addition to New York's waterfront will also have lush gardens, wandering paths, and a 700-seat amphitheater that will host art events and performances.
And, here in Reston, the County's Master Plan for the Reston station areas does not add one single acre of park space anywhere, relying instead on parks around Reston.  The last we checked, those parks are already well used by Restonians and others.  

Are streetcars really the answer for transit?

Update--11/18/2014:  Although this post was not aimed at any particular streetcar initiative, today Arlington County canceled its plans to proceed further with the Columbia Pike streetcar initiative.  Clearly the initiative was aimed at encouraging development along Columbia Pike, not an improvement in mobility as laid out by Jeffrey Brown and Jarrett Walker in the two posts linked to below. 

Late last week, Washington Post writer Robert McCartney wrote:
The Nov. 4 election results in Arlington show how the surge of anti-spending sentiment among voters is creating major doubts about the Washington region’s strategy for growth in the inner suburbs.
For many years, the area has planned to build transit lines, particularly the Columbia Pike streetcar and Maryland’s Purple Line, to promote economic development without worsening traffic congestion.
Now both projects are endangered. In Maryland, voters elected a new governor, Larry Hogan (R), who thinks the state can’t afford the Purple Line.
I think supporters should keep pushing for the two projects. For the sake of the environment and our quality of life, we need more dense, urban-style neighbor­-hoods where people are less dependent on cars. . . .
This writer agrees that we need more people using public transit as the region becomes more urban, but not that streetcars are the best solution.  Buses appear to offer a better solution in most cases, including the Columbia Pike and possibly the Purple Line routes.

So having picked a fight with a large number of urbanists, let me give a few reasons for this point of view:
  • Streetcars require a huge front-end investment in the building of the trackway not required by buses.  This is the key to concerns in Arlington and Maryland about the two proposed lines where WaPo reports the projected cost of the Purple Line is $2.4 BILLION and the Columbia Pike streetcar is$333 MILLION, including a share from Fairfax County.  These costs are the primary concern over the feasibility of both lines and contributed to the election of opponents of the lines in Maryland (Gov.-elect Hogan) and Arlington County (John Vihstadt).  In contrast, buses use existing street systems.
  • Streetcars, in general, are no less expensive to operate and maintain than a bus.  They can carry more passengers than a bus, but not more cost-effectively in many, if not most, cases.  
  • Streetcars are inflexible; they can go only where the trackway goes.  Buses are flexible and can change routes (a) tactically as accidents, etc., block a route, and (b) strategically as demand to go to and from different destinations changes over time (and it will).
  • Streetcars often must use exclusively one or more lanes of vehicular traffic capacity permanently with boarding islands and other obstructions, depending on route design.  The local traffic system may actually lose transportation capacity along a given streetcar route.
There are some advantages to streetcars.  They are more iconic and, because they are fixed systems, tend to attract real estate development.  There may be others.

Many others have commented and studied the two types of transit systems.  Here are some leads readers may want to follow up on:
  • "The Modern Streetcar in the U.S.:  An Examination of Its Ridership,  Performance, and Function as a Public Transportation Mode," Jeffrey Brown, FSU, Journal of Public Transportation:  This research looks at the operating costs of each mode in more than a dozen US cities.  Among his conclusions;
    • There is significant variation in performance, with some of this variation a function of the built environment within which the systems operate and/or of the degree of integration with the rest of the transit system, captured in the transfer rates. In all of the cases, the streetcars are not operating faster than the agency’s typical motor buses in revenue service, although they are providing service that riders value, . . .
    • The difficulty encountered in obtaining data on streetcar service from many of the agencies in this study suggests that many do not really view the streetcars as primarily transit service but instead view them more as development catalysts or as devices used to serve tourists and shoppers as opposed to regular transit riders.  Whether this is an effective strategy or not is also something beyond the scope of
      this study, but it is indicative of a dilemma in these fiscally-constrained times, given that streetcar projects funded by the federal government’s resource-strapped capital grants program use resources that might have been used for other projects designed primarily to transport regular transit riders.
      . .
  • Human Transit, streetcars: an inconvenient truth, Jarrett Walker:  Written by urban public transit planning consultant, this post notes:
    • Streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility or access improvement.  If you replace a bus with a streetcar on the same route, and make no other improvements, nobody will be able to get anywhere any faster than they could before. This makes streetcars quite different from most of the other transit investments being discussed today.   (NOTE:  This would seem to make the Columbia Pike streetcar a rather cost-ineffective option, but leaves open the possible effectiveness of the Purple Line.)
    • Are there cases where a mobility improvement (i.e.  enabling someone to go somewhere faster than they can now) follows logically from the streetcar technology?  Yes, there are some:
      • Capacity.  In other urban contexts, rail transit is important for its ability to carry large number of riders per vehicle, and hence per driver, usually by combining cars into trainsets.  Modern streetcars generally cannot be run as trainsets, but the still have some advantage over buses in this area; they have a capacity of around 200 compared to 120 for a typical articulated bus.  This capacity advantage can be relevant in high-volume situations, particularly when frequencies get down to the three-minute range.  However. most streetcars now under discussion are not this frequent.  Portland's Streetcar System Plan, for example, envisions mostly frequencies of 10-15 minutes, and at these levels the frequency is driven by a service quality standard, not a capacity requirement.  
      • Existing rail rights-of-way.  A proposed streetcar project in Vancouver involves using a piece of existing rail line, as does the small line in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  In this case, the streetcar can obviously do something important that a bus can't.
      Let me review carefully what I'm not saying about this incredibly sensitive topic.  
      • I'm not disputing the ridership benefits of streetcars.  Streetcars do attract more ridership than the buses they replace, though it's not always clear why.  There's an urgent need for more research on how much of the ridership benefits of a streetcar are truly results of intrinsic benefits of the streetcar (such as the ride quality, the legibility provided by tracks in the street, etc) as opposed to results of other improvements introduced at the same time (including speed and reliability improvements, better public information, off-board fare collection, and possible differences in operations culture).
      • I'm not saying that streetcars don't promote urban development; clearly they seem to be doing that, though there's room for disagreement about how much the development really requires the streetcar.
      • I'm not saying that electric streetcars aren't quieter and more environmentally friendly than diesel buses; clearly they are, but if this is your only reason for wanting streetcars, electric trolleybuses may meet your need less expensively.
      • I'm not saying that streetcars aren't fun to ride.  They are.  
      Most important, I'm not saying in the abstract that streetcars are good or bad.  I'm saying that they are a major capital expense that requires a justification other than mobility ("getting people where they're going fast and efficiently") when we compare them to the bus routes they replace, or that could be developed instead. 
And that last sentence pretty much captures this writer's viewpoint.  Streetcars are major capital investment not justified by improved mobility when compared with transit bus alternatives in most cases.  This is especially true for the Columbia Pike streetcar proposal and may also be true for the Purple Line given the huge capital investment required (that will no doubt escalate as planning continues).  It also seems definitely true in the urbanizing areas of Fairfax County, including Reston. 


Terry Maynard