Fatal Flaw: Omitting Pentagon Transit Station from Streetcar Network Will Burden Future Generations

Arlington County’s Board has decided to make an “our way or the highway” offer for its planned streetcar network: if a neighboring jurisdiction doesn’t want to adopt the Board’s plan, they are on their own.  Fairfax is in (at least for now).  Alexandria, well, sorta.  Oddly, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) – the region’s critical (if seriously flawed) mass transit agency – has been totally removed from the negotiation (and as a result is now forced to have to try to play catchup).

The failure to work with other governmental agencies isn’t just bad manners, it’s bad ultimately for transit users.  This refusal to cooperate with other jurisdictions is endemic of today’s stubbornly pro-streetcar board members (“the Trolley Four,”) and reveals a myopic, damn-the-consequences attitude when it comes to this project.

For future generations that will likely be forced to pick up the pieces of the flawed streetcar network that they will inherit from the Trolley Four, the omission of the Pentagon Transit Center from the plan is sure to emerge as a massive challenge.

The scale of the Pentagon as both and employment and transit hub is well described in a Virginia Department of Transportation report from 2010:

Approximately 26,000 people are employed at the Pentagon, which also houses a major multi-modal transit center on site. The transit center is located above a Metrorail station and it is estimated that about 29,000 people a day use the Pentagon Transit Center, with approximately 1,570 bus arrivals and departures each weekday on 84 different bus routes using the center’s 24 bus bays.

Stated another way, the world’s largest office building, which is “one of the busiest transit hubs in the entire region,” has among the fastest growing rail ridership in the Metrorail system and sits at the eastern terminus of Columbia Pike.  Yet Arlington’s  plans for a new transit network will run nearby – but just far enough away – to make it largely useless for transit users hoping to transfer to a bus there or get to work there.

This is a good idea?

Don’t forget this fact either: today weekday ridership on bus roues that begin and end at Pentagon buses exceed weekday ridership on Pentagon City buses*.

Several points are worth making.  Getting the Pentagon to play nice with multimodal transportation is a real challenge.  And the logistics of getting a streetcar into the Pentagon Transit Center involves some engineering challenges.

Yet it is common sense that getting an artic bus into the Pentagon Transit Center is much more likely (if still difficult) than laying the rail tracks, power lines and other improvements needed to use a streetcar to take Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax commuters into the destination that is one of the region‘s largest job and mass transit centers.

A transit improvement plan, such as the Board’s fateful trolley network, that doesn’t include the Pentagon is a poor choice.  The better plan for transit improvements along the Pike remain an artic bus fleet that can be much more easily extended to the critical job center and transit hub in south Arlington, the Pentagon.

* * *

*The hyperlink above should keep the data honest, but feel free to verify the math: Pentagon routes ((16A,B,D,E,J,P) 5,959 + (16F) 924 = 6,883) vs. 3,859 for routes 16G,H,K. This calculation ignores ART routes and the 16L because it barely serves the Pike corridor in Arlington.

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