Double-deck buses for Arlington after streetcars fail?

Part 9 of 9 in the series Arlington Traffic Troubles

DOUBLE CAPACITY: “The Deuce,” one of Las Vegas’ fleet of double-decker buses rolls down the Strip, clearing 14-foot-high pedestrian bridges with ease.

By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. — As die-hard streetcar pushers try to get their derailed project back on track politically, others are moving on with a proposal to bring double-decker buses to Arlington.

A group of state lawmakers petitioned Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne to reserve up to $65 million for the stalled streetcar venture. The $500 million-plus project was killed by the County Board this month.

McAuliffe and Layne — a resident of the Hampton Roads region whose “Tide” trolley has the lowest ridership numbers in the nation — may be sympathetic to the pleas from Democratic Sens. Janet Howell, Adam Ebbin and Barbara Favola and Delegates Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, K. Rob Krupicka and Rip Sullivan.

But streetcar skeptics say double-decker buses would provide a better way forward on Arlington’s congested roads.

“In Britain, double deckers have operated in many cities for over 100 years,” notes Rob Whitfield, a taxpayer activist in Arlington. “More than 80 have operated in Las Vegas as ‘The Deuce’ since October 2005.”

Streetcar enthusiasts counter that overpasses will block taller buses, but this year, double deckers hit the road in Minneapolis, a city with plenty of pedestrian skyways.

Whitfield said streetcars are a step backward, pointing out their speeds would hit only 10-13 mph on hilly sections.

“Why would anybody want to spend a half hour traveling via over a dozen stops to Pentagon City when a far quicker travel option for commuters would be to add express bus service from the Skyline area via Seminary Road to the HOV lanes of I-395 to reach the Pentagon in only 15 minutes?” he asked.

Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit has called for Bus Rapid Transit routes to speed up commutes.

“We continue to seek more transit capacity and improved reliability,” said AST spokesman Peter Rousselot.

Proponents of double-decker buses point out the vehicles would take up less street space than longer “articulated” buses, and save on storage costs.

“Why not have Arlington County, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the state fund a one-year double decker demonstration project on Columbia Pike?” Whitfield suggests.

County Board member Libby Garvey, a critic of the streetcar proposal, favors a BRT project without necessarily committing to double-deck vehicles.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for and bureau of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward