Virginia Senator Discusses Silver Line, Streetcar, Uber at Mobility Lab

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A recent Salon article called Arlington the suburb of the future, and Virginia State Senator Barbara Favola (D) had a big hand in creating it.

At Mobility Lab’s Lunch At the Lab this week, the 14-year veteran of the Arlington County Board discussed a wide array of transportation issues in Virginia, including the Silver Line, the Columbia Pike Streetcar, Virginia’s transportation bill, and Uber.

Favola began the luncheon with a discussion of how her experience in transit-oriented Arlington County has informed her more recent Richmond experience. Mentioning data suggesting that Arlington’s traffic has declined even as its population has increased, the senator attributed this to the county’s smart-growth policies, particularly its robust transportation demand management program.

Silver Line and Smart Growth

Senator Favola discussed the Washington Metrorail’s new Silver Line, scheduled to open on July 26, commending Fairfax County’s use of the new transit line to transform Tysons into a place in which people can “live close to work.” She described transit-oriented development, density, and multimodal transportation options as ways to “manage growth in a sensible way.”

Regarding resistance in Loudoun County to phase two of the Silver Lane project, Favola expressed compassion for that viewpoint, but said, “You just can’t say no to development. You have to manage it.” These were principles Favola and other county leaders implemented in Arlington during her tenure on the county board.

Howard Jennings, Mobility Lab’s managing director, expressed concerns to Favola that transit and multimodal transportation might become associated with political ideologies. Favola responded that Northern Virginia in particular understands that multimodal transportation is an effective solution to growth. The senator said, “Don’t mess with multimodal transit. We need it.”

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Sen. Favola meets with staff from BikeArlington and Mobility Lab.

When asked about the Columbia Pike streetcar, the senator said, “I like the idea of this additional transit option, and I think the streetcar would be a very valuable asset. There’s a strong economic-engine argument [for it].” Favola expressed concern over the financing of the project, however, stating, “The issue the county board has is cost. I think they need to keep working on coming up with a stronger financing package.”

The senator pointed out another current problem in Arlington County affecting the streetcar’s development: a divided county board. Favola, who served on the board at a time of political consensus and unity, stated that to accomplish big projects such as the streetcar, “strong leadership and commitment to a vision” are needed.

Virginia’s Transportation Bill

Regarding Virginia’s 2013 transportation funding bill, HB2313, Senator Favola described it as “a more robust package than [former] Governor Bob McDonnell thought it would be.” The bill succeeds in funding transportation for the foreseeable future for the state, something that had vexed legislators for decades. While smart-growth advocates have criticized the bill’s preferential treatment of automobiles and road construction, Favola expressed pride over the bill’s passage, stating, “You have to give McDonnell credit.”

Uber

Touching on the Uber debate in Virginia, where the transportation network company was banned, Favola mentioned that the state and Uber are closer to resolving their conflict.

The senator spoke of the need for a regulatory framework that will fit Uber. “The whole issue is insurance,” Favola said. While Favola is sensitive to the pain of taxi agencies (“Red Top has been in our community for over 40 years,” she noted), her message to these companies was similar to her message to Loudon County: fighting the tide of change is more or less futile. “Uber is here to stay,” Favola said.

Photos by M.V. Jantzen

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