“This is Arlington,” said Sandra Borden from the Crystal City Civic Association as she points across Glebe Road, “and over there, that’s Alexandria.”
Four Mile Run divides Arlington and Alexandria in most places, with Potomac Yard as the northern tip of Alexandria bordering Crystal City at the southern end of Arlington. So far, those communities are fairly insular, but with new residential developments moving into Crystal City and a major Potomac Yard commercial redevelopment underway, a new transit system hopes to bridge that gap.
The Potomac Yard Transitway is a bus route with large sections of dedicated lanes that runs from the Braddock Road Metro Station up to Crystal City. The route includes a mile of dedicated lanes through Potomac Yard and, for a mile and a half through Crystal City, some lanes will be bus-only during rush hours.
The Alexandria section of the route has been operating since 2014, but April 17 marked the ribbon-cutting for the completed Arlington section. The new extension runs up from South Glebe road to 15th Street, past the VRE and Metro stations in Crystal City. Officials from Arlington, Alexandria, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and various contributing groups attended the ceremony.
“This is the first bi-jurisdictional transitway in the Washington Area,” said Dennis Leach, director of Transportation for the Arlington Department of Environmental Services. “This is a big deal. It’s a great example of what we can accomplish with regional collaboration.”
The appeal of Transitway over traditional bus services is the more reliable and frequent times. The Potomac Yard Transitway buses arrive every six minutes with 95 percent on time performance, which Robert Potts, assistant general manager of Bus Services for WMATA, said is the highest in the region. Potts largely attributed this to the large stretches of dedicated lanes along the route.
“The dedicated thoroughfare from Glebe to Crystal City will speed up travel,” said Potts.
While Crystal City has a steadily increasing residential population, a set of new commercial developments is expected to flood into the Potomac Yard area with the completion of a new Metro station set to open in 2020. Several attendees expressed hopes that the Transitway would be a first step towards greater regional collaboration, particularly on transit issues.
“This is a poster child for what we can do when we work together,” said Alexandria Mayor Allison Silberberg.
“We’re all thrilled,” said Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol. “This is a great opportunity for a growing population center. It shows the way that partnership can bear fruit for our local residents, especially along this corridor. If we’re going to solve congestion on Route 1, this is how we have to do it.”
It hadn’t escaped the notice of the officials that the Transitway was one of the few praises being directed towards WMATA lately, with a crippled Metro system that left one Metro train stuck in a tunnel near Rosslyn on April 14 and fire on the tracks, also at Rosslyn, on April 18.
“One day, a few years from now, Washington will be known for its good transportation,” said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey.
Potts says the current Alexandria metrobus (Metroway) traveling along the Transitway has around 2,000 riders per day, which exceeds projections during development. 9A, a comparable bus route that runs through Potomac Yard and Crystal City, saw equal or slightly lower ridership, despite the 9A also extending to Huntington Station and the Pentagon. Transitway ridership has increased 34 percent in the last year. Both Potts and Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks noted that BRT routes take several years to mature in ridership.
Local residents came out to the ribbon-cutting and were excited, but many said there’s still lots of work to be done in the area. In Crystal City, Borden said that the transitway is the first of a set of new developments in Crystal City designed to help attract young residents.
“This is a boon for the millennials moving into the area,” said Borden, and along those lines said that the area also needs more talking trails and dog parks, joking that; “millennials aren’t having kids, they’re having dogs.”
Local commuters praised the new stations, but lamented that so many of the Crystal City streets were being restricted from bicycles.
“On the one hand I’m excited to have this dedicated bus way, but it is also restricting more of the roadway from bicycles,” said David Dann, who lives in a building overlooking the new bus station. “And there’s not enough bike racks, but still, it’s a good thing."