Columbia Pike streetcar

A rendering from the Arlington County government shows how the Columbia Pike streetcar system might have looked. With the streetcar project abandoned, county officials have turned to expanding bus options in the corridor.

It cost her the goodwill of many in the county’s Democratic ranks, and four years ago nearly cost her her job, but Libby Garvey says she has no regrets.

Garvey, now seeking a third full term on the Arlington County Board, used the Sept. 8 Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum to remind voters of her full-throttle opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar system – the biggest political controversy of recent years.

Garvey said it took a “tremendous effort” to defeat the proposed 5-mile-long transit line, but pronounced no regrets.

“I am still paying the price for it, but we are a stronger county,” she said. “Arlington is in a much better place.”

In the early 2010s, Garvey was a voice in the wilderness against the streetcar proposal, her opposition ridiculed by many who expected it could be brushed aside on the way to getting a modern transit line along the Columbia Pike corridor.

But Garvey ignored the snickers and went about her business. And in the spring of 2014, she broke with her party by supporting independent John Vishtadt – another streetcar-doubter – over a Democrat in a County Board special election.

Vihstadt won that race, but a pro-streetcar County Board troika of Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada bided their time in expectation that Vihstadt would be defeated in the November 2014 general election.

Except he wasn’t. Vihstadt won again and, within a week, Fisette and Hynes switched sides to kill off the $350 million proposal. (To this day, Tejada remains convinced that decision was a mistake.)

Garvey and the Arlington County Democratic Committee parted ways for a year, although at the debate Garvey said she had been “thrown out” while in fact she resigned prior to an expulsion vote being taken. In 2016, back in the party fold, Garvey was challenged for the Democratic County Board nomination by Planning Commission chairman Erik Gutshall, who managed to take 45 percent of the vote away from the incumbent but fell short.

(Gutshall was elected to the County Board in 2017, succeeding Fisette, but died in office earlier this year.)

While Garvey on Sept. 8 was taking a victory lap for killing the streetcar, her 2020 opponent – Audrey Clement – didn’t appear to be caught up in the moment. The streetcar has been “the only gold-plated program” Garvey has ever opposed, sniffed Clement, who also opposed the project.

(6) comments

InsideCommenter

Libby Garvey is a single family NIMBY, who loves environmentally destructive car addicted lightly populated suburbs. Her dream Arlington would look a lot like it did in the 50s or how Western PwC looks today. She needs to be primaried next time by someone with a YIMBY perspective, focused on wastewater, sewage, and of course continuing to favor more housing, and continuing to improve our public transportation.

CJE

Untrue. Libby Garvey lives in a condo in a large condo community on the Arlington-Alexandria border that was workforce housing only 20 years ago but has become unaffordable to the middle class during her almost 8 years on the County Board, despite thousands of so-called 'affordable' housing units costing $300,000-and-up per unit to renovate or construct added to Arlington's housing inventory. The County's so-called "affordable housing" program is a fraud because people who desperately need workforce housing earn too little to qualify to live in what what are actually luxury techforce apartments. Moreover, Garvey and the County Board did nothing while her opponent and her opponent's neighbors were gentrified out of actually affordable garden apartments so the garden apartments could be demolished for luxury townhomes. As usual, Scott McCaffrey's personal biases against independent and third party candidates prevent voters from obtaining accurate information from Inside Nova / Sun Gazette.

Charles

All McCaffrey can do is go back 6 years because all Libby Garvey has done since the demise of the Pike streetcar is rubber stamp the County's mixed use gentrification, unaffordable housing, more car diet, social crowding "planning". Talk about Nimbys, the VIPs behind so-called "Missing Middle" infill gentrification live in single family detached homes assessed at more than $1 million.

McCaffrey must be in a time warp. The Pike Trolley was dead six years ago. Why is he dredging it up now except that he can't point to another boondoggle she's opposed since.

CJE

Latest of Libby's boondoggles were 2 months ago when she voted for "Welfare for the Rockefellers" aka massive taxpayer funded gimmes to WETA and urbanizing an actual urban village in Shirlington to benefit an out-of-state REIT.

CJE

BTW, Libby Garvey was all for state-of-the-art hybrid BRT and/or hybrid double deck buses rather than streetcars on the Pike...until the Pike streetcar was cancelled.

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