Libby Garvey is running for re-election to the Arlington County Board against challenger businessman Erik Gutshall. She wants to continue to streamline and ease county regulations to make it a place residents can call “great.”
Garvey is all about attracting people to Arlington, which she described as “a smart, capable, and educated community,” in an April interview with Greater Greater Washington. Good transit, affordable housing (especially for middle income earners), education, and making the county friendly to businesses all play a part in this effort.
First, however, Garvey wants to set the record straight about her “initiative” as board chair. Her opponent, Erik Gutshall, has made a point of her comments to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce that her initiative was “no initiative.” But Garvey says those comments were taken out of context.
“My push is to work on strategic planning, to get us thinking holistically about things,” she says, pointing out that historically the incoming board chair would have a pet project or agenda — an initiative — that they would push forward. This process led to a new initiative every time there was a new chair, which is something she wants to avoid.
“Moving forward, if I’ve got an initiative I want to make sure my whole board is on board,” says Garvey.
Good transit for Arlington is a priority
Garvey believes Arlington should provide people with “good transit,” giving them the ability to get around the county without a car. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and other improvements to the county’s bus network are an important part of this.
However, Garvey insists that dedicated lanes are not a requirement for BRT.
“A dedicated lane is something you want to have and would like to have but don’t need it,” she says.
Los Angeles has implemented what is “essentially” a BRT system without dedicated lanes, says Garvey, adding that 90% of US BRT does not have such lanes according to multiple experts.
She is likely referring to Los Angeles’s Metro Rapid bus service. The dense network of frequent bus lines with limited signal priority across the county is widely considered a successful express bus network— just not BRT.
Transit experts generally agree that Los Angeles’ only BRT line is the Orange Line busway, which runs in a dedicated transitway from the North Hollywood subway station to the Warner Center and Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.
“There are a lot of tools in the basket,” says Garvey on transit improvements. A countywide transit development plan, which is likely to include things like signal priority and off-board fare payment for buses, is in the works.
One tool that is likely not in Garvey’s basket is a streetcar. She is well known for her opposition to the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars that were cancelled after the election of county board member John Vihstadt in 2014. She argued at the time that similar transit improvements could be achieved through improved bus service at a far lower cost.
I-66 could be a new source of revenue… and park space?
Garvey is watching the plans to widen I-66 inside the beltway in exchange for the addition of tolls from 2017 closely.
“We’ve been assured that when [the Commonwealth of Virginia] is talking about widening they’re not going to widen the roadbed,” she says. “We’re watching very closely.”
The compromise came after years of Arlington objecting to the widening of any of the highways in the county, including a controversial lawsuit against Virginia to stop the I-395 HOT lanes. Asked why the county did not object to the latest proposal, Garvey says she feels the county can achieve more by working with elected representatives in Richmond than by working against them.
“It’s all about soft power,” she says.
Garvey has some interesting ideas for how Arlington can use the revenue generated by the new tolls on I-66. For example, a BRT line on Route 50 could help alleviate some of the congestion on I-66, she says.
Another idea Garvey has for I-66 is acquiring the air rights over the freeway to build new park space. Discussions with officials over acquiring the rights that would allow Arlington to deck over the depressed highway are on going, she says.
The deck would have a lower level for parking and buses with new green space and pedestrian paths above.
“We need the ability to knit our community back together,” says Garvey.
Schools and housing influence quality of life
Garvey stresses that she wants to make Arlington a “great” place to live. The topic is clearly an important one to her, as she repeatedly returns to quality of life and attracting new residents to the county in her comments.
A key part of this is keeping housing affordable, especially for those in the middle of the economic ladder. Garvey would like to loosen zoning laws and housing regulations to allow more flexibility when it comes to developing residential units. This includes everything from streamlining the process for developers so smaller projects become more economically feasible to easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and promoting affordable dwelling units, she says.
“There’s a lot of really local government regulations and code that we can look at and improve,” says Garvey.
In addition, she wants to preserve existing affordable housing stock, like older garden apartments, when there is pressure to replace them with new development.
Quality education is key to a great Arlington for Garvey. County schools have improved from unattractive to new parents to ones that are considered a great place to raise kids during the more than 15 years since she first joined the school board, she says.
Garvey sees room for further improvement. She wants to bring Arlington schools into the twenty-first century by increasing access to technology and improve training opportunities outside the classroom, she says.
Improvements are also needed for the county’s business climate. In addition to easing the approvals process for developers, Garvey wants to energize Arlington’s economic development office to go out and actively recruit new businesses, especially technology businesses.
On the whole, Garvey focuses on largely process improvements — streamlining regulations to review the zoning code for example — for Arlington rather than hard goals.
The Arlington county primary election is on June 14th.