Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Transit

In Maryland and Virginia, vote to build transit

Maryland and Virginia are very different places and not ones to cavalierly bunch together. However, we have one post with both sets of endorsements because the most competitive races in both states are more alike than different: a solid candidate with a beneficial vision faces one who would make it a top priority to kill a major transit project.


Anthony Brown and Alan Howze. Images from the candidates' websites.

These races are for governor of Maryland, where we encourage voters to elect Anthony Brown, and Arlington County Board, where Alan Howze is the right choice.

We also endorse Brian Frosh for attorney general. On ballot questions, our contributors did not have a consensus on Maryland's "transportation lockbox" Question 1. The choice is clear to support Fairfax County's bond measure that will help pay for many bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Maryland

Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (D) hopes to move up to governor. Brown will continue the policies of his predecessor including pushing to build the Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway busway in the I-270 corridor (and, perhaps, challenge conventional thinking on road design and funding).

Brown also wants to ensure Metro has funding for eight-car trains and other upgrades. His Republican opponent Larry Hogan, meanwhile, has made clear that he wants to halt spending on these transit projects because he thinks they are too expensive... but spend more money on highway projects.

The Purple Line nearly died at the hands of former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. Hogan wants to follow in the same footsteps. While Brown has maintained a lead in the polls, the race is far from decided. A Hogan win would be a disaster for Maryland's transit plans and we urge voters to show up on November 4 to cast ballots for Brown.

Brian Frosh, the Democratic nominee for Maryland Attorney General, has a more comfortable lead but deserves special praise. He played a major role in keeping the Purple Line alive in 1991 even while most elected officials believed the project was unpopular.

For the "lockbox" Question 1, our contributors were nearly evenly split while many simply suggested making no endorsement. You can read Ashley Robbins' summary for some reasons to vote for it and an understanding of why many will not.

Virginia

Virginia state offices are not on the ballot this year, but an Arlington race is all about transit. Alan Howze is facing John Vihstadt in a rematch for Arlington County Board. Vihstadt won a special election this spring where residents angry about county projects had more incentive to turn out while Howze did not run a particularly dynamic campaign. However, the impact on the future of Arlington could be significant, and we again strongly encourage voters to select Howze.

Howze has a good vision for Arlington including concrete ideas to eliminate deaths on the roadways. Meanwhile, Vihstadt has continued to make opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar a core issue. He and other opponents have relentlessly attacked the project that the county has justified in study after study while holding up dubious and misleading alternatives.

A dedicated lane has never been an option on Columbia Pike, and studies have demonstrated how rail can carry many more riders than buses possibly could. Nevertheless, opponents keep touting some amorphous idea of "Bus Rapid Transit" which somehow has the benefits of the expensive, gold standard lines but the costs and footprint of a bare-bones line.

It's not persuasive. This is the GamerGate of Arlington politics. The far more believable alternative is that Vihstadt simply does not want to spend much money on transit. Since transit is massively popular in Arlington, one can't win office opposing it; instead, the only hope is to shout "BOONDOGGLE!" over and over.

Arlington has been an exemplar in our region for the transit-focused direction its leaders have steered. It needs board members who will build on that success; Howze will do so.

In Fairfax County, the proposed $100 million transportation bond measure will pay for many bicycle and pedestrian projects in the newly-passed Bicycle Master Plan and other priorities. Fairfax County has taken strong steps to make what's now a very car-dependent county more accessible on foot or bicycle. This is the right decision, and voters should put money behind that effort to see it through.

Here are the answers to whichWMATA week 26

On Monday, we posted our twenty-sixth photo challenge to see how well you know Metro. I took five photos in Metro. Here are the answers. How well did you do?

We got 20 guesses this week. Only one of you got all five correct. Great work, Peter K!


Image 1: Fort Totten

The first image shows a northbound train leaving Fort Totten's lower level. There are several clues in this picture. The portion of the platform below the mezzanine has a unique ceiling, which is visible here. Additionally, the terminal supervisor's booth (the windows) narrows this down to a few stations that served as terminals. And in the reflection on the window, you can see that the station is partially above ground. Nine of you got this one right.


Image 2: Spring Hill

The next image depicts the Spring Hill station along the new Silver Line. The vantage point is from the pedestrian bridge over the southbound lanes of Route 7. This is distinctly Spring Hill (as opposed to the other Tysons stations) because McLean and Tysons Corner are not in medians, they're entirely on one side of Route 123. Greensboro, which is also in a median, has a completely different roof type (Gambrel) and the mezzanine is above the tracks, rather than below. Twelve of you correctly guessed this one.


Image 3: Takoma

The third image depicts art at the Takoma station, visible from the entrance. It's located on the retaining wall between the tracks south of the station, and is easily visible from the left side of southbound trains upon departure. Nine of you got this one.


Image 4: Braddock Road

The fourth image shows the view from the platform at Braddock Road. The clue here is the distance from and angle to the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Further confirmation comes from being able to see the southern end of the canopy (Alexandria Peak) and the railroad tracks, which makes it clear that this is not King Street. Nineteen knew this one.


Image 5: ShawHoward University

The final image was clearly the hardest. This shows the northbound trackway at Shaw. All stations have drains in the trackways. But they usually just have one or two. Shaw has drains at this interval for almost the entire length of the platform, and it's distinct in that regard. The base of the vault could have also helped you narrow it down, since it's a Waffle type. Only four of you knew this was Shaw.

Next Monday we'll have five more photos for you to identify. Thanks for playing!

Ask GGW: How much pain will riders face while Metro replaces the Bethesda escalators?

Metro is replacing the Bethesda Metro's three escalators. Why is it happening now, and will the station have to close?


Photo by Mike Sandman on Flickr.

The 2½ year project began earlier this month to replace all three of the station's entrance escalators. WMATA's press release said, "For safety reasons, Metro may need to temporarily close Bethesda Station to prevent overcrowding during service disruptions or other events, such as a disabled train, medical emergency, infrastructure problem or power failure. This may happen with little advance notice."

What does this mean? Will Bethesda station really have to close? What will the impact on riders be? We talked with WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel about the project.

Why do this now?

Bethesda station is going to get a new, second entrance in tandem with the Purple Line. That construction is scheduled to start in 2016. Can the escalator rehab wait until there is another entrance? Metro already will be closing the Red Line for 14 weekends between Friendship Heights and Grosvenor for that and other repair work.

Stessel says this can't wait:

For more than a year now, [the escalator division] has permanently assigned a maintenance team, composed of two technicians and one master technician, to Bethesda and Medical Centerjust those two stations (something that is unheard of among our peers in the transit industry). That's in addition to emergency response personnel and supervisors. That level of attention has yielded positive results, but it is not sustainable in the long term.

The escalators are original equipment, installed when the station was built and in service since it opened. As you know, the longer the escalator, the more parts/sensors, the harder to maintain. These units are well past their useful life and need to go. Kicking this can down the road is not a good option.

Also, [General Manager] Sarles personally made a commitment to Bethesda riders three years ago, and we are making good on it.

Stessel also said that the work couldn't go any faster if workers closed the whole station because they can't fix more than one escalator at a time:
KONE, our contractorand one of the global leaders in this industry, would still only be able to work on one unit at a time, because one unit must be maintained for worker access to the shaft and crane activity can only occur on a single unit due to space constraints. Meanwhile, we would continue to expend huge resources to maintain outdated, outmoded escalators. I believe that if you spoke with most Bethesda customers, they would agree that getting this project done sooner is better.
What if an escalator breaks down?

Bethesda has three escalators from the station fare control area to the bus garage area (where you can exit or take other, shorter escalators to Wisconsin Avenue). If one is under repair, that leaves two, one going up and one down.

According to DC Metro Metrics, Bethesda's three escalators have been down 6.63%, 4.55%, and 4.81% of the time. (And that is with the dedicated repair personnel Stessel talked about above).

Given these numbers, if we assume that each breaks down totally independently of the others, the probability that two or more escalators is broken at the same time would be less than 1%. But when only two escalators are functioning, the average probability that one or both escalators is broken rises to 10.4%.

What happens when one of these escalators breaks down, leaving only one functioning escalator? Stessel says:

We will have [escalator] techs physically at Bethesda every hour the station is open for the entire duration of the project. They're there to quickly respond to any outage.

In most cases, the escalators can be reset by the techsor the problem can be quickly resolved. If that's the case, no closure necessary.

If we have a longer, more complex outage, that may or may not result in a closure depending on a few factors:

  • As long as there is an ascending escalator available and the second, out of service unit is available as a walker [a shut-off escalator you can walk up or down], the station can stay open. Personnel can reverse a working descending unit to ascend if that helps.
  • If either of the two remaining units is barricaded for any reason (not available as a walker), the station will close due to the extremely limited capacity for exit.
  • If both units are out of service (i.e. for a power outage or fire alarm), the station will close.
When else might the station close?

Bethesda could close even if two escalators are still working. That's because, Stessel said, with only two escalators there is less capacity to get people out of the station:

The station will be closed/bypassed if there is a delay that causes crowding beyond normal rush hour levels. ...

We have a team of personnel at Bethesda every hour that the station is open, including MTPD officers and an official, [escalator] techs, a safety officer, a rail supervisor and an [escalator company] rep. These personnel are there to monitor conditions and effect an evacuation if necessary.

The decision to bypass the station is made by the ranking MTPD official based on actual crowd conditions or the potential for crowds. Types of incidents that could prompt bypassing include single tracking events, medical emergencies, arcing insulators, person struck, power outages, and so on. Factors such as peak vs. off-peak are taken into consideration. We won't needlessly inconvenience riders, but we will always put safety first.

In fact, the day we were emailing back and forth with Stessel, he said the Bethesda station was going to close because of single-tracking and "a reported track problem" like an arcing insulator outside Bethesda. But then the track inspectors found everything to be okay, so the station stayed open.

It sounds like there's really no good answer here. It's likely that the station will close some of the time, and even though Metro will provide shuttle bus service from Medical Center when that happens, it would still add a lot of time to a trip. Still, Metro has good reasons for moving forward. It's just unfortunate that Bethesda riders may have to deal with some significant inconveniences as a result.

Events roundup: Georgetown and Fairfax

How can communities change while preserving what's important? Learn about these challenges in historic Georgetown and developing Route 1 in Fairfax. Also, learn about transportation financing, water and equity, and Ride On service at upcoming events around the region.


Photo by terratrekking on Flickr.

Change in Georgetown: Moving historic neighbor­hoods into the future can be difficult. Georgetown is trying to do that with its "Georgetown 2028" plan. On Tuesday, November 4, Georgetown BID transportation director Will Handsfield will discuss how the area can continue to develop a thriving commercial district and preserve its historic flair. That's at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW from 12:30 to 1:30 pm.

Growth and stormwater: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's next tour takes you to Route 1 in Fairfax, where growth will affect the local watersheds. Experts will talk about how Fairfax can add housing, stores, and jobs while preserving water quality. You need to RSVP for the tour, which is 10 am to noon this Saturday, November 1.

Public-private transportation: Curious about how the nation will finance transportation infrastructure? Tonight, Tuesday, October 28, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is hosting David Connolly and Ward McCarragher, both from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, to discuss a new report about how public-private partnerships can fund transportation. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 5 pm and the presentation will be 5:30-6:30 at 1666 K Street, NW, 11th floor. Please RSVP.

Ride On more: Montgomery County is planning to increase service on six routes, and will discuss the changes at a public forum Wednesday, October 29, starting at 6:30 at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.

Social equity and water: Georgetown's Urban and Regional Planning program's weekly lecture series is talking about "big investments in big cities." On Monday, November 3 at 5:30 pm, George Hawkins, the general manager of DC Water, will discuss how infrastructure also affects social equity. The talk is at Georgetown's SCS building at 640 Massachusetts Ave, NW. RSVP here.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

The Purple Line will likely beat ridership forecasts

Tucson's new streetcar and the light rail between Minneapolis and St. Paul are beating ridership forecasts. It's a good bet that the Purple Line, which will break ground next year, will do the same. What do they have in common? All run through the heart of major state universities.


A Green Line train passing through the University of Minnesota. Image from Wikipedia.

Planners predicted that Tucson's new streetcar would carry 3,600 passengers a day. Just three months after it opened, the figure is 4,700. The light rail between Minneapolis and St Paul that started running in June foresaw 33,000 daily riders in 2015; the count has already passed 37,000.

The forecasts in Minnesota and Arizona did not fall short for lack of effort. A lot of work goes into ridership estimates, and the Federal Transit Administration carefully vets them. Indeed, that vetting may be the cause of the lowball predictions.

Since the federal agency has the job of choosing the best among many projects seeking funding, it can't let local governments puff up their numbers. So it insists that forecasters begin with computer models approved by regional planning agencies and lets them deviate only when hard evidence justifies it. The models are slanted against transitthey ignore the ongoing return to the city and assume a future of more sprawl and more driving.

On top of that, they treat universities like any other workplace. That's a good enough approximation if you're trying to predict rush-hour highway traffic, the models' original purpose, but it undercounts potential transit riders.

For many reasons, transit gets more use at universities than elsewhere:

  • Students tend to have less income than their neighbors.
  • Cultural change is turning younger adults, especially the college-educated, away from driving.
  • Few students have children, so they have less need of cars for errands.
  • College campuses are more walkable than elsewhere, especially in suburban areas.
  • Parking at universities is often scarce and is usually a long walk from classrooms and offices.
The FTA recognizes the limitations of its models, and it allows plans for new rail lines to take the behavior of students into account. But it's not easy to put numbers on diffuse social trends, and walkability is hard to measure.

The Tucson streetcar project tried to count its students, but it had trouble backing up its estimates and left them out of its official forecast. Minnesota rail planners treated students as a separate category of commuter, willing to put up with more delay on a bus or train than someone going to work. In both cities ridership beat forecasts even before school started, showing that the university effect is not just about students.

There's every reason to think the same thing will happen when the Purple Line runs through College Park. Its forecasts don't include the new riders who will be attracted by vastly improved transit service from the campus to Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The model predicts 550 daily boardings in 2030 by university employees at the stop in front of the Student Union. But shuttle buses from there to the College Park and Silver Spring Metro stations already carry 600 employee round trips a day.


Rendering of the Purple Line station at the University of Maryland. Image from the Maryland MTA.

Purple Line forecasters did add an estimate of student riders to the computer calculation of employees. Here, again, the numbers look to be low. They predicted only 25% more students on light rail than the number now riding the two shuttles and parallel bus routes. That is merely the increase in bus ridership that will come from enrollment growth and tighter restrictions on parking. It's more reasonable to expect the Purple Line to far outperform the current buses, which run infrequently to Silver Spring and only in rush hour to Bethesda.

The success of transit lines depends on more than measurable quantities of jobs and homes. Walkability and culture matter too. The Purple Line, anchored in the three urbanizing centers of College Park, Bethesda, and Silver Spring, is poised to join the list of outperformers.

Do you know the station? It's whichWMATA week 26

It's time for the twenty-sixth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are five photos of the Washington Metro system. Can you identify the station depicted in each picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

The answers will appear on Wednesday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Making room for transit can make better streets for everyone

Many proposed transit projects in our region, from streetcars to bus rapid transit and the Purple Line, involve vehicles running in the street. Giving transit a place on our busy streets can be a hard sell, especially when it means displacing cars. But a recent trip to Minneapolis shows how it can create better places for everyone, including drivers.


The new Green Line runs through the University of Minnesota. Photo by Michael Hicks on Flickr.

Minneapolis finds a compromise on the Green Line

While presenting at Rail~Volution last month in Minneapolis, I had a chance to ride the Green Line, a new light-rail between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. The 11-mile line bears a striking similarity to the proposed Purple Line here in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Like the Purple Line, the Green Line faced resistance from a Republican governor and concerns about gentrification and neighborhood disruption from nearby large immigrant communities.

But it's how the Green Line interacts with the University of Minnesota, and how community leaders came together to make it a success, that might be the biggest lesson for our area. Like the Purple Line, which would pass through the University of Maryland, the Green Line travels on Washington Avenue, the main street at the University of Minnesota.


Washington Avenue before and after. Photos from Google Street View.

The University of Minnesota, also known as the U, opposed banning cars from Washington Avenue, a busy commuter route into downtown Minneapolis, and turning it into a transit mall. Scientists in the over 80 labs along the street worried that vibrations from light rail trains would disturb their research.

Officials preferred a more circuitous route that went north of the campus, which would inconvenience fewer drivers but also reduce transit access to campus. The U sued to block the project, but after negotiating with the regional Metropolitan Council, officials eventually came to an agreement. The council would pay to reduce vibrations and electromagnetic interference, while the U would move some labs away from the line.

A busy road becomes a place

Since then, the U has worked to make the Green Line as successful as possible. It distributed over 6,700 special passes to students, faculty, and staff that allow them to ride between the three on-campus stations for free, and rerouted campus buses to divert more traffic away from Washington Avenue.


A plaza runs down the middle of Washington Avenue, with light rail and bus/bike lanes on the sides. Photo by the author.

The U's cooperation with the Metropolitan Council meant that the Green Line could transform Washington Avenue from a traffic sewer to a gathering place. Today, the street feels like a natural extension of the campus. Trains run down the middle of the street, and there are shared bus and bike lanes on either side. The sidewalks are wider, and the crosswalks have special paving materials to make them more visible.

There's also more green space than there was before. Since the Green Line stations are in the center of the street, there's a space between the tracks. It would have been easy to just make it a grassy median, or find a way to squeeze in a car lane. Instead, it's a plaza with tables, chairs, and lush landscaping.


Bikes, buses, and transit share the reconfigured Washington Avenue at the University of Minnesota. Photo by the author.

A significant amount of development is happening around the Green Line as a result. Over 2,500 apartments have been built around the U's three Green Line stations, with another 2,000 in the pipeline. New shops and restaurants have opened along the tracks to cater to the influx of students.

When I visited, Washington Avenue was bustling with students walking to class, cyclists headed downtown, and light rail trains gliding down the street. It was a nice place to be, but it was still a transportation corridor. In fact, the transition was so seamless that it wasn't until I flew home and I looked at a map that I even realized cars were banned from part of the street.

Better streets make better transit

The development around the Green Line, coupled with the dramatically improved walking and bicycling environment, supports and reinforces the use of transit, making the Green Line more successful. Even before the line opened, 20% of faculty and staff and 40% of students used transit. But since the Green Line opened, it already has over 40,000 riders each day, higher than the projected ridership in 2030. The three University of Minnesota stations are the line's busiest.


Passengers wait for a train on Washington Avenue. Photo by Michael Hicks on Flickr.

And diverting drivers away from campus hasn't created the traffic congestion that some people feared. In 2011, there was an average of 18,800 cars on Washington Avenue through campus each day. According to the state's traffic counts, some of those cars have shifted over to nearby University Avenue, which had an increase over 8,000 cars since then.

But on other nearby streets, traffic increased by a very small amount, or even decreased. It's likely because some drivers chose to take the Green Line instead, opening up street space for others.

The Green Line required leaders to accept that, in order for transit to be successful on Washington Avenue, it had to be seen as a place for people, not just for cars. This is standard operating procedure in other countries, where transit usually gets top priority, but here it requires some persuasion. Hopefully, the success of projects like the Green Line can be a guide for leaders in the DC area as they try to build transit that not only moves people, but creates stronger places.

New bike lanes will close a big trail gap in Burke

There's a big gap between two of Fairfax County's major bike trails. Burke Road, which connects them, has missing sidewalks, narrow stretches, and sharp curves that make riding on it intimidating for cyclists. Two new projects will help remedy the issue.


A map of proposed changes. Image from Google Maps with edits by the author.

The section of Burke Road we're looking at is about two miles long, and it provides the straight and flattest connection from the Cross County Trail to the Burke VRE Trail. The Cross County Trail extends 40 miles from north to south in Fairfax, and the county recently built the Burke VRE trail to add a sizable neighborhood trail system in the Burke area.

The first phase will extend the Pohick Creek Trail across Burke Lake Road, routing cyclists and pedestrians behind a busy commercial area whose multiple entrances are a hazard. The project received funding last year but has yet to really ramp up.

The next stage will add bike lanes to a section of Burke Road between Mill Cove Road and the Rolling Road VRE station. This portion of Burke Road is wide enough that the county can add bike lanes without taking space away from drivers, and it already has sidewalks for anyone who wants to walk or run.


A wide section of Burke Road. Image from Google Maps with edits by the author.

The Board of Supervisors hasn't yet approved this part of the project, but if Fairfax's transportation bond passes this year, some of the money could fund it.

But even once these projects are complete, there will still be a section between Rolling Road and the Cross County Trail so narrow that cyclists will have to share it with pedestrians. While the county has repaired the path in the past year, it should improve this section. Alternatively, for cyclists who choose to stay on the road, Fairfax could add sharrows or an uphill bike lane.

Most of the roads that go anywhere in Burke are simply too wide and fast for anyone but the most fearless of cyclists. Incremental steps like these will help connect the growing trail network as well as help more people see bikes as a suitable transportation option in this very suburban corner of Fairfax County.

No, DC is not abandoning plans for most streetcar lines

If you read the headlines in the Post and WAMU today, you might come away thinking that the DC government has decided not to try to build a streetcar line on Georgia Avenue or from Anacostia to Buzzard Point. But that would be wrong.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

What's going on?

What happened yesterday is the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced three finalists for its contract to design, build, operate, and maintain streetcar lines. Earlier this year, DDOT had planned for that contract to encompass all of the 22-mile streetcar system: an east-west line from Benning Road to Georgetown, a north-south line from Southwest to Takoma or Silver Spring, and a line from Anacostia to Southwest.

To make that possible, the mayor's office had asked the DC Council to essentially set aside all of the money for the entire system right now.

While they insisted, vehemently, that they still support the streetcar system, the Council dedided they just weren't ready to give it all of the money today. Therefore, this current bidding process can only legally encompass the lines which are in the six-year capital planthe east-west line and the part of the Anacostia line from Bolling to the foot of the 11th Street Bridge.

The news stories have, accurately, reported that the current funding only lets the system grow to about 8.2 miles. Unfortunately, some of them also gave them impression that DC has "cut" the program. It's going to happen slower, definitely, but that might not even be all bad.

It's not really a surprise the council didn't boost streetcar funding

Let's say you want to start a company and are going to venture capital investors. You put together a rough business plan and they give you some seed money to hire some people. Then a few years go by, during which time your prototype gets delayed and you don't talk to your customers. You then come back to investors asking for much more money, but your business plan still isn't more detailed despite your promises to flesh it out. Would the investors fund you?

Even with crazy money in tech sometimes, it would be pretty tough. And it's understandable that DC councilmembers balked at the mayor's funding request. They continued authorizing about $600 million at a time when the starter line on H Street has been delayed and officials have given vague or no answers to questions. The mayor was asking for a very large amount of extra money, and politically, it just didn't fly.

Since Terry Bellamy took over at the start of the Gray Administration and Carl Jackson came from Greenville, SC to run the transit programs, DDOT went mostly silent on the streetcar. There were a few required environmental study meetings, sure, but the agency basically stopped collaborating with groups like the Sierra Club or local BIDs, which it had done under Gabe Klein and Scott Kubly.

The mayor convened a task force chaired by City Administrator Allen Lew which included many business leaders. The business community was willing to talk about special taxing districts to help pay for the streetcar, but Lew ultimately decided not to even try a "value capture" system and instead just dedicated 25% of future new tax revenue to the streetcar.

At the same time, the government basically spent all of 2013 lying to the public about how the streetcar would open that year while everyoneat lower levels, anywayknew it wouldn't. Promises that DC would lay out detailed plans for things like where streetcar storage and maintenance yards would go went unfulfilled and questions about how it would work without overhead wires across the Mall and key viewsheds remain unanswered and unstudied (but studies are now beginning).

So, four years has gone by since the height of streetcar enthusiasm. In all that time, few detailed emerged, promises were repeatedly broken, and ties with allies atrophied.

The council said, give us a plan

Many councilmembers said, publicly and privately, that they still want to see the entire streetcar system built. The two leading mayoral candidates support the plan at least to a significant degree; both point to failures and mistakes along the way, which indeed happened.

But councilmembers, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, and also people in the budget office, say they just want more detailed plans. They want DDOT to do more legwork and answer more questions before they'll hand over a blank check. I don't entirely blame them.

Unfortunately, some in the Gray administration responded to the cuts by essentially saying, "okay, you didn't give us the money, so that's it for most of the lines." That's misleading. Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the transportation committee, told the Post that the Gray team is being "childish" and not working with others. "You don't take your marbles and go home," Cheh said.

Sure, the cuts make things harder. Sometimes transportation projects can be a chicken-and-egg situation where you can't know every single thing up front. The plans for the Metrorail system shifted between when construction started and when it ended (delaying the Green Line by years), for example. "Design-build" can be a more economical and faster way to get transportation projects built, but it also involves hiring your contractor before you have every detail laid out perfectly.

People who are more skeptical of the streetcar, like Phil Mendelson, are less tolerant of gaps in the plan which can get filled in during the design-build process; they don't trust the team to fill the gaps well. Planning everything and then building it is slower and more expensive, and it becomes even more expensive when you go back and make changes along the way.

We can't know every single detail now. DDOT and its contractor partners will learn from the mistakes of H Street as well as the (hopefully smaller) ones that come in the early stages of lines still scheduled to be built. The same thing happens with the road network, Metro, bike lanes, and any other large transportation facility.

Still, there also needs to be a role for the public in correcting the course along the way. Under Terry Bellamy, DDOT did not show a willingness to meaningfully involve others in streetcar discussions, which compounded mistakes. We do need to see how H Street works and then ask questions about how to do better on the next lines. We need to get answers, too.

Make it work now

The streetcar program will be good for DC. In some corridors, it will add capacity. It will drive higher transit ridership and connect communities. In some places, it will help kick-start economic development as well. It will have some bugs and then they will get worked out.

The most important thing is to build the full east-west line, and build it to its great potential. It's already definitely going to have dedicated lanes on K Street, which will make it avoid the worst of the traffic. It also needs lanes, signal priority, and other features around Georgetown, Mount Vernon Square, and North Capitol Street to make it a speedy and attractive mode of travel. The streetcar needs to work well both operationally and for riders.

If it does, then public support for more lines will only grow, and the council will put money behind the rest of the lines. Already, Bellamy's successor Matt Brown and Sam Zimbabwe, who is handling Jackson's former duties, are steering the streetcar back toward the right track.

The lines are not "cut." They're just going to come later. It would have been a lot better if they could be built sooner, but with all of the mistakes during the Bellamy years, we lost that chance. It's not the last chance, though.

Support Us