Greater Greater Washington

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Streetcar benefits outweigh possible road obstructions

A major fire in Tenleytown closed part of Wisconsin Avenue last week, prompting a resident to argue on the neighborhood listserv that streetcars are inferior to buses, because buses can detour. In many ways the benefits of streetcars trump the potential for this sort of delay.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Running a streetcar on dedicated tracks can create new opportunities for economic development that buses typically do not. Installation and maintenance of a line require a significant long-term investment. Businesses are more willing to invest in neighbor­hoods the streetcar serves because it can bring a more permanent flow of patrons and residents.

Streetcars are also longer than buses and can carry more passengers. For example, the Circulator is 46 feet long and a typical articulated bus is 60 feet. The streetcar DDOT plans to use is 66 feet long and has a capacity of 170 passengers, according to United Streetcar LLC, a manufacturer of streetcars. Higher capacity can limit overcrowding, which makes the streetcar a more attractive option than a bus.

Additionally, running the streetcar on rails also makes for a smoother ride, and thus a more comfortable and attractive transit option. Buses are susceptible to potholes and poor road conditions, which can lead to bumpy rides.

The streetcar is not without disadvantages, however. It's true that rails make the streetcar less flexible. During the fire last week, buses were able to use 42nd Street to navigate around the blockage. But even detouring a bus on a smaller residential street can be problematic. On-street parking and narrow streets make turns more difficult, increasing the likelihood of an accident. An unplanned, extensive detour can also be confusing for drivers, who could get lost.


Seattle streetcar parking sign. Photo by tracktwentynine on Flickr.
While events like last week's fire aren't regular occurrences, there are other incidents like parking obstructions that could hinder streetcar service. The DC streetcar will mix with traffic, so a driver who parks too far from the curb or a car that double-parks could block the streetcar line. Delivery trucks could also double-park and block travel lanes if a business lacks rear-delivery access. A bus can be more convenient in these cases because it can typically navigate around obstructions.

Drivers in the District won't be accustomed to the streetcar at first and will have to learn the routes, size, speed and sound of the streetcar. Streetcar operators will also have to learn to drive with auto traffic. But just because drivers will have to get used to streetcars doesn't mean we shouldn't build them.

DDOT can launch a public education campaign to teach drivers about the streetcar. Their large size and red color will make them fairly easy to spot. The District should also be vigilant in strictly enforcing parking regulations to prevent cars from blocking travel lanes.

And what if the streetcar breaks down while in service? DDOT has said they have equipment to tow a streetcar away but hasn't provided any data on how often that happens. This would certainly cause a delay and could be more complicated because of the rails and overhead wires.

Buses break down and slow service, too. Other buses can, however, detour around a disabled bus where a streetcar could not. While streetcar breakdowns are certainly a possibility, and new infrastructure can present unexpected problems, these types of inconveniences are not endemic to one mode only.

Smaller road obstructions like downed branches, other car accidents, and construction can cause both streetcar and bus service delays. Buses in traffic don't always have immediate access to a detour route and detour routes won't service any stops in the affected delay zone.

The economic development potential of the streetcar, however, makes it a significant public benefit. The H Street NE and Anacostia lines can bring more riders and new investment to neighborhoods needing both. The more permanent streetcar infrastructure creates the potential for more sustained ridership and investment.

As WMATA faces a budget deficit, the agency has considered cutting some bus service. Mayor Gray's FY12 budget, on the other hand, provides $99 million for streetcars through 2017. Bus service can be cut easily but streetcars can bring more dedicated funding.

Streetcars are not superior to buses in every case. Buses can serve interior neighborhoods off of major commercial corridors and be more flexible in the case of road blockages. Streetcars aren't meant to replace buses, however, but rather to supplement current service and provide new benefits.

Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown. 

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Jamie-- thank you for posting this. As you note above, the NIMBYs try to dominate the Tenley listserve and use every possible strawman related to streetcars possible.

by Ben on May 12, 2011 12:47 pm • linkreport

The more I hear about the DC Streetcar plans, the more I get nervous about them mixing with traffic. What's a driver supposed to do if the vehicle gets blocked? Honk their horn? What if it's a parked car?

The K Street Transitway will be fantastic, and I'm really looking forward to streetcars around Mount Vernon Square, but I'm getting jittery about that H Street line.

by OctaviusIII on May 12, 2011 12:54 pm • linkreport

Apples to oranges on the bus reliability comparison.

Streetcars have steel wheels, no combustion engine, no transmission, and multiple motors that are overengineered so that the vehicle can (probably) continue if one fails.

Experience on existing streetcar models has shown that they can be maintained almost indefinitely, with a surprising number of streetcars built in the 1940s-50s still in regular operation today. Conversely, buses last less than 20 years (and really start to deteriorate and fall apart by the end of that 20 year period). Articulated buses rarely make it much past a decade.

Currently, on average, a WMATA-operated Metrobus will break down 10 times each year. Obviously, older vehicles perform much worse.

by andrew on May 12, 2011 1:00 pm • linkreport

I think the last sentence is the most important. Streetcars will supplement bus service, not replace it. I hate the streetcar vs. bus debate, it should be a streetcar and bus debate.

by Andrew S on May 12, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

"The more I hear about the DC Streetcar plans, the more I get nervous about them mixing with traffic. What's a driver supposed to do if the vehicle gets blocked? Honk their horn? What if it's a parked car?"

How about $500 tickets for blocking streetcar lanes, AND your car/delivery vehicle gets towed and impounded. People will learn not to do it really fast. I'm not worried about streetcars interacting with traffic at all, it works well in Boston, S.F., and Philadelphia. Drivers will learn, just like their having to learn to share the road with bikes.

by Katie C. on May 12, 2011 1:23 pm • linkreport

What is the alternative to streetcars being offered here? Maybe the listserv poster wants to retain the status quo. Maybe s/he was advocating a separated busway. Or maybe something else. Without knowing what the alternative is, we can't determine whether the streetcar is the best option to reach our goals, whatever those might be. This post is missing this context -- both in terms of alternatives and transit goals -- and this gap really undermines the comparison.

@Ben, let's not assume this is a strawman. We all know that streetcars will be blocked by obstacles on the tracks from time to time. We would all like to avoid this -- but ignoring the fact of the matter is not going to help. We can minimize the risk of blockages by either using other forms of transit (buses, most likely) or by changing the conditions on the transit corridor (e.g. separating rail lines from traffic) or both (running buses on separate, protected lanes. Let's not let our love for rails blind us to the real tradeoffs that are inherent to any transit mode choice. Consult this for some more ways to think about the mode tradoffs: http://www.humantransit.org/2011/03/rail-bus-differences-contd.html

For me, the most important element - and least talked about - is not the bus-rail tradeoff, but rather the mixed-traffic issue so I think I see eye to eye with @OctaviusIII.

by reader on May 12, 2011 1:28 pm • linkreport

Two more points to consider. Buses create local congestion when the leave and re-enter the traffic flow to pick up passengers. Depending on where the stops are for the streetcars and how they are configured, this isn't an issue for streetcars.

Private vehicles also create congestion, break down, and get in accidents that delay or impede emergency vehicles. Since streecars will attract discretionary riders who currently drive and don't use the bus, it is likely that a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route will bring a decrease in the amount of congestion from these vehicle incidents.

by Ben on May 12, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

The article actually highlights many of the same concerns I have... and doesn't really explain them away other than the objective basis that the benefits outweigh the costs. Such an opinion can certainly be spun the exact opposite way even with the same information.

One additional consideration is track maintenance: several times a year there will have to be hourly closures for regular maintenance; and ever couple of years there will be a more significant project. While the former could potentially occur overnight, the latter could require single-tracking or a total disruption of service -- much like on Metrorail.

Single-tracking can hit an additional hurdle when on a curbside alignment, as a vehicle traveling the wrong direction in a mixed use lane is clearly a bad idea. While also an issue with median alignments that share lanes, this could be more easily alleviated through other means.

@andrew-
Buses can be electric, too; and streetcars can be diesel. The old-time streetcars still in operation have been significantly rehabbed; that can likewise be done to a bus as well as antique cars. To my knowledge, streetcars have a comparable lifespan to buses (though some railfans/transitfans out there may be able to offer a bit more detail on this). I'd suggest keeping tabs on the blog Human Transit -- Jarrett has done some great coverage over the differences, similarties, & perceived differences that are actually similarlities between light rail, streetcars, and buses.

by Bossi on May 12, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

@Katie C. - If you think the Boston green line works well, I'd suggest you try riding it sometime. http://howfuckedisthet.com/green/

Transit speed is a big issue - and mixed traffic streetcars are typically really slow with lots of stops. That's not a good recipe for a highly-effective system.

by reader on May 12, 2011 1:31 pm • linkreport

last time I checked, Wisconsin Avenue was the same width in the 1930's that it is today, and the street was able to handle both cars and streetcars at the same time.

Ultimately, our region is going to have to have transportation options that enable residents to get to different destinations across the city and region. For the folks on the Tenleytown Listserv who are fighting the "strawman" argument, I would pose them with the following question:

30 years from now, when our region has half again as many people as it does today, what will be the best alternative to single occupancy vehicles for residents to traverse the city?

We already know the red line is virtually at capacity, and the bus service is unreliable. City streets during peak periods are getting untenable. Streetcars provide a safe smooth and environmentally sustainable alternative to the options we currently employ. Cities around the world have figured out how to make it work; I trust that the residents of the District can too.

by Andrew on May 12, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

You know, I heard about this terrible accident recently, blocking an entire road. And they didn't even temporarily move the road! Roads are so inflexible! They can't detour!

In fact, with occasional switches, streetcars could keep running back and forth by using the blocks point as a turn around point. Problem solved. NEXT!

by Jasper on May 12, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

The real argument is not that buses are better than streetcars but that streetcars need their own dedicated travel lanes. That way people on the streetcars won't have to be needlessly blocked by most vehicles that carry only a handful of people. Makes sense to me.

by Adam L on May 12, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

Higher capacity can limit overcrowding, which makes the streetcar a more attractive option than a bus.

----

Wow, I never thought I would see this argument put forth in a GGW post. Isn't the commonly-accepted wisdom that higher capacity would eventually lead to more overcrowding, in much the same way that widening roadways to increase capacity actually causes more traffic?

I think the basic argument for street cars would be that they are attractive because they can hold more people than buses, not because they are less crowded.

by Scoot on May 12, 2011 2:03 pm • linkreport

I've heard from Portland and Seattle bicyclists that there have been many serious accidents (personal injuries) when bike tires fall into streetcar tracks. What's the solution? With respect to Wisconsin Avenue, there is a decent downhill grade going from Glover Park into Georgetown -- and this is where the avenue narrows considerably. What is a cyclist to do when a parked car opens a door and the cyclist is faced with the choice of either crashing into the door or falling into the streetcar tracks?

by Reader on May 12, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

@Reader

Use 35th Street or any of the other streets that run parallel to Wisconsin. Most cyclists already do this.

by Andrew on May 12, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

Yes, streetcar tracks and bikes do not always mix. Solution:

Avoid biking on streets with tracks when possible. After all, we make the same trade-off decisions when we choose not to ride on streets that are high-speed commuter speedways because they are unsafe. It's not really that persuasive an argument to say that we shouldn't invest in new forms of mass transit because they present a problem for certain groups. I say this as a person who rides a bike on a regular basis.

by MLD on May 12, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

hey capital-R Reader, get your own handle.

That said, bicycle (and moped) compatibility is an important issue. I have personally taken a huge digger when my tire got caught in the Boston green line tracks. earlier posts on this website suggested this can be fixed through design.

by reader on May 12, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

@Reader:

"I've heard from Portland and Seattle bicyclists that there have been many serious accidents (personal injuries) when bike tires fall into streetcar tracks."

The solution is pretty simple-- one that I already use-- avoid Wisconsin Avenue use the side streets where there are fewer vehicles. Not a difficult problem to solve.

by Ben on May 12, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

The DC streetcar will mix with traffic, so a driver who parks too far from the curb or a car that double-parks could block the streetcar line. Delivery trucks could also double-park and block travel lanes if a business lacks rear-delivery access.

I'm actually a bit nervous about this when I drive down H Street, and see the number of folks who can't seem to manage to parallel park close enough to the curb. The rails really are rather close to the right-hand side of the roadway. We'll need to be very diligent about dispatching tow-trucks for folks who leave their vehicles sticking out into traffic. My guess is once the first few FedEx/UPS vehicles get towed, their drivers will be a bit more attentive, though.

As far as the streetcar rails being a grave danger to cyclists...really? I ride down H Street often, and as long as you're aware of the tracks, there's not really any danger. At least cyclists should be aware of the obstacle. Which is more than I can say for the deadly sewer grates you see on the in-bound stretch of Bladensburg Road between the Yellow Cab HQ and the cemetary. Those things will kill you. (And DDOT doesn't seem to be particularly concerned about them.)

by oboe on May 12, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

I'm a little confused. Have there been any developments on the Wisconsin Avenue streetcar front? In the stuff I saw last month, DDOT was only hinting at the possibility of a streetcar there, after the H Street-K Street line has been extended to Georgetown. It would seem to me that, in the years between now and then, both drivers and cyclists will have figured out how to share the road with streetcars.

by Matt W on May 12, 2011 2:38 pm • linkreport

Street cars make sense in a lot of parts of town, but the costs probably outweigh the benefits on Wisconsin Avenue. First, roughly half the length of Wisconsin is served directly by Metrorail. There are also multiple bus lines along the entire length. (The Office of Planning and DDOT successfully argued to the Zoning Commission that the Wisconsin Ave. bus service alone qualifies areas more than a mile from any Metro stop as "transit oriented development.") Add to that the fact that street car tracks would mean the loss of street parking along Wisconsin Avenue, in areas from Friendship to Tenley to Cleveland Park to Glover Park to Georgetown, where parking anywhere near Wisconsin is already scarce. So on Wisconsin, at least, the street car is not a compelling alternative to the Metro and better bus service.

by Andrea on May 12, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

On a related note, one of the arguments I've heard between buses and streetcars during the Alexandria High Capacity Transit meetings is that buses have either the same or more seats than streetcars. The impression I got was these people were using the "ride comfort" argument (along with the capitol cost argument) to favor buses over streetcars...in that more people could sit on a bus than sit on a streetcar.

by Froggie on May 12, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

@Andrea: Nearly half of Wisconsin is served by Metrorail? Really? South of Tenley, there is no metro station until Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn. This is about 4.5 miles of Wisconsin without a metro station. Many neighborhoods along Wisconsin Avenue are one to two miles from the nearest metro station.

Performance parking, combined with the transit ridership gains you'd have with a streetcar rather than bus service, would offset a loss of curbside parking. A Wisconssin Avenue streetcar would also encourage infill development on Wisconsin Avenue, allowing more people to walk for short trips rather than drive, further reducing the need for on-street parking on Wisconsin Avenue. Finally, during peak hours, on-street parking on Wisconsin Avenue is already prohibited and people manage to deal with that and adjust.

by Ben on May 12, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

Really...are we going to have this conversation again? We've had it half a dozen times in as many months.

Folks, unless we decide to give streetcars their own dedicated ROW, then they are nothing more but fancy buses. Thats it, and they serve no purpose a bus doesn't serve for 1/7th the cost per.

There is a marginal and anecdotal benefit in terms of increased development and the resulting increased property tax and sales tax revenue that results, and while street car proponents are fast to wag this flag, no one has ever been able to numerically quantify the "generic" ROI, (i.e 50 million of street car investment equals X dollars of economic benefit over X number of years. Considering the number of streetcar systems in the US and the world, I find the inability to even take a rough stab at that number pretty telling, so until you, or DDOT or someone can say that this 1.5 billion dollar (we all know it will cost double that) system will be the catalyst to "X" dollars of development, I think this argument falls on its feet.

Of course, supporters of the system roll out large and completely unsupported numbers (steetcar will foster 10-15 billion in development in its first ten years), but this argument too is hilarious when compared to the 25 billion (2009 dollars) in development Metrorail claims responsibility for in its entire 35 year life. "Hope" comes no where near "reality".

Then we have the vast price differential. We paid 3.3 million per streetcar (2005 dollars). We just found out yesterday Metro bought a bunch of brand new gas/electric hybrid buses for 571K. So we can buy 6 top of the line buses for the price of 1 streetcar. So what if buses don't last as long? You can stagger bus purchases for the next 30 years and have the same capacity (2 buses per streetcar) and not even get to the break even point for 30 years!

by freely on May 12, 2011 2:51 pm • linkreport

"last time I checked, Wisconsin Avenue was the same width in the 1930's that it is today, and the street was able to handle both cars and streetcars at the same time."

In the 1930s, of course, and even in the 1950s, Montgomery County was largely rural and there was not the tremendous vehicle traffic inflow into the city that one sees today. In the 1930s, Georgetown was not a retail and entertainment destination and Friendship Heights was not a regional office and retail center. The busier parts of Wisconsin Avenue, which is one of the major commuter arterial into DC, have average daily vehicle counts of 28,000-29,000 vehicles. Given that the Wisconsin Avenue/Rockville Pike corridor has been served by Metrorail for 30 years, a DC streetcar on Wisconsin is unlikely to take much of that Montgomery County commuter traffic off the road. Even on weekends, Wisconsin is often backed up. Wisconsin can't be widened, particularly in Georgetown and Glover Park. The likely result of removing lane capacity on the Wisconsin corridor will be further vehicle congestion, some of which will be shifted to the Reno Road and Massachusetts corridors (already congested) or to a hodgepodge of side streets that parallel Wisconsin.

by Andrea on May 12, 2011 3:02 pm • linkreport

@freely

That argument is only 'hilarious' if you can demonstrate that streetcar number and the metro number were calculated using the same methodology. It's quite obvious that it was not, therefore it's comparing apples to typewriters.

by Alex B. on May 12, 2011 3:04 pm • linkreport

@andrea

You are making my point. The region is going to have at least half again as many residents in 30 years than it does today. Are they all going to have cars and want to drive into the city? Wouldn't it make more sense to invest in transportation infrastructure that enables many of the trips in an alternative to the current condition?

Removing parking in the future when gas, if it is available, will be more expensive than it is right now is not a problem if there are other ways for people to get around. Bikes, bikeshare, and streetcars are just part of the mix that our leaders today are considering. Cities and countries that have already invested in these technologies have a competitive advantage over the District and the Metropolitan Region.

by Andrew on May 12, 2011 3:08 pm • linkreport

It's amazing how desperate the opponents of streetcars are to come up with -any- argument that resonates with the public. However, I give them high marks for stick-to-it-ed-ness.

Everyone will recall that before we had widespread car usage bicycles and streetcars got along just fine and continue to do so in cities that still have them. As for route blockages, the solutions are established and simple.

by ahk on May 12, 2011 3:10 pm • linkreport

@Andrea: This is just pure speculation and we really don't know what future travel on the Wisconsin Avenue corridor will be like if there is a streetcar route here. The 28,000 - 29,000 daily vehicle trips is based in part on not having fixed-rail in this corridor and decades of decentralized, auto-dependent growth. There has been signficant infill development planned for Georgetown and parts of Wisconsin Avenue and a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route would encourage even more (In Portland, there has been an estimated $3B - $5B in development along their streetcar route).

Further, as gas prices increase, and other regional transit infrastructure is built such as the Purple line and Silver Line, and as the DC region continues with its success with transit-oriented development, it would not be unsurprising to see the number of vehicle trips on Wisconsin Avenue level off.

by Ben on May 12, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

Then we have the vast price differential. We paid 3.3 million per streetcar (2005 dollars). We just found out yesterday Metro bought a bunch of brand new gas/electric hybrid buses for 571K. So we can buy 6 top of the line buses for the price of 1 streetcar. So what if buses don't last as long? You can stagger bus purchases for the next 30 years and have the same capacity (2 buses per streetcar) and not even get to the break even point for 30 years!

Not to mention provide service at a dramatically higher frequency with those same six buses.

by AA on May 12, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

@Alex,

Its your job to disprove it then.

It is ludicrous to think that the development a heavyrail train with 86 stations and 106 miles of rail, much of it through/under "then" low density areas, would be equal to that of a streetcar whose route will take through "mostly" already developmentally dense (certainly more dense than what was along the metro alignment) areas.

Metro claims to have been responssible for 25 billion dollars (2009 dollars) of development total in the 35 years its been in existence (lets call it 750 million a year.

Yet apparently this streetcar system which when fully developed will be 1/3rd the length and even considering its highest assumed ridership, carry 1/6th the daily number of people, and yet it is supposed to produce $800 million a year in development for the first 10 years?

Seriously folks...you can't simply gulp down all the factless propaganda your fed, even for a cause you like, especially when it doesn't even come close to passing the smell test.

by freely on May 12, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

@freely

Tell me the methods for those Metro numbers. What are they counting? Development on Metro-owned parcels, or joint-development projects? Are they counting the increase in property values?

You're arguing that the numbers are wrong, but you haven't been able to demonstrate that they're even speaking the same language. That's a critical element of your argument, and it's on you to show your work - no one else is equating those numbers but you.

You're using words that do not mean the same thing - adding billions of dollars in 'development' is not the same as adding billions in 'value.' Words matter.

by Alex B. on May 12, 2011 3:27 pm • linkreport

@Andrea:

You're assuming that a lot of the vehicles travelling on Wisconsin Avenue are commuters using the entire route from MoCo to Georgetown everyday. Have you ever driven on Wisconsin during rush hour? No commuter with 1/2 a cerebrum would drive that everyday. Besides that, the red line follows Rockville Pike/Wisc. Ave through MoCo, as you mentioned.

Most of the trips on that route are likely locals driving some short stretch of the road to the grocery store, school, etc. I used to live on Wisconsin in Tenleytown and 75% of the plates were from DC. If these locals had a better form of transit, they wouldn't need to clog up the streets with cars and parking.

by John M on May 12, 2011 3:31 pm • linkreport

@ reader: I've heard from Portland and Seattle bicyclists that there have been many serious accidents (personal injuries) when bike tires fall into streetcar tracks. What's the solution?

You do what people elsewhere in the world do where bikes and streetcars mix: You make sure you do not ride parallel to streetcar tracks. Folks in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Brussels live well by it. Every Lonely Planet spells it out for tourists.

by Jasper on May 12, 2011 4:12 pm • linkreport

The only real benefits to streetcars are larger vehicles with longer lives and possibly a smoother ride. Any other advantages to streetcar could also be done for bus if we had the stones to actually make bus priority a reality. Unfortunately, we aren't even making streetcar priority a reality, with our new expensive toys planned to operate in mixed traffic. So all those benefits everyone is speaking of above are going to add up to zero.

One one day last year I read a quote from an Arlington County Councilmember stating that the Columbia Pike Streetcar was a "permanent investment in our transportation infrastructure." A few moments later, I read on a neighborhood an update to a construction project, stating that the next step was removal of old streetcar rails.

A commenter above had it right: it shouldn't be a streetcar vs. bus debate, but a dedicated ROW vs. mixed-traffic debate. I'm in support of any transit in its dedicated ROW and am SUPER against a more expensive option operating in mixed traffic. It's the worst of both worlds: slow and expensive.

by MDE on May 12, 2011 4:24 pm • linkreport

"You're assuming that a lot of the vehicles travelling on Wisconsin Avenue are commuters using the entire route from MoCo to Georgetown everyday. Have you ever driven on Wisconsin during rush hour? No commuter with 1/2 a cerebrum would drive that everyday."

So why are there always cars with Maryland plates treating Wisconsin Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood streets like a speedway during rush hour? Are they all dropping their kids off at Sidwell and St. Albans?

by Phil on May 12, 2011 4:34 pm • linkreport

I just came back from Phoenix which has a new 20-mile line that impressed me so much I researched it and photographed it a lot. It has dedicated lanes for the light rail, the same way much of Washington's streetcars did. At the few points where it crosses car and bicycle lanes I heard there have been a couple fatalities even though it's pretty fail-safe.

The Benning Road line experiment will tell whether cars, bikes, and streetcars can mix better now than before. I'm sure there will be some revisions on future lines. Hopefully more dedicated lanes.

And I don't see why bikes should have to go second class to streetcars. Bikes are our new do-it-yourself transit system, carrying more people than the streetcars will, and I doubt riders will avoid major streets even if told to.

by Tom Coumaris on May 12, 2011 4:51 pm • linkreport

this guy set out the case against streetcars pretty well.

a better bus system trumps streetcars every day of the week. It's just hot hipster enough for folks on these blogs.

by hungry hungry hippo on May 12, 2011 4:53 pm • linkreport

A Portlander here and regular streetcar rider... Just make sure you lay the tracks in the right place when they are built. Looking at the new eastside streetcar in Portland, I see so many lost opportunities to rethink the auto-infested traffic-sewers they will run on. Instead, when laying the track, they just literally cemented in a 1950s traffic pattern of wide, fast one way traffic-sewers (the tracks even run in the left lane of a three/four lane wide one way!!!). Some of the other tracks are laid in the former street parking lane so again forget bringing back street parking. Seattle regrets laying their tracks in the right lanes and wishes they laid them in the center lanes (largely to avoid bikes in the right lane).

Personally I think you can't go wrong if you lay them in the center lanes (with side island stops) and keep the tracks straight as an arrow (exactly as the old time streetcars had their tracks located, no weaves for turning lanes)... dont shoehorn the tracks into a traffic engineer's wet dream, let the optimal streetcar route/alignment/design shape the traffic pattern (in my opinion). Then again that certainly won't happen as traffic engineers run the world, only care about auto speed/convenience and have absolute final say in anything related to streets.

by poncho on May 12, 2011 10:25 pm • linkreport

What happens during streets blocked for many reasons such as

1 Security issue due to a summit (convention center, imf)
2 Capitol, White House etc (street closure)
3 Accident

Will we just end service and screw everyone

Run shuttles between effected areas

Detour (which I doubt)

Are there are switches along H street or Benning rd aside for the ends ?

by kk on May 12, 2011 11:36 pm • linkreport

In DC curb lanes are where the loading zones usually are for commercial. How are loading zones and streetcars going to mix? I don't see bulb-ins working for loading zones.

by Tom Coumaris on May 13, 2011 9:38 am • linkreport

Street cars are on dedicated tracks in the District are unnecessary, will cause traffic congestation and wont stimulate anything but a drain on the city's budget. Whos idea was this anyway, they are indeed antiquated and silly.

by Wilfred on May 13, 2011 5:05 pm • linkreport

Street cars are on dedicated tracks in the District are unnecessary, will cause traffic congestation and wont stimulate anything but a drain on the city's budget. Whos idea was this anyway, they are indeed antiquated and silly.

Ah, yes. The "We were promised Jetpacks" argument. I think when the only argument you can muster against a form of transportation is that it's "antiquated", it's time to hang up your boots.

by oboe on May 15, 2011 7:33 pm • linkreport

I keep hearing that streetcars will bring "development." Do you have projections on that development? What are those projections based on? Where is the study that suggests it and substantiates it? Proponents seem to skip that part of the argument. "1. Streetcars 2. ??? 3. Profit!" Streetcars are an answer to a question no one but a small minority of anticar fanatics asked, and it is very unlikely they will ever be seen on Wisconsin, much less Georgetown. Despite what this site suggests, the great majority of NWers do not want them, and will put up one hell of a fight against them once they seriously start threatening to build them. Overhead wires? LOL!

by asuka on May 17, 2011 12:06 am • linkreport

asuka,

I would start here with this link and read through this one on streetcars, you might find it interesting if nothing else especially since it was written by two conservatives who usually don't bother with the public transit issue.

http://www.apta.com/resources/reportsandpublications/.../weyrich4.pdf

Also, I think the argument is not only from studies, but common sense. A developer is not going to takes his chances on developing near a bus route because it can be changed easily overnight, so the developer can't count on it to be there ten years from now. However, streetcars are more permanent than buses and as a result, the developer can count on them to be there in the future. Anyway, I'm not sure that a streetcar route could spur development as much as other forms of rail could, but it definitely has a better chance of doing so than a bus. I do agree people who say that forms of public transit on its own ROW is better off than mixed traffic.

by ph16 on Jun 7, 2011 8:58 pm • linkreport

In response to PH16, In this day and age, a business cannot be guaranteed to be in a particular area because businesses in todays era are here today and gone the next usually folding into dollar malls and then out of business. Todays planners dont plan that far ahead. But the point is valid and well taken. However, streetcars are one directional and cannot get out of the way if a car breaks down or has an accident in front of them. Also, I worry about dropping older people and youngsters in the middle of the street. Also, our rude and road rage drivers are going to do their best to get around streetcars and probably increase pedestrian fatalities.

by Wilfred on Jun 8, 2011 8:16 pm • linkreport

You bring up a couple of points, Wilfred and I will try to address them all:

1. I was talking more housing development than business development, so I agree with your point on the malls although I believe with the recent downtown revival, that's becoming less of a problem that about a decade or two ago at the height of the mall era.

2. It's true that streetcars are one directional and can not can get around accidents and/or breakdowns. HOWEVER, as one who has ridden the bus a lot lately, it's no picnic for bus drivers to get by breakdowns and accidents which usually cause congestion in the downtown areas where there's usually little or no shoulder. Also, depending on the traffic pattern and/or street flow (one ways e.g.), trying to detour around an accident could really screw up a route.

3. I'll repost what poncho said since I think he's right: "Personally I think you can't go wrong if you lay them in the center lanes (with side island stops) and keep the tracks straight as an arrow (exactly as the old time streetcars had their tracks located, no weaves for turning lanes). Honestly, as much as you would like to avoid accidents, they ARE going to happen, what you have to do is minimize them. You are going to have rude and road rage drivers with or without streetcars, what is needed is tough laws with fairly strict penalties that clamp down on those drivers. This would require a bit of police work.

I hope I answered all of your points Wilfred and even in the streetcar vs. bus debate (which should be streetcar and bus debate most likely), I think we can agree on this: Public transit that is on a dedicated and reserved ROW is really better than mixed traffic transit.

by ph16 on Jun 8, 2011 8:59 pm • linkreport

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