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DDOT gets closer to an Anacostia streetcar alignment

DDOT has narrowed the 10 options for the Anacostia streetcar to 4 possible alignments, three of which partially run along MLK Avenue, Anacostia's main street, and connect to the 11th Street bridge. The fourth option involves running the streetcar along the CSX railroad tracks, but negotiations with CSX are not final.

Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

DDOT presented the latest round of possible streetcar routes at its third public hearing in the Environmental Assessment process last night. The agency eliminated 6 options after gathering community input, working with DDOT planners and technical staff, and consulting with other stakeholders.

The first alignment cut ran from the 11th Street bridge to the Anacostia Metro station, entirely along MLK Avenue. DDOT ultimately eliminated this route because of community concerns about congestion on the north end of MLK.

Options 3 and 6, where one direction runs several blocks farther east or west than the other direction, were cut because they're too confusing for riders. In option, 3 which used 14th Street for the northbound direction, Some residents were also concerned about negative affects to historic buildings along 14th, particularly viewsheds of the Frederick Douglass House.

Alignments 7, 8, and 10, which would have served the Poplar Point site, were deemed too far removed from the existing community to be effective. While some residents wanted the streetcar away from downtown Anacostia entirely, others didn't want the project to ignore the heart of the community.

Any development in Poplar Point a future streetcar might serve is years away, hasn't even been designed yet, and requires federal reviews. DDOT would have to avoid adverse affects to Anacostia Park, and can't connect to the land using their current right-of-way.

View alternative: 1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10  
View larger version (PDF)

Three of the four remaining alignments serve the main business district along MLK, while also moving one set of tracks off of MLK at its narrowest section. One alignment serves 13th Street and the residential neighborhood to the east of the main district.

The other two options serve Shannon Place and Railroad Avenue, respectively, the two streets between MLK and the CSX railroad tracks. Both streets have significant potential development along their lengths.

The alignment serving 13th Street could provide better transit service to the residents there and also bring more activity to the churches along that street. However, the potential for new development is low because the street is primarily low-density homes. It's unlikely that higher density apartments or condos would replace those.

DDOT's goal for the streetcar is also to connect activity centers, not serve interior neighborhood streets, like buses do. Running the streetcar along 13th Street could better connect those residents to MLK, but the purpose of the streetcar is not simply to improve local circulation.

Instead, the Anacostia streetcar is part of the larger 37-mile network. The streetcar will serve the business district of the neighborhood while also better connecting Anacostia residents with the rest of the city.

The options along Shannon Place and Railroad Avenue are fairly similar because both alignments have a higher development potential and both serve the business district. There are few residences along these streets, which are primarly industrial.

Running along Shannon Place could be more effective, because those tracks are closer to MLK. Railroad Avenue is one block farther west, which expands the core service area and could make the streetcar less useful.

One of the consultants from HDR, the firm working with DDOT on the study, noted that longer distances between the tracks could be confusing. Riders would also have to walk farther to connect to either direction. Railroad Avenue doesn't connect directly to the 11th Street bridge either, so DDOT would have to construct a right of way there.

In both of these cases, one track separates from MLK to help mitigate traffic congestion and potential loss of parking spaces. Many residents have expressed concern that losing on-street parking could hurt local businesses.

The final alignment, along the CSX railroad tracks, has the least community impact and up front is almost $30 million cheaper. However, it does not serve the existing business district or any residential streets. DDOT would have to purchase the right of way from CSX, which would add to the cost. The state of those negotiations are also unclear and DDOT staff weren't able to say when they might conclude.

Historic preservation could also play a role in the CSX alignment. The streetcar would have to make a sharp right turn at the intersection of the 11st Street bridge and Good Hope Road, where a historic building, formerly the Green Derby, stands. The minimum turning radius for a modern streetcar is about 62 feet and this turn could clip part of the property. DDOT might have to acquire the property in this case, but would not for any of the other routes.

The study team has also posted their presentation from the meeting.

Last night's meeting was more productive than the March meeting because residents were able to talk with DDOT staff and examine the options more closely. In March, residents discussed the options in small groups, then presented to the whole room. It was a good opportunity for dialogue, but also gave some opponents an opportunity to grandstand against the project.

The next stage in the planning process is to develop a locally preferred alternative, which DDOT hopes to do by late fall. There is a "no-build" alternative which maintains existing transportation options. DDOT would then reallocate funds for the project to other areas.

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. 
Ryan Hall is a passionate smart growth advocate and an aspiring urban planner. He volunteers for the Coalition for Smarter Growth and is a student mentor in the National Building Museum's CityVision program. Ryan is currently pursuing his Masters in Community Planning and Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park. 


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My initial thought was - why build a track on Shannon, there's nothing there. But what there is on Shannon is a lot of empty lots that have a great deal of opportunity to be developed. As long as MLK is served, I think the potential for the streetcar alignent to spur developent along Shannon is decent.

by Lucre on Jun 30, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

isn't the primary purpose of the streetcar to move DHS employees into St. e?

the CSX alignment would be express and quicker.

by charlie on Jun 30, 2011 9:41 am • linkreport

As a District-wide priority, is no-build the preferred alternative at this time? I would guess the initial ridership potential is lower than other planned streetcars; if one of the first lines does poorly, it could delay the others. The economic development potential does seem to make it worth doing at some point, but maybe it should bake for a few more years while other streetcar projects take priority.

by Gavin on Jun 30, 2011 9:44 am • linkreport

I'm putting my money on "no-build." Takers?

by Dizzy on Jun 30, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

"Some residents were also concerned about negative affects to historic buildings along 14th, particularly viewsheds of the Frederick Douglass House."

What, because Frederick Douglass never saw a streetcar?

by tom veil on Jun 30, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

I like the idea of running it down both MLK and Shannon Place because it "spreads the wealth," so to say, but it can be confusing to new riders, many of whom will be coming to Anacostia because of the streetcar. In Philadelphia, they run streetcars in mixed traffic and everything's fine. Sure, it's slower, but I'm not sure how much time savings you're getting from a streetcar versus the existing buses that already run in mixed traffic.

Or, of course, we can just move our attention to Georgia Avenue and give people going to the new Walmart there another alternative to driving.

by dan reed! on Jun 30, 2011 9:59 am • linkreport

isn't the primary purpose of the streetcar to move DHS employees into St. e?

I don't think that's the case hadn't heard that but hope not since it makes little sense.

Although I'm not a fan of any line running down MLK, I happen to like the 4th iteration best. It doesn't cut through much residential area which is something I didn't like. I still question whether streetcars will spur the type of economic development this area needs so that part remains to be seen.

This is a good article and makes me somewhat better understand better the purpose of the proposed lines.

by HogWash on Jun 30, 2011 10:32 am • linkreport

The alignment doesn't have to be adjacent to any given property to bestow economic development benefits. A more direct alignment (the CSX route)puts the train in easy walking distance and wayfinding signage can help bridge the gap. The station location choices areas significant, if not more significant, than the where the train will pass in front of.

by David on Jun 30, 2011 10:35 am • linkreport

4 is definitely the smartest. It's gotta be on MLK for at least one direction, but taking it off for at least part of the other direction will help alleviate fears about parking or congestion. And having it on Shannon which is just one block away, is preferable to having the other direction be several blocks away.

The trains running in the opposite direction need to be nearby and easy to find without having to walk 3-4-5 blocks east or west. And the bigger empty parcels on Shannon will be good for the future.

I can't imagine any routing that takes it through the historic side streets of victorians, rowhouses and twin duplexes would be embraced by the locals in historic Anacostia.

by Steve D on Jun 30, 2011 11:04 am • linkreport

I also prefer Alternative 4 -- but as I suggested to DDOT previously, wish they would take it up W Street instead of Chicago.

In the plans for downtown Anacostia, W Street is straightened after it crosses MLK toward the river, which would push it closer to Chicago anyway -- and there will be more push-back trying to route it in front of existing townhomes around the intersection of Shannon and Chicago.

It would make the loop a half-block shorter than it is currently proposed, but would meet with less resistance and take a less intrusive path.

by David Garber on Jun 30, 2011 11:14 am • linkreport

Light rail (in my experience) seems to work best when it runs on tracks that are separated from traffic. I continue to worry that the H Street project will be less than successful because the trains will get stuck behind traffic, double-parked cars, delivery trucks, and the like.

It seems like all of DDOT's streetcar plans envision the tracks in mixed traffic. Other than the CSX alignment, are there any discussions about alternatives that put the streetcar in its own right of way?

by Charles on Jun 30, 2011 11:43 am • linkreport

Is option 4 really worth the additional ~$30m over option 9?

by wd on Jun 30, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

I don't understand why the north-bound cars are the ones going over to Shannon/Railroad. Wouldn't it make more sense to have the north-bound cars just continue on MLK and have the south-bound cars divert to the side street? Has that been explained in any of the meetings?

by bayma on Jun 30, 2011 11:52 am • linkreport

wd: In the text it explains how the difference probably isn't really $30M since there are other costs not counted in there that would apply for the CSX line.

by David Alpert on Jun 30, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport


Option 9 is cheaper now, but DDOT would still have to purchase the right of way from CSX and the cost of that is unclear right now. DDOT might also have to buy the historic property at 11th Street bridge and Good Hope in order to manage the sharp turn. Dealing with CSX certainly hasn't been easy and the historic property issue could slow the project.

Personally, I do think Option 4 is best because it can more directly engage with the community. The streetcar isn't just a rapid transit service and I think the CSX tracks means Anacostia could miss out on some of the redevelopment opportunities.

by Jamie Scott on Jun 30, 2011 11:54 am • linkreport

@wd -- yes, because option 9 hides the streetcar behind the neighborhood rather than positioning it as an asset for actual use by residents, workers, and visitors.

by David Garber on Jun 30, 2011 11:55 am • linkreport

new riders, many of whom will be coming to Anacostia because of the streetcar

Huh? What does this mean?

by Marian Berry on Jun 30, 2011 2:22 pm • linkreport

@bayma - I wondered the same thing. Looking at google maps it looks like the northbound side of MLK Street is narrower than the southbound side between W St and Good Hope Road, though that would seem odd if that were the case. I agree, though, seems illogical to have the streetcar route #4 planned that way.

by 7r3y3r on Jun 30, 2011 8:20 pm • linkreport

I like the idea of taking it down Shannon. When working in Anacostia I noticed that Shannon doesn't get much traffic. I wonder if there has been any thought to making Shannon only for the streetcar and pedestrians like Denver does.

by APG on Jul 1, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport


I think a lot of people who wouldn't think of visiting Anacostia otherwise would do so as an excuse to try the streetcar, as I imagine would happen with the H Street line. So it'll be important to make wayfinding from the streetcar to different points in the neighborhood as clear as possible (referring to my comment above).

by dan reed! on Jul 1, 2011 3:25 pm • linkreport

What does one have to do to find out about these meetings? I live in Ward 8. I'm on the 7th District listserv, which frequently posts announcements about community events, not just crime reports. I've sent emails to everyone I could find connected to the Circulator discussion because I want to weigh in at the next meeting, but haven't heard back from anyone. I had no idea this streetcar meeting was happening.

Jamie, it sounds as if you endorse only the participation of those who agree that streetcars should come, and should come now, because only those people will have productive conversations with DDOT. But even in the comments here there are a few still in support, without grandstanding, of "no build." In this democracy-in-process, it does seem possible to me that those of us who are residents here might not see this as the same priority that DDOT or others do. The Circulator proposals are much more promising, and a helluva lot less expensive and disruptive, than streetcar construction at this time.

by dclioness on Jul 8, 2011 1:56 pm • linkreport

dclioness: We're going to be posting something about next week's Circulator meeting momentarily, so now you and many others can know about it.

by David Alpert on Jul 8, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport


If you're interested in staying up to date on other streetcar meetings, I'd suggest signing up for DDOT's email alerts, if you haven't already. If you go to, you can find out about the planning process for the entire system, and the Anacostia segment in particular.

I support the streetcar because I think it will provide more transit options for Ward 8 to connect with other parts of the city. The construction can be disruptive but I think it is beneficial in the long run.

At this most recent meeting, folks had a chance to talk one-on-one with DDOT staff, engineers and consultants working on the project with DDOT. Some of the people asking questions did want to know more about the details of the plan, where the streetcar will go, how much it will cost, etc. Some residents who are not supporters had a chance to have their voices heard and I overheard some doing that.

I think all voices should be heard, from those in support to those in opposition. It's counterproductive if only those who support the streetcar without question and those who oppose it without question speak up. I hope you'll make it to the next meeting, or have a chance to speak with the streetcar team at DDOT about it.

by Jamie Scott on Jul 8, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Thanks, Dave, I'll keep an eye out for the Circulator announcement. And yes, Jamie, right after I commented I went to the DDOT site and signed up for announcements. It would be at least a nice gesture, though, if they also posted meetings at sites that the community already uses.

Thanks for the additional info. I'm already chagrined that I might miss the Circulator meeting because of out-of-town work. While I understand the desire to "connect Anacostia to the rest of the city," I also feel strongly about connecting Ward 8 with itself. I'm very excited about a Circulator that would connect downtown Anacostia with Camp Simms and Skyland, and back to Anacostia again, and of course back across the river. Otherwise, these transportation plans can look like colonizing Anacostia for the rest of the city, and not doing much for the Ward as a whole.

by dclioness on Jul 8, 2011 2:42 pm • linkreport

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