Greater Greater Washington

DDOT moving streetcar toward actual residents

In July, Jim Graham, Tommy Wells, and others on the DC Council were asking some questions about DDOT's planned initial segment for the Anacostia Streetcar: Why does it run to nowhere?


Streetcar in Portland. Photo by Fußgänger on Flickr.

From the Anacostia Metro, the proposed streetcar didn't travel along Martin Luther King Avenue through Historic Anacostia with its residents who might use the streetcar, businesses that might benefit from the traffic, and development opportunities that the streetcar might stimulate.

Instead, the line ran the other direction, to forlorn South Capitol Street and the entrances to military installations representing no development opportunity whatsoever.

The only logical explanation was that DDOT was following the path of least resistance, running the streetcar in an area where no residents would object to it. That's not a good reason, though. GGW commenters debated whether it was better to build a line now and get a network going ASAP, regardless of the merit of the particular alignment, or whether a lightly-used line would doom future plans.

We can stop debating it, because DDOT has decided to move extend the line. Yesterday Last week, they sent the DC Council a request to reprogram the streetcar funds some capital funds to build a line along Martin Luther King from Anacostia Metro to Good Hope Road. There will still be a small portion west from the Metro station, past Barry Farm and the DPW trash truck parking lot that will become the streetcar maintenance facility.

This may not be the exact routing, as I don't yet have all the details of the proposal. But whatever the specifics, it's much better. Hopefully DDOT can start building the line soon and lose little time in the engineering. We need a streetcar system in DC, and the sooner we get started, the sooner we can build public support for building and funding the rest of the system.

Correction: It looks like DDOT's reprogramming request actually moves other money to add to, rather than move, the streetcar. If approved by the Council, the request would allow DDOT to keep the Bolling segment but run the line down MLK as well.

Correction 2, November 12: I was right the first time: DDOT will be removing the segment to Bolling. Here is the updated plan.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Hooray for common sense. I don't get to say that often.

by Squalish on Oct 23, 2008 8:45 am • linkreport

I agree this is good news, but looking at the map I'm a little confused. Is it really going to be that short? That's barely a mile. I suppose a journey of a hundred miles of surface rail begins with the building of one, but I just wonder if the shortness of this line will be a fatal flaw.

That concern aside, I definitely think it's better to go down MLK. Although, it's not my neighborhood, and I was under the impression that there was not much local support for a MLK-route. We'll see if this plan can hold up.

by Reid on Oct 23, 2008 9:08 am • linkreport

I think it's good news that it is going to serve the area rather than just run along the freeway, but wasn't one of the goals to get people to jobs at Bolling AFB easily? I admit that I don't know the area too well, so I don't know what routes would be best.

by Nick on Oct 23, 2008 10:24 am • linkreport

woohoo!! now I can actually use it.. thanks for the morning perk-up. :)

now for implementation...

by DG-rad on Oct 23, 2008 10:31 am • linkreport

But does this mean it will be delayed again? They'll have to redo all of the utility surveys and redo the planning and grading. Insane. Wouldn't it just be easier to do the H and K street trolley first?

I remember when it was supposed to be operational this year.

by The King of Spain on Oct 23, 2008 10:36 am • linkreport

Great news! So, my question for you guys is, what would the next extension be? Over the 11th street bridges and down M Street past the Nationals stadium and to the new SW waterfront? Or running it up Minnesota Ave to the "new downtown" of Ward 7? Or... run it our towards the new St. Elizabeths Homeland Security complex (basically making it a "federal government transportation service").

I prefer the cross-river option first, then the Minnesota Ave option. Since the plan is to build an addition metro station for St E's, I don't think a streetcar would be necessary.

Above all though, I think H street needs a streetcar line... The area is developing, but may hit a wall if there's no public transit infrastructure (other than the awful X2 bus) to get people there.

by SG on Oct 23, 2008 10:59 am • linkreport

I am glad to see this project moving forward. My wife worked at Bolling AFB for a couple of years and I was always disappointed with how limited the opportunities were for her to take transit. DOD ran a shuttle from the Metro Stop, but they only ran every half-hour or so and were frequently late or delayed to accommodate disabled passengers.

In my view, a street car system in this area may not yield the maximum potential in terms of walkable communities, but it does make it easier for people at Bolling to commute via transit rather than private vehicles and it gives WMATA valuable (modern) street car operating experience.

by Phil Lepanto on Oct 23, 2008 11:22 am • linkreport

I cannot support that South Capitol Street segment for a street car. Bordered by a military installation on one side and I-295 on the other? There is no potential for this to stimulate economic development. Pointless. As has been mentioned on past posts, the Air Force base is so big that many people will continue to choose to drive so they can get where they need to go within the base faster. And as for Phil Lepanto's comment about the shuttle not running often enough to be viable then increasing the shuttle frequency is the proper response not building a light rail.

Light rail investment needs to run through a corridor capable of smart mixed-use growth not to replace shuttle buses. IMO Anacostia needs to find a more appropriate corridor or H Street NE should be made the priority.

by FourthandEye on Oct 23, 2008 11:38 am • linkreport

Any idea of WHEN H Street trolley is going to happen? 2 years? 5 years? 10?

by Tom Aloisi on Oct 23, 2008 1:10 pm • linkreport

Tom, one big problem for the H St. line is the whole overhead wire conumdrum. H St. is prohibited by federal law from having overhead wires. So to get a line in, we need Congress to revoke the law, which would be a pain in the ass even without all the opposition to such a revocation. Throw in the likely fight from the NCPC, and it becomes a huge pain in the ass.

And unfortunately, there's no viable in-ground system available in America right now.

So, I think a safe bet would be 5-8 years before cars start rolling down H St.

by Reid on Oct 23, 2008 1:46 pm • linkreport

Who bright ass idea was it in the first place to build the lightrail going to Bolling AFB; why in the hell should we build anything going there period let Congress build a shuttle over there.

Hell if the residents dont want it, plans for different streets keep failing move the damn rail somewhere else for God sake. There are plenty of other areas around W7 & 8 that could use it besides south capitol street.

How about

Benning Road NE/SE from Minnesota to Southern Ave

Anywhere along Alabma Ave

Anywhere along Wheeler Road

they all would get more use than a lightrail from anywhere to Bolling AFB

There are millions of places it could be built in DC they just need to get off the damn idea of South Capiol St. apparently nobody wants that route so why not rethink the damn plan. Building the rail to go to Bolling AFB is nothing but building an expensive ass shuttle that will run Monday thru Friday (wont get any use on Saturday and Sunday) for military personel.

by kk on Oct 23, 2008 3:47 pm • linkreport

This light rail line only makes sense if it can be used as a technological demonstration. In particular, I'm thinking of running light rail without an overhead wire everywhere by using batteries or ultracapacitors. Instead, the stations would double as charging stations, with umbrellas over them holding a power wire or bar. An overhead wire should still be used along non-street alignments. I have two blog posts related to this cited at bottom.

The Anacostia alignment has the added benefit of providing a maintenance yard in an unpopulated area. Where can maintenance yards be built in the alignments proposed by other GGW readers?

From Anacostia, the first logical extension is north along Minnesota Ave. to the Minnesota Ave. Metro station. Unfortunately, this is a lightly traveled route which is served by the U2 bus on weekdays only. This alignment does, however, give access to the H St. corridor.

The other direction an extension can go is south, to National Harbor. Here, the development model becomes reversed: suburban development at the end of the line induces development into the city. National Harbor stands to benefit: the median along Indian Head Hwy. (S. Capitol St.'s MD extension) can be used to avoid traffic. Combine that with traffic lights that favor the train and you get a fast connection to downtown, especially during rush hour.

My relevant blog links:

http://chuckdcoleman.blogspot.com/2008/09/tindo-first-practical-battery-electric.html

http://chuckdcoleman.blogspot.com/2008/08/lrvs-without-overhead-wires.html

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 23, 2008 6:40 pm • linkreport

"Any idea of WHEN H Street trolley is going to happen? 2 years? 5 years? 10?"

Who knows. I've given up waiting endlessly for DC to get on board and opted instead for the path of least resistance: After graduation next spring I'm moving to Portland OR.

by Chris L on Oct 24, 2008 10:00 am • linkreport

Are you kidding? Portland, for all its good press, is way behind DC in the urbanism and transit department.

Downtown Portland is nice, but the inner city neighborhoods are more like Brookland than Dupont Circle, and although Portland does have a streetcar, DC has a huge freaking Metro subway!

If you're moving to Portland because you think it will be better than DC, you're going to be seriously disappointed.

by BeyondDC on Oct 24, 2008 10:04 am • linkreport

When I was still living in the barracks on Bolling (up until 2 weeks ago), I was asked occasionally on base how one could get to the Anacosta Metro station, or asked about the shuttle that went between Bolling and Metro. The streetcar would have made my answer much simpler...

Phil Lepanto's reply pretty much echoes the rest of my thoughts.

by Froggie on Oct 24, 2008 3:38 pm • linkreport

BeyondDC-

Actually my girlfriend and I just got back from a week of visiting Portland and the Oregon coast and I must respectfully disagree with you. Yes, Portland lacks the Metro system DC has, but they are rapidly catching up. The Portland Streetcar and the MAX are not heavy rail, but they are efficient, quick, located in the busiest parts of the city, and have plans for expansion.

I'm not sure what you mean when you say that 'they're way behind in urbanism', can you clarify? From what I could see during our short stay, they're way ahead. Bike boxes, narrow streets, short blocks, raised crosswalks, a culture of pedestrianism and progressive planning, and adaptive reuse up the wazoo. Seriously, I thought it was pretty much an urban planner/designer's paradise.

However it didn't rain a drop during our trip, so I'll admit I probably don't have a complete picture of how bad the seasonal affective disorder is there.

by Chris L on Oct 24, 2008 7:08 pm • linkreport

Considering it hasn't rained a drop here in 3 weeks, Chris, you didn't miss much in that regard...

by Froggie on Oct 24, 2008 7:12 pm • linkreport

"Where can maintenance yards be built in the alignments proposed by other GGW readers?"

There are bus facilities all around that can be repurposed. Actually, some of them were probably originally streetcar maintenance yards. I think there's one at K at 29th (there's even tracks still in the ground as I recall), that would be a good spot for a maintenance yard for the K St. line. (Although, I just looked at windows bird's eye view, and I think the Swedish Embassy may have replaced the yard I'm thinking of).

by Reid on Oct 26, 2008 4:57 pm • linkreport

"This light rail line only makes sense if it can be used as a technological demonstration. In particular, I'm thinking of running light rail without an overhead wire everywhere by using batteries or ultracapacitors."

I believe, but others can correct me if I'm wrong, the plan for this light rail *does* include an overheard wire. I don't believe they are trying anything very cutting edge. The demonstration effect of this light rail wouldn't be technological but rather just a demonstration that light rail works - which has already been proved elsewhere if not yet in the district.

"Where can maintenance yards be built in the alignments proposed by other GGW readers?"

The maintenance facility on David's map is <= 0.25 miles from the Anacostia metro. Any overhaul of an Anacostia streetcar route would likely still include the Anacostia Metro. Therefore you should be able to still use that facility by extending some extra track between the facility and the metro. This segment would not be part of passenger route but be only for a connection to the maintenance facility.

------------------

This current S Capitol Street alignment does not have the ability to stimulate economic development. It also would get very little ridership outside of rush hour. That does not sound like a demonstration that is bound to be a success story. Quite frankly I'm very surprised this proposal ever got this far.

by Paul on Oct 26, 2008 5:33 pm • linkreport

It's puzzling, until you look into the no-brainer genesis for this project. I finally delved into it here.

by Squalish on Oct 26, 2008 6:58 pm • linkreport

@Squalish:

Thanks for posting the motivation. The St. E's spur at first sight appears to be a strong motivation, until you see how close it is to the Congress Heights Station. A shuttle bus would run just as fast and would be far cheaper, as it would not require expensive infrastructure that does not connect to anything. Extending the line into Bolling is a no-go, as it requires going inside the security perimeter. Moreover, the potential traffic does not justify the extension. An internal shuttle bus system would be far cheaper. Finally, the railroad alignment is problematic. It's lying on the periphery of the Minnesota Ave. corridor reduces the value of the line to areas east of Minnesota Ave., compared to a line going along the Avenue, as paltry as the ridership potential is. It looks like DDOT was trying to push a light-rail line through to prove that it could be done. However, it would be a train from nowhere to nowhere. By Congressional mandate, overhead wires are prohibited on D.C.'s streets, so a more innovative solution that does not require overhead wires in the streets is needed, as I have previously said.

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 26, 2008 8:50 pm • linkreport

Chuck -

The issue is that the RoW is already built & ready, and *considerably* faster, cheaper, & less disruptive than any streetcar or BRT or shuttle bus implementation is going to be.

St E's is a 300 acre campus separated into east(District-owned) and west(Federal-owned) sections. It's a solid 1.1 miles of walking from the Green Line stop on the east to the west-most large building. Right now, a second infill station is planned to eventually go on the northern tip of the east campus (the only level ground available), cutting about a half a mile off that walk - but it will likely cost $100B+ if constructed.

Bolling may require some adaptation, but a 'no go?' I've never heard them suggest that.

What of the connection between Orange and Green lines? The damn thing is actually built multitrack to just past the Minnesota Ave station as a passing measure, it just needs a few thousand feet of track further back on the line to completely segregate it from the freight rail network.

If the law doesn't allow catenaries here, a third rail is an option since this isn't on-street. If a third rail isn't an option for the whole length, it's an option at stops combined with battery tech. If it's not an option at stops, diesel electric multiple unit operation is possible. If that's not workable, populate it with MARC trains.

It's limited, yes - but it's so much less invasive/expensive than an on-street light rail line would be on narrow streets. If everything else were settled, the physical condition of the tracks could literally be brought up to full operating status in a few weeks of construction - with service levels substantially close to what we will be paying $100M/mile, dozens of demolitions, environmental havok, and a trail for on the Purple Line. For maybe $3M-$5M/mile.

I'm not holding it up as an example of what streetcar service should be - I just think as a matter of good planning, it's been built and mostly grade-separated, so it should be operated to the fullest extent possible. If that requires heavy-handed tactics (or even eminent domain seizures) from the District, that shouldn't stop anybody.

by Squalish on Oct 26, 2008 10:14 pm • linkreport

After looking over Squalish's comments and the earlier ones as well, I want to know what problem is the Anacostia line supposed to solve? Is it to be a (trivial) demonstration that LRT can be built in DC? (Thanks, Paul) Is its goal ultimately to present Congress an overhead wire fait accompli to "force" them to remove the ban on overhead wires? (Fat chance.) Is it to provide the maintenance facility for more complete system? Is it patronage for Anacostia voters? Until we know what problem it, and light rail in D.C., in general, is supposed to solve, I cannot support any construction. I do recognize that there are valid cases for light rail, but I don't see any of them being made for the Anacostia line.

What we do know is that the railroad track is the path of least resistance financially, and also the least effective alignment for generating ridership and a revival of Anacostia. (Personally, I think getting crime down would have a far greater effect on the latter.) Anacostia already has some Metro stations that have had little revitalization effect. Perhaps Anacostia should be ceded to Maryland so the river will cease to be a boundary to development. Of course, Marylanders won't want it and its problems, and will, likewise, withhold resources from it.

by Chuck Coleman on Oct 27, 2008 7:16 pm • linkreport

Ask anyone who lives in Jersey City or Hoboken, NJ feels about "streetcars". The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail made it easy for people to live and work within a crowded and congested metropolitan area...........And just ask about the development it brought with it..........

by jim jensen on Feb 6, 2009 6:00 pm • linkreport

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