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Streetcars will benefit DC's bottom line

Will DC's streetcar system be worth its $1.5 billion expense? A recent study indicates that the answer is a resounding yes.

Streetcar impact on residential development demand.

One of the key differences between buses and streetcars is that streetcars induce land development. That benefits the city from a Smart Growth and urbanist perspective. It also turns out to be a big win for the city's coffers.

The DC Office of Planning's Streetcar Land Use Study was commissioned to determine the impact that the city's planned streetcar network will have on development, and on city tax revenue.

The findings are, to put it mildly, extremely positive.

Positive impacts

According to the study, the great benefit of streetcars will be that they tremendously expand the number of households and business properties that are within walking distance of a rail station. With streetcars complementing Metro, the share of DC residents within a quarter mile of a rail stop will increase from today's 16% up to 50%.

That will correspond to an increase in the value of properties along streetcar lines by $5-7 billion. Another $5-8 billion in new development can be expected, resulting in a total property value increase of $10-15 billion due to streetcars.

That would result in $238-291 million in new tax revenue for the city each year, after completion of the 37-mile streetcar network. At that rate it would take only 6 years for the city to recuperate the full $1.5 billion cost. After that, the additional property tax revenues would be pure profit.

Tax revenue isn't the only benefit, of course. Compared to a no-streetcars baseline scenario, over a 10 year period the streetcar network is anticipated to induce 6,300-7,700 new jobs in the District, up to 12,000 new households, and up to 1.3 million square feet of new retail development.

That is a big deal.

The study goes on to conclude that these sort of dramatic results are only practical with streetcars.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is often mentioned as a less expensive alternative to streetcars. However, according to the study BRT would require exclusive rights-of-way in order to begin to achieve some of the same benefits as mixed-traffic streetcars. The property acquisitions necessary to provide exclusive bus lanes would more than negate any cost savings achieved by using buses, and the impacts on development would still be less. At the end of the day, BRT would be neither cheaper nor as effective.

Meanwhile, the expense of Metrorail and light rail would make them cost prohibitive to use for such an extensive network. If the District wants 37 miles of new transit, they are not options.

Negative impacts

There are of course some negative impacts. The largest of which is the effect such a tremendous increase in development demand would have on affordable housing.

The study recommends a range of policies to mitigate that impact. These include upzoning certain areas for greater density so that supply can keep up with demand, mandating inclusionary zoning in new developments, and greater code flexibility to allow accessory dwelling units such as alley houses.

Another negative impact is that streetcars running on a curbside alignment preclude the possibility of converting parking lanes to travel lanes during the peak period. With curbside streetcars, parking lanes must be either permanent or absent.

The report also mentions the complications inherent to bicycle-streetcar coexistence. It notes that quality bike infrastructure will be necessary along streetcar corridors in order to minimize conflict.

Funding mechanisms

Although federal funding may become available at some time, any realistic scenario for the funding of this network must include a substantial local contribution.

In addition to DDOT's normal funding mechanisms, the study identifies potential other sources of streetcar construction funds. Developer contributions and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) appear to be the most promising.

Developer contributions may be possible where very large developments would benefit from streetcar services, such as at Walter Reed or the Southwest Waterfront. The city could negotiate for a contribution of a few million dollars, knowing that the value of the development will increase by a greater amount with the presence of a streetcar.

Tax Increment Financing has even greater potential to fund a very large percentage of the program. TIF is a process in which the city uses bonds to build the initial capital investment, then repays the bonds using the increase in property tax revenue.

The report estimates that using the TIF process, the District could realistically support $600-900 million in bonds. That would approximate to between 40-60% of the total $1.5 billion cost.

These funding strategies will have to be explored in greater detail, and the negatives associated with streetcars will have to be addressed. But if this study proves correct, streetcars are going to be a big, big win. A decade after the system is built the city will be a better and more livable place, construction debt will be repaid, and the tax revenue will be rolling in.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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My guess is it would take a decade for the property values to catch up with the rail line but even so $250 million a year makes for a pretty good return on investment.

by Matt R on Feb 1, 2012 10:36 am • linkreport

The streetcar system, or at least future segments, need to be separated from traffic, even if at street level. This means:



SIDEWALK-BIKE-DRIVING/PARKING-PARKING-TRAM ROW (with staggered side platforms, and in reverse)

Otherwise, streetcars are subject to the same traffic conditions as driving, negating any sort of time impact, perhaps apart from the fact that, unlike a bus, a streetcar won't be weaving in and out of traffic. While this may not be an issue for H Street, if there are expansions to wider roads and thoroughfares such as 14th, U, Rhode Island, and Georgia, then the only thing it's got going for it is the fixed-rail factor. I'm a huge proponent of the streetcar system, but it has to be done right.

by Phil on Feb 1, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

You're leaving one number out: operations.

Streetcars should be able to reduce the number of buses on the streets. That would reduce the amount DC has to pay to WMATA every year. DC pays out about 200M. With streetcars, that amount might go down by 50-60 million.

On the other hand, the operations cost of streetcars is going to be high as well. I don't know the estimates there.

In addition, the additional tax revenue is not going to happen all at once. That might take 30 years to see the top amount.

So, the payback time is significally more that you are assuming, once you account for a scaled tax revenue and also operating costs of the streetcar.

by charlie on Feb 1, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

I was thinking about the issue of parking lanes with fixed-rail systems... In theory, you could have the street car travel in the next-to-right lane and only go over to the right lane at stations. The rightmost lane could then still be used for both parking and travel depending on need, with just the area around stations being excluded (preferably with some sort of physical barrier to prevent cars from pulling up over the tracks). This could also avoid the situation which I have witnessed in Philadelphia where people will stop their cars (either with their flashers on, as if that makes it okay, or simply parking and leaving their car there), which completely blocks the trolleys and forces everything to grind to a halt.

by Matt on Feb 1, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

Is that map accurate in indicating that despite two streetcar lines passing through Adams Morgan, there will be no stops?

by Xavier on Feb 1, 2012 10:45 am • linkreport

I'm a little dubious about the proposition that the streetcar will result in increased residential demand of over 50% in the heart of Georgetown. I was not under the impression that there is any shortage of people who would like to live there. Quite the opposite, really, with high demand driving prices as high as they are...

by Dizzy on Feb 1, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

@Matt: Cars that do that signal their willingness to be crushed into a cube, with appropriate voice mails sent.

by Michael Perkins on Feb 1, 2012 10:50 am • linkreport

@Xavier - There appears to be one station mark mostly hidden underneath "8B" in Adams Morgan. That would appear to be the intersection of Columbia and 18th.

by Distantantennas on Feb 1, 2012 10:52 am • linkreport


It looks like there is a station there, it's just mostly covered by the "8B". If you look at the bottom left corner of the "B" you can see the edge of a yellow station circle. In any event I doubt the station placement on this map is anything but preliminary.

by Steven Yates on Feb 1, 2012 10:54 am • linkreport

1.1.5 billion is a joke and we all know it. There hasn’t been one transit project (road/rail) in the DC Metro that has come in on budget or even close to it. I point you to the now twice priced Silver Line, the 11th street, 395, humpback bridges, mixing bowl, Wilson Bridge etc. This, along with DC’s proven inexperience in the Streetcar project thus far indicates that we would be lucky if the thing didn’t cost less than 3 billion.

2.This study’s biggest flaw and comical assumption is the additional development and increase in property values it assumes will account for nearly 50% of the windfall, in particular segments 3 and 4 which run through K street and along the waterfront to the Navy Yard.

K street is the most “developed” commercial business core of DC with the lowest office vacancies in the entire nation. Assuming that you are going to somehow increase “development” in an already fully developed multi-phased transit corridor, and be solely responsible for a 10% increase in property value along this same corridor is highly misleading.

Same goes for the Waterfront and Navy Yard. The Navy Yard went from practically nothing to tens of million of feet of new office space in the past 5 years and is nearly at max commercial capacity for the existing zoning and development plans.

The massive water front redevelopment is already underway and had nothing to do with streetcars, nor will their arrivl increase current proposed density and development plans.

Basically, the streetcar cannot take credit for the billions of dollars of development that’s either already happened, or is currently in the pipeline which is clearly what this study is doing.

There are other clear eye rollers in this study, including supposed induced residential demand in already high demand places (like Georgetown) but these are the biggest whoppers.

by freely on Feb 1, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

A study like this is as useless as CBO reports projecting that X piece of legislation will save Y dollars over Z years. It's nothing but numbers on paper. Without proper leadership and stewardship, two things DC often lacks, the positive tax implications will be undone by poor management.

Also, what is the headway for these lines? If there is a streetcar running every five minutes on every line, then sure--there will be a huge increase in usage. However, if they are infrequent as buses or unreliable as the metro, the streetcar system will be nothing more than a huge waste of money.

Believe me, I think streetcars sound peachy. But some of its enthusiasts sound absolutely delusional when advocating for it. It's just a bus system in sleeker form. Smoother ride, but same awful traffic and (possibly) same infrequent headways.

Maybe I'm wrong about the headways? Any info on that? Seems crucial.

by MJ on Feb 1, 2012 10:57 am • linkreport

I stand by my long running assertion that DC has no actual intention of running streetcars, but only laying rail to induce development... It'll only work for a few select projects, but just look at H Street. Do the streetcars ever have to be operational for the corridor appreciate significantly? How much do the rails actually cost as a part of an overall streetscape redesign?

by @SamuelMoore on Feb 1, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

Phil +1,
The street car has to be separated from car traffic as Phil said, or else it's a fancy bus line. that would mean a drastic reduction in the amount of commuters roads like Georgia Avenue could handle, which would be unfair to the suburbanites who rely on these arteries. Then again, the unfairness went the otherway around as we recently learned when the Auto industry bought up the streetcar lines to be replaced with buslines and disadvantage non car owners.

Maybe a good compromise on roads like Georgia Avenue would be to have them parallell Georgia on 14th street, but besides the expense, this seems to be the biggest political hurdle. Eitherway, no pain, no gain.

by Thayer-D on Feb 1, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

freely, last I heard 11th Street was ahead of schedule and below budget. Have you heard otherwise?

by David C on Feb 1, 2012 11:19 am • linkreport

If these economic development numbers are true (and freely makes some good points that at least in some areas they are capturing economic development that is already occurring)why are we not instead talking about more Metrorail?

The east-west corridor on this map indicated by 4A-5D approximates the oft proposed separated blue line which really should be not just DC's but the regions top public transportation priority (and perhaps the regions top transportation priority) but the proposed streetcar line is not going to offer the same connectivity to Metrorail and thus the ability to impact suburban commute patterns as well.

And a new blue line enables you to solve the track capacity limit of the Rosslyn tunnel and the station capacity issues being faced at Union Station.

This then enables you to extend the Orange Line to Centreville and Bowie and to greatly boost commuter rail service which is more cost effective (and faster) for long distance commuters.

I understand you are talking about probably 4 times the cost but what is the multiplier in ridership (and presumed lower operating costs)and the value in better connectivity to our primary form of rail transit?

And by making this multi jurisdictional there is the potential for more entities to contribute and I would presume a larger contribution from the Federal Government? And you could still potentially do some TIF for the DC share and I presume the increase in land values for heavy rail would be even greater than they would be for streetcars?

Someone needs to have the audacity to think big here instead of piddling around with lower capacity streetcars through our very densely built up downtown.

And I have never understood the 8A-8E route on here - what is the great demand for people to make trips through this corridor? The ends of this route are not that far apart on the Red Line now and while I suppose there could be some intense infill development around the Washington Hospital Center it is sort of hard for me to rationalize that there is going to be enough of it to justify this line or that a crosstown route through here would add much value when most folks will want to go downtown not to Adams Morgan or Woodley Park.

There is however a great need for some east-west capacity further north. The purple line will address some of this but the amount of density in Bethesda and Friendship Heights and Silver Spring/Takoma Park and their existing condition of not being well connected at all should have been examined before this strange Woodley Park to Brookland line which is connecting closer and less dense neighborhoods.

I realize this is about economic development but when that development occurs in higher rent areas the ROI is better not worse.

by TomQ on Feb 1, 2012 11:25 am • linkreport

The other thing I'd add is that there shouldn't be so much worrying about the effects on "affordable housing." Not to get into a discussion on the merits of IZ and other programs, but the streetcar system will actually increase affordable housing. Why? The dispersal of high-income earners into neighborhoods that were otherwise lacking in public transport connections (the rest of Bloomingdale, North Capitol Hill, Pleasant Plains et al) will spread affluence around the District. Part of the problem is the geographic disparity in income that artificially jacks up prices due to too little supply and not enough demand. As the variety of accessible neighborhoods increases, so too will supply, and that's not counting new development that will occur along streetcar lines. The best solution to make housing more affordable is to build more of it smartly (ie not in fringe suburbs) and encourage infill development, particularly on transit corridors.

by Phil on Feb 1, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

I have no doubt that there could be enormous financial benefits, but how do BRT w/ exclusive rights of way compare to mixed-traffic streetcars w/ respect to reliability for the commuter? Is one a more efficient mode of transportation than the other? Charlie mentioned operations, but I'd like to hear more about the pro's and con's of each option. I'm pro-streetcar, because of the financial benefits in its targeted corridors, but it would be helpful to know more about the operations aspect.

by Vik on Feb 1, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

@David C,

Classic case of moving the goal line. When FHWA and DDOT put out their first documentation for the project in 2006, it was a 260 million dollar project. The scope of work didn't change and with the recession there "should" have been quantifiable savings in construction cost and it still ended up costing 15% more.

by freely on Feb 1, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport


There is a need for that crosstown route - it is one of two crosstown routes in the north of the city. More people ride those H buses than the buses between Bethesda and Silver Spring.

Not to mention there is a lot of development potential in that corridor and around the hospital.

by MLD on Feb 1, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

The numbers seem to make sense to me but the big assumption is that the entire system will be built, as a partial system cannot hope to have the same benefits that the full system would have.

by Cassidy on Feb 1, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

@TomQ - Great analysis. But I would add that I think we need to have both the separated blue line you reference and the streetcar system. This will allow DC to continue to develope into a truly world class gloabl city.

by SoMuchForSubtlety on Feb 1, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

Color me sceptical about a rosy forecast that relies so heavily on increased tax base. First, all transportation projects should be justified on the basis of whether the capital and operating costs versus expected revenues are better than alternatives. Poreferably, they shoudl be revenue positive. Second, these forecasts seem unrealistic to me. Increased demand in Georgetown driving up prices? Unlikely. And to a certain extent, increased demand in one part of the city will result in decreased demand elsewhere--not all the businesses and residents will be relocating from outside District boundaries. These models never include those factors. Finally, the proposed changes in zoning to offset the impact on affordable housing are not likely. To the extent residents and businesses are seeing price appreciation, it is in their interests to oppose upzoning, alley houses and similar efforts that are in fact designed to negatively impact the value of their property.

by Crickey7 on Feb 1, 2012 11:46 am • linkreport

SoMuchForSublety - I agree we need both Streetcars and more heavy rail - but do we need them in the same corridors? Particularly when that corridor (in this case K/L Street) has the density to support heavy rail and would see real efficiencies reaching across DC lines?

Cassidy - the H buses are a nice little set of routes but I looked this up a couple of weeks ago and I think the total daily ridership today is about 5000 people per day which is pretty good as far as a WMATA bus route but I'm not sure it is enough to support a street car - I just think most of the people in these neighborhoods want/need to go North/South to downtown or to Silver Spring which argues for a Georgia Avenue line not this line. Also the current bus connections between Bethesda and Silver Spring are pretty lousy and neither ends are as walkable/car independent as the DC neighborhoods served by the H buses so that may not be the best comparison. We do need better East-West connectivity and a street car might be the way to do it but I still fail to see the ridership or development demand along this route to justify it.

by TomQ on Feb 1, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

DC does not need streetcars, it needs improved mobility for residents and commuters.You could achieve far greater mobility through bus system improvements, with the same economic development that, as it happens, is already occurring. A BRT would be incredibly inexpensive and practical for the center median lanes of Rhode Island Avenue and could move far more people, more quickly and at much less the cost. There is plenty of space on Michigan ave to dedicate lanes for buses, and even upgrading bus service would be far more beneficial. Besides, this study likely has a lot of shaky assumptions on development. Is this study saying that the McMillan site won't be redeveloped unless a streetcar is put in. I doubt it. Also, it said that streetcar will generate more development than bus improvements.

It is sad to see DC pursuing an expensive and tax-diverting system that will basically place a bunch of people in a slow streetcar waiting behind all the people in their private cars.

by neb on Feb 1, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

I read the study about a week ago, I think. It does NOT assume all new development/appreciation will be due to the street cars - the "no build case" explicity assumes that there will be new development and appreciation - the street car benefits is there estimate of ADDED development and appreciation - and they address, corridor by corridor, why the street cars will mean additional development. I strongly suggest that whoever wants to critique the study should quote its discussion of specific corridors, and critique the actual statements.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

"I agree we need both Streetcars and more heavy rail - but do we need them in the same corridors? Particularly when that corridor (in this case K/L Street) has the density to support heavy rail and would see real efficiencies reaching across DC lines? "

street cars are envisioned as serving a fundamentally different function from heavy rail - providing quick on off, with frequent stops, for short distance travelers. Metro rail really doesnt provide that. Thinking of the 'street car' model as comparable to the "light rail model" is misleading I think

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

If you DL the report (too big) the income breakdown is even worse.

dan quotes a figure of 238-291. As others have said, probably taking too much credit for the streetcar there. However, using the reports assumptions:

1. 80-96M is increased vaulation of commerical office space. Extremely questionable.
2. 68-83 is NEW residental property tax revenue. I think that is safe.
3. 64-78M is new residental income tax. Extremely questionable.

If you are talking about TIF bonds, you'd be able to source perhaps 90M a year in NEW property taxes. Perhaps anther 100M in increasing the property taxes on properites near a streetcar. That is a lot less than what Dan is speculating. So, say as 12-15 year payout.

by charlie on Feb 1, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport


the study says street cars would EXPAND development potential at McMillan, so it seems they assume it would be developed either way, but the density would differ.

really people, theres a lot of material in the study - in this case I think reading it first is more valuable than talking about it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

If I understand correctly, streetcars will benefit the Anacostia/MLK corridor because it will encourage more people to live near the Anacostia metro and absent the streetcars, it wouldn't happen naturally through the planned development already slated?

by HogWash on Feb 1, 2012 12:16 pm • linkreport

Awalkerinthe city

See the charts on pages 24 and 26 referencing anticipated residential and commercial appreciation. They are in a word, "pie in the sky".

Furthermore, I wish the streetcar supporters can simply admit that this entire program as structured is about economic development, and nothing about transportation.

The streetcars aren't getting their own ROW, so as someone said above, all we have are incredibly expensive buses that are stuck behind cars. Transportation benefit received? Zero.

And if economic development was really our goal, this is the most inefficient way to do it.

Last year the District collected 1.8 billion dollars in property tax from ALL commercial properties in the city.

Basically, we could give every commercial property owner in the Disrict a tax holiday with the fortune we plan on spending on this "non" transportation system.

You want to see economic development. Establish decade long property tax free zones in the corridors you want to develop and (for example) Upper Georgia Ave would look like Clarenden in 5 years.

We could take half that money (750 million, and establish half a dozen decade long tax free commercial development zones and quit deluding ourselves that this streetcar has anything to do with transportation.

by freely on Feb 1, 2012 12:18 pm • linkreport

freely, without seeing where you get your numbers I'm skeptical. Everything I've seen is that, when adjusted for inflation, 11th street bridge has been under budget and ahead of schedule.

by David C on Feb 1, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

The developer will maximize the space at Mcmillan regardless. And unless a streetcar will expand the amount of land available and change the communities views on density to boot, I don't see how this would happen.

by neb on Feb 1, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

TomQ, I agree that decoupling the Blue and Orange line should be DC's #1 transit goal. It should come before the streetcars. I think the problem is that doing that requires cooperation from Virginia and Maryland. So that becomes a nightmare. DC can do this all by itself. I think it speaks to the dysfunction of regional cooperation that no one considers it largely for this reason. It stuns me that no one in government is talking about this project. It should have been in line before the Silve Line.

The multi-jurisdictional aspect, which you note should be a benefit, is actually a detriment.

by David C on Feb 1, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

By "DC can do this all by itself" I mean streetcars. It is sad that DC is pushing the streetcar because it is easier to do, instead of the inner Blue line which is better.

I'm not against the streetcars, I just think we've messed up our priorities.

by David C on Feb 1, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport


IIUC neither the developer nor the community gets to decide, the District govt and planning dept will. They may well take the provision of transit into account in determining allowable density.

@freely = as the mcmillan case illustrates, just adding density (by zoning or by tax holiday) does not address the issues with new density adding VMT. As much as you may question the superiority of a streetcar to bus as a transit mode, the issue planners must face is what ridership each mode will draw.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 12:32 pm • linkreport

"The streetcars aren't getting their own ROW, so as someone said above, all we have are incredibly expensive buses that are stuck behind cars. Transportation benefit received? Zero"

So they should get zero additional ridership. But in fact, IIUC, they usually do get additional ridership. Whether thats due to ride quality, or snob factor, or whatever, I dont know = and it doesnt really matter.

Call me a right wing capitalist, but I think that when consumers by their decisions express a preference, we should treat that as being real utility, and not impose a planners belief that the two options are identical.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

@David C

The Blue Line and streetcars perform VERY different functions. While their routes may overlap, that's about the extent to which they're similar. A separate Blue Line's primary purposes are to add capacity to a saturated hybrid metro/commuter rail system, slightly increasing its catchment area, reducing congestion at choke points in the system (Rosslyn), and providing Union Station with additional transport links to relieve pressure at Union Station. The streetcar, on the other hand, is meant to create low-cost connections where Metro wouldn't necessarily be feasible or desirable, at the same time boosting real estate values and improving neighborhoods across the District through investment and increasing transit accessibility. The Blue Line will serve region-wide residents, while the streetcar is mainly for DC residents and short trips that can now be made with more regularity and less crowding than on Metro. It's a two-tiered system that is both vital to the metropolitan area and a common sense way of increasing transit capacity and mobility.

by Phil on Feb 1, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

"That would result in $238-291 million in new tax revenue for the city each year, after completion of the 37-mile streetcar network. At that rate it would take only 6 years for the city to recuperate the full $1.5 billion cost. After that, the additional property tax revenues would be pure profit."

This seems pretty outlandish. For this to be true, it means the street car will increase local DC revenues by ~5% every year, and that there will never be any additional operating or capital costs.

by Michael Hamilton on Feb 1, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

Phil, I'm not saying that one should replace the other. Just that we're doing in them in the wrong order. I get that they're two different functions. But just as we might prioritize repairing the fridge ahead of Disney on Ice tickets (both of which also perform VERY different functions), we should prioritize the separated blue line ahead of streetcars.

by David C on Feb 1, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

There are people in Loudoun county who think that NoVa's transportation priority should be an LRT line connecting leesburg with the silver line.

There are more sane people in NoVa who think it should be extending the Orange line to centreville.

And then there a host of other heavy and light rail projects folks discuss - not just Columbia pike, but the ft belvoir corridor, several corridors radiating from Tysons, etc. And then there are the folks against ANY transit spending whatsoever.

Getting NoVa public opinion to embrace the idea that NoVa needs the seperated blue line is a process thats still in its early stages. And of course winning over NoVa does not mean winning over Richmond. I think DC is wise not wait on us.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 1:15 pm • linkreport

Streetcars are kryptonite to thugs. Build streetcars, thugs go away; thugs go away, YUPies move in; Yupies move in, tax base grows... and PG county gets screwed after all of that.

by elmothehobo on Feb 1, 2012 1:16 pm • linkreport

Phil - are streetcars and heavy rail really supposed to perform such different functions?

Having ridden both in cities in Europe that have both my impression was the main difference is in the level of ridership on each - eg heavy rail serves the routes with highest demand and street cars the routes with lower demand and while they have some overlap in the core as you get further out that ends.

The role you keep referencing sounds like the role for buses not street cars.

And I would completely reject the notion that people in DC would choose a streetcar over heavy rail for a similar route even of a short duration or that people in DC do not equally rely on or take Metrorail - I think it is something of a misnomer that Metrorail primarily serves suburban commuters.

Given the advantages in speed (and comfort) I suspect 9 out of 10 customers going from say H Street NE to Georgetown would choose Metrorail over a Streetcar even with a higher fare.

A K street line might make sense IF it is being fed by lines serving areas that otherwise don't have high quality transit access to the area (eg Georgia and Wisconsin Avenues and perhaps even ares in NOVA) but it doesn't make any sense as the stand alone strand that is seemingly being proposed now particularly when that exact area is facing a major crunch on the existing parallel regional serving heavy rail.

This regionalism in transportation planning is just plain stupid and is going to net us a less efficient system with poorer connectivity, fewer riders and higher costs.

by TomQ on Feb 1, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

This regionalism in transportation planning is just plain stupid and is going to net us a less efficient system with poorer connectivity, fewer riders and higher costs.

This assumes everyone's interests are aligned.

by oboe on Feb 1, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

"but it doesn't make any sense as the stand alone strand that is seemingly being proposed"

Hmm? Thats not my understanding of the project sequencing.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

Two points:

1. BRT is designed to get people places faster and more rapidly. Streetcars most likely will be less fast than current buses. This brings up the question: why spend that much money on something that will be less useful than the current system?

2. If economic development is the reason to spend all that money, wouldn't it be more effective to spend it directly on economic development rather than on a slower transportation system?

Honestly, I don't think the streetcar system is going to go anywhere after the H street line fails (think about it- it doesn't connect as well with the subway as the X2, and it doesn't go downtown). We should start reconsidering this now, before this kills future support for useful mass transit.

by lewandorkski on Feb 1, 2012 2:31 pm • linkreport

I am not sure about this, but I have to ask. Are the jurisdictions communicating about the streetcar plans? Will the Columbia Pike line have the opportunity to extend, say, to L'Enfant Plaza?

Will Georgia Ave extend to Silver Spring? White Oak?

Will the Georgetown line extend to Friendship Heights and Bethesda/White Flint?

Will the Woodley Park line extent to Chevy Chase and Kensington?

And to TomQ's point, is anyone looking at a Missouri Ave/Military Road option?

by William on Feb 1, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

Don't you have to, you know, run streetcars for them to have any benefit? We have tracks laid, and cars in storage, so we have a system except for that key ingredient.

by Clang Clang Clang went the trolley on Feb 1, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Don't you have to, you know, run streetcars for them to have any benefit?

This is a common misconception. No, it's actually sufficient to just lay the tracks. (c.f. H Street 2004-Present)


by oboe on Feb 1, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

There hasn’t been one transit project (road/rail) in the DC Metro that has come in on budget or even close to it.

I think the Largo extension came in under budget (or at least close to it)?

You're also forgetting that streetcars should theoretically run a bit faster than the buses. They can fit about twice as many people as a bus, so you need fewer of them to run a rush-hour service, meaning less traffic overall. They have more doors, and use dedicated stations that can be directly boarded with a wheelchair, which reduces dwell times. Add in signal priority, and you'd likely see the streetcars moving slightly more quickly than their equivalent bus lines.

In any event, this topic has been concern-trolled to death. BRT is advocated by people who have not, and will never ride a bus, and the politicians predicting the failure of the H St line have actively conspired against its success.

by andrew on Feb 1, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

BRT has its place, where you have have a common back bone that needs to be shared by routes from numerous relatively low density places - the feeder areas can't justify any fixed investment, but the common back bone line does - buses are ideal for that, because they can run as ordinary local buses in the feeder areas, and as full fledged BRT (with high platforms, side door entry, etc) on the core - or they can run on intermediate configurations (reserved lanes without stations, etc). BRT would make sense in many parts of NoVa (esp the 395 and beltway corridors). It may make sense for upper MoCo. I don't think its case is nearly as compelling in the parts of the District where streetcars are proposed.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 1, 2012 5:07 pm • linkreport

Are the property value projections believable? I'm trying to get a sense of how dramatic an increase this is and its reliability.

If demand increases along the street car lines, does it decrease elsewhere?

by Geof Gee on Feb 1, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

On subways instead of streetcars:

Subways aren't 4x as expensive as suggested above, they're more like 10x expensive at least. When you consider the general issues we have with American infrastructure being more expensive than similar projects in Europe and Asia, that adds even more of a challenge.

American rail transit costs are even more out of control. See Alon Levy's comparisons here:

On the purpose of subways:

Yes, they fill a different role than streetcars. This has nothing to do with technology, but more about the operational patterns - stop spacing, headways, stop location, speed, grade separation, etc.

In DC, the scale of the subway system is also regional. I love the idea of a separated blue line, but the benefits to that are not purely for the District. One huge benefit would be to increase frequency and reliability on the existing Orange line in VA and MD. It's a regional project and would need to be funded as such.

The other thing is that the general cost of the streetcar is within the realm of DC financing it on its own. A new Blue line is likely outside of that capability.

Such planning shouldn't really be an either/or, they are complimentary transit products. Given that the backbone of the Metro system is in place for regional rapid transit, the streetcar can fill a different need, make a modest reduction on Metro's need for more core capacity.

by Alex B. on Feb 1, 2012 10:21 pm • linkreport

Such planning shouldn't really be an either/or, they are complimentary transit products.

That's true, they shouldn't be. They should be yes/both. But they clearly are either/or in this case, since they're working the one but not the other. DDOT only has so much bandwidth to dedicate to transit expansion - and they've chosen to put it into streetcars. Primarily because it is politically and logistically easier to do, which shouldn't be the primary motivation, but unfortunately it is.

by David C on Feb 1, 2012 11:58 pm • linkreport

@David C

But the new Blue line is a regional project. We have a regional transit agency. I'm not sure why you're faulting DDOT's bandwidth on the issue that's outside of their scope.

WMATA is looking at these things quietly:

by Alex B. on Feb 2, 2012 8:24 am • linkreport

I'm not blaming DDOT, I'm blaming DC's political leadership.

by David C on Feb 2, 2012 9:00 am • linkreport

but david, no DC political leadership could get that through without it being a regional - and mainly a virginia - priority.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 2, 2012 9:25 am • linkreport

True, so the obvious solution is to never ever talk about it and instead push an entirely different project.

by David C on Feb 2, 2012 10:09 am • linkreport


If you click that link I posted, and then click through to the presentation that post is about, you'll see that WMATA has done some work on the impacts of streetcar on the Metro system, as well as the impacts the system will have on Metro's core capacity.

They're complimentary projects. If you're asking why DC isn't taking the lead on a new Blue line, I think the answer to that is obvious - the major benefits are not solely for DC, and it's beyond the capacity of DC alone to fund it.

If DC were to push such a project through their WMATA channels, that would be different. That's the fundamental point - it's a regional project that will require regional support to get done.

by Alex B. on Feb 2, 2012 10:32 am • linkreport


the obvious solution is to talk about the need for it, both here and in other forums, especially in those frequented by people who live and vote in Virginia. I don't see that talking about it in the context of DC's decisions on the street cars helps much.

I myself have discussed it in a NoVa focused forum, and I probably should do more.

When the question of ft belvoir and the rte 1 corridor in FFX came up here, several people correctly pointed out that congestion at the core needs to be addressed before any further metro rail extensions in NoVa. That point needs to be hammered home again and again.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 2, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

Upzoning, upzoning, upzoning. If this is going to work, it's going to mean more 6-story and 12-story buildings in places where old 1-story and 2-story buildings stand now. Me, I'm in favor of that. But convincing the rest of our community is the next big campaign.

by tom veil on Feb 2, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

"These include upzoning certain areas for greater density so that supply can keep up with demand ... and greater code flexibility to allow accessory dwelling units such as alley houses."

As long as the discussion is about economic benefits, has anyone studied what the financial impact would be from upzoning, by itself? Or, a comparison of how much of the projected increase in r.e. values would derive from upzoning rather than the arrival of the streetcar line.

by RTA on Feb 2, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

If you're asking why DC isn't taking the lead on a new Blue line, I think the answer to that is obvious - the major benefits are not solely for DC, and it's beyond the capacity of DC alone to fund it.

It's not obvious and I disagree with the answer. While VA and MD will benefit, the primary winner would be DC. But even if that weren't true, it wouldn't make the decision right. It would just mean that political leaders in MD and VA are also to blame. Why is VA building the Silver line before the Blue/Orange split? Or MD the Purple Line? Or DC the streetcars? They're all to blame.

That DC needs VA and MD to go along is not a reason to not pursue it and instead do something else. It is a reason to push their partners. But they haven't done that.

Like I said "I think it speaks to the dysfunction of regional cooperation".

by David C on Feb 2, 2012 12:24 pm • linkreport

Upzoning is possible, but there are severe limitations and a long timeframe involved. First, it has to be staged. The changes need to appear on the applicable Master Plan, then they can proceed into the Zoning Code.

Both are political processes subject to intense scrutiny and often bitter community opposition, so expect that only a few areas near transit centers can realistically be upzoned in any planning/zoning cycle. Then one has to wait for the private sector to respond and take advantage of the increased potential for density. It's a really long process from start to anything real, perhaps even decades.

As for accessory apartments, alley flats, etc. Ain't gonna happen--forget about it.

by Crickey7 on Feb 2, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

"But even if that weren't true, it wouldn't make the decision right. It would just mean that political leaders in MD and VA are also to blame. Why is VA building the Silver line before the Blue/Orange split? Or MD the Purple Line? Or DC the streetcars? They're all to blame."

Im not sure that maryland benefits that much from the blue/orange split.

As for the silver line, MWAA wanted it, FFX desperately wanted to begin the tysons transformation, and Loudoun wanted to get on board the TOD wagon and to be connected to the new tysons and get its first metrorail. Its a pretty popular project in NoVa, with benefits that does not take discourse on transit operations to explain.

ANyway, thats water under the bridge so to speak. It really will take a long steady conversation in NoVa, more than lecturing at DC pols.

I just dont see the DC pols as having that much clout on regional priorities. meanwhile I dont think it would have made sense for them to hold back the streetcars.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 2, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

I would point out that on the MWCOG CLRP, there really isnt any new heavy rail transit lines on tap after the Silver Linein NoVa. Theres the infill station at Pot Yds. Theres the columbia Pike light rail - which is looking more and more iffy. Theres the crystal city potomac yds transit way, which is to start as a busway. Theres a Van Dorn busway. There are a few incremental VRE improvements, some local transit centers. Thats it.

Some in NoVa may think that the core can handle the silver line, and as long as we do NOT build an extended Orange line, or heavy rail line to ft belvoir, we are fine. Im sure most here disagree, and it would be good, given the long lead times for big heavy rail projects, if we could already start the seperated blue line forward. I suspect though there wont be the groundswell in NoVa for that till phase 1 of the silver line is open, and people find out how bad congestion in the core becomes. Until theres that groundswell, I dont see Commonwealth backing a seperated blue line (though some NoVa pols might) and until that happens, I dont see the MWCOG adopting it, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 2, 2012 5:08 pm • linkreport

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