Greater Greater Washington

Build streetcars where growth will cover the cost

Where should DC build its next streetcars after the H Street and Anacostia lines under construction today? That should depend on which neighborhoods want to help make them succeed.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

The streetcar, ultimately, is an economic development tool with transportation benefits, rather than strictly a mobility tool. A streetcar makes new development more desirable and increases the value of existing homes, offices and stores.

To pay for the streetcar, DC should set up mechanisms to capture this added value from the neighborhoods that benefit. Before promising a line to any corridor, policymakers should work with local businesses and residents to set up a financing plan.

In other corridors, like Wisconsin Avenue, where access isn't the obstacle to growth, bus priority is a better transportation tool than the streetcar.

The streetcar is not about speed

The streetcar is not going to be faster than a bus. It may be slower, since the streetcar could get stuck behind other vehicles more often. Some plans even suggest that in future corridors, the streetcar run the local service and most buses switch to limited-stop.

Experiences in other cities have shown that a streetcar makes many people more willing to live, eat and shop along a corridor, though. It's a smoother ride, and laying tracks creates a sense of permanence. Property owners consequently are more likely to build on empty lots or open businesses in vacant storefronts as a result.

But a streetcar is much more expensive to build than a bus. The Office of Planning report on streetcar land use concludes that streetcars can generate more economic benefits than they cost. But all corridors are not created equal. Some can support more economic benefits than others. The best ones are those that can accommodate a lot of redevelopment.

With declining federal revenues, DC can't count on outside financing for the streetcar lines. With DC residents paying for the streetcar themselves, the lines should go where they'll bring enough benefits to justify the cost.

Neighborhoods: Want a streetcar? Help pay for it.

Property owners could agree to a "value capture" system, where if their property increases in value as a result of the streetcar, some of that extra value goes back to the streetcar to pay for construction.

The Office of Planning report estimates that capturing some of the real estate benefits of the streetcar could pay for 40-60% of the cost of building one (page 68). But it also says, "The increases in real estate values and development that the streetcar could spur over a ten-year periodlooking only at land within a quarter-mile of new routeswould exceed the projected cost of creating the system by 600% to 1,000%" (page 7). Therefore, even greater value capture, and picking corridors willing to agree to greater value capture, could fund even more of the system.


Projected benefits from the streetcar for retail (left), residential (center), and office (right) markets. Images from the DC Office of Planning.

Neighborhoods can also make a streetcar more or less economical. Residents around a commercial corridor could agree to targeted changes to the zoning that allow for more new residents or jobs right next to the streetcar, to bring in revenue and take advantage of the new transit service.

The chart below, from the OP report, looks at the effect on the housing market of each segment. Those in the upper right spur new development in places there is a lot of opportunity. Segments in the upper left, on the other hand, increase property values but there isn't a lot of room in the zoning to add more housing.

In these areas, it would make more sense to ask for targeted increases right near streetcar stops if neighborhoods want a streetcar line. That will make sure the line actually generates economic value to justify the cost.


Transformation opportunities for streetcar lines. Segments in red are planned for Phase 1, yellow Phase 2, and blue Phase 3. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

The segments in the lower left don't receive much economic value from a streetcar. Many are actually the spots where the lines connect to Metro stations; the streetcar won't change housing demand much because Metro already has. Elsewhere, the segments likely aren't worthwhile and DC should invest in other transit instead.

The lonely 1A segment, way at the bottom left of the chart, is the segment on South Capitol Street. It is between a military base and a freeway, where absolutely nobody lives and no new development is possible. It's hard to justify running streetcar service there, although it is a great site for a maintenance facility.


Red areas show where zoning constrains streetcar-driven development. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

Our experiences with building Metro provides an analogue. Arlington planned higher-density urban villages next to each Metro station, while preserving the surrounding neighborhoods a few blocks away. That gave Arlington tremendous growth without increased traffic, putting it in a very strong fiscal position for a long time. Streetcars won't be able to support densities as high as Metro, but the principle is the same.

In the San Francisco area, towns with BART lines built around the same time, in contrast, typically downzoned the land around the stations to prohibit walkable urbanism and ensure park-and-ride lots. They didn't recognize the value of building new, less car-dependent neighborhoods atop the stations. Once BART had decided to put a line there, they had no leverage to encourage communities to maximize the investment.

Moving forward, DC officials should work with individual neighborhoods to consider the potential benefits of the streetcar. If a community has plenty of development potential, a streetcar might pay for itself now. Or, maybe the community can agree to a few simple steps, like allowing some extra housing, offices and retail, or setting up a value capture system that best takes advantage of the opportunity from building a streetcar.

Want a streetcar sooner? Then work out changes to help pay for one. Don't want any change? Then maybe DC should put the streetcar elsewhere, at least for a while.

Wisconsin Avenue needs better buses, not streetcars

Some corridors could certainly benefit from better transit, but the streetcar isn't the right mode. Take Wisconsin Avenue. The buses that ply this corridor have some of the highest ridership in DC, and could use more capacity. A streetcar could increase capacity, since vehicles are larger, but at great cost. Meanwhile, it won't spur new development to cover that cost.


Wisconsin Giant proposal. Image from the project team.
Wisconsin Avenue has many sites ripe for development that are similar in scale to many of the existing apartment buildings, but the obstacle has never been transit access.

Few new buildings are built along Wisconsin Avenue. This isn't because of any shortage of demand or access. Rather, new buildings aren't going up because of some neighbors' intense and often litigious oppo­sition.

The Wisconsin Giant, for instance, is a mere 5-story development, yet it endured decades of legal, historic, and other obstacles. Most residents nearby may support new construction, but a streetcar won't change the dynamic.


Photo by Complete Sts. on Flickr.
Instead, Wisconsin Avenue needs bus priority treatment. Dedicated lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, off-board payment, and more limited stop service could all give residents and workers a faster route downtown, which is really what they need. It takes a long time to get downtown on the 30s. A streetcar won't fix that, but bus priority could.

Right now, DDOT and WMATA are studying the possibility of adding dedicated bus lanes during rush periods to H and I Streets crosstown. If successful, these will significantly speed the trip by bus for the 30s and many other lines. DC should make sure these work, and also begin studying how to best configure Wisconsin Avenue for efficient bus service, even at the cost of hampering other modes.

Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3, also now chairs the transportation committee in the DC Council. She's expressed some disappointment that her ward is largely left out of the streetcar plan, and pushed Gabe Klein (when he was in DC) and Harriet Tregoning to study a Wisconsin Avenue line.

However, Ward 3 just isn't a place that needs the economic development of a streetcar. Cheh would best serve DC by supporting a streetcar in the neighborhoods which need growth and pushing for other transit improvements in her neighborhoods which need mobility instead.

At his talk last week, Jarrett Walker said that many cities build streetcars just because they can't make the bus system easier to understand. DC should distinguish between the best place for streetcars and the best place for buses.

In neighborhoods with significant economic development potential, like on H Street NE, Georgia Avenue, and many other corridors, a streetcar makes sense. Where transit isn't the obstacle to growth, like on Wisconsin Avenue, we should also improve transit, but use the right mode for the job.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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When you look into the report, they are talking about two increaes in value - new buildings, and an increased value on existing real estate. And they fudged the numbers even more by looking at income tax increases for new residents.

Thanks to the DC office of revenue model, that increased valuation on commerical property is going to happen anyway.

Bus lanes on H and I aren't going to help the 30's that much.

Streetcar on Wisconin would quieter and (potentially) free up road space by removing buses. You'd also save on the labor costs (basically two buses for one driver).

If I'm correct, they didn't anlysys the Wisconsin corridor in the cited report.

by charlie on Feb 14, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

i am confused. didnt ken archer and fiona make a streetcar in georgetown one of the pillars of the campaign? why the change of heart at ggw?

by Michael Lords on Feb 14, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

One key problem - the same litigious folks who delay each and every development on Wisconsin Avenue would bring that same energy to bear against priority lanes/signaling for buses.

It's automobility uber alles for many folks with that mindset. That will need to be overcome before any real progress can be made on transportation in Ward 3.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 14, 2012 10:51 am • linkreport

Michael: Each contributor at Greater Greater Washington is entitled to write articles that reflect their own opinion. What you're seeing here is that we are not a monolith, and that Ken is not David.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 14, 2012 10:52 am • linkreport

The streetcar is not going to be faster than a bus. It may be slower, since the streetcar could get stuck behind other vehicles more often.

I don't understand why this is the starting assumption. It shouldn't be.

by Alex B. on Feb 14, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

While the economic development opportunities on Wisconsin Avenue are not as great as other parts of the city, it is important to consider that a city wide system needs to be city wide. The idea that a few feet of turnaround in Woodley Park provides any sort of connectivity for Ward 3 residents is lacking.

As others have noted in previous streetcar blog posts, Upper Wisconsin Avenue will see the Cathedral Commons, the AU Law School, the Tenleytown Safeway and other new development. As one of the high-occupancy bus corridors, this is an area that needs streetcars to alleviate capacity on the Red Line, minimize the need for single occupancy vehicles and better promote transit oriented development, particularly on the DC side of Western Avenue.

by Andrew on Feb 14, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

The lonely 1A segment, way at the bottom left of the chart, is the segment on South Capitol Street...It's hard to justify running streetcar service there, although it is a great site for a maintenance facility.

Those tracks are already laid.

by goldfish on Feb 14, 2012 10:58 am • linkreport

charlie: Bus lanes on H and I won't do as much for the 30s because the 30s spend most of their time getting to H and I rather than on them. Put bus priority on Wisconsin and M, and you'll do a lot for the 30s.

Geoff: With bus priority, though, at least once you get the priority lane in you get the benefit. With streetcar, it could go in and then people could fight the development that would pay for it.

Michael: What Geoff said. The about page says, "Greater Greater Washington is an opinion site. All articles are the opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of the site's operators or editors."

There is no "GGW believes." There's what I believe, and what others believe. Steve Offutt thinks it's absolutely imperative for the Capital Crescent Trail to stay in the tunnel in Bethesda, while Dan Reed thinks it's maybe better on surface streets, for example.

by David Alpert on Feb 14, 2012 11:00 am • linkreport

Great analysis, this brings up a lot of stuff that gets hidden in cost benefit analyses of transportation upgrades. While users are an important function of this analysis equivalently important is how well the new system will be in increasing commerce for the jurisdiction managing as well. When metro costs are analyzed these numbers are often negated, but the truth is tax money that comes from higher density projects has a lot to do with these forms of investment. To put a lot of money into an area which fights all new development projects defeats 50% of the intent.

by Tysons Engineer on Feb 14, 2012 11:11 am • linkreport

Didn't we pretty much completely discredit that report a couple weeks ago? Many of the fundamental assumptions it made regarding increased commercial and residential development/demand where beyond pie in the sky. It was nearly atmospheric assumptions.

The streetcar proponents are hanging their argument on two things in supporting this system, economic development and transportation. The problem is that for our situation, it is going to perform poorly at both. Conversley there are much more effective, efficient and significantly cheaper methods to acheive both goals, independantly or together.

The problem is the streetcar proponents don't want to hear it.

by freely on Feb 14, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

Instead, Wisconsin Avenue needs bus priority treatment. Dedicated lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, off-board payment, and more limited stop service...

Other than the dedicated lanes, isn't this happening with the TIGER Grant?

by Neil Flanagan on Feb 14, 2012 11:29 am • linkreport

David-- I enjoy your blog and I'm posting this before reading what you've written (always dangerous) but I will repeat what I posted on Dan Maloof's streetcar article this past week.

Along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor you have the following either planned or under construction:

*Department of Homeland Security's Nebraska Avenue campus expansion
*American U. campus plan (including relocating the Washington College of Law to Tenley Circle)
*Tenley Safeway
*Babe's Billiards
*Cathedral Commons
*Georgetown campus plan/expansion

There is also the possibility of relocating the western bus garage in Frienship Heights and developing that parcel that currently has room for a fleet of 130 buses.

What is desperately needed for the Wisconsin Avenue corridor now, especially between Tenley and Friendship Heights is a small area plan to identify opportunities for more walkable, infill development next to the metro stations at Friendship Hts and Tenley.

by Ben on Feb 14, 2012 11:30 am • linkreport

The Wisconsin Avenue corridor is also one of the most affluent parts of the District. Although there are more than 15,000 daily boardings on the 30s buses, there are many people who continue to drive because of the stigma or real/preceived lack of comfort or convenience of the buses. A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route could also likely attract a significant number of discretionary riders who currently drive instead of using transit.

by Ben on Feb 14, 2012 11:39 am • linkreport

The argument the car folks seem to have a hard time with is that any rational analysis shows our quality of life and economic viability will suffer greatly if we don't start the transition towards a non-car centric future.

Eventually having dedicated lines will be a must, but for now that cure might kill the patient, but the patient is not doing well. As for the NW nimby's, I contend that if the political classes don't demand the same sacrafice from them as they demand from the more economically challenged, there will larger issues to deal with ahead. Don't they charge a fee New York and London for some car traffic now?

by Thayer-D on Feb 14, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

DC treats Ward 3 like the goose that laid the golden egg. Without infrastructure investment it will continue to be an affluent area, obviously, but it will not live up to its potential. Some stretches of Wisconsin Avenue are already looking pretty shabby.

In any event, the argument that streetcars are more about economic development than transportation seems pretty cynical to me. Building a genuinely useful transportation network -- whether that's for drivers, cyclists, or transit users -- will ultimately make DC a more livable and prosperous community. But targeting streetcars at neighborhoods where they can attract the most development merely pushes investment dollars around.

by jimble on Feb 14, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

"Experiences in other cities have shown that a streetcar makes many people more willing to live, eat and shop along a corridor, though."

Comparing a new streetcar in a city with no fixed rail transit with DC just isn't apples-to-apples. A young person in, say, Tempe who wants to live in a cool, transit friendly place has no choice but to live on their (planned) streetcar line. But the average person in DC would much rather live near a Metrorail station than a streetcar line. Further, in many cases, these famed streetcar revivals were due in no small part to upzoning on these corridors. As for permanence, how about those streetcar tracks in Georgetown?

by pikespotter on Feb 14, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

I would also add that, like high speed rail in CA, the planned streetcar nextwork is a long-term investment. It won't be at least ten years before construction could even begin on a Wisocnsin Avenue route. The lifecycle of this asset is also probably 30-40 years. In that time, many of today's current NIMBYs in Ward 3 will have relocated.

Similarly, in that time, the Tenley Post Office and Fannie Mae properties might become available for development.

by Ben on Feb 14, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

The idea of a value-capture tax scheme is utterly offensive. First of all, if property value increases due to proximity to transit, then property taxes rise as well. Second, how are property owners supposed to pay this increased tax? The increased value is not realized until the property is sold.

by BS_Dawg on Feb 14, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

freely - we demolished it with assertions that the same increases in density could be accomplished with direct subsidies (eg property tax holidays) and upzoning. Ignoring the opposition that densification without added transit would elicit. I think thats more pie in the sky than most of what was in the OP study.

@pike
wrt existing metro stations - well yeah, but those are rapidly being built out, are they not? Some already, others will likely be in the next 5 to 10 years. At most I could see slowing the implemenation of the street cars to time in better to build out. Given financial constraints, the implementation is likely to be slow anyway.

wrt upzoning - yeah, but the point of Davids post is that transit gives you the leverage to smooth upzoning.

Permanence - yeah, street cars were not permanent in the years between 1930 and 1965. We know. Where in the world have they been abandoned in the period since 1970? That seems to be more relevant to RE decision makers.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 12:00 pm • linkreport

"The increased value is not realized until the property is sold. "

not if you own an office building or apartment building. The value as soon as leases expire, when market clearing rents are increased.

Yes, for owner occupied housing, if it were applied to those folks at all, some mechanism would be needed to avoid hitting them before they realized gains.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

Another potential benefit of a Wisconsin Avenue route is that it could significantly relieve capacity on the Red and Orange/Blue lines. If a streetcar starting in Friendship Heights and Tenley connected to the planned K Street route, it could give people going to Foggy Bottom, Farragut West and other destinations in the West End an alternative to the Red Line and a transfer at Metro Center. This will be an increasingly beneficial part of a Wisc Ave route at both the Red Line and the Orange/Blue lines become more crowded.

by Ben on Feb 14, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

Several commenters are justifying the Wisconsin Avenue streetcar on the basis that a number of new developments are being built or proposed along a 4 mile corridor. But how does that compare to other future streetcar lines, say Georgia Avenue, which is about the same length?

You've got Progression Place in Shaw, Howard Town Center and other stuff the university wants to put on their parking lots, the eventual Park Morton development, new apartments on top of the Petworth Metro, a new Walmart at Missouri Avenue, Walter Reed - and if the line goes to Silver Spring, all of the stuff being built there.

And that's just one line. How much development is happening along the H Street line between North Capitol and 15th St NE? Or along the M Street SE/SW line? It's not just that Wisconsin Avenue is filled with NIMBYs. The corridor is mostly built out, preventing opportunities for future development.

Not that I don't think Wisconsin Avenue shouldn't happen, but it's arguably a lower priority than the other lines. (If it does happen, though, I say it should go to Bethesda, allowing it to provide local-stop service along the Red Line between Bethesda and Tenleytown where you can't currently take a bus from end to end, but also to connect with the Purple Line.

by dan reed! on Feb 14, 2012 12:09 pm • linkreport

I continue to contend that the TIF aspects of streetcars have been wildly oversold.

To the extent that streetcars become a widespread network in DC, you're looking at incremental increases in taxes over large swaths of the City. At some point, it becomes a tax increase rather than a real financing mechanism.

Second, this assumes no negative impact on property values elsewhere in the City that may result from redirecting development focus. These "extra" revenues may net out, at least in part, against lost revenues elsewhere off the streetcar lines.

Third, it's easier to realize increases in taxable value from commercial property than residential. Commercial operates on a different investment model. If the streetcar increases cash flow, that's available to pay the taxes. For residential, the homeowner sees zero extra income from the streetcar. The only way to capture the benefit is to sell. So you're displacing the current residents as the real estate taxes rise. If I'm a current resident, I have mixed feelings about that tradeoff.

by Crickey7 on Feb 14, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

Great analysis. Couldn't agree with it more. We need to create a virtuous circle of streetcar oriented development that raises the revenue to pay for the next segment of streetcars. Otherwise, you're just spending down your capital without replenishing it with new funds.

Pikespotter-- young people can't afford to live near metro in this city. That's why streetcars make sense because it attracts the well educated and upwardly mobile to new areas like H st which then get revitalized.

Jimble-- private investment dollars aren't zero sum. Its nit like investors have a fixed sum that they're going to invest in DC. If areas don't do the things necesary to make themselves attractive to investors, they will just shift their investment dollars to VA, MD, other states or places like China.

by Falls Church on Feb 14, 2012 12:13 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: Where in the world have they been abandoned in the period since 1970?

The A-branch of the Green line, in Boston was abandoned in 1994.

by goldfish on Feb 14, 2012 12:17 pm • linkreport

"Second, this assumes no negative impact on property values elsewhere in the City that may result from redirecting development focus. These "extra" revenues may net out, at least in part, against lost revenues elsewhere off the streetcar lines."

I think the implicit assumption is that other areas are, or will soon be, built out (given what they can realistically be zoned to without more transit) and that regional growth will continue.

"The only way to capture the benefit is to sell. So you're displacing the current residents as the real estate taxes rise. If I'm a current resident, I have mixed feelings about that tradeoff."

Wouldn't that apply to improvements in the educational system, or reductions in the crime rate as well? Does anyone argue against investments in DCPS because improvements would lead to higher RE taxes as assessments increase?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

@goldfish - you win the technically correct, but irrelevant to the issue at hand award! passenger service on that line was discontinued in 1969. The tracks were retained to access a car maintenance facility. I doubt very much that the 1994 shift in vehicle maintenance is a precedent that much influences someone making an investment decision in an office building or apt building near a street car line today.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church: I agree it's not a zero sum game, but actually improving mobility and livability throughout the District with a comprehensive (and comprehensible) transportation plan will attract a lot more investment over the long haul than a "gee look at the pretty tracks, I'm going to put a building there" economic development strategy.

by jimble on Feb 14, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: you win the technically correct, but irrelevant to the issue at hand award!

The abandonment of the A-branch was fought over for years. The tracks were there, but the residents really did not want them.

This is relevant, because of the implication that any recently laid streetcar tracks are permanent, and moreover, that the 1960s mistake of abandoning streetcars will not be repeated. See for example section 1A, which has already been laid, but probably will see little use. It would not surprise me if that section were abandoned.

So bottom line, the proposed "capture" tax to pay for the streetcars needs to consider that some of the branches may not be successful.

by goldfish on Feb 14, 2012 12:38 pm • linkreport

The green line A service was ended in the post war abandonment. Debate continued only about revival of an already discontinued service. I don't think you can seperate that debate from the pre 1970 discontinuation.

wrt to 1A, I dont know what its future is. I dont know that the future of a stub like that will impact the RE investment decisions made on central corridors like H Street or Georgia Avenue.

The fact is that numerous studies show that RE investors DO value street cars, and highly. You can argue that they SHOULDN'T. That seems as silly to me as arguing that folks SHOULDN'T value living in a SFH on a quarter acre lot.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 12:49 pm • linkreport

A streetcar that runs in mixed traffic should not be compared to a bus that gets its own lane. A BRT lane should be compared to a light rail line with cars excluded.

Several of the corridors in this study seem long enough that the most appropriate treatment would be light rail in its own right of way with fairly widely spaced stops. In such a corridor, you would need less frequent local buses to make intermediate stops.

If there is not the political will to take a lane away from cars to build light rail, the will certainly will not exist to take it away for less prestigious buses. A streetcar cannot be compared to BRT.

by Ben Ross on Feb 14, 2012 1:10 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: The fact is that numerous studies show that RE investors DO value street cars, and highly. I never suggested otherwise.

In fact, if all of the lines are successful, that would be disappointing. Risk = reward. If all routes were successful, that means only on "safe" corridors had streetcars built for them. I think a bit of risk is called for: the highest gain in property values will occur if the routes are built in lower-value (i.e., riskier) neighborhoods. Like H street was.

by goldfish on Feb 14, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity: "Wouldn't that apply to improvements in the educational system, or reductions in the crime rate as well? Does anyone argue against investments in DCPS because improvements would lead to higher RE taxes as assessments increase?"

I think you're missing the point. A value-capture tax is a double tax. First, RE taxes increase because of the increase in property values. (And that's okay). But to add on top of the increased property tax a second, value-capture tax which residents would have to pay, despite not enjoying an increased cash flow. It's different for businesses, which do see a day-to-day cash flow increase due to transit proximity. For residential property owners, it is a hardship.

Oh, and by the way, if you think that there is opposition now to street cars, Purple Line, etc., just wait until the government starts telling the homeowners within a one mile radius that they get to pay an extra tax for the privilege. Good luck with that...

by BS_Dawg on Feb 14, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

"Wouldn't that apply to improvements in the educational system, or reductions in the crime rate as well? Does anyone argue against investments in DCPS because improvements would lead to higher RE taxes as assessments increase?"

We don't finance those investments by increasing the taxes specifcally on the benefitted areas. The points remains that the current residents are driven out by more quickly and more assuredly this way.

by Crickey7 on Feb 14, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

@crickey

the benefits of transit, ESPECIALLY to owners of property capable of high density redevelopment, are very high, and are very concentrated geographically. Property taxes are inadequate to capturing them - see TMTfairfax's posts wrt Tysons Corner.

@ BS Dawg and Crickey - you both seem to be assuming that a value capture tax would be applied to home owners. I personally doubt very much that that would happen - IIUC most such taxes are applied to owners of commercial property and land suitable for large scale redevelopment. Some mechanism could be found to avoid applying it to invidual homes.

@crickey - assuming that no value capture is added for private homes - all that is involved is increasing property tax assessments. That, indeed, is completely comparable to improvements in local schools.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

"To pay for the streetcar, DC should set up mechanisms to capture this added value from the neighborhoods that benefit. Before promising a line to any corridor, policymakers should work with local businesses and residents to set up a financing plan."

That's the way the point was originally framed. Further, I don't know if it's clear that you could finance it without the tax base of residential properties.

by Crickey7 on Feb 14, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

It would hardly make sense to exclude local residents from the discussion, even if the tax were not to apply to owner occupied properties, would it?

I am not sure that including owner occupied residential properties is actually necessary. But I may have a different view of what makes an optimal corridor than some.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

You know, if streetcars were such a good deal, then local businesses could band together (such as CHAMPS) and pay for it themselves.

by goldfish on Feb 14, 2012 2:04 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

and businesses that don't belong could free ride.

when other businesses try to socially pressure them for free riding, they will assert that they think street cars are bad, buses are better, etc, etc. Meanwhile watching their profits increase.

Thats why this is a governmental function.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 2:17 pm • linkreport

The problem with this assessment is this statement: "The streetcar, ultimately, is an economic development tool with transportation benefits, rather than strictly a mobility tool."

Buses, conversely, are not just strictly a mobility tool. Upgrading bus service would likely result in economic development on the same par as assumed in the study. The Euclid corridor in Cleveland, for example, has seen significant investment.

By modernizing the bus service on these routes, you could get both mobility and economic development. It is sad that people continue to be biased against this towards a plan that will leave people stuck in traffic, and it is even sadder that tax dollars could potentially be redirected away from the city's strapped general fund.

by norb on Feb 14, 2012 2:30 pm • linkreport

I don't see why having large parcel owners contribute to transit would be so hard - it worked for the NY Avenue Metro stop, and quite well I might add.

by H Street Landlord on Feb 14, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

None of us are going to see a comprehensive streetcar system in our lifetimes, and we all know it.

by Happy VA Commuter on Feb 14, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

David wrote at the beginning that streetcars "aren't strictly a mobility tool". The way he wrote this article, someone should remind him that they aren't strictly an economic development tool, either.

by Froggie on Feb 14, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

@Froggie

Agreed. Streetcars with the policy changes required to make surface transit successful (which are largely independent of mode and technology) are both an econ dev tool and a mobility tool.

Framing these as mutually exclusive outcomes (economic development vs mobility) is a) a bad policy choice and b) a false dichotomy.

by Alex B. on Feb 14, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

@ Walker - If the assumption is that near-Metro development will be built out someday, why does one need streetcars for development? The point is that streetcars aren't needed to foster development, upzoning and reliable/frequent bus service will likely get there far more cheaply.
@ Falls Church - if the point of streetcars is to make places more desirable, rent there will go up. You can't have an increased tax base without higher rents too.
@ Ben Ross - the dedicated right-of-way is so easily ignored by many, and it puzzles me too. I guess it's just that streetcars are cute.

by pikespotter on Feb 14, 2012 5:46 pm • linkreport

@pikespotter - fallacy that Streetcars are more expensive. Labor costs are significantly lower, less damage to roads than buses, they last longer, higher ridership etc.

by H Street Landlord on Feb 14, 2012 5:48 pm • linkreport

@ pikespotter - Why are you so against streetcars? You are constantly arguing against them everywhere including your own site which seems to have been created for the express purpose of arguing against the Columbia Pike streetcar line. What gives?

by Chris R on Feb 14, 2012 5:57 pm • linkreport

"@ Walker - If the assumption is that near-Metro development will be built out someday, why does one need streetcars for development? The point is that streetcars aren't needed to foster development, upzoning and reliable/frequent bus service will likely get there far more cheaply"

Its not all clear that bus service will be an adequate substitute

A. fewer choice riders will use the bus (we can argue till the cows come home why) That means more auto usage, which means less density can be accommodated without over burdening local streets

B. A as volumes of buses increases, they will themselves impact neighborhoods negatively - note the discussion above on streetcars vs buses for wisconsin ave, and on 8th street

C. independently, buses are less likely to persuade antidevelopment neighborhood orgs than are streetcars, afaict

D. Buses are less likely to make neighborhoods in the District competetive with heavy rail TOD in the suburbs. My sense is that TOD suitable metrorail zones in the district will be built out before such zones in the rest of the metro area.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 6:00 pm • linkreport

oh and

E. its not only TOD in the suburbs. Its non transit development in the suburbs. While bus served walkable areas will appeal to some, its likely less than for transit. Net, you will have fewer living in TOD, broadly defined.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 14, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

@ H Street Landlord - the numbers on streetcars vs. buses over time are very dicey to me, and note that DC just had to pay way more than expected in initial up front capital. Not a debate that can be settled here (and may very well be project specific), but government needs to be up front and transparent with cost projections so that the public can review whether (and when) your statement is true. I'm a skeptic but could be convinced.
@ Chris R - mostly for the same reasons that Jarret Walker is a skeptic. Maybe easier to say what I'm for: fast, reliable, transit in a cost effective manner. Without a dedicated lane, streetcars don't provide that, so money is better spent on other transit projects. Trying to find more topics for site though, thanks for comment.

by pikespotter on Feb 14, 2012 6:30 pm • linkreport

@ pikespotter - I will do some more reading of Jarret but as far as the pike goes I think streetcars to carry the local people coupled with limited stop express bus service along with Circulator type frequency on the north south arteries (Glebe, Walter Reed, etc) would be the solution. You can't physically add any more buses and articulated buses don't carry enough people and break down a lot more.

by Chris R on Feb 14, 2012 8:01 pm • linkreport

@AWitC & DA: After an errand to H St last night, I was reminded of the three year construction period, during which time many businesses were stressed, if not destroyed outright. So yes this is a government function (as is all transportation), but businesses that benefit from streetcars may already invest enough when they go through the construction.

Point of this article is to advocate a new tax based on the increase in land value. If you are going all-out bean counter, you should deduct the cost to landowners during construction, which is substantial.

by goldfish on Feb 15, 2012 8:51 am • linkreport

@goldfish

Thats reasonable. The impact on an existing retailer is going to be more mixed than on someone who owns a vacant lot that can be redeveloped, and the impact on someone right on the street being redone is different than on someone a half block away. The current models for value recapture that I am aware of (like Tysons) are oriented towards heavy rail and owners of large parcels with the potential for big multiuse projects, not streetcars and local retailers. An exploration of recapture models that fit the street car scenario better would probably be very helpful.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 15, 2012 9:11 am • linkreport

Wrong Goldfish. The reason the rebuild of the street (not the installation of the tracks) took three years was that they completely redid the road, the utilities the sidewalks etc. That is not attributable to streetcar construction.

by H Street Landlord on Feb 15, 2012 9:13 am • linkreport

do we ever consider that streetcars mean ugly overhead wires?

by bbop on Feb 15, 2012 11:02 am • linkreport

@H Street Landlord, yes I know about how the tracks were piggy-backed onto the street reconstruction. But: to install streetcar tracks, you pretty much have to re-do the entire street anyway. So the cost an impact is the same.

by goldfish on Feb 15, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

In response to the comments that choice riders will not ride buses, those individuals should look at the ridership increases that are occurring on 16th Street NW with the limited stop Route S9 service and Georgia Avenue on the Route 79.

With respect to streetcar service in long corridors, the use of a dedicated right-of-way should be required. No passenger would needs to travel to work will ride on a slow mode in mixed traffic if they have a choice. In other large North American cities with streetcar lines, all new routes were placed in dedicated lanes including the F Line in San Francisco along the Embarcadero waterfront and in Toronto on Dundas Street and along the Downtown waterfront.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 15, 2012 11:41 am • linkreport

Brining a line to Wisconsin ave depends on what you see as the purpose of returning streetcars to the District.
If the reason is economic development - certainly other corridors easily win out. That doesn't mean there is not room for growth along Wisconsin - becuase there is a lot of potential for infill and increased density.
If the purpose is to create a sustainable urban environment - then Wisconsin makes a lot of sense. Yes it goes through several affluent neighborhoods. The population is incredibly auto dependent which contributes to congestion, pollution and strangles development inside the district.
In developing infrastructure for this and the next century we all need to look at ways of making sure the infrastructure is sustainable and serves the largest swath of our community as possible. Streetcars and other mass transit does that much more so than wider streets and other auto-centric projects.

What is key in planning for future growth in the transit networks in the District is to creat linkages across the city. We desperately need a circle line (streetcar, metro or BRT) that moves residents easily around the city without having to go into the center. This would even out density and promore more equal distribution of development.

by andy2 on Feb 15, 2012 12:28 pm • linkreport

I want Streetcards on Wisconsin Avenues. I would ride those before the 30 buses.

by Rain17 on Feb 16, 2012 12:15 am • linkreport

As much as I love finding means to get people out of cars and on transit, I have to say as a former DC resident and current San Francisco resident that unless streetcars have a dedicated ROW the ride is painfully slow when transit vehicles share the road. Wisconsin Ave. needs a metro line to connect Upper NW with Georgetown and the Ballston corridor. Add in a separated blue line in Georgetown and we're talking about reducing the VA to MD metro commute as well as grabbing new riders along Wisconsin Ave.

by Mark on Feb 16, 2012 12:56 pm • linkreport

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