Greater Greater Washington

DC finishes streetcar.... website

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is stepping up its communication around the streetcar project, with a new website, a meeting to update residents last night, and better efforts to engage neighbors on issues like the maintenance facility on Benning Road.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

A lot of work is actually going on to get the streetcar ready, but most residents don't see it. That's because one of the most visible pieces, installing tracks, happened first. It also happened extra early because DC was already planning to rebuild H Street.

It made sense to simply install tracks at the same time the city already rebuilt the road. However, this timing also meant that the tracks went in, followed by more behind-the-scenes work.

DDOT will be testing streetcars on a certification track on South Capitol Street, as well as finishing the designs for the car barn, starting studies on extending the line east and west, and much more.

Residents might be more able to keep up on what's going on with a website DDOT launched today for the project.

Oh, and does the above screen capture mean that DDOT has selected "District At Your Doorstep" as the streetcar tagline?

The website includes a presentation from last night's meeting. It includes updates on the work to construct the western turnaround at Union Station, a power substation at 12th and H, a pocket track on Benning Road, and the eastern turnaround at Oklahoma Avenue this year.

Also on the matter of communication, DDOT has withdrawn the car barn designs from tomorrow's HPRB meeting. In a letter to preservation staff, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy writes:

It came to our attention over the weekend that several individuals, including Area [sic] Neighborhood Commissioners and other key neighborhood stakeholders were unable to view the presentation/application submitted by DDOT to the Board. In immediate response to the inquiries received we posted the concept drawings on the DDOT and DC Streetcar Program websites for review on Monday, February 25. We feel that appearing before the Board on Thursday, February 28, will not provide the stakeholder community with adequate review time.

Therefore, in an effort to allow for sufficient review time, we respectfully request that a hearing on the concept drawings be moved to the next regular Board meeting currently scheduled for March 28, 2013. Our goal, as an agency, is to be forthcoming with our community partners as we move through this process and we believe postponing our review date will assist with these efforts.

It did seem odd that DDOT has shown two sets of renderings to the federal Commission on Fine Arts and HPO but had little public outreach about the designs. They have met with a number of ANCs and community associations, though. The new design looks fine and should go ahead, but public input is an important component as well.
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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Its not clear from the powerpoint how the union station "turnaround" takes place. It shows a stop outside of the station but that doesn't seem to represent any real integration with the station. If this is the case and its permanent, they've missed a huge opportunity to make this mode of transport immediately relevant on many levels, i.e. utility, efficiency, effectiveness, etc. Once again, the devil is in the details and this particular shortcoming is the difference maker.

by Ben on Feb 27, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

+1 Ben

by Adam L on Feb 27, 2013 12:50 pm • linkreport

I'm pretty sure the union station stop/turnaround isn't permanent mainly because the longterm plan is to have the hopscotch, H st, bridge rebuilt in conjunction with the burnham place development/union station rebuild. Well that and the line will eventually extend downtown.

by jj on Feb 27, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

At the meeting they were careful to call this an "interim connection" to Union Station because 1) they don't know what route the streetcar will take to get to Union Station (Mass Ave is still an option) and 2) the aforementioned reconstruction of the Hopscotch Bridge.

Plus, the turnaround is only going to have one set of tracks, so even if they do keep running down H Street they're going to have to rebuild that section anyway to have separate eastbound and westbound tracks on both sides of the road.

There is going to be a short bit with two tracks so that disabled streetcars don't block the line and so streetcars can pass in case of delays just west of 3rd Street on the portion of the bridge that sits on compacted fill.

by Peter K on Feb 27, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

They also mentioned that the outbound bus driveway will be upgraded to a full signal with a pedestrian crosswalk connecting the median streetcar terminal to the sidewalks on both sides of the street. The contractor and Union Station are coordinating on improving the pedestrian path through the bus deck between the future streetcar station and the concourse.

by Peter K on Feb 27, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

Nothing about the Union Station turnaround is permanent. It's just a matter of "how not permanent" we want to talk about. I do hope that the interim solution works well though....

Eventually, we'll get a Metro entrance on the bridge. Hopefully this will happen sooner, rather than later. Funding for this has been proposed and axed a few times already.

Eventually, the tracks will run over the bridge and connect to additional trackage in NW. Union Station will no longer be a terminus for the streetcar. I wouldn't be surprised if the crossovers remained.

Eventually, the hopscotch bridge will be rebuilt or extensively refurbished. It's been on DDOT's long-term wishlist for years, and they're going to want to do it before...

Eventually, the Burnham Place air-rights development will put buildings on both sides of the bridge (making it significantly less bridge-like)

Eventually, Amtrak will get their $7 billion, and the new northern entrance to Union Station will be built in place of the paring garage. (A far less ambitious version of this plan already existed before Amtrak laid out their grand vision, so the money's good that this will actually happen. Union Station's eventually going to need the extra capacity that a second entrance and concourse will allow)

by andrew on Feb 27, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

Hmm well I'm glad they prioritized the North-south route along with H St- Georgetown. If they want to maximize the investment they are going to have to build some structured parking at the ends or zone areas to let developers do so. I hope get to the full system. Some of the later stages offer a lot more in the way of growing the housing stock and economic development potential. My wish list would include the Georgetown line turning up Wisconsin (all the way to the Purple like terminus in Bethesda).

by Alan B. on Feb 27, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the updates Andrew/Peter. Its good to see this is still an important concern.

by Ben on Feb 27, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

@Ben

My post was pure speculation.

I support this project, but its planning has quite frequently defied logic, so I'm not sure that my guesses are actually any good.

Oh, and parking isn't going to do much good. LRT and streetcars rarely lure people away from their cars directly. Nobody's going to drive halfway to board the streetcar.

DC's streetcar network is going to fill the gaps between Metro lines, and relieve crowded bus corridors. We already have a good system for rapidly getting people in and out of the city, and there's no good reason to add a second system that does the same job half as well.

The streetcar network should be planned to capitalize on the inherent strengths of the mode. It's cheap to build, fits into small spaces, and is more efficient than a bus.

by andrew on Feb 27, 2013 3:07 pm • linkreport

Re: parking, I definitely see your point but I have to respectfully disagree that it's not worth at least analyzing. Termini in Takoma, Rhode Island/Eastern, and Congress Heights could all be considered. Georgetown is probably not feasible nor any of the inner circle metro stations good candidates. The street cars supplement Metro but they also facilitate trips to areas that aren't currently metro accessible. There are park and rides for commuter buses in plenty of places. If they could roll it into some TOD planning, all the better.

by Alan B. on Feb 27, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

Excellent comments @Peter and @Andrew.

Glad to see the DC Streetcar team further lay out the exact construction needed to happen to get the line up and running. Wouldn't be surprised if it is doing so no later than Q1 2014.

Re the streetcar barn, any idea if it will possibly be constructed offsite in a factory and then brought in? They do high quality construction like that now and it could help with getting it done quickly...

by H Street LL on Feb 27, 2013 5:49 pm • linkreport

@ andrew

When looking at plans for many routes they do not fill in the gaps of metrorail. One some of the routes pass metro stations on the same line that's not filling in gaps.

If you overlayed the streetcar planned routes over a DC map you would see that it does not fill in gaps as some areas that need service are not near Metrorail to begin with. If they were truly trying to filling in the gaps there would be streetcars on every major street in DC. Areas that are or near Ft. Lincoln, New York Ave, DC/MD border all would be places to fill in gaps but none are even mentioned in plans.

Most of the lines are basically bus routes or a combination of bus routes that were discontinued over the years. The benning rd/h street line is basically the former x4 bus route; the other planned routes are just combinations of already present bus routes. They do not give service to areas not served and basically duplicate current bus service or bus service with one transfer

by kk` on Feb 27, 2013 9:09 pm • linkreport

RE: ANC outreach. The streetcar/DDOT team needs to realize that they need to butter up Bernice Blacknell (the commissioner who represents the area where the streetcar barn will likely go) in order to get things to progress forward. She's very protective of "her" area, but I think she can be worked with.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 1, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

Why not remove the Hopscotch (H St.) Bridge entirely, and restore the tunnel to take H St. and the light rail under the railroad tracks? As it was before the H St. Bridge was built.

by Dave on Mar 19, 2013 9:22 am • linkreport

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