Greater Greater Washington

Can DDOT build a streetcar network in 5 years?

DDOT thinks they may be able to build a 22-mile streetcar system in just 5 years. Is that really possible?


The 22-mile priority streetcar network. Image from DDOT.

Although DC has planned a 37-mile streetcar network, planners are currently focusing strongly on the first 22 miles. The H Street line is under construction and in the home stretch, while planning has started for the crosstown line and the north-south line.

Project spokesman Dara Ward says DDOT hopes to build the 22-mile system in 5 years. That's optimistic, but possible.

Streetcars are relatively easy to build. Actual construction can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the specifics. Planning and engineering take a couple of years as well. But if funding is ready, there's no controversy, and everything moves along on schedule, 5 years is about how long it should take.

If that seems impossible based on how long it's taken H Street, remember that H Street is atypical. DDOT installed streetcar tracks there in 2009, years before the planning was really done, because they were rebuilding the street anyway and didn't want to go to the expense of tearing it up twice.

So really H Street planning and construction came in two separate phases. Each phase took a couple of years. If it had all been done at once, it wouldn't have started until more recently, and likely could have been done within about 5 years.

It does often take longer. But usually the big holdups are politics or funding. Those issues can tie any project up for decades. And the first line is always the hardest.

But after discussing streetcars for years, DC seems to have the money and politics pretty well worked out. If they stay the course and focus strongly on moving forward, 5 years is doable.

Difficult and optimistic, yes. But not a complete fantasy.

Update: DDOT spokesperson Dara Ward clarifies that the 5 year estimate is for construction only, and doesn't begin until planning is complete. - 10.1.2013
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for Arlington County, but his blog posts represent only his own personal views. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives car-free in Washington. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post

Comments

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Hasnt the Anacostia line been under construction since 2007?

That one isnt even in a street

by JJJJ on Sep 30, 2013 1:34 pm • linkreport

Yes. This is how DC can alleviate the lack of supply that's so bedevling rents in our area. Put the manpower behind this proposal with is about 30 late as it is. Make it a priority and development will bloom on it's back. Look at the money that's lined up on the Purple line. You don't have to fit everything into downtown DC as long as you give people a reliable transit connection to the rest of our large and beautiful city/region.

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport


The new trend is street cars WITHOUT overhead wires. But DC Council, always behind the trend, will stubbornly go against the L'Enfant Plan.

DC Govt can take a lesson from Bordeaux, which recently installed a streetcar line using underground power technology in its city centre b/c to avoid obstructing views.

by Burd on Sep 30, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

One city does not a trend make.

And its kind of unfair that the ban on overhead wires is called the L'enfant plan. L'enfant probably would be shocked and amazed at how we use electricity to power mass transit vehicles, eliminating the city streets of horse manure.

The law banning overhead wires was passed in 1889. Maybe it's time to revisit parts of that law and see what works and what doesn't.

by drumz on Sep 30, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

I thought the capital budget presented this past Spring said completion of the Benning rd to Georgetown line ONLY wihtin 6 years, completion of engineering on the anacostia line, and completion of studies on the norht south line. How did we get to all three lines complete by 2019?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 2:01 pm • linkreport

It seems like that was a discussion of what could be done by having a single contractor - not a realistic financial/political timetable.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 2:03 pm • linkreport

@Burd: The new trend is street cars WITHOUT overhead wires. But DC Council, always behind the trend, will stubbornly go against the L'Enfant Plan.

Actually, I think you'll find that Pierre L'Enfant (and Andrew Ellicott) never had anything whatsoever to say about overhead streetcar wires.

by iaom on Sep 30, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

One way to speed the process up is when you hold a public meeting outlining the route and the details allow people to submit written questions/statements. When those make arguments that boil down to:

"I'm going to lose my parking"
"It's an outdated technology"
"This is all part of 'the plan'"
"DC is anti-car"
"A bus is just as good"

Then you can feel free to ignore those. They've already been brought up enough, we don't need to re hash it every time a new line is proposed.

by drumz on Sep 30, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

@Burd
The new trend is street cars WITHOUT overhead wires. But DC Council, always behind the trend, will stubbornly go against the L'Enfant Plan.
These types of street cars can run on wires, batteries, or underground wireless transmission (which can get expensive).

Being smart would involve using cheaper wires in less affluent areas, batteries in short jaunts through history neighborhoods, and expensive underground transmission in the historic core. As they are right now only building things along H street and Annacostia I think they are in the right to use wires.

by Richard B on Sep 30, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

Sure it could be built in 5 years, but there is no way they will get through a public process in that time.

by BTA on Sep 30, 2013 2:14 pm • linkreport

Considering DC is what, 3 years behind on its current alignment, I would venture a good guess that it would take a minimum of 9-12 years to get it in (serious administration support is assumed), and at a price of atleast twice what DDOT has advertised.

by CHeights on Sep 30, 2013 2:17 pm • linkreport

*Sigh* and how many miles of this involves a separate right-of-way? (Spoiler alert: not nearly enough.)

by MetroDerp on Sep 30, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

There is just so much god-awful planning involved in the streetcar project - including this line - that it's difficult to know where to start. But I'll confine it to two things for now.

First off, why not just expand Metro (especially by creating a line as described in my second point)? The main reason is that it's more expensive. But has any analysis been undertaken regarding whether a Metro line's increased utility and capacity would offset the costs?

Second, why are we prioritizing a line that (according to the description on the DC Streetcar web site) is largely redundant of the green line between Petworth and Waterfront stations? Why not at least run it up North Capitol, around Washington Hospital Center, and THEN up Georgia past Walter Reed? This would give residents on the east side of the city much better transit options, and would enhance connectivity between the Red and Green Lines. It would also run past the planned development at McMillan.

by Eponymous on Sep 30, 2013 2:31 pm • linkreport

But has any analysis been undertaken regarding whether a Metro line's increased utility and capacity would offset the costs?

It wouldn't unless there were some plan to massively upzone around those Metro stations. Also it's a moot point since there's no money for more Metro.

Second, why are we prioritizing a line that (according to the description on the DC Streetcar web site) is largely redundant of the green line between Petworth and Waterfront stations?

Because it's actually not largely redundant of the Green Line. The Georgia Avenue corridor is one of the most heavily used bus lines in the city - so it's not taking trips away from Metro.

Why not at least run it up North Capitol, around Washington Hospital Center, and THEN up Georgia past Walter Reed?

Because there isn't a commercial corridor along there that people want to access. The Georgia Avenue alignment also serves the hospital center - it puts it well within a half mile of the streetcar. An alignment on North Capitol seems proposed mainly to just fill a gap where there currently is no access to Metro. For the streetcar to be successful, it needs to hit multiple activity centers and places people live, because that's where people travel. North Capitol definitely needs better bus service before a streetcar line.

It would also run past the planned development at McMillan.

Correct, and it seems ever more likely that that development is going to amount to very little because of neighborhood opposition.

by MLD on Sep 30, 2013 3:13 pm • linkreport

Having seen how dangerous streetcars are for bicyclists who can get their tires caught in the tracks and fall over (potentially into traffic) I hope these streetcar plans get shelved.

by Sam on Sep 30, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

@Eponymous:

First off, why not just expand Metro (especially by creating a line as described in my second point)? The main reason is that it's more expensive.
s
The answer to that question is the same as the answer to "Why run a Circulator bus when you can just expand Metro bus service?"

WMATA is dominated by MD and VA interests, and so serves primarily as a commuter system. It will never be primarily focused on the needs of DC residents. A streetcar system will.

by oboe on Sep 30, 2013 3:26 pm • linkreport

Sam,

Surely we can just look at what the literally dozens of other cities with streetcars do about mixing streetcars and cyclists and apply best practices?

I need to add that to the list I have upthread. That along with the "what if a car stalls along the tracks?" argument.

by drumz on Sep 30, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

I would love to see a demonstration experiment done where streetcar wires get installed across the mall for a week on temporary poles just to see how bad the view gets destroyed. I suspect the visual pollution would be extremely negligible.

by NikolasM on Sep 30, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

@drumz
"Then you can feel free to ignore those."

You should study utopianism.

by erahk on Sep 30, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

"WMATA is dominated by MD and VA interests, and so serves primarily as a commuter system. "

It may not always have been thus, but as of now WMATA does not determine Metrorail expansion plans. Jurisdictions fund them seperately, and MWCOG loosely coordinates planning. Indeed its WMATA (which as system operator, is concerned with operations issues) which has been beating the drum most loudly for the seperate blue line.

It IS true that major capacity expansions (see the seperate blue line for example) will largely benefit the suburbs, and so would need to be financed cooperatively, and thats a tall order. I still beleive seperate blue line will happen, but for a variety of reasons, not for decades probably. An additional N-S heavy rail line would need a commitment from Maryland - as that level of investment is almost certainly not worthwhile for the district alone, given the density levels where it could run.

Street cars and BRT are the more logical approaches to filling in medium density, mostly short haul corridors between the existing metro lines.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport

note - thats not to say that VA/MD board representation may not bias certain operational considerations - I am sure DC residents would prefer that not ALL metro repair be done on weekends, say. I am referring only to capital expansion.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 3:46 pm • linkreport

Geez, we're back on the streetcar kick again? Listen, I lived in DC for many years...narrow streets, tons of traffic...riding the bus was a chore. But, at least a bus can move around traffic and has faster start up/slow down capabilities. I now live in San Francisco and have to deal with our fabulous surface light rail system...no dedicated ROW, slow as heck. Come on, DC. Let's take ourselves out of the early 20th century and come up with a better transit solution that streetcars. If anything, the Blue Line should be separated at Rosslyn, run under M St., etc.

by Mark on Sep 30, 2013 3:51 pm • linkreport

@Burd: although it is true that Bordeaux has about 30% of its system powered by APS, there's hardly a trend for streetcars without overhead wires. I wrote about overhead wires and French trams back in 2010. In addition to Bordeaux, Nice also used battery power for 11% of its system which was wire-free, but there were 14 systems that were 100% powered by overhead wires. All total, there were about 15 wire-free track-km out of more than 400 track-km country-wide.

Since the French keep building and expanding their tramways, the graph in that piece is a bit dated now, but the overall picture hasn't changed. Of the included systems, there have been almost 35km of extensions built (in Lyon, Nantes, Orleans, Paris, and Strasbourg), of which only 1km (in Orleans) was APS.

There are now seven additional cities with tram systems, with essentially the specifications listed in the table in the piece, although Tours did opt for a 1.8km APS section. All total, these new systems total 95.2km in length, of which 5.3km is APS. Notably, the French cities of Toulouse, Le Havre, Brest, and Dijon have all opened brand new systems in the past 3 years powered 100% by overhead wires.

Overall French tramway construction since the post has been 95% overhead wires, 5% APS.

As others have pointed out, L'Enfant said absolutely nothing about electric wires, probably because they weren't invented yet. The closest one can come is language about views of one governmental institution from another.

Popular lore, though, is that L'Enfant's vision was discarded until the McMillan commission came along. The McMillan commission did their work at the height of ugly wires in DC (see, for example, this picture from McKinley's inaugural parade, and the mass of wires along Pennsylvania Ave). But the McMillan report also says absolutely nothing about overhead wires either.

The notion that overhead wires are an affront to the original aesthetic vision for the city is entirely a modern one.

by thm on Sep 30, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

There is certainly room for seperated ROW on K St NW, and on M street SE-SW. Im not clear on where the lines would run N-S though.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Sep 30, 2013 3:54 pm • linkreport

@Eponymous
Second, why are we prioritizing a line that (according to the description on the DC Streetcar web site) is largely redundant of the green line between Petworth and Waterfront stations?

Because it isn't redundant with the green line. While it hits those two points it will spend most of its time far west of the Green Line and some of it east of it. To get to places west of the green line you either have to transfer to a bus, the red line(at Chinatown, around "the corner") or the orange/blue(crossing the mall twice).

Being able to go from Columbia Heights to Farragut Square with one comfortable ride would be great.

by Richard B on Sep 30, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

I highly doubt that you can build out a streetcar system in five years. I am sure that you can fully build out an upgraded bus system with prepaid fares, level boarding, designed stations, signal priority, queue jumping and more for much less money. It would also actually improve travel times on place s like Georgia ave and Rhode Island more than a street car. I love the streetcar so I guess whatever, but a better use of money would be getting serious about buses.

by Neb on Sep 30, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

On the subject of overhead wires, I thought that DC was moving toward putting them underground. Wasn't that the policy recommendation of the task force that Matthew Frumin, who ran for DC Council, served on? Instead, PEPCO is rapidly installing superpoles, which are 50 percent taller, in many residential neighborhoods, including historic districts. These are designed apparently to carry even more wires! I guess we shouldn't be surprised with this regressive trend, as long as perpetual candidate and former utility lobbyist Vincent Orange (D-PEPCO)looks out for PEPCO's interests on the DC Council.

by Jasper on Sep 30, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

The cost of the streetcars and expanding Metro aren't even comparable. Both need to happen but you can build the streetcar system for less than the cost of one underground Metro subway extension in the city.

by BTA on Sep 30, 2013 4:47 pm • linkreport

Build the 22 mile priority system in 5 years? I can't see how with the phases of EIS, design, public meetings, review, and political decision making that have to be done. If federal funding is part of the package, no way it gets built in 5 years. Maybe in 7 to 8 years.

While it would be nice to have the core system running sooner rather than later, it is also important to build it correctly. To me, that means as much of the routes through transitways and dedicated ROW as possible, especially through the crowded core streets. Are there any estimates on how much of the 22 mile system could be in dedicated ROW?

As for building new Metro lines, many people seem to overlook how a streetcar system for shorter trips & easier access can complement a Metro system used for longer trips. And fill in many gaps in local transit coverage that a new Metro line can't. If DC did not have the Metro system, the street car system would be of lessened utility.

by AlanF on Sep 30, 2013 5:16 pm • linkreport

I road the DC and NOVA streetcars with my parents in the late 1940's and 1950's. I look forward to their return as a feeder to our subway, no matter how long it takes.

by Dan Peacock on Sep 30, 2013 5:45 pm • linkreport

We should definatley "massively upzone around those Metro stations." Why invest in the street car if you aren't planning for a lot of furure residents to locate around the future stops?

As for the overhead wires, it seems like a small reason to delay or delete this transit option. The real obstacle is the change in culture this city would have to undertake. For this system to work properly, there must be dedicated lines as far as possibe. That would mean drastically reducing the trafic flow of the main arterials envisioned as the main routes. Where there are parallel streets, rush hour accomodations might be made, but basically this will be a huge shift in the balance between the pedestrian and the car.

Amen to Dan Peacock, "no matter how long it takes". This is where cities in the future are going, and considering ours actually grew along the streetcar networks, it's about time.

by Thayer-D on Sep 30, 2013 8:09 pm • linkreport

Mark wrote: "I lived in DC for many years...narrow streets"

Seriously? DC has some of the widest streets in the country, second only to Salt Lake City. You must have spent your entire time Columbia Heights. You must have spent your entire time Columbia Heights.

by Frank IBC on Sep 30, 2013 9:43 pm • linkreport

Sorry about the "echo".

by Frank IBC on Sep 30, 2013 9:43 pm • linkreport

@ AWalkerInTheCity

Whats stopping DC from building a separate Blue Line that ends in DC at Georgetown or another line that just swerves around DC connecting all the dots of places not served by rail and not exiting DC borders to avoid having to deal with Maryland or Virginia.

There is nothing physically stopping there from being a central circle line in DC like there are in other places globally.

@ Richard B

How is that transfering compared to taking mutiple buses go go places in other parts of DC. The people that live between Petworth,Waterfront, Dupont Circle and Shaw have it best out of all other areas of DC when it comes to transit.

Other areas that need transit should get it first.

Back when the Green line first opened there was an article in the Washington Post questioning why the areas with the poorer residents who would be most likely to use transit got service last over areas where the majority of residents don't take transit.

@ MLD

"Because there isn't a commercial corridor along there that people want to access"

Bulls**t, has there been a survey of any kind to prove this. There are many routes buses that are former streetcars that dont just serve commercial corridors so that argument is bs.

You could build a streetcar along North Capitol that connects commercial corridors ones that come to mind are Union Station, Rhode Island Ave, Washington Hospital Center, FT Lincoln it all depends on how you design the route.

Take the P6, and 83 or 86 they are portions of a streetcar route and what commercial corridors was over along Rhode Island Ave, Noma, New York Ave, 5th Street back in the 50's and 60's

by kk on Oct 1, 2013 12:38 am • linkreport

Dan,

Not to quibble, but Ddot isn't going to build anything, that's where the private sector comes in. Once Ddot starts the selection process for its P3 partner, the 5 year clock can start.

What's the hold up with issuing the RFQ/P?

Why hasn't the Gray administration pushed issuing the RFQ/P?

Any speculation readers as to whether there's political drama behind withholding the release of the RFQ/P?

Let's get going Ddot.

by WeCantWait on Oct 1, 2013 6:24 am • linkreport

"Seriously? DC has some of the widest streets in the country, second only to Salt Lake City. You must have spent your entire time Columbia Heights. You must have spent your entire time Columbia Heights."
-----
I find that impossible to believe.

I suppose it depends on what one defines as "wide". I've been all over DC and the only truly wide streets in DC that I can think of are Pennsylvania, Constitution, and Independence Aves. The latter 2 are wide only along the Mall. And Pennsylvania Ave narrows east of the Anacostia.

Good luck getting the Feds and the preservationists to allow a streetcar next to the Mall. As for Pennsylvania Ave., it wouldn't make sense, considering the section in front of the White house is closed to traffic.

Besides M Street in SW and SE, Rhode Island Ave., Benning Rd.and a 6-block stretch of C St NE, where are the others?

by ceefer66 on Oct 1, 2013 7:30 am • linkreport

Remember ceefer that a lot of people's yards are technically in the ROW.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 8:24 am • linkreport

Whats stopping DC from building a separate Blue Line that ends in DC at Georgetown or another line that just swerves around DC connecting all the dots of places not served by rail and not exiting DC borders to avoid having to deal with Maryland or Virginia.

Because the key to having a new blue line really work is a new crossing of the potomac river. Right now there are only 2 crossings (3 if you count VRE but that's a different system) of the potomac and that's where the biggest metro bottlenecks are. A new blue line would be great for the areas around the stations themselves but unless it gets its own tunnel its usefulness is ultimately limited.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 8:51 am • linkreport

"Whats stopping DC from building a separate Blue Line that ends in DC at Georgetown"

well for one, if it does not connect to Va, you dont get the relief at the crowded transfer stations thats one of the benefits that justifies the expenditure. You also won't get the increase in property values near the new stations, which not only is important to the justification, but will be important to the financing. And speaking of financing, I dont think the FTA would be inclined to spend a lot of money on a line that failed to solve the Potomac crossing problem.

" or another line that just swerves around DC connecting all the dots of places not served by rail and not exiting DC borders to avoid having to deal with Maryland or Virginia."

Er, because it wouldnt get close to the ridership needed to justify the massive expenditure. How many people commute from Brightwood to Georgetown, for example?

Street cars are a lot cheaper to build than metro - they can be justified with lower ridership, and lower levels of new development - thats why they (and in some places bus transitways) are the preferred option for lines wholly in DC.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 1, 2013 8:53 am • linkreport

Realistically any new metro lines within the inner core will both have to provide a new river crossing and additional access to the burbs for political reasons as well as provide more mobility within DC. I'm not sure when VA and MD will have the appetite to foot some of that bill but it seems unlikely in the next 10 years. I do think DC has some potential for more in fill stations like on the Green north of Petworth and on the Red either side of Fort Totten.

by BTA on Oct 1, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

Dara Ward is a woman, not a man.

by David Koch on Oct 1, 2013 9:47 am • linkreport

Many of the comments posted here have wandered off the subject of this article. The District's proposed 22-mile streetcar system could be a reality in 5 years, as other systems have, by using an P3 design/build delivery approach. If DDOT uses a P3 delivery approach with the Denver Eagle P3 as a model, the 22-mile streetcar system could be a reality by the end of the decade.

For District tax payers, there are significant financial benefits to building the streetcar system more quickly. The longer it takes to build the project, the more expensive the project becomes. The most cost effective delivery strategy would reduce the overall project cost and allow the District to focus the savings on other critical needs, such as workforce housing.

by Where Is My Streetcar? on Oct 1, 2013 9:55 am • linkreport

There is a difference between a commuter rail projects that use an existing right of way and putting in new streetcars through a downtown road network. I'm fully supportive of the streetcars and can't wait to use them, but obviously there are differences in the planning processes involved.

by BTA on Oct 1, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

@FrankIBC: been to Georgetown recently? Ever commute on a streetcar system without dedicated ROW?

by Mark on Oct 1, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

Unless it's a limited stop bus it's virtually the same since they need to be in the curbside lane to make stops. Streetcars aren't a replacement for metro but they do have capacity advantages over buses though there is also a tradeoff on flexibility. I expect DCPD or DDOT or whoever will be very busy for a while in the begining towing cars parked on the tracks.

by BTA on Oct 1, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

Mark,

Streetcars can hold more people, are cleaner, provide a smoother ride, encourage development, and last longer than buses. They have intrinsic value over buses even without the Dedicated ROW. Best of all, nothing will prevent DDOT from giving the streetcars a dedicated ROW in the future if conditions demand it.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

If I can't even get DDOT to re-stripe crosswalks and roadway lines, or replace deteriorated sidewalks in Michigan Park (despite multiple years of trying), how on Earth will they build a streetcar system?

Bring back Gabe Klein!

by Tom in Michigan Park on Oct 1, 2013 11:23 am • linkreport

@drumz
Best of all, nothing will prevent DDOT from giving the streetcars a dedicated ROW in the future if conditions demand it.

If they build it in the curb lane then that will be a serious impediment to dedicated ROW.

by MLD on Oct 1, 2013 12:00 pm • linkreport

Fair enough, still not an impossibility or enough of a reason to declare that it's a failure from the start and we might as well not do it at all.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

"Remember ceefer that a lot of people's yards are technically in the ROW. "
----

I see.

by ceefer66 on Oct 1, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

That said, I don't know anything about SLC or whatever but that could be one reason at least

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

@thm

"although it is true that Bordeaux has about 30% of its system powered by APS, there's hardly a trend for streetcars without overhead wires."

It may cover 30% of the entire system, but it's nearly 100% of the historic city centre.

And 54 cities in China have plans for streetcars/trams using ground-level power, far more than the number of planned systems using overhead lines. The company providing these systems also received a large order from Turkey. That looks like a trend to me.

"As others have pointed out, L'Enfant said absolutely nothing about electric wires, probably because they weren't invented yet."

LOL. Didn't say he did. Even though L'Enfant could not have conceived of overhead wires, his plan, as codified and more fully implemented after 1902, came well after the 1888 ban on overhead wires, and his plan was cited by the committee that introduced the ban.

by Burd on Oct 1, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

LOL. Didn't say he did. Even though L'Enfant could not have conceived of overhead wires, his plan, as codified and more fully implemented after 1902, came well after the 1888 ban on overhead wires, and his plan was cited by the committee that introduced the ban.

A: so it's not really the L'enfant plan. It's the McMillan plan (which applied the L'enfant plan to the rest of the city, and has to do specifically with the way the streets are laid out), you can see how that can be confusing? But the McMillan plan and the overhead wire ban aren't the same thing either.

B: Going with that, the overhead wire ban is around 130 years old. I think it's fine to review laws after that much time. It's not exactly cost-free to go wireless. I think its entirely appropriate to consider exceptions to the law if it means a significant cost savings vs. a limited visual impact.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

And it's been a while since the wires have been brought up. DDOT may have already made a final determination making this all moot.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 1:29 pm • linkreport

I hope it's been resolved, there's only a small minority that cares about wires as far as I can tell and even then I'm pretty sure some are just using it as a way to oppose the system itself and will likely never be satisfied.

by BTA on Oct 1, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

@Burd:

54 Cities in China have plans for streetcars with ground-level power. Really? I have not seen any supporting evidence for this, anywhere. There are a handful of streetcar systems for China in various planning stages, and none use APS. The closest thing I could find was that Ansaldo has licensed Tramwave to a Chinese railway firm with hopes of selling that system, someday, somewhere.

Outside Europe, the only streetcar systems with wire-free zones I can find reference to are in Brasilia, Cuenca, and Dubai. Inside Europe, there are a handful of cities with short wire-free segments, using batteries or supercapacitors. The are no revenue-service installations of Tramwave or PRIMOVE. As I mentioned above, France keeps building trams using 95% overhead wires and 5% APS.

Alstom sells APS. They are one of the major suppliers of streetcar equipment worldwide, including the phenomenally successful Citadis model of streetcar. All APS-equipped systems use the Citadis, but most Citadis streetcars are not equipped with APS. It is true that Turkey recently bought a large number of Citadis streetcars. However, none of them were equipped with APS, and there is no APS trackage in Turkey. I don't know point you were trying to make about Turkey.

Let's also clear up the L'Enfant plan. You write: "his plan ... came well after the 1888 ban on overhead wires".

L'Enfant's plan is from 1791. And when we read "plan," we should think more of an architect's "plan view" and less like contemporary planning. It was a map with a significant number of annotations, many of which were stricken by Thomas Jefferson.

What came out in 1902 was the McMillan plan, formally "The Improvement of the Park System of the District of Columbia." Its authors stretched their mandate as far as possible regarding the scope of parks. And even though the construction of new wires had been prohibited since 1888, Congress hadn't yet mandated the removal of extant wires, of which there was still quite a thicket, as can be seen in the photograph to which I linked earlier.

But the remarkable thing is that the McMillan report makes zero mention of overhead wires at all.

by thm on Oct 1, 2013 3:35 pm • linkreport

Ah, the trolley folly. Why the love affair with streetcar systems? Some vintage-historic thing? When did we stop seeing city buses as not so economical and flexible. Buses carry large numbers of people for far less of the cost then streetcars. No tracks and infrastructure means we could be implementing a BRT system right now - for far less money.

"Actual construction can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the specifics." Really a few months to a couple of years? That's a whopping difference. +30-40% Probably.

Remember, streetcars were removed and converted to buses a not so long time ago. And since we are unfortunately following through with this plan then history Will indeed repeat itself.

Well, I'm resigned to this plan. So let the City have its showcase streetcar line. But strip it to half the miles and only essential lines East of the Anacostia and east-west to GeorgeTown.

by DCJWalkr on Oct 1, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

@thm

"54 Cities in China have plans for streetcars with ground-level power. Really?"

Really, and I never said they were using "APS" by the way. According to China Daily, "A total of 54 modern tramways are planned in various Chinese cities, and 1,200 trains are needed, according to the China CNR," the first of which is in Zhuhai, which will use ground-level power.

Again, since there are more plans for the ground-level power systems than overhead wires, this is clearly the new trend.

"L'Enfant's plan is from 1791. And when we read "plan," we should think more of an architect's "plan view" and less like contemporary planning. "

Never said it wasn't from 1791. I said it was not "codified or fully implemented" until after 1902, which is well after the first ban on overhead wires in the "L'enfant City" were issued in 1888. Also never said overhead wires were mentioned in the McMillan plan, by the way.

by Burd on Oct 1, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

Burd,

So then if McMillan or L'enfant don't have anything to say about overhead wires then all we have left to go on is the 1888 law. I think 125 years is plenty of time to re-look.

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

Some vintage-historic thing?

I don't get this argument. Did you ever go see the streetcars on display when they were at city center? They're far from appearing historic. Moreover, dozens of cities use the same vehicles today.

When did we stop seeing city buses as not so economical and flexible.

When we realized that people like the inflexibility of streetcars. People who won't ride a bus for whatever reason will ride a streetcar. We can ponder why that is but it's a fact regardless. Moreover, DC will still have buses on its streetcar routes.

Buses carry large numbers of people for far less of the cost then streetcars.

No, and the initial costs are lower but over the life of each vehicle streetcars are far more economical. So you actually carry more people for less money over time.

No tracks and infrastructure means we could be implementing a BRT system right now - for far less money.

Well we've got the tracks already on two lines, and where are you supposing that BRT (for which we'll assume it'll have its own ROW and won't be a painted lane for people to ignore like on 7th street)is cheaper?

by drumz on Oct 1, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

Again, since there are more plans for the ground-level power systems than overhead wires, this is clearly the new trend.

Call me when there's a serious project actually completed and running. Because a China Daily article that says "hey all this is totally coming!" doesn't mean there's actual applicable technology that is comparable in either cost or functionality.

The REALITY is that the only tramways currently in existence using underground power utilize it for a short section of the system. And obviously any wireless system is going to be more expensive to install, and then you are locked into a technology vendor so you will pay more in the future too!

by MLD on Oct 1, 2013 4:49 pm • linkreport

@ drumz

"When we realized that people like the inflexibility of streetcars. People who won't ride a bus for whatever reason will ride a streetcar. We can ponder why that is but it's a fact regardless. Moreover, DC will still have buses on its streetcar routes."

How about we stop catering to bigots and cater to the masses who do not have racial or economic biases and don't mind being with others who are not of the same racial or economic class.

Most of the bus routes have been inflexible since there creation the 50's, S's, 80's, 90's (except for when the 40's and 90's were combined back in the early 1990's and X2 have hardly changed since they started except for spliting routes there have been to real route changes.

"Well we've got the tracks already on two lines, and where are you supposing that BRT (for which we'll assume it'll have its own ROW and won't be a painted lane for people to ignore like on 7th street)is cheaper?"

How about telling police to get off their asses and enforce laws. I see police almost everyday in Chinatown not doing a god damn thing when cars turn at 7th & H, people jay walking, or vehicles in the bus lanes, hell sometimes it is the police who are in the wrong blocking the easements for wheelchairs on the sidewalk

If we are going to build streetcars or anything though I would rather have lightrail it should be to solve problems in DC not creating bulls**t routes when there are present Metrobus routes that should be turned into Streetcars (X2, S2, 70, 54, 32, 80, 82, H2, H4, G8, 92, L2, N2, G2, and 96) then afterwards go about creating these routes that do not go all the places people travel to.

The streetcar routes at present will not help people and you will still have masses transferring between the Benning RD-H Street Line and the X2, also the Takoma-Georgia Ave-14th Street Line and the 70, 50's and 90's when it is done.

by kk on Oct 1, 2013 5:39 pm • linkreport

@drumz

The bus fleet carries far more people to far and beyond more "stops" covering way more area of the city for far less money than light-rail can. "Inflexible" light-rail has it's place and use; especially e'L'evated and over wide streets and cheap real estate. Use light-rail for its best benefit; economically sprinting many people over great distance. Put light-rail in the air for only a special few routes, and let the bus fleet do the heavy moving for people wanting to get dropped off at the door. It's not practical nor effective to put light-rail all over the place.

The bus fleet is very flexible and adaptable but only is so as the people working for Metro. S1/2 morning rush commute issues on 16th street was addressed. A bus carries almost as many people as a light-rail 'car' for less money. The bus fleet is far more adaptable, reaches greater area and place more people much closer to their intended destination and is far more versatile than light-rail.

DC is unique and not like most of those dozens of cities. In fact many of those cities got their (short) light-rail system under dubious ways or questionable reasons and methods. Maybe some cities have truly benefited. How many cities will maintain their light-rail benefit remains to be seen.

by DCJwalkr on Oct 1, 2013 7:11 pm • linkreport

@MLD

"Call me when there's a serious project actually completed and running. Because a China Daily article that says "hey all this is totally coming!" doesn't mean there's actual applicable technology that is comparable in either cost or functionality."

Call me when you have some facts, like a cost comparison, instead of pure speculation.

CNR will deliver trams to Samsun, Turkey by December, and is working on projects in Zhuhai, Hefei and Liupanshui.

Then there's Shenyang, China, that has already built a new system using battery-powered cars: http://www.globalrailnews.com/2013/08/19/shenyang-tramway-opens/

So clearly wireless trams are moving forward, despite your lack of knowledge about it.

by Burd on Oct 1, 2013 7:16 pm • linkreport

kk,

How about we stop catering to bigots and cater to the masses who do not have racial or economic biases and don't mind being with others who are not of the same racial or economic class.

That may be it for some people, and thats unfortunate but it's not universal or proven. In my own experience, it was easier for me to figure out metro worked before figuring out how buses worked. A big reason is because I knew that metro was a concrete system that had hard limits (because of the rails). It's not well studied why people like rails more but the effect is still there. I'm willing to give people benefit of the doubt.

ow about telling police to get off their asses and enforce laws.

Sure, but that is hardly intrinsic to either buses or streetcars. Let's have better enforcement for both then.

If we are going to build streetcars or anything though I would rather have lightrail it should be to solve problems in DC not creating bulls**t routes when there are present Metrobus routes that should be turned into Streetcars
Light rail is a nebulous term, you have to be more specific about what you mean. Some light rail systems could be called street cars in other contexts. Anyway, the reason we use them to replace current bus routes is because those bus routes are maxed out. The only way to get more capacity is to introduce a larger vehicle which is only possible through a streetcar because it's usually illegal to have a vehicle longer/larger than the articulated buses we do have. That restriction isn't present for a streetcar though.

DCJwalker

The bus fleet carries far more people to far and beyond more "stops" covering way more area of the city for far less money than light-rail can. "Inflexible" light-rail has it's place and use; especially e'L'evated and over wide streets and cheap real estate.
A: only because we don't have a streetcar network the bus is able to carry more people.
B: if you place light rail over the street and over wide unpopulated streets then it really ceases being light rail and pretty much just a new metro line.
C: The reason we need more transit capacity in these corridors is because real estate isn't cheap. A lot of people live in DC and a lot more want to live in DC. Therefore, transportation solutions will be more expensive. One reason there isn't demand for a streetcar in Grant County Maryland because there aren't many people who live in Grant County Maryland.

A bus carries almost as many people as a light-rail 'car' for less money.

No, they don't. A metro bus can carry about 50-60 people. The streetcar will hold closer to 100.

The bus fleet is far more adaptable, reaches greater area and place more people much closer to their intended destination and is far more versatile than light-rail.
Again, flexibility isn't a key to ridership. It may seem counter-intuitive but it is what it is. Moreover, DC will still have lots of bus service despite running streetcars. Flexibility and streetcars aren't mutually exclusive.
I can currently take transit to georgetown even if metro lacks the "flexibility" of having a station there.

DC is unique and not like most of those dozens of cities. In fact many of those cities got their (short) light-rail system under dubious ways or questionable reasons and methods.

As much as I love DC, its not that unique when it comes to transportation, people tend to get around in similar ways no matter where you are. Moreover, while many cities do have new light rail and streetcar lines, many more have had the same systems for years and even decades. I think there is plenty to learn from both the new and old systems.

by drumz on Oct 2, 2013 12:02 am • linkreport

My apologies, Garrett county Maryland and not Grant County. Thats what I get for not double checking.

by drumz on Oct 2, 2013 12:04 am • linkreport

Double apologies, there is a part about Georgetown that shouldn't be in italics.

by drumz on Oct 2, 2013 12:05 am • linkreport

@kk
If we are going to build streetcars or anything though I would rather have lightrail it should be to solve problems in DC not creating bulls**t routes when there are present Metrobus routes that should be turned into Streetcars (X2, S2, 70, 54, 32, 80, 82, H2, H4, G8, 92, L2, N2, G2, and 96) then afterwards go about creating these routes that do not go all the places people travel to.

The first two streetcar lines proposed are on two of the routes you listed as "Metrobus routes that should be turned into streetcars." What exactly are you complaining about?

by MLD on Oct 2, 2013 8:45 am • linkreport

I just don't understand why the Anacostia line is a priority in the first place. Doesn't the Green line already connect these two areas any way? It seems insanely redundant to me. Why would anyone take a streetcar from Navy Yard to Anacostia when the metro already goes there, and would get you there faster? It seems to me that they should focus on the cross-town line to Georgetown, or the North-South line down 14th St.

by JesseG on Oct 2, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

Streetcars might work well in bus poor cities. Some cities adopted them because they are quiet, cute and fun to ride.
IMHO streetcar advantages vs. bus are very limited. Plus, buses have far more potential to change and adapt than streetcars / light-rail.

Metro says: Metrobus provides more than 400,000 trips each weekday serving 11,500 bus stops in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Metrobus is the sixth busiest bus agency in the United States, with a fleet of more than 1,500 buses operating on 325 routes.

Streetcars will not operate as frequently as the bus fleet and so cannot overall move as many people per hour as bus service. All that said, I'm still not against streetcars; I just don't want to see a 22 mile network in our City.

by DCJwalkr on Oct 2, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

There are a lot of bus corridors where bus operate at crush loads all peak. It makes sense to put streetcars in there, which is largely what they are doing. I don't see the problem.

by BTA on Oct 2, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

Well it's not smart to compare the entire bus system to the entire streetcar system. You have to look at what capacity you have for each line and then compare the two.

Plus, buses have far more potential to change and adapt than streetcars / light-rail.
This is like the third time I've responded to this: this is not a problem. People like that a streetcar is inflexible. They can look at the ground and see where it leads. All things equal, more people will choose to ride a streetcar over a bus. Part of that is because of the "inflexibility" which is a moot point because we'll still have buses along those routes as well.

by drumz on Oct 2, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

@MLD

None of the streetcar routes are Metrobus routes. Which bus routes are they because I’m 100% sure they are not any bus routes? They may be perhaps portions of some bus routes but not any in their entirety

@JesseG

Perhaps to serve the areas inbetween the stations that is not served by Metrorail beyond that beats me

@ BTA

Which corridor is that? Looking at the plans for routes not one damn bus route is fully covered where its crush loads are.

@ drumz

Where is the proof that people prefer inflexibility? I have used transit in many countries and people don’t like inflexibility? In many places you can flag down a bus around the world in certain zones or tell the driver where you want to exit.

Try being stuck on something with a fixed route that has some type of blockade be it accident, animal or police activity. The stuff you speak of extends only to the borders of the US and not the rest of the world.

Even Streetcars are flexible in other places you could take any route if there is an issue aslong as you get from Point A to B. Streetcars/Trams/Lightrails in many places around the globe have redundancy built in that allows having a detoured route provided one is needed. In the case of DC blockades of some sort will happen often especially around the Capitol, White House and other places downtown.

BTW single tracking and operating on the wrong track, Rush Plus, Green Line Commuter Shortcut, Special service on Sporting Event days and Fourth of July with Metrorail are the same. Those are also being flexible but I bet you wouldn’t use the term in those cases.

by kk on Oct 2, 2013 4:58 pm • linkreport

None of the streetcar routes are Metrobus routes. Which bus routes are they because I’m 100% sure they are not any bus routes? They may be perhaps portions of some bus routes but not any in their entirety

They are portions, the high-ridership portions. They may not follow the entire bus route but very few people ride a bus route on its entirety from one end to another.

The streetcars are planned to cover the major portions of the highest-ridership bus routes. There is data backing up these planning decisions, it's not like they just pick locations/routes out of their ass.

by MLD on Oct 2, 2013 5:01 pm • linkreport

Where is the proof that people prefer inflexibility?

The fact that ridership tends to shoot up when a streetcar goes in on a heavily traveled bus corridor (yes, sometimes zoning changes help this but it's a strong correlation regardless). So at best people like the inflexibility (because the route is easier to understand) and at worst it simply has no impact.

Try being stuck on something with a fixed route that has some type of blockade be it accident, animal or police activity.

Buses get stuck in traffic all the time. 9 times out of ten when something is blocking the road the bus stays its course anyway because moving out the way would take just as long.

Anyway, you're bringing it up as if its some sort of trump card. Can the streetcar get stuck? Sure. Is that sufficient reason to not have it compared to its benefits? Probably not since cities tend to stick with the streetcars despite the "proven flexibility" of buses.

by drumz on Oct 2, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

@ Drumz

The problem with the Streetcar line is the way DC is going about it when compared to places such as Berlin. I like streetcars when they are done better which is not the case in DC

My problems with DC design

1 Going off a proven path; concerning the Benning Road/H Street line why not just send it from Minnesota Ave to Lafayette Square and get rid of the X2? What purpose does starting in the middle of nowhere RFK Lot going to H Street Bridge serve when you have a bus route that is packed for its entire route that could be better if it was a Streetcar route. They could have atleast started at Minnesota Ave & Benning Road or the Minnesota Ave station to over the H Street Bridge and end at North Capitol.

The same thing pertains to the Takoma route why not just copy the 70 or 52/4 route completely instead of bastardizing both

2 No real terminals: How about a spot where buses and Streetcars can terminate at off street by having a transit center or stripped down Metro Station with no Metrorail such as the Westpark Transit Center in Tysons.

There are spots which could have been used such as Hechinger Mall where Maryland Ave used to be

3 No separated lanes even when there is enough room The entire Benning Road stretch with tracks if they got rid of the median. They would not take up any space from parking or sidewalks giving less reasons for the public to object to it with logical reasons.

4 No planning with connecting with existing transit (the stops along the route compared to Metrobus stops are on separate blocks)this was actually also done with the Circluator when it first started and it was hard to transfer between Circulator and Metrobus the stops were eventually changed so that they shared stops.

by kk on Oct 2, 2013 6:44 pm • linkreport

1. The line is going to be extended. So no problems there. Plus it's ok to play with the routes. Success doesn't hinge on exact route reproduction.

2. Again, great to have but not necessarily key to success. It's something we can plan for and have when we need its but it's not initially critical.

3. K street will be getting dedicated lanes an that's great. I'm on board with dedicated lanes, but the lack of then for this phase isn't enough to turn me (or DDOT apparently) off. It may work just as well without the lanes or it would have made the costs significantly more.

4. Well it'll be pretty easy to move the bus stops once the cars are actually running. We are only talking about differences of a few yards here and there.

by drumz on Oct 2, 2013 7:33 pm • linkreport

"But, at least a bus can move around traffic and has faster start up/slow down capabilities."

Apparently, you've never been on a bus in DC in traffic. LOL @ "move around traffic". Let me know when you find those intangible buses that phase through cars.

by washingtonian on Oct 3, 2013 5:00 pm • linkreport

But, at least a bus can move around traffic and has faster start up/slow down capabilities.

Missed this. Electric rail vehicles actually accelerate and decelerate much faster than a bus, because they do so with less jerky effect on passengers.

by MLD on Oct 3, 2013 5:35 pm • linkreport

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