Greater Greater Washington

First streetcar wires go up on H Street

As of this morning, the first streetcar wires are up on H Street.


Span wire on H Street. Photo by BeyondDC.

DDOT began stringing head span wires this morning around 7:00 am. Head span wires run perpendicular to the tracks. They're different than the contact wires, which run parallel to the tracks and directly power trains. The contact wires will go up next, in the coming weeks.


Streetcar in Seattle, showing both span wires and contact wires. Photo by BeyondDC.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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I'm just going to have to take your word that a city is somewhere behind that looming wire. If I squint I guess I can make out a tree(?) and maybe there's a giant white Lego block or something? The Committee of 100 was right! The sun has been blotted!

by TM on Nov 13, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

Snark aside, pretty unattractive. One of the best parts of DC proper is the lack of wires -- except in alleys -- and adding more isn't helping.

Also, I noticed that the seattle ones seem to bump out into the street, while these eat up more sidewalk room -- it seems some of the them are being reused as other street poles.

If the trade off is worth it, that is another story. But no te gusta.

by charlie on Nov 13, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

@ TM: +1 My thoughts exactly.

Can't ... see ... the ... sky ... Aaarrrghghghr

by Jasper on Nov 13, 2013 12:21 pm • linkreport

I'm confused... why didn't they use one of the free standing arm wire supports that hang out over the street, instead of draping wires everywhere? I would have thought the City would have used its FIRST streetcar as an example of how unobtrusive the wires can be to make the case for expansion in the City neighborhoods that are sensitive to that...

by chris on Nov 13, 2013 12:27 pm • linkreport

While many cities are building wireless tram systems, DC is going old school. Unattractive and archaic.

Also wasteful. Short lampposts were installed 2 years ago, then removed this year and replaced by taller ones to accommodate the wires...complete lack of planning and foresight...complete waste of time and money.

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

IT'LL NEVER WORK!!!

Ah, okay, actually I find it aesthetically pleasing. Carry on.

by oboe on Nov 13, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

@ charlie:One of the best parts of DC proper is the lack of wires -- except in alleys

The notion that DC is free of overhead wires is false.

Prospect St NW an alley?


View Larger Map

Newcomb St SW perhaps?

View Larger Map

9th & Upshur NW?


View Larger Map

Monroe St NE perhaps?


View Larger Map

Benning Rd SE?

View Larger Map

Honesty, all I did is pick random spots on the DC map, and bang: overhead wires.

by Jasper on Nov 13, 2013 12:36 pm • linkreport

@Jasper - I can't recall having seen overhead wires anywhere within the Federal City. Maybe that's what charlie meant.

I also agree with chris. While the overhead wires aren't the most obtrusive, they unnecessarily span the whole street when they simply could have been over the lane the streetcar travels in. I think this will only add opposition to streetcars by people who were previously undecided or indifferent. The only people who say "it's not so bad" tend to be people who already supported the streetcar.

by 7r3y3r on Nov 13, 2013 12:47 pm • linkreport

Let's see - small wires overhead that will quickly blend into the background like all overhead wires vs another form of public transit that could really make a difference in DC (that is not Metro!). Hummm

by JDC Esq on Nov 13, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

"So hideous, basically this city is going to fail now, thanks" - Committee of 100

by BTA on Nov 13, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

FYI: "no te gusta" means "you don't like it", no me gusta means "I don't like it".

by BTA on Nov 13, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

@7r3y3r
My guess would be that the wire between light posts is cheaper than cantilevered wire holders attached to the posts or on separate posts.

Had they done that, and it proved to be more expensive, people would be bitching about that and complaining that they could have just strung a wire between the two light posts for cheaper! People opposing the streetcar will find a way to oppose it, no matter the reason.

Ignore them.

by Sayne on Nov 13, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

Ha ha, of course there had to be complaints.

Wires spanning the lamp posts/poles seem LESS obtrusive than having poles with metal arms that jut out over the road.

Honestly, there are so many existing eyesores and problems around DC, I wish the negative energy could be directed towards eliminating those.

BTW, those shorter poles that were taken out for these are going to be used again elsewhere in the city (they are not being thrown into a dumpster somewhere), so really, not a "complete" waste. If Committee of 100 hadn't opposed the whole system on account of these wires, maybe the bigger poles would have been in place from the start...

by Boris on Nov 13, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

Let's face it. Today's DDOT under Zimbabwe et al. is pretty short-sighed and incompetent. It doesn't surprise me that they chose the cheapest, most obtrusive alternative.

by PJD on Nov 13, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

I have an opinion.

by Bossi on Nov 13, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

@ Boris

"BTW, those shorter poles that were taken out for these are going to be used again elsewhere in the city (they are not being thrown into a dumpster somewhere), so really, not a 'complete' waste."

The waste is the labour costs for installing and removing them and then installing the taller ones, and the extra materials required to install and remove the shorter lampposts that would not have been required if DDOT had initially installed the taller ones. Not to mention the negative effects from traffic problems and lost business on from retailers on H St.

"If Committee of 100 hadn't opposed the whole system on account of these wires, maybe the bigger poles would have been in place from the start..."

No. The short lampposts were installed AFTER the city law was enacted that permitted wires on H street and Benning Road.

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 1:25 pm • linkreport

I think they are fine - having grown up in Seattle with miles of trolley-bus lines, the overhead wires do not detract from the streetscape.
The worst thing for the Federal City are all the safety/security bollards that went up after 9/11 - those are freaking ugly!

by andy2 on Nov 13, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

I am already feeling the vitamin D deficiency.

by William on Nov 13, 2013 1:35 pm • linkreport

Anyone who really thinks this is the "most obtrusive alternative" has obviously, OBVIOUSLY never seen Pittsburgh's catenary.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/trainplanepro/5140520024/

by A. P. on Nov 13, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

They are down to 13th st now.

Not obtrusive.

Also, I thought they kept the new (old) streetlights and just added the new tall ones?

Streetllight install does not effect businesses. Huge road tear ups (which had to be done anyway as the street was completely rebuilt, utilities re done etc - which happens once every 50 years) yes, but not streetlights.

by h st ll on Nov 13, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

The overhead wire ban was to get rid of this;

by Sand Box John on Nov 13, 2013 2:06 pm • linkreport

@ h st ll

"Also, I thought they kept the new (old) streetlights and just added the new tall ones?"

They replaced the "lampposts" they installed less than two years ago with different ones.

"Streetllight install does not effect businesses. Huge road tear ups (which had to be done anyway as the street was completely rebuilt, utilities re done etc - which happens once every 50 years) yes, but not streetlights."

That's your opinion. This project took several months, and temporarily closed lanes and parking spaces and reduced access to pedestrians. Yes, many H St business owners say they lost business due to the construction of this entire project, which includes the unnecessary installation and removal of the short lampposts.

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

@7r3y3r:I can't recall having seen overhead wires anywhere within the Federal City. Maybe that's what charlie meant.

Well, it's not what he said. This is what he said:

One of the best parts of DC proper is the lack of wires -- except in alleys -- and adding more isn't helping.

I could not quickly find something in the Federal City. It seems in the Federal City all wires are stuck away in the alleys. Which still means they are there.

by Jasper on Nov 13, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

@Bossi I have feelings!

But seriously, making the wires more attractive would require that they be actually denser or heavier, in order to have a real aesthetic impact. In fact, if they were well-designed they could very much contribute to the streetscape, the same way tree canopies and lampposts add intimacy through a sense of enclosure.

But we couldn't even have that discussion until now. The debate was framed as "Wires are bad!" so the response was "wires aren't that bad," and the solution was to make wires as small as possible, rather than as attractive as possible. So, I would encourage Burd and his friends, like Margarita Masguerra, to push for creative solutions. We're getting streetcars.

On Wisconsin Avenue, someday, too!

by Neil Flanagan on Nov 13, 2013 2:46 pm • linkreport

Yes, many H St business owners say they lost business due to the construction of this entire project, which includes the unnecessary installation and removal of the short lampposts.

Seems pretty necessary to me. Would you rather they had just omitted the lampposts for the last two years?

:D

by oboe on Nov 13, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

If only someone could invent a mode of mass transportation that didn't need overhead wires and the associated costs of maintaining them.

by Sam Farmer on Nov 13, 2013 3:25 pm • linkreport

I agree, those safety barriers down town are far more atrocious. I'm glad many of them have been replaced by larger planters now at least. Maybe one thing they could do to make the wires more appealing (if safe to do so) is to hang some kind of illumination from them. Could make for a very cool night time streetscape. Perhaps like so http://www.johndoesamsterdam.com/2012/02/lamp-posts-and-street-lights.html

by BTA on Nov 13, 2013 3:25 pm • linkreport

Sam Farmer,
You're right. They probably should have gone with in-ground power transmission for the streetcars. In fact, some of the original DC streetcar routes used just this method. At any rate, I hope they greatly expand the streetcar system in the years to come.

Cheers!

by AllenH on Nov 13, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

@ oboe

"Seems pretty necessary to me. Would you rather they had just omitted the lampposts for the last two years?"

The short lampposts were so necessary that they were removed less than 2 yrs after they were installed. I would rather the proper (tall) lampposts were installed in the first place.

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 4:20 pm • linkreport

@AllenH @Burd - Overhead cat is hardly obsolete, it's used extensively worldwide because it's a proven, reliable, cost-competitive technology. The old trench system used in the previous streetcar system was prone to fouling thanks to debris build up or snow and required more maintenance than wires. Modern wireless systems are extremely expensive, less efficient, and are only being used for short sections in notably historic areas. Building an entire 32 mile streetcar system with wireless power would be insane and excessive.

by Distantantennas on Nov 13, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

@BTA: unfortunately lighting is not really practical. The head span wires are actually four discrete cables electrically isolated from one another. Running a continuous string of lights across would undo the isolation.

by dcmike on Nov 13, 2013 4:24 pm • linkreport

Burd - I think you are overstating your case. This project has fuel a large increase in taxes through sales taxes, property taxes (new commercial and residential buildings), the new residential taxes have provided a lot more people who pay sales and income taxes, and the existing buildings have gone up dramatically in value. If DC wasted 5 million (likely less than that) on ripping out and then putting in new poles it was still an incredible investment for the city. And it will pay huge dividends for many decades going forward.

by h st ll on Nov 13, 2013 4:34 pm • linkreport

Ack, meant new residents provided a lot more income and sales tax

by h st ll on Nov 13, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

Some of you might be happier if they were painted blue?

by JJJJ on Nov 13, 2013 4:41 pm • linkreport

@ Distantantennas

"Modern wireless systems...are only being used for short sections in notably historic areas."

Only? Not so. Zhuhai, China, for example, is completing a 35-mi wireless system.

"Building an entire 32 mile streetcar system with wireless power would be insane and excessive."

And from which cost analysis did you get that information?

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 4:42 pm • linkreport

Only? Not so. Zhuhai, China, for example, is completing a 35-mi wireless system.

Pretty sure this doesn't exist yet so it's not really an example, more like... made up vaporware.

And from which cost analysis did you get that information?
http://www.deltabridges.com/news/zhuhai-news/streetcar-smooth-and-stylish

An article about the same project you used as your "example":
"Shenyang’s streetcar contains an overhead line system while Zhuhai’s will use a ground power supply system which costs more, according to Shen Jingyan, chief engineer of the Institute of Subway & Light Rail under the Ministry of Housing & Urban-Rural Development."

Would be nice if you would get off this kick - as far as I know there is no completed light rail or streetcar system that uses underground power for anything other than a short stretch. That's because everyone proposes underground power and then finds out how f***ing expensive it is. Call us when there is one and I will gladly listen.

by MLD on Nov 13, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

http://www.deltabridges.com/news/zhuhai-news/zhuhai-streetcars-postponed

If I read that right, none of it is in operation yet.

If you have a link to the opening of the zhuhai system, please provide it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 13, 2013 4:53 pm • linkreport

Streetcar wires!

Horrors!

The magnificent views have been ruined and no one can see the sky!

OMG!

by ceefer66 on Nov 13, 2013 4:54 pm • linkreport

The zhuhai system may work. But the article suggests its costlier. Which is why other systems in China are not using that technology.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 13, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

@Burd - According to that article, about a system that doesn't exist, they're planning 5.5mi for $428m. That's ~$77m/mi. Comparatively, Portland built for $12.4m/mi, Tampa for $13.7/mi, Little Rock for $7.1m/mi. There's reasons why costs differ, but the Zhuhai system would be notably more expensive than US systems, and they haven't even done any construction yet.

by Distantantennas on Nov 13, 2013 5:23 pm • linkreport

@ h st ii

"This project has fuel a large increase in taxes through sales taxes, property taxes... "

Good point. So not only did the city spend unnecessarily more on labour and materials due to poor planning, but it jacked up the property taxes of the business owners who lost business during the construction. No wonder why many of the older businesses have had to shut their doors...

@ MLD

"as far as I know there is no completed light rail or streetcar system that uses underground power for anything other than a short stretch. "

Yes, it is a new trend, and DC gov't is behind it. Shenyang has parts of its network without wires, but all of Zhuhai's, Hefei's and 52 other Chinese cities have plans for totally wireless systems. Dubai is also completing one.

And again what cost analysis suggests building a wireless system would be "insane and excessive"? DC has not even considered the costs of CNR Corporation's trams.

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 5:46 pm • linkreport

but it jacked up the property taxes of the business owners who lost business during the construction.
No but the assessments might have gone up because the value of the land is now higher because there is going to be better transit through the corridor.

by drumz on Nov 13, 2013 5:54 pm • linkreport

*unless the rate did go up to help pay for the streetcar that I'm not aware about. Regardless, H Street as a whole will be better off with the streetcar/streetscape improvements than without it.

by drumz on Nov 13, 2013 5:58 pm • linkreport

Dubai is building it, and their tram system will cost $800 million for 9 miles - that is definitely on the upper end of light rail costs. IN DUBAI, where labor is dirt cheap. I think there's plenty of evidence that ground power is more expensive.

by MLD on Nov 13, 2013 6:10 pm • linkreport

FYI, constuction started on the Zhuhai "Modern Streetcar" sometime last month:

http://www.zhuhai.gov.cn/xxgk/xwzx/spxw/201310/t20131014_2004006.html

My Chinese is a disaster, but it sounds like they've started working on some kind of protective rainwater run-off channels or something. Either that, or they're preparing to invade Taiwan. Whatever it is, it's clearly part of the war on cars (and medians, apparently...there are pictures on the Zhuhai website of workers ripping out a brand new median. With shovels!)

For the record, we should never EVER do something just because a couple of random cities in China (or Dubai!) are doing it. China is throwing money at infrastructure like there's no tomorrow; sometimes that leads to good infrastructure, but often it leads to waste and disaster.

I don't know why you would excoriate DDOT for "wasting" money replacing lamp posts and then suggest that we follow China's lead! They don't really care about viewsheds, or lamp posts, or medians, or labor costs; and they definitely don't mind spending money on untested tech! We do. We so mind that.

by Steven H on Nov 13, 2013 6:14 pm • linkreport

Yeah, but, see, hidden transmission isn't a waste of money if it makes streetcars look like hugely expensive white elephants. That will be money well spent to keep the car king.

by gimbels lover on Nov 13, 2013 7:03 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by elmothehobo on Nov 13, 2013 8:39 pm • linkreport

@gimbels lover - you win the thread.

by DavidDuck on Nov 13, 2013 8:49 pm • linkreport

@ distantennas

"According to that article, about a system that doesn't exist, they're planning 5.5mi for $428m.That's ~$77m/mi."

And DC's system to date has cost $161M ($73M/mi). As is typical, they underestimated and are requesting an add'l $29M (and I'd bet they'll need more than that) for a total cost of $86M/mi and counting...

@ drumz

"No but the assessments might have gone up because the value of the land is now higher because there is going to be better transit through the corridor."

= higher property taxes

@ Steven H

"For the record, we should never EVER do something just because a couple of random cities in China (or Dubai!) are doing it."

No, we should do it b/c overhead wires are obstructive, dangerous, unnecessary and might be more expensive to maintain (but you guys don't care about operating costs!). And 54 cities in China could hardly be described as a "couple." Cities elsewhere, including Sydney, have similar plans.

by Burd on Nov 13, 2013 11:21 pm • linkreport

@Burd

Dude, in China 54 is definitely a couple! China has hundreds upon hundreds of cities. And guess what many of them are building? That's right, wired streetcars:

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/774060.shtml#.UoRZlPk3uSo
http://www.gongjiaomi.com/thread-29497-1-1.htm
http://www.china.org.cn/business/2013-08/15/content_29729539.htm

Even their buses have wires:

http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%97%A0%E8%BD%A8%E7%94%B5%E8%BD%A6

There is a wireless streetcar in Beijing; however, it doesn't go too far:

http://images.china.cn/attachement/jpg/site1007/20080801/001aa0ba6dbd09fcf39602.jpg

Zhuhai and Hefei are building untested tech because they want to give upstart Chinese companies a laboratory to bring down costs and try out new things. That's great. Maybe after 54 systems get built in China the tech will be mature enough to sell to us. That's the idea anyway. If it doesn't work, they'll rip it out and put in something else. They're good at that; I think we should let them do their thing while we stick with technology that has a proven track record...probably a hybrid that uses both wires and batteries. We do still have options.

Lots of towns--more than 54--are bigger than us, and older than us, and are still using wires. Some of them (like some German towns and Sydney, apparently) have thought about wireless systems, but they aren't building them yet. They do NOT think that overhead wires are obstructive, dangerous, unnecessary or more expensive to maintain and operate than wireless systems; and the few European cities that do have them don't use them extensively yet, and may replace them with wires.

Also, please cite your source that says that I don't care about operating costs, because I'd really like to read that.

by Steven H on Nov 14, 2013 12:55 am • linkreport

once again a 'hum' - dozens of nice, non-exhaust producing streetcars lining K street in rush hour filled with riders that, the horror, are connected to overhead wires, vs hundreds of loud, honking cars belching smoke blocking intersections.....I know which street I'd prefer to see and use.

by JDC Esq on Nov 14, 2013 9:01 am • linkreport

@ Steven H

"China 54 is definitely a couple! China has hundreds upon hundreds of cities. "

54 will never be a couple, which literally means 2. And the US literally has hundreds of cities as well. My point is that contrary to many comments on this thread, wireless systems are definitely being planned and/or developed by many cities around the world.

"There is a wireless streetcar in Beijing; however, it doesn't go too far...Lots of towns--more than 54--are bigger than us, and older than us, and are still using wires. "

And what point are you trying to make? Wireless technology is new and is being rolled out in whole or in part around the world.

"They do NOT think that overhead wires are obstructive, dangerous, unnecessary or more expensive to maintain and operate than wireless systems"

Please cite the source where they (whoever "they" means) said that.

"Also, please cite your source that says that I don't care about operating costs, because I'd really like to read that."

Just read your last comment in which it was implied. Brouhaha about wire-free system building costs (even though DC's wired system has already proven to be the most expensive in the world) but nothing about which method would render less operating and maintenance costs.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

I don't want street cars, The wires are ugly.
I don't want buses, they are for lower income people.
I don't want bicycles, bike lanes mean less driving space.
I don't want metro stations, they bring too much traffic.
I don't want pedestrians, they make me wait at cross walks.
I want my car. You don't like the fumes and space I need? You must support taking away my god given (and constitutionally protected) right to own a car.

by MikeR on Nov 14, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

same tax right, rising assessments, = "jacking up taxes"

Do we have a refugee from Arlington Now?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 10:17 am • linkreport

DC's has been costly, AFAICT, because the previous admin rushed things and did poor planning, including building a track in Anacostia in an attempt to get SOMETHING in the ground, that will be used only as a test track for quite some time. I don't think that really speaks to the intrinsic cost of the technology.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

The short lampposts were so necessary that they were removed less than 2 yrs after they were installed. I would rather the proper (tall) lampposts were installed in the first place.

Our street was repaved a couple of years ago. A few months ago, a utility company dug up a trench and did some work. Then repaired the damage. This is a horrible waste! I would have rather the utility had done their work *before* the street was repaved in the first place.

So much waste!

by oboe on Nov 14, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

Hilarious that someone is arguing both that the poor downtrodden small business owner is being wronged by a DDOT that wastes too much money and that DDOT should dramatically increase the cost of the project purely for aesthetics.

by Mike on Nov 14, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

"Please cite the source where they (whoever "they" means) said that."

Well since the "they" is partly referring to Germans, as a German I'll throw in my 2 cents.

This is a complete non-issue in Germany, no one blinks an eye about installing new cables in old parts of our cities. And our cities are much older and more historic than anything in the US. Street cars are a highly valued part of our transit network and you really don't notice the cables. It actually adds character to the city. Look at New Orleans, an "old" city by US standards... the trolley is a integral part of the character of the city and no one is complaining about sight lines next to the Mississippi.

by blinkie on Nov 14, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

@ Awalkerinthecity

higher assessments=higher taxes

@ oboe

Bad analogy.

@ Mike

On a per mile cost basis, DDOT already has the most expensive streetcar system anywhere and is way over budget. So yes, I'm right for pointing out the clear waste that has happened.

Not sure how you can assume that building a wireless system with a different company's trams would "dramatically increase the cost of the project" without a proper cost comparison (not your speculation) and without considering the ongoing maintenance costs. And I don't remember ever saying or implying it was "purely for aesthetics," and in fact I don't support building any streetcar system at all.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

Seems to me that a bunch of the whining about wires and viewsheds is just coming from people hearing that they should care about it, or that it's part of the controversy. You wouldn't want to be anti-aesthetics, after all!

Reality is that if you have ever been to any city with trams, you'll know that the wires are basically a non-issue when it comes to "views" or seeing the sky or whatever the heck it is that people are so uptight about.

by MLD on Nov 14, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

Rising assessments is something that happens automatically as properties gain in value - its not about the city or county "jacking up taxes".

Of course the Congressional GOP wants to score revenue increases due to increased income etc as "tax increases" for purposes of determining revenue neutrality of tax changes, IIUC, so its perhapt not surprising that some folks around here consider an assessment change in an area gaining in value as "jacking up taxes".

Do the folks who have lost jobs in the recession thank the DC council for their cuts in income taxes? Do the folks in properties EOTR or in PG where values are still well below their bubble highs, thank the local govts for the property tax cuts?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

I haven't seen what that $161 million figure even consists of; applying it to a per-mile cost for the initial streetcar segment is silly. Does it include planning for the whole system? ROW spent in Anacostia? Who knows!

by MLD on Nov 14, 2013 11:45 am • linkreport

"in fact I don't support building any streetcar system at all"

Which makes your complaining that they didnt use a different system sound a bit strained.

Do you have any studies showing that life cycle costs for the wireless system are comparable? All I hear is A. a buncyh of chinese cities are building it B. Theres no evidence that the wireless system would be MUCH more expensive over the life cycle (though it seems clear the capital costs would be much higher) and C. DCs system had a lot of waste.

I don't see how that leads to "build wireless".

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

in fact I don't support building any streetcar system at all

There it is at last! Thanks for finally admitting this. I agree with Walker, that this admission makes it seem curious that you are advocating for alternate technology. Just the usual anti-transit BS where you try to seem like an advocate for something better, but it's only a ploy to kill things off.

by MLD on Nov 14, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

One may have non-aesthetic reasons for supporting wireless but that is pretty much the only thing in real consideration in the debate in the city at large.

by drumz on Nov 14, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

@ MLD

Short memory? You and distantennas were quick to provide costs for Dubai and Zhuhai's projects without actually considering what those costs entailed, but when I used the same tactic in regard to DC's project, you call it "silly."

At this point, it's actually 161+29=$190M and counting...and does NOT include planning and admin costs.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 11:55 am • linkreport

@ Awalkerinthecity and MLD

Whether or not I support streetcar systems in general has little to do with the fact that one obviously is obviously being built as we speak. And I have every right as a DC resident to weigh in on every aspect of how my tax dollars are being spent (without your permission).

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 12:00 pm • linkreport

There are plenty of examples of street car lines built for less per mile than DC's which suggests DCs is due to the unique factors here (like some DDOT mistakes) Do you have cites for wireless systems that cost less than those in Zhuhai and Dubai (which both have cheaper labor and different regulatory environments than the US does, BTW) ?

It sounds like you are more interested in playing gotcha than in discussing the path forward.

I am pleased to see that H street line is so close to completion. That increases in assessments on H Street are attributed to the street car by street car opponents is telling, wrt to the cost benefit analysis, IMO.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

Everyone has a legal right to speak, and everyone who follows the TOU of the blog has the right to post here. The question though, is how seriously those of us reading are going to take your arguments.

It is clear, yes, that wireless systems are being built in many chinese cities (though wired systems are also being built in many chinese cities, perhaps in more of them). They seem to be more expensive than wired systems. Its seems quite plausible that China is leaning towards them to develop a technology for export.

It would certainly be foolish to delay the DC streetcars further to change technologies now. As new lines move further along, it will be well to at least cursorily examine the alternatives. Presumably within a year or so we will have better data from China on operations.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 12:04 pm • linkreport

At this point, it's actually 161+29=$190M and counting...and does NOT include planning and admin costs.

Can you point to where you read that? I was trying to find a comprehensive accounting of what money was spend where and on what but I couldn't find one! Thanks!

by MLD on Nov 14, 2013 12:11 pm • linkreport

@ drumz

"One may have non-aesthetic reasons for supporting wireless but that is pretty much the only thing in real consideration in the debate in the city at large."

That's b/c DC leaders tend to be very short-sighted and frequently fail to properly assess maintenance costs.

@ Awalkerinthecity

"It sounds like you are more interested in playing gotcha than in discussing the path forward."

I can't help that you're having trouble supporting your earlier argument that DC's wired system would be cheaper compared to other wireless systems. It's actually proven to be one of the most expensive anywhere.

"The question though, is how seriously those of us reading are going to take your arguments."

I could care less about what you think, but more about how my money is spent.

"It would certainly be foolish to delay the DC streetcars further to change technologies now. "

That's your opinion. However, most of DC's planned system has not been built and remains in the early planning stages.

@MLD

"Can you point to where you read that"

DDOT's figures; City Paper recently covered it.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

@Burd
DDOT's figures; City Paper recently covered it.

City Paper - you mean this?
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/2013/11/05/streetcar-service-unlikely-before-spring/

The streetcar project has thus far cost about $161 million between the H Street-Benning line and the Anacostia line, plus planning and administrative costs, according to Nicholson.

Because that says the exact opposite of what you claimed! That cost includes both H Street and Anacostia, and includes planning!

I'm done taking you seriously, thanks.

by MLD on Nov 14, 2013 12:30 pm • linkreport


"I can't help that you're having trouble supporting your earlier argument that DC's wired system would be cheaper compared to other wireless systems. It's actually proven to be one of the most expensive anywhere."

The assertion made was that a wireless system would me more costly than a wired system. All other things being equal. Thats logically different from saying that DCs system will be less expensive per mile than Zhuhai's. Having a wireless system would not have prevented the mistakes made in the premature construction of the Anacostia segment, for example.

"I could care less about what you think, but more about how my money is spent."

Thats fine. I thought you were writing here to persuade readers.

"That's your opinion. However, most of DC's planned system has not been built and remains in the early planning stages."

And that planning can continue.

It would be helpful to this discussion if you could explain why other systems in North America and Europe are not pursuing wireless technology at this point. What makes China and Dubai special? And why is China continuing to pursue wired systems?

Try discussing this is if the burden of proof were on the new tech, and not on the old tech.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

"That's slightly over budget; Nicholson says DDOT will be requesting an additional $29 million for the construction contract, due largely to a historic preservation hurdle with the streetcar barn on the campus of Spingarn High School."

clearly wireless technology would have avoided that overrun. Im not sure how though.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

That's b/c DC leaders tend to be very short-sighted and frequently fail to properly assess maintenance costs.

Again, the biggest opponents of the wires do so on an aesthetic basis, the relative cost to them hasn't come into it. It may be something you're concerned about personally but at large, the debate over wires has been about protecting views and there haven't been many claims that it would be less costly or not from those groups.

by drumz on Nov 14, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

@ MLD

"Because that says the exact opposite of what you claimed! That cost includes both H Street and Anacostia, and includes planning!"

Not so:
1) I never said it did not include Anacostia, and in fact included the full 2.2 mi in my per-mile calculation. And mind you, neither the H St nor Anacostia segment is complete.

2) I see you had trouble reading the article: "PLUS planning and administrative costs, according to Nicholson." He said "PLUS" not "including." So in fact that figure does not include planning or admin costs like I said.

3)You left out the additional $29M that's needed.

@ Awalkerinthecity

"The assertion made was that a wireless system would me more costly than a wired system. All other things being equal. "

Which hasn't been proven.

"It would be helpful to this discussion if you could explain why other systems in North America and Europe are not pursuing wireless technology at this point."

In fact Bordeaux, Toulouse, Reims, Orleans, and Angers all have built or are building wireless systems for at least part of their networks, and I have no clue why US cities are behind the trend. And it would be helpful for you to explain how much it would cost to maintain DC's system compared to a wireless one provided by a specified provider.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 12:48 pm • linkreport

More hilarity. First complain that things are too expensive, then say what's needed is more delay and planning. (Fact: delays are the major source of cost increases in major infrastructure projects.) Then suggest that the mind-bogglingly expensive buried cable solution is better because of maintenance costs. (Fact: digging up the street to fix a cable isn't cheap. Doing it in a trolley railbed also makes it really hard to maintain service.) Can't wait for the next installment.

by Mike on Nov 14, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

Guys, calm down. Vienna and Milan -- in addition to countless smaller European cities -- are both arguably vastly more attractive than DC (anywhere in DC). Their street car wires don't look bad at all -- they add visual interest to the streets, because they are elegantly strewn and not attached to big, crooked wooden poles as electrical utilities do here throughout DC. If anything, MORE wires (not electrical or cable) could make DC even more attractive. I think cities with strung lights are some of the most attractive in the world (http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7028/6836879617_a495d67bb6_o.jpg) -- very elegant, as this pic from Copenhagen demonstrates.

by James on Nov 14, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

" Awalkerinthecity

"The assertion made was that a wireless system would me more costly than a wired system. All other things being equal. "

Which hasn't been proven.

"It would be helpful to this discussion if you could explain why other systems in North America and Europe are not pursuing wireless technology at this point."

In fact Bordeaux, Toulouse, Reims, Orleans, and Angers all have built or are building wireless systems for at least part of their networks, and I have no clue why US cities are behind the trend. And it would be helpful for you to explain how much it would cost to maintain DC's system compared to a wireless one provided by a specified provider."

as has been mentioned numerous times those euro cities are doing it for only small parts of their networks - as DC will likely do for part of the K Street line downtown.

and no I do not know how exactly how costly it would be to do wireless with any particular vendor. Nor do you.

The evidence seems to me to be very strong that it would be more costly, all other things being equal. But no I don't have "proof"

You are doing a good job of trying to shift the burden of proof to me though. Are you a lawyer?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

@ Mike

Not sure whom you are addressing, b/c I didn't say or imply any of that.

@ Awalkerinthecity

"and no I do not know how exactly how costly it would be to do wireless with any particular vendor. Nor do you."

Yet you and others keep making claims that DC is taking the least expensive route. I at least have looked into how much CNR Corporation sold its cars to Samsun, Turkey ($2.02M each), which is half as much as DC paid for its cars from Oregon Iron Works ($4.35M each).

"You are doing a good job of trying to shift the burden of proof to me though. Are you a lawyer?"

You are doing a good job not proving the claims you make and ignoring the proof I've provided for the claims I've made. Read this thread and see that I never said that the wireless system would be less costly. I was however told numerous times that a wireless system would be "extremely" costly and would "dramatically" increase costs, which they have not proven. I at least showed that DC's system, for the unfinished 2.2 miles of tracks they've already laid has been one of the most expensive projects anywhere, and that it is paying twice as much for its cars than it can get elsewhere.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 1:38 pm • linkreport

I did not say its taking the "least expensive route" which surely would not have involved building the Anacostia segment first, and might have involved bids from more wired car manufacturers. All I am say8ing is that the prepondernace of the evidence is that wireless is sigificantly costlier than wired. Which is not contradicted by what you have posted.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Burd: ooh, a new attempt to deflect by bringing in yet another element--classic play. Yes, US cities pay more for rolling stock than non-US cities. If you researched a little harder you'd find that "buy american" provisions make it extremely difficult for US cities to source equipment built overseas. So, once again, apples to walnuts comparison.

by Mike on Nov 14, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

@ Awalkerinthecity

"All I am say8ing is that the prepondernace of the evidence is that wireless is sigificantly costlier than wired. "

...without actually providing any evidence and no mention at all about maintenance costs.

@ Mike

"a new attempt to deflect by bringing in yet another element--classic play"

Mentioning that CNR sold wireless trains abroad for half as much as DC bought its trains is not deflecting from catenary proponents' main argument that wired systems are less costly.

"If you researched a little harder you'd find that "buy american" provisions make it extremely difficult for US cities to source equipment built overseas. "

If you researched at all, you'd find that you're wrong. DC's first choice was the costlier Czech-built cars BTW. The "buy america" provision of the Invest in American Jobs Act wouldn't have applied until 2016 and hasn't even been enacted.

So once again talking about things you don't know.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 2:53 pm • linkreport

The evidence is that

A. The cost per mile for the systems you cited is significantly higher (as others have shown) than that typically found for wired systems in developed countries (which are normally much lower than the cost per mile so far for DC)

B. That almost all new systems in the world (with the exceptions of SOME in China, and ONE in Dubai) are either i. Wired throughout or ii. Wired mostly but with a wireless section

If there is evidence that there are maintenance savings that substantively offset the capital costs, its up wireless proponents to bring them forward.

IIUC the committee of 100 is an opponent of wired systems. I presume they have sufficient resources to bring forward a business case for wireless - one in which the vendors of wireless systems would be happy to cooperate, I imagine.

That they have not done so leads me to suspect the case is not there.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 3:03 pm • linkreport

@Awalkerinthecity
A. That's not conclusive.
Minneapolis' SW Corridor wired=$129M/mi
DC wired=$86M/mi and counting...
Zhuhai=$77M/mi

Low Chinese labor costs alone can't explain the big gap here...

B. What's your point? I admit it's a new trend on which US cities are far behind.

"If there is evidence that there are maintenance savings that substantively offset the capital costs, its up wireless proponents to bring them forward."

It's really DDOT's job to properly assess how to build the most cost efficient system possible and to plan accordingly, which they didn't do.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 4:52 pm • linkreport

Why can't labor costs AND environmental regs and other considerations explain it? IIUC chinese construction costs on infra are lower than ours by at least that factor.

"It's really DDOT's job to properly assess how to build the most cost efficient system possible and to plan accordingly, which they didn't do."

But I dont know that they didnt do it, at least in their choice of a wired system. If you want to convince me (or anyone else reading here) that they did, because they made the same choice as all other systems outside China and Dubai, and as did many chinese systems, I still think the burden of proof is as I stated it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 14, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

@ Awalkerinthecity

"Why can't labor costs AND environmental regs and other considerations explain it? IIUC chinese construction costs on infra are lower than ours by at least that factor."

I guess it's too hard to accept the invalidity of your statement, "The cost per mile for the systems you cited is significantly higher ...than that typically found for wired systems in developed countries," so you are making excuses for why your statement is wrong.

China buys its steel on the open market like everyone else and imports more of it. Yes China's labour costs are obviously lower, but the steel price is set by the market, and no one is giving China a discount.

And please explain how environmental regs have made DC's system more costly.

by Burd on Nov 14, 2013 6:17 pm • linkreport

@ blinkie:This is a complete non-issue in Germany, no one blinks an eye about installing new cables in old parts of our cities.

But that is in Europe, where debate is generally reasonable. Here we are in the US, where you get your way by making up something that sounds reasonable, but is in fact bullshit. You win the debate by finding a spokesperson that can repeat that bullshit with a totally honest face. Repeat it enough and all the opponents will adopt it as their unshakable mantra.

by Jasper on Nov 14, 2013 8:25 pm • linkreport

Agreed @Jasper

This is such a silly debate! Even as vast swaths of Washington DC are covered by hideous layers and layers of wires awkwardly strung upon crooked wooden poles, folks freak out about a few -- very thin compared to electrical and cable -- wires carefully strung between buildings to power a streetcar. If anything, these wires add visual interest to the street corridor and give it something of a 'roof' to form an outdoor room; in contrast to the hideousness of the electrical and cable wires that we just tolerate because we're 'too poor' to put our utilities underground like the rest of the rich world.

by James on Nov 14, 2013 8:35 pm • linkreport

Well hey, I just enjoy playing straight man to burd.

Get back to me on costs when zuhai is built. Burd is counting chickens before they hatch. But that's the point. Especially when we're locked into a finicky system with a single-vendor maintenance contract for 30 years.

But that's the point. To delay it and. To make the streetcar look like a financial disaster.

by gimbels lover on Nov 14, 2013 9:44 pm • linkreport

@ gimbels lover

"Get back to me on costs when zuhai is built. "

Get back to me when DC's fully planned 2.2 mi are built. It's already more expensive, over budget and far from finished. No timeline has even been given for the Anacostia portion.

"But that's the point. To delay it and. To make the streetcar look like a financial disaster."

I don't need to do what's already been done.

by Burd on Nov 15, 2013 12:46 am • linkreport

The 2.2 miles will be opening in 2014 it looks like. That's the distance from Union Station to the Benning Bridge.

You didn't think the 2.2 miles included Anacostia, right?

by MLD on Nov 15, 2013 8:35 am • linkreport

burd - there are costs to environmental reviews, and in the case of the mtnce barn there have been historic preservation and appearance issues that have impacted design.

Its also appears that your per mile number attributes the entire cost of the Spingarn mtnce facility to the 2.2 mile segment, when in fact it will provide mtnce for a much larger portion of the system.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 15, 2013 9:00 am • linkreport

@Burd: another excellent play, bringing in another irrelevant distraction (Invest in American Jobs Act) while ignoring pre-existing "buy american" provisions (the relevant legislation includes the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982).

(For those following along, the original foreign-sourced streetcars were lumped into an order from portland which avoided the buy american rules by forgoing federal funding, and were purchased at a time when there was no domestic source. In 2006 skoda entered into an agreement with oregon iron works to permit domestic production to meet the then-60% domestic sourcing requirement and qualify for federal funding; newer cars have been built domestically rather than overseas. There are now 3 companies [oregon/united streetcar, siemens, and brookville] making modern [not vintage/novelty] streetcars in the US, and ignoring all of those in favor of a foreign-sourced option would be difficult or impossible for practical and political reasons.)

by Mike on Nov 15, 2013 9:02 am • linkreport

@ MLD

"You didn't think the 2.2 miles included Anacostia, right?"

Either you misunderstood or I wasn't clear enough. The initial Anacostia line was reduced to .75 mi, but is ON HOLD, and not close to being finished for the "foreseeable future" and will require much more add'l funding.

@ Awalkerinthecity

" there are costs to environmental reviews, and in the case of the mtnce barn there have been historic preservation and appearance issues that have impacted design."

"Environmental reviews" or studies wouldn't account for that big gap, and the maintenance barn only accounts for PART of the add'l $29M that was requested. And of course the line is incomplete, and so more money will be needed.

@ Mike

If you actually took a moment to read the law you referenced, then you would know that there is an important exception to the "buy america rule" if:

"that inclusion of domestic material will increase the cost of the overall project contract by more than 25 percent."

Another excellent job jumping the gun on stuff you don't know...

by Burd on Nov 15, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

In Seattle right now. I don't even notice the wires when I am walking around this beautiful city. But, I do notice how much quieter the streetcar is than cars and buses. (It is exponentially quieter - you can barely hear it go by. Can wire opponents say the same about their cars and SUVs?) And how it does not spew any street level exhaust. And how much smoother and comfortable a ride it provides compared to a bus. After riding the Seattle streetcar, buses seem downright archaic.

by rg on Nov 16, 2013 10:19 am • linkreport

@Burd: so you're arguing that the increase in cost of the cars alone will increase the cost of the overall streetcar project by more that 25%? Either those are really expensive cars or that's some bargain rate infrastructure.

by Mike on Nov 18, 2013 8:04 am • linkreport

Late to this conversation, but I find the argument that some streetcar wires would mar the scenic H St NE pretty laughable. Can anyone really argue that with a straight face?

I sent GGW a picture of Rome's trams in one of its most historic neighborhoods. It was not intrusive.

by lou on Nov 18, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

@ Mike

I'm saying that all materials, including the streetcars, which I used only as an example b/c DC is buying them for 100% higher than the price CNR China is selling them to overseas buyers, could make the cost of the entire project 25% less expensive and therefore the "buy American" provision inapplicable.

Clearly if DC is buying the most expensive streetcars on the market, then it stands to reason that DC is buying other materials for much more than they could get elsewhere...which is why this project is way overbudget.

by Burd on Nov 20, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

Hard to fathom why some people are so alarmed at the wires for the streetcars. The old system in the late 1950s had no overhead wires om DC like other cities. They used the hot third rail. Personally, I prefer the overhead wires as I have never considered streetcar or trolleybus wires as ugly, as they represent a public transport system that is clean. And, as kids in Atlanta in the 40's, we loved watching the sparks after dark from the wire/pole contact at intersections. If I have a choice of picking my pollution, I will pick the visual wires over the un-visual pollution of belching "natural clean gas" buses that replaced the diesels. The people of Iraq are trying to piece their nation back together after we destroyed their infrastructure and yet nit-pickers in the USA complain about wire pollution. Get a grip on what's important.

by Thomas A. Dutton on Jun 12, 2014 4:57 pm • linkreport

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