Greater Greater Washington

Streetcar arrives on H Street

On Friday night, DDOT crews moved the first streetcar to H Street.


DC Streetcar. All images from BeyondDC.

The last time streetcars ran on DC streets was January, 1962, just shy of 52 years ago. But don't expect to catch a ride just yet. The streetcars must now undergo a series of on-street tests before passenger service can begin sometime in 2014.


Are you excited? We're excited.

Many city residents stopped by over the weekend to snap their own pictures. If you haven't had a chance yet, it's right there. You can go anytime.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

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

Add a comment »

Hummmm. Next to that X2 bus, that streetcar does look small. I thought it was a bit beefier for some reason.

by JDC Esq on Dec 16, 2013 10:25 am • linkreport

Well it's almost twice as long as a bus and has about double the capacity. It's a bit less than one metrorail car though.

by BTA on Dec 16, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

Can't see anything. All the light is blocked by the view-blocking power lines.

by Jasper on Dec 16, 2013 10:30 am • linkreport

But they are scalabe too like the metro, though obviously operating on city streets they cant be that long.

by BTA on Dec 16, 2013 10:34 am • linkreport

It's worth noting that at 66' long the current vehicles are the smallest modern streetcars available. Many cities use much longer ones. Toronto, which has North America's largest streetcar network uses 99' long railcars. Plus, of course, you can couple them into trains.

by BeyondDC on Dec 16, 2013 10:36 am • linkreport

I will be sure to take it next time I am in SE. LOL

by Hondo on Dec 16, 2013 10:38 am • linkreport

You mean NE?

by BTA on Dec 16, 2013 10:39 am • linkreport

So does this mean the Mayor gets to pat himself on the back for guaranteeing there would be a streetcar on H Street in 2013? Never mind that it's a few months away from passenger service!

by MLD on Dec 16, 2013 10:42 am • linkreport

The wires between the lamp posts in these photos are what we expected. But past Florida on Benning Road there are hundreds of big new black telephone polls in the middle of the street to hold wires that look HORRIBLE. Why did the tracks have to move to the middle on Benning?

by Tom Coumaris on Dec 16, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

I rode in this model in the fall of 2006 when there was an initial test set running in Prague. I think it ran as a three-car train? Three or two. It looked very different from the existing trams, so people would point and make comments whenever they saw it roll on by.

by Dizzy on Dec 16, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

Whee. Pricey Nostalgia. What's the point?

by asffa on Dec 16, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

the points are higher transit mode share, and more development and higher property values - resulting in more tax revenue.

Note to all discussing seperate ROW. This is only phase 1 of the "one city" line, which WILL have seperate ROW downtown.

Re multi-street car trains. IIUC the limit on city streets is to get quickly across intersections. Thus on Bostons green line, which crosses intersections even where it goes on seperate surface ROW, single cars are run, but they are attached together for operation in the green line subway. Since there are no proposals for such in DC, that wouldnt apply here - but one should not an intrinsic advantage of light rail/street car is the ability to run trains on completely seperate ROW (which buses cannot do) AND to run on surface either in mixed traffic, or on seperate ROW crossing at intersections (which heavy rail cannot do, at least not at urban transit frequencies)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 16, 2013 11:16 am • linkreport

I won't speak for others, but my personal answer to the question "what's the point" is that hopefully these initial projects create momentum for dedicated lanes that will ensure these trains are a useful and efficient mode of transit, rather than "pricey nostalgia."

Whether it will do that or not remains to be seen. In terms of transit value added, I actually think the Anacostia streetcar connecting the metro station to the entrance to Bolling is superior.

by Dizzy on Dec 16, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

They are pretty…but in the sections without separate right-of-way, this is a fancy bus. It may get more people to ride, which is a positive, but that seems to be more rooted in some riders' fear of buses more than anything else.

by Mister Goat on Dec 16, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

" It may get more people to ride, which is a positive, but that seems to be more rooted in some riders' fear of buses more than anything else. "

Its debatable what it is that accounts for higher rail mode share with the same service parameters (transit time, frequency) as a bus. Its claimed that its a smoother, quieter ride thats the issue. Others say its just bus stigma. As an advocate for higher transit mode share, I don't think there's much to be gained by agonozing if the new passengers are really there for rail related comfort, or are sufferers from bus stigma.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 16, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

i agree. if more people are willing to ride these than a bus, then these ARE different than buses. the effect is what matters, not the pencil-pushing worrying of fiscal regressives.

by ballston guy on Dec 16, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity wrote:
Thus on Bostons green line, which crosses intersections even where it goes on seperate surface ROW, single cars are run, but they are attached together for operation in the green line subway.

It's possible that things have changed since I moved out of Boston in 2006, but I don't think that this is correct. All of the branches of the Green Line run underground for a period and then go above ground. There's no coupling of cars when they go underground (unless, as I said, something has changed significantly).

by Mister Goat on Dec 16, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

I lived in Boston in the 1970's and I recall coupling underground, but I may be misremembering.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 16, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

the effect is what matters

Except, of course, that investment of the same money in improved bus infrastructure could do far more could be done in areas that are far less transit-served than the H Street corridor.

not the pencil-pushing worrying of fiscal regressives.

Thanks for the ad hominem attack. Really improves the discourse.

by Mister Goat on Dec 16, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

MBTA Green Line cars run coupled both below and above ground:
http://www.umcycling.com/mbta3604clevinbound.jpg

How would you couple them together just for the subway run? Have one train wait for another?

by MLD on Dec 16, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

Yeah, I think that you may well be misremembering. Coupling trains after they enter the tunnels (which are in the downtown core), or uncoupling them before they go aboveground, would be quite a disruption.

by Mister Goat on Dec 16, 2013 11:51 am • linkreport

MLD - you have multiple surface lines feeding a single subway line (at least past a certain point) so you would couple the ones that arrived at almost the same time. Much like (in a very abstract way) a freight railroad switching operation.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 16, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

investment of the same money in improved bus infrastructure could do far more

not if people aren't willing to ride buses. but thanks for ignoring the whole point of what i said. really improves the discourse.

by ballston guy on Dec 16, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

"Except, of course, that investment of the same money in improved bus infrastructure could do far more could be done in areas that are far less transit-served than the H Street corridor."

I am sure DC will be pursuing that as well. But the H Street NE to downtown to Gtown corridor is a corridor with significant potential payback in terms of tax revenue and in terms of increasing transit share in a place where metro rail is congested. So I can't really see DC not doing something in that corridor.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 16, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

Please DDOT, get the rest of this initial E-W line running to G'Town soon!

That's when this thing starts truly realizing its potential--and about when we'll watch as every neighborhood wants to get on board...

by Boris on Dec 16, 2013 11:57 am • linkreport

not if people aren't willing to ride buses.

But y'see, ballstonguy, that's a untrue. People DO ride buses in many parts of the city. There are a few hundred thousand bus boardings a day, and there are many buses that are packed to the gills. More people would ride if there were dedicated lanes, signal coordination, more frequent service, and other enhancements. This is true in costly areas like 16th street and low-income areas east of the river.

Since you're mostly communicating through snark and ad hominem, I'll put it this easy: You're confusing "Some gentrifiers are afraid of the bus and think that it's icky" with "people aren't willing to ride buses." And in doing so, you're ignoring hundreds of thousands of bus riders. Not a great basis for transit policy.

by Mister Goat on Dec 16, 2013 12:05 pm • linkreport

People do ride the buses on the H street coordinator. The X2 is packed to the gills. Buses so packed that people can't get on is not "well served."

by Birdie on Dec 16, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

We don't teach finance in US schools? It's almost this simple:

Streetcars compared to buses: Yes, larger initial capital outlay, but higher efficiency and lower operating costs (streetcars make long-term financial sense on busy lines).

Investment is not waste. Disinvestment is. For example, it is sad that so many Americans think deferring infrastructure maintenance during a period of historically low interest rates is saving money...

by Boris on Dec 16, 2013 12:10 pm • linkreport

and, mister goat, you're confusing "some people do ride buses" with "as many people as possible". do you deny that more people will ride a train? do you deny that what gentrifiers do matters to the city? do

i didn't say buses were useless. i use the bus to commute every single day. what i said was if streetcars attract more riders, that's what matters most. so unless you're going to deny that streetcars attract more riders, i don't know what your point is except to complain about spending money.

by ballston guy on Dec 16, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

Worth re-posting Dan's list of advantages that a streetcar has over a bus.

http://beyonddc.com/?p=1733

A: yes, there are many places in DC where bus service can be better. But on this corridor, the capacity is maxed out. And you can only add so many more vehicles before you see a reduction in service. I don't know why a segregated lane wasn't in the cards for this corridor but it is what it is so a streetcar can provide more capacity.

B: I agree with Walker that wondering why people prefer a streetcar over a bus only provides so much benefit. Hopefully, as streetcars become more popular they get easier to install on new routes anyway (example: germany can add a new streetcar for far cheaper than a US city. One reason is that streetcars are more of a known quantity there).

by drumz on Dec 16, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

asffa:
"Whee. Pricey Nostalgia. What's the point?"

Maybe ask the thousands of new residents (who will all contribute significant property and income tax) as well as the dozens of new business owners along the H Street corridor what the point of the streetcar is.

by 202_cyclist on Dec 16, 2013 1:05 pm • linkreport

Mister Goat:
"Except, of course, that investment of the same money in improved bus infrastructure could do far more could be done in areas that are far less transit-served than the H Street corridor."

It is pretty simple to change a bus route or terminate the route entirely. Nobody is going to invest billions of dollars along a bus route.

by 202_cyclist on Dec 16, 2013 1:13 pm • linkreport

Buses average 40 seats and DDOT uses an optimal load factor to be 1.2, meaning an optimal capacity of 48 passengers.

DC’s streetcars have 30 seats. DDOT has claimed a capacity of 168 passengers, 30 seated, and 138 standing. On the other hand, the manufacturer puts the capacity at 114 to 158 passengers (ranging from 5 persons per square meter to 8 persons per square meter).

Even if one assumes that the streetcar operates at double the capacity of the buses, 96 passengers, that would be 30 seated passengers seated and 66 standing passengers, rather than 80 seated passengers and 16 standees on two buses.

I also think that a major streetscape project would be necessary if you were to consider coupling the streetcars.

by OtherMike on Dec 16, 2013 1:14 pm • linkreport

Two buses also means two drivers and then the driver of the second bus is at the mercy of the one on front of it.

by Drumz on Dec 16, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

Pricey yes. And we have it and you don't.

by NE John on Dec 16, 2013 1:31 pm • linkreport

Two buses would actually be more like 8-10 buses, because streetcars last 4-5 times longer than buses.

On Saturday I rode a streetcar in Philadelphia that was built in 1947, and is still in active service 66 years later. Buses rarely last 15.

by BeyondDC on Dec 16, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

The most expensive part of operating a bus is actually the driver so adding buses operationally may have a higher incremental cost per passenger.

by BTA on Dec 16, 2013 1:41 pm • linkreport

Please DDOT, get the rest of this initial E-W line running to G'Town soon!

That's when this thing starts truly realizing its potential

Yeah, I wouldn't get too excited about this initial 2.4 mile segment that stops a five minute walk from the Union Station metro platform on one end and at no transit connection on the other end and has no dedicated ROW.

I'm not sure that this phase is what's going to prove all the naysayers wrong. The segment that will really make the case for streetcars is Union Station to Georgetown.

by Falls Church on Dec 16, 2013 2:00 pm • linkreport

Can someone tell me exactly where the Union Station stop will be? On the Hopscotch? Thanks

by Kev29 on Dec 16, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

"Two buses would actually be more like 8-10 buses, because streetcars last 4-5 times longer than buses."

Cherry picking the stated ratio a bit here by comparing the average bus lifespan of 12 years with a rather unique case. I would say the average is more in the range of just over twice as long of a lifespan.

The PCC-II cars on Girard were extensively rebuilt for that service, after spending about 10 years in "mothballs." The PCC cars of the 1940's were indeed durable, but only a fraction of those constructed managed to hang on more than 35 years of service. There are some instances of streetcar and light rail fleets living short lives, such as the Boeing models of the late 1970's.

Similarly, Washington DC's "Fishbowl" buses of 1962 vintage ran daily service until finally being retired around 2000, a span of 38 years of service.

Typically, streetcars outlive buses, but not by an average of 4-5 times the lifespan.

by A. P. on Dec 16, 2013 2:42 pm • linkreport

I think the Hopscotch Bridge makes things worse than the H St. NE tunnel that used to go under the tracks on the north side of Union Station. Is there any reason why we can't go back to that? This would also allow for access into Union Station from H to be built in.

by DaveG on Dec 16, 2013 3:27 pm • linkreport

The closest I know of to the exact location of the Union Station stop:

The western turnaround is on top of the Hopscotch Bridge, where passengers can disembark and follow a pedestrian path into Union Station.

http://www.dcstreetcar.com/projects/hbenning/

by Falls Church on Dec 16, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

@ A. P.

True most things of the 1950s vintage ran forever. They are overbuilt, get crappy mileage, but rarely break. A good number of buses from the late 40s and 50s are still dutifully working in Africa and Latin America. It isn't really anything for the US to be too proud of. The parts of Africa that drive on the wrong side of the road and India have 1950's buses from England doing the same thing.

But street cars do last longer. Lacking an internal combustion engine or a transmission really helps here. Reduced vibration on the rails helps too. The list goes on and on.

by Richard on Dec 16, 2013 4:32 pm • linkreport

The First and G metro entrance will probably be easier for people looking to bypass Union Station crowds. The improved the pedestrian pathing through the garage though over the past couple of years at least.

by BTA on Dec 16, 2013 4:47 pm • linkreport

oh duh nm you can't get there from the bridge... hmmm

by BTA on Dec 16, 2013 4:48 pm • linkreport

My only question is that if it's taken this long to lay all of 3.4 miles of track and get 1 streetcar onto the tracks for a TEST RUN, how long will it take to build out and begin operating the proposed 37-mile system?

by ceefer66 on Dec 16, 2013 4:57 pm • linkreport

If thats a concern, you should probably contact your CM to make sure the process is not delayed for those other lines.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 16, 2013 5:07 pm • linkreport

My only question is that if it's taken this long to lay all of 3.4 miles of track and get 1 streetcar onto the tracks for a TEST RUN, how long will it take to build out and begin operating the proposed 37-mile system?

Less time than the 50+ years it took the ICC from concept to completion.

by Falls Church on Dec 16, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

"Less time than the 50+ years it took the ICC from concept to completion."
---

Considering the fact that streetcar project isn't suffering from the well-organized, ongoing and stubborn opposition that plagued the ICC, I would have to agree.

Time will tell.

by ceefer66 on Dec 16, 2013 7:24 pm • linkreport

Lol

by Drumz on Dec 16, 2013 7:32 pm • linkreport

I want to know how does this compare to the frequency, service and fare of the X2 which travels along more of the city, more logical stops, will run more often etc. Unless the streetcar car runs every 5-10 minutes on weekdays, or 24 hours a day it is worst than the X2.

@ Drumz

How is the bus driver in the second bus at the mercy of the first one ?

Buses can and do drive around each other I see it every single day when I take the bus.

by kk on Dec 16, 2013 7:39 pm • linkreport

The x2 will still run I believe, since it goes to gallery place.

Anyway, my point was that two buses isn't equal to one streetcar. But if the bus needs to make a stop then it can't swing around. And you still have to pay for a second driver.

by Drumz on Dec 16, 2013 7:52 pm • linkreport

My only question is that if it's taken this long to lay all of 3.4 miles of track and get 1 streetcar onto the tracks for a TEST RUN, how long will it take to build out and begin operating the proposed 37-mile system?

I'm curious: how long do you think the process has taken? You do know that the track was laid (early) as part of the H Street streetscape project, right?

by oboe on Dec 17, 2013 12:17 pm • linkreport

@Oboe,

The process has thus far taken 8 years. The program was announced in January 2006, formally authorized and funded as of March 2007 to coincide with the streetscape project. This is when the service start date of late 2009 was established and service to start in early 2010.

By 2010, the date had moved to late 2011. By August 2011, the service start date had been pushed back to summer 2013.

Despite Gray's assurances, the opening was pushed again to late 2013, and now we are what,~March 2014?

So, it has taken from January 2006 until March 2014, more than 8 years which has seen the project fall more than 4 years behind its original scheduled opening date.

Oh, and we bought the street cars in 2007. They were finished by April 2007 when we then had to pay for storing them at the manufacturer for 3 years, then another 3 years here, spending millions of dollars simply to store these unused street cars.

It, is in a word..."embarrasing".

by H Street on Dec 17, 2013 12:35 pm • linkreport

"Oh, and we bought the street cars in 2006".

by H Street on Dec 17, 2013 12:37 pm • linkreport

clearly there is great risk of the rest of the system not being finished quickly, as long as Adrian Fenty remains in charge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 12:44 pm • linkreport

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.

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/20326/can-ddot-build-a-streetcar-network-in-5-years/

If you're concerned about the time its taking to get the streetcar operational then begin writing to the council now.

by drumz on Dec 17, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

@H Street:

I can see why you and others are confused. The streetcars purchased in 2006 were for the Anacostia line, not the H Street line. Mayor Williams announced plans for the H Street revitalization in 2003--which was planned to take between 5 and 10 years. The H Street line was announced in 2006. Construction was pushed forward to coincide with the larger H Street revitalization project in order to avoid tearing up the street twice.

The streetscape was estimated to be complete by 2009 (along with the streetcar tracks), with a scheduled service start date of 2011.

So, to recap: the city bought cars in 2006, but not for the H Street line. Mayor Williams announced the H Street streetscape project in 2003--a project that was supposed be completed sometime between 2008 and 2013. Planners decided (with uncharacteristic foresight) to push the installation of streetcar tracks during the streetscape improvement forward to save money and commercial disruption.

So the project was delayed by either 3-4 years, depending on who you talk to. Largely because of issues with the Union Station connection and siting of the car barn.

Starting the clock at the moment DC bought streetcars (for any purpose) is silly. It's like starting the clock when the first DC pol had the thought "gee, I sure miss streetcars."

by oboe on Dec 17, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

I didn't start the clock when the street cars were orderd. I was simply pointing out the additional ridiculousness of a project that was so poorly run that they decide to buy the cars six year before they were to be used, requiring millions of dollars to store them.

The clock was started in January 2006, when the program was authorized and the street cars were ordered and the late 2009 service date was established. So as of today "late 2013", the program is a solid 4 years behind. Defending it as anything other than an embarrasing 4 year debacle that it is, is simply naive. Heck, even the Economist has been making international hay at our expense over the DC Streetcar program.

by H Street on Dec 17, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

clearly there is good reason not to reelect Fenty.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 17, 2013 4:02 pm • linkreport

Does being dissappointed that its taken so long mean I must insist that the whole idea be scrapped (literally!)?

by drumz on Dec 17, 2013 4:07 pm • linkreport

I was simply pointing out the additional ridiculousness of a project that was so poorly run that they decide to buy the cars six year before they were to be used, requiring millions of dollars to store them.

Again, you don't seem to understand the timeline. The cars that were purchased were never intended to be used on the H Street line. They were purchased for the Anacostia line.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DC_Streetcar

by oboe on Dec 18, 2013 9:05 am • linkreport

@oboe:

...where they also aren't yet running.

by MetroDerp on Dec 18, 2013 11:46 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or