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Hear the candidates: Ward 6 on transportation

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 6 on the DC Council. See all of the segments here.

Images from the candidate websites.

DC's Ward 6 has a lot of transportation options, from Metro to buses to Capital Bikeshare to walking and much more, and soon will get another: a streetcar on H Street. What do the candidates for DC Council think about the streetcar and other ways to improve transit?

Both Darrel Thompson and Charles Allen said the streetcar project has been delayed too many times. "It's moving; it's not moving fast enough, some could certainly argue," said Thompson. "I remember in 2007 when the streetcar was promised to be running in 2010," said Allen. "Then it was 2011, then 2012, then promised in 2013, and now here we are in 2014." But Allen was bullish on the streetcar's promise, especially if and when it connects beyond H Street and Benning Road.

It's going to be up and running. It will be. And I think it's going to be great for H Street. What I want to do is work to make sure that H Street line isn't just a novelty, isn't just a track that runs up and down the block and is a fun ride but doesn't create the transit connection that you need. ...

I've got to keep an eye on how do we expand that line down Benning Road and into Ward 7. The streetcar works when it connects neighborhoods. So we've got to have that line that connects east and into Ward 7. We've also got to get it over the bridge and into downtown.

This is the first line and it's going to be the one that everyone is watching. But to the extent it's a novelty ride, I think we do a detriment to all the good work and the hard work that's gone into protecting and supporting our streetcar system.

Allen also spoke about the importance of a north-south connection from Southwest to downtown and Shaw and north through the rest of the city.

Darrel Thompson, meanwhile, spoke positively about the streetcar but also with some trepidation. "It's a good idea," he said, but, "We want to make sure it doesn't impede traffic flow. We've got to work out some of the kinks. We've got to make sure that some of the parking challenges that folks have are met. ... So I think it's a great idea, and we'll work out some of the kinks and make sure it works smoothly, and then we can expand to other parts of the city."

What about a dedicated lane? "It'd be great if we could open up 4 more lanes for more streetcars," Thompson said, jokingly. "We've got limited resources... and the challenge is making sure we accommodate as many people as possible as best we possibly can."

Earlier, when we talked about dedicated bus lanes and cycletracks, Thompson said he thinks DC should "look at every option out there and build it where it's feasible," but that we "also have to remember that some people still need to be able to drive and park." He does favor "maximizing the existing infrastructure we have, and if that means isolating a lane for bus traffic, that's a good thing."

Allen, meanwhile, does want to see both streetcar and bus dedicated lanes. "I don't view streetcar or bus rapid transit as mutually exclusive," he said. "On H Street, the concern that we've got is that we're running the streetcar right though traffic. ... As we plan for the streetcar moving forward, I think we would like to to look for how you have a dedicated lane, a dedicated space, for so that it is a quick & reliable mode of transportation."

In addition to lanes, Allen cited limited-stop services like the X9 on H and Benning which help people move much more quickly along a corridor.

Watch the full transportation exchanges below to get the fullest understanding of the candidates' thoughts, including on bicycling and how councilmembers should and should not respond to resident opposition to projects (such as the once-controversial Lincoln Park Capital Bikeshare station).

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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No where in this post does it mention Allen's first name. I had to hover my mouse over his image to learn it was Charles.

by recyclist on Feb 19, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

I tried really hard not to like Allen, but he just gets it...

I wonder if anyone has thought, instead of simple bus/bike lanes in corridors like 16th st or possibly PA ave SE, if HOV lanes might be even more effective.

Bus/Bike/3+ passengers and possibly C2G/carshare.

Allowing 3+ in that lane takes 2 vehicles off of the road and moves the third into a low traffic lane, effectively removing 3 vehicles from general circulation.

The C2G option, just as a thought. You reward DC residents for using small, efficient cars that would help to connect more remote areas of upper northwest/east while not throwing a bone to the people from the Maryland Suburbs who drive their chargers and nissan armadas through the city while providing little benefit to the district itself.

by potomacaveres on Feb 19, 2014 1:11 pm • linkreport

Has anyone else found the ward 6 race to be terribly vapid? I have a generally positive opinion of both these candidates, yet I've heard essentially no ideas from either of them. For example, one has an "education plan" that is literally a four-point list of ideals that no thinking person could disagree with (i.e., "give teachers the resources they need." that's pretty unobjectionable.)

Guess I'm just disappointed and not highly convicted for either candidate. Two smart and capable guys, but no original ideas? That doesn't bode well for the council.

by MJ on Feb 19, 2014 1:19 pm • linkreport

I think HOV lanes would be fine but the problem is its much easier (though not easy even then) to monitor a strict bus/car divide vs having to determine how many people are in the car in the HOV lane.

by BTA on Feb 19, 2014 1:24 pm • linkreport

recyclist: Sorry, I fixed it.

by David Alpert on Feb 19, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

potomacaveres -- I suggested HOV2 for some roads in the Brookland planning process. OP was militantly against.

But your idea is a good one. Former Brookland resident and MoCo planner Patrick Hare suggested that DC explore HOV in 1991...,%201991&author=&pub=The%20Washington%20Post%20%28pre-1997%20Fulltext%29&edition=&startpage=b.08&desc=HOV%20Lanes:%20Not%20Just%20for%20Highways

by Richard Layman on Feb 19, 2014 3:15 pm • linkreport

Once again one set of statements on one issue would determine my choice in this election if it hadn't already been determined by the Hine issue yesterday. Thompson's main concern about the streetcar is "mak[ing] sure it doesn't impede traffic flow." I can't express how thoroughly short-sighted I feel this point of view is -- "windshield perspective" indeed! Meanwhile, Allen is seeing the potential of streetcar lines for the back neighborhoods of the ward and the city.

Thanks again for this series. I've seldom had such a clear-cut, well-informed choice in a local election.

by A Streeter on Feb 19, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

DDOT estimates DC Streetcar development cost at $50 million per mile. The cost of moving utilities is the wild card, so we are being asked to sign up for a project with an astronomical, but ultimately undefinable, cost. Other costs are purchase and storage of the Czech-made streetcars, and operations and maintenance costs which historically run much higher than for buses.

So why are we doing this? DDOT says streetcars carry more people than buses. Articulated buses are almost the same length, but hold 65 fewer people. When I asked why buses of similar length as streetcars couldn't be reconfigured, DDOT said it was a "fair question." They then explained (engineers cannot spin - love 'em for that) that removing seats and adding standing room would allow buses to come close to matching streetcar capacity. And added that wider doors on the buses would allow quicker ingress and egress as well. Looks like I just solved our road capacity problem on the North-South route!

But wait. The bus's arm used to lift a wheelchair passenger into or out of a bus takes a minute to operate. Sometimes the procedure has to be repeated. Streetcars do this much more precisely and with less delay. During rush hour, delays can affect tight scheduling of public transport. Well, a dedicated lane for streetcars should keep things on track, so to speak. But it would remove significant road capacity. But a non-dedicated lane would mean a stopped car delays a streetcar. (Actually, I have seen that happen on dedicated lanes as well.) A bus can at least sometimes maneuver past obstacles whereas streetcars have no choice. When a streetcar breaks down, getting it off the track requires a huge truck which would block yet another lane of trraffic. And heck, maybe we spend $50 million just once to engineer a better arm for the bus.

I love streetcars in the abstract, but not as a taxpayer, car driver, or bicyclist. If the streetcar project expands, we'll be stuck with an expensive monstrosity that has little flexibility to accommodate future changes. We are courting disaster with this project, the largest infrastructure project of our time.

I told DDOT that I could not support the Streetcar project as they hadn't exhausted cheaper options to solve the capacity problem. They said they understood. I hope readers do as well.

Smarter Solutions Protect Rights. Ward 6 City Council candidate.

by Pranav Badhwar on Feb 22, 2014 1:00 am • linkreport

Other costs are purchase and storage of the Czech-made streetcars

All the new streetcars are American made

Looks like I just solved our road capacity problem on the North-South route!

Does anyone make those buses with fewer seats and wider doors that carry as many people as a streetcar?

And here is more on articulated buses compared to streetcars. And here.

by David C on Feb 22, 2014 8:34 pm • linkreport

You are correct. Three streetcars are from the US, three are Czech. Future sourcing is tbd.

If engineers selling me on the streetcar volunteer to tell me that bus capacity and ingress / egress can be improved to nearly match that of streetcars, I will trust them. Producers will always respond to demand.

There are conflicting reports on operating and maintenance costs, and ridership. If these variables are indeed superior, let private companies contend to build and run streetcars without risking taxpayer capital. And let development along the corridor occur without $100s of millions in Portland-style corporate subsidies.

by Pranav Badhwar on Feb 24, 2014 6:44 pm • linkreport

If engineers selling me on the streetcar volunteer to tell me that bus capacity and ingress / egress can be improved to nearly match that of streetcars, I will trust them. Producers will always respond to demand.

OK, so you want DC to purchase custom-designed buses that don't currently exist, but that DDOT engineers, who may or may not know what they are talking about, told you are theoretically possible?

That sounds like a great way to fail.

by David C on Feb 24, 2014 10:16 pm • linkreport

Engineers make new things as a profession. Most of my career has been spent launching new technology products and services. This case may involve only modifications. Removing seats is not hard. Re-designing doors is not infeasible. The point is to exhaust less expensive options before investing in a horribly expensive decision with no feasible return.

When I asked if they had or may explore other options, they said no. The decision was made politically.

Completely unrelated, but a great article on a nationwide political decision.

by Pranav Badhwar on Feb 24, 2014 11:06 pm • linkreport

When I asked if they had or may explore other options, they said no. The decision was made politically.

Either you're wrong, or they are. That was done in 2004-05. You can read the report about it here.

I don't want to tell you how to do your job, but if you want to be an effective City Councilmember, you're probably going to have to do more research than just asking questions at a few public forums.

This case may involve only modifications. Removing seats is not hard. Re-designing doors is not infeasible.

Well then, certainly some company has done just that and is selling these superior buses on the market. After all, the market doesn't fail, right? Who is that exactly? If there isn't anyone, isn't that better evidence that it isn't very easy then the evidence represented by your recollection of what "some guy" at a meeting said.

So, the point still stands, a suggestion that DC should pursue a solution which today is not available for purchase is a suggestion that DC should fail.

I think we should install teleportation machines all over town, but no one will even study them. It's all political.

by David C on Feb 24, 2014 11:42 pm • linkreport

It wasn't "some guy". Thank you for your contributions.

by Pranav Badhwar on Feb 25, 2014 3:04 am • linkreport

OK, who was it? Did you get a name?

by David C on Feb 25, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

I asked the DDOT presenter in a room full of DDOT people, with everyone including his boss in the room listening. By options I meant specifically the door and seat changes they brought up. As Councilmember I will need to ask tough questions, from why they didn't consider cheaper options to reconfigure buses (maybe they gave the only answer they could - "its a fair question"), to why the streetcar per mile cost has doubled since the 04-05 report to $50 million / mile today and what is the plan to avoid cost overruns (though we heard already - utilities are a wild card.) Your points on new product development reveal a miunderstanding of many fields. Here's a high-risk example of demand-based development by a company that had never developed streetcars before:

I am unable to respond to the same points repeatedly so feel free to have the last word.

by Pranav Badhwar on Feb 25, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

Well, if you don't know who the DDOT presenter was, then how do you know they were an engineer? Are they well versed in bus and streetcar manufacture? Do they know what products are available and how much they cost? I mean this is a pretty poorly sourced fact to build an indictment of the current streetcar plan on. Some guy at DDOT.

Meanwhile, you can't point to one other example where this has been tried. Or where it has worked. Or which product you are proposing we should use. But a guy at DDOT - who was obviously wrong about whether or not DC had studied other options, bringing his reliability into question - told you that buses could be built that come close to the streetcar capacity and that's good enough for you. Why aren't you asking these questions? How much would these buses cost? How close in capacity? How much do they cost to operate? What is their life-cycle cost compared to streetcars? Is there any difference in dwell time? Reliability? Speed?

For someone who "solved our road capacity problem on the North-South route" you sure don't have a lot of answers or facts. And you're willing to repeat things that are demonstrably wrong without even bothering to look them up. If you really want to solve this problem, you're going to have to go back to the drawing board.

by David C on Feb 25, 2014 12:48 pm • linkreport

I need a name to tell me they are an engineer? Or can I get that information separately? The solved part was tongue-in-cheek and I added discussion. DDOT needs to investigate and answer those questions, which is what I meant by exhausting other options. Its incumbent on those spending taxpayer dollars to justify it. A BRT available in '04 could carry up to 130 people which is closer to the streetcar today than the BRT carrying capacity of 95 cited at the DC Streetcar meeting. I corrected you on what my word options referred to but you repeated your misunderstanding.

Well, your latest post made me repeat things yet again but this time I will restrain myself much harder. :)

by Pranav Badhwar on Feb 25, 2014 1:39 pm • linkreport

I need a name to tell me they are an engineer?

You need a name for me to know how much weight to give their statement. Otherwise, they are just "some guy".

Its incumbent on those spending taxpayer dollars to justify it.

They did that. In the 2004-05 study.

I corrected you on what my word options referred to but you repeated your misunderstanding.

You said "By options I meant specifically the door and seat changes they brought up." But those aren't actual options. No one sells buses like those. From the story you told, it doesn't even sound like your DDOT engineer thinks this is an option.

Why are you so willing to believe this DDOT engineer when he tells you - without any evidence at all - that we can build a bus like the one you want, but so unwilling to believe DDOT when they tell you - in an enormous document with citations and facts - that a streetcar is the best option for many of these corridors?

by David C on Feb 25, 2014 2:26 pm • linkreport

Is there some confusion between boarding/door options and vehicle capacity? IIUC its widely accepted that BRT can have side boarding equivalent to rail, and in fact thats one element of BRT that can be attained without going to full gold standard BRT. In a quick aside at a meeting a "guy" could simply be acknowledging that some BRT configurations can make bus more like rail - without necessarily meaning to imply a huge project to get differently configured buses.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Feb 25, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

There really aren't that many inherent differences between buses and trains that I can think of other than the placement of wheel wells on low floor or kneeling buses and that tracks make it easier and I think safer to operate longer vehicles.

by BTA on Feb 25, 2014 2:56 pm • linkreport

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