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What happened with the streetcar?

Last Tuesday, DC Council chairman Phil Mendelson announced, less than 24 hours before the only vote on DC's budget, that he was proposing slashing funding for the streetcar. The money would pay for, among other things, a package of tax cuts. What does this mean for the streetcar?


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

It's been difficult to answer that question, because Mayor Gray's budget office and the DC Council budget office don't agree. Especially on Tuesday and Wednesday, with little time to understand the change, dueling analyses clouded the picture. It's starting to come into focus, though questions still remain.

There is still funding to build streetcars at a slow pace. And DC could always fund more lines once a few lines get done. But the Gray administration says Mendelson's change may halt exactly the mechanism the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) hopes will get the project to move faster, stop having so many delays, and get out of the mire it's been in: a partnership with a consortium of companies to design, build, operate, and maintain the streetcar.

Does this affect the H Street streetcar?

It doesn't appear so. The first segment of the streetcar will run from behind Union Station, along H Street and Benning Road to Oklahoma Avenue, near the Anacostia River. That is under active construction and will open ... sometime. I'm hearing maybe the end of 2014. That's frustratingly long and disappointing since until the very end of last year Gray was promising it would open in 2013.

DDOT has already done studies to continue the line to the Minnesota Avenue Metro. According to information from Gray spokesperson Pedro Rebeiro, the budget still has funding that would pay for that segment.

What about the rest of the system?

The day of the budget vote, Rebeiro released this side-by-side comparison arguing that the cuts would leave DC about $100 million short of finishing the line from H Street west to K Street downtown and then to Georgetown.

It's worth noting that the K Street part would get a dedicated lane (for streetcars and buses). There has been a fair amount of criticism of streetcars that only run in mixed traffic for their whole length; this would not do that if the "K Street Transitway" gets built.

Why does the Council budget office say the money isn't necessary?

Chairman Phil Mendelson makes a few arguments, but two main ones. One is that the mayor was putting too much money into the streetcar than the budget could sustain. Gray's budget office wanted to basically look at the amount of revenue DC earned in Fiscal Year 2016 and then of whatever goes above that, into the future, one-quarter would go to the streetcar.

Council budget director Jen Budoff says that this is unsustainable, that a lot of that revenue growth is needed just to pay for rising costs in the base budget and within 5 years this financing system would get so big it would cut into the base budget. Gray's budget director Eric Goulet says Budoff is wrong.

Mendelson's second argument, which got a lot of traction with transportation chair Mary Cheh and at-large councilmember David Grosso, is that DDOT hasn't been spending money at nearly the rate this would bring in. It built up a surplus of about $100 million in accounts (or so says Budoff and Cheh's staff; Goulet says that's not real, while the council folks suspect the administration was just trying to hide it).

Mendelson dedicated about $50 million a year to the streetcar, which he argues is enough to keep the program moving forward.

If DDOT isn't spending money very fast, why does it need more now?

Because DDOT wasn't planning to keep on building streetcars the way it had been. Rather, it was going to drop da bomb. I mean, a DBOMa Design, Build, Operate, and Maintain contract.

A number of transportation design, engineering, and construction firms have joined together in several consortia to bid for this contract. DDOT was going to soon narrow the field to about three. Those three would then start an intensive design process to actually work out how they would build the streetcar system on K Street, a north-south line along or near Georgia Avenue, and a line in Anacostia over the river to Buzzard Point where it would connect with the north-south line.

This would include key questions like how to run streetcars without overhead wires. The H Street line will have them and they're now legal outside of viewsheds, but there's no way wires were going to cross the Mall or North Capitol Street or pass by Farragut Square.

The consortia include streetcar makers who have their own wireless technologies, some with batteries, some with a third rail that only activates when the streetcar runs over it, and more.

But these consortia are going to have to sink millions of dollars into just working out the designs and all of the details. That's par for the course in big construction projects (and profits on the other end cover this risk), but they're not going to bid if they think DC might not hire anyone, or will build only a piece and then pull the plug because it doesn't have the money.

The Gray administration says that DC needs this dedicated revenue stream now to persuade bidders that the city is serious, and that they may have to withdraw or at least strongly curtail the DBOM bidding with the current budget. Mary Cheh, who says she doesn't want to see the DBOM go away, is asking whether that's absolutely necessary, or whether DC could still persuade the consortia to bid, then come up with the money once it's actually time to sign a contract.

But Gray argues that it's going to be very hard to come up with the $800 million over 5 years (for the initial 22-mile system) and more (for the rest of the streetcar vision) in the future. DC won't just repeal the tax cuts in a year. Mendelson has spent a lot of the rest of the money on other things, and DC's debt cap limits how much the city can borrow beyond what's in its capital budget.

Who's right?

Probably both are accurate, from the perspective of each side. It does seem that the full concept of hiring a consortium and turning them loose to build a citywide streetcar network is now less likely, or if it does happen, might be smaller in scope. However, not everyone on the council, even those who support building a streetcar system, is entirely comfortable signing off on that just yet.

Mendelson's idea, and that of the Committee of 100, is that DC needs to first plan everything out in great detail, then have public input on the plans, then get council approval, and then it can get funded. This is a common way of doing government projects.

In business, especially in technology, organizations are moving away from this way of doing things. That's because often it takes so long to design things that it delays a project, and once you actually start building, you learn more about what you need. Companies and governments are notoriously bad at figuring out all of the issues beforehandthis was one big factor in the Healthcare.gov fisasco.

Ken Archer epxlained in detail why a design-build process can work better for governments as well as private industry. But it can cut the public and elected officials out of the process somewhat. If the agency is good about getting input along the way, and we can believe they will make good choices as the project proceeds, it can be a big time-saver.

Unfortunately, DDOT has not established this level of credibility in recent years. Far from it. And that meant public understanding was shallow and support was thin, so when Mendelson wanted to take it away and offered something (tax cuts) which had broad appeal, most didn't put up a fight.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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"DDOT has already done studies to continue the line to the Minnesota Avenue Metro."

I think you mean the Benning Road Metro.

by Frank on Jun 3, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

"The first segment of the streetcar will run from behind Union Station, along H Street and Benning Road to Oklahoma Avenue, near the Anacostia River. That is under active construction and will open ... sometime. I'm hearing maybe the end of 2014 year."

I support the investment in streetcars but wasn't the H Street route supposed to open in 2011? At least three years of delays is a big reason why the DC Council does not have confidence in DDOT for the managemnt of this.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 3, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

@202_Cyclist, the DC streetcar is exhibit A on the brt vs rail debate.

It does not take half a decade to get a bus into service.

by JJJJ on Jun 3, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

I know "BRT Creep" is an oft used term here, but one type of advantage to it is that it could be phased in as parts of dedicated right of way are completed, and still operate in a "Limited Bus" fashion in other areas, thus maximizing the number of people able to use it for a one seat ride.

My misgiving with the streetcar first phase is that, at this point, it will be shorter, costlier, less connected X2/X9. If this phase alone winds up being the form for which it is evaluated for future growth, it doesn't bode well.

by Lord Baltimore on Jun 3, 2014 2:11 pm • linkreport

thanks for an illuminating article DA.

Would it be possible to craft a dedicated revenue stream that is smaller and thus more consistent with the financial issue Budeff envisions, so that DBOM could go forward but scaled back?

That would still mean the council would need to sign off on DBOM, and on the DDOT management of the street car generally. But that seems possible once the initial segment opens and a new mayor is in office.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 3, 2014 2:15 pm • linkreport

I guess there isn't much desire to build the streetcar line.

I still don't see why a limited stop or express bus wouldn't get the job done. It's like a streetcar except that it can swerve around the delivery trucks which will invariably block the tracks (and you're fooling yourself if you think MPD will ticket the delivery trucks).

by tennessee williams on Jun 3, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

Good overview, but I am a bit unclear on why you need 800M in the bank before you put out the contract.

by charlie on Jun 3, 2014 2:30 pm • linkreport

This debate should center on dedicated lanes for mass transit, either bus or streetcar. I am disappointed that this is usually set to the side, especially in less wonky news.

by pdc on Jun 3, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

When was there a plan put in place that said "this will open in 2011"? The streetcar tracks were only put in in 2011.

The process has definitely been shoddy (partially because DDOT has few people dedicated to it and hasn't seen it as a top priority), but the idea that the project has been ready to go and funded for years is wrong. The tracks were put in because H street was scheduled to be redone. The rest of the project had to follow from that.

It does not take half a decade to get a bus into service.
Talk to the people who are still waiting on bus improvements that were recommended half a decade ago: http://metrobus-studies.com/

by MLD on Jun 3, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

@charlie, that was covered in the article:
But these consortia are going to have to sink millions of dollars into just working out the designs and all of the details. That's par for the course in big construction projects (and profits on the other end cover this risk), but they're not going to bid if they think DC might not hire anyone, or will build only a piece and then pull the plug because it doesn't have the money.

by dcmike on Jun 3, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

Good overview, but I am a bit unclear on why you need 800M in the bank before you put out the contract.

You don't, but you need the revenue source that will earn you the $800M over the 5 year period.

It's a terrible analogy, but banks aren't going to give you a home loan based on some income you think you might be able to get if you can get a job. They want you to have the job first.

by MLD on Jun 3, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

You don't, but you need the revenue source that will earn you the $800M over the 5 year period.

It's a terrible analogy, but banks aren't going to give you a home loan based on some income you think you might be able to get if you can get a job. They want you to have the job first.

It's a perfect analogy, I was thinking of posting pretty much exactly that.

by Richard on Jun 3, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

@MLD; yeah, it is a really bad analogy.

by charlie on Jun 3, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

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

by MLD on Jun 3, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

@MLD:

Mea culpa-- I mispoke a bit. The Anacostia line was suppose to open in the spring of 2008 (http://www.wtop.com/25/1053632/Anacostia-Streetcar-Plans-On-Track) and the H Street route was supposed to begin service by early 2013.

The streetcars have been sitting in storage for five years, since 2009.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 3, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

Given that that funds are tied down to a specific source - and could be moved around if the city wanted to -- no amount of money sitting in a "streetcar fund" would be enough to overcome those risks.

What you do have is a general contract with the city. You might be a a secured creditor but the streetcar + tracks aren't worth much.

There is some mimimum amount they'd want to see, and if it north of $100M that might already be enough. Or not. Depends on the contractors and how desperate they are for business.

by charlie on Jun 3, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

+1 MLD/Richard

Re: double parking, I really doubt it will be an issue. I've ridden streetcars all over the US and the world and it's never been a problem. Shouldn't be any different here.

And thanks to the electric motors acceleration will be significantly faster than the bus. There should be improved travel times.

by h st ll on Jun 3, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

It's not about money sitting in a fund - it's about a revenue stream that will earn $X in the future to see the project through. Part of the contract sill the "operate/maintain" part which hinges on there being enough funding to actually finish the network so the bidder can run something complete and competitive. Revenue generation and operating costs per mile are going to be different if your system is 30 miles vs just the initial 2.5 mile segment or whatever.

@202_cyclist
It was foolish to buy vehicles so far in advance. I'm not sure why that happened or why the Anacostia segment was abandoned.

But it's clear that the complaint we hear that "this line" was supposed to open in 2011 or earlier isn't right. They have not been building H street for half a decade.

by MLD on Jun 3, 2014 3:10 pm • linkreport

%MLD:

Actually, according to DDOT, construction on the H Street streetcar route has been going on for more than a half decade.

"DDOT is installing streetcar tracks on H St and Benning Rd as part of roadway reconstruction of Benning Road NE, from 14th Street NE to Oklahoma Ave NE, and H Street NE, from 3rd Street NE to 14th Street NE. Given the long]term goal of building streetcar on H St/Benning Rd, DDOT incorporated tracks into the project in order to minimize construction costs and community interruption. The Benning Road component of the project began in December 2007 and is substantially complete. The H Street component began in September 2008 and is scheduled for completion in 2011."

http://ddot.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddot/publication/attachments/dcs_systemplan_oct2010.pdf

As I said, I support the investment in streetcars but if the Council is going to fund this, DDOT needs to stop making excuses for why it takes 5+ years to build a three-mile route and why service on this streetcar has been delayed for two years. This is 'ready, fire, aim,' planning and project management.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 3, 2014 3:23 pm • linkreport

@202 You are confusing the Great Streets roadway project with pure streetcar construction.

by M in DC on Jun 3, 2014 3:27 pm • linkreport

@M:

"H St/Benning Rd, DDOT incorporated tracks into the project in order to minimize construction costs and community interruption."

--> Is this not streetcar-related construction?

Again, if you want support for this project, stop making excuses for DDOT and bring in people who are competent with project management.

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 3, 2014 3:31 pm • linkreport

"Unfortunately, DDOT has not established this level of credibility in recent years. Far from it. And that meant public understanding was shallow and support was thin..."

David Alpert is completely correct with this. If you want to rebuild support on the Council, deliver the project on-time or reasonably on-time. Not two years late (or five years with the Anacostia streetcar).

by 202_Cyclist on Jun 3, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

"I'm not sure why that happened or why the Anacostia segment was abandoned."

Anchored at one end by JBAB and the other by WMATA, and requiring working with both to get it built - what could go wrong?

FWIW: Construction plans to extend the line north to a station across Howard Road from the Metro are just about complete; and the design is underway to continue from Howard Road to Good Hope/MKL intersection up the old CSX line.

by Gromaticus on Jun 3, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

@pdc THANK YOU. That's the issue with streetcars, and buses, and anything at all that isn't grade separated.

If it doesn't have dedicated lanes, it is not worth building in DC. But dedicated lanes are ABSOLUTELY worth building here. Someone just needs to muster up all their political willpower to force it through. And their benefit needs to be constantly hammered home.

by LowHeadways on Jun 3, 2014 4:04 pm • linkreport

"There is still funding to build streetcars at a slow to moderate pace."

Sounds good enough to me. I could think of better uses than tax cuts, but the case is easily made against such a high level of streetcar funding.

by MJ on Jun 3, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

I would love to know what was the logic to not have this original H Street route not run from atleast Minnesota Ave & Benning Rd intersection to North Capitol & H Street instead of to Oklahoma Ave & Benning Rd to on-top of the bridge.

The majority of the riders not going to bars on a Friday/Saturday will be getting off at 8th & H Streets, Hechinger Mall, the Bridge or Oklahoma Ave and transferring to a X1, X2, X3 or X9

Also can someone tell me where will the stops be on the line where the tracks are in the center of the road cause from walking where some of the medians are along Benning Road im trying to so see where there is enough room for a stroller or wheelchair to fit or where a bench or shelter could be placed ?

by kk on Jun 3, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

K street will have dedicated lanes.

by drumz on Jun 3, 2014 4:34 pm • linkreport

MLD,
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, September 2014, best case?

So, it has taken from January 2006 until September 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 4 years here, spending millions of dollars simply to store these unused street cars.

by Fixie on Jun 3, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

The initial exploratory planning started in 2003, when Seattle started too. Seattle's initial line in SoDo opened in 2007.

What happened in Anacostia is that the expectation was that the city could buy/use CSX right of way. It turned out that CSX didn't have clear title to a lot of it. (Plus, kinda like long swathes of the light rail in Baltimore, the CSX right of way isn't well situated from a ridership generation standpoing.) Because of that is why H Street jumped in the queue in terms of opening "first."

And as I write ad infinitum, the only reason H Street is happening "now" is because of then ANC6A chair Joe Fengler, who figured out it made the most sense to install rails during the streetscape reconstruction, rather than go back and do it again. He orchestrated a campaign among all the affected ANCs to press DDOT to incorporate rail construction as part of the streetscape project.

Frankly, he's the biggest "hero" in all of this, despite all the various present and past city officials who take credit for it all.

... but yeah, the cars were bought a long time ago to get a cheaper price (part of an add on to a Portland contract) and because the expectation was that the Anacostia line was going to be in operation shortly after.

Gosh, I remember a DDOT official at the WMATA bus conference in 2006 (Nov. ?, it was at the Marriott in North Bethesda) talking about the Anacostia line being in operation the next year.

by Richard Layman on Jun 3, 2014 5:10 pm • linkreport

Major construction companies interested in these types of projects are not going to pursue the opportunity unless it is viable. The Council action here makes the DDOT opportunity not worth it from a business perspective. Making the pie smaller, or shuffling monies around is not the way people do business. Too bad we don't have too many Councilmembers who have real-world experience to understand this.

Another thought- why not tie the soccer stadium to building the needed storage an maintenance facility under it?

Get the stadium, and infrastructure improvements in SW, the streetcar line and the needed facility in one visionary plan.

by Andrew on Jun 3, 2014 5:17 pm • linkreport

andrew (1) you're right. (2) this is abetted by not doing systematic economic development planning and not having an open transparent and coordinated system for capital improvements planning and budgeting.

Almost every planning and infrastructure initiative DC does is disconnected from all the others.

This is the difference between DC and Arlington or Baltimore County and Arlington. When I worked in Baltimore County, I was struck how they did a number of firsts or near firsts in planning. E.g., they were maybe the first county to pass an urban growth boundary in the late 1960s. They followed this up with great environmental initiatives, theoretically focusing community and economic development funding towards the revitalization of existing areas (umm, except for White Marsh and Owings Mills).

Anyway, it struck me that all the various initiatives were one offs, and disconnected, and so there wasn't the increasing returns element of "the whole being the sum of the parts."

DC is no different.

WRT the tax revenue stream and policy and practice, I'd argue that the system needs to be integrated with capital budget and economic development planning in a similar way.

I don't agree with what Council did in terms of the tax reductions, because the city has a lot of needs that aren't being addressed, despite all the hype.

That being said, I can see the logic of the arguments that the City Council used to justify dialing back on the streetcars.

by Richard Layman on Jun 3, 2014 6:11 pm • linkreport

sorry, I meant "the whole being greater than the sum of the parts."

When you do each part separately, I think you end up doing a great deal of value destruction.

by Richard Layman on Jun 3, 2014 6:13 pm • linkreport

what escapes me is why the rails didn't go as far as the Pepco plant and the car barn go in there. Installing the railyard at Springarn, is devaluing
the golf course and the residential area.

by going into the pepco generator station, you repurpose a brownfield
and can remake a historic structure.

by patb on Jun 3, 2014 7:15 pm • linkreport

I wish we had funded streetcars instead of Nats ballpark with the dedicated tax on business. It would have jump-started more development.

That was our major easy steady revenue stream potential and also took us to our borrowing limit.

There are choices that have to be made in life.

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 3, 2014 7:23 pm • linkreport

The streetcars have been sitting in storage for five years, since 2009.

And before that they spent four years rolling around the streets of Plzen. They're nearing their 10th birthday. But that's the fault of the Williams administration.

by David C on Jun 3, 2014 10:01 pm • linkreport

Is this not streetcar-related construction?

Putting the rails in on H Street was streetcar-related construction, but as Layman point out, that was done as an add on to the H Street Great Street work. At the time it started there was no one saying that once that project was done, streetcars would start rolling. I don't even think that the 2004 streetcar plan has the H Street line opening in 2011. When work started on H Street they had a meeting, and DDOT was completely unwilling to say when the streetcar would open, but they did say they didn't want to have to come back in and tear the road up 5 years later to put in the tracks. That would be 2016.

I'm not sure why that happened or why the Anacostia segment was abandoned.

Layman has the official story. But I heard that CSX just wanted too much money for the land. They figured that once DC had announced they would do it, that CSX had a much better negotiating position because not buying the land would look bad. Also, they were pissed that the DC council was trying to pass a law that would ban hazardous materials in the city. I later heard that CSX thinks the rail line could be reactivated, but if so they're delusional.

I would love to know what was the logic to not have this original H Street route not run from at least Minnesota Ave & Benning Rd intersection to North Capitol & H Street instead of to Oklahoma Ave & Benning Rd to on-top of the bridge.

It has to do with the limits of the H Street Great Street program on the east and with the plan to go through the Amtrak tunnel on the west.

what escapes me is why the rails didn't go as far as the Pepco plant and the car barn go in there.

One of the buildings at the PEPCO plant retains some of the structure of one of the original carbarns (remember, PEPCO grew out of the streetcar company). But the main reason is that PEPCO owns the land and is not looking to sell any of it.

by David C on Jun 3, 2014 10:16 pm • linkreport

Even if Pepco didn't want to sell the land for a Carbarn at Benning,
a decent lease, say for 25 years would have worked and leave enough ROW to
run around the back of the site and be able to stop at the Minnesota Ave metro station just west of it there.

If you can work out a decent term lease, then you can still keep extending rail to East Capitol and put a service barn there.

by patb on Jun 3, 2014 10:23 pm • linkreport

I don't think PEPCO wants to do that either. If they wanted to sell of lease the land, they would have done it by now.

by David C on Jun 3, 2014 11:19 pm • linkreport

I had the impression DDOT didn't want to spend any more money then they could possibly avoid. That the costs to run an extra half mile of track/power/signal was just something they were not going to do, no matter how good the project would turn out to be.

by patb on Jun 3, 2014 11:44 pm • linkreport

I think they actually looked at the PEPCO site in the original review, but it didn't make the cut because PEPCO isn't ready to sell the land there. When they close the plant, it will probably be better to sell the whole thing at once.

by David C on Jun 3, 2014 11:57 pm • linkreport

any chance we can get the car barn moved to the pepco site when they shut it down?

of course the original review struck me as very superficial

by patb on Jun 4, 2014 12:04 am • linkreport

Clang clang clang goes the trolley. NOT!

Budget sanity. Whodathunkit?

by Breastaurant on Jun 4, 2014 1:42 am • linkreport

Hopefully this will be the end of the streetcar project. DC needs more buses, not streetcars and not expensive metro projects. Buses are cheaper and more flexible and serve more of the community than overpriced rail projects that exist as boondoggles to construction companies and unions.

Streetcar support is based on nostalgia and the "gee whiz" factor, and nothing more.

by DSims on Jun 4, 2014 8:20 am • linkreport

Putting the rails in on H Street was streetcar-related construction, but as Layman point out, that was done as an add on to the H Street Great Street work. At the time it started there was no one saying that once that project was done, streetcars would start rolling. I don't even think that the 2004 streetcar plan has the H Street line opening in 2011. When work started on H Street they had a meeting, and DDOT was completely unwilling to say when the streetcar would open, but they did say they didn't want to have to come back in and tear the road up 5 years later to put in the tracks. That would be 2016.

This is the part that was not communicated clearly to the public. People assumed that the installation of the tracks meant streetcar service was imminent. But, as we know, they still had plenty to figure out (maintenance facility location, substations, etc.)

what escapes me is why the rails didn't go as far as the Pepco plant and the car barn go in there.

Because the Pepco plant isn't remotely ready to have anything built on it. It needs to be torn down and the land needs to go through environmental remediation. Use of this land is years away.

by MLD on Jun 4, 2014 8:45 am • linkreport

Hopefully the new mayor will hire some people who actually know how to execute a project, and just as importantly will be accountable if they don't. Then, with the money's they do have, build and run a complete line with out all the drama and fan fare that's accompanied the paltry efforts fo far. If this city is to move forward into the 21st century, it needs a first class transportaion system.

by Thayer-D on Jun 4, 2014 9:14 am • linkreport

DSims, your comment is awfully dismissive. See this post (http://beyonddc.com/?p=1733) for a discussion of the relative benefits of a streetcar versus buses. Some key arguments are (a) streetcars have greater capacity, (b) streetcars are much more comfortable to ride and therefore attract more riders, (c) streetcars are quieter and more environmentally friendly, and (d) yes they do look nicer.

I'm always confused when I read comments like yours. Do you not think that America can afford nice things? Would you prefer we run everything on a shoestring so that we can have lower taxes and use the extra money to buy more crap?

by JR on Jun 4, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

Well, I went back and jogged my memory on this and I need to amend my previous comment. The meeting I was thinking about was in April 2011, near the end of the H Street Construction. At that point they announce the streetcar would open in Fall of 2012. That represented a delay from the earliest launch date I could find which was April 2012 (so not too far from 2011) which they had announced back in 2010.

That delay was due to ongoing negotiations with Amtrak for the H Street underpass. So that's one cause of the two-year delay, DDOT believed that Amtrak would allow them to use the H Street tunnel, but in the end they didn't. Now one could argue that DDOT should have known that Amtrak wouldn't let them and should have planned accordingly, but I think that's a bit ridiculous. It would have vastly improved the line, so it was likely worth the risk.

Of course, loss of the use of the tunnel occurred only a few months after this meeting, in July 2011, so it's clear that this is not the only cause of delay. Adjusting to that setback should not have taken two years. They knew that the ROW was a risk and reportedly had options in consideration back in 2010.

So yeah, even a generous review of this shows that they have been overpromising for four years.

by David C on Jun 4, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

What happened to the streetcar? Will some please ask "Uncle Earl" he seems to be prevalent in DC politics.

by dcdotcom on Jun 4, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

It would seem this vote is signaling a lack of confidence by the Council in DDOT's ability to competently execute the project and spend public tax money responsibly. The results to date on H Street are pretty discouraging. I am waiting for the people reading and writing articles on this site to start asking why the DDOT streetcar "testing" is taking so long.

If a majority of the Council members support the streetcar the question that should be asked is what procurement strategy will create a functioning streetcar system for the lowest cost and reduce exposure of "unexpected" cost and schedule overruns that have plagued DDOT's efforts to date. The Council and next Mayor need to look closely at other cities with streetcar systems that are completed or now underway. Many are now using design-build delivery contracts, or design-build-finance-operate-maintain concession agreements with a blend of public and private money.

DA is right - the companies with the experience and expertise needed to deliver 22-mile priority network are not likely to spend millions of dollars bidding a project if it is clear the District does not have their act together. Events over the past week have shown the District has a long way to go before it is really ready to build a modern streetcar system.

by Where is my Streetcar? on Jun 4, 2014 2:21 pm • linkreport

I would say this reflects the changing political calculus.

tommy wells is leaving the council, vince gray is leaving the mayorship.

Mendelsohn is at-large and the new mayor isn't invested.

I think a cross town streetcar makes a lot of sense, far better then
metro expansions inside of DC.

i'd like to see them extend the trolley downtown as far foggy bottom and east across town.

by patb on Jun 4, 2014 10:25 pm • linkreport

I think a cross town streetcar makes a lot of sense, far better then
metro expansions inside of DC.
Yes, I too agree that the Blue Line isn't worth keeping, and everyone who currently relies on that line should go and pound sand. Who even takes the train to Arlington Cemetery? And blue is a stupid color, anyway.

WMATA agrees with us, that's why they're hard at work trying to Rush+ the Blue Line out of existence.

I don't know whether or not the transit advocacy community agrees with us, but I'm inclined to think that they are. After all, if they weren't, it'd be a far bigger issue that the Blue Line is being phased out.

by Ryan on Jun 4, 2014 10:42 pm • linkreport

Unfortunately, even after all those pesky Blue Line trains are cleared out for more Orange and Silver, there's still going to be a need for more Metrorail capacity downtown.

It just won't be quite as immediately obvious.

by Ryan on Jun 4, 2014 10:51 pm • linkreport

Double-parked cars won't block streetcars? I clearly recall once such incident, years ago, when Pittsburgh still had streetcars -- a trolley stuck behind a car projecting into the tracks while the driver dropped into a drug store for, presumably, a quick purchase. Think that won't happen here? Look at how our bike lanes are used as short-term parking lots.

As for the cost, people seem pretty blithe about promising enormous sums, $800M for several years to come, then more funds FOREVER. Do the arithmetic -- that's about $1300 per capita, $5000 of taxes for a family of four. Most DC residents live nowhere near any projected streetcar line. Is this really a good use of taxpayer funds?

Sure, I remember the streetcars of old, and there were good reasons for their being abandoned.

by Jack on Jun 5, 2014 9:22 am • linkreport

Ryan

most of the loser from the decline of the blue line live in virginia. DC, in its moveDC plan, has signed up for the metrorail plan to help them. If any govt body in Northern Virginia has so signed up, I am not aware of it. Its going to take virginia pols to move that forward. As long as they do not, its understandable that DC moves forward with things entirely under their control.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2014 9:29 am • linkreport

Sure, I remember the streetcars of old, and there were good reasons for their being abandoned.

Was it that they were often private businesses that had to compete with subsidized bus services? Or because bus manufacturing and oil production companies paid and lobbied to have them removed? Or because cities paid for new buses and did not replace streetcars, making the buses more reliable because of greater investment?

Streetcars have many advantages to both buses and rapid transit that makes them suitable in many cases. There's a reason why streetcars were retained by many cities, and why they've been reappearing since the late 1970's.

by David C on Jun 5, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity

I'm mostly objecting to the characterization of streetcars as something to do "instead of" Metro expansion. Streetcars have their place, as do heavy rail subways, and using one in place of the other is never a good thing.

But, of course, whenever I comment on these or other discussion threads with my serious concerns about the decline of the Blue Line and how terrible it is that absolutely nobody seems to be raising the red flags of alarm that yes, the Blue Line is indeed below minimum service level at this point - I get nothing, because nobody seems to want to talk about it or even acknowledge it as a problem.

So I decided to employ sarcasm instead.

by Ryan on Jun 5, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

Ryan

I agree that streetcars are no substitute for addressing the problems of metrorail congestion in the core. There are other places and ways they can substitute for metrorail expansion, but the core issues still need to be addressed. I would add though that GGW HAS addressed those core congestion issues several times, and has had several discussions about routing and operational details of solutions. There have also been occasional remarks about issues of funding (that mostly comes up in the context of discussions of the height limit.)

And of course WMATA has proposed solutions, and in the new MoveDC plan, DDOT seems to have endorsed one. So GGW, WMATA, and DDOT all do take the issue seriously.

Where the silence is, AFAICT, is from the City of Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax County, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and from the Commonwealth.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 5, 2014 10:48 am • linkreport

@dcstreetcar posted a photo today with the notation "After our 285-day delay on the Yard due to historic designation, we're making progress. Behold - CBTC tracks!"

Twitter is understandably a short format, but are they really attributing the 285 day delay solely to Spingarn HS?

https://twitter.com/DCStreetcar/status/474925011653132288/photo/1

by Meredith on Jun 6, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

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