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Four big questions for a Georgia Avenue streetcar

As plans crystallize for a north-south streetcar in DC, four big questions will drive what the line ultimately looks like:

Streetcars on the Hopscotch Bridge. Photo from DDOT.
  1. How will the line snake through the center of the city?
  2. Will it reach Silver Spring?
  3. Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
  4. Is there any money to actually build anything?
Planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are still months away from settling on final details for the North-South Corridor. But at a series of public meetings last week, these big questions came into focus.

How will the line snake through the center of the city?

DDOT's latest report focuses on four potential alternate routes, but project manager Jamie Henson says DDOT could still mix and match components of multiple alternates to create the final path.

Four route alternatives under study. Dedicated lanes could potentially fit on the purple and blue sections. Image from DDOT.

North of Petworth, DDOT has settled on a Georgia Avenue streetcar alignment going at least as far north as Butternut Street.

The line could run south from Petworth down Sherman Avenue as far as Florida Avenue, or it could stay on Georgia. Georgia is wide enough for dedicated lanes and is lined with shops instead of houses, so it would probably attract more riders, but Sherman would offer a more stark contrast to the route 70 Metrobus.

South of Florida Avenue things get really interesting.

The route could stay on 7th Street through downtown DC, but that duplicates Metrorail's Green Line, and 7th Street isn't wide enough for dedicated lanes. Or it could travel on 14th Street, where population density is most concentrated and where it's a long walk to any Metro stations. But 14th Street is already booming; a streetcar might help more elsewhere.

11th Street and 9th Street are intriguing possibilities. Infill and commercial development have lagged there relative to 14th Street. Would a streetcar bring a 14th Street-like boom? Meanwhile, both 11th and 9th are wide enough for dedicated lanes.

9th Street is already home to one of DC's only existing bus lanes. Though the bus lane is lightly used and poorly enforced, that might make 9th a particularly easy place to add streetcar lanes.

Existing 9th Street bus lane. Photo by the author.

To traverse the National Mall, the line could either turn onto F Street through downtown and then use 7th Street to go south, or it could turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue and then use 4th Street.

The F Street to 7th Street option seems to be a path of less resistance, could fit dedicated lanes, would be more central to the National Mall, and would directly serve The Wharf development at the Southwest waterfront. On the other hand, 4th Street would better serve the existing Southwest neighborhood.

Will it reach Silver Spring?

Silver Spring is a natural end point for this corridor. It's big, dense, and already one of the DC region's largest multimodal transit transfer points.

Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

Around 4,000 DC-bound passengers board WMATA's route 70 Metrobus in Silver Spring every day, with still more boarding the parallel S-series routes. There's tremendous opportunity for the streetcar to reach more people and have a greater impact by ending in Silver Spring instead of DC.

But for that to happen, Maryland and Montgomery County have to step up with plans of their own. DDOT has neither authority to plan nor money to build outside the District's boundaries.

So for now, DDOT is keeping its options open. But eventually they'll need to make a decision. At this point, it's on Maryland to come to the table.

Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?

Whether or not the streetcar will have dedicated lanes depends on two factors: Is there adequate width on the street, and is there enough political support to repurpose lanes from cars?

The first factor is easy. This chart shows potential street cross-sections, color-coded to match street segments along the route alternatives maps.

Potential street cross-sections, color-coded to the map above. Image from DDOT.

Streets color-coded as either purple or blue are wide enough to potentially fit dedicated lanes. Streets coded as green, yellow, or orange are not.

The political factor is harder. Depending on the location, providing dedicated streetcar lanes might mean eliminating or reducing on-street parking, pushing truck loading onto side streets, or any number of other trade-offs.

DDOT's ridership forecasts say shaving 5 minutes off streetcar travel time would boost ridership 11%. If true, that suggests thousands more people would ride a streetcar with dedicated lanes than without.

And of course, the inverse is true too: Without dedicated lanes, many riders who could be on the streetcar might instead opt to drive.

At public meetings last week, representatives from the Georgia Avenue business community voiced strong objections to dedicated lanes, fearing that loss of parking would hurt their stores. But if dedicated lanes add more streetcar riders to a block than they remove parking spaces, the reverse could very well be true.

Is there money to actually build anything?

Thanks to Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council cutting streetcar funding in the latest budget, the DC budget currently doesn't have any funding for this line.

The council could add more money in future budgets, or DDOT could seek alternate funding options like the federal New Starts program. But for now, this line is unfunded and there's not yet a clear plan to change that.

In the meantime, DDOT will continue to plan, with the next step being an environmental study. But all other details pale next to the overarching and unanswered question of how to fund whatever the studies recommend.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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To be honest, this sort of weak and screwy analysis is why streetcars aren't getting anywhere in DC.

The first, and most important question, is where would a streetcar do a better job transporting people?

In my mind, and I can be wrong about this, it is moving them from Shaw to Silver Spring.

Running it from Shaw into downtown isn't really neccessary because you do have good transit options already.

One a one seat from Silver Spring to downtown is also duplicated.

Streetcars are (or should be) about how to move people, not about "development."

by charlie on Jun 19, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

For #3, those are all the options for those width roads but they aren't actually studying all of those options. No study of center running, dedicated lanes. Only curb side according to:

by DCSC on Jun 19, 2014 12:46 pm • linkreport

Hey---can the streetcar take the 9th Street Tunnel under the mall? That would avoid the dance along Pennsylvania or getting stuck at L'Enfant.

by xmal on Jun 19, 2014 12:56 pm • linkreport

I sort of agree with @charlie here. I think there is too much focus on the development possibilities of transit, and not enough on the more basic function of improving mobility. It's great to use transit as a tool for development where that's possible, but we should be focusing on helping people get around the city.

by alurin on Jun 19, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport


What is the point of transportation? It's to move people from one place to another so they can do something. Development is about creating new places to do things like commerce, living, etc. You cannot separate the two.

Transit lines don't exist to move people from one place to one other place. They serve places in-between as well. If you look at the most well-ridden bus lines in DC, they connect many destinations along the line. That is what generates high ridership.

Some people will go from Shaw to Silver Spring. Others will go from Shaw to destinations on Georgia. Others from Georgia to downtown. Others from Silver Spring to Georgia. Few people will ride from Silver Spring to downtown - Metro is faster.

Not sure where people constantly get this idea that transit lines are about serving trips that go all the way from one end to the other. Does I-95 primarily serve people driving from Maine to Florida?

by MLD on Jun 19, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

@MLD; you bring an important point and a distiction between streetcars and subways.

(It's why I prefer the bus to the subway as well)

But your points actually score on my side -- that there is a tremendous unmet demand for better transport between SS and Shaw. And I don't mean end to end -- I mean inbetween. Much less between Shaw and downtown.

I'm also puzzled by the idea that 11th has a lot of vacant areas.

by charlie on Jun 19, 2014 1:07 pm • linkreport

Georgia Ave is definitely wide enough for center-running dedicated lanes. DDOT is being really shortsighted if they won't study them.

Also dumb of Georgia Ave businesses to have concerns about losing parking. I would guess most of their customers do not drive to these places.

by MLD on Jun 19, 2014 1:09 pm • linkreport

Streetcars should be about transportation, not transformation. Losing sight of the goal is why these types of projects turn into boondoggles.

Stay on target.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 1:11 pm • linkreport

Of course there is unmet demand for transit at points between SS and Shaw. That's why they're looking to build a streetcar there...

But there is also demand for travel from Howard U area to downtown. And demand along 14th. The streetcar line serves multiple areas.

None of these other lines are going to have any solid support until they can get the one on H Street going and people see what it's like.

by MLD on Jun 19, 2014 1:16 pm • linkreport

Streetcars have always been about anything one can get from them. In the case of DC's original street car suburbs, they where all about development. Infact, some of our most cherished communities are a direct result of the street car being planned first. To imply that this new streetcar should somehow be divorced from development issues misses the whole point. This area is growing (aka:developing). Let's do it intelligently rather than having the cheapest land available dictate the next town center.

by Thayer-D on Jun 19, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

Why on earth would the line not end at either Takoma or Silver Spring? Silver Spring is clearly the better choice (connection to major downtown, red line, and future Purple line), but if they can't figure out an agreement with Maryland folks, Takoma is a good alternative entirely within DC, and you could always extend the line the Silver Spring later.

Also, the analysis seems backwards. Instead of asking: "How can we make our streets better for transit users?', we ask "What can we do to improve transit service without impacting motor vehicle speeds?" This approach invariably creates a highly watered-down service with mixed traffic service in precisely the locations where dedicated lanes are most crucial. As a result, transit will continue to be an unattractive option for those who can drive, and the massive investment in infrastructure will do relatively little to boost transit ridership and reduce congestion.

by TransitSnob on Jun 19, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

Development is an important part of future transit investment. Cities are not static displays where only existing neighborhoods matter. If we are to grow our population responsibly and sustainably, the effective placement of a grade-separated transit corridor would be a crucial element in increasing population density.

by BJ on Jun 19, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I am wrong, but once shared lanes are built for a streetcar, can't they be eventually re-purposed into dedicated lanes? I'd prefer dedicated upfront, but if they are built shared in some places and then eventual demand and support grows, couldn't the roads be reconfigured to separate cars from dedicated lanes?

by JDC on Jun 19, 2014 1:31 pm • linkreport

This is not the "Field of Dreams." We don't need to whisper "If you build it, they will come."

They are already here.

Let's think about how we can allow "them" (ourselves) to move about more efficiently FIRST and foremost. If we increase convenience and efficiency, all your wildest tertiary dreams will come true.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 1:36 pm • linkreport

Truth, All we're saying is let's plan for both. Just becasue we bongled it so far dosen't mean we can't step up. Especially if the media does it's job and puts the politician's feet to the fire.

by Thayer-D on Jun 19, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

We can do both. Thayer is exactly correct. The region is growing anyway. Streetcars help manage that growth much more efficiently.

The streetcar doesn't care how long you've lived here.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

@MLD; sure demand is strong on 14. And also on 16th.

In fact 16th is the best case for a streetcar; one that is long enough with proper boardings could help get those buses off the roads.

by charlie on Jun 19, 2014 1:49 pm • linkreport

Yes, of course transit can help guide development. But it seems foolish to me to disqualify 14th street because it's already booming. It's booming, which means there are people living there who need to get around the city, and lots of people around the city who want to go there; we should be facilitating that, not moving the streetcar over to 11th (and close to the existing metro line) in the hope of getting 11th to where 14th is now.
Similarly, I have read (on GGW)that the reason that Metro is not considering running the separated Blue Line through NE Capitol Hill is because there is little potential for additional development in the corridor. Yet it's already far denser than many of the suburban areas the Metro already runs to, and there are thousands of people there who would benefit from better transit access.

by alurin on Jun 19, 2014 1:53 pm • linkreport

I understand your goals, and I don't disagree with them.

The focus should remain on the transportation aspect. If done correctly, the other goals will take care of themselves.

The First Transcontinental Railroad was built to connect settled areas. The infill naturally followed.

I would venture to say that DC's original streetcars weren't "rails to nowhere."

I don't think we are too far apart on what we want, and the "debate" is probably more for argument's sake. I'm just saying you cannot go wrong with staying laser focused on building a convenient and efficient streetcar. You just can't lose that way. There's no need to get clever.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

the tendency to overfocus on endpoints effects heavy rail too - "who is going to ride from Loudoun to Metro Center?" at least they don't ask who will ride from Loudoun to Largo.

RE NE capital hill. New heavy rail metro stations and lines are expensive. WMATA considered that in their planning, which was focused on both improving operations and adding ridership. As for the suburban stations, many of the lower density ones would have a hard time getting built today. Others are end of line stops, built to serve park and rides.

As for streetcars, development impact is one of the key reasons for building them, one of the ways they will be financed directly or indirectly, and one of the reasons for choosing rail rather than BRT.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

And that's exactly why the streetcar is where it is now, unfortunately.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 2:09 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I am wrong, but once shared lanes are built for a streetcar, can't they be eventually re-purposed into dedicated lanes?

They can, but the design matters. For example, turning H St NE's streetcar tracks into dedicated lanes means either a) abandoning the on-street parking between the sidewalk and the tracks and repurposing that space, or b) still allowing parking and loading access to those parking spaces, which requires violation of the dedicated lane.

If you were designing that route with dedicated lanes in mind for the future, you would've laid out the tracks/stations and roadways differently.

by Alex B. on Jun 19, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

Dedicated lanes or don't bother with the damn thing. Seriously, if there's no mobility boost over a bus, there is no point (and that goes for operations and scheduling, too: poor headways would be just as bad for the utility of the line).

@AWITC, we've all heard the reasons for no more heavy rail and no dedicated lanes and insufficient density this and that. But part of it is a chicken-and-egg scenario. Often the resistance to adding more density is because of perceived stresses on parking and streets and a lack of additional capacity to serve a larger population. If you provide more transit options, the realm of possibility grows.

What I'm saying is that the mere possibility that at some point the population might justify a heavier-capacity rapid transit mode is to me reason enough to build it.

And WRT NE in particular, the idea that it wouldn't get sufficient ridership is nonsense. That area is crying out for a good alternative to overcrowded, mixed-traffic buses and infrequent, mixed-traffic streetcars.

by LowHeadways on Jun 19, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

Better transit is built for numerous reasons, development and speed of transit being two of them. DC seems to have jumped on the streetcar bandwagon, but a streetcar isn't the right mode for every street, corridor or even city. Think about what you're trying to achieve on Georgia Ave. before getting all gung-ho on laying rail.

A former DC resident, I've lived in SF for the past 14 years. Our legacy streetcar system survived because the Twin Peaks Tunnel was already in place and the MUNI Metro system built in the late 70s had to go somewhere. Basically, they funneled 5 lines into a subway rather than on Market St. In the past 30 years has there been any transit oriented development? Very little to none. That wasn't the point of building the system.

Both Georgia Ave and 16th St. are major N-S connectors, but what are the ultimate goals for these corridors? Figure that out and then maybe you'll see that alternatives to the streetcar may be better options.

by Mark on Jun 19, 2014 2:34 pm • linkreport

The H Street line's failures should put this Georgia Av line to bed. There's a strong contingent that is putting pressure on the Council to scrap this plan because there is little benefit.

If streetcars were quicker and/or more efficient then it would justify them, but rapid bus-only lanes with fewer stops will do exactly what the streetcars would but at a fraction of the cost, and without the headaches to Georgia Av businesses.

by Brett on Jun 19, 2014 2:36 pm • linkreport

"What I'm saying is that the mere possibility that at some point the population might justify a heavier-capacity rapid transit mode is to me reason enough to build it."

Which is why to get back on topic to this thread, DDOT is looking at development POTENTIAL and not just current population. Please do recall the discussion of heavy rail was an aside - lets not derail this discussion of optimatal street car routes into yet another discussion of optimal modes.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

>if there's no mobility boost over a bus, there is no point

There ARE mobility boosts to doing streetcars over buses, even if they're in mixed traffic. In addition to purely and simply having more capacity, streetcars have more doors and wider aisles which speed up loading/unloading, thus speeding up the entire trip.

Of course, dedicated lanes are better. We want dedicated lanes. But it's factually incorrect to say there's no mobility benefit to mixed traffic streetcars.

by BeyondDC on Jun 19, 2014 2:43 pm • linkreport

To some comments above, no you cannot really convert a mixed traffic lane into a dedicated one later because then you wouldn't be able to access the parking to the right of the dedicated lane and also because a dedicated lane requires you at most points to stop drivers from making a turn in that direction. That isn't a problem with a center lane but becomes one with a curbside lane (the only one they are studying) because its a lot less practical (aka impossible) to ban right turns while banning left handed ones is a frequent occurrence.

Yes it would be a capacity improvement, but at rush hour it would still be at a severe time differential to Metro. So you would increase capacity but trip times would still be slow, which would be a problem. If this is a high density corridor (which it is!) we should be treating it like one which means center running, dedicated lanes. Without them, it will probably still be faster to take the Green/Yellow lines and transfer to a bus or walk or bike than take a curb running, mixed traffic streetcar at peak travel times.

by DCSC on Jun 19, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

So basically you are trading capacity for frequency. Not a great deal in most cases.

The real advantge would seem to be a better ride, potential for better AC and climate control, and better noise control. All positives.

by charlie on Jun 19, 2014 2:50 pm • linkreport

OMG,when will this streetcar mess go away?! Why all this focus and waiting for an expensive, inflexible "solution?" DC has trains and buses. And it has significant problems with both and aging fleets that need replacing. Focus, focus, focus. Had DC never eliminated streetcars that would be a different story. But they're gone and have been for longer than most of us have been alive. There is nothing streetcars give us that is worth the expense, opportunity costs, and time wasted. DC needs to fix its transportation issues by updating/upgrading and expanding the trains and buses it already has and knows how to operate. In the very near future, this streetcar mess is going to be recognized as the city's biggest waste of money ever. Let it go!!

by RyanS on Jun 19, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

The streetcar's never going to be better than a Metro line, but it is going to be better than a bus line, even a BRT. It is already faster to take the Green/Yellow line and transfer... but yet a lot of people are taking the existing (low capacity AND stuck in traffic) bus lines. Giving those people more room is going to be an improvement. It would be even better to give them dedicated lanes, and even better to give them another Metro line.

In any case, this is probably all fuss about nothing, since building another streetcar line will now require some future City Council to raise taxes.

by alurin on Jun 19, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

Streetcars are certainly capable of a higher capacity and can be an elegant solution, when applied well. Good practice in transit planning is to identify the problems that are causing reductions in service speed, quality, and reliability, and then develop solutions that address those problems. The approach used by DDOT was to identify a solution (streetcar) and then figure out where improvements (e.g. dedicated lanes) can be applied (without increasing automobile delay, of course). This mismatch in problems and solutions often results is solutions applied to locations where they are not needed or in ways where they actually degrade service.

Yes, streetcar in mixed traffic can result in capacity benefits. It can also result in significant speed reductions, since streetcars cannot pass other vehicles. It seems like a lot of people involved with this debate have a goal of streetcar. A more useful goal is to make it easier for people to get where they want to go.

by TransitSnob on Jun 19, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport


1 On this corridor is there a capacity constraint on buses? A. Currently? B. with expected development? C. with development that would occur if transit drew more people to the area? I know thats a rationale for rail on Col Pike, but not sure if it applies to the N-S corridor

2. It seems to me that at the opposite ends of this corridor there is significant development potential, and that rail could help it get developed. But less so in the part from downtown to Columbia Heights, which is either built out or will become so soon withouth any transit boost. So the desirability of rail as a transit booster vareis in different parts of the NS corridor

3. the sections that would be dedicated presumably would be so for buses also. With resulting pavement mtnce. Is it necessary to do a lifecycle cost analysis to establish the desirability of rail on this corridor?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2014 3:22 pm • linkreport

You know, in Jerusalem there are two lane roads where both lanes are light rail.
Could and should be an option here.

by Moshe on Jun 19, 2014 3:26 pm • linkreport

Before this particular thought gets anymore traction.

Yes, streetcars are "stuck" on the rails. But consider:

A: That's why people like them. They can see the rails and more or less track where it goes. That's harder to do with a bus. It's an explicit reason why streetcars are acknowledge to induce more development compared to a bus line.

B: Buses aren't that flexible.
- It still deals with traffic overall (if nobody is moving then neither is the bus),
-is still a much bigger vehicle than most traffic anyway(especially an articulated bus which is much more analagous to a streetcar),
- Can never deviate from it's route too much because it still has to pick up and drop off its passengers at the bus stops.

Therefore, the actual number of situations a bus could handle better than a streetcar is way lower than popularly believed.

tl;dr, it's acknowledge that streetcars can't leave their tracks. That's not a disadvantage.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

I vote for alternative #4

by DaveG on Jun 19, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

To put it another way, if you could pick one would you choose:

A Blue Line tunnel or a 37-mile streetcar network.

I think Streetcar would be marginally less expensive but the point is the District is focus on this rather than that. I'm from Philadelphia where we are still benefiting from the legacy of streetcars so I naturally I like them. However, this would be the first question I'd ask.

by Randall M. on Jun 19, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

None of those reasons justifies the high costs of building a streetcar line. That's probably why DC got rid of it 50 years ago. While we're finding transport solutions in the past, why not bring back horse and buggy while we're at it?

by Brett on Jun 19, 2014 4:04 pm • linkreport

I am not anti-streetcar, but come on, I know spin when I see it. It is unquestionably a disadvantage to be stuck on rails, when subjected to random road conditions. I have been on a diverted busses many times, which would have otherwise been stuck, due to things like: traffic, accidents, and mysterious police roadblocks near the White House and Capitol.

I have an idea, let's just paint colored lines on the roads to show bus routes! I just saved us a couple hundred million dollars!

We can even have local artists design distinct line-specific logos to be painted every 20 feet. How about lines made of different colored cobblestone. The possibilities are endless.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 4:07 pm • linkreport

brett gets the recycled meme of the day award for the "street cars are 19th C" reference. We could also go back to automobiles, which were invented in the 19th century.


I would suggest given the development goals, picking the blue line over the entire 37 mile network would be hard to argue for (esp if the latter includes substantial segments in dedicated ROW.) And I live in NoVa and think the seperated blue line is very important.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2014 4:08 pm • linkreport

@Randall: That is a false choice. I'm not just saying that we should do both (though of course we should). But the streetcar project is a response to the fact that Metro is a regional system, not one that prioritizes the needs of the District. The real question is, what transit improvements can we do independent of (but of course complementary to) Metro? Like the Circulators, the streetcar system is supposed to serve the needs of the District, without input from VA and MD (which is mostly a good thing, but it's the reason for the ambivalence about going to Silver Spring).

by alurin on Jun 19, 2014 4:09 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity, I agree

If I'm thinking like DDOT, looking at finite options that focus just on the District Streetcars are a good development tool and a way to transport residents and visitor.

A smartly built streetcar system, one that also connects with Arlington via the Long Bridge replacement or to Silver Spring would provide a better alternative to just the Blue Line in the District.

I also like Alternative #2 but it should end in Silver Spring

by Randall M. on Jun 19, 2014 4:18 pm • linkreport

It's definitely not streetcar vs. metro (or any other option) It's basically streetcar vs. no streetcar at this point.

None of this prevents any other major transit project in DC from moving forward.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

wow, comments all over the place, in a good way.

1. I do agree with Randall M. that we want to get the best value from limited monies to invest in new transit infrastructure, the separated blue line is probably more important, although not limited to the WMATA proposal, but beyond Union Station. I don't think DDOT suggests that in the draft master plan.

OTOH, people make the arguments that not enough new stations would be created and a lot of the benefit would go to nonresidents. I think that's ok, because it is important to DC to maintain the value of the Central Business District as a place to locate business, and adding capacity in the core, and service to new locations, is a good thing.

HOWEVER, where DCOP really f*ed up with the discussion about the height limit is not discussing to any degree of significance, what the benefits would be for DC residents.

To my way of thinking, the biggest reason to raise the height limit is that property values would increase, and this increase would support the bonding capacity necessary to expand fixed rail transit service in the city, heavy rail and streetcars/light rail, but especially heavy rail.


2. alurin writes: The streetcar's never going to be better than a Metro line, but it is going to be better than a bus line, even a BRT.

And I agree, although note that I am not the fastest bicyclist and I can usually beat a bus, even an expresser bus riding up GA Ave. from Rhode Island to Petworth (after Petworth the bus has the advantage on the hills). But yes, that means using the Idaho Stop.

3. I don't agree with charlie about transit vs. development. We need to maximize ROI on any public investment. Transpo infrastructure creates positive externalities that are monetized. That's true for roads generally, and for transit too. There is nothing to be embarrassed or indirect about. Although at the same time the transit routes have to be purposeful and useful, you can't just build transit anywhere and expect good results to flow (e.g., the Baltimore Light Rail).

Relatedly, in terms of the metropolitan landscape, streetcar investments will lead to neighborhood and commercial district improvements in various DC neighborhoods, making them more attractive compared to other metropolitan non-DC locations, and that is an investment in DC too. (But will lead to price appreciation and displacement.)

4. I probably disagree with CHarlie about Shaw to Downtown. There is a lot of distance between the Shaw Station on 7th and Mount Vernon. Probably people in that area would like more reliable intra-city transit too. Improving the quality of intra-city transit is a worthy goal.

However, I would probably argue that providing dedicated lane solutions, double deck buses, and other improvements might be just as good as a streetcar but for less cost.

I wish we would try it on one line to see what happens. So we could have some data.

16th Street would be the place to start.

by Richard Layman on Jun 19, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport


Yes, but no. The District doesn't have unlimited fund. In a perfect world, I agree with you that we could do both. Honestly, the administration's idea of having a consortium to build and operate streetcars is an interesting idea that could perhaps allow for us to actually build both.

You are absolutely right that the reason for streetcars and Circulator is that WMATA has dropped the ball on diversification and innovation. I think it is in their nature to not look at other modes but to focus on the rules of its enabling compact that keep it as it is.

by Randall M. on Jun 19, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

I am going to start the "Paint the Town" campaign to promote my idea to paint lines on the DC streets to illustrate bus routes.

This is going to be big, really big. Money saved from the streetcar project will be used for BRT and ped/bike projects.

"I wonder where the nearest bus stop for the 36 is?" "Well, m'lady, simply follow that green line with the number 36 painted every twenty feet. It will get you where you need to go!" "Thank you kind sir! DC has 'real street smarts!'"

With a wry smile and a wink, and I am skipping my way downtown.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 4:28 pm • linkreport

Oh, the MoCo thing is tough. For various reasons, it's reasonable for DC to spend money taking the streetcar to Silver Spring, because it would reduce street traffic to and from DC, but I don't know how to quantify that.

But DC needs to engage MoCo now. It would be a way to push MoCo towards going beyond the Purple Line and beyond BRT in thinking about transit.

(I mentioned this to Ike Leggett when he was politicking last week at the Takoma Metro. He said to expect changes at MCDOT. But he needs to be held to this...)

2. This comes up with Takoma Metro too. My sense is that most of the people driving to the Metro and parking are Maryland residents. If DC and WMATA and EYA were to invest in creating a joint underground structure, parking could be provided to support the commercial district and the Metro and residents, and many more housing units could be constructed.

But it doesn't really behoove DC to pay much into this, because mostly Maryland residents would benefit. And from a TIF standpoint, only by including the residential income tax from building residents would it likely pencil out.

But it still needs to be considered.

These cross-jurisdictional issues are tricky.

by Richard Layman on Jun 19, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

It is unquestionably a disadvantage to be stuck on rails, when subjected to random road conditions.

Yes, it stinks to be stuck in traffic. I'm arguing against the idea that buses are way better at avoiding traffic than streetcars. The advantage is not that wide.

I have been on a diverted busses many times, which would have otherwise been stuck, due to things like: traffic, accidents, and mysterious police roadblocks near the White House and Capitol.

1. probably not as often as you think.
2. These things can, and are mitigated. Again, it's just not THE crucial factor in deciding between a streetcar or something else.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2014 4:30 pm • linkreport

Montgomery County's recently approved Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Plan recommends dedicated lanes for either BRT or streetcar on Georgia Ave between the DC border and the Silver Spring metro station.

by Dave on Jun 19, 2014 4:36 pm • linkreport

If DC wants to extend the line into Silver Spring its up to DC DOT to approach Montgomery County DOT and the MTA to collaborate on the project. Silver Spring would be the obvious terminal for the line, although I'm not sure if MoCo will have the funds to pay for it.

The county is already spending a ton on it's ambitious BRT system, the CCT, and the Purple Line light rail line. The MTA also has its hands full with the above projects and the Red Line light rail and Southern MD Light Rail/BRT.

by King Terrapin on Jun 19, 2014 5:07 pm • linkreport


A bus is infinitely better at avoiding road obstacles than a streetcar. Please, the spin is really not needed. Streetcars have their own merits, but it is simply impossible to wish away their shortcomings. As I said, I am not against streetcars, and I absolutely believe that the ones that have been paid for should be put into service as soon as possible. I'm not even arguing against future lines, so...not sure what the spin is about.

I am fairly certain I am more qualified to gauge my personal bus experiences than you are. :)

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 5:20 pm • linkreport

A bus is infinitely better at avoiding road obstacles than a streetcar.

I'm not disputing this. I am saying that in the overall planning, this advantage matters less than many people thinks it does. It's not a buses "killer app" so to speak.

by drumz on Jun 19, 2014 5:23 pm • linkreport

The approach used by DDOT was to identify a solution (streetcar) and then figure out where improvements (e.g. dedicated lanes) can be applied (without increasing automobile delay, of course).

Originally (as in 2002) the streetcar was seen as a solution to numerous problems -- slower moving buses, air pollution and lack of connectivity within the existing heavy rail system (which is why the project originally received backing from WMATA). So I disagree that at the time of its conception, the streetcar was seen as a solution in search of a problem.

However, I agree that over time, it became that, probably as a result of poor management (such as the CSX-DDOT debacle that destroyed the Anacostia street line route) and a fundamental shift in how the streetcar would operate and what role it would serve.

On H St NE, it had always been DDOT's plan to use the streetcar as a catalyst for development. So in the context of DC's system, it's impossible to divorce the streetcar from the development prospect or else it would eliminate a major reason for building the streetcar there in the first place. Now whether people feel this is a solution (streetcar) in search of a problem (where can we find a neighborhood ripe for revitalization?), or the other way around, is up for interpretation. But it seemed clear that from DDOT's perspective, encouraging development was more important than solving traffic problems, and the agency would be damned if it couldn't figure out a way to put a square peg in a round hole.

by Scoot on Jun 19, 2014 5:23 pm • linkreport

The truth

I have been on a bus that managed to route around a problem a couple of times. I have been on a bus stuck in traffic many, many times. I'd say "stuck in traffic" outnumbered "found a way around" by well over 100 to 1. Thats MY experience.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 19, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

@The Truth

In Philadelphia, it seems that those who double park on streetcar tracks have about 5 minutes before the tow truck arrives. Brutal enforcement will mitigate some of the road obstacle concerns.

I do think DDOT is short sighted in not having tracks down the center of streets. Speaking with a DDOT representative about this, they were focused on wheelchair accessibility and the narrowness of the island where stops would be located. I get the concern but DDOT's curb lane method is very limiting.

by Randall M. on Jun 19, 2014 5:34 pm • linkreport

Is there any reason why we dont just straight up replace some bus routes such as the 70, X2, 50, 80, 62 they run straight along the same street or mostly the same street for more than 40% of the route.

All this issue about where to terminate why not have Silver Spring & Takoma as both terminals and each streetcar alternates between the two! They both use to be terminals at one point and buses do terminate at both so why not streetcars.

The streetcars should be used as a replacement for Metrobus routes not for a separate system that goes basically the same place just on tracks; all it would do is split the ridership between the two solving nothing.

by kk on Jun 19, 2014 5:43 pm • linkreport


Maybe you don't ride the bus much. Maybe your route is less susceptible to problems. I don't have the faintest idea.

Until I started commuting by bicycle a month ago, I rode the bus back and forth to work everyday for years. There were plenty of obstacles. One time, our bus broke down on the Souza, and the driver managed to worm it over to the dead lane (near Barney Circle construction) before stopping. That saved thousands of other commuters some serious headaches that morning. Another bus stopped and picked us up, because the path was not obstructed by the broken down bus itself.

No matter the spin, the fact remains that even your bus was able to go around an obstacle. Something so simple is absolutely and fundamentally impossible for a streetcar.

That's not spin; that's the simple truth.

@ Randall M

Now that you mention it, none of the obstacles my bus rides have circumvented were a double parked vehicle. Still, your point about enforcement stands.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 5:48 pm • linkreport

No matter the spin, the fact remains that even your bus was able to go around an obstacle. Something so simple is absolutely and fundamentally impossible for a streetcar.

Yes but it doesn't matter. The streetcar is a preferred choice despite this limitation. DDOT's planning has found that the overall benefits of the streetcar outweigh its drawbacks, including this one).

by drumz on Jun 19, 2014 6:03 pm • linkreport

That wasn't in dispute.

I'll save the "DDOT planning" oxymoron jokes for later. ;)

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 6:06 pm • linkreport

Except it always gets brought up as if it hadn't been considered.

by Drumz on Jun 19, 2014 6:39 pm • linkreport

Except I am pretty sure it was you who brought it up this time.

by The Truth™ on Jun 19, 2014 6:44 pm • linkreport

How much faster is a streetcar over a bus?

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 8:15 pm • linkreport

Are streetcars going to run extra late (post Metrorail hours)?

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 8:17 pm • linkreport

So what happened to the far less damaging, far more doable and far less expensive (if all that's done is paint and signs)"Rush hour Bus lane" concept?
Did that get abandoned because it made too much sense?

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 8:24 pm • linkreport

Things like streetcars and Metrorail cars don't break down and cause massive delays and backups, and also, global warming doesn't exist.

"No matter the spin, the fact remains that even your bus was able to go around an obstacle. Something so simple is absolutely and fundamentally impossible for a streetcar.

That's not spin; that's the simple truth."

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 8:46 pm • linkreport

FWIW, development plans at both "The Wharf" (at SW Waterfront) and Walter Reed assume the existence of a streetcar. The market study for WRAMC indicated that demand for multifamily at the level DMPED wanted to see wouldn't exist unless the streetcar was built.

From a mobility perspective, dedicated bus lanes would be preferable to mixed-traffic streetcars. But, as others have already pointed out, this is development-oriented transit.

I share kk's concern about duplication of routes but if streetcars replace buses, that's a real loss for riders -- fewer seats, fewer stops, and (based on capacity/efficiency claims) a strong chance of less frequent service.

by BTDT on Jun 19, 2014 8:50 pm • linkreport

BTDT The inflexibility of streetcar routes harm future development scalability.

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 8:52 pm • linkreport


They'd rather spend millions more on a streetcar without dedicated lanes. The wires fool unknowing people who don't like the bus into thinking the streetcar is something more than a less versatile bus that can't switch lanes or avoid road closures.

by Brett on Jun 19, 2014 8:56 pm • linkreport

Brett - Perhaps we can fool them just by hanging old tv attennas off the backs of bus roofs.

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 9:05 pm • linkreport


That'd probably work as long as we also hang some old clotheslines up and down the street.

by Brett on Jun 19, 2014 9:27 pm • linkreport

Brett - I like this plan

by asffa on Jun 19, 2014 9:35 pm • linkreport

So what happened to the far less damaging, far more doable and far less expensive (if all that's done is paint and signs)"Rush hour Bus lane" concept?

The bus lanes are for 16th. The streetcar will run on 14th or Georgia.

by Drumz on Jun 19, 2014 10:11 pm • linkreport

Just build it.

by Thayer-D on Jun 20, 2014 6:46 am • linkreport

Paint the town! Give on-street clues for bus routes to all citizens. It's comforting to see that deep blue line painted on the street, because you just know any minute, another faithful bus will be stopping to open its doors for you.

We can then use the millions of saved dollars from the streetcar debacle to build Jetson-style moving sidewalks as a way to "spur development" in targeted areas of town.

Personally, I would hop on a Jetwalk™ and follow the city's leadership wherever it takes me.

"Take your modern metropolis to the next level with Jetwalk™ automated people movers. Don't walk -- Jetwalk™!"

"Just put your bags of trash and cadavers out on your nearest Jetwalk™ and forget it! In DC, all paths lead to the dump."

by The Truth™ on Jun 20, 2014 7:34 am • linkreport

When did this turn into a DCist comment thread?

by Low Headways on Jun 20, 2014 7:50 am • linkreport

The jokes started with "Stuck on rails is a feature! No really!"

On the other hand, I am NOT joking. If the selling point of streetcars is the comforting rail in the road that makes a person feel good inside knowing that the streetcar will be coming eventually, which is better than a bus that you can never be trust, because there's no trace on the road, even though I can check my smartphone and see realtime gps of every bus I'm looking for, then all I'm saying is we can replace the rails with painted lines.

Yes, I said that all in one breath.

Actually, I was joking when I suggested I would blindly follow the DC leadership wherever it takes me. So, guilty.

by The Truth™ on Jun 20, 2014 7:57 am • linkreport

Paint the town! Give on-street clues for bus routes to all citizens. It's comforting to see that deep blue line painted on the street, because you just know any minute, another faithful bus will be stopping to open its doors for you.

Is there evidence that this has been effective at growing ridership in other cities? Or that it would meet the same goal that the streetcar is aimed to meet?

by drumz on Jun 20, 2014 8:06 am • linkreport

If Google Glass (or a less obnoxious competitor) becomes more mainstream, I can forsee an augmented reality app that will show the wearer the transit options that will appear wherever she is looking. It would even show expected wait times in minutes.

That would save us the cost of paint and maintenance of the paint from my "Paint the Town" initiative. If a route changes, everyone is updated in realtime (just like other WMATA resources, of course.)

If we want to get really clever, it could create mirages of rails in the roadway to really impress people. The buses could have virtually attached smokestacks belching billowing black smoke for a real authentic effect. The beauty is it's not going to harm the environment. Woo! Wooooo!

I know this all sounds quite fanciful, but I bet it won't be too long before such things are commonplace.

by The Truth™ on Jun 20, 2014 8:11 am • linkreport


With the possibility of saving hundreds of millions of dollars, I think it's well worth the chance for DC to take a leadership role and give it a whirl.

We can always dig up the roads and add more rails, later. Apparently, there is no shortage of money, so no worries.

by The Truth™ on Jun 20, 2014 8:14 am • linkreport

Please don't put up another streetcar article without including this link:

It's tiresome to read the same arguments again and again when at least the basic case is laid out so eloquently there.

by h st ll on Jun 20, 2014 8:29 am • linkreport

Again, I am not anti streetcar. Let's at least get the lines going that have been built and paid for.

I am against conspicuous spin. As I said, it's just not needed in this context. The most debated point in this thread was initiated (randomly?) by a pro streetcar advocate.

So, the whole thing is a bit bizarre to me.

However, I must say that while playing the devil's advocate in this thread, it has made me realize that there may be too much "Just do it" zealotry with goals that aren't necessarily in the best interests of DC as a whole.

Other than putting the current streetcars into action, to save face and spent resources, there is absolutely NOTHING that says we MUST continue building more streetcars.


It's not a foregone conclusion that we must build more.

Personally, I am open to whatever the best future options are, taking into account all the pros and cons of the choices available, including JetWalks™.

by The Truth™ on Jun 20, 2014 8:44 am • linkreport

You've stated your opinion numerous times, please no need to do so again and again.

by h st ll on Jun 20, 2014 8:50 am • linkreport

Your point was the tired arguments being brought up again and again.

My point was it was a proponent who brought it up. I'm sorry if you don't like that fact.

by The Truth™ on Jun 20, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

Initially, the route should go to Takoma DC, not Silver Spring, Maryland. If we want to cross state lines at some point later then that's fine but it should stay within DC at first. It also makes sense to go to the Takoma Metro because that is closer to the Walter Reed redevelopment. I think it's in DC's interest to make one of it's own neighborhoods the gateway to Walter Reed, rather than ceding that to a suburb. Sending it to Takoma would also spur the creation of potentially a couple thousand housing units in Takoma DC with access to the Red Line and streetcar. That would create a lot of revenue for DC.

by TakomaNick on Jun 20, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport

@TakomaNick: Except that (1) Development potential within DC is actually greater on Georgia Ave. north of Butternut than in Takoma (in large part due to NIMBYs at Takoma), and (2) Takoma isn't remotely the major transfer point that SS is.

People who live along GA Ave right now want to go to SS, not Takoma. In SS they can catch any number of buses to employers N, W, and E, and soon they'll be able to transfer to the Purple Line. In Takoma there are very few buses, and no Purple Line.

If this were paired with actual plans for increased density around the Takoma metro it could be a big win for DC, but the neighbors of the Takoma metro clearly don't want that to happen. Plus nothing is going to happen to the SFHs along Butternut, while there is plenty of developable property along GA Ave in DC north of Butternut. Pushing the streetcar north to SS would allow for more dense development there, where it would actually be welcomed (or at least not actively fought). Add stops at Geranium and Kalmia, and you've already opened up more prime parcels in DC for development than if you took the streetcar to Takoma.

by Gray on Jun 20, 2014 9:23 am • linkreport

I think the 14th street allignment makes a lot of sense. It is densely populated, and between U street and McPherson Square the walk to the metro can be long - especially east of the 14th street corridor.
We need to stop always making the Portaland-Pearl District comparison. Can transit be for improved transits sake? And with improved connections north and south - the money sitting in the wallets of 14th street residents can more easily be spent across the city and not in a concentrated pocket of development.
Sadly the council is pulling support for the streetcar not because it doesn't' make sense but because 3 administrations have done a terrible job in completing the first section of track. Think of how many buildings have been built in the time it has taken to get the H street tracks laid and the cars tested. DC needs to kick out everyone that is managing the current project and bring in qualified professionals to finish the DC streetcar network.

by andy2 on Jun 20, 2014 9:51 am • linkreport


There are neighbors in Takoma, like me, who are supporting more development. Each new development in Takoma brings in new residents who are pro-development. I wouldn't assume that anti-development sentiment will stay high in Takoma or that those on Georgia Ave are going to roll out the red carpet.

There are already a lot of North - South bus routes to Silver Spring. I would like to see the 16th St. bus lines improved. One change that might make sense as part of that is to reroute most buses over to Georgia Ave north of Aspen. That would take them to the front of the Walter Reed development and improve access to transit between there and Silver Spring.

I don't see a compelling reason why DC's streetcar system should serve Silver Spring, MD and entirely leave out Takoma DC. The Metro system wasn't built purely with ROI in mind and the streetcar system shouldn't be either. It's fine to go to Montgomery County at some point but DC should put DC first and not leave out Takoma.

by TakomaNick on Jun 20, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

@TakomaNick: Except that if the streetcar went to SS it wouldn't "entirely leave out Takoma DC." The streetcar would be a short walk from Takoma DC. Meanwhile, it would bring better transit to the stretch of Georgia Ave. north to the DC/MD line.

While it's always possible that anti-development sentiment will wane in Takoma (though let's face it: you're still far outnumbered), it remains the case that there is a lot of development potential along GA Ave in DC north of Butternut--and much less anti-development sentiment there. Not to mention that this is an area with much worse transit access than Takoma DC, since it doesn't have a metro stop. I'm not sure why a desire to keep DC from cooperating with MD should also keep better transit access and development potential from this part of DC.

by Gray on Jun 20, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport


Judging from all of the DC license plates I see parked in downtown Silver Spring on the weekends, or headed there during the morning rush hour, it seems like both DC and Montgomery County residents stand to benefit from a streetcar going all the way up Georgia Avenue. While there is a jurisdictional boundary between northwest DC and Silver Spring, they work together as one community.

It doesn't help anybody to pit one side against the other. As many other commenters have pointed out, there are 40,000 jobs and numerous transit connections in Silver Spring that Takoma doesn't have and never will have, even if DC made it a bigger focus for development. This isn't a DC vs. MD issue - it's about what's best for both communities, and the people (like me) who travel between them each day.

by dan reed! on Jun 20, 2014 10:55 am • linkreport

The problem with service "to the north" is that Columbia Heights-14th Street doesn't have the density really to support service much past Spring Street, while Georgia Ave. does...

2. Yes, even though I live in Greater Takoma, obviously service in the key north-south corridors makes far more service than a terminus in Takoma, in fact I wrote about this years ago, when the change to the plans was made during the Fenty Admin.

But there is no reason to not have a branch off from Georgia Avenue to serve the station, and granted, while development is occurring at and around the station, which is awesome, it's not as great as along the Georgia Ave. corridor.

3. If MoCo were to develop complementary streetcar plans, a branch to "Takoma" could extend through Takoma Park to University Blvd. connecting Takoma's commercial districts and to the Purple Line.

by Richard Layman on Jun 20, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Dan Reed -- maybe you can do a post/think about how a streetcar line "to" Silver Spring could extend somewhat, as a goad to MoCo.

I have suggested to a higher up in MoCo that the County should start doing a bi-ennial transportation conference, to complement the 21st century suburbanity conferences they've done twice (I missed this years) and the Planning Dept.'s speaker series.

by Richard Layman on Jun 20, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

Streetcars only work if the following are true.
1. The lanes are dedicated and in the center of the street.
2. There is a center median strip for people to get on an off.
3. There is streetcar traffic two ways.

Otherwise they are poorly planned and a waste of time. Georgia Ave could work if it was designed this way.

Additionally, they need to scrap the butternut plan. The area around Takoma is not well suited for a streetcar. Make it go north and south on Georgia Ave.

by meh on Jun 20, 2014 4:02 pm • linkreport

Alternative #1 is probably the best. It serves part of 7th St./Georgia Ave that Metro does not. Additionally, running it along 7th through the national mall is a more central location for people who think part of the mall is inaccessible by Metro (although Smithsonian station has a Mall entrance, but it is more westerly along 12th St.). Also, the more direct routing will allow streetcars to operate slightly faster knowing most of the route is straight. Like @Richard Layman and others said, continuing the streetcar to Sil-Spr would allow many to transfer to the Metrorail Red Line, the proposed MTA Purple Line, MARC, and maybe a future LRT line along US 29 going as far as Burtonsville.

Even if the buses were rerouted, it would mean they would hit traffic along Georgia @ E-W Hwy/Philadelphia Ave. 16th St. provides more of a direct connection to Silver Spring Metro.

by YoungTransitSupporter on Jun 22, 2014 3:33 pm • linkreport

Some of the earlier comments are disappointing … infill development is a valuable goal of transit development because you can fit more people into more places, even in an urban environment.

Still, we may not need to worry about "duplicating" Metro rail service, since a streetcar can stop more frequently and provide an easier riding experience.

The best argument for a 9th street alignment is the ease of providing dedicated lanes—if we are concerned about moving more people more quickly, then we must pay attention to that aspect of it.

As someone who used to live near Georgia Avenue/Columbia Heights, I'm looking forward to a new streetcar through there on any alignment. It would be a wonderful way to zip downtown if built properly.

by Omar on Jun 23, 2014 2:52 pm • linkreport

I think this line from the post sums up the problem in focusing on the streetcar as a leverage for future development:

"it could travel on 14th Street, where population density is most concentrated and where it's a long walk to any Metro stations. But 14th Street is already booming; a streetcar might help more elsewhere."

The streetcar should serve as many people as possible. Unless it's just duplicating and replacing some other service that is working well to serve the people there, then 14th St is where it would be most useful...where it wold most likely help the most.

"Help" should be defined as helping residents and commuters and other visitors to the city, not just developers. The streetcar should go where it's most needed by people other than developers. Having said that, it could be used strategically, if aligning it on other street will "help" keep 14th St from strangling itself because of over-development more so than actually serving 14th St, would do.

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Jun 25, 2014 9:53 am • linkreport

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