The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Transit


The DC Streetcar starts service on Saturday. It took a wild ride to get here.

When DC's H Street and Benning Road streetcar opens on February 27, it'll run on rails that were first installed almost seven years earlier. We've been talking about this project since 2008, with hundreds of posts. The following is a little walk down memory lane to look at everything that's happened.


Photo by mariordo59 on Flickr.

Forty years after streetcars vanish, efforts begin to bring them back

Streetcars used to ply DC's streets until 1962. In 1956, following a strike, Congress forced the streetcar's operator to shut down all streetcars and replace them with buses.

But decades later, the Metro was under construction and rail transit was coming back. Metro wouldn't serve all parts of the city, however. A 1997 long-range transportation plan from the Barry administration called for new streetcar lines, including on H Street and Benning Road.

In the early 2000s, the DC government was trying to find a way to get a streetcar system started cheaply. An unused CSX track that runs through Anacostia seemed like a great spot. DC jumped on a Portland streetcar contract in 2004 to purchase three Czech-made cars. But DC couldn't get the rights to use the line, and the cars sat in the Czech Republic, unused.

2008: Anacostia? H Street? Both?

A political fight also was brewing in the DC Council about where to start the streetcar project. A line from Anacostia Metro to Bolling Air Force Base wouldn't have served many people. DDOT agreed to plan a route through Historic Anacostia as well, but many residents were not enthusiastic. Meanwhile, H Street businesses, residents, and Councilmember Tommy Wells were eager for the line on H Street.

DC had recently finished designing several corridors around the city in a program called "Great Streets." H Street and Benning Road, NE was one. Since a streetcar line was in the city's plans, to avoid having to reconstruct the street a second time, the decision was made to install tracks during the project.


Photo by Ralph.

2009: DDOT gets serious about a streetcar, but questions remain

The streetscape program yielded visible progress, but many details of the streetcar itself were not yet worked out. Besides sticking rails in the ground, what exactly was DC going to build? Where would the streetcar turn around? Where would maintenance happen? And what would power the cars?

Gabe Klein, then head of DDOT, decided to make the project a much higher priority, and in late 2009, the administration followed through with a bold vision to build eight lines in all wards of DC. He also moved the three streetcars across the ocean from the Czech Republic.


Phase 1   Phase 2   Phase 3   View larger version (PDF)

At the time, officials estimated the whole system could be built in 7-10 years for a cost of $1.5 billion. Mostly, they planned to put them in mixed traffic rather than dedicated lanes, except for a few segments on Rhode Island Avenue, M Street SE, and K Street NW.

There were already some signs that DDOT wasn't thinking everything through. WMATA sent a letter worrying that the platforms, high enough to roll right onto a streetcar, would be too high to board the X2 buses, which run along the same street. Would they conflict?

Unless you've got power

One of the big questions was how cars would get power. A law prohibited overhead wires in the L'Enfant city, including H Street NE. Some groups were gearing up to oppose the streetcar not based on its function, but based on the aesthetics of having any wires above the street.


Bombardier Primove. Image from Bombardier.

While insisting that modern wires look much less intrusive than many of the old-fashioned ones in some cities, DDOT promised to look into wireless technology, especially hybrid approaches that could use some off-wire segments along curves (which require more wires) and across important view corridors.

Groups like the Committee of 100 were pushing for a fully wireless approach, but experts said that was not feasible without major extra cost and maintenance headaches, at least not today.

2010: The Great Overhead Wire Battle

To get people excited about the project, in May 2010 DDOT brought the streetcar down to the parking lot that's now CityCenterDC. People could touch the vehicle and climb on board. They could also see two other DDOT vehicles: a newer Circulator bus and a bicycle for the soon-to-be-launched Capital Bikeshare.


Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

Opposition from the Committee of 100 and other groups continued. It focused on two streams: first, opposition to overhead wires; and second, an argument that there needed to be more planning before moving ahead. In retrospect, they were absolutely right on the second point, but the first one overshadowed it and unfortunately made the more prescient warnings less credible.

May is the time the DC Council finishes its budget, and many chairs have unveiled a final budget late the night before the deadline for a final vote. At 2 am on May 26, 2010, then-Chairman Vincent Gray, and also a candidate for mayor, cut the streetcar funding in his final budget. We and others sounded the alarm, and residents flooded Gray's office with calls asking to restore the funding. By that afternoon, he had worked out a deal with councilmembers to do just that.

Gray always maintained that his move to cut streetcar funds wasn't an attempt to kill the project outright, but stemmed from a belief that it needed more planning first. At a later campaign town hall, he said, "I support streetcars; let me make that clear. ... We have a commitment" to build out a 37-mile system.


Photo by Dan Malouff.

Soon after the budget fight, the council took a step to amend the overhead wire ban to allow wires on H Street (and elsewhere once the council approves a citywide streetcar plan and DDOT studies off-wire options). All councilmembers except Phil Mendelson cosponsored the bill.

As Ken Archer explained to the council, beautiful historic cities like Prague have trams using wires and still maintain their historic charm.


A streetcar wire in Prague. Photo by Isaac Wedlin on Flickr.

The National Capital Planning Commission wasn't so excited about wires. Its chair, Preston Bryant, threatened to ask the federal government to reject grants to DC if the District continued with its efforts, and then followed through on his threat. DC officials called that "bureaucratic blackmail."

The Federal Transit Administration indeed rejected DC's grant application, though sources said NCPC wasn't the reason as the winners had been selected well before Bryant's letter.

Planning and promises

In October 2010, DDOT released a more detailed streetcar plan that said:

  • Service on the H Street/Benning Road line and in Anacostia (to start with, south of the Anacostia Metro) would start in March 2012
  • A train would come every 10 minutes on H Street and every 15 in Anacostia
  • Rides would cost $1
  • There would be a proof-of-payment system instead of paying on board
  • DDOT would buy three more streetcars in addition to the three it already had
In December, Gray, by that time mayor-elect, continued his support for the program in a budget proposal. His transition report, however, sharply criticized DDOT for mismanagement in a number of areas. His first official budget allocated $99 million to streetcars.

Studies continued about how to route the streetcar through Historic Anacostia, but growing numbers of residents raised opposition to the project entirely.


Tracks under construction in Anacostia. Photo by John Fuller.

2011-2012: Setbacks

In April 2011, the completion date for the H Street/Benning Road line slipped to "late 2012." It wasn't the last delay.

The streetcar plan had long called for tracks on the local span of the new 11th Street bridge, then under construction, to get the streetcar over the Anacostia River. But in October 2011, the Federal Transit Administration blocked DDOT from installing tracks on the bridge. According to DDOT sources, the move was fine with the Federal Highway Administration, but FTA suddenly stepped in.


11th Street Bridge construction. Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

If it seems ironic that the federal government's transit agency would be the one pushing against transit, it's not a new refrain. Then-FTA administrator (now head of Seattle's transit agency) Peter Rogoff argued FTA had little leeway, but many other transportation professionals privately argued they could have allowed it.

Another, even bigger hurdle popped up. Since the 2010 plans, DDOT had expected to put the Union Station stop and a maintenance yard under the "Hopscotch Bridge" which carries H Street over the railroad tracks. One property owner didn't want to go along, but DDOT officials kept predicting they could work out all necessary approvals.


Schematic of the maintenance yard (left), 1st Street NE (center), the Union Station stop, and tracks toward H Street (right). Image from DDOT. Click to enlarge.

That didn't happen. Instead, Amtrak rejected the concept because it wanted to use the space for other purposes. (The next year, it released a master plan for Union Station that used that passageway as a concourse.)

By early 2012, there had been procurement problems that meant DC would almost surely not have the 3 extra streetcars promised, meaning not enough to run at 10-minute headways. In mid-2012, Councilmember Marion Barry tried to block another contract for the H Street line.

Mayor Gray's commitment didn't wane, however; he budgeted $237 million over six years to construct multiple streetcar lines.


Spingarn High School in 2009. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Spinning wheels on Spingarn

DDOT had been planning a maintenance facility on the Spingarn High School campus, but that had been a longer-term piece of the puzzle; with the area under the bridge unavailable, this was now blocking further progress.

Nearby residents also asked to designate Spingarn as a historic landmark, forcing any plans to go through far more extensive historic review. Then-DDOT Director Terry Bellamy said this would delay the project further; by now, it was delayed to late 2013 at the earliest.

It also had become clear to many by this time that DDOT's claims were not credible. DDOT had proposed the underpass maintenance yard idea without having buy-in and then couldn't get it. It had planned tracks on the 11th Street Bridge and didn't get those. Now, it hadn't started working on Spingarn nearly far enough ahead of time, and like too many other streetcar pieces, plans for the maintenance facility weren't publicly available at first (and when they were turned out to be meh until later getting better).


One February 2013 design for the Spingarn maintenance facility.

2013: Will it open?

Studies also continued for planning how to extend the line east from Oklahoma Avenue over the Anacostia River and west to Georgetown.

Testing on H Street hadn't even begun, but DDOT officials said that could happen in late 2013. They also started talking about a 22-mile "priority system" of three lines: east-west from Georgetown to Benning Road, from Anacostia to Buzzard Point, and from Buzzard Point to Takoma.


The 22-mile "priority system."

Even though it looked iffy, Mayor Gray kept promising streetcars would run in 2013. He also increased the budget to $400 million to pay for the line to go all the way to Georgetown, build the Anacostia line, and study the other lines in the 22-mile system.

One issue that had been brewing: How to make the area safe for people on bikes. Bicycle wheels can get stuck in streetcar tracks, and for a brief time incorrectly-installed grates even increased the danger. "Bike sneaks" and other design strategies can help cyclists stay safe.


Toronto. Photo by Eric Parker on Flickr.

The most important thing was to give cyclists another way to travel east-west, which DDOT did by designing and building bike lanes so people could ride two ways on G and I streets, parallel to H.

By October, DC officials admitted the streetcar wouldn't run in 2013. Testing would start in December 2013. This was far from the only broken promise by DDOT under Bellamy's leadership, which developed a reputation for being unable to deliver on its commitments.

Streetcar wires started appearing in November and the first vehicle arrived in December.


Photo by DC Streetcar on Flickr.

2014: The public-private partnership that wasn't

The Gray Administration also devised a strategy to significantly speed up construction: Find a contractor who could design, build, operate, and maintain (DBOM) the streetcar. They hoped an organization with more expertise could get things done without all the delays that had come thus far.

Gray proposed a major, ongoing revenue source to fund the succession of lines, by allocating a quarter of new tax revenue that comes in above the base estimate for Fiscal Year 2015. That would have given the program an estimated $800 million over five years.

A team started working on studies for the line on or near Georgia Avenue, and we pushed for dedicated lanes for this line. DDOT had already agreed to build dedicated lanes on K Street.


K Street section through downtown from October 2013. Image from DDOT.

Challengers to Mayor Gray criticized his administration's progress and the repeated delays.

On April Fool's Day 2014, DC had its primary, and Gray lost his bid for renomination. His budget plan also went down the next month, as Chairman Phil Mendelson, again near the deadline (but not in the middle of the night), took much of the money away for tax cuts. He did, however, leave $400 million over five years, which the Gray administration said wasn't even enough to pay for the segment west to Georgetown.

Mendelson disputed that allegation, and battling budget analysts left many confused about what, exactly, was still being funded. But the bigger problem was that DDOT had lost much of its credibility on the streetcar program from all of these delays, broken promises, and cover-ups over setbacks. Residents who had excitedly defended the program in 2010 were not ready to stick up for it in 2014.


A Gray administration graphic criticizing cuts.

Soon after, it became clear even opening in 2014 was unlikely, though the Gray Administration, as it had in 2013, kept promising service by the end of 2014.

"Simulated service," where the streetcars run as if they're really operating with passengers to ensure they are safe, started in the fall. There was just barely enough time to launch service before New Year's Day if the fire department signed off on the safety plans quickly. It didn't.


"Simulated service" in January 2015. Photo by Dan Malouff.

2015: Reboot

A new administration brought in new leadership. Leif Dormsjo, the new head of DDOT, said he'd stop making promises until they could actually keep them. In fact, Dormsjo said he wasn't totally certain the line would ever open.

He brought in a team of experts from the American Public Transportation Association to evaluate the line. Their report concluded that it could indeed open, and Mayor Bowser promised to finish the line from Georgetown to either Minnesota Avenue or Benning Road Metro.

Oh, remember wires? The ones on H Street weren't destroying the neighborhood, but DDOT did start planning for wireless operation across major intersections with state avenues, the Mall, and so on.

APTA's report identified 33 fixes to make to the streetcar line, and DDOT got going on those. By July, it had finished 12. Dormsjo brought in a team of experts who had actually launched streetcars in other cities to get this project over the finish line.


Workers modify the 19th Street station following the APTA review. Photo by Dan Malouff.

We didn't hear a lot about the streetcar in late 2015, but DDOT was working on fixing remaining problems with the line. Officials were also trying to get the fire department to sign off on safety plans.

2016: It's time

DDOT restarted "simulated service" at the end of 2015 and even announced the streetcar would close during the "Snowzilla" storm, in part to show safety officials how the line would handle a storm like this. The fire department ultimately gave its consent to open the line, and now it's scheduled to open on February 27.


Photo by Fototak on Flickr.

This will be the first time most people will be able to get on a DC Streetcar since May 2010 and the first time they can while the vehicle is in motion. There have been a lot of claims about the streetcar, pro and con, and riding it will finally give people a chance to decide based on real experience.

After that, DC will have to decide what to do about the other proposed lines and studies. DDOT will have to finish studies about extending the H Street/Benning Road line east and west, and decide what to do with the studies in limbo in Anacostia and Georgia Avenue.

One thing is for sure: It'll be great to have this sordid saga of delays and broken promises in the past.

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

Comments

Add a comment »

Maybe.

by Jwetz on Feb 23, 2016 11:05 am • linkreport

"It'll be great to have this sordid saga of delays and broken promises in the past."

It is good to be an optimist.

by RJ on Feb 23, 2016 11:19 am • linkreport

So I drove the line in my car last weekend and here are my thoughts:
1) from 3rd and H Street to 15th and H Street before Benning, I have no idea why DDOT didn't just put the rail in the middle of the road
2)From 15th and Benning to Benning and a little past Oklahoma, I think they need to remove those left turn lanes and just make it dedicated rail ways in the median. Encouraging vehicles to drive there is just going to slow down the trail. And there is plenty of room to drive in the other 2 lanes.
Here is a good example of the Blue Line from Long Beach, CA to Los Angeles. There is separation from the line and where the cars can turn

by Brett Young on Feb 23, 2016 11:57 am • linkreport

And here is what I am talking about. Right now its designed where cars can drive in the same lane as the streetcar....which seems unnecessary as the cars already have 2 lanes

by Brett Young on Feb 23, 2016 11:59 am • linkreport

One thing is for sure: It'll be great to have this sordid saga of delays and broken promises in the past.
That line was intended as a joke, right?

by swested on Feb 23, 2016 12:30 pm • linkreport

I concur w/ swested - not too sure this is in the past, if there is going to be further extensions.

Still, good article. I loved reading postings from before I moved to DMV, and to articles published when I first moved here. It was nice to see commenters who have continued to post here, as well as those who used to comment but seemingly have disappeared.

by JDC on Feb 23, 2016 12:44 pm • linkreport

Brett Young wrote:
"1) from 3rd and H Street to 15th and H Street before Benning, I have no idea why DDOT didn't just put the rail in the middle of the road"
I've heard this many times over the years. But I can't see how streetcar tracks in center lanes on H Street, where there is no existing median, would allow for ADA-accessible platforms/curbs at stops while maintaining two lanes of traffic each way.

The lane and track patterns on H Street are very similar to Westlake Avenue in Seattle.

by Scott Leonard on Feb 23, 2016 12:46 pm • linkreport

My biggest issue with it is the Union Station connection. You get dropped off in a median at the end and have to go down at least four sets of escalators? Not exactly a smooth transfer.

It would have been nice if they could have extended it to a less onerous transfer station like at Mount Vernon or Chinatown Metro.

by VJU on Feb 23, 2016 1:03 pm • linkreport

Regarding the Union Station west terminus: Extension of the line further west is planned in a future phase, if the District government chooses to pursue it. The streetcar stop on the bridge is still closer to Union Station, however, than any X2 stop.

by Scott Leonard on Feb 23, 2016 1:09 pm • linkreport

@Scott
That seems like its a much less heavily travelled route than H street, though it does also have parking...

by Dan P. on Feb 23, 2016 1:10 pm • linkreport

I think the LA and DC comparisons are valid, but a lot of confusion stems from the fact that DC is building a streetcar system versus a true light rail system with dedicated ROW. In San Francisco, we have a poorly designed hybrid. The Market Street tunnel acts more like a light rail system with actual stations, but once the trains on each of the 5 lines reach the surface we are back in early 20th century streetcar mode...sharing traffic, stopping every two blocks.

by Mark on Feb 23, 2016 1:16 pm • linkreport

The fact that you have to go up and down escalators to get to the Union Station Metro station is more the fault of Union Station's design than anything to do with streetcars.

You're very close to the Circulator where the streetcar currently ends. This comes with the bonus that the route largely travels on what will eventually be the streetcar's own route.

And the Burnham place redevelopment is going to radically change that area anyway so eventually that stop will be in the middle of the street between other developments rather than just on a bridge.

by drumz on Feb 23, 2016 1:24 pm • linkreport

The DC Streetcar program is a case study in absolutely disastrous planning and execution. The amount of money spent on this project is staggering. The fact that the original brain trust behind this program are long since gone from DC speaks volumes.

Please, please, please - stop with the streetcar expansion plans. It's been a total waste of money that could've been better used on just about any other project.

by Lurker on Feb 23, 2016 2:16 pm • linkreport

Imagine all the money that could have been spent on Metro if this disaster had never come to pass. Trollies are an answer to a question that only a handful of specific sort of people (the sort that exclaim, "When I did a semester in Prague, the streetcar was so fun!") ask - enough with this massive waste of money and resources.

by Arthur McCarthy on Feb 23, 2016 2:22 pm • linkreport

@Arthur McCarthy - I think there are tremendous benefits to a streetcar if it has a dedicated RoW. Obviously that is not the case here, but if such RoW can be secured on future routes I am still rooting for expansion.

I agree, Metro is superior, but what would it cost to run a line under H St? I'd guess many multiples of what was spent on the streetcar.

by Ross on Feb 23, 2016 2:26 pm • linkreport

The worst part for me is that the Hopscotch Bridge is slated for demolition under the Union Station development plan. The tracks and "platforms" on the bridge were constructed to be temporary. So once the bridge is demolished, there will no longer be a direct connection with Union Station (until the new bridge is built).

by Mark P. on Feb 23, 2016 2:45 pm • linkreport

It's been a total waste of money that could've been better used on just about any other project.

Ok which ones?

First, we aren't going to be using the same type of planning we did for the H street line for the next phases. So if we are going to stop expansions lets make the case for that on an operational basis rather than a planning one.

The streetcar is good for intracity commuting that is higher capacity than a bus line but more local (and less expensive) than a metro line (which also adds a ton of complexity by bringing in MD and VA as well).

You could do BRT I guess but BRT is fraught with its own problems especially locally here in DC.

"Light rail" is a nebulous term with no real definition to separate it from a lot of streetcars which are a type of light rail themselves. And the biggest thing, separated lanes, are slated for K street anyway.

None of this is meant to excuse what happened. I wish it hadn't not least of which because we could have maybe been riding the thing now already.

But its not like streetcars don't work well in other cities and its not like DC's transportation problems go away either.

by drumz on Feb 23, 2016 2:49 pm • linkreport

There isn't anyone in DC that's going to convince me that RFK to Georgetown is a waste of money.
Improvements can be made that makes most of the line a dedicated right of way.

by Brett Young on Feb 23, 2016 3:21 pm • linkreport

I wonder what happened to the DC residents who got the free trip to Portland to "observe" their streetcar? One of the great boondoggles in the city's long history of boondoggles.

by dcer562 on Feb 23, 2016 4:11 pm • linkreport

First, magisterial post. Congratulations.

2. As big a failure as the streetcar planning and implementation has been, there is no question that its economic development impact on H Street is tremendous, stupendous, etc. Words almost don't exist to describe it.

And I say that as someone who has become much less supportive of streetcars because of the debacles here with trying to create it.

I argue that upwards of $770MM of development has been triggered because of it. Some has been accelerated, but significantly, by multiple decades. And I don't count any of the major development west of 5th Street towards that total.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2015/12/dc-and-streetcars-4-from-standpoint-of.html

Frankly that amount is so high it's clear that the system is a success economically, despite all its failures.

It also communicates a potential change in strategy for building it. As an economic augur it works, so put it in those places where those preconditions exist, Georgia Avenue especially. For places where the ability to spur economic development isn't as great, reconsider. For areas that need the boost but haven't been considered, consider it.

Extending the current line east and west should be a major priority.

WRT extending the line west, it will make it much more useful. And by extending it to Rosslyn, it will help DC reposition the Rosslyn Metrorail station as "the DC Metrorail station serving Georgetown."

3. the argument "just think how much that could have done towards improving Metrorail" is attractive, and I use it myself.

However, that presupposes a plan and commitment being in place to do that. There isn't one and it isn't clear that there is such a commitment to do so on the part of DC's elected officials.

In fact I am working on a post that DC is in crisis because Metrorail is one of three key elements of DC's competitive advantage in terms of choosing it as a place to live and to locate and conduct business and the system is failing.

It is unclear to me that DC's elected officials appreciate how much Metrorail is key to the city's success and that it is incumbent on the city/city's elected officials to be leaders on transit issues not just for the city but the region.

This failure to appreciate the essentiality of transit to the city's competitive advantage is an element of the city's failures on the streetcar.

When I saw this editorial cartoon by Tom Toles it was like a punch in the stomach.
Tom Toles editorial cartoon, 2/15/2016, decline of WMATA/Metorail

by Richard Layman on Feb 23, 2016 4:34 pm • linkreport

I'm looking forward to the Georgia Avenue segment being opened. That street could use the improved ride quality of a streetcar and the economic development that would go along with it.

by Omar on Feb 23, 2016 4:34 pm • linkreport

@Omar

If we're still alive. By then, I trust we will have figured out a much more efficient way to schlep people down the street.

@Richard Layman

Great cartoon. That pretty much sums it up.

by DCwalks on Feb 23, 2016 4:43 pm • linkreport

The streetcar is good for intracity commuting that is higher capacity than a bus line but more local (and less expensive) than a metro line (which also adds a ton of complexity by bringing in MD and VA as well).
The 19 St, 13 St, 5 St and 3 St stops are all entirely unnecessary under a Metrorail configuration, especially considering that the typical Metro station in DC and throughout America/the World spans multiple blocks as a matter of course.

Had the Blue Line been built instead, its Carver/Langston stop could have exited into Hechinger or whatever replaces it at 17 St as well as having a minimum of one other egress onto the intersection at 15 (if possible, additional exits would allow pedestrians to bypass the intersection entirely without needing to pay a Metro fare). Had the Blue Line been built instead, 8 St could have actually been 6-8 Sts station or 8-10 Sts and had exits onto both. Had the Blue Line been built, more exits could have been built directly into the Union Station complex, and could have opened up the possibility of walking from 2 St NE to North Capitol inside of Fare Control.

To say nothing of the fact that building the Blue Line instead would have meant that there was already a Georgetown and a Benning Metro extension in place because it would have had to connect to the Rosslyn-Georgetown tunnel and the existing Blue Line / East Capitol St tracks respectively. Never mind that, despite cries over the increased logistical hurdles from involving MD and VA, the Blue Line would've helped everyone (MD through increased service on Blue/Orange/Silver, VA through having a new tunnel to push more trains across the river with).

What we spent on a toy trolley for developers on H Street would've either bought us the separated Blue Line or gotten us a lot further along in the conversation of how we control tunneling costs better into the future. Whichever outcome it would've been, both are far more desirable than what we're getting.

Of course, we'll never know now. The ghost of opportunities past is glaring from its home inside the tunnel that wasn't built instead.

by Ryan on Feb 23, 2016 4:51 pm • linkreport

$200m would build you about 300 feet of Metro and not even one station given the costs of NoMA station. So I dunno if we can say we could have "built the Blue Line instead."

by MLD on Feb 23, 2016 5:00 pm • linkreport

The 19 St, 13 St, 5 St and 3 St stops are all entirely unnecessary under a Metrorail configuration, especially considering that the typical Metro station in DC and throughout America/the World spans multiple blocks as a matter of course.

Well yeah. Like I said, a streetcar is a more local style of service but is still high capacity. Something like that makes sense for H street which has lots of transit ridership and lots of places to go along the corridor. You could still run a metro line underneath to enhance the service.

A new blue line is a great idea. But its not something DC can just do on its own like it could have (and did) with a streetcar.

Its not like the choice was truly ever between streetcars and more metro. The choice was (and still is until metro can get its stuff together) streetcars or nothing. To get a new choice you'll have to get the mayor and the council actually interested in something.

by drumz on Feb 23, 2016 5:07 pm • linkreport

What about all those people work at Bolling AFB who are clamoring for a streetcar to take them from the Anacostia Metro station to their workplace, which being a military base and old airport, is literally surrounded by parking and is located right off an interstate highway easily accessible from DC, VA, and MD?

by dcer562 on Feb 23, 2016 5:16 pm • linkreport

@MLD,

The NOMA station cost 104M in 2004 dollars, or $130M in inflation adjusted dollars.

It also services 8500 Boardings per day, or about 6 times the number that the DC streetcar is anticipated to service.

Another infill station somewhere would have been a much better idea, far superior development tool and a actual useful transportation tool

by Kelly on Feb 23, 2016 5:27 pm • linkreport

People actually believe the streetcar will expand beyond the H Street line?

That's amazing.

by Lurker on Feb 23, 2016 5:31 pm • linkreport

I take issue with the assumption of a sole correlation between H Street's development to the streetcar project.

Let's not forget for a moment that H Street's redevelopment also coincided with the robust, low-interest rate fueled recovery of the economy, the rapid re-urbanization of major American cities, and a major population influx into DC.

Plenty of logically "next in line" neighborhoods - Shaw, Petworth, Eckington to the North; Navy Yard, Potomac Ave to the SE - have exploded with development in the past 6-10 years, just as anyone looking at a map would have guessed.

I would expect that ANY sort of investment in the basic infrastructure of H street - even just a street beautification project - would have allowed for the inevitable explosion in value.

A streetcar was just a $300 million solution to a problem that never existed.

by swested on Feb 23, 2016 5:33 pm • linkreport

As Richard Layman (I think) has pointed out in the past, Georgia Avenue north of the Shaw Metro and H Street have lots of similar characteristics - Metro station at one end of the corridor, located close to gentrifying areas and center city jobs, good bus transit, etc. Only H St is much further along in development. The streetcar plans are the difference - just ask business owners on H.

Whoa now it's $300 million! The cost just keeps going up the more the poster dislikes the streetcar.

by MLD on Feb 23, 2016 5:47 pm • linkreport

The NOMA station cost 104M in 2004 dollars, or $130M in inflation adjusted dollars.

Construction cost inflation would put it over $150m, and underground vs. above ground would make that cost even more.

by MLD on Feb 23, 2016 5:55 pm • linkreport

@drumz
DC needs Gondolas! Gondolas everywhere!

by Dan P. on Feb 23, 2016 5:55 pm • linkreport

Kelly, the X lines have about 14,000 daily riders. The cost of the NoMA station, was cheaper because the system already existed.

But a significant portion of the cost had to do not with the station so much as the relocation of a track switch was in that location.

In any case, the modes serve different purposes.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2015/12/dc-and-streetcars-2-streetcars-are.html

Interestingly, that StonebridgeCarras building across from the Metro station uses proximity to the streetcar as one of the selling points.

In any case, as I argued above and elsewhere, the $770MM in development associated with the streetcar in DC makes it a good value.

That doesn't include property, income, or sales tax revenues that will be generated from activities supported by the buildings, only the construction and land cost of the buildings.

2. swested - you can disagree with my point all you want. Remember I say that I am no longer enamored with the streetcar. In any case, I strive mightily to be objective in my writing and analysis. Read the piece and respond.

As I argue, it's basically the only part of the city outside of the Metrorail transit shed experiencing that level of intense development.

If you have much familiarity with the ins and outs of the projects and sites over the years, it's very clear that the streetcar is the augur, that the developments wouldn't be happening. We are talking about projects that otherwise would still be sitting, after having been sitting fallow for 10+ years.

by Richard Layman on Feb 23, 2016 6:00 pm • linkreport

I mean I'm not going to say the process of building the streetcar was good - it was done extremely poorly. But the level of vitriol that has formed over the past year and a half is ridiculous. Especially since it's been clear for like a year that one person at FEMS was basically sandbagging the whole certification process because of some personal grudge.

by MLD on Feb 23, 2016 6:08 pm • linkreport

@"We and others sounded the alarm, and residents flooded Gray's office with calls asking to restore the funding"

And non-residents as I recall.

@"DDOT agreed to plan a route through Historic Anacostia as well, but many residents were not enthusiastic"

That didn't stop construction of the 1.1 segment from launching.

Why's it not being used today?

by DCwalks on Feb 23, 2016 6:19 pm • linkreport

DC needs Gondolas! Gondolas everywhere!"

You jest, but Georgetown BID is actually spending $35,000 to study gondolas. $35,000. To study gondolas. In Georgetown.

That's what happens when you let blogs and their minuscule readerships determine your priorities, and the exact same thing can be said about the embarrassment that is the DC trolly.

by Arthur McCarthy on Feb 24, 2016 12:13 am • linkreport

"Especially since it's been clear for like a year that one person at FEMS was basically sandbagging the whole certification process because of some personal grudge."

Sheesh...I know it that in life, like the movies it is more convenient to have one bad guy to blame everything on, but it doesn't make it true.

FEMS, while completely useless weren't the ones that built the platforms so they weren't ADA compliant, or so the streetcars couldn't open their doors without hitting them. All of those fundamental structural issues, were just fixed a couple months ago.

The Streetcar is 5 years late and twice priced, but it isn't because of FEMS.

by Sam on Feb 24, 2016 8:14 am • linkreport

"as I argued above and elsewhere, the $770MM in development associated with the streetcar in DC makes it a good value."

I really think that it is comically disingenuous when people lay 100% of H Streets development at the feet of the proposed streetcar (see look, streetcars are great for development!), but 0% of the development around the baseball stadium had anything to do with the stadium (it would have happened anyway).

H street redevelopment was in full force by 2003, the District had passed its H Street Strategic Redevelopment Plan, and the cities largest developers already had more than a million square feet in the H Street development pipe line by 2004. Heck, even the Washington Post called H street " the next hot spot in June of 2004, and lets be honest, by the time the paper calls it a "hot spot", it already has been for years.

The H Street streetcar program was preliminarily discussed in 2006, but not formally authorized and funded until March 2007, to coincide with the streetscape project.

The streetcar being responsible for H Streets redevelopment is simply not true. Do I think that it had some "marginal" effect on an already red hot redevelopment corridor? Sure, but lets not pretend like it was completely responsible.

by Kelly on Feb 24, 2016 8:17 am • linkreport

That's what happens when you let blogs and their minuscule readerships determine your priorities, and the exact same thing can be said about the embarrassment that is the DC trolly.

The streetcars were proposed before this blog at least ever got off the ground and the Gondola idea has totally come from the Georgetown BID. And all they're doing is studying it to even see if its a good idea.

The Streetcar is 5 years late and twice priced, but it isn't because of FEMS.

FEMS is at least responsible for a year of just nothing. Even the problems that DDOT had to fix recently came from a different group.

The streetcar has been running with few problems (nothing insurmountable) and yet nothing.

But DDOT under Gray also did simply nothing for a while.

We could have been riding in 2013 had someone actually just made the decision to let the thing take on some passengers.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 8:57 am • linkreport

"I really think that it is comically disingenuous when people lay 100% of H Streets development at the feet of the proposed streetcar (see look, streetcars are great for development!), but 0% of the development around the baseball stadium had anything to do with the stadium (it would have happened anyway)."

Sure, if anyone is actually saying that. If you want to put percents on (a simplification, since both projects accelerated development) I think the ballpark accounts for maybe 10 to 20% of the development in Navy Yard, and the Street car 20 to 30% of the development on H Street. Even supposing the streetcar accounts for 15% of the development, that offsets much of the cost - and when the downtown piece is added, the transportation benefits of the streetcar will kick in.

Was it the BEST investment? Maybe not - if you can find a good place for another aboveground infill metro station in DC (can you?) that would almost certainly be better. Is it the unmitigated disaster some claim? A reason to oppose all extensions in DC, and to oppose streetcars in the rest of the region? No.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 24, 2016 9:15 am • linkreport

$200m would build you about 300 feet of Metro and not even one station given the costs of NoMA station. So I dunno if we can say we could have "built the Blue Line instead."
Who knows? It isn't like there was just $200m sitting around waiting to be assigned to a worthy project (and, indeed, it isn't like that money could have just been reassigned to other projects) - several somebodies conceptualized, advocated for and eventually secured the funding for the H Streetcar. Had that advocacy machine been pointed at Metro instead, there's a good chance that a significantly larger pool of money would've become available to match the larger price tag of the Blue Line. More money could have also come from all those parties that were specifically excluded from the Streetcar but would be active participants in Metro expansion - especially VA, who needs this tunnel to maintain their current level of services disregarding their lofty continued expansion plans.

That's the trade off we made when we decided to "go it alone" and to focus on lesser forms of transit than Metro. The $200m were we able to come up with quite likely only represents a very small fraction of what might have been available had the lobbying been directed towards a more worthwhile goal. Again, we'll never know now.

Its not like the choice was truly ever between streetcars and more metro. The choice was (and still is until metro can get its stuff together) streetcars or nothing. To get a new choice you'll have to get the mayor and the council actually interested in something.
Which won't and in fact can't happen when the prevailing attitude is very much a defeatist "Metro is beyond repair / it's somebody else's problem to fix Metro" that leads to actively opposing Metro expansion ("Columbia Pike will never accept the kind of density we'd need to support Metrorail pay for Metro entirely through captured development revenues, so forget the Metro's worth of people using buses on that street right now," "building Metro under [insert wide and easily tunneled-under-and-developed-over street here] is way too expensive and a fantasy proposition," and my personal favorite "another Metro tunnel only really benefits VA so VA should pay for it") and focusing transit efforts in the wrong places instead (with regards to those future north-south streetcar lines... paint is a lot cheaper than rails and Georgia Avenue bus lanes help everyone right now - and are even not mutually exclusive with installing rails later! Why isn't the focus on those...? Oh, right, because better bus service doesn't drive development. My mistake.)

The choice quite literally is in fact "streetcar or Metro," because the opportunity we had to direct the appetite for transit expansion that existed on H Street towards Metro was directed towards a streetcar instead. That doesn't mean the presence of a streetcar somehow physically precludes Metro under H Street, K Street, M Street, Mass Ave or any other street; but it does mean that the road to get support for such an investment has become more of a steep uphill climb than it might have been before.

If you can find a good place for another aboveground infill metro station in DC (can you?) that would almost certainly be better.
Oklahoma Avenue, where the streetcar currently ends; and where a very large and very empty RFK parking lot could perhaps become a very large development anchored by the OK Avenue station instead.

by Ryan on Feb 24, 2016 10:06 am • linkreport

"Columbia Pike will never accept the kind of density we'd need to support Metrorail pay for Metro entirely through captured development revenues, so forget the Metro's worth of people using buses on that street right now,

You may not like this (neither do I for that matter), but its an actual reason and not just an excuse. We have the record that says that people weren't going to go along with the density needed to support a metro line.

Same deal on H street where Metro says the Loop is more likely because density won't justify going out to RFK (and people fought a station at Oklahoma Ave back in the day as well).

You just can't build a heavy rail line today without having the land use to support it.

That may be a big challenge and it may be unfortunate but it is what it is.

But if you want to change that then go ahead and change it. No need to cast aspersions on a less intense mode like a streetcar.

We don't have to go 100% streetcar or 100% metro. Indeed we have plans to expand both in the future. And there are plenty of cities all over than manage to do this as well.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 10:17 am • linkreport

FEMS, while completely useless weren't the ones that built the platforms so they weren't ADA compliant, or so the streetcars couldn't open their doors without hitting them. All of those fundamental structural issues, were just fixed a couple months ago.

The Streetcar is 5 years late and twice priced, but it isn't because of FEMS.

According to the APTA report (which was procured to satisfy the person at FEMS sandbagging the project), there was nothing so major that it should have prevented the streetcar from opening. Even the ADA issues did not count as some sort of "fundamental" issue that HAD to be fixed before opening. The streetcar was running in testing for a while before February 2015 with no major issues.

FEMS caused at least a year of delay. And I'm not sure how you can read this article and then say "5 years" when the initial estimate for service was March 2012. That's four years for those of us counting.

Another six months of delay was caused by the Spingarn historical designation.

Another indeterminate amount of delay was caused by the transition from Fenty to Gray and the fact that DDOT ignored the project during that time.

by MLD on Feb 24, 2016 10:31 am • linkreport

What is happening with the current Anacostia line that is in place? Will service ever start down there? Isn't the infrastructure already in place?

by John A on Feb 24, 2016 11:08 am • linkreport


@Kelly

We're not supposed to remember that H St was hot before there were plans for a streetcar. Fall in line and pretend the streetcar was responsible.

@John A

Yep, but it's "on hold indefinitely" says DDOT. The reason? None. We should stop asking questions, and just support more money for streetcars just because. Who cares that we built a line that no one can use?

by DCwalks on Feb 24, 2016 11:33 am • linkreport

They should abandon this flawed system and run a separated blue line through here.

by Bryan on Feb 24, 2016 11:45 am • linkreport

I think its fair to say I have a reputation for being objective, and I also have a great deal of knowledge about development on H Street, having been a key founder of the H St. Main Street program in 2001, and working on various revitalization efforts in the area pretty heavily from 2000 to around 2009, and still observing.

My writings on transit and development in general never accord all of the development that occurs to transit. Never.

For me to make that assertion is based on conversations with many of the principals of the development firms involved in the project, and my 28 year history of familiarity with the area (I lived in the neighborhood, within one block of H St., from about 1987 to 2005).

It's reasonable to assert that few people have the same level of nuanced understanding of H St. revitalization that I do.

Anyway, in my blog I wrote a kind of complementary piece to this one, which goes through and cites some of my writings on streetcars and H St. revitalization over the years.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2016/02/dc-streetcar-is-opening-on-saturday-and.html

You're welcome to take a crack at eviscerating the arguments.

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 12:01 pm • linkreport

Ryan - wrt your comments, I didn't address that point so much in my piece, although I did discuss it. I discussed it more in the Breakfast links thread from yesterday.

$200 million could have supported a lot of bond funding for the separated blue line (now I term it silver, what I would do is from H Street I would have it pick up the current orange line from a new Oklahoma Ave. station, and have the current eastern leg of the blue line become orange. The sep. silver line would have a leg going north on Bladensburg to Fort Lincoln. I would consider constructing an underground shuttle between the new Silver and Orange lines. In my old map which truncates the blue line in Rosslyn and has a separate brown line going up Wisconsin from M St. and then shifts east providing a crosstown link between the east and west legs of the Red Line, I would now link them. As we discussed in that other thread).

But the city's elected and appointed officials were never committed to that course. In fact the streetcar was seen as a way to improve intra-city transit figuring that Metrorail would never be expanded within the city.

There's no way there was the political interest or will in moving that course forward.

In planning documents, only the Arlington Transportation Plan mentioned the value of the separated blue line in the period from its cancellation in 2003 forward. MoveDC likes the current Metro Forward plan, but I don't. The Comp. Plan transportation element (2006) pushed streetcars, not Metrorail expansion.

In 2006 I wrote a piece opining that it made no sense to allow the Silver Line to be constructed without adding another western crossing between NoVA and DC and that DC should have used this as a way to leverage the creation of the separated blue line.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2006/09/blinking-on-urban-design-means-you.html

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 12:13 pm • linkreport

You may not like this (neither do I for that matter), but its an actual reason and not just an excuse. We have the record that says that people weren't going to go along with the density needed to support a metro line.
No, it is an excuse, and a terribly weak excuse at that: as I said, it isn't about having the density to "support Metrorail" because the corridor (and more importantly, the ridership) is already dense enough for Metro. A Metro's worth of people are already using the buses, and under any sane investment scheme that put existing ridership first, Metro would've already been in place. Whatever upzoning might have happened after Metro was built would be a secondary, a nice to have, the effect of transit but not its cause.

Instead, the cart-before-horse funding scheme that has become popular is used. The scheme that says "build transit for developers and capture development revenue to pay for transit." Existing ridership - for that matter, existing land use - loses, because despite all the ingredients for Metro's success being in place on Columbia Pike right now, you can't capture new development revenues from existing developments, so you can't pay for Columbia Pike Metrorail unless you upzone first. Existing ridership loses, and the corridor continues to be slowly choked to death on its own success.

by Ryan on Feb 24, 2016 12:25 pm • linkreport

No, it is an excuse, and a terribly weak excuse

I mean, you can believe that but the public process basically came to an agreement that they'd prefer something less intense than metrorail. The people seem to be getting what they've asked for.

I'd love to figure out a way to get heavy rail built without having to upzone a lot. That's not the environment we're in though. But still, with a growing population you still want to make sure that new infrastructure will be able to handle new growth as well.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 12:33 pm • linkreport

What incentive does the commonwealth have to expend billions of dollars for a line that serves existing transit riders (at least some of whom may not see a decrease in their total travel time, and many of whom will still need to transfer from a bus)?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 24, 2016 12:37 pm • linkreport

drumz -- during the DCAA extending Metrorail was not on the table. It was streetcars or enhanced bus service. thm would probably remember better.

So there was never a consensus on preferring something less than Metrorail.

DC didn't have a master transportation plan and the Comp. Plan was very old, wrt a transportation element.

I guess I should have raised the issue back then but it wouldn't have made much difference, because as I said above, officials already took the separated blue line off the table.

Plus the planning that WMATA did for the separated blue line wasn't a public process. Mostly it was introduced by the article in the Post, which is the source of the graphic I use (the author of the piece found the image for me a few years later, from the Post Intranet).

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2001/03/26/crowds-could-derail-decades-of-progress/d474bd3f-648d-461b-9760-85cc00fec5df/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2003/07/13/metro-construction-projects-creak-to-halt/bb7002c9-935a-4092-a4ae-12b52a7f49a7/

Proposed changes for the WMATA system, 2001 (separated blue line)

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 1:16 pm • linkreport

Anacostia was just about the perfect spot for a streetcar... and yet the Anacostia line sits unfinished. Sigh.

by Nathanael on Feb 24, 2016 1:18 pm • linkreport

drumz-- without multiple hours/day of 20,000+ passengers per hour, you don't need heavy rail. Upzoning helps pay for it through increased tax revenues, which support bonds.

Because so much of DC's land use is fixed -- relatively low dense housing, it's hard to justify transit extension outside of the core of the city.

It's why I argued that the height limit should be punctured, downtown, to pay for it.

Although I think the moment for that may have passed. Demand for commercial especially is declining.

But the justification for some extension is that WMATA if it ever requires service- and reliability-wise, will hit capacity in the next decade. To maintain the city's primacy as a place to locate and conduct business, that needs to be addressed.

Similarly, Amtrak's plans for Union Station need more high capacity local transit service, meaning connection to another subway line besides the current red line connection.

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 1:22 pm • linkreport

I was more talking about what went down on Columbia Pike.

But it goes back to the issue that there are real reasons why the city (and arlington at the time) pursued something other than metro for transit expansion.

We can disagree with those reasons and push for the city doing something different going forward but the question of "why streetcars?" has a pretty easy to find answer.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 1:24 pm • linkreport

Nathanael -- I wrote about that back in 2006 especially. Sure the city and CSX screwed up wrt ROW, but mostly anti-streetcar residents scuttled moving forward (and note as a councilmember Vincent Gray went on a "fam" trip to Portland with others and was convinced of the utility of the streetcar). All the more reason H Street residents owe Joe Fengler. At a WMATA conference in late 2006, DDOT was very confident of having streetcar service running in Anacostia in 2007.

from my aforementioned blog post from today...

What I thought of as spurious opposition to the streetcar on the part of residents in Anacostia has delayed implementation there by many many years, so the streetcars the city has have been diverted to H Street, which has tracks in the ground.

Similarly, a church downtown has expressed opposition to streetcar service passing their church, as a kind of abomination.

-- "Whither Light rail in Anacostia?," May 2005
-- "When seeing isn't believing, how do you correct for vision impairment?," November 2005 (this entry discusses my shock that people went on a site visit to Portland and then came back and argued that DC streets in Anacostia couldn't accommodate a streetcar)
-- "Streetcars, street widths, and Anacostia," July 2006
-- "The co-existence of streetcars and churches elsewhere," December 2014

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 1:26 pm • linkreport

What is happening with the current Anacostia line that is in place? Will service ever start down there? Isn't the infrastructure already in place?
I think that line is dead and is being used only for testing. The idea was a bad one from the beginning. There is absolutely no demand for a line from Anacostia Metro Station to the military bases. The people that work on the bases all drive and have ample parking and the people who live in the military housing down there all own multiple cars.

The only reason that line was even considered is because with the tracks already basically in place, it was easy for the city to claim to that they were on the verge of a streetcar when they were actually years away from actual service. They even put up signs alerting drivers to watch for streetcars before any were running on the tracks. It was a pure PR move.

I suppose you could run a line from Anacostia Metro Station down the median of 295 all the way to National Harbor, with spur crossing the Wilson Bridge to connect with Metro in Alexandria. The problem is that intermediate stops wouldn't really be accessible to the neighborhoods in SE without some sort of long pedestrian bridges over the highway, and through the woods (literally).

by dcer562 on Feb 24, 2016 1:26 pm • linkreport

drumz -- ah, Columbia Pike. OK. In terms of what if? what if Arlington had done a Wilson Blvd., promoting significant upzoning, in return for Metrorail, not streetcar?

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 1:28 pm • linkreport

That's the thing. People on Columbia Pike didn't want to become like Wilson Boulevard. There was a real fear of dense development as people saw columbia pike as the last bastion of affordability in Arlington.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 1:33 pm • linkreport

@dcer562

Before jumping to conclusions, maybe we can conduct a study to see how many would ride the streetcar if it stopped in front of the new Coast Guard HQ (or if a pedestrian bridge were built) to the station. But what do I know? Maybe you're right and we should trash it because of an inkling that no one will use it. It's only money.

by DCwalks on Feb 24, 2016 1:53 pm • linkreport

Don't forget that DDOT hired not one, but two private contractors to hire and supervise the DC Streetcar staff. One of them is a temporary agency. Shameful. Even more shameful is that DDOT did nothing when these companies crushed a union election in 2015 by firing 25% of the staff. Does Mayor Bowser get labor support? Why? Does anyone in this town think about the sorry state of the new jobs being created in this vast new upscale playground? Message from Bowser: if you are a worker doing this kind of work you are not going to be able to afford to live in the District. It's our tough luck.

by Christian MacAlpine on Feb 24, 2016 2:16 pm • linkreport

Two words: "Political Reality." I appreciate all of the well-informed information about whether/where/how streetcar expansion should occur. And I don't doubt that much of it is correct. But, it is also ignores political reality to the point of coming across as delusional.

The political reality is that the streetcar project to date has been such a debacle that future expansion is on hold for at least a generation. Not until the Mayor's office and nearly all of the seats on the DC Council have changed hands is there even the remotest shot of finding a group of politicians willing to stand before the electorate and proclaim their support for a streetcar project.

Not only will there be no additional streetcar track laid in the District but, as we've already seen, support for streetcar projects in other jurisdictions in the region will suffer as a result of DC's outrageous incompetence with this project. I fully expect that, even 10-20 years down the road, one way to diminish support for any kind of public works proposal in the Wilson Building will be to compare it to the streetcar project. As in, "WE can't afford a gondola from Rosslyn to Georgetown. No matter what the analysis says, you know in your gut it will just be 'the streetcar project' all over again."

by Jimmy on Feb 24, 2016 2:46 pm • linkreport

The political reality is that the streetcar project to date has been such a debacle that future expansion is on hold for at least a generation.

Do you mean nothing beyond what's currently slated like the Benning Road extension and the K street transitway?

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 2:51 pm • linkreport

Jimmy -- I'd agree with you if once the line starts running it's operated in a totally f*ed manner. It likely won't be.

And once it starts running, even though it won't be particularly useful, people will ride it and like it and want more of it, especially if by wanting more it's expanded to a line that can actually be useful.

DC is weird, at least in my experience, in that people have to see something working here (which is why I kept suggesting the Crosstown Line be first) before they warm to it.

People like me, able to experience things elsewhere and imagine them being implemented here, seem to be odd ducks, especially amongst the local base of elected officials.

It doesn't help that DC's political class is dominated by the outer city, even though it is the core city that generates the bulk of the city's revenue.

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 3:41 pm • linkreport

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

by massysett on Feb 24, 2016 3:49 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

Is DC really different from other cities with streetcars? Opposition to streetcars was virtually nonexistent a decade ago. Several broken promises, millions wasted and more broken promises later, DC residents have good reason to not want to pump more money taken from taxpayers into a project that's ill run and ill planned! Not because they're neophobes!

by DCwalks on Feb 24, 2016 4:00 pm • linkreport

@Arthur McCarthy wrote on Feb 23, 2016 2:22 pm

"Imagine all the money that could have been spent on Metro"

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Building a metro track cost[s much more than] building "this [streetcar] disaster" as you called it. Let's not even talk about metro problems, in-spite or perhaps because of all the money metro has been given by DC/VA/MD over the decades.

"Trollies are an answer to a question that only a handful of specific sort of people (the sort that exclaim, "When I did a semester in Prague, the streetcar was so fun!") ask - enough with this massive waste of money and resources."

No, it is an answer to people who don't live next to a metro station. [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] I grew up in a European city in a ghetto not unlike Anacostia of DC (my guess this is not where you live or have ever set foot) and if not for the streetcar I would not have been able to get out of my hood to go to my after school program, take additional lessons, see people beyond my immediate poor neighbors; and later in life get to my university and my first job.

The streetcar ran fast and reliably in the rain, heavy snow, freezing temperatures, it just ran. Even when there was no money to fund major repairs (remember the route connected my ghetto to the downtown, so who cares, right) it still ran on a bare minimum schedule (I think like once ever 40 minutes). And buses where the first to stop under any of the environmental or economic conditions. In fact for several years there was no bus service at all.

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Yes, there was too much money wasted unnecessarily but it's not like everyone was lending a hand to this project to make it come online fast and on-budget. Now we celebrate the opportunity of increased mobility for so many fellow Washingtonians!

Bonus question to [deleted] anyone who gives flak here: Have you been on the mentioned X2 bus during rush hour, heck during any hour, that runs along H street? It is crowded and obviously in great demand.

by Discoveryellow on Feb 24, 2016 4:03 pm • linkreport

@drumz-I mean nothing beyond the portion that goes operational on Saturday. What's slated/planned/funded may be interesting to wonks. But, until the tracks are built and the District has actually taken delivery of streetcars, any plan can be canceled in the next budget cycle. (The one exception might be the portion in Anacostia where track work has been done, although even that's not a sure thing.)

@Richard Layman-I agree that, if people "ride it and like it and want more of it" (and if the perception among DC politicians is that those riders are DC voters, not MD/VA voters) there could be some expansion. But, I think that is exceedingly unlikely.

Once the novelty wears off, I think most H Street visitors will get tired of sitting on a slow-moving streetcar, waiting for cars to parallel park, watching pedestrians walk by faster than they're moving. And, I expect that most neighborhood locals will, after an initial period of trying out the streetcar, discover that Metrobus remains a far more effective tool for getting them where they want to go.

And, service will suffer from a lack of rolling stock (and the lack of political will to purchase more). DC has six streetcars. Half of these are already nine years old and, despite not being used during that time, will have developed problems. Additionally, when it's time to hire people to handle streetcar maintenance, do you think the District will (a) recognize that its small fleet means it can't afford to have streetcars out of service for very long and insist on hiring experienced competent maintenance staff from other cities, or (b) view streetcar maintenance as an opportunity to provide jobs to DC residents, even if they have no experience whatsoever in streetcar maintenance? I'd say, expect out-of-service streetcars (at levels exceeding the industry average) leading to either (a) longer-than-advertised headways or (b) "bustitutions." Neither will build the kind of political capital needed to fund more streetcars, let alone expansions. Basically, this thing is in a "death spiral" before it even opens!

The bottom line is that the best predictor we have for how well the District will manage the streetcar going forward is the District's track record managing the project to date. Looking at that past track record offers little, if any, reason to expect that DC Streetcar will be well-managed.

I sincerely hope that I'm wrong. But, unfortunately, for those of us who advocate expanded transit options in the region, I think it's difficult to overstate how much political capital has been destroyed by the DC Streetcar debacle. I hope people ride it and like it, but I'm not optimistic.

by Jimmy on Feb 24, 2016 4:30 pm • linkreport

Is DC really different from other cities with streetcars?
No. I don't think so at least.

Opposition to streetcars was virtually nonexistent a decade ago.

You and I have some different memories then. The complaints may have been different at the time but there's been plenty of complaints all along.

Several broken promises, millions wasted and more broken promises later,

This is where DC is different. DDOT at the time was very unique in how it went about building the streetcar. It was trying to do things quicker and take advantage of some opportunities that had presented itself. The thought was that acting now would help keep the project from derailing (no pun intended) due to the usual politics that had hampered similar projects before.

That obviously didn't work. So DDOT should maybe stick to the old ways. But that is all in the planning, not the operation.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 4:32 pm • linkreport

@drumz

"You and I have some different memories then"

OK, pray tell, who was opposed to streetcars in 2006 or earlier?

"The thought was that acting now would help keep the project from derailing (no pun intended) due to the usual politics that had hampered similar projects before"

Says who? Those are not reasons DDOT gave for the hiccups. They blamed WASA and permits wrt Anacostia, they blamed safety oversight office wrt H Street.

And I don't think the way DDOT operates is what Richard Layman was referring to when he said "DC is weird."

by DCwalks on Feb 24, 2016 5:05 pm • linkreport

DCWalks -- I don't know. I only know Seattle from the Seattle Times. Didn't see much opposition to streetcars there. Same with Portland and the Oregonian. Not in Little Rock, in fact freeway expansion plans that would have screwed the streetcar have been modified so that the streetcar won't be affected.

The streetcar in Tucson was initiated by citizens, not transportation officials. The guy who was key to the campaign is now a state senator. Dallas too. There was an independent heritage project there. Later, the people involved with the Better Block initiative pushed streetcar, which eventually was taken over by the city, and contracted out to DART.

The big problems have been in places like DC, Kansas City, Cincinnati.

And I don't think the opposition has been particularly cogent. In DC, the opposition has only been aided by the incredibly poor planning and implementation. It seems pretty clear that the anti-transit arguments aren't based too much on good grounds.

Only in DC would $779 million of economic development attributable to the streetcar not be marketed as a clear benefit.

Speaking of marketing, although it would have been f*ed up (I mean it would have promised more than it could deliver) because of the delays, there are so many ways the streetcar could have been positively marketed in creative ways.

Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition, promotional flyer

Support streetcar expansion in Kenosha, Wisconsin

What happened to out streetcars in Seattle?

The Streetcars of Milwaukee

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 5:10 pm • linkreport

Says who? Those are not reasons DDOT gave for the hiccups. They blamed WASA and permits wrt Anacostia, they blamed safety oversight office wrt H Street.

DDOT? From this very article,

In the early 2000s, the DC government was trying to find a way to get a streetcar system started cheaply. An unused CSX track that runs through Anacostia seemed like a great spot. DC jumped on a Portland streetcar contract in 2004 to purchase three Czech-made cars. But DC couldn't get the rights to use the line, and the cars sat in the Czech Republic, unused.

and

DC had recently finished a program called "Great Streets" to redesign and rebuild corridors around the city. H Street and Benning Road, NE was one. Since a streetcar line was in the city's plans, to avoid having to reconstruct the street a second time, the decision was made to install tracks during the project.

Those sorts of things were done on the fly because the thought was that if they could take advantage of the situation now then they could save money in the long run when the costs of acquisition were likely to be higher.

That obviously didn't work.

And I don't think the way DDOT operates is what Richard Layman was referring to when he said "DC is weird."

When I say operation I mean exactly how the Streetcar actually works. Since its been running in its testing the issues have been minor and lo and behold it works as intended.

Something can have all sorts of setbacks with its planning and yet work fine. That's been the case so far with the streetcar and likely will be once its taking passengers. A similar example would be Boston's big dig which was a horribly executed project but now that its done people agree its been a big benefit to the city.

As for "DC is weird" I'd only quibble that its much more than a DC centric thing.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 5:17 pm • linkreport

DC Walks -- I would say there was tremendous opposition to streetcars by "old people," historic preservationists (CHRS and C100), and "left progressives" who argued it was better to spend money on bus, that rail is only for people with money.

Not at first, but within a few years. I had plenty of arguments with people like Dick Wolf and others. C100 was pissed (we talk) when I said their report on streetcars wasn't particularly earthshattering, and their hopes on technology (supercapacitors etc.) was somewhat pie in the sky.

And the people who say the streetcar sucks now aren't qualifying their opposition by saying "because DDOT has f*ed it up so bad", they are saying "streetcar sucks" "it has absolutely nothing to do with the construction on H St. etc."

I will quote from an email sent to me recently:

I don't know how much of this you see in the comments and what-not of blogs, but it's amazing to see on Twitter how many people mock the streetcar, and say that all of the development along Benning and H would have happened anyway without it. I don't buy that myself, at least not on the timeframe it has happened. Maybe some of those buildings would have come eventually, but I'd wager that we'd see more development going near other metro stations (Anacostia? Congress Heights?) before developers would choose to invest heavily on a road that's well served by buses, but nowhere near rail.

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 5:17 pm • linkreport

I don't know if thm is still reading but if so, I'd be interested in his take on opposition. It was bubbling up, not unlike the opposition to the Purple Line.

Oh, I mentioned three groups. The left progressives also argued it was a give away to developers. That is a common argument against the Purple Line in MoCo too.

Advocates for African-Americans have used the $ for developers argument in other places (LA, Atlanta) but not so much here.
Protest against rail transit in Los Angeles
LA Times photo

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 5:25 pm • linkreport

Jimmy @4:30. Umm, yep. Good points. Like we've been saying, very very mishandled and implemented. And those mistakes make high quality service etc. less likely.

by Richard Layman on Feb 24, 2016 5:28 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman

I ask you the same question, who in DC was opposed to streetcars before we endured years of broken promises and blown budgets?

We can pretend people in DC are more anti-streetcar but that just ignores the genuine concerns about how their money is spent.

And Committee of 100 is not against streetcars. From its website: "The Committee of 100 supports a well-planned streetcar system"

@drumz

"DDOT? From this very article,"

It doesn't say anything regarding "acting now would help keep the project from derailing (no pun intended) due to the usual politics"

"When I say operation I mean exactly how the Streetcar actually works. "

I was talking about his "DC is Weird in that people have to see something working here" comment. We're clearly not on the same page here.

by DCwalks on Feb 24, 2016 5:32 pm • linkreport

It doesn't say anything regarding "acting now would help keep the project from derailing (no pun intended) due to the usual politics"

Putting in the rails early as a part of a general streetscape project and buying the cars early to get a discount since Portland was already buying some are two examples of DDOT acting quickly.

The normal way would have been to plan out everything, compare alternatives and then build/buy everything. But doing it that way can open you up to a lot of procedural slow downs because people want to nitpick every little thing.

But that was a bad decision because people just assumed that things were further along than they were and there were a bunch of other things that came up unanticpated (with the debate being whether or not DDOT should have seen it coming).

I was talking about his "DC is Weird in that people have to see something working here" comment.

Yeah, people say the streetcar is a failure because the planning was badly done. I don't think that. I think the planning was definitely a failure. But I think there's no evidence to say that the streetcar operation will be a failure. It's been running for a year now and issues have been minor.

by drumz on Feb 24, 2016 5:43 pm • linkreport

@drumz

"Putting in the rails early as a part of a general streetscape project and buying the cars early to get a discount since Portland was already buying some are two examples of DDOT acting quickly"

DDOT does not say that it was done "early" or otherwise prematurely. The plan for the first line was done by 2004 and the second by 2008. That's before streetcars were purchased and rail was laid.

And who said it was had anything to do with Portland or saving money?

"Yeah, people say the streetcar is a failure because the planning was badly done. "

It depends how one measures failure. If it's about budget and deadlines, then it was a failure. If it's about creating rapid transit or solving a transportation problem, then yes it was a failure because it will have done neither.

by DCwalks on Feb 24, 2016 6:25 pm • linkreport

And Committee of 100 is not against streetcars. From its website: "The Committee of 100 supports a well-planned streetcar system"

LOL well their website can say whatever they want to put on it. Their actions tell a different story.

by MLD on Feb 24, 2016 8:51 pm • linkreport

The Car Barn has been a problem..

If DDOT had leased from Pepco the old Benning Road Generating
Station, they could have extended half a mile and had a beautiful building.

by pat b on Feb 25, 2016 1:17 am • linkreport

MLD states C100's position better than I. Similarly, you can look up the CHRS newsletter for at least one piece against streetcars.

Looking at my email archive, it seems Sierra Club was motivated to begin organizing a pro streetcar campaign in 2008 because of opposition.

I can't date it exactly, but there is discussion with Jeff Mora in my email, maybe as early as 2006, about opposition by CHRS. Jeff is retired from FTA and lives in Capitol Hill and is also a preservationist.

I probably had conversations around then with Jennifer Ellingston an old line progressive, one of the founders of DC's Green Party, which were not pleasant, about streetcars being for white people, that we should put money into buses or the Purple Line instead (I commented that the PL was a Maryland issue, not DC).

by Richard Layman on Feb 25, 2016 4:50 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

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

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

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

or

Support Us