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DDOT unveils vision for eight streetcar lines

DC could one day have eight streetcar lines, spanning all eight wards from Takoma to St. Elizabeth's, Woodley Park to Benning Road, under a long-term vision unveiled last night.

DC Streetcar in the Czech Republic. Photo from DDOT.

A large sign near the door read, "There are no crazy questions," and DDOT officials meant it. Director Gabe Klein said that sometimes the crazy questions are the best ones, and DDOT even offered a free one-month Circulator pass to the person with the best question. (They did not announce the winner during the meeting.)

Phase 1 of the proposed streetcar plan would connect Firth Stirling and Martin Luther King Avenues in Anacostia, including the to-be-developed Saint Elizabeth's campus, across the 11th Street Bridge to M Street SE, 8th Street past Eastern Market, H Street NE, and K Street NW utilizing the K Street Transitway. Other lines would continue east on H Street to Benning Road and the Benning Road Metro, as well as 14th Street to U and Georgia Avenue as far north as Park View and the Petworth Metro.

Phase 2 extends the Georgia Avenue line to Walter Reed and then east to Takoma Metro, K Street west to Georgetown below the Whitehurst Freeway, and adds lines from Woodley Park through Adams Morgan to U Street and Florida Avenue as well as a line along Rhode Island Avenue, NE to the Maryland line. In Phase 3, another line along 14th Street runs through the heart of downtown and then across the Mall on 7th Street to the Southwest Waterfront and Buzzard Point, while another line connects Woodley Park, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, the Washington Hospital Center with its surrounding planned development at McMillan and the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and then to the Brookland Metro.

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

This map differs from the 2005 Alternatives Analysis in a few interesting ways. Several lines relegated to "BRT" or "rapid bus" in 2005, including the 18th-U-Florida line, the Columbia-Irving-Michigan line, the Rhode Island Ave line, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Ave line are back to streetcar. Meanwhile, this map removes a line right past the U.S. Capitol. Finally, instead of going straight up 7th and Georgia, this proposal runs streetcars on 14th from downtown to U Street, where it cuts over to Georgia at the same place the Metro swaps streets in the other direction from 7th to 14th. This would give all of 7th/Georgia and 14th rail transit service in one mode or the other for the whole length up to Columbia Heights.

Having many lines on K Street would work great if the federal government awards DC a stimulus grant for the K Street Transitway. If not, would DDOT still be able to put streetcars there? Gabe Klein wrote in an email that DDOT "would pursue significant operational and cosmetic upgrades and pursue transit enhancements on K."

DDOT officials stressed that this is still far from a final plan, and that they welcome residents' input into the ideas. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells asked them to move the north-south line through Capitol Hill eastward, to pass by the upcoming Hill East development instead of running along 8th Street through Barracks Row and the Eastern Market Metro. This change would connect one of the city's large new development areas to surrounding neighborhoods and Metro stations, but would also remove the opportunity to connect Barracks Row to the Capitol Riverfront area across the freeway.

Wells also expressed his hope that an H Street-Benning Road streetcar line would draw many Ward 7 residents to H Street as a shopping destination instead of going to malls in Maryland. He'd like to bring more people there to support a wider variety of stores beyond just bars and restaurants.

DDOT does not currently plan for the streetcar system to extend into Maryland or Virginia. Klein said at the meeting that this system aimed to connect DC neighborhoods, not to bring commuters into DC over long distances. That makes sense, as streetcars are a primarily local transit mode. DDOT prefers a rapid bus system to carry longer-distance commuters into downtown.

Still, there are walkable places just beyond the DC line that lie outside the District largely due to geographic and historical accident. Lines ought to connect to Silver Spring and Rosslyn, for example. And towns originally built around streetcars line Maryland's part of Rhode Island Avenue, like Mount Rainier and Hyattsville. DC and Maryland should cooperate to eventually bring the streetcar out to the historic downtowns and new developments along the Route 1 corridor.

Last night's Ward 6 meeting was the first of eight, one in each ward. Monday's meeting, 7:00 pm at the Columbia Heights Education Campus at 16th and Lamont, NW in Ward 1, will be especially key both because many lines run through that dense ward and because its Councilmember, Jim Graham, oversees transportation in the DC Council. Please come on Monday if you can, especially if you live in Ward 1, or attend your ward's meeting. Thanks to Geoff Hatchard and Jason Broehm for their reports from the meeting.

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


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by David Alpert on Oct 23, 2009 10:03 am • linkreport

Interesting, but no 16th Street line? Seems more needed than 7th St./Georgia Ave as it's much farther from metro.

by Tom A. on Oct 23, 2009 10:08 am • linkreport

great to see that two of the new lines are re-using the oldest right of way in the city- that goes on 8th street SE.

Of course- be ready for the elderly car-centric CHRS to fight against all new streetcars or even Metro improvements.

CHRS is not about historic preservation- they are all about PARKING PRESERVATION and new streetcars along 8th street will mean fewer spaes dedicated to car parking so they will no doubt fight it.

Dick Wolfe has already come out against new street cars.

by w on Oct 23, 2009 10:13 am • linkreport

Did the Circulator brazenly rip off the Czech streetcar paint scheme or is that an unbranded circulator kit done for promotional purposes.

by ah on Oct 23, 2009 10:14 am • linkreport

Tying this into an earlier post, if the goal is to have streetcars along K Street, "Option 2" would be the one more easily converted over to streetcars.

by Froggie on Oct 23, 2009 10:18 am • linkreport

Are tram lines ever split, i.e. north bound on Georgia and south bound on 16th street. This increases cost for stations, but might help alleviate the traffic problems which often kill these projects.

by leeindc on Oct 23, 2009 10:18 am • linkreport


that's DC's streetcar that's in the Czech Republic somewhere, because we haven't been able to take delivery yet. It's got the same livery as the Circulator because we ordered it that way.

@Tom A,

16th is indeed further from Metro, but the problem with it is that most of the street abuts the park. Therefore, roughly half of the walking radius from each station stop is 'wasted' by giving access to Rock Creek Park. 16th would make a good candidate for future investment, but Georgia is the obvious choice to be the first N-S corridor.

by Alex B. on Oct 23, 2009 10:22 am • linkreport

Yesterday there was a lot of discussion about an East-West link. Why not have a line running on the tracks in Georgetown on P&O Streets. After it crosses the P St. bridge have it then turn up and onto Florida until it reaches U and continue with the other U St. Florida/U lines? The city is seeing this northern half of downtown grow and this would be a way to connect the east and west sides of the city to it with direct links.

If they got really ambitious they could route it from the Florida into the West End, down M St., across the Key Bridge, and into Rosslyn. This might relieve/delay the need for separated Blue line.

by Rob on Oct 23, 2009 10:24 am • linkreport

Really? Ward 3 isn't good enough for streetcars?

by цarьchitect on Oct 23, 2009 10:30 am • linkreport

I just want to say I'm thrilled that we're even having a serious conversation about rebuilding a streetcar network that is as ambitious as this one. DC has been backing away from the vision put forward by DC Transit Future almost since the day it appeared. This appears to be a real rededication to that vision.

I'll add, however, that I still have fantasies of a rebuilt Cabin John line. The ROW still exists and the Palisades neighborhood is extremely transit starved, despite the fact that it is a walkable neighborhood.

by Reid on Oct 23, 2009 10:32 am • linkreport

The biggest fault in the plan I see is not extending one of the lines down Good Hope sooner, at least to the Safeway and perhaps as far as the Naylor Road Metro Station.

by PeakVT on Oct 23, 2009 10:33 am • linkreport

Really? Ward 3 fights tooth and nail against every supermarket, apartment building, marginal school increase and every other development that might take away a single parking space or increase traffic in any way shape or form. Really, why DDOT would bother to fight for streetcars there? Really, that surprises you?

by urbanette on Oct 23, 2009 10:34 am • linkreport

Now... how do we convince people that this would work in Baltimore?

by Cullen on Oct 23, 2009 10:37 am • linkreport

Baltimore is considering one on Charles Street:

by BeyondDC on Oct 23, 2009 10:41 am • linkreport

The route from Woodley Park through U Street to Florida Avenue would provide a very convenient way for residents west of CT Avenue to access the U Street corridor via transit rather than having to take the Red Line to Gallery Place and transferring to the Green Line. I would like to see a route running up Wisconsin Avenue from Georgetown to the Tenley metro. This area is probably dense enough to support a streetcar line and it would further encourage the redevelopment of the Cathedral area and Tenleytown.

by Ben on Oct 23, 2009 10:42 am • linkreport

Reid-- I agree with you that the Palisades lacks convenient transit but that is a very low density part of the District with limited redevelopment potential. I don't see how a streetcar line there would be cost-effective.

by Ben on Oct 23, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

There are some very obvious connections to MD that could be made - Silver Spring, Hyattsville, Naylor Road - but DC shouldn't shoulder all of the financial burden to make that happen. Hopefully, once they get the ball rolling with these core lines and present this as proof of concept, they can get MD on board to chip in with the extensions across into MD.

by Alex B. on Oct 23, 2009 10:47 am • linkreport

Ben, I agree that the line should go up Wisconsin, but I don't think there is much redevelopment potential in Cathedral Heights. West Cleveland Park and Tenleytown, yes, but not Cathedral Heights, unfortunately. There are too many single-family (and extremely expensive) homes there.

by Reid on Oct 23, 2009 10:51 am • linkreport

Scott Kubly, Chief of Staff for District Department of Transportation Director Gabe Klein, reported on this plan to the Committee of 100 on the Federal City last Wednesday. It of course raised many of the same questions being raised here including 'How did we get here so quickly? Where's the public input been?' Mr. Kubly referred back to 15 years of studies and the like but acknowledged that the public comment period is only just beginning and that the plan could look very different in the end based on those comments. That said, he mentioned that while new to the District he could see in the old street fixtures (items such as street car turnings) those corridors which had built up around the original street cars. Looking at this plan, I can't help but wonder whether the placement of the old lines (and the development they sprouted so long ago) didn't play a very big part in the placement of the lines in this first iteration being presented for public comment. One thing I'm noticing is the return of a street car line to 14th Street NW. I think that's a very very good thing given that this line help develop what came to be called the Street Car neighborhoods existing in the 15th, 14th, and U street areas. AND given the fact that at the community meetings for input in the streetscape project for this street, street cars were brought up as a 'wish list' item by many in attendance.

by Lance on Oct 23, 2009 10:56 am • linkreport

Froggie, you keep saying that option 2 is more easily converted to streetcars, but I don't understand why. Why can't track run on the outside and commuter buses use the center lane to pass.

The tracks on P and O probably aren't in good enough shape to be reused. They may not even have the right gauge. And there was talk of giving them historic preservation protection.

I'd tweak the map here and there and maybe add some lines (23rd NW up to Florida and along it all the way to the starburst and another on Blandensburg Road), but it's a good looking setup.

by David C on Oct 23, 2009 11:01 am • linkreport

I'm guessing they moved away from the Capitol for security reasons? Too bad.

by David C on Oct 23, 2009 11:01 am • linkreport

Btw, David thanks for posting the maps (and their phasing) in a way that is way more user friendly than the way DDOT posted the same maps on their website. You're posting allows for (1) and easy overall view of the lines and (2) a clear showing of enhancements over time (i.e., the 3 phases.)

by Lance on Oct 23, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

David: well it depends. If the intention is to run both buses and streetcars together in the same lanes in the future, you could probably go with Option 3. But given that you have multiple streetcar lines congregating along K Street, there's probably going to be enough streetcar frequency to where running buses along there as well would impact the operations of both. Secondly, with Option 2, aren't commuter buses still going to run along the street lanes? If so, then there'd be no difference/impact to ops when the bus lanes are converted over to streetcar.

by Froggie on Oct 23, 2009 11:37 am • linkreport

I really hope that all who are in favor of this show up at the meeting for their Ward. It's so important that we show our support. The anti-development of any kind folks will show up and have all their usual "not in my neighborhood" comments. With all the public studies conducted on traffic and transportation, I hope that the DDOT exercises some of their authority and push forward on what's best for all of DC and not back off because of a few critics who want no progress.

by dcshaw on Oct 23, 2009 11:46 am • linkreport

Froggie, When they start running street cars on K Street, they can stop running the buses on it. That's the beauty of the street car system, we can greatly reduce the number of instances where we need noisy, traffic-impacting buses, with the relatively quite, and traffic-friendly street cars. And I would think K Street would be a prime candidate for this transit enhancement.

by Lance on Oct 23, 2009 11:50 am • linkreport

BeyondDC - Ok. I meant a more substantial roll out than just the Charles Street trolley.

by Cullen on Oct 23, 2009 11:54 am • linkreport


Huh? How are streetcars traffic friendly, but buses aren't? Specifically, how are they different on K Street, when they'd both be in a dedicated right of way?

Don't get me wrong, streetcars offer many improvements - but I'm not following your logic here.

by Alex B. on Oct 23, 2009 11:55 am • linkreport

The routes seem good, I think the orange one would have been better just going down 7th street without the detour on 14th street but owell.

Some of these routes look almost exactly like some of there old bus routes that were discontinued about 15 years ago, the red one will almost the same as the X4 which was discontinued and replaced by the X2 and U8, the brown one is like how the H routes used to be when the went to Ft. Lincoln before the routes were changed to end at Brookland.

Are they going to discontinued the 90 and U2 when these are built.

Why no Military rd/Missouri ave route

by kk on Oct 23, 2009 11:58 am • linkreport

Can someone explain to me how building multiple street-car lines is better then simply improving bus service?

Has there been any real cost-benefit analysis on this? As I see it, with streetcars you have the following costs that you don't have with busses:

-new tracks
-years of disruptive construction
-some sort of technology to get around the "no wires" rule
-purchase of vehicles that are more expensive then busses
-maintenance of a third type of vehicle (in addition to Metro cars and busses)

In addition, busses are flexibile. Busses can be re-routed, streetcars can't. Even a minor fender bender that blocks a lane (and the streetcar tracks) would essentially shut down service. You can also add busses if ridership requires, or take busses away if ridership goes down.

I know that streetcars give you the "cool factor," but this is public money we are talking about here. I guess I am just not sold on this yet.

by metronic on Oct 23, 2009 12:23 pm • linkreport

No one is going to even question the idea of spending billions of dollars on transit infrastructure that will be even slower than the current buses we have on the ground now?

There are no plans for streetcar priority, and streetcars stuck in mixed traffic on their own tracks are notoriously prone to delay compared to buses, which can easily pull around obstructions.

Instead of some dreamy back-to-the-future plan for streetcars everywhere, why aren't we asking the District to prioritize and make faster the current fleet of buses (Circulator and Metro) that are currently operating on these corridors?

Does no one else question a "Desire Named Streetcar?"

by Michael on Oct 23, 2009 12:24 pm • linkreport

Alex, I gleaned this (i.e., the friendliness of street cars vs. buses) from someone's previous posting on here a few months back. From what I recall, the main differences were (1) relative quiteness/non-poluting nature of electrified street cars vs. buses with engines on board that even when of a non-poluting nature, make noise when accelerating that street cars don't; and (2) because street cars are on defined tracks and additionally, their movements can be coordinated with traffic signals, they blend in better with other traffic because there are less 'surprises' such as when a bus driver has to pull out of a bus stop ... or make a decision of 'where' to cross the bike lane in making a turn. I didn't think of this ... but once that I read this, it made me understand why I as a motorist/pedestrian/biker much prefer to share the road with street car than with a bus. And as a homeowner who is often woken at 5 am by buses pulling out of a bus stop some 100 feet down the road, I can tell you I'd also prefer the relative quietness with which street cars operate.

P.S. Not that the authorities can't find a way to negate advances. We recently got new quieter buses in the District ... which should have been a plus ... BUT these new buses sport loud speakers on them announcing their ultimate destinations. Yes, this is a plus for the sight-impaired taking these buses, but the volume at which the loud speakers operate make them real noise polution to the neighbors near the stops ... especially at 5 in the morning.

by Lance on Oct 23, 2009 12:33 pm • linkreport

Fixed track leads to economic development. No one builds a development around a bus line.
Also ease of use - I've been riding dc buses for 20 years, and I still have trouble remembering whether the it's the 96 or the 92 that goes to McLean Gardens. By contrast, I don't forget where the red line goes.
And for folks who haven't been riding buses for 20 years, a streetcar feels safer - you know where you're going to end up.

by urbanette on Oct 23, 2009 12:35 pm • linkreport


Michael, I'm docking you 10 points for the 'Desire' reference.

To the point, however:

- fixed rail investment attracts fixed real estate investment
- better ride quality
- very real rail bias amongst riders
- efficiency gains (electric power, braking, friction, etc - but also the fact that rail cars have higher passenger capacities, thus move people with less labor).
- longer lasting infrastructure - rail cars last a lot longer than buses do.
- easier for riders to navigate and understand a fixed route system. Buses can and do go everywhere, but a rail line goes where the line goes. Assume this plan gets built - I can already understand it easier with one glance than I can from staring at the DC bus map for 15 minutes.

by Alex B. on Oct 23, 2009 12:39 pm • linkreport

Excellent work David. I love being able to toggle between the phases easily.

by Matt Johnson on Oct 23, 2009 12:47 pm • linkreport

This is exciting. I didn't realize the Georgia/14th line is part of Phase 1. Did they mention a timeline for any of this? Do they have financing in place to complete Phase 1?

I think I'll attend the Ward 1 meeting next week.

by jcm on Oct 23, 2009 12:49 pm • linkreport

Just a guess, but it seems like (relative to buses) streetcars may have higher capital costs but lower operating costs. If so, that's a good fit (for the District) for the way the federal government funds transit, which helps new starts but rarely supports operations.

by Gavin Baker on Oct 23, 2009 1:02 pm • linkreport

A connection to Rosslyn would make the Blue Bus (or the Circulator, if it replaces it) obsolete, basically.

But I'm not sure how it would help Rosslyn, so I don't know what incentive Arlington would have to chip in.

by Gavin Baker on Oct 23, 2009 1:09 pm • linkreport

Crazy question: how are the streetcars going to be powered?

by monkeyrotica on Oct 23, 2009 1:17 pm • linkreport

Gabe Klein has confirmed at various points recently that DDOT is planning the hybrid solution using thin overhead wires for most of the system and some alternative, like batteries or supercapacitors or something, to traverse important federal viewsheds.

by David Alpert on Oct 23, 2009 1:26 pm • linkreport

This all looks great. And building off of what Gavin said, would it make any sense to divert the Red (or Brown) line north to M St. between New Jersey and New Hampshire Avenues, and then pushing it into Rosslyn at some later date, effectively building the Mythical Separated Blue Line as a streetcar?

by Ted on Oct 23, 2009 1:29 pm • linkreport

What, nobody thinks it would be logical to connect the Columbia Pike streetcar up to DC? Nobody sees an opportunity to add a track across Key Bridge into Rosslyn and then further along Arlington Blvd and/or 29? How about one from Potomac Yards along Glebe to towards Chain Bridge and across?

Happy to see though that finally is having some large vision about transit in this town.

by Jasper on Oct 23, 2009 1:34 pm • linkreport

Thanks for going to the d. (d-dot) open house and for this great report.

This is not your great grandpa's streetcar. It moves in near-silence and little vibration. If a streetcar, for example, replaces the 92 bus, residents all along the route will have an improved quality of life, because buses are loud, they rattle windows on the route, and they smell.

Congratulations to d. for this visionary plan. I hope it goes into effect. Congratulations as well for a very good design of a community meeting. Instead of one presentation and a "question-answer" period that would have only served as a forum for speeches from the neighbors, this meeting had lots of brochures and boards, d. representatives available to answer questions individually at each set of boards, and a real opportunity for discussion rather than confrontation.

If you hear about another meeting on street cars, make time to attend. You'll find it informative and enjoyable.

by Thomas Riehle on Oct 23, 2009 1:34 pm • linkreport

"Gabe Klein has confirmed at various points recently that DDOT is planning the hybrid solution using thin overhead wires for most of the system and some alternative, like batteries or supercapacitors or something, to traverse important federal viewsheds."

David, It's important to note that this is what DDOT is 'proposing' and not what is being 'planned'. As Klein's chief of staff acknowledged, the comment period for all this is just beginning.

by Lance on Oct 23, 2009 1:44 pm • linkreport

existing historic streetcar rights of way should be used again.

This is the one fault I have with these plans- PaAvenue should have it's route restored as should the Pallisades, 16th street, etc...

...the city grew up around these lines and the greater concentration of businesses still lies along many of the old streetcar routes.Let's replace all of the old lines w/ new tracks and streetcars and then think about re-inventing the wheel.

by w on Oct 23, 2009 1:58 pm • linkreport

This is coming from a dyed in the wool streetcar-supporter:

How are the planned streetcars any quieter than the modern streetcars in Munich? I've visited there, and the cars they have look a lot like the ones that are planned for DC, but one thing I remember about them was that our hotel room faced a quiet street with a streetcar line, and it was very loud and shook the ground when it went by. Since our hotel room didn't have a/c and it was hot, we had to keep our windows open and get woken up each time it went by.

The Green Line in Boston is even louder. Although I understand that they are more accurately described as light rail cars.

How are the proposed DC streetcars different? Should we be considering lighter versions for lines that travel through more residential neighborhoods?

by Reid on Oct 23, 2009 2:01 pm • linkreport

also- it would be very nice if the city and the Feds got together and built some kind of trolley system to hit all of the significant tourist points along the Mall and West Potomac areas. I feel sorry for a lot of these families, who visit the city in hot & humid summer, and have to rely on those stupid looking phoney trolley buses that emit noxious fumes.The touristed areas also have no reasonably priced restaurants, and no commercial areas for people to lunch or chill out and enjoy the scenery.

The National Mall is a darned no mans land in many ways.

Also- I think that a ban on street vendors and other commerce in the Mall area is bad and has gone overborad. There needs to be some options there for people besides the way over-priced Smithsonian cafeterias, etc... We treat tourists here like they are some kind of plague and we should be more hospitable- and also the Feds should open their cofferrs to help build or extend the trolley lines to this part of the city- which is not on the map. We are basically switching the focus of downtown from traditional Old Downtown and the Mall to Uptown and K street.

This is fine- and it needs to be done- but not at the expense of the traditional parts of the city that get the big crowds.

by w on Oct 23, 2009 2:06 pm • linkreport

I've been following this process for a long time and I am quite excited about these plans and the mostly supportive comments we're seeing here.

Some of you question whether "have they thought about...X" and I can say that these plans reflect a lot of very good planning and expert thoughtful analysis. A lot of the studies and reports are available on the DDOT site.

This is why streetcars are better than busses:
--A streetcar can carry something like two or three times as many people per vehicle. You can't just keep adding buses to a line -- traffic just gets more and more congested. Streetcars reduce traffic very very considerably.
--As others have mentioned, the system will be more efficient per passenger, and it runs on already heavily trafficked corridors (i.e. it won't be a white elephant).
--More people will use streetcars than buses because they are more comfortable and have a cleaner image.
--Streetcars are extremely CHEAP and easy to build relative to more Metro stations/lines. Just the Dulles line is going to cost as much as the entire streetcar system, and will no doubt bring more benefits to DC proper.
--The streetcar grid COMPLEMENTS Metro. We're compounding return on investment for all public transportation.

Metronic asks whether there has been "any real cost-benefit analysis on this." Uhm, yes. By the way, construction of streetcar tracks can be done as fast as one block every two weeks. Hardly a major disruption given the benefits.

I was told that the whole system could (in theory if funding comes through) be completed in 7-10 years. Compare that to the 30/40 years the Metro system has taken (at a very small fraction of the cost). No doubt there were opponents to Metro as well, but now, seriously, how many people in DC wish Metro had never been built?

by Dude on Oct 23, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

Love to know who the "Wizard" is behind the curtain that keeps pushing the idea of a streetcar for DC. This is a plan that deserves to be in Oz.

What most cities have is a light rail system that will use less heavily traveled city streets but they're not designed to have those streetcars mix-in on heavily trafficked roads with automobiles and operate on regular traffic signals.

Boston, Phialdelphia, and New Orleans comes to mind when you hear the name streetcar, but rarely are those on streets with as dense traffic as the projected streets planned in Washington.

Back during the Dan Tanghelini DDOT era, this idea of streetcars was brought up and Portland, OR was the template they used to push it. Interestingly enough, it was on the Portland Streetcar contract that DDOT purchased three streetcars. I took a trip out there back in 2005 to look at Portland's system, except I didn't go during a city sponsored trip that took some residents out there. Because my wife works for an airline, I flew out on my own to take a look at the Portland system, and while it works nicely for Portland it was also needed because their light rail system that goes through downtown east to west, had no light rail line or place for a rail right of way going north and south hence the solution was the streetcar.

In addition, as a Metro employee, I spoke with operators there who are also a part of the same international union I am with, and the stories about the streetcar were alarming. Streetcars slamming on brakes and rear ending a car make for a far worse accident than if hit by a bus, and they certainly can't stop as quick as a bus. There's the traffic tie ups when a streetcar breaks down and holds the entire line, AND street travel lanes up, until its moved.

If Portland's street car wasn't FREE in the downtown area to Portland State University, its arguable how many citizens would have signed off on it for their city.

50 years ago it was debated with far fewer valid reasons then than now for taking "streetcars" off DC's streets. Now, with even more traffic, more and longer buses operating on alternative fuels, and a subway system, somebody involved with city planning---and probably not even living in the city---has decided a streetcar is the next great thing to happen.

My question for four years has been, WHY?

by Christopher on Oct 23, 2009 2:16 pm • linkreport

Old fashioned types from medieval institutions in medieval cites in Europe...

What DC really needs to do is extend ts freeway network- a hopelessly progressive solution for a city run by medievalists- aka Georgetown University...

by Douglas Willinger on Oct 23, 2009 2:41 pm • linkreport


Short answer: Metro buses suck and Metro rail doesn't go everywhere.

by TimK on Oct 23, 2009 2:41 pm • linkreport


In answer to your question "Why?":

As a Metro employee, would you deny that the Metro has brought about measurable and significant improvements to the neighborhoods that have a station? Has it not transformed places like U-street, Colombia Heights, NOMA, etc.?

Streetcars will have a similar impact, only there will be perhaps a hundred stations rather than 30-some in the city. It will also be FAR less expensive and construction relatively painless compared to Metro.

I am sorry to say, but it seems natural that an international union of bus drivers might oppose streetcars given they require fewer drivers to move more passengers.

by Dude on Oct 23, 2009 2:42 pm • linkreport

I am surprised that none of you have thought about submitting your own suggestions as slight change or an addition to this DC streetcar plan.

by Zac on Oct 23, 2009 2:42 pm • linkreport

I still think this is the best fantasy DC streetcar map. And I still think that Matt Johnson should submit this map as well:

by Zac on Oct 23, 2009 2:51 pm • linkreport

There is no magic with streetcars. The dollar amount of economic development you get is directly proportional to the transit investment: you pay for an expensive subway, you get a lot of development. Choose a cheaper mode, get less development. Subways are great because, above all else, THEY MOVE PEOPLE QUICKLY from one place to another. Streetcars operating in mix lanes will never do that.

If you want more economic development, it's a better bang for your buck to just pay developers to build places than it is to build transit infrastructure that provides very little transit level-of-service benefits.

I'm not anti-streetcar. I'm pro-mobility. I don't see these streetcars increasing regional or city-wide mobility at all. I see them stuck in traffic just like our buses currently are. If the longer term solution is to increase mobility, let's start today by making our buses run better. Once we show we can prioritize transit on urban arterials, THEN let's move forward with higher capacity and more desirable transit.

But a streetcar sitting stuck in traffic is NO better than the bus it's stuck behind.

by Michael on Oct 23, 2009 2:51 pm • linkreport


You don't get it. There will be less car traffic to get stuck behind!

by Dude on Oct 23, 2009 2:55 pm • linkreport

General your heart out !! We all know that General Motors had a heavy hand in influencing Congress to force the abandonment Washington's once great, well maintained street car sysyem back in the 1960's. Is O. Roy Chalk still alive? He {or his ghost} would love to see this vindication now.

Years ago, when we protested street car abandonments, they called us "trolley jollies" or "trolley nuts". Now we're called "transit experts". Putting street cars back on city streets is the "wave of the future" now. City after city has such plans. And watch the price per barrel of oil skyrocket again. Remember, electricity can be generated by many "clean" domestic methods. Thousands of lives don't have to be lost fighting wars to get electricity to run street cars. And billions of dollars don't have to be wasted fighting wars to get electricity.

And don't forget that electric street cars are clean, quiet and friendly to the environment. And they haul vast numbers of people far more economically than Diesel buses.

by Transit Jeff on Oct 23, 2009 2:57 pm • linkreport

That track29 map has a stop right by my house. That would be awesome.

by David C on Oct 23, 2009 2:58 pm • linkreport

@Dude: No, I do get it. Until gas is $10 per mile, people will always prefer driving to transit. With that preference, any extra space made in the roadways will be taken up by another car that previously didn't take the trip because it was too congested. Eventually, you'll have traffic congestion again.

The induced demand argument used against building new roads works for transit, too: you free up space in the roadway, someone will come along and take it away again. You can't argue it for anti-highways but ignore it for pro-streetcar. There will always be traffic, unless you remove the roadway capacity from private vehicles and give uncontested lanes to buses and/or streetcars.

In this future world, there will indeed be greater mobility, but mostly for those choosing to drive since the rest of us will be stuck in traffic on a very pretty, quiet and comfortable streetcar.

I'd choose a dirty, noisy, smelly FAST bus over a pretty streetcar stuck in traffic.

by Michael on Oct 23, 2009 3:03 pm • linkreport

Until gas is $10 per mile, people will always prefer driving to transit

I'm not sure that's true. Some people will prefer driving to transit, but driving kind of sucks. On transit you can sleep, read, not worry about killing someone etc...

You can induce people out of their cars by making driving worse (congestion) or by making transit better.

by David C on Oct 23, 2009 3:07 pm • linkreport

I also don't think that's true.

Also, $10 per mile (not per gallon) is extraordinarily expensive gas. If you have a car that gets 25mpg in the city, you'd have to $250 per gallon at the pump.

Let's just say that if the price gets that high, we'll have bigger issues to worry about than traffic congestion...

by Alex B. on Oct 23, 2009 3:20 pm • linkreport

Zac- your fantasy streetcar map still does not cover the National Mall and the old streetcar rights of way. It is great- and I would definitely support it over what is being done now- as it has much more on the southern side of the city.

Transit Jeff- you are great !!!

by w on Oct 23, 2009 3:28 pm • linkreport

Matt's map is an interesting idea, but it doesn't have a single thing East of the River. That will never fly, nor should it.

by Alex B. on Oct 23, 2009 3:40 pm • linkreport

Can someone explain to me what the Phase I version of the MLK/M street line accomplishes? I'm not sure I'm reading the map right, but it looks like all it does is connect the Anacostia and Navy Yard metro stops, which are already one stop apart on the same metro line? Otherwise, I'm excited to see the proposed expansion of transit options east of the river and the inclusion of the SW Waterfront.

by sara on Oct 23, 2009 3:58 pm • linkreport

w, What value is to be had in reactivating the old routes? DoesnÂ’t it make sense to build tracks in places that have the most need and the most growth potential? If some of those are old routes, then so be itÂ… but Cabin John is not coming back.

Now, when is someone going to start demanding express tracks for the streetcar?

by цarьchitect on Oct 23, 2009 3:58 pm • linkreport

Until gas is $10 per mile, people will always prefer driving to transit

It's not like transit use went up significantly when gas hit $4 a gallon or anything. No, wait, it did.

There is no one price at which everyone will stop driving it is continuum and gas prices aren't the only factor one has to look at the total (time plus money) cost of a given mode of transportation for a given trip.

by Jacob on Oct 23, 2009 4:11 pm • linkreport

"There will always be traffic, unless you remove the roadway capacity from private vehicles and give uncontested lanes to buses and/or streetcars."

Well that's exactly what they're doing with K St. Once that is successful, we'll see it in other parts of the city as well.

And if they aren't successful, there's always congestion charging.

Trust me, people who choose to drive to work in 50 years will envy how easy drivers have it today.

by Reid on Oct 23, 2009 4:22 pm • linkreport

@ David C....I saw the map last night and thought, "Cool, this streetcar will go half a block from my house" (the 8th Street SE line). You'd have been surprised, as I was, to hear Councilmember "Liveable, Walkable" Wells start his remarks by saying, "I am strongly for this, but not on 8th Street." Why? Because he thinks residents on 8th Street SE won't want it. I think, like you, David C., that they'd love it, especially if it meant the 90 and 92 busses disappeared.

Wells and others did make a very good point for re-routing the 8th Street line far to the east of what's proposed here, close to the Reservation 13 development near RFK, because that Hill East neighborhood is more in need of the economic development this line would attract than what the Barrack's Row-Eastern Market-H Street NE corridor needs.

But selfishly, I'd much rather have this magic carpet ride near my doorstep. I look at this and think, "The whole city is instantly accessible now."

by Trulee Pist on Oct 23, 2009 4:27 pm • linkreport

@Reid: Yes, and they're doing it with BUSES!

Show me a realistic plan to ensure that streetcars won't be stuck in traffic and I'll join the chorus. Until then, I'll be humming the counter-melody of cautious skepticism that streetcars will do anything but look pretty and sound quiet while sitting in traffic with everyone else.

Sorry, but it's unthinkable in this day and age that we would spend over $1-billion on transit infrastructure that would go more slowly that what we have now.

by michael on Oct 23, 2009 4:27 pm • linkreport

Once the streetcars are in, it would not be too hard to make the streetcar lane streetcar-only during rush hour. Paint and a little enforcement is all you need.

by David C on Oct 23, 2009 4:33 pm • linkreport

There is no need to worry about streetcars getting stuck in traffic. Just give them the all mighty right of way and give them a nice ringer (as they do in Europe) and drivers will get out of their way. Streetcars are impressively large, and you know they won't go away. And they can slowly inch closer and closer.

by Jasper on Oct 23, 2009 4:38 pm • linkreport

David C, if it's so easy, then why don't they do it now for our huge fleet of buses. There are more people in buses on 16th street than in cars: Where is the paint and enforcement giving them priority? It's not easy. If it were, it would be done already. Maybe we need to spend over $1-billion and then use that sunk cost as rationale for transit-only lanes. But we could get real increases in mobility NOW with a much smaller price tag.

by michael on Oct 23, 2009 4:43 pm • linkreport

I'm honored that someone suggested my streetcar plan was worth a mention.

Unfortunately, the link used was for an earlier version. In later installments, I included streetcar lines East of the Anacostia. View that map and others here:

by Matt Johnson on Oct 23, 2009 5:07 pm • linkreport

@ David C

Yeah that has worked so good on 7th street; the tracks need to be fenced off to block traffic otherwise there will be cars at some point in the day (you cant have a cop there for a full 24 hours)driving on the tracks.

What we need to do is have streetcars traveling on all major roads in DC regardless of travelers from that you have a better chance of getting people out of cars because it will travel along major corridors and thats where people want to go.

They need the cars traveling along the entire streches of North/South/East Capitol Streets, Eastern/Western/Southern Avenues

Then we need to cover as much as possible of Rhode Island, New York, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Branch, Penn, MLK, Alabama, Connecticut, Mass, Georgia, Florida, Michigan & Nebraska Avenues

then 16th, 14th, 7th streets, Benning, Sherrif, Bladensburg, Minnesota, Good Hope, Wheeler, Military, Riggs Roads

Put a station of some sort at the end of every route with a drop area for people in cars and possibly a few metered spaces and a area for buses to pull into.

Have stations at every entrance to DC thats is on a major road some will keep going via into the city while others will stop and take the streetcar.

To get people out of there cars the streetcars need to lead out from the center in every direction not just the directions where they can get more development; the residents of the city should be cared for first in this not where more development can arise from.

Another thing is that depending on how the fare is structured may effect the view of the lines from the public; if the streetcar system has rail fares they will be expecting it to be fast and if it doesn't you got a problem.

by Kk on Oct 23, 2009 6:28 pm • linkreport

Boston, Phialdelphia, and New Orleans comes to mind when you hear the name streetcar, but rarely are those on streets with as dense traffic as the projected streets planned in Washington.
My only familiarity with streetcars comes by way of San Francisco (and no, I'm not talking about touristy cable cars). The streetcars that I rode had right of way, and had their own dedicated lanes. For instance, it was a breeze to hop on one near our hotel by the Ferry Building and ride down to Fisherman's Wharf.

Will the streetcars in DC have a dedicated lane and right of way?

by lou on Oct 23, 2009 6:50 pm • linkreport

Today I sent this message to Council Member Wells:

As a constituent who has lived on the Hill since 1977, and as an avid user and promoter of public transportation, I are writing to express a number of concerns about DDOTÂ’s street car plans for Capitol Hill.

1) One hearing is not enough! Hold at least two more public hearings on Capitol Hill – One public meeting is not adequate for your constituents to understand the implications of a new streetcar line, particularly along 8th St. Last night’s Ward 6 meeting was not well-publicized within our community. Many of us who want to learn more were not able to attend. I urge you to hold at least two more hearings on the impacts of this proposal for Capitol Hill with special outreach to the businesses along Barracks Row, the civic community and the many residents along this route before proceeding with legislation and further funding of the streetcar line.

A recent meeting of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society was to have featured a DC DOT representative to discuss streetcars. No one from DOT showed up and the result is that we all feel quite uninformed about this issue.

2) Demonstrate the need for streetcars along 8th St. As one who frequently uses the buses along 8th St., I am unclear why we are investing heavily in new infrastructure rather than upgrading existing bus service and acquiring more energy efficient vehicles.

Further, the cityÂ’s key rationale for adding streetcars to the mix of transportation alternatives is to spur economic development along the corridor. Barracks Row is already thriving and does not require a streetcar to bring people to shop there. The buses are packed with people who connect to Metro. Further, most of 8th St. is residential from Pennsylvania Ave. to H St. Is there some intention that this corridor will be rezoned for commercial development? This is certainly not envisioned in the Comprehensive Plan.

3) Overhead wires are unsightly, not in keeping with the city’s past efforts to underground utilities and will negatively affect the tree canopy. Battery technologies are developing rapidly. Why would the city commit itself to a system that will change the visual character of our streets? It is not only the “monumental views” that are important; it is also the beauty of our residential streets that will be compromised by the addition of overhead wires. I am opposed to legislation that seeks to overturn protection of city streets from new wires.

4) Delay legislation, appropriations and the EIS that will launch an expensive new city-wide system until residents have had an opportunity to raise their concerns and until DDOT and the Council can address those concerns. DDOT has failed to show why the city should spend $1.5 billion (that will surely be far larger) for a new system as opposed to investing these funds in critically needed basic upgrades for Metrorail and Metrobus. Even as our beloved Metro cannot meet its basic financial needs for safety improvements, acquisition of new cars and completion of plans that have been anticipated for many years, we are being asked to support a new system with many unresolved problems that will, inevitably, compete for funding with the existing under-funded system.

There is considerable concern on Capitol Hill about this matter. A number of us feel that City Hall and DDOT are abruptly rushing to action without real public engagement. DDOT has mapped routes, bought cars and made commitments that now are the justification for barreling ahead. We are suspicious of the forthcoming EIS: Will it look at ALL alternatives or just at the current plan vs. no action.

While DDOT may have studied the benefits of streetcars for years, the public has not and the agency has yet to answer basic questions. One aspect of promoting smart growth is to promote smart public expenditure in infrastructure. To date, DC officials have not made a convincing case for streetcars.

Thank you for your service to Ward 6 and for considering these concerns.

by Meg on Oct 23, 2009 7:56 pm • linkreport

Obama pledges millions for new street car lines in U. S. cities.

by Transit Jeff on Oct 23, 2009 8:36 pm • linkreport

Oh, and by the way, I don't hear anybody crying about overhead trolley wires in Portland, Oregon !! And no trees are dying because of them.....real nonsense. If anything will kill trees, it would be pollution from Diesel buses, trucks and automobiles. I'd rather have a thin trolley wire than clouds of Diesel exhaust smoke...... And with the trees, the overhead wires are hardly noticeable. In Philadelphia, when I ask people if they mind the overhead wires on streets with trolleys, the usual answer is: "what wires?" People don't even pay any attention to them, unless it's at a complicated intersection, where routes converge. And even then, modern overhead, {simple} trolley wire, has been designed to be unobtrusive.

by Transit Jeff on Oct 23, 2009 8:46 pm • linkreport

i'm unclear on what i'm seeing.
is the map all streetcar lines that are on the table, or streetcars + BRT + bus rapid transit?
if its all three, then what's what?

by dcdunce on Oct 23, 2009 9:15 pm • linkreport

sorry, one of those options should have read Rapid Bus.... not that i know the difference anyway.

by dcdunce on Oct 23, 2009 9:26 pm • linkreport

Is it really being proposed that these streetcars NOT have dedicated areas/lanes? I'm asking because the streetcars I saw in France recently had dedicated areas. Either they were running though closed off streets, or in a median (with mowed grass on it ... making the rails nearly invisible), or in lanes shared with taxis or the like. I can't remember seeing an example of a streetcar vying for the same lanes as general traffic would be using. Hence why in my mind, the bus lanes on K Street are undoubtedly meant to be temporary ... until a street car line can be built in the space of those lanes ... providing quiet and efficient transportation AND a green median (or two)!

by Lance on Oct 23, 2009 10:53 pm • linkreport

having lived there i have some comments about the streetcar in portland.

1. it is quiet. i can hear it, but since i lived in the city, i didn't mind. it was no more bothersome than a bus idling.

2. the overhead wires were not unsightly.

3. the streetcar enjoyed semi right-of-way with cars making right hand turns only allowed in the lanes. this was made possible by the fact that the streetcar in portland ran as loops. (in one direction down one street and up the street a block over)

4. the street car was a smashing success for many reasons
a. it is free in the downtown zone
b. spurred billions of dollars of investments
c. made the pearl district possible, and rejuvenated the north park blocks
d. connected the south park block to the north street blocks and 23rd ave to downtown.
e. there was no advantage in driving a car around town as streetlights were timed in such a way that it made going faster than 20mph impossible.
f. portland is a cool, forward thinking, do what-is-best-for-the-public-good kind of town.

that's why they went on to build several other streetcar lines, a skytram, and continues to expand their lightrail lines!

by Lived in Portland on Oct 23, 2009 10:56 pm • linkreport

You can induce people out of their cars by making driving worse (congestion) or by making transit better.

I find it somewhat ironic that someone would mention "making driving worse" as a way to induce people out of their cars. That's the same as "social engineering"...the same sort of thing that transit advocates claim the highway development of the past 50 years has done.

"Making transit better" is clearly the way to go.

As for the streetcars, I think Jasper mentioned this already, but I find it both strange and shortsighted that DC proposes connections into Maryland, but does not propose a connection across the Key Bridge into Rosslyn. That one, to me, is a no-brainer, and would be a good way to add at least some capacity over the Potomac, relieve pressure on the Orange/Blue lines, and cost a lot less than the oft-mentioned new Blue Line tunnel.

by Froggie on Oct 24, 2009 8:02 am • linkreport

@michael if it's so easy, then why don't they do it now for our huge fleet of buses.

I don't know, but it is easy. That they don't do it is not proof that it isn't easy. It is proof that they haven't done it (perhaps because they don't want to).

and @Kk. Yeah that has worked so good on 7th street

The 7th Street bus lanes were designed to fail. Then DDOT Director Dan Tangherlini was arguing that the transit lanes on K Street had to go in the middle and had to be separated and the BID was arguing that bus/right turn lanes on the outside would work (they didn't want to take any space from cars). So Tangherlini built outside bus lanes on 7th and 9th street and, as he predicted they failed. Those lanes were built to prove a point and so now we're getting transit lanes in the middle of K.

@Froggie, I'm not for making driving worse (although it should probably be more expensive with higher gas/VMT taxes), I'm just mentioning it as one option. Read my comment with an emphasis on the word "or". I'm responding to someone saying the only way to get people out of their car is to make driving more expensive.

by David C on Oct 24, 2009 12:01 pm • linkreport

@ David C/Froggie: The best way to get people out of their car is to make it very visible that transit is faster. The orange line in the middle of I-66 is a good example, but people tend to be too blind to see it.

Dedicated streetcar and bus lanes work very well, especially if coupled with triggered lights.

A problem is that the creation of dedicated bus and other transit lanes is often seen as an intrusion and deterioration of car traffic. The underlying problem is that car drivers tend to think they are the center of the universe count equal to a bus or streetcar full of people. Truly, it is hard to recognize that others should have to get the right of way, because they chose a more efficient way of transportation.

by Jasper on Oct 24, 2009 1:52 pm • linkreport

This is a terrific initial proposal. Things I would like to see:

Connectivity across Key Bridge (this was a legacy route) to Rosslyn;

Extension of the line to Woodley Park up Connecticut Avenue to Chevy Chase, with possible plans to go to Kensington;

Connection from Tenleytown to Downtown via Georgetown.

by Andrew on Oct 24, 2009 4:26 pm • linkreport

@ David

The outside lanes would work on a street if they were

separated you could block access to those by having a fence between the lane and the other traffic lanes get rid of the park along the entire stretch and have the buses drive on the lanes nearest the curb in which people trying to catch the bus could stay on the sidewalk and not have to travel to a new lane which would be especially helpful where buses cross each other and make transferring easier so you wouldn't have to cross a street and wait for a traffic light.

You could also change the street and have it completely redesigned and have the right side decaded entirely to buses or streetcars; you would have bus-lanes and buses travel both ways on one side of the street and the other side is for other traffic.

In any case you have to enforce stuff which does happen that often in the city.

by kk on Oct 24, 2009 7:39 pm • linkreport

While I'm no fan of buses as opposed to rail... diesel engines and particle filters have come a long way since the smog-belching truck engines you're thinking of were designed. That black smoke is largely a solved problem, technically.

In the US, 2006-2012 is our timeline for cleaning up diesel road vehicles. By the end of this transition, we'll require advanced engine emission controls, diesel particulate filters, and ultra-low-sulfur diesel nationally - most of the requirements exist now in most states/cities, and fleet changeover is already happening. The requirements will be extended to all non-road diesel by 2016. We'll also be switching to more and more biodiesel over time, which is essentially free of most diesel pollutants.

This is what the EPA got up to for the eight years it was politically constrained from addressing most environmental topics.

by Squalish on Oct 25, 2009 2:52 pm • linkreport

just curious, Thomas Riehle, why do you still post using two names here (the above as well as Trulee Pist)?

by IMGoph on Oct 25, 2009 6:06 pm • linkreport

Trulee Pist? Any relation to my late friend I. P. Standing?

by Transit Jeff on Oct 25, 2009 7:11 pm • linkreport

Old fashioned types from medieval institutions in medieval cites in Europe...

What DC really needs to do is extend ts freeway network- a hopelessly progressive solution for a city run by medievalists- aka Georgetown University...

bwahahahahaha... Yes, because destroying hundreds of homes in the District to build expressways would absolutely improve traffic and mobility!

Oh, no, wait -- that was actually one factor in the decline of inner city neighborhoods in the 1960s and 1970s. Repeating it would be to our detriment.

Go grind that axe somewhere else.

by wmata on Oct 25, 2009 9:14 pm • linkreport

wmata: Mr. Willigner's argument, which is validated by the numbers from the earlier studies, is that alignments were available for building the freeways in question that would *NOT* have "destroyed hundreds of homes". I-95 could have been built through the District with the impact only being on a few dozen properties. And it would have reduced the need to spent about $3 billion on a new Springfield Interchange and Wilson Bridge.

But that's all water under the bridge now...historical context. Too late to change it now.

by Froggie on Oct 26, 2009 10:05 am • linkreport

At what financial cost? Trenching and eight-lane highway and relocating operating rail lines? It's easy to see why they chose to destroy neighborhoods even in the latest proposals: It was cheaper. Anything other than making a "Detroit, South" would have been so obscenely expensive that Metro's billions would seem like a pittance.

by цarьchitect on Oct 26, 2009 10:08 am • linkreport

I thought Trulee Pist was a cute name, and that's how I mostly post. Also it seems kinda "IMAO-ish" to put my full first and last name on every lame comment I might want to make.

When I first tried to post on this, I ran into the commment error incurred when David forgot to close a tag used for radio buttons, or I emailed David directly with the comment I'd have posted if I could have posted. He was nice enough to post it for me. He posted it as coming from Thomas Riehle.

When I came back to post later, I just used my default.

Hey, shawty, there's close to 100 comments on this, most in favor, some opposed. What do you think?

The number of comments certainly suggests that there's interest in the streetcar alternative to busses. The attendance at the Ward 6 meeting suggested the same--lots of people, and many new faces, not just the usual suspects.

by Trulee Pist on Oct 26, 2009 1:38 pm • linkreport

Tsarchitect: obviously there's too high of a financial cost now...hence my too late comment. But 35-40 years ago when it was planned, highway tax dollars got a lot more bang-for-the-buck.

by Froggie on Oct 26, 2009 2:03 pm • linkreport

Meg, Your letter to Councilmember Wells is a very good one and most definitely reflects the views and concerns of the vast majority of the folks out there. I just hope he and DDOT take heed and not think that just because they're putting up a few community meetings (i.e., same meeting/different ward) will mean they've got 'buy in'. While obviously a lot of thought has gone into what they're proposing, there are some parts of the proposal which clearly show that there isn't a 'pulse on the street' yet ... E.g., the idea of overhead wires in any of the historice districts (and on any of their streets) will never fly with the public and especially with those organizations responsible for protecting those districts.

Overall, I think everyone is happy to see the street cars coming back, but let's hope this effort doesn't get stopped in its tracks (no pun intended!) because the full public vetting processes ends up getting abridged or 'played with' in any sense. That would be in no one's interests.

by Lance on Oct 26, 2009 2:25 pm • linkreport

@ Lance,

Do you think Meg's letter most definitely reflects the views and concerns of the vast majority of the folks out there when she writes Hold at least two more public hearings on Capitol Hill: One public meeting is not adequate for your constituents to understand the implications of a new streetcar line, particularly along 8th St. Last nightÂ’s Ward 6 meeting was not well-publicized within our community.? I don't agree, since I found my way there, as did many others. Two more Ward 6 meetings seem like a lot, and potentially could lead to delay for delay's sake. Capitol Hill residents do have some discussing to do about whether it makes more sense to run the streetcar on 8th Street SE (my preference, particularly if that means no more 90 and 92 busses along that route), or further east in Hill East, where the streetcar might bring development where it's needed. But no need to hold up the whole streetcar plan for Anacostia and the whole city on our account.

by Trulee Pist on Oct 26, 2009 6:58 pm • linkreport

Just in case it hasn't already been done, I've thrown all of these into Google Maps/Earth...

by Bossi on Oct 26, 2009 7:44 pm • linkreport

Bossi: do you have those in a shapefile format (ESRI in particular)?

DDOT has the older, 2005 versions on the DC GIS page, but not these new ones yet.

by Froggie on Oct 26, 2009 8:03 pm • linkreport

Alas, no such luck. I just drew them up freehand in Google Earth, so I can provide them in .kml or .kmz. A quick search on Google makes it seem that converters for .kml/.kmz into shapefiles -- any shapefiles -- seems to be quite lacking. Plenty of stuff which goes from shapefile into Google Earth, though...

by Bossi on Oct 26, 2009 8:12 pm • linkreport

My experience with a number of DOTs around the country is that they do not take the time to listen to residents' concerns and thus miss the wisdom we all bring about the places we live. Why would we not want Council and DOT to hear our views and questions about their proposals? Obviously, if there is still discussion about 8th St. as an appropriate location, we need more time to understand the implications of this vs. alternate routes. I am curious about how this route got into the Transportation Improvement Program for funding when it seems not to have been agreed upon by our Council representative.

And we need to see 2-D visual simulations of 8th St. and elsewhere -- which VDOT can and should do -- of the overhead wires and accompanying poles, stanchions, etc. that will go with them through our historic district.

Bus technologies are improving rapidly around the world. What are the trade-offs with a streetcar system? The Circulator has been fantastic and is proving to be very flexible and convenient on the routes it traverses. What are the plans for its future expansion?

Transportation needs to be a coherent, interlocking, efficient and flexible system that is well-maintained and updated with new technologies when they come on line. Let's take the time to figure out if we are headed in that direction.

If citizens don't insist that government agencies listen and address our concerns, who will?

by Meg on Oct 26, 2009 8:57 pm • linkreport

Froggie: I'll admit that yes, it certainly could have been done in the past. But this is now, and Mr. Willinger's argument to extend the expressway network now is financially and politically impossible, not to mention poor policy. Our goal should be to reduce needless automobile traffic, especially within the District, and constructing new roads would only induce demand and increase greenhouse gas emissions, among other things.

by wmata on Oct 26, 2009 9:43 pm • linkreport

Trulee Pist. As someone who's been involved in endevours that require 'buy in', I can assure you that an issue with as many impacts as this one will require at least a year's worth of community meetings to formalize a final plan that is acceptable to all. And without that 'acceptance' this effort will fail. I can't imagine any responsible organization wanting to see that happen.

by Lance on Oct 26, 2009 10:23 pm • linkreport

They're going to do a NEPA review before any more construction. That means there will be a whole series of public meetings.

by BeyondDC on Oct 26, 2009 10:31 pm • linkreport

BeyondDC, doing an environmental impact study (which is what I think a Nepa review is?) before coming to agreement as to what should be built and where, is 'putting the horse before the cart'. It would be a waste of taxpayer money to do this study at this point. Who knows what the final project will look like ... It's way too early to tell.

by Lance on Oct 26, 2009 11:03 pm • linkreport

of course, I meant to say 'putting the cart before the horse' ...

by Lance on Oct 26, 2009 11:04 pm • linkreport

Environmental Impact Studies are one type of NEPA review, but DDOT would likely perform a less intensive version than a full EIS.

Such reviews are required for Federal funding. If DC wants to apply for Federal money, they *have* to do a NEPA. So it's not so much a waste of money as it is an investment. Spend a little in order to get a lot back.

Now, we can talk about whether the Federal NEPA requirement makes any sense or not, but that's not up to DC. If DC wants Federal money, there has to be a NEPA.

by BeyondDC on Oct 26, 2009 11:54 pm • linkreport

Couple thoughts...

- I didn't spot any intentions to keep the 2 alignments into Woodley Park continuing westward toward the National Cathedral & AU. I'd wager those could be some attractive destinations.

- The southern terminus of the Anacostia Streetcar sets up a bit awkwardly for a transition into Maryland, with a potentially expensive redundant piece if the line is anticipated to lead into the interchange of the Beltway with I-295 and National Harbor.

- The alignments' termini in Southeast, approaching Bellevue, also seems like a good share of its potential ridership shed is cut off by the presence of I-295. I'm not too familiar with the area, but I'd think shifting it eastward might capture some more generators within its range.

by Bossi on Oct 27, 2009 12:13 am • linkreport

BeyondDC, My point was that in order to do the NEPA, I would think they'd need to have a firmer plan than they currently have. I.e., Yes, they could submit based on their current proposal, but given that this proposal has only recently seen the light of day, it's highly unlikely that the plan being proposed today will be the plan being built ... or the plan to go through the NEPA. I guess the NEPA could be amended a year or so down the road when a more final plan gets firmed up ... But that's assuming there won't be major changes to this proposal. I think that's quite an asssumption given that this plan is based on the assumption that overhead wires will be allowed in numerous spots throughout the L'Enfant city. And the footprint for the rails themselves are another big big 'if'. Already, you have a Councilmember (one VERY friendly to street cars at that) responding to the political pressures of his constituents regarding the 8 St SE alignment. DO you really think this will be the only instance of pressure being put to bear to change the route? Nah ... the final plan we end up with will only be a distant cousin of the one being currently proposed. And we won't know till a year or more down the road what it'll look like. There's plenty of time for various forms of community comment. Actually, there's plenty of time and need for these comments.

by Lance on Oct 27, 2009 12:34 am • linkreport

Have you guys down in D. C. seen this?

But frankly, I prefer neat, simple overhead trolley wires to this unproven technology. And don't forget, in many places around the world, span wires are attached to buildings with eyebolts. This eliminates many poles and makes for a much better looking overhead system. I don't know how the new underground system would work out with the snow and ice, that Washington sometimes gets. The places where it has been tried don't get snow and ice.

by Transit Jeff on Oct 27, 2009 2:42 am • linkreport

Here's another item that some of you guys down in D. C. might find to be interesting.

by Transit Jeff on Oct 27, 2009 3:01 am • linkreport

Thanks Transit Jeff. Additionally, Washington's previous street car system operated with with wireless technology a hundred years ago. The only barrier to going wireless is that the additional planning time and cost of 'doing things the right way' might slow down the re-introduction of a street car system to Washington.

by Lance on Oct 27, 2009 8:51 am • linkreport

The "third rail" approach fell into disfavor because it is so much more complicated and costs multiples more to build and maintain. Re the Bordeaux system (they don't get as much snow and rain as we do):

"Sources suggest that APS adds about €100,000 to the cost of the trams, whilst the infrastructure is about 300% more expensive than overhead wires."

Opponents of overhead wires are making a mountain of a molehill in my opinion. Where they exist in Europe and other countries, I do not think anybody really notices them (they are more noticeable in pictures than in person) and the benefits just trounce the costs. Lastly, the wires are completely removable once technology leapfrogs them.

I was recently in Dresden, Germany, a beautiful city if there ever was one. See the photo below. Wires look ugly, don't they? I can honestly say though that I could not remember ever seeing wires the whole time I was in the city, and had to find the picture to see if they even had them. I do not believe the wires in any way detracted from my experience of the city. I USED the tram to help me get around though.

by Horace on Oct 27, 2009 11:34 am • linkreport

Cant we get over the crap about which is cleaner nothing is clean unless it uses solar power.

You have one using electricity and the other Disel

The electricity comes from either Coal or a Hydro-power dam they both effect the environment where the power comes from the same.

The Disel comes from oil

Look at any area that pumps oil, has a major damn in it or is mining coal; there all f**ked up.

It many not effect you but the problem still effects someone somewhere so they are not clean.

by Kk on Oct 27, 2009 3:30 pm • linkreport

How about dirtier instead of cleaner. Cleaner need not mean clean. Even Solar Power isn't clean (Manufacture of photovoltaic cells requires potentially toxic metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium and produces carbon dioxide and and in large scale Solar Power facilities use massive amounts of water).

But the electric grid is about 50% coal, 1% Oil, 22% Natural Gas, 19% nuke, 6% Hydro, and 3% renewable. In total it is cleaner, er... less dirty than petroleum when burned in your average ICE. Plus we can make electricity less dirty by changing the sources (more wind, less coal). You can't change the source of a diesel engine as easily (pull engine out, put in new engine).

by David C on Oct 27, 2009 3:49 pm • linkreport

Also, it's easier to control point-source pollution at a power plant than it is to control a diffuse network of individual polluters (like cars, trucks, and so on).

There are no silver bullets. Still, some options do provide appreciable benefits.

by Alex B. on Oct 27, 2009 4:02 pm • linkreport

Click on the link above {then scroll down} to see photos of the Bombardier "Flexity Outlook" street cars that will be used for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, B. C. on their new Olympic Line street car line. Note in the exterior photo, taken in Brussels, the overhead trolley wires are almost invisible. They're there, but almost impossible to see. This could be achieved in Washington, D. C. too.

by Transit Jeff on Oct 27, 2009 4:46 pm • linkreport


The highways are still physically feasible, even if some badly placed stuff as "Elevation 314" get removed as they should for placing residences within the RR wreck footprint.

The problem is political. The plans were deliberately botched to create opposition (to keep the highways away from CUA and the Eastern Star Masonic Home), and challenged by railroad interests (aka Covington & Burling) more interested in making driving harder rather then transit easier (let alone do anything about the RR's that tri-sect NE).

So is covering portions of the CUA/Brookland area Red Line- Richard Layman's disgraceful flip lop notwithstanding.

Of course for the text book ideologies, even criticizing an urban RR's design is something they seem incapable of doing.

by Douglas A. Willinger on Oct 27, 2009 5:25 pm • linkreport

OMG! That's it.

I can see it now. Dan Brown's next book, featuring Robert Langdon:

"The Lost Freeway"
The clock is ticking and Robert Langdon must find the secret documents used by the Masons to cancel the North Leg Freeway or some buxom blonde will meet a fate worse than death...
Can Langon save Washington's streets from congestion or will the secret Mason leader take our last hope to the grave?

by Matt' on Oct 27, 2009 5:30 pm • linkreport

I'm a 4th generation Washingtonian and after studying the map for the eight proposed streetcar lines I see that three
of them "won't fly"!

First, the "Yellow" car line- It will not be possible to
built it south of Georgia Ave. but only either to connect
with Metrorail at Mt. Vernon Square or Shaw. The other significant reasons is that NO overhead wire is to cross
the Mall or Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Also, this duplicates
the Metrorail line on 7th St. and the "70" buses.

Another redundant line is the "Blue" car line on M St. SW/SE
from the waterfront and also duplicates Metrorail service
and the "V" buses and duplicating two other car lines across
the Anacostia River.

Finally, the third line which may not be feasible is the
"Brown" crosstown line which duplicates the "H" bus. I agree
this bus line has been a heavy line. but the areas along
Columbia Rd, Park Rd, Irving St. and Michigan Ave. is primarily built up older residential neighborhoods with
narrow one-way streets causing congestion and vociferous
NIMBY opposition! The answer is to put, if they aren't
already used, articulated buses on the "H" route.

Another major issue that has to be faced is the ordinance banning overhead wire in the original L'Enfant "Federal
City south of Florida Ave., Georgetown/Rock Creek on the
west and 16th St. NE and the Anacostia River to the east.

This is a major reason that all the Metrorail lines are all
in subway within the old "Federal City" area. The hue and
cry over the building of the elevated Southwest/Southeast
Freeway near the US Capitol building with other significant
reasons, put the K-bosh on further freeway construction in
this area of DC!

by Barri Smith on Oct 27, 2009 5:38 pm • linkreport

How will these approved streetcar lines appear on the Metrorail maps? Would they be given colors (gold, purple, maroon?) or numbers (1-line, 2-line, etc.?)

by Dane on Oct 30, 2009 3:56 pm • linkreport

i'm very happy that DC is looking at adding some real streetcar capacity. i would only add that i hope this is only the beginning. i think we should plan for the disappearance of cars from our city, and that means people will want access to dignified motorized transit -- that means rail -- whether streetcars, trams, light rail, subways, heavy rail, whatever.

also, i'd be curious if streetcars could be made to run in 'express mode' -- only stopping once every mile or two? local cars could 'pull-off' once in a while.

by Peter Smith on Nov 30, 2009 2:02 am • linkreport

Years ago, O. Roy Chalk wanted to preserve the city's trolley service. He even converted trolley car #1512 to the super streamlined "Silver Sightseer" just for this reason. Unfortunately, he could not convince Congress not to force the all bus conversion. Chalk had also wanted a monorail system in lieu of the more costly subway system. The current proposal for light-rail will work in some respects. However, this WILL NOT ease traffic in the Washington area, nor can buses ever be replaced. Buses have been in DC since the very early 1900s. Even before the demise of streetcars, buses actually supplemented the trolley for decades. Buses will always win for the sheer versatility of their concept. A bus line can be initiated, re-routed, detoured, terminated at a moments notice without the cost of building or removing tracks and overhead wires or an underground conduit. Buses can also negotiate around stalled vehicles or turn up a side street in the event of a sudden road closure. An trolley line would be virtually shut down if tracks are blocked. Simply put, a trolley or a bus are the same thing----"a transit vehicle." One moves forward and reverse only---the other can also turn out from side to side. Why impose limited movement on transit? In short, a trolley is a nice idea, ......but not the solution. A network of wide intercity "express busways" (like the one in Pittsburgh) may be a more effective use of federal funds.

by James on Dec 7, 2009 12:19 am • linkreport

james: no one is claiming streetcars are going to 1) replace buses, or 2) are "the solution".

streetcars will supplement buses, and will help to drive investment, as land owners and business owners will see that the city is making a long-term investment to routes—and investment that won't be picked up at a moment's notice.

your argument doesn't seem to grasp that fact.

by IMGoph on Dec 7, 2009 12:33 am • linkreport

Yes James, buses can be rerouted, changed, etc. at a moments notice. And for that reason there is no sense of permanence. People know a trolley line will always be there. Business is more likely to invest and build on a permanent transit line than one that could easily disappear overnight. People are more likely to live near a permanent transit line, such as trolleys.

Dedicated rights of way for trolley lines can resolve many of the traffic issues. And speaking of Pittsburgh, there is presently quite a bit of light rail construction going on there. It's being developed in areas of the city that once had a huge street car network, which was foolishly converted to buses in the 1970's and 1980's. And much of Pittsburgh's street car system ran on private right of way, unhampered by traffic. But those were the days when General Motors, .et al, still had a stranglehold on the nations public transit systems and thinking.

by Transit Jeff on Dec 7, 2009 12:40 am • linkreport

Oh and James, the reason O. Roy Chalk couldn't convince Congress not to abandon the well maintained street car system in D. C. was because Congress was "bought and paid for" by General Motors, .et al. It was not because it made any operational sense or logic.

by Transit Jeff on Dec 7, 2009 12:46 am • linkreport

@Dane: There will hopefully be too many streetcar lines for single digit numbers, or colors, so how about letters, like in San Francisco?

by Michael Perkins on Dec 7, 2009 6:34 am • linkreport

Worked yesterday on creating the streetcar map in a GIS format. Wasn't sure how to label the different lines, but think I'm going to go with numbers instead of the colors shown on the DDOT map. Can make this shapefile available to those interested once I finish it up.

by Froggie on Dec 7, 2009 8:49 am • linkreport

If local business will support it, DC can try the trolley via a dedicated right-of-way (street closure like the early 1970s F street shopping area). An entire street was closed to act as a pedestrian mall and could now easily host a traction line--if such a designated street were extended cross-town). We must note tho' that Baltimore now has an LRV, but it really does absolutely nothing I have seen that a bus couldn't!

However, lest we forget, a trolley today will still face what really caused the great demise of Washington's trolley system--local economic demographics changed. The greatest single enemy of the trolley and bus has always been (still is) the "AUTO."

Another leftover aftershock today is from the fact that as sprawling suburbs grew, residents moved, which led to strip malls and shopping centers. Suburbanites now shop close to home. In turn, we see the demise of our once great city shopping district. Sad to say, but unless we can "revive" that sense of a reason (major retail) to ride within the city, ...we will NOT see much of an increase in ridership. I'm afraid we will need more than mere storefronts outlets for that. Maybe a mega shopping mall in central DC????

In addition, the major trend (focus of WMATC-WMATA & COG since the 1970s) is that the "main transit user" in DC is NOT the "city rider," but the intercity "commuter" from Northern Virginia and Maryland. I can appreciate the idea for a trolley. However, we should prioritize federal $$$$ where they are needed most---easing the "real commuter issue."

I still favor an "express busway." But if one must push the rail option, heavy rail like MARC and VRE, have a MUCH better chance of carrying the increased volume of riders needed in actually helping to ease traffic.

As for the city rider, O. Roy Chalk's proposal for an all bus rapid transit system is a must read and widely available at the Library of Congress. It gives point by point data to support the effectiveness of buses within and extending to the outlying areas for many decades to come.

by James on Dec 7, 2009 11:42 pm • linkreport

The auto was only part of the problem. A bad decision to force PEPCO to sell the streetcar system and unscrupulous owners were to blame as well:

In 1946, a decision by the United States Supreme Court in North American Company v. Security and Exchange Commission, the Supreme Court upheld the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 and forced the North American Company, because it also owned the Potomac Electric Power Company, to sell its shares of Capital Transit. Buyers were hard to come by, but on September 12, 1949, Louis Wolfson and his three brothers purchased from North American 46.5% of the company's stock for $20 per share and the Washington Railway was dissolved.[46] For $2.2 million they bought a company with $7 million in cash. The Wolfson's began paying themselves huge dividends until, in 1955, the war chest was down to $2.7 million. During the same period, transit trips dropped by 40,000 trips per day and automobile ownership doubled.[35]

by David C on Dec 7, 2009 11:55 pm • linkreport

Wolfson, by the way, invented the hostile takeover; financed Mel Brooks' first movie; was convicted of securities fraud, perjury and obstruction of justice; gave money to a Supreme Court Justice that led to his resignation; had a feud with Larry King - even getting him arrested; and raised champion thoroughbreds.

He gave the money he took out of Capital Transit to charities in Jacksonville.

by David C on Dec 8, 2009 12:17 am • linkreport

Suburbanites now shop close to home. In turn, we see the demise of our once great city shopping district. Sad to say, but unless we can "revive" that sense of a reason (major retail) to ride within the city, ...we will NOT see much of an increase in ridership. I'm afraid we will need more than mere storefronts outlets for that. Maybe a mega shopping mall in central DC????

People live here too, you know. And these shopping districts certainly don't seem to be hurting now. Take a look at the area around DCUSA right now. It's hard to move down the sidewalk at 7 PM. And mega shopping malls... go quick to a library, and check out every book on 1970s urban renewal.

<>I still favor an "express busway."

Which is as flexible and cheap as a streetcar, only smellier and louder.

But if one must push the rail option, heavy rail like MARC and VRE, have a MUCH better chance of carrying the increased volume of riders needed in actually helping to ease traffic.

The point is not to ease traffic, it is to ease people's commutes. Building high-capacity rail is only worth it if that rail goes to the right places, places where people don't have to drive to get on a train for another hour.

by Neil Flanagan on Dec 8, 2009 6:44 am • linkreport

Neil: An "express busway" does not have to be smelly and loud. New hybrid buses are quiet and "green" to operate---no smells. No brownie for that point! As for the downtown shopping, who has money to spend? Unemployment is high in the District. Coming to the store is not actual buying! Also, unless we get our act together, who will shop or ride surface transit in high crime areas anyway???? People in the city have a right to live there without fear of riding a bus, or walking to a store. Why not put LRV project money to MUCH better use by really helping the residents, "creating jobs," training programs, educational grants, and helping the homeless-----not on an expensive experiment in transit???? Many fancy revitalization projects, like the LRV, can often be for public relations----a mere attempt to create a pretty facade or sweep real issues under the rug away from public view. As for heavy rail, tell it to Chicago and NYC, which both have successful heavy commuter rail. It already DOES EASE TRAFFIC and commutes there, ....and "goes where needed!"

by James on Dec 10, 2009 6:52 pm • linkreport

Street cars can you get any greener without the excessive heat and fumes out of the exhaust pipe I don't think so especially in the city. They also provide the possibility to be automated in the future and after all these years it's still a great idea. Somethings just never cease to amaze me.

by Allan Poole on Jul 9, 2010 10:20 am • linkreport

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