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Get the Florida out of the Rhode Island Avenue streetcar

DDOT should consider one modification to its proposed streetcar system: follow Rhode Island Avenue all the way to downtown.

The current plan includes a streetcar all the way down Rhode Island Avenue from Prince George's County to Florida Avenue (at the edge of LeDroit Park), at which point it would follow Florida Avenue northwest to U Street, then down 14th to K Street. Instead, the streetcar could continue on Rhode Island until it empties out onto M Street, following M onto New Hampshire Avenue and then to Washington Circle in Foggy Bottom.

Top: Current DDOT proposal. Bottom: Alternate routing.

This has several advantages:

  • It's more intuitive. Rather than zig-zagging from Rhode Island Avenue to Florida Avenue to U Street then to 14th Street, then to K Street, the proposed route would simply follow Rhode Island Avenue all the way downtown. In fact, the route would become synonymous with the avenue, which is well known in the city and P.G. County as one of the main arteries. Riders familiar with the city but unfamiliar with the map will know exactly where the line goes.
  • It avoids congestion on Florida Avenue. The 400, 500, and 600 blocks of Florida Avenue NW, on the edge of LeDroit Park, are frequently congested even during non-rush hour periods. Avoiding this section of road will reduce delays on the line.
  • It's more direct. DDOT's route would take inbound passengers southwest along Rhode Island Avenue, and then northwest at Florida Avenue. This alignment cuts the distance from LeDroit Park to Washington Circle by 29% (2.0 miles versus 2.8 miles).
  • It's more central to Shaw. The proposed route passes closer to the center of the Shaw neighborhood and passes by the Metrorail station entrance at 7th Street and R Street on Rhode Island Avenue. DDOT's alignment passes on the edge of Shaw and two blocks from the Metrorail entrance.
  • It provides more redundancy downtown. In the event of a closure of the K Street Transitway (for an accident, vehicle breakdown, street protest, etc.) anywhere from Washington Circle to 14th Street, the proposed route provides a parallel set of tracks just a few blocks away allowing a quick diversion around the trouble spot.
This proposal will not reduce coverage at all, since the eliminated part of the route is already covered by at least one other proposed line.

Cross-posted at Left for LeDroit.

Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 


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There is no reason that can't happen in a future phase. You are suggesting an extra mile or so of tracks, which will certainly cost extra over the saving of sharing the lines as currently drawn. It is a good idea though.

by NikolasM on Nov 2, 2009 3:57 pm • linkreport

One thing I'll point out is that your route would hit two circles. I note that with the exception of the Georgetown extension, no other routes go through circles. I don't know if that's an issue or not, but I just wonder if DDOT was avoiding the circles for a reason.

by Reid on Nov 2, 2009 4:10 pm • linkreport

Eric does bring up the rather important issue of U street and Florida being absolute nightmares 50% of the time. Both would be pretty suitable for traffic separation.

by цarьchitect on Nov 2, 2009 4:14 pm • linkreport

Reid: Interesting point, and the streetcars would probably go under Washington Circle instead of around. Though the 14th Street line would go through Thomas Circle; they just don't put a circle on the map there.

by David Alpert on Nov 2, 2009 4:15 pm • linkreport

Reid, you 'took the words out of my mouth'. I too suspect they were purposely avoiding circles. It would be nice to know DDOT's criteria for why they put the routes where they did ... and any constraints they had such as 'avoid circles because of XYZ reason." One reason they might have avoided circles is the same reason that I as a driver avoid them ... With all the lights and merging traffic we have on our circles, they are usually the 'slow' way to go ... with the angular intersections being far faster. And since these streetcars don't get dedicated lanes (and I'm assuming they consequently also don't get to control traffic signals), then these streetcars are subject to the same problems as regular cars ... and then some.

by Lance on Nov 2, 2009 4:17 pm • linkreport

Any chance the #comments anchor could be moved up a few lines?

by shy on Nov 2, 2009 4:19 pm • linkreport

David, you made me think of anothe reason they may want to avoid circles. Most of these circles are under federal jurisdiction ... And as such, for many reasons including the 'wire issue', they'd probably find it more difficult to get permission to put a line there.

by Lance on Nov 2, 2009 4:21 pm • linkreport

shy: Can you clarify? There is no #comments anchor. There is a #comment_form anchor, and I just noticed a few minutes ago that the emails were using #commentform, so when you clicked on that link in an email notification of a new comment, it wouldn't work. That should now be fixed for new emails that go out. Is that what you meant?

by David Alpert on Nov 2, 2009 4:23 pm • linkreport

I'd also point out that of all of the current bus routes that come down RI Ave, most stop at Brentwood (thinking of the 80s here). The G8 continues down to Logan Circle, but then turns south, eventually cutting to the west once it's already downtown.

by Alex B. on Nov 2, 2009 4:27 pm • linkreport

@ Reid they could also by pass the circles by taking a different route such as

have the pink line turning down either 7, 9, 10 or 11th streets

have the orange line go straight down 7th street instead of having the detour and have the pink line travel its current route.

Get rid of the 14th street portion entirely.

Reroute the light brown/tan line up to 14th & U

The other lines should also get this treatment the portions on H, K streets and Anacostia you have at least 2 lines traveling the same route for an extended portion why

Is this because of money or they just think everybody is going toward K street.

by KK on Nov 2, 2009 4:28 pm • linkreport

Seems logical to me. I think routes should be as direct as possible. I understand the rationale of diverting the Georgia Avenue Line to 14th by way of U, but not the Rhode Island Avenue Line.

by Matt Johnson on Nov 2, 2009 4:28 pm • linkreport

FWIW, I suggested this in a blog entry in 3/2008.

and a line on Rhode Island during the DCAA process, back in 2004.

by Richard Layman on Nov 2, 2009 5:03 pm • linkreport

Except that Rhode Island Avenue is an avenue in the monumental core and therefore inherently a "historic viewshed."

At the least, it'd be bloody to get that arranged.

by цarьchitect on Nov 2, 2009 5:07 pm • linkreport

When I click on the '13 comments' link (, I get the actual text of the first comment on the very first line at the top of the window. I have to scroll up to see any white space or the 'Comments' heading. It is just jarring to me. I'd prefer to see the 'Comments' heading at the top of the screen after clicking on the comments link.

by shy on Nov 2, 2009 5:15 pm • linkreport

Logan and Scott Circles are much easier to navigate than Dupont Circle, which seems to have more traffic and traffic lights than entire rural counties!

I thought about the circle issue, too, but concluded that transit access to circles might enhance their civic profiles. L'Enfant had originally planned for such public spaces to serve as the centers of their respective neighborhoods, much as Dupont Circle serves its neighborhood. Providing transit access to these circles, in my opinion, is congruent with the spirit of the L'Enfant plan by recognizing circles as a places of convergence, focus, and centrality rather than places to avoid. Admittedly, that's a very abstract argument extending far beyond transit planning, which is why I excluded it from this post.

by Eric Fidler on Nov 2, 2009 5:30 pm • linkreport

Has there been a change in DDOT's plan? The map Eric posted has the line coming down Georgia Ave eventually turning west along K Street. But DDOT's map has it continuing south of K Street and eventually back to 7th St and to Southwest.

by Froggie on Nov 2, 2009 5:36 pm • linkreport

@Froggie - Take a closer look at Phase II vs Phase III

by Paul on Nov 2, 2009 5:44 pm • linkreport

I like this idea, although I might suggest dropping down to K Street after Scott Circle so that this line hits the Farragut stations. That would probably increase the ridership quite a bit. I understand that there may be reasons to avoid the Circles, but Logan Circle could definitely use more transit.

by Dave Murphy on Nov 2, 2009 5:54 pm • linkreport

Considering that K street will have dedicated ROW, why not continue along RI Ave to 9th street, and then head south from there? That gives you a Metro transfer at Shaw-Howard, gets you to K street along 9th, provides redundancy to Metro on 7th without duplicating service, etc.

by Alex B. on Nov 2, 2009 6:06 pm • linkreport

I've followed this proposal ever so slightly since it was put on the table, but I don't know the history of the current streetcar proposal, it's ups and downs, etc. I'm curious - is this game-changing and exciting proposal going to receive a beating at the hands of NIMBYs and status-quo conservatives, thus rendering it a bloody pulp within the next 2-5 years, or does it actually have a strong enough pulse to carry above warring factions?

I'd really like to see this happen, and if possible even do what I can in support of it, but it just seems like it would need the support of half the city to make it past the idiots who stonewall anything (e.g., the people who complain about anything and everything on the listserves of certain neighborhoods).

by DCnaive on Nov 2, 2009 6:50 pm • linkreport

For years we've wanted the historic Columbia Streetcar line returned to 14th from Columbia Heights to downtown. Guess the traffic flow doesn't warrant that. Whatever gets streetcars or better bus service to DC is fine with me.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 2, 2009 7:00 pm • linkreport

Welcome to GGW contributor fold, Capital Dome. Er, I mean Eric.

by Reza on Nov 2, 2009 8:37 pm • linkreport

shy: Ah, I see. You're right. I said there wasn't a #comments anchor because I'd forgotten to include it. :) It's on there now, and should be working as it should. When I click on the comments link for a post, the Comments header is now at the top of the page, not the first comment. Thanks for pointing that out.

by David Alpert on Nov 2, 2009 9:29 pm • linkreport

david: Yep. Working now. I think it was going the the div named 'comments' before. Keep up the nerdy road engineering posts; I love reading about various speed calming methods.

by shy on Nov 2, 2009 10:20 pm • linkreport

You can e-mail and write to DDOT. Express this idea:

Mass Transit Administration
District Department of Transportation
Frank D. Reeves Building
2000 14 Street, NW 5th Floor (Use Rear Elevators from 1st Floor)
Washington, DC 20009
Tel: (202) 673-1740
Hotline: (703) 682-5060

by Zac on Nov 2, 2009 10:39 pm • linkreport

I have to say that I like the DDOT alignment better. I thought it was argued in the past that providing multiple parallel routes on the same streets was better, and having parallelish routes on different streets was worse (in the case of buses). For examples

The DDOT alignment provides a double route from Howard University across U Street/Florida to 14th, and along K Street from 14th to 22nd. Assuming DDOT operates these routes at 12-minute headways, that provides a very frequent 6 minute headway connection between the Orange line stations and the entertainment district.

Additionally, along the K Street corridor, 12-minute service along each of the lines would provide about 3 minutes between vehicles to get from 23rd to 14th, since the lines are quadrupled in that stretch. It would be a long walk, but people trying to get along the corridor can use the streetcar as a circulator and pedestrian accelerator (I frequently use the 90s/Circulator like this for 8th Street SE).

The proposed new routing breaks up this high-frequency route, and requires people to know whether the next streetcar will be on K Street or Rhode Island if they want to head generally Northeast.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 2, 2009 11:56 pm • linkreport

Maybe the goal is to serve those very neighborhoods that are so congested and in so doing reduce some of the congestion.

by Ward 1 Guy on Nov 3, 2009 5:54 am • linkreport

Michael: quadrupled under Phase 2, but tripled under Phase 3.

by Froggie on Nov 3, 2009 6:59 am • linkreport

As much as this is a good idea, at the same time this is how a 1.5 billion project suddenly becomes a 3 billion project. Once the start making changes which cost more money than it will open them up to more changes and suddenly costs are out of control. DC needs to stick with a plan that is within budget, which may mean there are some compromises.

by Matt R on Nov 3, 2009 9:07 am • linkreport

I agree that the proposed alternative is more direct and would avoid the Florida Avenue congestion.
However, it also avoids the metro stops on the Green-Yellow Line at U Street and the Red Line on K Street.
I see the DDOT routing as a better means of interconnecting the transit system.

by Monte on Nov 3, 2009 9:47 am • linkreport

I should have marked it better on the map, but the amended route passes by the Q Street entrance of the Shaw station on the Green-Yellow Lines and passes one block north of the L Street entrance to Farragut North on the Red Line.

by Eric Fidler on Nov 3, 2009 10:14 am • linkreport

Routing it directly downtown would serve commuters better, sure, but would it serve center city residents better? I'm not so sure. I think I'd rather have twice the frequency on 14th Street.

by BeyondDC on Nov 3, 2009 11:39 am • linkreport

I agree that the Rhode Island Ave line making a Florida detour up to U Street looks a little awkward. But I think it just shows that DDOT wants to make U Street a hub transfer area for the different streetcar lines and Metro. When I was reading BeyondDC's recap of the Ward1 Session he claimed they communicated that stops would be spaced 4-5 blocks. If that's true Eric's plan really doesn't expand the reach of the streetcar much but costs alot more in terms of extra track. It's only a one block difference between on Logan Circle and a stop at 14th & P. It's not like the Rhode Island Route was going to net a stop at 7th,9th,11th,13th, then 14th.

by Paul S on Nov 3, 2009 11:55 am • linkreport

well, I think one of the rationales for the current plan is because if the pink line can follow U and florida then there's only so much track that needs to be laid down. I think one of the major selling points of this whole streetcar network is how inexpensive it is in comparison to other rail projects in the region (purple, silver), or at least that's what they've been pushing. I totally agree that those circles are very transit under-served tho. Logan needs something badly.

Who knows, maybe people will be willing to fling more money at streetcars if the H/Benning and anacostia lines do well

by Cameron on Nov 4, 2009 1:31 pm • linkreport

I concur with NikolasM and Cameron - I'm betting DDOT shared the alignments to keep prices low, but this could easily be constructed as a future phase. Particularly if the shared segments are becoming congested with streetcar traffic, the Rhode Island route would give a nice relieve route.

by Steve on Nov 5, 2009 1:28 pm • linkreport

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