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Gray cuts streetcars (now restored)

At approximately 2 am last night, Councilmembers received the proposed budget from Chairman Vincent Gray and his staff. Among the 11th-hour (or should it be 14th-hour) changes was a near-complete elimination of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line.

This streetcar isn't moving. Photo by thecourtyard on Flickr.

Update: The streetcar funding was subsequently restored.

Last night, Council supporters and DDOT officials went to sleep with the understanding that the final budget negotiations had preserved the streetcar.

The line had been approved by the Committee on Public Works and Transportation last week, but the final proposed Budget Support Act removes it and returns funding to some of the Great Streets streetscapes which DDOT said they could backfill with federal funds.

It may be too late to now save the program, but if you want to push for Gray to restore it, call Gray's office immediately at 202-724-8032.

Sarah Campbell, Gray's Deputy Director for Capital Projects, has been pushing for an elimination of the project, according to sources in the Council. Campbell has expressed concerns about the process involved in the planning, which was fairly rapid, but she is also friends with Meg Maguire, leader of the Committee of 100 campaign against overhead wires. There's no way to know for sure how much of her opposition came from professional opinions or personal loyalties.

Many of the concerns over streetcars came from the speed with which this decision was made. Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who opposed the streetcar funding at the committee markup, told Eric Fidler last night that he's not satisifed that DDOT has determined the exact costs of building what they have drawn and what it will take to secure the necessary easements. The station itself is owned by the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation, leased to a private company, managed by a different private company, and subject to Congressional oversight. The proposed streetcar terminus would be located under WMATA's Red Line and under tracks owned by CSX and leased to Amtrak.

However, DDOT also prepared a 110-page list of responses to questions from Ms. Campbell last week, of which I'm working to get a copy. I don't know if they specifically answered that question or not, but there are always details worked out with any project up to the end. It's true that the streetcar plan was put together fairly quickly, because DDOT saw an opportunity to get it funded with the capital money designated for WMATA that wasn't able to go to WMATA because of the FTA's timeline.

Complaints about the speed of the project also seem a little ironic given that Chairman Gray cut the streetcar program at 2 am the night before the Council vote.

Update: Here's the Budget Support Act proposal for the FY2010 budget, which is where most of the streetcar money was.

Gray's office is saying that the program isn't "cut" because the budget hasn't been voted on. It's true that this proposal is a substitute amendment to the budget, which has to be approved by Council, but since Gray is the chairman, it's essentially the baseline that they'll be using to modify today, and unless the Council overrides this part to reinstate streetcars, they're cut.

Update 2: The Council Committee of the Whole has approved the budget that strips streetcar funding. Wells and Evans voted against.

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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I can't imagine that the businesses along H St are particularly happy with this development...

by andrew on May 26, 2010 9:32 am • linkreport

In other news, Adrian Fenty will be reelected.

by BeyondDC on May 26, 2010 9:33 am • linkreport

Response from call to Gray's Office: "OK." click.

Response from call to Evans' Office: "Councilor Evans feels the same way that you do, and I can't see them cutting it given that they've already purchased the cars."

by Ken Archer on May 26, 2010 9:34 am • linkreport

Ditto. Gray's office was utterly uninterested. Their click came without even a cursory "thanks, goodbye".

by BeyondDC on May 26, 2010 9:36 am • linkreport

I just called Gray's office and was told this information is not accurate. So what's going on?

by Sue on May 26, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

hahaha. hilarious. classic.

Sad, really, though. How many million$$$ have been spent on designing, buying, shipping and maintaining those shiny new white elephants .... ahem... I mean streetcars... not to mention the massive street project to lay track on H Street?

Lobbyists really dropped the ball on this one. I guess the Czech streetcar companies haven't worked out that the only way to get things done in this town is to hire some big guns lobbyists.

by typical on May 26, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

Wow really. Tracks nearly complete. Streetcars purchased, built, sitting in a parking lot. Yeah great time to shelve it. Gray is a joke and he knows damn well he doesn't have a chance of being elected, which is why he isn't worried about any backlash from this. But I'm fed up with Fenty too. Where to turn? I'll tell you: David Alpert for mayor. What a breath of fresh air that would be. who is with me?

by John on May 26, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

This has not been rushed. The city started on H Street reconstruction years ago, including this planning and even construction. Complaints about the speed of the program are even more ironic given that the tracks are already partially laid down and the cars are sitting in a garage!

Grey had me open to his vote, but that is very quickly closing.

by neb on May 26, 2010 9:44 am • linkreport

Congrats to C100 for yet another successful blockage of progress!

Oh wait, you had again no influence whatsoever.

by Jasper on May 26, 2010 9:47 am • linkreport

Disappointing...that's all I can say.

by Froggie on May 26, 2010 9:48 am • linkreport

Folks, I'm sorry, but there is a budget crisis going on and things will get cut. Just because the money is sitting there on paper doesn't mean it won't be grabbed for other things. Given the process issues, the lack of a federal grant/interest in streetcars, and that this is being built to test the waters, I can see why it got axed.

I am very neutral on the streetcar debate. I like them too, and I think building streetcars could eventually replace a lot of WMATA bus lines. But as I said, there is a budget crisis going on and I'm not sure the money is there.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 9:56 am • linkreport


There is a HUGE federal grant interest in streetcars. That's not how this line is funded, but that's likely how future lines will be funded, and they will all still require a local match.

by Alex B. on May 26, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

Are these general fund dollars or DDOT dollars? If they're DDOT dollars, they go to transportation regardless.

by BeyondDC on May 26, 2010 9:58 am • linkreport

I just called Gray's office. The woman who answered said that "the budget hasn't been voted on yet, and the information you have is inaccurate." I don't have the time today to get into it with receptionists/spokespeople (I don't know her role with the office), but if the Chairman's office is hoping to use the non-finality of the budget to deflect criticism today, somebody needs to call them on it, pronto.

What dwindling chance Gray had of receiving my vote just went up in smoke.

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 9:59 am • linkreport

And for the record, the vehicles purchased were for the demonstration line in Anacostia that is still under construction. New vehicles would need to be purchased for the H Street/Benning line.

by michael on May 26, 2010 10:02 am • linkreport

I don't see where this cut is in the draft budget, but maybe I'm missing it.

by Fritz on May 26, 2010 10:05 am • linkreport

@alex; please point to one specific federal program or grant that DC can apply to in the next 5 years that will include streetcar funding. LaHood may like the idea, but in five years the feds are going to be broke as well.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 10:13 am • linkreport


New Starts and Small Starts - changing criteria will make streetcars far more competitive against other projects.

Urban Circulator Grants.

Pending federal legislation - the Senate climate bill includes $8 billion for sustainable transportation grants.

Future TIGER grants.

HUD land use/transportation grants.

by Alex B. on May 26, 2010 10:17 am • linkreport

There really should be rules in place that once part of a project has been begun like laying tracks the projects can't be completed cancelled like that.

by Chris on May 26, 2010 10:17 am • linkreport

I thought this project may yet get killed. Maybe the streetcar project was too ambitious for D.C.

Governments today don't like this type of permanent infrastructure investment because it's hard to scale back and maintain when times get tough (like now). It was accused of being a white elephant in the making. The money would probably be better spent on pedestrian improvements, widening existing expressways, and fixing our bus system.

by Ron on May 26, 2010 10:19 am • linkreport

@Alex; this is the problem with you people.

You cite potential future legislation, "changing" criteria, and other mythical animals.

There isn't a plan. It is build it and they will come. Maybe, but DC is running out of money and things will get cut. Sorry.

I am very neutral on the streetcar debate, although I hope Columbia Pike gets one. Replacing WMATA buses in DC with streetcars would be a huge win, although the overhead wire issue is more real than transit geeks want to admit. DC is very special because of the no wire thing. First thing I noticed when I came here at age 8.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 10:23 am • linkreport

Fund it with a soda tax!!

by D on May 26, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport


The only mythical item I listed is the pending legislation. New Starts and Small Starts are very real, and the regulatory changes to the application criteria are also real. Same thing with TIGER, HUD, and Urban Circulator grants. I apologize that I don't have time to pull together a compendium of links for you, but if you do a little Googling on those programs, you'll see that there are numerous federal grant opportunities.

by Alex B. on May 26, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

The council is lame.

We should replace it with an anarcho-syndicalist commune, and take turns to act as a sort of...executive officer for the week.

by D on May 26, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

Bout time there was some responsible adult like decision making taking place at the Council level.

Two things...

1. The city is broke. Not just "gotta wait until payday tomorrow to go out and get smashed with my friends" broke, but half a billion dollars in the hole this year, 50% below our minimum savings requirements for Bond ratings, broke. The city if it was responsible should be out there with a red pen, cutting spending by hundreds of millions of dollars and certainly shouldn't be spending money on anything right now except for maintaining the basic services and responsibilities the City already has, not adding more with undefined costs.

2. DDOT, in yet another example of epic fail has NEVER explained to the city where it was to get the full funds required to build, let alone operate and maintain the system once it was installed. This isn't WMATA, D.C. would be the only one on the hook for the cost of this. They haven't even spitballed revenue or fare projections until a couple weeks ago. I won't mention that the Anacostia street car is what, almost 3 years behind at this point as well.

The businesses on H Street would get a far more immediate and long lasting benefit if the city just used 10% of the money they have already spent on H Street streetcars and simply instituted a blanked business tax reduction of 50% for a period of ~5 years.

Fear not though...the tracks are in. In 4 or 5 years, when DC has their finances under relative control, I am sure DDOT will be allowed to finish what they started, atleast for H Street

by nookie on May 26, 2010 10:31 am • linkreport

nookie, You're right that DDOT is no WMATA. In fact, DDOT is in a much better funding situation than WMATA. Since DDOT is a state DOT, they automatically get a share of federal gas tax revenue every year. They have the sort of dedicated funding WMATA can only dream about.

by BeyondDC on May 26, 2010 10:36 am • linkreport

Thank God someone killed the streetcar program. We don't need 19th century technology cluttering up our streets making it even harder for cars. The buses and bikes screw things up enough.

Down with streetcars, and widen I-66 while we're at it!

by Louis on May 26, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

We're in a recession and revenues are down. Of course the city's in the hole.

Fortunately, we have a huge cash reserve set aside for this very sort of thing.

by andrew on May 26, 2010 10:41 am • linkreport

Note: The internal-combustion powered automobile was invented in 1885.

Thank God someone killed the automotive industry. We don't need 19th century technology cluttering up our streets making it even harder for people. The SUVs and parking lots screw things up enough.

Down with cars, and widen Metro while we're at it!

by Matt Johnson on May 26, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

Recall Gray anyone?

by Redline SOS on May 26, 2010 10:48 am • linkreport


No, we don't. There is an article in todays Post outlining how our Cash Reserve which stood at 1.6 billion dollars 4 years ago is now down to 600 million, 300 million below the level required by our Bond obligations.

We've used 1 billion dollars of our reserve fund the past 4 years continuing to fund things like streetcars and bike lanes cyclists don't use or like, and million dollar dog parks. Enough is enough.

by nookie on May 26, 2010 10:50 am • linkreport

@Beyond DC, how much money does DC receive every year as a result of this?

I'm asking, really. The best I can find is this which says we pay 23 million in gas taxes every year, but elsewhere I read that DC gets back five times that amount from the federal government in highway funds. So that's $100 million a year if that is correct.

According to this the annual operating costs for the complete streetcar line will be $85 million.

That doesn't leave much for fixing potholes, repairing bridges, and so on, without even counting the $1.5 b capital expenditure (which I assume means an annual pricetag of interest payments in the many millions).

The same presentation puts a big part of the funding of the streetcar on "Benefit Assessment District w/ property tax assessments".

I guess that means higher property taxes.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

Nookie, I might be tempted to listen to you, except you're obviously lying about bike lanes. Cyclists do use them and do like them. If you're lying about that, why should I trust anything else you say?

by BeyondDC on May 26, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

By the way, to those saying this is "moving too fast", the original Anacostia streetcar was supposed to be open for business in 2006. We are now 6 years behind schedule on that.

Jamie Good question. I don't actually know how much they get.

by BeyondDC on May 26, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

As far as moving too fast - the actual schedule isn't really important if nobody did anything in the intervening six years.

It's impossible to argue that this project was planned well. We are building tracks based on overhead wires which are illegal. We haven't figured out the most basic question of infrastructure before spending millions.

If that's not putting the carriage before the horse, I don't know what is.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:00 am • linkreport


You must have missed one of the dozen, days long biker vs car discussions on GGW the past 2 weeks. I suggest you go back and peruse some of them, where you will find dozens of posters, self proclaimed daily transit cyclists who don't use them, consider them "suicide lanes" and won't use them even if they are riding on a street with them.

And lastly BeyondDC, I said exactly where the DC Reserve find info came from. Refusing to look for yourself and choosing to simply stick your head in the ground by saying "I'm not going to believe you" is incredibly childish.

by nookie on May 26, 2010 11:04 am • linkreport

FAIL: Vincent Gray just lost my vote.

Fenty just got re-elected. Unfortunately....

by Lee on May 26, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

Just to let you know. I tried calling Gray's Office. No answer. I may keep trying.

by Eric on May 26, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

I don't understand this move at all.
Sure, there are some local funds involved, but the vast majority are federal and we don't get them unless we spend the local. Also, we've already invested so much. Is this to go to waste? What are the hard costs of mothballing it all versus the cost of proceeding ahead? How about including projected revenue increases the line was anticipated to bring?
The discussion can't just be about saving a few dollars today. It has to include the federal dollars we're saying "no" to, the cost of mothballing the project, and the increased productivity/tax revenues we are rejecting.
Is all this a reaction to the save our safety net campaign? How do those folks think that will be funded next year, and the years after?
So short sighted...

by downtown rez on May 26, 2010 11:09 am • linkreport

@Alex; the only program DDOT is even talking about applying to is the new starts. Would DC get it? Maybe --- but we are talking a minimum of 2012 or so before we even start to apply. As I said, that is a pie in the sky wish rather than a plan.

I'd suggest applying for the H st line as part of that. Building it by yourself isn't going to work.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 11:09 am • linkreport

If you want more of a response from Gray's office when you call, try mentioning that he just lost your vote.

by another andrew on May 26, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

"but the vast majority are federal and we don't get them unless we spend the local"

How much is this? What dollar amounts are we talking about? The federal highway money isn't available only if we build a streetcar, and we certainly use that already. We have a lot of other infrastructure.

I don't know the answer to this -- which is one of the big problems I have with the way this was planned and supposedly funded. If we're going to build something that will cost $85 million a year to operate, plus the bond payments or however else we will finance the capital expenditure, shouldn't that information be one of the most transparent and important points of discussion?

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:14 am • linkreport

The federal money also includes an "urban circulator grant" program that DDOT is applying for. That would cover Oklahoma Avenue to Benning Road. If they don't build the H Street-Benning segment they won't get the grant.

by David Alpert on May 26, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

@David, so how much money is this? I mean, unless it's a huge amount, it's like saying "if I don't go to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy a snuggie, I won't be able to save 20% with my coupon."

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

In the short term the street car will cost our city money but other cities have proven it's a long term win.

by JohnDC on May 26, 2010 11:16 am • linkreport

Dont just tell him he lost your vote, tell his office you will donate money to his opponant. Since I am sure a majority of the readers here dont live in his ward.

by Eric on May 26, 2010 11:17 am • linkreport

As noted in the article, this is on Sarah Campbell's personal agenda with the Committee of 100 and has been for a while...

And yes, I am concerned with the operating cost of this major project when we are having problems resurfacing streets on a continuing basis. The federal program is set up to let you build it, but you may be on your own to operate and maintain it.

by Contrarian on May 26, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

For reference, DDOT's budget this year is 128 Million dollars.

With that 128 million they have a city full of existing infrastructure simply to maintain.

Now someone please tell me where we are going to get an additional 85 million (min) per year in dedicated funding to operate the streetcar system indefinitely, let alone the 1.5 billion dollars (min) to build it?

It just doesn't even come close to passing the smell test and as I've been saying all along, never did.

by nookie on May 26, 2010 11:19 am • linkreport

Gray is Council President and represents, in theory, the whole city. (He was originally elected from Ward 7 thoug.0 And he's running for Mayor.

by Answer Guy on May 26, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

Suuprised? Not. Gray is all about 'transparency' -- i.e., a return to the days of when he last ran an agency (remember who was Mayor then -- yes, our fearless council member from ward 8).

Gray just confirmed my vote for Fenty.

While we are at it, Mendelson should consider retiring to a quite porch in McLean Gardens (or McLean, preferably).

by Gray cloud rising (no silver lining) on May 26, 2010 11:23 am • linkreport

This is outrageous! And when I called Chairman Gray's office to express my dismay no one even answered my call; I just got an automated message and a voicemail box.

Vince Gray is on record as supporting streetcars, and he has made public statements of support, so I have to ask how this could possibly happen. I didn't hear him say anything critical about streetcars during the Council's Committee of the Whole discussion of the budget last week. Does he let his staff hijack his policy decisions or does he really support killing streetcars himself? Either way, if this is a glimpse into how Vince Gray would govern as mayor -- killing popular projects in the dark of night after not even expressing a hint of opposition publicly -- then there's no way he can win my vote.

by J on May 26, 2010 11:30 am • linkreport

"In the short term the street car will cost our city money but other cities have proven it's a long term win."

What cities?

Portland, OR, which seems to be the golden boy for this, spend $100 million on their streetcar system, and it seems like that's been very successful.

However, we are not Portland, and we are talking about spending 15 times that amount in capital costs, and the same amount every single year to run it.

Portland also has a unique law restricting development outside city limits, at the same time as it's population has increased by 25% in the last ten years.

Here in Washington, we have no such rules, and our population has barely begun to increase. We have a great many Metro stations that are suffering from lackluster development and we don't have the kind of population explosion that Portland does. I mean, after ten years the only notable thing that's happened around Congress Heights is that Ray's the Steaks opened. There are many others that are similarly underdeveloped.

You can't just take another city that's totally different and say that because their streetcar worked, ours would too.

I'm not just against the streetcar. I would favor it. But I feel the same way I do about some of the bike infrastructure projects, except that those are not even in the same universe as far as cost goes. But both suffer from lack of analysis and planning. Build first, ask questions later is a great way to blow a ton of money on a long shot.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:31 am • linkreport

So very disappointing. I also don't see how it would cost $85 million per year to operate. Link please.

by NikolasM on May 26, 2010 11:33 am • linkreport

>> "Now someone please tell me where we are going to get an additional 85 million (min) per year in dedicated funding to operate the streetcar system indefinitely"

Why are you ignoring ridership fares when making that statement?

by Jason on May 26, 2010 11:33 am • linkreport


See Jamies post at 10:54, it was linked there.

by nookie on May 26, 2010 11:35 am • linkreport

Jamie and Nookie, I agree.

by right on on May 26, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

So very disappointing. I also don't see how it would cost $85 million per year to operate. Link please.

A vote for Gray is a vote for the return to the golden years of the 80s. Unfortunately, there are a lot of DC residents for whom that's a comfort, rather than a terror.

by oboe on May 26, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

"Why are you ignoring ridership fares when making that statement?"

"Link please"

I linked to DDOT's presentation that cites the $85 million figure in an earlier comment.

Ridership fares will cover only 25% of that cost, from the same presentation.

Both figures are, of course, guesses, and since they are coming from the agency that's pushing the project, we should reasonably assume they are both optimistic. If anyone can find a single project of this scale that hasn't cost much more than originally proposed I'll revise that statement.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport


What fares? DDOT has spent ~6 or 7 years and what, a hundred million dollars in construction, design and procurement and the streetcar unveiling a couple weeks ago was the first time I had EVER heard DDOT talk about fares, and do you know what they said? Well, we are thinking baout having it free, but also thinking about structuring it like the circulator a $1 buck a ride.

Not withstanding, revenue projections should have been plan number 2, right behind power systems (which they they didn't plan either), not some subjective, from the hip talking point by Gabe Klein 6 years later after 100 million had been blown, or at a unveiling.

I suggest all of you read the study Jamie Linked at 10:54 that gives a very detailed view of the street car costs.

by nookie on May 26, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

Jamie, you're absolutely right that it's a fallacy to say "It worked in Portland, so it'll work here." But it's every bit as egregious to argue, as you seem to be, that it worked in Portland, so it will fail here. Yes, Washington and Portland are different, but we're not talking about all of DC with this project. Right now, all we're talking about is the H Street line, home to the most crowded bus in the city, the X2. So the ridership is definitely there. The corridor is already primed for development; just read Frozen Tropics, The Hill is Home, H Street Great Street, or any other website that covers the neighborhood to see that people are moving there, development is happening already and more is in the pipeline - and it's in anticipation of the improved transit the streetcar would bring.

As for operating costs, is the figure you're quoting the net cost, after fares, increased tax revenues, etc. are taken into account? If not, then it feels a little dishonest to claim the costs are prohibitive without at least acknowledging the revenue side of things.

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

I'm rather stunned Gray just killed this. And lots of bashing by Gray, Mendo and Barry on DDOT's planning and outreach efforts.

by Fritz on May 26, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

As a bus rider, I oppose streetcars and am glad to see funding eliminated from the budget. I don't want to have to walk far to streetcar stops. My bus stop is very close to my house and to my office. Also, I always get a seat on the bus. I'd probably have to stand for 40 minutes or more if I have to take a streetcar.

by Metrobus Rider on May 26, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

nookie, that slideshow also discusses the means to fund the operating costs: capturing a share of the increased property values brought by the system through a special assessment district (i.e. commercial property tax) and potentially a parking assessment district (which would also encourage ridership by increasing the cost of driving).

So, assuming that covers the bulk of the operating costs, that still leaves your fare issue. In all honesty, I'm really not that concerned with the fact that the fare structure isn't set in stone two years out. Will the revenue capture actually cover the annual operating costs? I don't know; it depends on the structure. Either way, it's something that is being worked on. Of course it would have been nice to have every duck in a row before any money was spent, but in the real world, it just doesn't happen all that frequently (in any context, and in any jurisdiction).

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 11:53 am • linkreport

$128 million is just DDOT's local tax dollar budget.
DDOT gets a huge amount of federal funds. The vast majority of DDOT's work is done using them- including all major projects. The local funds are significant only in that they do not come with federal strings on how they can be spent. In other words, they can be used for alleys and out of the way sidewalks and other things the Feds won't let DDOT spend federal money on.
By nixing DDOT funding for streetcars, Gray has turned off the spigot for a huge federal subsidy to be spent in transportation and infrastructure improvement.
@nookie- I'm not a ddot spokesperson. I suggest you ask ddot the exact dollar amount. Or google it, or something.

by downtown rez on May 26, 2010 11:54 am • linkreport

@AMT - I only argued that Portland's experience is not directly relevant to DC. I didn't say that their success means we will fail, I just said it doesn't mean much one way or the other.

As far as the costs, I am claiming only that based on the best estimates actually from DDOT, not even 50% of the revenue side has been accounted for. I believe that there will be increased development. Of course, it should be obvious that on H street, that is happening all by itself, as it is in many other places in DC as a result of the economic boom in the previous decade, and the national trend to towards people moving back to cities. So I am not sure how much you could attribute to a streetcar in the future. But nobody's come forward with any comprehensive projections that we can look at.

Anyway, my problem is really that we seem to only have one approach to the streetcar: charge forward. Why can't this project be done incrementally? Why are we laying tracks on H street before we even know if we can have overhead wires? Why wouldn't you plan to do this one line at a time and see how it works out, like they did in other places?

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:54 am • linkreport

The silver lining to this news is that it'll hopefully encourage the powers that be into putting together some real plans for a real system that includes some real funding sources for the vision that was presented to us by DDOT.

As it stood, I doubt that the system would have gotten any bigger than the H Street/Benning Road line. Those who had an interest in showing they were 'pro-transit' and 'really wanted' streetcars would have gotten their boost by that one line, been re-elected, and quickly lost interest in giving us a real system for the entire city ... which is what most of us on here really want.

There was a clear disconnect between the vision and the plan to carry it out. Hopefully now we'll be in a position to put together a plan that really can work.

Maybe now we can get a streetcar system for the whole city and not just a 'demonstration' project meant solely to benefit the political fortunes of a mayor and a councilmember seeking re-election.

I'm not going to go so far as to say though that anyone lost or won my vote on this one single issue.

by Lance on May 26, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

@downtown rez-

Nobody's really put a dollar figure on that. As I said the only one I could find seems to be around $100 million.

If you are going to argue that DDOT pays for everything through fed gov funds, then it would be useful to back that up with some figures.

How much money, actually, do we stand to "lose"? What percentage of the costs would the federal government actually pay for?

Does anyone actually know, or is this just something you heard somewhere?

I googled it. I looked high and low. I couldn't figure it out. Since you are the one whose entire position is based on the factuality of this statement, it seems like you should at least be able to tell us where you heard this.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

@Lance, well I thought this day would never come, but I agree with your comment entirely. I'm not anti-streetcar. I'm pro planning.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 11:58 am • linkreport

As a resident of Oklahoma Avenue (which Gray represented as Ward 7 Councilman), this is extremely disappointing. (I would say heartbreaking, but risk ridicule.)

I, too, have called Chairman's office and was rolled directly into voicemail.

by okayavenue on May 26, 2010 12:00 pm • linkreport

What's the long term impact of this, assuming that Vince Gray will be a private citizen next year, can't they just put the money back? The streetcar program was in limbo for several years, a one year funding gap is a setback but shouldn't equal game over.

by Steve S on May 26, 2010 12:01 pm • linkreport

@Jamie, Careful, David or someone else will quickly label you as 'anti-something'. It's the old "you're either with us or you're against us" trick that I thought had finally gotten laid to rest with the Bush administration's thinly veiled use of it earlier in the decade. Not that I think David (or others on this blog) are coming up with this stuff on their own. They're just repeating what they're hearing ... and, regrettably, believing without questioning.

by Lance on May 26, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport

Just went through the budget, the DDOT budget number seems correct. Also, holy crap do we spend alot on Child and family Services, dept of health and dept of human services. Wow.

by eric on May 26, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

DDOT receives hundreds of millions- perhaps billions- in Federal funding. I know this from discussions with DDOT employees. But, again, it comes with strict controls on how it is spent and what it is spent on.
I don't really think I should have to substantiate with specific figures my assertion. This is because it is patently impossible that DDOT maintains all the streets, bridges, lights, sidewalks, curbs, alleys, trees, etc in this city on a $128 million per year budget.
Think about it. And if you want exact figures, do your own research and post your own sources.

by downtown rez on May 26, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

This is the worst decision ever. I can't imagine that Mr. Gray will garner new votes from this decision and will not be surprised if he loses a large number of votes from current supporters. I will be calling his office today!

by gail on May 26, 2010 12:05 pm • linkreport

Budget passed.

Astonishing that this got snuck in at the last hour. Shame on Gray. Good luck capturing the Ward 6 vote now.

by andrew on May 26, 2010 12:08 pm • linkreport

+1 to Lance's comment. Let's not have Gabe learn how to do this on our dime.

Nookie, if we build a widespread streetcar system we can start shutting down buses and reduce the amount of bus subsidy we pay to WMATA. That would be a real win.

85 million a year, however, seems like a very lowball figure. As we see with WMATA, rail requires constant re-investment. The 1.5 billion in capital costs is the build costs, not ongoing capital investment.

What is really a shame is I have no doubt spending $1.5 billion on streetcars is a far far better way to spend money, than, say building a heavy rail metro out to Reston. But that's what it is.

Another unanswered question is how would ddot build up the knowledge to run and maintain a streetcar system. It is not easy. Are they up to it?

And I'm starting to think by looking at this from a redevelopment angle is skewed. We need to look at it from a transit angle, as rail is breaking down and bus investments aren't being done. The configuration of the system needs to be different for that.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport


Just went through the budget, the DDOT budget number seems correct. Also, holy crap do we spend alot on Child and family Services, dept of health and dept of human services. Wow.

by oboe on May 26, 2010 12:16 pm • linkreport

I, for one, commend Chairman Gray on forsaking his political future and turning his back on something he purported to support in order to... well, I'm not sure, exactly.

I just really appreciate his openness and transparency in the process. It certainly sets him apart from Mayor Fenty.


by The AMT on May 26, 2010 12:17 pm • linkreport


WMATA's 2009 Budget (free for anyone to Google) started out with a claim that in the 35 years Metro rail has existed, it has been directly responsible for a total of 25 billion dollars worth of development in the DC Metro.

I would normally take that with a huge grain of salt, but lets assume that it is 100% true.

Lets also assume that all 25 billion of that is considered Class A (Prime Commercial Office/Retail) and assesed at a high rate of Class 2 in DC (1.65 per/1000). We of course know this isn't true as there has been way more residential development, which is assesed at half commerical in DC, but I am making a point.

If all those assumptions were 100% correct, then ALL the development that Metro takes credit for during the entire 3.5 decades has left us today with an additional 400 million per year in property tax revenue.

"Golly gee", you say. "That imaginary $400 million sounds like a heck of a lot".

Well, not considering most of the development, hence most of that taxable revenue has been in, and stays in our three friends, Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Even if someone were to simply split that additional revenue by 4, DC would only be getting an additional 100 million per year, after 35 years and 25 billion of development.

So no, this system that at best would cost 1.5 billion in 2008/2009 dollars and will cost a minimum of a 85 MILLION per year to operate indefinitely is never going to ever come close to funding itself, especially not with the mythical additional tax revenue that people automatically assume will be enough.

There is no way, even under the most criminally optimistic scenarious and fuzzy math that redeveloping H Street, Georgia Avenue and Anacostia around the proposed Street Car would produce anywhere near the ancillary taxable revenue to come close to paying for the yearly cost of the system.

You could turn H Street and Anacostia into new Arlingtons and it still wouldn't cover the cost, especially since Gabe and crew are learning "aka" making it up as they go.

by nookie on May 26, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

nookie - as an initial matter, I'm more of an "Aw, shucks" guy than a "golly gee" guy. Maybe it's generational. Or geographical.

When I referred to revenue capture, I didn't mean just the incremental increase brought by development. Although there is that. I was referring to a special assessment district, comprised of the commercial property along (and nearby) the corridor. Effectively, property tax *rates* for such properties would be increased, splitting the gain in value between the property owner and the city. See See also: Silver Line in Tysons (proposed), New York Ave. Metro Station (discussed in the Post article).

To address one more point, almost no infrastructure pays for itself - highways, trains, intracity transit, airports. It's all got to be subsidized somehow, so I don't really see the problem with some kind of "gap" in the operating costs, so long as it's covered elsewhere in the budget.

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

I love how public transportation somehow must recuperate all its capital costs in the form of property taxes (because we all know that's the only measure of the impact of development!) and all the operating costs in the form of fares or else it's a waste.

Meanwhile the cries of "MOAR ROADZ" continue, so that people can continue the unbelievably inefficient practice of driving alone to work in their automobiles. Roads, as we all know, recuperate all of their costs (capital and the operational costs of road law enforcement) because you have to pay tolls and fares to drive anywhere on them!

by MLD on May 26, 2010 12:44 pm • linkreport

Well, I think it's as simple as gabe Klein said before, and Muriel Bowser said this morning, this may put off the Streetcar for another generation. As much as I might not like Adrian Fenty as a guy, he just got my vote for Mayor now for sure. I just can't stand politicians who can't take a strong stance, and have no backbone. lets please move the city forward! I went to two of the streetcar meetings, and was very impressed with the level of planning, and fast implementation plan for a project that has been stalled for years until now. DDOT was ready to go, and well organized, and Council just bent at the knees. BTW, $85 million a year to operate a 37 mile transit system is..... cheap. For experts, some of the people who post here don't seem to have done much research, or be very knowledgeable in general regarding transportation costs.

by Regular Guy on May 26, 2010 12:47 pm • linkreport

This isnÂ’t about street cars exactly, but it might be relevant to this engaged audience.

Isn't one of DC's development and revenue challenges its stance on property taxes? I don't know all the specifics, but I think under current tax law new residents who pay current market price for a residence pay taxes on 100% of the home's assessed value. Conversely, longer-term residents will never pay taxes on more than a set portion of their home's value.

I have no idea when this was enacted, but I would imagine that if you buy a house on H street NE today you would be paying a lot more in taxes then those that have been living in that area for the past 10-20 yrs.

I suppose that this is fair so people can stay in their homes, but the downside is neighborhoods take longer to improve and the city loses revenue.

Can anyone shed some light on this?

by Shaw Resident on May 26, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

Good to see this white elephant killed! We don't want or need streetcars. Buses work fine, thank you very much. In five years people will look back on the streetcar building frenzy of this era as a dumb mistake that D.C. avoided staying out of. Streetcars were fine back in the 1910's and 1920's; today of being able to be easily rerouted or changed. Congrats to Gray for killing this monstrosity and standing up to the rail boondoggle lobby!

by Travis on May 26, 2010 12:54 pm • linkreport

Props to nookie and Jamie for injecting some perspective and sanity. I'm glad to see reason and levelheadedness prevail over blind optimism. "Because it makes me sad!" is not a good enough reason to repeal this budget cut.

I honestly hope that this doesn't translate into complete shelving of the streetcar project, that would be a tremendous loss for the District. Most of all, I hope that DDOT can change gears and begin a patient, mature, and less heavy-handed approach to getting these streetcars implemented.

by SDJ on May 26, 2010 12:57 pm • linkreport

If DC were to implement a special tax assessment for commercial establishments along streetcar routes, that could well have the effect of detering business from locating in those areas because of higher taxes. Also, as I understand it, streetcar stops are spaced relatively far apart from one another. Would business located in the middle of two stops (i.e., farthest from the stops) be charged the special tax assessment? Would it be the same tax assessment? What if that business previously had a bus stop in front of its door but now has no bus stop and a long walk to the streetcar stop?

by DC Resident on May 26, 2010 12:57 pm • linkreport

"DDOT receives hundreds of millions- perhaps billions- in Federal funding"

All right, since you aren't willing or able to find the actual documentation, I have done so. It's on
">DC's web site.

In 2009, DC received two grants for highway construction from the federal government.

One was $123 M, which was entirely a one-time sum from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The other was $133 M which is our regular Federal highway payment.

Our proposed DDOT budgets for the five years going forward, from that document, include Federal highway funds on the order of $133 million per year, since there is no more ARRA.

I guess my original figure of $23 million x 5 was pretty darn close, and nowhere near "billions."

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

@nookie: The DDOT proposal wasn't for streetcar rides to be free, it was for there to be a small portion of the system where it would be free. Fares would still be collected outside of the "fareless square".

It's also likely that DDOT will sell some sort of weekly or monthly pass, which would recoup some of the cost from people that ride the streetcars even if some of their rides are within the fareless square.

And from discussion with DDOT officials, one plan would be to hire a contractor for operations and maintenance, so the question about whether DDOT knows enough about operations is kind of minimal. What's more important is that DDOT knows what questions to ask and how to structure the performance metrics so they can keep an eye on contractors.

by Michael Perkins on May 26, 2010 1:01 pm • linkreport

The bottom line here is that money isn't available for the streetcar project right now. We're in a budget crisis and this is seen as a frippery. It's a shame that this probably will be the death of the streetcar for good in D.C. It was it's one chance to come back, and it's gone.

Maybe in ten years or so we can revisit bus rapid transit and new Metrobus routes.

by Stu on May 26, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

We should take the money we're now "saving" on streetcars and build another sports stadium. The last one proved to be such a great investment we need more of them. We can build one stadium for the Redskins and another for DC United.

by Spendthrift on May 26, 2010 1:02 pm • linkreport

I just called Gray's office and before I could even finish my sentence (or get to the word "streetcar"), the receptionist said, "They are trying to restore the money to streetcar now."
I guess they've been getting a lot of calls on this one...

by AB on May 26, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

Needless to say, I'm real displeased with Gray. But my feelings aside, I don't get his thinking on the politics for him on this. So you're running for mayor and need to shore up some key neighborhoods. Turn out the black vote big time because it favors you, and turn as many white voters against Fenty as possible.

Ok, so a wide swath of the city has been through crappy construction with the promise of a better tomorrow along a major corridor for cars/buses. Then you cut the funding to finish it?

White neighbors to the south, black neighbors to the north and east are pissed for suffering through construction woes for nothing. And regardless of color, many of these people use the over-crowded X2 line. So you cut the project and stop progress on it. Who have you pleased? Whose votes did you gain with this gambit?

And on top of it, if Fenty and/or the Council restores the funding, they've given themselves a huge talking point, and paint you as opposed to progress.

Not smart politics--I don't get it.

by h street resident on May 26, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

Why do people assume that streetcars mean no more buses? That's anything but the case. They're complimentary parts of a unified transit system, and they can share routes seamlessly.

As to the mechanics of a special assessment district, I imagine you would define it as all type-x commercial property located within however many feet of a streetcar station. Same for the parking assessment.

The idea of the special assessment is to split the benefit of the streetcar between the property/business owner and the city (who foots the investment), not to overwhelm it. And it's worked in the past with the NY Ave station.

SDJ, I think the reason DDOT was pushing so hard for this line is the notion that time is of the essence. The LaHood DOT will only be around for so long, and when it goes, who knows if the new formulas for federal funding (mmm, alliteration!) will still be as advantageous for transit systems (the old ones certainly weren't). When Fenty leaves office, perhaps the new head of DDOT will not be as bold and progressive as to push for innovative solutions like a streetcar. Already, Tommy Wells and Gabe Klein are talking about a potentially generation-long delay in the streetcar; hopefully it doesn't come to that, but there's definitely a sense (right or wrong, but certainly widespread among decision-makers) that this was now-or-never. I hope that's not the case, and that this is only a 2-year delay, but who knows?

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 1:10 pm • linkreport

"We should take the money we're now "saving" on streetcars and build another sports stadium. The last one proved to be such a great investment we need more of them."

Well, we earn about 24 million from the ballpark tax which is only levied against businesses, which more than pays for the bond.

Whether or not you think the ballpark was a good idea, at least we have a plan to pay for it.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 1:12 pm • linkreport big question is this: do the gaping holes just remain as is on H street? Awesome. The construction is so bad in some points I don't have any idea how this continues to qualify as an actual road.

by Ginny on May 26, 2010 1:15 pm • linkreport

AMT, I don't see why transportation planners would run buses along the same routes as streetcars. I can see feeder bus routes but that's it. Duplicative bus/streetcar routes would be too expensive to operate efficiently and the bus dollars would be better spent elsewhere.

by Bus Rider on May 26, 2010 1:19 pm • linkreport

Jamie, the special assessment I've been discussing (and which I pulled from the same DDOT presentation you linked) is precisely the same mechanism used to fund the ballpark (just levied at a citywide level, I believe, rather than by proximity).

Honest question: Why should DDOT identify funding for an entire system today, when all they are trying to build in the immediate future is one segment, for which they very clearly identified funding sources?

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 1:21 pm • linkreport

Jamie wrote: "Well, we earn about 24 million from the ballpark tax which is only levied against businesses, which more than pays for the bond."

By that logic, we should triplicate (??) the baseball stadium by building a new Redskins stadium and a new DC United stadium. Think how much money we can generate for streetcars.

by Spendthrift on May 26, 2010 1:24 pm • linkreport

Bus Rider - buses currently run over and along MetroRail routes, filling in the gaps between stations with more frequent stops. The same would almost certainly be true with streetcars and buses. Think of the streetcar like the S9 on 16th Street, and the buses as the other S-line buses, making more frequent stops and offering different terminus locations.

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 1:25 pm • linkreport

@Bus Rider:

It is extremely common for multiple modes of transit to run on the same route, because they provide different levels of service, perhaps with different origins and destinations particularly in the case of buses. I'd imagine the street car would relieve some of the congestion off the X2, as opposed to being it's utmost replacement. Especially when you can gauge buses for much more localized service, and with congestion handled partially by the streetcar, the X2 will beecome a faster bus line. As the area along H street develops over the years, and more people move in the vicinity, the multiple modes (streetcars and buses) become more apparent.

I currently lived in LA, and Vermont Street between Wilshire and Hollywood Blvds has a subway, an express limited stop bus line (754) similar to what a streetcar would operate like, and a local 204 bus line with many more stops. And all modes along this two mile stretch are packed at rush hour in particular.

by LA on May 26, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

Isn't the funding of streetcars a bit more complicated? Jack Evans confirmed at Ward 3 Dems meeting a few weeks ago that Council was considering moving $63M from school and fire station modernization, and matching funds for metro maintenance to fund H St. streetcar. The RFQ for streetcar system sent out by DDOT a few months ago reveals that DDOT is looking for a contractor who can tell city how to plan, operate, maintain,and fund a streetcar system..the list goes on. There are many people, including CMs, who think streetcars hold promise for economic development boost in parts of the city that are identified as underserved. But its irresponsible for Council to pursue a new and costly transportation system before its many aspects are well planned. Other jurisdictions that received federal stimulus funds for streetcar had years of planning and documentation to bolster their applications. I don't think it serves the legitimate discussion about streetcars in DC to attack Meg Maguire (who I know through C100) or Sarah Campbell (who I don't know). If the program were well thought out, one of two individuals, no matter how well connected and persuasive, could not derail its funding.

by Nancy on May 26, 2010 1:32 pm • linkreport

From Gray:

I strongly support streetcar development, and remain committed to seeing it become a reality here in the District of Columbia. IÂ’ve visited Portland, Oregon, twice in recent years, seen first-hand the positive economic impact and transportation impact on communities, and I am firmly committed to a new streetcar system in the District which brings about similar benefits to our city.

But we owe it to ourselves to have a well thought out planning process. We can’t afford the Mayor’s approach of “build now and plan later,” which only results in poor outcomes and much higher costs in the end. There needs to be proper planning, comprehensive transportation and engineering work, which is why we allocated $5 million to complete the planning process. Streetcars aren’t scheduled for completion until 2030, and over the next year, we’ll do the kind of planning that’s necessary to give us the most efficient use of our dollars.

I have full intention to move forward with streetcars, however, while we do the planning over the next year, we can take some of the dollars for desperately needed and more immediate capital projects, like renovation of middle schools, while our dollars are dwindling. This approach, which passed Council by a vote of 11-2, will allow for better collaboration and cooperation with residents, business owners, and other stakeholders, and result in a much stronger streetcar system in the end.

I don't care how he spins it, this is a "study it to death" approach. He acts like 2030 is so far off that we have all the time in the world to plan and plan and plan. But with Gray's move, now we won't even meet that far off goal. It's a marathon, but Gray just slammed the runner in the knee with a tire iron at mile one.

Make no mistake, this is the "commitment" of an uncommited pol. That he slipped it in in the middle of the night is all the evidence that you need that this was a planned ambush.

Screw you Gray. Too bad you were to only legitimate challenger to Fenty, cause you just lost my vote and my campaign contributions to the mayor.

by TM on May 26, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

TM - Yes.

I am curious why Gray waited until 2 a.m. the morning of the budget vote to find religion on planning the issue. Smells like this was part of a plan to kill the streetcar; otherwise, why didn't this find the light of day earlier?

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

I just called the office and it rang and went to voicemail saying "nobody is available to take your call". Guess they've gotten the message, so to speak.

by Eric on May 26, 2010 1:39 pm • linkreport

"..when all they are trying to build in the immediate future is one segment, for which they very clearly identified funding sources?"

What are the funding sources for even the first segment?

The DDOT presentation identifies:

25% "new starts" funding. Is this guaranteed? According to this, New Starts was funded at $6.6 billion dollars for FY 2006-2009. That's $1.6 billion per year for the whole country. I am not sure what the funding is going forward.

But if it's roughly the same, why would we assume that we'll get $400 billion over 2-3 years from this program? That's a pretty big chunk of the entire funding for the whole country.

Do we have guaranteed money? I don't know, but since it doesn't say we do, I'm guessing we don't. And most of the time when you ask the federal government for a crapload of money, you don't get everything you ask for.

The rest of the money comes from the general fund, a new tax and fares. What exactly is the proposed tax that will raise us another $400 billion dollars from businesses? What about the $400 billion from the general fund? Does this money just appear? What would we cut, or what taxes on citizens would we raise?

Given that the business tax is local and not citywide, meaning only a fraction of the city's businesses, and many of them small businesses (since this line doesn't go through the huge office-building areas) that seems like it would be an enormous tax burden on certain business.

Is this realistic? Has anyone done any math yet, or are we just guessing that it's practical to implement a tax to pay for a bond on the order of the ballpark for only businesses along the lines?

I'm not demanding that we have specifically identified dollars that we need to spend years from now. But we're not talking years. The first line is supposed to be opening for service in 18 months!

Show me the money, please. All we have is a few fantasies with no numbers to back them up.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

"By that logic, we should triplicate (??) the baseball stadium by building a new Redskins stadium and a new DC United stadium. Think how much money we can generate for streetcars."

I never said that it was a good idea. All I said is that we had identified a revenue source that covers the bond. It may be totally unfair, bad for business overall in DC, and cause a net loss in the big picture, but at least we can pay the bills. And most businesses were not opposed to that tax.

For the streetcar, all of the same negative things could be true, and we haven't even figured out how to pay the bills on top of that.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 1:45 pm • linkreport

Nancy, your circular logic is inane.

The city's RFQ included request for telling the city how to "plan" and "fund" the streetcar program. But since the city isn't sure how it's going to plan or fund the streetcar program yet, it shouldn't award any proposal submissions to the RFQ?

And it's certainly in line to question the role of Meg Maguire and the C100 and you in this matter.

by D on May 26, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

Maybe now DC can do some real transit planning and not treat the streetcar as the magical fix to inadequate subway service in the city. While I support streetcar service on some routes, it just doesn't/won't cut it on other routes. I dislike how DDOT is using a primarily one-solution approach for DC's entire transit future - streetcars.

We really need some real transit planning that will take into account all modes of transit and not restrict analysis to one or two of them. We need to set up a dedicated funding mechanism beforehand for transit improvements.

The New York Avenue infill metro station was funded with 25% coming from property owners in that area. I'd love to see this type of cooperation done again with future transit improvements in DC. But, it has to be initiated from the DC government. Mayor Anthony Williams was good for the city in this capacity. I can't say the same for Mayor Fenty.

The DC Alternative Analysis needs to be redone and seriously include all transit options available. How can you plan a system where the K Street Transitway is the center of the streetcar system when there's no plan to fund it other than from a Tiger grant? Where's the creativity? We could explore a Lite Metro service (shorter trains, shorter platforms, less cost) to augment our heavy rail. We could explore underground light rail service to get people around this city much more quickly than a streetcar. What about light rail with dedicated right-of-way? We could explore a medium capacity system like Vancouver Sky Train, the Copenhagen metro, and the various medium capacity systems that operate in China with rubber tires.

DC needs to get serious about transit. Only considering streetcars, however, as appropriate on all corridors in DC is a long-term mistake. I'm surprised more people in this city haven't demanded even more.

by transit_advocate on May 26, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins; thank for the answer on DDOT managing the cars.

I don't like government contractors. But with public sector unions, perhaps they are the only answer. But your answer, which is DDOT just has to learn to manage contracts isn't reassuring.

DC has a mildly corrupt political culture: not as bad as NJ, and not as part as suburbanites say, but it is pretty bad. HIgh high potential for corruption and malfeasance.

by charlie on May 26, 2010 2:01 pm • linkreport

Jamie, I'm guessing every time you wrote "400 billion" you meant million? Either way, you're assuming the cost for the entire proposed 37-mile system, not the H Street line DDOT was looking to have up and running in the next few years.

Regardless, part of the money, as discussed in the Post article I linked earlier, could come from the special assessment district, probably in combination with a bond issue - very similar to the ballpark funding mechanism you seem to like citing. Some money could come from the general fund. As I said earlier, no infrastructure is free; I can live with that.

You're right that the federal funds aren't guaranteed in perpetuity. However, the feds have indicated an increased willingness to fund new transit (which isn't necessarily saying much, but it is something), so DDOT wasn't totally out of line by assuming that New Start grants would be available in the future. Again, though, your concerns seem to be with the wider system, which wasn't at issue in this budget. The $49 million moved away from streetcars under this budget prevent the H Street line from coming online in the next two years; that's what's at issue here.

Sure, the move also kisses goodbye any federal funds to extend the line across the river. And by not having a "demonstration line" in operation, this also makes it less likely that future federal funds will be available to build out the rest of the system. It's certainly possible that by stopping the H Street line now in order to plan the complete system, funding and all, we are jeopardizing the existence of that system in the first place by risking the funds to ever build it.

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 2:03 pm • linkreport

You've got to see Gray's nonsense to believe it:

I'm going over to Fenty's site to contribute.

by DCMike on May 26, 2010 2:08 pm • linkreport

Oh, I cannot WAIT to see Fenty take this and run with it! He has a great chance to come out as the hero of this melodrama. And Vince Gray already has the appropriate facial hair of the villain.

by Sue on May 26, 2010 2:13 pm • linkreport

Yes, million, sorry. The current line is 1/3 of the cost of the project. The funding proposal is the same for each line.

So we're talking about $500 million in capital costs and $30 million a year to operate just the first part.

Assume we get $125 million from the feds. Where is the $375 that remains coming from? What about the $30 mil a year? You can't just say "new taxes and the general fund." This is not pocket change.

Let's say about $50 million a year to pay for the bond and the operating costs. That's twice as much as we're getting from the citywide ballpark tax. You think a business tax on only the businesses along the H street an Anacostia lines is going to pay for much of that?

In comparison, the ballpark, which many think was a huge boondoggle, looks well planned. We proposed a tax, we sold it with the people who'd be paying it, and we're getting the money.

All we have for the streetcar is an idea that we can find this money somehow. What's the proposed tax? Who would it affect? How much do we currently earn in taxes from the businesses who would be affected? What will you forego from the general fund for the 25% that's just straight from there?

Why isn't anybody worried about this? Do we even have the credit necessary to come up with 500 million in a couple years at any kind of decent interest rate? Our bond rating, which only became excellent last year, is in jeopardy because we've been spending down our reserves like Lindsey Lohan at a designer purse store.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 2:14 pm • linkreport

I just walked out of my office in Glover Park, caught a Circulator down Wisconsin to M and had lunch at Chadwicks. Caught a 32 back up the hill to my office. How do streetcars fit into that scenario? Are they really needed?

by Lou on May 26, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

I just walked out of your office in Glover Park, biked down Wisconsin to M and had lunch at Chadwicks. Biked back up the hill. How do buses fit into that scenario? Are they really needed?

Yes. They would serve different markets and purposes. Just like streetcars and buses.

by Matt Johnson on May 26, 2010 2:31 pm • linkreport

Excellent point Jamie. I have raised this same concern in other blogs and I get responses basically calling me anti-urban, anti-streetcar or whatever. It seems there is like a streetcar mob out there or something. Your comment about our credit rating is right on point and very logical.

Now here come the tomatoes from the streetcar gallery.....

by lime1 on May 26, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

There are a lot of angles to all of this. One that is crazy to me is that the Council seemingly debated that soda tax for a week. But this Streetcar slashing came out of nowhere and was approved very fast. Gray slashed the streetcar money at 2AM and then the Council voted to support the cut by lunch time. That reeks...

by Paul on May 26, 2010 2:37 pm • linkreport

Lou-- according to the 2005 Transit Alternatives Analysis Report (Oct. 2005) the 30s buses are some of the most delayed in the District. There are also many people, especially in Ward 3 who will not ride a bus but who will ride rail, including streetcars.

Additionally, buses, even clean diesel, run on oil, while streetcars are powered by electricity (including natural gas and perhaps renewable sources). After the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with 5K+ barrels of oil per day spilling into the ocean, it should be a priority have transit options that do not require oil.

Finally, streetcars, unlike buses are permanment infstructure improvements that will increase property values in DC by billions of dollars-- bringing new tax revenue to the District:*ACBU_/CoverPageMemoFINAL715.pdf .

So, I would say yes, streetcars really are needed.

by Ben on May 26, 2010 2:38 pm • linkreport

From a political standpoint, this was a smart move by Gray. The total number of people who will actually cast their vote based on the streetcar issue is probably close to the total number of commenters to this post (116 at last count).

This election will not hinge on this issue. Most residents of DC probably have no idea the city was even planning a streetcar system.

But pouring more money down the sinkhole that is the DC system of social programs? That's where the votes are, and have always been.

Think about it:

Washington, Barry, Pratt-Whatever, Barry Redux, Fenty.

You don't win elections in DC, you buy them with social spending. The only mayor that didn't have to do that was Williams, but he had a booming economy to work with.

I was never sold on the streetcars. But I am far less sold on spending even one more dollar on "social programs" that have failed for the last 50 years.

by urbaner on May 26, 2010 2:40 pm • linkreport

Whether you're renovating your bathroom, or building a trolley route, you're an idiot if you start construction before you have enough money to finish the project.

Thankfully, Gray pulled the plug until the money is all available. Once again, he has to be the grown up and say no, there's no money, when Fenty wants a bright shiny toy to show to his friends.

by mtp on May 26, 2010 2:42 pm • linkreport

We don't need any streetcars. Spend the money on buses and road improvements instead. Rail is a generally a boondoggle. If metro weren't already built, I'd say don't build that either. D.C. would have done better if it's full freeway plan envisioned in the 50's had been realized. Commutes from the suburbs would be much easier.

by Stan Jr. on May 26, 2010 2:44 pm • linkreport

Word on the street is Tommy Wells is introducing an amendment this afternoon to reinstate the funds. If you find yourself in support of such an amendment, Sierra Club is Johnny on the spot with a petition to Councilmembers ready to go -

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 2:46 pm • linkreport

The city is in the midst of a budget crisis. Thank goodness there is some leadership on the Council and Vincent Gray recognized the lack of planning undertaken by DDOT for the streetcars. They have no money for the program and planned to take funding from school and firehouse upgrades and Metro to lay a few miles of track. That has been the way Fenty has run his administration -- take money from one program and give it to another or take money from one program and give it to a fraternity brother or give away land to developers in return for a big campaign contribution. Seems like Fenty was paying close attention to the way Barry behaved! So, I look forward to a change in leadership and am happy to know that the streetcars will remain in storage until there is a plan and proper funding for them.


by Karl on May 26, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

Is Tommy Wells going to introduce an amendment that identifies the money to pay for it as well? Or will this just remain funded with imagined money, like it is now, which means it will be completed years behind schedule, if ever?

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 2:50 pm • linkreport

Posted on Planetizen.

by Chris Loos on May 26, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

@Matt, there is no way a streetcar is serving a different market or purpose on Wisconsin when it is sitting with a Circulator in front of it and a Metro bus behind it. It's laughable if that is your argument to support them.

by Lou on May 26, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport


What assumptions, precisely, of the DCAA do you consider so flawed such that they should begin again? It took two years and produced 17 documents totaling over 1200 pages. It wasn't perfect--written in light of Bush-era FTA guidelines it was unfavorable to rail, but lots of the analysis is spot-on. Light rail was eliminated early on because the required platform length and turning radius wouldn't work in DC streets. Underground light rail--seriously? Even a ballpark estimate of the cost of tunneling ought to eliminate anything underground. A sky train? That's about a thousand times as visually intrusive as an overhead wire.

by thm on May 26, 2010 2:56 pm • linkreport

@Ben, could you elaborate on your statement that some folks will ride rail but not bus?

by Lou on May 26, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

I never argued that the streetcar would serve that market. In fact, there are no plans currently to build a streetcar line on Wisconsin Avenue.

I was suggesting that streetcars serve different markets, in that they are a higher capacity, higher speed, development-inducing mode. Because they stop less frequently and will in some cases operate in the left-most travel lane, they won't necessarily be operating nose-to-tail with local-stop buses. See "79 Bus" for example.

With the additional advantage of greater capacity than even the limited stop buses and the ability to induce development. Something that H Street badly needs.

by Matt Johnson on May 26, 2010 2:57 pm • linkreport

Lou- look at these photos from BeyondDC: .

Streetcars absolutely serve a diffrence market than buses, even the Circulator bus. People will ride streetcars who wouldn't consider riding the bus. The improvement in comfort significantly better.

by Ben on May 26, 2010 3:03 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson, everything I can find indicates that streetcars that share roads with cars operate, at best, about 15% faster than buses.

Their capacity is not that much more than a double bus, and in fact their design which appears to be a single 168? passenger car is not especially efficient. We have at least three different sized buses that I can think of, to serve the different needs of routes, and even the same routes at different times of day. There is nothing efficient about a 168-passenger streetcar with 10 people on it, as will certainly be the case for much of the day.

Finally, there is no reason why a buss cannot stop with the same frequency as a railcar. We have express buses already.

Streetcars cost more to build, more to operate, and offer only marginal increases in transit speed compared to buses.

The argument that they produce economic development is valid, but the value of that development is highly debatable, especially in areas where it is obvious that much investment and development is already underway.

You can't argue benefits without putting a dollar figure on it. Nookie put a dollar figure on the value of the development around Metro, above, which makes a very weak case for the value of the development we're likely to see around streetcar lines.

While I agree that all things being equal, more people will ride a streetcar than a bus, all things are not equal. The streetcar costs a fortune and is much less flexible than buses.

Likewise, there are a lot of things that we could be doing to increase bus ridership. Look what Catoe did in LA. Why aren't we interested in putting any significant money behind our existing infrastructure which has lots of room for improvement?


by Jamie on May 26, 2010 3:07 pm • linkreport

Lou-- rail, including streetcars, lack the stigma that buses have. Passengers will walk 4-10 minutes further to ride rail instead of buses: . There have been links posted on this blog for other studies demonstrating this stigma. This is especially true with many of the more discretionary, affluent riders in Ward 3.

by Ben on May 26, 2010 3:08 pm • linkreport

Anyone who wants to get involved in saving the progress this city is making (and the streetcar project too), should probably look to make sure Adrian Fenty gets re-elected (I never thought I would say that). The website is: I just ordered a yard sign, but you can volunteer too. Lets not let the city slip back to the 80's again.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

"Lets not let the city slip back to the 80's again."

Too late. See: parks & rec scandal, OTR scandal, travel scandal... well, shoot.

Just google "adrian fenty scandal." 43,600 hits. He's about to edge out "marion barry scandal" on google, at 47,700 hits.

It looks like 250K is what you need to get indicted though; "blagojevich scandal" has 248,000. I'd say another four years ought to about do it since ol' roddy took office way back in 2003, four years before Fenty.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 3:16 pm • linkreport

The "stigma" argument just does not justify the cost in my opinion. People need to get over stigmas, and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that the stigma is something related to green energy aspects and not something else.

by Lou on May 26, 2010 3:18 pm • linkreport

Stan Jr. with some serious trolling attempts.

by NikolasM on May 26, 2010 3:28 pm • linkreport

Lou, whatever the moral implications of the stigma, it exists. It sucks, but it exists. Build the system to best serve the stigmas you have, not the stigmas you want - that is how the old saying goes, right?

As for streetcars costing more to operate, I think Beyond DC has had posts in the past discussing how buses actually cost more over the long-term, due to their shorter life-span and the wear and tear on roads. Streetcars most certainly have a higher up-front cost, though, but I challenge the assumption that they cost more to operate.

by The AMT on May 26, 2010 3:37 pm • linkreport

The Washington Post reports that the Streetcar funding has been restored.

Thanks to all who emailed, tweeted, called, and so on. Please make sure to thank the Council.

by Matt Johnson on May 26, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

Just google "adrian fenty scandal." 43,600 hits. He's about to edge out "marion barry scandal" on google, at 47,700 hits.

Not to put too fine a point on it what?

Barry wasn't reviled because he occasionally steered a contract or three towards someone who was in a black fraternity (are there any successful black male college graduates who weren't?). Barry was reviled because he was smoking crack and banging prostitutes while the District burned to the ground.

I remember when MPD officers were buying tires for their squad cars. I remember reading a Post article where the author went to DOH for some documents and the employees were f*cking barbecuing inside the office at noon with the windows open.

Your comparison is a bit like accusing the new king of being "just like Sauron" because he wears a ring.

by oboe on May 26, 2010 3:39 pm • linkreport

The focus of many of the comments has just been on H Street but I'd like to ask Vince Gray how the 13,000+ employees at the new Dept. of Homeland Security headquarters at the redeveloped Saint Elizabeth's campus will get to work now? The streetcars are even more important to the development of Anacostia.

by Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 26, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

Okay, so this is a very fresh wound. However, in an effort to facilitate a good debate I am going to address two repeating issues within these comments:
- the timing of the budget cuts; I've worked in OMB for many years and I can assure you that this is not what budget transparency looks like...this is opaque at best. An honest member doesn't push through sweeping changes at 2:00am. Gray pulled one over for whatever reason - Washingtonian have a definite right to be offended on this one. Furthermore, a smart political move would have been to continue the current growth/work in some manner while incorporating a planning process that oversaw the growth of the streetcar lines. As Mr. Gray has pointed out the completion date is in the future and there is time to correct deficiencies along the way. This was a very novice political move and could very well cost him the election if Fenty plays his cards right. I feel this way because this isn't the same Washington that elected Marion Barry - it's not worlds different, but it is different nonetheless.
- Streetcar funding - without a viable funding platform in place the streetcar program will inevitably fail on its own. For those who have addressed these concerns you are correct. However, there is no one that can deny that Metro has become the life line of this city - there is something intangible about rail systems that define a city. These are the tough political jobs - determining a way to preserve the best compromise possible. Instead of axing the program for a $5M study (why has no one indicated that this is a very high figure for planning studies) why not create a compromise?

I'm simply disappointed today. Perhaps it was that streetcars represented a new direction and, with that, the beginnings of a new DC (not a new VA or new MD...a new DC). Perhaps with the diverted monies we can lure in another chain restaurant or department store.

by Lloyd on May 26, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

@oboe I wasn't really being serious about that as an effective way to evaluate someone's sinisterness. But anyone who thinks that Fenty has clean hands is seriously deluded.

Frankly, I preferred the Barry days. Then, as now, we had back scratching, cronysim, rampant hiring of buddies as employees and contractors, and so on. But back then we also got entertainment from our mayor. That man put a smile on my face at the same time as I groaned with each blatant violation of federal racketeering laws. Fenty's just a douchebag. There's no laugh factor. Win: Barry.

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 3:42 pm • linkreport

It appears that the decision has been reversed...

WaPo is reporting the the funding has been restored after the counsel was innondated with messages regarding the streetcar funding.
I appreciate the quick reaction and compromise on Gray's part; however, this instance really begs the question if he is Mayoral material? He was very fast to cave on a tough that really what we want running the city? I can see both sides of the coin here - I think there are a myriad of planning and funding concerns that need addressed; however, proposing budgets at 2:00am only to come back on them at 4:00pm speaks to a type of politics I don't care for.

by Lloyd on May 26, 2010 3:51 pm • linkreport

By the way that story about the barbecuing in the office is awesome. Exactly my point.

Fenty? All he does is refuse to answer the question when reporters ask him about, well, anything. Apart from the obvious concerns that every citizen should have about a mayor who doesn't think he has any obligation to answer any questions about his activities, it's just no fun. Where's the barbecues? Where's the free sandwiches if you vote for me?

The best possible tee-shirt I can imagine is "I paid $500 million in taxes and all I got was this stupid 168-seat diner." It's a far cry from "bitch set me up."

by Jamie on May 26, 2010 3:54 pm • linkreport

Gray = Fail

1) Introduction of measure at 2:00AM
2) Catering to a select group of residents who clearly have his ear (the Committee of 100)
3) Caving on said issue rather than sticking with his convictions.

I am not a Fenty fan, but this will probably solidify my vote for him and affirm his administration.

by William on May 26, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport

despite the decision being reversed, i ask everyone to NOT forget that this was attempted by vince gray in a fashion that the voters wouldn't find out about it until it was too late.

just because he quickly reversed course after receiving thousands of calls doesn't mean that he wouldn't continue this type of political maneuvering in the future.

i've said it before, and i'll say it again. fenty may not deserve to win the election, but gray certainly deserves to lose it.

by never forget on May 26, 2010 3:56 pm • linkreport


@oboe I wasn't really being serious about that as an effective way to evaluate someone's sinisterness. But anyone who thinks that Fenty has clean hands is seriously deluded.

Ah, ok. Sorry, I have a poor sense of irony when it comes to Barry. I agree with the entertainment factor, though I'd prefer we wait until we're a bit further out of the Long Crisis (i.e. 1960-present. Maybe we can hold off on electing another vaudeville clown until my daughter's out of DCPS.

by oboe on May 26, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

You people can debate the budget crisis all you like. They started the damn thing and they should finish the damn thing. The business's on H street have been suffering the construction for how long now? If we did so for nothing I know a lot of people who work and live along and around the H street corridor who will want blood - beginning with Vincent Gray's.

by Mark on May 26, 2010 3:59 pm • linkreport

My sister totaled her car in the intersection of H St. and 3rd. She didn't realize that the middle lane of opposing traffic was closed for streetcar track construction. She rarely drives in D.C. So there were two lanes opposing and she was making a left turn thinking there was just a single lane to deal with. She made the turn and a car was there and couldn't stop in time... slammed into her and totaled her car. The person in the other car went to the hospital. Her fault- but the construction definitely contributed to the situation. I went to the scene to help her out and as we were standing there, people drove by and told the police that there were accidents there all the time.

If all of that happened for nothing then that would make me (and my sister) very, very mad. Not to mention the H St. neighborhood would be up in arms. Thank you GGW and those that called!

by TimW on May 26, 2010 4:11 pm • linkreport

Glad to hear that funding has been restored. I wasn't able to get through by phone, so I emailed every staff member in Gray's office this morning. No response yet.

Watching the tracks go in has been exciting, even with the knowledge that streetcars won't be running immediately. Residents and business owners are looking forward to the opening of the line as a real milestone for the neighborhood, and I'm sure that it has been responsible for encouraging a lot of the recent businesses that have opened in the past year or so. It would be a real slap in the face to have it cancelled or delayed again.

by Matthias on May 26, 2010 4:48 pm • linkreport

It's amazing what happens when hipsters think their expensive toys are going to be taken away. 5 years behind schedule, going on 6...

by MPC on May 26, 2010 4:52 pm • linkreport

Sarah Campbell, call your office. Meg Maguire left a message for you, and she's pissed. Although not half so pissed as the Chairman is.

by Trulee Pist on May 26, 2010 7:10 pm • linkreport

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