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Streetcars will "bridge the gaps"

The Transport Politic's Yonah Freemark created some terrific maps of DC's proposed streetcar network showing how streetcars will fill in the gaps between Metrorail lines.

Quarter- and half-mile radii around Metrorail stations (left) and proposed streetcar lines (right). Images by Yonah Freemark.

Freemark also created a great map showing the streetcar lines and Metrorail lines. As I've argued many times before, the Metrorail map forms many visitors' and new residents' view of the District. If one of the goals of the streetcar system is to bring tourists and casual travelers from around the region to areas we want strong economic growth, DC has to create a new iconic conception that includes these areas and the lines that lead to them. They could start by adding the Circulators.

Image by Yonah Freemark.
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'll definitely admit that I got a little giddy and geeked out when I saw these maps. I really enjoy yonah's site. He also recently talked about the plans to update the rails between raleigh and richmond as well.

by Canaan on Jun 5, 2010 10:27 am • linkreport

I love the Neutra font too!

by Reid on Jun 5, 2010 10:44 am • linkreport

Adding in the names of streets would make these maps infinitely more useful ... since a destination invariably involves a street address or location. I mean, when you make a doctor's appt for example, you're not going to be told 'Dr. Schwartz is located at the Farragut North Metro Stop' ... you're going to be given a street address. Using only station names assumes the user already knows all the streets near the station he/she is going to. Someone new to the city wouldn't.

by Lance on Jun 5, 2010 12:15 pm • linkreport

@Lance, adding names of streets would make these maps "infinitely" busier and much harder to use. Besides, how hard is it for your hypothetical patient to ask: "which Metro stop are you near?"

by Craig on Jun 5, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

I've been thinking lately, and this map reinforces it, that the planned streetcar network is inadequate. This is an investment for the next 50 years. If we're not planning for high ridership in at least some of these areas 25 years from now, we're not planning for a future that will be adequately green and transit-oriented.

For instance, I don't see why the Columbia Pike line isn't a new Metro line. It's already an area clogged with bus, vehicle, and bike/ped traffic. Bailey's Crossroads could easily be the next Falls Church, ending the line at Annandale or Burke -- a comparable distance from the core as Vienna or Franconia (~15 mi). The Orange Line is crush-crowded as it is and the Silver Line will only do a little to relieve that as population continues to grow along the line. If we want a serious alternative to road expansion, this is one.

Other lines may not warrant Metro expansion, but are too important to operate in mixed traffic.

Then there are the missing lines -- nothing on 16th or 14th St.? Given the existing bus crowding there, I don't think bus priority measures will make enough progress, short of a reserved lane. Even then, there's enough ridership to warrant a higher-throughput mode. It may not do much to spur economic development in new areas, but it'd do wonders for traffic, emissions, and quality of life.

Plus there are a few missed opportunities, like not connecting the Georgetown line to Rosslyn.

by Gavin on Jun 5, 2010 1:52 pm • linkreport

I'll keep griping just a bit more: Missed connection to National Harbor. Freemark points out: missed connection to Silver Spring, still no rail on Wisconsin, trainsets that may be too short on some lines. I think there could be value in a north-south connection in Arlington (and maybe Alexandria/Fairfax), along the Glebe or King St/Leesburg Pike corridors (cf. the crowded 23A). There are probably good opportunities in Maryland, too, including the nascent CCT.

In sum: existing streetcar plans are a good start, and kudos to their proponents in government. But they're not a replacement for Metro expansion, light rail, and commuter rail expansion (not to mention bus and bike/ped improvements); and the streetcars could be improved a bit even considered on their own terms.

Don't get complacent, people -- let's keep pushing!

by Gavin on Jun 5, 2010 2:16 pm • linkreport

Gavin made some great points. To add to it, I don't quite get the fascination with streetcars as a mode of mass transit. It seems to be the latest hype that a lot of cities are falling for. I live in San Francisco and we have both historic streetcars and surface light-rail lines. The former is geared toward tourists (at soon to be $5 a ride) and the latter is supposed to be some kind of version of mass transit. Both modes are incredibly slow, especially when light-rail shares the street with cars and other transit. Streetcars are cute if you're gearing it toward tourists. If you're thinking of it in terms of bus or heavy rail substitution then forget about it.

In my opinion if we're thinking 10 to 25 years out, emphasis should be spent on improving bus lines in some of these proposed streetcar plans and getting funds together for a separated blue/orange line in the district. Also, as Gavin pointed out, extending metro along the columbia pike corridor is essential. Finally, where is the connection on Wisconsin Ave.?

by Mark on Jun 5, 2010 2:33 pm • linkreport

You guys talk like financing isn't a factor. DDOT is incredibly ambitious with these recent plans, don't yell at them for not fulfilling all of your geek fantasies (don't worry, they're mine too). Wait till what they've proposed gets built and then complain about 16th street or Wisconsin. Also consider the lack of investment potential along both of those corridors. More funding for express busses is a far superior option

by Bellyofthebeast on Jun 5, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

@Mark-- we're advocating for a streetcar route up Wisc Avenue, connecting the K Street/Benning Road route with the Tenley and Friendship Heights metro stations. We've been building community support and getting the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in Wards 2 and 3 along Wisconsin Avenue to support this route.

by WIsconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on Jun 5, 2010 5:25 pm • linkreport

@ Craig

I agree it would take space to put all street names on a map but they could.

Some street names/ other things be added without making it busier.

Take the current map with separate lines for each color those could be merge to have one line with alternating colors suchas blue/orange, green/yellow, blue/yellow like a candy cane.

It would reduce space needed for lines and when the lines split the could go back to one line = one color.

Add streets every 10 or 20 blocks or so; take the number streets add them where stations are so basically where

Capitol Hgts station is show 61st street on the map, then 45th street for Benning RD station, 19th for Stadium Armory and so forth your not taking up much space since your only showing streets only every 10-20 blocks and for downtown only show main streets.

Or show streets on the map with very light ink almost white that one would only be able to see if they are right up against the map. If your more than 1 foot away it looks like a normal map but up close you can see everything.

The space used for the maps could be bigger take the trains the maps are small in some areas and other are large with giant borders around them.

If the maps were placed edge to edge in that space more things could be placed on to it. There also always of adding maps to the ceiling of buses and trains

by kk on Jun 5, 2010 5:58 pm • linkreport


Show some street names/other things could be added without making it busier.

There also is the option of adding maps to the ceiling of buses and trains

by kk on Jun 5, 2010 6:10 pm • linkreport

By adding any streets other than just those that intersect at the metro stop, the metro map would have to look completely different. If you look at a to-scale map of the metro system, you can tell how different one with streets would be from the one we have now.

by Cameron on Jun 5, 2010 6:30 pm • linkreport

Clearly, we need a streetcar over Key Bridge to alleviate the congestion in the metro tunnel.

Zimmerman, come on, knock some heads around and make VDOT, DDOT, WMATA and Art talk about this. A line from east of the Anacostia to Georgetown is a fantastic start, but we all know this line needs to go across the bridge and along Rt 50.

By the way, have I not been paying attention, or have I missed the Pavlov reactions from Georgetown that a line from east of the Anacostia River surely is going to not only bring wires to Georgetown, but also rifraf and criminals?

BTW: clicking on the pic does not give me a larger version.

by Jasper on Jun 5, 2010 10:24 pm • linkreport

Jasper: By the way, have I not been paying attention, or have I missed the Pavlov reactions from Georgetown that a line from east of the Anacostia River surely is going to not only bring wires to Georgetown, but also rifraf and criminals?

Surely you haven't ridden San Francisco's streetcars and trams (MUNI trains). They're loaded with riff-raff like tourists and commuters.

by Chuck Coleman on Jun 6, 2010 7:57 am • linkreport

@ Chuck: I've ridden the SF hop-on-and-off streetcars as well as the BART. However, since I've only spent about 20 hours in SF, I can't say much about it other than that I liked the city and thought the payment structure of the BART was confusing. Sadly, we in DC have found a way to make things even more complex than that. We're the Capital of the US after all. If something's confusing, we can make it more confusing.

by Jasper on Jun 6, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

"By the way, have I not been paying attention, or have I missed the Pavlov reactions from Georgetown that a line from east of the Anacostia River surely is going to not only bring wires to Georgetown, but also rifraf and criminals?"

Nice stereotyping. Too bad it's inaccurate. The Georgetown ANC just passed a unanimous resolution supporting the streetcars.

by T on Jun 6, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

@T: It is not inaccurate. One unanimous vote does not make a transit friendly open neighborhood. They're still on the fence on the wire thing, which makes their vote easily retractable. It's Georgetown. 330 years of trying to stop progress is not wiped out by one vote.

by Jasper on Jun 7, 2010 10:02 am • linkreport

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