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Barry surprised at streetcar plan from Barry mayoralty

During the streetcar debate, Councilmember Marion Barry (Ward 8) has repeatedly expressed puzzlement that a streetcar is planned on H Street. He seems to think the idea suddenly appeared out of the blue. However, he shouldn't be surprised: his own administration published a plan with that very project in 1997.

Photo by dbking on Flickr.

During Tuesday's discussion of the streetcar overhead wire emergency legislation, Barry criticized the way, as he saw it, H Street suddenly appeared on the streetcar plan after not being "part of the discussion." His comments start at 1:26:05 on OCT's recording:

I support streetcars. what I don't support ... is this haphazard way of planning. ... 37 miles of streetcar. No involvement from the community, no involvement from anybody except themselves. ... Originally as I understand it ... it would be Georgia Avenue and Anacostia. And so all of a sudden we have H Street which was not part of the discussion and we have some other areas.
This is a repeat of some of his comments from the May 26 debate when streetcars were being cut and later restored (at 24:18):
Our original plan was to go from Bolling Air Force Base down to Anacostia station. ... Down Martin Luther King, up Good Hope Road, and maybe across the 11th Street bridge to Capitol Hill. All of a sudden I hear from somewhere that H Street is on the agenda.
The H Street streetcar is a brand-new idea that suddenly appeared? Mr. Barry had never heard of the concept?

If that's right, then Mr. Barry must not have ever read the 1997 transportation plan published by the government of the District of Columbia, Marion Barry, Mayor. That plan shows a streetcar on H Street, but no streetcar at all in Anacostia.

Click for photograph of full version.

The only things the Barry Administration had in mind for River East, besides the end of the Benning Road line, was some municipal parking for commuters, a freeway extension, truck-to-rail intermodal centers (the brown targets), some truck routes, and a trail connecting the fort parks. Here's the complete page, including the key.

Since then, a streetcar did get planned for Anacostia, and it's still being built. Despite Councilmember Barry's confusion, it's still going to go to Anacostia station, and eventually across the 11th Street bridge. It just won't go to Bolling, because that doesn't help any of the residents of Ward 8, and almost nobody would ride it.

A lot of people seem to have gotten the idea that the streetcars have had no planning. As this plan shows, that planning dates to 1997. Since then, there have been two very exhaustive reports, in 2005 and 2010, which streetcar head Scott Kubly said cost about a million dollars to make. The latest one includes station locations, costs, ridership estimates, and economic development analyses of each potential line segment. (Unless people haven't read the report because the DDOT site makes viewing PDFs so unpleasant.)

It's true that before Kubly took over the streetcar program, communication was pretty poor. The streetcar line in Anacostia got rerouted several times with very little public debate or awareness. But more recently, DDOT has been planning up a storm.

The only problem is that many elected officials seem not to be reading the plans. At the hearing on the overhead wire bill, Councilmember Phil Mendelson asked me several questions about the H Street line which he said hadn't been planned. The only problem was, the answers to his questions were in the voluminous packet of information DDOT had sent to the Council in response to their questions.

And despite Councilmember Barry's impression, there have been numerous DDOT public forums about streetcars. Again, it took a while; B.K. (Before Kubly), the Sierra Club spent almost a year trying to get DDOT officials to talk about streetcars. But starting with the August 7, 2009 community meeting, there has been substantial community involvement and many community meetings in all eight wards.

DDOT representatives have attended ANC and citizens' association meetings from Georgetown to Trinidad, and even upper Connecticut Avenue neighborhoods that aren't even slated for a streetcar but want one. Here's an announcement for a November 2009 meeting in Anacostia. Was Councilmember Barry there?

In project after project, no matter how much public outreach government officials do, some people still insist that they never heard about the meetings and there wasn't enough consultation. In this case, DDOT is moving quickly, and many people seem to mistake moving quickly for lack of planning. Those of us who keep up with the streetcar plans feel there is plenty of planning. If people haven't bothered to read the plans, well, I encourage it. They're pretty good.

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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Those decades are a little hazy for the former Mayor.

by William on Jul 1, 2010 11:43 am • linkreport

Not surprised that crackhead Barry is surprised. He spent most of the '80s and '90s in a drug-induced haze. His only lucid moments were used for drug purchases. Today his senility is just an added side-effect.

by Barry fan on Jul 1, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

"The Bitch set me up"

by DCplan on Jul 1, 2010 11:47 am • linkreport

You think it's odd that Barry didn't remember a transportation plan from 1997? I'd have been shocked if he DID remember.

Slow news day, David?

by dcd on Jul 1, 2010 11:56 am • linkreport

Well if Barry is trying to gum up the works by throwing out BS like this, it is imperative that he gets called out on it.

by NikolasM on Jul 1, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

Getting the 'red x' for the enlarged image...

by Froggie on Jul 1, 2010 12:46 pm • linkreport

Thanks. It's fixed.

by David Alpert on Jul 1, 2010 12:51 pm • linkreport

There's even a plan for a Metro line through Georgetown!

by Teyo on Jul 1, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.

by Denny on Jul 1, 2010 12:57 pm • linkreport

Somehow, I supspect that the streetcars are going to become our own Second Avenue Subway...

The only thing to come of fruition on that map is the NY Ave Metro station.

by andrew on Jul 1, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

Barry never paid a wits worth of attention to the transportation planning DPW (at that time) was doing. He basically ignored some very innovative work (for the time) and public involvement led by Cel Bernadino when he was DPW director. H Street has been on working documents for at least 15 years.

Getting to Anacostia was the hard nut to crack for streetcars because no one was willing to proposed another bridge across the Anacostia river in the aftermath of the Barney Circle freeway debacle.

by Contrarian on Jul 1, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

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

by Scrooge McDuck on Jul 1, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

That New York Ave line seems like a good idea for people that live off of Bladensburg RD, South Dakota Ave, Eastern Avenues and other places in that general area. Why is there no transit on New York Ave except for the 96 one block and P6 seven blocks

Fully support adding Southern Ave between Branch Ave & Naylor Rd.

Too bad the plan for Georgia Ave/7th Street was never done.

by kk on Jul 1, 2010 4:38 pm • linkreport

@David The only problem was, the answers to his questions were in the voluminous packet of information DDOT had sent to the Council in response to their questions.

Have YOU bothered to read that response? ... There's a lot of muckty-muck dancing around the questions, with answers such as 'we plan to study this aspect of your question', or the like. But no real substantive responses to probably 90% of the questions.

by Lance on Jul 1, 2010 7:45 pm • linkreport

Yes, I have read it. That's why at the hearing I brought it up in response to Mendelson's questions.

It seems adequately detailed for a project at this phase of development. In real transportation projects, all minor details are not always decided before the contracts are awarded.

by David Alpert on Jul 1, 2010 7:57 pm • linkreport

In reference to one of the funding sources being a special tax assessement on owners of property adjacent to and near to the streetcar routes Question 3(c) asks:

Has there been any evaluation of: the amount and timing of such an assessment?

For the purposes of planning DDOT assumed that the amount would be sufficient to fund the network on a pay-go basis. This means that the proposed assessment is higher but assessed for a shorter duration than if this funding source was bonded against.

This is typical of the answers. There are some pretty big 'details' left unanswered ... and unevaluated. Big enough to suck us down a black hole financially. And ensure the streetcar 'system' goes nowhere but 'up and down H St NE' ... not even reaching Union Station ...

by Lance on Jul 1, 2010 11:40 pm • linkreport

And David, you can't have it both ways. It seems adequately detailed for a project at this phase of development. ... Either it has been being planned since 1997 (and is at the stage of developement to require a detailed plan .. or at least more detailed than what we're seeing so clearly in the typical answer above) or ... it needs more planning before any more track is laid. You can't have it both ways.

by Lance on Jul 1, 2010 11:44 pm • linkreport

Lance: Absolutely not true. For example, last night I attended a presentation on the 7000 series Metro railcars. They've been planning since 2006 for these, and will be giving Kawasaki the Notice to Proceed very soon.

However, they still haven't finalized the exact location of the grab bars, or which seat covering to use, because part of the process involves getting a test car and trying it out with riders to see what works, and getting input once the test cars are in.

That's not a lack of planning, it's just that when you do projects like this, not every single detail has to be worked out well ahead of time. You just have to work out enough details to be confident that you know what you're building and that you want it. DDOT has.

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2010 7:13 am • linkreport

While some of the objections about lack of planning reflect simple opposition to the project, I suspect even more of the objections reflect an outdated view of how project planning should be done.

The traditional, 20th century view is that project managers hold endless meetings with stakeholders to gather requirements and create a detailed plan as the first stage of any project (the Big Design Up Front method). And even though the vast majority of major projects are delivered very late, over-budget and lacking many requirements that popped up during the project, we still insist that projects be done this way.

Architects are switching to design-build, software managers are switching to agile methodologies, and project managers in other industries are finally adopting lean practices. Because no amount of feedback to a paper plan is nearly as valuable as observing how people actually use a product, and during the years it takes to create your Big Design Up Front many requirements change.

Gabe Klein comes from the business world and has said several times he wants to run DDOT like a business. So, I'm not surprised he put a single bike lane out there with less "stakeholder input" than his predecessor might have, because the use of the initial bike lane was the input and the lessons learned will reduce rework costs and improve quality for all future lanes. The same is true for the streetcar. The use of the initial streetcar line is essential input into the design of the rest of the streetcar network, far more meaningful than feedback to the 300-page plan that DDOT circulates for stakeholder feedback.

Klein is creating a more agile DDOT that may be a model for other transportation agencies going forward.

by Ken Archer on Jul 2, 2010 8:30 am • linkreport

@David, the things you mention truly are ‘details’. I’m talking about the lack of planning in much more substantial ways. An analogy would be a couple desiring to buy a home. It’s one thing for them to ‘wait till after purchase’ to decide if they’re going to build out that extra bedroom over the garage, or whether they might want to re-do a bathroom or two or even the kitchen based on how things go after they move in. It’s quiet another to start laying a foundation for that house (i.e., ‘tracks’) before they’ve done some leg work to decide where they want to live, what kind of property they want/need/can afford (e.g., single family, townhouse, condo), and most importantly how they’re going to be able to pay for the house they want to purchase. DDOT hasn’t done the second. They’ve started laying tracks without any of the planning required to determine, what kind of system (they bought wire-powered cars when if they’d taken a minute to read the law they’d have known that wires aren’t allowed), where it’s going to go (the comprehensive plan should be leading this and not trailing it since it is the overarching law that determines where development is supposed to happen, etc.) and most importantly, how they’re going to pay for any of this … as evidenced by the made scramble this year to divert funding from schools, libraries, and social services to pay for the H Street leg. The ‘planning’ they have in place wouldn’t qualify a business for small bank loan. At a minimum, a bank would require a business plan. As you can see in the ‘answer’ I posted above, they don’t even have one in place for how they’re going to pay for that initial segment … and no, ‘ For the purposes of planning DDOT assumed that the amount would be sufficient to fund the network on a pay-go basis.’ is not a business plan. And please, you’ve got to stop calling stuff like that ‘details’, it’s not. It’s major and substantive pre-requisites to a system that will cost well over $1.5 Billion once all is said and done if it ever gets past this first phase due to the demonstrated lack of planning.

by Lance on Jul 2, 2010 9:02 am • linkreport

closing parens

by Lance on Jul 2, 2010 9:03 am • linkreport

The things Mendelson was referring to was where to put the maintenance facility. That sounds analogous to where to put the washer and dryer instead of where to lay the foundation.

You keep saying DDOT bought wire powered cars without knowing how to run them. False. They bought the cars for the Anacostia line which allows wires. No cars have been bought for H Street yet. But now the law allows wires there.

They know where it's going to go. There's a map with lines. Other than changes which might come up 5, 10, or more years down the road as things evolve (which happened with Metro too), we know where it's going to go.

How to pay for it? There was a pot of money supposed to go to Metro for capital but which wasn't because of the FTA. That was what was going to be used. Plus the administration had identified some projects they didn't need to spend money on. That's how budgeting works. They had a plan for paying for it, and the plan was in the budget.

by David Alpert on Jul 2, 2010 9:18 am • linkreport

If you think Barry is against this for any other reason than he thinks this would bring higher RE prices and therefore make it harder for black residents to live along H ST or the corollary, because it benefits "gentrifiers", you're a fool.

by Jimbo on Jul 2, 2010 11:25 am • linkreport

@Ken Archer - thanks for the tutorial. @DA - thanks for your succinct answers.

by Bianchi on Jul 2, 2010 11:40 am • linkreport

That was during the Control Board era, Barry didnot control that department. The District has some serious plans for light rail, but what is going on now is gimmicky stuff and "show and tell". This is the same gimmicky approach to transit development that has Metro in a mess now. BTW, just raising real estate values has not been shown to result in good development. One of the reasaon there are so many empty store fronts in new developments. Because of this the only people coming into retial spaces are "bars" and chains.

by W Jordan on Jul 2, 2010 5:40 pm • linkreport

@W Jordan, That's a good point. I'd forgotten that the Control Board had taken on direct responsibility for managing many departments during the control board era. There's always the 'joke' that Barry was left with just 'Parks and Rec' to manage. I wonder if that's true. Incidentally, for those that weren't around back then, this meant that Williams (prior to becoming mayor) as the head of the Control Board was the defacto mayor for all those parts of the District government not managed by the Barry administration. I'd suspect that Transportation ... then a part of DPW I think, wouldn't have been under Barry. It is funny though how this entire post is based on the false assumption that because Barry was mayor then that he somehow had any control or influence over transportation issues ... The bigger story here is what the District did back then to get us to that point ... and how it's being repeated now.

by Lance on Jul 2, 2010 7:33 pm • linkreport

@Ken Archer: agree 100%, as a practioner of agile software development. Government projects don't have to be slow and bogged down in paperwork just because they're government.

by Brian White on Jul 4, 2010 10:11 pm • linkreport

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