Posts about H Street
Simply put, the H Street streetcar goes from Union Station to the Anacostia River. But really its route is more complex.
This unofficial schematic shows the line in much more detail, including where it runs in the curb lane versus the middle lane, where there are track crossovers, and the layout of the railyard.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
For streetcars to move through traffic, rail tracks have to be free of parked cars. To keep them that way, the rules of the road must be crystal clear for drivers.
Last week DDOT used a truck for a test-run of the H Street streetcar route, and because of illegally parked cars, the going was slow. But other cities with similar streetcar layouts, like Seattle and Portland, have had a lot of success keeping their lanes clear. How do they do it?
With constant and clear communication to drivers, like the sign pictured here, and with strong enforcement.
Any time you take pavement away from cars, there's a learning curve. Drivers accustomed to doing as they please have to change behavior. That's to be expected, and it doesn't happen on the first day you run your first test truck. But most drivers do fall in line, once they understand what's changed. That's how streetcars have worked in other cities.
And if all else fails, ticketing cameras mounted on streetcars, like in San Francisco, would solve any remaining problem in a hurry.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
As of this morning, the first streetcar wires are up on H Street.
DDOT began stringing head span wires this morning around 7:00 am. Head span wires run perpendicular to the tracks. They're different than the contact wires, which run parallel to the tracks and directly power trains. The contact wires will go up next, in the coming weeks.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
When the new Rosslyn Metro entrance opened earlier this week, it became the first in what will be an exciting string of big transit projects opening in the DC region. Still to come: Metro, MARC, streetcars, and BRT.
From left to right: Alexandria's BRT, MARC, Silver Line, DC streetcar.
BRT and Metro photos from Alexandria and Fairfax County.
MARC and streetcar photos from BeyondDC.
The next big event will be on December 7, when MARC trains begin running on weekends between DC and Baltimore. MARC's transition from a commuter railroad to a more general-purpose transit system will open up Baltimore and other parts of Maryland like never before.
After that come streetcars. Sometime in late December, or possibly January, DDOT expects to start running streetcars along H Street. Then in February, the Silver Line will open, and begin carrying passengers to Tysons Corner and Wiehle Avenue.
Finally, sometime in the spring of 2014 Alexandria will open its Route 1 transitway, marking the beginning of the first bona fide bus rapid transit line in the region. All together, it's the most exciting time for transit openings in the DC area since the early 1980s, when Metrorail was opening new segments every few months.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
DDOT thinks they may be able to build a 22-mile streetcar system in just 5 years. Is that really possible?
Although DC has planned a 37-mile streetcar network, planners are currently focusing strongly on the first 22 miles. The H Street line is under construction and in the home stretch, while planning has started for the crosstown line and the north-south line.
Project spokesman Dara Ward says DDOT hopes to build the 22-mile system in 5 years. That's optimistic, but possible.
Streetcars are relatively easy to build. Actual construction can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the specifics. Planning and engineering take a couple of years as well. But if funding is ready, there's no controversy, and everything moves along on schedule, 5 years is about how long it should take.
If that seems impossible based on how long it's taken H Street, remember that H Street is atypical. DDOT installed streetcar tracks there in 2009, years before the planning was really done, because they were rebuilding the street anyway and didn't want to go to the expense of tearing it up twice.
So really H Street planning and construction came in two separate phases. Each phase took a couple of years. If it had all been done at once, it wouldn't have started until more recently, and likely could have been done within about 5 years.
It does often take longer. But usually the big holdups are politics or funding. Those issues can tie any project up for decades. And the first line is always the hardest.
But after discussing streetcars for years, DC seems to have the money and politics pretty well worked out. If they stay the course and focus strongly on moving forward, 5 years is doable.
Difficult and optimistic, yes. But not a complete fantasy.
Update: DDOT spokesperson Dara Ward clarifies that the 5 year estimate is for construction only, and doesn't begin until planning is complete. - 10.1.2013Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
At first glance, the tree at the northeast corner of 8th and K Streets, NE appears to be buried in asphalt. The truth is much more interesting.
To comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, DDOT rebuilt the intersection of West Virginia Avenue NE, 8th Street and K Street in the H Street neighborood. This intersection is a busy transfer point between the 90 and D Metrobus lines and has a lot of foot traffic.
DDOT has installed modern curb ramps at all pedestrian crossings, and they've repaired the concrete in order to smooth out some potentially dangerous bumps. The elderly and disabled now have a smoother path to get from bus to bus as they travel across town.
(It would be nice if DDOT would restripe the crosswalks with higher-visibility zebra/piano striping, but perhaps that's a subject for another blog post.)
Within the project limits, there were two trees whose roots were lifting the sidewalk. This created dangerous tripping hazards and the narrowed sidewalks made it difficult for those in wheelchairs to use the sidewalk.
Instead of concrete, construction workers have used porous pavement in these areas that extend all the way around each tree. This makes the sidewalks a bit wider, eliminates the need to trim weeds around the base of the trees, and allows more water to filter through the ground to the trees' roots.
It will be interesting to see how well this pavement works, and if we'll be seeing it used more widely around town in the near future.
It's going to be the summer of streetcar in DC, with increasingly rapid progress visible on H Street and at the vehicle testing site in Anacostia.
At last week's streetcar community fair, DDOT representatives presented the timeline for vehicle testing, gave line-by-line construction and planning status updates, and showed images of streetcar station signs, power substations, the car barn, and more. The fair was one of the largest releases of new information in the program's history.
Vehicle testing timeline
Workers at the streetcar testing and commissioning site on South Capitol Street have already started testing the mechanics and electronics of the 3 Czech-built streetcars currently in DC. They'll begin dynamic testing around July 15, meaning that's when streetcars will actually begin to move along track.
Around August 1, the 3 streetcars will be turned over to DDOT's operations and maintenance team for a month of crew training, before they're moved to H Street for on-site testing
around August 30 this autumn.
The first of the 3 new US-built United Streetcar vehicles is expected to arrive and begin testing in September.
Line by line updates on the 22-mile system
DC's streetcar plans call for 37 miles of lines, but so far DDOT is only working on the first 22 miles.
Work is progressing in 3 phases. Each line goes through alternatives planning, followed by environmental analysis, and then finally construction.
Right now, two segments are under construction, two are in the environmental stage, and 4 are in alternatives planning.
The H Street and Anacostia initial segment are under construction now, with H Street slated to open this year.
Planners expect environmental analysis to be finished this summer for the northern extension of the Anacostia line into central Anacostia, and for the eastern extension of the H Street line across the Anacostia River to Benning Metro.
Alternatives planning is complete for the M Street SE/SW line, and will soon be complete for the Union Station to Georgetown line. The north/south line will begin analysis this summer, with the Bolling Air Force Base extension of the Anacostia line following after that.
The car barn
Streetcars will be stored and maintained over the long term in the car barn in front of Spingarn High School. The car barn design is still advancing through the Historic Preservation Review Board approval process, but is now making progress and is no longer facing delays.
Construction will begin this month on the tracks and non-building infrastructure at the car barn site, in anticipation of hosting streetcars later this year. The building itself should begin construction this fall, and open in summer 2014. DDOT can operate the streetcars with the tracks but not the building for a few months, so as long as the tracks at the car barn site are finished on time, the fact that the building will still be under construction this winter should not cause any delay.
There will be 3 traction power substations along the H Street line, necessary to keep the streetcar's overhead wires alive with electricity. The substations will be located at 2nd Street NE, 12th Street NE, and 25th Street NE.
Approval was granted for the 12th Street substation in May, and construction is now imminent.
Keep up to date
It's going to be a busy and exciting summer for streetcars in DC. To keep up with the latest, visit DCstreetcar.com.
Correction: The 3 streetcars currently being tested at the commissioning site will be moved to H Street sometime this autumn, not at the end of August as originally reported.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
DC transportation officials would like to help cyclists avoid the streetcar tracks, heavy car traffic, and pedestrians along H Street NE. Yesterday, the transportation committees of both Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) along H Street supported a plan to let cyclists ride in both directions on G and I Streets, while keeping car traffic one-way.
2-way Montreal bike traffic on a 1-way street for cars. Photo by Joe McCann.
G & I Streets NE are both one-way for cars and bicycles for their whole length from 2nd Street NE to their eastern ends, at Maryland and Florida Avenues in between 13th and 14th Streets. Each are 30 feet wide along most of their length, with a few 35-foot-wide blocks at the west ends. Even for the narrower sections, the current travel lane is 16 feet wide versus a typical 9-foot travel lane.
Bicycle planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) created 4 options. All add painted sharrows in the primary direction of travel (west on I, and east on G). They differed on what to do about traffic in the opposite directon.
- Make no further changes and keep bicycle travel only one-way
- Maintain parallel parking on both sides of the street and add a contraflow bike lane on either side of the parked cars, depending on the road width
- Convert parking to diagonal, back-in along only one side of the street with none on the other side; add a contraflow bike lane on either side of the parked cars depending on the road width
- Allow 2-way traffic for both cars and bicycles.
The committees favored option 2, as did an informal audience poll. There are smaller sections similar to this option already in place on New Hampshire Avenue and R Street NE near the Metropolitan Branch Trail.
Any of these options could be mixed within the corridor, such that the wider blocks use different layouts or G & I receive different treatments. DDOT bike planner Mike Goodno presented one such hybrid option, "3A," which combined portions of options 2 & 3. This would eliminate only 7 parking spots, and was the second choice of the committees and in an audience poll.
Each of the affected ANCs will take up this issue at their next full commission meetings, and DDOT will continue to refine these options and solicit community feedback. Ideally, DDOT will be able to install this new bicycle infrastructure sometime later this Summer or early Fall.
Disclosure: I am a commissioner for ANC 6C, but not a member of its transportation committee. I did not participate in the audience or committee votes.
Between heavy car traffic and the upcoming streetcar, H Street can be an intimidating place for some bicyclists. DDOT wants to give them an alternative with new bike lanes on parallel streets.
Mike Goodno, bike planner for the District Department of Transportation, has prepared several options for G and I streets NE. Among the proposals are contraflow bike lanes, which would allow two-way bicycle travel on what are now one-way streets. This gives bicyclists an alternative to riding on H Street.
DDOT's 2005 Bicycle Master Plan already includes bike lanes for G and I streets. Parts of the plan are already in place, like bike lanes on 2nd, 4th, and 6th Streets NE. A larger DDOT reconstruction and safety project is also looking at bike lanes on Maryland Avenue.
Streetcar tracks can be hazardous for bicyclists because bicycle tires can slip on the rails or get stuck in them, causing riders to fall. That doesn't mean bikes and streetcars can't coexist, and many world cities have extensive bike and streetcar networks. Small design features can help cyclists better cross streetcar tracks at an angle that minimizes danger, for instance.
But especially for cyclists less experienced riding around streetcar lines, the tracks pose a hazard. M. Loren Copsey has seen many crashes as owner of The Daily Rider, a bike shop on H Street. He says that they have had "numerous customers come into the shop directly after a fall with injuries and damaged bikes."
Last week, Copsey says he "saw a cyclist in the streetcar lane get caught and thrown over the handlebars. The first thing he said was that he was glad there wasn't a vehicle behind him when he fell. Thankfully he wasn't injured."
DDOT has a two-pronged approach to keeping bicyclists safe in this corridor. One is to educate riders on the dangers streetcar tracks can pose. Warning signs could go at Capital Bikeshare stations or be painted on to the roadway itself. There are currently some text-only signs on lightposts, but some could be replaced by more graphic warnings like this one in Portland.
The other way is to offer bicyclists the choice of another nearby route. That's what Arlington County is doing along the future Columbia Pike streetcar line. They're turning two parallel streets, one on either side of Columbia Pike, into "bike boulevards," low-speed streets designed to give bicyclists an alternative to a busier street where there isn't room for bike lanes.
Today, G and I streets are about 30 feet wide and contain 2 7-foot parking lanes and one 16-foot travel lane, which is wider than a normal 9-foot travel lane. DDOT is looking at 4 ways to use that extra space for bicyclists:
Option 1 paints sharrows in the primary direction of travel, with no provision for bicyclists to travel in the opposite direction. This is only a small step above a "no build" option. Riders could need up to a 4-block detour to legally reach a destination if they don't want to ride at all on H Street.
Option 2 also paints sharrows in the primary direction and adds a contraflow bike lane on the left side of the roadway, between parked cars and the primary travel lane. Any drivers trying to park would need to cross the bike lane. However, drivers will not be backing into the lane, improving visibility. The hazard of doors opening into the bike lane would be less because they would be passenger doors, which open less often.
Option 3 converts parking to be diagonal along only one side of the street, with a contraflow bike lane on the opposite side. Cars would not need to cross into this area, so bollards or a curb could protect it from the rest of traffic. This option may be the safest configuration for bicyclists, but would take away some parking spaces.
Option 4 converts both streets to 2-way traffic, with painted sharrows in each direction. In addition to allowing biking in both directions, this change could alleviate congestion in the area by reducing the number of turns and increasing the number of alternative routes to H Street. However, this option may increase the chances drivers would hit parked cars.
These options could also help residents find parking spaces. Each block has between 24 and 30 spaces today. Under options 1, 2 and 4, no on-street parking spaces would disappear, while option 3 would mean 4-6 fewer spaces on each block.
Streetcars and bikes happily coexist in cities from Philadelphia to Amsterdam, and they can in DC as well. On some future streetcar corridors, there may be room for bicyclists to get their own lanes. Meanwhile, in areas like H Street where there isn't room for bike lanes, it's good to provide an alternative route for those bicyclists who may not feel safe riding on a busy street.
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