Posts about H Street
See all of the interviews here.
Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.
Love it or hate it, DC is building a streetcar, but there have been a lot of delays in getting it running. We already posted videos of Ward 6 candidates Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson criticizing the slow pace of progress on the first line, which will be in that ward. The mayoral candidates running against Vince Gray had some sharp words as well.
Tommy Wells, the councilmember most closely identified with championing the streetcar, had plenty to say.
I think that it has been managed very poorly by this administration. I know that sounds political, but let's go through why.Later in the segment, Wells also talked about how important it is for the streetcar to go east of the river, and how he thinks it should never cost more than $1.
It's being run by engineers, and seems to have almost no coordination with the Office of Planning. Ward 5 is told, you're getting a streetcar barn and you're going to like it. Or whether you like it or not, we're putting a streetcar barn in, with very little creativity.
In Seattle, their streetcar barn has affordable housing over it. The most valuable land now is going to be where the streetcar runs. There's no retail plan there showing that we can bring in restaurants or other things facing Benning Road with the streetcar barn behind it. ... I think that the administration has not been creative, has not thought out of the box. There's a way to leverage in amenities along with the streetcar barn.
And then they kept failing at being able to procure streetcars, so finally they had to piggyback on someone else's contract. That's why the streetcars are so late in coming here. And they better not run it without at least 6 streetcars. You need 5 on the tracks and 1 in reserve. Otherwise, it's just a ride at Disneyland that comes by every 30-40 minutes. ...
The other thing was that
— my understanding is that the contract for design-build, for finishing off the line, it sat with the Attorney General's office for almost 8 months. This administration, it's like someone poured molasses over the government. I think they're going to get there, but it's not with a sense of urgency. It's not real smart how they're doing it. We're missing an opportunity to do this really creatively.
But we're going to get a streetcar line. We're going to be able to touch it, ride it, so that our residents can see what the future can be like, but it's not as good as it could have been.
Muriel Bowser also talked about DDOT's procurement follies, and says the administration wasn't honest enough with residents:
I'm just as frustrated as I think most people. Mostly, I want somebody to tell the truth. Every month it seems we have a new opening time.
I have no doubt that it's a complicated project. There is nobody more excited than me to figure out all the lessons learned from went wrong in getting this thing going and how we we can fix it, and next time, Mayor Bowser can go out to the community and say, "Listen, this is going to be
— dig up your street one time. And we know how we're going to energize it, we know where we're going to turn it around. We know where we're going to store the cars and we know about how long this is going to take."
I think where this mayor and this DDOT director lack credibility is, they won't go out to the community and level with them. And I think people just want to know what gives and what do you need to do to fix it and when can we expect the streetcar to be running.
Andy Shallal was the least enthusiastic about the streetcar, or at least most overtly unenthusiastic. He referred to concerns many H Street business have been voicing that the streetcar will interfere with deliveries.
I think maybe we need to figure it out, use it as an experiment nowLater, when we were talking about political obstacles to bus lanes, he suggested doing more projects that make it possible to experiment. He said,
— it's already built — before we continue to build the rest of what's proposed. I would suggest making sure we understand the challenges that a streetcar is going to bring to a community. I know there's issues with parking that are going to get in the way; deliveries with restaurants, how are those going to happen — many of them don't have alleys and have to depend on deliveries from the front; bicycles and how they cross those tracks.
It's a lot of stuff there. I think we need to really be mindful of how we go about completing the tracks and making sure that whatever we put in place on the H Street corridor is something that's workable and manageable and doesn't create more hassles than it tries to solve.
Things like bus lanes are a great way to try something out. What's the worst that can happen? you erase them. As opposed to a trolley, where you've spent millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. You've dug up the street for years, you've caused all this disruption, you've shut down businesses.
Jack Evans was very brief and much less critical. "It's just taking forever. It's on the right track, it's just taking too long to get down the track. ... What we have to do is get the program moving. To be honest with you, with any program it takes forever to get off the ground. And now we have lines built, we have the streetcars, maybe this will be the end but it needs to be moving a little bit faster."
See the full discussions with these candidates:
Now that spring is around the corner, DC is getting ready to install new bike lanes around H Street NE. Signs have started going up on G and I Streets NE for bicycles to legally travel in both directions on each street.
For cars, I Street remains one-way eastbound, while G Street is one-way westbound. According to an email from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT)'s Mike Goodno, the agency will start striping the lanes in the first "one to two week opening of warm weather and clean pavement."
DDOT considered several options to safely allow legal two-way bicycle traffic on G and I Streets NE, some of which would have changed parking to diagonal or converted both streets to two-way operation for both cars and bicycles.
They chose an option to place the contraflow lane between parked cars and the primary traffic lane, with parallel parking remaining on both sides of the street. ANCs 6A and 6C supported this choice as well.
Where else can this work?
While this project will create the city's longest stretches of such contraflow lanes, there are a few other small sections of contraflow bike lanes combined with sharrows in one-way DC streets, such as the 200 block of R NE near the Metropolitan Branch Trail and on New Hampshire Avenue near U Street NW.
This particular configuration is most practical at locations where there is room for a single bike lane, but the street has light enough car and truck traffic that sharrows would work well in the main travel direction. Are there other locations in DC where this method would be successful?
See all of the segments here.
DC's Ward 6 has a lot of transportation options, from Metro to buses to Capital Bikeshare to walking and much more, and soon will get another: a streetcar on H Street. What do the candidates for DC Council think about the streetcar and other ways to improve transit?
Both Darrel Thompson and Charles Allen said the streetcar project has been delayed too many times. "It's moving; it's not moving fast enough, some could certainly argue," said Thompson. "I remember in 2007 when the streetcar was promised to be running in 2010," said Allen. "Then it was 2011, then 2012, then promised in 2013, and now here we are in 2014." But Allen was bullish on the streetcar's promise, especially if and when it connects beyond H Street and Benning Road.
It's going to be up and running. It will be. And I think it's going to be great for H Street. What I want to do is work to make sure that H Street line isn't just a novelty, isn't just a track that runs up and down the block and is a fun ride but doesn't create the transit connection that you need. ...Allen also spoke about the importance of a north-south connection from Southwest to downtown and Shaw and north through the rest of the city.
I've got to keep an eye on how do we expand that line down Benning Road and into Ward 7. The streetcar works when it connects neighborhoods. So we've got to have that line that connects east and into Ward 7. We've also got to get it over the bridge and into downtown.
This is the first line and it's going to be the one that everyone is watching. But to the extent it's a novelty ride, I think we do a detriment to all the good work and the hard work that's gone into protecting and supporting our streetcar system.
Darrel Thompson, meanwhile, spoke positively about the streetcar but also with some trepidation. "It's a good idea," he said, but, "We want to make sure it doesn't impede traffic flow. We've got to work out some of the kinks. We've got to make sure that some of the parking challenges that folks have are met. ... So I think it's a great idea, and we'll work out some of the kinks and make sure it works smoothly, and then we can expand to other parts of the city."
What about a dedicated lane? "It'd be great if we could open up 4 more lanes for more streetcars," Thompson said, jokingly. "We've got limited resources... and the challenge is making sure we accommodate as many people as possible as best we possibly can."
Earlier, when we talked about dedicated bus lanes and cycletracks, Thompson said he thinks DC should "look at every option out there and build it where it's feasible," but that we "also have to remember that some people still need to be able to drive and park." He does favor "maximizing the existing infrastructure we have, and if that means isolating a lane for bus traffic, that's a good thing."
Allen, meanwhile, does want to see both streetcar and bus dedicated lanes. "I don't view streetcar or bus rapid transit as mutually exclusive," he said. "On H Street, the concern that we've got is that we're running the streetcar right though traffic. ... As we plan for the streetcar moving forward, I think we would like to to look for how you have a dedicated lane, a dedicated space, for so that it is a quick & reliable mode of transportation."
In addition to lanes, Allen cited limited-stop services like the X9 on H and Benning which help people move much more quickly along a corridor.
Watch the full transportation exchanges below to get the fullest understanding of the candidates' thoughts, including on bicycling and how councilmembers should and should not respond to resident opposition to projects (such as the once-controversial Lincoln Park Capital Bikeshare station).
Three other American cities in addition to DC will open new streetcar lines this year, and at least 12 more cities are expected to advance construction on lines that will open later.
The four lines expected to open in 2014 are in DC, Tucson, Seattle, and Atlanta. Tucson's Sun Link streetcar will be the first modern rail transit to open in that city. Seattle's First Hill streetcar will run next to a cycletrack for much of its length, in an impressive multimodal layout.
Atlanta's downtown streetcar will be the first modern streetcar to open in the US that doesn't use the ubiquitous 66' long streetcar model first popularized in Portland. Instead, Atlanta will use a 79' long tram similar to the light rail cars in Norfolk.
North of the border, Toronto will shortly begin to use new 99' long trams on its expansive streetcar network, the largest in North America.
Even more cities will begin construction or continue construction on new lines that won't open until 2015 or later. They include Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Tempe, San Antonio, and Saint Louis.
Many other cities, including Arlington, have streetcars that aren't expected to begin construction yet, but aren't far behind.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
In anticipation of the upcoming H Street streetcar, DDOT created this safety video that illustrates how drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians should act once the streetcar begins running.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Philadelphia's streetcar network is the largest and busiest in the mid-Atlantic. It has several interesting features, some of which can help inform the planning for DC's growing system.
Philadelphia calls its system trolleys instead of streetcars, because it's vintage from the original trolley era. While Philadelphia did discontinue many of its original trolley routes, unlike DC they also kept many.
The Girard Avenue trolley line even uses vintage trolley vehicles, originally built in 1947. It also runs in a unique on-street arrangement, with tracks down the center of wide Girard Avenue, and stations in narrow floating medians.
Philadelphia's center-running tracks result in fewer conflicts with parked or turning cars, which speeds the trolleys down their route. It's almost-but-not-quite like a dedicated transitway.
Unfortunately, the platforms are too narrow to meet modern disability-accessible design guidelines. If DC were to use a similar arrangement, we'd need wider platforms and thus more street width.
On narrower streets in West Philadelphia, trolleys still run in the center, with bike lanes between the tracks and a row of parked cars.
The trolley subway
Five trolley routes that run on-street in West Philadelphia combine and then move into a dedicated trolley subway to speed through Center City. It's a great way to maximize the efficiency of the system through its most dense and congested section, while still taking advantage of the flexibility of on-street operations further out.
DC once had a short trolley subway too, under Dupont Circle. Today, DC's reborn streetcar plan doesn't call for any. They're hugely expensive, after all. But with the specter of Metrorail capacity constraints looming, and new DC subway lines under consideration, perhaps someday a streetcar subway could again be appropriate in DC.
What else is there?
I've never personally lived in Philadelphia, so my experience with its trolley network is fairly limited. I'm sure there are other interesting features. What did I miss?
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
On Friday night, DDOT crews moved the first streetcar to H Street.
The last time streetcars ran on DC streets was January, 1962, just shy of 52 years ago. But don't expect to catch a ride just yet. The streetcars must now undergo a series of on-street tests before passenger service can begin sometime in 2014.
Many city residents stopped by over the weekend to snap their own pictures. If you haven't had a chance yet, it's right there. You can go anytime.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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.
- For DC Mayor: Tommy Wells
- "Drive 'til you qualify" takes on an urban flair
- What's the point of supermarket gas rewards if you don't drive to the store?
- Design could make or break the 11th Street Bridge Park
- Metro railcar plays double duty as pedestrian bridge at National Airport
- Fun on Friday: Play the Mini Metro game
- Adding 15-minute Circulator routes would dilute the Circulator brand