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Posts about H Street

Development


Benning Road's building boom begins

While H Street NE has boomed in recent years, nearby Benning Road has lagged. That's about to change, with at least two big Benning Road redevelopments coming down the pipeline.


The proposal at 17th and Benning. Image from Capital City Real Estate.

Benning Road NE is, for all intents and purposes, an easterly extension of H Street. East of Starburst the name changes, but Benning more or less functions as the same road, streetcar and all. Except that while H Street has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years, Benning Road has not.

But now it appears the H Street boom is jumping to Benning.

On December 17, developers officially filed plans to build a 180-unit multifamily building at the northeast corner of Benning Road and 17th Street NE, across 17th Street from Hechinger Mall.

It's the first big, H Street-style proposal to see the light of day on Benning Road.

But it's not the only one. Half a block away and across the street, near 16th and Benning, another developer is proposing a 250-unit building. There are no renderings yet, but rumor purports it will be similar to The Maryland at Maryland Avenue and 14th Street NE.

Together, these developments show how the impending Benning Road boom isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Properties along Benning are too enticing, demand for new housing in DC is too ravenous, and the streetcar, for all its faults, is too much of a draw. Benning is about to boom, and it won't be the same.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Development


H Street's sprawling Hechinger Mall is a sleeping giant, waiting to boom

The redevelopment boom on H Street NE hasn't yet transformed Hechinger Mall, the big suburban-style strip mall where H Street meets Bladensburg Road and Benning Road. But someday, when it inevitably does, there's enough land for an entire neighborhood.

By superimposing a map of the Hechinger Mall area on top of other parts of DC, one can see just how great a change is on the horizon.


Hechninger Mall and surrounds by the author using Mapfrappe and Google.

In the above image, the blue line outlines Hechinger Mall plus several surrounding properties with similar car-oriented retail. The mall and its surrounds beat as the commercial heart of multiple Northeast neighborhoods, including Trinidad, Carver-Langston, and Kingman Park.

It's not unused land; there are plenty of stores, and they do robust business. But it's definitely underused. Vast acres of parking sit mostly empty. Single suburban-style stores take up entire blocks. Internal streets look like highways, despite low traffic.

Someday it is going to redevelop. When that happens, it's going to be as much a big deal as redevelopment in Columbia Heights or Union Market.

Compare the land

Let's compare the amount of land we're talking about.

Using a neat tool from Mapfrappe, it's possible to superimpose that blue Hechinger Mall outline on top of other parts of DC, at the same scale.

Here's Columbia Heights:


Columbia Heights comparison by Dan Malouff using Mapfrappe and Google.

As you can see, the blue Hechinger Mall outline is almost exactly the same size and shape of the center of Columbia Heights. You could almost pick up 14th Street and plop it down at Hechinger, and it would fit.

Now Union Market:


Union Market comparison by Dan Malouff using Mapfrappe and Google.

Again, it's almost exactly the same size as the entire Union Market neighborhood.

Let's keep going. NoMa next:


NoMa comparison by Dan Malouff using Mapfrappe and Google.

And now, City Center DC:


City Center comparison by Dan Malouff using Mapfrappe and Google.

NoMa is bigger. But Hechinger Mall is about the same size as the others. That's the scale of redevelopment that could—that probably will—come to H Street.

And that's great. There's nothing wrong with the stores at Hechinger; DC needs shops like Safeway, Ross, and Dollar Tree. But DC also needs places to put more housing, and football field-sized parking lots a mile-and-a-half from the Capitol are exactly the right place.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Transit


When life gives you buses, make bus-trains

It's very easy to use both buses and trains in Lucerne, Switzerland thanks to a well-planned system that cleverly gets the most out of every line. They've even got "bus-trains," which combine great parts of both modes to make transit available to more people.


Bus-trains on the Schweizerhofquai, a main road in Lucerne. The trailer is unstaffed and pulled by the trolleybus in front. All photos by the author.

Bus-trains are single trolleybuses, which are buses with wires, linked together to make "trains." They're an unusual technology, but the city of Lucerne uses them along busy routes that connect to the old town and the main train station.

Lucerne's lakeside geography forces most cross-town traffic along a single crowded road, the Schweizerhofquai. To meet the demand, the local transit system runs frequent service using high-capacity vehicles, including double-articulated trolleybuses and the bus-trains in addition to the liquid-fuel buses. These bridge the gap between traditional buses and rail, and they both have more capacity and run more smoothly and quietly.

The trailers on bus-trains are detachable, so the front of the train can be a standard, single trolley when there isn't a need for as much capacity.


Double- and single-articulated trolleybuses along the Schweizerhofquai.

But, don't expect bus-trains to appear on H Street NE anytime soon: Lucerne's system is one of only two in the world and may not last much longer, as the aging vehicles are being disassembled and the parts donated to Cuba. Thankfully, a ride on the bus-train has been captured on YouTube.

Transit in Lucerne is great

Whether you need to use bus, bus-train, or the heavy regional rail, the system around Lucerne is seamless, with a single zoned fare system and monitors in train stations showing real-time bus arrivals.


Real-time arrival screen for buses and ferries at Lucerne main station.

The regional rail trains have screens on board that show the final and intermediate stations but switch to show real-time arrivals when pulling into a station with train or bus connections.

Contrast the on-board real-time arrival screen on the left showing departure, destination, and location information for upcoming trains at the Lucerne main station (similar information was shown for buses when arriving at smaller stations) with what's on the new 7000-series Metro train, which only lists the available bus lines by number. Imagine how useful it would be to know whether a connecting bus is about to pull up and you should hurry out of the station, or whether it makes sense to get off the train at all (where a better connection may be available at a later station).


Lucerne regional rail (left) and Metro (right) information screens showing differing amounts of information on connecting services upon entering a station.

As a final illustration of how Lucerne makes transit easy, when visiting a nearby mountain I used a single ticket that included both a funicular ride up the mountain as well as train ticket there and a bus back. These types of combination tickets seem to be common, with the Swiss railways bundling a long distance fare with a day pass for local transit at either the origin or destination (City-ticket) or both the origin and destination (City-city-ticket), further promoting sustainable travel.


Funicular descending from Mt. Pilatus, south of Lucerne

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Transit


Five bus lines everyone in DC should know, love, and use

Metrorail's six lines are so easy to remember that most Washingtonians have memorized them. Here are five convenient bus lines that everyone in town should know just as well.


Simple map of five main DC bus lines. Map by the author. Original base map from Google.

These five lines are among Metro's most convenient and popular. Buses on them come every few minutes, and follow easy-to-remember routes along major streets.

For the sort of Washingtonian who's comfortable with Metrorail but hasn't taken the leap to the bus, these five lines are a great place to start. Unlike some minor buses that only come once every half hour, you can treat these five lines the way you'd treat a rail line, or a DC Circulator: They're always there, and it's never a long wait before the next bus.

If you can memorize Metrorail's Red and Orange Lines, you can memorize these streets:

Wisconsin / Pennsylvania (30 series): If you want a bus on Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, just remember to catch anything with a number in the 30s. Nine bus routes cover this line, each of them with slightly different details, but a similar overall path: The 30N, 30S, 31, 33, 32, 34, 36, and the express 37 and 39. Collectively they're called the "30 series."

The other four lines are similar. Each has multiple routes with slightly different details combining to form a family, or series. Within each series some individual routes may come at different times of day, or continue farther beyond the lines this map shows. But the key is to remember the series name.

16th Street (S series): Four routes, each beginning with the letter S: The S1, S2, S4, and the express S9.

14th Street (50 series): Three routes, each in the 50s: The 52, 53, and 54.

Georgia Avenue (70 series): Two routes, in the 70s: The local 70 and the express 79.

H Street (X series): Two routes, starting with X: The local X2 and the express X9. When it eventually opens (knock on wood), the DC Streetcar will beef up this same corridor.

For the Metrobus veterans among you, this is old news. About 80,000 people per day ride these five lines, so they're hardly secrets. But if you're not a frequent bus rider, give these a try.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Transit


Twelve out of 33 DC Streetcar fixes are complete

Earlier this year, outside experts identified 33 issues for DDOT to address before the H Street streetcar can open. According to DDOT spokespeople, 12 of those 33 have since been completely fixed. The remaining 21 are in progress.


Workers modify 19th Street station following an APTA review of the DC Streetcar. Photo by the author.

According to new DC Streetcar Launch Manager Timothy Borchers, workers are making significant progress towards satisfying the 33 recommendations from this spring's APTA review.

Borchers himself is one of the solutions. DDOT hired him this spring, following an APTA recommendation that DDOT bring on more experienced project managers. Borchers worked for years on the world's largest streetcar network in Melbourne, Australia, and helped launch the new Atlanta Streetcar in 2014.

Progress report

During an interview with reporters last week, Borchers didn't supply a specific list of exactly which 12 of the 33 total items are complete. But he did outline DDOT's recent progress.

Among the items that are complete: Crews have repaired the three cracked tracks, several new staff people have been hired (including Borchers himself), DDOT has finalized its pre-revenue operations plan, and crews now track all streetcar work using a single master matrix.

As for the rest, all 21 remaining items "are in some stage of completion," says Borchers.

Platform modifications

The most visible work in progress now is retrofitting the 19th Street station to meet disability accessibility standards. The slope of the concrete in the original platform was a few degrees off from federal requirements. Therefore, crews are now re-leveling the platform.

Workers may soon begin modifying other platforms, to prevent streetcar doors from scraping against the platform edge. Although Borchers was careful to note that DDOT is still in the process of determining its exact solution to the scraping problem, he says it's being caused by the streetcars' self-leveling system, hydraulics that keep streetcars level with the platforms at stations.

Workers may only need to fine-tune the streetcars's self-leveling system, but it may also be necessary to adjust some of the platforms.

Meanwhile, engineers are working on a new design for a set of stairs near the streetcar railyard, where the narrow landing between the bottom of the stairs and the edge of the streetcar tracks is potentially dangerous. The new design will add a "pivot," so the stairs empty onto a landing parallel to the tracks rather than leading directly into them.


Existing stairs leading straight to the streetcar tracks. Photo from DDOT.

Streetcar vehicle fixes

Inside the car barn, changes are underway to the streetcar vehicles themselves.

After one of DC's streetcars caught fire in February, analysis determined the cause was inadequate insulation on the pantographthe electrical mechanism connecting the streetcars to the overhead power wires.

Although it was a DC streetcar that caught fire, the problem was with the railcar's design. Thanks to lessons learned from the DC fire, all streetcars nationwide manufactured by United Streetcar are now being retrofitted with improved insulation.

If you spot a United Streetcar on Benning Road, its retrofit is complete and its pantograph is safe.


A retrofitted United Streetcar (left), with a Czech-built streetcar (right) on Benning Road, on Thursday, July 16 . Photo by the author.

Another change coming to the railcars is rear-view cameras. The APTA review recommended replacing rear-view mirrors with cameras in order to narrow the profile of the railcars, to help avoid side collisions with parked cars.

As of Thursday, the cameras have been installed but the mirrors have not yet been removed.


The white attachment at upper right is the new rear-view camera. Photo by the author.

No fences for Benning Road

One APTA recommendation that DDOT has decided to only partially implement is the suggestion to add fences to H Street and Benning Road, in order to cut down on jaywalking.

Borchers explained that while fencing can be appropriate for rail lines in other types of environments, it's inherently incompatible with a busy main street where there are lots of pedestrians. DDOT will install a short segment of fencing on the Hopscotch Bridge, but otherwise H Street and Benning Road will remain fence-free.

Instead, more signs and pavement markings will warn pedestrians to watch out for streetcars.

Next steps

According to Borchers, DDOT workers will continue to power through the remaining 21 items this summer, working towards final certification from DC's safety oversight office.

When everything is finally ready to go, the streetcar will enter a final pre-revenue operations phase, simulating the exact operations of passenger service.

Since DDOT already performed significant pre-revenue operations in the waning days of the Gray administration, they'll be able to follow a reduced timeline on this second go around. Once it begins, that will likely take two to three weeks, if everything goes well.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

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Transit


33 things for DDOT to fix to open the DC Streetcar

The long-delayed H Street Streetcar has been shrouded in secrecy for months. But now DDOT has released a report detailing the exact causes of the delays, and how to fix them.


Red stripes next to streetcar tracks indicate where it's unsafe to pass stopped cars. They're installed wherever the tracks cross traffic lanes. Photo by Sean Emerson.

The complete list of 33 fixes is detailed below.

The list comes via an independent report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The recommendations are a mix of back-end organizational issues and physical problems with the line's construction.

The final report confirms the APTA's preliminary finding from this spring, that none of the problems are fatal flaws. All 33 items on the list are fixable.

DDOT has been working on fixes for months

DDOT has yet to comment on the status of fixes, but it's clear the agency has been working on them.

For example, one item on the list notes that streetcar doors scrape against some station platforms when they open. Last month, DDOT began modifying platforms to correct this problem.

Another example is the thick lines of red paint that DDOT added at key locations along H Street this spring. The paint is a visual warning for when the streetcar tracks swerve across travel lanes (like when they shift from the left lane to the right lane at Benning Road and Maryland Ave). If a car is inside the painted area at the track crossing, the streetcar doesn't have room to pass safely.

The complete list

The full 33-item list comes in two parts: The first 18 items are from the preliminary findings that came out in March. Following that, there are 15 new items.

Here they all are:

18-item preliminary list

  1. In conducting safety certification, the DC State Safety Oversight office should allow flexibility in resolving problem issues. Workarounds that adequately resolve safety issues may be considered acceptable as temporary fixes, provided DDOT identify a plan for permanent solutions.
  2. Hire a qualified chief safety officer.
  3. Hire additional technical staff with more experience in light rail / streetcar construction and operating.
  4. Repair breaks in the streetcar rails at three locations.
  5. Ensure the six railcars are all in a state of good repair, including railcar #202 which caught fire in February, 2015.
  6. Investigate why streetcar doors scrape at stations, and fix the problem.
  7. Add more prominent pavement graphics indicating where streetcars stop at stations, and add pavement graphics at switch points and passing locations to indicate to streetcar operators when it's safe to pass another streetcar.
  8. Ensure all on-board radios are working.
  9. Add additional lighting at streetcar stations.
  10. Complete a new safety assessment.
  11. Hire an independent expert to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, have this expert review and if necessary correct the design of the rumble strips at station platforms.
  12. Train maintenance staff more thoroughly, so they'll catch problems such as rail cracks sooner.
  13. Develop a pre-revenue operations plan, and do additional streetcar testing after all right-of-way and vehicle issues are resolved.
  14. Add heaters to rail switches, so they can melt snow pack.
  15. Resolve items from the previous safety & security reports.
  16. Develop a centralized tracking system for managing and resolving problems. DDOT's current system is decentralized and results in oversights.
  17. Review documents describing operating & maintenance procedures, and correct inconsistencies and incomplete sections.
  18. Develop an opening day operating schedule.
15-item followup list

Items 19-26 all deal with recommendations for back-end reorganization of DDOT's streetcar office. Most notably, APTA recommends DDOT appoint a single dedicated project manager with authority to make decisions, and delegate additional specific decision-making authorities to other designated staff. Currently all decisions are being elevated to the DDOT director, causing delays and leading to a lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for fixing problems.

  1. Conduct team building exercises to help streetcar staff work together better.
  2. Replace streetcar side mirrors with rear-facing cameras, reducing the width of the streetcars and thus reducing the risk of scraping parked cars.
  3. Ensure pedestrians on the south side of the Hopscotch Bridge have a safe and clearly-marked path. At the time of the APTA review, construction of Station House DC was blocking the sidewalk and stranding pedestrians.
  4. Add additional protection for pedestrians at the foot of the stairway at the Benning Road entrance to the streetcar carbarn, where a stairway terminates directly into the streetcar tracks.


    Photo from DDOT.
  5. Install a fence or landscaping along the street to prevent jaywalking.
  6. Add larger signs and additional on-street stencils warning car drivers to park inside the white line.
  7. Add bigger streetcar speed and signal signs. Current signs are too small for streetcar operators to see.

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Development


Modern streetcar planning in the region, visualized

This week we looked at streetcar planning in Anacostia, H Street and Benning Road, and Northern Virginia. To help visualize this evolution, here's an illustration of how and when all of these plans have changed over the last 20 years.

Slideshow image


March, 1997: A Transportation Vision, Strategy, and Action Plan for the Nation's Capital
Proposed three streetcar routes (and one crosstown Metro line).


April, 1999: WMATA Transit Service Expansion Plan
Identified three possible streetcar lines among a multitude of future transit projects.


August, 1999: Crystal City / Potomac Yard Area Transportation Study
Proposed a streetcar for the transit corridor.


January, 2002: DC Transit Development Study (WMATA)
Identified four possible streetcar corridors and initiated the study of a starter line in Anacostia.


February, 2003: Columbia Pike Transit Initiative
Proposed streetcar service as an alternative for the corridor.


March, 2003: Crystal City / Potomac Yard Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis
Selected Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) over streetcar for the corridor.


October, 2005: District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis
Proposed four streetcar lines. Construction started on Anacostia Demonstration Project.


June, 2008: District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis (2008 Update)
Modified proposed streetcar network. Construction of H Street/Benning Road line begins and the Anacostia line gets realigned.


October, 2009: District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis (2010 Update)
Proposed a 37-mile, 8-line streetcar network.


July, 2011: Route 1 Corridor Streetcar Conversion Project
Study of converting transit corridor to streetcar initiated.


June, 2012: 22-Mile Priority Streetcar System
Focus of DC Streetcar efforts scaled down to three lines; Anacostia line truncated.


October, 2014: 8.2-Mile Streetcar System
Focus of DC Streetcar efforts scaled down to two lines amid funding cuts.


November, 2014: Arlington Cancels Streetcar Projects
Both Columbia Pike and Crystal City / Potomac Yard streetcar efforts indefinitely suspended.


March, 2015: New Administration Commits to One Line
Mayor Bowser commits to completing the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line. Future lines remain uncertain.

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Transit


A history of streetcar planning on H Street and Benning Road

The DC Streetcar's H Street and Benning Road segment has been its most controversial. Here's a look at how we arrived at today.

The H Street and Benning Road corridor has been part of proposals for a crosstown streetcar line from Georgetown since WMATA's 2002 Transit Development Study. Some of the first proposals came from agencies that weren't DDOT, like one in the Office of Planning's H Street Strategic Development Plan in 2003.

By January 2006, DDOT announced that the Great Streets Initiative, a $43 million fund to rebuild H and Benning's roadbeds, would include money for streetcar tracks. The plan was to build a 3.5-mile line from Union Station to the Minnesota Avenue Metro.

Laying down tracks in 2007 made the streetcar line's route more permanent, save for its termini. In 2008, DDOT decided to delay the line's eastern connection to a Metro station on the other side of the Anacostia River. Also, there was still no set location for a western terminus near Union Station (an issue that remained in question for several years).

Initial work on the line concluded with the completion of the Great Streets project late 2011. While DDOT's DC Streetcar System Plan called for the streetcar to start running in the spring of 2012, a lot of questions about the line still remained unanswered. Among them were where to place the line's western terminus near Union Station, whether to put a maintenance facility near a high school, and, most importantly, how to fund the project.

As the city tackled these issues, construction resumed in December 2012. Substations, overhead wires, and tracks went in, and streetcars began testing. A study of an extension of the line to Benning Road Metro station also began that year.

Still, though, the line remained unopened. As each planned opening date neared, lingering issues still remained, and the opening was pushed back. Then again. And again. And again.

That brings us to today

DC Streetcar vehicles have been rolling down H and Benning in simulated service since the fall of 2014, but they've yet to carry passengers. The reasons why have not been easy to come by, and a lot of people have wondered if the line will ever open at all.

When the Bowser administration came in, DDOT dropped previous deadlines and reassessed. After a peer review found no "fatal flaws," Mayor Bowser committed to completing the full planned line to Georgetown.

Still, we don't know when the H Street and Benning line will actually open.

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Transit


A history of streetcar planning in the District

DC's streetcar plans have evolved over 20 years, ebbing and flowing mayor-by-mayor. In advance of the H Street/Benning Road streetcar's eventual opening, we take a look back at how we've arrived at where we are now.

You can trace plans for modern streetcar service in the District back to the Transportation Vision, Strategy and Action Plan, which the District Department of Public Works completed in March of 1997. This plan identified a need for better inter-District transit to complement the Metro, and it proposed three possible streetcar lines to make that happen.

In the following years, WMATA conducted two studies of its own. The first was 1999's Transit Service Expansion Plan, which identified three possible downtown streetcar lines as part of a larger region-wide transit vision. 2002's District of Columbia Transit Development Study was a more direct follow-up to the 1997 Vision study.

The result of the Transit Development Study was a proposal for four lines, including a starter line in the Anacostia region.

In 2003, DDOT started the DC's Transit Future program, which expanded on the 2002 study and assessed the transit possibilities for fourteen corridors across the District.

The program culminated in the release of the DC's Transit Future System Plan and Alternatives Analysis in September 2005, which identified nine corridors for transit investment, including four streetcar lines. The report got an update in June 2008, and in October 2009 DDOT unveiled a substantially upgraded and expanded streetcar vision before making a second update in April 2010.

Due to funding concerns and shaky construction efforts on the first lines in Anacostia and the H Street/Benning Road corridors, DDOT refined this 37-mile plan down to a 22-mile "Priority System" in June 2012, focusing efforts on three major corridors of the original vision.

As revenue service moved further into the future and political support for the DC streetcar network declined, more funding cuts in October 2014 meant shifting the near-term focus to just the two lines under construction (8.2 miles).

The Bowser administration has so far only committed to completing the planned extensions to the H Street/Benning Road line to Georgetown and down Benning. The performance of that first line will likely play a huge role in determining whether the broader vision's other plans become a reality.

In the coming days, we'll take an in-depth look at modern streetcar proposals in Northern Virginia, as well as the two DC routes that made it out of the planning phase and into actual construction.

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