Posts about Streetcars
On Monday, DC Mayor Vincent Gray said he will seek a second term. He joins an already crowded field, which will make for a very interesting race. But there's also the question of how Gray has done as mayor.
What are his biggest accomplishments? What are his biggest disappointments? And does he deserve a second term? Our contributors weigh in:
On transportation, Gray has been OK but not perfect. He's done a good job moving the streetcar program forward, but progress on bike infrastructure has moved much more slowly than it did under Fenty. He'd be a low risk/moderate reward choice for a second term. We'd know that we'd be getting someone who basically advances our goals, but maybe not as quickly as a more progressive candidate might. On land use planning, he's worth voting for just to keep Harriet Tregoning on the job.
One Gray accomplishment that I'm fond of is the Vision for a Sustainable DC, which cuts across departments and agencies and sets aggressive goals for emissions reduction and restoration of clean waters and healthy ecosystems. It remains to be seen how aggressively Gray will implement the plan and whether each department will receive adequate funding for their share of the work, but the plan is a significant step in the right direction.
I also applaud Gray for sticking with the streetcar plan despite opposition from many corners, including many voters who supported him.
However, I am unhappy with Gray's positions on minimum wage and labor standards issues. The majority of the Council is ahead of him there. I supported the Large Retailer Accountability Act and am dismayed that Gray vetoed it.
I think Gray and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services BB Otero have made great headway in planning, laying out a vision and foundation that moves DC in the right direction (Sustainable DC and Age Friendly DC are my two big ones).
We will have to wait and see, though, how implementation plays out (as Malcolm mentioned) either through Gray in a second term or through a newly elected administration that could turn all of that good work on its head. I'm inclined to say he deserves a second term because it's a better bet for successful implementation. But maybe I would also support a candidate that recognizes those accomplishments and is highly committed to being an implementer.
Although "One City" sometimes gets short shrift, Mayor Gray has done much to fill the slogan with meaning. The One City Summit, held in early 2012, brought 1800 residents to the Washington Convention Center.
It was actually successful at getting the participants to work together in diverse groups to identify the priorities for government services and the future of the city. Participants became engaged while educating themselves about the trade-offs of various policies, such as how new business attraction may drive out existing small businesses.
Increasing sustainability and diversifying DC's economy while improving access to it were the big policy winners at the Summit. And Gray's administration has followed up, continuing its support for the Sustainable DC plan, promoting development at the St. Elizabeth's site, and enabling continued growth city-wide through the MoveDC plan and relaxation of the Height Act.
Bringing Walmart to the District is a negative for sustainability and diversifying the economy. While improving the connections between education and jobs will take much more time, it is clear that Mayor Gray is not just continuing past policies on autopilot, but is asking hard questions about how the city and the region can succeed in the years ahead.
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.
The new 69-mile network would include DC's initial 22-mile streetcar system, plus 47 more miles of either streetcar or BRT.
37-mile network from 2010, and latest MoveDC 69-mile proposal.
Maps from BeyondDC, using base maps from Google.
The 47-mile network, shown in red on the map, would include 25-miles of dedicated transit lanes, regardless of whether those lines are eventually built as bus or rail. The dedicated lanes would be on 16th Street, North Capitol Street, I-295, M Street SE & SW, and I and H Streets downtown.
Curiously, the proposed streetcar line on Rhode Island Avenue from the 2010 plan isn't carried forward into MoveDC.
The new plan shows the 14th Street streetcar shifting over to 7th Street, although the details of that line are still in flux. It could still end up on 14th.
Finally, MoveDC also notes several potential extensions to Maryland and Virginia, anywhere a proposed DDOT line approaches the District boundary. Perhaps most notably, there are potential connections across Long Bridge into Arlington, down I-295 to National Harbor, and to Silver Spring.
For Metrorail, MoveDC includes WMATA's proposal for a new loop subway line through DC, connecting Rosslyn on one end and the Yellow Line bridge on the other.
Overall this is a progressive and ambitious proposal, although the removal of Rhode Island Avenue raises questions. It's still a draft, so you can comment via the WeMoveDC website.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) promised to complete a number of important projects by now or by the end of this year. Quick quiz: Can you identify which of these have met or will meet the promised deadline?
- Start streetcar service on H Street NE-Benning Road by the end of the year.
- Devise a better system for handling visitor parking passes and residential permit parking.
- Start building a separated bike lane (or "cycletrack") on M Street NW.
- Expand Capital Bikeshare to twice its original size.
- Make pedestrian safety improvements to Maryland Avenue NE.
- Evaluate the effectiveness of a new median on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park.
The answer: None of the above. DDOT has delayed or given up on all of these promises.
Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.
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.
Arlington County board member Christopher Zimmerman will step down early next year to join Smart Growth America. During his 18 years in office, Zimmerman was an outspoken board advocate for public transportation and smart growth.
Zimmerman will become Vice President for Economic Development at Smart Growth America, a national advocacy group for sustainable transportation and development practices. In a press release, the organization said that Zimmerman will "focus on the relationships between smart growth strategies and the economic and fiscal health of communities."
A board member since 1996, Zimmerman also served on many regional planning boards, such as the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, the WMATA Board of Directors, the VRE board, and the regional Transportation Planning Board. Arlington will hold a special election to fill his seat next spring.
In a statement yesterday, Zimmerman noted that when he was first elected in 1996, now-common ideas in Arlington like traffic calming, bike lanes, and transit-oriented development didn't exist. Two of Zimmerman's signature accomplishments were helping to create the ART bus, which now has 13 routes in the county, and the Neighborhood Conservation Program, which provides money to individual neighborhoods to fund improvements and has brought sidewalks and streetlights to many Arlington neighborhoods.
More recently, Zimmerman has been an ardent proponent of the Columbia Pike Streetcar, part of a the larger Columbia Pike Initiative. That effort established a form-based code to turn the formerly suburban strip into a compact, walkable urban neighborhood, and set greater standards for preserving affordable housing in the area. These helped make Arlington an example for Smart Growth across the region and nationwide.
During his 13 years on the WMATA Board, Zimmerman relentlessly pushed for better service and for more rider-friendly policies. He was the strongest advocate for open data at Metro, which utimately helped convince the agency to publish its schedules, routes, and real-time vehicle locations in open, public formats. He also fought widening I-66 and I-395 and other efforts by the state to push more commuter traffic through Arlington against the county's wishes.
Zimmerman's departure means that's there will be a special election to replace Zimmerman this spring. It's likely that the Columbia Pike streetcar and issues relating to transportation and land use will play a big part in the campaign as they have in previous board races. Whoever hopes to replace them will have big shoes to fill as Mr. Zimmerman's influence will loom large in Arlington and greater Washington for years. Smart growth or public transportation advocates have their work cut out for them if they want to support a candidate in Arlington who is dedicated to those issues as much as Zimmerman has for the past 18 years.
Chris Zimmerman is one of the reasons why these debates happen in Arlington today. Now, we will see if his work at Smart Growth America will make this conversation more prominent on a national level.
Speak out on DC's proposed zoning update, learn about streetcars in DC and Bus Rapid Transit in Montgomery County, and envision a new Franklin Park at events around the region.
Testify on DC's zoning rewrite: It's finally here. After many years of delays, push back, and changes, DC's Zoning Commission will begin considering the first update to the city's zoning code since 1958 in a series of public hearings over the next two weeks. The first hearing is tonight, with additional hearings to follow Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
Each hearing will be about one or more topics in the code, including housing, commercial uses, and parking. The hearings will be held at the Office of Zoning, 441 4th Street NW on Judiciary Square. Each hearing will start at 6 pm and continue until all the witnesses are heard or the Zoning Commission decides to recess.
Transit reporters talk politics: How will Smart Growth issues affect the 2014 elections in DC and Maryland? The Action Committee for Transit will host a panel discussion on transit and the election with the Washington Post's Robert Thomson, also known as "Dr. Gridlock," Ari Ashe from WTOP, and Josh Kurtz from the blog Center Maryland. Kyjta Weir, former Examiner reporter and current reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, will moderate.
This free meeting will be Tuesday, November 12 from 7:30 to 9pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, located at the corner of Ellsworth Drive and Fenton Street in downtown Silver Spring. For more information, visit ACT's website.
Learn about BRT on Route 29: Do you live, work, or travel along Route 29 in Montgomery County, also known as Colesville Road and Columbia Pike? Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Communities for Transit, and other local organizations hosting an educational event about Bus Rapid Transit for residents and business owners along 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville. Speakers will include Montgomery County Planning Board member Casey Anderson, county planner Larry Cole, and Chuck Lattuca, BRT system manager at the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
With 17,000 projected riders by 2040, a BRT line along 29 is an important part of Montgomery's rapid transit network. The event will take place on Wednesday, November 13 from 6 to 9pm at the White Oak Community Recreation Center, 1700 April Lane in Silver Spring. Click here to RSVP or for more information.
And talk about the north-south streetcar line: The District Department of Transportation will kick off its study of a north-south streetcar line with four open houses this week. Planners will decide specific routes for the streetcar and whether it should go to Takoma or Silver Spring.
The first meeting is tonight from 6:30 to 8:30pm at St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, 600 M Street SW. Tomorrow from 6:30 to 8:30pm and Wednesday from 2 to 4pm, there will be open houses at the Reeves Center, 2000 14th Street NW. And on Thursday, there will be a meeting from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Emery Recreation Center, 5701 Georgia Avenue NW. For more information, visit the streetcar study website.
Talk about how to spend Virginia's transportation money: Virginia's newly-passed transportation funding bill means new money for projects in Fairfax County. How should the county spend it? County officials are holding a series of dialogues to learn what residents want and find the best ways to get them moving.
They're holding a meeting tonight from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Falls Church High School, located at 7521 Jaguar Trail, with meetings to follow in Fairfax and Reston. For more information, visit the Fairfax County website.
Restart Franklin Park: DC, the National Park Service and the Downtown Business Improvement District will discuss the future of Franklin Park at a meeting Thursday night. The three organizations will study ways to renovate the park to make it more active and safe. The meeting will happen from 6 to 8:30pm at Four Points by Sheraton, 1201 K Street NW. For more information, visit the event's website.
Envision Tenleytown's future: On Saturday, Ward3Vision will discuss issues affecting Tenleytown and ways to improve the neighborhood at a workshop at American University. Organizers hope to bring together residents of Tenleytown and surrounding neighborhoods to share their hopes and dreams for the neighborhood. The event will happen from 9am to 12:30pm at Nebraska Hall, 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW. Click here for more information and to RSVP.
DC will start a one-year study of a north-south transit corridor from Southwest DC to Takoma or Silver Spring. While it's too early to tell what officials will decide, it's clear that Silver Spring's jobs, amenities, and other transit connections make it the most logical terminus.
This new corridor, which could operate as BRT but more likely a streetcar, will be one of the largest transit expansions in the District. This study, which is the first step in a longer planning process, will analyze alignments and modes through the entire study corridor to produce no more than three alternatives.
Historically, streetcars ran up 11th Street, 14th Street, and 7th Street/Georgia Avenue, spurring the development of commercial nodes along the way. You can see the vestiges of those lines today at their former termini: the Trolley Turnaround Park at 11th & Monroe Street NW, the streetcar terminal at Colorado Avenue, and downtown Silver Spring, just beyond the Georgia Avenue line's end at Eastern Avenue.
According to project manager Jamie Henson, DDOT has not committed to any exact alignment, but the study will consider corridors from 16th Street NW to as far as a quarter-mile east of 7th Street or Georgia Avenue. The original 2010 plan for the 37-mile network depicted a line running from Buzzard Point through downtown on 7th Street SW/NW and F Street NW, then along 14th Street NW, U Street NW, and finally on Georgia Avenue NW to Takoma. The plan described Silver Spring as a future extension along Georgia Avenue.
Though DDOT will study BRT and a wider range of alignments, the original alignment is still a possibility. The agency just announced that its preferred alternative for the Union Station-Georgetown transit line is a streetcar on H Street NE/NW, New Jersey Avenue NW and K Street NW, mirroring the original mode and alignment in the 2010 streetcar plan.
DDOT will compare streetcars to BRT, but not entirely
This phase of the study will consider modes such as BRT and streetcars, assessing the travel time, reliability, level of service, access to jobs, and types of trips served. The study will consider the trade-offs and desirability of running the line in dedicated lanes versus mixed traffic. DDOT will also contemplate whether the new service should prioritize speed and install fewer stops, or increase the number of stops to reduce walking.
Henson said the study will consider construction and operating costs of BRT versus streetcar, but Henson dismissed the differences in real estate development each mode sparks, saying development along the north-south corridor will happen regardless of mode. The Office of Planning's 2012 Streetcar Land Use Study, however, clearly favors streetcars' development potential for the District:
Although well-designed BRT systems attract some development, their impacts are typically much less than those for railWeighing the costs of construction and operation without accounting for land value appreciation misses an important part of financing the eventual project. DDOT recently announced that the District government will finance the streetcar, while contracting to a private firm to design, build, operate, and maintain the system.
— and the BRT systems that have generated the strongest development response operate on exclusive rights of way at all times and not in mixed traffic, as the District streetcar would. In cities without the potential to attract much development investment, implementation costs and other factors give buses a clear advantage. In the District, however, streetcar service appears very likely to attract significant real estate investment.
The District has not decided whether it will finance the full streetcar network through TIFs, general tax revenue, or special bond programs, but one thing is clear: bonds will have to be paid off through some stream of tax revenue, either a special account or the general fund. It's essential to compare the new tax revenue each mode generates, but this will likely wait for a later phase.
Extending the corridor to Silver Spring is in DC's interest
While keeping the north-south streetcar entirely in DC would be politically easier, there are many compelling reasons why terminating it at the Silver Spring Metro station would benefit the District and the region as a whole.
One of the main lessons our region learned from constructing the Metro is that all parts of the region thrive when everyone cooperates on transportation planning. The streetcars provide a valuable opportunity to further knit together the region's many vibrant walkable urban places both socially and economically.
When connected with urban-oriented transit infrastructure, urban places make each other more desirable because people in one location enjoy the benefits of all the other urban places. Even though it's on the other side of Eastern Avenue, District residents will more easily enjoy all that Silver Spring has to offer with more robust transit access via the north-south streetcar.
Silver Spring is a regional jobs center with 40,000 jobs and more to come. DC's northernmost neighborhoods would have an easy, quick reverse commute just across Eastern Avenue to a major regional jobs center. And unlike the Takoma Metro Station, Silver Spring is a major transit hub connecting not just the Red Line, but also MARC, the future Purple Line, and numerous bus lines to places throughout DC and Maryland.
It's also a regional shopping and entertainment hub, home to the Fillmore music hall, the American Film Institute Silver Theater, a public outdoor ice rink as well as free concerts at Veterans' Plaza, a farmers' market, and some regionally notable bars and restaurants. Not surprisingly, the 70/79 Metrobus, which serves the 7th Street/Georgia Avenue corridor between Southwest DC and Silver Spring today, is one of the most popular bus lines in the system.
Even though Silver Spring is just outside DDOT's jurisdiction, it would obviously win out over Takoma if transit projects followed economic, not jurisdictional, boundaries. Furthermore, two Montgomery County Councilmembers have asked DC Mayor Vincent Gray to consider Silver Spring as a terminal.
Share your views with DDOT next week
The District is hosting four meetings to kick off the study next week. In this first round, the agency is interested in learning your views on the eventual plan's features. Do you prefer faster travel times to frequent stops? Do you think the new line should run in its own dedicated lane at all or only in certain places? What impacts on street parking would you consider unacceptable? Do you prefer Takoma or Silver Spring as a northern terminus?
- Buzzard Point to Downtown: Monday, November 4 from 6:30 to 8:30pm, St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, 600 M Street SW.
- Downtown to Petworth: Tuesday, November 5 from 6:30 to 8:30pm, Reeves Center, 2000 14th Street NW.
- Businesses (entire study area): Wednesday, November 6 from 2pm to 4pm, Reeves Center, 2000 14th Street NW.
- Petworth to Silver Spring: Thursday, November 7 from 6:30 to 8:30pm, Emery Recreation Center, 5701 Georgia Avenue NW.
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