Posts about Streetcars
Strasbourg, France is a beautiful city that takes its complete streets to heart. The roads through the old city gracefully mix street trams/light rail with bicycle paths and friendly traffic calmed streets. Pedestrians move easily. Its central intercity train station is a glamorous historic building sheathed in a chic, modern glass shell.
My family moved to Strasbourg when I was 12. In French school, I comprehended little, and regularly escaped the gates of Le Lycée International des Pontonniers to explore the city by foot and public transportation. It was liberating to take my lunch money and spend it in boulangeries around town or even into Germany across the Rhine River. My parents thought I was in school and I may not have been in the country!
Given the quality of its infrastructure, it would be easy to think the French city is quite large. In fact, Strasbourg is a metro area with a population the size of Albany, Little Rock, Colorado Springs and would rank 73rd in US metro size behind Columbia, SC.
6 tram lines ply this small city
The Strasbourg metropolitan area of 760,000 people contains six tram lines, 56km (36 miles) of track, 72 stations, and daily ridership of 300,000 as of 2010. No US city near this size has this kind of rail system.
During the day, trams run every 6 minutes Monday to Friday, 7 minutes on Saturday and 12 minutes on Sundays. Yearly passes are 456 euros ($620 dollars) with discounts for those over 65 and under 25. A single fare is 1.60 euro ($2.18).
Trams glide from suburbs into the dense city with a dedicated right of way. Photo by michallon on Flickr.
Strasbourg's trams function as a hybrid of what in the US we would call streetcars and light rail. The rail vehicles are similar to streetcars because they are mostly in the roadbed and integrate into the city's fabric, but unlike streetcars, they operate with their own right of way separate from traffic, as light rail does.
Bicycle infrastructure abounds
To complement the tram system, Strasbourg has almost 500km (311 miles) of cycling paths, 18,000 bike racks that serve over 130,000 cyclists. Secure bike parking lots and tire inflation facilities are available at bus and tram stops for transit card holders.
Baltimore County, a national leader in Complete Streets, still lags far behind Strasbourg
Many US cities have adopted complete street ordinances and individual streets have been retrofitted. Locally, Baltimore County has been recognized as a national leader for Complete Streets, ranking 6th among 83 communities in the US with Complete Streets programs.
Despite this recognition, the county's on-road bike network is minimal; members of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee have been frustrated by the lack of commitment to projects; the county has missed the mark on its pedestrian safety campaign; and now its county executive struggles to find a $50 million contribution for the $2.4 billion Red Line his administration says it supports.
In Baltimore City, Council Bill 09-0433 was adopted in 2010 directing the Departments of Transportation and Planning to apply "Complete Streets" principles to the planning, design, and construction of all new city transportation improvement projects.
Despite the accolades and the policies, "complete streets" in Baltimore County and Baltimore City still feel foreign. Too many incidences of tragic pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle crashes get blamed on user error than engineering design.
Only a few of the most progressive US cities are scaling up Complete Streets projects. On the ground implementation in many jurisdictions remains the elusive prize. Complete Street advocates look forward to seeing first rate projects in the city and the suburbs get designed, funded, and become reality.
You can see a gallery of pictures of Strasbourg's complete streets infrastructure at Comeback City.
The Commonwealth of Virginia will dedicate funding for up to half the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar project.
Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne announced $65 million in dedicated streetcar funding today, above and beyond state money Arlington and Fairfax had already hoped to receive.
More state funding means Arlington and Fairfax won't have to rely on the cumbersome federal New Starts funding process. That will speed up construction by a year, and save at least $25 million in costs.
Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette has repeatedly said that Arlington would not finance the project using homeowner property taxes. This new money guarantees Arlington can stick to that promise.
DDOT posted this 1942 map by Capital Transit to help people navigate around the city by bus or streetcar:
Fares were 10¢ or 50¢ for six. You could buy a monthly pass for $1.25. And unlike today, you could transfer for free between bus and rail.
One block of text urges "housewives" to "help Washington's War Effort" by only "travel in business shopping areas only between" 10 am and 3 pm. That's because 300,000 people were getting to and from work outside those times.
The streetcar numbering also shows where we get today's bus line numbers (for routes that don't have a letter). Many of the lines followed routes very similar to major bus corridors today.
The 30 followed Wisconsin Avenue NW and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and today, that's the 30 series buses. The 40 and 42 lines followed Connecticut and Columbia to Mount Pleasant, as the 42 (and 43) buses do today. The 50s lines used 14th Street, the 70s Georgia Avenue, 80s Rhode Island Avenue, and the 90s a rough circle around the central city, like their modern equivalents.
The 60 took 11th Street and ended at the north end of Columbia Heights. This matches the commercial district there today, but the modern 62 and 63 mostly use Sherman Avenue through this area and continue farther north.
The 20 route no longer exists; it followed the Potomac River to Glen Echo.
And finally, the 10 streetcar line went to Rosslyn and (with the 12) H Street and Benning Road. The eastern part of this became the X lines (X is the Roman numeral for 10).
If you're wondering whether historical streetcar precedent suggests whether the streetcar should go up Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring or to Takoma, the map is no help; the 72 cut east to Takoma while the 70 stayed on Georgia (though it ended just before the District line).
Finally, the Mall (or, at least, West and East Potomac Park) had a sort of Circulator: the Hains Point line, but only on Sundays in the summer.
They both help produce more livable, walkable, less car-dependent streets. It's no coincidence that the same cities are often leaders in both categories. In the US, Portland has both the highest bike mode share and the largest modern streetcar network. In Europe, Amsterdam is even more impressive as both a streetcar city and a bike city.
With that in mind, here's a collection of photos from Amsterdam showing bikes and streetcars living together.
Of course, it doesn't just happen. It's easy for bikes and streetcars in Amsterdam to avoid one another, and to interact safely, because each one has clearly delineated, high-quality infrastructure.
Chalk it up as one more reason to build good bike lanes.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
The first bus rapid transit line in the DC region will officially begin service on August 24.
The "Metroway" route will run from Crystal City to Braddock Road, partly in mixed traffic and partly in a dedicated transitway. A later phase to open in 2015 will extend the route to Pentagon City, and shift more of it into dedicated lanes.
Metroway is a joint project between Alexandria, Arlington, and WMATA. Alexandria and Arlington are building the transitway in two phases, and WMATA will operate the buses.
But rather than wait until 2015 to start service, WMATA will begin running buses in August, and simply run in mixed traffic through Crystal City until Arlington's phase is complete.
Metroway will run every 6 minutes at peak times, dropping to every 12 minutes at midday and every 20 minutes on weekends.
Arlington will eventually convert its portion of the route to streetcar.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
Silver Line will beat DC streetcar to opening, but Tucson shines a streetcar light at the end of the tunnel
When Metrorail's new Silver Line opens to passengers on July 26, it will soundly beat DC's H Street streetcar in the unofficial race over which opens first. But one day earlier, a sister project to the DC streetcar will have its day in the sun.
At 9:00 am on July 25, less than 30 hours before the Silver Line opens, Tucson's Sun Link streetcar will carry its first passengers.
Although Tucson is 2,000 miles away from H Street, their streetcar project is related to DC's. Manufacturer United Streetcar built the railcars for both DC and Tucson, and the same factory delays that have slowed delivery of DC's streetcars also mired Tucson's.
Sun Link was originally supposed to open in October, 2013. Its 10 month late opening is just as frustrating for Arizonans as the late transit openings are for us in the DC region.
But frustrations aside, the impending opening dates for the Silver Line and Tucson streetcar are also a light at the end of the tunnel for H Street. Overcoming the obstacles of a big new infrastructure project is hard, and takes a long time, but these projects do eventually open.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
This December, wireless streetcars will start carrying passengers in Guangzhou, China. The new trams will run using supercapacitor batteries instead of overhead wires.
Cities around the world, including Washington, have been increasingly interested in wireless streetcars ever since Bordeaux, France started using them in 2003. But Bordeaux's trams use an underground third rail that's proven too expensive for widespread use.
The Guangzhou system will use batteries that automatically recharge from an underground power supply at passenger stations. One recharge takes 10-30 seconds, and powers the tram for up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles).
And a similar system is in the works for another Chinese city, Nanjing.
That's good news for DC, where laws prohibit overhead wires at key locations near the National Mall. Streetcars like Guangzhou's could solve that problem.
It's not clear how much extra this type of wireless tram would cost. Expense doomed the Bordeaux method, so that is a serious concern. But if the price is right, the technology finally seems to be there.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
As plans crystallize for a north-south streetcar in DC, four big questions will drive what the line ultimately looks like:
- How will the line snake through the center of the city?
- Will it reach Silver Spring?
- Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
- Is there any money to actually build anything?
How will the line snake through the center of the city?
DDOT's latest report focuses on four potential alternate routes, but project manager Jamie Henson says DDOT could still mix and match components of multiple alternates to create the final path.
North of Petworth, DDOT has settled on a Georgia Avenue streetcar alignment going at least as far north as Butternut Street.
The line could run south from Petworth down Sherman Avenue as far as Florida Avenue, or it could stay on Georgia. Georgia is wide enough for dedicated lanes and is lined with shops instead of houses, so it would probably attract more riders, but Sherman would offer a more stark contrast to the route 70 Metrobus.
South of Florida Avenue things get really interesting.
The route could stay on 7th Street through downtown DC, but that duplicates Metrorail's Green Line, and 7th Street isn't wide enough for dedicated lanes. Or it could travel on 14th Street, where population density is most concentrated and where it's a long walk to any Metro stations. But 14th Street is already booming; a streetcar might help more elsewhere.
11th Street and 9th Street are intriguing possibilities. Infill and commercial development have lagged there relative to 14th Street. Would a streetcar bring a 14th Street-like boom? Meanwhile, both 11th and 9th are wide enough for dedicated lanes.
9th Street is already home to one of DC's only existing bus lanes. Though the bus lane is lightly used and poorly enforced, that might make 9th a particularly easy place to add streetcar lanes.
To traverse the National Mall, the line could either turn onto F Street through downtown and then use 7th Street to go south, or it could turn onto Pennsylvania Avenue and then use 4th Street.
The F Street to 7th Street option seems to be a path of less resistance, could fit dedicated lanes, would be more central to the National Mall, and would directly serve The Wharf development at the Southwest waterfront. On the other hand, 4th Street would better serve the existing Southwest neighborhood.
Will it reach Silver Spring?
Silver Spring is a natural end point for this corridor. It's big, dense, and already one of the DC region's largest multimodal transit transfer points.
Around 4,000 DC-bound passengers board WMATA's route 70 Metrobus in Silver Spring every day, with still more boarding the parallel S-series routes. There's tremendous opportunity for the streetcar to reach more people and have a greater impact by ending in Silver Spring instead of DC.
But for that to happen, Maryland and Montgomery County have to step up with plans of their own. DDOT has neither authority to plan nor money to build outside the District's boundaries.
So for now, DDOT is keeping its options open. But eventually they'll need to make a decision. At this point, it's on Maryland to come to the table.
Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
Whether or not the streetcar will have dedicated lanes depends on two factors: Is there adequate width on the street, and is there enough political support to repurpose lanes from cars?
The first factor is easy. This chart shows potential street cross-sections, color-coded to match street segments along the route alternatives maps.
Streets color-coded as either purple or blue are wide enough to potentially fit dedicated lanes. Streets coded as green, yellow, or orange are not.
The political factor is harder. Depending on the location, providing dedicated streetcar lanes might mean eliminating or reducing on-street parking, pushing truck loading onto side streets, or any number of other trade-offs.
DDOT's ridership forecasts say shaving 5 minutes off streetcar travel time would boost ridership 11%. If true, that suggests thousands more people would ride a streetcar with dedicated lanes than without.
And of course, the inverse is true too: Without dedicated lanes, many riders who could be on the streetcar might instead opt to drive.
At public meetings last week, representatives from the Georgia Avenue business community voiced strong objections to dedicated lanes, fearing that loss of parking would hurt their stores. But if dedicated lanes add more streetcar riders to a block than they remove parking spaces, the reverse could very well be true.
Is there money to actually build anything?
Thanks to Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council cutting streetcar funding in the latest budget, the DC budget currently doesn't have any funding for this line.
The council could add more money in future budgets, or DDOT could seek alternate funding options like the federal New Starts program. But for now, this line is unfunded and there's not yet a clear plan to change that.
In the meantime, DDOT will continue to plan, with the next step being an environmental study. But all other details pale next to the overarching and unanswered question of how to fund whatever the studies recommend.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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