Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Streetcars

Roads


Fairfax's answer to neighbors' transit plans: Light rail, streetcars, and BRT

Not to be outdone by its neighbors' aggressive plans for rail and BRT networks, Fairfax County has an impressive transit plan of its own.


Fairfax County's proposed high quality transit network. Image from Fairfax County.

DC has its streetcar and moveDC plans, Arlington and Alexandria have streetcars and BRT, and Montgomery has its expansive BRT network, plus of course the Purple Line.

Now Fairfax has a major countrywide transit plan too, called the High Quality Transit Network. Top priorities are to finish the Silver Line and the Bailey's Crossroads portion of the Columbia Pike streetcar, but that's not the end of Fairfax's plans.

County planners are also looking at several other corridors, including Route 1, Route 7 (both east and west of Tysons), I-66, Route 28, and Gallows Road/Dolly Madison Boulevard.

Both rail and BRT are possibilities for all those corridors. Some may end up light rail or streetcar, others bus. Route 1 and I-66 could even include Metrorail extensions.

In addition to all that, Fairfax County Parkway is slated for HOT lanes, which could make express buses a more practical option there.

As the DC region continues to grow, and demand for walkable, transit-accessible communities continues to increase, these types of plans are crucial. If our major arterial highways are going to become the mixed-use main streets of tomorrow, transit on them must significantly improve.

Fairfax is undeniably still spending a lot on bigger highways. Planners' inability to calm traffic on Routes 7 and 123 through Tysons, for example, indicates roads are still priority number one. But it takes a plan to change, and this is a strong step forward. So good on Fairfax for joining the club.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Government


Mary Cheh wants to break up DC's transportation agency

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has gotten too large and unwieldy to carry out all facets of its mission, says DC Councilmember Mary Cheh. Cheh has introduced a bill to reorganize transportation-related functions, create some new agencies, and abolish one.


Cheh's proposed reorganization. Image from Councilmember Cheh's office.

Cheh, who chairs the council committee that oversees DDOT, says there is precedent for slicing large agencies into smaller ones. Before 1998, all transportation-related functions were part of the Department of Public Works (DPW).

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was formed that year by splitting off driver and car licensing-related functions. Then, in 2002, DDOT was created. Finally, the District Department of the Environment split from DPW in 2006.

Cheh feels that it's time again for a too-large District agency to split into several. She has proposed a possible set of changes, below. But her staff emphasize that this isn't the only possible approach. More than the specifics, they want to put out one option for discussion, and foster a broad conversation about what to do.

The current version of the bill would make a few significant changes.

Centralize parking functions in one place. Today, three separate agencies handle parking issues. DDOT determines parking rules and posts signs. But officers who work for DPW are the ones who actually write tickets. If someone contests a ticket, it's the DMV that reviews the case.

This creates significant confusion when DDOT policymakers want to solve one problem, but information can get lost when trying to get DPW ticket-writers to focus in that area, and DMV hearing officers might interpret rules entirely differently. The bill would form a new agency, the Department of Parking Management, to handle all of these matters: policy, enforcement, and adjudication.

Establish a new transit authority. Cheh says that DDOT seems unable to really manage transit planning amid all of its other responsibilities, and groups like the Downtown BID have been complaining that DDOT does a poor job of with and coordinating with them about transit.

In many cities, the transit system is its own authority with a separate board. Cheh's bill would create such an authority for DC. That authority would supervise the Circulator and DC Streetcar, and be the point of contact between the District government and WMATA. It would also handle taxicab policy (see below) and "multimodal planning," but Cheh's proposal is not clear on what exactly that means.

To govern this authority, the mayor would appoint four members to a board, including a chair. The directors of DDOT and the Office of Planning, the DC Chief Financial Officer, and the councilmember who oversees transportation would each serve on the board or designate staff members to represent them.

The board would also include the head of DC Surface Transit, a private nonprofit made up of various local Business Improvement Districts, the convention authority Events DC. DC Surface Transit was involved in pushing to launch the original Circulator. The organization now helps market the Circulator, advises DDOT on operations and routes, and is advocating for the streetcar program.

Cheh's staff say that a transit authority, versus just an agency, could also be more transparent about transit planning than DDOT has been, by having a public board with open meetings. Furthermore, they say they have heard feedback that a separate authority could attract higher-caliber people than a mere government agency.

Abolish the Taxicab Commission. The DC Taxicab Commission has an unusual and, many say, dysfunctional structure. It has a board whose members the mayor appoints and the council confirms, but the chairman of the board also manages all of the agency's staff. Under Mayor Fenty, the Taxicab Commission chairman sometimes just ignored the board entirely. The agency has had problems with transparency and more.

Besides, does it make sense for one agency to only consider issues about taxis completely in a vacuum? Taxis are one of many transportation modes. People often choose between taxis, Metro, buses, driving, bicycling, and more. But having a separate agency make taxi policy means there's usually no overarching thought about how to help taxis fill a void other transportation modes leave, or vice versa.

Cheh's proposal would dissolve the Taxicab Commission. Instead, the District Transit Authority would make taxi policy and set taxi regulations, while the DMV would actually handle the day-to-day of registering, inspecting, and licensing the drivers and vehicles, just as it does for other drivers and vehicles now.

Move trees to DDOE. DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration handles street tree issues. Cheh's proposal would make this part of the District Department of the Environment, an agency that split off from DPW in 2006 to handle environmental protection, energy, and similar issues.

Cheh says there isn't a good reason for tree management to be part of DDOT. It's originally there because tree boxes are part of the roadway area, but there's also good sense in putting trees with the agency primarily focused on the District's environmental quality.

With these changes, DDOT would continue to have:

  • Its engineering arm, the Infrastructure Project Management Administration (IPMA) that builds and maintains roads, bridges, sidewalks, alleys, and other infrastructure;
  • The Traffic Operations Administration (TOA), which handles traffic lights, streetlights, crossing guards, and road safety;
  • The Public Space Regulation Administration (PSRA), with oversight over sidewalk cafés and other private uses in public space; and
  • Some or all of the Transportation Policy, Planning, and Sustainability Administration (PPSA) which devises long-term and short-term transportation plans, and works with communities to devise proposals to improve transportation. The pedestrian and bicycle programs are part of PPSA today, and PPSA is also handling the moveDC citywide transportation plan.
PPSA encompasses what Cheh probably means by "multimodal transportation planning." According to Cheh's transportation committee director, Drew Newman, they are considering a number options for transportation planning, including keeping it in DDOT, moving it to the new transit agency, or moving it to the Office of Planning.

Process

Cheh and her staff want to have a series of conversations on the various proposals, through some combination of public forums and a smaller working group. Based on that, hey might decide to change their recommendation, maybe reallocate which functions go to which agencies, or even decide that something shouldn't get split out and should stay where it is.

The forums will take place in June and July. Cheh hopes to then have final hearings in September, mark up the bill, and pass it at council sessions in late September and early October so that it can take effect by January. That would mean that the next mayor, whoever it is, would appoint new agency heads under this new system.

Is this a good idea?

What do you think about Cheh's plan? Tomorrow, I'll give some of my own thoughts.

Roads


No carmageddon at McMillan, says a study

Redeveloping DC's McMillan Sand Filtration site will not choke neighbor­hoods in new traffic as long as the District follows through on transit plans, says a transportation study from the project team.


McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

The most important element: better transit

The study says that it's quite possible to avoid burdening busy roads in the surrounding neighborhoods, as long as planned improvements to transit actually happen. The report says is transit is actually necessary regardless of whether the project goes forward or the site remains fenced off.

In the short run, improving the Metrobus 80 bus line on North Capitol Street, which WMATA has already designated a "bus priority corridor," will help the most. Other bus lines also need improvements that previous studies have identified.

The report also calls for building the proposed streetcar line along Michigan Avenue from Woodley Park to Brookland Metro. If these projects get delayed, he report recommends coordinated shuttles to the Brookland Metro station.

Along with some tweaks to surrounding roads, the traffic will be no worse with the McMillan project than if nothing gets built.

The report also calls for better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including completing the street grid through McMillan, multiple pedestrian access points in each building, ample bicycle storage, and space for three Capital Bikeshare stations.


Top: Transit today around McMillan. Bottom: Proposed transit. Images from the report (p. 92 and 97).

Pitfalls remain

While the study demonstrates the redevelopment can move forward without burdensome traffic impacts, it also points to potential problems that the project team will need to take care to address.

There needs to be ongoing pressure on the city and DDOT to move forward on transit. The city has moved slowly to upgrade transportation elsewhere, so project partners need to keep a close eye on progress.

Walking and bicycling conditions on and off the site also need more attention. Busy driveways on Michigan Avenue pose potential new conflict points for pedestrians and bicyclists. As the city reviews this project, it should take every chance to improve access and safety in the area. Also, while it's great to leave space for three Capital Bikeshare stations, the development should pay for at least one.

The transportation plan specifically cites a proposed DC Circulator route from Brookland to Tenleytown, which covers the same ground as the current H buses. Instead of duplicating existing service, DC and Metro could work together to improve existing H bus service. In fact, Metro recently studied the H lines and made several recommendations to make service faster and more reliable through the area.

New traffic signals will help pedestrians and bicyclists, but the added turn lanes and driveways on Michigan Avenue and First Street NW could pose additional barriers and hazards.

The report also recommends incentives to reduce driving, lower vehicle parking ratios, and encourage transit use in later phases. Instead, these efforts should start now.

With a redevelopment as large and controversial as McMillan, it's important to push for the right policy decisions. To voice your support for the right policy decisions regarding the McMillan redevelopment, head over to the Coalition for Smarter Growth to sign up to speak at an upcoming hearing.

Transit


Here are the busiest bus stops on 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue

The map shows where riders are going on Metro's busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.


Map from DDOT.

It's a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC's densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It's not surprising then that 16th Street's riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It's easy to see why DDOT's streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Gray boosts transit in his final budget

In his last budget as mayor of DC, Vincent Gray continued to put funding into the DC Streetcar and also will expand the Circulator.


Likely transit projects in the near future. Map by the author.
Purple: streetcar; red: Circulator; green: Park Service Mall Circulator. Thin lines are running today or under construction. Thick lines represent extensions or new lines being studied.
All routes are approximate and don't include every twist and turn or multiple alternatives.

The capital budget devotes significant money on an ongoing basis to the streetcar. One quarter of all extra revenue above the base estimate for 2015 will go into streetcar construction (assuming future mayors keep it going). Over the next 6 years, that will bring in about $810 million.

DDOT is currently working to finish the H Street-Benning Road line, and planning to extend it east to Minnesota Avenue and west to Georgetown. Another line, which is under study, would go from the Southwest Waterfront to Takoma or Silver Spring, and DDOT is wrapping up a study on how to run a line through Anacostia and over the 11th Street bridge.

The budget also includes operating funds to start running the H Street-Benning Road segment once it is ready.

On buses, Gray has budgeted $56.6 million over 6 years to buy new buses for Circulator extensions:

  • The Rosslyn-Dupont line to U Street and Shaw
  • The Union Station-Georgetown line to the National Cathedral
  • The Union Station-Navy Yard to the Southwest Waterfront
There is $41.2 million to build a new Circulator bus garage, though officials have not decided where the garage would go. $9 million more would pay to refurbush older Circulator buses.

The budget does not, however, include any capital projects to design or build new dedicated bus lanes. This continues DDOT's pattern of indifference toward reducing delays in the city's bus lines.

There is $28 million to clear out the backlog of sidewalk rehabilitations and repairs, and money to fix up more alleys.

While his transportation department has made slow progress on the streetcar and virtually none on speeding up buses, Mayor Gray has shown a sustained commitment to fund transit projects. Will his successor do the same?

Update: It's worth pointing out that the east-west streetcar on K Street will get dedicated lanes for most of the length between Mount Vernon Square and Washington Circle, in the proposed K Street Transitway. Some buses will also be able to use that transitway. However, there are no bus-specific dedicated lane projects, and most designs for the north-south streetcar do not dedicate lanes, though a few do.

Transit


Columbia Pike streetcar would generate $3 billion more benefit than enhanced bus

A new return on investment study shows that for the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar, the additional benefits of rail over buses far outweigh the additional costs.


Watering can image from Shutterstock.com.

Streetcar opponents in Arlington have been arguing that better buses on Columbia Pike could provide as many benefits as streetcars, for much lower cost. This new study shows that claim simply isn't true.

Although streetcars on Columbia Pike will cost $200 to $250 million more than enhanced buses, rail will return $3.2 to $4.4 billion in economic benefits, compared to only $1.0 to $1.4 billion for bus.

This means the $2.2 to $3 billion worth of additional benefits from streetcars are approximately 10 times as great as the additional cost.

Arlington commissioned this new study to analyze the economic costs and benefits of streetcars and enhanced buses on Columbia Pike in a side-by-side, apples-to-apples way. The study also takes into consideration new data that's come out since previous studies, leading to more realistic forecasts.

An independent firm, HR&A Advisors, conducted the study. They took several steps, including literature reviews, case studies, and interviews, to establish the study's credibility as not advancing a predetermined outcome.

Enhanced bus isn't BRT

Streetcar opponents had hoped this report would demonstrate stronger benefits for buses, citing analysis from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) that examined the benefits of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects around the country.

The Columbia Pike study found that while many BRT projects do indeed have strong returns on investment, the conditions in those cities cannot be replicated on Columbia Pike.

Labels for transportation projects matter, and "enhanced bus" is not the same as "BRT." While the enhanced bus option on Columbia Pike would mean longer buses and off-board payment, these improvements wouldn't be enough to see the gains of true BRT. According to HR&A, citing the benefits of "full BRT" on Columbia Pike makes for "flawed comparisons."

The bus option costs more than earlier studies assumed

Although the streetcar option is more expensive than the bus option, the difference isn't as great as previously believed. The return on investment study notes some additional costs for enhanced buses that weren't a part of previous analysis.

Since the bus option would bring new articulated buses into the corridor, that would require building a new operations and repair facility for the buses somewhere nearby. Previous studies only counted a cost for a maintenance and operations yard for the streetcar, not for bus.

Also, adding more heavy 60-foot buses on Columbia Pike would require repaving the roadbed using more durable concrete, to handle the weight of the new buses. Previous studies assumed the streetcar would require roadbed and track construction, but didn't for the bus alternative. They had instead projected that buses would use the existing roadbed for no additional cost.

Enhanced buses are a good tool in many corridors, but the claim that they can provide equal benefits to streetcars on Columbia Pike should be put to rest once and for all.

Politics


Columbia Pike streetcar becomes the central issue in Arlington's special election

Arlington voters will pick a replacement for county board member Chris Zimmerman in a special election April 4 April 8. While the two candidates have a lot in common, their take on the Columbia Pike streetcar sets them apart. One calls it an important part of the county's transportation network, while the other says it's a waste of money.


Rendering from Arlington County.

Democratic nominee Alan Howze, who was selected in a January caucus, and independent John Vihstadt aren't that far apart on most issues. Both support the county's efforts on smart growth and affordable housing. They also both support the county's move to establish a new homeless shelter at Courthouse, and they agree on some national issues, like marriage equality.

But they're divided over the Columbia Pike streetcar, the 4.9-mile line between Pentagon City and Bailey's Crossroads which has the support of most of the current board, but strong opposition from some.

Vihstadt is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, an anti-streetcar group which argues the streetcar is too expensive and will not move as many people as estimated. If elected, Vihstadt would join board member Libby Garvey, who also opposes the streetcar.

He told the pro-streetcar group Arlington Streetcar Now that he wants to evaluate how BRT performs on the Crystal City/Potomac Yard transitway before committing funds to any project on Columbia Pike. AST has been advocating for Bus Rapid Transit on Columbia Pike, but their comments, and Vihstadt's statement here, glosses over the issue that BRT is not possible on Columbia Pike since there is no room for a dedicated lane, unlike for Crystal City-Potomac Yard.

Vihstadt would split the money dedicated to the project between buses on Columbia Pike and other projects throughout the county, which is appealing to some voters elsewhere in the county that want more resources spent on projects in their area.

Despite initially being publicly on the fence about the project, Howze does support the streetcar. He believes it will move more people and help support new development. In a position paper on the subject, he rejects the criticism that funds for the project will take away resources from other county priorities like schools, noting that schools take up half of the county's capital projects budget, and the streetcar hovers at around 10%.

But it's clear that calls to rein in county spending have had an effect on him. Howze has repeated that he's not someone who will just rubberstamp projects and not pay attention to costs. He says that "no project has a blank check" in regards to the county's proposed Long Bridge Aquatic Center. At a recent candidates' forum, he said the county spent too much money on a new dog park in Clarendon.

The special election's unusual date means that voter turnout will be low. Howze will have to count on Democrats being happy with the way the county has performed and the priorities it has set. Vihstadt, meanwhile, is banking on support from unhappy voters across the political spectrum who want to reverse or slow down the pace of some projects in the county. He says being the only non-Democrat on the board would be a strength, arguing the board needs more political diversity.

At the same time, there is a primary election coming up on June 8 to select a nominee to succeed retiring Rep. Jim Moran. That primary features many local leaders in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax, which means it has gotten a lot of attention while many voters may not be focusing closely on the county board race.

Some observers think that by taking a reluctant stance toward many county projects, Howze may generate lower levels of enthusiasm among his potential supporters as compared to Vihstadt, who has been trying to appeal to various groups of voters that have a specific bone of contention with the current board. If few people vote and enough disgruntled Democrats in Arlington vote with independents and Republicans, Vihstadt is likely to win.

The victor will not have much time to rest, as the winner will have to defend his seat again in November's general election.

Transit


DC pulls back on the one bus lane it was actively planning

The snail's pace of progress on speeding up DC's busy bus routes has taken another step, but a step backward: A dedicated bus lane east and west across downtown has moved from being on the list of projects to build in the near future back to the purgatory of projects in planning.


Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Elected leaders and transportation officials have been talking for several years about designing dedicated bus lanes for H and I Streets past the White House, which carry some of the highest volumes of bus traffic in the region. Numerous routes all converge there to travel east and west.

In 2011, staff from then-transportation chair Tommy Wells' office, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), and WMATA were talking about how to move forward on bus lanes. Wells was really pushing the city to do more for bus riders, and WMATA had recently issued their "Priority Corridor Network" vision that recommended bus lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, and more to maximize the region's large investment in bus service.

There was a consensus at the time around starting with one really high-quality bus route with dedicated lanes, real enforcement to make the lanes work, signal priority, and more. This demonstration project would go in a corridor where there are enough buses to make such a project really improve travel times for a lot of bus riders. Folks at the time agreed that a good place to start was H and I.

DDOT started collaborating with WMATA on a study about how to design these lanes. It also added a bus lane project for H and I onto the regional Constrained Long-Range Plan (CLRP), a regional mechanism for DC, Maryland, and Virginia to assemble their lists of transportation projects and ensure they comply with federal air quality rules.

Momentum stalls, and DDOT stops being supportive

The study took a long time to get through procurement, and there were other bureaucratic obstacles that slowed things down. Still, by late 2012 WMATA was close to having options ready to go. Instead, DDOT basically pulled out of the study.

In June of 2013, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy sent a letter to WMATA planning head Shyam Kannan, which we have been able to obtain. The letter says DDOT wasn't interested in pursuing the option of two-way buses using a contraflow lane on H Street, which is what the study ended up recommending.


Potential H Street contraflow bus lane. Image from WMATA.

This year, DDOT removed the bus lanes from the CLRP, and is listing them as a study rather than a project to actually happen. Councilmember Mary Cheh asked about the project this spring in preparation for the annual oversight hearing, and DDOT's response is a classic engineer non-answer saying, in effect, that there are a lot of technical details to work out, and maybe they will work them out sometime in the future, but not now.

What's going on? Mostly, DDOT couldn't do this and the streetcar on K Street at the same time. According to Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT's Associate Director in charge of planning, building the K Street dedicated lanes for the streetcar will likely require moving buses temporarily off K, rerouting traffic, and more, although DDOT has not decided the details this time. DDOT may need the flexibility to configure H and/or I in various ways during construction on K.

The agency is also concerned about operational issues, such as how driveways into parking garages and deliveries would work with the lane. As DDOT's responses to Mary Cheh show, the agency also wants to look at fixes identified by the WMATA study that don't involve a lane, such as ways to reduce bus dwell times at stops or prohibiting right turns at some intersections during rush hours.

Sources who participated in internal bus lane discussions, and insisted on remaining anonymous, also say that during the study, DDOT was going through environmental review for the K Street streetcar, and having better bus service on H and I would have reduced the apparent benefit of investing in the streetcar.

Will bus lanes take a generation?

DDOT is still keeping this project on its list of projects under design, and the moveDC long-range plan still shows bus lanes here. But it's clear that, perhaps because of staff turnover or political priorities, DDOT has gone from trying hard to build a bus lane to thinking of this as a low priority at best.

There's more momentum at the moment for a 16th Street bus lane, and maybe that can be the first example instead of H and I. But any lane will need a detailed analysis that could take a year or more, and would have to go onto the CLRP. The H and/or I Street concept had already surmounted at least these obstacles, and could have become reality more quickly.

Even if DDOT has good reasons to wait on H and I, there are always reasons to slow down or not to move forward. Over the years, there has also been plenty of off-the-record finger pointing between DDOT and WMATA about which agency is not doing what needs to be done. Ultimately, it takes courage and commitment to actually work through all of the issues, problems, and community concerns and build something, just as DDOT is now doing with several streetcar lines.

The streetcar is a good project, but there will still be many bus lines serving large numbers of riders. The streetcar will attract a lot of transit riders and drive growth in corridors like H Street, but without dedicated lanes (and in most places, there won't be), it won't be a speedy way to get from one part of the city to another. There also won't be streetcars everywhere in the city, and definitely not Metrorail lines, which are extremely expensive.

Buses move a lot of people today, and if they could spend less time in traffic, could move a lot more without more expense, or save a lot of money. (On 16th Street, for example, the delay around not having bus lanes adds $8 million a year in costs that either could go to more bus service or other city priorities.)

The reasons are clear, and many opportunities are available if and when the transportation department wants to pick up on them. It will just require leadership that's interested in actually making it happen.

Politics


Mayoral challengers criticize the Gray administration's streetcar progress

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over the course of a few weeks. 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.

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 thatmy 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.

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.

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 bedig 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 nowit's already builtbefore 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 happenmany 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.

Later, when we were talking about political obstacles to bus lanes, he suggested doing more projects that make it possible to experiment. He said,
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:

Wells:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Evans:

Politics


Ward 1 candidates: Graham is hot on buses, not on streetcars

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 1 on the DC Council. See all of the discussions here.


Images from the candidate websites.

Jim Graham, the councilmember for Ward 1, has always been a staunch supporter of bus transit. But he's much less sanguine about DC's plans to build a network of streetcars.

Graham pushed to keep bus fares down when on the WMATA Board, and he proposed the Circulator route that runs from McPherson Square to U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Woodley Park.

I asked Graham if we should have dedicated bus lanes. He said:

I was very much an advocate for creation of express bus on 16th street and on Georgia Avenue [the S9 and 79 buses]. Both of those happened while I was involved. It's good but there's still terrific bus bunching. ...

Metro/WMATA has always treated the buses like stepchildren. They're kind of assigned to the coal bin of Metro. And it's been a slow process pulling the bus transportation out of that second-class status and into first-class status. We're not there yet. And I think a dedicated lanebecause I think rapid bus makes a lot of sense.

When we compare the cost of rapid bus to light rail, and we compare the problems of light rail to the relative ease of rapid bus, I think it's a very strong case. The notion of light rail running down Harvard or light rail running down 18th Street in Adams Morgan? It's... it's quite a profound change.

Because people forget that streetcars break down. I think nobody remembers that they break down. I rode streetcars in the '50s and '60s and they broke down. And when they broke down there was such a terrific backlog of traffic and congestion as the car had to be pulled away. That's just in the nature of things. Look at the Metro trains!

Not to mention the fact that you've got the trolleys taking up an awful lot of roadway space, and that's going to create other challenges.

"H Street is perfect" for streetcars, he said, in part because it is "very broad." But there's also a debate about whether H Street should one day have dedicated lanes (Charles Allen would like to consider it, while Darrel Thompson doesn't think it would work, for example). Graham said:

I was 12 years on the Metro Board. (I don't want to say too much about that right now.) But I became convinced that if we had really good rapid bus, people would be very happy to use it. And we wouldn't have the enormous cost of capital investment that we have related to trolleys. Trolleys in some ways are sentimental and they're kind of exciting and new. But rapid bus can deliver, and we know plenty of examples where it has delivered.
Nadeau wrote in an email, "I'm fully supportive of a streetcar for Georgia Avenue and excited about the conceptual drawings circulated last week. It's a great opportunity to strengthen a commercial corridor that has largely been forgotten by our current leadership."

As for the 16th Street bus lane, she said in the interview that not only does she think it's a good idea, as Graham does, but she is pushing to make it a reality (unlike, she says, her opponent):

One of the things I'm working on right now is the 16th Street [bus] lane. That was a proposal that came up in 2009, 2010 when Graham was chair of the transportation committee, and it still has not been studied and implemented. ... When that study was done, 30% of all traffic on 16th Street was the bus. And now, it's more than 50%.

Watch the whole discussion with Graham about transportation here, including conversations about car dependence, parking, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC