Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Streetcars

Transit


Virginia commits to fund the Columbia Pike streetcar

The Commonwealth of Virginia will dedicate funding for up to half the cost of the Columbia Pike streetcar project.


Photo by Fairfax County on Flickr.

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.

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History


Check out this 1942 DC bus and streetcar map

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.

Bicycling


Photographic proof bikes and streetcars work together

Despite the fact that streetcar tracks can be hazards to cyclists, bikes and streetcars are great allies.


Amsterdam bikes and tram. All photos by Dan Malouff.

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.

Transit


BRT comes to Northern Virginia on August 24

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.


Route 1 Transitway under construction in Alexandria. Photo from the City of Alexandria.

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.

For now, only the Alexandria phase is ready. Arlington's phase just began construction and should be finished next year.

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 initial route (left) and route starting in 2015 (right). Images from WMATA.

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.

Transit


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.


Tucson's Sun Link streetcar opens July 25. Photo by Bill Morrow on Flickr.

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.

Transit


China may have figured out wireless trams

This December, wireless streetcars will start carrying passengers in Guangzhou, China. The new trams will run using supercapacitor batteries instead of overhead wires.


Guangzhou's wireless tram. Photo from China Central Television.

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.

Transit


Four big questions for a Georgia Avenue streetcar

As plans crystallize for a north-south streetcar in DC, four big questions will drive what the line ultimately looks like:


Streetcars on the Hopscotch Bridge. Photo from DDOT.
  1. How will the line snake through the center of the city?
  2. Will it reach Silver Spring?
  3. Will there be dedicated lanes, and if so, where?
  4. Is there any money to actually build anything?
Planners from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are still months away from settling on final details for the North-South Corridor. But at a series of public meetings last week, these big questions came into focus.

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.

Four route alternatives under study. Dedicated lanes could potentially fit on the purple and blue sections. Image from DDOT.

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.


Existing 9th Street bus lane. Photo by the author.

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.


Silver Spring. Photo by the author.

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.


Potential street cross-sections, color-coded to the map above. Image from DDOT.

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.

Events


Events roundup: Books, bikes, bridges and more

Bikes are in the spotlight this week. Help clean up a bike trail in NE DC, talk bicycle and pedestrian planning in Tenleytown, support bicycle advocacy at BikeFest, and more. It's a busy time of year!


Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

WABA BikeFest: Join other bicycling enthusiasts for WABA's annual fundraiser. Enjoy tacos, drinks, dancing, art, and more while supporting our region's bike advocates at Eastern Market's North Hall on June 13 from 8 pm to midnight. Tickets are $45 for WABA members and $55 for the public.

Bike trail cleanup: The Metropolitan Branch Trail needs some spring cleaning. On Sunday, June 15, from 10 am-12:30 pm, WABA's Trail Ranger team and community volunteers will tame vegetation and clean debris from the trail for smooth summer riding. Volunteers will meet at the Met Branch Trail at 4th and S Street NE. You can RSVP here.

After the jump: see plans for the north-south streetcar and 11th Street Bridge Park, and take a walk in Wheaton.

Meet the 11th Street Bridge Park designers: The field has narrowed to four teams competing to design a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia. Though the designs are not yet complete, each of the four teams will talk about their approaches and early ideas tonight, 6:30-8 pm at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE.

Streetcar planning: DDOT is holding its final round of open house meetings for its study of a future north-south DC streetcar. You can see DDOT's analysis of possible streetcar routes and weigh in. All three meetings last from 3:30-8:30 pm, with overview presentations at 4 and 7 pm. The full schedule is below:

  • South meeting: Tuesday, June 10, at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 2nd floor community room, 1100 4th St SW.
  • North meeting: Thursday, June 12, at the Emery Rec Center, 2nd floor community room, 5701 Georgia Ave NW.
Downtown Wheaton walking tour: The Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee (WUDAC) invites you to join their annual Wheaton walking tour this Saturday, June 14 at 10 am. The tour will be divided into three parts to encourage community feedback and conclude at 1 pm. RSVP by this Wednesday. Details and RSVP info.

Dead End book talk: This Thursday, June 12, join Ward3Vision to hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, at the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library (4450 Wisconsin Ave NW) at 7 pm. A lively discussion on walking and biking in cities will follow. Please RSVP.

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Roads


Will DCs streetcar weary council embrace the ambitious moveDC plan?

In this second installment of Streetsblog's interview with DDOT officials about moveDC, the conversation steered to the practicality of congestion pricing, implementation of the plan, and the elephant in the room: Whether a DC Council that just dramatically cut streetcar funding has the appetite to fund progressive transportation.


Road congestion if moveDC is implemented (left), and if not (right). Image from DDOT.

MoveDC calls for congestion pricing, 69 miles of high-capacity transit in addition to the 22 miles of streetcar already planned, a new downtown Metro loop, 72 miles of protected bike lanes, 136 miles of painted bike lanes, and 135 miles of off-street trails, all over the next 25 years.

In yesterday's interview installment, I talked to Matt Brown, DDOT's new acting director; Colleen Hawkinson, strategic planning branch manager at DDOT's Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA); and Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of the PPSA, about the prospects for the most dramatic changes envisioned in the plan, the pitfalls of a focus on Complete Streets, and the reality that cars will not win every trade-off anymore.

Here we pick up where we left off.

In the plan, there are two side-by-side maps (above) of future road congestion. One with the changes laid out in the plan, and one without. They're very similar. Not identical, but very similar.

SZ: They're not identical. But you have to remember, this removes a lot of vehicular capacity in exchange for some other things. So in order to create the space to provide more options, there was a need to manage the person-carrying capacity of the roadway system. And there were two principles that went along with that.

One is that there's always a way to not pay the charge. The way we modeled it, it's roughly equivalent to a round trip Metro fare.

I thought that was interesting, to basically say you're not going to pay any more to drive than to take the Metro.

SZ: And carpools might be free. But everybody's paying [if they drive alone]. District residents have to pay. And as we look at the whole system, we're accommodating the same number of car trips in a day in 2040 as we are today, even as the District grows by 170,000 residents and a couple hundred thousand jobs.

CH: And we could have made these colors [on the map] pretty much whatever we wanted to. If we add more roads that would be tolled, like Massachusetts Avenue and Connecticut Avenue, we could get different colors in here. But it didn't seem like we needed that to keep the network moving. This seemed to be a sweet spot in terms of the size of the cordon charge.

SZ: In the region, we're starting to get experience with tolls. People ride the ICC, they take 495. They start to see what that means.


The proposed downtown congestion charge zone. Image from DDOT.

I'm curious about the technical aspect of it, if you have that worked out.

SZ: [Shakes head]

There are so many access points. A lot of it's bridges, almost half

SZ: The Virginia side is.

But not if someone's coming in on 10th Street. Is it all electronic license plate monitors?

SZ: We don't know. We tried to [include congestion pricing] to model the future, but we haven't tried to figure out all the details yet. I think it's more like a London system than a bridge entry. They have closed-circuit TVs to read every license plate.

But we also continue to look at managing the highway facilities and think about how that would be integrated. So it's not all or nothing.

How much were the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Office of Planning involved in this process?

SZ: We had an agency advisory committee. This doesn't mean endorsement by them, but they were engaged in the process. The Office of Planning more than anybody. District agencies, COG, VDOT and MDOT were on that advisory committee. And Colleen presented the plan to the full Transportation Planning Board in March, as we were still writing it. And this generated some comments.

I hear you chuckle as you say "some comments."

SZ: There were some concerns, and parts they were saying, "I don't think that's going to happen."

What were the parts they were most skeptical about or troubled by?

SZ: I think the congestion charge.

CH: The biggest thing about it is going back to "DC can't tax people driving into the city."

A commuter tax.

CH: Exactly. But it's really not that. The DC residents would pay the same.

MB: It's the same with freeway managed lanes.

You could say the same for parking.

SZ: I think people have.

Oh great. People really compare it to an income tax on commuters?

SZ: That's sort of the knee-jerk response anytime we discuss pricing.

But those are apples and oranges.

CH: And then where is that money going? If it's going toward Metro, which is a regional system...

SZ: From our perspective, providing a way to not pay the chargewalking, biking, taking Metro, taking transit, maybe carpoolingthere are many ways to not pay the charge. Commuter, non-commuter, this is about managing the transportation system.

So everybody was consulted with, even if they didn't necessarily sign on.

SZ: It's not a regional plan. It's a plan for the District. And we looked at not only the comments that other jurisdictions had about our transportation system, but also ways that our transportation system could better connect to things that they are trying to do.

So we looked a lot at Montgomery County's BRT plans and how demand from other parts of the region to connect would feed into the District's transportation system. And a lot of our high-capacity transit corridors try to connect to Montgomery and Prince George's County, to connect with where they've talked about doing higher-capacity. A lot of our trail system and bridge connections try to connect with what Virginia's doing. So I think there's a lot of regional coordination and collaboration around ways to connect the system.

I want to ask about federal land. DC is such a special case. Is it a burden to have to deal with Congress, or to have to deal with federal roadways you can't just redesign? Does that come up a lot?

SZ: It does. It comes up in a lot of different ways, from where we're allowed to spend our resources to, you know, you can sneeze and hit a national park around here.

Yeah, every little corner pocket park is a national park in DC.

SZ: Right, so we're accustomed to the interagency collaboration. We didn't limit ourselves to just District-controlled streets in this, and we did look at some of those links that are controlled by National Park Service or Architect of the Capitol. There aren't that many, especially once you get outside of the historic city.

MB: But there's also CSX, there's Amtrak, there's WMATA. There's any number of partners we have to work with.

But I also think any number of cities across the country would want the direct relationship that DDOT has with [the] Federal Highway [Administration]. We meet with Federal Highway at least every two weeks. We work with them on our projects. We receive funds directly from them, not through a state. Sure, we have our issues, especially with the federal lands. But I think there's tremendous opportunity here.

So it seemed kind of rough that this came out a week after the really bad news about the streetcar, with this reproach from Council Chair Phil Mendelson and the council saying this was mismanaged.

MB: Let me just say: Absolutely not.

What does "absolutely not" mean?

MB: It wasn't timed. Our desire was to get this out as quickly as we can, to do it before people are gone for the summer, to finalize the plan and to document all the work that has gone into this and all those sessions we had with the community. There was no ulterior motive here.

Oh, I'm saying quite the opposite. Right after the council says, "We're not really into giving a whole lot more money into DDOT's big multi-modal plans," you come out with The Big Multi-Modal Plan. That seems to set up an antagonistic relationship with the council. How are you approaching that?

SZ: I don't think it's antagonistic.

MB: I think it's important that we communicate what our vision is. We need to be clear about where we are going.

But how will you approach a council that has just gone on record saying, "We're not interested in giving DDOT more money for grand multi-modal plans"?

MB: Well, for a specific aspect of the 22-mile streetcar system.

Which is part of this as well, plus a million other things.

MB: But if you listen to Mendelson on his face, he's not stopping the streetcar program. He's criticized us for our implementation. But like I said, I think we have to be clear about our vision and we have to talk about things like managed lanes and congestion pricing and dedicated funding streams. We have to have that conversation.

SZ: The funding mechanism they removed was the same funding mechanism they had approved the year before. So that, to me, is more about the tensions in a growing city and the way it was paired with tax cuts made it a difficult either/or. But this [plan] still talks about how that priority streetcar network fits within a larger transportation system and what it's intended to do.

And you feel like the council is still open to having that conversation?

SZ: We have a hearing [this week] on a bill that tries to create an authority to make the streetcar happen faster, at the same time as they just took away funding for it. So I don't pretend to understand exactly what's going through their minds as they do all this.

And then in terms of funding, you said you're open to this being a menu of options, and that they might not order the whole menu. You say you have $22 billion identified for it.

SZ: That'll have to change now.

But even if you got all the funding you project might possibly come in, you still don't quite make it. So is there a sense of where that prioritization would happen? Would that happen within DDOT? Would that happen with the council saying, "We're going to fund this part but not this part?" Is it just obvious, that the downtown metro loop is going to be super-expensive, cordon pricing is going to be super-expensive, so that's going to be at the end of the list?

MB: I think you've hit on one of our challenges, and the next step. Looking at all the recommendations, figuring out what is short term, easy to implement. The more expensive items are obviously ones that require a heavier lift and more funding.

We were talking about taking the plan and turning it into an action plan. I think that's important to operationalize the elements of the plan.

Former DDOT Director Gabe Klein had these action agendas. Seems like he liked to work from that, take something like this as the vision and then...

SZ: But we didn't have this [long-range plan]. We haven't done this since 1997, and then we did it again in 2004 and it got rolled in to the comprehensive plan. And this isn't a static plan where we're going to put it on the shelf and then in 2030 we say, "This is still the plan and we're still going to do it." It's something that gets updated every five or six years.

MB: And that's not unlike the action agenda that was put together for Sustainable DC.

Yes, so how does this dovetail with that?

SZ: Pretty well actually!

Is that something you looked at to ask, "Is this meeting those carbon goals?"

SZ: Yes, and that whole process was very helpful for us. It was just as we were starting to do this that the Sustainable DC plan came out and said, "Here are our transportation goals for sustainability." And we could say, "OK, let's go with that. How do we come in and achieve that?"

We see it as providing an overarching sustainability [framework]. In many ways it's the perfect complement to this.

We've talked to a couple of other cities that are starting major planning efforts that heard about this in one way or another. Portland and Seattle are both starting major transportation plans.

And wanting to go in this sort of direction?

SZ: Well they heard about what we were doing and they were curious about it. And we gave them some advice about what to do and what not to do.

What do you not do?

SZ: I don't know. It was largely a very successful process. I don't know, what do you not do?

[Silence]

CH: That's a good question.

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