Streetcar Planning in DC

One of Torontos Red Rockets

One of Toronto's Red Rockets

While I was out on vacation, wheels started turning on getting DC’s streetcar planning back on track (har har).  Public meetings, platitudes, and so on.  BDC offers the quick and dirty summary:

I wasn’t able to attend last night’s streetcar meeting with Gabe Klein, but based on summaries I’m not sure we learned all that much that we didn’t already know. The key points seem to be that Klein wants streetcars to be a priority and is appointing a new streetcar czar, that the Federal government is more excited about streetcars than in the past, that we’re still not sure about the overhead wire issue (but someone in Congress may address it soon), and that we’re still looking at 2012 before the first line in Anacostia opens.

However, there are still some serious questions about rather basic items (even leaving aside the power issue for now), like route alignments.  Greater Greater Washington notes:

Klein reiterated support for the streetcar alignments in the current Comprehensive Plan. The first streetcars will run from Anacostia over the 11th Street Bridge, and along H Street and Benning Road, ultimately connecting to downtown on the K Street Transitway. Phase two is 7th Street and Georgia Avenue, and Minnesota Avenue between Anacostia and the Minnesota Avenue Metro near Benning Road, connecting the two lines across River East. There are still many outstanding alignment questions, like how to connect the streetcar to Union Station, where to continue it over the 11th Street Bridge (to Eastern Market? M Street SE?), and where to place maintenance facilities and storage yards for the H/Benning line.

The Comprehensive Plan highlights these routes, complete with rather nebulous distinctions between modes – Streetcars in blue, BRT in green, and “rapid bus” in Yellow:

The first obvious question is to determine what other transportation facilities might be implemented in the near future.  I’m thinking specifically about Metro here.  I bring it up because the core of the streetcar alignments in Downtown look an awful lot like the ideas for separating Metro’s interlined portions of track.  From my earlier fantasy posts, potential new Metro trackage (comprised of a New Blue line and New Yellow line through downtown) would look a lot like the core ‘cross’ of the streetcar lines in the DC Plan:

After plenty of lengthy debates about the utility of streetcars asa means to improve mobility, it’s worth considering the chances for Metro (an unquestioned improvement in both mobility and accessibility) to come to those corridors, and potential time frames for such investments.   Streetcars and Metro can and would complement each other well along the same corridor, just as high frequency bus routes complement Metro (think the 30s bus lines and the Orange/Blue trunk line through the city, for example), but I have a hard time believing money would be available for both.

As the DC Plan indicates (and the other streetcar plans floating around reinforce), there are lots of places where streetcars could be effective in DC.  However, there are few remaining corridors suitable to heavy rail transit.  When combining that with the long term needs to eliminate interlined portions of track, this becomes a question of long term planning and vision.

Part of the value of these fantasy transit maps is the visioning they bring to the table.  My worry with the streetcar planning is that things are too compartmentalized to plan for a holistic transportation system, both within DC and the region as a whole.  Metro is set to see tremendous ridership growth over the next 20 years, and ensuring the transit system as a whole can handle the demand will be a tall task.  Streetcars will be an improvement, but core expansion of Metro shouldn’t be off the table, either.

(DC Streetcar Plan)


One Response to “Streetcar Planning in DC”

  1. Alvaro Says:

    Hey – whats up. Thanks for the blog. I’ve been digging around for info, but i think i’m getting lost!. Google lead me here – good for you i guess! Keep up the great information. I will be coming back in a few days to see if there is any more info.

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