We were at the first half of yesterday's streetcar meeting at the Wilson Building. There was poor audio throughout -- we could barely hear any of councilmember Marion Barry's comments, which were probably some of the more provocative of the day -- which made us wonder why we were there at all. But then a co-worker who'd been watching at the office said the audio kept cutting in and out on television, too. That made us feel better.
Anyway, here's a rundown of some of the more interesting exchanges that we managed to pick up.
• D.C. planning director Harriet Tregoning, DDOT director Gabe Klein, and DDOT streetcar guru Scott Kubly all testified, urging the council to push ahead with funding the streetcar plans. A lot of the questioning revolved around why the streetcar lines are going where they're going. Klein, in explaining the heavy investment east of the Anacostia River, said the city's high-unemployment areas will be getting "a disproportionate benefit, as they should." Added Tregoning, "the areas with the poorest access to jobs will get it."
• That may have been what prompted Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh to wonder why there appears to be so little in the project for her own Upper Northwest constituents. She said it appeared DDOT was simply trying to push streetcars into the neighborhoods "where it's easiest to sell" politically. Klein replied frankly that Ward 3 isn't "a no-brainer" like some of the more densely populated and poorer wards when it comes to streetcars. Putting them in suburban areas, he said, "doesn't make much sense."
• Barry expressed concern that the addition of streetcars will further raise property taxes on the long-time small-business owners who are already getting pinched on fast-gentrifying H Street NE. This line of questioning that he put on Klein appeared to please a row of streetcar skeptics in attendance.
• Tregoning and Klein put some rosy numbers to the council: A $10 to $15 billion increase in the value of "existing and new development" to boost the tax base, along with an influx of 2,400 new residents a year due to the streetcars. Ward 4 councilmember Muriel Bowser wasn't exactly buying it. "Where are all these new residents and jobs going to be?" she asked.
• Kubly explained that the projected line on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE is going to be one of the most problematic, due to its narrow street, narrow sidewalks and already small amount of parking in the area.
• The city is considering whether it should bundle the streetcar service contract with the Circulator contract. That would make for a bigger overall contract, which could attract more interest from bidders. The streetcar fares will probably be the same as the Circulator and they'll also run with similar 10-minute frequencies, though the hours of operation will probably mirror Metro rail.
• Klein said the seemingly endless construction along H Street NE has been due mostly to utility work. The streetcar rail work, he stressed, has actually accounted for only a small amount of the time.
• Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham pressed Klein on why all that federal funding hasn't come through for the project, such as the recent Tiger II grant that we failed to get. Klein put much of the blame on the District's disenfranchisement. "We don't have a vote," he said. "Other people do. We're at a disadvantage."