Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Here comes that D.C. streetcar mania

December 7, 2011 - 09:28 AM
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(Photo: DDOT)

Nothing quite explains the mania Washington, D.C. has begun to feel for streetcars as the fact that city officials were forced to turn potential attendees away from last night's meeting by a quarter after 7 p.m. Yes, even a theater that holds multiple hundreds of people did not have safe capacity to host the hordes of passionate D.C. streetcar advocates and critics.

Mayor Vince Gray, District Department of Transportation director Terry Bellamy, acting director of DDOT progressive services Aaron Overman, and councilmembers like streetcar proponent Tommy Wells gathered at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street amid the stormy chill of our coming winter to update residents of H Street and the District at large about the state of the streetcar. Despite complications with Amtrak and the path of the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line, the city has attempted to communicate its commitment. Just months earlier, DDOT even set up a D.C. Streetcar booth at the H Street Festival and passed out bright red bags. By the time last night's meeting rolled to its conclusion around 8:30 p.m., the Twitter handle @DCStreetcar began trending in the D.C. region. Although much of the audience was rapt throughout the Powerpoint and Q&A, several members of the audience continued to update Twitter throughout the session. Consider the live-tweeting of NOMA ANC commissioner Tony T. Goodman for a good breakdown of what happened. So popular are streetcars that D.C. is holding yet another streetcar event at Atlas on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. called "DC Streetcar 101: E/W Turnaround."

Here's some of the big takeaway points from the first quarterly meeting of the D.C. Streetcar:

• The D.C. Streetcar will definitely ride forward into reality, it seems, and the city government remains committed to the mid-2013 debut date it's touted in the past.

• Mayor Gray's six-year capital budget includes about $100 million worth of a down payment into this system. The mayor and everyone else offered strong language about the streetcar system's future — such an investment is a bit of a gamble at this point, and they're committed to seeing it through.

• The officials don't plan on running the 2.2-mile H Street/Benning Road line streetcars on 2nd and 3rd Streets, only on H Street and, on an interim basis, across the Hopscotch Bridge to Union Station. Cue a collective sigh of relief.

• The city plans to purchase two more streetcars, bringing the total on H Street and Benning Road line to 5. The cars are 8'9 feet wide and 66 feet long and can hold more passengers than the Circulator (49), Metrobus (94), and Metro car (120) with their capacity of 144.

• Expect hours of service and fares similar to the Circulator and a frequency of 10 to 20 minutes.

• More construction is coming this spring. The District will begin installing overhead wires and poles to run the run the streetcar line as well as a car barn and training center to house the barn on the eastern end. Take a DDOT survey on the design of the car barn to give some of your own thoughts. Right now it's planned to be a LEED Silver-certified facility. DDOT will also hold its second quarterly streetcar meeting in spring.

• The city is also building an eastern and western turnaround and an interim western connection to Union Station.

• The initial segment of the Anacostia streetcar line is scheduled for 2013 completion as well, which is worth noting.

• All these streetcar issues, both past and present, involve a lot of coordination. D.C. addressed that last night, too, and emphasized they're working with federal and local entities to make sure everything can move forward to everyone's understanding and liking. DDOT has chosen eight small businesses to act as a liaison between the government and the other businesses in the area.

With several more meetings planned and more construction beginning and talk of other lines surely to increase, the D.C. streetcar mania has only truly begun now. The eventual network of streetcars will involve 8 lines, 37 miles of track, and occupy all 8 wards of D.C. Despite the intensity you may have seen before, I suspect we haven't seen anything yet. The countdown to the first streetcar line is ticking and we're about a year and half out from the big debut.

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