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archive for the 'Anacostia streetcar line' Category

Committee of 100 Releases Streetcar Report

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Yesterday, the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, which opposes overhead wires to power streetcars, released a lengthy report titled “Building a World-Class Streetcar System for a World-Class City,” which provides the group’s assessment of the likely routes and makes other recommendations (not surprisingly that D.C.’s streetcar system should use an overhead wire-free propulsion system.)

A City Paper article about the report notes that the authors “drove every one of the system’s 37 miles, and analyzed each component route with respect to historic and economic designations, land use, building design, transit availability, parking, and of course, overhead wires.”  It is telling that the authors conducted a “windshield survey” (as the methodology section of the report describes it) of the routes rather than taking the bus, riding bikes or walking.

Despite the auto-centric perspective through which the information was gathered, the report makes a positive contribution to the public dialogue about D.C.’s planned streetcar system.  It is certainly progress to have the Committee of 100 publicly supporting a “World-Class Streetcar System.”  Only last year, Committee of 100 chair George Clark testified at a D.C. Council hearing in opposition to streetcars, citing a number of reasons besides overhead wires, and he made thinly veiled threats about suing the city to block streetcar implementation.

In stark contrast to that position, yesterday’s report concludes that “[o]verall, the 37-miles of proposed routes make sense and should boost investor confidence in many areas of the city that need new centers of economic life.”  It recommends further study and changes to several routes, including in the Anacostia, Capitol Hill and Takoma neighborhoods and at the junction of the H Street-Benning Road line with Union Station.  The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is already in dialogue with the Anacostia community to re-examine the route of the planned streetcar extension there, which is a positive step.

The report is peppered with negative references to overhead wires, and it calls on DDOT to commission another assessment of wireless propulsion technologies (such an assessment was conducted last year although the authors seem to believe wireless technologies have made greater progress than the assessment found.)

Streetcar lines are known for their ability to spur economic development, and transit thrives on greater density, but the report hints at the Committee of 100′s nervousness about increasing density.  The report states that “[c]ommunities adjacent to streetcar corridors should not be rezoned to achieve inappropriate increased density or threatened with large-scale development the Comprehensive Plan” although it notes that in “selective cases” rezoning may be warranted.  What level of density is inappropriate is likely to be in the eye of the beholder.

The report makes an important point that the city should use public policy to ensure that low-income residents are not displaced from their neighborhoods when streetcar lines are constructed and property values likely increase.

It’s hard to argue with several of the report’s recommendations, including that DDOT should: (1) develop a streetcar business, financial and governance plan and an equipment and facilities master plan; (2) comply with the National Environmental Policy Act; and (3) engage the public in substantive dialogue in a systematic and ongoing manner.

DDOT Hits Reset Button on Anacostia Streetcar Extension

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Last Tuesday, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) — together with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) — held a public meeting at Savoy Elementary School in Anacostia to kick off the public process for Phase 2 of the Anacostia Streetcar Environmental Assessment and Historic Preservation Study.  The assessment and study are required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order for D.C. to be eligible for federal transportation funds for the extension of the initial segment of the 0.75-mile streetcar line that is under construction between Barry Farm and the Anacostia Metrorail station along Firth Sterling Avenue.

The proposed Phase 2 would extend the streetcar line from the Anacostia Metrorail station through Anacostia to the 11th Street Bridge.  According to the DC Streetcar System Plan approved by the D.C. Council late last year, in a later phase of the project, the streetcar line would be extended across “the Anacostia River to the developing Navy Yard/ Near Southeast activity center and Capitol Hill.”

Although the DC Streetcar System Plan shows the route for the Phase 2 extension following Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., which many community members apparently believe is too narrow for streetcars, DDOT officials stated that this route is not set in stone, and they expressed an interest in listening to community input for suggestions of a better route.

Following introductory remarks, DDOT and its contractors led breakout discussions with community members and others in attendance at eight or nine tables to gather input on general issues about the many changes that will affect the Anacostia community, what residents would like to see in their community, and what they think about streetcars.

While DDOT officials appear optimistic that the Anacostia community will embrace streetcars and find an acceptable route for the Phase 2 extension, I did not leave the meeting feeling nearly as optimistic.  Both at my table during the breakout session and in the final portion of the meeting during which each table reported out the comments and views expressed during the breakout discussions, I heard loud opposition to streetcars.  Some feared that streetcars on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive would eliminate parking spaces or hinder traffic flow.  Others feared the arrival of streetcars would lead to the elimination of existing bus routes that serve the community.  It’s hard to know for certain if this was a vocal minority or a true representation of the majority view in the community.  Although some community members spoke in support of streetcars, at least at this meeting of 100 or so people (many DDOT staff and contractors), they appeared to be the minority.  I believe that the opposition to streetcars in Anacostia is partly due to the fact that since the project was first unveiled, the community has received conflicting information about the project and whether it would be routed on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive or on the nearby CSX rail line.

One thing gives me hope.  I heard from a number of community members — including streetcar opponents — that they want more businesses to come to their community, and streetcar lines are well known for their ability to attract new businesses in other cities.  If DDOT can make the case to the Anacostia community that a streetcar line through the heart of their community can help attract the kind of new businesses — like sit down restaurants, retail and other amenities — that residents desperately want, then there may still be hope.  It would be ironic if the Anacostia community were to prevent this streetcar line from coming to its community and lose out on the opportunity for economic progress that the line could help attract.

A City Paper reporter attended the meeting and published an article about it, and it looked like a local TV news crew was there, but most of the media seemed to take a pass on the meeting.

Streetcar Legislation Moves Forward

Monday, December 13th, 2010

During its December 7 legislative meeting, the D.C. Council approved two important pieces of streetcar legislation to help the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) keep making progress on construction of the H Street-Benning Road and the Anacostia streetcar lines.

The Council approved the Streetcar Project Comprehensive Plan Approval Resolution of 2010, which releases to DDOT the remaining $34.5 million that the Council approved for streetcars earlier this year but made contingent upon DDOT delivering a streetcar plan to the Council.

On the first of two required votes, the Council also voted to approve the Transportation Infrastructure Amendment Act of 2010, which would authorize the use of overhead wires to power streetcars on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line “between the intersection of North Capitol Street and H Street, N.E. on the west and the Anacostia River on the east[.]“  In July, the Council approved an earlier version of the bill as emergency legislation, which had only temporary effect.  The new bill, for which the Council is using regular legislative procedures, would have permanent effect.  The Council is expected to schedule the second vote on this bill before the end of the year.

In addition to authorizing the use of overhead streetcar wires on H Street and Benning Road NE, the bill establishes a formal procedure for DDOT to seek authority to use overhead wires to power future streetcar lines.  It would require the mayor to “develop a plan for the use of aerial wires for each phase or extension of the streetcar transit system and submit the plan to the Council” for approval within a 45-day legislative review period or the plan would be deemed disapproved.

The legislation also establishes two overhead wire-free zones: “(1) Along the National Mall in the cross-axis area that extends from the U.S. Capitol on the east to the Lincoln Memorial on the west and from the White House on the north to the Jefferson Memorial on the south, including federal properties abutting this cross-axis area; and (2) Along Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House.”

Chairman Gray’s Budget Proposal Spares Streetcars

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Greater Greater Washington reported this morning that D.C. Council Chairman and Mayor-elect Vincent Gray’s proposed budget to close the $188 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2011 does not cut capital funding for the H Street-Benning Road and Anacostia streetcar lines at a time when the Council is forced to consider painful cuts to a range of programs across the D.C. government.

Please call (202-724-8032) or email ( Chairman Gray to thank him for ensuring that D.C. will continue moving forward with streetcar implementation so that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line can remain on schedule to open for service in spring 2012.

DDOT Submits Streetcar Plan to Council for Approval

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Last Tuesday, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) submitted its DC Streetcar System Plan to the D.C. Council.  The FY2010 Balanced Budget Support Emergency Act 2010 required that DDOT submit “a comprehensive plan for financing, operations and capital facilities of the streetcar project” to the Council, and the Council must approve the plan before DDOT receives $34.5 million of the roughly $50 million the Council approved for streetcars in May.  According to a source at the Council, the Committee on Public Works and Transportation (Councilmember Jim Graham, Ward 1, Chairman) is expected to hold a public hearing on the DC Streetcar System Plan in the coming weeks as a prelude to the committee and the full Council acting on an approval resolution for the plan.  It is not yet clear when the Council will take action on the plan to release these crucial funds, which will permit DDOT to deliver on its commitment to begin streetcar service by spring 2012.

The document details DDOT’s plans for the initial segments of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line and the Anacostia streetcar line and planned extensions of both lines.

H Street-Benning Road Line

The H Street-Benning Road streetcar line will initially serve seven stops: Union Station; 5th & H Streets NE; 8th & H Streets NE; 13th & H Streets NE; 15th Street & Benning Road NE; 19th Street & Benning Road; and Oklahoma Avenue & Benning Road NE.  The plan confirms what DDOT had previously announced publicly — that the initial operational segment of the line will connect to Union Station by traveling through a cutout in the H Street overpass and  terminating at the western abutment of the H Street underpass (H Street and 1st Street NE) where a streetcar storage and maintenance facility also would be located.

DDOT will build a pedestrian tunnel connecting the western terminus of the streetcar line to the Union Station Metrorail station, and according to the plan, DDOT intends to use eminent domain to obtain an easement from Potomac Development Corporation, which apparently has been unwilling to negotiate “an amicable settlement” with DDOT to provide the easement necessary for the pedestrian tunnel.  On the eastern end, the line will initially end with a turnaround in the median of Benning Road near the intersection with Oklahoma Avenue.

As part of the electrical infrastructure for the initial two-mile streetcar line, DDOT will need to install three power substations.  The document states that DDOT intends to place two substations on D.C.-owned property at the ends of the line with a third substation at about the midway point – on the southeast corner of the intersection of H Street and 12th Street NE (next to the Auto Zone).

The plan describes how DDOT plans to extend the initial two mile streetcar line an additional 1.95 miles to the east to connect with the Benning Road Metrorail station on the Blue Line.  DDOT previously applied for, but did not win, federal transit funding to cover part of the estimated $77 million extension, and according to the plan, now DDOT “is requesting $73.4M in federal funds through the District’s annual appropriation request of the federal Office of Management and Budget” to fund the Benning Road extension, which would be offset by any competitive federal funds D.C. may win in the future.

The plan indicates that beginning in 2015 DDOT intends to reconstruct the H Street bridge, and as part of this project, DDOT will include streetcar tracks on the bridge, allowing the westward extension of the H Street-Benning Road line, as planned.

According to DDOT’s map of D.C.’s planned 37-mile streetcar system (see inset map), when the H Street line is extended to the west, it will jog northwest on New Jersey Avenue and then westward along K Street to Georgetown.

Anacostia Line

The plan describes a scaled back Anacostia streetcar line — called the Anacostia Initial Line Segment — with a length of 0.75 mile and three stops between the Anacostia Metrorail station and the Naval Annex with a stop in between at Barry Farms Residential Area.  A storage and maintenance facility will be located on South Capitol Street south of the Naval Annex.

The rationale for this streetcar line initially seems weak.  The plan describes its purpose as “providing an opportunity for the public to see and experience streetcar vehicles in operation[,]” but now that the H Street-Benning Road line will be operational around the same time, this seems like a poor rationale for the Anacostia line.  The plan also states that this initial segment has “low ridership potential[,]” which seems obvious given the short distance, few stops and specific route.  This seems to call into question the rationale for building this streetcar line.  However, the plan describes this initial segment as “a critical link for streetcar service east of the river[,]” which will also connect to a streetcar storage and maintenance facility east of the river.  Further, the plan makes a more compelling case for the streetcar line when it states that ”the project corridor has substantial concentrations of low‐income and transit‐dependent households, with approximately 45.6 percent of the households within ¼ of a mile having incomes below $35,000, and 51.8 percent of households have no access to a car[.]”

DDOT plans to extend the line eastward to downtown Anacostia, and the document indicates that next month DDOT will begin a NEPA process “to determine the optimal alignment” for the Anacostia line extension.  The document states that DDOT submitted a TIGER II grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation; however, awards were announced last week, and unfortunately, D.C. did not receive the requested funding.

Less Funding Means Less Frequent Streetcar Service

The streetcar plan notes that initially DDOT had requested $63 million in capital funds from the D.C. Council to complete the initial operation segment of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line by spring 2012, and because the Council only appropriated $50 million — which the plan calls “the bare minimum required to initiate streetcar service” — DDOT was forced to scale back its plans.  In order to work within the reduced budget, DDOT will purchase only three new streetcar vehicles instead of the planned six vehicles, meaning longer wait times between streetcars.  With a planned total of six streetcar vehicles (three new vehicles plus three vehicles already owned by the city) for both streetcar lines by spring 2012, four vehicles would be available to operate on the H Street-Benning Road line (and the remaining two vehicles would be available for the Anacostia line).  This means that streetcars would run about every 10 minutes on the H Street-Benning Road line and about every 15 minutes on the Anacostia line.

Starter line construction work

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Benning Road isn’t the only Streetcar construction underway in DC–the “Anacostia Operations & Maintenance Facility & Initial Line Segment” is underway along Firth Sterling Street SE and South Capitol Street SE, adjacent to the Anacostia Metro.

Between South Capitol Street and the Suitland Parkway, Firth Sterling street is under construction: this is looking west:

The tracks are in place on the south side of the street while construction continues on the north. Looking back east from South Capitol Street:

At South Capitol Street and Firth Sterling Street, we see the official sign for this project:

Interestingly, the portion of the CSX tracks, which early in the planning were going to be used for streetcars, that used to cross South Capitol street have now been removed:

This break in the CSX tracks joins several similar trackage removals inside the Navy and Air Force complexes that make the last industrial purpose of this line–moving chlorine tank cars to the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant–impossible.
The new tracks continue across South Capitol Street:

Some of which are set in concrete:

The tracks continue several hundred yards to the south, but end far short of the main entrance to Bolling Air Force Base.

I find it somewhat interesting that the tracks have been laid on the west side of South Capitol Street. There is a pocket of industrial-ish land between 295 and South Capitol Street–on the east side of the street–that DC presently uses for maintenance vehicles and commercial drivers’ license testing which one might have thought would be a reasonable location for the maintenance facility. There is not very much space between Bolling Air Force base’s fence and South Capitol Street–presumably the tracks under construction here are intended to go all the way to Bolling’s main gate.
One final view, looking north at the end of the tracks. Note the extant CSX tracks on the left.

DDOT Announces Public Meetings on Streetcar Network to Begin Soon

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

In an October 14th press release, the District Department of Transportation announced that over the coming weeks the agency will launch a “public outreach tour,” holding open houses in all eight wards to “engage residents and businesses in the implementation of improvements proposed for the transit system for the city, including streetcars.”

At these meetings, DDOT will present its DC’s Transit Future study, which studied short- and long-term transit improvements to enhance the District’s existing transit network, including streetcars, bus rapid transit (BRT) and limited-stop rapid bus such as the Metrobus Express routes already running on Georgia Avenue/7th Street, 16th Street, and on the 30′s line.  DDOT will also update residents on construction of the first two streetcar lines on H Street-Benning Road NE and in Anacostia, which is already in progress.

According to the press release, the program for the open house meetings will consist of “display boards, maps, information about the proposed system, and opportunities for participants to speak individually with and ask questions of project team members.”

Open House Schedule:

Ward 6: Thursday, October 22, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

J.O. Wilson Elementary, 660 K Street, NE

Ward 1: Monday, October 26, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

Columbia Heights Education Campus, 3101 16th Street, NW

Ward 4: Tuesday, October 27, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

Brightwood Elementary, 1300 Nicholson Street, NW

Ward 2: Wednesday, October 28, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

NEW LOCATION: Hyde Elementary at 3219 O Street NW

Ward 7: Thursday, October 29, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

Thomas Elementary, 650 Anacostia Avenue, NE

Ward 8: Monday, November 2, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

Savoy Elementary, 2400 Shannon Place, SE

Ward 5: Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

Luke Moore Academy , 1001 Monroe Street, NE

Ward 3: Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

Stoddert Elementary, 4001 Calvert Street, NW

For more information about the streetcar project and the upcoming open house meetings, you may visit DDOT’s Streetcar webpage or call the project hotline at 703-682-5060.

Transportation Director Aims to Get Streetcar Plan Back on Track

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

At a well-attended community meeting hosted by ANCs 5B, 6A and 6C on Thursday, August 6, District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Director Gabe Klein updated the community on the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, the Anacostia line and the plans for a larger network of streetcars envisioned to improve transit service in the District in the years to come.  He announced at the meeting that he is tapping Scott Kubly, his chief of staff, to take on a new role leading the streetcar effort and reporting directly to him.  Although Kubly stated that he is currently a “team of one,” Klein said that he is working to assemble a larger team under Kubly that will be dedicated to making faster progress on implementing D.C.’s plans for streetcars.  Up until now, DDOT’s Mass Transit Administration has been leading the effort.

Some in the audience expressed frustration that the city has been slow to implement its streetcar plans and others complained that DDOT has not done a good job communicating with the community about the H Street-Benning Road streetcar project even as tracks are being laid as part of the Great Streets project.  One man commented that there is “pent up interest bordering on angst” in the community.  Klein acknowledged that DDOT can do a better job communicating with the community.  When ANC 6A Chair Joseph Fengler asked him to commit to quarterly meetings to continue to update the communities in Wards 5, 6 and 7 about the H Street-Benning Road streetcar project, Klein agreed that he will do this.  ANC 5B Chair William Shelton agreed to organize the next meeting in Ward 5 in the fall.

Klein told the more than 100 people assembled for the meeting that he has talked with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood about streetcars, and he said that LaHood is enthusiastic about the idea of streetcars in D.C.  Klein also expressed optimism that the Obama Adminstration will make federal funding more available for development of streetcars and other transit projects.

Several audience members asked Klein how DDOT plans to power the streetcars.  He said that DDOT is looking at overhead wires as the most feasible power source for streetcars, but he said that the agency is examining emerging battery technology that also could be used to power streetcars in certain areas of the city.  He said that on H Street, they are hedging their bets by installing the infrastructure that would be necessary for overhead wires.  He added that the 1889 law prohibiting overhead wires in much of downtown Washington could be changed to accommodate streetcars, and he suggested that this could be on policymakers’ agenda in the months ahead.

For those who are eager to ride streetcars in D.C. soon, the worst news of the evening is that DDOT now estimates that the Anacostia streetcar line will not be in operation until at least fall 2012, and Klein and Kubly would not venture a guess as to when the H Street-Benning Road line will be operational.

UPDATE: For additional coverage of the meeting, visit the blog posts about the meeting at GreaterGreaterWashington (“Streetcars now on the front burner“) and Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space (“Streetcars for DC“).

How much space does it take to move 72 people?

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Photo comparing the relative amount of street space it takes for cars, bicycles, and a bus to move 72 people
Photo credit: Press-Office, City of Munster, Germany, 2001

The City of Munster, Germany started a Bicycle Friendly campaign and created a poster to promote riding bikes and transit instead of cars to reduce congestion, pollution, and generally improve the quality of life in Munster. This image is based on the poster they created.

Please note that this image is primarily to show how much space cars take up compared to other modes, although not pictured here streetcars (or trams as they’re usually called in European cities) are quieter and cleaner than buses.

Think about it… do people need to carry around cars with them just to get around their city?

And what about all the usable land needed to move and park cars? Dr. Donald Shoup of UCLA in his book “The High Cost of Free Parking” points out that most cars are parked at home, work, school, etc. about 85-90% of the day. So planners have to allocate valuable land not only once, but some multiple so people can park their cars in various places around the city as they carry an 8×10 foot box around with them.

About 85% of most U.S. cities is impervious surface (pavement, concrete, etc.), this contributes to stormwater runoff, and non-point pollution of surface waters. How much urban space would be available for parks or buildings if we didn’t need that space for cars?

Anacostia Streetcar Line Delayed, Impact on H Street-Benning Road Unclear

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

In an article in The Washington Post on Thursday (4/2), Lena Sun reports that for a variety or reasons, the District Department of Transportation‘s plans to complete the Anacostia streetcar line have been delayed.  Instead of finishing construction of the line in late 2009, the project is now estimated to be completed by 2012.

One can only wonder what effect this delay will have on the streetcar line planned for the H Street-Benning Road NE corridor, but it is certainly not good news that the first streetcar line has faced so many difficulties and now apparently a three-year delay.  One can only hope that DDOT works out the bugs in Anacostia, learns from the experience and rolls out future streetcar lines more quickly and efficiently.