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“).