After the D.C. Council decided earlier today to reduce funding for streetcars on H Street and Benning Road NE from $52 million approved by the transportation committee to about $3 million, Chairman Gray and other councilmembers heard from many angry constituents and changed course. Just moments ago, the Council voted 12-1 (with Councilmember Barry voting “no”) to restore streetcar funding to $47 million. This level of funding, although reduced, will permit the District Department of Transportation to continue its aggressive approach for completing the initial segment of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line by 2012. Thanks to all the streetcar supporters who spoke up and helped convince the Council to support streetcars!
archive for May, 2010
Greater Greater Washington reports that overnight Chairman Vincent Gray released a budget document that stripped out almost all of the $52 million for streetcars that the Committee on Public Works and Transportation approved recently. This funding would allow the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to complete the initial segment of the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line, connecting it to Union Station and building a turnaround on Benning Road NE so that streetcar service could begin by spring 2012. Cutting this funding not only means that streetcars will not be running on H Street and Benning Road until well beyond 2012, but it also puts at risk federal funding DDOT has applied for to complete the line by crossing the Anacostia River and connecting the line to its planned terminus at the Benning Road Metrorail station. Ironically, this streetcar line would provide an important transit linkage across the Anacostia River and as such would seem like a perfect example of a project that would illustrate Gray’s “One City” vision for the District.
Please call (202-724-8032) or email Chairman Gray immediately and ask him to restore this vital streetcar funding.
The D.C. Council is expected to vote by the middle of this week on the final budget for the coming fiscal year, and streetcar supporters need to take action now to let their councilmembers know that they should support crucial funding for streetcars so that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line can begin serving riders by spring 2012. Mayor Fenty’s budget included $63 million to allow the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to get the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line up and running by spring 2012, as planned.
However, as the budget moved through Chairman Jim Graham’s Public Works and Transportation Committee recently, this amount was reduced to $52 million. This means that DDOT will be forced to be a lot more creative in order to stretch these resources and ensure that this first streetcar line is able to begin operating by spring 2012. Despite chopping about $11 million from the requested streetcar budget, Chairman Graham has provided leadership in seeking to ensure that the full Council approves this funding.
Of greater concern, at both the committee hearing on May 13 and again before the full Council on May 19, Councilmember Phil Mendelson raised concerns about this vital streetcar funding. At the Public Works and Transportation Committee hearing, Mendelson voiced his concern that the H Street-Benning Road streetcar line has “no beginning” and “no end” aftering driving the route and seeing the tracks end at 3rd and H Street on the west and at 23rd and Benning Road on the east. He seemed unaware that DDOT recently presented its plans for connecting the streetcar line to Union Station and constructing a temporary turnaround at Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue until funding becomes available to extend the line to the Benning Road Metrorail station. Mendelson also seemed unaware that the funds DDOT is requesting in the budget would enable the agency to do the very work that he observed needs to be completed in order to make the streetcar line functional. He also expressed concern about providing the requested streetcar funding before the legal issues associated with using overhead wires to power streetcars have been resolved (although Councilmember Tommy Wells is expected to introduce legislation soon to address this issue.) Mendelson repeated these concerns during the full Council’s discussions of the budget on May 19, and he called for further reducing the streetcar funding in the coming fiscal year.
It sounds like Councilmember Mendelson needs to hear from more of his constituents who support streetcars that he should support this important funding to avoid further delays. He may be reached by telephone at (202) 724-8064 or email.
The image that I–and I believe many Americans–have of rail transportation in France is that, compared to the United States, it is rather advanced. After all, in Paris one is never more than 500 meters from a Métro stop, and France has been a pioneer of high-speed rail service with its TGV. So I was rather surprised to learn that, much like the United States, dozens of cities in France got rid of their streetcar systems through the 1950s and 1960s, such that there were only 3 small services running by the time the oil crisis of the 1970s hit: A 3km line in Marseille, a 5.5km line in Saint-Étienne, and an 18km interurban line connecting Lille, Roubaix, and Tourcoing. But after the oil crisis, France decided that electric rail transit needed to become an integral part of the transportation network again, and embarked on a program to plan and build tramways in numerous cities. The first de novo modern tramway opened in Nantes in 1985, and to date thirteen additional cities have followed suit, in addition to which the three historic systems have been modernized and expanded.
One occasionally runs across claims that streetcars powered by overhead wires are an “old technology” and one that cities are turning away from. This is certainly not the French view, despite the fact that the only two cities worldwide that are running electric trams in revenue service with some portion of the route not powered by overhead wires are in France: APS for 13.6km out of 44.3km in Bordeaux, and Batteries for 0.92km out of 8.7km in Nice. In fact, all sixteen French systems employ overhead wires for most of their trackage.
To visualize the dramatic growth in French tramway systems and to compare the relative investment in systems powered by overhead wires to other technologies, here is a graph that plots the trackage, in kilometers, of each French tram system that is presently in revenue service, for the years between 1980 and the present. The lighter-shade colors indicate track-kilometers powered by overhead wires and the darker-shade colors indicate track-kilometers with an alternative power source. (Click on graph for full-sized view.)
(Because Marseille’s historic 3km line was shut down between 2004 and 2007 for reconstruction, it is graphed with an opening in 2007; service in Saint-Étienne and Lille was continuous and they are shown with their historic openings.)
Here is a PDF version of the graph.
The graph illustrates the degree to which the French have chosen, and continue to choose, trams powered by overhead wires as a modern transportation solution. Beyond the systems shown in the graph, there are several more cities that are building tram systems, and several of the existing systems are being expanded. And with these expanding systems we see again that overhead wires are by far the predominant choice for power: most systems under construction will use overhead wires for 100% of their trackage, and those that are using the APS system are only using it for relatively small sections of their overall systems. While much is said of the systems in Angers and Reims, which will use APS for short sections of their systems, there are six other systems in the works that use overhead wires exclusively. Collectively, there are eight French cities building 111km of new tramways, of which 3.5km will be powered by APS and 107.5km will be powered by overhead wires. These systems are shown in the table below:
|City||Opens||system length (km)||APS length (km)||% overhead wires|
For cities that have tramways that are in the process of being expanded, the story is much the same. Much is said about Orléans, where the second tram line will use APS for 1km out of an 11.8km route; the first 17.9km line is powered entirely by overhead wires. But additional lines are also being planned or built, using 100% overhead wires, in Grenoble, Marseille, Montpellier, Mulhouse, Paris, Strasbourg, and Valenciennes. Most notably, Bordeaux is not intending to use APS for any of its future extensions nor for its fourth line.
So the message from France is clear: tramways powered by overhead wires has persisted as a technology because it works well, providing efficient transportation for modern cities.
As many of you have not doubt already read and seen, DDOT has put one of the streetcars destined to serve our city on display in the parking lot at 9th & H Streets NW. I went by after work last night and, simply put, it is very cool! If you have not gone by, check it out. The streetcar is on display through Saturday:
Thursday, May 6, 11am – 7pm
Friday, May 7, 11am – 7pm
Saturday, May 8, 11am – 5pm
One good opportunity to see the streetcar will be tomorrow, when Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells hosts a special tour of the streetcar. The Council’s strongest streetcar supporter invites anyone interested to attend any portion of the event.
“Streetcars represent the next generation of public transportation,” stated Wells. “Our Metro system, as wonderful as it is, was designed to move people in and out of the city. Streetcars are about connecting neighborhoods. I’m excited to join neighbors and others to get on board the streetcar and get a feel for what soon will be riding the rails on H Street and Benning Road.”
4:00 pm – The Old Town Trolley will depart Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H Street, NE) for the site of the DDOT streetcar downtown display. The Trolley will make regular shuttle trips between the sites approximately every 30 minutes. The H Street Shuttle will complement the Trolley service when it begins its regular daily service at 5 pm.
5:00 pm – Last Trolley departure from the Atlas before streetcar tour begins.
5:30 pm – Councilmember Wells will lead neighbors and leaders on a special tour of the District’s streetcar on display downtown at City Center DC (Lot B, 9th & H Street, NW).
6:30 pm – Councilmember Wells and neighbors will board the last trolley departing downtown for the return trip to the Atlas and a happy hour celebration at SOVA Espresso & Wine (1359 H Street NE).
7:00 pm – Councilmember Tommy Wells and other invited Councilmembers will address streetcar supporters.
Other modes of transportation to the destinations:
The Downtown Streetcar Exhibit will be located on Lot B of Center City DC. The public entrance is located at 9th and H Street, NW. In addition to the Trolley and H Street Shuttle, the site is easily accessible from the Gallery Place Metro Station on the Green and Yellow lines.
The Atlas Performing Arts Center and SOVA Espresso & Wine are both located on the 1300 block of H Street, NE – 1333 and 1359 H Street NE respectively. Take the X2 east or west bound on H Street. Take the 90 or 92 north or south bound to 8th and H Street, NE – either walk 4 blocks east or transfer to the X2.
For more information, visit: http://bit.ly/cPxWO2