Speaking before the H Street-Benning Road Streetcar Alliance on Monday night, Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), a leading advocate for the H Street streetcar line, updated members of the community on the streetcar project. He began his remarks by telling the audience that streetcars are a “transformative investment” for communities and one that he believes will be important for the H Street corridor. As part of the Great Streets Initiative streetscape project that is underway, the H Street-Benning Road corridor’s streetscape will be completely redesigned and rebuilt, incorporating streetcar tracks, over the next 2-3 years, but the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) must resolve a number of additional issues before the streetcar line can begin operating there. One of the key issues that remains to be answered by the city is how the streetcars will be powered — by overhead wires, an underground power source or possibly batteries.
Councilmember Wells described his travels in Switzerland where he investigated their transit systems. He highlighted Basel, Switzerland, an old city dating to Roman times – calling it one of the most beautiful cities he has ever seen — where the city has chosen streetcars (also called trams) over buses, and they power their streetcar network using overhead wires (as do the vast majority of cities with streetcars around the world). Wells urged those who are skeptical about using overhead wires in D.C. to look at streetcar systems in other cities that use minimal overhead wires. He allowed that the city government could put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking proposals to power D.C.’s future streetcars without using overhead wires to see what options may exist and how much more they would cost. However regardless of which of these options is selected, Wells stated unequivocally “I support electrified mass transit” because it is better for the environment than buses and cars.