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.