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.