The D.C. Office of Planning released the District of Columbia Streetcar Land Use Study Phase One report last week after months of anticipation. The conclusions are overwhelmingly good. The report thoroughly analyzes the land use, fiscal and pedestrian benefits of D.C.’s 37-mile system. The report presented a compelling case for how the streetcar system will transform the District into a more livable and sustainable city.
The report shows that building the streetcar system would bring an additional 72,000 D.C. households within a quarter mile of a streetcar line, and this expanded access to transit would mean that more than 50% of D.C. households would be within a quarter mile of a streetcar line or Metrorail station. It states that 100,000 residents along the planned streetcar corridors do not have access to an automobile so streetcars would improve their mobility.
The streetcar system will strengthen the District’s economy by incentivizing real estate investment and attracting new jobs and residents along the streetcar routes, thereby increasing our tax revenues. The report projects that the streetcar system would:
- add $5-7 billion to the value of existing real estate and lead to an additional $5-8 billion in new development;
- attract 6,300-7,700 new jobs and 4,000-12,000 new households to D.C.; and
- add $238-291 million per year in revenue to the D.C. government’s budget.
The streetcar system will attract new jobs and an easy way to get to those jobs. It also would help reduce residents’ transportation costs by providing a convenient alternative to owning and operating an automobile, which can save the average person more than $8,400 per year, according to the report. (An American Public Transportation Association fact sheet not cited in the study states that the average household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, and 94% of this goes to buying, maintaining and operating automobiles.)
Streetcars present the opportunity to improve walkability as noted in the report. Each transit trip begins and ends with a walk, which can provide many benefits, ranging from improving an individual’s health through physical activity, to improving one’s sense of safety as more people are walking, and supporting local businesses and helping support historic commercial districts across the city.
Streetcars offer the opportunity to take cars off of our roads, reducing energy use and the resulting air pollution and climate change emissions that threaten our future. They offer D.C. a more sustainable and livable future that so many of us are working toward.
The potential for displacement of residents remains a concern. The report estimates that the streetcar system could raise housing values and rents 5-12%, and it identifies housing affordability as an issue that should be addressed. Although it concludes that this increase “appears unlikely to cause widespread displacement[,]” it presents several strategies to mitigate these effects. We believe it is important for the D.C. government to implement such strategies to address this challenge as early in the planning process as possible before real estate values begin to appreciate significantly.
Families will be happy to know that streetcars will achieve better transit access to DC’s public charter schools, making it easier for families to stay car free.
In the meantime, it seems clear that streetcars will promote economic development and the health of residents.