DDOT Presents Updated DC Streetcar Plan

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

DDOT released a fairly large report on Tuesday about DC’s Streetcar Plan. There is not a whole lot of mention beyond H St, NE, Benning Road and the Anacostia Lines. So my question to you guys is – do you think a streetcar will ever be built on Georgia Ave and 14th St, NW like we’ve heard mentioned in the past? If so what in what time frame? Do you think operations starting in 2012 sounds realistic for H St, NE? If not what year do you really think it’ll start? Do you think this system will face debt problems like WMATA is currently facing? What do you think would be a good price for a one way fare? Do you think the construction of the streetcar project is a good use of city/federal funds?

Ed. Note: Sorry for the million questions – they were all just banging around in my head. Obviously feel free to pick and choose which questions are of interest to you.

Personally I’m excited to see how the H St, NE line turns out. I think if it is successful it could go a long way towards encouraging expansion in other parts of the city as well.

After the jump you can see the summary of DDOT’s plan as well as a link to the full report.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has presented an updated comprehensive DC Streetcar System Plan to the DC Council for review and approval. The plan details DDOT’s plans for the design, construction and operation of the system and covers topics such as operations, safety, fare collection, and funding.

The document specifies how DDOT plans to complete the two streetcar lines already under construction, the H Street/Benning Rd Line and the Anacostia Initial Line Segment, and lays out the plans for additional extensions in Wards 7 and 8. It also includes the completed DC Transit Future System Plan – the District’s first comprehensive streetcar system plan. DDOT is planning a 37-mile, 8-line streetcar system with service across the city.

The highlights of the plan include:

· DDOT will initiate streetcar operations in spring 2012

· The DC Streetcar will create 200 permanent jobs at the onset of service and up to 700 upon completion of the entire system

· DDOT is currently pursuing $110M in federal funds to pay for two streetcar extensions East of the River

· Details on how DDOT will resolve issues with the power supply; DC Streetcar will utilize overhead wires on the first two lines and move to wireless operation as the system expands

· A framework to develop a financial plan and governance structure for the entire system

The plan was transmitted by the Mayor last week and formally introduced today by the Chairman of the DC Council on behalf of the Mayor in accordance with the requirements laid out in the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Support Act. Approval of the DC Streetcar Plan by the DC Council will release $34.5 million in capital funding for the current H/Benning streetcar project.

The complete plan is now posted on DDOT’s website at ddot.dc.gov/DCStreetcar.

50 Comment

  • Simple answer: no. The city is way too broke right now. It will be hard to justify the funds. And remember, the city had streetcars in the past, and they got rid of them. For a reason. The cars simply are not very efficient and cost a lot to maintain and operate.

    • it’s like you’re only operating with half the batteries required.

    • not claiming to be the authority on streetcars, but i heard the detroit auto companies bought a lot of municipal trolleys and shut them down so people would have to buy cars.

      on the other hand, from what i understand they are way more expensive than buses in almost all respects.

      SOOOO — from what i think i know i agree. h street might get it cause those yuppies will strait riot (which would be so funny) if they don’t and their little bubble bursts. but as for my poor ass on georgia avenue i have no delusions.

    • Hasn’t most of the money already been spent in the budget?

    • It is well known that General Motors purchased, then subsequently ran the streetcar system into the ground. They then turned around and sold buses to municipalities and cars to the regular consumer. They were (are) a huge lobbying force.

      Streetcars are a progressive approach and will actually help residents of the city, as opposed to metro which was designed to ferry people from downtown out of the city. If done properly, streetcars will overlay the dead zones that metro fails to connect. Both, working in conjunction are a smart, long term vision that this city needs to grow and function.

  • Makes sense on H St, maybe. Can you imagine, what a nice commute, walk a block, hop on the street car, arrive at Union Station in minutes, walk to the office. Like the T in Boston. Might work on one of the east/west roads like K St too for the daytime lunch and tourist crowd.

    But for the North/South Up and down the hill everyday route, seems like some nice new natural gas/hybrid buses will serve their purpose just fine. Ditto for the X2!

  • Its pretty clear they’ve abandoned all other plans besides the H Street/Benning Road/Anacostia lines. All mention of the old 3 phased plan is off the website.

    It was all a pipe dream anyway – but its too bad there wont be a GA ave line, Rhode Island or Florida Avenue line… this city desperately needs better, more efficient ways to go east/west north of the Orange/Blue lines. The Georgia Ave line isnt as bad, because at least there’s the green line…

  • I think the street cars won’t ever pay for themselves on their own unless the fare is something like five bucks for one way trip. But if they’ll help to revive some neighborhoods which will bring in more tax dollars to the city then it may be justified.

    • roads don’t pay for themselves either.

      • +5000000000000
        I hate it when opponents of mass transit capital investment projects use the revenue stream to argue that we shouldn’t invest in these projects.
        My one question for expanding the line to Georgia Ave, Wisconsin and others – should the cars travel in dedicated lanes (shared with buses of course)or in mixed traffic?

      • They do when there are tolls.

        • They don’t recoup the entire cost. Often states receive funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund – that doesn’t have to be repaid. So the tolls may pay back what the state borrows but doesn’t repay the trust fund. Also with all the miles of roads we have in the US – a huge majority are nor paid fully or even partially by direct user fees.
          They are, like mass transit, a public good that have positive impacts on local, regional and national economies.

        • do they? which ones are net positive?

          the big picture though is that most are not. they are a deep deep hole that we keep throwing money into, allowing larger and larger personal vehicles to drive on, which continuously increases the cost of their maintenance.

          • Larger personal vehicles cause more highway road maintenance?

            I think you need to go reread your construction code.

    • All those street lights don’t pay for themselves, either. Why don’t they turn a profit? I say we turn them all off and save money until they can figure out a way to pay for themselves.


      Mass transit is the same thing – a public good benefiting many people. Takes cars off the road, reducing ground level pollution, ups property values (and thus increases the tax base), provide reliable transportation for rich, poor, and in between.

      • Despite what you hear, we don’t live in a bubble here in DC. You can’t eliminate cars from DC any more than you can eliminate corn from the midwest. American’s like their cars.

        Can we have a smarter, less car oriented city? Yes, but we’re not eliminating cars in your lifetime.

  • I could make a gang map rightnow if i wanted too. I’m too familiar with this city. Matter of fact I’m going to make one now!

  • Goku’s got dogs too!

  • I’m going to actually respond to the original questions, not the ridiculous comments about whether public transit can ever make money (it can’t and it shouldn’t have to).

    1) Georgia and 14th lines will follow if H St and Anacostia are successful. They haven’t been abandoned altogether, as another comment suggested. H St and Anacostia were simply the easiest to build first.

    2)If H St and Anacostia are successful, look for future lines in the 2016-2018 timeframe.

    3)2012 operations are realistic, except for access to Union Station. Trackbed construction on H St. proper will be done by the end of 2011 and they already have the streetcars. Stringing catenary doesn’t take very long, especially since they already have the poles installed.

    4)While the streetcars will never generate net revenue, WMATA’s debt results from the huge capital needs of Metrorail – a factor 3 or 4 times greater than streetcar costs – along with the massive expenses caused by the MetroAccess paratransit service. The streetcars will not generate anywhere near the annual losses incurred by WMATA.

    5)$1 per trip, like the Circulator. Discounts for Metro rail/bus transfers with SmartTrip. $3 all-day pass.

    6)The best value of streetcars are their economic development and community connections benefits, not so much how fast they move people. H St. nicely adds to the corridor’s resurgence of the last 5 years, while the Anacostia route offers developers new reasons to invest in that area. So, the ultimate value of streetcar investment should be measured along those lines.

    Do you think the construction of the streetcar project is a good use of city/federal funds?

    • Spending federal money on local infrastructure is always a good use of funds –it’s other people’s money. Everyone likes spending other people’s money.

      Spending local money on something that potentially creates more money down the line (an investment) is usually a good use of city money. The alternative is spending money that doesn’t have a clear economic pathway to more money later. We do enough of that in this city.

      So if you believe that the trolley will make businesses on H St more valuable (increased shopping traffic) and/or will create investment in Anacostia and/or increase property values in the neighborhoods along the lines, then you’ll get the money back that you spend.

      I’m not sure as strong a case can be made for the petworth trolley line. There are already numerous transportation options in that area. Those transportation nodes already have all of the major commercial build out that’s going to come –there’s not a ton of land left to build out over there.

      • personally, i don’t see h street benefitting, but i see benning road really reaping the benefit. and getting people over the river

        • I think H St has already benefited from the trolley lines. I don’t think you would have seen the investment in new restaurants and new bars without the trolley slated to go there. It would have been safer to open in Eastern Market instead. But more to your point, I don’t think H ST gets a ton better than it is already. I think the big payout is the Benning road shopping plaza and the shopping plaza across the river at MN Ave.

  • Is there a chance the track could bend?

  • We need these types of projects because gas prices are very likely to rise beyond $4.50 a gallon by 2015. Alternative forms of transit are needed.

    Peak Oil is real.

  • For the upper half of Georgia,

    (Streetcars + Walter Reed development) / (Connection to Silver Spring) = awesome

    whether awesome > cost of construction is the question.

    • I forgot about the walter reed site. If that site takes off, they’ll need a better N-S connection to the city than the buses. Connecting DC USA with Walter Reed would be good if Walter Reed doesn’t cannibalize DC USA.

      I think that can definitely wait until they near the completion date of the commercial construction at walter reed though. At DC’s pace, that could be a decade.

  • Not on your life, my Hindu friend.

  • If they put a streetcar on K street, they would need to totally rebuild the street and move the regular traffic lanes to the outside, put the streetcars in the middle, and eliminate altogether those useless “fire lane” dealios that do nothing but slow everyone down. Perhaps combine those 2 islands into the center making one large island that holds both directions of streetcar line as well as the streetcar stops.

    • I’m sure this must be a stupid question with an obvious answer I’m not thinking of, but why are street car lines built in the middle of the street, between both directions of traffic, instead of having them closest to the sidewalk? Wouldn’t it be better for passenger safety and traffic flow to pick up and drop off street car passengers right on the sidewalk, or as close as you can get with a parking lane, rather than in the middle of the road, forcing streetcar passengers to dodge traffic to get to and from the sidewalk? I would think the extra turn lanes on either side of K St NW would be the perfect place to put street cars in either direction, protects passengers, and minimizes traffic disruptions between cars and streetcars.

      • Simple answer is parking and loading that take up the curb lane on most downtown streets.

        There may be a more complicated answer that includes consolidation of infrastructure, creating pedestrian refuge in the middle of large streets, turning motions, etc.. but I’d be speculating on those as major reasons for putting the streetcar in the center.

      • Parking and delivery I think. Also, if you eliminate left turns on K, then you have no car-trolley interaction. Turning right past the trolley would be the bigger risk.

  • I was about to ask the question why are street cars better than buses, and then I remembered my friend google.


  • This whole streetcar thing has been a white elephant from the get go. Years later and hundreds of millions in the hole they finally put a “plan” if you can call it that, out last spring. Again it was long on warm and fuzzies “Streetcars are good for you” logic, short on the how, when and where the money is coming from. And this ridiculous rationale that “it will increase development which in turn will increase tax revenues which will in turn pay for the system” is completely ridiculous.

    WMATA’s 2009 Budget (free for anyone to Google) started out with a claim that in the 35 years Metro rail has existed, it has been directly responsible for a total of 25 billion dollars worth of development in the DC Metro.

    I would normally take that with a huge grain of salt, but lets assume that it is 100% true.

    Lets also assume that all 25 billion of that is considered Class A (Prime Commercial Office/Retail) and assesed at a high rate of Class 2 in DC (1.65 per/1000). We of course know this isn’t true as there has been way more residential development, which is assesed at half commerical in DC, but I am making a point.

    If all those assumptions were 100% correct, then ALL the development that Metro takes credit for during the entire 3.5 decades has left us today with an additional 400 million per year in property tax revenue.

    “Golly gee”, you say. “That imaginary $400 million sounds like a heck of a lot”.

    Well, not considering most of the development, hence most of that taxable revenue has been in, and stays in our three friends, Montgomery, Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Even if someone were to simply split that additional revenue by 4, DC would only be getting an additional 100 million per year, after 35 years and 25 billion of development.

    So no, this system that at best would cost 1.5 billion in 2008/2009 dollars and will cost a minimum of a 85 MILLION per year to operate indefinitely is never going to ever come close to funding itself, especially not with the mythical additional tax revenue that people automatically assume will be enough.

    There is no way, even under the most criminally optimistic scenarious and fuzzy math that redeveloping H Street, Georgia Avenue and Anacostia around the proposed Street Car would produce anywhere near the ancillary taxable revenue to come close to paying for the yearly cost of the system.

    You could turn H Street and Anacostia into new Arlingtons and it still wouldn’t cover the cost, especially since Gabe and crew are learning “aka” making it up as they go.

    • Are you saying the entire benefit of WMATA can be traced to capitalization in real estate? I would want to include some estimate of benefit to users, i.e. the value net of fares.

Comments are closed.