DDOT Launches Study of Union Station-Georgetown Transit Options

Photo by PoPville flickr user mosley.brian

The following was written by Ben Ball. Ben is a transportation nerd in his spare time and lives in LeDroit Park.

Crossing the northern part of downtown is a hassle.  Jammed buses, increasing traffic, and maxed out Metro stations are already part of daily life for those who live or work in the area.  The District’s transportation planners realize this, and are already working on new transit options for the long corridor between Union Station and Georgetown.

DDOT held the first in a series of public meetings to lay out options, ask for feedback, and ultimately make a decision on how to proceed.  To a certain extent, DDOT has already tipped its hand – the choice is really between an expansion of the forthcoming H St streetcar line and the creation of a “bus rapid transit” system.  Given the investment the District has already made in streetcars, this is likely the pre-ordained choice.  In order to satisfy Federal funding guidelines, however, DDOT has to officially consider other options, including the possibility of not building anything.

Where would this new transit option go?  Between Mt Vernon Square and Washington Circle, there is really only one viable route.  K St is not only a straight shot through the area, but it also has the small frontage roads which can easily be repurposed into a streetcar line or a dedicated space for buses.  M St is theoretically another option, but there’s the whole problem of Thomas Circle to deal with, and the street width doesn’t allow for much creativity.

Continues after the jump.

On the Union Station end, things are far less certain.  If the streetcar line is extended westward from its current terminus at H and 2nd NE, how will it connect with Union Station?  According to DDOT, two options have already been ruled out – running the line down the east side of the station (down 2nd St NE), and a connection within the station itself.  That leaves three choices:  a stop at First St NE and Massachusetts (across the street from the Union Station Metro station), a stop one block away at North Capitol and Massachusetts (on the west side of the Postal Museum), or a stop at First and H St NE (on the north side of the bus parking garage).  The location will ultimately hinge on how a future streetcar would get from H St NE to Mt Vernon square – on H St, on Massachusetts Avenue, or some other way.

On the Georgetown end of the corridor, planners are grappling with where the new line will go and where it will end.  M St is narrow and already clogged with traffic – not ideal for either streetcars or buses.  K St is wider, but could also be limiting:  if you want to extend the streetcar line up to Georgetown University, the steep roads which rise up from the Potomac present a serious engineering problem.

Wait, didn’t Metro just announce that they eventually want to build a subway line along this very same route?  Well, yes.  DDOT sees the two plans as complimentary – one will be designed for “long haul” travel, the other for shorter trips across town.  In the end, there is plenty of demand for both in the long term.  A new Metro line is also decades in the future, if it gets built at all.  DDOT is coordinating with Metro on how their two plans might all fit together, and will continue to do so.

What happens now?  There will be two more public meetings – one in April, and one in May –  to discuss initial findings and narrow down the options.  In May or June, the final recommendation will be released.  Having satisfied the initial need to consider all the options, DDOT would then be cleared to conduct environmental impact studies – the first step towards making this new transit corridor a reality.

Want to learn more?  Want to give your two cents?  Public comments are being gathered online here.

23 Comment

  • I hope they don’t do BRT. BRT can work – but the U.S. track record is an abysmal failure. Sadly, unless there is significant physical infrastructure – BRT will be modified and modified until it becomes merely a regular bus route.
    Also – I find it funny that Ddot claims that Wisconsin from K to M is potentially too steep for streetcars. San Francisco manages and Seattle did just fine with its previous generation of street cars and its very steep hills – though granted one of them involved a massive counterbalance.

    • I can’t imagine that it would be cheap to build/design a reliable counterbalance system. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for it, just not all too optimistic.

  • Well, DC has already decided to build a transitway along K St. It will be reconfigured, the service lanes removed and bus only lanes built in the center. The assumption is that the streetcar tracks will share the bus only lanes, and hopefully the tracks can be built at the same time as the rest of the road construction like they did with H St. Not sure of the timetable.

    • Sounds like a good way to do it. Hopefully it doesn’t take 20 years.

    • So is DDOT going to copy their wildly successful H Street plan and build the K Street tracks before they have a plan to provide electricity for the trolleys? Sounds like a great idea to me!!!

      • There are no concrete plans for any streetcar lines beyond the H St. and the short Anacostia lines. Both of those will be powered by traditional overhead trolley wire, so there is a plan for those lines. This study one of the first steps in extending the H St. line west to Georgetown. (There has already been a preliminary study for an extension east to either Benning Rd. or Minn. Ave. Metro station). IMO, most of the streetcar will be powered by overhead wire, with battery backups capable of traversing short, critical areas (the Mall, for example, or crossing Penn Ave. downtown).

        • Hate to sound crass, but do Georgetown homeowners really want a direct passage from Anacostia to their backyard? Seems like they’ll do their best to argue against this.

          • I think the reputation of Georgetowners being opposed to non-resisdents entering their neighborhood far exceeds the reality. In any case, people don’t usually ride things like this from one end to the other (not the fastest way to travel such long distances). So Georgetowners can rest easy that nobody from Anacostia will cross the borders, and vice versa.

  • I wish they’d study Petworth to Woodley Park transit options! We need an Uptown Circulator Bus….

  • it’s pretty simple. ride a bicycle.

    • Are you suggesting that billions of dollars towards transit funded largely by tax payers isn’t the solution for moving people between the business district and Georgetown? That all of this can be covered by the user if they simply invest $100 or so into a bicycle? Please…it’s not like you can get all the way to Union Station from Georgetown using bike lanes or separated cycletracks (Q st -> 1st st -> R st -> MBT->Union Station or L St -> 15th -> Penn ->Union Station).

      But seriously, if everybody who can ride a bike did ride a bike, then much of these issues would go away. But not everybody can, and so other options are required, but I would hope to see the bike lanes between these locations be congested before deciding to invest billions of dollars in an underground network of tunnels.

      • ha ha ha ha ha cycle from q street along MBT and down to union station?! hope you like getting beaten and robbed.

        • The more people who ride the trail, the more eyes on the trail, the less crime on the trail. Simple equation.

          I’ve never had a problem on the trail, btw.

  • Would be great to see the streetcar continue from K St up Wisconsin to Glover Park and the National Cathedral since there is not Metro up that way. Given the large Cathedral Commons development project underway and additional residential development up the Wisconsin Ave corridor between Georgetown and Tenleytown, there could be significant demand and ridership.

  • Do people who live in DC still go to Georgetown? I think the only people who go there are people who live there, people from Arlington, and people from farther up in NW

  • Nice post by author. Looking forward to more. And great comments @andy2.

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