“Georgia Avenue streetcar – Is it just a myth that one will be coming our way?”

A real typo from a North-South planning session in 2013.

“Dear PoPville,

I wanted to ask if you have any information on the Georgia Avenue streetcar. Is it just a myth that one will be coming our way? I live in North Petworth near Georgia, which is unequivocally remote, and a streetcar would be a boon for business and home values up on Georgia. I checked the website for the streetcar, but it doesn’t provide much information.”

hahahahha ah wait a second, wait a second. I’m sorry, I apologize – I’ve gathered myself. There was a time not that long ago where I’d say – 100% it will absolutely happen. However after the utter debacle of the H Street/Benning Road implementation I’m not so sure. What’s the expression: Fool me 500 times shame on me? Maybe if H Street/Benning starts carrying passengers and is an incredible success it might still happen. Though I should note that as recently as Feb. 2014 there were still active meetings to discuss “a 9-mile, North-South corridor that connects the Takoma/Silver Spring area to the Buzzard Point/Southwest Waterfront area.”

I figure, God willing, I have around 40 years left on this earth and I would not bet that a Georgia Ave Streetcar will be carrying passengers in my lifetime. It saddens me because I think it would’ve been great for north country and around the Walter Reed development – but based on recent experiences I’m not encouraged. I think gondolas will be flying into Georgetown before a streetcar is running on Georgia Ave. I would love to be wrong though! For it to happen I think there’d need to be a serious advocate at the highest levels of leadership. At this point I just don’t think an extensive streetcar line is a serious priority for the powers that be. Anyone think a Georgia Ave Streetcar Line will actually happen? In the next 40 years? What happens first – Georgia Ave Streetcar or DC Statehood?

53 Comment

  • Ashy Oldlady

    I’d say it’s unlikely anytime soon. I wouldn’t bet on it, like everyone around H Street did.

  • Look at that graphic – “Potworth”?!? PRICELESS! The irony of that typo, given the article earlier this week about people smoking weed and selling drugs on Rock Creek Church Road near Georgia Avenue, is phenomenal…

  • Honestly (and I live in this corridor), I’m not sure this is a great idea.

    I think the economic anchors (in upper NW anyway) would be the Walter Reed development (which is already only a 10 minute walk from the metro…for comparison the heart of 18th St is a 15 minute walk from Woodley park metro) and Silver Spring (which already has a centrally located metro).

    So you are essentially banking on development along the corridor, parts of which are already pretty developed. Combine that with metro access at Petworth and Shaw, and good bus coverage (70, 79 routes) and I really don’t feel like you gain much with the streetcar.

  • I live in Potworth and I’m totally against cramming a tram on a 4 lane road that’s already overwhelmed reducing the road to only 2 lanes with overhead wires just to fulfill the nostalgia kick of a few out of touch bureaucrats… I don’t even see how this is a discussion when the H street trolley still is not running 15 years after it’s inception. Thank you.

    • 1. It did not take that long to build H Street. Nothing was done on it for years, then the tracks were put in early due to a streetscape project. It has taken too long, but not as long as some naysayers say.

      2. It takes a long time to plan things, so discussion early is fine.

      3. The next expansions will be eastern and western expansions of the H Street line into the full one city line.

      4. Ultimately though a N-S line will need discussion as well – to provide better transit (and yes, with dedicated ROW a street car can make sense in terms of transportation) and to tie in with development.

      • It’s been 7 years so far.

        Eisenhower built the interstate system in the entire United States in 9 years.

        Please enlighten us as to how it hasn’t taken that long.

        • To be fair, paving large swaths of wilderness (and some wholly marginalized ghettos) takes less finesse than laying down both track and vehicle in a dense and bustling urban corridor, and there was a national defense justification (and funds to match) behind it.

    • I agree and I’m pro-street car. It’s MD’s equivalent of a highway to get into DC. Reducing it down to one land during rush hour would be an unmitigated disaster.
      What they need to build is an elevated train that sits above Georgia Ave.

      • “What they need to build is an elevated train that sits above Georgia Ave.” Hell to the no. Elevated trains (and elevated freeways) tend to make the areas beneath them dark and ugly. Rail should really be underground whenever possible. Georgia Avenue has enough obstacles in the form of vacant storefronts, graffiti, litter, open-air drug dealing, etc., etc. — it doesn’t need to be put in a permanent shadow too.

  • No thanks! I don’t want to see our local government waste another dime on a project like street cars. The use of street cars in DC provide nostalgia at best given that circulator, express buss and regular metro bus services are much quicker and more reliable means of transportation.

  • I’d rather we spend that money renovating our deteriorating public schools and building affordable housing.

  • I would much rather see bus rapid transit than a streetcar. BRT is a lot cheaper so you can have more frequent service. It can divert if there is a road closure and swerve if someone is parked an inch too far into the roadway. It still needs proper enforcement (unlike the bs bus/bike lanes on 7th street near Gallery Place) but it’s easier to allow lanes to be buses only at peak times and allow cars to use the lanes at times like the middle of the night.

    The SW to Georgia Ave route also had some serious issues, which DDOT heard at many community meetings and promptly ignored. They need to end it at the Silver Spring metro or transit center or at least Takoma metro instead of a random intersection like they’d planned (since they didn’t want to bother coordinating with Maryland and MoCo). They also need to not replicate the green line through downtown–putting it on 12th street would be a better choice. Finally, the plans completely ignore the development at the Wharf in SW, which is huge and not super-close to a metro. It would be better to go under the Mall in one of the tunnels, stop at the Wharf, and then proceed across to Buzzard Point, which is a lot further from starting construction on the stadium, let alone from having lots of people move in to new housing nearby.

    • The Wharf development is quite close to the Waterfront Metro station on the green line – it’s maximum a 10 minute walk (if that) to any part of where the development will be. (Not denying that better bus access would be great, but it’s really very close to the metro.)

      • It’s 0.7 miles (about a 15 minute walk, per google maps) from the fish market to either Waterfront or L’Enfant. That is fairly close, but considering how many people are going to live, work, and visit there it would be better to have something closer–not everyone is going to want to walk that far to the metro and I don’t want them all driving. A metrobus or circulator line would really help.

  • justinbc

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • I live in Petworth and would to see the Streetcars especially if they would be slowing down all this high-flying traffic. I can’t cross the street (on crosswalks) most of the time due to the fact no one slows down enough to see the “dc law – stop for pedestrian” signs. Streetcars are anything but a nostalgic kick, they are essential to a well rounded city. Ask Europe.

    • Frankly, there should not be crosswalks mid-block without stop lights on Georgia Ave. It’s much too busy for that non-sense. The city needs to add more stoplights and/or remove mid-block intersections.

      • Agreed that the city needs to add more stoplights in the busy stretch of Georgia Avenue between about Euclid (in Pleasant Plains) up through Buchanan (in Petworth) so that most (if not all) crosswalks are signalized.
        Because there are so many east-west streets at relatively short intervals, it’s not uncommon for there to be a signalized crosswalk at one intersection and then an unsignalized one a very short distance later. Combine that with people frequently walking through crosswalks against the light, and it gets harder for drivers to distinguish between the pedestrians to whom they need to yield (the ones in the unsignalized crosswalks) and the ones who are flouting the rules.
        My understanding is that DDOT doesn’t like putting in stoplights unless/until there have been pedestrian fatalities, though. And I don’t understand their new move of putting in “HAWK” lights instead of regular red-yellow-green traffic lights.

      • They aren’t all midblock though–there are a number of intersections with both GA (and NH for that matter) that are two way stops for e/w traffic. Pedestrians would have to potentially walk 4 blocks out of their way 2 north and then 2 south) in some cases to cross the street. No one is going to do that, regardless of whether DC paints the existing crosswalks away. And putting stop lights at all of those intersections, which see little vehicular cross traffic seems to offer a traffic flow problem to solve a pedestrian problem.

        Those that come to mind include Ga at both Gresham and Girard, Ga and Lamont, Ga and Morton, Ga and Newton, GA and Oak, Ga and Varnum, Ga and Webster, GA and Crittenden, Ga and Delafield, GA and Farragut, Ga and Hamilton, Ga and Jefferson, Ga and Longfellow, Ga and Sheridan, etc.

        I would like to see a few more lights, no doubt. NH and Quincy seems painfully obvious given the metro exit and the tremendous foot traffic as well as left turning traffic at all hours from Quincy to NH (including a bus route!). But it seems impractical to put lights at all of these intersections.

        I don’t want a streetcar though. PLEASE NO.

    • “they are essential to a well rounded city”

      Er, what? NYC and Chicago would like a word with you…

      • But neither has our pizza…

      • Perhaps op was being hyperbolic when s/he said “essential.” However, street cars can be very important to quality of life in a city, and can really help to develop the streets they run along. It has been shown that faster traffic leads to less local business development. A street car with semi-frequent stops could really be a boon for development.

        Also, the bustling parts of Chicago and NYC of which you speak are the parts that are closer to being designed like European cities (where the street car is prevalent). The buildings are closer together, the streets are more narrow, and public transport makes it easy to get around effectively.

        Also, yes to more public transport all of the time. An effective public trans system can be one of the greatest equalizing factors in a city. That being said, I can see why a bunch of well-off folks in DC don’t want it.

    • +1 for the streetcars. Would be great!

  • You know what else runs up and down Georgia Ave.? The 70 buses, and pretty frequently. Do people think the streetcar will be any faster on a clogged street with people double parking on the tracks? I hope it doesn’t happen here or H St. because it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

    • if it’s built with a dedicated lane, it won’t have the issues with double parking and clogged streets. street cars also have higher capacity and lower operating costs than buses. they obviously have a higher up front investment, so they need to be designed well to have better value over the long run. it’s actually not that hard to design them well, which makes the h street fiasco even more frustrating.

  • Could we get a working Metro system first? Or a working streetcar system on H Street? Or some level of traffic enforcement by the police?

    The sad truth is that DC is not capable of running a streetcar system (or a subway) right now. Maybe in 30 years.

    • WMATA is incompetent, but it’s not a D.C. government incompetence — it’s a tri-jurisdiction, quasi-independent incompetence.
      The streetcar and the Circulator are D.C. government projects. The Circulator has been very successful, but the streetcar… well, we know how that’s been going.

  • Logistics aside, there is absolutely no political will for a North-South streetcar line. That’s mostly thanks to the debacle that the H St streetcar has been. Just look at these comments here and compare them to when then-Council Chairman Gray attempted to pull the H St streetcar funding and people were all riled up. Now, it seems, most people here think it’s a bad idea, and commenters here probably skew more pro-streetcar than the rest of the city. I do think every attempt will be made to finish the East-West line all the way to Georgetown, but it may be 10 years before that’s done. With autonomous cars including Ubers on the horizon, streetcars may be even more unnecessary as a means of transport by that point.

    • autonomous cars won’t solve traffic congestion, at least not in a dense urban environment. congestion is a result of a simple throughput calculation that even autonomous cars can’t solve, e.g., re-routing to optimize routes won’t eliminate enough bottlenecks in a grid city like dc. with the existing road system in dc, you have to have public transit in order to move large amounts of people. perhaps autonomous cars will work in houston or as a supplement to a transit system, but they aren’t a panacea, at least in nyc or dc.

  • I’d much rather see a separated yellow line heading north from Ga / Potworth to Silver Spring (and beyond). With a stop at Walter Reed … while we’re dreaming, why not dream big? 🙂

  • HaileUnlikely

    I think there would be a great deal of value in making the bus service on Georgia suck much less than it presently does, and I hope and expect that it could be accomplished much more quickly and for a small fraction of the cost of a streetcar.

  • I am bullish on streetcars. Streetcars carry more people than buses, are a smoother ride, and inspire more confidence from developers/businesses because they’re fixed infrastructure. As far as I understand DDOT’s current plans, the H St./Benning streetcar is to be extended west to Georgetown before Georgia Ave. happens. So I’m not sure when Georgia Ave. happens, but I think it eventually will.
    While H St./Benning has been a disaster in both design and implementation, it does appear that the Bowser administration has gotten it on track (pun intended) about as fast as anyone could ask, given what they inherited. Mayor Bowser re-committed to finishing the line to Georgetown last March in her State of the District address.

    • Ashy Oldlady

      Meh. Without dedicated rights of way, they’re little more than nice photo ops in a city like this.

  • I think it will happen, and I think it should happen. They need to do something for transit with Walter Redd, and they need to do something with transit for the soccer stadium. A north south streetcar line makes a ton of sense. The fact that they completely fucked up the planning and development of the H street line shouldn’t be an indictment of the entire mode of transport. It just means DDOT needs to hire better planners.

    • Why do they need to do something about transit for Walter Reed? Red line metro is a 10 minute walk. 70, 79 buses run along the GA Ave side, S2, S4, S9 buses run along 16th St side. And the 52,53,54 bus will either bring you north to Walter Reed from the 14th St corridor, or take you to/from the metro if a 10 minute walk is too much for you.

      I believe there will also be a large amount of parking at Walter Reed (associated with the anchor store)…not that I’m advocating driving, but it is another option to get there.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Mostly agreed. I think they will need to substantially increase the frequency of buses on those lines, though, because the increase in demand will be quite large.

      • They have to do something because the Georgia, 14th St, and 16th St buses are all at or near capacity, and aren’t capable of handling the excess demand for transit that the redevelopment will cause. They have some options, but they clearly have to do something.

  • What a complete waist of time, look at H Street, those street cars have been there for a bout a year and all they can do is test drive the street cars. I can’t wait for there to be a huge leak or some kind of electrical failure and you know what.. there goes the street car tracks. A waist of money. They need to build something for the youth in this city. And you wonder why crime is so high…

  • I live in Petworth and I would like to see flying gondolas along Georgia and Upshur. It seems equally plausible to the implementation of a successful streetcar line this century.

  • The DC Government must first obey the Federal Law that forbids the erection of over head power lines over the streets, alleys and avenues within the City of Washington. Else the DC Government can be held in contempt of the Law that was enacted in 1888 by the 50th Congress.

  • B to the R to the T

  • I think as somebody mentioned, BRT may be the best idea for this route because it is adaptable. Hours can be changed if something is not working, as could rules regard it.

    If streetcar lines were to be done, it could not be done like H Street. The lessons there are streetcars MUST be dedicated lanes, segregated from traffic, and parking should not in any way interfere with the route.

    With that being said…BRT is MUCH better idea. It accomplishes many of the same goals as a streetcar, but with much more flexibility.

    Also as somebody noted, Walter Reed does not need the streetcar so much, it’s already near the Takoma Metro and Silver Spring Metro, and not far from DT Silver Spring. It’s more needed for Kennedy St and Brightwood Park/Northern Petworth which remains in a bit of a transit desert compared with the rest of NW. Then again, this may be what is making this part of DC an immigrant magnet, as it has a lower cost of living.

    I should also note the 70 buses are not that bad as is.

    • In order to be considered Bus Rapid Transit the system must have a fully dedicated right of way, the tickets must be purchased off board, at kiosks or ticket stations, the bus must have priority at intersections, and passengers need to board at station platforms. Many people are under the misunderstanding that BRT is just a fast bus. Here is the Wikipedia link that explains what BRT is all about – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_rapid_transit
      One of the main reasons why cities like to build streetcars is because they provide an economic boost to the businesses and neighborhoods that are nearby. And people seem to prefer to ride on streetcars over buses.

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