DC’s attempts to bring back streetcars popped back into the news last week as DDOT broke ground on a streetscape reconstruction on H Street Northeast. While the street is already torn up, they will include build streetcar tracks for future service, though it will be years before a streetcar could run, and there are no cars or operational funding yet.

But it’s a big step forward, and has brought discussion about streetcars back to the forefront. There are always people who question the value of streetcars, as DC, Atlanta, and other cities contemplate building lines. After all, why can’t buses do the same thing without the expense of laying tracks, and with added flexibility to change routes and go around obstacles in the lane? Commenters rebut these arguments in the comments on this Post story.As commenter NikolasM best explains, “Streetcars are something that have been proven time and time again to be a mode of transportation that will actually get people out of cars. Buses do not have the same effect. The physical act of laying down tracks also shows a commitment to businesses and landowners that there will be guaranteed ridership and patronage along a corridor. Bus lines can easily be changed at any time. The permanence of rail is psychologically important.”

Dr. Gridlock points out in the article that transportation is more than just “how many people get moved at what price, certainly a very important factor in the use of public money but not one that captures the range of ways people’s mobility can be improved by combining transportation and land use programs.” Simply looking at the ways to generate the most miles for the fewest dollars assumes the only goal of transportation is to move people from where they are to where they already want to be; in fact, people make decisions on where to live and where to shop or go for entertainment based on what is available. In other words, rail, like roads, can create induced demand.

Next: how to make sure the streetcars are a success.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.