DC Streetcar in the Czech Republic. Photo from DDOT.

DC could one day have eight streetcar lines, spanning all eight wards from Takoma to St. Elizabeth’s, Woodley Park to Benning Road, under a long-term vision unveiled last night.

A large sign near the door read, “There are no crazy questions,” and DDOT officials meant it. Director Gabe Klein said that sometimes the crazy questions are the best ones, and DDOT even offered a free one-month Circulator pass to the person with the best question. (They did not announce the winner during the meeting.)

Phase 1 of the proposed streetcar plan would connect Firth Stirling and Martin Luther King Avenues in Anacostia, including the to-be-developed Saint Elizabeth’s campus, across the 11th Street Bridge to M Street SE, 8th Street past Eastern Market, H Street NE, and K Street NW utilizing the K Street Transitway. Other lines would continue east on H Street to Benning Road and the Benning Road Metro, as well as 14th Street to U and Georgia Avenue as far north as Park View and the Petworth Metro.

Phase 2 extends the Georgia Avenue line to Walter Reed and then east to Takoma Metro, K Street west to Georgetown below the Whitehurst Freeway, and adds lines from Woodley Park through Adams Morgan to U Street and Florida Avenue as well as a line along Rhode Island Avenue, NE to the Maryland line. In Phase 3, another line along 14th Street runs through the heart of downtown and then across the Mall on 7th Street to the Southwest Waterfront and Buzzard Point, while another line connects Woodley Park, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, the Washington Hospital Center with its surrounding planned development at McMillan and the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and then to the Brookland Metro.

Phase 1   Phase 2   Phase 3 View larger version (PDF)

This map differs from the 2005 Alternatives Analysis in a few interesting ways. Several lines relegated to “BRT” or “rapid bus” in 2005, including the 18th-U-Florida line, the Columbia-Irving-Michigan line, the Rhode Island Ave line, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Ave line are back to streetcar. Meanwhile, this map removes a line right past the U.S. Capitol. Finally, instead of going straight up 7th and Georgia, this proposal runs streetcars on 14th from downtown to U Street, where it cuts over to Georgia at the same place the Metro swaps streets in the other direction from 7th to 14th. This would give all of 7th/Georgia and 14th rail transit service in one mode or the other for the whole length up to Columbia Heights.

Having many lines on K Street would work great if the federal government awards DC a stimulus grant for the K Street Transitway. If not, would DDOT still be able to put streetcars there? Gabe Klein wrote in an email that DDOT “would pursue significant operational and cosmetic upgrades and pursue transit enhancements on K.”

DDOT officials stressed that this is still far from a final plan, and that they welcome residents’ input into the ideas. Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells asked them to move the north-south line through Capitol Hill eastward, to pass by the upcoming Hill East development instead of running along 8th Street through Barracks Row and the Eastern Market Metro. This change would connect one of the city’s large new development areas to surrounding neighborhoods and Metro stations, but would also remove the opportunity to connect Barracks Row to the Capitol Riverfront area across the freeway.

Wells also expressed his hope that an H Street-Benning Road streetcar line would draw many Ward 7 residents to H Street as a shopping destination instead of going to malls in Maryland. He’d like to bring more people there to support a wider variety of stores beyond just bars and restaurants.

DDOT does not currently plan for the streetcar system to extend into Maryland or Virginia. Klein said at the meeting that this system aimed to connect DC neighborhoods, not to bring commuters into DC over long distances. That makes sense, as streetcars are a primarily local transit mode. DDOT prefers a rapid bus system to carry longer-distance commuters into downtown.

Still, there are walkable places just beyond the DC line that lie outside the District largely due to geographic and historical accident. Lines ought to connect to Silver Spring and Rosslyn, for example. And towns originally built around streetcars line Maryland’s part of Rhode Island Avenue, like Mount Rainier and Hyattsville. DC and Maryland should cooperate to eventually bring the streetcar out to the historic downtowns and new developments along the Route 1 corridor.

Last night’s Ward 6 meeting was the first of eight, one in each ward. Monday’s meeting, 7:00 pm at the Columbia Heights Education Campus at 16th and Lamont, NW in Ward 1, will be especially key both because many lines run through that dense ward and because its Councilmember, Jim Graham, oversees transportation in the DC Council. Please come on Monday if you can, especially if you live in Ward 1, or attend your ward’s meeting. Thanks to Geoff Hatchard and Jason Broehm for their reports from the meeting.


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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.