We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 1 on the DC Council. See all of the discussions here.
Jim Graham, the councilmember for Ward 1, has always been a staunch supporter of bus transit. But he’s much less sanguine about DC’s plans to build a network of streetcars.
Graham pushed to keep bus fares down when on the WMATA Board, and he proposed the Circulator route that runs from McPherson Square to U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Woodley Park.
I asked Graham if we should have dedicated bus lanes. He said:
I was very much an advocate for creation of express bus on 16th street and on Georgia Avenue [the S9 and 79 buses]. Both of those happened while I was involved. It’s good but there’s still terrific bus bunching. …
Metro/WMATA has always treated the buses like stepchildren. They’re kind of assigned to the coal bin of Metro. And it’s been a slow process pulling the bus transportation out of that second-class status and into first-class status. We’re not there yet. And I think a dedicated lane — because I think rapid bus makes a lot of sense.
When we compare the cost of rapid bus to light rail, and we compare the problems of light rail to the relative ease of rapid bus, I think it’s a very strong case. The notion of light rail running down Harvard or light rail running down 18th Street in Adams Morgan? It’s… it’s quite a profound change.
Because people forget that streetcars break down. I think nobody remembers that they break down. I rode streetcars in the ‘50s and ‘60s and they broke down. And when they broke down there was such a terrific backlog of traffic and congestion as the car had to be pulled away. That’s just in the nature of things. Look at the Metro trains!
Not to mention the fact that you’ve got the trolleys taking up an awful lot of roadway space, and that’s going to create other challenges.
“H Street is perfect” for streetcars, he said, in part because it is “very broad.” But there’s also a debate about whether H Street should one day have dedicated lanes (Charles Allen would like to consider it, while Darrel Thompson doesn’t think it would work, for example). Graham said:
I was 12 years on the Metro Board. (I don’t want to say too much about that right now.) But I became convinced that if we had really good rapid bus, people would be very happy to use it. And we wouldn’t have the enormous cost of capital investment that we have related to trolleys. Trolleys in some ways are sentimental and they’re kind of exciting and new. But rapid bus can deliver, and we know plenty of examples where it has delivered.
Nadeau wrote in an email, “I’m fully supportive of a streetcar for Georgia Avenue and excited about the conceptual drawings circulated last week. It’s a great opportunity to strengthen a commercial corridor that has largely been forgotten by our current leadership.”
As for the 16th Street bus lane, she said in the interview that not only does she think it’s a good idea, as Graham does, but she is pushing to make it a reality (unlike, she says, her opponent):
One of the things I’m working on right now is the 16th Street [bus] lane. That was a proposal that came up in 2009, 2010 when Graham was chair of the transportation committee, and it still has not been studied and implemented. … When that study was done, 30% of all traffic on 16th Street was the bus. And now, it’s more than 50%.
Watch the whole discussion with Graham about transportation here, including conversations about car dependence, parking, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.
We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.