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 the course of a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.
Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.
Love it or hate it, DC is building a streetcar, but there have been a lot of delays in getting it running. We already posted videos of Ward 6 candidates Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson criticizing the slow pace of progress on the first line, which will be in that ward. The mayoral candidates running against Vince Gray had some sharp words as well.
Tommy Wells, the councilmember most closely identified with championing the streetcar, had plenty to say.
I think that it has been managed very poorly by this administration. I know that sounds political, but let’s go through why.
It’s being run by engineers, and seems to have almost no coordination with the Office of Planning. Ward 5 is told, you’re getting a streetcar barn and you’re going to like it. Or whether you like it or not, we’re putting a streetcar barn in, with very little creativity.
In Seattle, their streetcar barn has affordable housing over it. The most valuable land now is going to be where the streetcar runs. There’s no retail plan there showing that we can bring in restaurants or other things facing Benning Road with the streetcar barn behind it. ... I think that the administration has not been creative, has not thought out of the box. There’s a way to leverage in amenities along with the streetcar barn.
And then they kept failing at being able to procure streetcars, so finally they had to piggyback on someone else’s contract. That’s why the streetcars are so late in coming here. And they better not run it without at least 6 streetcars. You need 5 on the tracks and 1 in reserve. Otherwise, it’s just a ride at Disneyland that comes by every 30-40 minutes. ...
The other thing was that — my understanding is that the contract for design-build, for finishing off the line, it sat with the Attorney General’s office for almost 8 months. This administration, it’s like someone poured molasses over the government. I think they’re going to get there, but it’s not with a sense of urgency. It’s not real smart how they’re doing it. We’re missing an opportunity to do this really creatively.
But we’re going to get a streetcar line. We’re going to be able to touch it, ride it, so that our residents can see what the future can be like, but it’s not as good as it could have been.
Later in the segment, Wells also talked about how important it is for the streetcar to go east of the river, and how he thinks it should never cost more than $1.
Muriel Bowser also talked about DDOT’s procurement follies, and says the administration wasn’t honest enough with residents:
I’m just as frustrated as I think most people. Mostly, I want somebody to tell the truth. Every month it seems we have a new opening time.
I have no doubt that it’s a complicated project. There is nobody more excited than me to figure out all the lessons learned from went wrong in getting this thing going and how we we can fix it, and next time, Mayor Bowser can go out to the community and say, “Listen, this is going to be — dig up your street one time. And we know how we’re going to energize it, we know where we’re going to turn it around. We know where we’re going to store the cars and we know about how long this is going to take.”
I think where this mayor and this DDOT director lack credibility is, they won’t go out to the community and level with them. And I think people just want to know what gives and what do you need to do to fix it and when can we expect the streetcar to be running.
Andy Shallal was the least enthusiastic about the streetcar, or at least most overtly unenthusiastic. He referred to concerns many H Street business have been voicing that the streetcar will interfere with deliveries.
I think maybe we need to figure it out, use it as an experiment now — it’s already built — before we continue to build the rest of what’s proposed. I would suggest making sure we understand the challenges that a streetcar is going to bring to a community. I know there’s issues with parking that are going to get in the way; deliveries with restaurants, how are those going to happen — many of them don’t have alleys and have to depend on deliveries from the front; bicycles and how they cross those tracks.
It’s a lot of stuff there. I think we need to really be mindful of how we go about completing the tracks and making sure that whatever we put in place on the H Street corridor is something that’s workable and manageable and doesn’t create more hassles than it tries to solve.
Later, when we were talking about political obstacles to bus lanes, he suggested doing more projects that make it possible to experiment. He said,
Things like bus lanes are a great way to try something out. What’s the worst that can happen? you erase them. As opposed to a trolley, where you’ve spent millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. You’ve dug up the street for years, you’ve caused all this disruption, you’ve shut down businesses.
Jack Evans was very brief and much less critical. “It’s just taking forever. It’s on the right track, it’s just taking too long to get down the track. ... What we have to do is get the program moving. To be honest with you, with any program it takes forever to get off the ground. And now we have lines built, we have the streetcars, maybe this will be the end but it needs to be moving a little bit faster.”
See the full discussions with these candidates: