DC Mayor Muriel Bowser gave the annual State of the District address Tuesday night. Among many other statements, one caught the eye of most reporters, people on Twitter, and others: She has definitively decided to finish the main east-west streetcar line.
DDOT director Leif Dormsjo made something of a stir when he told the DC Council that all options were on the table for the streetcar including scrapping it entirely. But it’s now totally clear that this option, while perhaps truly on the table, is not on said metaphorical table any longer.
Further, the line will stretch to Georgetown in the west and “downtown Ward 7” in the east (and, presumably, to a Metro station). Such a line will be far more useful than just the “starter segment” that has been built. Plans always called for this to be just one piece of a line stretching across the District, and now that will be the policy of a third consecutive administration.
Bowser did not, however, commit to building any more streetcar lines. While DDOT’s former plan was compelling, the agency has not yet demonstrated it can build a citywide network of streetcars. It may indeed be sensible to try to make one line work very well before moving too quickly to build more.
To make the line work well, it should have dedicated lanes for a considerable portion of its length. There are already plans to rebuild K Street from Mount Vernon Square to Washington Circle with dedicated transit lanes for a streetcar. But if the streetcar sits in traffic around Mount Vernon Square, between that square and Union Station, and along K into Georgetown, it won’t be as valuable of a transportation facility as it could be.
Advocates will need to push DDOT to really study dedicated lanes and other methods of ensuring the streetcar is actually a good way to get to and from downtown instead of the novelty some critics fear.