DC’s streetcar plans have evolved over 20 years, ebbing and flowing mayor-by-mayor. In advance of the H Street/Benning Road streetcar’s eventual opening, we take a look back at how we’ve arrived at where we are now.
You can trace plans for modern streetcar service in the District back to the Transportation Vision, Strategy and Action Plan, which the District Department of Public Works completed in March of 1997. This plan identified a need for better inter-District transit to complement the Metro, and it proposed three possible streetcar lines to make that happen.
In the following years, WMATA conducted two studies of its own. The first was 1999’s Transit Service Expansion Plan, which identified three possible downtown streetcar lines as part of a larger region-wide transit vision. 2002’s District of Columbia Transit Development Study was a more direct follow-up to the 1997 Vision study.
The result of the Transit Development Study was a proposal for four lines, including a starter line in the Anacostia region.
In 2003, DDOT started the DC’s Transit Future program, which expanded on the 2002 study and assessed the transit possibilities for fourteen corridors across the District.
The program culminated in the release of the DC’s Transit Future System Plan and Alternatives Analysis in September 2005, which identified nine corridors for transit investment, including four streetcar lines. The report got an update in June 2008, and in October 2009 DDOT unveiled a substantially upgraded and expanded streetcar vision before making a second update in April 2010.
Due to funding concerns and shaky construction efforts on the first lines in Anacostia and the H Street/Benning Road corridors, DDOT refined this 37-mile plan down to a 22-mile “Priority System” in June 2012, focusing efforts on three major corridors of the original vision.
As revenue service moved further into the future and political support for the DC streetcar network declined, more funding cuts in October 2014 meant shifting the near-term focus to just the two lines under construction (8.2 miles).
The Bowser administration has so far only committed to completing the planned extensions to the H Street/Benning Road line to Georgetown and down Benning. The performance of that first line will likely play a huge role in determining whether the broader vision’s other plans become a reality.
In the coming days, we’ll take an in-depth look at modern streetcar proposals in Northern Virginia, as well as the two DC routes that made it out of the planning phase and into actual construction.