Photo by dbking on Flickr.

During the streetcar debate, Councilmember Marion Barry (Ward 8) has repeatedly expressed puzzlement that a streetcar is planned on H Street. He seems to think the idea suddenly appeared out of the blue. However, he shouldn’t be surprised: his own administration published a plan with that very project in 1997.

During Tuesday’s discussion of the streetcar overhead wire emergency legislation, Barry criticized the way, as he saw it, H Street suddenly appeared on the streetcar plan after not being “part of the discussion.” His comments start at 1:26:05 on OCT’s recording:

I support streetcars. what I don’t support ... is this haphazard way of planning. ... 37 miles of streetcar. No involvement from the community, no involvement from anybody except themselves. ... Originally as I understand it ... it would be Georgia Avenue and Anacostia. And so all of a sudden we have H Street which was not part of the discussion and we have some other areas.

This is a repeat of some of his comments from the May 26 debate when streetcars were being cut and later restored (at 24:18):

Our original plan was to go from Bolling Air Force Base down to Anacostia station. ... Down Martin Luther King, up Good Hope Road, and maybe across the 11th Street bridge to Capitol Hill. All of a sudden I hear from somewhere that H Street is on the agenda.

The H Street streetcar is a brand-new idea that suddenly appeared? Mr. Barry had never heard of the concept?

If that’s right, then Mr. Barry must not have ever read the 1997 transportation plan published by the government of the District of Columbia, Marion Barry, Mayor. That plan shows a streetcar on H Street, but no streetcar at all in Anacostia.

Click for photograph of full version.

The only things the Barry Administration had in mind for River East, besides the end of the Benning Road line, was some municipal parking for commuters, a freeway extension, truck-to-rail intermodal centers (the brown targets), some truck routes, and a trail connecting the fort parks. Here’s the complete page, including the key.

Since then, a streetcar did get planned for Anacostia, and it’s still being built. Despite Councilmember Barry’s confusion, it’s still going to go to Anacostia station, and eventually across the 11th Street bridge. It just won’t go to Bolling, because that doesn’t help any of the residents of Ward 8, and almost nobody would ride it.

A lot of people seem to have gotten the idea that the streetcars have had no planning. As this plan shows, that planning dates to 1997. Since then, there have been two very exhaustive reports, in 2005 and 2010, which streetcar head Scott Kubly said cost about a million dollars to make. The latest one includes station locations, costs, ridership estimates, and economic development analyses of each potential line segment. (Unless people haven’t read the report because the DDOT site makes viewing PDFs so unpleasant.)

It’s true that before Kubly took over the streetcar program, communication was pretty poor. The streetcar line in Anacostia got rerouted several times with very little public debate or awareness. But more recently, DDOT has been planning up a storm.

The only problem is that many elected officials seem not to be reading the plans. At the hearing on the overhead wire bill, Councilmember Phil Mendelson asked me several questions about the H Street line which he said hadn’t been planned. The only problem was, the answers to his questions were in the voluminous packet of information DDOT had sent to the Council in response to their questions.

And despite Councilmember Barry’s impression, there have been numerous DDOT public forums about streetcars. Again, it took a while; B.K. (Before Kubly), the Sierra Club spent almost a year trying to get DDOT officials to talk about streetcars. But starting with the August 7, 2009 community meeting, there has been substantial community involvement and many community meetings in all eight wards.

DDOT representatives have attended ANC and citizens’ association meetings from Georgetown to Trinidad, and even upper Connecticut Avenue neighborhoods that aren’t even slated for a streetcar but want one. Here’s an announcement for a November 2009 meeting in Anacostia. Was Councilmember Barry there?

In project after project, no matter how much public outreach government officials do, some people still insist that they never heard about the meetings and there wasn’t enough consultation. In this case, DDOT is moving quickly, and many people seem to mistake moving quickly for lack of planning. Those of us who keep up with the streetcar plans feel there is plenty of planning. If people haven’t bothered to read the plans, well, I encourage it. They’re pretty good.

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.