Part of MLK Avenue in Anacostia. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

DDOT has started the planning stages for the second phase of the Anacostia Streetcar line which will connect the Anacostia Metro station to the new 11th Street Bridge.  The first segment, set to open next year, will connect the Metro station to Bolling Air Force Base just ¾ of a mile away.

At DDOT’s public workshop last week, part of the discussion dealt with the feasibility of threading the streetcar along Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue through Historic Anacostia. 

In each direction the street contains a parking lane and a through lane.  Replacing the parking lanes with streetcar tracks will be difficult since the businesses will lose on-street parking for both their customers and for deliveries.  Several of the businesses, especially on the 1900 block of MLK, lack alleys in which to receive deliveries.

There are several solutions to this problem. 

One solution mentioned at the workshop and over the past few years is to route the streetcars along the old CSX railroad on the western fringe of Anacostia.

Though the right-of-way is already in place, such a location would remove the streetcar from MLK Avenue, which serves as a main commercial corridor of the neighborhood.  Removing the route from MLK inhibits the streetcar’s ability to revitalize the main street since the new amenity will actually lie two blocks to the west.  For this reason we must look at every feasible way to run the line along MLK.

Running along MLK is possible, however, if private auto traffic and streetcars share the existing travel lanes and leave the curb lane permanently for parking.

This arrangement maintains the street parking and loading zones that businesses need while permitting cars, streetcars, and buses to pass through the neighborhood.  The only possible downside to this arrangement is that streetcars will block the only travel lane at each of the two stops in downtown Anacostia. 

Fortunately, since streetcars permit boarding through all 3 doors and since payment occurs when passengers are already on board, a streetcar’s “dwell time”, the time stopped at a stop, can be much shorter than that of a bus.

Here is what a streetcar line on MLK might look like, especially after the Great Streets streetscape project.

Mixing two-way streetcar traffic on two-lane streets is nothing new. DDOT even provided a photo of such an arrangement in Toronto:

The delay for drivers is minimal as there are only two stops planned in Anacostia and since each stop will take as long as the typical wait at a red light.  More importantly, a line along MLK has the greatest chance to revitalize a neighborhood in need of economic development.