Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

DDOT has narrowed the 10 options for the Anacostia streetcar to 4 possible alignments, three of which partially run along MLK Avenue, Anacostia’s main street, and connect to the 11th Street bridge. The fourth option involves running the streetcar along the CSX railroad tracks, but negotiations with CSX are not final.

DDOT presented the latest round of possible streetcar routes at its third public hearing in the Environmental Assessment process last night. The agency eliminated 6 options after gathering community input, working with DDOT planners and technical staff, and consulting with other stakeholders.

The first alignment cut ran from the 11th Street bridge to the Anacostia Metro station, entirely along MLK Avenue. DDOT ultimately eliminated this route because of community concerns about congestion on the north end of MLK.

Options 3 and 6, where one direction runs several blocks farther east or west than the other direction, were cut because they’re too confusing for riders. In option, 3 which used 14th Street for the northbound direction, Some residents were also concerned about negative affects to historic buildings along 14th, particularly viewsheds of the Frederick Douglass House.

Alignments 7, 8, and 10, which would have served the Poplar Point site, were deemed too far removed from the existing community to be effective. While some residents wanted the streetcar away from downtown Anacostia entirely, others didn’t want the project to ignore the heart of the community.

Any development in Poplar Point a future streetcar might serve is years away, hasn’t even been designed yet, and requires federal reviews. DDOT would have to avoid adverse affects to Anacostia Park, and can’t connect to the land using their current right-of-way.

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Three of the four remaining alignments serve the main business district along MLK, while also moving one set of tracks off of MLK at its narrowest section. One alignment serves 13th Street and the residential neighborhood to the east of the main district.

The other two options serve Shannon Place and Railroad Avenue, respectively, the two streets between MLK and the CSX railroad tracks. Both streets have significant potential development along their lengths.

The alignment serving 13th Street could provide better transit service to the residents there and also bring more activity to the churches along that street. However, the potential for new development is low because the street is primarily low-density homes. It’s unlikely that higher density apartments or condos would replace those.

DDOT’s goal for the streetcar is also to connect activity centers, not serve interior neighborhood streets, like buses do. Running the streetcar along 13th Street could better connect those residents to MLK, but the purpose of the streetcar is not simply to improve local circulation.

Instead, the Anacostia streetcar is part of the larger 37-mile network. The streetcar will serve the business district of the neighborhood while also better connecting Anacostia residents with the rest of the city.

The options along Shannon Place and Railroad Avenue are fairly similar because both alignments have a higher development potential and both serve the business district. There are few residences along these streets, which are primarly industrial.

Running along Shannon Place could be more effective, because those tracks are closer to MLK. Railroad Avenue is one block farther west, which expands the core service area and could make the streetcar less useful.

One of the consultants from HDR, the firm working with DDOT on the study, noted that longer distances between the tracks could be confusing. Riders would also have to walk farther to connect to either direction. Railroad Avenue doesn’t connect directly to the 11th Street bridge either, so DDOT would have to construct a right of way there.

In both of these cases, one track separates from MLK to help mitigate traffic congestion and potential loss of parking spaces. Many residents have expressed concern that losing on-street parking could hurt local businesses.

The final alignment, along the CSX railroad tracks, has the least community impact and up front is almost $30 million cheaper. However, it does not serve the existing business district or any residential streets. DDOT would have to purchase the right of way from CSX, which would add to the cost. The state of those negotiations are also unclear and DDOT staff weren’t able to say when they might conclude.

Historic preservation could also play a role in the CSX alignment. The streetcar would have to make a sharp right turn at the intersection of the 11st Street bridge and Good Hope Road, where a historic building, formerly the Green Derby, stands. The minimum turning radius for a modern streetcar is about 62 feet and this turn could clip part of the property. DDOT might have to acquire the property in this case, but would not for any of the other routes.

The study team has also posted their presentation from the meeting.

Last night’s meeting was more productive than the March meeting because residents were able to talk with DDOT staff and examine the options more closely. In March, residents discussed the options in small groups, then presented to the whole room. It was a good opportunity for dialogue, but also gave some opponents an opportunity to grandstand against the project.

The next stage in the planning process is to develop a locally preferred alternative, which DDOT hopes to do by late fall. There is a “no-build” alternative which maintains existing transportation options. DDOT would then reallocate funds for the project to other areas.

Jamie Scott is a resident of Ward 3 in DC and a regular Metrobus commuter. He believes in good government, livable communities and quality public transit. Jamie holds a B.A. in Government from Georgetown University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown.

Ryan Hall is a passionate smart growth advocate and an aspiring urban planner. He volunteers for the Coalition for Smarter Growth and is a student mentor in the National Building Museum’s CityVision program. Ryan is currently pursuing his Masters in Community Planning and Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park.