H Street, NE has been coming into its own over the past few years. With a dozen or so new bars and restaurants and the Atlas District, the area surprises those who remember the H Street of 10 years ago - but for one constant: the utter lack of metro accessibility. Residents can see signs of progress on the line, but continue to wonder about the reality of service. The DC government has made several promises to improve transportation there, including rail, and have already bought the trains. So trains will be running any day, right?
In January 2008, Mayor Adrian Fenty and Councilman Tommy Wells celebrated the groundbreaking on the Benning Road/H Street Great Streets Project, and plans were set in motion to develop an at-grade street car connection between H Street NE and Benning Road. The Great Streets title means the area will receive money for streetscape improvements in addition to transit lines.
But Shannon Yadsko, an urban planner at Parsons Brinckerhoff, opines that even if residents see rails going into the ground, "service is probably at least 5 years away." Yadsko says that though she is not connected to the project, she foresees a slew of obstacles including, "DC's ban on overhead wires (which streetcars need to run, generally)" as well as competition with other DC projects for increasingly limited financing. One such project is a similar street car line, in Anacostia, which Yadsko notes is "probably a higher profile project."
When DC committed to the project, they purchased the street cars for both the Anacostia and and H Street. You might say they got the whole "if you build it, they will come" thing backwards. According to a WTOP article from last April, the DC streetcars are still chilling out in the Czech Republic. Slightly different from the ambulance loan to the Carribean, but equally odd. Better just hail a cab.