Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Streetcars are Coming - in Prototype

For all you Paul Revere-types out there harboring fears that the arrival of the streetcars spells doom, with cumbersome, monument-obstructing wires and disaster for DC as-we-know-it, tomorrow's Streetcar Showcase is for you.

Despite a minor setback of DDOT failing to make it to last night's Georgetown ANC meeting to present their plans, streetcar service may eventually cover 37 miles of the District, but will begin with limited service in Anacostia and at H Street-Benning Road by 2012. But on Wednesday, May 5th through Saturday, May 8th on Lot B of CenterCityDC (a.k.a. the still undeveloped old convention center site at 9th and H Streets, NW), The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is giving District residents, workers, and those rare tourists interested in DC transportation matters, a chance to ogle and board the District's latest transportation innovation.

Admittance to the 10:30 AM showcase is free. And if you still haven't gotten your fill of streetcars, you can stop by the free streetcar propulsion technology seminar at the Renaissance Hotel at 999 9th Street, NW on Thursday, May 6th to listen to the top minds in transportation technology and planning discuss ideas for how the streetcars can be integrated into our transportation mindset.

Ellen Jones, Executive Director of DC Surface Transit Inc. - a veritable posse of entities and BIDs including the Downtown, Golden Triangle, and Georgetown Business Improvement Districts, as well as the Washington Convention Center Authority (WCCA), the Washington Convention and Tourism Corporation (WCTC), and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) - explains that the seminar will cover all aspects of "the adaptability of the three cars that we've [the District] purchased and what can be done with them."

Thursday's panel of experts will include everyone from Downtown BID's Executive Director, Richard Bradley, to what Jones affectionately calls "five ubergeeks with over 200 years of propulsion system experience between them" from the American Public Transportation Association, to urban design guru Greg Baldwin. Stop by and get answers to any question you've ever pondered about the green-ness of the project, how DDOT intends to get around that pesky 19th century Federal statute prohibiting overhead wires in the District, and ideas for how Prius-style battery technology can safeguard our views from wires for many miles of the tracks.

Washington DC Real Estate and Development News


Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 5, 2010, 12:24:00 PM said...

The streetcar looks great and the level of comfort and reliablity of service on these vehicles will be a vast improvement compared to buses.

The planned streetcar network is an excellent 37-mile system but it would be an even better 42-mile system with a Wisconsin Avenue connection linking the Tenley and Friendship Heights metro stations with the K Street/Benning Road terminus in Georgetown. Join the Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition to support this: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=264242402429&ref=ts

Anonymous said...

I wonder if DDOT will demonstrate how this streetcar at capacity will feel to passengers -- with about 30 seats, and a capacity (according to Inekon) of 114 passengers or 156 passengers depending upon the level of crowding. Inekon assumed 5 or 8 persons per square meter in providing capacity estimates.

Replacing approximately 70-80 bus seats on two or more buses with about 30 streetcar seats on a single streetcar (with half the frequency) doesn’t seem to be a vast improvement in comfort and reliability.

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 5, 2010, 2:14:00 PM said...

Anonymous 1:46 PM--

If you're going to malign the streetcars, at least get your facts right. The Circulator buses have between 25-35 seats per bus, with each bus requiring an operator. It is possible to link several of these streetcar vehicles, providing greater capacity while reducing the cost per passenger since only one driver is required.

"Several members inquired about the transit vehicles used, which are Van Hool low-floor buses, either in 40-foot configuration with 3 doors, or 30-foot with 2
doors. Mr. Overman stated that the 30-foot buses have about 25 seats and midbus engines, and the larger ones have 35 seats and engines in the rear."


How comfortable do you think those warm engines in the rear of the bus are on a hot summer day?

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 5, 2010, 2:16:00 PM said...

Anonymous 1:46 PM---

DDOT also has the goal of operating the streetcars every 10 minutes, exactly like the Circulator buses.

Anonymous said...

Let’s get the facts straight. I am not certain why you are using Circulator information to estimate seating capacity on Metrobuses, such as those that run on your proposed streetcar route on Wisconsin Avenue.

At any rate, WMATA notes that the number of seats for standard 40-foot buses have fallen over time, from 43 seats to 38 seats. DDOT in its analysis assumes an average of 40 seats per Metrobus. WMATA and DDOT also use a load fact of 1.2, meaning that the they plan for a peak of six passengers for every five seats, i.e., at worst a Metrobus passenger should expect to stand once for every six peak hour trips, and to sit on other trips.

On the other hand, one waits twice as long for the streetcar (since you are cutting the number of drivers and vehicles in half, and with 30 seats for every 114 to 156 passengers, one can expect to stand three times for every four peak hour trips or four times for every five peak hour trips, standing 75-80% of the time on the streetcar, as compared with 17% of the time on the bus.

Also, I am not certain how running streetcars every ten minutes to replace buses that only run that frequently at rush hour is consistent with the labor savings that you are claiming.

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 5, 2010, 3:08:00 PM said...

Anonymous 2:57 PM--

I am using Circulator information because it is primarily the Circulator buses that the streetcars will be replacing. Look at the system map and the routes are very similar to the Circulator network.

Anonymous said...

I thought you wrote that you are advocating for a streetcar on Wisconsin Avenue, and I am not aware of any Circulator route on Wisconsin north of Whitehaven Street.

The comparison I provided is for Wisconsin Avenue north of Whitehaven. But, if you are talking about replacing two Circulator buses with one streetcar, you would be replacing 50 to 70 seats with 30 seats, still losing on comfort, and doubling the headway, to save labor costs, still losing on the reliability, not to mention the fact that the streetcar can’t move to the other lane to avoid obstructions.

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 5, 2010, 3:29:00 PM said...

Correct-- that is what I am advocating for, an alternative to the tired, diesel buses. I am advocating for an alternative to the 30s buses, which the 2005 DC Transit Alternatives Analysis Report showed to be the third most delayed of all the routes examined:


Anonymous said...

Of course, that finding was made in 2005, before WMATA revamped the 30s Metrobus line in 2008, an enhancement recommended in the 2005 Report.

Perhaps more improvements in bus service can be made, but the 2005 Report was clear in stating that Wisconsin Avenue did not pass the screen evaluation for a streetcar or premium transit service, but was recommended for local bus service enhancement.

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 5, 2010, 4:11:00 PM said...

Anonymous 3:54-- you do realize that the Wisc Ave corridor route had the highest ridership of the nine routes examined and scored second overall. The only reason I can tell why it was scuttled was lack of community support (by certain vocal naysayers along a certain part of upper Wisconsin Avenue).

Anonymous said...

When one factors the issues associated with capacity and operations with the Metro, along for the need and demand for an alternative to traditional bus service, it is clear that the streetcar system in the District is needed and wanted by many of its residents.

The long term sustainability associated with Streetcars, which are entirely more energy efficient that the diesel-powered bus is self-evident.

There are many arguments that once can make about Streetcars, but the fact of the matter is that sustainable communities worldwide have deployed rail based service in the form of trams, trolleys and streetcars as part of a sensible mass transportation strategy.

As the Capital of the United States, it makes sense for the District to be leading the effort on this front. We have a LONG way to go before we can make those claims, but this is an important first step.

Anonymous said...

Ben, If you read the 2005 Report that you cited, you would see that it was rejected because, objectively, the Wisconsin Avenue corridor failed to pass the second screen.

Anonymous said...

Community support was one of the major considerations DDOT used to evaluate this.

Anonymous said...

According to the report "DC's Transit Future System Plan," Friendship Heights/Tenley is going to be one of the fastest growing regions of the District. Additionally, Georgetown U. is adding 2,500 students and hundreds of additional faculty and staff to its campus. Unless you want crippling auto congestion and continuously increasing fuel consumption, other transit alternatives need to be provided.

The report also lists providing metrorail coverage and core capacity relief as an important consideration. A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar has a great potential to reduce crowding on both the Red and the Orange Blue Lines and will also likely reduce travel times for these passengers.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 5:22, If you read the report, it provides the reasons why the Friendship Heights to Georgetown Corridor did not meet the criteria for further consideration: “it did not perform well for the community and economic development related goal and measures. The area served by this corridor is already highly developed and does not include any city economic development initiatives. Upon review of the results by the PMT Steering Committee, it was recommended that the Friendship Heights to Georgetown Corridor not be advanced to Screen 3 as a premium transit corridor.”
While community support is listed as a consideration in this category, DDOT did not make any determination as to whether there was community support because it determined that the corridor did not meet the other criteria.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 5:35: The document that you cite relied on planning documents that have been officially repudiated by the DC Office of Planning.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:37- contrary to the belief of David Frankel, Sue Hemberger and others who'd like to think of Wisconsin Avenue as a pastoral estate, rather than a major corridor into the District, there is still plenty of opportunity for mixed-use infill development that will help reduce sprawl elsewhere in the region. The proposed Giant and a Safeway with new residential units are only two examples. These people, however, are opposed to anything mroe than two stories tall right next to the metro station.

Alex_tom on May 6, 2010, 6:08:00 AM said...

Streetcar is very good idea for those who travel by buses or train. Not only Street Cars but also Tram, Metro or many other transport now a days running very fast, And all those are helping over population to reach on time. Thanks for giving this wonderful information which you have mentioned in your blog.


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Anonymous said...

As I understand it, streetcar stops will be farther apart from one another than bus stops. Also, streetcars have fewer seats than WMATA's Metrobuses. Given these facts, then for areas where streetcars replace buses, passengers will experience a reduction in service.

Also, if roads with streetcar lines become obstructed for any reason, streetcars cannot move. Buses, on the other hand, can detour around obstructions and continue to provide quality service.

I assume streetcar lines or stations involve the removal of on-street parking. This will increase the parking problems faced by DC residents who live off the main streetcar streets as cars are forced into nearby residential neighborhoods.

Finally, building, maintainng and operating streetcars is incredibly expensive. I don't see how we pay for this. It would be far cheaper to increase and upgrade bus service.

Anonymous said...

We should have upgraded bus service, a first class Metro AND Streetcars.

Let's all work together to fill in the pieces. If that means a functioning bus and metro service first, that is fine, but all of these pieces will be necessary to handle the expected population figures in 2030, 2050 and beyond.

Don't be so shortsighted.

skinny said...

Anonymous 8:45

Your arguments seem oblivious to the existence and success of streetcars systems all over the world. You make many false assumptions:

"As I understand it, streetcar stops will be farther apart from one another than bus stops. Also, streetcars have fewer seats than WMATA's Metrobuses. Given these facts, then for areas where streetcars replace buses, passengers will experience a reduction in service."

Stops further apart means streetcars will move around the city a lot faster, like express buses, a service benefit to most. Local stops will still be served as DDOT has said they will NOT replace all local buses. Streetcars are to move between neighborhoods, buses to move within them. This is an increase in capacity.

The supposed lack of seats in not really an issue either. Much of the day bus seats are empty. During rush hour, when buses ARE packed, most are standing anyway, and streetcars provide MUCH, MUCH more room and will be far more comfortable. The difference in number of seats is negligible--30 seats on streetcars, 28-36 or something on buses. As noted, local buses will still run. Most people will be more comfortable -- they will wait less time at the stop, travel faster, and will have a lot more room off-peak AND during peak traffic.

"Also, if roads with streetcar lines become obstructed for any reason, streetcars cannot move. Buses, on the other hand, can detour"

Observing interaction with streetcars and cars in other cities, drivers smartly clear the way because they KNOW the train is heavy and can't go around them. Have you not seen buses stuck in traffic?

"I assume streetcar lines or stations involve the removal of on-street parking."

And in most cases, your assumption is wrong. H-street maintains its parking lanes. On H, the streetcar moves on the next lane out (and on Benning, next to the median). The curbs bulb out where the stops are. A small handful of fewer parking spaces is offset by fewer people needing to drive. No doubt having a streetcar stop nearby will help businesses.

"Finally, building, maintaining and operating streetcars is incredibly expensive. I don't see how we pay for this. It would be far cheaper to increase and upgrade bus service."

Finally, again wrong. On saturated bus routes, adding more buses just bunches up traffic--there are diminishing marginal returns to how many buses you can keep adding to those lines (and a great deal of cost).

Operating streetcars is CHEAPER than operating buses, per-passenger costs are LOWER past a certain low threshold of ridership. Up-front capital costs ARE higher, but it is cheap money compared to other transportation infrastructure costs (Woodrow Wilson Bridge alone cost 2.5 BILLION). Fewer driver trips mean less wear-and-tear on streets. Streetcars themselves last 3-4 times as long as buses. DC has already identified all funds for the initial lines.

Anonymous said...

Skinny, Your assertion that operating streetcars is cheaper than operating buses on a per passenger service depends on both ignoring the up-front capital costs, but mainly on assuming that a large reduction in the quality of service is acceptable:
You are assuming that they are operating at capacity, compared to buses operating at capacity, so the streetcar passengers stand 80% of the time, while the bus passengers stand only 17% of the time.
You are assuming that one streetcar replaces two or more buses, so the headway is twice as long, and the streetcar rider waits, on average, twice as long as the bus rider for the vehicle to arrive at the stop.
You also are assuming that the stops are further apart, so the streetcar rider needs to walk further than the bus rider, and it isn’t a very good way of providing transit between various destinations along a corridor. And, of course, even if you keep a few buses to serve these destinations, their frequency will necessarily decline, to realize the cost savings, to such low levels as to be unusable.

As to your example of preserving on-street parking, I don’t see how the bulb-outs can be used on Wisconsin Avenue without cutting its peak hour capacity for cars, trucks and buses by one-third.

Anonymous said...

Skinny wrote: "The supposed lack of seats in not really an issue either. Much of the day bus seats are empty. During rush hour, when buses ARE packed, most are standing anyway, and streetcars provide MUCH, MUCH more room and will be far more comfortable."

I am a frequent bus commuter in DC. I don't think I've never been on a WMATA bus where there were more people standing than sitting. The WMATA buses accommodate about 40 people in seats. I don't think I've ever seen more than about 25 people standing at any given time, and usually not for long.

In addition, buses run frequently along major routes, like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and K Street. This helps reduce the need to stand on WMATA buses.

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 6, 2010, 1:11:00 PM said...

@Anonymous 12:37 PM--

"You are assuming that one streetcar replaces two or more buses, so the headway is twice as long, and the streetcar rider waits, on average, twice as long as the bus rider for the vehicle to arrive at the stop."

According to DDOT, the streetcars will run as frequently as the Circulator buses, every 10 minutes.

You also note that the streetcar stations will be further apart than bus stops. You do realize that redundant and closely-spaced bus stops is a significant cause of the slow bus speeds and the unreliability of buses, pushing people off of this mode of transportation.

With stops further apart (and more passengers per stop), it will justify building superior passenger facilities, with digital display times, map and route information, seating, and other amenities that are not available at bus stops.

Anonymous said...

Why is is that some people *love* to find problems with absolutely everything -- all naysayer supremos should go live in the Midwest where they have no public transportation -- not to mention crappy economies and lousy education systems -- as a direct result of this kind of closed-minded attitude

Anonymous said...

I love the lead-in for this "story" (Paul Revere-types). Further proof that blogs are the equivalent of writings on bathroom walls. Nice objective reporting. God forbid somebody push the District to adequately plan and finance something.

Anonymous said...

I really wonder where else ["Anonymous that seems to hate streetcars, DC planning, and probably many other things"] has lived because the District's transport system is better than any other city I know -- most of the US is completely/hopelessly car-dependant. Transportation planning is one thing I wouldn't criticize about DC.

Anonymous said...

HA! I am a professional urban planner, live downtown and don't own a car. Just becuase I ask questions about streetcar means I am anti? Too funny...

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous-- 2:47PM--

Just like Sue/Ethan/Heather was an 'economist' in their earlier attempt to discredit the Wisconsin Avenue streetcar proposal. The same 'Alliance for Rational Development' group of people in upper Northwest who oppose everything have very little credibility on this.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link for the above pose:


Anonymous said...

Wisconsin would be a great opportunity for better transit. Its tough getting up that way and there are great destinations.

All I was saying was people should make sure this streetcar is done right so that is properly financed and sustainable. The real driver of transportation in this region is Metrorail, which is one of the better "subway" services in the country if not the world. It would be unwise for much needed funding be redirected from Metro (through Metro Matters) to the streetcar project. Metrorail is much more importan for the District's vitality.

Now if anyone takes that as Paul Revere, anti-street car... well...

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 3:18--

"The real driver of transportation in this region is Metrorail, which is one of the better "subway" services in the country if not the world. It would be unwise for much needed funding be redirected from Metro (through Metro Matters) to the streetcar project. Metrorail is much more importan for the District's vitality"

This makes me wonder whether you're an urban planner like you claim or whether you've been paying attention to the proposed streetcar network. One of DDOT's stated goals of this is to fill in gaps not currently served by Metrorail. Metro was built as a radial system in the 1960s-70s to serve a decentralizing population coming from the suburbs at a time when DC was losing population.

Additionally, if you're concerned about the health of metrorail, then you should support a Wisc Ave streetcar. This route will give people options to taking the Red and Orange lines, two of the system's most crowded. This will help WMATA delay extremely costly infrstructure upgrades, such as separating the Orange/Blue lines or building a new tunnel under the Potomac.

Anonymous said...

Ben at 1:11, Now that you are back on-line, perhaps you can answer my question about a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar and on-street parking. Skinny maintained that on-street parking wouldn’t be eliminated, and that bulb-outs could be used. I asked how bulb-outs can be used on Wisconsin Avenue without cutting its peak hour capacity for cars, trucks and buses by one-third.

Anonymous at 12:37.

Anonymous said...

Not Ben, but if you want one person's opinion, I think there are two issues here.

First, DDOT would need to study potential alignments, particularly for the distinct segments, M Street to Calvert and Calvert to Western. It is possible that one would have a center avenue alignment while the other would have a curb alignment.

The question is, is it worth sacrificing on-street parking along Wisconsin Avenue for such an investment and transportation system?

If you buy the idea that population in the region is going to add 6 million + residents in the coming decades, then you have to imagine what a car-centric transportation system will look like, given current capacity projections for Metro, etc. If it is as bleak as many consider, then one has to look at completely lifestyle alternatives to the 20th century paradigm we have enjoyed. One of those challenges is how people are going to access the services they need.

Will a business or neighborhood activity center be better served by handling 6-12 cars per block, or by dozens of shoppers arriving via streetcar every 10 minutes?

This is simplistic, but it is also a message board. One has to think with a futurist perspective and outside the box to see why this is so necessary.

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 7, 2010, 10:38:00 AM said...

@ Anonymous 11:05 PM--

Good analysis. During Fenty’s press conference at the streetcar Open House, he noted that 38% of District residents do not own a car and the number of vehicle registrations are declining in the District.

We shouldn't deny ourselves an investment in transit that will improve mobility and the reliability of transit, improve air quality, reduce our fuel consumption, and provide a more comfortable ride because of the perceived convenience of commuters from Maryland and Virginia finding a parking spot.

Much like all the concern about the 5-cent bag fee, eliminating parking on Wisconsin Avenue will not be the end of Western civilization. Curbside parking is already prohibited along much of this street during the peak morning/evening commute periods, so District residents are already familiar with not being able to park along Wisconsin for much of the day.

Anonymous said...

Not Ben, Thank you for the thoughtful response. I agree that if we are to consider streetcars on Wisconsin Avenue, DDOT must carefully study the potential alignments for each segment of the route, and it must be clear about the consequences of any alignment (such as changes in parking, changes in loading, changes in travel lanes, changes in the flexibility of use of travel lanes at different times of day, changes in bicycling conditions or changes in the sidewalk space available to pedestrians.)

I have seen some streetcar advocates change their assumptions about the alignment and whether there is a dedicated right of way in order to respond to different concerns, with the outcome that their claims are inconsistent with reality. So I would support a careful analysis of the alignments as well as all the other infrastructure requirements, such as boarding areas or possible bulb-outs, assuming that that analysis is reality based, and considers the actual transportation needs and preferences of the potential riders. The study should include an assessment of how the buses are currently used by many residents, especially the elderly or those who don’t drive, for a series of errands. With our current stop spacing, residents can find convenient stops to their apartment, the supermarket, the library and other destinations. The stop spacing for the limited stop buses, which might be what Ben contemplates for the streetcar, aren’t as useful for many residents, especially the elderly and those travelling with small children.

As to your concern about providing transportation for a growing population, we need an objective determination that streetcars are a better means of providing transportation for Wisconsin Avenue than improved bus service. I have not seen anything that indicates it would be superior to a more modest investment in other transportation, and there seem to be a number of factors that indicate that it would be inferior.

Ben, You write that we shouldn’t deny ourselves an investment in transit that will improve mobility and the reliability of transit.

Yet, it seems clear that a streetcar on Wisconsin Avenue will provide inferior, not superior transit service for all the reasons that have already been discussed.

For example, you assert that streetcars provide a more comfortable ride, presumably in comparison with a modern bus, but, I, for one, prefer a modern bus, with an 87% chance that I will be seated to a streetcar with only a 20% chance of having a seat.

And, while you would like to say that the streetcars will run every ten minutes, more frequently than the current bus schedule, you are also claiming that because of the extra capacity (mostly standing) the streetcar will not be more costly to operate, since you are saving labor costs by having fewer drivers. I hope that you understand that that is inconsistent.

With respect to the elimination of on-street parking and the elimination of the ability for businesses to accept deliveries from the street, I hope that you are honest in making this aspect of streetcars on Wisconsin Avenue clear at public meetings. You might find that residents and businesses understand this issue better than you appear to. I hope that you will also make it clear that the higher capacity numbers that you claim are based on having 80% of the passengers stand, rather than only 17% of the passengers on a peak-hour bus standing.

Anonymous at 12:37

Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition on May 7, 2010, 1:34:00 PM said...

Readers of this blog should look at some of the photos here and judge the comfort of the ride for streetcars vs. buses: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=264242402429&ref=ts (courtesy of BeyondDC. The improvement in the quality of the ride will be vast, similar to the difference between metrorail vs. bus.

Anonymous said...

Mea culpa-- here's the link: http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=181478 .

Anonymous said...

Ben, Do you have any photos of the interior with 30 people seated, and 80 to 120 people standing?

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 1:52PM --

This situation exists with the bus today. The 30s buses roughly follow the route of the Orange/Blue lines but people gladly take the more crowded metro in the mornings/evenings because it offers a more comfortable ride (even when standing) and more reliable travel times compared to on-street buses.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2:27. Did you look at the pictures, for example the center section with four seats, showing two people standing (http://www.flickr.com/photos/beyonddc/4581873277/in/set-72157624000098562)? Judging from the capacity estimates, seat layouts and drawings on the manufacturer’s website, they would expect that at most 20 people can stand in the front area and at most 20 people in the rear area of the bidirectional streetcar, so there would be 40-80 standees in the open area in that photograph, with very little for people to hold onto. Also, I have been on very crowded trains, as well as very crowded buses, but never, on Metro, have I seen four people standing for every person seated.

Also, let’s not forget that the streetcar doesn’t have its own right of way, so it has less reliable travel times, not more reliable travel times than buses on the same route.

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