Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Streetcars on H Street

If you were in the H St NE area today, you might have run into a bit of a snag. District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced in a traffic advisory that construction and installation of street car rails continues along H St NE. The construction is part of an ongoing street improvement through the Benning Road/H Street Great Streets Project. DDOT spokesman John Lisle indicated they are proactively laying the tracks in concrete during the road improvement so that DDOT does not have to dig up the road again once the issues surrounding the street car are resolved. Forethought, how refreshing. So, street cars next week?

Not so much. The street car element of the $65 million Great Streets project still has some unresolved conflicts, and the cars still gather dust in the Czech Republic. According to Lisle, there is still no final plan on where the cars will turn around to continue their loop. Also, the city's ban on overhead wires in the downtown area means DDOT will either have to find a way to power the street cars without overhead wires or have the law changed to allow them. Lisle said the Benning Road project is set to continue for two more years and anticipates the street car line will be running from 3rd and H St NE to Benning Rd and Oklahoma Avenue, NE, by 2011. Others are less optimistic about the timeline.

Today's street closures, with more Friday, will allow workers to lay tracks at the intersections. In addition, the eastbound curb lane on H Street, NE between 3rd and 5th Streets will be closed to traffic for the next day. On Friday, the intersection of 7th and H Streets, NE will be closed from 9 am to 5 pm, as well as the eastbound curb lane on H Street between 6th and 8th Streets. Have patience, its in the name of progress.


skinnytree said...

Laying the tracks now IS foresight, and it is refreshing to see the city being aggressive with this, even if until now the process had been a bit of an ad-hoc one by the city.

2011 does seem premature for H-Street though. I believe we COULD see them running in Anacostia along the line that is being built there by then. That line has a garage facility and is further along. The street cars that the city already purchased in Czech Republic are slated for that route.

The good news is that I think DDOT is committed to the project (and to going back and doing the planning to do it right) and once you have an active line in Anacostia, and tracks on Benning/H, there will be a lot of political pressure to link the two lines and extend the system.

It is amazing though how under-the-radar this whole process has been (where has the Post been during this major development?). This article and the few others we've seen on blogs show how little DC has done to keep the public informed about this project (by design?). It is good that the Fenty administration (DDOT) has recently promised to do a much better job in that regard, as this is rightly a highly anticipated project over here in the Eastern half of the city.

Pleasantplainer said...

Change that law! History should not trump progress! If other cities are to follow DCs lead (if it is one?), you don't want to give those less enthused by progress to start getting those "historical" or whatever laws on the books now to block street cars in their cities. It's simple: change the law.

DCJaded on Aug 27, 2009, 3:44:00 PM said...

Im not sure I would agree with the H street project being "under the radar" and the city not giving people information. The construction company doing the work issues construction updates on a regular basis to the local neighborhood email lists. In addition, there have been a couple meeting specifically on the streetcars, the last one was just on July 28th.

Anonymous said...

seems a bit odd to be laying tracks without coming to a final decision about a power source. if they are going to be powered without overhead wires the tracks will need to be torn up and retrofitted with a power source.

DCsocialite on Aug 28, 2009, 12:43:00 PM said...

Horray for street Cars! I think this is forward movement for Washington D.C.

John Lisle on Aug 28, 2009, 12:58:00 PM said...

To clarify, the Benning Raod project, including the streetcar tracks, should be completed next spring. The H Street project is scheduled to be completed in 2011, but the streetcar will not be operational on that line segment at that time. The first segment expected to be up and running is the Anacostia line in late 2012.

monkeyrotica on Aug 31, 2009, 8:37:00 AM said...

With the amount of road salt DC uses in the winter, I question the reliability of an underground-powered streetcar line. I also recall a DDOT rep saying that underground power lines were out of the question for liability reasons. Which leaves overhead wires the only alternative, and those are banned in the L'Enfant area of DC's core.

Question: will streetcars have right of way? Will they come equipped with those devices that ambulances have that can turn the stoplight from red to green? Seems like it would defeat the purpose to have streetcars sit in traffice with everything else.

not on parker said...

Last I heard: (a) in the absence of an underground source of overhead wires, the streetcars would be self-propelled, thereby rendering them nothing more than buses without wheels; (b) the streetcars would not have exclusive access to the curbside other words, they would be comingled with automobiles.

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