Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Future of Washington DC Transportation

One year after Gabe Klein took the helm at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the District agency has a brand new website, an aggressive two-year plan and a progressive approach to transportation. Yesterday, DDOT Director Klein invited several transportation bloggers to discuss the agency's progress during his first year, and plans going forward. By 2012 DDOT aims to more than double the 2009 bicycle road share, add 250 car-share vehicles, increase Circulator ridership by 47 percent, add six more "performance" parking districts and have 2.75 miles of operating streetcar lines. Yes, he went there: operating streetcars.

Klein described an agency embracing a culture shift, one that focuses on sustainability, safety and open communication. A new website, along with DDOT's social networking presence, are part of it's outreach to inform DC residents of the agency's services down to online plans about what DDOT has planned for their neighborhood and commute.

The DDOT Director is optimistic and confident that DC will resolve issues facing overhead wires for the planned 37 miles of streetcars through a combination of technology and, of course, compromise with transportation's other stakeholders - the National Capital Planning Commission, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society and the Committee of 100, among others.

Klein says the open dialogue has narrowed the wire issue to the North-South "viewshed" of the Capitol. Klein said he was determined to make streetcars happen and eliminate unnecessary overhead wires. At the same time, he's asking streetcar opponents to rethink the boundaries for overhead wires and to maybe allow them along areas of H Street to Benning Road.

There's also the matter of disguising wires. Klein said he took a trip with several BID directors and Marcel Acosta, Executive Director of NCPC, to see the streetcars in Portland, Oregon, which Klein said fit seamlessly into the transportation flow, with wires hidden by a canopy of trees. Klein joked that he even has a photo of Acosta smiling with an overhead wire dangling in the background.

On the technology side, Klein said he is working with United Streetcar, maker of the first American streetcar manufactured in the U.S. in 50 years, to develop hybrid solutions for power. Right now the cars can travel up to 1/4 mile just on battery power, but Klein hopes to get that number up to 1 mile by working with the company to developer a lithium ion battery. Klein is applying for federal funding to pay for the new batteries, and anticipates, with rapid changes in battery technology, that the cars could eventually run up to 2 miles on battery power alone. Like a Prius, with better brakes. Announcements about the streetcar project timing should come in the next few months.

Beyond the streetcar, Klein is seeking innovative solutions at every level of the agency. A Maintenance and Operations contract will be going out to bid soon, in which DDOT will ask for creative solutions that address the agency's needs. "Free consulting" from the private sector, said Klein.

Then there are changes coming to parking meters in pilot programs throughout the city; new solar-powered meters allow payment by coins or by credit card, "so people don't carry 16 quarters for two hours" said Klein. Since their inception, 52% of patrons started using credit cards, and in the study area DDOT has seen a 30% increase in parking revenue. Klein said of the pilot, "revenues are up, people seem to love it" but that he was not ready to say it was a definite success until he knew more about the machines' reliability. Another parking change is the pay-for-performance areas - which DDOT hopes to increase to eight by 2012 - where pricing for parking is based on demand. Klein admitted that testing this out in the ballpark district might not have been the best decision, but that the agency is expanding the concept to new areas to continue to test its effectiveness.

The new website is a good resource for residents to maneuver the various responsibilities of DDOT and to learn how to maneuver the streets of DC in ever-expanding ways. If DDOT gets its way, District residents in 2012 will have a markedly different transportation scene.

Washington DC real estate development news


Unknown on Feb 25, 2010, 4:37:00 PM said...

Mr. Klein, please pursue traffic light synchronization so that you don't have to pay people to enforce the "don't block the box" rules. This city has a lot of self inflicted traffic problems, due to poorly timed lights and a lack of right hand-turn arrows at major intersections. Getting people out of their cars shouldn't be achieved by making driving a nightmare, but rather making public transportation a better experience.

Anonymous said...

The future of Washington DC transportation needs to include a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route as part of the District's investment in streetcars. This is a major corridor that is frequently congested. Streetcars will provide a cleaner, more comfortable form of transit for residents and visitors to this section of DC.

There is a streetcar route planned from Benning Road to Georgetown, along K Street. A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route can connect the metro stations at Friendship Heights and Tenley to the Benning Road - Georgetown line, providing much needed capacity-relief on the Orange/Blue and Red lines.

The District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis report (Oct. 2005) found that a Friendship Heights - Georgetown streetcar route would have the highest ridership of the nine lines examined, with 6,000 riders per mile.

Additionally, a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route would encourage infill development along this corridor and support planned developments such as the proposed new Giant on Wisconsin and Newark Street. Wisconsin Avenue is one of the DC region's major roads going into the District. This is exactly where new development should go, instead of continuous sprawl out further in the MD/VA suburbs.

To support this, join the Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar Coalition (

Que said...

What should be done is to have streetcars cover all major roads period and from there connect to varies metrorail & bus lines.

Rayful Edmond said...

I suspect the anon poster above is Ben T.

Wisconsin Avenue is last on the list. Try taking a look at the mess on H Street. They were supposed to keep construction managed to a maximum of three streets at a time. The construction now runs for 15 blocks.

Now imagine Wisconsin Ave with construction roadblocks running from Calvert to M Street. Residents should not have to deal with DDOT BS until is tried and true throughout the rest of the District.

Ben on Feb 25, 2010, 9:58:00 PM said...


Streetcars should mostly be used to fill in the gaps where there is no metrorail coverage, such as H Street, Georgetown, or Wisconsin Avenue below Tenley. The 30s buses could be rededicated to improved east/west service, to improve connections to Woodley Park and Dupont.

Ben on Feb 25, 2010, 10:11:00 PM said...

Rayful Edmond-

It likely won't be until 2018-2020 until there is a Glover Park streetcar route. By this time, construction practices will be refined and improved from the experience with the other routes.

Regarding the construction, Smart Growth America recently published a report noting that stimulus funds spent on transit created twice as many jobs per dollar spent as highway construction.

bamoll on Feb 26, 2010, 10:36:00 AM said...

Streetcars are the cornerstone of future multi-modal transit in DC, and I'm glad to see that Mr. Klein is embracing them.

I believe the Eastern Market/H St. NE/Gallaudet/NoMa/U St./Adams Morgan/Woodley line (90,92 bus) will be a huge hit and will spur redevelopment in DC's emerging markets. Also a big supporter of the Columbia Heights to Brookland via hospital center line.

Anonymous said...

I just returned from a trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. During this trip, I visted some more modern cities that have historic buildings and vistas. All these cities had street cars with over-head lines. None of these lines impeeded the views of the city or their over all beauty. Living close to H Street and seeing the proposed routes of the street cars, I don't see what "historic" views anyone is arguing we save as they are mainly focused on heavily traveled, commerical dominated routes.

Anonymous said...

Agree with the last post. They need to just build all the lines already. There'll be a huge stimulus from the change to the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Since when did H-street storage and the ugly H-street corner strip mall (between 8th and 10th H) become historic?

Anonymous said...

I truly applaud Mr. Klein and the Mayor for following through on the initiatives surrounding sustainable communities and transportation alternatives. It is truly refreshing to see a public servant with a clear, articulated vision and the means by which to implement it.

Developing a city where preference is given to mass transit, pedestrians and cyclists are a breakthrough for the American paradigm. Keep the streets timed for bikes and buses, keep the roads clear and safe for bikes and walkers, keep parking at market rates - there is so much to do, but we are the National Capital and need to be leading the way for Americans to appreciate when they visit, so they can take our best practices home and support them there.

Right now, we are lagging other American cities, but in time, I believe this will change.

StreetCarsYes! said...

I was trying to recall whether west coast cities that have street cars (or light rail) had overhead wires, as I'd never really noticed them. So on my recent trips, I made it a point to observe. In Portland, OR, the wires really aren't noticeable. In San Jose, the wire is so thin that i actually had trouble finding it. So I think the visual concern is really a non-issue.

JohnDC said...

Is there any word on when phase two will be up and operational? I live in Bloomingdale and there will be 2 lines within a few blocks of where I live.

Anonymous said...

Cool, but don't forget to fix the potholes.

Anonymous said...

Streetcars 4 DC has some nice arguments and evidence to counteract the anti-wire (anti-streetcar?) folks.

Anonymous said...

Clean-running, cute-painted buses (a la DC Circulator) and trolleys with dedicated lanes would be just as effective and appealing as streetcars at a fraction of the cost.

Moreover, the stops and routes can be adjusted infinitely more easily with dedicated-lane buses than with streetcars if ridership needs change over time, which ultimately serves the community best. I fear that the streetcar mania is more due to kick-starting pet projects and developments deals sought by DC Council members and their developer backers than actual practicality.

Ben on Feb 28, 2010, 6:25:00 PM said...

@Anonymous 2:08 PM:

Since bus routes are more flexible, they will not encourage the same economic development along the corridors as streetcars will encourage. The routes of the 30s buses along Wisconsin Ave and more recently the D1/D2/D6 have been reconfigured in the past five years. Bus routes lack the certainty that will encourage developers to invest in hundreds of millions , perhaps billions, of dollars in infill development. This new development will bring more sales and income tax to the District.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for street cars too. Just think how valuable the main throughfares were during Snowpocalypse. People were lining up to get on the bus down Georgia Avenue. The streetcar line down georgia avenue will even more useful.

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