Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Streetcar Plan To Boost District Real Estate Values by $8 Billion, District's Chief Planner Says

The District's ambitious plan to restart its streetcar network will cost $1.5 billion -- but could pay for itself more than fivefold with increased property values, more jobs and development along the 37 miles of planned streetcar lines, says Harriet Tregoning, the District's chief planning officer.

Tregoning unveiled the Streetcar Land Use Study and her office's number crunching session today at a smart-growth planning session at the National Building Museum. "It's really our transportation infrastructure that shapes our development," said Tregoning, noting that the District has earmarked $100 million in capital funding for the development and building of the eight-line streetcar expansion. Already the District has two lines under construction, one in Anacostia and the other on H Street NE, where more than two miles of tracks have been laid as part of a Great Streets revitalization. The District recently agreed to expand service over the H Street "Hopscotch" Bridge to connect the streetcar system with Union Station and to buy two more cars in addition to the three in storage in Greenbelt. Both lines are expected to begin limited service starting in mid-2013 with some on-rail non-revenue testing of the Skoda-Inekon-built cars beginning this year, Tregoning said.

While much of the grunt-work and operational details are being handled by the District Department of Transportation, its been up to the Office of Planning to detail the 30,000-foot view of the impact to the city as a whole, if the District can return a city-wide network of streetcars, similar to what existed for nearly 100 years up until January 1962, when the last streetcar rolled on a revenue run.

The Office of Planning's study showed that the current $100 billion values of District properties would increase by as much as $ 5 billion to $7 billion over ten years as the plan is completed and would attract investment of $5 billion to $8 billion during the same period. That might allow the District to sell $600 million to $900 million in bonds paid for the by the new revenue, the study claims.

"The streetcar's visibility and permanence will attract private real estate investment," she said, echoing a line long argued by streetcar proponents. "You don't have to worry about the route changing like you do with buses," Tregoning said in a pitch to potential real estate investors in the 100-person audience. "Please look at these corridors for your strategic acquisitions."

While drilling deep into streetcar proponent's talking points, including improving access to schools, expanding an already growing "creative class" and reviving historic neighborhoods, Tregoning poured some cold water on calls for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which would be cheaper and faster to get into service, saying they won't get the same bang-for-the-buck as streetcars. "BRT does not attract the same level of investment," she said.

Tregoning said that the Office of Planning estimated that the streetcar lines would add 5,000 to 12,000 additional households over ten years, above the increases already projected. That in turn would spur a further burst of retail, as 1,000 households typically support an expansion of 30,000 to 50,000 square-feet of shopping, equal to a large supermarket.

Tregoning however wouldn't answer questions on whether the ridership projections would be enough to pay for the operating costs of the system, or where the financing of the remaining $900 million-plus estimated to fully build out the system would come from. The federal government is always an option, but the study notes typically that the federal government funds only up to 50 percent of the project's cost and can add delays while the community waits for the feds to decide.

The District, according to the study, is counting on increased revenue from real estate development along the streetcar corridors to help finance future construction of the system. "We want to be able to finance the whole system," Tregoning said. That may take the help of the real estate development industry, which, she said, historically supported mass-transit systems as part of building new communities. "We are going to need private partners as well as public."

Washington D.C. real estate redevelopment news


Thayer-D on Jan 26, 2012, 7:26:00 AM said...

Wonderful idea. This would ensure our cities future for decades to come, but we need to think of the city as larger than L'Enfant's historic diamond. The streetcar lines need to reach at least to Rosslyn towards Virginia, Silver Spring to the north, and Hyatsville to the east. To truly envigorate the region's economy. We need to save all those dollars and hours wasted on car commuting to say nothing about the air quality, gas prices, parking spaces, and quality of life. We need to think beyond our political boundries to how the actual economic region functions today.

Alastairvagle on Jan 26, 2012, 8:20:00 AM said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

@Thayer-D and @Alastairvagle - I couldn't agree more. This will boost DC as a true global city. Perhaps we need to start envisioning our city as encampssing everything inside the beltway, much as London is everything inside the M25.

Anonymous said...

Streetcar should definitely extend to downtown Silver Spring instead of, or in addition to, Takoma.

Anonymous said...

I think this will be a huge boost to the city, not just economically, but also in terms of quality of life. I hope the DC government proceeds with the entire plan -- and the sooner the better.

Rayful Edmond said...

DC can't figure out how to pay for the streetcars within its own boundaries. Do you expect MD and VA to allocate resources toward the system? Also, seems as if Rossyln and Silver Spring would benefit much more than the residents of DC should the lines be extended.

Anonymous said...

I remember street cars (along with double decker buses) in Manhattan when I was a child in the 1940s after the war. My memories are primarily of the area I lived in, so this is not a generalization of all streetcar lines in NYC or even Manhattan, but only of what I recall. There, the street cars like the el trains seemed to run along commercial streets -- Broadway in this case --and as much or more of the street scene was grungy than not on these streets. Most of what I remember, at best, were shops I would hesitate to go into today -- they had seen better times. (And I love local small shops that one can still find in NYC today.) In no way would anyone consider it even second class retail space; nor were the apartment buildings above the shops nice. They too were grungy.

But in looking beyond Broadway, it also seems that the streetcar had little impact on property values since some sets of blocks would not be quite as run down as others and there was definitely a marked difference between the west side and the east side of the neighborhood, the west side having higher rents and being cleaner and more pleasant to walk through than the east side -- and here I am talking blocks from the streetcar. The area to the west though far from being a ritzy neighborhood was well maintained and pleasant enough to walk through to elementary school and the candy store, even to the movies. Near Broadway and to the east, was a more rundown neighborhood though not a slum. Broadway could be more like the blocks to the east or the west depending on where along it one was.

It seems upon reflection that the streetcar was not the major factor in the quality or property values of the neighborhood for if it were then why would some areas along the streetcar line not have consistently higher values than other neighborhoods a good walk away. And why would the neighborhood that is further from the streetcar line be more desirable (and more expensive) than the neighborhood close to it? Issolating one factor in creating property values may hold in some cases, but in this case the streetcar was not that single factor. This makes me wary of the economic studies that are being cited.

Streetcars in NYC and DC went through many neighborhoods as well as downtown. They must have done so in other cities -- Toronto and Vancouver are two I have visited and neither seems to guarantee property value increases by being along a streetcar line. The neighborhoods I passed through on a Toronto streetcar while on a professional tour had not yet "arrived," nor were they up and coming neighborhoods; they were lower income ethnic neighborhoods. The streecars may go through nicer neighborhoods as well; I was not on a streetcar that did.

Though not related to property values, I would be curious if the DC streetcar lines are going to have those awful looking wires overhead and the apparatus that connects the cars to the wires. In Vancouver the wires mared what would have been amazing vistas of the mountains in the background. I sure hope if they do have overhead wires, the streetcars stay out of downtown and away from the iconic structures that say Washington to everyone.

I much preferred the double decker buses.

Thayer-D on Jan 27, 2012, 6:41:00 AM said...

I'm not sure one can compare the impact of new streetcar lines in DC with 1940's NY street cars. One reason new street car lines in DC might have a different impact than 1940's NYC is that all our older cities grew on street car lines, so there was no "car oriented" neighborhoods to compare them to, at least until the 1950's. Another reason NYC might have looked dingy back then is becasue every city looked dingy after a decade of Depression followed by WWII, when scrubing our streets was not a priority. Unfortunately, becasue of this modernist and corporate driven obsession with the new, our cities became prime targets for urban renewal projects. Today, there's not a modernist neighborhood that compares to the older neighborhoods.

Usually the fear of streetcars today is they will price out the current residents, not that they will be downtrodden neighborhoods. If we build enough street cars, the demand to supply ratio would eventually even out the premium that metro stations seem to have today. Eventually, having a dependable public means of transportation would indeed be a value to all the residents of a city, like it does today in NYC.

Will DC have the courage to move towards a cleaner and more sustainable growth pattern? Will we sustain short term pain for long term gain? I hope so.

Not NIMBY said...

Wow, the Committee of 100 NIMBY sure jumped up to put down the streetcars quickly. Especially with regard to those pesky 1/2 inch wires blocking views of all the beautiful, architecturally significant, glass and faux brick fascade buildings. Better stop development and prevent these cars from being developed.

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