Myth: Streetcar overheard wires and trees can’t comfortably coexist

Members of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society have launched an all out blitz against DDOT’s new streetcar plan (PDF). Their fearmongering campaign, as communicated in the Capitol Hill Community News by Monte Edwards, is centered on the notion that overheard wires will irrecovably damage priceless viewsheds. Mr Edwards writes:

Trees and overhead wires do not coexist well. Trees would need to be pruned, and in some cases removed, to make way for poles and station-stop bump-outs. In the suburbs you can see the grotesque pruning that results when trees are forced to compete with overhead wires. DC cannot afford a citywide initiative that cuts down mature healthy trees or unnaturally prunes them.

I confidently reject this close minded argument. I’ve visited other cities with streetcar systems and have seen first hand that trees and tram wires can comfortably coexist. But don’t take my word for it, review these Google Streetview images from residential streets tree-lined streets traveled by Portland’s streetcar.

NW Northrup Street in Portland Oregon; Image from Google Streetview

SW Harrison Street in Portland Oregon; Image from Google Streetview

It is unfortunate that the CHRS is choosing to oppose streetcars outright rather than focus on asking DDOT how they plan to minimize the impact of overhead wires on mature trees.

UPDATED (11/9/2009 2:20PM): Chris from ReadysetDC exposes the falsehoods in Monte Edwards editorial with even more gusto.

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  1. 1

    IMGoph says

    thanks so much for writing this! it's fantastic to see good old reason applied to battle the forces of ignorance and outright NIMBYism that is clearly trying to win the day here!

  2. 3

    Anonymous says

    CHRS is the most NIMBY organization in the city. They oppose anything and everything.

    Honestly, I think I know why they oppose it. They see the line coming from Anacostia across to Barracks Row, and are worrying their asses off about who might ride it. Mark my words, this is why.

  3. 4

    Monte Edwards says

    I am the author of the piece entitled "Streetcars and Viewsheds" that appears in the November issue of the Hill Rag. I am a member of several community organizations but did not purport to speak for any of them. CHRS was never mentioned in the article.
    Personally I support street cars, with adequate planning
    I support better access to both sides of the Anacostia.
    I also support the preservation of our 120 year old heritage of our view sheds. Washington is a planned city with vital vistas and views that make it unique in the world, and those views are located throughout Washington. Why does the city think neighborhoods are any less important than federal areas when it comes to preserving wire-free views?
    The thrust of my article is that transit improvements, in the form of streetcars, can be realized without sacrificing our planning values because there are alternatives to overhead wiring. My stated conclusion in the article is that a win-win can be achieved by investigating these alternatives

  4. 5

    FourthandEye says

    @Monte Edwards: Are you not VP of the CHRS which has spoken out against streetcars overhead wires at every chance – including the 11th Street Bridge design?

    As for the idea of wireless streetcar systems… can you point to one modern streetcar system that does not use wires anywhere on it's network? Even Bordeaux France, the poster child for the in-ground APS system, has wires on 3/4 of it's track length. The APS track costs 300% as much as the standard track despite being less reliable. It also would lock the city into using proprietary vendors which would eliminate the ability to obtain competitive pricing.