DDOT recommends streetcar transitway for K Street

DDOT published their Union Station to Georgetown alternatives analysis this week. As expected the study recommends connecting the H Street NE streetcar route to Georgetown via a K Street Transitway. The extension how start on the Hopscotch bridge behind Union station and head east until traveling up New Jersey Avenue in MVT to K Street. It would then follow K Street until reaching Wisconsin Ave in Georgetown. The streetcar would have dedicated lanes from 10th Street NW to 21st Street NW.

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Reminder: Streetcar showcase begins Wednesday

Just a friendly reminder that the 4-day DC Streetcar showcase begins Wednesday May 5th at 11am at CityCenterDC (9th & H).

The DC will be using same articulated trams from the Czech based Inekon company that the Portland and Seattle streetcar lines use. I shared a detailed recap and slideshow of the Seattle Streetcar in 2008 that may be a useful primer for those planning to visit the showcase.

DDOT has plans to expand the initial streetcar lines into a 37-mile network. One of the Phase I expansion segments travels the Mount Vernon Triangle along K Street. Whereas I’m not entirely certain if the political will exists for the entire network to be built, I do feel the K Street segment is likely. Both K Street and New Jersey Avenue have future streetscape improvements planned and budgeted for. Integrating tracks and stations for streetcars into an existing streetscape improvement project creates synergy for DDOT and can render the project more cost effective than it would be as a stand-alone.

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Streetcar to be showcased at 9th & H

DDOT to Host DC Streetcar Showcase May 5-8
First Opportunity for Public to Board One of DC’s Modern Vehicles

District residents, workers and visitors will soon get their first opportunity to step aboard one of the District’s new modern streetcars. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) will host the DC Streetcar Showcase from Wednesday, May 5 through Saturday, May 8, 2010 at City Center DC, the site of the old convention center.

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WBJ: Streetcar backers gather ammo to sway skeptics

According to the Washington Business Journal, earlier this month district officials and developers with major holdings along the proposed streetcar system traveled to Portland Oregon. The group met with meet managers of the Portland system and property owners who helped finance the Rose City’s streetcar line.

Portland Streetcar image from flickr user KGradinger

The WBJ article collects impressions from several major developers, including the Wilkes Company which counts Mount Vernon Place project in the Triangle among its holdings.

The Wilkes Company’s Sandy Wilkes, already a fan of streetcars, said he was further impressed by the residential occupancy and retail leasing rates along the Portland tracks. “There’s been a level of economic activity that is probably greater than they had even forecasted,” he said. His company plans mixed-use developments for Mount Vernon Triangle and NoMa, and Wilkes said the walkability, cleanliness, and ultimately value, of both those projects would be enhanced by streetcar lines. “There is something about the streetcar experience that is so appealing,” he said.

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DDOT Chat Transcript

DDOT Director Gabe Klein held a chat today [transcript]. Chat is not the medium for highly substantive answers but it is great that our new director values and makes time for dialog with the community.

The Mount Vernon Triangle was a topic of several questions from participants (neither was me):

[Comment From Guest]: Thank you for taking questions and reaching out to the community. Will the ARRA money designated to improve K Street between NJ Ave. and 7th Street NW also include laying track for the proposed streetcar? If not, should it?

[Gabe Klein, DDOT]: We are still waiting to hear if our application will be approved. It is a very competitive field for this money. The streetcar was not part of the application.

[Comment From Tom]: Will DDOT implement the Mt. Vernon Triangle Transportation Plan to reconfigure the H Street / 3rd Street / Massachusetts Ave., intersection? It is a dangerous intersection for pedestrians. It would be helpful to, at least, remove the large billboard-sized signs that lead drivers to believe it is a freeway rather than a neighborhood.

[Gabe Klein, DDOT]: Yes, we will be improving this intersection. We are reassessing the signs as well. (urban alternatives).

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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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GGW recaps last nite’s streetcar forum

Last night DDOT unveiled their proposed 8-line 3 phase implementation of a streetcar network at their Ward 6 session. Greater Greater Washington has summarized the details from the forum.

I anticipate writing more about this in the near future but the quick and dirty is that lines along K Street through MVT did earn priority for the proposed Phase 1.

Below is an zoom of the larger Phase 1 map that shows MVT will have one-seat trips to Foggy Bottom to the West, H Street/Benning to the East, plus Barracks Row and Anacostia to the South.

click to enlarge; image is an inset from DDOT’s proposed Phase 1 streetcar map

Georgetown would become a new one-seat destination for the K Street line by Phase 2 and of course once you begin to consider the possible destinations with transfers the connectivity is amazing.

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DDOT to Unveil Proposed Streetcar System Plan

DDOT spokesperson John Lisle sent out an announcement yesterday that the agency will unveil it’s proposed streetcar system plan a series of public meetings scheduled in every ward. The meetings kick off next Thursday October 22nd with the Ward 6 meeting (our ward) at J.O. Wilson Elementary (660 K Street NE) from 7 pm – 8:30 pm.

Portland Streetcar image from flickr user KGradinger

During the tenure of Mayor Anthony Williams two disconnected streetcar alignments, one on H Street NE, and the other in Anacostia were planned and the trams were ordered from the Czech Republic based Inekon. The order was fulfilled by Inekon years ago but the trams remain in the Czech Republic as progress on the project stalled. Finally in 2009 with the appointment of new DDOT director Gabe Klein tracks have begun to be installed on Benning Road NE and in Anacostia along Firth Sterling.

In early August, at a public forum held in the Atlas Theatre on H Street NE, Klein pledged to place streetcars back on the front burner stating the sluggish progress on the project was unacceptable. These public meetings in each ward will give District residents an opportunity to hear about the current progress and view updated plans for future streetcar lines across the District.

What does this mean for the Mount Vernon Triangle? One goal DDOT has is to connect the H Street NE/Benning Road streetcar line to the K Street Transitway which will run from Mount Vernon Square to Georgetown. I pondered two potential alignments for that connection back in April. I have a reputable source that says we should expect when the system is unveiled the MVT segment will use New Jersey Ave and K Street then connect to the H Street NE segment behind Union Station on the Hopscotch Bridge.

That NJ/K alignment makes a solid sense as both streets have wide right of ways and streetscape money already earmarked in the coming years. I don’t have any information on timing or station locations but perhaps some of the details we crave will be shared at these public meetings.

UPDATED [10/15/2009 11:10AM]: Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy wells tells the Washington Business Journal the H Street NE/Benning streetcar line is his primary project.

For a primer on streetcars, visit my past profile of Seattle’s Streetcar

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Streetcar network could include K Street

The Washington Business Journal shares elements of DDOT director Gabe Klein‘s vision for a streetcar network with Jonathan O’Connell’s piece: D.C. wants to revive streetcar plan.

Anthony Williams, the mayoral predecessor to Fenty, originally laid plans to build two pilot streetcar lines in H Street NE and Anacostia. Three streetcars had been purchased but have sat idle in the Czech Republic as the projects stalled. Klein wants to not only jumpstart those lines but build a network. How will it be different this time?

Although the Williams administration planned to build a streetcar network without federal dollars, as Portland, Ore. did with its model system, Klein said meetings with Ray LaHood, U.S. Department of Transportation secretary, have convinced him that the federal government will be a partner.

LaHood “is extremely supportive. I think he’s pretty excited about the possibility of it running right in front of the Department of Transportation headquarters,” which is on M Street SE, Klein said. He said the city plans to seek funding through the federal New Starts program, in which the Federal Transit Administration partially finances locally planned and operated transit. Klein said the program was being transformed under LaHood into an attractive option.

As we anticipated from our April discussion on a K Street streetcar, Klein would like to build a streetcar network that would include a route through downtown. The Downtown BID and other stakeholders have been pushing for the K Street line.

UPDATE [8/7/2009 12:10PM]: Greater Greater Washington recapped the DDOT public forum on streetcars that was held last night at the Atlas Theatre.

DDOT’s facebook page has a photo album of the ongoing track installation on Benning Road NE. If K Street will be part of the streetcar network our track installation should ideally occur the same time as the streetscape improvements so that residents and business only impacted by construction only once.

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K Street Streetcar discussion

At tonight’s MVSNA meeting new board member, and City Vista resident, John Thompson will lead a discussion on the possibility of a K Street Streetcar. John has talked with contacts at DDOT about extending the H Street NE/Benning Road streetcar project to Mount Vernon Triangle via K Street.

The H Street NE / Benning Road Streetcar (fact sheet from Streetcars4DC) has been in planning for several years and tracks are presently being laid. The proposed alignment from 2006 begins by the Minnesota Ave metro, travels west along Benning Road over the Anacostia, upon reaching the Starburst intersection the streetcar follows H Street NE until terminating in no man’s land behind Union Station.

Click image to enlarge

John has been discussing the possibility of continuing to run the streetcar west to connect to K Street before terminating at Mount Vernon Square. This could increase benefit to the Mount Vernon Triangle and proposed development at Northwest One while also affording the H Street NE greater connectivity to downtown DC.

The above map shows two potential extensions for the streetcar line to K Street NW. The red segment takes the straightforward approach of going over the H Street NE bridge, heading north on North Capitol for one block before heading west on K Street for 7 blocks. The green segment promotes integration with the Columbus Circle area in front of Union Station. This alignment, while more expensive, would place the streetcar at a more natural transfer point for Metro, buses, and future streetcar lines.

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