Last week the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) hosted a community forum focused on the District’s Department of Transportation’s (DDOT) proposed Streetcar Project. The new system, as currently envisioned, consists of a 37-mile citywide system (8 lines, built in three phases) set to be completed by 2030. The first two lines will travel down H Street and through Anacostia.
These cars are expected to be powered with overhead wires, which are currently illegal. CHRS members have been opposed to the wires.
The moderator of the event, CHRS board member Monte Edwards, was clear in the organization’s support for a streetcar system for DC. Scott Kubly from DDOT expressed the city’s commitment to “wireless monumental views” – ie no wires by the Mall or in other monumental parts of the city. See everyone, we can agree on a few things!
Meg Maguire, a trustee for the Committee of 100 on the Federal City, gave a presentation which included images of the thoroughfares slated to someday be part of a streetcar route. Maguire asked questions about DDOT’s plans and studies. The Committee feels that DDOT is rushing forward despite many unknowns and the Committee thinks DDOT should pause and do more studies.
CHRS’s Edwards described the Streetcar Technology Showcase he attended in Charlotte, NC, which focused on cars powered without the use of overhead wires. DDOT’s Hubly agreed that DDOT should and will be looking into the technologies as they develop.
Kubly presented images of the modern streetcar, low to the ground and air conditioned with a smooth ride. The biggest news from the evening was how the streetcar would get into Union Station. They plan on using the old H Street which is still under the Hopscotch Bridge. The tracks will cut into the bridge, go under the Amtrak tracks, and then turn into the station.
Kubly agreed that the wireless technology was promising but also pointed out that currently no city in the world relies solely on wireless streetcars and that DDOT has concerns about how such cars run in severe winter weather. Saragossa, Spain is set to unveil a wireless system this spring. Looks to me like this city has a more temperate climate than DC’s but I’m no meteorologist…Perhaps THIH should send me over to Spain to do more in depth coverage?
Another DDOT concern regarding wireless technology is the proprietary nature of the existing companies. Committing today to a wireless company basically locks the organization in for a long time. They prefer an option that leaves future flexibility to adjust as technologies evolve. Kubly admitted that DDOT and the Streetcar Project have met with the most favorable administration in many years – another reason to move forward with the project.
Fans of streetcars point to the economic boon they bring to neighborhoods along the streetcars routes. This was a contributing factor in deciding that H Street NE and Anacostia would get the first lines. Opponents of the overhead wires asked for a study to see what negative impact overhead wires could bring to a neighborhood, such as potential loss of home value.
As someone who has lived a block from H Street for 10 years, I think I can safely say that few people I know care all that deeply about the overhead wire issue. In my conversations with H Street business owners and residents it appears they would agree with the comments made by the former ANC 6A Chair Joe Fengler which can be summarized to say that while wireless technology would be ideal, he would not want to delay the streetcar project too significantly in its pursuit.
In fairness to the folks at CHRS and the Committee of 100, the issue extends beyond H Street and Anacostia as the streetcar lines will eventually reach more majestic parts of the Hill and the city. They fear that despite DDOT’s promises of seriously considering new wireless technologies their concerns will eventually be forgotten.
The overhead wire issue is not going away. Kubly said more than once that they plan to have the streetcars on H Street by fall of 2012. Somehow a law needs to be repealed…of course whether it’s local or federal law is also a question. And what action will the Committee and CHRS take if they do go forward?
So I’m curious. Where do THIH readers stand on the overhead wire issue?
Jen DeMayo is the Communications Director of the Atlas Performing Arts Center.