Kick in the Pants: Where’s My Streetcar?

pic courtesy of Streetcars 4 DC

Construction of the opening leg of D.C.’s ambitious citywide streetcar network, the 2.2 mile H Street line stretching from 3rd Street NE all the way down to Benning and Oklahoma Ave NE, concluded last June. So, um, where are the streetcars? I’m not hearing any clanging. Neither is anyone else. 

Nope, the bumbling bureaucracy of the DC government, which has otherwise done a fairly effective job of getting things done lately, is shooting itself in the foot. Transportation Committee Chair Mary Cheh (Ward 3) recently reported that the procurement of several more streetcars (the District currently has 3 working cars collecting dust in storage) has been delayed due to contract issues, which most likely means that the grand debut will now be pushed back to September 2013 at the earliest

A debut with only 3 running streetcars would mean a wait time of 18-20 minutes, which is unacceptable for the introduction of a new mode of transit. Riders might as well just take the X2 at that point. Ridership would be stunted, the reputation would be irreparably soiled, and the entire project would be jeopardized. As reported by TBD, Ward 6 Councilman and transit pioneer Tommy Wells “imagined a scenario in which the streetcar operated like a grotesque tourist feature”, and his fears are well-founded. Ever ridden the Seattle monorail or the Memphis trolley? 

DC needs a minimum of five streetcars to efficiently run this part of the line. Scrapping the project this far in would be a tremendous waste of money, and the potential economic benefits far outweigh the negatives. Over fifty new businesses have opened on H in the past year. Timing is often everything, and the Council needs to fast-track construction of the remaining cars so we can get this show on the road.
Written by Joel Church. You can buy his book Fingerprints here at Amazon.

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