The Next Phase of Streetcars: Now With More Process
For all the griping about overhead wires and interminable construction, one of the biggest knocks on D.C.'s streetcar project–emanating largely from the Committee of 100–has been a lack of deliberate planning.
That ends with the next set of tracks, into Anacostia. This time, because the city needs to be eligible for federal funding, they're following the federal process, which proscribes community meetings, environmental impact statements, and the exploration of alternatives before anything goes in the ground. The public part began last night with a well-attended community meeting at Savoy Elementary, where residents were assured that though certain corridors had been proposed, the outcome depended on their input.
"We're starting from a blank slate," said District Department of Transportation streetcar maven Scott Kubly (who, by the way, has ruled out an at-large Council run).
In a typical step for such first gatherings, questions stayed broad: Residents were asked to describe changes coming to their community, what they knew about streetcars, and what they'd like to gain from them. It quickly became apparent why the extremely high ratio of DDOT staff and consultants to community members was an advantage: Many people needed convincing that streetcars actually made sense in the first place. Older folks, many of whom saw the original streetcars in action, pointed out that buses were faster and cheaper, worried about the cars vibrating their houses, and questioned how DDOT would replace lost parking.
"They want to be shown it can work, and how it can work," noted Charles Wilson, newly-elected ANC 1A commissioner and president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. "They're looking at H Street and wondering, are we going to go through all that heartache?"
Wilson has proposed a "heritage trail" through historic Anacostia, which could have cars mocked up to look like the older generation, serving as an additional attraction to celebrate the area's history and draw more riders across the river.
Meg Maguire, the Committee of 100's point person on streetcars, will soon release a fat report analyzing the entire 37-mile system, of which the Anacostia segment had been an area of particular concern. But she was cheerful about DDOT's willingness to move away from wires–the department will issue a request for proposals for one wireless streetcar in the spring–as well as by the renewed planning effort afoot.
"This is really where the wisdom is," she said, looking on.