Housing Complex

Committee of 100: Most of the Streetcar Routes Make Sense

It's the day you've been waiting for, folks: The Committee of 100's 91-page report on the city's entire proposed streetcar system has dropped, and it's some great bedside reading if you've got a couple hours. The venerable advocacy group's transportation committee drove every one of the system's 37 miles, and analyzed each component route with respect to historic and economic designations, land use, building design, transit availability, parking, and of course, overhead wires.

And guess what? On the whole, they think good planning has been done. "Overall, the proposed routes make sense and should boost investor confidence in many areas of the city that need new centers of economic life," the authors wrote. The caveats: The Anacostia, Capitol Hill, and Georgia Avenue segments need further thought, as does the H Street route's connection to Union Station. In addition, the Committee lays out the need for financial planning and preservation of affordable housing along streetcar routes, and advocates for the passage of a comprehensive Streetcar Enabling Act that would establish a citizen advisory board for ongoing engagement.

Whether or not you agree with the Committee on other issues, or care whether or not wires crowd your vistas, it's a good way to get a handle on the whole proposed system in relatively short order.

  • Tom M.

    Umm. Did the report indicate where the scratch would come from given the financial status of the District Government? As for the new administration and council, a lot of promises have been made. It looks like the citizens and businesses in the District are also being positioned to accept a significant "revenue enhancement" (tax and fee increases). Are taxes going up so that we can afford to duplicate bus lines? Just wondering what's up...

  • T

    A quick summary of C100's views on streetcars:

    1) Where there is an existing tree canopy, the trees may interfere with streetcar wires.
    2) Where there is no existing tree canopy, the trees will not be there to "protect" us from viewing the streetcar wires.

    These people don't want the streetcars... they just want to put in little nuggets of falsehoods to try to derail this important investment in the District's future.

    Pages and pages of discussion about how streetcar wires will detract from the historic districts, when part of the history of DC is that there used to be streetcars throughout. The wires will be nearly invisible, and they allow DDOT to purchase standard vehicles and equipment instead of relying on an expensive, proprietary technology. Any wireless solution will be a true budget buster, and will result in far fewer miles of track.

  • John

    However, "Ye Olde Lincoln Navigator" is completely historic! ;)

  • Rick Mangus

    Well we are back on this streetcar crap! How much money has been wasted on this crap!

  • DCCommish

    Streetcars work in every city in europe. Bring it on and get the Feds to kick in the cash!

  • Fred Green

    Excuse me, but the streetcars that used to exist in DC did NOT have overhead wires.

    They were one of the few systems worldwide that used a conduit in the street to feed power to the streetcars.

    This was supposedly a dictate from Congress who did not want overhead wires to spoil the view of the monuments and public buildings.

    If they could build that system in 1920, why can't they build it in 2010?

    And I don't live in DC, why am I teaching you people about your own history?

  • DC Guy


    The overhead wire ban was a result of the spaghetti on trees that were commonplace as a result of the telegraph and the nascent telephone systems of the late 1800's.

    The DC Streetcar that ran to the mid-twentieth century was a hybrid. In the L'Enfant City, the cars drew power from underground power sources via a plough than ran in the "third rail" trench. Problem was the salt, leaves and snow would often short or clog the system. Outside of the L'Enfant City, the cars ran on standard wires. The conductors would have to raise the plough and lower the centenary at the transfer point, which would cause delays for the riders.

    The bottom line is the Committee of 100 is relying on a vaporware, more expensive system than is the norm in 100% of the rest of the world. Sure, there are new technologies that are emerging, but unless these city residents are willing to pay for the difference themselves, it is hard to justify the additional expense.

  • Horace

    God, there are so many eye sores in the city, so many things that trouble the historical layout and vision of the city, so many problems: raised highways bisecting neighborhoods, derelict waterfronts, vacant storefronts, Jersey barriers on the Mall, demolition through neglect, trash all over the place, atrocious architecture. Why oh why is the Self-appointed Committee of 100 so fixated on interfering with the streetcar system and quintupling its cost to taxpayers?

    Oh, here we have report that rejects the only streetcar line that bisects the neighborhood where most of these people live. Never mind that this would be a restoration of the *historic* line linking SE with Barracks Row, Eastern Market, Capital Hill, H-Street, Gallaudet University, and more with the Florida/U-Street corridor. Could it be that the report is stragith-up NIMBY-ism?

  • Horace

    Fred, why do you think DC was one of the very few systems in the world to use a conduit system?

    As already pointed-out, it was unreliable. It was expensive. Modern versions (like in Bordeaux, France) have been unreliable and are calculated to cost FIVE TIMES more than the technology used in every other modern system. I guess because you don't live in DC it is easy for you to spend 6 BILLION dollars of our money ($1.5 Billion wired total system cost vs. 7.5 not-wired system) so you don't have to look at a single thin wire the width of a pencil when you visit. I would pay a few percentage points more to go wireless, but at six billion and you're talking NoVA road expansion project kind of money...

  • Lance

    Horace, If you read the report you'd know that the figures you're quoting are bogus. Invented by a department that had to rationalize making use of 3 out-or-date streetcars that were bought on a whim in a junket to the Czech Republic. Fortunately, with the new administration now in, we can now commission studies to look at the real costs involved from all types of propulsion and hopefully people such as yourself will stop repeating grossly inflated numbers that were just plucked out of the air in the past.

  • Lance

    And forgot to add ... That 'width of a pencil' analogy is just as misleading. A whole infrastructure of very large catenaries would be required to support these wires as well as kite-like structures suspended over intersections. If you don't believe me go visit San Francisco. Many of the city's vistas and views have suffered great damage with the shortsided introduction of wired streetcars. Like DC, there was a reason the original streetcars (i.e., the 'cable' cars) were (and are) powered via underground conduit.