Housing Complex

No Buzz for Streetcar in Anacostia

This isn't exactly surprising, given the highly mixed feelings Ward 8 residents have expressed about the prospect of streetcars rolling over the 11th Street Bridge into their community. But I was still struck at a couple of meetings in Anacostia last night by how little positive anticipation there seems to be for something that has already had such a dramatic effect on one commercial corridor, years before the first line becomes operational.

First, the District Department of Transportation convened a meeting with local business owners, who have been largely missing from  public planning discussions. The reception was less than enthusiastic. James Bunn of the Ward 8 Business Council seemed quite confident that "90 percent of Ward 8 has said they don't want the streetcar, point blank," and focused on how businesses were to be compensated for the disruption during construction, as well as lost parking. Butch Hopkins of the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation reminded the DDOT staff how former director Dan Tangherlini had reacted to a public meeting at which Anacostia residents roundly rejected the idea of running a streetcar through their neighborhood.

"He said, 'If you guys don't want it, I'm going to give it to H Street,'" Hopkins recalled. "And we said, 'God bless H Street.'"

Over the last several years of streetscape construction with no streetcar yet to show for it, Hopkins' skepticism seems prescient–on the defensive, project manager Circe Torruelllas reminded businessmen present that H Street involved a lot of utility work and FIOS installation as well as streetcar tracks, and promised that construction in Anacostia would go much more smoothly.

Next, up the hill at the Anacostia Community Museum, a panel had convened to discuss the role of the arts in community development, and left me even more perplexed. There was a lot of soul-searching about top-down vs. bottom-up ways of encouraging creative expression, and why local artists are or are not being supported by large institutions, which is for the artistic community to sort out. But at one point, moderator Phillippa Hughes wondered: "We have a lot of small projects, and that's great, but how do we make big projects happen?"

The biggest thing that will come to Anacostia in the next several years, next to St. Elizabeths, is the streetcar. But in the entire two-hour discussion, the word "streetcar" was not uttered once, even as artists talked about the need to bring people over from west of the river, and panelists ran through all of Anacostia's natural assets for the arts (empty warehouses, lots of vacant space, low rents).

With no streetcars yet running anywhere in the District, of course their impact on Anacostia may seem too remote to even contemplate. But tracks have already been laid East of the River, and the federal NEPA process is underway to sort out the rest of it. Considering that, and the much-ballyhooed renaissance on H Street, I was shocked that not one person mentioned the idea of using eventual streetcar access to promote Martin Luther King Avenue, or even how arts organizations should prepare for the wave of new people and investment that typically comes in advance of a streetcar's installation.

There's already one example of an east-of-the-river arts institution failing to leverage access to mass transit: THEARC, the glistening facility on Mississippi Avenue SE that entertains 65,000 people in its theater each year, is a 10-minute walk from the Southern Avenue Metro station. By all rights, green line access should be a catalyst for nightlife, retail, and other arts-oriented businesses. To get there, however, you have to cross a wide and busy street, make a circuitous trek around Oxon Creek, and approach the facility from the back. A bridge over the ravine and prominent signage to create easy access from the station could bring that kind of development within the realm of possibility. But it would also cost millions of dollars, THEARC director Edmund Fleet told me. (To make matters worse, the station is in Prince George's county, not D.C.).

Anyway, a streetcar is a very powerful thing, and it's troubling that the business community just seems to be bracing for its arrival instead of looking forward to it, while the arts community doesn't even factor it in to their discussions at all–I just hope it doesn't mean they get caught unawares.

The next streetcar meeting is Saturday, March 26, at 10:00 a.m. at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church.

  • crin

    H Street is not booming because of a potential streetcar. It's booming because rents were really, and are still kinda, cheap. You can start up on H alot easier than you can start up in Adams Morgan.

  • Sally

    White people shocked that things that white people like aren't really liked by non-white people.

  • H Street Landlord

    That's a ridiculous statement Sally. Both bus and metrorail service are highly used and appreciated by non-whites. Why would a streetcar be any different? Especially once its tied in to the (eventual) city-wide network?

  • W Jordan

    Tangherlini, F-ed up and blamed the people of Anacostia because of his failure. That's the bottomline.

  • CH Resident

    Actually Sally might be on to it. Street Cars = more white people. Not directly a causal relationship, but still it will happen. The equation: Street cars = more transportation = more businesses and residents moving into the area = higher rents and property values = black families selling and moving to PG (or not able to afford the rent anymore - still move to PG) = more white people moving in. Not a bad thing, but just an effect of gentrification. The street cars are nice things. Some people don't want nice things.

  • norb

    Thanks to those who love to boil everything down to race. Nice work.

    In any case, what this area really needs is improved bus service and safer pedestrian design. I think the residents can see that a streetcar will not improve their mobility a whole lot.

  • oboe

    H Street is not booming because of a potential streetcar. It's booming because rents were really, and are still kinda, cheap. You can start up on H alot easier than you can start up in Adams Morgan.

    Profoundly wrong. Most potential business owners I've talked to have conceded that H Street's already out of the price range of your average start-up. At least the equivalent if not more expensive than A-M.

  • oboe

    The fundamental issue here is that a majority of folks East of the River have the same suburban outlook as voters in PG County. Their attitudes are still frozen in the 70s and 80s. If they can manage to turn Anacostia into a sprawling Hell-scape that most of PG County is turning into, they'll feel they've accomplished something.

  • B

    Given the scarce resources for this project, shouldn't we spend the money in communities that welcome the streetcar, and are likely to use it? Nothing will kill enthusiasm for the city-wide network faster than an empty streetcar blocking traffic as it shuttles up and down MLK.

    In case you can't guess, I live near H, and support the streetcar. The logistics of tying the system into Union Station are certain to run into delays and cost overruns, so let's spend the money efficiently, guided by community input. I'm being selfish, but that doesn't make me wrong.

  • Ron

    Good One, Sally. You should win a Nobel Prize in Biology for your expert, PHD-level work in linking the "black gene" with the "streetcar-hating gene". Worthy of Watson and Crick!!

  • SEis4ME

    Oboe, are you an EOTR resident or at least one whose daily interactions involve a number of people EOTR? If not, then how can you speak for what the majority wants?

    It's insulting and presumptuous to state that those of us EOTR who may be lukewarm or even completely against the idea of streetcars are somehow stuck in the 70's. Why can't it be that we simply don't see the need for one. I certainly don't see the need for an investment in this just because it's the new "it" thing.

    Our areas needs more than the "it" thing. There's plenty of ways for pedestrians to travel these proposed corridors w/o the installation of streetcars.

    Yet, story after story produces the same sort of bewilderment as Lydia seems to have "I love streetcars and can't understand why these people in that community which suffers from the most negative disproportion, can't share my view."

    I can imagine Lydia's shock and awe each time someone doesn't fall in love with the idea...over and over again.

  • deeceefooodeee

    Personally, I think folks east of the river should be happy for ANY investment - streetcar or otherwise. But, hey, I'm not travelling there now and don't really know if I would travel there after a streetcar so it ain't no thing to me. Keep perpetuating the feeling that I'm not welcome there and/or that it is a far away no-man's land and those feelings won't change.

    I vote we bring the streetcar down U street - it's certainly wide enough to accomodate. Would be a nice break-up of the long corridor.

  • Whoa_now

    well if the east of the river doesn't want it..we should continue the H line to Chinatown(as originally proposed). That would actually make the street car much more viable, important,successful, but most importantly make sense.

  • StrangeFruit

    Butch Hopkins was correct! The streetcar construction on H St has been and still is a nightmare! I only travel on H St when there is no way to avoid it.

  • HowardStudent

    deeceefooodeee - i dont think U Street needs anything its already pretty developed as is.

    I actually imagined that people on the east side would want more options to travel over to the west side and a streetcar provides that opportunity. I think some people are looking at it from one side. Sure people from the west side will be coming in but this also gives people on the east side more options to travel over to the west side.

    I don't think this is a racial issue. I look at it in terms of economics. The people that have the money (whether black or white) will be able to survive the boom. There is a lot of young black/latino professionals in the DC area that can afford it. Living in DC I can see how people easily get the stereotype that all black people living in DC are poor which isn't true. White people aren't the only ones with money.

  • HowardStudent

    What's important is that the city and developers create mixed income developments and affordable housing in the area. Instead of putting all of the low income residents together its time for DC to start diversifying. The low income residents should be able to live in that area with the middle to upper-income residents that are interested in moving in.

    Poor people should not have to be pushed out of their homes because of a streetcar. They need to fit into the changing cityscape.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    The walk from Southern Ave to THEARC is not for the faint of heart or pink set - expecially after 6pm or so.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    @Sally -- You are right on. Although Lydia frames her articles nicely and in proper context, more often than not, she is still a raggedy pink person reporting on city life in a city in which she doesn't really know. However, she does her research and gets around town wearing out shoe leather. It is not shocking that black folk in East Washington are resistant to this agitprop nonsense about street cars. Pink peoeple, most of them, dont ride the X2, M8, A2, W4, 70, etc. The city has waisted as much money on these streetcars as it does throwing money at our EBT parasitic underclass.

  • HowardStudent

    @Cap City Records

    The city has been in talks with developers about a building an above ground pedestrian bridge between THEARC and Southern Ave. I forgot where I saw that article. I think it was on http://www.greatergreaterwashington.org

  • Alice

    I'm a resident of Congress Heights. I'm getting older. I work in NW, and it's already a hike to THEARC to get to classes at Trinity, especially if I miss the bus from Congress Heights station (I have to stop there to pick up my child from school). At that point, I have to walk through Parklands to Mississippi Ave. When I get out of class at 8:30, I usually end up having to walk through Parklands again because the W2 drivers seem to make up their own schedules. Often, I just take my child with me to work instead of taking her to the Boys and Girls Club for school breaks because all the hiking and transferring adds too much time to my commute. I'm a native Washingtonian, and I've never owned a car, but the lack of transportation makes me think twice about.

  • Morgan

    If people can come in force other horrific things onto ward 8, how about they come in a force something that will actually result in more infrastructure, and businesses.

    If we said I don't another low income housing project, piss poor charter school, or liquor store the powers that be would be happy to ignore and impose. But now that it's something good that the residents don't want, they are happy to concede.

    I am sick of pandering to the lowest common denominator when it comes to east of the river politics. Anybody got an EBT card for sale while we are at it? [/sarcasm]

  • WhoSaidWhat?

    Ward 8 people are so backwards sometimes. UGH. And I'm in Ward 7 so I know, because the only people close to their stupidity are the ones I live around. Really? You're worried about the effect on business? Puhlease. What business? Trust me the crack heads and section 8 welfare moms will figure a way to cross the street during construction to cash their food stamps and get their cigs. Because gosh forbid any sign of development come, it should be shunned because it wasn't conceived by Mayor Barry or the other dimwit Alexander. NOOOO stay away from it if white people like it, it'll make you melt.
    It's a constant struggle over here for them to even come to a community meeting?! So I take it you like the drunks standing on the corner? THey can never do anything to better themselves but they sure came out in forces to make sure their checks didn't get cut. THe whole reason people don't come Anacostia or East of the River is because there are so few ways to get there, it is literally cut off from the city. When they try to connect you, you say no and then have the audacity to be self-righteous. Laughable at best.
    I can imagine all the comments you are ready to fire at me. But the bottom line is there are people in this city who do not care if you live like animals. They are content to let East of the River continue to live in squalor and you are playing into it every time. I am now one of those people. (I can hear you screaming now 'well get out then!) But no, I intend to make sure you go. The new generation of people in this city like to walk and ride bikes. You aren't going to be included in development if no one can get to you. The buses are horrible, the subway stops are desolate and walking on the bridge isn't even conceivable. You're cut off from everything. If you want to be included, you will have to make yourself marketable. Wake up already!