Housing Complex

Barry Not Helping With DDOT Streetcar Charm Offensive

Saturday morning's Phase 2 public meeting on the Anacostia streetcar line began with a message from Councilmember Marion Barry, relayed by staffer Brenda Richardson.

"The councilmember wants you to know that he supports whatever the community wants," said Richardson.

"But," she continued, "he doesn't want to see the streetcar go past the Anacostia Metro station. He'd rather see all that money go to education." This had the majority of those gathered at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church standing up and cheering.

The reaction to Richardson's statement is a good summary of how many folks at Saturday's meeting seemed to feel about the forthcoming Anacostia streetcar line—that is, they either don't want it running where DDOT has anticipated it would run, or do not want it at all. And, there's still plenty of confusion about how the streetcar will come to be; it's not likely that money slated for the streetcar could be rerouted to education anyway, especially given DDOT's intention to secure federal funding for the project.

Saturday's forum—required by the federal National Environmental Policy Act—was a follow-up to a previous public meeting held in January, at which many attendees expressed displeasure with the proposed alignment along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. In response, DDOT spent Saturday morning doing their best to demonstrate why the streetcar would be good for Anacostia (which came down to the rather boilerplate talking point of "economic development") and discussing 10 potential alignments in small-group sessions.

All 10 plans (which will be posted online this week) have the streetcar running in the area between the 11th Street Bridge and the Anacostia Metro station and are variations on alignments along the CSX tracks, Railroad Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, 14th Street SE, or 13th Street SE. In some cases, the lines are split, so that inbound and outbound streetcars would run parallel but not side-by-side.

Many concerns came to light in Housing Complex's small group, not the least of which was that the streetcars were being built not for residents of Anacostia and nearby neighborhoods, but for "outsiders"—which seemed to mean Department of Homeland Security employees, commuters (whether affiliated with DHS or not), and potential new residents.

While there is no way to tell precisely who will be riding the streetcar until it is built, the alignment options drawn up by DDOT do appear to cater more toward Anacostia's residents than commuters or DHS employees. Most do not run west of the Metro station, in the direction of the St. Elizabeths campus.

Other concerns addressed by the audience included the impact on local businesses, especially with regard to loading and unloading merchandise; whether the streetcar will increase traffic in Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, which is already fairly congested with buses and cars; whether on-street parking will disappear; and what a ride on the streetcar would actually cost.

Despite the apparent skepticism, DDOT thinks there is support for the streetcar. "Although many members of the community are 'skeptical' or have concerns about the project, there are many members in the community that are also interested and excited about the project," wrote project manager Circe Torruellas in a follow-up email. "This is what makes the planning process so interesting and exciting. What the NEPA process allows is for a space for them to come together and discuss these concerns and desires in order to help inform the decision making process on which one is the preferred alternative (be it no build or one of the streetcar alternatives)."

Within the next several months, DDOT will come up with a "locally preferred alternative", taking into account environmental, historic preservation, and traffic studies among other analyses. The Federal Transit Administration makes the final determination, and will consider community comments as part of its decision–which means DDOT will need all the charm it can muster.

  • Rick Mangus

    Mo Barry aka (Crackatowa) isn't supporting this because he hasn't figured out a shakedown to scam money into his pockets or the pockets of his cronies!

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    alex: the residents understand that they'll be able to ride the streetcars too, right? that (if the plans i've heard hold) it will actually be cheaper than the bus? i mean, i can totally see the whole, "this isn't for us" mentality, because i see that in my neighborhood too around the H street line.

    i just wonder if the people complaining (who are by-and-large long-term african american residents in my neck of the woods) would not ride a perfectly good mode of transportation because of racial and socioeconomic (read: gentrification) issues?

  • Alex Baca

    Geoff, I can't definitively say whether someone would intentionally boycott the streetcar because of racial and socioeconomic issues. I don't think that's the case across the board, but there are certainly some loud voices protesting the line on that basis.

    I think most residents understand that the streetcar will be available for them to ride, as it will be available for anyone to ride. Whether or not they'll choose to do so obviously won't become clear until the thing is in place.

    Another thing to consider is that many residents east of the river are used to driving. I think the majority of attendees at Saturday's meeting drove, and to be fair, it's not like there's that much within walking distance. I suspect that it's hard for some people who are used to, and comfortable with, driving everywhere to consider the streetcar as a viable transportation alternative (and DDOT could admittedly do a little more to illustrate how the streetcar will be a convenient mode of transit).

  • X

    Because DDOT isn't properly prioritizing its role in student education vs. their job of managing DC's transportation.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    alex: you bring up a good point about the mode of transportation that the meeting attendees use. it would be ideal if there would be a way to get more bus riders at meetings like this - a constituency that would see their transportation become better - instead of one that may not be affected one way or another.

  • plive202

    I dont think the old timers in SE or H street are opposed to the idea of a streetcar itself (seeing as how the city once had streetcars), it's what it represents - change. H street is steadily changing from black working class to white upper/upper-middle class as are the businesses.

    The only thing "holding back" H street (I guess holding back from becoming basically homogenous and high-end) is the lack of public transport other than the bus. So I guess once the streetcar arrives, people can take that to union station.

    Really they're just opposed to the inevitable change that is coming to their neighborhood and are worried they'll have to leave.

  • SEis4ME

    Alex, while there are many EOTR who drive, there is also a great number (like me) who rely on public transportation. I'm not surprised by the reaction of those at St. Matthews but don't understand how Barry's statement is damaging to the charm offensive. He stated that he will support whatever his constituents support.

    Factually, I have yet to hear or read any convincing analysis of "why streetcar, why now." What I do hear is that "well you guys should really want this." Beyond that it's a dud.

    The lack of adequate access to transportation isn't a problem w/in this area.

    The idea that the streetcars will spur business growth isn't convincing.

    The idea that "commuters" will venture to the area isn't convincing.

  • SEis4ME

    @IMGOPH,

    MOST residents EOTR are likely long term black residents.

    But the idea that this is for "them" not "us" isn't isolated to long term residents.

  • Alex Baca

    @SEis4ME, Richardson's message from Barry did state that he'll support what his constituents want, but that was somewhat undermined when it was immediately followed by his opinion on where the streetcar should go.

    In my comment to @IMGoph (and, in this post, I hope...), I alluded to the fact that DDOT could be doing more outreach to demonstrate the benefits of the streetcar, i.e. "It will take you here faster than the bus," or "It will likely be cheaper than WMATA," or "Here's where the line will run, and this is what is on the line." That's probably another blog post for another time, but I agree with you that DDOT could have a much better communication strategy than "economic development."

    Hence, calling it a "boilerplate talking point."

  • SEis4ME

    @Alex, gotcha. But how does Barry suggesting where the cars should/n't go amount to him undermining the process.

    Not sure I understand.

    Also, I think many of you underestimate how knowledgeable EOTR residents are about metro, specifically the bus system. I believe positing the idea that a streetcar will get you from the anacostia metro to Good Hope road faster than any of the myriad of buses traveling the same area, won't be an easy sell.

  • new day

    I don't want to see the streetcar go that far either, but not because I'm opposed to the streetcar. I just don't want to see all the crackheads and teen gangbangers rolling up into my neighborhood; I'd rather they stay where they are and fight among themselves.

  • amanda

    A good question for Barry to answer would be what will he do to put more money in education as it was correctly noted that whatever funding DDOT receives, cannot be diverted to education. As the councilmember for Ward 8, Barry should take more of a stand with the proposed Anacostia streetcar line by either advocating the benefits or promoting why it won't work to the residents.
    Someone had mentioned that a streetcar line that spanned from Anacostia Metro to Good Hope Road will not be a faster route, I beg to differ. Ever rode the U2, B2, W8, or W6? During rush hour, these busses can get very crowded and make many frequent stops. Add that to the normal congestion around the station. I rather take a streetcar any day. I could on about all the A line buses..but I won't.

  • SoutheastDC

    I'm confused as to why this article is even about Marion Barry. Admittedly he did the following reprehensible actions:
    1) Deliberately created a false dichotomy between funding education and funding the streetcar;
    2) Poisoned the well in the discussion by pretending to be neutral but then expressing a distinct opinion; and
    3) Sending his spokesperson to lob a "grenade" into the discussion.

    But despite his recent and historical moral lapses, his positive contributions still outweigh his negatives.   And most importantly Barry isn't instigating the resistance to Streetcar, he's responding to it.

    If you want to provide a useful addition to the discussion,answer these better questions that would require actual reporting instead of school newspaper level reporting "I was there, this is what I saw, here are my half-formed opinions":
    1)  What could DDOT have done differently to actually bring on board the community they purport to serve?
    2)  Is DDOT employing a professional outreach team?  If not why not?  If so, why do they suck so deeply and hard?
    3)  Why weren't neighborhood stakeholders consulted earlier? (Don't take the easy answer by blaming Fenty.  But be extra careful here because there is a very real difference between walking into a community and saying "We're doing this, what do you think of it?" and "What do you think we should do?"There's a difference of style, and only one of them can truly be called community outreach).
    4)  Who's in charge of the NEPA process for this section of Streetcar?  What's their relevant experience?  Do they have any relevant experience?  Why are they so bad at it?  Can DDOT put someone else in charge or will they "stay the course" and doom us to three more years of these kinds of fights?
    5) What are the projected benefits to commuters and residents of this tract of Streetcar?
    6) Why hasn't DDOT effectively explained that the money for Streetcar is coming from Federal funds and not Local dollars so there is no issue of competition for resources with schools.  Keep it Simple: "The money for the Streetcars comes from the Feds.  If we don't spend it on Streetcar, we can't spend it at all."

    Oh wait, this is blog, WHY am I expecting thoughtful journalism?  I'm going to go read a real newspaper!  Please,continue to pen your next "Marion Barry hates white people story.

    But do some research first, you know, from a real source:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/dc/barry/authenticity0522.htm

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