Housing Complex

D.C. Puts Out Glossy Streetcar Brochure

Look at all those people now within walking distance of transit!

A while ago, the Office of Planning commissioned a study on how the proposed 37-mile streetcar system will affect jobs, property values, tax revenues, and other big economic metrics in the city. Last month, it even won the Congress for the New Urbanism's 2011 Charter Award and the New Urban Network's plan of the month award, sending out ripples of excitement with its projected $5-8 billion in new development in the ten years after the completion of the entire system.

But the Office of Planning never actually released the whole study. Today, they posted the nicely-formatted executive summary, which runs through all the great things that District residents can expect when the system finally gets built. Among the promised benefits:

  • Bringing 72,000 households into walkable distance of premium transit, guaranteeing them access to more than 85% of the District's office jobs and more than half of all jobs
  • Could draw new households and retain existing ones at rate of 1,400 per year and increase the proportion of District workers who also live in the District from 31.5 to 34 percent over ten years after the system's completion.
  • Will generate $238-291 million in tax revenue annually within 10 years of completion of system (Harry Jaffe, take note!).

I'm pretty interested in how they arrived at those numbers, so I'll be waiting for the whole thing, which is apparently "still under development." But it's pretty clear that OP and the District Department of Transportation will be using this to get the thing financed, as well as sell it to communities down the lines.

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    The fact that a transit project that costs hundreds of millions of dollars and yet isn't accompanied by a single upzoning can win a New Urbanism award is absolutely pathetic.

  • Jim Churchll

    Replacing the treasured mobility of streetcars we so stupidly lost only 11 years before the first gas crisis should get a pass on zoning and many other impediments. Just think of how far ahead this city would have been if O. Roy Chalk had been able to keep what he advertised to keep-the electric streetcars that plied this city.

  • http://marketurbanism.com Stephen Smith

    If you think that O. Roy Chalk is the reason that DC doesn't have streetcars, you're starting your history a few decades too late. The fact is that whatever minor shenanigans might have gone on with him, the deck was already stacked against the streetcars – they were already struggling under the labor standards, the paving requirements, the fare caps, the overhead wire bans (not sure if they had those in DC, but they did in a lot of cities), the density limits imposed by zoning, etc. To blame the demise of streetcars in DC on decisions made in the late '50s and early '60s is taking a very narrow view of history, and completely ignores the root causes of government overregulation. Unfortunately this sort of history is commonplace among liberal urbanists, the persistent Great American Streetcar Myth being exhibit A.

    But if we ever really want to have sustainable transit again, we're going to have to face up to those root causes, which is hard to do when you're still blaming it all on O. Roy Chalk and GM/Firestone.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.


    All of those root causes you cite might explain the decline of streetcars, but they do not explain the absurd decisions to rip out existing infrastructure.

    Every American city with a large system could have looked like Toronto does today.

    And that doesn't mean it was some big conspiracy - Minneapolis' system was destroyed just via petty fraud alone.

  • david vartanoff

    speaking as someone who was there, it was the Congress which mandated the end of streetcars in DC. It was part of the charter which Chalk's DC Transit received in order to take over from Wolfson's CapitaL Transit. Chalk had one car air conditioned (the very first US streetcar to have A/C)to demonstrate that streetcars could be more comfortable. The deal breaker was however the 'conduit' system. First leaves tended to collect in the slots, but crucially road salt used to dissolve snow would short out the power leaving riders w/o service on many winter days. I look forward to the new lines opening in '12 50 yrs after I rode on the next to last car in service.