Substantive Streetcar Discussion! Is Anacostia Done Saying ‘No’?
The District Department of Transportation has has whittled down its original ten options for the Anacostia streetcar line to a more manageable four since its last public meeting in the neighborhood—and may have tamped down some of the skepticism east of the river as well.
Gone is the option of a double-track on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, which DDOT officials said they preferred in March. The remaining route alternatives are parallel but separated routes on MLK/13th Street SE, MLK/Shannon Place, and MLK/Railroad Avenue. The fourth option is a parallel double-track on Railroad Avenue.
The first three alignments all run one way on MLK. That street, Anacostia's main commercial corridor, stands to benefit most from having potential customers roll by on the regular. Entrepreneurs are already plunking down projects there, and the infrastructure—buildings zoned for commercial use, some of which exist in a historic district—is in place. MLK also sees heavy car and bus traffic throughout the day; there's a chance that, with the streetcar running, buses might be diverted onto other roads. This could ease traffic on MLK and allow for bus service in different parts of the neighborhood.
The 13th Street SE route is beneficial in that it reduces the distance those in Anacostia's densest parts would have to walk to board the streetcar. But that's also a downside: It runs through a highly residential area in Anacostia's historic district. Shannon Place SE is residential, too, but has more empty lots and warehouses that could be redeveloped for commercial use.
Anything along Railroad Avenue will be particularly complicated, because CSX currently holds the right-of-way for that area—which could result in negotiations between the District and CSX not unlike the talks with Amtrak that have delayed the H Street NE line. The MLK/Railroad Avenue alignment puts a greater distance between the parallel tracks than any other, while the double-track option along Railroad Avenue requires an odd turn, to route around a historically significant building and create a specialized right-of-way that avoids conflict with CSX. And while Railroad Avenue has plenty of warehouses that could be redeveloped, the double-track option doesn't touch MLK—which puts it further from the burgeoning investment in Anacostia's main street, and further still from residents who live on MLK's eastern side.
There are still a lot of questions about the streetcar, but many—such as how much fares will cost, how late it will run, how many parking spaces will be removed to accommodate it, how much room it needs to make a turn, how it will affect bus routes, and where it will stop—require DDOT to figure out where the line will run before they can be answered.
The meeting was less of a circus than DDOT's previous forays into the neighborhood, which may mean the agency has gotten past a rough patch in its public engagement process (they've got a long way to go; this section isn't supposed to have streetcars on it until at least 2014). It also wrapped up Phase 2 of DDOT's planning timeline for the Anacostia line. The agency expects to release a draft of a final alignment in September.