Housing Complex

Streetcar Going Up the H Street Bridge After All

So, this is happening. (DDOT)

It's been a good six months since the District Department of Transportation became aware that it would need to figure out a temporary streetcar connection to Union Station while a permanent continuation through to downtown was thoroughly studied. A couple months after that point, DDOT came up with some ideas for how to do it. Just last week, they were still considering two alternatives: One to the top of the H Street Bridge, and another that would make a loop around the block enclosed by G, F, 2nd, and 3rd Streets NE.

Only tonight, however, did Mayor Vince Gray see fit to give the department clear direction, stating in no uncertain terms that the H Street Bridge option would prevail. "It's nice that they're looking at options, but let me be clear, we are not running any streetcar down 3rd Street and down 2nd Street," he said. "Just so you know, I know these streets like the back of my hand...You will not be going through somebody's neighborhood to get to Union Station."

News of the proposed loop did not go over well with the folks on the block to be encircled. Earlier today, I got an email from a distressed neighbor raising the alarm about a "DDOT planning failure that may lead to neighborhood devastation." At tonight's update meeting at the Atlas Theater, someone handed out flyers warning against damage to homes and noise pollution, security concerns for the federal government office buildings that the streetcar might pass by, and even lawsuits if the loop plan went forward.

On top of neighborhood backlash, business interests had been pressuring the city for as seamless a connection to Union Station as possible, which is probably the H Street option (though going to F Street wouldn't have meant a much longer walk to the Metro entrance). The bridge itself, according to an engineering study, will apparently be able to sustain the weight of the streetcar without a complete reconstruction, so there's no big impediment to building it (or at least none that I know about).

The announcement was met with a round of sustained applause from the standing room-only audience, and people started leaving after the presentation, with all the suspense having been put to rest.

But Gray could have really helped the neighborhood by making his preferences known before DDOT went through this whole song and dance.

  • East_H

    Great. I think this is the best of the bad options. Let's just get it done already.

  • Norman Williams

    Great but how can the train go to opposite track after arriving at the end? We don't want cars to see street car going against them just because they can't hop to other track? Thought loop will take care of this but don't see it in the proposed map.

  • tom veil

    Norman: DDOT had previously floated the idea of an X track on the 200 block of H Street to allow for the train to turn around; I presume they'll bring that back now that Gray has issued his fiat.

  • Steve D

    Yep, trains stopping and starting from either side at a streetcar terminus are pretty common. I've been on a few that do it that way. Whichever side it stops on, you get on. And then they put in an x-crossings where they can switch sides at either end. Typically works pretty well. The upside of not having a loop or turnaround here on the bridge is that when they extend the route west toward downtown, they just continue the tracks from the terminus.

  • K

    The slide presentation used by DDOT at the meeting showed the double track merging into a single track at 3rd st. & proceeding as a single track up to the middle of the bridge.

    One of the panelists explained that cars would be scheduled so as to not converge at the bridge at once, but if that happened, one car would idle on the double track until the car on the bridge came back down. Since they only own three cars right now, I doubt this will happen much, if at all.

  • Ben

    Finally, a good decision on this project.

  • http://www.ajfroggie.com Froggie

    I noticed the same thing K did...single-track on the Hopscotch for the temporary connection instead of double-track. This was also why, at the end of the Q&A, they explained the possibility of building an "emergency pullout" on 3rd St in either direction from H St for "about 50-60 feet", in the event of a streetcar blocking the single-track on the bridge.

  • Tom A.

    I'm a bit concerned how poeple will safely get from the middle of a 6 lane road to the sidewalk, but I'm sure they'll figure it out. Probably a red light will be triggered when the train gets to its end point.

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/ Mr T in DC

    Going over the Hopscotch Bridge sounds good to me, though I have to point out that neighborhood objections to it going down 3rd Street were overblown, as usual. The streetcar "...may lead to neighborhood devastation" seems overkill for what would amount to basically adding a bus route to the street (my street has a bus route on it and the noise is no biggie).

  • maibaby523

    I'm still trying to understand why the need for streetcars - PERIOD. We had them a zillion years ago and got rid of them. Why do we need them back?

  • Frank

    So why does this map still show a partial track going on 3rd street. Let's get this thing moving... it should go all the way to Chinatown and the Whitehouse. If a turn around is still needed put it on another commercial street, North Capitol.

  • wylie coyote

    maibaby523, there was a documentary explaining how oil companies bought up streetcar tracks in many cities and got rid of them to encourage in-city driving (and thereby drive oil consumption). i want to say that was a segment in "who killed the electric car?" (a movie focused on oil company-funded opposition to cars that don't require oil to run).

    streetcars weren't eliminated due to lack of ridership, as near as i can tell. empirical data indicates streetcars are the most beloved form of public transportation and the one the largest number of citizens from across the country are most likely to use, if available. if we can increase public transit use by just 2% by providing an option that links people pretty far from union station to rail, that plus the increase in property values (and property tax collection) along the line alone make a streetcar a worthy investment.

  • Tom A.

    GM bought all the streetcar lines and closed them down in the late 1950's to further our dependence on foreign oil... er.... I mean to get everyone to reply on cars.

  • Andy W

    The partial track on 3rd St would serve and an emergency pull-out in case the need arose.

    As a resident of 3rd St, please don't count me among the NIMBYs. I would have been fine with the tracks going past my house. But I do think that keeping with H St is the preferable answer.

  • Sean

    So what ever happened to the idea of actually taking streetcars into the garage itself, where there's plenty of room for a turnaround? It just seems like quite a hike from Metro to the bridge...

    Or why not double down and take the thing all the way to Chinatown like the always-packed X2?

  • Jeff

    My house was on the proposed neighborhood route, and I could not be happier about this decision. Ripping up quiet, tree-lined streets to put in tracks and overhead wires would have been absurd. It boggles my mind that DDOT would every consider that crazy option in the first place.