Housing Complex

Streetcar Extension Study Points to Benning Road Terminus

Construction resumed last week on the H Street streetcar line, the one that's theoretically supposed to get vehicles for testing this October and start running passenger trains shortly thereafter. It's a project that's got city officials hugely excited, but it's also generated some skepticism: After all, the streetcar along H Street will run largely the same route as the existing X2 bus, which may actually move faster since it has the ability to swerve around double-parked cars. The line, some critics charge, serves a corridor that's already pretty well developed, and neglects areas farther to the east that could really use the improved transportation and development potential.

Enter the Benning Road Streetcar Extension Feasibility Study, released late yesterday. The study examines two potential new termini for the streetcar line: the Minnesota Avenue (Orange Line) and Benning Road (Blue Line) Metro stations. Both would provide access to commercial and residential centers in Ward 7 that's lacking in the current plan to terminate at Oklahoma Avenue NE, just west of the Anacostia River—a sparsely populated spot sandwiched between an RFK Stadium parking lot, Anacostia Park, and a moderate-density residential neighborhood.

So how do the two options compare? The District Department of Transportation doesn't explicitly endorse either of them in the study, but it does suggest that from a cost-benefit perspective, there's a clear winner. Here's the impact on ridership:

And on cost:

In other words, Benning Road offers an 82 percent increase in line ridership, compared to just 13 percent for Minnesota Avenue. Benning has a 13 percent higher capital cost and 17 percent higher operations and maintenance cost than Minnesota, but if the streetcar is remotely close to profitable, the vastly higher ridership should more than make up for the additional cost. (DDOT hasn't yet set a fare policy for the streetcar.)

Of course, there are other factors, like traffic and environmental impact. The study says that both options would require modifications to bridges, potential roadway widening, utility relocation, and possibly new rights-of-way at the termini or a repurposing of the Minnesota Avenue Kiss & Ride area for a streetcar turnaround.

Update: DDOT's Dara Ward says the findings from this study will inform an environmental impact study that DDOT hopes to conduct this summer. It's not impossible, she says, that the conclusion of the studies will be to stick with the Oklahoma Avenue terminus. An extension, she clarifies, wouldn't delay the construction of the currently planned line to Oklahoma Avenue.

Map and images from the DDOT study

  • name

    Some of those populations of riders are mutually exclusive. As soon as the trolly picks up all the wackos and psychos that the X2 does, it will be worthless like the detractors hope.

    If you kept it to just one side of the river, it would be a success.

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  • DoubtingThomasina

    this is a ridiculous idea for an unnecessary form of transportation. we already have buses blocking and wrecking traffic for rush hour... now we are adding a trolly on the exact same route??? who thought of this foolishness and why??????? DC has a lot of needs that are going unaddressed... why is this trolly so important?

  • 7r3y3r

    Hmmm. Actually, I think it's the single occupant cars that are blocking and wrecking traffic. Buses (and streetcars) carry more people with less space than personal cars so I think we should give them priority.

  • Slim Witman

    Dear Doubting Thomasina,
    I have been wondering for years why a trolley is needed. The obvious answer is because somebody is getting paid. Proponents argue that it will improve passenger through which remains to be proven. Proponents argue that the investment by the city shows commitment to urban improvement that attracts investors. I cannot say whether it will improve your standard of life or mine but is has improved the bottom line for contractors and speculators.

  • pat b

    crazy people don't like streetcars. The wires radiate energy that echoes in their brains.