You all know I LOVE a good streetcar meeting. I think my first post for THIH was about the near-mythical streetcar. I have been watching this drama unfold for the past 5 years with glee. I come from a theatre background so I can’t help it. Positions such as “The WIRES of DOOM that will decrease our property values!” and “Streetcars are too expensive! Build more Metro stops instead!” have made this otherwise unbearably long process mildly entertaining.
So I went into this week’s meeting at the Atlas Performing Arts center with great anticipation. Last week DDOT revealed its two final options for a connection at Union Station on the H Street-Benning Rd. Line’s western end. One was a stop on the Hopscotch bridge, which means patrons have a long and potentially confusing trip to the Red Line metro stop. The other called for the cars to make a loop down 3rd over to F Street with a stop perhaps neat the SEC building.
From my admittedly selfish perspective, as someone who needs to communicate transportation options to suburbanites coming to the Atlas to see a show, that 3rd street option made more sense. But I wished DDOT luck selling that to the neighbors and, as anticipated, they were not pleased. They were angry and organized and came out in droves ready to protest the 3rd street option.
So I was ready for a good old fashioned Capitol Hill community battle. Tears! Cries of “What about the children!!!” Lawsuit Threats!
Me? I really just want the damn thing finished so my vote was for whichever was going to get done the fastest, since it looked like the neighbors were going to dig in and fight that meant the H Street bridge option was it.
Alas Mayor Gray sucked the drama out of the evening immediately when he took to the stage of the Lang Theatre and told the standing-room-only crowd that the streetcar would stop on the bridge and 3rd street was off the table. You could feel the tension fly out of the room. The rest of the meeting was calm and orderly with people writing their questions on postcards and ANC 6A02 representative Drew Ronnenberg reading them aloud to the DDOT panel. The angriest people were those we had to turn away because we could not squeeze any more bodies into the already-packed theatre.
Much of what was discussed has been revealed in previous meetings. Those contentious wires are going up in 2012. Three substations will be built along the corridor. A car barn and training facility will be built on city-owned property near Springarn High School along Benning Road. DDOT is employing what they call a Design Build strategy which translates into, “We’re making this up as we go along, kind of.” I don’t really find fault in that, it enables them to be flexible and responsive to things that come up rather than locked into decisions that can not be changed even after challenges arise.
You can see the presentation in detail on the new DC Streetcar website here http://www.dcstreetcar.com/12062011.html
DDOT Director Terry Bellamy ably answered most of the questions, although I confess I missed the relaxed, yet knowledgeable style of Scott Kubly. He was the streetcar guy for the past few years before he was lured to Chicago by former DDOT head Gabe Klein. Kubly may have been totally full of it last spring when DDOT last held a community meeting on the streetcar, but he was so good at making you feel confident that “yes Amtrak was going to let them use the old H Street…” But then Amtrak said no and Kubly was gone.
Did Amtrak say no because they had no confidence in the city’s commitment to streetcars because the mayor’s people pulled the streetcar funding in the middle of the night once? Maybe. But by the time they officially said NO the mayor committed over 90 million dollars to the program so he can’t really hate streetcars.
Ugh. I don’t care. Get them finished. Get that line to K Street started. I’ve got real drama to sell down here people.
Jen DeMayo is Director of Community for the Atlas Performing Arts Center and she is tired of looking at empty tracks.