Streetcar News Roundup
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Streetcar News Roundup

April 9th, 2012 by Jay Williams · 4 Comments · Capitol Hill, H Street, Near Northeast/Atlas District

Streetcar Pantograph

Photo by Mr. T in DC, via Flickr

There has been a flurry of news in the last few days regarding the upcoming and highly anticipated H Street/Benning Road streetcar line, currently slated to start running in Summer 2013.  After a somewhat disastrous hearing in front of the D.C. Council, where DDOT Director Terry Bellamy admitted that they may not have enough streetcars to fulfill the planned 10-15 minute headways when the line first opens, Mayor Gray announced last Thursday that DDOT had selected Oregon Iron Works to build two additional streetcars for the District.  It looks like DDOT managed to piggyback on an existing contract the company has with Portland, Oregon, which will hopefully speed up the process of manufacturing the streetcars.  The new deal will bring the total number of streetcars for the H Street/Benning line to five, which was the original plan.Soon after the contract announcement, DDOT released video and photos of the streetcars undergoing testing in a Metro railyard.  As someone who has followed the stumbles and multiple delays of the streetcar project, I have to admit it was pretty exciting to see the streetcars actually moving along the rails, albeit in a very slow, controlled environment.

The recent positive press for the streetcar has set the stage for the next community meeting, taking place on Thursday, April 12th, at 6:30pm.  The meeting will be held at Springarn High School (2500 Benning Road, NE).  At the meeting, DDOT will provide an update to the H Street/Benning line and will open the floor to public comment on the project.

Although I am a big fan of the concept of the streetcar on H Street, my first run-in with the system was not such a positive experience.  On Tuesday I was riding my bike to work along H Street NE (a different route than I normally take) when I completely misjudged my ability to cross the streetcar tracks.  This resulted in the track eating my front tire and throwing me to the ground in a spectacular* flip.  For the record, I believe my fall was more the result of my inexperience and/or stupidity, but I will be interested to hear how DDOT plans to address the issue of bicycle safety along the streetcar line, because I am definitely not the only cyclist who has fallen (Fallen? Yuk-yuk! –ed) victim to the tracks.

DDOT has made a serious effort in the past year to keep the neighborhood involved and informed in every step of the project, and these quarterly meetings are a great opportunity for the community to find out exactly what is going on and provide feedback on the latest developments.  I certainly encourage everyone who lives in the area to attend, regardless of your opinions on the streetcar project, but if you are unable to go, be sure to check back here for further coverage!

*The fall likely was not very spectacular, but it helps me feel better about myself.

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  • Anonymous

    My wife and I were riding bikes yesterday and while waiting at the light to cross H St going south on 4th St, I told her we should usually avoid using H St to go east or west because those tracks can be killer. Having the tracks in the middle of the street could have made it better for bikes but I’m not sure what can be done now.

  • Anonymous

    If you need to bike east down the corridor, use I Street. If you’re heading west, take G Street. There, problem solved.

  • Jay Williams

    I agree that there’s probably not much that can be done other than general education for riders – there are several Bikeshare stations along H Street NE, and Bikeshare riders are likely to be – on average – less experienced cyclists who may not think about the danger posed by the tracks.

    DC_Dawg – yep, that’s my plan from here on out. I chalk this up as much to my inexperience as I do to the placement of the tracks.

  • Anonymous

    Add me to the list of bike casualties due to the streetcar tracks. As for the streetcars, I can’t get very excited about a project that costs so much and does so little. Without dedicated lanes, the streetcars are only glorified buses. I’m also nervous about the streetcar launch on H Street. Frankly, very few people will ride it initially (because it doesn’t really take you anywhere). I might ride it for fun every now and then, but for commuters it won’t provide a good transit alternative. This low ridership is going to unfairly cause the city to slow down progress on the rest of the system. It’s unfortunate that we will be in such a Catch-22.