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Thursday, July 21, 2011

CP: Endpoint Change for Streetcar

The City Paper reports that Streetcar won't run directly through a tunnel into Union Station. Instead, the trolley would drop passengers off inside the Union Station parking garage (where the Circulator picks up). Basically, Amtrak didn't want to give up the tunnel (Amtrak cited Vincent Gray's aborted attempt to defund the streetcar as evidence that the current mayor is not committed to the streetcar). Running over the bridge will be more expensive and time-consuming to initially set up. Not great news, but not the end of the world either.

39 comments:

Kiki said...

Kiki,

Sad but understandable response.

Any indication what happens if/when the huge project to redevelop the parking garage and the area on top of the train tracks will impact the street cars? Seems like by the time the cars are in, the bridge will be ripped up for the changes.

Really hoping the whole project doesn't lose steam.

JJ said...

Inked,

Its not that Amtrak didn't want to give up the tunnel, its that Gray didn't do a damn thing to move the streetcar project along.

I think you're minimizing the impact that this is going to have on the project. We now have two separate instances during the development of this project where Gray has attempted to essentially "railroad" the project. First he tried to kill streetcar funding. Next, he basically hasn't lifted a finger (or even responded to emails) to move the project along even though he has been in office for 7 months.

If you think this is the end of the incompetence I surely hope you're right, but I seriously doubt it. Despite Gray's rhetoric that he loves streetcars, he has tried to push streetcars into the dustbin by trying to chop the funding and now refusing to even do something as basic as return Amtrak's emails.

Mark my words, this is not the end of the shenanigans with Gray. If people don't start making a stink now, streetcars may not ever run on H Street.

Anonymous said...

This is the most depressing news I have heard in a long time. My pessimism that the streetcar may never run begins....now.

-Jordan

Marco A. Grimaldo said...

I'm no fan of the street cars but I agree that now that we have all this rail, not getting the line further down H Street will hurt its prospects. I would use it more going to Gallery Place than to Union.

Barry said...

I hate Mayor Gary.

Karen King said...

I guess I have a different read. Isn't this what the previous Chairman Gray was worried about when he cut the streetcar funding in the first place? That there was no plan for the terminus and no agreement with Amtrak? At the time, I heard from all of the people angry with him for that choice that it didn't matter that there was no agreement from Amtrak. Now, I have no reason to believe that Amtrak wouldn't have done something differently if the dust-up hadn't happened, but I also have no reason to believe that Amtrak would not have done exactly what it is doing now.

I appreciate that people wanted to see momentum moving forward on the streetcars at the time. As someone who lives 1.5 blocks from what would be a stop, I have more reason than most to want it. But there were concerns from the beginning that there was not sufficient planning on the front end and that this situation might happen. Some might argue that Gray has made this a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I am not sure what he could have done to force Amtrak to let us use their space.

neko said...

He could have responded to their email for a start. He could have kept Gabe Klein on, he could have not removed Wells from the Transportation Committee, he could have actually exerted one ounce of effort towards a project that excites people in the city.

JJ said...

@Karen,

How about returning e-mails for starters? Maybe that would have helped?

The point is Karen we'll never know now what coulda/shoulda gotten done b/c Gray didn't lift a finger to move the project along.
This despite the fact that AMTRAK ACTUALLY EMAILED HIM TO ASK IF HE WAS COMMITTED TO STREETCARS. So, I don't buy your conclusion that Gray would have had to "force" Amtrak to do anything.

And Gray has never been so specific as to actually "be worried" about no agreement with Amtrak in the first place. To the contrary, when he originally cut the funding he just stated that he didn't think it wasn't planned out enough. That was a weak excuse, which he later quickly reversed when everybody flooded his phone lines to complain.

The bottom line is, anytime Gray wants to stall on anything that is always his first excuse -- i.e., lets plan some more, and then some more, and then some more.

And, gee, isn't this like everything else you've seen from Gray? Can you point to one constructive thing this Mayor has done during the 7 months he's been office? Maybe we should call him and ask...he's on a junkit in Hollywood right now.

Gonzo said...

Vincent Gray is an ass.

bat said...

i agree with the very few of you that do not blame vincent gray for this. this debacle is not his fault. he just inherited the bad planning. from the beginning he never opposed the streetcar. he just wanted a better budget and better planning.


the news is very disheartening, but not unexpected. the planning on this has been piss poor.

ro said...

Karen, I think the real news here is that there appears to have been no communication on Gray's part with Amtrak regarding the project. At least for me, that's the most eye-opening tidbit in all this. there is no momentum. You can say what you want about Amtrak's intentions, or the fact that Fenty/Williams administrations rushed into this. But we now have a project that appears to have no champion, no leadership. And that's worrisome.

A project of this scope is always going to run into road blocks and challenges, which is why you need people in charge who are willing to roll up their sleeves and actively work to see it through. So far I have seen nothing that indicates Gray or his administrators have any interest in making that effort. We have no agreement on the turnaround, no definitive plans for a maintenance facility and no contract for the power lines and substations. And based on the Amtrak letter as well as DDOTs recent announcement about a 1-year delay, I question whether anyone in his administration is doing any real work to move this forward.

MJ said...

Gray hires former Amtrak execs (Gerri Mason Hall & Lorraine Green) for his team, who then "accidentally" ignore Amtrak's inquiries and get the tunnel axed, which is just what Amtrak wants?

The best case is that Gray and his transition team are incompetent and screwed this up; the for more likely scenario is that Amtrak didn't want to give up their parking tunnel and called in some favors with their former execs to shelve it and take the blame. Either way I'm extremely disappointed in Gray.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm a huge streetcar supporter, but I have to admit this is starting to look pretty bad.

It's not even so much the setbacks-- it's the complete silence from DDOT and the Gray administration. Why haven't they released a statement? Why hasn't there been a single update on streetcar progress, other than the latest year delay (released without details), for months? What's going on?

John said...

I agree with Marco. I'm not a fan of the streetcar, either, but if it is going to go halfway up the bridge, then it should go over the bridge to Chinatown to connect to the red, green and yellow metrolines. If that's not possible, then avoid the bridge altogether and head up K Street across town. This lack of planning and waste of public funds is not surprising to me.

lou said...

Unfortunately you have the Council of 100 types who would fight the streetcar going to Chinatown Gallery Place tooth and nail because of fear that wires would mar views of the Capitol or something. god forbid some commuter on New Jersey Ave might have to stare at a wire in front of his view of the Capitol as he waits for the light to change. .

Dave B said...

I think this could work out. I dont know how awesome that tunnel idea was going to be anyway. Its not like the streetcar was going to pull up to the metro platform (at least I dont think so). So, there might have been some walking and escalators involved anyway.

If the streetcar goes into the garage and to the right, it can get to within 100-200 feet of the outdoor metro escalator.

They just need some modifications to the some kind of taxi ramp or something to make it more pedestrian-friendly

It would make the trip another 2 or 3 blocks, but turning left down N.Capitol and looping around on G Pl, G St, and 1st St could get you right near that 1st St entrance.

I've also thought that if it existed, I'd use a bus stop if one existed at the garage entrance. This would kinda accomplish that so it wont be useless.

During rush hour getting to union station and taking the street car or a hypothetical X2 stop from in/outside the garage would still beat getting on the bus at gallery place.

Note: I am not advocating more stops on the X2 just trying to link the utility of this streetcar terminus to thoughts i've had while on the X2. Next time you are on the X2 stopped at the light on the bridge, think how much more useful it would be if the bus just turned into the garage an let you off. Next time you get on at gallery place and the bus takes 5 minutes to load, then goes a hundred feet and stops before crossing a street to let more people on then waits behind a car that wants to turn right down 6th because the car has to wait for 100 pedestrians to cross the street while the light goes from green to yellow to red, think about how awesome it would be to go a couple more stops on the metro and possibly catch up to the bus before yours that just went though the same drill. At the very least it saves you frustration and uncomfortable starts and stops even if you happen to get on the same bus you would have gotten on otherwise just at a different stop.
The streetcar would essentially fill this role even with a non ideal terminus

Karin said...

I am no fan of Gray, but the problems with this were created by the previous administration. They never thought this through before ramming the purchase of the cars and the construction of the tracks through. They always knew they needed an end point and a way to power the cars without wires and refused to address it. The noise that the trins will make going up the hill will be awful for those who can already hear cars and trucks on the bridge and I don't even think it is physically possible with the current bridge. Poor planning DDOT. We brought up the challenges years ago and they just shrugged their shoulders and could care less about them. Waste of everyone's time and money.

Anonymous said...

The new plan is not bad. Does anybody know how much the privately owned tunnel operators wanted for access?

Anonymous said...

"The noise that the trins will make going up the hill will be awful..."

Are you kidding me? It's a bridge over TRAIN TRACKS, leading to a BUS DEPOT. I used to live in Senate Square, and you can already hear cars, trucks, buses, Amtrak trains, MARC trains, VRE trains, and metro trains in that location. The streetcar will not be appreciably louder than all of the noise present already.

Andrew said...

Actually, the streetcar will almost certainly be quieter than buses, trucks, or heavy rail trains.

Streetcars are lightweight, electrically powered, have excellent suspensions, and ride on smooth steel rails.

The tunnel is only about 150 feet away from the northern mezzanine of the Metro Station. Most of the tunnel was built when the station was originally constructed.

Amtrak (a semi-public entity) own the tunnel, and use it for employee parking. If DC wants ownership of the tunnel, it'd have to use eminent domain rights.

It's unclear why or how ownership of the tunnel ended up in Amtrak's hands, given that the tunnel used to carry all traffic on H St prior to the construction of the Hopscotch Bridge. Did DC sell the land and tunnel to PRR or Amtrak way back then?

ebcraft said...

I think the long term question is how can we ensure that Mayor Gray does NOT get elected for a second term! I would love to put an anti-Gray sign in my yard now, but it is a bit early for that. Is there anything the H Street community can do to urge Gray and his backward administration to make the changes necessary to the street car? To a certain extent I feel powerless, Gray just does what he wants or in this case he doesn't do anything at all...

Alan Page said...

Is anyone here interested in working to form a coalition with other transit groups nationally to pressure Amtrak (via email campaigns to congresspersons nationally) to allow the streetcar to utilize the tunnel? It makes no sense to increase the cost of the streetcar project by going over the Hopscotch when Amtrak hasn't laid out how it would be harmed at all from the streetcar's usage of the tunnel.

ps: Is there an independent source where I could confirm the presence of former Amtrak execs in the Gray administration as alleged here?

carbon copy said...

I am a little baffled si50% electorate is white how did Gray still end up winning? Did they not care enough to vote?

ro said...

It's called voter turnout. Go look at the voting stats, particularly the breakdown by precinct in wards 7 and 8 and compare them to the 2008 primary. you will learn everything you need to know as to how Gray got elected and which way his policies have to tilt if he hopes to get reelected.

Anonymous said...

carbon copy, that might be the most racially charged comment I have ever seen in the FT comments. w-o-w.

Alan Page said...

@carbon copy

Kind of sad to see someone promote the concept of racial bloc voting in 2011.

carbon copy said...

Why is it racially charged? We all know what the majority of Fenty's supporters and their demographics were. Would it have been OK if I had called them magenta instead of white? Would it also be wrong to say majority of Obama's supporters are left wing, fuchsia colored liberals?

Anonymous said...

@ carbon copy: Because it furthers the notion that white = a certain mindset, and black = a different mindset. it's not a about skin color, it's about class that is largely correlated with skin color in DC. Seems like splitting hairs, but it's an important distinction.

inked said...

Carbon Copy,
I definitely know whites who voted for Gray, and blacks who voted for Fenty. I don't think it's as clear cut as you seem to think.

MJ said...

Alan, it was me who alleged that Gray's team consisted of former Amtrak execs, specifically Gerri Mason Hall & Lorraine Green.

Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall: Prior to 2006, Gerri Mason Hall worked as Vice President of Business Diversity and Strategic Initiatives for Amtrak, where she worked to design an implement Amtrak’s diversity programs.

Lorraine Green: Lorraine Green, confidant to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), is retiring from her 14-year career as an executive at Amtrak on April 1, but she said she has no plans to join the Gray administration.

Despite her lack of plans to join the Gray administration: Gray nominated her to head the Washington Convention and Sports Authority anyway, but that's on indefinite hold due to the Sulaimon Brown brouhaha.

carbon copy said...

I apologize if inadvertantly made a racially charged comment. It was only an observation reflecting the demographics that clearly divides DC.

Rayful Edmond said...

Tommy Wells for Mayor 2014

nedapha said...

I'm white and I voted for Gray.

Anonymous said...

Nedapha- thank you for your contribution to the city's backtracking into the days of Barry.

I absolutely can't stand Gray and I knew fom the beginning of his campaign that there was a good chance he would win and that he would be a disaster as a mayor. So far he hasn't disappointed - well he has but it was expected.

I'm one of the few Blacks that voted for Fenty (even wrote his name in) and I thought Gray's campaign was a disgrace. The entire campaign was built on race baiting, dividing the city on socio-economic status, and petty issues ("I mean how DARE that Fenty be so arrogant, who cares if he IS trying to create a better public school system so that poor kids can learn to read?!"). The absolute worst was when he had the nerve to stand in front of the city in his first few weeks in office and say that he wanted the theme of his tenure to be "One City" - after he had peronally just spent months driving a wedge between white and black, rich and poor (because you KNOW who uses bike lanes and dog parks wink wink).

nedapha said...

Actually, one major reason I voted for Gray is I strongly disagree with how Fenty/Rhee were proposing to run the school system. Now it turns out that Rhee was a liar and that her brands of reform (demonizing teachers) are counterproductive. As far as wedges, I've seen plenty driven in by pro-Fenty commenters on this blog, so I hardly think that's all on Gray's campaign.

But the election is over, as is Fenty's career in DC. Let's stop bringing this up as an excuse every time changes you want made to the city meet a setback. As the other commenters have noted, the streetcar project has had planning issues dating back before the election.

Anon 2:36 said...

Well it looks like Gray just let Rhee's protege Henderson stay on in that position permanently - and she just fired over 400 teachers so i'm not really sure what you've gained with Gray in office on that front.

To me, there is a BIG difference in blog commenters driving wedges by saying ignorant things than when the CANDIDATE (i.e. our future "leader") is doing it. It would be like me voting for Newt Gingrich. Race baiting from someone who is supposed to lead and be an advocate for the entire city (not just his supporters) is not cool. period.

As I said, I disliked Gray's tactics long before he actually became mayor - streetcar aside.

mister mister said...

Race baiting has been practiced quite openly and considered acceptable and alluding to it is not something out of ordinary. Just as an example, here is an article on NBC that specifically speaks of latino voters.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6280796/ns/politics/t/both-parties-gunning-southwest-jackpot/

Anon 2:36 said...

I dont think that msnbc article is race baiting - its talks about catering to a voting block based on their beliefs and demographics in an attempt to capture their vote.

Wikipedia doesnt have a good definition but to me, race baiting is dropping racially inflammatory comments about a group of people or person in order to play on fear or anger towards that group. Pretty much every reference that Glenn Beck or anyone on FoxNews makes about President Obama would be a good example.

Here are a few others:
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/246302/gingrich-obama-s-kenyan-anti-colonial-worldview-robert-costa

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/28/fox-host-glenn-beck-obama_n_246310.html (this one is particularly entertaining and absurd because Obama's mother is White)

oboe said...

@karin,

They never thought this through before ramming the purchase of the cars and the construction of the tracks through.

Just want to note that--while it's obvious you feel strongly about this issue--it's also pretty clear that you don't know what you're talking about.

The streetcars that the city owns were purchased by the Williams administration for the Anacostia line. That project was always somewhat politically driven.

As far as the streetcar project on H Street goes, you might argue against light rail on H Street (though most folks here will vehemently disagree with you), but given that the plan is to have a cross-town light rail connection running down H Street at some point in the next, say, decade or so, installing the rails as a part of the Great Streets streetscape revitalization of H Street was a complete no-brainer.

So, two points: the streetcars purchased have nothing to do with either H Street, or the Fenty administrations. And secondly, your argument only makes sense if you're opposed to any streetcar on H Street, ever.

Otherwise, you're completely and totally wrong on both the specifics and the generalities.