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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Street Car Delayed...Again

Streetcar by Franco Folini
Streetcar, a photo by Franco Folini on Flickr
Yesterday brought unsurprising news that the H Street Streetcar will face further delays. Part of the delay comes from an effort to have Spingarn (the future site of the carbarn) designated as historic. It should be noted that the group pushing the historic designation maintains that the timing is merely coincidental, and the petition is unrelated to the streetcar barn. Frankly, I think calling that claim specious would give it greater credulity than it deserves. I'm all for making sure the carbarn is constructed with an eye to matching the architecture of Spingarn (which is a pretty attractive building). I am, however, annoyed by further delays. We could be looking at anything from 90 days (if the petition fails) to several months (if the petition succeeds). At any rate, we can no longer anticipate streetcars up and running by late 2013. It's definitely going to be sometime in 2014.

Here's a Storify piece (from ) capturing Twitter responses to yesterday's hearing on the Streetcar Amendment Act of 2012.

Here's coverage from the Washington Post's Mike DeBonis. Greater Greater Washington digs deeper and explores a history of streetcar planning missteps. DCist discusses the possibility of running historic streetcars along our tracks.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought about the effect of overhead electrical lines on people? If the streetcars will be powered by overhead lines how will the electrostatic field effect my family, H street NE customers, H street children? Were safer alternatives considered?

monkeyrotica said...

Because overhead streetcar wires haven't been around for over a hundred years.

poo poo said...

i have the same concern about the electrical fields that surround me in my house. plus, i'm pretty sure my bedroom light has a leak, and is dripping electricity on to my brain which isn't helping matters.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely going to be 2014 at the EARLIEST.

I am an H Street homeowner and have been a huge supporter of the streetcar program, but this effort has become, to put it mildly, a steaming pile of horse crap.

For nearly a year it has been painfully obvious that DDOT was nowhere near making their new schedule for streetcar rollout in late 2013. Any 90-day delay by this effort is secondary to a larger delay that is surely to occur because DDOT has NOTHING in order and no realistic work plan to move from where they are now to streetcar running in 2013. The idea that they would have somehow been able to build the car barn, the union station turnaround, and the substations in a year's time is absolutely laughable.

I am not affiliated with the Kingman Park effort, but the Springarn carbarn is a half-assed visual disaster, plopped in front of the only really picturesque building on Benning Road. There are acres upon acres of land in the RFK parking lot that could be used if there were not so much inter-agency red tape.

It is hard for me to see how the streetcars would be running in even two years. DDOT has proven completely incompetent at every turn. This was a great, progressive idea that has become an absolute boondoggle (and I used to scoff when people said that).

This effort has been a miserable failure. We should admit it, we should all be outraged that DDOT has mishandled this so badly, and there should be some sort of real plan for bringing this thing to fruition or killing it.

I'm sick of the insipid streetcar tweets promising obviously unrealistic deadlines, followed by the inevitable backpeddling and now blaming residents for opposing a half-baked idea for a building that could be mistaken for a car wash.

Get it together, DDOT. Apologize for how this has been mishandled, find some real leadership, stop hiding behind the releases of minor progress, present a full and detailed work plan, and allow citizens to track it at least monthly like we could for the Great Streets initiative. Anything less is further smoke and mirrors in an attempt to hide obvious institutional incompetency.

/end rant

Anonymous said...

Agree 100% w/ 2:04pm. I brought in the area several years before the streetcar tracks were laid, and looked forward to the streetcar.

BUT- I have to admit that DC's mismanagement of the projuect raises serious doubts. There probably are better places than the proposed Springarn school site (further down Benning near Pepco, etc.). They didn't bother working with Union Station on the terminus and connection to Metro. They bought the darn streetcars so early that are approaching 10 years old. They don't know how they'll power them (and don't seem to have investigated in-ground power as a solution, but that's out now that the tracks are laid in concrete). The concrete on H St around the tracks was supposed to be tinted to match the asphalt around it, but they couldn't even hold the contractor to that. The tracks change lanes abruptly in the middle of the street. So much fail.

Seriously, stop work. Get some smart people together to work out a realistic plan that doesn't take shortcuts and get it done right.

Or, we can all just keep using the D8, X1, X2, X3, bikeshare, Uber, etc.

Robby Mann-Thompson said...

While I understand the blogger and some others are annoyed, I think that in time cooler, more pragmatic, and more rational heads will prevail. The process is the process, and I'm actually thankful for Ward 7 for taking the lead here, because by and large that Ward 5 community wasn’t really in a position to do so. It’s also not completely out of the ball part that a site between two historic sites which also has historic value should be nominated. Should the nomination be approved the city would have to take additional measures. Such is life. I frankly would like to see a deeper conversation about the building’s placement and look. These are conversations the EOM and DDOT have not publically had and a decent airing would be a good thing.

The EOM and DDOT did a very poor job engaging the neighboring communities. However, this isn't really about neighborhood, class, race, or pro or anti street car warfare, it's about failed communications, but I am familiar enough with the politics about this and the subtext of class and race surrounding this topic to be concerned. I don’t like the set up so far. It’s becoming, they are blocking our street car, where clearly the they are black people from those neighborhoods, and our are the white people along the H street corridor. While never explicitly said, it’s there. Is it accurate, not in the least. What happened here is a failure of communication, and it's the same problem that plagued the Fenty administration. From a business and a project management perspective, there are several ways this project could have been completed long before now.

This latest delay is what it is, and frankly, so what. The entire track span is currently served by busses, no one is actually stranded. As a property owner near the line, I too see the value of the street car, but I’m willing to wait to do it right, instead of having a quick structural eyesore like Hechinger Mall, Delta Towers, or the Penticle. We owe it ourselves to do this right, as we will be living with the infrastructure for years.

Robert Moses said...

“What we’re doing now is taking a step back and doing it the right way — doing the hard planning, doing the environmental work and doing the community outreach.”

Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

"Stop the overhead wires NOW!"

curmudgeon said...

Anon 2:04pm -- What prevents land in the RFK parking lots from being used is *not* "so much inter-agency red tape." That's just dead wrong.

What prevents land in the RFK parking lots from being used is that the land isn't owned by DC. The land is Federal land, which by an act of Congress the District is allowed to use for a stadium and its related facilities, and *only* for that use (yes, that means when RFK is torn down, the land is no longer under the administration of the District).

In other words, if the District wanted to build a car barn on the north end of Lot 7, it would require an actual Act of Congress to make that possible.

Anonymous said...

@ curmudgeon-- explain it however you want. There is an unused asphalt hellscape that would be perfect for the streetcar barn, but cannot be used because different agencies/actors at the local and federal level say it cannot be done simply "because it cannot be done." This is red tape- specifically red tape cordoning off this area and saying NOT HERE! for no good reason.

Leadership gets impossible stuff done, and it is sorely lacking at DDOT.

Anonymous said...

Can we start a protest? That is of the street car delay, not Robby? I wouldn't want to inflate his desperation for intellectual acceptance.

Anonymous said...

I've never understood the arguments that a streetcar better serves H Street than the X2 does. If there are problems with the X2, work on improving them. And sorry Robby, but not everyone who opposes the street car is black. I'm white and live a block from H and am happy to ride the X2 every day.

Anonymous said...

What a debacle this street car line has been. Just goes to show you how dysfunctional DC is. They should have had all these plans worked out before they even started laying the rails for this thing. The rails have been place for over a year now and there has been ZERO progress since. DC's plan for this thing was, we'll figure it out as we go along. I hope the rest of the city takes this as a model and realizes how stupid it would be to put in the rest of the street car lines throughout the city. It would be 2080 before they were in place knowing how DC functions.

Anonymous said...

Who can we complain to about this? Vincent Grey, Tommy Wells, DDOT? This whole thing is a joke. It is the most poorly run city project I have ever seen. No plan whatsoever. Just figure it out as they go along. People and businesses who invested in this area are sick and tired of waiting around for this thing to get put in.

Jody H Street said...

If the tracks continued past Union Station and into Chinatown, there would be buy-in from a community that mattered (unlike our own) and this project would move full speed ahead.

Robby Mann-Thompson said...

Anon 4:58:00 PM - I have no idea what you're talking about.

Anon 5:13:00 - Please reread what I wrote, I believe I ended that with "Is it accurate, not in the least." So I think we actually agree.

Dave B said...

vincent gray loves this shit. he gets to let other people kill the streetcar for him

curmudgeon said...

Anon 2:04/4:15 -- I'm sorry, but you're still wrong. As mentioned, the land is Federal land and by Federal law is not allowed for any use other than a stadium and its support. Building anything else on the land would require an act of Congress; and Congress isn't going to do that act anymore than they're going to let the car barn be built on the grounds of the Capitol, because the Federal Government has some ideas about what they want to do with that land when RFK is no more. To describe that impediment as "red tape" or "can't be done because people are saying 'it can't be done'" or "a failure in leadership" is just really, really bizarre.

Robby Mann-Thompson said...

curmudgeon, agreed, but they could have made a show of asking. In the end if the barn is built there it needs to look more like the schools there and not a big box store.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:13 PM -- I agree with you 100 percent. I'm a white guy, I ride my bicycle or the bus to get around this city and both work fine. Metro has introduced the X9 as an express option and could probably introduce a service that is even more express (with fewer stops). I like streetcars and public transit systems, but I don't see the need for one as currently implemented on H Street.

Anon 7:15 PM -- thanks for making it clear (to most) about the federal government ownership of RFK land. Giving that land to DDOT for a project that has been mishandled isn't - and shouldn't be - a priority of the Congress. There are also opportunity costs associated with the RFK land, so using it for a car barn precludes it from being used for other purposes in the future, as you pointed out.

Robby - Like Anon 5:13, I also found your race comment offensive, off-base and unnecessary. At very best it was a confusing statement and at worst it came across as race-baiting. I may be naive, but I don't think the streetcar delays have been set up as a racial issue at all. I think most (maybe all) people understand that this was a case of poor planning and poor implementation of a relatively simple transit project. Buying cars from the Czech Republic before determining whether the bridges could support them or how they would be powered? Putting in tracks before securing the full right of way? Seriously? People see this as a DDOT issue and not a race issue. The car barn location or aesthetics should have been sorted out before tracks were laid.

At this point, I would be in favor of DDOT ripping out the tracks and selling the streetcars on eBay, or leaving this as Washington's newest monument - a monument of epic failures in public works! Hey that's an idea for an H Street t-shirt....

Anonymous said...

So the Columbia Pike streetcar in VA is set to start service in 2017. Bets as to whether or not it beats the H St line?

Sarah Palin said...

A tinfoil hat will protect you from overhead wires.

Anonymous said...

ANON 5:21 - You can complain to DDOT. Terry Bellamy, the permanent Director of DDOT (appointed by Gray). Mr. Bellamy has been criticized by the City Council for canceling plans for bike lanes on L & M Streets NW and has recently been criticized for not being able to present a plan for the DC streetcar project. He seems to be in way over his head at DDOT, or else the Mayor has put pressure on him to keep this a city for car drivers so that they can capture revenue in parking and fines.

http://dc.gov/DC/DDOT/About+DDOT/Who+We+Are/Director's+Biography/Terry+Bellamy

Anonymous said...

What is the rush with the street car. The X2 services those on a budget just fine....

Anonymous said...

The transcontinental railroad was built between 1863 and 1869 and connected the east coast of the US to the west coast. What is this, like a mile? What's the hold up?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:24 -- Re: your comparison to the Transcontinental Railroad and asking what the holdup is . . .The inability to take land and use it without asking? And when construction time comes, the inability to use enormous amounts of poor blacks, and Chinese and Irish immigrants, under virtual slave labor conditions?


Anonymous said...

Anon 2:59: nothing wrong with any of those things.....

Anonymous said...

Funny how Robby was against the community holding 7-11 responsible for its trash on H Street, but seems fully behind this effort to block the car barn. I can only conclude that he actually lives much closer to Spingarn and wants to influence what happens in his neighborhood -- so long as no one else gets the same opportunity. Robby, you are define the word NIMBY.

Anonymous said...

7-11 is licensed and zoned appropriately, and fits with the existing uses of that area.

The proposed streetcar maintenance facility is a light industrial use placed on an area zoned for education. To get around it, the city's saying they'll offer an education program.

Anonymous said...

It would be much more productive of everyone to voice your opinions to your ANC member, council person, community meetings, etc, rather than on a blog...

Anonymous said...

Actually, that's not true. It's been raised to the Councilmember, ANC, etc.

pat said...

I ilve near 25th and Benning, so, yeah, I'm right there.
I bought because of the Trolley project and I want to see it happen, but I want to see it done right.

Springarn like the RFK parking lots are wide open prospective new developements, and it makes very little sense to make them into industrial facilities. Go a mile down to the Trash Transfer site, you provide service within a quarter mile of the Orange line station and can easily put a pedestrian bridge between the two systems.

Robby Mann-Thompson said...

Anon Oct 10, 2012 9:25:00 PM I would invite you again to read what I wrote. It's not race baiting, but to ignore the subtext is irresponsible. Class and race are ugly topics, but they are present here. Clearly saying that isn't race baiting.


Anon Oct 11, 2012 3:29:00 PM I think you are seeking to pick a fight of some sort, so I'm going to pretty much ignore what you wrote save for saying the following.

I don't actually think we need the street car, however we are in this so deep we should finish it.

Anonymous said...

This is Mayor Gray's backdoor way of terminating the street car - death by a thousand delays. Don't be fooled.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea: let's terminate Mayor Gray instead. Or perhaps the feds will do that for us, since DC voters don't seem to have the since not to vote corrupt creeps into office.

Anonymous said...

sense, that is...

Alan Page said...

We have already sunk millions into the streetcar. I can't imagine DDOT not completing the project at this juncture, so I'm confused by people presenting that as an option.

My main question is, could H Street get Circulator service at the already constructed streetcar stops in the meantime? Despite what two other posters on here have said about X2 service, that bus line is plagued with problems: regularly arriving late, being overcrowded, etc.

Anonymous said...

as a regular X2 rider, i would love an extension of the circulator bus down H from union station as a way to relieve the X2 crowding and general ick factor i deal with on that line but it seems that the circulator is designed for tourists and the crowd who normally do not ride the "real" bus lines.