D.C. streetcars: Great concept that will require plenty of oversight, particularly on H Street NE

Robert Thomson
Columnist September 6, 2013

Dear Dr. Gridlock: I have the following thoughts in response to your column on streetcars [Dr. Gridlock, July 28].

There is no way streetcars will be able to share the roadway with buses, private autos, taxis, delivery trucks, bicycles, pedicabs and pedestrians.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

Our gridlock will increase immeasurably. And gruesome accidents will take place in abundance. We have an expensive, and potentially tragic, boondoggle ahead.

Speaking of streetcars, is it a good idea to buy streetcars years in advance and store them unused and likely even untested? You wouldn’t do that with a car. You wouldn’t even do that with a new blender. What kind of intelligent transportation department would make such an expensive purchase so far in advance? What does that say about its judgment in general?

How many miles of streetcars are planned?

We won’t be a city of people. We’ll be a city of streetcars and other transportation devices. And property values in residential sectors will be destroyed.

— Al Wilson, Washington

I’m a streetcar fan, but my faith isn’t blind. There will be some real issues with the first line along H Street and Benning Road NE, and those concerns will be raised anew as the system expands into a network. Wilson raises several of those issues.

With the tracks, their white concrete bed and the yellow warning signs in place, there’s no mistaking the streetcar’s lane. But all that other traffic Wilson lists also could use it. The H Street portion in particular combines commuter traffic with local commercial and entertainment zone traffic.

A recent visit to H Street reminded me that travelers are the same there as elsewhere. Most folks obey the traffic laws they feel compelled to obey. Otherwise, they hate to break their stride. And they’re not always giving full attention to their own safety.

The District Department of Transportation already has a safety campaign underway, and that’s going to intensify this fall as the opening approaches. Various groups of travelers get specific messages.

Here’s one of the messages for bicyclists: “Avoid using H Street NE as a primary cycling route if possible, and use the parallel one-way G and I streets instead.” That’s practical advice, if a bit off-putting.

It’s not just that in a confrontation between a streetcar and a bicycle, the streetcar wins every time. The tracks themselves create an obstacle for cyclists. Wheels can get stuck, so DDOT advises cyclists to cross the tracks at a right angle. Better yet, walk the bike across.

As for cars and trucks, the traffic-enforcement program will need to be quite vigilant to keep the streetcars moving. Police officers and DDOT traffic-control officers must make sure people aren’t double-parked. On the other hand, double parking and stopped delivery trucks are a problem along many commuter routes. Traffic might benefit from an aggressive enforcement program on the streetcar corridor.

Given the uncertainties, it’s a plus that the program has developed slowly. The three streetcars built in the Czech Republic did spend unplanned years in storage, but they are going through lengthy testing at an Anacostia yard, and they’ll get another round of testing once they reach H Street/Benning Road.

The District knows what it’s trying to achieve with the streetcar program, and none of it is far-fetched or out of line with other urban transportation programs. City planners want a surface transit system that will provide people with an alternative to Metro, link neighborhoods and encourage the economic growth of those neighborhoods.

Although there are plans for a 37-mile network, the first priority is building a 22-mile system.
H Street/Benning Road is the
first piece of that.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com.

SECTION: {section=local, subsection=trafficandcommuting}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=local, subsection=trafficandcommuting}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: {allow_comments=true, allow_photos=false, allow_videos=false, comments_period=14, comments_source=washpost.com, default_sort=, default_tab=, display_comments=true, is_ugc_gallery=false, max_items_to_display=15, max_items_to_display_top=3, moderation_required=false, stream_id=}!!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=3, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=15, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments