The D.C. department of transportation is paving over the old streetcar tracks on M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Georgetown, bringing relief to cyclists and motorist and chagrin to neighborhood resident.
Only short stretches an O and P Street NW remain of the electric trolley system that was the pride of Washington when it opened in 1899.
Most of the 170 miles of rails were removed or covered over with asphalt soon after the last streetcar ran on a cold January morning in 1962. But delays have occured in Georgetown as citizen groups have fought to retain the old tracks which are set in stone block road beds.
Georgetown residents believe the tracks add "history and charm" to the area, say James Clark of the city department of transportation's office of policy and planning.
"We agree and are willing to let the tracks remain on O and P Street forever," he said.
However, Clark added, the rails and rough stone surface have posed serious hazards to motorists and bikers (a fact Georgetowners vainly hoped would reduce traffic there) and therefore most have had to go.
Polly Shackelton, a City Council member who lives in Georgetown, says she would like to see trolley service restored in the area. "I realize the tracks are a danger, but I think it would add something to the Georgetown scene and would be one way of eliminating cars."
Shoppers and visitors could come in from Metro stops, like Washington Circle, by trolley, she said.
Clark pointed out that by the end of the year the city is planning to conduct a study on Georgetown's traffic patterns and the impact of Metro on the area. He said the restoration of streetcar service will be considered as a means of relieving traffic congestion and overburdened parking facilities.
"The asphalt being used to cover the tracks is easy to strip off," Clark said, in the event trolleys come back.
Streetcars were the major means of public transport in Washington for a century. In 1862 the first horsedrawn streetcars made their way at four miles an hour along wooden and iron tracks from Capitol Hill to the Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
A steampowered system came in a few years later, but a fire in 1897 at the cable house (now the site of the District Building) shut down operations, making way for electric trolleys.
In one of the District's early beautification efforts, officials decided to bury cables underground along all the lines which went to places like Glen Echo, the Eckington freight years and Rock Creek Park. Washington was the first city to use this type of "conduit" installation.
Because repair work is being done on gas lines as well as the road surface, a spokesman said commuters and bikers won't find smooth passage on the M Street Pennsylvanis Avenue corridor until fall.