On Saturday, after nearly a decade of false starts, delays, mismanagement and a comedy of unforced errors, D.C.’s streetcar system is expected to start accepting passengers.
It doesn’t matter how it works out. I hate those streetcars.
In the beginning, I was neutral. The city wants streetcars? Fine. Have at it. But now I have been living with the noise and nonsense of this project since 2009.
I was there when Mayor Vincent Gray stood on H Street Northeast and proudly yapped about the arrival of the cars. I fantasized about letting a jackhammer rip during his speech. (Did you know that you can buy one on eBay for a couple hundred bucks?)
I’ve watched ghost streetcars travel back and forth on H Street, bells blaring, for almost two years — empty except for the drivers. I’ve considered lobbing water balloons at them — the cars, not the conductors. After countless delays, I remain skeptical that any civilian will ever ride one.
Still, on Saturday, city officials will gather to (maybe) inaugurate this project. This is the speech I wish Mayor Muriel Bowser would deliver. . .
“Before I begin to thank ‘stakeholders,’ before I start patting the District’s Department of Transportation on the back for salvaging this terribly mismanaged project, before I start congratulating my team, I would like to apologize to the residents of the city. I will refrain from thanking them for their patience because they did not give it willingly or happily. They had little choice.
“I want to apologize for a project that was delayed and over-budget and lacked hard-and-fast deadlines. I’m sorry for jackhammering the same streets over and over and over. Yes, I know that workers would sometimes pour a new concrete foundation, only to rip it up weeks later. I’m sorry. I apologize that we never made any attempts to mitigate the dust and debris seeping through your windows.
“I’m sorry workers left a cement-curing machine roaring in the street overnight, making it impossible for people to sleep. I’m terribly, terribly sorry for ignoring our own city rules that designate work hours so that we could meet politically imposed deadlines that we ultimately failed to meet.
“I regret that we are so disorganized that we don’t even know how we’re going to collect fares. So we’re going to give you free rides!
“I wasn’t mayor during those early days of the streetcar planning, or when neighbors shared their hopes and dreams (pretty landscaping, a coffee shop!) for the Union Station terminus at a community meeting! But I am sorry that none of those ideas came to pass. I know that what we have created is a truncated streetcar line that is shockingly unattractive in a era when we understand the effect architecture and design have on a community and its people. We had to deal with overzealous regulators, but instead of a thoughtful and considered response, we simply installed multiple layers of mismatched fencing and concrete barriers around the tracks as they cross the H Street bridge. I know that we could have installed something more attractive — concrete planters, for example. I failed you on that.
“I know the streetcar bells are too loud and too plentiful and can be heard from blocks away until the wee hours. I apologize that we have not lowered the volume yet, but I promise that we will.
“I don’t exactly know how we constructed a streetcar system that can’t tolerate leaves or the normal detritus of city streets, but we will stop sending workers with leaf blowers out to clean the tracks in the middle of the night or the pre-dawn hours. I’m so sorry we keep waking people up.
“I’m proud that the promise of the streetcar system sparked development. A lot of wonderful things have happened in this neighborhood. But I still don’t know why we just didn’t increase bus service or extend the Circulator routes. I guess I wasn’t around for that debate.
“This system is not up to this city’s standards. I know that. But I hope people will ride it. And that it will bring some modicum of relief to those folks needing to move from east to west and vice versa down H Street. Yay!”
It will warm my heart to hear her say all of that. But I will still hate the streetcars.