In the past 30 years or so in the Washington region, there are a handful of transportation mega projects that stand out. The most recent, the H Street/Benning Road streetcar boondoggle, must come to an end, immediately. If D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) pulls the plug on the project, she’ll be saving the city time, money and potentially lives, in what we can all finally admit was a bad idea.
Compared to similar undertakings, a streetcar on H Street now looks exactly like what it is: a slow-moving dinosaur. A Metro station in the heart of Georgetown is more likely to happen before we see an operational streetcar in D.C. The Purple Line will probably be up and running before a streetcar network is a reality across the city. Heck, another bridge across the Potomac River feels like a more productive use of energy at this point.
If you live on or near H Street, you know the situation is laughable. “Coming soon” signs are all up and down the strip. Meanwhile, the curbside stops created for the line have made for lovely new elevated park benches. With warmer weather coming, I expect those will become a lot more popular. As for Bowser, putting this project out of its misery would be a smart political move. If a transit operation that appeals mainly to smart-growth geeks and nostalgia enthusiasts can’t make it to fruition under three different mayors, it’s time to cut our losses.
It’s actually mind-boggling to think about how incredibly short-sighted this effort was. Running streetcars alongside cars in an outside lane, on one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city? You don’t need to be a planning expert to see that going awry.
Even the idea of an extended streetcar network, which might have been a smart call at one point– and may still be if properly executed– was based on a straw man concern. Traffic in downtown D.C. is not that much of a problem. Sure, parking is tough, but the real issues are on the Beltway and in the suburbs. The need was simply never there.
More unfortunately for the neighborhood though, is the fact that these things are still running at all. With no opening date in sight, streetcars are needlessly gumming up traffic in the name of testing.
The concern about the overall livability of H Street is a larger issue. While we wait for luxury apartment buildings and grocery stores to be built, there are still lots of empty storefronts. There’s no chicken/egg factor here. Plenty of people already live along the corridor, but very few things are open during the day. It’s a frustrating situation. The area is walkable enough as is, so a transit plan trying to turn it into more of a tourist trap and nightlife district is misguided.
Increase the number of X2 buses, maybe create a Circulator line to run from Gallery Place to the old Hechinger Mall, but please, end this charade of a streetcar project. Take the streetcars off the road, pack them up and send them to Arlington, where they actually made more sense, even though the county killed that project.
There was a time when the ding of that bell signaled a feeling of hope. Now, it sounds like a death knell.