Join the Wisconsin Ave. Streetcar Coalition

Care of a comment to a Morning Metropolitan, GM became aware of the Wisconsin Ave. Streetcar Coalition. It’s a group of Wisconsin Ave.-based residents and others in the Washington area who support sustainable development and transportation. Their goal is to convince DDOT to make firmer plans to bring a streetcar to Wisconsin Ave.

Little background: Last fall DDOT announced an ambitious plan to bring streetcar lines all over the city.

As you can see, for Georgetown DDOT is planning a line that goes down K St. all the way passed Union Station, out on H St. NE to Benning Rd. What you also see in DDOT’s plans for Georgetown is a gray arrow heading up Wisconsin Ave. This is labeled a possible future route. That characterization is what the Wisconsin Ave. Streetcar Coalition would like to change. They would like it to be more firmly included in the initial plans.

GM would love to see streetcars head up Wisconsin Ave. and replicate the original 32 streetcar line that once traversed the whole city the way the 32 bus series does now.This is a heavily used bus line and Wisconsin Ave. has a string of vibrant yet transit-starved districts. A streetcar would induce way more people to leave the car at home (or not buy a car in the first place) than a bus can.

Yes, the majority of even the planned lines are more pie-in-the-sky than imminent, but the sooner that gray line turns into a colored line, the more likely we’ll see streetcars on Wisconsin Ave.

So join the Wisconsin Streetcar Coalition today on Facebook or contact its organizer Ben Thielen at benthielen (at) yahoo (dot) com to show your support.

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54 Comments

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54 responses to “Join the Wisconsin Ave. Streetcar Coalition

  1. L.

    This is an idea whose time cannot come soon enough. Connecting Georgetown to downtown and uptown with a fixed-transit solution would be good for the residents and business in the neighborhood.

  2. Ben

    L. , thank you for your support. A Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar will also provide relief for the consistent issue of parking in Georgetown and will provide a connection with the Tenley metro station and perhaps the Friendship Heights metro stations. By providing an alternative from going from Rosslyn to Metro Center for metrorail passengers heading to destinations on CT and Wisc Ave., this investment will also provide much needed capacity-relief on the Orange/Blue lines.

  3. Kate Whitmore

    I would love to see the streetcars return to Wisconsin Avenue but wonder how they will fare if they have to sit in the same traffic with the rest of the buses and cars. In Europe you frequently find dedicated bus/tram lanes. Then the streetcars (and buses) would sail by the bottlenecked cars and trucks and traffic would flow again. But you would have to eliminate parking on Wisconsin Avenue to create the two new dedicated lanes.

  4. GM

    Kate, those are some good questions. I agree that a dedicated lane would be the best option. In fact DDOT has plans on its books to create a bus-lane on Wisconsin and M (the Wisconsin one would be southbound-only and the M St. one would be westbound-only, in other words it will speed buses through the M and Wisconsin intersection.) A streetcar would be able to use these lanes too.

    This would come at a cost of some parking. While that parking is highly visible, it’s not really material to the overall number of parking spots in Georgetown.

    As for areas where a dedicated lane is not possible, it’s worth noting that streetcar lines in cities like Portland, OR succeed very well even without dedicated lanes.

    The best thing for Georgetown about the overall plans is that we’ll get to take advantage of the K St. transitway, which will provide a dedicated lane from Washington Circle all the way to Mt. Vernon Square.

  5. Ben

    Kate–

    Regarding the alignment, I would have dedicated north-south lanes in the median of Wisconsin Avenue for the streetcars. According to the Wisconsin Avenue Corridor Transportation Study (http://ddot. dc.gov/ddot/ cwp/view, a,1249,q, 618838.asp ):

    “The northern portion of Wisconsin Avenue (from Fessenden Street to Calvert Street ) generally has 60 feet of pavement within a 120 foot right-of-way. The 60 feet of pavement width is currently striped for six lanes, each 10 feet wide.”

    You can maintain two lanes of vehicle traffic in each direction with two dedicated streetcar lanes if you eliminated the curbside parking along this section of Wisconsin Avenue . I would reduce the speed limit to 25 miles per hour (currently 30 mph for most of this corridor) to reduce potential harm to pedestrians on the sidewalk and plant more trees throughout the corridor to create a greater buffer between pedestrians and the curbside lane of vehicle traffic.

    The slower speed limits would also encourage more people to take transit, as the time differential between streetcar and auto is narrowed as the speed limit decreases from 30 to 25 mph. I would also charge higher rates for parking on the streets immediately off Wisconsin Avenue since these streets will have to accommodate the cars that previously parked on the curbside lanes of this street. I would also think that as there is more infill development along this corridor (which a streetcar would encourage), much of the new development would have underground parking. There could be shared-parking arrangements with some of the spots available to the public for $5-$10 per day, such as what exists at CityLine now. Eliminating on-street parking on Wisconsin Avenue would also require a serious commitment to enforcing the Residential Parking Permit zones so neighbors in these communities are not crowded out.

    Some might object to the higher parking charges on the streets immediately off of Wisconsin Avenue but this higher cost of driving would encourage people to take transit and walk instead to local destinations. The addition of a streetcar line on Wisconsin Avenue and the development that would follow would make this corridor immensely more walkable, making it possible to entirely forego a car on local trips. Additionally, performance parking (i.e. charging for parking based on the existing demand for parking—much like we do for every other good or service in our economy). Around the Nationals Stadium, DDOT is earning $75,000 per meter per year because it is charging motorists prices for parking based on the actual demand that exists (http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=4714). This revenue can be used for neighborhood-wide improvements such as bike racks, landscaping, new signs, and even to pay for some of the capital costs of building a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar.

    The streetcar alignment would probably only have a single lane between Calvert AND M Street on Wisconsin Avenue.

  6. Andy

    GM
    I totally support this and think that it would be a huge boon for the communities, businesses and land owners along the route.
    My question is how would the proposed changes to the Wisconsin Ave street layout (very iminent) would affect the likelihood of this ever happening.
    The current plans call for eliminating a lane fo traffic and adding a median on Wisc in Glover Park.
    Clearly this would make laying tracks difficult and prevent the streetcar lines from reaching their capacity and providing their full utility to the community.
    The Wisconsin Streetcar Coalition needs to connect up with the GP community org to make sure that their plans allign.
    It would be a waste of tax payer dollars to redo Wisconsin and then have to do it over when the tracks come, or for this street redo prevent tracks in the future.

  7. I applaud the idea of the return of the streetcars along Wisconsin Avenue, all the way from the Georgetown waterfront up to Bethesda and beyond. But let’s eliminate the gas guzzling busses, trucks and even some automobiles, by making two lanes up and two lanes down and the streetcars in the middle. Delivery trucks have to adhere to strict times, no double parking. Reduce bus routes if not eliminate them altogether. Traffic along Wisconsin Ave. today is strangling all commerce. People don’t want to waste half a day driving up and down the Avenue from Georgetown to upper regions. The streetcars would help, but traffic planning would be the key. Don’t just add streetcars to the existing mix (mess).

  8. Kate Whitmore

    Ben,

    the middle lane option sounds great and would work in some parts of the corridor but not where the street is most narrow (Calvert to M) where we don’t have space now for a left/right turn lane at R Street, for example. For one center streetcar lane to work you need to have space for people to be able to cross traffic and get on and of the streetcars safely, which means some kind of island — space that Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown simply does not have, even if you eliminate street parking. Speed limits of 25 are fine, and I like the idea of trees but not sure where you would be able to plant them where they would survive in that concrete jungle. Anyone remember that majestic elm, which had its own traffic island on M and 28th for so many years?

  9. Jeff

    Can someone please explain how fare collection will work on DC’s streetcars? How will people enter the streetcars and pay for their trips?

  10. Ben

    Jeff- I emailed Jason Broehm with Streetcars 4 DC (http://streetcars4dc.org/) and he said that DDOT hasn’t made a decision yet on the type of payment system. With the stations spaced further apart than the stops on the 30s buses and with higher ridership on a streetcar line, it would be justifiable to have have ‘metro-lite’ stations where shelter, an off-vehicle payment system, and digitally-displayed times indicating when the next vehicle is provided.

  11. Jeff

    Don’t they already know how they’ll be addressing this on the streetcar lines already being built?

  12. East Georgetowner

    I thought the whole point of streetcars is that they have their own lane and thus don’t get stuck in traffic. If the streetcads sit in the same traffic as the buses, what’s the point? Seems like a lot of money to spend for something that does not provide any substantial benefits over the buses. Don’t get me wrong — I would love to see streetcards that have their own lane, which would REALLY incent people to ride them rather than drive, but absent that, as noted, it seems like an expensive bus.

  13. East Georgetowner

    I thought the whole point of streetcars is that they have their own lane and thus don’t get stuck in traffic. If the streetcars sit in the same traffic as the buses, what’s the point? Seems like a lot of money to spend for something that does not provide any substantial benefits over the buses. Don’t get me wrong — I would love to see streetcars that have their own lane, which would REALLY incent people to ride them rather than drive, but absent that, as noted, it seems like an expensive bus.

  14. Cassie

    You’d think they would, Jeff. But they don’t even know how they’re going to power the cars on the H Street line, or where those cars will turn around, or even where they can be stored and maintained. But that hasn’t stopped them from laying track.

    Ready, Fire, Aim!

    I agree with East Georgetowner. Well, actually, I think a streetcar sharing lanes with traffic is significantly worse than a bus (as well as grossly more expensive when you consider the cost for laying track). Fewer seats, fewer stops with greater distance between them, no ability to change lanes to get around obstacles or to change routes without serious capital investments. Still stuck in traffic and probably coming less frequently (because each vehicle holds more people).

    Not a project I want to see extended to Wisconsin Avenue!

  15. Ethan

    Some have posted here that Wisconsin Avenue streetcars won’t have a dedicated lane but would share lanes with cars and other vehicles. Does that mean parking would have to be removed along the avenue? If so, that could be bad for retailers and it may exacerbate parking problems in adjacent neighborhoods.

  16. Heather

    As an economist, I find this discussion interesting. I assume someone has done a detailed analysis of the full long term costs of building and operating streetcars on Wisconsin and has compared that with the cost of purchasing and operating buses over that same period. I haven’t seen those cost comparisons but I’d expect to see the streetcar line to be far, far more costly. With so many crying needs in our city, I doubt the streetcar idea is worth it.

  17. Ben

    Heather- As an investment in a clean mode of transpotation, a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route is an excellent investment for District residents. Streetcars are an excellent capital investment. The lifespan of buses is typically 12-15 years, while streetcars can last 25-40 years. Streetcars also can carry 2 to 3 times as many passengers as buses, reducing the need to hire as many drivers, with their salaries, pensions, and health care expenses. Additionally, a strretcar route will encourage new economic development along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. Portland’s streetcar route has resulted in $2.5B-$6B in new development along thr route. A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar will strongly new residential, retail, and other businesses along Wisconsin Avenue. This will bring the District new jobs, sales tax, and income tax.

  18. Ben

    Even if the curbside parking from Calvert to M Street is eliminated, overall mobility is likely to improve with a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar. Each block might have 8-10 curbside spots, while the capacity of each of the Skoda vehicles can hold 157 passengers. Additionally, streetcars lack the stigma of buses. You will get a lot of new riders on this streetcar route who wouldn’t ride a bus. As these new riders get out of their cars and choose transit, mobility will improve for both the streetcar passengers and the remaining drivers, as the marginal congestion for each of riders now opting for the streetcar is reduced.

  19. Heather

    Ben, this is not the sort of detailed economic analysis I have in mind. I don’t expect any layperson to have such an analysis at their fingertips but I certainly do expect the policymakers who are considering a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar line to have it.

    Again, I want to know the total long term costs of constructing and operating a streetcar line on Wisconsin Avenue and see how those costs stack up against the costs of purchasing and operating a bus line along the same route. I would expect to see the streetcar line cost to exceed a bus system by multiples (e.g., 2X, 4X, ???)– even after accounting for the personnel, their pensions and health care, etc.

    Once we have that information, we can then weigh other factors, such as impacts on development. On the spin-off development issue, there might be limits on how this will materialize in Georgetown, which may have building restrictions, perhaps for historic reasons, that limit development.

    We’d also have to weigh such things as the loss of parking spaces along Wisconsin Avenue, the shifing of that parking to nearby residential neighborhoods, the extra distance streetcar passengers would have to walk to get to street stops (versus to closely-spaced bus stops), the reduced frequency of streetcar service, the loss of seatingon streetcars, etc. All of these strike me as additional reasons not to support streetcars on Wisconsin Avenue.

    And finally, I’d want to know the cost of moving or rerouting streetcar service versus moving or rerouting a bus route. Here again, I’d expect the streetcar cost to exceed that of buses by several multiples.

    I don’t have these numbers and I don’t expect you to unless you work in the transportation planning field. But I hope someone can show me and others where to find the sort of detailed analysis I’m seeking.

    I’m looking for a lot more than pretty pictures and unsupported theory on cost savings.

  20. Sue

    Heather — I whole-heartedly agree. I’ve been looking for some of these stats and here’s what I’ve found thus far.

    DDOT is estimating $40 million+ a mile for capital costs. Presumably, capital includes track, power, and storage facility (each line needs its own vs. bus yards which can serve multiple lines). By contrast, route changes for bus lines seem to involve minimal costs (signage, planning).

    The first 3 streetcars DDOT bought cost $10 million a few years back (as part of a larger order Portland was making). I think WMATA’s recent bus purchases have cost in the $800,000-$850,000 range. The streetcars have fewer seats but greater capacity than the buses (140 total/30 seats vs. 80 total/40 seats) and are said to last twice as long.

    I think that another cost we need to look at is administrative, given that CM Graham has introduced legislation that would create a new agency to manage the streetcars/Circulator bus.es Is DC preparing to shoulder transit burdens that WMATA is currently carrying (e.g. the 30s bus series)?

    It’s also worth noting that DDOT seems to be pitching this project more as a real estate development initiative than a transit project. And that a Wisconsin Avenue line didn’t make DDOT’s cut for the first 8 routes (to be developed, if funding is available, over the next decade at a capital cost of $1.5 billion). The 2005 Transit Alternative Analysis which played a factor in route selection looked at employment centers in the city that were relatively inaccessible (commutes of > 1/2 hour) to most DC neighborhoods. Wisconsin Avenue was a relatively low priority on that list, nor is it a location where the economic development impacts are likely to be great (not only because of the historic district, as you point 0ut, but also because it’s already highly developed compared to the other areas being looked at and because Tenleytown and Friendship Heights, by virtue of their Metrorail stations, have already reaped the investment boost that rail provides.)

    What I see is a huge investment ($190 million — if we extrapolate from the stats DDOT has provided 4.5 miles $ 40 million/per + 10 million for 3 streetcars (which would seem like a minimum). And this doesn’t include land acquisition costs which seem likely in the absence of a city-owned parcel at either end of the route where the storage facility/turnaround area could be built.

    What would we get in return? Fewer seats, less frequent service, longer walks to and from stops, and a major loss of flexibility both at the micro (lane changes to avoid obstacles, temporary detours to accomodate road/utilities work (which happened on the line just yesterday) and macro level (route changes).

    From both an economic and a transit perspective, a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar is a really bad idea. I think even DDOT recognized that — which is why it didn’t propose such a route.

  21. Ben

    Sue- Wisconsin Avenue, has not by far, realized its investment potential from metrorail– unless you are content with rubble heaps, mattress stores, and 1-story fast food restaurants right next to a metro station. There are approximately two dozen parcels along Wisconsin Avenue that are either vacant, unimproved parcels, or surface parking lots. A Wisconsin Avenue streetcar will be a strong encouragement (since, as you note) this route would be a permanent infrastructure investment. New high-quality infill development will bring new residents to these neighborhoods, new retail, and more jobs. Most people, I assume, would gladly welcome this new sales and income tax rather than the Ashburn-style development you advocate for. Additionally, many neighborhoods such as Glover Park are easily 30 minute walks/bus rides from metrorail stations. A streetcar will definitely increase the connectivity for this more isolated part of DC.

  22. Heather

    Ben, I’d like to see if you have or can point me to (or if anyone else has or can point me to) more detailed information about the streetcar line versus bus line costs for Wisconsin Avenue. I found Sue’s post the most informative so far on these costs and they don’t seem to favor streetcars.

    I did not read Sue’s comment as advocating for Ashburn-style development, as you call it. When I picture Ashburn, I picture large single family homes on large open lots with many trees, very few apartment or condo buildings, very little mass transit, long distances to shops, and reliance on autos to make virtually all purchases, to get to all schools, houses of worship, government offices, etc. This is a far cry from what we currently have on and near Wisconsin Avenue from Georgtown to the Maryland border and beyond.

    As for Glover Park’s connectivity to Metrorail and downtown, we have that already with the 30 series bus lines. You need to justify the enormous expense of streetcars and explain why that expense couldn’t be better used for buses, public schools, recreation centers, housing for the homeless, drug treatment for addicts, etc.

  23. William

    One would have to look at Sue H’s posts on the Tenleytown neighborhood group, DC Urban Mud and other forums to discern her advocacy against anything resembling new development in her neighborhood, Friendship Heights.

    She also lambasts people like Ben who poke their noses into other neighborhoods, so I am surprised to see her posting in a Georgetown forum. However, i suppose the hypocracy of her positions in substance mirror her positions on such trivial matters.

    A streetcar addition on Wisconsin Avenue ties Georgetown and Glover Park into both the downtown and uptown neighborhoods in a meaningful way. It is something that we should all be asking DDOT to study, not for this first phase, but for a long term sustainable transportation option for residents on the west side of the District.

  24. Sue

    No hypocrisy on my part. I’ve been urban and car-free by choice my entire adult life (30 some years now, with a fairly typical range of changing circumstances — different jobs, marriage, kid, eldercare issues). Never owned a car or even had a driver’s license. Never been to Ashburn — nothing about it appeals to me. The “new development” I opposed in my neighborhood was a deal that would have deprived our local elementary school of its playing field and set back the already long-delayed and fully-funded reconstruction of our branch library by another 2-3 years. I don’t think that the way to attract more people to transit-rich neighborhoods is to provide them with substandard public facilities. Clearly, that’s a controversial position!

    At any rate, because I’m reliant on public transportation, I want to see our transit $$ spent wisely. Spending a couple hundred million dollars for a streetcar route that leaves us worse off than we are now with the 30s buses strikes me as really stupid. I’d much rather see us continue to invest in greener buses and to add more (or, if feasible, longer) buses during rush hour along these routes.

    Along Wisconsin Avenue, I see streetcars as an investment in inflexibility in an area where flexibility is crucial. I ride the 30s buses all the time and, especially in Georgetown, lane changes are crucial to get around frequent curbside obstructions. Further up Wisconsin, we have lanes that are parking during most of the day but become traffic lanes during rush hour. That’s probably not feasible with a streetcar system.

    The alleged advantages of inflexibility are for real estate development — not transit. But even if you accept Ben’s estimate that there are two dozen vacant lots along Wisconsin Avenue, that’s out of 500+ lots (e.g. 5%) which is a natural rate of churn. (Actually, I think that the number of vacancies is even smaller — if you throw out things like cemeteries and treat adjacent lots with the same owner are one parcel rather than several). This is not an area that has any difficulty attracting investment. And adding a redundant and less efficient transit connection isn’t going to make it more attractive to investors. The effect that a streetcar line has on transforming an old warehouse district in Portland isn’t an indicator of what effect it will have on the already highly and expensively developed neighborhoods along Wisconsin Avenue.

    I believe that the Tenleytown listserv is readable by non-members. The recent streetcar thread is here:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tenleytown/message/16540. You’ll see the same pattern of advocacy there (switch to ad hominem attacks to deflect attention from the economic and logistical problems with this project) that is being engaged in here.

  25. William

    Sue,

    Surely you are not going to limit your opposition to development to the Public Private Partnership at the Janney school?

  26. Ben

    Sue-

    If I remember correctly, in addition to the Tenley Public-private partnership, you also opposed the Akridge development (5220 Wisconsin Avenue), the Maxxim Condos, and this is a bit if a reach for you since you live in Friendship Heights but you got involved in the governance of Cleveland Park and were also outspoken against modernizing the Giant supermarket and providing new housing and retail in this very expensive section of DC.

    According to the DC Transit Alternatives Analysis you quote from, this is from page 2-2:

    “As shown in Figure 2-1, the areas in the District of Columbia that are expected to experience the greatest population increases over the next 30 years are:

    “West of Wisconsin Avene NW and Massachusetts Avenue NW in Glover Park and Cathedral Heights.”

    Clearly, then the Wisconsin Avenue corridor is far from built out and new transit infrastructure that will get people out of their cars is necessary. With this growth, we can count on 45 minute trips to the local metro stations without a streetcar, whether it is the D2 to Dupont or the 30s buses to Foggy Bottom.

  27. Ben

    This argument was made in the Jan. 2010 issue of the Glover Park Gazette against a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar:

    “If we are isolated, let’s stay that way, with a “country” and neighborhood atmosphere in the city. This isolation, if anything, makes us safer by
    keeping crime at bay. ”

    Putting aside, for a minute, a similar argument was made against a metro stop in Georgetown a generation ago, how can the service on the 30s buses be so desirable and adequate yet this neighborhood is praised as isolated by other opponents of a streetcar? Which one is it? Inferior bus service compared to transit options or is Glover Park really isolated?

  28. Ben

    Sue/Ethan/Heather, et al. —

    One wonders whether any of you actually read the DC Transit Alternatives study. Table 2.1 on page 2-11 has a nice comparison of the number and percentage of late arrivals of selected metrobus routes. Note, the much touted 30s buses (eastbound) is number THREE for the percentage of trips that were more than 5 minutes late. This does not seem like excellent, reliable, bus service to me. Also note at the bottom of the same page, Georgetown and ‘Far West DC’ are two of the areas that are significantly underserved by transit. Of course, a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar route would go far in remedying this.

  29. Sue

    If the problem is that Georgetown and Far West DC are underserved by transit, you don’t solve it by spending $190 million to duplicate the existing Wisconsin Avenue bus line with a streetcar. That doesn’t increase connectivity. By contrast, increasing the frequency of bus service along MacArthur (and Massachusetts?) and adding routes (an east-west route (e.g. along Western) and/or another north-south trajectory that is west of Wisconsin Avenue) would make a big difference.

    If the problem is late buses, you don’t solve it by creating a situation where buses can’t change lanes on a part of the route already prone to bottlenecks. If dedicated lanes plus signal priority along Wisconsin Avenue north of Calvert are the solution, then you don’t need streetcars — and the massive capital investment they require — to implement that policy. You can do it much more cheaply with buses and you have the flexibility to experiment. (e.g. is the answer more frequent service? shorter routes? alternating stops? different points of departure (or paths through downtown)?

    I’m all for spending money to improve public transit to Georgetown and Palisades. What I’m opposed to is spending massive amounts of money on a transit option – e.g. a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar — that WON’T improve transit access.

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  32. Heather

    Ben, whether Sue has opposed or supported development proposals along Wisconsin Avenue is not the sort of economic analysis I’m looking for. For purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that Sue has opposed all development proposals. I apologize to Sue if this assumption is not correct, but it is irrelevant for purposes of my inquiry.

    I am seeking the best cost data available so I and others can make an apples-to-apples comparison of streetcar service on Wisconsin to bus service. Thus far, only Sue has offered any information on this issue. If you or others can point me to reliable information, please do so.

    I hope we can all agree that streetcars would cost a lot of money and we should know those costs and how they compare with buses before we make the commitment.

  33. Ben

    Heather–

    What I did see in the DC Transit Alternatives Study is that the rapid bus so highly touted by you and Sue is limited stop service. You and others argue against a streetcar by saying it will have fewer stops -reducing service quality- yet this is exactly what an alternative to streetcars will have, less frequent stops.

  34. Sue

    Found out a little more about the Portland system. It’s an 8 mile loop (so a bit shorter than a Wisconsin Ave streetcar line would be if it ran all the way from M to Western). Shared lanes and very limited signal priority (apparently only where necessary to allow the buses to make turns).

    There are 10 streetcars in use. Service is every 12-13 minutes midday weekdays, with less frequent service (every 14-20 minutes) before 9:30 am and after 5 pm on weekdays and on weekends. Stops are 3-4 blocks apart. Most of the route is fareless (but you have to say within the large central zone); otherwise there’s an honor system with occasional random inspections. Where imposed, fares are significantly lower than Metrobus — a max of $2 for all day or $100 a year. A 3.3 mile extension is planned at a cost of $128 million (which is in line with WMATA’s $40 million/mile in capital costs estimate).

    Some implications — 3 streetcars for the Wisconsin Avenue line would be grossly inadequate. Looks like we should add at least another 6, which would bring estimated costs for the line up to $210 million (on top of the $1.5 billion DDOT wants for the other 8 lines). The $210 million figure probably does *not* include dedicated lanes (which WMATA hadn’t planned for in most cases and which Portland doesn’t envision).

    We are talking about a system that is less frequent and less convenient than the 30s Metrobuses. In a 14 minute period, now there would be two buses (with 80 seats and a total capacity of 160 riders) vs. one streetcar (30 seats with a total capacity of 140).

    Ridership stats from Portland will be difficult to use for projections here. Their 8 mile loop connects most of Portland’s downtown (including Portland State University) and travel within the downtown area on the streetcar is free. (As of Jan 1st it’s free for rail only and not for bus service, which means that there won’t be any reliable bus/streetcar preference data coming out of Portland from here on out — the comparison will be between whether people prefer to pay for public transit or use free transit).

    It’s interesting that frequency of service decreases during rush hour. Seems unlikely that’s intentional. What it probably means is that streetcars are stuck in traffic. It may also mean that the demographics of ridership skew toward students (free, gets you to campus in time for classes) rather than toward commuters. But that’s just a guess — if anyone’s seen demographic data on ridership, please post a link.

    I also looked for cost data on bus changes. The last 30 series realignments (post-2005 Transit Alternatives study, rendering that performance data obsolete) cost $400,000. A limited stop “express” line was added and a couple of routes were divided into different segments at rush hour.

    FWIW, Ben’s wrong about my position on various development issues/projects and Heather’s right that it’s irrelevant (and, presumably, not a topic of general interest here (which is why I’ve stuck to streetcars in my posts).)

  35. Heather

    Ben, you misunderstand my position. Unlike you, I haven’t made up my mind yet on the Wisconsin Avenue streetcar proposal. I want to evaluate detailed cost comparison analysis. The fact that you haven’t cited any yet leads me to conclude that you either don’t have it or you do have it and it isn’t favorable to your pro-streetcar position.

    So, let me address this to others, please. Can anyone cite me to detailed cost comparison information between streetcars and buses? Also, without attacking Sue for her alleged anti-development stance, are the numbers she has presented here inaccurate? If so, how (and citations, please).

    While my mind is not made up, the more I’ve been reading about streetcars, the more skeptical I’ve become about their utility when measured against their costs, the costs of alternatives, and the use our city could put for these funds in other areas.

  36. William

    Why would one presume there are only 3 streetcars covering the whole line? Can cars be coupled to add capacity?

  37. Michael

    It seems that the argument for streetcars is that the current service levels on the Wisconsin Avenue buses is inadequate.

    Rather than simply increasing the number of buses, and possibly the quality of the fleet, it is suggested that we should spend $190 million installing a streetcar infrastructure whereby one streetcar with 30 seats and 127 standees can replace two buses with a total of 80 seats and at most 80 standees. Streetcars arrive less frequently, since many fewer vehicles serve the route, and passengers on average walk further to the stops, since there are fewer stops. Since streetcars ride on rails, they cannot detour around obstructions, and therefore are likely to be less reliable on our congested streets.

    And with the prospect of fewer seats, less frequent service, less convenient stops and reduced reliability, streetcars are assumed to attract masses of new riders, riders who do not currently find that a seat on the bus fills their transportation needs, to join 126 other passengers standing on the streetcar. This, in turn, somehow brings increased development to Wisconsin Avenue along with increased tax revenues.

    But, the downside to the streetcars isn’t just the initial investment of $190 million, as opposed to a more modest investment in an improved fleet of buses with more frequent bus service, or the speculative nature of its benefits, the streetcar proposal will also require a reconfiguration of the traffic and parking on Wisconsin Avenue, eliminating curbside parking, thereby harming our existing businesses, and eliminating rush hour travel lanes. It also compounds delivery problems for local businesses and the elimination of curbside parking reduces pedestrian safety, especially in the areas with narrow sidewalks, as pedestrians have lost the buffer of parked cars between the sidewalk and the traffic. I noticed that other traffic issues have been raised, and streetcar advocates have not yet explained where the turnaround for the streetcars would be and how fare collection would be done.

  38. Heather

    Sue, do you know whether prior to January 1st, in Portland, buses in the downtown area were also free? If they were, then perhaps some comparison can be made between consumer preferences for streetcars vis-a-vis buses.

    Given our city’s fiscal challenges, I wouldn’t expect to see free streetcar service as in Portland. Does this mean there will have to be people in addition to the streetcar operators to make sure that riders have paid?

  39. Sue

    Yes, buses were free in Fareless Square (now Free Rail Square) prior to January 1, 2010. They’d been that way for 34 years, I think I read.

    I haven’t found comparative data on bus vs. streetcar ridership within Fareless Square, but I’ll keep looking. One reason that TRIMET abandoned farelessness on the buses was that it was a huge hassle to police — drivers apparently had to kick people off if they wouldn’t pay once the bus left the zone.

    I think it would take an additional worker to enforce fare payment in DC. The larger capacity streetcars assume that passengers load simultaneously from multiple entrances — that is, they aren’t all funneled through the front of the bus and past the driver. A friend who has ridden these same cars frequently in Czechoslovakia says that the way they handle it there is undercover enforcement officers and serious fines for being caught without a ticket.

  40. GM

    Sue/”Cassie”, “Jeff”/”Ethan”/”Heather”,
    Sock Puppets won’t be tolerated on this website. Use an anonymous name if you so choose, but don’t change names nor pretend to have expertise you don’t have. If this continues I’ll simply change your commenter name.

    As for your arguments, it is clear to me that all you care about is preventing further development of Tenleytown. You are both huge opponents to any change to that neighborhood and your opposition (or pretended ambivalence) to a streetcar cannot be separated from your NIMBY advocacy.

    Nobody is suggesting we “ready, shoot, aim.” Even if the Wisconsin Ave. route were included in the original plans, it would be years away from construction with plenty of time to re-evaluate the design. We are simply encouraging DDOT to more seriously consider the Wisconsin Ave. route. And we are doing so honestly without engaging in fake conversations full of strawmen.

  41. Tom Quinn

    This absolutism from Sue that streetcars don’t make sense is sort of counter intuitive to any intellectual examination of whether we should build street cars on Wisconsin Avenue or anywhere else.

    I find it hard to believe that so many jurisdictions around the world build, and continue to operate, streetcar lines when they apparently don’t make sense?

    Or Sue is the sole person to figure this out?

    If so there are a lot of transportation officials who would undoubtedly appreciate learning that their citizens would be better served on buses rather than streetcars.

    As usual we are hearing all of the sky is falling worst case reasons why something should not be considered.

    For example Sue (and Michael and others) keep repeating the argument that streetcars will be operating in the same lanes and under the same conditions as regular buses.

    But that is quite frankly very unlikely.

    Almost certainly a Wisconsin Avenue Streetcar line will have a limited number of stops as well as some sort of dedicated right of way in the areas where the stops are actually located. And the streetcar line would almost certainly run in the median of the road and not be subject to the whims of illegally parked drivers and delivery trucks.

    Yes the city would have to work out something with left hand turn movements/queuing and yes some parking spaces would probably be lost in areas around the actual stops. But those are not insurmountable obstacles and frankly don’t even strike me as particularly high ones.

    And the city needs to tackle left turn movements on Wisconsin Avenue anyhow as they effectively turn most of Wisconsin Avenue into one-lane of traffic in each direction now.

    I’ve ridden street cars all over the former Czechoslovakia (and when it was still the CSFR) and can tell you that they are such a significant improvement over riding the bus that most transit dependent citizens will be thrilled with the improvement. And in Prague they easily run the streetcars in areas tighter and more challenging than anything along Wisconsin Avenue.

    Here is a blog entry with some photos and explanations of how it can be done:

    http://www.humantransit.org/2009/09/transit-in-the-fast-lane-the-access-challenge.html#more

    But remember that once this line gets downtown it will almost certainly run on the K Street Transit Way where the streetcars will have a dedicated lane and stops so in the area of the city with the greatest congestion a street car will have a great advantage the bus will not have.

    And the arguments on here about fare collection and the loss of mobility because of fewer stops are silly ones that other areas (including Baltimore) have solved without undermining their viability.

    But the silliest argument is this one that we are spending this money to replace one form of public transit with another equal one.

    We are investing the money to build a faster, cleaner, quieter and more reliable form of transit that also, by the way costs a lot less to operate once it is built and will induce many more people to get out of their cars which will enable us to reduce congestion and parking demand.

    But you don’t have to take my word for it on the operating cost issue – a quick google search turned up the following:

    http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_lrt02.htm

    and this:

    http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_mythlog001.htm

    Of course a big variable is the question of whether more people will turn out to use transit if it is improved – considering the high rates of ridership on metrorail in this region and the hassle of driving and parking in many neighborhoods along Wisconsin Avenue that is a bet I am willing to make.

    But what I don’t understand is the opposition to studying the idea?

    Maybe once engineers take a look at it they discover they can’t trim anytime off the average bus ride and that would then make it clear it would be a waste of money to invest in streetcars in this corridor.

    Or maybe they find they can trim 10 minutes off the amount of time it takes to get from Friendship Heights to Georgetown and that time savings is enough to induce 10000 more rides per day (and the faster operating time also lowers the operating cost as you need fewer rail cars and drivers to operate them).

    I don’t know the answer quite frankly and I doubt anyone else commenting on this proposal here or anywhere else does either.

    So why not look into it??

    And a side note that I am surprised no one else has mentioned – if we are going to build a street car line on Wisconsin Avenue (or Georgia Avenue for that matter) it makes no sense for the streetcar line to stop at the District border. In the case of Wisconsin Avenue the line should at least reach out to the NIH campus running through downtown Bethesda and linking up with the purple line there.

  42. Any city I’ve visited that had streetcars was a better city for it. While out of the past, they would make Washington especially modern.

  43. John

    @Jeff

    Based on other streetcar/light rail systems around the world I’ve used, there are two basic methods of fare collection I’ve seen.

    1) Metro “lite” stops, where there is fare collection in the station, such as faregates with ticket vending machines are quite common, such as those in Istanbul: http://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/01/5e/2f/fc/not-far-from-tram-station.jpg

    2) Not quite as common are commuter rail-style on-board collection systems, where riders usually buy tickets prior to boarding, but are required to “validate” (or timestamp) tickets before boarding (so that one can’t use the same ticket over and over again). This is used on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail in NJ http://hoboken411.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/05/Light%20rail%202nd%20st%20ticket%20machine.JPG

    Taking into consideration the direction DDOT is going with their vehicle purchases and proposed station layouts, I would go with a third system of on board validation to tie in with SmarTrip.

  44. Michael

    Tom, I based my comments on the configuration that Ben described in the fifth comment in this thread even though that configuration differs from other proposals. Ben stated that for Calvert to Fessenden, there could be “two lanes of vehicle traffic in each direction with two dedicated streetcar lanes if you eliminated the curbside parking along this section of Wisconsin Avenue”.

    I assumed that rush hour travel lanes would be reduced with this configuration since currently there with three rush hour travel lanes for much of this area. With Ben’s configuration, there are only two travel lanes available, so obviously, there aren’t three travel lanes during rush hour.

    Ben assumed the elimination of curbside parking, and I noted that there is a reduction in pedestrian safety with the elimination of curbside parking, as pedestrians have lost the buffer of parked cars between the sidewalk and the traffic. See, for example, http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post.cgi?id=4764, where Eric Fidler discusses that effect.

    As to the impact on local businesses, that is based largely on the elimination of curbside parking, which inconveniences customers and affects the ability of many small businesses to get deliveries.

    I didn’t address a major omission in Ben’s description. For the area with dedicated streetcar lanes in the center of Wisconsin Avenue, Ben did not provide for the space in the median for passengers to safely wait to board the streetcar and to safely wait to cross the street or the tracks after leaving the streetcar. I suspect this is necessary. Adding a passenger station or waiting area in the median would reduce the number of travel lanes on Wisconsin Avenue to one travel lane at each streetcar stop.

    You have provided a solution to the lack of a plan and lack of space for a turn-around at Western Avenue by proposing that the line be extended to NIH, so now Montgomery County will deal with that issue.

    Of course, all the advantages of streetcars hinge on the assumption that there are a large number of people (10,000 more rides per day) who are not willing to sit on the Wisconsin Avenue buses and would not sit on the Wisconsin Avenue buses even if they introduced more buses and better equipment, but would ride standing on a crowded streetcar. Quite frankly, I doubt that is the case. Before we consider spending $190 million based on that assumption, many DC taxpayers would want to see strong evidence that there would be that increase in riders and that it would last beyond the novelty stage.

    Of course, obviously, the configuration Ben described doesn’t apply to Georgetown, the focus of this blog, and perhaps you can shed some light on a configuration in Georgetown.

  45. Ben

    Michael-

    I would have a curbside alignment from Calvert to M Street/K Street. Yes, this would eliminate curbside parking but the improvement in mobility would still be significant. Each block has approximately 10 curbside spots. Assuming (this is just an estimate) that each car has 1.2 passengers per vehicle, this is 12 passengers for each block of curbside parking. The Skoda streetcars the District is purchasing can accomodate 157 passengers for each streetcar. I’d glad take the 157 passengers over the one block of curbside parking. Currently, a lot of people avoid going to Georgetown in the evenings and on the weekends because they expect parking to be scarce. An improved transit option that connects the metro stations in Tenley and Friendship Heights with the Minnesota Ave – Georgetown streetcar line will make Georgetown and Glover Park more accessible to residents and tourists throughout our region.

  46. Ben

    Michael-

    The Skoda streetcars are 8 feet wide. Each lane on Wisconsin is 10 feet wide. This gives you 4 feet. You could reduce the width of the sidewalks by one foot in each direction where the stations/platforms are and have 6 foot wide platforms. This should be sufficient.

    Michael, I also think I noted above that I would reduce the speed of vehicles from 30 mph to 25 miles per hour between Calvert to Fessenden and add new trees on the sidewalks to create a barrier between pedestrians and vehicles. Reducing the speed to 25 mph would reduce the travel time differences between transit and private automobiles, thereby making transit relatively more competitive.

    Second, where do you get the figure of 10,000 more riders per day? If Sue/Cassie and Ethan/Heather/Michael(?) insist on rigorous econometric analysis of this investment, I certainly think you should be obliged to do the same and not make up numbers.

  47. Tom Quinn

    Ben – I threw out the 10000 additional rides per day number but it was rides not riders though I don’t think it is an unrealistic number if streetcars speed up the trip.

    I threw it out in the context of considering what, if any, additional riders a street car might generate over the existing bus service but it was purely a guess.

    And Michael raises some valid questions about how to squeeze a streetcar line onto Wisconsin Avenue as well as about the impact of a line on pedestrians.

    But I would remember that a streetcar does not necessarily have to have a dedicated right of way for the entire route – it really just needs its own space where the stops are.

    I mentioned this in passing in my original post but Wisconsin Avenue badly needs to better manage left hand turn movements.

    What if you eliminated a lane of curbside parking in the corridor and the streetcar stops were in that added center lane space?

    If you added the stops at intersections with left hand turn signals the streetcar could proceed straight (or alternately get signal priority) and re-enter a travel lane there.

    So the streetcar would not have a dedicated lane but by creating a center turn lane the flow of traffic in the left hand thru lane would dramatically improve because cars would not be queuing up at every single intersection.

    If this could be engineered drivers would benefit as well as transit users except at those intersections where cars queuing to make a left hand turn would get stuck behind a street car stopped to let passengers on and off. But since there are currently no queue lanes anyhow I would not consider that a loss compared to the status quo.

    But the big hiccup with this is you could not have northbound and southbound stops in the same place and you would have to put stops on opposite sides of an intersection which would presumably cost more money.

    And I agree that losing a curbside parking lane is bad for pedestrians but that lane is already lost during rush hour so that is a sacrifice we already make at least part of the time.

    Finally with regards to where the streetcars would turn around hopefully it will be somewhere north of Bethesda but if it is in Friendship Heights WMATA’s Western Bus Garage was originally a streetcar garage and there is no reason it could not be again.

  48. Michael

    Ben, I am having some trouble visualizing the configurations that you are proposing. I think it might be really useful if you could post a drawing of a cross section, and maybe a map showing how this would work at different parts of Wisconsin Avenue where there are likely to be stops, such as around P Street in Georgetown, near Whole Foods in Glover Park, perhaps in the Macomb/Newark Street area of Cleveland Park, and further north, such near the Tenleytown Metro station. It might help to see what are the lane widths, where are the tree boxes, location and size of passenger waiting areas/stop facilities, location of amenities for other pedestrians, room for sidewalk cafes. I was also wondering if we would lose mature street trees if the roadway was widened to make room for the station stops, and whether you know of any other cities that use similar streetcars in mixed traffic and have 8 foot lane widths.

    And Tom, your ideas about handling left turns sound intriguing, but a visual would really help me see how it might be implemented. I don’t think you can post drawings here, but perhaps posting on the Facebook page and adding a link would handle that.
    Thanks, Michael.

  49. Ben

    Michael–

    I’ll be glad to post a rendering of the alignments as time permits. I have been overwhelmed by the response and support for a Wisconsin Avenue streetcar at this point, however.

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  51. Pinning this Down

    GM,

    I’m particularly interested in this remark you made:

    “Sue/”Cassie”, “Jeff”/”Ethan”/”Heather”,
    Sock Puppets won’t be tolerated on this website. Use an anonymous name if you so choose, but don’t change names nor pretend to have expertise you don’t have. If this continues I’ll simply change your commenter name.”

    Do comments from these s/n’s come from the same IP, or are there other technical indicators that they are the same people? They surely seem to be based on their content, but if they definitely are the same person, this information should be disseminated more widely.

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  54. Pingback: Update to Aren’t They Building? | The Georgetown Metropolitan

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