Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

DC says it is looking at heritage streetcar operations

According to the DCist entry, "D.C. Considering Historic Streetcars and Car Barns," DC's Department of Transportation as part of thinking about how to "rightsize" streetcar operation in the city, is considering heritage streetcars as an element of the program.

I wrote suggesting this (although not the use of car barns, I didn't get to that level of detail) almost 7 years ago in January 2006, in the entry "Adding cultural heritage dimensions and expanded service capabilities within commercial districts to DC Streetcar planning."

It proposed the idea as part of operating streetcars on H Street NE.  The entry is reprinted below.

Portland historic replica streetcar Image: In the Portland streetcar system, this historic replica streetcar runs on weekends, adding a cultural heritage dimension to the service.

When streetcars for the city were first proposed (and I wasn't producing a blog) I wrote in a couple venues that the "cultural heritage" dimension needed to be developed in concert with the system for a couple reasons: (1) it would add value to the local history experience in Washington; and (2) it would encourage people to ride-sample the system and take back the experience to their hometowns (if they aren't from Europe) creating new advocates for transit across the county.

The Market Street Railway in San Francisco does this. The line features streetcars from around the world, dressed in the paint scheme and "branding" of the cars hometowns.

Riding the F-Market & Wharves line.jpg A promotional poster for the Market Street Railway.

At the same time, commercial districts like H Street in Northeast Washington DC, could add historic streetcars (or replicas) to complement the service provided by the longer line, which in the case of H Street NE will start at the Minnesota Avenue Metro station, to provide for additional service and more stops within the commercial district (intra-commercial district service as opposed to the more inter-DC service of the longer line).

For example, the budding entertainment district at the east end of the H Street corridor might want to have additional service on weekends, and Thursday through Saturday nights. This will increase the likelihood of customers, add to the fun aspects of a night on the town, and would reduce significantly the stress on an already limited inventory of parking spaces.

An advantage of a replica is that it's less expensive to maintain. OTOH, it costs a lot more. See this paper for more info: Bring Back The Streetcars.

[Note that Seattle is selling some streetcars now for about $15,000 each.  See "Seattle's classic waterfront streetcars stuck at dead end" and "St. Louis interested in vintage Seattle streetcars" from summertime editions of the Seattle Times.  Although if you've ridden a vintage streetcar like in New Orleans they are uncomfortable and they don't have air-conditioning.)

H Street PlayhouseIMG_1373 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!.jpg 
Certainly places like the H Street Playhouse [when this was written the H Street Playhouse wasn't moving to Anacostia], the Atlas Theater, and the various restaurants and bars would like more streetcar service to help business and to reduce the strain on the limited parking in the area. Photos of the H Street Playhouse and the H Street Martini Lounge by Inked78.

This could be accommodated by developing and planning now for a system that could have a spur, and storage capabilities for additional streetcars that aren't Skoda vehicles.

For such a service in the H Street area, it could run between Union Station and 15th Street NE via H Street. Like with the Portland Streetcar service, perhaps you could sponsors like Louis Dreyfus Company, the Hechinger Mall, and Gallaudet University, to help defray some of the costs. (E.g., maybe the cars could be stored at Gallaudet University or in the parking garage at Station Place.)

unionsta_trolley2 Capital Transit streetcar at Union Station.

Note: some of the credit for this idea goes to Jane Lang, a proprietor of the Atlas Performing Arts Center, who talked about the need for more transit within the commercial district a couple years, and my relating this conversation to Lee Rogers [now deceased, see "Lee Rogers treasured D.C. area and transportation history" from the Washington Post], a local historian and national expert on trolleys generally as well as the streetcar systems that existed within the region. Lee mentioned the possibility of intra-operable cars. And then I saw it for myself in Portland.

Note: streetcars stopped running on H Street in February 1949. There are printed photographs but I don't have digital copies.

I had two such photos at one time--sort of, Kevin Palmer actually has them somewhere--provided by Lee Rogers, one of the 8th and H Street NE intersection, a photo that the DC Office of Planning has used, and one, in color, of a streetcar in front of the 800 and 900 southside blocks.

San Francisco's historic streetcars.jpg 
San Francisco operates three basic types of streetcars on the heritage trolley line that they run, called the Market Street Railway: the vintage, often one-of-a-kind trolleys, the Peter Witt trams of Milan, and the art deco PCC streetcars, like No. 1052 seen here in the heart of Fisherman's Wharf. Photo by Bill Storage. 

Proposed Street Car lines, Washington, DC 
Proposed Street Car lines as of the 2003 DC Transit Future study, Washington, DC.

DC Streetcar Map as depicted in the Comprehensive Plan draft revision
DC Streetcar map, 2006 Comprehensive Plan

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4 Comments:

At 3:02 AM, Blogger John Terry said...

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At 2:40 AM, Blogger Peter Carter said...

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At 2:41 AM, Blogger Peter Carter said...



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