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.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Saturday launch of the DC Streetcar

There were many hundreds of people at the launch of the DC Streetcar this past Saturday.  I don't think there were as many as 1,000 people.

The Eastern High School Marching Band played, and the remarks by political officials were brief.

The major news from the event was that Mayor Muriel Bowser and Director of the Department of Transportation Leif Dormsjo stated that this was only the beginning and that the streetcar would be extended both east to Ward 7/Benning Road and east (to Georgetown, although Georgetown wasn't mentioned specifically).
-- "This is a great addition to the transportation system [in the city] with Metrorail and the DC Circulator.  We will continue to look for opportunities to extend the streetcar east to Benning Road and west.  So everybody, let's ride.  Congresswoman Norton reminds me to tell you the rides are free for the next six months."  -- Mayor Muriel Bowser
Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander also commented on the extension of the streetcar east to her ward.

The marching band was cool, but the music got in the way of conversation.

Why neighborhood pain in the a** Robert Pittman of the Linden Neighborhood Association (a one block neighborhood) was one of the speakers is beyond me.

There aren't many neighborhood residents who have been more obstreperous concerning improvement than he (although he has been good on policing issues).  (For people in the know, having Robert Pittman on the dais would be like having Calvin Gurley on the dais...)

I figure he must have been a supporter of the Bowser campaign and because at the time Anwar Saleem director of H Street Main Street, the commercial district revitalization organization for the corridor, was not, that's why he didn't speak.

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen also spoke.

After the remarks the crowd lined up to ride the streetcars and people got their first ride.

Nobody mentioned the almost $800 million in new development that has been triggered by the streetcar.

Riding down Florida Avenue to the meeting, with the many projects underway there, which I did not include in my previous tally ("DC and streetcars #4: From the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street" December 2015) demonstrates that the economic development effect of the streetcar is even bigger than I thought.  There were at least three major projects underway, and a number of smaller projects.

In a report for H Street Main Street on housing possibilities that I wrote in 2003 I had suggested opportunities on Florida Avenue including the site for a then car repair shop, Jimmy's Tire, which later burned down. Now it's an apartment building.

Rick Gustafson of Portland Streetcar was there and we had a chance to talk for a bit.

He said that DC and Cincinnati (there were lots of anti-streetcar referendums to get through but the system will launch in Cincinnati next year) have been the most problematic of streetcar implementations nationally, but because of Washington's visibility as the national capital, implementation problems here have been much more visible and were noticed across the nation and have hurt the argument for streetcars elsewhere.

He said that the DC city government was never interested in working that closely with the private sector--the Portland Streetcar and the first streetcar line in Seattle were launched primarily at the behest and with the financial support of the real estate industry--and that one major development firm had organized 11 other major development firms to work with the city on streetcar implementation but nothing came of it.

(Relatedly, the city put out a tender for a concession agreement for implementing and operating streetcars in DC, but never carried out the contract.)

The other thing we discussed is the focus on speed in what we might call "anti-streetcar" discussions.

As pointed out in my past blog entry "Making the case for intra-city vs. inter-city transit planning," the point of streetcar service is connectivity and access within sub-districts of city, not in making trips of long distance relatively quickly.

We talked about how as population is added to neighborhoods in turn retail and other amenities are able to succeed, and the addition of such services reduces the demand for longer trip travel.

Gabe Klein, left; Karina Ricks, middle; Harriet Tregoning, right.  

In the crowd were now "regular people," like former DC planning directors Andrew Altman and Harriet Tregoning, former DDOT director Gabe Klein, and former chief of transportation planning for DDOT, Karina Ricks--who was one of the city's first community planners, assigned to Ward 6 and H Street around 2000.

There were people from the neighborhood and the "city improvement" community, ranging from friend and former ANC commissioner Drew Ronneberg to David Cranor, erstwhile blogmaster of Washcycle, the region's go-to blog on bicycling.
There were people I'd hoped to see but didn't, including Joe Fengler, mentioned here frequently as the person who got the rails installed in the street to begin with.

It's possible some of those people were at the Streetcar "after party" set for later in the afternoon.  I didn't go.

I also saw Alex Eckmann (in the middle in the photo at left), who now works for the Federal Transit Administration, but had been director of the "Mass Transit Administration" unit of DDOT back when the DC Alternatives Analysis planning initiative which laid out the options for streetcars in the city, first launched in 2003.

I congratulated him.  He deserved some of the credit.

In any case, what is happening on H Street these days, from the construction of large residential housing buildings with retail on the ground floor, to a real restaurant cluster and a nightlife center, to streetcar and the coming of a Whole Foods supermarket is far beyond what anyone could have imagined back in 2001 when we created the H Street Main Street initiative, in hopes we would get selected for the city's then new commercial district revitalization program that was being launched in 2002.

It's times like this that remind me that my positivity in the face of my "glass is half empty" perspective since I endeavor to be a relatively objective analyst and critic isn't always dashed.

A funny bit.  Many of the opponents of streetcars call one of the advantages--tracks--a disadvantage, saying that buses are maneuverable in case of a tie up while streetcars are not--although tracks help with quality of the ride and provide a permanence that attracts investment whereas buses do not.

One of David Cranor's children asked him about the tracks in the road, why streetcars run on tracks, and why don't cars run on tracks?  I thought it was funny.  In a nutshell it summarized many of the oppositional arguments.

They also passed out pennants.  I got a couple.

Labels: , ,


At 9:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

did you get to ride one? How was the ride quality?

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

I didn't want to wait, although by the time the fourth car came for a load, there wasn't a terrible line.

I'll try to do so this week.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous rg said...

Sorry I missed seeing you - it would have been good to catch up.

At 1:49 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Agreed. Was hoping to see more people!


Post a Comment

<< Home