City plans to bring streetcar service to the District

Streetcars may be returning to areas of the city now that the District Department of Transportation has completed its study of transit options for D.C.

The department introduced its study’s findings and plans to bring back streetcars at an open house presentation with residents of Ward 2 at Hyde Elementary School in Georgetown on Oct. 28.

“Streetcar will be the local equivalent to Metro,” said Scott Kubley, the associate director of DDoT and head of the streetcar project.

Streetcars have not been in use in the District since 1962, when D.C. began using more buses.

Kubley explained that several years ago DDoT commissioned a study to look at different options for transit. In the end, streetcars were the solution to some of the problems with the current Metro system, which include some Metrobus lines operating over 100 percent capacity and congestion on Metrorail.

Plans to incorporate streetcars include 37 miles of track on eight lines, with an estimated total cost of $1.5 billion.

Information from DDoT notes that the cost is less than the construction of the Purple line of Metrorail in Maryland.

The proposed streetcars will be air-conditioned, run smoothly and quietly, and each be able to hold 168 passengers. The District has already purchased three modern streetcars from a manufacturer in the Czech Republic, Skoda-Inekon, according to information distributed at the open house.

The new system will run through neighborhoods with limited Metrorail service, including Anacostia, Georgetown and Adams Morgan.

“So where Metro is focused on getting people into and out of the core of downtown, streetcar is really about moving people throughout the city, getting people into and through emerging commercial and retail quarters,” Kubley said.

Currently there are streetcar tracks and stops being constructed in Anacostia and on H Street and Benning Road in Northeast.

DDoT hopes to have these two lines – Anacostia and H Street/Benning Road – up and running by 2012.

Last week’s open house featured a series of stations that walked visitors through the planning process, the current metro system, Metro problems and proposed plans for the future. Similar open houses about the streetcar system are being held in each of the eight wards in D.C.

Kubley told residents that there were four main benefits of streetcars in the District, including improved mobility throughout the city, transit efficiency and less damage to the environment.

“Streetcars are quieter than buses, also they don’t emit fumes. So it’s a more pleasant, comfortable ride and also environmentally friendlier,” Kubley said.

The District’s economy may also benefit from the streetcar lines.

Kubley pointed to examples like Portland, Ore., where streetcar systems were implemented and there was a significant increase in investment and property values in neighborhoods where the streetcar rails went through.

D.C.’s streetcar system is expected to be built in three phases, but the exact timeline for the planned streetcar system is dependent on funding. The DDoT hopes to get money from the federal government and the D.C. Council, as well as investments from private developers.

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