Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Revenge of the Electric Streetcar

The tracks have already been laid in this section of H Street NE near Union Station. The city is hoping these abandoned storefronts will be humming with new business activity when the streetcar line launches in the spring of 2012. 
For a hundred years streetcars transported people in and around our Nation's Capital. At various times betwen 1862 to 1962 residents of Washington, D.C. enjoyed trolley service to historic neighborhoods such as Georgetown, Anacostia, Adams Morgan and even as far as Rockville, Maryland and Leesburg, Virginia.

At its peak in 1916 there were over 200 miles of streetcar tracks in the Washington area including 100 miles in the city. Now D.C. is moving forward with an ambitious effort to build 37 miles of modern electric streetcars and the tracks are being laid for the first two lines in Anacostia and H Street NE. 

The local D.C. Sierra Club chapter has been active the past three years in working with the District Department of Transportation to get the lines built as fast as possible. They recently held a happy hour event at the Sova coffee shop in the Atlas District along H Street to celebrate the progress made and talk about the next steps forward.

"People are excited about it," said Sierra Club D.C. Transportation Committee Chair Jason Broehm, who organized the happy hour event on H Street.  "It's an area that needs revitalization. Businesses are starting to move in here. We think that streetcars will bring a lot more economic investment in this corridor that really needs it."

The Sierra Club claimed two victories this past year -- successfully lobbying for $47 million in funding to ensure the H Street line begins operating in the spring of 2012; and pushing the D.C. council to pass legislation that temporarily allows overhead wires on the H Street corridor, which they hope will eventually become permanent (an 1889 federal law bans overhead wires in Georgetown and the historic center city.)

Advisory Neighborhood Commisioner Tony Richardson represents the H Street corridor and credits the Sierra Club with reviving the streetcars which had stalled a bit at DDOT.

"I live here. I'm about the community growing. I have a lot of businesses in my area. This is an up and coming area which is one of the reasons why I moved here. So to me it was a simple choice. It was logical for me to hop in and do my little part," said Richardson.

"The business people are elated. It can't come fast enough for them. They're looking forward to new customers. They're looking forward to people coming and not having to worry about parking. They've seen the studies. They've looked at other cities. They know the economic benefits to streetcar lines. So they're all aboard, no pun intended. They really want this thing to happen like yesterday."

More pictures of the H Street Corridor where a streetcar line will operate starting in the spring of 2012:

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