The first three streetcars to roll downs tracks in the District of Columbia since 1962 will be ready for testing next spring, DDOT officials said at a news briefing on Thursday.
The district is building a track in Anacostia to test its streetcars with the goal of launching them into service late next year or early 2014 on the planned H Street/Benning Road corridor, a two-mile, ten-stop segment of a planned 22-mile trolley system that will take five to eight years to complete -- barring further delays.
“From a safety standpoint, we have to start what we call burning in the cars, to get them used to the traffic systems,” said DDOT chief engineer Nick Nicholson. “We have to make sure everything, especially the emergency response, is working well. Sometime after that we complete that burn-in period and get a safety certification, we will begin revenue service.”
Fares and operating hours have not been decided, but officials said they are looking into seamless fare payment technologies, including using Metro’s SmarTrip cards. The final pieces of infrastructure have to be completed, too, on H Street/Benning Road.
“You will start seeing us build our switches in so we can switch the cars from track to track. You will see power plants starting to come in to run the cars. You will see the upgrades of the overhead wires and reinforcement of the Hopscotch Bridge to be a stop for the streetcar and we will build a maintenance facility,” said DDOT director Terry Bellamy.
Between now and the day the first passengers climb into a D.C. streetcar in fifty years, DDOT will employ a public awareness campaign to help businesses in the emerging H Street corridor.
“We think pedestrians will probably be used to streetcars because they are used to buses. Our real concern is the automobile driver, because he is used to having the road to himself,” Nicholson said. “Those cars in the district that like to double (park) or just stop and wait, in a streetcar path they're going have to move on.”
Nicholson said delivery trucks will have to alter their schedules or find alleyways to idle because the fixed-rail streetcar system cannot swing around them like buses. The streetcars will flow from the H Street’s median to pick up passengers outside the parking lane.
The district’s ambitious vision for a trolley system that will help residents and visitors efficiently move within the city, as opposed to Metro’s outside commuter-oriented design, foresees streetcars crossing east-west from Benning Road to Georgetown and from Buzzard’s Point to Anacostia, and north-south from Takoma to Buzzard’s Point.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has pointed to the transformation of Portland, Oregon by a new streetcar line as a model of economic growth, and district officials are depending on the H Street/Benning Road line to increase property values and enhance shopping and entertainment options in the corridor.
Progress may have a cost. A study by the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University found that neighborhoods that get new rail transit systems like streetcars experience a significant increase in housing prices -- leading to renters and low-income households getting priced out.
In a prior series, WAMU examined the relationship between transit and gentrification in D.C.’s Ward 7, where a plan to extend the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line east of the Anacostia River is under consideration.
To learn more, check out D.C. Streetcar's latest media briefing here.