Transit vehicles purchased and stored in the Czech Republic, an unresolved controversy over a 120-year-old federal law prohibiting overhead wires in the historic L’Enfant City, and tracks already being laid along H Street NE and in Anacostia… As it stands, DC’s first foray into Streetcars in 47 years might seem more like a fleeting dream of transit proponents than a paradigm shift in inner city transportation. Based on a public meeting last night in Ward 6, DDOT seems to prefer the latter narrative.
The plan they presented was an updated and even more ambitious version of their 2005 Alternatives Analysis. It envisions a 3-phase, 37-mile long fixed rail system with 8 different lines (see large map here) reaching into many areas of the city currently under-served by transit. Several lines that were planned as bus rapid transit (BRT) or express bus in the 2005 analysis are now proposed as streetcar. Additionally, DDOT still envisions the K Street Transitway as eventually having streetcars, rather than BRT, as it is currently proposed in a federal grant submission.
DC Mayor Adrian Fenty and new DDOT director Gabe Klein seem to be delivering on a promise to revive and breathe new life into the effort. They have vowed to have the lines currently under construction (originally planned to start operation this year) up and running by 2012. While these two lines are already funded, it seems as though the District is now banking on federal support to realize its full 37-mile vision, where it was once intending to build the system entirely with its own money. That could prove difficult unless Congress and Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood come through on their promise to revamp the federal New Starts program. As it stands now, it is incredibly difficult to build transit systems with federal money due to limited funding and onerous federal requirements.