BY ALEX HOLT
If there was any one theme emerging from DC Streetcar’s latest public meeting Thursday, it was just how many factors are still up in the air for the planned streetcar line from Buzzards Point to Takoma or Silver Spring.
Residents from Petworth to Silver Spring had a chance to voice their opinions on the proposal at the Emery Recreation Center in Washington, D.C.’s Brightwood neighborhood, before, during and after presentations by the District Department of Transportation. Even so, the turnout from Takoma and Silver Spring seemed low and when DDOT project manager Jamie Henson asked any of the members of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in attendance to raise their hands, nobody did.
The question is where to put the line? The DDOT has to have an answer by the end of this summer, when their preliminary study is scheduled to wrap up. The line could run onto Butternut Street NW and terminate at Takoma, go all the way up Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring or even go to both. The streetcars could run in their own dedicated lanes, which would involve cutting some curbside parking, or in the center of the street, which would reduce room for cars.
None of these decisions have been finalized yet and much of the meeting involved DDOT officials asking residents to weigh in on the options, especially by filling out comment cards on the way out.
Poster boards throughout the room displayed the history of previous transportation plans, maps of traffic congestion in the area and schematics and cross-sections showing the different routes and layouts the line could take. Henson, the DDOT’s project manager for the proposal, then summarized most of those poster boards in his presentations.
Henson listed a couple of reasons the DDOT would prefer using streetcars in the North-South Corridor, including Metrobus’ inability to meet the rapidly rising demand for bus service along Georgia Avenue.
“What one of my colleagues at WMATA has said is that basically ‘they can’t get buses out fast enough, they keep filling up faster than we can put them out there’”, Henson said during the presentation.
He also noted that streetcars allow for level boarding, increasing access for people with limited mobility. Finally he cited greater capacity, explaining that streetcars can carry at least up to about 140 people at a time, as compared to articulated buses, which can carry just fewer than 100 people at most.
During the presentation, residents asked about the fares, which would probably be the same as those on the DC Circulator bus route, the environmental impact, how to provide feedback on congested areas and whether or not there’d be any loops on the route. The current draft shows loops that run north to south, but that could change in the future.
Afterwards, Henson estimated that about 25 people attended the meeting’s afternoon presentation while about 35-40 people showed up in the evening. He said he didn’t see a lot of Takoma activists at the meeting but he has heard from them previously. There was apparently no Takoma Park, MD representation, either.
Washington DC’s H Street streetcar on a recent test run.
“ The folks that we do hear from, most of them talk about going to Silver Spring,” Henson said. “There’s a fair amount who I’ve heard talk about going to both, not necessarily picking one over the other.”
Henson also said that most of the people at the meetings seemed to be interested in hearing about the tradeoffs of which type of lanes to use for the streetcars.
“I think that’s a new concept to the vast majority of folks here, understanding that if you take away parking lanes, maybe you get a faster transit service,” Henson said. “If you take travel lanes away, you get faster transit service at the cost of vehicle level of service.”
The DDOT will hold its final series of public meetings in late spring, with Henson hoping to wrap up the study by Labor Day and move on to the environmental phase of the project.