Thursday, October 16, 2008

Buses and Streetcars and Trolleys, Oh My

Reading Metro's press release from yesterday regarding its plan to install additional "Express" bus routes throughout the city got me thinking about longer term planning for transportation solutions in the District.

Greater Greater Washington has taken the lead in thinking about Metro v2.0, and has produced a "future Metro" system map that I can only describe as mass transit porn. But the future of transportation in this city isn't simply about where the next Metro line will be built, it's about enhanced bus service, streetcars and better traffic-flow measures to help move people about. Several of these initiatives will, or could, have a direct affect on Logan and its residents.

Much has been made about the pending streetscape projects along 11th and 14th streets, but I wonder if we aren't missing an opportunity to think forward 20-30 years with our current projects. Take 14th Street, for example. In my opinion, it's a street that is a prime candidate for a streetcar line. I can envision a line running up and down 14th street, going from McPherson Square up through Logan, U St., and Columbia Heights, linking in a corridor that is underserved by Metro and expected to grow exponentially in the coming decades. Unfortunately, the idea of laying or planning for the installation of streetcar tracks was not taken under consideration for the 14th Street streetscape masterplan. Once that goes forward, it's likely to be decades before the District would feel compelled to revisit the issue.

11th Street is another underserved--yet vital--corridor that would benefit from a focus on transportation alternatives. At the very least, the development of an express bus line as part of the 66/68 route would benefit riders along the corridor considerably. It, too, would be a prime candidate for a streetcar or trolley line to move people from downtown to the residential areas that 11th street serves. Should the pace of development continue to march east (and there's seemingly no indication that it's going to stop) 11th will continue to be heavily utilized by both residents and commuters, with seemingly no plan in place to accommodate the inevitable increase in volume.

Many of the transportation options currently in place in the Logan/Shaw/U St. area were installed long before the area's development exploded, and the city and WMATA are doing a disservice to the area's residents by not taking this into consideration when planning long term projects for the neighborhood.

With that said, what do you think? What transportation initiatives or improvements would you like to see undertaken in the coming years/decades in the mid-city area? Are there alternatives that have not been discussed that should be? Share them in the comments below.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

I live on 14th St. and I ride the 52/53/54 bus line daily. Most of the buses are now packed during rush hours due to the heavy development in Columbia Heights. I think a simple short term solution would be to have those long extended buses service 14th st. I am actually shocked as to why Metro hasn't done this yet.

Anonymous said...

You're proposing an idea that already happened: 14th Street was a major streetcar line, and those of us who live north of Columbia Heights can see that the Metro "bus barn" actually bears the name of the original cable-car company. If you've ever marveled at the little brick turnaround building at 14th and Colorado, that was the turnaround for the cable cars. So it's certainly been done. In those days--early 20th century--the advent of these electric cars allowed neighborhoods like mine to be built. Before that, this was the countryside...

Mr. 14th & You said...

Anon-

Many District streets at one time contained streetcard tracks, but those days have long since passed--so I'm not entirely sure what you're driving at (no pun intended). My point was that the District just spent a lot of money devising a plan for the streetscaping of 14th Street and, to my knowledge, the idea of laying streetcar tracks--or allowing for their possible construction--was never included in the plan, which I think is an unfortunate lack of foresight on the District's part.

Dave said...

if you ride on a bus line that is numerical, it inherited that number from a previous streetcar line.

pretty cool stuff.

the 14th and 16th street bus lines are packed for most of the day. they have been for a while, even before columbia heights really took off.

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing about streetcars, light rail, and express bus routes from the DC gov't and WMATA for 15 years, and I haven't seen any real progress. Given the current economic climate, we're going to have to live with what we have now for the next decade at least.

Anonymous said...

So when is the 11th Street reconstruction going to start? I thought it would have already been underway by now, but nothing's happened and I can't find anything on the DDOT website.

Neil said...

It beats me why anyone would advocate establishing a streetcar line on 14th Street, tying up two lanes of traffic. I must say, I don't see any particular advantage of streetcars over buses, in any case--besides being more suggestive of (say) Portland, Oregon. Both are mass transit instruments; but buses are more flexible in maneuvering and scheduling and also may be switched out to other routes when needed. Why not just advocate adding more buses to the 51/54 lineup or, as has been suggested, add extra-long buses.

Steve S. said...

Hmm. I've long wondered about light rail in the district. Assuming they do it right, (with dedicated lanes closed to cars and traffic signal priority) I wonder how it would affect traffic? If you cannibalize the center two lanes of U Street (where a line is planned), do you get rid of street parking or keep parking and only one travel lane? I think the net effect of light rail would be very positive but how do you convince the "roads are only for cars" types that it isn't the end of the world?

Mr. 14th & You said...

Neil-
Light rail lines are more efficient than buses because they travel in their own dedicated lanes and are not as subject to traffic backups as buses. In addition, light rail trains maintain intersection priority, meaning that they are not held up or caught at red lights along busy thoroughfares. They also maintain a greater capacity than buses, allowing for the movement of more people at once. 14th street is wide enough to accomodate a streetcar line; it's simply a matter of having the will and foresight to do it.

Mr. 14th & You said...

Anon: The 11th street streetscape was supposed to have been started by now, but according to a report at last month;s ANC meeting by DDOT liason Chris Zieman, the project was bumped down the priorty list due to spending cutbacks and more pressing projects. Those "projects" were not identified at the meeting. Best guess for new start date for construction along 11th street is next spring, but...who knows?

Mr. 14th & You said...

"how do you convince the "roads are only for cars" types that it isn't the end of the world?"

IMO Steve, it has to come by presenting viable alternatives to those travelling into the city to the areas of the city that would be the best candidates for streetcar lines. Public transportation, above all else, has to be convenient--otherwise people won't take it. It's one of the reasons why you don't see people Metroing in from VA to McPherson Square, then hopping a 50 bus up to Logan and U St. Secondly, driving a car has to be viewed as an unappealing option. There will always be people that drive, but it's my belief that enough people could be convinced to step out of their cars and hop onto a light rail line to offset the anticipated loss of parking spaces and/or travel lanes along busy arteries. It's not a conicidence that a city such as Portland, OR (a city commensurate in size with DC) has developed such a universally admired and efficient public transportation system by focusing on aspects such as light rail lines along busy and popular arteries.