By K. Levek
The long anticipated alternative transportation option has hit the streets of Washington, D.C.- D.C. Streetcar. A process long ridiculed by District residents, the first car arrived on H Street NE Friday December 13, with many residents coming out to watch. The car was transported from the South Capitol St. SE location where it has been staged for months. The moving of the car to H Street is pivotal in the process, whereby now the car will go through a series of testing before more are added and residents can ride.
Crews hauled a single streetcar from a testing facility in Anacostia to H Street NE between 3rd and 5th, where it was used to test the new tracks in what’s become a booming neighborhood for the city. The tracks have been laid in place on what was once one of the city’s bumpiest streets, but has now been reconstructed, and overhead power lines are ready to provide electricity to power the streetcars.
The District’s Department of Transportation Director, Terry Bellamy, said he is proud of this monumental moment. “This ranks as one of our top projects we’ve completed in the city. It will have a big economic impact.” Bellamy said the city has a need to offer alternative transportation solutions and the streetcar does just that.
For about a hundred years, between 1892 and 1962, streetcars were apart of every day life in the District. While other cities began to grow and expand their transportation systems to streetcar, D.C. did away with them, just shy of 52 years ago. Now that they are back, drivers and pedestrians will have to get used to sharing the road with something, many residents may have never seen before.
Ron Garafa is one of the engineers who has been working on the streetcar project. He said when the project began in April 2010 there were lots of public frustration and mis-education. “There was a high level of uncertainty, but now that it’s here people are more positive about the future,” Garafa said. He said the streetcar “gives a homey hometown feeling” to the neighborhood.
And that feeling has been felt in every corridor where the streetcar plans to be installed. DDOT Program Manager for the streetcar project, Thomas Perry said feelings have changed, but DDOT has had to do its share of work to change the public’s perception. Perry says they have had an aggressive public engagement campaign that has focused on a grassroots level of engagement. “We have a comprehensive plan to engage everyone- government officials, citizens, businesses and community leaders,” said Perry.
Capitol Services Management, Inc. is the public engagement firm that has been working on the streetcar project. A ward 8-based firm, the company’s Vice President, Monica Ray, said she is excited about the opportunity to work on one of the city’s biggest projects. “We are happy to be apart of history. We are a small firm in Ward 8 and we are representing not only our ward, but our city in a positive way,” Ray said. Ray said her team’s efforts really focus on listening to the public’s perception and taking that information back to DDOT so they can make informed decisions about how the streetcar will affect various neighborhood areas. “Often times people feel like they don’t have a voice when a new transportation project comes to their neighborhood. That is not the case with Streetcar. We have engaged every single person who has attended our meeting and events. We are listening to their feedback and things are happening because of the public’s involvement,” Ray said.
DDOT Chief Engineer Ronaldo “Nick” Nicholson said he is just proud of this moment. He said he has been working on the project to help change the culture of transportation and people will get used to this new form of transportation. “It’s a good feeling for an engineer. There has been lots of work culminating to the delivery of this car. Streetcar on H Street by 2013!”
The H Street/Benning line will be 2.4-miles long and will run between Union Station and the intersection of Oklahoma Avenue and Benning Road Northeast. District transportation officials are planning to extend the H Street line west to Georgetown and east to the Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road Metro stations. Officials say the district is committing about $400 million for the line to reach Georgetown. A broader streetcar network also is planned. Residents shouldn’t expect to catch a ride just yet. The streetcars must now undergo a series of on-street tests before passenger service can begin sometime in 2014.