Infrastructure

D.C. DOT Could Kill City's Streetcar Project

Is it time to put the H Street trolley out of its misery?

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The acting director of the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation (DDOT), Leif Dormsjo, just dropped a bombshell in a Transportation Committee public roundtable: He's open to killing the city's entire streetcar project, including the hapless, $160 million H Street N.E. line. The news comes from WAMU reporter Martin Di Caro, who tweeted the following among much other excellent coverage:

The H Street line and its ongoing travails are the subject of strong feelings among many D.C. residents. The cars, meant to traverse a roughly two-mile length of street not easily accessed by Metro, have already undergone extensive (and expensive) testing. They were supposed to be open for business in January but weren't deemed ready at that time—just the latest in a series of missed deadlines for the project.

During one of last month's snowstorms, a fire and multiple collisions were reported along the line. This led to renewed doubts about the streetcar's viability—doubts that now appear to extend to the DDOT chief himself.

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  1. KILL IT! KILL IT! KILL IT! KILL IT!

    /hates all such projects at a cellular level any more

  2. The H Street line and its ongoing travails are the subject of strong feelings among many D.C. residents.

    So, Steph, are you saying that DC has a desire named “streetcar?”

    1. Hey Steeeeeeeephanie! Hey Stephanieeeeeeeeeee!

      1. +1 Napoleonic Code

      2. I never thought of this, but the opening montage to “The Flintstones” was really paying homage to “Streetcar” (“WILLLLLLLLMA!!! WILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLMAAAAA!!”)

        That’s some deep shit

  3. It serves no real purpose, takes up street space, and costs way too much. It should never have been built in the first place.

    1. Ah! So it’s a PERFECT government project then!

    2. but trains!

  4. During one of last month’s snowstorms, a fire and multiple collisions were reported along the line.

    Sounds like your typical DC gubmint project.

    RUN THAT BABY!

  5. They want a streetcar line in downtown Minneapolis. Thank G-d it rarely snows here.

    1. Minneapolis used to have them and I bet they ran during the winter too.

      1. Yes, but you notice they don’t exist any more. There’s probably a reason they disappeared and it’s probably because they aren’t economically viable any longer.

        1. Oh no doubt. But in some places they are certainly viable.

          1. Actually no – there is *no* place in the United States where light rail is economically viable (defined as – will actually be able to cover its operating, capital, and maintenance costs solely from fare receipts)..

            1. That’s because fare receipts are kept artificially low for political reasons.

              1. And always will be. I cannot imagine a set of conditions under which local politicians would NOT meddle with the administration of a light rail system. So the assertion that there is no place in the U.S. Where one could survive exonomically is spot on.

  6. During one of last month’s snowstorms, a fire and multiple collisions were reported along the line.

    Right. I’m sure these Top Men are smarter than me, but how does a streetcar system work in a city that is susceptible to snowstorms, and which seems to shut down when there is more than a few inches of snowfall?

    Are they banking on global warming and the end of snow?

    1. I dunno – they ran a pretty nice system in Detroy-it for years. Toronto still has one.

      Never heard of any problems with snow.

      srsly

      1. There is no problem with snow. This is just DC incompetence.

      2. Right, I forgot that Toronto has one. I guess my point is more about the fact that it’s DC.

        Still, I’m a dumb-dumb.

        1. No, no – DC politicos and bureautards are dum dums.

          YOU’RE a Reasonoid.

          Say it loud! Say it proud!

      3. Steel wheels on steel rails tend to break up the ice unless some idjit plow operator doesn’t leave enough clearance.

  7. It’s shocking more cities don’t use trolleybuses. Relatively cheap, efficient, durable and you don’t have to tear up the damn street to run the things.

    1. Trolleybuses are bullshit. Overpriced, low-capacity, etc.

      1. Trolleybuses have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance than regular buses since they have no engine, have an identical capacity as regular buses, and run off the power grid instead of using (relatively) inefficient gas/diesel engines.

        They do have some disadvantages compares to regular buses… but if the choice is between streetcar or trolleybus, why pick the streetcar?

        1. Because streetcars have higher capacity and durability.

          1. An *individual streetcar* may – but the network required to *use* that streetcar is far more expensive. The total costs for a bus system are much, much lower (like an order of magnitude) compared to a trolley system with the same number of cars covering the same distances.

        2. OK, by “trolleybus” I mean an actual gasoline/diesel powered bus that runs on regular roads (not tracks) on rubber tires. IOW a bus styled after a San Fransico cable car but a bus in all other aspects.

          A proper trolley is a conveyance running from electricity provided from overhead wire infrastructure through a trolley mechanism on the car/bus and are propelled by electric motors powered by the trolley. Trolleys generally run on steel wheels on tracks, though it is possible for them to run on pneumatic wheels on regular streets as long as there is an overhead wire infrastructure (or on internal battery for infrastructure gaps and short hops).

          Getting deep into public transportation history here but “trolleybuses” are styled after San Francisco cable cars which don’t even run off of trolley systems. It’s pure nostalgia.

          1. No, a trolleybus is powered by overhead electric wires. It *can* have a gas or diesel engine but the defining characteristic is that the engine is electric. They have nothing to do with SF cable cars – that is a completely different technology (the cars are dragged along rails by gripping a cable that moves under the street).

        3. Trolleybuses have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance than regular buses since they have no engine,

          Trolleybuses *do* have an engine – its just not kept in the trolley.

          And instead of maintaining 50 reliable internal combustion engines you’re now maintaining 50 *mile* of electrical cabling and track, not to mention switch gear.

    2. It’s shocking more cities don’t use trolleybuses. Relatively cheap, efficient, durable and you don’t have to tear up the damn street to run the things.

      If a ‘trolleybus’ isn’t a regular old bus with a different skin then its going to be too expensive to operate on its own.

      Trolleybuses, from my experience, require a dedicated lane – that alone will make them a waste of money.

      1. Actually, no. They share lanes with cars.

        1. They typically share a lane *built/rebuilt* for the trolley bus with cars. They can’t use the rest of the road though and are locked into routes that are not easily changeable.

          1. They can use the adjacent lane – I’ve seen it happen. You are right that the routes aren’t easily changeable, which is not as big a concern in established, dense areas.

            1. Its still a concern – usage patterns are not stable even over a matter of years for any except a tiny number of routes, and only if the feeder routes can change to keep funneling people into the established route as people move around the city.

          2. To elaborate, there is no road construction involved – just the overhead wires.

            1. I grant that some (most) may not need new road construction – but the one’s I’m familiar with (Tucson’s proposal, for example) would have required new lane construction.

              And those overhead wires are not a trivial expense. At least with roads the costs of maintaining and upgrading are shared among private cars and public buses – the subsidy per person is small.

              Trolleys are the only thing using the wires so the costs of *that* are divided among riders – riders which are normally forced off cheaper and more convenient buses as funding for those is shifted to the flashier downtown trolley.

  8. Trolleys or trams are artisanal buses. Nothing is too good for the denizens of the District that is taxed without representation.

  9. So, if DC isn’t going to use the 19th century technology, can Seattle have it?

    1. Oh FFS cars are 19th century technology too – can we lay that stupid soundbite to rest?

      1. Um, no. Thanks for asking.

        Proper trolleys are nineteenth century technology in the sense that they were pretty much perfected in the 1800s and have changed only incrementally since then. Automobiles were in their infancy in the 1800’s, the two major twentieth century advances were the automatic (no get out and crank) starter and the automatic transmission, both of which made the automobile more attractive for a larger driving public. *cough* women *cough*

        1. Electric streetcars arrived in the 1880’s so yes it is “19th century technology” but there have been advancements such as automatic control. Your cute little phrase is really just a means to belittle and deflect.

          1. Except that they’re fucking single-route transportation systems with zero flexibility, made in a time when few people owned cars. Geeeet it?

            1. Which is perfectly suitable in some areas such as dense cities. Get it?

              1. Bzzzt, wrong.

                That’s why S.L.U.T. Ridership has consistently been far below projected ridership numbers, in this densely populated city. Because when you can choose a bus or a car, or your plans change, the Street Car becomes distinctly less attractive.

                Subways or ‘light rail’ even has greater advantage because it’s generally designed in ‘loop’ configurations, taking people to multiple, high traffic neighborhoods.

                Seattle’s streetcar system has been a spectacular failure.

                1. And do we need to remind anyone we’re facing crippling bus-service cuts? Buses carry three to four times the passengers per day compared to streetcars, cost 30 to 40 percent less to operate and don’t require $50 million to $75 million per mile of track laid to get them up and running.

              2. And in fact, the South Lake Union Trolley was chosen precisely BECAUSE the neighborhood wasn’t densely populated, and city leaders believed that building a Trolley would… it’s hard to say this with a straight face… would MAKE it more densely populated.

                Because when urbanites saw there was this cute train running to the end of the block, they’d all say, “Let’s move there!”

                1. And in fact, the South Lake Union Trolley was chosen precisely BECAUSE the neighborhood wasn’t densely populated

                  Which is why it’s a failure. I don’t know Seattle, but if it’s a “dense city” as you claim, surely there is some major axis that could generate the demand for a fixed route with higher-capacity vehicles. These little demonstration projects that are popping up all over the US are little more than boondoggles – I agree.

                  1. I don’t know Seattle, but if it’s a “dense city” as you claim, surely there is some major axis that could generate the demand for a fixed route with higher-capacity vehicles.

                    Every day in Bal’mer as I sit at an overly long red light, thank to their light rail system, I see the light rail trains slowly roll by with maybe a half-dozen people in each car.

                    It’s a fucking boondoggle.

                    1. And NYC subway ridership is at record highs (despite being the only shrinking subway system in the world). Two can play that game.

              3. HAH! Oh yeah, and this is my favorite… here’s a picture of the opening of the S.L.U.T., with Mayor McGlobalWarming (I hope he enjoyed his only term) introducing the S.L.U.T. to the riders… Riders which consisted entirely of reporters and one homeless guy wondering why the stuck the podium in the middle of the sidewalk. Note the reporter on the right side of the frame checking his watch, wondering when he can get back to reporting real stories.

              4. Except they’re not.

                Salt Lake, San Diego, pick a city with a fixed-line transit system and see if you can find one that operates even *close* to subsidy-less (I’ll grant that buses usually don’t either but they require far less in subsidies) and whose every expansion didn’t come by cannibalizing funding for bus routes.

                1. NYC subways are around 50%, Toronto 73% (source). Keep in mind that the fares are kept artifically low for SJW reasons.

                  BTW I’m not trying to defend toy systems like Portland or Seattle. I will defend systems that are *necessary* due to demand – like NYC or even the light-rail line in Jersey City which gets heavy use.

                  1. Notice the thing those two MT projects have in common – they’re *subways*.

                    Basically, if your city is in the in-between area where its too expensive to run a car but not cost effective to run a subway then its in *bus* territory – if nothing else, its because you can’t afford to buy up right-of-ways to put in trolley lines.

                    There is no place, IN THE WORLD, where *surface* light rail transit is appropriate.

                    1. There is no place, IN THE WORLD, where *surface* light rail transit is appropriate.

                      Nonsense. I gave a good example above already – the Hudson-Bergen light rail in NJ. Some of it’s on streets, most is on abandoned railroads. If your argument is that these things can’t share the road with cars – well, yes, where that is a concern, you have a point. However it is by no means a requirement.

      2. Oh FFS cars are 19th century technology too – can we lay that stupid soundbite to rest?

        Good point, so is my AR-15. But Bill Maher thinks that only muskets should be legal. I wonder what the differences are?

    2. Why is it that virtually every large city in this country is asking “How can we attract people and business into our city to work, live, and play?” and Seattle hits the lottery with Amazon’s HQ and Childless Tech Weenies wanting to live in downtown condos and asks “How can we make it difficult and expensive to work, live, and play in our city?”

  10. Now that they’ve already spent the last decade with H Street torn to shreds and have destroyed a valuable traffic lane on a congested street for this, they’re going to kill the project.

    That’s pretty much the DC government in a nutshell.

    1. Hey, be thankful *someone* in DC has heard of the ‘sunk-cost fallacy’.

  11. When my father was a kid, he saw someone lose a leg to a streetcar.

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  16. Good. Expand the metro because that actually adds development in the area. Streetcars are an expensive waste of land/money.

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