Detail of the Conceptual Alternatives map showing streets in the greater Park View area that are part of the North-South Study (click for full map)
Having attended both the November 4th North-South Corridor meeting and the less formal November 11th presentation during the Georgia Avenue Economic Development Community Task Force (GAEDTF), its time to pull together some of my initial impressions. To begin with, the area under consideration involves a lot of streets, many of which I can’t imagine will be on the table for long. But, in essence, the study area includes the traffic currently handled by three of the top five busiest routes in the District. The overall corridor handles a quarter of the District’s bus ridership, which is over 60,000 bus riders per day.
During the presentations DDOT was fairly clear that they were open to listening from residents on whether the solution to meeting the transportation demands would be streetcars or something else. However, for several years now, streetcars have been the mode of transportation most discussed, and I think it has an advantage over alternative modes at this time. But … it was also clear that this phase of meetings was a very early step in the process and there will be other opportunities for the public to weigh in. The second series of meetings during Phase one are likely to be conducted in January/February 2014 and the third series could be around May/June 2014. Once they are completed, the study will move on to Phase 2: the environmental study.
The purpose of the meetings was also to gather community input on which routes were desired, which routes residents didn’t like, and gather concerns so that the study team has more information to work with. Jaime Henson, the chief DDOT presenter, stated that we, the residents, know our neighborhoods and streets far better than the study team ever could, and that was why community input was so essential to the process. They also made it clear that if someone stated they didn’t like one option over another to tell the team why. That was the best way for the study to understand the underlying issues connected to the corridor.
One thing I found interesting was that many residents in the SW Waterfront and upper Georgia Avenue areas tended to respond to the presentations positively. I would say that the overall vibe in the room at the GAEDTF meeting wasn’t that keen on streetcars — among the comments expressed were an interest in more circulator bus service, concern about overhead wires, concern that a disabled streetcar will snarl traffic, and that there isn’t room on Georgia Avenue for streetcars, buses, parking, and cars.
However, when compared to alternative routes in the area, I don’t see 14th Street, 11th Street, or Sherman Avenue being superior choices to Georgia Avenue. 14th Street, in particular, is usually a congested mess during morning rush hour and much of that has been in response to efforts to slow traffic down in the area around Park Road.
In looking at the comparison above, a streetcar’s capacity is 65 riders greater than an articulated bus.
In comparing modes of transportation with their size and rider capacity, I think it is fairly easy to see why DDOT has been considering streetcars so seriously. An average streetcar can carry 65 more passengers than an articulated bus. In such a comparison, the streetcar is also only 6 ft. longer than the articulated bus. In comparing width, streetcars and buses are roughly the same. However, driving lanes for buses are typically wider than those needed for streetcars because streetcars travel on rails and remain on their tracks, whereas a bus will naturally travel from side to side a bit more within a lane due to its unfettered nature.
So, the question becomes, if the District’s goal is to improve traffic between Buzzard Point in the South and Takoma Park/Silver Spring in the north, how does the Ward 1 section of the corridor want to participate? Do residents want the plan to include Georgia Avenue, or do they want it to bypass Georgia Avenue? Considering that a streetcar system would increase capacity the most, is the community willing to give anything up to accommodate this service — or do residents merely want to continue to add buses to the existing 70 network?
From my viewpoint, removing metered parking and establishing dedicated streetcar lanes would make a lot of sense. This would be especially true if the improved transportation service decreased visitors needing to drive to the corridor. The dedicated lane would also address the concern that a disabled streetcar would snarl traffic. Of course, an alternative to this would be to keep the metered parking and have streetcars share the road with automobiles. This is similar to the build-out on H Street where streetcars will share lanes with traffic.
All-in-all, there will be a lot for the community to consider. I’m certainly looking forward to the next round of public meetings to learn what insight DDOT gained from the last round of meetings and how that will move the process forward.
The full library of presentation materials used during the community presentations is available here. It’s worth a look to become more familiar with the study parameters and the challenges DDOT is attempting to address.