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Posted at 5:15 PM ET, 06/ 1/2010

D.C. seeks to lift ban on overhead wires

By Washington Post editors

D.C. Council members introduced a bill Tuesday that would lift a long federal ban on overhead electrical wires along H Street NE.

The bill, drafted by council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), and signed by 12 of 13 members, would repeal laws Congress passed in 1888 and 1889 banning overhead electrification in Georgetown and the area bounded by the Potomac and Anacostia waterfronts north to Florida Avenue.

The legislation would exempt the the H Street-Benning Road corridor, where the city is now laying tracks for streetcar service. Other historic neighborhoods in the city’s planned 37-mile streetcar network would still be required to have cars draw electricity from buried batteries or power strips.

For now.

The bill opens the door to overhead power on large swaths of the streetcar system once Mayor Adrian M. Fenty develops a citywide plan by 2014 that will determine which views are worth saving and which aren’t.

Local preservation groups, including the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service, are on record opposing any overhead wires as visual clutter.

But city transportation officials, along with Wells and other council members, say wireless technology is costly and untested in most American cities.

The only council member not backing the bill is Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who has been skeptical of the city’s investment in the streetcar project.

The streetcar program, a Fenty priority, was nearly axed by Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray last week to help close a city budget gap. An outcry from advocates prompted Gray to restore a proposed $50 million cut.

— Lisa Rein

By Washington Post editors  | June 1, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Tags:  d.c. council, streetcars, tommy wells  
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Comments

Is this the correct order?:

1. Decide to introduce streetcars that require overhead electrical wires.
2. Buy the street cars.
3. Start installing the tracks.
4. Pass bill to lift a long federal ban on overhead electrical wires along the area you want to run the streetcars.
5. Convince local preservation groups, including the National Capital Planning Commission and the National Park Service to approve the overhead wires.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | June 1, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

@Jimof1913: The answer is no. And what is worse about this fiasco is that the Department of Transportation has an entire division surrounding transportation PLANNING. I think it was wrong headed to continue moving ahead with such an astronomically expensive project without clearing all of the regulatory barriers first. What happens if the Federal entities simply say NO?

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | June 1, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

Wow!

Posted by: drfields | June 1, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Cars stuck in traffic isn't the nicest visual either.

Posted by: slydell | June 2, 2010 12:53 AM | Report abuse

If Fenty is this bad at handling a trolley project, there's no telling what will happen to the taxi industry if he keeps setting prices.

Posted by: starclimber9 | June 2, 2010 1:55 AM | Report abuse

Doesn't anyone remember why large cities eliminated Trolley Car lines ?
Trolleys are single point to point lines, any disruption on the line and the trolley stops. It can't detour, it impedes regular road maintenance, and with DC's record of snow removal they will never operate during a snow storm. This is why we went to Buses.

Posted by: EXWNYer | June 2, 2010 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Don't be distracted...this entire hoopla is DDOT trying to cover over the fac that they spent ~100 million dollars over the past 6 years on constrction, plans and purchasing streetcars, without FIRST determining how it was going to be powered, what should have been the first step. The overhead ban was the first issue DDOT was made aware of 6 years ago, and they ignored it. Now all of a sudden there is a need to "rush" this through despite the fact that all the overiding authorities like NCPC have been telling them "NO" for years.

Gabe Klein is a disaster. I am sure he is a nice guy, but he never had the experience required to run an agency like DDOT, and only got it because he was friends with Fenty. This guy spent a million bucks installing bike lanes on PA avenue without bothering to first send someone out there with a measuring tape, and then days before their planned opening, delayed them indefinitely.

This guy can't even paint lines on the street correctly, and you want him building what they claim is only a 1.5 billion dollar street car network?

He needs to go.

Posted by: Nosh1 | June 2, 2010 8:43 AM | Report abuse

Good. All this hysteria about how ugly single overhead wires are is ridiculous, particularly away from the monumental core. Let's get the streetcars running as soon as possible.

EXWNYer, the reason cities shifted from streetcars to buses was massive lobbying by GM and other players in the bus and oil industries during the immediate postwar period. The problem is that people perceive buses as only for the poor, and won't ride them. It's good to see the streetcars, which people will ride, coming back -- not just in DC but in cities around the country.

Posted by: dal20402 | June 2, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

EXWNYer,
Hmmm, I thought we went to buses because GM bought all the street cars and let them rot so cities could buy buses from them. A flexible route may sound good in theory but people like the idea of counting on a route not changing. Does anyone even know where a bus route that they don't ride regularly runs? Maybe the circulator since it has a fixed route.

Posted by: smirkman | June 2, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

@dal20402

EXWNYer, the reason cities shifted from streetcars to buses was massive lobbying by GM and other players in the bus and oil industries during the immediate postwar period.

@smirkman

EXWNYer,
Hmmm, I thought we went to buses because GM bought all the street cars and let them rot so cities could buy buses from them
++++++++++++++++==

You're both wrong.

I know what you're saying is the standard car-hater/road opponent/transit advocate/environmentalist "fact-based" reason for the elimination of streetcars in most US cities, but it's a lie, plain and simple.

There was never a GM/highway lobby "conspiracy" to kill streetcars. The streetcars did themselves in. Streetcar use in the US peaked in the 1920's. Every major streetcar line in the US was either bankrupt or out of business by the beginning of WWII. By the time GM began large-scale bus manufacturing in the mid-1940's, the streecars were a very minor competitor.

You might not like it, but those are the facts regardless of what the agenda-based web sites tell you.

Posted by: ceefer66 | June 2, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Overhead wires really are a blight. Drive along Route 1 in College Park to see how they ruin the view. The University of Maryland was smart enough to bury the wires in front of its campus, but the the power lines make the rest of College Park look like Hicksville.

Posted by: pundito | June 2, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

ceefer, Public transit of all kinds declined in the depression and again after the WWII boom. Almost all private transit agencies sold or went bankrupt due to the proliferation of cars. This is true but many cities purchased many of these agencies and subsidized their usage as no transit system makes money (today). Many of these cities at that time determined that buses were a better form of transit because of the reasons posted by EXWNYer. Why did they believe that? Whether it was because of GM, the oil companies, tire companies buying out the agencies or lobbying the transit agencies, there is no doubt that it had an effect. Would the streetcars still be there without any government assistance? No, but neither would the NYC Subway.

Posted by: smirkman | June 3, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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