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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 06/ 1/2010

Barry surprised at streetcar plan from Barry mayoralty

By David Alpert

During the streetcar debate, D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) has repeatedly expressed puzzlement that a streetcar line is being planned for H Street. He seems to think the idea appeared out of the blue. But he shouldn't be surprised: His own administration published a plan including that very project in 1997.

During Tuesday's discussion of the streetcar overhead wire emergency legislation, Barry criticized the way, as he saw it, H Street suddenly appeared on the streetcar plan after not being "part of the discussion." His comments start at 1:26:05 on OCT's recording:

I support streetcars. What I don't support ... is this haphazard way of planning. ... 37 miles of streetcar. No involvement from the community, no involvement from anybody except themselves. ... Originally as I understand it ... it would be Georgia Avenue and Anacostia. And so all of a sudden we have H Street, which was not part of the discussion and we have some other areas.
This is a repeat of some of his comments from the May 26 debate when streetcars were being cut and later restored (at 24:18):
Our original plan was to go from Bolling Air Force Base down to Anacostia station. ... Down Martin Luther King, up Good Hope Road, and maybe across the 11th Street bridge to Capitol Hill. All of a sudden I hear from somewhere that H Street is on the agenda.
The H Street streetcar is a brand-new idea that suddenly appeared? Mr. Barry had never heard of the concept?

If that's right, then Mr. Barry must not have ever read the 1997 transportation plan published by the government of the District of Columbia, Marion Barry, Mayor. That plan shows a streetcar on H Street, but no streetcar at all in Anacostia.


Click for photograph of full version.

The only things the Barry Administration had in mind for River East, besides the end of the Benning Road line, was some municipal parking for commuters, truck-to-rail intermodal centers (the brown targets), some truck routes, and a trail connecting the fort parks. Here's the complete page, including the key.

Since then, a streetcar did get planned for Anacostia, and it's still being built. Despite council member Barry's confusion, it's still going to go to Anacostia station, and eventually across the 11th Street bridge. It just won't go to Bolling, because that doesn't help any of the residents of Ward 8, and almost nobody would ride it.

A lot of people seem to have gotten the idea that the streetcars have had no planning. As this plan shows, that planning dates to 1997. Since then, there have been two very exhaustive reports, in 2005 and 2010, which DDOT streetcar head Scott Kubly said cost about a million dollars to make. The latest one includes station locations, costs, ridership estimates and economic development analyses of each potential line segment. (Unless people haven't read the report because the DDOT site makes viewing PDFs so unpleasant.)

It's true that before Kubly took over the streetcar program, communication was pretty poor. The streetcar line in Anacostia got rerouted several times with very little public debate or awareness. But more recently DDOT has been planning up a storm.

The only problem is that many elected officials seem not to be reading the plans. At the hearing on the overhead wire bill, council member Phil Mendelson asked me several questions about the H Street line, which he said hadn't been planned. The only problem was, the answers to his questions were in the voluminous packet of information DDOT had sent to the council in response to their questions.

And despite council member Barry's impression, there have been numerous DDOT public forums about streetcars. Again, it took a while; B.K. (Before Kubly), the Sierra Club spent almost a year trying to get DDOT officials to talk about streetcars. But starting with the Aug. 7, 2009, community meeting, there has been substantial community involvement and many community meetings in all eight wards.

DDOT representatives have attended ANC and citizens' association meetings from Georgetown to Trinidad, and even upper Connecticut Avenue neighborhoods that aren't slated for a streetcar line but want one. Here's an announcement for a November 2009 meeting in Anacostia. Was council member Barry there?

In project after project, no matter how much public outreach government officials do, some people still insist that they never heard about the meetings and that there wasn't enough consultation. In this case, DDOT is moving quickly, and many people seem to mistake moving quickly for a lack of planning. Those of us who keep up with the streetcar plans feel there is plenty of planning being done. If people haven't bothered to read the plans, well, I encourage them to do so. They're pretty good.

David Alpert is founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By David Alpert  | June 1, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, Marion Barry, transportation  | Tags:  DC, DDOT, Marion Barry, Phil Mendelson, streetcars  
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