About Streetcars

Not a streetcar expert? Reference the DC Streetcar Glossary to get up to speed on the streetcar lingo.

What is a streetcar?
Streetcars are passenger vehicles that operate on fixed rails on public streets. The vehicles can operate in mixed traffic and/or a separate right of way. The DC Streetcar is a “modern streetcar” – air conditioned with a low-floor center section for wheelchair accessibility. The low floors also allow for faster and easier boarding.

DC Streetcar

DC Streetcar

How big is a streetcar?
Streetcars are about the same length as an articulated bus, but hold more people. See the comparison chart below:

(Vehicle dimensions are based on industry averages and specific vehicles used in DC, when known.)

(Vehicle dimensions are based on industry averages and specific vehicles used in DC, when known.)Comparison-Streetcar-to-other-transit-modes

How many people will a streetcar hold?
Each streetcar vehicle can accommodate a range of 144-160 seated and standing.
Do streetcars produce vibrations you can feel when it passes by, like a large truck or a bus?
Yes. Vibrations from a streetcar are about the same as a DC Circulator bus.
Are streetcars noisy?
Streetcars are no louder than a typical bus. Powered by quiet electric motors, streetcars use a pole and the pantograph, to collect power from an electrified wire that is suspended approximately 20 feet over the lane in which the streetcar runs. Noise from a streetcar is generated from the wheel to track movement, rather than from the engine, like a bus. 
How fast does a streetcar go?
Modern streetcars operate at average speeds of 25 to 35 mph in mixed traffic on city streets, stopping at designated station platforms. Streetcar operating speeds will be similar to a local bus, not exceeding the posted speed limit and keeping up with the flow of traffic.
How is a streetcar different from light rail or a train?
Although streetcars and light rail vehicles use similar technologies they do differ. Streetcars are typically smaller, lighter, less expensive, and usually operate in mixed traffic, rather than in their own exclusive right of way. Streetcar systems can be built more rapidly, are more cost-effective, and cause less disruption to businesses and communities during construction in comparison to light rail. They can stop more frequently and offer a more flexible service appropriate for city neighborhoods.Light rail is generally used for regional transit with relatively fast-moving, large cars designed to transport high numbers of people rapidly between suburban and urban areas. Heavy rail (similar to MetroRail here in the DC metro area) can also be used for regional and long distance transit.

About Your Neighborhood and Traffic

Will putting in streetcar tracks reduce the number of parking spaces in my neighborhood?
Possibly, but not drastically. Because streetcars operate in mixed traffic, existing travel and parking lanes will not need to be removed unless the space is needed for a streetcar stop or to provide an adequate turning radius. A streetcar stop platform is equal to about 2-3 parking spaces.
What does “mixed-use” traffic mean?
Mixed-use means that something can be used for multiple purposes or serve multiple functions. Streetcars do not require their own dedicated right of way and operate in the same lanes as other vehicles. This is referred to as “mixed-use” traffic as all traffic is using the same space.
Will the use of overhead catenaries (power lines) reduce the tree canopy in my neighborhood?
Potentially, but not drastically. DDOT will work to minimize any impact to neighborhood trees on all projects. Depending on the specific street being served, it is possible that isolated trees may need to be removed or relocated during construction and installation of the overhead wires. Conflicts may arise with relocation of existing utilities or adequate clearance to meet code requirements. In other cities where streetcar systems are in place, shade trees are typically trimmed, not removed. Streetcar overhead wires and shade trees are compatible. After construction is completed, operations and maintenance provisions will require that the contractor maintain/trim trees to minimize impacts to the overhead wire system. 
Will there be special streetcar only signals?
DDOT is working on the best way to integrate streetcar operations into the existing traffic network and signalized intersections. Optimal traffic signal systems have not been finalized. One option under consideration is that the streetcar vehicle may be configured with traffic signal controls or priority that enables the streetcar to clear congested intersections and maintain schedule during heavy traffic.
How will bike lanes work with streetcars?
Bike lanes will not be placed in the same lane the streetcar uses. Cyclists are urged not to ride their bikes parallel to the tracks due to safety concerns; they should use another lane and only cross at a right angle. Safety signage for cyclists has been ordered and should be in place soon.
Will the streetcar generate economic development?
Yes. Streetcar has been a proven generator of economic development in other US cities. Developers respond to the investments made by municipalities, the increase in foot traffic as a customer base, and the security of a fixed line that won’t be changed, like bus routes often are.
Is Streetcar creating jobs for District residents?
While the streetcar itself will provide some jobs, the secondary employment impacts of DC Streetcar will be much bigger. The District expects that the economic development spurred by DC Streetcar will provide a number of new jobs for District residents. The streetcar also provides greater access to existing jobs in other neighborhoods for those residents who rely on transit to get to work.

About Streetcar Service & Operations

When will streetcar service begin?
DDOT delivered its first streetcar vehicles to H/Benning in fall 2013 to begin testing on the corridor. Five vehicles are on the corridor for operator training and testing. This testing process is an official safety procedure and provides vehicle operators with an opportunity to get familiar with traffic patterns along the route; helps local drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and delivery trucks acclimate to sharing the road with streetcars; and ensures that H/Benning is safe and ready for service. Once these goals are met and the system is certified, passenger service will begin.
How much will it cost to ride the streetcar?
DDOT is studying potential fares and fare collection systems now. The preference is for a fare that is affordable and also simple and comparable to the cost of riding the DC Circulator or a Metrobus. When a fare decision is made, it will be announced on this website.
How will fares be collected? Will I be able to use my SmarTrip card?
DDOT is evaluating several on- and off-board fare collection systems. Integration with existing methods of payment, to include SmarTrip, is one of several evaluation criteria.
What will the hours of operation for the streetcar be?
  • Monday-Thursday: 6 a.m. – midnight
  • Friday: 6 a.m. – 2 a.m.
  • Saturday: 8 a.m. – 2 a.m.
  • Holidays: 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Can I bring a stroller onto the streetcar?
Yes. The modern streetcar’s interior layout is designed to allow strollers to be brought on board using wide passenger doors that are level with the station platforms. In addition, the vehicles will also accommodate bikes and wheelchairs.
Can bikes be brought onto the streetcar?
Yes. The modern streetcar’s interior layout is designed to allow bicycles to be brought on board using wide passenger doors that are level with the station platforms. In addition, the vehicles will also accommodate strollers and wheelchairs.
How long will I have to wait at a streetcar stop before I can board?
Streetcars will operate frequently. Current plans call for every 10 to 20 minutes.
What happens when it snows?
Streetcars can operate effectively in snow conditions, but similar to all vehicles (including buses) they are subject to service limitations in severe weather and snowstorms. DDOT will develop and implement a snowstorm operating policy and contingency plans.
What happens if power goes out?
Safety and other emergency procedures for the streetcar system are still being formulated. However, for extended power outages, the streetcar will be towed back to the Car Barn Training Center with a specialized vehicle.
What happens if the streetcar breaks down or there is a car accident/incident that blocks the streetcar?
Safety and other emergency procedures for the streetcar system are still being formulated. In the case of a streetcar accident or breakdown, the streetcar will be towed back to the maintenance area with a specialized vehicle. In the case of a car accident, emergency response teams will move the car away from the streetcar as soon as possible.

About Safety and Accessibility

Are the streetcars ADA compliant?
Yes. The modern streetcar’s interior layout is designed to accommodate wheelchairs using wide passenger doors that are level with the station platforms. The streetcars have level floor areas with substantial standing areas that can be used by wheelchairs. In addition, vehicles will also accommodate bikes and strollers.level-boarding-diagram
How will local residents know how be safe around the streetcar?
The District will implement a Streetcar Safety Outreach program this summer that will help educate residents on how to be safe around streetcars. This program will target a variety of users and stakeholder groups, including pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, and schoolchildren.

Are the rails in the pavement safe for bicyclists and pedestrians?
Yes. The rails embedded in the travel lanes are safe for bicyclists and pedestrians and contain no electric current. As with any street infrastructure, bicyclists and pedestrians should use caution when traveling next to or crossing the streetcar tracks. DDOT is currently developing an awareness campaign to educate bicyclists and pedestrians when moving across and adjacent to the streetcar embedded rail. The awareness campaign will identify the potential hazards and safe practices to cross or move adjacent with the streetcar embedded rail.
Will there be police patrols on the streetcar? At/near the stations?
Local police will visit the stations as part of their regular patrols.
Once the streetcar system is operational for passenger service, additional security plans may be developed if needed.

Streetcar Signalization

Are the H/Benning streetcars center-running or curb-running?
Both! At the top of the Hopscotch Bridge the streetcar begins in the median, then moves curbside at the base of the bridge until the Starburst, when it becomes center-running again down Benning Road.

How will streetcars manage these lane-crossings in a busy street of mixed traffic, alongside other cars and pedestrians?
For most of the corridor, the streetcars will follow existing traffic signals. In locations where the streetcar must cross active lanes of vehicular traffic, additional streetcar-only signals were installed. These new signals are located at the Western Turnaround (3rd Street NE), the Starburst intersection (15th Street NE), the entrance to the Car Barn Training Center (24th Street NE) and the Eastern Turnaround (Oklahoma Avenue NE). The controls tell the streetcar operators when it is safe to proceed through an intersection or across shared lanes.

What do the streetcar-only signals look like?
Although the streetcar signals are housed in similar boxes to vehicular traffic signals, there’s no mistaking them for your standard green, yellow, or red lights. Rather than using solid colors to direct the streetcars, lighted red or white lines are used instead. The signal heads will be illuminated with a horizontal, diagonal or vertical line, depending on where the streetcar is going. The default position of any train control signal is the stop position, indicated by a horizontal red line. When the streetcars are able to proceed through an intersection, the streetcar signal will illuminate with a white line, pointed in one of three directions: left, right or horizontal.

How does the streetcar-only signal detect a streetcar is present?
Several unseen actions must take place before the signal lines are visible to the public. Loop detectors embedded in the streetcar tracks will detect the presence of a streetcar and activate only when a streetcar approaches. The operator pushes a button inside the streetcar vehicle that communicates the streetcar’s direction to the automated control system. A series of automatic checks takes place and the streetcar signal only changes when it is safe to do so.

When is it safe for motorists to drive through intersections and pedestrians to safely cross?
It is important to pay close attention to all signals. Normal vehicular operations and pedestrian crossings can continue once the streetcar moves across the intersection and the vehicular traffic signals turn green. In most cases, a red vehicular signal means the streetcar signal is green.

Is there anything I should remember to keep me safer during streetcar operations?
Yes! As always, pedestrians and motorists should use caution when crossing intersections. Remember to “Look, Listen, Be Safe!”