In the first half of the twentieth century, the District of Columbia had a robust streetcar network with more than 200 miles of track and multiple companies providing service. But, like many US cities, the District shelved the streetcars in favor of buses and the last day of streetcar service in the city was January 28, 1962.
Today, many regret the short-sighted decision making that silenced streetcar lines across the country and streetcars are now making a comeback. Streetcars are running once again in Portland, Seattle, and Tampa and they’ve been credited with boosting economic development along their routes.
Here in the District, the streetcar construction that is underway now is rooted in a planning process that began several years ago to shape the future of transit in the city. The comprehensive District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis studied gaps in transit and identified ways to better meet the needs of residents. Out of that, DDOT began focusing on expanding transit service with the DC Circulator, express Metrobus routes, bus rapid transit, and streetcar.
The streetcar offers an array of benefits. First, it will make it easier for residents to move between neighborhoods. It will also spur economic development. Unlike buses, fixed rail lines have demonstrated they can be catalysts to attract investments in housing, retail and commercial properties.
The goals of the new DC Streetcar system are simple:
- Link neighborhoods with a modern, convenient and attractive transportation alternative.
- Provide quality service to attract and reach new transit ridership.
- Offer a broader range of transit options for District residents.
- Reduce short inner-city auto trips, parking demand, traffic congestion and air pollution.
- Encourage economic development and affordable housing options along streetcar corridors.
Without streetcars, the prospects for public transportation in the District are much less promising. Local transit forecasts expect transportation trips by District residents to continue to increase over the next thirty years. Already, many Metrobus routes and Metrorail lines are operating at or above capacity. It is clear there is a need for more transit service and the DC Streetcar is an investment that will pay tremendous dividends for District residents.