Saturday, April 05, 2008

When Curmudgeons Attack

Earlier this week the Washington Post reported on the use of a fake trolley in the neighboring city of Alexandria to gin up traffic to and from a massively new and crass hotel/convention complex downriver from our nation's capital. Fortunately commenters have taken care of the heresy of referring to a dolled-up propane-powered tourbus as a trolley, though not quite as decisively as Count von Zeppelin did. Incidentally (albeit coincidentally) those things go up like, well, a tank of propane attached to a lot of varnished wood. Oh, the Middle American humanity!

At the same time, H Street NE is getting a real trolley which is a bad idea for traffic reasons* and which they have not figured out how to power yet, owing to restrictions on overhead wires in DC. The under-street wiring used on the original DC streetcar system was extraordinarily expensive to install and maintain and did not play well with ice and snow. This is similar to the Metro's use of open-air escalators, which have since been covered by surprisingly attractive steel and glass canopies. Also, given the long timeline for ordering and receiving streetcars and the related expense, DC has committed to exactly one of the conveyances for the moment. There also does not appear to be a serious plan for actually connecting the streetcar line to Union Station and its metro and rail connections. In fact, the layout of the train and metro tracks is almost perfect for preventing an effective connection.

Dedicated bus lanes make more sense in terms of fitting existing traffic and for transit flexibility, as well as providing the easy connection to Union Station over the existing "Kids Dancing" bridge**. These factors, of course, quickly eliminated them from consideration.

*H Street is a festival of double-parking and sudden middle-of-the-block U-turns. Streetcars will literally eat those kind of occurrences for lunch.

**So called by our kids for the abstract glass and ceramic mosaics of hopscotching children that line both sides of the span.


inked said...

I think the larger idea for the streetcar involves connecting it to greater lightrail network and this is part of the reason it is going to terminate where it will. But it is certainly annoying that we can't find any funding for the project. For now there are plans to employ a special dedicated bus. And hopefully they will also choose to do some aggressive enforcement on double parking.

Dave S. said...

I'm honored to get a visit from Frozen Tropics!

What are the other parts of the light rail network and how will they be integrated into current and future transit systems?

I guess I am concerned that the high initial infrastructure costs of light rail could be directed better toward other alternatives such as dedicated bus lanes etc. And I am saying this as a fan of trolleys and trains in general. However, I am not sure that trolleys are the best solution for re-connecting H Street with the rest of the District.

As for double parking, one enforcement method would be to build the streetcar line quickly and have the units run express routes only for the first few days, or once a day during peak double-parking times. I have seen what happens when streetcars and autos meet and people would get the picture pretty quickly.