- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2016

D.C. officials long heralded the streetcar system as a boon for city, calling its $200 million price tag for a 2.4-mile track on H Street a down payment for an economic renaissance.

But six months after its debut, the free trolley service has failed to win over the residents and businesses it serves in Northeast.

“I hate the streetcar,” said Jacqueline Petway, who works at the urban apparel store DTLR on H Street Northeast. “They should have used that money for something that would have actually helped, like street repair and additional parking.”

Monica Edmondson, another DTLR employee, said the streetcar “is just in everyone’s way and always causes traffic backups.”

“If the first six months indicate anything, it’s doomed to fail,” Ms. Edmondson said.

Nonetheless, the District Department of Transportation has reported that the 3,000 streetcar riders each day double the estimates floated when construction began on the project in September 2009 with the aim of launching in summer 2013. Various delays pushed that date to February of this year.

DDOT officials will meet this month to discuss an additional car to reduce wait times and to provide service on Sundays.

Still, more cars, shorter wait times and Sunday service don’t appear likely to impress those along the H Street corridor.

“No one I know around here rides it,” a T-Mobile employee said. “We can walk anywhere in the two miles that the track covers faster than the streetcar would get us there.”

Ms. Edmondson and her co-workers recalled a recent incident in which a vehicle ran into a Metrobus that was turning onto H Street. For 15 minutes, cars drove around the accident, they said. The streetcar, however, was stuck. Locals said such incidents occur regularly.

“Cars park too close to the tracks all the time, causing the entire system to shut down until the DDOT tow truck driver who sits there waiting for it to happen tows the car away,” another T-Mobile worker said.

The D.C. Council announced plans to develop a 33-mile streetcar line in 2003. The project originally was projected to cost less than $50 million and would focus on redeveloping several parts of the city.

Thirteen years and $200 million later, the streetcar — a throwback to the city’s old electric trolley system — ferries passengers from Union Station along H Street Northeast to Oklahoma Avenue and Benning Road. The trolley runs from 6 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays.

H Street resident Joyce Brown said she enjoys the convenience of the trolley.

“I remember riding the trolley in Georgetown when I was young, so I like riding the new streetcar a few times a week when I need to run errands,” Ms. Brown said.

Anwar Saleem, executive director of H Street Main Street Inc., said residents and tourists alike should give the streetcar a chance because the city has invested so much time and money into the project.

“I always thought it would be really popular,” said Mr. Saleem. “I think running it through December without charging fares will help attract more riders.”

For residents, paying fares is a nonstarter.

“Even if it’s really cheap, no one’s going to pay when they could walk wherever they’re going faster,” said Antonio Winder, who works at Ten 01 restaurant.

If DDOT goes through with plans to expand the D.C. Streetcar, Mr. Winder said, H Street residents will choose other methods of transportation.

“It takes the streetcar 20 minutes to go down the street. If you expand it, it will take a good hour and 30 minutes just to get across town,” Mr. Winder said. “The buses come right behind each other, especially during peak hours. Riders would be better off using the bus or taking an Uber.”

Arrian Maize, a manager at Joy of Motion Dance Center, typically uses the streetcar once a day but said she often has to walk because the 15-minute wait between cars is too long.

“It seems like a really good idea and looks really nice, but its functionality isn’t functional at all,” she said.

• Julia Porterfield can be reached at jporterfield@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide