DC Streetcars to Be a Shot in the Arm

It was nearly 50 years ago, when streetcars were seen on the roadways of downtown Washington, DC. Dan Tangherlini, the former transportation director for the District discusses why streetcars matter in the United States capital.

Tangherlini says that one advantage streetcars have over buses is that the tracks "give a sense of permanence, and that encourages long-term investment." Portland, Ore., which started operating North America's first modern streetcar system in 2001, can attest to that. A 2008 study by the city says that since streetcar plans were unveiled in 1997, "$3.5 billion has been invested within two blocks of the streetcar alignment." The study lists "grocery stores, restaurants, galleries, shops and banks" as amenities that have been built near the streetcar lines.

Tangherlini emphasizes that economic development isn't merely a by-product of streetcar lines but, at least in D.C., part of the point of building the streetcar. He says when DDOT was planning the streetcar routes, it first mapped out current and future development, things like office buildings, shops and housing. The city is intentionally using streetcars to connect established activity centers, like Union Station, with emerging ones, like H Street in Northeast, which isn't connected to a Metrorail line but is trying to sustain new businesses and attract more visitors. Transportation isn't just for getting around, "it's for making places for people to go," says Tangherlini.

Thanks to Garrett Bradford

Full Story: The Case for Streetcars

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