DC Streetcar Looks East

The Potential Path to Minnesota Avenue or Benning Road. Photo credit: DDOT

The DC streetcar still has about a year before it is up and running along H Street, but the streetcar team is starting to look into the feasibility of expansion across the river. Eventually, DC will have a city-wide system, and the next stops could be across the river along Benning Road.

Earlier this month, the DC Streetcar team held a meeting in Ward 7 to discuss the extension of the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line across the river. Although the possibility of this line has always been a part of the planned citywide system, DDOT and the DC Streetcar team are now entering into a more formal phase where they will be publishing a feasibility study on the potential installation tracks to the Minnesota Avenue Metro station or the Benning Road Metro Station.

The meeting consisted of a presentation, breakout sessions, and productive discussions that, according to Dara Ward, a consultant for the DC Streetcar Communications Team, “went exactly the way we hope public meetings go.” Like its H Street counterpart, concerns about traffic, noise, and overhead wires came up at the meeting. But once those questions are answered, the streetcar offers the potential of economic development and a supplement to transit-oriented development already being considered.

Streetcars along Benning Road Corridor

For nearly one hundred years, from 1862 to 1962, a streetcar ran through the vibrant Benning Road corridor, connecting the main street to the rest of the city. But like the rest of DC, the 1968 riots and the economic depression that followed destabilized the neighborhoods. 

In 2008, the DC Office of Planning published a Small Area Plan for different areas of Ward 7, including the Benning Road Corridor.  According to the plan, at the turn of the century “increased connectivity to other areas within and around DC, via railroad and cable car lines, made this area a natural magnet for residential development.” The Small Area Plan aims to reinvigorate that residential development and create a more pedestrian-oriented neighborhood.

The extension of this line across the river could link the two parts of Ward 7 previously separated by the river, the historic Langston golf course, and Kingman Island. These could be great attractions for the rest of the city were they more easily accessible—and the streetcar could facilitate that.

According to their presentation, the streetcar also offers a way “to connect Ward 7 with employment and activity centers” as well as to “support neighborhood plans for activity centers at the Minnesota Avenue/Benning Road intersection and elsewhere on corridor.” By facilitating a more direct exchange with the neighboring H Street, Union Station, and (eventually) the rest of the city, the streetcar system can encourage economic growth. The study notes that the area has many of the same advantages as H Street.

Building a Streetcar

The segment of the streetcar line that should be up-and-running by late 2013, according to DDOT, runs from Hopscotch Bridge at 1st and H Streets to Benning Road and Oklahoma Avenue. The line terminates at Spingarn High School, which is also the future site of the car barn and training center.  

Bringing the streetcar across the river raises certain technical questions that will be addressed in the upcoming feasibility study. For example, could the bridge over Kingman Lake and the bridge over the Anacostia River hold the increased weight from a street car? How would the on-street parking be affected? According to Ward, the study will answer some of these questions. “The team will look at the technical feasibility for going to either, and from an engineering standpoint what the road will look like, what bridge structures can be used, and the geometry of the streets,” she said.

Attendees at the meeting were concerned with many of the complications that come with a streetcar, such as the overhead catenary wires, parking, and the right-of-way. Like the H Street line, the extension will use overhead wires, and would require an examination of how to maintain on-street parking.

The feasibility study would also consider whether to go to Minnesota Avenue Metro or Benning Road Metro. “If it goes to Minnesota Avenue it’s a much shorter line,” Ward said. “Going to Benning Road would provide more stops.” The study will be completed later this fall.

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