The Full DC Streetcar Routes Explained

by Joe Marhamati

The Full DC Streetcar Routes Explained: Figure 1

Most DC residents are aware of the new streetcar line being constructed along Benning Road and H Street, but many people probably don’t realize just how extensive the fully built-out streetcar network will be. The H Street-Benning line is just the first step in a grand plan to outfit the entire District with a new mode of public transportation. Thirty-seven miles of proposed lines will connect the city in ways never imagined, and, if realized, will likely spur the development of neighborhoods and surrounding regions that have been underdeveloped for decades. Understanding the plan is important for forward-looking home buyers who want to be strategic about buying in a neighborhood that is targeted for a streetcar line.

Intended for communities in DC that are not adequately served by the existing Metro infrastructure, the streetcars will help to connect emerging neighborhoods, and allow for a more efficient, effective, and (hopefully) economical alternative to the maze of often confusing and unreliable bus routes running through the city. The streetcars themselves were made in the Czech Republic and introduced to the public this year. With the initial line planned for Minnesota Ave to Union Station, many of the residents and businesses living along the line have a big stake in the success of the project. When DC City Council took funds for the project out for next year’s budget, uproars from affected residents were heard, and the funds were quickly restored.

A total of eight streetcar lines are currently planned, with construction to take place in three separate phases, outlined below. It should be noted that the build-out will not occur according to a strict schedule. The plan will almost surely change over time, and the build-out of additional lines will likely depend very much on the success of the line currently under construction.

According to DDOT, the first phase of the project will see a streetcar line extending beyond its current terminus of Union Station all the way to downtown DC, in the vicinity of K Street NW. A second line in Phase 1 will connect MLK Jr. Avenue in Southeast with M Street SW in an apparent attempt to adjoin the burgeoning Nationals Stadium area with Anacostia just across the river. Additionally, the third and fourth lines in Phase 1 will connect both Georgia Avenue NW and MLK Jr. Avenue with downtown.

The Full DC Streetcar Routes Explained: Figure 2
Phase 1 of the DC Streetcar Network (click to expand)

Phase 2 will double down on an already ambitious plan of four lines by extending one of those lines and adding an additional two. The Georgia Avenue line will be extended significantly to the Tacoma Park Metro area. One of the new lines from Phase 2 will connect Rhode Island Avenue all the way from Eastern Avenue through downtown DC. Another will swerve its way from the southern portion of MLK Jr. Avenue SE all the way to Calvert Street NW. This line will go north along 8th Street SE until hitting Florida Avenue and crossing over to Northwest at the U Street area.

The Full DC Streetcar Routes Explained: Figure 3
Phase 2 of the DC Streetcar Network (click to expand)

Phase 3 plans for a Minnesota Avenue line that extends from the Metro station south through Anacostia tracking the path of the Anacostia River. In addition, a line from Calvert Street NW to Catholic University tracking Colombia Road, Irving Street and Michigan Avenue would assist with east-west traffic in the city.

The Full DC Streetcar Routes Explained: Figure 4
Phase 3 of the DC Streetcar Network (click to expand)

The total of eight streetcar lines presents a number of engineering, political, financial, and logistical challenges for the city. It also poses one of the greatest opportunities to address the growing population and nearly maxed-out Metro system, promotion of development in underutilized neighborhoods, as well as the chance to create one of the foremost above-ground American public transportation systems.

See other articles related to: streetcars, dclofts, dc streetcars

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_full_dc_streetcar_routes_explained/2236


  1. Adam said at 8:05 pm on Tuesday July 6, 2010:
    How is it that this plan leaves out virtually all of NW? Wisconsin Ave from Tenleytown to Georgetown, Mass Ave out from Dupont, Palisades, and Chevy Chase Circle up to Barnaby are all completely unserved by Metro lines. The people in those neighborhoods will be the ones paying for most of this system- if you want to get political support for it, you better include the people paying for it.
  1. SL said at 9:56 pm on Tuesday July 6, 2010:
    Upper northwest neighborhoods are not densely populated and people are not as dependent on public transit (how many carless households in Chevy Chase? how many would use a streetcar even if available?). Plus this funding is targeted to encourage new development in less well-served neighborhoods (any stretches of boarded up buildings on Wisconsin Avenue?). It's new businesses and the taxes they bring in, actually, that will make the new streetcar lines pay off. Last, I think the NIMBY attitudes prevalent in Cleveland Park and other upper NW areas are responsible for the fact that most developers are looking east.
  1. John said at 11:10 pm on Tuesday July 6, 2010:
    SL: Got it in three. Adam: You want Streetcars? Tell you neighbors (and possibly you) to stop shooting down all development on major corridors like Wisconsin and Connecticut, and allow greater population density. Transit only works with density.
  1. Adam said at 11:47 pm on Tuesday July 6, 2010:
    Wisconsin Avenue isn't densely populated?? What??? Wisconsin Avenue is essentially a long stretch of large apartment buildings. People there don't use public transit?? Check out the lines to get on the 30s buses in the mornings all along Wisconsin. I'd be willing to bet they are some of the most heavily utilized of all metrobus lines. There would be plenty of demand for streetcars in NW. Is Benning Rd east of H street densely populated? Last time I was there, it's mostly storage places, old industrial buildings, empty lots, and boarded up buildings.
  1. sxt said at 12:49 am on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    how likely is this to happen?
  1. dcbuppie said at 1:08 am on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    This is going to take 10 years.... and given this mayoral race... who knows.
  1. DCQ said at 3:03 am on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    Why are there three lines covering pretty much the same route through anacostia? and why is so much of it downtown where there are already plenty of metro stops?
  1. JohnDC said at 3:26 pm on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    Didn't they say they hoped to have the whole thing done in 7 years? I am hoping for phase 2, with the new york & rhode island ave lines.
  1. HJ said at 3:58 pm on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    Can you imagine a street car going south on Wisconsin or Connecticut during rush hour? Traffic would be a nightmare.
  1. Mike said at 5:03 pm on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    Adam don't get so big-headed to think the NW folks will be the ones paying for this - they probably don't want a street car in their pristine hood. There is really only one bridge that will support the cars and that is the 11th St Bridge and some of it probably has to with terrain/hills/existing highways forcing the cars to go along the same route before they branch off. Why are there stops downtown? Where do you want the cars to stop? People aren't gonna be riding them for joyrides (except at night to go to H St) - they will be going to work and a lot of jobs are downtown. Hopefully the work something in for the redevelopment of the area around RFK.
  1. PleasantPlainer said at 8:16 pm on Wednesday July 7, 2010:
    To add to what Mike said at 12:03pm: I would say that Metro has very little room to grow with existing stations/train configurations downtown - think about the chaos when multiple 8-car trains arrive at Metro Center or Gallery Place downtown. Any more people and they'll have to delay the next train in order to get everyone up the escalators!
  1. MJ said at 3:50 pm on Thursday July 8, 2010:
    Adam's comments aside, I personally wish that they would extend streetcars into upper NW. Having lived in Burlieth, a streetcar along Wisconsin Avenue and down Pennsylvania or M street would be wonderful. Traffic concerns could be addressed by a dedicated lane for the streetcar and buses. And the addition of a streetcar would provide an incentive for NW residents to get out of their cars. The fact that Georgetown's ANC approved the K street streetcar is a hopeful sign that NW residents are starting to change.
  1. MJ said at 3:54 pm on Thursday July 8, 2010:
    My one big concern with the existing project is the complexity of the routes. Streetcars are more attractive than buses because they run on fixed, simple routes. Toronto's hugely successful streetcars run on a single EW or NS street, like Spadina or College. They don't wind around in strange configurations, like the ones in this plan. They should try to simplify the routes, having them stay on a single avenue or street as much as possible. A route up and down Massachusetts Avenue, connecting upper NW with Capitol East would be perfect in that regard.
  1. Jeff said at 9:05 pm on Thursday July 8, 2010:
    I am trying to think of a purpose for the blue line and I am coming up short.
  1. Sam said at 7:58 am on Saturday March 5, 2011:
    @Jeff, The Blue Line would probably be utilized by the many DoD Employees and Contractors who commute to the Navy Yard, Anacostia Naval Station, and Bolling AFB, as well by folks attending Nats games.
  1. mickey king said at 10:23 pm on Friday December 13, 2013:
    The street car routes don't make any sense. It follows existing bus routes on major streets that are already congested. For example; on MLK Ave; there are already 7 bus routes that serve that area. It doesn't do anything for the neighborhoods that don't have any bus service/routes. That will force people to walk to get to a streetcar route.

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