Wires Could Be Obstacles for DC Streetcars

by Mark Wellborn

Wires Could Be Obstacles for DC Streetcars: Figure 1

The long-awaited DC streetcar project may have hit a snag, according to The Washington Post. The cars will likely need overhead electrical wires in order to operate and that is drawing the ire of some city preservationists. The wires are also illegal, according to a very archaic law.

From The Post:

Wire opponents, from local preservation groups to the National Capital Planning Commission, want streetcars that draw electricity from buried batteries or power strips. On their side is an 1889 federal law banning overhead electrification in Georgetown and the original center city design by Pierre L’Enfant in 1791, bounded by the Potomac and Anacostia waterfronts north to Florida Avenue.

The master plan is that DC will eventually have eight streetcar routes including a line along H Street NE where the track work has already begun. Lines will eventually also run along 7th Street and Georgia Avenue, and Minnesota Avenue between Anacostia and the Minnesota Avenue Metro.

In an effort to meet preservationists halfway, DDOT head Gabe Klein is proposing a system that would operate on wires outside of “the federal city” or rather much of downtown and lose the wires in favor of battery power inside the city. DC Council member Tommy Wells plans to take a more direct measure. Later this month, he will introduce a bill to overturn the ban on streetcar wires as well as change the old definition of downtown.

Needless to say, this project is now almost too big to fail.

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/wires_could_be_obstacles_for_dc_streetcars/1946


  1. Jared said at 2:31 pm on Tuesday April 6, 2010:
    Out with the old, in with the new...
  1. Brian said at 4:01 pm on Tuesday April 6, 2010:
    So, in order for the streetcars to work they need electricity which comes from the overhead wires. I agree it does sound like it might not be all that great to look at, but I don't think its a dealbreaker. I think I could look beyond them.
  1. Jess said at 6:08 pm on Tuesday April 6, 2010:
    Why is DC building a streetcar system when it's metro system desperately needs updating and fixes?
  1. jag said at 9:22 pm on Tuesday April 6, 2010:
    @Jess - because the metro system infrastructure isn't capable of handling the number of customers it currently has, much less the projected ridership. It’s imperative that buses and streetcars pick up the slack.
  1. PleasantPlainer said at 4:04 pm on Wednesday April 7, 2010:
    Change that archaic law and fast! This may or may not become a deal breaker in DC, but DC is setting a precedent here with bringing back modern street cars to a large US city that need them. If it's good enough for my post cards from Europe, it's good enough for my city - Washington DC! It is insane that these preservationists can derail (pardon the pun) this needed infrastructure that will benefit all DC residents. I lived in Milan and the street car system there was amazing - you could get everywhere with little hassle...nice to be above ground, and the subway was there for the longer trips. Street cars were around when the preservation worthy neighborhoods/structures in DC were built. How does bringing them back threaten preservation? If anything, it enhances preservation and makes DC neighborhoods more true to their original design/intent. As I understand it, the old underground power supply technology was inadequate then, and even modern solutions would pose high maintenance costs and other problems. Urban Turf - where do you stand on this issue? Can you and other sites work to mobilize people to get the law changed? Not just for DC, but I can see people in other cities that don't want street cars without restrictive (archaic) laws on the books working to get them on the books and fast. Where are all the engineers working at defense contractors in this fair city? Maybe they can come up with an elegant and modern solution? Someday, we'll have wireless power or hydrogen cells or something. Until then, let's get this infrastructure built already!
  1. tom said at 12:41 am on Tuesday April 13, 2010:
    I don't suppose there are vested interests that stand to make a bundle off this new initiative, are there? I wonder who has the contracts?!? Remember your history.....when big rubber, big auto and big oil ripped up the rail infrastructure all across cities in the US to sell more cars, more oil and more tires. Of course they didn't sell it to the public that way.... they sold "buses" as the modern solution. In the name of progress....we lost an infrastructure that only now, once we've forgotten the cost, are we willing to saddle ourselves again with.....and again, i suspect, primarily to enrich the foisters of this scam upon the unsuspecting. Like this is REALLY a better solution? I think not. Novel in this day and age....perhaps. But very expensive. We dont' need this kind of solution....unless you can't think of anything else to get rich off of. There are less expensive approaches to solving the problem. It's inflexible. We all know that the well-to-do....really rarely ride buses...or even Metro unless they have to. Same thing goes with this.

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