A streetcar named incompetence
The District’s trolley line faces numerous problems, including cars freezing in their tracks.
AREPORT detailing the latest fixes that need to be made to the District’s longdelayed streetcar line said none of the problems appear to be critical issues that would prevent operation of passenger service. That’s of small comfort to D.C. taxpayers shaking their heads at the utter incompetence that has gone into the planning and execution of this project. Many no doubt are wondering if the city isn’t just throwing more good money after bad in an effort to salvage a doomed project.
Experts called in by the city to assess the 2.2-mile trolley line on H Street and Benning Road in Northeast pointed to numerous problems confronting a project that is now five years — and many millions of dollars — overdue. Inadequate training procedures, doors scratching against the platforms, confusing signage, safety concerns and no one in charge were among the issues cited in the report from the American Public Transportation Association. Most confounding as an example of the lack of common sense was the decision not to install underground heaters, causing streetcars to be frozen in their tracks. Did the folks at the District Department of Transportation not think about what happens in D.C. during winter?
Transportation Director Leif A. Dormsjo, who arranged for the outside review after he took office with the incoming administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), said the problems are being addressed and expressed confidence the system will open this year. Assuming he’s right about working out the bugs (and we can’t help but think of similar confidence expressed by the previous administration), there are still questions about whether the fundamental design of the project — including the lack of a dedicated lane on a crammed street with no connection to other transit — is so flawed that there is little chance of success.
Other questions: Did officials let romantic notions about bringing trolleys back to the streets of Washington silence legitimate questioning of the project? Are streetcars the most efficient and effective means of mass transit? And, most critically, does it really make sense to consider an expansion of this system? The missteps that are so evident in this project’s history should give real pause to city officials considering any further expenditures.