A street­car named in­com­pe­tence

The Dis­trict’s trol­ley line faces nu­mer­ous prob­lems, in­clud­ing cars freez­ing in their tracks.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OPINION SUNDAY -

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.

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