Friday, June 4, 2010

Streetcars update: Tommy Wells intro's bill to allow wires on H Street, but maintain ban elsewhere and seeks to remove wires when feasible

On Tuesday, Councilmember Tommy Wells introduced a bill to move streetcars forward on H Street. Among other things, the bill would repeal a federal law prohibiting overheard wires in the District and replace it with a DC law that would ban the use of overheard wires other than along the H Street line. The bill accomplishes an interesting process whereby the DC Council can repeal a federal law that covers the District, which was enacted by Congress prior to DC being governed by home rule.

12 of the 13 members of the DC Council agreed to cointroduce the bill with Wells. The lone holdout was At-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson who we have previously cited as a problem Councilmember for H Street streetcars.

Mendelson apparently remains unmoved by the strong support for streetcars within the H Street corridor and is willing to risk his continued opposition to this project which represents the future of public transportation and is a key to connecting neighborhoods within the District. After Mendelson joined Vince Gray is his attempt to cut funding for streetcars, his election opponent Clark Ray chasitised him saying he was "Very disappointed in the Council's vote to redirect dedicated street car funding to other projects - this work in progess should continue!" Council has since restored funding for the H Street line and the purchase of additional streetcars to run along it, but Mendelson apparently remains unmoved in his opposition, despite the fact that the lead opponent of streetcars -- Meg Maguire of the so-called Committee of 100 -- told the Washington Post's Mike Debonis that her group may not oppose Wells' narrowly tailored legislation because she thinks "its moving in the right direction" and because it maintains the ban on overhead wires throughout the rest of the District.

In short, the bill:

- Converts the aerial wire ban to a local law by repealing the 1888 & 1889 laws, and then re-establishing the aerial wire ban as local law (we have several legal memos and analyses that outline the District’s legislative authority to repeal the federal law and create a local law)
- Creates authority for the Mayor to allow aerial wires deemed necessary to “power transportation infrastructure projects”, but limits the Mayor’s authority to use aerial wires to a strictly defined H Street / Benning Road segment (i.e., does not remove the ban in historic Capitol Hill or Georgetown), until the Mayor develops a city-wide plan, subject to Council approval, for the use of aerial wires for additional streetcar routes with special attention paid to view corridors of the federal monumental core.
- Requires the Mayor to submit a report by January 2014 on the feasibility of converting to non-aerial power where any aerial wiring has been installed.

The bill was referred to the Council's Committee on Transporation and Public Works, which is chaired by Councilmember Jim Graham. A hearing date has not yet been announced.


  1. As a resident of Ward 6 and a frequenter of H Street, I find it intolerable that we are puting future projects above the lives of residents in the District. We have an all time high rate of unemployment, we also have a deficit in this city that is stagering. We have more children in need of aide and more parents in need of assistance from social programs that in years past they would have never needed to avail themselves of and somehow Streetcars that have not even been fully thought out or planned. We have no right of way from Amtrak, nor do we have a fully thought out plan of where the street cars end or begin as far as stops go. We further have a Metro system that is extremely under utilized and we are adding another transit mode in play, WHY; because "certain" short-term Washingtonians want it. They live in DC because their jobs are here, ie. lobbyist, appointees, etc., they are NOT the generational Washingtonian who has invested generations in this city and its people.

    I am very disappointed that these street cars are depleating out surplus and futher disappointed that we are focusing $47million dollars on streetcars and not education, social programs, homeless shelters, jobs development, the prevention of homelessness, etc.

    Tommy Wells "ONLY" supports a certain section of Ward 6; he does not support nor care about the Benning Road, Northeast corridor of Ward 6, we are the wrong color and have too little money; we actually work for ours.

  2. benning road west of the river is split between 3 wards, so putting any blame for the situation there on one councilperson is shortsighted. playing the race card there is even less genuine—the other two councilmembers who represent benning road are african-americans. do you think they don't support black residents as well?

  3. To say that Tommy doesn't care about kids and parents is unfair. He is a social worker and cares deeply. The Metro system is actually bursting and will continue to do so as the city grows. And it is designed primarily as a way for suburbanites and is not useful for commuting within the city.
    Streetcars are also an economic develoment project because whereever they are put development follows. Which is why the first two lines are being constructed in areas in need of a boost, Anacostia and H street.
    With economic developmement there will be more jobs, greater investment in the area, and a larger tax revevue to pay for the ki ds of programs you speak about.