Congratulations to Councilmember Tommy Wells and Councilmember & Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Graham on a successful hearing on their bill to make clear that an overhead wire would be allowed to power the streetcars along H Street. Kudos to a variety of neighborhood residents and business owners who attended and testified. Others will provide a more comprehensive summary of the hearing, but a few things stuck out to me:
1. Lots of neighborhood residents and business owners testified in support of streetcars and of the pending bill to move them forward. ANC6A was represented by David Holmes, ANC6C sent Tony Richardson, H Street Main Street's Anwar Saleem was there. David Bernhardt who owns the buildings that house Sidamo, Capitol Hill Bikram Yoga, and Toyland and who lives just off H Street participated as well. H Street Connection's property manager, Mark Bradshaw, testified in support on behalf of Rappaport Companies who has grand plans to redevelop the south side of H Street between 8th and 10th St in coming years. Jen DeMayo spoke passionately on behalf of the Atlas Performing Arts Center where she is the communications director and also as a long-time nearby resident. Mark Thorp who is the proprietor of Little Miss Whiskey's Golden Dollar and owns a home in Trinidad was also on the final panel.
2. The proposal is not to allow wires (plural), but rather to allow a single wire to power each line. The wire will be thinner than a pen's diameter. All indications are that the wire will be miniminally intrusive.
3. 12 of 13 Councilmembers backed the bill when it was introduced and the support for the bill seems to remain strong among the Council. The lone Councilmember to not endorse the bill, CM Phil Mendelson, attended and made a number of statements that suggest that he may be less opposed to the bill than his earlier actions suggested. Among a series of defensive statements from Mendelson were his assertions that he now supporting bringing streetcars back to DC and that given how far along things are with the H Street line, he thought that the Council should go forward with allowing overhead wires on H Street. He did continue to make critical statements regarding the amount of planning that has gone into the process thus far and remained clearly the most skeptical and unsupportive Councilmember to date.
4. Amtrak is not opposed to allowing DDOT access to Union Station. DDOT says Amtrak raised reasonable concerns, but that they are all fairly simple issues that are "quite easy to resolve." DDOT said the issues raised by Amtrak about using their Union Station space to access Union Station at the initial western end of the line were "all solvable."
5. CM Tommy Wells suggested that there was a good bit of misinformation circulating regarding plans for the system, particularly involving the funding of it. Wells said that while the budget process was disappointing and confusing, at the end of the budget process "the funding is there for the H Street-Benning line." Wells, Graham, and DDOT all were clear in their continued commitment to seeing streetcars running down H Street in 2012.