WASHINGTON – At a cost city officials said of $130 million and almost a decade overdue, the long-awaited D.C. Streetcar is finally in operation on a two-mile stretch in northeast Washington along the once riot-ravaged H Street corridor.
Hundreds of excited and skeptical Washington residents gathered on the corner of 13th and H streets to participate in the launch Saturday of the newest addition to the District’s transportation system.
Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city officials were there for the first ride of the controversial project and offered an upbeat assessment of the train’s future. In her remarks, Bowser addressed critics who complain the train is more problem than promise and the money could have been better spent on other needs, including the city’s Metro system.
“This is the start of something big for our transportation mobility system in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said to a crowd of cheering and applauding residents waiting to be the first to ride the streetcar. “We are going to see now that it is well worth it.”
At 10:32 a.m., the streetcar took off down H Street Road towards Union Station with nearly 100 passengers excitedly waving from inside the car to spectators along the route, who cheered and waved their flags to passengers aboard.
Rene’ Simpson, a real estate agent, was one of the excited riders.
“It’s awesome to bring back the streetcar,” Simpson said. “It brings this area up, and it is going to do great things for real estate here. I am very excited about this. I will definitely be using it often.”
For Harvey Berlin, a northwest D.C. resident, the streetcar was nostalgic. The last Washington streetcar ran 54 years ago. Berlin remembers riding one as a child when they serviced 143rd Street and Wisconsin Avenue in northwest Washington.
“It’s interesting to see the return of the streetcar,” he said. “I think that this is something that will be helpful as a longtime measure to spur the development.”
Just how valuable the streetcar will be has been a subject of debate since it was first proposed under Mayor Anthony Williams’’ administration and the first tracks were laid under Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Critics argue that it will contribute to traffic congestion because it has reduced the number of car lanes along its route. Additionally, they say, the street already has bus system that is sufficient for local traffic. Meanwhile, some business owners have complained the years of construction and ripped up street have lost them business.
The streetcar’s transportation efficacy is questionable. According to one reporter’s survey Saturday, the streetcar, which will be free to passengers for the first six months, takes 26 minutes to make its way end-to-end. It took 27 minutes to walk the same route, 19 minutes on the regular city bus, 10 minutes by bike and just seven minutes by car.
Still, some restaurants on H Street believe that while the streetcar presents challenges, it will help increase customers.
Will Perrman at Granville Moore’s said the transportation system does present problems.
“The size of the streetcar and the streets being narrow might be a problem,” Perrman said. “It will also add to parking problems.”
Still, he said, he thinks it will be good for business.
“I think it will really help us on the weekends,” Perrman said. “Minus the expense and the wait, I do think it will help,” he said.
Arthur Ringle, the chef and owner of DC Harvest, said the streetcar has already brought more people into his restaurant, as reflected by a line out of the door on Saturday.
“The streetcar will help as far as tourists coming into the restaurant,” Ringle said. “However, real world people who live here, not so much, because it starts nowhere and goes nowhere.”
Despite the criticism, Bowser said that the streetcar will be a great addition and a great part of how people get around in D.C. as residents can use the streetcar to get to work, go grocery shopping and for any other errands.