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So I rode the DC Streetcar on Thursday…

March 5, 2016, 3:30 PM

I took my first ride on the DC Streetcar this past Thursday, with Elyse.  We took Metro down to NoMa, and then walked from there to the Hopscotch Bridge, where the Streetcar’s western terminus is located.  We boarded one of the US-built United Streetcar vehicles (202), and rode it down to the western terminus at Oklahoma Avenue.

And here are some of my photos from the ride:

The end of the track on the Hopscotch Bridge, viewing the streetcar head-on.
The end of the track on the Hopscotch Bridge, viewing the streetcar head-on.

Platform-side view of the streetcar.
Platform-side view of the streetcar.

Controls on the "B" end of the streetcar. From the looks of it, the streetcar is controlled by foot pedals, just like the old PCC cars. In fact, this console looks a lot like the PCC car from The Hague that the Trolley Museum has in its collection.
Controls on the “B” end of the streetcar.  From the looks of it, the streetcar is controlled by foot pedals, just like the old PCC cars.  In fact, this console looks a lot like the PCC car from The Hague that the Trolley Museum has in its collection.

Streetcar interior. Note that the car is bi-articulated, with the ends pivoting around the center section. Imagine a stretched version of the hinge area on an artic bus. Also compare to Baltimore's LRVs, which only have one articulated joint.
Streetcar interior.  Note that the car is bi-articulated, with the ends pivoting around the center section.  Imagine a stretched version of the hinge area on an artic bus.  Also compare to Baltimore’s LRVs, which only have one articulated joint.

Middle section of the streetcar. Note the lack of seats, likely due to doors and wheelchair spots.
Middle section of the streetcar.  Note the lack of seats, likely due to doors and wheelchair spots.

Streetcar seats. The pattern makes me think of beach chairs for some reason.
Streetcar seats.  The pattern makes me think of beach chairs for some reason.


Lean pad in the middle section.

Streetcar at the eastern terminus, at Oklahoma Avenue.
Streetcar at the eastern terminus, at Oklahoma Avenue.

Full view of the streetcar at Oklahoma Avenue.
Full view of the streetcar at Oklahoma Avenue.

From there, we grabbed an X2 bus (which overlaps the streetcar’s entire route) and rode to Minnesota Avenue station, where we took the train back.

Then as far as the DC Streetcar goes, I was not all that impressed.  Sure, the vehicle looked nice, and the ride was very smooth, albeit quite slow.  However, I can’t help but think that this service is somewhat shortsighted, and little more than a toy.

For the most part, the streetcar, unlike Metro, does not operate in its own right of way.  It uses the same roads as the rest of us.  However, unlike a bus, it can’t dodge obstructions in its path.  While Elyse and I were on the streetcar, we were at one point essentially held hostage at by a car that was standing near the curb with its back end too close to the streetcar’s path.  The most that the streetcar operator could do was to sound the horn – an audio recording of a train horn, rather than an actual car or bus horn.  We couldn’t move until the driver of the car repositioned their vehicle.  Imagine if this person had left their car.  We would have been stuck.  Compare to a bus, which could just turn the wheel and dodge the obstruction.

Otherwise, I don’t necessarily have a problem with a light rail network in the DC area.  A light rail network could be a good complement to Metro’s rail system, and relatively inexpensive to construct compared to heavy rail.  However, I think that the region is going about it the wrong way, in that there appears to be no regional cooperation to create a unified system, with the different jurisdictions opting to go it alone.  Presently, we have the DC Streetcar, which is owned by the District, and operated by a private company, as the only service operating.  Then MTA Maryland is currently in the final stages of pre-construction planning for a service known as the Purple Line, a light rail service that is supposed to operate between the Bethesda and New Carrollton Metro stations, via Silver Spring, Langley Park, and College Park.  That service will be owned by MTA Maryland, and, as I understand it, also be operated by a private company.  Additionally, there was talk of a streetcar service in Arlington County, but that plan died in 2014.  That would also have been independent, just like the DC Streetcar and the Purple Line.  This seems a perfect opportunity for regional cooperation, but apparently, that’s not to be, as everyone has “their” service, rather than a single, unified service.  And as far as the DC Streetcar goes, I have low expectations for it, as the initial line took far too long to get to the point of opening for revenue service, and a planned Anacostia line was abandoned partway through construction.

So all in all, I suppose the ride was interesting enough, but I found it somewhat disappointing on a number of levels.  I suppose we’ll see how things go, but I don’t expect much from this line.