When DDOT unveiled its Streetcar vision in October, I was little disappointed by the amount of service in River East. Indeed, the area's reputation has been mired in negativity for quite some time, which has lead to, for better or worse, a very different kind of land and economic development in Wards 7 and 8. This is evident in the distribution of services proposed by DDOT.
River East has experienced a great deal of suburban style development. Wickedly suburban. Affordable housing is often not accessible to the six Metro stations that serve this third of the city. Isolated affordable housing can often turn out to be frighteningly similar to ill-fated housing projects. Requiring people of lower income to rely on automobile transport greatly increases their cost of living, further exacerbating the poverty. But shiny new developments in River East, for all their efforts at civic improvement, are still focused around the automobile.
What really disappointed me about DDOT's plan is that all the streetcar lines appear to run THROUGH River East. Along the Anacostia River, perhaps, but they fail to connect many of the neighborhoods to the system, including several that are not very accessible to Metro. This plan would lead me to infer that Congress Heights and Fairlawn are and will be for the foreseeable future dependent on the rest of the city to be a viable place to live. The lines connect River East to the rest of the city, but they don't connect River East to River East. Not as much as it could, at least.
With DC's population rocketing past 600,000 and developers running out of "River West" real estate to develop, Benning, Deanwood, Anacostia, Washington Highlands, Hillcrest, Fort Dupont, and the rest of River East's many neighborhoods will becoming increasingly attractive for development. But the same type of dense, walkable, transit-oriented, traditional neighborhood design is not possible if River East goes as underserved by streetcar as it is by Metro (6 stations versus 31 in the rest of DC and not transfer stations). So I conceived a line that would make it feasible to live in Congress Heights and work in Capitol Heights without taking Metro all the way to L'Enfant Plaza first. I give you a proposal for a ninth streetcar line, the Alabama Avenue line:
View River East Streetcars in a larger map
Blue indicates lines laid out in the DDOT plan, purple indicates possible future streetcar extension laid out in the plan, and red is the Alabama Avenue line. Obviously, significant portions of the line also run along Southern Avenue and Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue. It connects prominent neighborhoods to Metro stations and other streetcar lines. It puts more of the rail transit infrastructure within walking distance for District residents who will benefit most from its service and economic development. It is intended to interact with the neighborhoods as places where a significant portion of the District now lives and could potentially work in the future.
Where the city will ultimately have a streetcar network, River East will only have lines. The Alabama Avenue line would create a network that would compliment the existing Metro stations and the already-planned streetcar lines. It may not generate enormous ridership projections right now, but it would certainly draw more walkable urban development to Alabama Avenue and the other proposed corridors. We plan roads in anticipation of future development. Why can't we make that same investment with our streetcar network?
Cross-posted on Imagine, DC