| By Tyler Tomea |
Finally, the wait is coming to a close.
The building of a streetcar line along H Street and Benning Road N.E. is underway, with the first phase of construction having started April 1. The reform of the H Street roadway should be completed by the time fall 2013 rolls around, with D.C. planning to start testing streetcars in October.
“Metro does a good job of bringing people into the city from different areas like Maryland and Virginia,” said Dara Ward, a spokeswoman with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation (DDOT). “What it doesn’t do is connect neighborhoods, and this connection between very different areas is important.”
According to the Streetcar Land Use Study, the implementation of the system to the city will provide neighborhoods with a modern and attractive transportation alternative. It will also provide residents with a broader range of transit choices, and has plans to attract and reach new transit ridership.
Dan Malouff, who is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation, agrees that more individuals will be willing to give the streetcar a shot.
“There will be higher quality (and) more frequent transit service, since the streetcar will overlay on top of the X2″ bus, said Malouff, who has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, in an email. “It will be more comfortable (and) more people will be willing to ride, including the sort of people who use Metrorail but don’t ride the bus. H Street will feel more connected to the rest of the city, and it won’t seem as necessary to own a car to live there.”
What Malouff touches on is among other goals listed within the study, which includes the “reducing of short inner-city auto trips, parking demand, traffic congestion and air pollution” and “encouraging economic development along streetcar corridors.”
Carl Pierre, a city news and tech staff writer for the D.C.-based local news website InTheCapital, details how H Street looked prior to the building of the line, and in what ways the landscape will change along the avenue as a result of its implementation.
Before the area was disjointed, there was no Metro Line and no form of public transportation, according to Pierre. But now, this will revitalize and inject a lot more people to H Street. It also means that residents will no longer have to rely on the consistently unreliable X line buses.
“This is like a steroid shot to the real estate market there, you now have that increase in property taxes, and more desirable places to live,” Pierre said.
The Streetcar Land Use Study alludes to challenges in regards to housing affordability. According to the study, a potential problem is that up to one-third of areas along streetcar corridors could see strong upward pressures on housing prices, and one half would face moderate price pressures.
Some potential responses put forth by the study includes the utilization of public land, including 100 acres within areas facing strongest price pressures for housing, and the usage of tax-credit and other affordable-housing funds in a targeted way.
Aside from housing, it’s also important to take into account what the streetcar will do in terms of the makeup and composition of the area.
What usually happens is the hipsters first set their boots in the ground, come through and make some place “cool,” and then the yuppies see it and come through as well, according to Pierre.
There will be a sort of cultural loss due to gentrification, a subject which Malouff speaks to as well.
“Gentrification will increase along H Street, but there will be a corresponding decrease in pressure to develop elsewhere,” Malouff said.
“For the longest time, one of the most energetic neighborhoods has been H Street,” Pierre said. “It’s always been a quirky place, pretty hip and culturally off the beaten path. With the inclusion of this line I expect more young professionals to come and new retail businesses as well.”
The shift in markets is undeniable, as the streetcar is sure to draw businesses from other areas of D.C. The challenge is how these new businesses will clash with older, more established organizations and stores. The rent increases to existing businesses, along with more competition coming in, has some owners worried about the streetcar line.
But according to the land use study, this problem should not be an issue if the proper planning is done ahead of time. The usage of streetcar planning to identify strategic ways to use existing D.C. business-assistance programs will be paramount.
Additionally, experience of other cities suggests that the increase in consumer activity generated by streetcars more often than not tends to give a boost to ‘mom and pop’ stores, with the increased foot traffic in the area.
For now, H Street is in a state of transformation. As for how it will be when looked at, say, five years from now?
“It will look like 14th Street looks today,” Malouff said.