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Frustrated H Street NE business owners confronted city officials today over what they regard as a major oversight in the planning for the streetcar route along that corridor: the failure to provide adequate space for delivery trucks.

The city’s plan for the street involves eight-foot-wide parking spaces between the curb and the path of the streetcar. H Street business owners say their delivery trucks are often larger than 10 feet wide, meaning they could get hit by passing streetcars or block the streetcars’ route if they continue to park in front of the businesses.

“We’re worried that the thing that was supposed to be our savior is going to be our demise,” says Fritz Wood, a co-owner of Rock & Roll Hotel, one of the first businesses to come to H Street in the corridor’s recent boom. Wood says he brought the matter up with the District Department of Transportation months ago and is concerned that the agency has waited this long to address an issue that could require significant reworking of the street construction just months before the streetcar is set to begin operating.

At a meeting at the H Street Country Club today requested by Wood and other business owners, DDOT officials asked the business owners to share their concerns and said that all options to address them were still on the table. But if the city is forced to redo some of its utility work or narrow sidewalks in order to accommodate delivery trucks, the streetcar could once again be delayed. The streetcar was scheduled to begin running this year, but DDOT officials said last week that the opening wouldn’t happen until around March 2014.

DDOT planner Eulois Cleckley says the agency is still working to measure the actual space between the streetcar’s path and the curb at various points along H Street to determine whether delivery trucks are likely to interfere with the progression of the streetcar. “It’s not all uniform along the corridor,” he says. There may be a foot or two to spare beyond the white line that marks the edge of the eight-foot-wide spaces, Cleckley says.

But Wood isn’t satisfied with that kind of clearance, since it would leave no margin for error. “How often do you park perfectly?” he asks. “Never.” If trucks don’t fit, he says, they’ll either block the streetcars or park in the middle of the street and block traffic.

During the meeting, DDOT officials suggested a couple of alternatives to delivery-truck parking on H Street: loading from adjacent alleys and delivering at night. But the business owners rejected the former idea as impractical, since some of the alleys are very narrow, already serve existing businesses, or provide parking access for residential buildings and therefore can’t be blocked by trucks. As for the latter—-which would be aided by a grant announced today from the federal government to assist in off-hours delivery—-the business owners worried that night delivery could mean substantial new costs from paying for after-hours staffing.

“Is that just going to affect the price of beer at the end of the day?” asked Wood.

“And what about security at night?” chimed in Granville Moore’s owner Teddy Folkman, referring to another likely cost.

“As you came in, you saw all the double-parked trucks,” Joe Englert, who owns several businesses on the street (and is a co-owner of Rock & Roll Hotel), told the DDOT officials. (After the meeting, I counted five trucks blocking the streetcar tracks on the 1200 block of H Street NE alone.)

If DDOT does determine that it needs to go back and make major changes to the street or sidewalk, it’s unclear when the streetcar would actually open. “It’ll take some time,” says Cleckley.

Update 6:30 p.m.: DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders sends over the following statement:

Delivery trucks never have and never will fit parallel in most City parking pockets. I have yet to witness one that parks evenly. They all block traffic. The fact is that most all delivery trucks in the present condition don’t use the parking spaces and if they do use them they do not park evenly. The only difference is instead of just impeding rubber tire traffic as they do now, they will impede streetcar vehicles as well. This problem exists without streetcar tracks.

Photo via DDOT