Saturday morning’s Phase 2 public meeting on the Anacostia streetcar line began with a message from Councilmember Marion Barry, relayed by staffer Brenda Richardson.
“The councilmember wants you to know that he supports whatever the community wants,” said Richardson.
“But,” she continued, “he doesn’t want to see the streetcar go past the Anacostia Metro station. He’d rather see all that money go to education.” This had the majority of those gathered at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church standing up and cheering.
The reaction to Richardson’s statement is a good summary of how many folks at Saturday’s meeting seemed to feel about the forthcoming Anacostia streetcar line—that is, they either don’t want it running where DDOT has anticipated it would run, or do not want it at all. And, there’s still plenty of confusion about how the streetcar will come to be; it’s not likely that money slated for the streetcar could be rerouted to education anyway, especially given DDOT’s intention to secure federal funding for the project.
Saturday’s forum—required by the federal National Environmental Policy Act—was a follow-up to a previous public meeting held in January, at which many attendees expressed displeasure with the proposed alignment along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. In response, DDOT spent Saturday morning doing their best to demonstrate why the streetcar would be good for Anacostia (which came down to the rather boilerplate talking point of “economic development”) and discussing 10 potential alignments in small-group sessions.
All 10 plans (which will be posted online this week) have the streetcar running in the area between the 11th Street Bridge and the Anacostia Metro station and are variations on alignments along the CSX tracks, Railroad Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, 14th Street SE, or 13th Street SE. In some cases, the lines are split, so that inbound and outbound streetcars would run parallel but not side-by-side.
Many concerns came to light in Housing Complex’s small group, not the least of which was that the streetcars were being built not for residents of Anacostia and nearby neighborhoods, but for “outsiders”—which seemed to mean Department of Homeland Security employees, commuters (whether affiliated with DHS or not), and potential new residents.
While there is no way to tell precisely who will be riding the streetcar until it is built, the alignment options drawn up by DDOT do appear to cater more toward Anacostia’s residents than commuters or DHS employees. Most do not run west of the Metro station, in the direction of the St. Elizabeths campus.
Other concerns addressed by the audience included the impact on local businesses, especially with regard to loading and unloading merchandise; whether the streetcar will increase traffic in Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, which is already fairly congested with buses and cars; whether on-street parking will disappear; and what a ride on the streetcar would actually cost.
Despite the apparent skepticism, DDOT thinks there is support for the streetcar. “Although many members of the community are ‘skeptical’ or have concerns about the project, there are many members in the community that are also interested and excited about the project,” wrote project manager Circe Torruellas in a follow-up email. “This is what makes the planning process so interesting and exciting. What the NEPA process allows is for a space for them to come together and discuss these concerns and desires in order to help inform the decision making process on which one is the preferred alternative (be it no build or one of the streetcar alternatives).”
Within the next several months, DDOT will come up with a “locally preferred alternative”, taking into account environmental, historic preservation, and traffic studies among other analyses. The Federal Transit Administration makes the final determination, and will consider community comments as part of its decision—which means DDOT will need all the charm it can muster.