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Like a group of proud parents and grandparents, city officials this morning introduced the public to one of the new Czech-built streetcars—the newest in a “family” of transit options—that will in a couple of years be trundling down H street and beyond.
“I am assured that the streetcar behind me is the most fantastic streetcar in the entire world,” said Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had rolled up in a convertible Smartcar.
Councilmembers Jack Evans and Jim Graham did their bit (Graham, who said he plans to appropriate $20 million for the project, was the only one to remember riding the old streetcars in the 1950s). But Rep. Earl Blumenauer, dapper in a bowtie and bicycle lapel pin, may have stolen the show.
“We’re going to give them some competition,” he said, of the Czech company Skoda.
About three weeks ago, the Portland congressman announced that he had secured $2.4 million from the Federal Transit Administration for Oregon Iron Works to develop a streetcar that could be produced domestically—including one that will be able to travel without overhead wires, a key issue for the District. That money will help the District Department of Transportation design a system involving both wires and wireless routes.
“We believe that we’re going to have the first hybrid system in the U.S,” Klein said. In a concession to the preservationist crew, DDOT is also issuing a request for information from experts and manufacturers on “how best to design a streetcar vehicle that can operate for limited distances without the benefit of an overhead power supply, to preserve critical viewsheds and areas of particular scenic or historic value.”
Klein told Housing Complex that he didn’t think the additional study time for wireless propulsion would slow up implementation of the rest of the plan.
Meanwhile, the city is working to reassure businesses anxious about street disruption—especially with the prospect of no tax abatements during the construction, as DDOT’s Scott Kubly suggested a few weeks ago. Most cities with streetcar systems have provided some form of tax relief to nearby businesses, said Shyam Kannan, a vice president with RCLCO, which did the economic analysis for the Downtown BID’s report on the economic benefits of streetcars.
“Other cities haven’t needed this level of handholding,” Kannan noted.
The officials then packed into the vehicle behind them for a photo op, looking for all the world like a train at rush hour.