District Addresses Overhead Wires for New Streetcar Transit System
A new bill from the D.C. council, the Transportation Infrastructure Amendment Act of 2010, has been put in place to address the addition of aerial wires to be used in the 37-mile, eight-line streetcar system, expected to begin service in 2012. The law would prohibit installation of any additional telephone, electric lighting or other wires over any streets in the city of Washington beyond those that existed before July 1888, except for aerial wires that the mayor may authorize for the streetcar transit system.
The bill limits this use to H Street/Benning Road – one of the two lines currently under construction – until a citywide plan is developed for using the wires for additional streetcar lines. For the time being, the city wants to use more advanced vehicles that can operate for limited distances without an overhead power supply, in order to preserve the aesthetic of areas with scenic or historical value.
The only streetcar propulsion system that meets the affordability, reliability and serviceability test will require overhead wires for most of the designated route covered by the transit system, without having an adverse impact on the visual experience, explained Richard Bradley, president of D.C. Surface Transit, Inc. and executive director of the Downtown BID. In a Committee on Public Works and Transportation hearing, Bradley testified that the proposed streetcar system has the potential to more positively and dramatically impact community and economic development than even the Metro system – another transportation system attempting to revamp itself, with the system.
With due attention paid to urban design, these overhead wires can blend seamlessly into the city scene. Federal laws constraining the city, he added, pre-date D.C.’s Home Rule Act and were enacted by Congress in the 19th century. They do not take into account modern streetcar design and technology. “It is our view,” Bradley said, “that the city should make its own determinations about how it will grow and be sustained into the future. This legislation puts the responsibility for determining an acceptable balance between community development and historic preservation upon the city.”