Friday, June 29, 2012


This week's news that the DC streetcar will be extended from Union Station out to Georgetown has fueled speculation about the possibility of it one day reaching Glen Echo.

In recent days, Montgomery County Councilmembers Hans Riemer (who has also advocated having DC streetcars cross into Maryland) and Craig Rice have correctly noted the incompatibility of the proposed BRT system boondoggle with the county's current fiscal situation.

It's clear there simply is neither the revenue, nor the debt capacity, to build the pie in the sky, by and by, BRT network.

This is the time to focus on projects that will actually qualify for federal funds, and which can be built with private investment capital.

Such projects include something as simple as a new parking lot at the Boyds MARC station.  I'm rarely in agreement with developers, but I think there is a lot more potential in the MARC system than we are giving credit to these days.  I was at the council hearing for the bill regarding the issue of development near MARC stations, and Councilmember Riemer spoke correctly on that issue, as well.  To have housing right at a station, while improving MARC service, could certainly take some cars off the road during rush hours, if not during the rest of the day.  In Boyds, you have people who want to ride MARC, but there isn't enough parking.  We should have applied for stimulus money for that project.  That was a missed opportunity.

The Rockville Freeway is a larger project that fits the federal funding/private funding criteria.  This 50-year-old master plan highway, that today would connect exploding employment and residential centers in White Flint and Columbia, would carry more commuters per day than the entire proposed BRT system.  That is a key qualification for federal funding.

Finally, a streetcar line from Georgetown to Glen Echo would qualify, as well.  As I mentioned yesterday, the old streetcar right-of-way is still there, and is already entirely separated from automobile traffic.  This means that the Glen Echo streetcar will literally travel faster than a car making the same trip out MacArthur Boulevard, with red lights and a speed camera-enforced 25 MPH speed limit on that road.

Beyond that huge incentive for ridership - actually reducing your commute time - the Glen Echo right-of-way allows stops to serve major employment centers at Sibley Hospital (currently unserved by rail transit) and, most importantly, the future intelligence campus at the former Geospatial Intelligence Agency site on Sangamore Road.  As you know, there has been a controversy over parking garages there.  Apparently, no one realized the old streetcar right-of-way was the answer!

With the federal government needing to move its employees to and from that campus, they have real, practical reasons to help fund a Glen Echo streetcar.  The speed of the streetcar - possibly the fastest in the nation, on its own right-of-way that is already paid for, no demolitions necessary - is the second major selling point for Uncle Sam.

When you add in the potential partnership with DC, and their plans to build their next streetcar routes with private partnerships, a Glen Echo streetcar project is even more fiscally viable.

If Montgomery County were to share streetcars with DDOT, they might look like this:

Photo: United Streetcar, LLC/Oregon Iron Works

This is the USA-built streetcar DDOT is purchasing from Oregon Iron Works, which kindly sent me this photo to share with you.

Oh, and by the way, the Glen Echo right-of-way allows double-tracking, as the original DC Transit operated two tracks.  So it is all set for that contemporary "must" for rail transit engineers.  The original electrical poles and wires are still in place, and still operating.  All that is needed is to clear the brush from some sections, and install the overhead catenary, and we are back in business.

With no Metro route serving this corridor, a streetcar line makes abundant good sense, as Rick Perry would say, from both a transportation and fiscal standpoint.  It would not cause "sprawl," because it travels through some of the most dense residential neighborhoods in the DC area.  Neighborhoods currently underserved by transit.  Not to mention that a Park-and-Ride lot could be built right off the Beltway near the old Cabin John streetcar turnaround, for even greater ridership.

This is such a great concept, and worked so well in the past, I'm surprised no one is taking action on it.

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