Georgetown University and the Georgetown Business Improvement District are looking to have the city-wide D.C. Streetcar project expanded deeper into the Georgetown area.
“Both the university and the BID are interested in how to get the streetcar to serve the university population since it is such an employment concentration and generally a concentration of people that are heavy transit users,” said Jonathon Kass, transportation director of the Georgetown BID,.
Lauralyn Lee, Georgetown’s associate vice president for community engagement and strategic initiatives, said that because the university is one of the largest employers in D.C., with nearly 9,000 employees and thousands of students, an additional transportation method would benefit the university community.
“We just think that it would be unfortunate if you do a study that brings people into Georgetown that can’t get them up to the campus,” Lee said. “That would minimize the opportunity that’s created by this additional public transportation option.”
Kass agreed, saying that both Georgetown and BID are interested in making the university a focal point for the expansion of the One City Line, which is currently planned to extend from the Georgetown waterfront to Benning Road.
“The combination of a serious concentration of employment and the student population that often uses transit outside of the peak times is more than the average population,” Kass said, noting that streetcar systems in Tucson, Atlanta, Portland and Providence have all made an effort to integrate local universities into their networks. “Extending to the university can be a real opportunity to fill what are otherwise empty seats.”
According to Lee, a streetcar connection to Georgetown would align well with its long-term plan to create more sustainable commuting and transport options.
“In the long-term, we’re looking at anything and everything that’s creative that might offer solutions, and the streetcar, because it was kind of part of the city’s strategy for how to handle public transportation opportunities for its residents, really struck us a great opportunity to do that,” Lee said.
Kass added that there have not yet been any discussions about the path that an extended streetcar line to the university would take, but that the District of Columbia Department of Transportation has not eliminated the possibility of expanding the system, which is expected to include 37 miles of track by the time of its completion in 30 years.
“From DDOT, we have heard a willingness to talk about how to get to the university,” Kass said. “They’ve been clear that the boundaries of the current study don’t allow any … assessment of alternatives, but they have suggested that they will take an initial look, so they seem very willing to work with us.”
However, Lee said that streetcar plans that have already been approved would include stops near Georgetown’s other campuses, including its new School of Continuing Studies campus near Mount Vernon square, slated to open in late 2013, and the Law Center. As such, it would make sense for the line to extend to the university’s main campus. She noted that the university wants the line to reach as close to main campus as possible, at the very least closer than the Circulator stop located at O Street and Wisconsin Avenue.
The D.C. Streetcar project will complement the current Metro and Circulator systems and establish the first streetcar system in the District since the previous one was dismantled in 1962. The complete system is expected to connect the Georgetown waterfront area to downtown D.C. via K Street.
“There’s still a lot of planning that has to get done in order for those [tracks] to be built,” said DaraWard, a spokesperson for the D.C. Streetcar project. She added that DDOT must consider a myriad of factors including streetcars’ impact on pedestrians and other traffic and streetcar stop locations prior to construction.
The first of these streetcar lines is to run from Union Station to Oklahoma Avenue via H Street, NE and Benning Road and is expected to open by October 2013. Approximately 80 percent of track construction was completed in prior years during the H Street, NE Great Streets Initiative to revitalize the area.
The remaining 20 percent of construction includes the installation of a stop and turnaround at the Hopscotch Bridge, a turnaround at the eastern end of the bridge and a connection to the streetcar yard and soon-to-be-built car barn training center.
Once this line has been tested, certified and opened for passenger service, DDOT will move forward with planning and construction for additional tracks.
Twenty-two miles of the proposed system have been prioritized to be built first. The prioritized lines include those from the waterfront to Union Station, Takoma to Buzzard Point and Buzzard Point toAnacostia.
Within the next two weeks, DDOT will release its findings from a feasibility study conducted last fall and eventually perform an environmental assessment. An additional study concerning transportation from Union Station to the Georgetown waterfront must still be completed before DDOT can extend the project into downtown D.C. and Georgetown.
Ward said that there is still no estimate of when the line would reach the Georgetown area.
But the project could be fast-tracked with Mayor Vincent Gray’s newest budget proposal, which allocates millions of dollars toward the transportation system.
“Everyone would like to move as quickly as possible,” Kass said. “The mayor’s budget proposal released last week with $400 million extended over the next six years to the streetcar network is a real sign of the desire to move fast.”
While there is support for the expansion of D.C. Streetcar into Georgetown — including from Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bill Starrels, who said that streetcars would have a positive impact on the area — the project will not be without neighborhood concerns.
“Naturally there are people who would rather not lose parking lanes. There are people that would rather not lose traffic lanes and there are people that would rather have wider sidewalks,” Kass said. “When it comes to sharing the right of way, there are always a lot of interests and understandable desires.”