Please, No Strings Attached

Groups against overhead wires to run streetcars

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    NEWSLETTERS

    DDOT
    This is the type of streetcar DDOT hopes to use in the District.

    Plans are in the mix to bring back the streetcar system. It’s been almost 50 years since a streetcar was in service in D.C., but now District officials are trying to create about a 37-mile streetcar network.

    Excitement is in the air, but there’s a problem. Overhead electrical wires power the proposed streetcar system. That will block the District’s scenery and streets, according to some preservation groups, including the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission.

    The alternative -- streetcars that run on electricity from underground batteries or power strips.

    Another sticking point is an 1889 federal law that bans overhead electrification in Georgetown and the original center city.

    The compromise -- D.C. officials offer a hybrid system running on wires outside the District and switching to battery power inside.  The problem will be how long it takes for the battery to charge.

    Even with that compromise offered, District officials are trying to change laws.  According to the Washington Post:

    Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said he will introduce a bill this month to not only overturn the ban on overhead streetcar wires but also upend the definition of downtown Washington held for more than two centuries. The legislation would allow the council to determine which views in the federal city are worth preserving and which aren't.

    It's a bold move, and one that could alter the landscape of the District.

    The last streetcar in D.C. ran on Jan. 28, 1962, ending 99 1/2 years of street railway service in the Nation’s Capital. The pressure to use buses made streetcars a part of history.

    Will history repeat itself 50 years later?