Feb 29, 2016
Saturday, February 27th was the grand opening of the H Street NE streetcar line, all 2.2 miles of it. It only took a decade of bungled attempts and spending 200 million dollars of taxpayer money to “re-start” streetcars after streetcars disappeared from the city more than 50 years ago.
Why streetcars? Why not improve buses and metrorail? “We really truly, truly believe the streetcar system is an economic development initiative. It’s not just a transit thing,” answers one former top city official, Allen Y. Lew. Let’s be clear. The city is and has been in the process of gentrifying poor neighborhoods. The streetcar was a sort of “Trojan Horse” to change the street, according to one D.C. resident.
The line begins at Union Station, and goes through the upscale Capitol Hill neighborhood. It ends in a poor, rough area that has been hit hard by the ‘68 riots and years of drugs, crime and unemployment.
Residents on the poor end of the line are hostile to streetcars. “This really doesn’t seem like it’s going to benefit the blacks in this neighborhood,” argued Olene Claggett, a longtime resident of Langston Dwellings, a public housing project built in the 1930s. “All this money for building the trolley, and we don’t even have jobs.”
Where else in the city could you take five years of tearing up the streets? Many businesses have sold out or closed.
“It was just a waste of government money, better spent on community centers and hiring better outreach workers for kids. The streetcar appears designed for more affluent people, to get them off the bus,” another angry resident said.
Development could be a good thing. But in D.C., like most cities, it has meant development for the wealthy and pushing poor and working people out.
D.C.’s streetcars are a boon for the contractors and developers. But for working people in D.C., it spells disaster.