News & Politics

The DC Streetcar Is Finally Running

A DC Streetcar, full of actual people. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

More than a decade after DC officials first raised the idea, and seven years after the tracks were laid down, Washington’s first streetcar in more than half a century entered service Saturday morning, finally rolling down H St. and Benning Rd., Northeast.

“Today we start the DC Streetcar,” Leif Dormsjo, the District Department of Transportation’s director, said at a ceremony packed with current and former city officials and transit geeks.

The streetcar, which has cost the city about $200 million since it was first conceived, missed numerous deadlines over the years, held up by several bouts of faulty planning and shoddy record-keeping. Dormsjo, the seventh person to hold DDOT’s top job since the streetcar was first conceived, got much of the credit for finally getting it running.

But the agonizing wait for streetcar service couldn’t be overlooked by its biggest boosters.

“On behalf of four mayors, many DDOT directors, thank you for your patience,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said, addressing residents of the neighborhood that bloomed around H Street in the years since the line was first announced. “I inherited all of the good things happening in the District of Columbia, and I inherited some of the lulus.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s representative in Congress, was nearly in disbelief before boarding the inaugural run. “We’ve been waiting so long for this streetcar, it feels like magic,” she said. “Is this really happening?”

It did happen, with the officials and media boarding the first streetcar for an up-and-back trip between 13th and H streets and Union Station that did not stop to pick up the people clustered on the platforms along the route. Among the more gleeful passengers were District Department of the Environment Director Tommy Wells, the streetcar’s biggest booster when he was a member of the DC Council, and Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat known for his love of non-car modes transportation.

After the ride, which started and ended with choruses of cheers, the streetcar began its actual service, ferrying people down H St. and toward Benning Rd. and Oklahoma Ave., where the line currently ends.

The streetcar will run at 15-minute headways Mondays through Saturdays but will be closed Sundays. It will be free to ride for at least the first six months.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.