For D.C.’s H Street, Streetcars Don’t Mean Business As Usual

As the landscape of H Street N.E. continues to change, some Black business owners are wondering where is the one thing that was supposed to set the H St corridor apart from other evolving neighborhoods in the city.

They want to know what’s going on with the streetcars. Construction on the roads has been completed for some time now, but business owners want to know so they can adjust.

“Is is still going to happen?” asked Bernette Powell, owner of Powell’s II Barber Shop in the 1200 block of H St. “We went through a lot of construction, but I haven’t seen anything.”

According the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the answer to Powell’s question is yes, and soon…maybe. The streetcars are scheduled to begin running in the latter half of 2013 according to Dara Ward, consultant to the D.C. Streetcar Communications Team.

Streetcars were initially proposed in the city in 2005 report on D.C. Transit Improvements. Phase one construction began in fall 2008. However, bureaucracy and planning issues have delayed the process.

After the city awarded a firm the contract to provide two new streetcars, the competing firm lodged a formal protest with the city in January 2012. With Amtrak rejection of a DDOT proposal to house the cars in a facility near Union Station and a resolution from Ward 8 D.C. Councilman Marion Barry in June to delay the streetcar operations, it’s easy to see why the project has yet to see its promise. A promise that Ward says the city will see as she said DDOT officials are “confident those challenges are behind us.”

However, that’s not something business owners in the city care about. They care about their customers and some of them are hearing complaints about the parking inconvenience now that streetcar tracks are in place.

“It was easy to park before the streetcars now, it’s hard,” said Dwayne Langley, manager at the Perfect Cut Barber Shop in the 1400 block of H Street. “Now they put the meters up and not everybody knows the new meter system. If you’re not familiar with the new, it’s hard.

“It’s not the price of the parking, but it’s just limited and it’s hard for us as merchants to have our clients park because it’s nowhere to park,” he continued.

Meanwhile, DDOT officials maintain that they’re making attempts to get in touch with business owners in the H Street/Benning Road corridor to make sure they know what’s going on and how to adjust.

There was a meeting about the parking scheduled for Aug. 21, while Ward says the city has been pounding the pavement in getting the word out about the impending streetcars.

“As recently as last week and this week, members of our communications team have been distributing our latest newsletter door-to-door along the H Street/Benning Road corridor,” Ward said. “Last fall, we held two meetings specifically for the business owners along H Street. The two meetings were held the same day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon to ensure businesses were able to attend. We are planning to hold a similar set of meetings this fall.”

DDOT officials still haven’t set fares for the streetcars yet, but say that while they don’t want to exceed metro rail costs, riding streetcars won’t be less than the cost of riding D.C. Circulator buses.

The project’s completion isn’t something that Antonio Roberson, owner of Langston Bar and Grille in the 1800 Block of Benning Road is sure will be enough. He says he thinks the area will need more variety before the streetcar line will reach its full effectiveness.

“Initially it won’t make that much of a difference,” he said. “We’re going to need more variety. We have some nice things in the area like the National Arboretum, the [Langston Golf Course] and Kingman Island, but we’re going to need more antique shops, different kinds of restaurants and more family friendly establishments for it to really be effective.”

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For D.C.'s H Street, Streetcars Don't Mean Business As Usual


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