Library of Congress photo
Sometimes there are moments when layers of city stories reconverge, or loop back on one another. I got to thinking about this when I was daydreaming about the streetcar that used to run on our street, with a stop just steps from our front porch. So I took a moment to snoop around to see how the next city, and the lost city, might make contact with one another.
The story of streetcars in Washington is much like the story of streetcars in every U.S. city. Many transit companies operating independently in the 19th century — horse drawn power to cable power to electric power — consolidation of transit companies in the early 20th century, stagnating ridership in the 20s and 30s as the car and and bus take over, a bit of a blip in ridership during WWII with gas rationing (I will say that again: gas rationing), and then the end. The last streetcar run in DC was on January 28th, 1962.
DC streetcar map, 1888
DC streetcar map, 1908
DC streetcar map, 1958
Many of the cars were sold to Saravejo, where they remained in operation until the war in the 90s. One still runs there, as a kind of trace element of a young boy’s memory of riding down our street in Washington in a streetcar in the late 1920s, getting off in front of our house, and coming up our steps to his house, young Master Harrison, the son of the first owners of our house. Full circle.
Today we are about to see the reintroduction of streetcars in Washington. Some of us are rooting hard for this to happen and the first line should start to appear yet this year. Very limited at first, there will be a whole bunch of lines of streetcars once construction is complete.
DC streetcar map, 201?
While the streetcar won’t roll down our street, it will run up and down H Street, a mere 4 blocks away. And the first line is due to be H Street. In a city with some of the worst traffic, and worst air pollution, in the country, this simply cannot happen soon enough.
I am reminded of yesterday’s post, and the childhood memories Amy and I shared with a visitor, once a local. His favorite childhood haunt: the shops lining then-prosperous H Street. Once the new streetcar runs down H Street, it will be a significant instrument in that corridor’s revival. Again, full circle, from the lost city to the next city.
Of course it won’t be easy. The pesky Federal government has mandated that no overhead wires can appear in the Monumental Core of the city (the Mall and its surrounds). This means that when the streecar runs across the Mall, it must be powered by some alternate means. Fortunately, hybrid powered systems have already been constructed in Germany and Britain. So the DC streetcar can run on overhead electricity, and then switch to a fuel cell, or a battery powered motor, for trips across the Federal zone.
Fifty years after we ripped out the rails, we now put them back. (Actually, they’re still under the pavement out in front of our house. All we’d need to do is a little light excavation…). What’s old is new again, I guess.
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