Overhead Wires for DC!

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"Overhead Wires for DC!"

The DC government is trying to build some streetcars, but a set of misguided activists is trying to fight them over dumb opposition to overhead wires:

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Similar wires are in use in Portland, Ore., Charlotte and a dozen other cities. But in Washington, the overhead system is being scorned by preservationists as outdated visual clutter inappropriate for a grand city of monuments and boulevards. [...]

Wire opponents, from local preservation groups to the National Capital Planning Commission, want streetcars that draw electricity from buried batteries or power strips. On their side is an 1889 federal law banning overhead electrification in Georgetown and the original center city design by Pierre L’Enfant in 1791, bounded by the Potomac and Anacostia waterfronts north to Florida Avenue. Streetcars would run through much of the core, including H Street NE, where the city is now laying tracks.

Buried batteries or power strips would be nice, but they’re economically infeasible. Much better to build the streetcars on a reasonable budget and still have money left to run the rest of the city. And I have to say that I object to the framing of anti-streetcar activists as “preservationists.” This has simply nothing to do with preservation. Nobody is talking about tearing down any buildings. And historically DC has been a city with streetcars. We’re “preserving” the post-1970 status quo. Whatever. The point is that we can have the debate in the city about whether or not creating a functional, high-performing modern transportation system is worth disturbing some random person’s aversion to any form of change but this just isn’t about historic preservation.

Somehow, though it’s gotten to be conventional wisdom in DC that overheard wires are some kind of massive imposition on the landscape, so I thought I’d share this photo I took of a streetcar in Dresden:

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And, honestly, if you think about some cities with streetcar systems—Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, etc.—and then you think about DC’s drab downtown office building monoculture, you have to ask yourself who’s kidding whom when we talk about preserving views or beautifying the city.

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