Streetcars will begin to run along H Street and Benning Road as early as next month, as the testing phase begins in the process of bringing the vehicles back to the city, a District Department of Transportation spokesperson said.

Transportation officials also announced that as of Nov. 13, DC Streetcar construction workers will begin installing head span wiring along the corridor that has been dubbed “H/Benning.” The work is expected to snarl traffic because of “rolling closures” along H Street on the north and south sides of the street between 3rd and 14th streets NE.

“Each closure will take approximately 2-3 minutes, and stop traffic going eastbound and westbound, as the construction team moves along the corridor hanging wire,” a statement posted on the DC Streetcar website said.

DDOT spokeswoman Cherie Gibson said the testing of the vehicles will give streetcar operators a chance to drive the vehicles in live traffic.

“Motorists will be able to become familiar with the traffic patterns,” Gibson said, adding that the cars will begin taking on passengers next year. An exact timeline could not be determined because testing will take several months, she said.

As construction moves ahead, some residents in the Kingman Park neighborhood of Northeast, who live in the area that will be seriously impacted by the streetcars, continue to voice concerns about the safety of the streetcars, the negative impact they will have on the community and what they characterize as a lack of concern by streetcar and transportation officials about maintaining the cultural integrity of the historic area.

They are concerned about the safety of the overhead wiring of the cars and ardently opposed to a plan to construct a “car barn” on the grounds of historic Spingarn High School. The school was recently closed by the city. Residents urged its designation as a historic landmark hoping to sideline plans to construct a facility on the grounds to store and repair the streetcars.

In July, a judge denied a motion from the Kingman Park Civic Association for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Frazier Walton, president of the Kingman Park Civic Association, remembers riding the streetcars in the District as a youngster. He said he is not against the streetcars coming back.

“It’s absolutely not about the streetcar,” said Walton, who has lived in the District for all of his 64 years. “The first thing we are concerned about is the location. We are opposed the car barn on the campus of Spingarn High School.”

Also, he said, “The system will produce electromagnetic radiation, and no one is talking about that.”

Walton said the radiation has been linked to cancer . “It has a lot of implications. We know now what 30 years ago people didn’t know,” he said. His group suggests that officials consider powering the streetcars with lithium batteries.

“We object to these overhead wires. It’s akin to the Tuskegee experiment as far as I’m concerned,” Walton said.

Walton said the school should receive the same consideration as other historic landmarks. “You wouldn’t do this to the Lincoln Memorial. You wouldn’t do it to the Jefferson Memorial, so why Spingarn?” he said.

The city’s car barn, to be located at Benning Road and 26th Street NE, will be the operations and maintenance facility for the streetcars, according to the DC Streetcar website. City officials said Spingarn High School will be renovated into a career and technical center for students.

Walton said that his organization will continue to fight.

“Win, lose or draw, we’ll never stop fighting,” he said. “It will never been accepted by people who toiled in this community. When the city was going through drug wars and high crimes, we stayed. We think that means something.”


Angela Swinson Lee

Special to the AFRO