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PHOTO CAPTION: Washington, D.C. streetcar outside Union Station circa 1960. Photo from Joe Testagrose collection

The Great D.C. Streetcar Debate

Should America's capital city awe or inspire is the core of the argument around the debate to bring back the streetcar in Washington, D.C.

Published: 18-Apr-2010

Does the District of Columbia want to awe America, or inspire it? That's the philosophical question underlying the suddenly hot debate about streetcars, the overhead wires that power them, and the combined effect of both on the city's streetscape.

Tracks already laid in Anacostia and along H Street and Benning Road in Northeast Washington show how close the city is to realizing the dream of adding an efficient modern streetcar network to its increasingly clogged grid of streets and balky, overcrowded Metro system. But an 1889 law that bans overhead wires in the historic city could slow implementation and increase its cost.

Arguments against overhead wires rest on two essential assumptions: that the city is filled with streets that have historically significant and aesthetically impressive views; and that wires and poles would be ugly intrusions on these grand vistas. The former is questionable, the latter a matter of opinion.

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