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Letter: Where’s Data For New Trolley?

To the Editor:

It’s time to take a closer look at the proposed free Del Ray trolley service to determine whether it’s politics or data-centric analysis that is driving this $700,000 project.

In recent months, possible routes have been all over the map. Initially trolleys were to start and end at Braddock Road Metro. Then the decision was made to serve King Street Metro as well. After the “final” route was announced March 29, Council asked why service didn’t extend into Arlandria. Now questions are being raised about why Commonwealth wasn’t considered as the link to King Street and why Braddock is included if tourists are drawn to “Charmville.”

This pilot project needs more than raw ridership numbers to justify itself. If the purpose is to benefit business, then criteria should be derived directly from the success of those who demanded this service. Benchmarks should be set, return on investment defined and financial targets established in terms of increased tax revenue or similar tangible measures. A formal marketing plan is needed to identify projected ridership segments and describe how each will be targeted.

Earlier this year Council member Alicia Hughes asked about trolleys for the West End and was told via budget memo that this would require “market, demand and ridership analysis,” “evaluation of existing and future WMATA, Fairfax Connector and DASH routes,” “[a] Branding and Marketing campaign,” and “more detail [sic] cost and benefit evaluation.” Different strokes for different folks?

At a recent meeting, T&ES Deputy Director Abi Lerner stated the goal of the trolley was “economic development.” Whose economic development?

The City promised neighborhood-serving retail in the 2008 Braddock Metro neighborhood, but existing space at the Henry/Monarch has been empty for years, while new mixed-use buildings like the Madison and Asher are underway. Will this service siphon off customers to Del Ray and starve future businesses at Braddock?

Why run the trolley up West Street to Braddock, rather than Commonwealth Avenue, thereby duplicating service along the King Street trolley route? Commonwealth is a historic streetcar corridor, closer to King Street Metro and wider than West. Not all homes face the street and those that do have greater setbacks.

In the past, the City defined the measure of walkability from Metro as a quarter mile diameter around the station. Now T&ES claims the West Street link to King will serve more hotels because the Lorien and Hampton Inn — located a mere 2/10ths of a mile from the King Street station — aren’t technically “served” by the Del Ray trolley if it doesn’t stop at their doors. Absurd!

All seem to hope that, like King Street passengers, those who use the Del Ray trolley will be green-minded consumers with big open wallets and no cars. However, a recent parking study shows that Del Ray has adequate on-street parking and there is less deterrent to driving than in Old Town.

In contrast to King Street, there are many residents along the route in Arlandria and near Braddock Metro who live without cars because they can’t afford them and are more likely to take a free ride without generating additional revenue by consumption. How does this factor in?

All of the consequences of the trolley must be considered, including the effect on future retail east of the Braddock Road Metro station, quality of life issues for West Street residents, and the impact free service will have on other transit modes, especially DASH, whose falling ridership levels still generate nominal revenue.

Council will review the final route in June. Let us hope that the proper homework is done before this project takes wing.

Leslie Zupan

Alexandria