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Ride the Rhode Island Ave Streetcar from DC to College Park

Film from 1950s puts you in the driver's seat of old streetcar line which served Riverdale. Now see the plan which would return streetcars to Rhode Island Avenue in the next 10 years.

Ever wonder what it was like to ride the old streetcar system which helped establish Mount Rainier, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, College Park and other Rhode Island and Baltimore avenue communities in Prince George's County?

Well, wonder no more. Yesterday, the folks over at our local metro-area urban policy blog Greater Greater Washington picked up on a 14-minute video recently uploaded to YouTube which follows the old DC Transit streetcar line 82 from 5th and G streets NW (near the Verizon Center today) north to what is today the Branchville neighborhood of College Park.

For reference, the old DC streetcar system was shut down in the early 1960s after more than 70 years of electric streetcar history in the district. The video we are watching was shot in the waning days of the DC streetcar system, likely between 1955 and 1962, according to GGW. 

GGW was not the first to break the video. That honor belongs to the HOPE in Hyattsville listserv, which saw the video shared late last month in a thread discussing the relative merits of rebuilding the Rhode Island Avenue streetcar line.

"Why not rebuild the trolley and the tracks? Is there any serious ongoing discussion about the possibly of doing this? It seems that the trolleywould be a good solution for revitalizing businesses in the Arts District, especially the ones South of Franklin's along Rhode Island Ave. which have few parking places, and if the tracks went far enough North, it would help connect us to College Park and encourage business from the folks who live in that area," read the email from local resident Justin Brock which started off the chain. 

The thread was quite active, dredging up memories of a proposed 1990s revitalization of the tracks as a heritage streetcar line (living a block from the right-of-way in Berwyn, I remember discussing this idea with my father when I was in middle school in 1996), and discussing the current transportation infrastructure in the Gateway Arts District area. 

To be sure, there aren't really any single-mode mass transportations options which replecate the downtown-to-suburbs service provided by the old 82 trolley line. The closest you can probably get would be to take the 83 bus south to its termination at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station and then take Metro Rail in to Gallery Place Metro Station.

However, that could change within the forseeable future. The District Department of Transit is already constructing the first phase of a planned three phase streetcar network throughout the city which would bring streetcar service practically to our doorstep. Phase two of that plan includes a streetcar line extending from K Street NW, up through the U Street and Florida Avenue corridors and continuing north along Rhode Island Avenue before terminating at the DC-Mount Rainier border.

Is there a chance that those tracks, once constructed, could ever cross into Maryland? A 2009 Greater Greater Washington article hopes so:

DDOT does not currently plan for the streetcar system to extend into Maryland or Virginia. Klein said at the meeting that this system aimed to connect DC neighborhoods, not to bring commuters into DC over long distances. That makes sense, as streetcars are a primarily local transit mode. DDOT prefers a rapid bus system to carry longer-distance commuters into downtown.

Still, there are walkable places just beyond the DC line that lie outside the District largely due to geographic and historical accident. Lines ought to connect to Silver Spring and Rosslyn, for example. And towns originally built around streetcars line Maryland's part of Rhode Island Avenue, like Mount Rainier and Hyattsville. DC and Maryland should cooperate to eventually bring the streetcar out to the historic downtowns and new developments along the Route 1 corridor.

Peggy Anne February 07, 2013 at 06:08 PM
This video absolutely made my day !!!! It was like taking a real trip back in time. Thank you SO much !!! It was nice seeing the fashions, the cars and the trees that were around with the wonderful trolleys. I froze the video frame in Riverdale Park to see where I had spent part of my childhood.
Jenni Pompi (Editor) February 09, 2013 at 04:46 PM
That's so cool, Peggy Anne. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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