Capitol Hill Restoration Society

Dismantling the Streetcar System – What have we learned? 2019 Dick Wolf Memorial Lecture

Posted on March 17th, 2019

On Friday, March 29, 2019 at 7 pm, John Hillegass, winner of the 2019 Dick Wolf Prize, presented a lecture on the decision to dismantle the Washington DC streetcar system in favor of buses. 

2019 Dick Wolf Lecture Program

2019 Dick Wolf Lecture Text

2019 Dick Wolf Lecture PP Slides

Event Photos:

John Hillegass, winner

Monte Edwards, event organizer

Monte Edwards introduces Muriel Wolf

Muriel Wolf

John Hillegass presents the 2019 Dick Wolf Lecture

Monte Edwards introduces the panel

 Panel: Andrew Trueblood, John, DeFerrari, Uwe Brandes  Panel discussion with John Hillegass

Vice President Janet Quigley presents check and certificate




Details of the event:

John’s paper is on the planning and historic context behind dismantling the District’s extensive streetcar system and converting all lines to buses, between 1956 and 1962. The goal was to ease traffic and congestion, speed up transit, improve transit reliability, reduce transit costs and thereby keep transit affordable. By those measures, the plan was a failure. John examines indicators of reliability (number of passengers, headways, and span of service), speed (headways and scheduled runtimes) and affordability (fare price as percentage of minimum wage). John concludes the replacement transit system today is equal to or worse than the transit system of 1946 and that today’s planners should proceed with caution. Too many times, planners have destroyed something good to make room for the future. Today we hear promises that autonomous vehicles will ease traffic congestion. Uber and Lyft will improve reliability and affordability. The hyperloop will speed transit. The lesson of the District’s streetcar system can help transportation planners avoid the next mistake. Following his lecture, a panel of special guests from the fields of Transportation and Planning discussed the major points of his lecture:

Leaving Navy Yard Carbarn

Andrew Trueblood, the new Director of DC’s Office of Planning and a resident of Ward 6. Andrew holds a Masters in City Planning from MIT and a B.A. from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

 John DeFerrari, author of the blog Streets Of Washington.John has recently published a book: Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, DC. John is also a trustee of the DC Preservation League.

Shyam Kannan, METRO’s Managing Director, Planning and Transit Asset Management. On a daily basis, Shyam deals with issues of contemporary transit planning. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy and Urban Planning from Harvard University.

John Hillegass is pursuing his Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning at Georgetown University. John studied International Studies at Boston College. John spent two years living in South America (2006 in Brazil, 2010 in Brazil & Argentina) where he gained a deep respect for the importance of learning from other cultures. John moved to Washington, DC in 2014 working as an intern on Capitol Hill, then as a Member Relations Manager at the Common Application, before joining Ward 1 Councilmember Nadeau’s team as a Constituent Services Coordinator. John’s interests include equitable development, housing, transportation, and the environment. John is currently the president of his community organization, The Friends of the Park at LeDroit.

The event will be held at Hill Center, 921 Pennsylvania Ave SE, to be followed by a reception.

The lecture was preceded by a brief membership meeting at 6:45 pm.

The Dick Wolf Memorial Lecture is an annual event sponsored by CHRS to showcase excellence in research and writing on urban planning and historic preservation in the District of Columbia by a student or intern. The winner presents a lecture on his or her research and receives a $1,000 prize.