Greater Greater Washington


Muriel Bowser calls for "Vision Zero," more equity, Metro investment, and new task forces for transportation

On the heels of the release of David Catania's detailed platform, his rival for mayor, Muriel Bowser, has put out her own platform. Here are key parts of the transportation section.

Road safety: Muriel will lead the District's effort to join other cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York in adopting "Vision Zero," a transportation safety approach that focuses on key areas including engineering, education, enforcement, and policy formulation, to eliminate dangerous behavior on our roadways, in all communities.

Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Transportation equity: From Capital Bikeshare and the Circulator to the DC Streetcar, the District continues to invest in innovative efforts to link our vibrant neighborhoods. Unfortunately, some efforts and policies have failed to address the needs of certain neigh­bor­hoods, particularly in underserved parts of the District.

Muriel Bowser will designate a senior District Department of Transportation (DDOT) official to be the agency's Transportation Equity and Inclusion Officer. This official will ensure that the agency's policies and plans address the needs and concerns of all residents, particularly those in the District's most underserved communities. This official will also coordinate with other agencies to ensure that all city services include accessibility as a priority.

Bus service: Muriel Bowser will continue to focus on strengthening options for residents that utilize Metrobus by improving transportation services provided to individuals with disabilities, adding capacity to underserved transit corridors, and encouraging the use of dedicated lanes, traffic signal priority, and real-time arrival screens at stops.

Metro: While Metro continues to be one of the highest quality transit systems in the United States, it faces ongoing challenges due to a lack of dedicated funding. As Mayor, Muriel Bowser will seek additional investments from local, regional, and federal partners to ensure that the system's infrastructure can effectively serve the region's needs today and into the future.

Streetcars: District residents have been rightfully concerned about the [streetcar] project's excess costs and delays. As Mayor, Muriel Bowser will lead a comprehensive assessment of the DC Streetcar project to learn from missteps made, correct planning and operational deficiencies by reforming the District's procurement apparatus, and responsibly and confidently move forward with an expansion of streetcar service in a way that meets the needs of District residents and visitors.

Bicycle infrastructure: Muriel Bowser will continue efforts to expand bicycle lanes throughout the District to ensure that bicyclists have a safe space to ride and pedestrians and drivers alike have more predictable streets and traffic patterns.

Muriel will also expand the Capital Bikeshare program to more neighborhoods, including those that have been historically underserved by public transit, increase educational outreach to promote bicycle safety, and dedicate the appropriate resources to complete the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT).

Parking and congestion: While the District is committed to long-term strategies that make it easier to travel the city without a car, many District residents continue to rely on their cars as a primary mode of transportation.

Muriel Bowser will create a Parking and Congestion Task Force to identify and recommend legislative and regulatory solutions to ease congestion and address the long-term parking needs and concerns of District residents and visitors. (e.g. accommodating parking near city churches).

Governance: Muriel Bowser will convene a cross-agency team of government officials to review the District's model of transportation governance, with the goal of identifying potential savings and/or efficiencies that could be realized by increased collaboration or consolidation.

Innovation: Muriel Bowser will encourage and promote transportation innovation by convening a working group comprised of transportation policy experts, thought leaders, inventors, and local residents, to identify efficiencies and technologies that can be utilized to expand and improve transportation access [w]ith a broad focus to include mobile application advances, roadway design, and the expanded use of electric vehicles, among other things.

Traffic cameras: Recent studies have shown that the [Automated Traffic Enforcement] program has resulted in fewer collision-related fatalities and injuries, and it has reduced speed-related traffic collisions across the District, even as the city's population has increased. Nonetheless, a recent Office of Inspector General report found that the program needs to be re-focused on public safety, with less emphasis on potentially unfairly profiting from District citizens.

Muriel Bowser will improve the administration of the program by preserving the utilization of speed enforcement cameras deployed in a manner that is supportable by data showing a reduction in driver speed and an increase in pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist safety.

In the platform, Bowser also says she wants to "appoint an experienced, energetic, innovative leader to run DDOT," which echoes one of Adrian Fenty's leadership practices of trying to find outside-the-box choices to run agencies. In his cabinet picks, including for DDOT, Mayor Gray tended to just elevate a number two or other insider at many agencies.

How do you think this compares to David Catania's platform?


Computers will start driving Red Line trains again

Starting in early October, Metro will turn control of six non-peak Red Line trains over to computers. If all goes well, every Red Line train should be under computer control by March 2015.

Photo by Jesse Alexander on Flickr.

This marks the first return to automatic train operation on Metro's original system since WMATA switched all trains to manual control following the 2009 train crash.

Since then, WMATA has fixed the faulty electric systems responsible for the crash, but only on the Red Line. Fixing the rest of the system will take another three years.

When it works, automatic train operation runs Metrorail more efficiently and smoothly as compared to manual control. That means fewer delays, faster trips, higher passenger capacity, and more comfortable rides.

This is great news to riders who have suffered from motion sickness on manually-driven trains. And it's an important step forward in Metro's long, painful rebuilding process.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Breakfast links: Car-freedom

Photo by Sam Javanrouh on Flickr.
Car-Free Day is today!: Did you try a new way to get to work or school for Car-Free Day? Capital Bikeshare is offering $1 memberships, while pledging could win you a prize. (Post)

Put the phone down: Pedestrian deaths started increasing for the first time in 2010 and analysts believe using cell phones while crossing may be the reason. Can cell-phone lanes on sidewalks and awareness campaigns help? (Post)

The future of clean transport: A UN report finds that with better public transportation, transport emissions could be cut in half by 2050 while saving $100 trillion worldwide. Development banks can fund the necessary investment if politicians allow it. (BBC)

Fairfax County bicycle plan almost ready: Developed over 3 years, Fairfax's bicycle plan plan intends to provide safe and convenient bicycle facilities and increase trips, which are currently at 0.4% of commutes. (WBJ)

Two birds, one stone: A group of architects proposes to use the large parking lots that surround public housing for more apartments, stores, or senior centers. The parking would be put into garages or eliminated altogether. (NYT)

River flows change MD/VA border: When the Potomac River exposed new land on the Virginia shore, a Maryland company claimed ownership. Now a court has decided that Maryland ends at the river's edge, even when the edge shifts. (Wash. Times)

And...: The DC Board of Elections has yet to deliver a report on what caused delays in the April primary elections. (WJLA) ... A Phoenix company has successfully 3-D printed a car. (Post) ... After a long streak without bicycle fatality in the area, a cyclist was struck and killed in a hit and run near 8th and S, NW. (WashCycle)

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Deregulate Uber, but require transparency

How do you deregulate a transportation service like taxis? The popularity of competitors such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar has stirred calls to loosen regulations and allow innovative business models. That's good. The question now is what role the government should play.

Photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr.

The best approach for these app-based services is transparency.

Traditional taxis are heavily regulated. Governments control fares, paint schemes and the number of vehicles. When you can hail a vehicle with an app, many of these rules become unnecessary. Yet existing laws didn't anticipate these services, meaning they often are technically illegal. Maryland and Virginia are allowing the services but are still writing regulations. Legislation in the District will soon move forward.

Continue reading my latest column in the Washington Post.


Bricks galore in the the Flickr pool

Here are our favorite new images from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, showcasing the best and worst of the Washington region.

Crystal City. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

Adams Morgan. Photo by tedeytan.

Photo by Martin Bartholmy.

Photo by Erin.

Photo by nevermindtheend.

Got a picture that depicts the best or worst of the Washington region? Make sure to join our Flickr pool and submit your own photos!


Red paint keeps drivers out of San Francisco's bus lanes

San Francisco is a crowded city with great transit ridership. To prioritize buses and streetcars over cars, they've set aside dedicated lanes for years. But now to send a signal to drivers to keep out, they've painted some lanes red. The data shows it's working wonders.

Church Street, south of Market in San Francsico. Photo by the author.

This is Church Street, a north-south street that carries trolleybus line 22 and the Muni Metro light rail J line. The central transit-only lanes have been there for several years. But they were only painted red in the early months of 2013.

Less than two months later, San Francisco's transit operator, SFMTA, reported that travel times on the 22 and the J were down 5% and on-time performance for those lines had increased 20%.

That's a big improvement for the some 15,000 riders who use these lanes each day. Especially considering the painted lanes only stretch for three and a half blocks.

Painting the lanes red sent a signal to drivers that "bus lane" stenciled on the pavement didn't seem to send.

Building on the success of the Church Street red lanes, SFMTA has been rolling out more red paint across the city, and has plans for still more in coming years.

New York has also been painting the town red with lanes for its Select Bus Service. Other American cities, including Seattle and Chicago have plans to introduce red lanes in the near future.

While the Washington region doesn't have very many bus lanes today, there's been talk of installing more. But they'll only work if drivers stay out.

Red paint, much like the green paint DDOT is now using to mark bike lanes at conflict points, could go a long way to keeping DC's bus lanes free of scofflaw motorists.


This traffic light convinced pedestrians to wait with dancing

Smart, the folks behind the ubiquitous tiny cars, installed an interactive dancing traffic light in Lisbon, Portugal earlier this summer.

The wait sign at the intersection relays the real-time movements of fellow pedestrians in a nearby dance room to entertain walkers while they wait, discouraging them from crossing the street against the signal.

According the the video, 81% more pedestrians stopped at the dancing red light. Would you want to see something like this in the DC region? Where would be a good spot?


Breakfast links: Let the debates begin

Debate image from Shutterstock.
Mayoral candidates spar in debate: The first of 4 scheduled DC mayoral debates took place last night. The debate quickly became nasty as the candidates took jabs over ethics, campaign finance reform, and education. (Post)

Pot legalization likely: A new poll shows DC voters support Initiative 71 to legalize marijuana by a 2-to-1 margin. Full legalization will put DC in direct conflict with federal drug laws on the doorstep of the federal government. (Post)

More bike commuters: Thanks to new bike lanes and Capital Bikeshare, the number of bike commuters in DC has more than doubled since 2009. At 4.5%, DC is second only to Portland for the percentage of people commuting by bike. (Streetsblog)

Income inequality is high: In 2013, the Washington region had the highest median household income among the top 25 largest US metro areas. However, 115,000 DC residents, nearly 19%, were living below the poverty line in 2013. (WBJ, DCist)

Support for school boundaries: A majority of DC residents support Mayor Gray's new school boundaries plan. Both Muriel Bowser and David Catania oppose the plan, but the school lottery opens in December before a new mayor will take office. (City Paper)

Bethesda blues: Montgomery County could not reach a development deal around the Purple Line station in Bethesda. The county hoped a development could make room for a larger station, but the deal fell through. (Post)

No Silver Line payment runoff: After stating that the second phase of the Silver Line will comply with stormwater runoff regulations, the MWAA said the decision will not impact taxpayers or Dulles Toll Road drivers. (WAMU)

Long Bridge replacement: The USDOT will provide funding to help to replace the 100-year-old Long Bridge. A new bridge could handle more trains, including high-speed rail, along with bikes and pedestrians. (Post)

Fully automated transit coming to Hawaii: To alleviate terrible congestion, Honolulu is constructing a 20-mile rapid transit system. The rail line will be the first in the country to be completely autonomous. (CityLab)

And...: More millennials are moving to Alexandria and Arlington than anywhere else in the country. (WBJ) ... A new Instagram account exposes city council members who park illegally. (City Paper) ... DC won't get an extended stay on a ruling that overturned its handgun ban. (WAMU)

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DC mayoral candidates' debate tonight at AU

Tonight at 7 pm, NBC4's Tom Sherwood will moderate the DC mayoral candidates' debate at American University. WAMU's Patrick Madden and Kavitha Cardoza, and the Post's Clinton Yates will join him as panelists.

The debate will be livestreamed tonight; come back to this post to watch the livestream.

Sherwood reached out to Greater Greater Washington for questions. We suggested asking candidates about their position on the MoveDC plan. Who are you supporting, and what do you want to know from the candidates? Tell us in the comments, and tweet it with the hashtag #AUDebate.


No more teaching to the test: Some DC teachers adopt a technique that gets students to think deeply

Has education become too focused on test scores? Do we need an approach aimed at getting students to think analytically rather than memorize facts? A growing number of educators from a variety of DC schools think so, and they're changing the way they teach.

Photo of DCPS students commenting on each other's work from Amanda Siepiola.

For the past two years, a group of DC teachers has been meeting regularly to learn about something called Project Zero, an educational approach research center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The group has grown rapidly, and now includes over 500 teachers from independent, parochial, charter, and traditional public schools.

This summer, over 100 175 DC-area teachers gathered for a Project Zero institute sponsored by the independent Washington International School, which uses the Project Zero approaches school-wide. The teachers learned how to use classroom techniques called thinking routines: sets of questions teachers can pose to get students to think deeply about an image or a text.

The objective of the Project Zero routines is to "make thinking visible." One basic routine, called See-Think-Wonder, has students looking together at an image of a text or work of art. First they spend several minutes simply discussing what they observe. Then the teacher asks what they think is going on in the image.

After that, students talk about what the image makes them wonder about, based on their observations and interpretations. Along the way or at the end, the teacher or students "document" the discussion, writing down ideas. Teachers say routines like this get students to slow down, pay attention to details, and engage in analysis.

Critiques of test-focused teaching

Although Project Zero has been around since the 1960s, its approach fits in with recent critiques of test-based instruction for focusing too much on basic skills and not enough on analytical thinking. Even Arne Duncan, who many see as the architect of a test-focused approach, recently called for de-emphasizing test results. Locally, the Fairfax County school system is formulating a plan that its superintendent says "will lessen the focus on standardized, high-stakes testing."

A new best-selling book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that treating students as passive receptacles for knowledge only gets you so far: for true learning to take place, it argues, students have to take a more active role.

The Common Core standards, adopted by DC and 45 states, also aim to get students thinking analytically, and their emphasis on "close reading" of a text resembles the Project Zero approach.

Some of the thinking routines, like See-Think-Wonder, seem particularly well suited to studying works of art. In fact, the National Gallery of Art has used the routines in many of its education programs for over 10 years, according to Lynn Russell, head of its division of education. But teachers say the techniques can be applied to almost any subject.

Tondra Odom-Owens, a teacher at Savoy Elementary, a DC Public School with a low-income student body, says that when her students "wonder" about a work of art, they ask questions that go beyond the surface: "I wonder why he used that color, I wonder what if this was a portrait of a man." It hasn't been difficult for them to translate those strategies into thinking deeply and analytically about texts, she says.

And Karen Lee, who teaches government at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, recently used a thinking routine to get her high school students to make connections between the Langston Hughes poem "I Too" and the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The routine, she says, "provided a framework for deep thinking."

Effects on comprehension and test scores

I saw some thinking routines in action recently at Sacred Heart, a bilingual Catholic school in Mt. Pleasant that has a largely low-income, Hispanic student body, and where most teachers have had Project Zero training. The 7th- and 8th-grade classes I observed included sophisticated and thoughtful discussions of concepts like empathy and ambiguity.

"I think kids' comprehension has sky-rocketed," said the Sacred Heart teacher I observed, Kristen Kullberg. "They begin to understand that ambiguity and unanswered questions don't need to be sources of frustration. The reality is a lot of things are ambiguous."

While teachers say it's too soon to know whether the approach has an effect on test scores, Kullberg says her students have developed a "culture of perseverance" that could help on tests. And Odom-Owens said she feels thinking routines will help her students understand test questions and come up with strategies to answer them. Lee says the routines also help her figure out what her students haven't understood, so she knows where to focus.

All the teachers I spoke with say the thinking routines level the playing field, bringing lower-performing students into the discussion. Because there are no wrong answers, kids are more willing to take risks. And the lower-performing students sometimes have the most perceptive observations, winning the respect of their peers.

The Project Zero approach could help move teaching beyond the rote drilling that too often characterizes education today. But there are some caveats:

It takes training. The teachers I spoke with all said the approach fit in with their natural teaching styles. While most said they thought any teacher could use the thinking routines, it's not just a matter of following a script. Teachers not only have to ask the right questions, they also need to be responsive to students' answers. It helps to observe teachers who are experienced in the approach.

Schools need to be flexible about teaching methods: The routines can be adapted to work with any curriculum, but classrooms can get noisy as students move around or call out their thoughts. Odom-Owens said some DCPS teachers, especially new ones, might shy away from the approach for fear of getting a low score on the system's teacher evaluation system.

It won't provide everything lower-performing students need: Students deficient in vocabulary and background knowledge, as many low-income students are, will need more direct instruction to construct coherent sentences and organize their thoughts logically in writing.

But in the hands of a skilled teacher, the Project Zero thinking routines can play an important role in engaging students in learning, spurring analytical thinking, and giving them the motivation to put their insights into persuasive written form.

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