Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Aimee Custis

Aimee Custis is a policy wonk by training and an advocate by profession. In addition to serving as the managing editor of Greater Greater Washington, by day Aimee manages communications at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Also a photographer, she photoblogs at aimeecustis.com

Transit and bike bills advance in the Virginia legislature

Virginia's General Assembly session has reached its halfway point. Tonight is "crossover," when bills passed by one chamber move to the other. Here's the latest on the bills we've been following this season.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Mixed news on anti-transit bills

Unfortunately, bills mandating highway-favoring "congestion metrics" are still alive. Under these bills, when selecting new projects to build, Virginia officials would effectively have to ignore the many benefits of transit for moving more people and building strong communities, and focus solely on how a project affects the capacity of existing highways to carry cars.

HB1915/SB1314 would force Northern Virginia officials to ignore the benefits of transit for moving more people and building strong communities. While a substitute version of SB1314 with better language passed the Senate, companion bill HB1915 passed the House with its troubling language intact.

Meanwhile, lawmakers have modified HB1470, which specifically directs officials to model transit according to "congestion reduction" criteria, to delay its effective date until July 2016. Northern Virginia jurisdictions are removing their opposition to HB1470 because they think it will be possible to fix traffic modeling software to fairly show the benefits of transit investments.

A House committee tabled a bill to merge the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which plans and funds Northern Virginia transit, into the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a broader agency (HB2170). Combining the two agencies would have reduced NVTC's laser-focus on transit investment and potentially reduced the voting power of transit-dependent jurisdictions to control transit decision-making, so the tabling is a win for transit.

Good news: transit funding and oversight

Transportation omnibus bill HB1887 has passed the House and is now before the Senate Transportation Committee. Among other reforms, the bill starts to plug a huge hole in transit capital funding, which was created when lawmakers didn't adequately fund transit as part of the 2013 transportation tax increase.

Plugging this hole is critical: unless addressed, Virginia's transit capital funding would drop 62% in the next two to three years. The omnibus bill reprograms $40 million annually from highways and freight rail to transit. That's only a partial win, since the hole in transit funding is close to $100 million, but it's better than nothing. By comparison, individual highway interchanges frequently cost over $40 million each.

The omnibus bill also changes the formula VDOT uses to distribute highway construction funds, to give local jurisdictions more opportunities to apply for road funding.

Elsewhere, the bill reforming the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA), HB1886, would establishing new oversight and accountability for public-private partnerships in transportation projects: an important priority following debacles like Hampton Roads' Route 460 project, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand.

Bicycling and pedestrian bills

SB781, which would make it legal for cars to cross the double yellow line to pass bicyclists with the required three foot safety distance, and which has mixed safety implications for cyclists, has passed in the Senate and is headed to the House.

SB882, the pro-cyclist dooring bill, has also passed the Senate and is headed to the House.

An amended HB1402, which would make sure urban jurisdictions don't lose state road maintenance funding if they implement road diets with bike improvements on local streets, passed the House and is headed to the Senate. But its Senate companion SB952, didn't make it out of committee, so the Senate will consider the House version.

Two other bills have been tabled and won't move forward this session: HB1746, the "mandatory sidepath" bill prohibiting riding on the road when a sidepath is available (opposed by the cycling community), and SB1279 (supported by a range of safety advocates), which would have banned use of any personal communications device while driving, unless that device is hands-free or the vehicle is stopped.

Land use and conservation

As expected, Virginia's very successful Land Preservation Tax Credit program is facing significant cuts, even though it has effectively helped Virginians to voluntarily conserve tens of thousands of acres in farms and forests, and helped communities reduce sprawl and the costs of public infrastructure.

The bills in question, SB1019 and HB1828, passed their respective houses and have crossed over. They reduce total state tax credits available to landowners placing conservation easements on their land from $100 million to $75 million per year, and restrict the amount of annual credit that each landowner can claim.

Opponents of land conservation have pushed legislation designed to undermine conservation easements, impacting the ability of private landowners to conserve their land. But there is good news to report: HB1488, which would have created a number of obstacles to the conservation easement program, was cut back to simply establishing an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, and HB1571, which would have threatened public purchase of development rights programs, was pulled by the patron.

This year's Virginia General Assembly session wraps up on Saturday, February 28.

There's just $1,858 left for you to match

We're up to $14,285 raised so far in our reader drive, which ends tomorrow! (Woohoo!) We still have $1,858 left in the match pool. If you can help us get all of that with a contribution, we'll meet our goal of $18,000!


We're close to the top! Original photo by ekelly80.

Big thanks to Brandon, Chris, Christopher, James, and Scott for signing up for a recurring monthly donation yesterday!

We're up to nearly 200 active donors, helping us bring you great content daily, from WMATA funding to pop-ups to police ticketing cyclists.

GGW needs your support to pay Jonathan, our editor, and do other awesome things.

Update: After this post went live, another generous donor reached out to offer additional match funds to get us all the way to our $18,000 goal. So the numbers above now reflect that. A big thank you to our new match donor!

We're in the home stretch! Please consider a contribution right now! Thank you!

Our reader drive match is going strong. Have you given?

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed to our reader drive so far! We're making great progress toward our $18,000 goal.

You can still double your gift with out matching fund! So far, you have fulfilled $1,075 of our match, meaning the next $4,175 in gifts will still be matched dollar for dollar.

If you can fulfill our full match, we'll be extremely close to our $18,000 goal, and either way, on our way to solid start to 2015.

Thanks again so much for your support! If you haven't yet made a gift to keep Greater Greater Washington going strong in 2015, we hope you'll donate today!

Cold days, warm thoughts in 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.


Yards Park. Photo by Z.Lewkowicz.


Federal Triangle area. Photo by Z.Lewkowicz.


Marine Corps War Memorial - Arlington. Photo by Brian Allen.


1301 Constitution Ave NW. Photo by Z.Lewkowicz.


6th St NE protected bikeway. Photo by BeyondDC.

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!

Bills in the Virginia General Assembly would hurt and help transit and cyclists

As the Virginia General Assembly session heats up, there's a lot percolating on smart growth and transportation. Key bills on congestion metrics, funding, and bicycle and pedestrian priorities are up this week.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Congestion metrics

For years, highway advocates and others hostile to transit have tried to make roadway "congestion reduction" metrics the primary way we choose which transportation projects get funding.

HB1470 and HB1915/SB1314 would do just that for the Northern Virginia regional transportation plan, local comprehensive plans, and new transit projects.

If passed, these bills would have serious impacts on Virginia's transportation planning. In effect, when selecting new projects to build, Virginia officials would have to ignore the many benefits of transit for moving more people and building strong communities, and focus solely on how a project affects the capacity of existing highways to carry cars.

Undermining pro-transit jurisdictions

Another bill, HB2170, would merge the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which funds and manages Virginia's portion of Metro, into the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a broader agency that includes more of the outer suburbs, and has a multimodal focus rather than transit-only. Combining them would reduce the voting power of transit-dependent jurisdictions to control transit decision-making.

Funding and oversight

Comprehensive "transportation omnibus" bill HB1887 is receiving a lot of attention because it would partially fill a hole in state transit funding and increase funding for structurally deficient bridges, deteriorating pavement, and local transportation needs. It's a huge bill with a ton of provisions, some good and some bad.

Another bill, HB1886, would reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA), establishing new oversight and accountability for public-private partnerships in transportation projects. This is particularly important following debacles like Hampton Roads' Route 460 project, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand.

Bicycling and pedestrian priorities

Delegate Riley Ingram (R) of House District 62 (outside of Richmond) has introduced HB1746, a "mandatory sidepath" bill, which would prohibit bicyclists from riding in the road wherever there's a sidepath or bike lane available. Obviously, this bill would have major negative impacts on the many Northern Virginia cyclists who use bicycles for transportation.

SB781, which would make it legal for cars to cross the double yellow line to pass bicyclists, with the required three foot safety distance, has passed in the Senate and is headed to the House. Another bill, SB882, would make dooring illegal, and would also make it easier for cyclists to be compensated after being injured by dooring.

HB1402/SB952 would make sure local jurisdictions don't lose state funding if they implement road diets, with bike improvements on local streets. Under current law, replacing a car lane with a bike lane reduces a jurisdiction's road funding, because the state funding formula is based on car lane miles.

SB1279 would ban use of any personal communications device while driving, unless that device is hands-free or the vehicle is stopped.

More information

The Virginia Bicycling Federation has an excellent online spreadsheet which they update regularly, detailing the status of bicycling bills this session. And the Coalition for Smarter Growth has a take-action tool to help Virginia residents contact their state legislators to support or oppose these bills.

Metro in 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.


Pentagon City. Photo by washingtonydc.


Federal Center SW. Photo by Brian Allen.


Judiciary Square. Photo by nevermindtheend.


East Falls Church. Photo by Adam Field.


Metro Center. Photo by JJ Jackson.

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!

We're doing great stuff! Want to help?

As we move forward with our 2015 goals, like holding a speaker series, doing live chats, hosting how-to-blog workshops, relaunching the site, and kicking our social media into higher gear, we need more hands.


Image from Wikipedia Commons.

Becoming a contributor is a great and important way that you can get involved in Greater Greater Washington any time, but if you'd like to help in other ways, right now we could really use assistance with several non-writing elements.

All of the volunteer roles below are ongoing, with a commitment of a few hours per week, every week (except where noted).

Social media: We're on Twitter and Facebook, but for a long time, nobody on our current team has been able to focus on packaging and sharing our posts on those platforms, and it's an area that with a little attention, could really become great.

Do you have a flair for social media? Are you willing to take on these accounts? You would monitor them, help our editors and contributors improve their tweets and headlines, and collect some statistics on how we're doing so we can see where we acn improve.

Events: Our community happy hours and the panel discussions we're hoping to start on urbanist issues are fascinating and fun, but they do require some work to plan, like securing venues, picking dates, coordinating with speakers, and handling logistical details. If this sounds like your talent, we'd love your help!

Live chats: During last last year's DC mayoral candidate live chats, we learned one of the most critical components to make it successful: fleet fingers! Our chats require at least 3 incredibly fast (70-90 wpm), accurate typists taking 2-4 hours out of the middle of their day to go to the chat location, prep with their fellow typists and moderator, and then type like their fingers are on fire for an entire hour.

But the good part is, if you'd like to get involved but can't commit to a weekly task, we can add your name to a file and give you a call when we're planning a chat.

Expanding our coverage: This one is about writing for us. We're lucky to have amazing contributors covering a range of issues, but there are issues we'd like to discuss even more

Natalie Wexler and sometimes Dan Reed write about education issues for us in DC and Montgomery County, and our education posts have great readership, but we'd like to do even more coverage of how education impacts the shapes of our cities and neighborhoods.

We'd also like to talk more about affordable housing policies and the experiences people have who live in or need to find affordable units. We talk a lot about the ins and outs of transit or bicycle design, but the economics and stories around housing are also extremely important.

And we'd like more articles about neighborhoods east of the Anacostia and in Prince George's County as well as in Fairfax and farther-out parts of Virginia. If you live in these communities, what debates are people near you having about the future growth of your area? What do you want to see change? We'd like to share this with our readers.

Consider this our open call to you, and if you're interested in any of the items above, email us at info@ggwash.org with the subject line, "HELP GGW: [what you want to help with]." If you have questions, post them in the comments, and we the editors will do our best to answer them!

Want to be the next mistress (or master) of the Flickr pool?

Do you enjoy our Friday photography posts? Would you like to get more involved? We're looking for a new photo curator to take over the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool, and possibly help us get started on Instagram.


Connecticut Ave. near Farragut Square. Photo by ctj71081.

Curating the Flickr pool and choosing each week's photos is really fun, especially if you have a flair for photography, or really love Instagram! As a photographer myself, I've loved curating the pool, but it's time for someone new!

If you're interested, shoot me an email at acustis@ggwash.org. Thank you so much to everyone who has reached out with interest in taking over as photo curator! (So many people!) If you're interested but hadn't reached out yet, we'd love for you to get involved in another way, either by contributing your own photos to the Flickr pool, by writing for us, or if you're interested in helping out with future events and other non-writing parts of the GGW community, stay tuned as we have a few opportunities to share in the coming weeks. Thanks again!


Mosaic District - Merrifield, VA. Photo by Maryland Route 5.


T Street NW. Photo by Joe in DC.


Capital Crescent Trail. Photo by Joe in DC.


DC Park Police near Farragut North. Photo by Erin on Flickr.

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!

What to watch for in the 2015 Virginia General Assembly

The Virginia General Assembly's 2015 session kicks off today in Richmond. Smart growth and environmental advocates are gearing up for a busy, if short, session. While things evolve quickly at the beginning of any legislative session, there are already several issues and bills to look for that may impact smart growth in Northern Virginia.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Transit funding

Because legislation over the past four years didn't make transit a priority, it faces big funding shortfalls. 65% of Virginia's population and gross state product lie within the urban crescent (from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads), and with an aging population in rural areas, transit needs are growing.

Yesterday, Governor McAuliffe announced a package of transportation initiatives including a proposal to shift $50 million per year from ports, aviation, highways, and freight rail to transit. This helps, but isn't a long-term solution.

Transportation policy reform

Advocates expect that bills to reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) will try to prevent future disastrous project decisions, like Route 460 out of Hampton Roads, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand. This year, proposed reforms to the PPTA include requiring better risk analysis and greater legislative oversight.

Highway advocates hostile to transit have tried for many years to make "congestion reduction" the main criterion for selecting transportation projects. Last year, the smart growth community won important amendments to a bill, HB2, which set more balanced criteria to give transit projects a fair chance at funding.

Unfortunately, transit opponents are back this session with bills to force VDOT to evaluate Northern Virginia projects solely under the congestion reduction standard. This would force officials to ignore the benefits of transit for moving more people, providing an effective commute option, reducing air pollution, promoting smart growth development, and maximizing walk, bike and transit trips.

Bicycle and pedestrian priorities

Legislators are proposing bills to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, including anti-dooring bills, bills to make it easier to safely and legally pass cyclists with a 3-foot buffer, and bills to require stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Another bill would ensure localities don't lose state funding if they make bike improvements on local streets. Today, changing road from two lanes each way to one lane each way, plus a center turn lane, plus bike lanes (as Fairfax County did with Lawyers Road) could reduce a jurisdiction's funding under the state formula.

Standards for Uber, Lyft, and other services

Ride-hailing services have hit the scene across the country, offering new options for getting around without owning a car. States are addressing how to properly regulate these services, and Virginia is no exception. Issues include insurance, background checks for drivers, access for the disabled and those without credit cards, and use of hybrid or other high-efficiency vehicles.

Threats to land conservation

Virginia's very successful Land Preservation Tax Credit program is facing significant cuts, even though it has effectively helped Virginians to voluntarily conserve tens of thousands of acres in farms and forests, and helped communities reduce sprawl and the costs of public infrastructure.

Opponents of land conservation are also pushing legislation designed to undermine the conservation easement program, impacting the right and ability of private landowners to conserve their land. Expect to see smart growth and conservation groups across the state partner to defend this program.

Potomac bridges

It seems that each year brings new bills pushing for new highways across the Potomac far upstream from the American Legion Bridge. New bridges have the potential to impact Great Falls, Reston, and eastern Loudoun, fueling more sprawl and diverting funds need for investing in transit and fixing the American Legion Bridge. Each year, we've won bipartisan support to stop these bills. We'll see if they pop up again.

Specific details on particular bills will become available on the legislative system as they are filed and published. We'll follow up with bill numbers, details, and links in upcoming posts as the legislative session continues.

Cold and dark in 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.


Dulles Airport. Photo by J Sonder.


Dupont Circle power outage, looking north from Massachusetts Ave. Photo by Kian McKellar.


Union Station. Photo by Martin Bartholmy.


Bates Street NW, former open air drug market. Photo by Ted Eytan.


Metro parking garage - Wheaton. Photo by Rich Renomeron.


ICE Exhibit at Gaylord National Resort (National Harbor). Photo by John Sonderman.

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!

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