Greater Greater Washington

Posts by David Alpert

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Help put us over the top! Give now and our editors will match your contribution

To all of you who have stepped up to contribute so far during our reader drive to fund our operations for 2015, thank you! You've given $6,711 so far during the drive, and in addition, many of you also signed up for monthly or yearly contributions to give us an ongoing revenue stream.


An urbanist version of the donation thermometer. Original photo by ekelly80.

The reader drive is almost donewe're wrapping it up at our 7th birthday (wow!) on February 5th. Stay tuned for information about a party coming in March, but first, help us get closer to our $18,000 goal.

The entire editorial board of Greater Greater Washington, the board of directors, and a few major donors have come together to match your gifts in the lead up to our birthday. Starting today, they will match your contribution dollar-for-dollar for the next $5,250 we raise.

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$18,000 is an ambitious goal; we set it with the knowledge that we have big plans for 2015, from expanding editor hours to growing the diversity of our base of writers.

If we can match the full $5,250, we'll be extremely close to this goal, and either way, on our way to solid start to 2015. We are serious about the future of this organization, and we are willing to put our money behind it in addition to our time.

Double your impact, and give now. Thank you!

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Bus stops around DC are getting real-time arrival displays

If you ride the bus on 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, Wisconsin Avenue, or Pennsylvania Avenue in DC, it may already be easier to know when your bus is coming. New real-time screens have already appeared on 37 bus stops, and more are coming.


Photo by Reginald Bazile on Twitter used with permission.

The District Department of Transportation is installing these screens in bus shelters on these high-ridership bus corridors. According to Sam Zimbabwe of DDOT, they are part of an initial order of 56, and the agency hopes to have 120 by March.


One of the new signs. Photo from PoPville used with permission.

The money comes from a federal TIGER grant, part of the 2009 stimulus bill. The Washington region won a grant in 2010 to improve bus service.

Many of the projects then stalled for years, and there still isn't new signal priority, where signals adapt to help keep the buses moving, beyond the limited one that had already existed on Georgia Avenue. But it's great to see these screens, which should make riding the bus much less of a mystery.

Not everyone has a smartphone, and not everyone who does knows how to pull up the real-time info. Research shows that people even perceive the wait to be shorter when they have the information than when they don't.

Have you used any of the signs yet?

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Awaiting a decision, activists rally for the Purple Line

Maryland's new governor, Larry Hogan (R), is expected to announce his budget on Friday. Among its many facets will be funding, or a lack of funding, for the Purple Line. Advocates are mobilizing on social media to ask Hogan to keep the project moving forward.


Images from Purple Line Now.

Since winning office, Hogan has remained mum on the line, which will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton, as well as the Baltimore Red Line. During the campaign, he said he thought both were too expensive, but once elected, he said he would evaluate the projects carefully.

Business groups have organized to support the line, which they say is key to Maryland's economic competitiveness. It already has federal money attached, which could help bolster the case, though that hasn't stopped other governors (like New Jersey's Chris Christie) from canceling transit projects.

Supporters have changed their Facebook and Twitter profile photos and tweeted with the hashtag #purpleline. Some even co-opted Hogan's slogan, "Change Maryland," suggesting that the Purple Line represents positive change for Maryland.

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Harriet Tregoning opposes DC's row house downzoning plan

Mere months after she stepped down as head of DC's Office of Planning, Harriet Tregoning's former agency came out with a proposal to limit the height and numbers of units that can go in many row houses. Tregoning has now sent a letter to the DC Zoning Commission opposing this plan.


Photo by Thomas Le Ngo on Flickr.

She writes,

I am afraid conclusions about development pipeline outcomes and impacts on single family housing costs (and subsequent recommendations for down zoning and other zoning changes) are being drawn from too narrow and recent a time period. Yet the consequences of Zoning Commission action may affect the city for decades to come.
In other words, OP is hastily acting based on limited data, but could hamstring the city for a long time.

Tregoning headed OP from 2007 to 2014, when she left for a position in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. She wrote the letter entirely in her personal capacity as a resident of Columbia Heights, a neighborhood largely in the zoning category (R-4) that this proposal would affect.

The change came out of public concern about "pop-up" additions to row houses. OP suggests limiting the height in R-4 row house zones to 35 feet, which is still enough to build a third story. That means that it won't stop all pop-ups.

As Tregoning points out, the real public hatred comes from ugly pop-ups (which people can still build under OP's plan). She writes,

There have indeed been some awful additions built in R-4 and R-5 neighborhoods. However, I don't believe that the builders of the additions aspire to horrify the neighbors and potentially devalue their own property; I think they are terribly uninformed about what makes for a compatible addition. ... Much of the outcry about "pop-ups" has been over compatibility. However, many additions to rowhouses are so compatible that they are utterly unremarkable in terms of changes to the neighborhood.
Tregoning suggests "an advisory ANC panel of citizen architects or designers to advise builders" on how to make an addition attractive and compatible. It could start out voluntary but become less so if necessary.

Will more restrictions make housing more affordable for families?

The Office of Planning also wants to restrict row houses in these zones to two units. The staff say that this will keep prices down, because developers hoping to subdivide them can't outbid families, and also ensure there is larger, family-sized housing. Tregoning argues this is false, or at least, unsupported by data at this time.

I am somewhat puzzled by the proposition that we can increase affordability by decreasing the supply of potential housing units ...The compet1tion for [rowhouse] housing will be fierce, whether a buyer plans to live there herself, renovate the building as a single family unit for sale, or renovate it as two or more units for sale. Restricting the number of units just limits the housing supply in some of the most central and transit-and amenity-supplied neighborhoods of the city.
Tregoning notes that DC still has more single-family housing stock than families:
I am rather dismayed by the talk of family-sized housing needing to be in single-family dwellings. All over the world families live in what we call multi-family housing (an ironic term given the representation that these units must not be for families)apartments and condominiums.

In DC we are enjoying a mini-baby boom, a product in part perhaps of the influx of young college graduates over the past 7 years and the incentive of free all-day daycare afforded by DC's universal pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4- year olds. But that just means that the City projects that we will have 23% of households with school-aged children in 2030 or so, up from our current level of around 21%. In other words, more than three-quarters of DC households will NOT have school-aged children at home.

Yet roughly 1/3 of the housing supply is of the larger, often single fam1ly or semi-detached housing variety. We do have a mismatchour current housing stock is sized too large for our householdsthat is why so much housing being built and anticipated in the development pipeline are for small units.

Let's not overreact to that pipeline. Recall that we were a shrinking city until roughly 2007, and then we were in a recession. This flurry of building is an attempt to be responsive to demand for smaller units.

Today, almost 44% of all DC households are single-person households. As we attain a closer match between the household size and our building stock, I am confident we will see a broader range of unit sizes be produced.

We already devote more than 54% of the total res1dent1ally zoned land to low density smgle-family detached and semi-detached housing in the R-1 thru R-3 zones. As we see the inevitable generational turnover of that housing stock, more of 1t wlll be avallable for households that want larger housing, including households with children.
However, if we act to restnct housing in the R-4 now, do we really think we can easily reverse that decision once the mismatch of households and building stock has come closer to equilibrium?

Tregoning also says that downzoning all R-4 neighborhoods is unfair to homeowners who purchased their properties with the expectation that they could add on and/or rent out parts of the home in ways that would become illegal. And she says that even San Francisco, a city with a perhaps even more acute housing crunch and a reputation for opposition to new housing, isn't contemplating downzoning residential land.

She argues, as I did, that this proposal should come amid a larger plan for meeting housing demand instead of as a standalone idea. Such a plan might suggest more restrictions on R-4 houses and more new housing in other land types, or a totally different approach.

At some point [the proposed] restrictions may even be appropriate but I do not believe we know that now. What we do know now is that the demand for housing is outpacing supply and that prices are rising such that affordability is threatened not just for moderate income households but for middle income ones as well.
OP needs to create a broader strategy around housing supply and demand so residents can wrestle with the large-scale tradeoffs. Until that can happen, this knee-jerk plan to downzone some row houses is unwise.

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Ask GGW: Why don't the next station displays in the trains work? And will they on the new 7000 series cars?

Reader William points out that the LED displays in many Metro cars don't work. He asks, since they don't, do we have reason to think the fancier screens in new 7000 series cars will work?


A display showing next stations in the prototype 7000 series car. Photos by Matt Johnson.

The 7000 series cars will have many new features including screens that show not only the next stop but several stops along the route.

William writes,

One of the features that the WMATA is touting is the new destination/next stop displays inside the cars that let passengers know where they are and which stops are coming up. This is really great, but I wonder whether operators will actually use it. Whenever I'm riding in a car that has an LED display, it usually only says the color of the line.

I assume the purpose of these screens is to assist passengers to know where they are, similar to the displays in the new cars, but they are rarely utilized. Will operators of the new 7k cars be required to use them? If so, why should operators of 2000-series, 3000-series, 5000-series, and 6000-series cars not be required to do so?


A screen in a prototype 7000 series car.

Thanks or your question, William! Actually, the train operator isn't the reason those LCD strips don't show the next station. The newer series of cars can tell you about the next stop, but when Metro mixed up the trainsets to put the 1000 series in the middles of the trains, that feature stopped working. The 7000s will not be mixed with older cars (they can't be) and so the screens ought to work.

Matt Johnson adds: The way the current signs work is that (regardless of the series of car), the operator has to input a destination code, which sets the destination signs on the outside of the train, lines switches along the way, and tells the signs on the interior of the car what line the train is running.

If the train equipment is all of a set that has the equipment (so no 1000s or 4000s), and the train talks to the wayside equipment along the way, the interior signs will display the next station.

The 7000s won't have the mixing issue, since they're going to run on their own. I'm not sure how much talking they're going to have to do with the wayside equipment along the tracks to stay up to date.

However, we won't know how reliable they'll be until we see them in action. If there are problems with the wayside equipment, it's certainly possible they'll get stuck showing past stations, like the current signs sometimes do. Hopefully, though, Metro has worked out how to solve that problem with the new cars.

Do you have a question?

That's a great question. And we are sure you have more. Therefore, Greater Greater Washington is going to start a new weekly feature, Ask GGW. We've posted questions periodically in the past, but we're going to try to make this regular. Send your questions to ask@ggwash.org. Each week, we will pick one or two, ask the contributors, and report what they say.

While a lot of reader questions in the past are about Metro, and you are welcome to keep asking those, we'll try to mix it up with some questions about other transit, other modes of transportation, land use, architecture, economics, education, or whatever else we can help with. So send your questions on over now!

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Uber will give Boston planners useful data about where and when people ride

Planners in Boston, and eventually, regular residents will be able to analyze patterns of where and when people take Uber. The ride-hailing service has announced that it will give Boston data files listing all of the trips people have taken, with the locations anonymized to only show the ZIP code where they start and stop.


Photo by Kjetil Korslien on Flickr.

Cities already collect this kind of information from taxis, and it's available for services like Capital Bikeshare. But Uber doesn't provide it. In September, I suggested that as cities legalize such services and essentially deregulate the taxi market, they demand this kind of transparency in return.

However, Uber fought the idea. In New York, company representatives fiercely opposed efforts by the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission to collect the information. In DC, they more privately lobbied councilmembers not to require Uber to disclose this information, and enough didn't want to pick a fight with Uber that they didn't make it an issue.

Uber has had a run of bad press lately, and as it has grown, has encountered more criticism from the public. Emily Badger writes in Wonkblog that by making this concession, Uber may be hoping to win over some suspicious city officials and also set the terms of what data it will and won't share.

The data could be very valuable to planners, who will be able to understand where people are and want to go at various times of the day and week. This could help cities think about where transit service should go, where there is demand for new housing and retail, what happens during special events, and much more.

On the other hand, Uber is keeping secret much of the data that cities might need for consumer protection. While it's possible to compute the regular fare based on distance and time, which are part of the data set, it says nothing about surge prices or other special pricing.

Uber's data will also not reveal how long people have to wait for Ubers or whether in certain areas or certain times of day people can't get a car at all. This is something cities will want to know if, sometime in the future, Uber drivers are avoiding certain low-income or minority areas, for instance. Even if Uber itself doesn't do that, another ride-hailing company might. If Uber's data becomes an industry standard, regulators won't know that about the other company, either.

Finally, in Boston Uber is only giving the data to officials, not the public, but Badger says it will be subject to open records requests. If so, we can hope that Uber would start simply releasing the data file more publicly to save the step of making the request.

Uber representatives say the company will eventually start offering the data to other cities. Given all the facts, videos, maps, and graphs people have been able to generate from Capital Bikeshare data, we can look forward to learning fascinating things about how people travel once Uber provides the same for DC.

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DC may limit condos and building heights in some row house zones. Is this a good idea?

The DC Office of Planning wants to further limit the height of houses in some row house neighborhoods and restrict the ability of property owners to split their houses into multiple units. The proposal, which first came out last June, will have a public hearing this Thursday night.


Photo by rockcreek on Flickr.

Planners say these proposals are responding to some neighborhoods' alarm about "pop-ups" and will preserve family-sized units in row houses which developers have been converting to buildings with more and smaller units.

However, others worry that this is the latest in a recent string of zoning changes which would reduce DC's ability to add housing in areas close to jobs and transit. The planning office of late seems to make policy proposals on a very ad hoc basis that react to a political issue, and we need a comprehensive look at the city's housing need along with strategies to deal with it.

What's in this proposal

This change would apply to the zones designated R-4. This covers Columbia Heights, Shaw, Capitol Hill, and other areas in purple on the below map:


Residential zones as of 2008. Image by David Alpert from DC Office of Zoning base map.

Today, a property owner in these zones can have up to two units in one house. For larger-than-usual lots, there can be three or four. And some property owners have asked DC's Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) for a variance to convert normal-sized ones into four or more apartments.

The BZA has granted many of these requests, sometimes with the full support of immediate neighbors and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission and sometimes in more controversial situations. OP's proposal would tighten these rules to completely forbid this practice. Another alternative, which OP added in response to criticism of its initial proposal, would still allow the extra units but require any beyond two to be Inclusionary Zoning units available to people making 60% or less of the Area Median Income.

In addition, row houses in these zones could only rise to 35 feet as of right, with the ability to get a special exception to build to 40 feet. A small "mezzanine" floor would also count against the limit on the number of floors, which it doesn't today.

Why planners say this is necessary

According to OP's blog post and presentation, the change from 40 to 35 feet will still let homeowners add on to their houses, including adding a third story to a two-story building, but will limit some of the more incongruous additions and cut the economic motivation to add on as high as possible.

It's worth noting that the infamous V Street pop-up isn't even in an R-4 and this proposal wouldn't affect it. But there have been projects adding on to a row house that tried to maximize the building envelope, both on top and in back, to put as many smaller units inside as could fit.

As for converting a house into more than two units, they essentially seem to feel that the BZA is granting these variances too readily. The R-4 zone's stated purpose, according to the zoning regulations, is to be a place of only moderate density row houses with larger units; creating a lot of apartments isn't really in keeping with that spirit.

They also argue that because of this ability to make a little apartment building out of a row house, developers can outbid individual families for the buildings, making it harder for families to afford places to live. New large apartment buildings in DC are generally made up of studios, one bedrooms, and two bedrooms, with relatively few three- and four-bedroom units, so, the proponents say, we should preserve some of the larger units that already exist.

Why critics say this is a bad idea

The original proposal came under some criticism from certain members of the Zoning Commission when OP planners presented it in July. Marcie Cohen, a housing affordability advocate, said, "The need that's brought before us in the BZA cases [is] adding housing. And no one seems to appreciate density, yet we have the infrastructure in certain neighborhoods for density and I guess I'm in favor of taking advantage to provide the needed housing that we have in the city."

Rob Miller also spoke about the city's need to grow, while chairman Anthony Hood and Architect of the Capitol representative Michael Turnbull defended OP's ideas. Peter May, the National Park Service representative, was not at that meeting and will likely represent the swing vote.

Blogger Payton Chung points out that the traditional family, married couples with children, make up less than 10% of DC households, while a third of the housing is family-sized. Plus, that minority of housing takes up most of DC's land (because much of it is lower density). Therefore, he concludes, while DC still needs to have family-sized housing, what it really needs to add right now is smaller units.

While many families do want to live a short walk from restaurants, Chung also links to research showing that compared to other household types, this is less of a priority. And, he says, "most of North America's great "Main Street" urban neighborhoods are made of 2-4 unit low-risesa desirable, sustainable urban pattern that's almost criminalized by this change."

We need plans for new housing

This policy debate need not pit families against singles. We need enough housing for all types of households. But where?

OP's own report on the height limit found that under current zoning and historic preservation laws, existing places to build new housing would max out in about 25 years, or sooner if DC experiences a high level of growth.


Graph from the DC Office of Planning.

Twenty-five years is not a lot of time to find opportunities for more housing. It has taken over seven years just to make a few minor tweaks in the zoning to add a small amount of new housing potential in existing carriage houses, and that came only amid enormous pushback. OP repeatedly scaled back these proposals along the way, to the point that the Zoning Commission actually told planners they had retreated too far.

These changes came in response to individual neighborhood complaints or requests. But these changes don't just affect one neighborhood: they affect the whole.

It certainly could make sense for a neighborhood to collectively decide that one area is the best one for more housing while another is not, and agree to increase zoning in one area while decreasing it in another. DC could decide that the row houses are right to reserve for family-sized housing and add opportunities on other land in the neighborhoods for the one- and two-bedroom units we need.

Unfortunately, that's not what's happening. Instead, people try to push new growth entirely out their own areas, often successfully. And OP planners' stated reasons for making a change, whether this one or its zoning update retreats, generally don't speak to the citywide effect on housing supply at all.

We need housing forecasts

I hear some folks in the government disagree that prices are rising because of zoning limits on housing. In that case, let's have a discussion about it.

OP should publish its own analyses, with more detail than what's in the height report. This would be a great component for the forthcoming revision to the Comprehensive Plan, the overall planning document which is supposed to guide District policies and land use decisions.

Let's really analyze what types of housing we need, in what sizes and areas, and how that compares to current supply. Then we can have a real conversation about different ways to meet the demand. We can't get there through a neighborhood-by-neighborhood process tweaking one rule at a time. There has to be a larger strategy.

Maybe this particular proposal would be an element of that larger strategy. Maybe not. The Zoning Commission should delay any action on this specific set of changes until OP can put this proposal into a context of the city's overall housing need.

Want to testify?

The hearing is Thursday, January 14 15, starting at 6:30 pm at One Judiciary Square. If you want to testify for or against the proposals, email Donna Hanousek, donna.hanousek@dc.gov, to sign up. You will be limited to three minutes of speaking time. If you want to submit a written letter, follow these instructions and send it to zcsubmissions@dc.gov.

Clarification: The original version of this post cited a statistic of 10% of housing being for couples with children. That statistic only counts married couples with children, not unmarried ones or other family types. The text has been updated.

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At least one person has died from smoke in a Metro train

A Metro train broke down near L'Enfant Plaza and filled with smoke. WMATA has confirmed at least one person has died from the smoke; two are in critical condition, and many more went to local hospitals.

While the train operator told passengers to remain in the train, they eventually decided to evacuate through the tunnel as the smoke made some people have trouble breathing. Jonathan Rogers was on the train and took this video:

Rogers also tweeted a number of photos:

This post has been updated as the story developed.

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You're the key to make Greater Greater Washington last a long time. We need your help.

Do you want Greater Greater Washington to be around for a long time? I do! If that's going to happen, to be perfectly honest: we need your financial support now.

Last year's reader drive brought in $15,000, including larger-dollar donors who contributed to a matching program we did. We raised about $10,000 in business support. With that, we hired Jonathan Neeley part-time and kept the servers running. But now we have to do it all over again for this year; plus, it's not enough. If you're a supporter but haven't yet made a financial contribution, we hope you will now!

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Where the money goes

Our amazing team of volunteer contributors, Breakfast Links curators, and editors do a lot. It's not easy to make all of this happen, especially since people have day jobs. So much goes on behind the scenes: comment moderating, responding to emails, planning events, social media, and more, all from volunteers.

But at the core of things is editing all of the posts. We've learned the hard way that it's too chaotic to have multiple volunteers handling editing. We need one person who's in charge of getting the content ready and posting it. That's Jonathan, and he's doing a terrific job.

Unfortunately, Jonathan is just half-time right now. And the simple fact is that putting out 3-6 great posts every day isn't a half time job. Plus, Jonathan wants to have a full-time job like most people, and we want to keep him. We really want to make Jonathan full-time. But we're going to need significantly more money than we had last year, and not just one time, but every year.

There's even more for us to do

Plus, the editors have been posting about all the things we want to do that we're not doing: Speakers. Live chats. Recruit more contributors from all around the region. And much more. We're not everything we'd like to be. Some of that we can do more with volunteers, but someone has to manage that, and some of it costs money directly.

Why we can't do it alone

You might ask, what about you, David, former Googler? I'm fortunate to have made some money from working at Google which has enabled me to start, write for, and edit GGW without being paid. I'm also giving what I can financially on top of that. But Greater Greater Washington has become more than I can support myself, and that's why we're turning to you.

Some of you are giving monthly or yearly through PayPal. That's amazing, and we really appreciate it! If everyone who's signed up for monthly or yearly contributions renews this year, we'll get $5,851 each year in addition to the many one-time folks who often give annually. The ideal thing would be to get those automatic payments up to the level that covers our costs, and then we don't have to hassle you all quite so much.

Please give!

But so far, that plus our one-time donations is not enough for our server costs and Jonathan's part-time costs, let alone to go to full-time or do more. Please give what you can now.

We don't want to do these reader drives very often. We're experimenting with the best time of year, doing it in February for last year, and now December. Maybe twice-yearly drives like NPR will work best. Help us get on track to make Jonathan full time and do even more great projects next year to keep Greater Greater Washington giving you interesting and informative content and discussions. Thank you!

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Experts are optimistic about Leif Dormsjo

Muriel Bowser has nominated Leif Dormsjo to run the District Department of Transportation. Who's Leif Dormsjo, and should urbanists be excited about the pick?


Leif Dormsjo. Image from DDOT.

Several current and former transportation professionals in the Washington region said there's reason for hope. One wrote in an email, "I think it's a really good pick, and bodes well for a number of things in DC."

Dormsjo most recently served as a deputy transportation secretary at the Maryland Department of Transportation, where he worked on the procurement and public-private partnership funding for the Purple Line.

The experts, who weren't willing to speak publicly because they continue to work in or do business with governments in the region, said that management is Dormsjo's strong point. DDOT needs strong management right now, because perhaps its major weakness has been its ability to deliver on projects.

There are the oft-criticized streetcar delays, obviously, but also smaller projects like the Rhode Island Avenue pedestrian bridge, which was delayed for two years because of problems attracting bidders; a streetlight contract that got overturned twice for contracting problems; visitor parking pass innovations that have been promised for years but never delivered; and more.

One expert who was willing to be quoted anonymously said, "Leif is strongly supportive of performance measurement and contracting and was instrumental in the procurement approach taken for the Purple Line." In fact, this expert feels that Leif's departure could be a blow to the Purple Line project.

"I think his personality plus his political background will make him demanding of his engineers to give good, performance-based reasons for things," he added. "He will want to have people on board who will be able to work with that kind of expectation."

Dormsjo's challenge: Delivering on the District's existing vision

Fortunately, Dormsjo doesn't have to devise a vision on his own. DDOT has a strong vision, the MoveDC long-term plan and the two-year action plan. These efforts took more than a year combining feedback from residents and community groups from across the city to set a direction for DC's transportation.

If Mayor Bowser and Dormsjo are willing to build on that success, they can immediately start getting things done to improve life for residents in the District and the region. That would mean using the action plan as an initial blueprint; retaining the officials, like Sam Zimbabwe and other top planners, who devised it; and devoting energy to fixing structural problems at DDOT that get in the way of achieving these goals.

DC's vision includes improvements to services that WMATA operates, meaning Dormsjo will have to strengthen the ability of DDOT and WMATA to work together instead of at cross-purposes. Securing funding for MoveDC and WMATA capital needs will be a big challenge, particularly with oversight of WMATA and the rest of transportation being in separate DC Council committees under Jack Evans and Mary Cheh, respectively.

While it's built a good vision, DDOT has struggled to follow through on projects. To change this, Dormsjo will need to focus on a few key areas:

Communicating: Communication has been a weak point at DDOT in recent years. This is much more than just having a spokesperson or putting out fact sheets; to improve transportation, you need buy-in from stakeholders, and that means sharing information and building relationships with community groups, business groups, advocacy organizations, blogs, and more.

It also means communicating proactively with councilmembers and council staff, which DDOT did either poorly or not at all for most of the last administration.

When the DC Council cut streetcar funding, for instance, few or none of the stakeholders who had cheered for the program under Gabe Klein were then prepared to defend it. A big reason: DDOT had spent years ignoring all of those stakeholders, giving councilmembers vague and unsatisfying answers, and making decisions which many disagreed with. If you go it alone, you'll be alone, and you won't succeed.

Listening: Residents deserve to have a say in transportation projects that affect them, and they often have something valuable to contribute. At the same time, it's not possible to get every single person to agree. An agency has to set up a process to communicate its ideas and really listen to input, consider that closely, and then take action.

It's too common for the people running a project to either just go through the motions and not actually listen, or for them to do whatever the last person to talk to them suggested. A good process would set a defined period of time for input, which will depend on the type of project, and after that, have an understanding on all sides that it's time to make a call and move forward.

Removing the bottlenecks: DDOT has some people who've put themselves in a position where they have to say yes before something can move forward. The director needs to ensure that everyone who needs to be involved in a project can be, to make it better, but also so that they can't just shut it down or delay it indefinitely. Bottleneck people need to be in roles where they can add value, and if they can't do that, should be removed.

Hiring, trusting, and protecting good people: The director can't be a bottleneck either. DDOT needs good people who can understand their roles and act within them independently. And if something they do arouses controversy, a good director will protect them. If they made a mistake, correct it, but support the person.

Staying true to the vision: You can manage to performance standards, but a lot depends on which standards you choose. Is it how many people you move? How fast? Safety? Cost? This matters because transportation decisions often trade off among these. The 1960s traffic engineering paradigm was all about standards, just narrow ones that ignored important goals around making it safe and comfortable to walk, bike, and take transit.

Sometimes DDOT is so focused on getting a project done that officials lose sight of why they are doing the project. A great example is the Southeast Boulevard, where DDOT circularly set about planning an isolated four-lane boulevard to replace a four-lane freeway. It took the Office of Planning getting involved to really think about the best use of the land.

Or the streetcar, for that matter; we had a streetcar plan, and often, that seemed to mean DDOT was intent on building a streetcar just because. There were, and are, reasons to build a streetcar instead of another mode, but the people running the effort didn't seem to know what those were. And they were often more interested in getting rails down in the street most expediently instead of examining if, for instance, we need a dedicated lane to make it worthwhile to ride.

There's always a tradeoff between getting it done and doing it right. A good director will ensure that there's a balance. That means buying into and believing in the overall vision, to best know when it's okay to compromise on something and when that will damage the whole effort too much.

Can and will Leif Dormsjo do these? Those that know him say we can move into the coming year with strong hopes.

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