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Without a streetcar, what's next for Columbia Pike, technically and politically?

After a decade of planning, officials in Arlington cancelled the Columbia Pike streetcar this week. If streetcars aren't going to be the answer on there, what might realistically happen instead?

Columbia Pike. Photo by harry_nl on Flickr.

In the wake of the streetcar's cancellation, some have suggested Metrorail, BRT, or light rail. None are likely. The county will probably just end up running articulated ("accordion") buses on Columbia Pike. Voters might be surprised how long that takes, how much it costs, and how little capacity it adds.

It's also time for the anti-streetcar forces to prove that when they claimed they supported better transit, they meant it and weren't just using the issue to divide voters. That means they now have to get involved in finding a solution and making it a reality.

There's tremendous demand for good transit on Columbia Pike. It's already the busiest bus corridor in Virginia, and by 2040 there could be more transit riders on Columbia Pike alone than in the entire Richmond metropolitan area. Doing nothing isn't a viable option.

As we discussed yesterday, Metrorail is (unfortunately) not financially realistic, and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has told Arlington it may not dedicate a lane to transitif even that were politically possible over drivers' inevitable objections.

So what can happen now?

How soon can Arlington beef up bus service?

Unfortunately, large transit projects take years to plan and, if they cost a significant amount, even longer to fund. The funding process is what really held up the Columbia Pike streetcar; Arlington and Fairfax leaders thought they had the money together in the past, like in 2007, when Virginia handed some taxing authority to a regional authority to build transportation. But then courts ruled the plan unconstitutional, and it took more years to get funding together again, culminating in Governor McAuliffe's pledge this year for the state to pick up a significant amount of the tab.

One plan has gone through some detailed studies: the option called "TSM-2" in the streetcar alternatives analysis. That includes running longer articulated buses on Columbia Pike along with larger bus stops, machines to pay the fare before the bus arrives ("off-vehicle fare collection"), and rebranding the buses as MetroExtra or Metroway.

But even that isn't so simple.

First, WMATA doesn't have any bus storage or maintenance yard in Virginia equipped to handle articulated buses. Arlington will have to find land and build that, just as it would have had to do for a streetcar railyard.

Second, Columbia Pike's pavement isn't strong enough to handle the wear and tear of hundreds of articulated bus trips per day. It wouldn't crumble the first week, but before long Arlington will have to reinforce and repave the street, just like it would have had to do for streetcar tracks.

Finally, a lot of planning work will have to re-done. Just how much is not yet clear. At the very least, contracts and design work that had been progressing will cease, and Arlington will have to prepare new contracts and possibly hire new contractors. At the higher end of the scale, it's possible the entire alternatives analysis process that produced the TSM-2 option will have to start anew, with a different set of constraints.

Whatever the specifics turn out to be, it's definitely not a simple matter of buying some buses and calling it a day. It's going to take years.

That likely won't last for long

The Alternatives Analysis estimated that at current growth rates, ridership will outstrip the capacity for articulated buses before long.

There are three likely scenarios here:

  • Columbia Pike will not grow as leaders and residents hope, in which case it will remain depressed relative to the rest of the county and not need more transit ridership. A streetcar might become necessary to jump-start the economy, or voters will keep letting it languish.
  • It will grow, demand will increase again, and we'll be back where we started. Maybe the county will again consider a higher-capacity streetcar, just years later and at an even higher cost.
  • The AA is totally wrong and everything will be hunky-dory with just articulated buses, as Libby Garvey and others have argued. That's worked with voters, but no transit experts have really said it holds water.
What about dedicated lanes?

Several readers have said they believe that transit is just not worthwhile without dedicated lanes. Certainly dedicated lanes are better, but elected officials have to make a judgment about what is politically possible and what is not.

Columbia Pike used to be a state road (and still is in Fairfax). The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) turned it over to Arlington, but with the condition that the number of lanes open to cars not drop below fourand it's a four-lane road.

It's theoretically possible that a transit-friendly governor in Virginia could order VDOT to change this condition and let Arlington dedicate lanes on Columbia Pike. Or maybe in another decade or two, VDOT will come to that decision naturally.

The McAuliffe administration stuck its neck out in support of the streetcar. After Arlington hung them out to dry, will they take even more of a risk to take lanes away from cars?

And what evidence do we have that the voting bloc that would fight against losing any car lanes is smaller than the bloc who opposed spending money?

It's about politics now

All of the above is, essentially, the calculus that folks inside Arlington government are or will be working through. What should they plan for now? What contracts are necessary?

But this project didn't lose because of insufficient planning. It lost because of politics.

Arlington has long operated on the "Arlington Way," where civic leaders and other residents discuss issues calmly in advisory committees, the staff formulate recommendations, the board debates them, and ultimately passes things usually with unanimity.

This works pretty well when residents are willing to trust their elected leaders and county officials. But that system is now dead. The faction opposed to the current board members told voters that the consensus on the county board was a sign of the board not listening to people, and eroded popular trust in the county board and staff.

The county board has no committees. There's just one political party. The executive isn't independent. Everything is set up around the idea that everyone acts together. But a faction that now represents 40% of the board isn't interested in doing it that way (unless they are in charge, maybe).

If the board members just ask the transportation department to devise some options, recommend them to the board, and pick the best one, some people will still be unhappy with whatever happens. There will still be opportunities to blame Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, and Jay Fisette for not doing it the right way, because there's no perfect way that will satisfy every person.

Transit supporters need to start thinking of this as a political fight and not a transit planning fight.

Streetcar opponents: You won. Now, get something done

Libby Garvey, John Vihstadt, and Peter Rousselot have consistently claimed they are for better mobility on Columbia Pike. They just don't want the streetcar. Well, now the streetcar is gone, so there's no apparent division.

Either they were genuine, in which case they can and will work to make transit better, or they were just using it for political advantage. The trick is to now set things up so that voters will be able to see which it is. (Update: Rousselot, at least, has stated his spending priorities and none of them is transit of any kind on Columbia Pike.)

How about putting Garvey and/or Vihstadt in charge of some sort of committee to analyze transportation on Columbia Pike and recommend solutions? And hold a vote putting the county on record that it does want to ask Virginia for a dedicated lane, and send Garvey down to Richmond to push for it. She sure had nearly boundless energy to meet with state officials to criticize the streetcar; how about doing the same for something that would help Arlington County?

If she succeeds, then that's fantastic! We get better transit. I don't think it'll happen, but I'd love to be proven wrong here. I'd love to be able to praise Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt for making things better instead of just breaking things. Then transit supporters can start seeing them as friends and support their re-election.

But if a dedicated lane can't happen, articulated buses turn out to cost almost as much as the streetcar, and they're still too crowded, then voters should blame them, not Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada who tried to do something and got shot down.

DC will force property owners to shovel sidewalks, with higher fines for bigger and commercial buildings

Property owners might actually face enforceable fines for not shoveling their snow in the winter one year from now. Councilmember Mary Cheh was able to win over some nervous colleagues and won passage of a bill after amending it to give small residential property owners lighter fines and exempt seniors and people with disabilities.

Photo by David Alpert.

The DC Council gave its first-reading final approval to the bill today. The law already requires property owners to shovel snow within eight hours of the end of a snowfall, but the District was not able to enforce that since it had to prosecute anyone who didn't do that. The bill authorizes a regular fine for property owners who don't clear snow.

Some councilmembers worried that forcing seniors to shovel would put a difficult burden on them, and that fines could disproportionately hurt poor homeowners who can't easily afford to pay. I'd previously argued that it made sense to focus efforts on the real bad actors, like the large condo buildings on corners or full-block parking lots.

The new version of the bill, with Cheh's modifications, sets up stricter rules for "commercial" property owners than "residential" ones. "Commercial" owners would face a fine of $125 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and $500 after that. "Residential" owners can get at most a $25 fine, whether for the first or tenth infraction.

Also, "residential" property owners have to get a warning first, and then can only be ticketed if the sidewalk is still not clear 24 hours later. In almost all cases, this means that "residential" property owners won't get any tickets, though the warning would likely spur action, so the bill still could have a positive effect. "Residential" property owners who are 65 or or older or have disabilities also are exempt.

Fortunately, this doesn't let the 50-unit condo building off the hook. There's an important reason "residential" and "commercial" terms were in quotation marks above: Under DC laws, a building with more than three dwelling units is technically a "commercial" building even though people reside in it. A 4-unit condo, for instance, doesn't get city trash pickup, but instead contracts with a private hauling company. That's because DPW residential trash collection only applies to "residential" buildings.

Cheh's staff confirmed that the same definitions should apply here.

Of course, this doesn't do anything about sidewalks next to land controlled by the National Park Service, embassies, or some other big offenders. For its part, the DC government has been better in recent years about clearing bridges and sidewalks next to schools and city parks, but can still do better as well.

Muriel Bower, Marion Barry, and Jim Graham voted against the bill. Anita Bonds and Yvette Alexander also expressed concerns about the impact on seniors, but got on board after an amendment by David Catania to make it easier for them to get the exemption. Nobody will get a fine until October of 2015, and in the meantime, Bowser's administration will have to write rules implementing the law.

National Airport will get better, while Dulles will stay decrepit, for now. But there's hope.

Reagan National Airport will get a new concourse and larger screening areas, airport officials announced today. Meanwhile, Dulles International Airport's decrepit United Airlines concourse isn't getting replaced anytime soon. However, there's hope for Dulles to get out of its doldrums.

For a while, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has been facing a dilemma. More passengers are using National, while domestic traffic fell at Dulles. Dulles is not just unpopular, but also expensive for the airlines.

Where most people prefer each airport. Image from MWCOG.

A 2013 Council of Governments survey found that National became the preferred airport for flyers in even larger swaths of Prince George's and Northern Virginia than it was in 2011. It's growing, and has been feeling the pinch in crowded waiting areas, parking, and security screening lines.

Changes should fix crowding problems at National

According to a briefing this morning, MWAA will build a new concourse for the regional jet flights. Today, flyers have to take a shuttle bus to these flights, which adds a lot of time and hassle, and the waiting area is crowded. There's a building to the north of the existing concourses that's now MWAA offices; that are will become the new concourse.

The security screening at terminal B/C, which now crams into the three hallways accessing the piers with the gates, will move upstairs to the level with the ticket counters.

Concept plan for the new concourse. Image from MWAA via FlightGlobal.

The airport hit a record 20.4 million passengers in 2013, and MWAA expects it will soon pass 22 million. National is one of the few airports in the nation with legal limits on its airplane traffic. There is a set number of "slots" which let airlines take off or land planes, and a perimeter rule restricts flights to airports more than 1,250 miles away, except for a set of exemptions that Congress has added over the years.

Congress added eight new daily long-distance exemptions in 2012. Four of those, which went to airlines without a lot of flights at the airport already, also added to the number of total slots. When US Airways and American merged, the Department of Justice further required them to give up slots which went to Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America; those airlines are flying larger planes than US Airways had been.

But National has very limited space for new growth. Meanwhile, Dulles domestic flying is caught in something of a spiral: it's less desirable than National, but its facilities also need more work. If people don't fly there, the airport will take in less money, and airlines end up paying more per passenger. That might convince airlines to fly there less, meaning fewer people fly. And so on.

Isn't that just as well?

MWAA frets a lot about this, but urbanists might ask, why is that a problem? National is more convenient for more people and has better transportation access. Why not have more air travel happen near the center of the region?

However, National's runways can't accommodate many more flights than there are today. The airlines could fly more larger planes (like 737s instead of regional jets; there isn't room for widebodies), but there's a limit on bigger gates. And even with the planned changes, there's not a lot of spare space for passengers in the terminals.

Many flights and people are going to have to go to Dulles and BWI, and that means we all should want those airports to have a lot of flights. Dulles has long been a United hub. Most large airlines today fly a "hub-and-spoke" network where they fly almost entirely to and from their hubs. Without a United hub, there wouldn't be flights to a lot of smaller eastern cities from Dulles, since United depends on connecting passengers to fill them.

This summer, some airline analysts even said United should drop the hub. Part of the reason: since it merged with Continental in 2010, United has an even better-performing (though also constrained) hub in Newark.

United hasn't taken that advice, at least not yet, and a lot of people said it's bad advice. But it reminds us that United does have to be successful at Dulles. And if people don't want to fly in and out of Dulles, that creates a problem.

Dulles is more expensive

There is another reason people don't like to use Dulles, and in particular, United's gates there: Their concourse is awful. The C and D gates are in what was originally built to be a "temporary" concourse. It's old, dark, and depressing. The A and B concourse, which serves international flights and other airlines, looks great... except for the little end of A for United regional jets, which is also terrible.

Photo by Kevin Chan on Flickr.

When MWAA built Dulles' new train, it didn't put the station right under the existing concourse, but a short ways away where the permanent one is supposed to go one day. Until that happens, however, you not only have to go from check-in to security to a train to the gate, but have an extra long walk.

United CEO Jeff Smisek has said United is reluctant to expand at Dulles because it is more expensive than other airports. Airports have to be self-sufficient and pay for their facilities and operations through revenue they earn inside the airport (like restaurant concessions) and fees airlines pay. When an airport wants to build new facilities, it has to take on debt that raises the costs for the airlines.

Airlines usually look at this as "cost per emplaned passenger," or CPE. If passengers go up, the overall payment from airlines doesn't change, but the denominator rises, so the CPE is lower. According to MWAA spokesperson Chris Paladino, Dulles' is now about $26, though international carriers pay more and domestic ones (like United) less. The CPE at DCA is around $12 and at BWI under $10.

So not only is Dulles less desirable for passengers, but it's pricier for airlines. If MWAA built a new concourse for United, it would expect United to foot most of the bill, and that means United would see Dulles as even more expensive than it is.

While Smisek isn't revealing all of United's calculations about what a new concourse might be worth to them, it's not unreasonable for him to worry about that cost on top of all of Dulles' other costs. That means either Dulles stays crummy or it gets even more expensive.

MWAA needs more revenue at Dulles

To lower the CPE, MWAA is trying to create new revenue at Dulles. Paladino, the MWAA spokesperson, said the authority is trying hard to do that, such as bringing in higher-end shopping and better restaurants to Dulles (and National).

MWAA has also been looking at developing some of the land around the airport with hotels and other uses, and pushing ideas for increasing cargo capacity at Dulles.

Unfortunately, this pressure to get more revenue at Dulles leads MWAA to push policies that are destructive for the region as a whole. It and other airport boosters lobby for more north-south highways along the Outer Beltway route so people can drive to Dulles, even though flyers would be a tiny fraction of the traffic on the road. It would mostly fill up with people buying houses in new sprawling subdivisions at the region's fringe which would suddenly become more valuable with a highway.

New agreement will subsidize Dulles with revenue from National

The changes MWAA announced today are part of a proposed agreement with the airlines. If they ratify it, in addition to the changes at National, $300 million of revenue from National will help reduce the debt load at Dulles. Aviation reporter and GGW contributor Ned Russell reports that National's CPE will rise to $14.68 and Dulles' fall to $25.48. That's still a big gap, but a little less than without the shift.

This seems sensible. While it's a good thing more people are using National, it's also not fair for the more desirable airport to have lower costs. The airlines want to fly at National no matter what; higher costs won't deter them. At the very least, MWAA shouldn't be making Dulles less desirable.

The new agreement doesn't include any new concourses at Dulles, Russell said, but if United's CPE can be more equal between the two airports, in a few years it could make economic sense for MWAA and United to agree to invest in that airport.

The DC council will stay somewhat colorful... literally

Views, backgrounds, and many other factors are important qualities for candidates for office. One that doesn't matter at all: Whether their names are also colors of the rainbow. But it's fun nonetheless to chart how many of DC's elected officials share surnames with parts of the palette.

Orange was the first hue to join the council, as the Ward 5 member in 1999. He left to run for mayor (and lost), but when returned to the council after winning a special election for an at-large seat in 2011. Then, the District reached an all-time high of four chromatic elected officials: Vincent Gray, mayor; Kwame Brown, chairman; and Michael Brown and Orange, at-large councilmembers.

As I noted in a similarly-frivolous post on this topic in 2011, the tally does not count foreign-language names; Carol Schwartz (who was an at-large member from 1985 to 2008) has a name that derives from "schwarz," the German word for black.

Now, with both Browns off the council (both having pled guilty to lawbreaking) and Gray having lost his seat as mayor (in large part because of a federal investigation), Orange would have been again the only official with an RGB formula... except he will have a partner: Elissa Silverman, who won the race to succeed David Catania.

There will also be a special election in 2015 for the Ward 4 member. A few people (whose last names are not colors) are already running, but most say it's far too early to speculate.

One who isn't yet running but might is Robert White, who just gained 7% of the vote in the race Silverman won. If you count first names, there's also Graylan Hagler.

The real vote should depend more on the candidates' views, and in reality will depend even more on whom Muriel Bowser endorses. But a White or Graylan victory would, as an unimportant side effect, again boost the council's chromaticity.

Montgomery County's BRT challenge: Getting it right

Montgomery County is starting to plan the specific details for the 81-mile Bus Rapid Transit project county leaders approved last year. Its success will depend heavily upon whether the current wide, fast roads stay that way and just get bus lanes added on, or whether they become pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly boulevards that welcome transit riders and respond to community needs.

A transit corridor street design by the National Association of Transportation Officials with 10' lanes, pedestrian refuges, and cycletracks.

Last summer, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) released initial designs for BRT on Georgia Avenue North. The plan called for too many lanes that, at 12 to 14 feet, were far too wide, and unnecessarily large buffer zones that altogether would have required the use of eminent domain.

According to Jeff Speck, a smart growth expert, the wide lanes would be "disastrous for safety" because research shows they encourage speeding.

Yet most of the corridors Montgomery plans to use for BRT are fast, six-lane roads. Sidewalks squeeze against the side. Intersections bulge out with multiple turn lanes and corners with high-speed, sweeping right turns.

In other words, Montgomery County is planning to install BRT on roads that cyclists and pedestrians alike avoid for safety reasons, a measure that will limit access to key intersections and strengthen barriers between communities and destinations.

The Maryland State Highway Administration's proposed cross section for Alternative 5 for BRT on Georgia Avenue features 12' and 14' lanes.

It's important to get the design details right from the start

Putting BRT on these roads without making other fundamental changes to the road's design would not only discourage walking and bicycling, but also keep transit ridership down. By planning an environment that's welcoming of pedestrians and bicycles, Montgomery County can transform key arterials into attractive, safe, multi-modal boulevards that better serve all users.

High speed right turns, and sidewalks up against high speed traffic make Rockville Pike an unpleasant place to walk. Image from Google Maps.

Planning for pedestrians and cycles isn't just a nice thing to do; it's also good business because it increases access to commerce. Chuck Marohn, an engineer who writes Strong Towns, would likely call most of Montgomery's BRT corridors "stroads," or street/road hybrids that "[move] cars at speeds too slow to get around efficiently but too fast to support productive private sector investment." Many strip retail centers and malls along our high speed stroads are struggling while businesses are thriving in walkable downtowns and new, mixed-use centers.

Other communities around the country have wisely invested in making BRT corridors more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. Oakland, for example, is planning what has been called "California's longest complete street" for International Boulevard, its BRT corridor. Oakland's 17-mile BRT system, scheduled to open in 2016, will have wider sidewalks, bulbouts, streetlights, and bicycle lanes (some of them protected) along the entire length.

UC Berkeley student recommendations for improved pedestrian and bicycle accommodations on the International Boulevard BRT corridor.

How community members can get involved

Representative community input will also be critical to designing a successful system, as residents are the ones who know where safety hazards and trouble spots exist.

The SHA and Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) have formalized a way for community members to give feedback on the first four of Montgomery's ten planned BRT routes (Viers Mill Road from Rockville to Wheaton, Georgia Avenue North from Olney to Wheaton, MD 355 from Clarksburg to Bethesda, and US 29 from Burtonsville to Silver Spring). Each site will have a Bus Rapid Transit Corridor Advisory Committee that, starting in December, will meet every other month to address where stations should go, where bike and pedestrian routes are needed, and how the street should be designed.

The committees are an important chance for residents, businesses, and other stakeholders to achieve consensus and help get the details right. If a diverse and representative range of community members answers the call for applications, Montgomery County can not only dramatically improv its transit service, but also turn some auto-oriented corridors into walkable, bikeable places.

Council postpones contributory negligence bill to next week

A DC Council committee unanimously agreed to postpone until November 12 a vote on the bill to reform contributory negligence.

Mary Cheh had said she wanted to speak more with trial lawyer representatives to ensure the bill doesn't harm joint and several liability. It's important now that the conversation happen in the next week so Cheh can make up her mind.

Hopefully she can find a way to fix the bill to her satisfaction and get on board. WABA has promised to make this a cornerstone of a new scorecard, and it would be a shame for Cheh to get on the (cycle)track for a low score since she is not a foe of bicycling.

That still leaves Anita Bonds, who according to commenter Greg Billing "suggested adding provisions requiring lights, helmets, and such"; and Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser, who haven't taken a position and weren't at today's session, as well. Pedestrians, cyclists, and other residents who want to see fairer treatment for victims in crashes can contact members of the committee to push them on the issue.

Residents feel mayoral control has muffled the public's voice in education

Mayoral control of DC's schools may have speeded reform, but many residents feel they have less input into education decisions than they used to, according to a new report. The report also found that people are worried charter school growth is threatening the stability of DC Public Schools.

Photo of man with bullhorn from Shutterstock.

Community members interviewed for the report complained that it was often hard to know who to approach for help in DC's confusing education landscape. They also said communication from education officials is often a one-way process that doesn't allow the public meaningful influence.

"These are things that make it difficult for stakeholders to access the system," said Heather Harding, a lead author of the report, which focused on community and family engagement in education. "I think it would be a shame to squander goodwill on the part of citizens who really want to be involved in education around the city."

In addition, many of those interviewed said they wanted to see greater coordination between the charter sector and DCPS, with charters filling in educational gaps in the overall system rather than competing with traditional public schools.

The report is the product of a research consortium called EdCORE, headed by the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University. Harding is EdCORE's executive director.

The 2007 statute that abolished DC's local school board and introduced the era of mayoral controlthe Public Education Reform Amendment Act, or PERAAalso required regular independent reports on how well the new system was working. The report on community engagement is the fifth in a series of reports in response to that mandate, all of which can be viewed on the website of the DC Auditor.

Harding and her team interviewed 14 officials representing all of DC's education agencies as well as staff of the DC Council. They also interviewed 14 stakeholders drawn from community parent groups and other education-focused organizations.

Some say mayoral control reduced public engagement

PERAA abolished the local school board and gave the mayor direct power to appoint the chancellor and control DC Public Schools. The rationale was that the board's political nature made it hard to introduce school reforms. But many of those quoted in the report say that without it, it's hard for parents and others to be engaged in decisions affecting education.

While the officials interviewed said they do want to engage the community, the report says few could point to specifics about how they would do that. And some were ambivalent about how much engagement they want.

One official said that stakeholders "should have a spot at the 'proverbial table.'" But the official then added, "Do I mean that while someone is creating a curriculum or a new school that's opening that a parent should be right at the table while you are writing? No, of course not."

Concerns about charter growth and integration

One thing the report made clear is that those interviewed were wary of the growth of the charter sector. The stakeholders interviewed saw mayoral control as applying only to DC Public Schools and were frustrated that charter schools weren't integrated into an overall system.

One stakeholder, echoing DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, complained that the rapid growth of the charter sector is "cannibalizing" DCPS.

Scott Pearson, executive director of the Public Charter School Board, challenged the report's even-handedness. "We found it surprisingly biased for what we had expected would be a careful and ideologically neutral process," he said.

Harding responded that the samples used in the report, while small, were representative. She said researchers interviewed and considered the views of PCSB officials along with those of officials at DCPS, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, the State Board of Education, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, and the newly revived Office of the School Ombudsman.

Of the 14 stakeholders interviewed, two identified as charter advocates and two represented DCPS parent groups, Harding said. The remainder were affiliated with ward-level education councils or District-wide groups.

Harding did acknowledge that DCPS stakeholders were probably more heavily represented among those interviewed than those from the charter community, estimating that the split was about 70% to 30%. In the District as a whole, about 45% of public school students attend charters.

One reason for the over-representation of DCPS stakeholders may be that charter school parents are more likely to be active at the school level than in ward or District-level organizations because charter schools operate with more independence than DCPS.

But Harding said that even if members of the parent groups contacted by her team were more focused on DCPS, they also represented the concerns of charter parents. "They would focus on DCPS as an entity," she said, "because it was the thing you could grab on to. But if you asked about charters, they would tell you similar things."

Bright spots include parent home visits and the boundary review process

The report did point to a few bright spots in a generally bleak picture. The model of parent engagement promoted by the Flamboyan Foundation, which includes teacher visits to students' homes, "has been warmly received throughout the city," the report said.

Interviewees also praised the school boundary overhaul process led by Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith. They saw it as an unusual instance of genuine two-way communication between a government agency and the public.

Some also saw the revivals of the DC Council's Committee on Education and the Office of the Ombudsman for Public Education as possible pathways for public input. Others, however, warned that neither of these outlets would be enough.

The report refrained from making any recommendations, but it did conclude that the next mayor "would be well advised to articulate a vision that improves transparency on important decisions" and "assures collaboration."

The National Research Council will issue a more comprehensive report on the effects of mayoral control in DC in April of next year, Harding said. The NRC will draw on the EdCORE reports in formulating its own evaluation.

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