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WMATA is considering scrapping the Metroway BRT

Ridership on Metroway, the BRT route that runs from Braddock Road to Pentagon City, has been climbing since the service started in 2014. Yet WMATA is still considering shutting it down to save money. That'd negate years of planning and construction and sour public opinion on transit.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2014, WMATA introduced a bus rapid transit (BRT) service called Metroway, whose MW1 line runs between Braddock Road in Alexandria and Crystal City in Arlington. As our region's only BRT, Metroway runs in its own lane parallel to Route 1; its ability to skip traffic makes it a reliable transportation option.

Metroway ridership has been growing since it first opened. WMATA's 9S bus, which it replaced, had a daily ridership of 1,091 in its final year running. But by June 2015, Metroway ridership was at about 1,400 people per day, and as ridership grew, Metroway expanded it's service to the Pentagon City Metro station.

Image from the City of Alexandria.

At the heart of the MW1 route (which remains Metroway's only line) is Potomac Yard, a former 295-acre rail yard, which used to be on EPA's list of hazardous sites but has been growing into a great example of transit-oriented development (TOD) over the past decade. As large apartment buildings in Potomac Yard have gone up, so has the number of people riding Metroway.

In 2016, Metroway saw a roughly 50% increase in ridership over the same months in 2015. In June of 2016, the average daily ridership topped 2,000 for the first time.

Metroway is quite cheap compared to other WMATA concerns

Last week, WMATA released several radical ideas to close the gap between its operating budget and allocated funds for Fiscal Year 2018.Included in a collection of ideas to save $10 million on bus service was eliminating 20 bus routes that WMATA has to subsidize because fares don't cover costs. In Metroway's case, WMATA pays $3.5 million extra per year to run the service, which is nearly three times the amount of money the 20 routes averaged together.

To put that in perspective, WMATA projects a budget gap of $275 million for FY 2018, and that number is likely to grow in the future. While we typically talk about rail in terms of decades and in magnitudes of billions of dollars, BRT offers options for smaller areas at a fraction of the cost-- a $3.5 million compared to hundreds of millions, for example-- and time.

For instance, the Silver Line was part of the original Metro planning during the 1960s, and the construction cost for Phase II alone is $3 billion. The Potomac Yard Metro Station also has roots dating back to the original Metro planning, was in various forms of development beginning in the early 90's, and will be complete in 2020 at an estimated cost of $268 million.

On the other hand, the time between the completing the conceptual design for the Metroway BRT Route and the grand opening was only 41 months at a cost of only $42 million for construction.

Beyond that, Metroway is just getting started. Why cut it off now?

Metroway has a growing ridership, as it serves an area that's growing. In fact, it has far more riders than the other 19 bus lines proposed for elimination, with the average ridership among the others being less than 500 riders per day. Only one other route, Oxon Hill-Fort Washington, has more than 1,000 riders per day.

Also, recent numbers Metro used to evaluate Metroway for its recent budget report were distorted: During SafeTrack surges 3 and 4 in July, anyone transferring from Metro was allowed to ride Metroway for free, which pushed ridership from being over 2,000 paying customers per day down to around 1,300. The next month, though, ridership was back over 2,000.

If Metroway stays around, ridership will grow and Metro will come closer and closer to breaking even on Metroway. With the next wave of development starting to kick off in the north end of Potomac Yard and Oakville Triangle, even more potential riders will have a chance to use the service..

That brings up another point: Metroway has come on board to serve the TOD of Potomac Yard. Eliminating the line would add more congestion to the Route 1 corridor, defeating the purpose of TOD. It could also drive up automobile ownership among residents who relied on the system.

Also, WMATA has already invested in the infrastructure needed to run BRT, and while it was far cheaper than a rail project, it's still a lot to simply throw away. The years of planning and construction are in place, which represent a cost 12 times greater than the annual subsidy, which should decrease as development continues. Shutting down these lanes would be another black eye for WMATA.

Finally, residents' opinion of BRT matters, as other jurisdictions begin to develop their own systems. Montgomery County is planning a 14 mile stretch along Route 29 that is part of a larger 80 mile system. Eliminating this line would sour the public opinion and possibly derail other local jurisdictions from developing their own.

As WMATA continues to face ridership declines from what it calls "poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents" that plague the rest of their system, it would be foolish to cut this growing asset.


Metro is proposing service cuts, again. Will riders ever see the benefits?

Metro has fallen and it can't get up. That's the reality facing riders, agency staff, local officials, and the WMATA Board of Directors. In yet another slap at riders, Metro is proposing service cuts to allow for the the work time necessary to fix the system. But will it make a difference?

Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

For the better part of a decade, Metro riders have faced deteriorating service, both in quality and quantity. Even bright spots, like the Silver Line opening, have been bittersweet, with the cannibalization of railcars for the new service leading to maintenance problems and train shortages across the system.

In the wake of the deadly 2009 crash at Fort Totten, WMATA started taking steps to bring the system back into a state of good repair.

The agency was up front with riders: repairs would take time, and they would be painful. The needed work would delay trains and detour riders. But it couldn't be helped. The only alternative was to let Metro fall apart at the seams.

Metro first asked customers to sacrifice reliable and frequent weekend service. Then the agency cut into weeknight service, increasing wait times and delaying trains. Midday service was slashed next, to give more time on the tracks.

More recently, the agency even began asking riders to sacrifice during peak hours, with round-the-clock SafeTrack work in particularly troublesome areas for weeks at a time. Late night service has been cut altogether for now, and even special event service has been nixed.

Yet after seven years, riders aren't seeing benefits. Trains still break down with unreasonable frequency. Emergency track repairs have become commonplace. Crowded trains and stations are par for the course, not because ridership is skyrocketing—in fact, it's falling—but because trains are infrequent and oft-delayed.

Metro said in 2009, and many times since, "bear with us. There will be some pain, but things will get better." But things aren't getting better. Riders aren't seeing service quality increase. There seems to be little to no benefit for the sacrifice riders have had to make, even after seven years.

And now, Metro is coming to riders again. If the agency doesn't get more time to work on the tracks, it says, the system will deteriorate. The only way for things to get better is to face another painful cut. This time, a permanent cut to late night service, extending the 12-month suspension necessitated by SafeTrack.

But this is an insult to riders. Not least of all because we have seen no evidence from WMATA to date that these cuts are the ones that will actually do the trick, or even what else beyond this it would take to do the trick.

I sadly expect that one year hence, the WMATA Board will come to riders again and ask for yet another service cut. It's a pattern that has become all too familiar after three quarters of a decade of the same.

I had a conversation recently where a person with transit experience correctly pointed out that cutting late night service is the least painful cut Metro could make. And that is true. I'd much rather lose service at 2:00 in the morning than 2:00 in the afternoon.

The issue is larger than that, though. This isn't the first cut Metro has made. Inside of rush hour, service quality and reliability is declining. Outside of rush hour, the frequent single-tracking and long waits are driving even the most dedicated of customers away.

This cut may be fairly innocuous as far as transit cuts go, but it's the thousandth cut for a Metro that is bleeding to death on the floor of the emergency room waiting room.

Today, the Metro Board is asking riders to weigh in on the proposed cuts to late night service. But I have no faith that accepting yet another cut is what it will take to get Metro back on its feet. Metro needs to stop the hemorrhaging of riders. The agency needs band-aids to stop the gushing, self-inflicted wounds it already has, not yet another stab wound.

Unfortunately, Metro has a track record here, and it doesn't bode well for the patient. Or those riders who rely on the region's transit system.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 5

Bloomingdale, Trinidad, Brookland, Fort Totten—these are a few of the neighborhoods included in Ward 5, which covers much of northeast DC. There are a lot of contested races for the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions this year, with well over 50 candidates total. We found eight who deserve your vote.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes—Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 5, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

The historic seminary building, as seen from 13th Street NE. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

In ANC 5A, we endorse Will Gee and Gordon-Andrew Fletcher

Much of ANC 5A is made up of Michigan Park, Fort Totten, Catholic University and the Old Soldier's Home. This ANC covers the areas east and west of the Red Line between the Brookland and Fort Totten Metro stations. One of larger controversies in the area is the development of 90 new row houses at St. Joseph's Seminary. Some neighbors have argued vociferously against this development, saying the buildings will "irrevocably damage [the] community" and destroy green space, even though the land is currently private.

A similar battle is unfolding nearby at the Takoma Metro station, which is just outside of 5A. There, a large underused parking lot has been slotted for redevelopment for years, but some community members have stalled it. One stop down, the mixed-use Cafritz development near the Fort Totten Metro is already under construction, but has been the source of community pushback in the past.

In situations like these, strong, reasonable, and proactive ANC leadership is desperately needed.

One leader we like is Will Gee, a candidate for 5A03, the district at the northeastern corner of the ANC on the Maryland border.

Will had smart and nuanced answers regarding the different developments in the area. For example, regarding Cafritz: "This is the kind of density around a Metro stop that we should be encouraging, though such a large-scale development is bound to have significant consequences, both good and bad." He similarly is excited about working with the developers at St. Joseph's, saying it is an "excellent place to add more housing" and a "critical opportunity for the Michigan Park community."

Will is a solid supporter of alternative transit, and was one of the few candidates who took our survey who unabashedly supported removing street parking if it meant improving bus infrastructure. This is a courageous and smart stance in a neighborhood where, as he puts it, such parking is "sufficiently available" and the change would be in the "neighborhood's best interest." Let's get this man a seat already.

Directly west lies 5A08, the area adjacent to the Fort Totten Metro station. Here, we endorse Gordon-Andrew Fletcher. Gordon-Andrew is also impressed by the efforts at St. Joseph's, and is "a firm believer that these townhomes will be a benefit for the area." He also envisions bike lanes along South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. To us, Gordon-Andrew seems like a thoughtful and responsive choice for commissioner, and we hope he gets a chance to serve his community.

Photo by Joseph Nicolia on Flickr.

In ANC 5B, we endorse Henri Makembe

North and east of the Brookland-CUA Metro stop lies Brookland and the rest of ANC 5B. Besides the development at St. Joseph's, neighbors here have their eye on the revitalization the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, and they want to know what commissioners will do to address public safety in their area.

There are only two contested races in 5B. For the first (5B03), we like Henri Makembe. Henri says that one of the reasons he is running is because he believes the "neighborhood should be thinking about how we want we want to grow in the future and go after it," and he sees Rhode Island Avenue as key to that growth. He also is supportive of developing more housing, "especially those suited for families.

Henri also envisions better connectivity between bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and wants to work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to improve community policing.

Finally, Henri voiced his approval for the controversial homeless shelter proposed for Ward 5. While he agrees that "legitimate questions have not been answered and the process thus far has been opaque," he is unwavering in his support. We appreciate his rational, positive, and firm approach to these issues.

The other contested race is 5B04. This is an important district for any supporters of transit-oriented development, as it runs directly adjacent to the Red Line between the Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue Metro stops.

Unfortunately, we cannot endorse either candidate here.

The challenger, Carolyn Steptoe, has long been an opponent of development in the area. Her extraordinary comment here praises the neighborhood group known as the "200 footers," who won an incredibly impactful court case halting the construction of housing on the vacant property at 901 Monroe Street.

As further proof of Carolyn's consistent opposition to smart growth, she told us that "5B04 is fully saturated" when it comes to housing, and was against the very idea of accommodating new growth and residents."

Incumbent Rayseen Woodland is not any better. Frankly, this quote in response to our questionnaire astounded us:

I am not for too much housing. The more housing that come to the community, the more changes. People bring their own perspectives and they may not match with ours. I would not like to see residential parking become more of a disaster.
We cannot support a commissioner who, rather than address the needs of our growing city and citizens, values parking and keeping new people with different ideas out. We hope you won't support such a commissioner either.

If you live in 5B04, we encourage you to get involved in your ANC (though we wish you luck), and if you're interested in running for a seat next election, make sure to let us know.

New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. Photo by Randall Myers on Flickr.

In ANC 5C, we endorse Carlos Davis and Sumner Shaw

Further south, ANC 5C is a heavily industrial area with housing mixed throughout, including neighborhoods like Brentwood, Fort Lincoln and Woodridge. It is bordered on the south by the National Arboretum and Mount Olivet Rd, and in the north it lies mostly below Rhode Island Avenue.

Rhode Island Avenue's future is critically important to many of these neighbors, but perhaps more immediately pressing are the continuing controversies and stories coming from Brookland Manor, a large block of low-income housing that is set for redevelopment but is under scrutiny because of allegations of discriminatory practices.

The strip of land running north along of Bladensburg Road and bordering Brookland Manor is 5C02. In a close race, Carlos Davis struck us as the strongest candidate for this seat.

Carlos is in favor of bike lanes along Bladensburg, and is frustrated by the many missing sidewalks in his neighborhood, something he will work to fix. He envisions walkable urban villages for his neighborhoods, something he thinks is readily achievable with consistent "community and developer engagement."

Opponent Kevin Mullone seems generally reasonable, but he believes "the city is over saturated with new apartment units" and was against removing any street parking even if it meant improved bus services. We encourage you to give Carlos your vote.

Geographically the largest district in the ANC, the southern edge of the area bordering the National Arboretum is 5C04. There are three candidates running for the same seat here, and we think Sumner Shaw is a good choice.

Sumner has good ideas for the continued enhancement of Rhode Island Avenue, and seemed generally open to new ideas, as shown by his response about Brookland Manor: "I feel that progress in the form of development is a good thing as long as the constituents and their concerns are included prior and during said such progress."

More than anything, we think Sumner is a much better choice than his opponent Bernice Young. In reply to Brookland Manor: "No comment." Sorry, voters deserve to know where a candidate stands on perhaps the most public controversy in the ANC. Other answers were similarly terse and unhelpful. How would she like the neighborhood to look in 20 years? "I would like it to stay the same."

The third candidate, Jacqueline Manning, did not respond to our survey. Given the options, we think Sumner is the best choice here.

Trinidad. Photo by nauseaflip on Flickr.

In ANC 5D, we endorse Adam Roberts

Resdients who live in Ivy City, Trinidad, and Carver Langston live and vote in ANC 5D. It's a narrow district bounded on the southern edge by Florida Avenue and Benning Road, and on the north generally by New York Avenue.

Given those two thoroughfares, transportation is a big issue for the neighborhood. ANC commissioners will have opportunities to make their streets safer during their terms, as well as influence any work done around the Starburst Plaza at the end of the H Street corridor. We also wanted to know what prospective commissioners had to say about the ongoing redevelopment at Union Market, including the newer debates surfacing about historic preservation.

Within this ANC, the triangle in between Maryland Avenue, Bladensburg Road and Mount Olivet Road is 5D03, and for this seat we endorse Adam Roberts.

Adam's previous term has been busy, and he was proud to support "projects that have both positively activated space and met or surpassed the city's affordable housing requirements," including "13 brand new Habitat for Humanity homes" along Florida Avenue.

He recognizes that more can be done to expand the uses of the Starburst Plaza and looks forward to the coming redevelopment of the Hechinger Mall as opportunity to bring resources and vitality to the area. On transportation: "We do not need a six-lane highway running through Bladensburg; bike lanes are one way to slow down vehicular traffic, and get more visible people on the road, which I believe will certainly help deter crime."

Sounds good to us. We think Adam will continue to be a thoughtful, active and competent commissioner moving forward.

Eckington. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

In ANC 5E, we endorse Hannah Powell and Michael Henderson

Along both sides of North Capitol Street are neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood, to name a few. This area is covered by ANC 5E. The well-fought-over McMillan Sand Filtration Site (what all those "Save McMillan Park" signs are about) is a huge issue for this ANC to tackle in the next few years, as well the substantial mixed-use redevelopment of the Rhode Island Shopping center adjacent to the Rhode Island Metro stop.

There's potential for a serious influx of housing and smart development in some of these areas, though it will take strong support from ANC leaders to help make that happen.

One person who has our confidence is Hannah Powell in 5E03, which is the eastern half of Eckington.

Out of the three candidates running in this race, two responded to our survey and we liked both. Hannah's opponent, Mike Aiello, had strong answers to our questionnaire on transportation, historic preservation, and housing. It is clear he has a strong grasp of the issues in the neighborhood, but he did not take as clear a stance on McMillan.

On the other hand, Hannah summarizes the situation at McMillan very well: "While it would be wonderful to turn the site back into the large park it was before WWII, it is readily apparent that there is simply no way the District can fund the needed repairs on its own. Absent a public-private partnership and compromises on all sides, the site will likely remain in disrepair and fenced off from the community, unusable by anyone."

She also supports the plans for the Rhode Island Shopping Center: "I am supportive of smart, sustainable development clustered close to Metro, and the MRP/Rhode Island Avenue development is, for the most part, a good example of exactly that," though she says that "[t]he developers stand to gain significantly by increasing the number of housing units through their" request for zoning relief, and the community "should also share in the benefits, including an increase in affordable housing units." Hear, hear.

One reader also respected Hannah's "desire to welcome new residents but to honor and maintain the diversity of the existing neighborhood," in particular regarding different housing types and options.

In the end, Hannah rose to the top our list for this district.

In the middle of the ANC lies 5E10, where we endorse Michael Henderson. This SMD abuts the Rhode Island site directly, and it was good to read that Michael is "happy to see the Rhode Island Shopping Center being redeveloped," though he promises to advocate for better access for residents in Edgewood Terrace, more affordable housing, and more green space as part of the project. He did not take a strong stance on McMillan, but at least seemed open to see some positive development happen there.

Readers wrote in that Michael's answers reflected his "thoughtful nature and his commitment to making Edgewood an even better place to live." We hope he lives up to that!

McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by carfreedc on Flickr.

It is worth mentioning that there were many candidates in 5E that we chose not to endorse, primarily because of their answers about the McMillan site.

In 5E06, Katherine McLelland did not commit to much in her answers, and in particular on McMillan she refused to take a stance either way: "Whichever the direction that our ANC is in favor of, I am personally in favor of." In 5E07, Aravind Muthukrishnan wants a museum on the site, and Bertha Holliday had a host of concerns about the current proposal and seemed to threaten "delays, modifications, and increased costs." Finally in 5E09, Kirby Vining has been an outspoken "Save McMillan Park" activist for some time, and in our survey was against adding housing or bike infrastructure in his neighborhood.

The McMillan site is one of the few remaining large parcels of land in the District where we can significantly add to our housing stock and bring mixed-use amenities to the area. Having reasonable, compromising, and courageous commissioners nearby will make a real difference for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. We hope readers help vote some in.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 5 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 5. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Here's why it'd be wrong to shut down Metro east of the Anacostia River

Last week, WMATA reported that one way to close its budget gap could be to close 20 Metro stations outside of rush hour, including seven that serve DC communities that are east of the Anacostia River. Moving forward with this idea would make it far harder for children to get to schools and for adults to access social and political life in the District. It could be a major civil rights violation, too.

Under WMATA's new proposal, stations with red dots could only get service during rush hour. Image from WMATA.

DC is split up geographically into eight wards, each of which has a representative on the DC Council. The Stadium Armory, Minnesota Avenue, Deanwood, Benning Road, and Capitol Heights stations are all in Ward 7, and Congress Heights is in Ward 8; these two wards are most certainly DC's most underserved.

DC's eight wards. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

There are, of course, 13 others on the list of stations that see low ridership and that Metro could consider closing outside of rush hour, from White Flint to Tysons-- but they aren't nearly as concentrated.

A lot of students use these Metro stations to get to and from school

According to research conducted by the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, an organization committed to improving education in Ward 7, 64% of children in Kenilworth-Parkside (which the Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue Metro stations serve) travel outside of their neighborhood to attend school, and many rely on Metro to get there.

Altogether, around half of Ward 7's parents send their children to schools outside of their neighborhood. The disruption also impacts students west of the Anacostia, as DC Charter School Board notes that more than 1,100 students travel to charters in Ward 7. While schools generally begin and end during rush hours, students would not necessarily be able to rely on Metro to get home from after school activities if WMATA's idea moves forward.

These Metro stations also have a big impact on access to jobs

Neighborhoods east of the river are predominantly residential, lacking large concentrations of commercial or government that make them destinations for morning commuters. This means that parents, like their children, travel outside their ward to jobs, often during off peak hours.

Due to Ward 7's geography, crosstown bus service is limited to just a handful of lines lines that are already amongst the busiest in DC. Some would lose their jobs or be forced to move if Metro stopped running outside of rush hour.

This map shows the number of jobs in different areas of the District. The bigger the orange circle, the more jobs are in the area. Clearly, people who live east of the Anacostia need to travel west to get to work. Map from OpenDataDC.

These closures would hurt future development and render existing bus service less useful

Ward 7 is primed to grow rapidly in the next few years. Ward 7 has transit-oriented developments proposed at all its Metro stops, like on Reservation 13 and at RFK, which are next to Stadium Armory, Parkside (Minnesota Ave), Kenilworth Courts Revitalization (Deanwood Metro), SOME (Benning Road Metro), and Capitol Gateway (Capitol Heights Metro).

These developments' success depends on their proximity to metrorail stations. Cutting off service would dramatically change the calculus of development in Ward 7, and communities seeing the first green shoots of growth would instantly see them snuffed out. Tens of thousands of homeowners would see their home values decline, and DC would lose millions in tax revenue.

Also, bus routes in these areas are East of the River bus routes are designed to feed into the Metro stations. A plan that would close stations without a significant upgrades to crosstown lines and within-ward service would further compound the transportation problems facing the community.

Why is ridership so low in Ward 7?

There is, of course, the fact that these stations are among the 20 Metro stations that get the lowest ridership. I'm not disputing that. But if we look at why that's the case, it's clear that closing these stations for most of the day is only going to exacerbate social and economic problems.

Ward 7 residents have borne the brunt of WMATA's service disruptions since 2009. The ward's stations are consistently among the most likely to be closed due to weekend track work. Between 2012 and 2013, Orange line stations in Ward 7 were disrupted 19 weekends. This level of disruption continued into 2015, when stations were disrupted for 17 weekends.

Graphic by Peter Dovak.

The impacts of WMATA's work strategies on ridership have been predictable. In 2008, Minnesota Avenue on the Orange line had an average weekday passenger boarding count of 3,552, but by 2015 this number had declined to 2,387 (a 32% decline). This despite the construction of hundreds of new homes in the surrounding area. Benning Road station on the Blue Line declined from 3,382 in 2008 to 2,823 in 2015, or a decline of 16%.

Service to areas east of the Anacostia suffered further disruptions in September 2015, when a transformer exploded near Stadium Armory, and when an insulator exploded at Capitol South in May 2016. Both helped trigger Safe Track, along with a two-week suspension of Metro service to Ward 7 in late June. This work featured extensive reconstruction of the tracks near Stadium Armory, despite years of closures on this very section of track.

Closing these stations wouldn't just be harmful. It could be illegal.

Again, these seven stations aren't the only ones on the list. But the fact that they make up virtually all the Metro stations in a place where the vast majority of residents are black is enough to bring up an important legal question.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says policies should not have an outsized effect on people from a protected class, such as race or gender, where alternatives could achieve the same objectives. The Federal Transit Administration regularly asks transit agencies to do an analysis of the impact of service cuts to make sure they don't disproportionately affect low income and minority riders, and in this case, it's not unreasonable to think they would.

Just take a look at this map, which shows DC's racial makeup and density, and look again at which area is faced with taking on a large percentage of the proposed closures:

A map illustrating racial makeup and density in Washington DC. Each dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent white people, blue are black people, green are Asian, orange are Hispanic, yellow are "other." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Metro can't close all these stations. It'd create a two-tiered transportation system in which 140,000 DC residents are cut off from heart of DC's economic, political and social life.


Is our next president going to care about transit and street safety?

What might a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump presidency look like for transportation? Here's a roundup of what we know about their respective takes on getting around, from roads and bridges to bike lanes and sidewalks.

Hillary Clinton at a bike shop in Iowa. Photo by Hillary for America on Flickr.

Broadly speaking, both candidates say that US transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of attention and vow a massive increase in transportation spending. Hillary Clinton says she would increase funding by $275 billion over a five year period, paid for by means of a higher tax on corporations. Donald Trump says he will double that amount by tapping private investment and taking on more debt.

But opening a giant spigot of cash to fix US infrastructure is not necessarily a great idea. State transportation officials are notorious for spending most of their budgets on either new highways or on widening existing ones. Maintenance projects, which lack the visuals of ribbon cuttings beloved by politicians of all stripes, are relegated to a secondary status. As Angie Schmitt of Streetsblog notes:

Doubling federal transportation spending wouldn't solve this problem. Pumping billions of additional dollars into state DOTs without reforming the current system could actually make it worse—giving agencies license to spend lavishly on new projects that serve only to increase their massive maintenance backlogs
Unfortunately, neither candidate addresses this fundamental structural flaw. Both appear to view the main issue to be a lack of federal funding, when the real issue is how lawmakers spend the funding they get.

With Clinton, expect more road widenings

Hillary Clinton's talk in this last month unfortunately sounds like a plan that will focus on widening roads. Her website states that she "will make smart investments to improve our roads, reduce congestion, and slash the 'pothole tax' that drivers silently pay each and every day."

On the subject of transit, she plans to "lower transportation costs and unlock economic opportunity by expanding public transit options" and "encourage local governments to work with low-income communities to ensure unemployed and underemployed Americans are connected to good jobs."

Photo by torbakhopper on Flickr.

Clinton's website makes no mention of efforts to reengineer infrastructure for the safety of those who walk and bike. That's a key component of streets that are safe and promote more environmentally-friendly uses.

To Clinton, transit appears to be considered primarily a means for moving low-income workers around, with greater subsidies being the preferred means for boosting ridership. That attitude towards transit took hold in the 1960s and has held it back ever since.

A transportation outlook that holds roads so far above all other modes will fail, as road expansions in congested urban areas trigger induced demand that actually worsens congestion. This, in turn, triggers a vicious cycle with calls for more road expansions to relieve the new congestion. Even large departments of transportation like California's Caltrans admit this occurs. So, how did Hillary Clinton's campaign staff fail to catch this?

It may be because of who is in her inner circle. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is known to be a close friend of the Clintons, with the Washington Post describing him as being virtually part of the family. McAuliffe's transportation focus is primarily on highway expansions, with particular emphasis on HOT lanes. While he has gotten funding for rail projects, such as a light rail system in Virginia Beach, he has also claimed that HOT lanes can cure congestion. If this pro-road enthusiasm is prevalent in the Clinton camp, it is no shock that her agenda might be tilted towards roads.

Hillary Clinton does appear to be committed to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. Reinforcing this perception is the commitment by Al Gore, perhaps the world's preeminent figure in the fight against global warming, to campaign on her behalf. However, her campaign site focuses on energy generation and lower emissions from vehicles. Neither transit nor walking and biking in urban areas are called out on her site's climate section. For Clinton, the focus is on tweaking sources to combat pollution, not shifting demand to lessen emissions.

Trump doesn't seem like a bike lane guy

Whereas Hillary Clinton's stance on sustainable transportation may leave something to be desired, Donald Trump's attitude can be downright hostile. In 2015, Trump criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for riding a bike, after a crash in which Kerry injured his leg. Trump vowed, "I swear to you I will never enter a bicycle race if I'm president."

Given the debates over bike lanes in New York City and the pedestrian-friendly changes in Times Square, you might have expected Trump to have said something on the matter. But if he has, the media hasn't picked it up.

However, his campaign manager, Stephen K. Bannon, has had very strong views on the matter of bike lanes. During his tenure at Breitbart News, Bannon ran a story on bike lanes in Chicago with the headline, "Rahm to Spend $91 Million on Bike Lanes for the 1%." Given this level of antagonism towards people who bike from such a close adviser, Donald Trump may not be a friend to cycling.

Donald Trump hosted a bike race in 1989 and 1990, but that's probably the extent of his familiarity with bicycling. Photo by Anders on Flickr.

By contrast, Trump supports improvements to passenger rail systems. The American Conservative's Center for Public Transportation explains this split from the traditionally anti-transit Republican Party as being due to Trump's long exposure to subways and commuter rail in his hometown of New York City.

Trump also admires Chinese intercity rail transportation. Time reported Trump saying during a freewheeling campaign speech, "They have trains that go 300 miles per hour…We have trains that go chug … chug … chug."

But Trump's admiration for rail transport may not reflect a desire for sustainability. Trump has consistently denied the science behind climate change, going so far as to call it a hoax by China. His motives for boosting rail are apparent in his effusive praise of large, new airports in China and Dubai.

As he has said repeatedly, "Our airports are like from a Third World country." As with airports, Trump views US rail systems as a source of embarrassment on the world stage. However, in the case of airports, he overlooked the tendency of modern airport planners to build on a gargantuan scale that makes them unusable, a trend I pointed out in 2012. Throwing cash at rail systems probably won't bring any more efficiency than it does for airports or roads.

Neither is exactly an urbanist, but could they get the right advisors?

Essentially, both candidates had questionable approaches to sustainable transportation, whether they are outdated or simply wasteful of taxpayer dollars. That is something that can be remedied if advisors are retained who are current with best practices in the field.

There is no shortage of these: Gabe Klein, Janette Sadik-Khan, and Chris Hamilton spring to mind as US experts worth consulting. Relying less on governors and website editors whose attitudes are frozen in the mid-20th century would be a sign of wise leadership, crucial for being President of the United States.

As to which candidate is more likely to change their approach, I leave that for others to speculate upon.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 7

DC's Ward 7 covers the northern half of neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, plus a few adjacent sections on its western shore. This election, Ward 7 has one of the highest numbers of contested seats for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in all of DC, a testament to these engaged citizens grappling with the changes in our city. Here are our recommendations for nine of these competitive races.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 7, we chose nine candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.

Pennsylvania Avenue, heading southeast. Photo by Tim Evanson on Flickr.

In ANC 7B we endorse Debra Walker, Villareal "VJ" Johnson, and Jimmie Williams

ANC 7B follows Pennsylvania Avenue from the bridge crossing the Anacostia River to the Maryland border, encompassing the Penn Branch area south of Fort Dupont Park and north of Naylor Road. The Penn Branch Shopping Center is an important area of focus in this area, as its redevelopment has been stalled for years, and just this summer it was auctioned off to a new owner.

Residents also have their eye on the Skyland Town Center, a neighborhood area where shops and housing were razed to make room for redevelopment, but that still sits vacant after the recent withdrawal of Walmart as an anchor store. Many Ward 7 citizens felt strongly that the District government botched this and the nearby Capitol Gateway deal, leaving the neighborhoods with with a large patches of dirt where retail, investment, housing, and jobs should be.

In the district between the Anacostia River and Minnesota Avenue, 7B01, we're endorsing Debra Walker. While not providing the most detailed answers, Debra seemed in step with many of Greater Greater Washington's values, including a focus on multiple levels of housing affordability and neighborhood investment and growth.

In contrast, her opponent, Patricia Howard-Chittams, thinks that "more housing would be a detriment to 7B01," and seemed overly protective of parking when asked about bicycle lanes and improving bus infrastructure.

Farther south near the Maryland border in 7B05, we were impressed by Villareal "VJ" Johnson. In general, it is clear that VJ knows his community well and has a detailed vision and plan for how to make it better. He had well thought-out answers for the different redevelopment sites in the area, and suggested a specific site for the development of more housing.

VJ's energy and experience are exciting to us, and we look forward to his example of what a pro-active, not a reactive, commissioner can do in a changing neighborhood.

7B07 is at the northeastern edge of the ANC, bordering Fort Dupont Park. Jimmie Williams is an impressive candidate here. He wants to see his neighborhood "experience measured and sustainable growth" and details his support of mixed use plans at both Skyland Town Center and Penn Branch Shopping Center.

According to him, the area "is changing and the newer residents are younger with various incomes," are "diverse... [and] don't want to drive to shop," signaling the need to improve alternative transportation options, including bike lanes. Even though he is "aware that there are some in [his] area that view the lanes as a omen of gentrification," he views them as "healthy and viable transportation alternative[s]."

We like the sensitivity VJ brings in his approach to growth and development, and we think he will do well.

The streetcar on Benning Road. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In ANC 7C, we endorse Joseph Thomas

The right-hand corner of the DC diamond is much of ANC 7C, including neighborhoods like Deanwood, Burrville, and others north of East Capitol Street on it's way towards Maryland. What the future holds for Capitol Gateway, the other large redevelopment site abandoned by Walmart, is on the minds of many here, as well as what changes the coming streetcar development along Benning Road will bring.

One candidate stood out to us in this ANC: Joseph Thomas for 7C05. He believes the streetcar will "connect [the neighborhood] to greater economic growth," and wants more retail options to be developed at Capital Gateway, especially dining options for families.

Joseph projects humility, but has good ideas for how to incorporate new housing into the neighborhood, and talks about tackling crime through increasing job opportunities and community outreach rather than more punitive enforcement.

RFK stadium. Photo by Katja Schulz on Flickr.

In ANC 7D, we endorse Bob Coomber and Cinque Culver

Just north and west of 7C lies 7D, a district that includes large stretches of river water and park space. Kenilworth, Parkside, Kingman Park and River Terrace are some of the main neighborhoods within this district, which is bordered by East Capitol Street on the south and the Anacostia River on the west. Besides the extension of the streetcar on Benning Road, the major issue facing residents here are the plans for how to redevelop RFK stadium and the surrounding parking lots and parkland.

7D01 stretches west across the Anacostia into Kingman Park, and for this district we really like incumbent Bob Coomber. At RFK, he sees an opportunity to replace parking lots with new parks and trails (even housing if rules can allow), and wants to work with planners to "encourage neighborhood amenities before professional sports stadiums." His record includes improved pedestrian infrastructure along Oklahoma Avenue, and he has plans for more bike and pedestrian friendly changes.

As a commissioner, Bob also has:

  • Helped establish a community garden
  • Fought against evictions in his neighborhood
  • Actively supported family-leave legislation before the DC Council
Keep up the good work, Bob.

Immediately east of the river is 7D04 and the River Terrace community. In this district, Cinque Culver seems like a good candidate. He is supportive of an NFL Stadium at RFK, but wants to make sure that the stadium acts "as an economic multiplier, employing additional residents of all tax-brackets, as well as incentivizing... streetscape and public space maintenance around the site." He is also supportive of developing more housing in the neighborhood and of using the streetcar plans as opportunity to improve bike transit along Benning Road, and he seems generally open and balanced in his views.

Photo by jantos on Flickr.

In ANC 7E, we endorse Myron Smith and Dontrell Smith

ANC 7E is another area directly bordering the stalled Capitol Gateway project. Hugging the Maryland border south of the eastern-most tip of DC, 7E includes neighborhoods like Marshall Heights and Dupont Park.

Here Myron Smith is our pick for ANC 7E04. He wants to increase the development of more housing near the two metro stations in the ANC, and is adamant about improving access across the river, especially for pedestrians and bikes.

We're also endorsing Dontrell Smith, who is in a three-person race for 7E06, which is along the northeastern edge of the ANC. He plans to advocate for more and more affordable housing, in particular at the Capitol Gateway site. He is supportive of bike lanes along Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, as well as other trail and lighting improvements throughout the area.

One of Dontrell's opponents, Lakeshia Lloyd-Lee, also completed our questionnaire, but her answers were vague and non-committal.

To be honest, what most impressed us in this race were Dontrell's notable efforts to catch our attention. He organized over 20 of his supporters to write in favorable remarks on our feedback form, and while we did not use those scores to determine our endorsement, the effort demonstrated the breadth of the candidate's neighborhood support, his organization, and his willingness to engage with the Greater Greater Washington community.

Famous Shrimp Boat near Benning Road Metro. Photo by David Gaines on Flickr.

In ANC 7F, we endorse Maria (Mafe) Jackson

Sandwiched in between all of these other ANCs lies 7F. An portion stretches across the river to the RFK site, while the majority of the ANC surrounds the intersections of Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street, and is bordered by Benning Road on the north.

7F01 is a hotly contested race between four candidates, all of which completed our questionnaire. Of the four, Maria (Mafe) Jackson is as our top choice. Maria's answers to our questionnaire showed an in depth understanding of the issues and revealed a stand-out intellect.

Her analysis of the current proposals at RFK was thorough, and included a proposal to look at adding an Oklahoma Avenue Metro station, as well as dramatic improvements to pedestrian and bike infrastructure across the Whitney Young Houston Bridge. She also is an advocate of extending the streetcar even farther towards Southern Avenue to improve transit options for that part of the city.

She gave detailed plans for improving access across the ANC. Residents who live east of the Anacostia, she says "are locked in their community because of the poorly-designed existing bridges. The current design of the roads fails to provide safe access to the rest of the city for residents, families, and seniors. Beautiful parks surround this area, but they are not easily or safely accessible to residents by walk or bike."

Maria was also solid on housing. She proposed building more housing at a nearby shopping center and vacant lots, and was strongly for home ownership support programs and education. "Advocating for these opportunities for our residents is what revitalization of my neighborhood looks like to me," she said.

Many readers agreed that Maria would make an excellent commissioner, writing in our survey that she seemed "energetic, positive, responsible, and qualified." Two of Maria's opponents, Gia Stancell and Tyrell Holcomb, seemed reasonable but did not measure up to Maria's strengths. David Belt, the fourth candidate, responded negatively to many our questions about increased development and transit.

Maria is the clear choice here.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 7 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 7. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Without more information, riders shouldn't accept Metro late night cuts

In July, Metro proposed ending late-night service permanently to allow more time for maintenance beyond what it's getting during SafeTrack. To really weigh whether this is the best option, the public needs much more information than what Metro has made available to date.

Photo by Aimee Custis.

When SafeTrack started, Metro moved from closing at 3 am on weekends to closing at midnight every day, giving workers around eight extra hours for repairs each week. In late July, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said that Metro needed to permanently end its late-night service to give Metro more track time to do maintenance and repairs.

Metro is using an online survey to get public feedback on four proposals for different service cut configurations, and on Thursday it's hosting a marathon public hearing to get more input. It's also possible to submit free-form written comments though October 25 at 5 pm.

After that, the WMATA Board will vote on whether to approve one of the four proposals.

The public must have more information

To date, WMATA hasn't publicly shared its reasons for why it sees cutting late night service as the best way to do necessary maintenence. Or how much it will help. Or what will be accomplished with the additional work time.

Any more late-night closures should only happen after WMATA provides more information and accountability through concrete deliverables. Many advocates we've talked to have asked: instead of shutting down the whole system, couldn't Metro just follow a SafeTrack-like approach of shutting down late-night service in segments of the system? If not, why not?

Chicago, New York City, and New Jersey have all done temporary closures on isolated parts of their systems, which we know is far more efficient than continually doing track work for periods of only a few hours at night.

The mobility Metro provides is an essential service. Cuts cannot be taken lightly.

The sacrifices that Metro riders have been asked to make over the last seven years are not easy cuts to stomach. Less than a decade ago, Metro was a reliable system that was the foundation for building the region we know today.

The mass transit system's ability to quickly and efficiently deliver commuters to their downtown jobs, take residents to retail, entertainment, civic spaces, and take tourists to museums made it possible to build the sorts of neighborhoods and places that people are flocking to.

The transit villages of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, the resurgence of Columbia Heights, the robust feeder bus ridership throughout the region; these are all things that would be impossible without Metro. Here, unlike in many parts of the country, transit is something nearly everyone uses at least some of the time. That transit culture was built over decades.

And much of Metro's ridership has been driven by people who are willing to live a car-lite or car-free lifestyle because they know that Metro will get them around not just for their work trip, but for most of the trips they need.

Metro service has been being dismantled since 2009, and it's imperiling the region we've built over decades. Metro is increasingly unreliable even during rush hour, and seems to be on the brink of ceasing to exist in the evenings and on weekends. Passengers face waits that can stretch to 25 or 30 minutes. And when the train does finally show up, it can be so overcrowded that it leaves customers on the platform to wait another half hour.

Asking riders to sacrifice their ability to travel on weekends can be acceptable, even to the car-free, for a short term. But as Metro's overhaul stretches toward a decade of inconvenience, many are rethinking that choice. And as car ownership increases, it makes it more difficult to build the types of places, like Clarendon, that we want more of. Even when it gets better, many of the households that have purchased a car in the intervening years will be unlikely to return to Metro.

Continuing late-night cuts could make sense temporarily, but not permanently

We learned in May that the way WMATA scheduled track work wasn't working, as there wasn't enough time to set up for maintenance, go through safety protocols to prepare the site, etc. and get its immense backlog of maintenance work done. The Federal Transit Administration and others did indeed recommend more track time for maintenance crews.

The cuts WMATA is proposing would give it more limited operating hours than any large US rail transit system, and at lower evening frequencies. Metro should learn from how other major US rail systems perform inspections and routine maintenance without shutting down the entire system. Clearly, other systems have figured this out. Why hasn't WMATA?

In other words, once the maintenance backlog is cleared, it's too much to ask the region to give up late-night service. Lots of people depend on late-night Metro service, and not because it's how they get home after a night on the down; Metro is the only option for many third shift workers and people with families.

Also, Metro needs to show it's using the track time it already has

Metro's core mission is to provide mobility to riders. Metro should exhaust every reasonable way to take care of its maintenance crisis without impacting service. And we need to know that it has done so.

When and only when Metro is making the most of what it has can it reasonably ask for more maintenance hours. People want to know that the sacrifice of late-night service will actually be put to good use.

Particularly in the wake of a May 6 incident where track workers couldn't use over half of their allotted 5-hour access block, what is going to be any different if workers get an additional eight hours of late-night track access per week?

What does that look like in terms of feedback to the WMATA Board? Before it approves late-night cuts, it should require proof that staff is actually at work on tracks at least 80% of the track time already available.

If extending late-night cuts is truly necessary, certain strings should be attached

Transit is critical to our region. It would be catastrophic to have WMATA fail. Our colleagues at the Coalition for Smarter Growth are proposing that if the WMATA Board is serious about turning the system around and doing what's best for the region, it could allow a 12 month extension of Metro closing at midnight. But they also say the Board should only approve a one-year extension if and only if that extension comes with the following conditions:

  • 12 month limit on late-night cuts
  • Hard, measurable maintenance goals for what to accomplish in that time. If targets aren't met, the late-night service cuts cannot be renewed for another 12 months
  • Quarterly reporting on track time used for maintenance. If they don't use at least 80% of available track time, service cuts cannot be renewed
  • Publicly-stated projection for when Metro service will be back to 2007 levels (or another target level of service)
  • Night owl bus service must be provided at no more than 20 minute headways on weekends to provide alternative mobility for late-night riders
Even if you don't agree with this list of the strings that should come with late-night cuts, you should speak up and say whatever you do think to the WMATA Board.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has put together an editable email to the WMATA Board. You can send an email with their tool here.


National links: Fair housing in Arizona

Arizona is cracking down on racial discrimination in housing, there's lots we don't know about how people get home from transit stations, and in Chicago, old pipes and telegraph lines at excavation sites may no longer be a problem. Check out what's happening around the country in transportation, land use, and other related areas!

Photo by kmaschke on Flickr.

A win for fair housing: In Yuma, Arizona, developers can sue the city if they think reasons for blocking affordable housing projects are race-based, and the Supreme Court recently declined to hear arguments to overturn the decision that allows that. The case in question found that residents in a historically-white neighborhood were, in effect, organizing to keep Latinos from living nearby. (Arizona Daily Star)

The first last mile: Even if the trip isn't that far, lots of people have to figure out how to get between their homes and jobs to where their nearby transit network is running—this is called the first/last mile problem, and people in transportation talk about it all the time. But there's really not much research has on the subject. David King, a professor at Arizona State, says we need to know more about how much riders will tolerate fare changes, whether they're ok transferring, and how much people budget to cover the last portions of their trips. (Transportist)

Mapping Chicago's underground web: Underneath Chicago, long-forgotten wood pipes and telegraph lines make digging or tunneling an undertaking in bravery. But a 3D modeling company has created a way to map all of the underground pipes and wires so excavating a site is far less dangerous. (Chicago Magazine)

A subway in downtown Dallas: The Dallas City Council is supporting major transit projects downtown, including reorganizing the bus system and building a new subway line. This focus on the urban core means not prioritizing a suburban subway line that was competing for funds, which is a big shift for the council. (D Magazine)

A new approach in Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh hopes to add BRT and more bike lanes soon, and to better coordinate transportation projects between all of its departments, the city is opening a new Department of Mobility in Infrastructure. The hope is that the department will make it easier to make things like signal priority for buses and solar-powered autonomous vehicles happen. (Pittsburgh City Paper)

Quote of the Week

"'Suburbs feel the same everywhere you go. All the same streets. All the same trees. All the same houses. It's a way of living. I'm not saying it's bad. I enjoyed it.' ">Brooklyn, though, has character, he said—the parks, the architecture, the people, the shops. 'You walk to the stores, and you talk to the people there. He knows you, and you know him. Every place has a story behind it.'"

- Brooklyn Nets basketball player Luis Scola describes living in Brooklyn after the team moved there from New Jersey. He sold his minivan because he couldn't find parking often enough! (New York Times)

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