Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category roads

Taxis


Deregulate Uber, but require transparency

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


Photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr.

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

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

Continue reading my latest column in the Washington Post.

Pedestrians


This traffic light convinced pedestrians to wait with dancing

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

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

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

Public Spaces


Here's where you can check out a parklet during tomorrow's Park(ing) Day

DDOT has released a list of locations where you can find a temporary parklet for tomorrow's Park(ing) Day.

Park(ing) Day started out in San Francisco as an unapproved, guerrilla performance art project turning a parking space into a temporary park to show how much public value cities could get from the land devoted to storing even one car.

After trying to impose ridiculous requirements the first time someone tried it in DC, DDOT more recently started explicitly condoning and encouraging the idea by writing simpler guidelines and giving out permits.

BIDs in Georgetown, the Golden Triangle, and NoMa are organizing their own, as are agencies like DC Water, DPR, and OSSE, and businesses including Urbanful, Baked & Wired, Zipcar, and BicycleSPACE. There's also going to be one at the Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW) run by councilmembers Tommy Wells and David Gross which got left off the map.

Parklets will be open from 9 am to 3 pm (or for a subset of that time, if the organizers don't want to run it all daymidday is often the best time to head over).

Park(ing) Day festivities won't be confined to the District. Arlington is participating too, with at least one large location in Court House. There could be others throughout the region, too.

If you stop by a parklet, snap a photo and put it in the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool or send it to us at info@ggwash.org. We'll feature images from parklets around the city in a roundup next week.

Events


Events roundup: Park(ing) Day 2014

As the weather cools off, it seems the calendar heats up. But that's great, because cooler weather is perfect for enjoying a park(ing spot). Get outside and enjoy Park(ing) Day, a WABA walking tour, or a family biking workshop. If you prefer the great indoors, or talk about the future of Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday.


Park(ing) Day 2013. Photo by the author.

Park(ing) Day: A 2005 San Francisco idea gone international, the annual Park(ing) Day takes over the DC region on Friday, bringing pop-up parklets to curbside parking spaces across the region. While Park(ing) Day is an all-day event, you're most likely to find a parklet operating between 9 am and 3 pm, so be sure to check it out over your lunch break. DDOT promises to have a map of DC parklets, but Twitter is perhaps the best way to find a site near you.

The future of Pennsylvania Avenue: Friday morning, join NCPC at the Newseum for "Residents to Presidents: Pennsylvania Ave's Role in the 21st Century." A panel (including Gabe Klein and author Zachary Schrag) will discuss the avenue's roles: local and national, daily routines and big events, grand and intimate. Planners, AICP credit is available. RSVP is requested.

Walk the Met Branch Trail with WABA: Join WABA this Saturday for a walking tour of the northern phase of the MBT to learn about the trail's next phase, its history, and WABA's role in it all.

Family bicycling workshop: On Sunday, head to Georgetown to join Kidical Mass and WABA's Women & Bicycles group for an afternoon workshop on biking with children. Workshop leaders will go over the ins and outs of riding confidently and comfortably with children, equipment, packing and preparation, and next steps. Bonus: snacks and beverages will be provided! This is event is for all genders and all ages.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at events@ggwash.org.

Roads


The war on Dana Milbank's car

"DC doesn't deserve self-rule until it... lets Dana Milbank break traffic laws." That's the message from the Washington Post's columnist today.

The idea that DC might be entitled to govern its own affairs, but only if it shapes up in some way that happens to appeal to the writer, is a sadly common refrain from political commentators. Though governors of many states have been actually convicted of corruptionmost recently, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell for allegedly selling his influence to a dietary supplement maker in exchange for personal giftsmany say the District doesn't deserve autonomy because there's a campaign finance investigation into our mayor. (Or because Ward 8 votes for Marion Barry.)

Today's Milbank column is a new low in this trope, even compared to the one he wrote last year where he objected to budget autonomy because the city was making all taxis switch to a uniform red paint job.

Apparently, Dana Milbank has been breaking a number of traffic laws, such as not fully stopping at a stop sign, or not fully stopping before turning right on red. He admits he's broken these rules, but rather than suggesting they be changed, he calls efforts to enforce them a "startling abuse of power," an "appalling overreach," and "like a banana republic."

The column is also a new low in the tired "war on cars" meme, which keeps popping up for one reason: Representatives of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the region's local branch of the national auto club, repeat it every chance they get. And with good reason: it gets quoted. It revs people who drive aggressively, but think they're being safe, into a frenzy of blaming the government for daring to suggest that their behavior might be dangerous.

Fix problems, don't attack all enforcement

That's not to say DC's camera system is perfect. A recent report from the District's Office of Inspector General exposed some real problems with the program. For example, sometimes officials couldn't tell which of multiple cars was speeding, and sometimes improperly decided which one would get a ticket. This shouldn't happen. Authorities need to be very confident they have the right car, and if they aren't, they shouldn't give a ticket. (According to police, these problems have already been fixed or are in the process of being fixed.)

However, Milbank isn't saying he's been the victim of any of these errors. He's not saying the law should be changed, but rather, not enforced. (He does allege some other instances where a ticket appeal was denied improperlyand if true, that's also wrong.)

The Post editorial board had a much more level-headed response to the IG report, writing, "The widespread and consistent enforcement of traffic laws made possible by photo enforcement has caused drivers to slow down in the District and obey the rules. While it is important to fine-tune the system to make it as fair and accurate as possible, suggestions to limit or curtail the program should be rejected."

Yes, safety is important

I agree with Milbank, AAA, and others that the camera program can target safety even better than it does. The strongest argument for enforcement is where pedestrians or cyclists are at risk. These vulnerable road users have little recourse against aggressive driving. There are many places in the District where people speed, turn right on red without looking, or just plain fail to yield around significant numbers of pedestrians. Residents of those neighborhoods can often tell you just where the bad spots are.

There should be lower fines, but more cameras, so that people know they're going to get caught doing something illegal, but each incident can be more minor. Criminology research has shown that more frequent enforcement with lower severity changes people's behavior more than random, occasional, high-severity punishment.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson alleges that not fully stopping at a stop sign or before turning right on red isn't a real safety issue. WTOP's Ari Ashe tried to research this, and found that crashes involving right turns on red aren't that frequent. However, the crashes that do occur tend to cause injuries.

AAA used to agree. During meetings of 2012 task force on cameras which DC Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells convened, AAA's John Townsend said the organization fully supported stop sign and red light cameras. "Complete cessation of movement" is the legal standard, and Townsend said they agreed with that. Now, that seems to have changed, and maybe slowing down mostly, but not entirely, is OK.

How do you stop unsafe right turns on red?

The problem is that it's hard to draw a line other than "actually stopping" that protects pedestrians. For speeding, our society has generally tolerated driving up to 10 mph over the limit, and now drivers come to expect that they have a 10 mph buffer. But the consequence is that even on residential streets with 30 mph speed limits, people feel justified driving 40. A pedestrian will survive a crash at 30 mph 70 percent of the time; at 40 mph, it's only 20 percent.

So should it be OK to turn right without stopping as long as you're going under 2 mph? 5? 10? When will we get to the point when whipping around the corner at moderate speed is considered acceptable (many already think it is), and if you hit a pedestrian, "I didn't see him" is enough to get off with no consequence?

Behaviors that drivers intuitively think are safe enough aren't necessarily. The challenge of a camera program is to convince a large group of people that something they've been doing for a long time is actually kind of dangerous. There's always going to be a gray zone of what is and isn't dangerous, but people are always going to want to push that envelope to excuse more behavior.

They'll insist that the program is about money, not safety, as many do. AAA will tell them it's not their fault. They'll craft biting turns of phrase to criticize the government, as Milbank did, or suggest DC doesn't deserve statehood because of it, or even argue that the District is "like the Soviet East" because locally-elected representatives passed laws and want more freedom from an overbearing central governmentwait, what?

What's that about statehood?

But Milbank's statehood point is more apt than he likely realized. Even when Democrats held the White House, House of Representatives, and a supermajority in the Senate in 2009, they didn't pass statehood for DC, or even budget autonomy. Republicans talk about the value of local control, then legislate their values for District residents who have no say in the matter.

For some in the political classes, democracy is a great idea in theory, but when it comes to giving up one's own control, ideology often loses out. Milbank is pointing out a real reason DC will have a hard time winning more autonomy. It's not because the government is behaving badly. Rather, it's that for the people who hobnob with members of Congress, it's more convenient to have their friends calling the shots for the Districtso they don't have to do something as pedestrian as drive carefully enough to protect pedestrians on the road.

Cross-posted at the Washington City Paper.

Politics


David Catania's platform supports Metro, streetcars, bus lanes, bike lanes, transit-oriented development, and more

Mayoral candidate David Catania released a 66-page platform today, chock full of positions on issues from education to jobs to seniors. It includes strong statements on transportation and the environment.


Catania at a DC Council hearing.

Here are a few key quotes from the platform:

Metro: To ensure that Metro Momentum becomes a reality, the entire region will need to prioritize the plan's funding. As Mayor, David will ensure that the District leads the effort with our regional and federal partners to create a dedicated funding mechanism for this vital investment in our collective future.

Streetcars: David will seek to build both the East-West and the North-South [DC streetcar] lines, believing that the system must be sufficiently expansive in order to serve as anything more than a novelty or tourist attraction.

Bus lanes: David will work with community members, bus riders, and transit agencies to increase capacity and implement priority bus lanes on major arterial roadways and key transit corridors.

Bicycle infrastructure: David will expand bicycle infrastructure to all areas of the city, particularly in communities east of the Anacostia River that have yet to see such investments. This expansion can take place in a way that does not displace other forms of transportation. Many District streets are particularly well positioned for installation of protected bike lanes while maintaining sufficient car parking and driving capacity. David will also support the continued expansion of Capital Bikeshare.

Traffic cameras: There is little doubt that speed and red light cameras have contributed to the overall safety of our streets. However, in some cases the deployment of these cameras raises questions about whether the intent is purely to improve street safety or if the real motivation is to raise additional revenue through ticketing and citations. As Mayor, David will demand that the proper analysis is conducted to ensure that these devices are being used to target locations with street and pedestrian safety concernsnot simply as a means to raise revenue!

Vision Zero: David will pursue a street safety agenda in line with the Vision Zero Initiative. ... Vision Zero calls for the total elimination of traffic deathspedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle passengerthrough innovative street design, enhanced traffic management technologies, and education campaigns.

Transit-oriented development: The District's density is one of its greatest economic competitive advantages. Recent studies have found a clear connection between the higher concentration of residents and greater economic output. As Mayor, David will harness this economic potential in a way that creates healthy and livable urban communities, by focusing development around transportation hubs including Metro stations, bus lines, protected bike lane infrastructure, and Streetcar corridors.


Speck. Image from the Catania platform.
A lot of this reads like something a smart growth and sustainable transportation advocate might write. Maybe that's not such a surprise, as the section starts out with a big picture of Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City and a local smart growth champion. Jeff and Alice Speck are strong supporters of Catania, and probably suggested a few ideas.

There is a lot about the environment as well in that section, such as LEED buildings, tree canopy, and water quality, as well as on many more topics in the full document. What do you agree or disagree with in the platform?

Demographics


88% of new DC households are car-free

For the vast majority of DC's new residents, Car Free Day (September 22) isn't a once-a-year event, but a year-round occasion. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of car-free households in in the District of Columbia grew by 12,612fully 88% of new households citywide.


Graph by the author with data from the US Census.

During that time, the number of car-free households in DC has grown by 14.3%, increasing their share of all households from 35% to 37.9%. By contrast, the District only added 1,662 car-owning households since 2010, an increase of just 1.0%.

The percentage of households with one, two, and three or more cars all declined. This is even though typical DC households have considerably more money with which they could buy cars: median incomes grew by 9.3% over the same time period.

More specifically, the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (using one-year estimates, and accessible via factfinder2.census.gov) showed that the number of car-free households in DC increased from 88,390 to 101,002, and the total of all households went from 252,388 to 266,662.

The ACS has also picked up on other consequences of DC's growing car-freedom, like a sharp decline since 2007 in the number of DC residents who drive to work.

This doesn't mean that new apartment buildings' garages are all seven-eighths empty, of course. There is considerable churn among households, especially in urban areas: fully 36.5% of DC households moved at some point between 2010 and 2012, with most of those moves taking place within DC. Some who already lived in DC and own cars moved into new buildings, and others moved from the city and took cars with them.

Some existing households bought cars, and others sold theirs. New households are created when couples or roommates split, when kids strike out on their own, or when someone new moves to town. (One set of new arrivals not contributing to the trend: students living in dorms are not considered households, as the Census defines the term.)

But the net effect of all these changes is the same: The people moving into DC, or striking out on their own here, are almost entirely car-free. They are very different from current residents in that regard: only 12% of new households own cars, compared to 62.1% of current DC households. These new households are demanding many fewer parking places, much less rush hour road space, and much less gasoline.

Parking minimums prepare for car ownership that just doesn't exist

These statistics show why DC does not need to continue requiring costly and environmentally destructive new parking garages within new developments that accommodate the city's growing population.

However, some longtime neighborhood activists have been fighting lower parking minimums. At this week's hearings on zoning code changes, multiple opponents of lower parking minimums also cited Census data to argue that parking was necessary: they said that the numbers of cars per household in DC was "holding steady" at 0.9.

In fact, the number of cars per household in DC declined from 0.90 to 0.86. Maybe if you round off to one decimal place, both numbers become 0.9proof that nothing has changed!

These trends aren't unique to DC; instead, they're consistent with what other growing, dense cities are seeing. Michael Rhodes from Nelson\Nygaard, a transportation consulting firm, recently calculated that in San Francisco, a similar 88 percent of new households are car-free. DC's car-freedom is also consistent with national and global trends pointing towards lower urban car ownership recently and into the future. The decline in car ownership should come as little surprise given DC's booming population of auto-averse millennials.

Transit


WMATA truck parks on the sidewalk, crashes into a light pole

The NoMa Metro station sports large areas of sidewalk. Unfortunately, some WMATA employees treat this sidewalk as a private parking lot. This past weekend, one even backed into a light pole. This employee was violating WMATA internal policies and was disciplined.


Photos by the author.

This has been a periodic problem for years. Geoff Hatchard observed employee vehicles on the sidewalk and even blocking the bike racks back in 2010.


A minivan with a placard identifying it as belonging to a WMATA employee blocks the bike racks in 2010. Photos by Geoff Hatchard.

If a driver can't avoid a light pole, would he miss a pedestrian?

Here in DC, the sidewalk on M Street at the NoMa station is always filled with people walking their dogs, kids running around their parents, waiting for rides, and more.

One WMATA driver not only hit a light pole, but struck it hard enough to shatter his windshield. What if that had been a smaller, moving object like my 3-foot-tall son, who was walking with us here that afternoon? This station also serves Gallaudet University, where the thousands of deaf students and staff would have never even heard a vehicle backing up.

I cleaned up the glass

The next day, glass still littered the sidewalk. By then, shards had spread across several hundred square feet of sidewalk, making this situation especially hazardous for dog walkers and young parents.

I grabbed a broom, large battery and a vacuum from my house and walked several blocks to clean up the sidewalk outside the station. It took me two hours.

The next day, two WMATA vehicles parked on the nearby sidewalk once again.

Driving on sidewalks can be dangerous without a spotter

Many cities only allow government vehicles on sidewalks for certain prescribed reasons, and require a spotter to ensure that the driver does not strike people or objects.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) updated its policy recently to require spotters walking ahead of full-sized vehicles on sidewalks after a maintenance truck driver struck a cyclist in a caged bike/ped lane on a Norfolk bridge.

Other times, policies are in place but not followed. For example, last year in San Francisco a woman playing with her infant daughter was struck and killed by a parks employee who was driving a truck through the park against city policy.

Metro policy prohibits most parking on the sidewalk

WMATA spokesperson Dan Stessel looked into the issue and sent us this statement:

As a general matter, Metro vehicles should not be parked on sidewalks at any time. There may be times when no other option is available, depending on the station and the exigency of the circumstances (e.g. elevator technicians responding to an entrapment, track workers responding to an arcing insulator, rail supervisors responding to a person struck by train).

However, for routine work, Metro vehicles should only be parked in marked, legal spaces (except for ADA spaces). Employees who violate parking policies are subject to ticketing (for which the employee pays the fine), as well as internal discipline.

In the case of the NoMa incident you referenced, the vehicle was being operated by a new Red Line supervisor who was assigned to NoMa-Gallaudet as a terminal supervisor to manage the single-track operation and turn-back of selected trains at the station. He should not have parked on the sidewalk.

When departing the station, the vehicle made contact with a pole, causing the rear window to break. The employee was removed from service, taken for post-incident testing (drug/alcohol) which is standard, and will be subject to discipline.

This issue does come up from time to time, and requires occasional reinforcement with our 11,000-employee workforce. (For additional context, we maintain a fleet of nearly 1,500 service vehicles across a myriad departments, such as elevator/escalator, systems maintenance, plant maintenance, rail transportation, bus transportation, car maintenance, revenue/fare collection, etc.)

The vast majority of employees follow the rules and park properly. However, those that don't create a negative impression for the rest of us. Which is exactly why we encourage anyone who wants to report a parking issue to directly contact Metro Transit Police, either by calling 202-962-2121 or by texting "MyMTPD" (696873) 24 hours a day.

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