Posts from June 2008
Reader A.G. sent in this photo of an illegally parked van:
That's a "No Standing or Parking Anytime" sign at the top of the pole pointing toward Kwame's van.
DDOT has asked the TPB to study traffic on I-395 (the "Center Leg") and evaluate the closing the section between Mass Ave and New York Avenue, according to WTOP. From their letter:
Based on a Transportation Planning Board finding that a high proportion of New York Avenue traffic has neither an origin nor a destination within the District, DDOT has requested the option of closing a section of I-395 between its current northern terminus at New York Avenue and its interchange with Massachusetts Avenue.This actually isn't a new idea: NCPC brought it up it in 2006. The volume of traffic on New York Avenue and the way those roads have been over-engineered for high traffic volumes makes it difficult to revitalize the neighborhoods in that area. New York Avenue isn't going away as a main route into DC from the BW Parkway and from Annapolis, but it certainly should not be a primary through route.
Some would argue that the solution would be to run the freeway all the way through the city, reducing traffic impacts on non-freeway streets. This is a bad idea from an induced demand standpoint and also completely unrealistic. It would cost billions, and if the city was unable to run the freeway through during the golden age of highway construction, it damned sure wouldn’t be able to do it now.While we consider making through-driving more difficult on New York Avenue, we're also making it easier on the Southeast Freeway. Maybe the long-term effect would be to move traffic bound for the House office buildings and the Southwest Federal Center area off New York Avenue and onto the newly-connected Anacostia Freeway-11th Street Bridges-Southeast Freeway route? That would enable improvements in Northeast, but at some cost to residents along the freeways. A worthwhile tradeoff?
Original image by
MikeOliveri on Flickr.
DDOT is trying to solve a real problem. However, after doing nothing for years, we shouldn't use a sudden emergency rulemaking to impose a major shift within 30 days. Let's have a public debate about appropriate solutions that reduce the impact on Chinatown without putting anyone out of business or taking away loading from Dupont and other places which is working just fine.
Let DDOT and the Council know how you feel by going to busruletimeout.com and call for a time out on these rules.
DC Councilmembers Jim Graham, Tommy Wells, and Phil Mendelson had sharp questions for representatives of numerous industry groups at yesterday's hearing on the parking tax loophole.
Clearly coordinated in advance, industry reps from the hotels, universities, hospitals, building owners, Pepco, and even nursing homes and Covenant House (always good to pull the heartstrings with those) got up to say that this "was a tax, not a fee", and would have "unintended consequences" because their poor working-class workers rely on this "important benefit" of free parking.
"I think this is the wrong benefit," argued Mendelson. Wells asked whether the testifying industries also provided entirely free health care to their workers in addition to the entirely free parking. And what about MetroChek/SmartBenefits? "You subsidize people to drive into the District of Columbia," said Wells. "I think you have an obligation to also subsidize people to take mass transit."
Barbara Lang of the DC Chamber of Commerce wasn't even sure if she provides SmartBenefits to her employees, first testifying that she doesn't, then correcting herself after the hearing. But SmartBenefits usually only means the employee pays for the transit pre-tax, with no cost to the employer (they actually get a tax benefit); she doesn't provide completely free transit passes as an alternative option to completely free parking.
For that matter, Lang doesn't even believe her employees would want to take transit. Her staff often attend evening functions, working as late as 10 or 11 in the evening, and many are female; it's not safe for them to be taking Metro. (Lang apparently never takes the often-overcrowded Metro in the late evening, perhaps because she has free parking).
"You have to challenge yourselves," Wells said. "Are you hanging on to the last vestiges of a car-based economy?" He pointed out the excess capacity on the east side of Metro (like the Orange and Blue Lines east of Capitol Hill), the "steady stream of cars" driving through neighborhoods, and even held up his copy of Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking.
The most ironic part? It turns out that Lang's Chamber of Commerce pays $200/month per space to their garage to subsidize employee parking. That means she's already paying the existing tax right now, and this bill wouldn't apply. In fact, as Graham pointed out several times in the hearing, the industry groups fighting this proposal so strongly didn't even know how many of their members would be affected, how many free parking spaces there are, or which employees receive them.
Many industry groups stressed their commitment to the environment, through green roofs, emissions reduction programs, and more. The hospitals, of course, especially stressed their support for reducing air pollution and asthma. But their environmentalism and public health interest stops at the parking lot's edge.
Cheryl Cort from the Coalition for Smarter Growth wrapped up the discussion with some concrete suggestions to improve the bill. She recommended applying this only to downtown and to large parking facilities (over 100 spaces) outside. Downtown has the clearest opportunity for reselling the spaces if employees stop receiving them for free, and the richest transit alternatives.
We should also require office buildings to stop bundling parking in leases. When the spaces aren't bundled, if the employer pays for free parking (as Lang does) they are renting the spaces directly and already paying the existing tax. But when spaces are bundled, they don't because we don't know the value of the spaces.
Knowing the value of spaces has additional benefits. Once spaces have a clear market value, it's easier to create parking cash-out programs that let employers give employees the $200/month in lieu of a parking space. In transit-poor LA, 20% of employees chose that option when given the choice. Employees could use the money to pay for transit, rent the occasional Zipcar or take the occasional taxi, or even better afford a home nearer transit or within walking distance of work.
In the short run, cash-outs could mean more parking spaces downtown available for short-term shoppers; today, many garages are full during the day and only allow monthly parkers. In the longer term, we wouldn't need to build so much parking; Howard University, for example, could then redevelop some of their many surface parking lots into more productive uses.
This was not a formal hearing on a bill. The Council actually passed the same bill with no opposition in 1994, but suburban Congresspeople forced DC not to implement the law; in 2003, Mendelson and Graham proposed the same bill, which received no opposition then either. Due to the opposition raised today, Graham decided to hold a "public roundtable" to solicit input, which will lead to a new bill and an official hearing in the fall.
Fairfax Boulevard, in the City of Fairfax, is almost wall-to-wall strip malls. Many of them aren't doing well, though; there are numerous vacant or closed stores. What to do? In Fairfax, the answer is: build another strip mall!
According to the Fairfax Times, after turning down proposals over the past 14 years to build condos, an amusement park, or keep it as open space.
Councilman Scott Silverthorne expressed his regard of the developer, John Donegan. Donegan's developments are not "just strip malls. They're works of art," Silverthorne said.Behold some of Donegan's "art":
Yes, these strip malls are a little more upscale than the average strip mall, especially many of Fairfax's old ones. But a strip mall is still a strip mall. If the only thing town leaders can think of to make Fairfax nicer is to build newer strip malls, that's just sad.
The Montgomery County Council narrowly passed over Action Committee for Transit President Ben Ross, a Smart Growth advocate as well as the leading Purple Line activist, for a spot on the Montgomery County Planning Board. They instead elected Joseph Alfandre, developer of the New Urbanist but non-transit-oriented Kentlands community in Gaithersburg. Maryland Politics Watch has the details. Councilmembers George Leventhal (at large), Valerie Ervin (Silver Spring), Duchy Trachtenberg (at large), and Phil Andrews (Rockville-Gaithersburg) voted for Ross, while the rest chose Alfandre.
Since I'm still trying to get a handle on the various members of the County Council, I made this quickie chart showing the Councilmembers' positions on Ross/Alfandre, on the subdizing library parking, and on which ones Maryland Politics Watch calls a a "slow-growth candidate" (which often means no growth in dense areas, pushing development to distant exurbs).
|Member||District||Lib. Pkg.||Plan. Bd.||"Slow Growth"?|
|Roger Berliner||1 (Bethesda/CC/Potomac)||Market||Alfandre||Slow|
|Mike Knapp||2 (Upcounty)||Market||Alfandre||Not Slow|
|Phil Andrews||3 (Rockville/Gaithersburg)||Subsidized||Ross||Slow|
|Don Praisner||4 (East County)||Subsidized||Alfandre||Slow|
|Valerie Ervin||5 (Silver Spring)||Market||Ross||Not Slow|
|Marc Elrich||At Large||Subsidized||Alfandre||Slow|
|Nancy Floreen||At Large||Subsidized||Alfandre||Not Slow|
|George Leventhal||At Large||Market||Ross||Not Slow|
|Duchy Trachtenberg||At Large||Subsidized||Ross||Slow|
There's not a lot of correlation here; the Slow-Growthers were mostly together on the library, losing Berliner but picking up Floreen. Alfandre/Ross doesn't resemble the others much. Anyone more knowledgeable about MoCo politics want to weigh in with more insight or opinions?
Update: I've gotten some emails with more information about Ross vs. Alfandre. Alfandre was backed by the opponents of greater density in Bethesda and Friendship Heights, and he refused to say whether he supports or opposes the ICC when asked by the Sierra Club (Ross clearly and publicly opposes it). As I said above, Kentlands is auto-only, though with some provision for future Corridor Cities Transitway access, and a New Urbanist semi-walkability while also being located far away from employment centers.
The hearing is at 2:00. Comments?
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee,
I urge you to close this loophole in our parking tax system. Residents of our region make a decision every day to drive, take transit, bike, or walk to work. Research has clearly demonstrated the obvious link between the price of parking and how many people choose to drive or take transit.
Workers are three times as likely to drive if they have free parking than if they make a real economic decision between transit and driving. With our air quality deteriorating and our downtown completely choked with traffic, we must increase non-automobile commuting for our city to continue to grow.
There's also a simple question of fairness. We are taxing some people and not others; that isn't fair and it isn't right. We should level the playing field and this bill aims to close this loophole.
I encourage the Council to add language explicitly dedicating the revenue from this fee to specific programs. I have written several times about this issue on my Web site, Greater Greater Washington, and numerous residents have voiced their concern that this money will simply vanish into the black hole of the enormous DC budget.
To assuage this fear, I urge you to dedicate revenue from this fee to new initiatives that will meaningfully reduce pollution. One option is transit. If the revenue pays for specific, visible service improvements, that will make transit a better option at the same time we discourage driving, and provide some of those impacted by the fee with a meaningful alternative. It's using the stick to pay for the carrot.
We could also use this money to encourage hybrid taxis. As you are aware, taxis emit a considerable percentage of our pollution since they are on the road almost constantly and idle frequently. The ANC in my neighborhood, Dupont Circle, will be considering a resolution next month asking the DC government to promote hybrid taxis. Two of our ANC commissioners wrote to me in support of this; unfortunately, both have day jobs and were unable to make it today.
In the long run, we should move toward a citywide parking cash-out system for all workers, downtown and elsewhere, that gives people with free parking the opportunity to forego their perk in exchange for a share of the money their employer saves. In the meantime, this bill is a good, market-based first step. It will reduce our subsidy of driving over other modes and close the existing loopholes in our system.
less safe than uncontrolled intersections, says an article in the Atlantic, using (slightly improperly) the analogy to the "tragedy of the commons". The basic premise is right; according to George Branyan, Pedestrian Program Coordinator of DDOT, uncontrolled intersections (no traffic lights) with marked crosswalks actually have 8 times the crash rate of unmarked, uncontrolled intersections.
Bikers vs. walkers in Central Park: New York's Central Park has become a battleground between the high-speed packs of exercising bicyclists and slow-moving pedestrians and dog walkers, writes New York Magazine, also invoking (more appropriately this time) the "tragedy of the commons" analogy.
Congestion pricing? In Texas? Highland Park, Texas officials are considering congestion tolls for residential Mockingbird Lane to discourage the packs of Dallas drivers who cut through on their daily commutes. Dallas Morning News via Richard Layman.
How about one at Florida and New Hampshire? Just Up the Pike praises new roundabouts in Montgomery County.
Tomorrow, the DC Council will hold a hearing on the "Clean Air Compliance Fee" bill. Currently, DC (and other jurisdictions) tax parking garages and paid employee parking. But there's a loophole: if an office gives out free parking, there's no tax, even though the impact of the cars on the roads and the environment is just as great (or greater, because free parking encourages driving).
This bill establishes a charge for free parking that is close to, but a little less than, the comparable parking tax for similar downtown parking spaces. People close to the issue expect that the bill will end up applying only to downtown for now, where congestion is high and the price of market-rate parking is well known.
The revenue from the fee would likely go to transit improvements or to encouraging hybrid taxis; both would make a major impact on air quality. Ideally, employers would pass on the parking fee to employees (or give them a "cash out" option where they can forego parking and share in the savings), creating a direct incentive to choose transit, carpool, walk, bike, scooter, or rollerblade.
The hearing is tomorrow at 2 pm, and the witness list is full of owners of big buildings with big parking garages. Please come testify if you can. To sign up, call Marcus Goodwin at 202-724-8195. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org with written testimony (and please CC Councilmember Jim Graham at email@example.com) if you are unable to attend.
Philadelphia will be painting optical illusion speed bumps at 100 dangerous intersections. These are designed to look like raised triangles, making drivers stop and think and hopefully slow down.
Despite the opinions of ignorant tech blog readers who fall into the same assumptions as classic traffic engineers, visual cues are very effective at slowing traffic. Shorter sight lines and a narrower feel of a road make drivers proceed more carefully, as do painted murals in intersections.
In Chicago, officials grappled for years with how to slow traffic at a dangerous S-curve on Lake Shore Drive. Lower speed limits didn't help, and straightening the curve didn't cut accidents. They finally hit on another optical illusion: painting a series of horizontal strips, which become closer together as you reach the curve. This produces a visual effect that looks like speeding up; drivers instinctively slow down to keep their perceived speed the same, and voilà: slower traffic and a safer curve.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- WMATA launches "Short Trip" rail pass on SmarTrip
- Small changes can make walking to school safer