Greater Greater Washington

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Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 44

It's time for the forty-fourth installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of five stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?


Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

This is a themed week. For bonus points, identify the theme when you answer.

The answers will appear on Thursday. We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun for the rest of you.

Update: The answers are here.

We're revising our comment policy. Here's what's changing

In January, we announced plans to revise our comment policy. You responded with your thoughts on the matter. Today, we're putting the new policy in place.


Photo by Tyler on Flickr.

The policy we're leaving behind, which we introduced in August 2011, served us fairly well. In fact, that's what most of you said in the comments on the recent post. You like the comment policy and don't see anything wrong with it.

The editorial board is not making any major changes. The point of our revisions is largely to fill in some gaps that we feel have been causing problems over the last few months. Largely, those problems are the result of what we believe to be deliberate attempts to derail threads through trolling and comments which are unreasonably off-topic.

The basic elements of the comment policy are still in place. We have made a few minor tweaks to some of the language to clarify a few points. But regardless of the individual items in the comment policy, here's the basic rule: be civil to one another.

We value the comment threads. And we've heard from you that you value them too. The reason they're so valuable is because so many of you are dedicated to creating a civil, educational dialogue about how to build a better region. You don't all agree on how to do that, and that's okay. The dialogue is what is important.

The comment threads are not the place for vitriol and sniping. You shouldn't be trying to prove yourself right, everyone else be damned. You shouldn't be attacking someone because they disagree with you. Remember, you're not going to convince everyone. When that becomes apparent, agree to disagree.

If you can't be civil, you chill the debate, and that means that everybody loses.

So, here are the basic changes.

Trolls live under bridges, not under blog posts

The most common complaint you cited was trolling. We don't like it when someone intentionally tries to disrupt the debate, and neither do you.

I'm confident in saying that we don't have too many trolls in our comment threads. But there do appear to be some. What's tough is figuring out when someone is being intentionally disruptive as opposed to merely being passionate about an issue that is very difficult.

As a result, we will probably deal with suspected trolls by watching for patterns over time. If someone disrupts several threads over a short period, we will consider holding their comments for approval.

I do want to be clear: Just because you disagree (or think you disagree) with the basic mission of Greater Greater Washington does not put you at risk for having comments moderated. We want comments from all sides of every issue. You will not be moderated for disagreeing. You will be moderated only if you cause disruption. Remember, be civil.

Stay on topic

We understand that many of you are more interested in certain issues than others. But just because you care deeply about one issue or the other does not mean that it's appropriate to post about that issue in threads that are not about it.

Lately, this has been happening more often. Derailing a thread to talk about something off-topic makes it harder for people to talk about the issue at hand.

This doesn't mean that we're going to clamp down on anything even slightly off-topic. Sometimes threads do shift to related issues. That's okay. But if your comment is egregiously off-topic or completely unrelated to the subject of the post, we will delete your comment.

Fair enforcement

Several of you also said that you wanted fairer enforcement of the comment policy. And we agree that having impartial moderation is absolutely essential.

Again, I can assure you that we do not moderate comments simply because we disagree with the ideas being espoused. And we are not more lenient for commenters who tend to agree with us. We moderate people from all sides.

However, much of our moderation is complaint-driven. Our moderators strive to review every comment. But we simply cannot read them all in a timely fashion, so sometimes attacks slip through.

That's why we've created the "report comment" feature.


The "report" link is at the bottom right of each comment.

When someone attacks you, don't respond in kind. Report the comment. Let our moderators do their job.

When you aggressively respond to an aggressive comment, you just make the thread devolve, and it makes it harder for the moderators to step in and get the thread back on track.

We will continue to strive for impartiality. But you have to help us. If you see a comment that you think violates the comment policy, don't assume we left it there because we agree with it. It's probably there because we haven't seen it. Help us out by reporting it.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail is going to get longer

The Metropolitan Branch Trail is a popular way to get between Brookland and Union Station on bike or foot, but it'd be even more useful if it went farther north toward Maryland. DDOT just unveiled preliminary plans for making that happen.


Parts of the trail that are under design. All images from DDOT.

People have been waiting almost two decades for DDOT to finish the trail. Last weekend, the agency presented preliminary design plans that detail what the trail, along with the complimentary Prince George's County Connector, will look like between Catholic University, its current end point, and Maryland.

Parts of the trail will be on the road and parts won't. Sometimes it will run through green space and sometimes it will be a side path. Other times it will be jammed, as elegantly as possible, between an in-use trash transfer center and cement plant on one side and an active rail line on the other. Call that a drainage ditch-to-trail conversion. The path will vary from 12 feet wide, which is ideal, to ten.

Here's a tour of what the trail is going to look like

The northern leg will start at the Brookland-CUA Metro. Trail users will pass through a redesigned Catholic University side of the Metro Plaza, and from there they'll use the existing side path, which was built in 1999 and is in purple on the image above, to get to Fort Totten Park and the trash transfer center. At that point, the trail will squeeze between the industrial facilities mentioned above, separated by a concrete retaining wall and a low fence.


Trail between the cement plant and railroad tracks.

Continuing north, the trail will then turn left to go over the Metro tunnel, then sharply right to get back to 1st Place NE. From there, it will continue north, but also meet the Prince George's County Connector to the east and an existing trail to Gallatin Street to the west. At 1st Place, there will be both stairs and a ramp.


Trail map near the Fort Totten Metro.

The Gallatin Street connection to the west will have a better turn radius, a wider and better surface, and a more trail-like feel. The Prince George's Connector will be an on-street route on Gallatin and South Dakota Avenue with a small trail connection from Eastern Avenue to the boundary.


DC trail portion of the Prince George's County Connector.

Heading north, the trail will be a sidepath along the west side of 1st Place NE and then the south side of Riggs Road. There will be no bridge over Riggs, and no trail east of 1st Street on National Parks Service land. Routing the trail through NPS land was considered in the 2004 draft design, but the federal agency ultimately refused to allow it. There will, however, be an improved crossing or Riggs at 1st St and a sidewalk on the east side of 1st Place.


1st Place NE at Riggs Road.

The trail will run on roads and sidewalks along 1st Street NE until crossing New Hampshire Avenue and heading west on McDonald Place to Blair Road. At Blair Road, the trail will again transition to a side path. Just north of McDonald, the trail will double as access to the Oglethorpe Community Garden, meaning a small bump-out for garden loading and unloading and limited access for vehicles on a 12 foot wide section.


Oglethorpe Community Garden.

North of Peabody, cutting a northbound lane of Blair Road will allow for landscaping and some additional curbside parking. There will also be several improved crosswalks across Blair.


Along Blair Road, narrowed to add parking.

Just north of Tuckerman the trail splits into two six-foot sections for part of a block...


Trail map near Tuckerman.

...before reconnecting into a protected trail (separated by a wall) along a lane-reduced Blair Road.


Blair Road with protected path.

The trail will turn under the railroad tracks at Aspen, and then along the side of Sandy Spring before returning to an on-street route along Maple, Carroll, Ceder and Eastern.


Sandy Spring.

The last piece of the trail is a block-long section on the southeast side of Eastern/Takoma Avenue from Piney Branch to the existing terminus of the Maryland section of the trail along Takoma Avenue.


Connection to Montgomery County.

It's unfortunate that the Riggs Road Bridge could not be included, just as it was disappointing that the Monroe Avenue underpass could not.

It's also unfortunate that the Prince George's County Connector is almost all going to be on-road in DC when there is a suitable green strip there (owned by NPS, of course) that would work well.

DDOT plans to finish this preliminary part of the design process by the end of 2015, and the final design should be complete by the end of 2016.

Cross-posted at TheWashCycle

Northern Virginia has $350 million to spend on transportation. Here's what officials want to build

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) controls a vast budget for transportation projects all over Northern Virginia. Now they're gearing up to build 34 new projects, including new Metro stations, more buses, and wider highways.


Map of project locations from NVTA.

What's NVTA?

NVTA may be the most important infrastructure agency in the Washington area that few people know much about. "The authority," as officials call it (to distinguish it from the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a lobbying organization that favors aggressive highway-building), gives Northern Virginia the ability to raise and spend its own money on its own priorities.

That's the theory, anyway. But the Virginia General Assembly requires NVTA to prioritize projects that reduce road congestion. Before NVTA can fund any projects, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has to run each proposal through a computer model that rates its ability to reduce congestion.

"Congestion reduction" sounds great, but it doesn't work

VDOT's rating system for NVTA projects rewards expansions of the busiest highways, on the assumption that more road capacity will reduce congestion. It's a flawed 20th century metric that ignores decades of real world experience that bigger roads actually make congestion worse.

The VDOT system does not measure things like how a project might benefit safety, or increase accessibility, and doesn't take into consideration how land use changes are driven by infrastructure.

The biggest problem is simply that VDOT's model doesn't know what to do with short distance trips, which are the exact type of trip that transit-oriented development produces more of. So when a transit or pedestrian project makes it possible for thousands of people to walk two blocks instead of drive five miles, the VDOT model doesn't always show that as reducing congestion.

Thus, road expansion projects end up looking good, and other things have trouble competing. Transit does OK if it relieves traffic on a major road, but pedestrian or bike projects are almost impossible.

Many other regions are using broader metrics for measuring transportation performance and congestion mitigation, but Northern Virginia can't because the General Assembly won't let it.

NVTA's proposed project list

NVTA has announced a draft list of 34 projects the agency recommends for funding over the next two years. The list includes 18 road projects and 16 transit projects, totaling about $350 million.

Road projects include widening Route 1, Route 7, Route 28, and Loudoun County Parkway, as well as intersection expansions along Route 50 in the City of Fairfax, new interchanges in Leesburg, and more.

Transit projects include money for the Innovation Center and Potomac Yard Metro stations, a new entrance at Ballston station, VRE platform expansions at Franconia-Springfield, Rippon, and Crystal City, Metrorail power upgrades, and new buses for WMATA, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Fairfax City.

Here's the complete list. Projects that NVTA staff is recommending for construction are highlighted in yellow.

Over the next week NVTA is holding a series of town hall meetings on its project list, and a public hearing in Merrifield on Wednesday, March 25 (tomorrow!), beginning at 6:00 pm.

It doesn't end with this list

NVTA is also developing a long-term regional plan to guide decisions from 2018 on.

NVTA's last long-term plan, TransAction 2040, is an aspirational list of projects that was developed before the agency had any funding. Now that it has money, NVTA is developing a more structured framework to determine how to prioritize funds.

Building the new regional plan will take two years, and there should be many opportunities for citizens to engage in it. A critical issue will be how NVTA and VDOT choose to measure "congestion reduction" and the cost-effectiveness of projects, and to what extent they will take into account the benefits of shifting more single-occupant car trips to pedestrian, bicycle, and transit ones.

Watch for news on the next TransAction plan later in 2015.

Here's where Metro railcars go after they die

Last week, reddit user redfrobro spotted something unusual. Aboard an oversized flatbed truck sat one of the Metro's distinctive brown-striped railcars, boarded up and without wheels. The truck was towing it down a wide avenue... in Lawrence, Kansas.


Lawrence, Kansas. Photo by reddit user redfrobro.

With hundreds of 7000 series railcars on their way this year and not enough space to store them all, WMATA has been parting with its old, damaged, and otherwise unusable railcars.

The car redfrobro saw, number 3216, was one of 12 damaged in a 2009 collision at the Falls Church yard. You can see some of the breakage next to the door on the driver's cab. While its final destination remains a mystery for now, it's likely car 3216 won't just be scrapped given how far it's traveled.

Out of respect to those lost and their families, WMATA quietly dismantles railcars involved in fatal accidents. Those involved in less significant incidents typically get stripped for parts, repurposed for other uses, or sold to somewhere outside of the Metrorail system.

By and large, that new use is for emergency training. In 2012, a number of problematic 1000 series cars arrived at the Guardian Centers, a facility in Perry, Georgia, which includes a 1600-foot mock subway tunnel and station (complete with Foggy Bottom signage).

Many of these cars are used for first response training, but some have undergone simulations of more damaging scenarios, like this explosion designed to simulate the 2004 Madrid train bombings.


Emergency training car. Photo by Guardian Centers.

The Department of Defense also uses at least two Metro railcars at its Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, a mock city used for terrorism training in Fort A.P Hill, Virginia. Those cars were declared unfit for carrying passengers after they derailed at the Brentwood yard in 2013.


DOD railcar. Photo from Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS).

Metro itself uses two damaged railcars at its own emergency training center in Landover, Maryland. The press recently got access to this facility after January's fatal smoke incident outside L'Enfant Plaza.


Landover facility. Photo by Martin Di Caro on Twitter.

Metro still uses some damaged cars in its rail system, just not for revenue service. After an 1982 accident outside Federal Triangle station, vehicle 1028 was orphaned from its married pair and repurposed as a "feeler car" for testing clearances around tracks and tunnels. Four 1000 series cars also got new numbers and now serve as "money trains," which collect fares from stations around the system.


Money train. Photo by reddit user iamfriedsushi.

Dozens of Metro cars have met an early end over the years, and a lot more are about to join them as the 1000 series begins its mass retirement. Metro will store 50 of these tired workhorses as a contingency fleet, but hundreds more will need to find new homes.

Assuming they don't simply get scrapped, it's going to be fun to see them pop up in more unexpected places around the country.

Breakfast links: Everything is politics


Photo by mbell1975 on Flickr.
From Rayburn to Wilson: Mayor Bowser is luring a rush of federal talent into her administration. Many former executive branch and political staffers are frustrated by gridlock, and have come to see DC as their home. (Post)

Out with the old: Arlington's political leadership is seeing some big changes, with turnover among County Board members and high-ranking staff. Officials say that won't be a problem in the county's departments, but new board members could create uncertainty for the county's direction. (ArlNow)

Will Mulder move to Maryland?: Maryland officials are luring the FBI to Greenbelt or Landover. The transportation secretary said the state would find money for new highway interchanges at whichever site is chosen, despite a budget crunch. (Post)

Climbing the ladder: Mayor Bowser is planning a week of new initiatives leading up to the State of the District speech. Using the theme "Pathways to the Middle Class," new policies will focus on education, infrastructure, and the social safety net. (Post)

Snow scofflaws: Montgomery County cracked down on Bethesda property owners who didn't follow the new 24-hour snow removal law. Violators included a Starbucks, a church, and a fire station. (BethesdaNow)

Penthouses pop up: Changes are coming to DC's penthouse regulations, due to amendments to the Height Act. The Office of Planning is proposing to allow taller penthouses, two stories in some cases, and a wider range of uses. (OPinions)

You're blocking my sun: A new DC bill would compensate homeowners if a neighbor builds up and shades their solar panels. Councilmember Grosso's bill is specifically geared to address pop-ups in rowhouse neighborhoods. (WBJ)

And...: Cherry blossom season will bring track work-free Metro service. (DCist) ... How did planners increase ridership on the X2 Metrobus? (PlanItMetro) ... A bill in Congress would let local governments compete for more federal transportation dollars. (Streetsblog)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.

Events roundup: Outside and inside the beltway

Outside the beltway, learn about big plans for I-66 and buses in Loudoun County, and weigh in on transportation funding in northern Virginia. Inside the beltway, learn about Metro safety and hear some progressive takes today's transit challenges.


Photo by Adam Fagen

Changes to I-66: VDOT has big plans for HOT lanes on I-66 outside of the Beltway. Join Coalition for Smarter Growth and its partners to learn about their plans and voice your concerns on Wednesday, March 25, from 7 to 9 pm at the Oakton High School cafeteria at 2900 Sutton Road, Vienna. There will be a panel and extended open forum. RSVP is requested.

After the jump: Metro safety, buses in Loudoun, budgeting in northern Virginia, and crossing transit boundaries.

Metro safety: Safety is a growing concern on the Metro after several recent incidents. David Alpert will join an upcoming panel hosted by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) on Metro safety. ATU's public hearing is on Wednesday, March 25, from 6 to 8 pm at 1313 H St NE.

Buses in Loudoun County: Are you a commuter in Loudoun County? Loudoun has begun work on a six-year plan for countywide bus operations. It's focused on improvements to current service as well as expanding around the Silver Line. There will be two open houses on Wednesday, March 25, at the Loudoun County Government Center at 1 Harrison Street SE in Leesburg. The first will be from 12 to 3 pm and the second will be from 3 to 7 pm. Stop in and share your thoughts.

Virginia transportation projects: Have an opinion on which northern Virginia transportation projects deserve funding, and which don't? The place to speak up is at Wednesday's Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) public input meeting. Learn about and comment on the proposed projects, before NVTA makes decisions on which projects to fund. The open house begins at 6:00 with a presentation and public hearing to follow. Shuttle to the meeting from Dunn Loring Metro provided.

Pushing transit boundaries: If you are frustrated with the current state of regional transit, join GGW contributors Dan Reed and Stewart Schwartz at the League of Women Voters' transportation forum on finding modern solutions to today's problems. The forum is this Saturday, March 28, from 9:30 am to 3:15 pm at 4301 Wilson Blvd in Arlington.

Pressure for bus lanes: After advocates' campaign for a bus lane on 16th Street last year, next Tuesday 3/31 DDOT is kicking off the year-long study that is the next required step to see real change in the corridor. But public involvement is key to keeping it from becoming just another dusty study on a self. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is organizing supporters to attend the kickoff at the Mt. Pleasant Library (2160 16th St NW).

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

A safer route to school is coming for Clarksburg kids and parents

In a win for parents, an intersection adjacent to a northern Montgomery County elementary school is getting a traffic signal and marked crosswalks.


Intersection of Snowden Farm Parkway and Grand Elm Street. Image from Google Streetview.

Today, Snowden Farm Parkway in Clarksburg is four lanes wide and has a speed limit of 40 mph. Kids who need to get to Wilson Wims Elementary School from the other side of Snowden Farm have two options for getting to school: take a circuitous bus route, or make a dangerous crossing on foot. Thankfully, that's about to change.

In a recent letter, acting Montgomery County transportation director Al Roshdieh said his agency will install the signal, along with marked crosswalks, audible pedestrian warnings, and countdown timers, by the start of next school year.

When MCDOT resisted their first request, parents kept pushing

Families living on one side of Snowden Farm Parkway in Clarksburg have been working for two years to win a safer way for their children to walk across Snowden Farm to Wilson Wims. They put in a request for crosswalks and a signal two years ago, at which time the Montgomery County Department of Transportation said no.

Parents then launched an advocacy campaign, and last October teamed with the Coalition for Smarter Growth to circulate a petition that promoted a safer crossing. MCDOT reversed its initial decision earlier this month.

"We're glad to see that persistence and dedication can succeed in making an intersection safe before bad something happens," said Seenu Suvarna, a Wilson Wims parent and a leader in the effort.


An aerial shot of the Snowden Farm Parkway and Grand Elm Street. Image from Google Maps.

MCDOT should also monitor the area and consider further steps, like lowering the school zone's high speed limit. Traffic is actually pretty low in this area, so it may also make sense to cut Snowden Farm Parkway from four lanes to two, with a turn lane in the middle.

Similar changes should happen near other area schools

Clarksburg's original master plan called for a pedestrian and transit-oriented community. Making the crossing at Wilson Wims safer is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, it leads to safer crossings at other schools.

Families at Clarksburg Elementary School face an issue similar to the one at Wilson Wims. Kids and parents in Gateway Commons, across Stringtown Road at Observation Drive, do not have a direct crossing. But so far, MCDOT officials have said that other signals are too close to that location, and that perhaps they'll add one when Observation Drive is complete.


The intersection of Stringtown Road and Observation Drive. There's no crosswalk or signal for getting to Clarksburg Elementary, which is on the north side of the street. Image from Google Maps.

But kids' safety is at stake. Combine that with how good walking to school is for individual health, the community, and the environment, and there's an obvious question: why wait?

What it will take to get Metro out of crisis

I spoke on a panel this morning at the National Press Club about the future of WMATA. Pat Host hosted WMATA board member Tom Bulger, union president Jackie Jeter, @lowheadways' Graham Jenkins, and me. We were all asked to prepare statements about the "challenges facing Metro and its riders." Here is an edited version of my statement.

Here we are, again. Someone reading the headlines about WMATA could easily think we were back in 2009.


Photo by Joe Flood on Flickr.

The agency faces a budget shortfall. Service cuts are on the table. Trains and buses are breaking down. Riders are frustrated. And then, a fatal crash exposed safety failures that they knew about but didn't address.

The riding public sees WMATA as perpetually in crisis. Yes, this year's particular budget gap is largely a result of the cutbacks in federal transit benefits, but we've been here in past years and will be again. Can WMATA get out of this cycle, reach a sound financial footing, fix broken systems, and regain the public's trust?

Picking the right general manager

Everyone agrees WMATA needs fixing, but not on how to fix it. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser wants as the next General Manager a "turnaround specialist" from outside the transit industry while recent board chairman Tom Downs thinks another experienced transit executive, just like the last few GMs, is the right pick.

I worry about both possibilities. Another career transit operator for whom this is the last job before retirement would not shake up deeply entrenched problems within the agency, like an insular culture impervious to outside information, a hierarchical structure where people do not question higher-ups, and poor customer service from a few employees whose actions reflect badly on the whole but go unchecked.

But a pure cost-cutter could sacrifice service at the altar of the bottom line. Our region's residents depend on transit service. Far more people live car-free in walkable urban places than when Metro was new. It would be deeply wrong to retrench Metro as merely a suburban commuter system designed to move workers downtown at rush hours.

There are those who say Metro's problem is that it has too much service. Late night and weekend service makes track work more difficult. It would be easier to shut the whole system down to make repairs. Sometimes that is appropriate, but it must be as minimal as possible, not just expansive for convenience's sake.

I believe WMATA does need an outsider, not another member of the transit executive club who thinks the way it's always been done is just fine. But to ensure an outsider changes the right things, riders need to be involved.

The current debate over a turnaround expert versus a transit operating expert has been happening almost entirely behind the scenes. Scant information can lead officials to make bad decisions. Muriel Bowser, Terry McAuliffe, and Larry Hogan need to reach out more to riders about what they'd want from an outsider, and riders need to make their views heard.

Fix the mismanagement and the funding stream

Metro has twin challenges of disinvestment and mismanagement, and both feed on one another. The agency's failures make people understandably more reluctant to throw money at what seems like a black hole, but underfunding and unusually high expenses have put the system on a knife's edge where a small mistake has big consequences.

WMATA needs a reliable and dedicated funding stream to insulate against the vagaries of the political winds in Annapolis, Richmond, and Pennsylvania Avenue, but riders and local governments will need better guarantees of what will happen next.

A plan to stabilize WMATA must go beyond dollars and give riders a much clearer understanding of how long they must endure this level of weekend track work, when Metro can reach a state of good repair, and then what level of maintenance to expect beyond.

People need to know not only how WMATA will make it through the next year's budget, but also how this stretches into the long term. They need to know whether WMATA can live within its means with only inflationary fare increases while boosting rather than cutting service. And riders will expect customer service to become a higher priority.

Without change, Metro will probably muddle through. It muddles through, year after year. We'll be back in a few years discussing how to close a budget gap or deal with decrepit systems. When ridership grows again we still won't have 8-car trains or a second Rosslyn station to allow more Blue Line service. Most buses will still be too infrequent and too slow, or end too early, to really offer an alternative to car ownership.

We can't afford the status quo

But the region can't afford a transit system that is just going to squeak by from one challenge to the next. Whoever the next general manager is, he or she needs to be able to right the ship.

WMATA faces management challenges that need resolutions. And the agency's program of rebuilding after decades of deferred maintenance still has years' worth of work left. Rising costs are driving an annual budget battle with no end in sight.

But WMATA's next leader will also have to deal with a deficit of public confidence. Riders are tired of constant work, frequent delays, and surly employees. And that is afflicting the political will to solve the funding situation.

I hope that the region can mobilize to do better, to make Metro again a jewel of our national capital that can be proud of. Can we do it?

Proposal to slash Arlington's bike program would be a huge mistake

Officials in Arlington are considering deep cuts to the county's bike and pedestrian program. If the cuts go through, many fewer bike lane or trail projects in Arlington would be able to move forward.


Crashed bicycle image from Shutterstock.

What's at stake

The cuts are one of the options county manager Barbara Donnellan presented to the county board last month, as part of the board's planning for next year's budget.

If the board approves the cuts, Arlington's fund for constructing bike/ped improvements would take a direct $800,000 hit, and indirectly lose additional future state or federal grant money. One of the county's two bike planners would also lose their job.

$800,000 is a drop in the bucket for overall Arlington transportation spending, which gets over a hundred million dollars per year. But it's crucial for the small bike/pedestrian program, which functions with relatively little funding.

Much of the funding for new bike or pedestrian projects in Arlington actually comes from outside grants, like the federal Transportation Alternatives Program. But most outside grants require recipients to put up a local match in order to receive grant funding. And this pot of $800,000 is often what Arlington's accountants use to match grants for bike and pedestrian projects.

That means if this cut goes though, it's not really just an $800,000 dip. It's actually a much larger cut that could force Arlington to turn down or stop applying for hundreds of thousands of outside dollars, putting a halt to ongoing projects, and stopping new ones from ever getting started.


If these cuts go forward, Arlington may not be able to accept future grants for more Capital Bikeshare. Photo by mariordo59 on Flickr.

And this $800,000 cut would be on top of $400,000 that county leaders moved off the program last year, and never replaced. It appears when Arlington needs money, the bike/ped program is one of the first places officials look.

That's quite the bait and switch on Arlington taxpayers. The county board originally approved generating the revenue for this pot of money as a dedicated funding stream for bike and pedestrian projects. But now that money is rolling in, it isn't as dedicated as the board originally promised.

All of that comes out of the budget for physical infrastructure. But losing one of the two bike planner positions is a gigantic problem too.

The planners are the grease that make the rest of the bike/ped program roll. With half its staff capacity gone, there wouldn't be enough time in the day for Arlington's remaining bike planner to keep every project moving, even those that remain fully funded. For example, Arlington's robust bike and pedestrian count program costs little to operate, but takes a lot of time. It would probably have to be scaled back, if not eliminated entirely.

The single remaining planner wouldn't be able to apply for as many outside grants, wouldn't be able to influence the design of as many road projects, and wouldn't be able to take part in as many regional studies. This move wouldn't just slow existing projects, it would reduce the number of future projects in the pipeline, for years to come.

This isn't a done deal yet

The good news is county manager Barbara Donnellan's proposed draft budget does not actually include these cuts. If that draft budget sails through, the bike program remains whole and there's no problem.

The bad news is that in order to keep its options open, the county board instructed Donnellan to prepare a back up plan. The back up plan would cut the budget in order to reduce Arlington's property tax rate.

That back up plan is the problem. If adopted, it would cut $4 million out of Arlington's $1.1 billion budget. Those cuts would fall disproportionately on the county's highly successful bicycle program.

For the second year in a row, when the county needs money, officials look to swipe it from bikes.

Arlingtonians feel betrayed, and aren't taking it sitting down

Arlington has a long and successful history of progressive transportation planning, but it sure hasn't felt that way lately.

This move comes only months after the county board canceled the Columbia Pike streetcar, a decision that just two years ago seemed so unlikely that Greater Greater Washington published an April Fool's joke about it.

Gillian Burgess, the chair of Arlington's bicycle advisory committee, sent a letter to the county board opposing the cuts, and said to WAMU "This is incredibly pennywise and pound foolish."

But it's not just the decisions themselves that have the community up in arms. It's also the way Arlington officials planned them.

In a fiery letter to the county manager, the chair of Arlington's pedestrian advisory committee (and GGW contributor) Dennis Jaffe faults Donnellan for developing the cuts in a vacuum, without learning how drastically they would damage the program.

Says Jaffe, "No input—none—was sought from anyone in the transportation office with substantial working knowledge of the bike/ped program. Would a sports team owner cut a team member without input from the manager and coaches?"

Add your voice to oppose these cuts

On March 24 the county board will hold a workshop on the transportation budget from 2:30 to 5:00 pm, followed by a public hearing at 7:00 pm. The meetings will take place in room 307 of 2100 Clarendon Boulevard. If you wish to speak at the public hearing, use this form to sign up. The sign up period ends at 5:00 pm today, so don't wait until the last minute.

You can also email the county board at countyboard@arlingtonva.us.

To follow this story as it unfolds, visit Jaffe's new website, ArlingtonBikesAndWalks.org.

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