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Wells would keep Circulator fare, expand CaBi, and more

Tommy Wells would like to keep the Circulator fare at $1, add 40 more Capital Bikeshare stations, hire needed people at DDOT including a parking czar, set up performance parking on H Street, fund green alleys, and more. Increased residential parking fees, including for households with extra vehicles, and some higher fines will pay for these priorities.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

These are some of the recommendations in the draft budget report from the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, which Wells chairs. The committee oversees DDOT, the Department of Public Works, the DMV, WMATA, and a few others, and the report covers budget changes to those programs.

The recommendations include:

Expand CaBi faster. $2 million in capital funding would fund 40 more Capital Bikeshare stations in the core and in more peripheral neighborhoods.

This would add to the 25 already planned and other stations that private developers or federal agencies will pay for. In total, DDOT says this will allow the system to double from its original size within 2 years of the September 2010 launch.

Fund green alleys. Many alleys have crumbling surfaces and greatly need repair, but there hasn't been much money for this in recent years. $1 million would fund a new Green Alleys program, picking some alleys to rebuild with permeable paving, energy-efficient LED lighting, trees, and more.

Keep Circulator fare. Wells is proposing to keep the Circulator fare at $1, rolling back Mayor Gray's proposal to make it $2 cash and $1.50 with SmarTrip. Downtown businesses argued that it would cut ridership substantially, perhaps even reversing all or most of the expected revenue gain. The Circulator is also going east of the river, and some felt it wasn't right for it to finally go there and double in price at the same time.

The funding for this comes partly through use of one-time funds at WMATA, so the Council will have to look at the Circulator fare again next year. Wells wants that to happen once the Council has reviewed and approved DDOT's plans for longer-term Circulator expansion.

Semi-replace 7th Street Circulator. The north-south Circulator is still going away. To partly make up for it, WMATA is creating a 74 bus to travel between I Street NW and the Southwest Waterfront along a route similar to that part of the Circulator's, and extending the V8 bus, which connects Minnesota Avenue to Southwest, along 7th Street to downtown as well.

Hire ward planners, development reviewers, and parking czar. Wells also wants to restore six positions at DDOT which have been vacant for some time. Gray's budget cut most vacant positions entirely. The six positions include three ward planners, for wards 2, 3, and 5. The ward planners made sure that all DDOT projects in a ward fit together well, and provided useful points of contact for the communities involved.

DDOT also needs to staff up its development review department, which looks at planned developments and zoning filings and encourage developers to effectively accommodate pedestrians and bicycles, consider good stormwater management, and include Transportation Demand Management programs. Wells would add 2 positions for this.

The final and most exciting staff position is a parking program manager, or "parking czar." DDOT's parking program has been a tremendous disappointment for years. The performance parking pilot zones didn't see the kind of experimentation that the legislation asked for. Some neighborhoods have wanted performance parking but haven't been able to get it.

DDOT has been mailing out free visitor parking passes in several wards, which leaves large opportunities for abuse. They have promised for years to set up a better system, but haven't. If they can get a good parking program manager, DDOT can finally be the national leader in parking policies they once seemed to be, but got eclipsed by San Francisco and other cities.

Start performance parking on H Street. Wells would create a third performance parking zone, around H Street NE (G to I Streets from 3rd to 15th). Residential streets in the area would become resident-only for one side of the street, as in the other zones, and meters set to achieve 10-20% available spaces.

Protect neighborhood RPP funds. The performance parking pilot zones dedicate most of the revenue raised to local neighborhood improvements, giving residents a stake in the success of performance parking. Gray's budget took this money away to use as general revenue; Wells wants to restore it.

Maintain traffic enforcement officers. The proposal would restore 5 traffic enforcement officers cut in Gray's budget. There are plenty of places where enforcement can make pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers all safer by stopping dangerous behavior. Also, DDOT wants to do more to stop parking in loading zones, bus stops, and handicap placard abuse.

Keep "sweepercam" tickets. Gray's budget eliminated the "sweepercam" system, where street sweeping trucks automatically photograph vehicles illegally blocking sweeping and DPW can send them tickets. Without this, DPW would have to have people manually enforce the sweeping.

Also, as the report points out, the cameras allow DPW not to ticket anyone parked in a sweeping zone after the actual sweeping has finished, whereas if officers did it manually, they wouldn't know and would still ticket those cars. The committee report restores $300,000 for this program.

Create a DDOT enterprise fund. When DDOT lost its "unified fund," it lost some ability to dynamically fund innovations without going through the Council first. Budget staff at that time talked about creating a special fund with some money that can go to such programs. Wells' proposal moves Capital Bikeshare advertising revenue into this fund, along with truck weight fees, multispace meter advertising, car sharing fees, loading zone permit fees, and a few others.

And more. Wells' proposal also funds a "bait bike" where officers place a bike which looks ripe to steal, and watch to catch people who try to steal it. $50,000 will also go to the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation for neighborhood parks. Gray's budget cut the $10,000 annual funding each for the Bicycle Advisory Council and the Pedestrian Advisory Council; Wells is restoring both.


How will Wells and his committee pay for all this?

Errors in the budget. Some money comes from finding mistakes in the budget. For example, Gray's budget office moved a lot of DDOT positions from the capital budget over to the operating budget. That's mainly an accounting issue; the jobs are still there, but some categories of spending went from large amounts to zero and other categories went from zero to big. Upon scrutinizing all of this, Council staff realized that some of the jobs had been moved over twice, leading to double-funding in the budget.

Higher and graduated RPP fees. A big part of the increase comes from a longtime GGW recommendation: increasing RPP fees, especially for households with multiple cars. DC's fees for resident parking permits are remarkably low, at $15/year. Renting any other chunk of space anywhere in the city costs far more. San Francisco charges $98/year, for example.

Under Wells' proposal, RPP fees will increase to $35/year, except for seniors 65 and older who will only pay $25/year. Once the DMV finishes a computer upgrade to support it, additional permits for each household will cost $50/year for the second and $100/year for additional permits beyond that.

Fines for repeat parking offenders. Fines for parking in residential areas beyond the 2 hours allowed, or for parking in resident-only areas, would increase for repeat offenders. The fine now is $30, except $60 around the ballpark during games only. The $30 fines would remain $30 for the 1st and 2nd tickets someone receives in a single calendar year, but become $60 beyond that.

Reciprocity fees. Congressional, military, Presidental appointees, and some others are allowed to have reciprocity permits, getting the benefits of registering cars in DC including RPP permits but without actually becoming DC residents. They pay $10 annually for this, while students have to pay $338 and temporary residents $250. Wells proposes increasing the reciprocity fee to $50.

What's not included

WMATA, fully. Gray's budget slightly increased DC's contributions to WMATA, but DC was still $10.422 million short of the level needed to avoid service cuts. Wells found another $6.265 million, and is asking the Council to consider the other $4.157 million as a council-wide priority in the next phase of the budget process.

Each committee first considers its own budget, and moves around money within that area, raising related revenues if desired to restore programs. Then, the whole Council looks at further cuts or restorations broadly; the remaining WMATA gap will be one of them.

Street sweeping inspectors. Gray's budget cuts the numbers of officers enforcing street sweeping rules. Wells said in this morning's markup that he wanted to increase the numbers, but unlike with the DDOT traffic officers, the CFO wouldn't certify revenue from these officers, so the Council would have to come up with more revenue to restore them.


The committee report also touches on some other topics which aren't line items in the budget, but which have budgetary implications. It asks DDOT to organize a task force to look at long-term transportation funding as gas taxes decline; to try to implement Circulator expansions even sooner than proposed; to add more efficient streetlights; and more. DDOT has also promised to conduct a transportation study on M Street SE/SW.

For DPW, the committee asks them to aggressively push fleet sharing, especially to replace older vehicles; to come up with a strategy to increase recycling; and to publish more information on costs that Wells has been asking for.

The committee had its markup session scheduled for 10 am, but as of this writing didn't have enough Councilmembers present to make up a quorum. Assuming it passes the markup, this will get agglomerated with the budget reports from the other committees.

The full Council will then take up the WMATA funding issue and other larger priorities from other areas. Issues outside of transportation, like the proposed income tax increase for people making over $200,000 and cuts to human services, will be debated at the full Council level.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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As clarification, does Wells committee only touch on transit and planning? I hope so, because otherwise I'm concerned that according to this summary, he is not taking on the massive cuts to human services. Based on reading this article, I can't figure out which it is.

by franceschances on May 11, 2011 10:47 am • linkreport

On the alleys- A lot of DC's water drainage problems can be solved with permeable alleys. Water runoff costs DC a fortune in federal fines and pollutes the Potomac. Every year more exposed ground is covered with concrete. Homeowners have to pay a small fee to WASA to cover their backyards with concrete parking pads- it should be much more. We had a perfect cobblestone alley here until about 10 years ago when DC decided to pave it with asphalt.

On the Circulator fares- The Circulators are a semi-express bus so the 25 cent higher fare may work. More troubling is that I read the streetcar fares will be Circulator fares and it's not express. (I heard that a lot, 25%-50%, of riders ride free anyway, so it may not matter).

The whole RPP thing is a mess. The fees need to be much higher and 2nd car fees a whole lot higher. DC needs to put in enhanced residential (or "performance") parking in the entire old city. DC manages to both lose a lot of money providing free on-street parking for suburbanites and makes RPP pretty worthless for residents by doing so. Lose, lose.

by Tom Coumaris on May 11, 2011 11:05 am • linkreport

I had never heard of green alleys, but it sounds great, especially if we could get trees planted. Thank you, Mr Wells.

by M.V. Jantzen on May 11, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

More efficient streetlights? If that means that somebody's found a more efficient technology than low-pressure sodium vapor lights, we ought to call the Nobel Prize committee to let them know!

Snark aside, most folks don't realize that LED streetlights are actually considerably *less* efficient than the nasty yellow ones that you see all over the place. Efficiency gains primarily come from the fact that they can easily be dimmed or turned on/off.

I for one, also certainly wouldn't mind "right-sizing" many of the existing streetlights. There are definitely parts of the city where lighting could be reduced without impacting safety.

by andrew on May 11, 2011 11:11 am • linkreport

If Wells can clean up DC's alleyways, he might as well start picking out furniture for the mayor's office.

(Not that it'll necessarily happen, but cleaning up alleyways would seem to be a non-controversial measure that would have a very direct and noticeable impact on most folks day to day lives. It's not priority #1 for the city, though it is something that constituents would certainly notice.)

by andrew on May 11, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

@ Tom Coumaris. Amen. I live in NE Capitol Hill (9th/F&G) and one side is city propery and completely unmarked as far a parking signs. It fills with 20-30 MD commuters every day...the city loses a ton of $ and residents can't find a spot.

by Hill North on May 11, 2011 11:19 am • linkreport

Chicago has a pretty neat green alley program.

I agree with right-sizing streetlights. The Washington Globe is pretty inefficient in that it is not very directional and casts light everywhere. And some are way overpowered. I'd hate to have one outside my upstairs bedroom windosn. No sense in illuminating the insides of trees or washing the sides of buildings.

by spookiness on May 11, 2011 11:26 am • linkreport

We had a perfect cobblestone alley here until about 10 years ago when DC decided to pave it with asphalt.

I think it's a bit more complicated than this. We have a cobblestone alley, but it's far from perfect: there are deep depressions where rainwater collects, providing the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. We've been trying to get them to come in and re-do it for years. I'd prefer to see them take up the old cobbles, and totally rehabilitate the alley bed, re-lay the cobbles, etc, etc... But my uninformed guess is that the cost of doing that would be much, much greater than just slapping down asphalt.

Maybe they could just lay a bunch of gravel, or something.

by oboe on May 11, 2011 11:34 am • linkreport

Circulator fares should be increased to match . There is no reason now to keep them low.

by W Jordan on May 11, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

@Hill North- Consider yourself lucky, at least luckier than us around Dupont/Logan. We have both daytime and night time visitors getting free parking so RPP is pretty useless 24/7 and DC loses millions while whining about being broke. (Thanks Jack).

@Oboe- Asphalt doesn't adhere to cobblestone very well. After a few years some patches come off so we have the same potholes here we had before with cobblestone. Asphalt is cheap only if you don't factor in the budget-breaking costs of ground water management.

by Tom Coumaris on May 11, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

Didn't they conduct an M Street SE/SW a few years ago?

by snowpeas on May 11, 2011 12:18 pm • linkreport

snowpeas: It wasn't an official study. Wells got Toole Design to create a concept. To turn that into a real plan or come up with other options, there needs to be a real analysis.

by David Alpert on May 11, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

I think DDOT should continue to go through the council for funding. Yes, it may slow things down a tad but as we've seen, slowing don't ain't always a bad thing.

I question the effectiveness of a "bike bait." How much will a program like this cost the city?

Why not increase the reciprocity rate to at least 75-100 bucks. We're already charging students and temp residents upwards of $300.

Lastly, is Wells interested in cutting anything from his committee's purview?

by HogWash on May 11, 2011 12:37 pm • linkreport

Do energy efficient streetlights also typically have hoods on them to prevent or mitigate light pollution? If so I'd love to have one of those outside of my window rather that the streetlight that is currently there.

by Nicoli on May 11, 2011 12:56 pm • linkreport

Why does the bait bike thing cost much at all? Just take a bike (maybe one DDOT impounds) put it on a corner and wait. Where's the cost? My $50 ten year old bike was stolen from a locked post. You don't need to tempt the thieves with an expensive bike.

And yay on the escalating RPPs! That is a huge no brainer that will nonetheless face huge opposition from people because people lurve their car subsidies!

by TM on May 11, 2011 12:58 pm • linkreport

I think the cost is not for the bike but for police to keep an eye on it and go arrest someone who steals it.

by David Alpert on May 11, 2011 1:01 pm • linkreport

I'm all for having fines increase for repeat parking offenders, but my question is does it refer to repeat offenders in a specific period of time or is it repeat offenders ever? I don't think under estimating the time you need on your parking meter once every year or couple of years is the same as doing it once a week or every couple of weeks.

Also, if the goal of increasing the cost of RPPs is primarily to raise money does the city have any idea how many "casual" users there are that might not renew their RPP if the cost went up substantially? I'm thinking of people with off street parking who might get an RPP "just in case." If I had a car and off street parking, I would get an RPP simply because the cost of getting one is so much less than the cost (in both time and money) of needing one and not having it.

by Kate on May 11, 2011 1:06 pm • linkreport

Tom C--since parking is the third rail of local politics, the fact that Wells has proposed graduated fees for res. parking permits is a step forward. I've been writing about it since 2005. Note that the strategic neighborhood action plan for H Street NE in 2001-2 suggested this, and DDOT has proposed it once or twice.

It's not enough of an increase, but it is a step forward. The price for one permit should be at least $50 though, although that is very little since the space is worth thousands of dollars...

Toronto's fees range from about $20 to $50 PER MONTH. And they are subject to sales taxes as well.

by Richard Layman on May 11, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

Kate: Good question. This would be for the # of tickets someone gets in a single calendar year. So any count resets on January 1. I've added that to the post to clarify.

by David Alpert on May 11, 2011 1:25 pm • linkreport

I'm getting a "Page Not Found / Sorry, the page you requested was not found on this site." error when I try to open the .pdf.

@franceschances: Yes, Wells's committee isn't the one to tackle human services issues; that's mostly going to be under the Human Services committee, which Graham chairs. Wells's committee is responsible for DDOT, DPW, DMV, WMATA, DC Water, the Taxi Commission, and a handful of odds and ends. (Those odds and ends comprise the Washington Aqueduct, the Bicycle Advisory Council, the Pedestrian Advisory Council, the Washington Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission, which sounds like it's a part of WMATA but is actually a distinct and much, much, smaller entity; I'd be surprised if as many as two dozen people in DC even know what WMATC does.) The committee doesn't have jurisdiction over planning issues, however, except insofar as it involves the agencies above making plans themselves.

by cminus on May 11, 2011 1:30 pm • linkreport

cminus: I've fixed the link. Thanks.

Most people don't know what WMATC does, but I wonder how many people have looked at the side of a truck where it says something like WMATC 12345 and wondered what that meant?

by David Alpert on May 11, 2011 1:33 pm • linkreport

In terms of the bait bike, I suspect the idea is you put down the bike, wait for it to get to a chopshop, then swoop in. Police sit on their ass all day in this town, and you can ask them to watch a regular bait bike w/o having a separate budget it for that.

So, what is the WMATC?

Why the cuts in sweercam? Is it run by outside contractor?

by charlie on May 11, 2011 1:43 pm • linkreport

If you want to do a bait bike program right you need to go a little bit high-tech. Laying a bike against a building and watching it is a good way to catch opportunistic thieves, but not professional bike thieves. To get the pros, you need a bike with a hidden GPS receiver and a transmitter in it. You lock the bike with a cheap cable lock in places where many bikes have been stolen and you wait. When the bike is moved the transmitter starts sending it's location and the cops wait for it to stop moving. Then they go and get it, with the hopes of finding the people behind the scenes. There are networks of people moving stolen bikes up and down the east coast and they need to go after these people.

by David C on May 11, 2011 1:53 pm • linkreport

@RL -- "Thousands of dollars"? I suggest you check your figures.

Off street parking is renting for $50/month. Obviously this will depend on location. Since most residents (i.e., car owners) are far away from the central business district, a better price for the RPP is about $300, since on-street parking is less valuable than off-street parking.

Don't know the situation in Toronto, but you should also compare other US cities. Cambridge Mass has RPP and very tight parking; the stickers there cost $20.

by goldfish on May 11, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport

Also, if the goal of increasing the cost of RPPs is primarily to raise money does the city have any idea how many "casual" users there are that might not renew their RPP if the cost went up substantially? I'm thinking of people with off street parking who might get an RPP "just in case." If I had a car and off street parking, I would get an RPP simply because the cost of getting one is so much less than the cost (in both time and money) of needing one and not having it.

There's no way to know until it happens. That said, the "just in case" value is a lot greater with RPPs that are good throughout a ward. If they were limited to neighborhoods (say as defined by OTR for assessment purposes) then they would truly be essentially limited in value.

by ah on May 11, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

We've been trying to get them to come in and re-do it for years. I'd prefer to see them take up the old cobbles, and totally rehabilitate the alley bed, re-lay the cobbles, etc, etc... But my uninformed guess is that the cost of doing that would be much, much greater than just slapping down asphalt.

When we costed out our private alley (created by easement) it was about double to have it done with permeable pavers over concrete. Cobblestones likely would be even more expensive. We were told that pavers can be replaced 1 at a time, so it's somewhat less expensive to maintain in the long run.

Also permeable pavers have limitations on application. For example, if there's a sizable grade they (a) don't allow as much water to soak in and (b) are dangerous/nonpassable in wet, and especially icy, weather.

Not to say they can't be used, but they also aren't appropriate for all applications.

by ah on May 11, 2011 2:32 pm • linkreport

DC needs to put in enhanced residential (or "performance") parking in the entire old city.

Yet the proposal to increase fees does nothing to consider demand conditions in various places. A $300 RPP may still be a good value in more urban parts of DC, whereas $25 in parts of upper NW and other bits of the city will still leave plenty of parking available.

by ah on May 11, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

Why doesn't DC have tolls on bridges?

by Rayful Edmond on May 11, 2011 4:25 pm • linkreport

^Because it would be seen as a commuter tax, and highway regulations don't permit tolls except in limited circumstances that don't apply.

by ah on May 11, 2011 5:00 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman & ah- Some of the resentment that will come from increased RPP fees is that there's little RP in the RPP.

The significant amount of increased revenue would come from charging suburbanites for what is now free parking and that would also provide more open spaces for residents.

by Tom Coumaris on May 11, 2011 6:04 pm • linkreport

How well do the permeable pavers perform? The soil underneath a roadway like that is pretty compressed. How much water does the surface absorb in real life rainstorms?

by DavidDuck on May 11, 2011 9:59 pm • linkreport

The recommendation to add 40 CaBi stations is welcome news. Any thoughts on whether it has a chance to move forward? Would a coordinated show of support from CaBi members help its chances any?

by D on May 11, 2011 10:19 pm • linkreport

@DavidDuck-I don't know the answer, but the construction technique is to have something like 6-8" of gravel as a base under the pavers, to avoid compression of the type you mention.

by ah on May 11, 2011 10:49 pm • linkreport

@Tom C - How would increasing RPP prices and signing more streets for RP result in increased revenue from suburbanites? Are you figuring they're just going to collect parking tickets day after day?

by ah on May 11, 2011 10:50 pm • linkreport

ah- What I mean is that thousands of spaces that are used for free by suburbanites should be "progressive parking" with meters for non-residents.

In my neighborhood day and night most spaces are taken by non-residents parking for free. At $2/hr that's a huge loss to the city and a PITA to residents.

by Tom Coumaris on May 12, 2011 12:12 am • linkreport

@ ah - No most wouldn't collect tix day after day, but signing more streets RPP would likley force those MD and VA folks to use Metro or to paid public parking rather than parking inappropriatley in residential neighborhoods.

by C on May 12, 2011 12:11 pm • linkreport

Increased RPP in the H Street corridor is key. I live near 3rd H NE, and am shocked at how many MD and VA commuters park in the neighborhood. Why am I shocked? Because there's a massive Metro/bus/Amtrak/commuter rail hub across the street called Union Station.

There are a number of streets in the neighborhood with no parking restrictions at all (no meters, no residential requirement, no 2 hour time limit). As a result, these fill up daily with commuters. As Tom points out, it's a huge revenue loss for the city. Additionally, it contributes to traffic congestion in the corridor and on Capital Hill at peak hours, a major issue since the Hill simply is not designed to handle commuter traffic.

by Emily on May 13, 2011 2:12 pm • linkreport

+1 for the "bait bike". +1 again if it gives the burglar 10K volts when they try to grab it.

by David R on May 17, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

Everyone knows that there is significant deference given to non-DC residents both at the Federal and City Council level. No one who follows DC's Sunday church parking abuses should be surprised that there are specific streets in DC that are abused by commuters. DC's leaders don't have the cajones to challenge the status quo unless the entire block gets together and makes a lot of noise.

The information about pervious pavers being unsuitable for alley traffic isn't correct, because there's not "A" pervious paver, there are many. The strict definitions is just something that allows water to seat below it, instead of running off in sheets. One thing that many cities get wrong when they invest in infrastructure (buildings, roads, etc.) is the cost of maintenance. Individual blocks are more expensive to lay in the short term, but as mentioned earlier, they are much easier and cheaper to repair. I'd expect that alleys would not deteriorate as far as they currently do, when they can be repaired at a cheaper cost.

by eb on May 25, 2011 8:43 am • linkreport

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