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Fenty nominates Gabe Klein for DDOT

Several newspaper bloggers released roundups of the year's biggest transportation stories (like the Post's Get There and the Transportation Examiner). One of the potentially biggest stories on neither list was the resignation of DDOT Director Emeka Moneme. A new Director could significantly swing our transportation policy for better or worse. And in the waning hours of this year, Loose Lips' Mike DeBonis discovered that we finally have a nominee: Gabe Klein.


Klein's Facebook picture.
[Klein's] biggest job in transportation is his four years on the job as regional vice president of Zipcar. That's certainly a business that's taken a progressive view of urban transportation and has more likely than not contributed to the removal of personal cars from city streets ...

Since he left Zipcar, he's headed up On the Fly, the vending and mobile catering business that's helped end the street-vending monopoly held by the half-smoke crowd.

DeBonis also notices what could be the best part of all: Klein signed our petition calling for a visionary leader for DDOT in the mold of Janette Sadik-Khan, Harriet Tregoning, or Michelle Rhee. Klein wrote,
I agree, love Michelle Rhee, Harriet Tregoning, and of course Dan Tangherlini. Lets bring someone of that caliber in to take over DDOT, a hugely important position in Washington. For instance, without Dan Tangherlini's vision, carsharing would not be what it is in Washington (one of the top carsharing cities in the U.S.)
Sounds like something a former Zipcar Regional VP might say.

As the months stretched on without a DDOT nominee, visionary or no, I'd started to fear we'd end up with a move-the-cars operations focused administrator uninterested in reforming DDOT's multiple-personality policies. I don't know Klein's opinions on most issues, and as DeBonis points out, he's probably a Fenty loyalist above all. His background is more business than transportation planning or engineering, though that could be just what DDOT needs to develop clear processes and improve their poor customer service.

The bottom line: having a DDOT Director from the carsharing world, and who signed our petition, could potentially be the best news all year.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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One cautionary note: I'd hope he'll divest himself of stock in Zipcar before he assumes office. That would seem like an obvious conflict of interest

by Steve on Dec 31, 2008 2:33 pm • linkreport

Apologies for the double post, but my comment is more relevant in this thread....

It does seem like most of the topics here are about the evils of cars.

Like it or not, DC ain't NYC or Paris. We have public transit, but for many it simply can't replace a vehicle for all uses. Especially as long as our taxi system sucks so bad.

Public transit in DC is fine if you live very close to a metro stop, are single with no kids, don't own your home that requires maintenance, and in good physical shape.

For some of the rest of us, it's a bit harder. It's very hard to shop by Metro, and many DC bus lines are a very unpleasant alternative (although some are fine). Cabs are unreliable (especially trying to call one to your home/business or trying to hail one off the beaten path), and many are filthy and an unpleasant experience at best.

Many of us that are getting older simply aren't willing to walk fifteen blocks to our closest grocery or hardware store. And we aren't willing to stand in the freezing rain for an hour trying to catch a substandard cab.

Yes, more transit is great. I'm all for it.

But as it is, the anti-car crowd in DC is being dominated by a few very shrill voices that demonize anyone in a car, and that really pisses the rest of us off.

Case in point..... I was recently driving a friend with a very real but not obvious injury. I pulled up close to a fast food joint on H St NE, only to have an entire crowd of hipsters nearby start cursing at us for driving and 'ruining the planet'.

Little did these little shits know that my passenger was unable to walk far, I myself had a temporary physical problem, and I'm a bit sensitive about walking in high crime neighborhoods for half a mile after dark, having had a gun held to my genitals in just such a situation.

So please try to put yourself in someone else's situation before you go demonizing anyone that finds they must use a vehicle in DC.

by Hillman on Dec 31, 2008 3:24 pm • linkreport

@Hillman - I wrote that piece comparing DC and Paris. I'm not really anti-car ownership. Thats a personal decision. I own a car and have kept it because it's paid off and I have friends who live well outside the beltway. I certainly wouldn't say anything nasty to anyone else for owning a car.

That said, I feel that the district should be focusing it's future on walkable and transit oriented development. It's potential in this realm is one of it's major competitive advantages versus the suburbs. Adding density adds to the tax base. Pedestrians also add more eyes on the streets which can help suppress crime. Others on this blog will also point out it's healthier for the individual (exercise) and the earth (carbon emissions).

Basically I don't begrudge anyone for owning a car. But I feel the city's policy priorities should become less auto-centric whether drivers like it or not. Understand that the city may need to reclaim some curb parking or reduce lanes available to cars to help achieve pedestrian, transit and public space goals. If that makes finding parking on the commercial corridors or driving from point A to point B a little more difficult/costly so be it.

by Paul S on Dec 31, 2008 4:03 pm • linkreport

"not subsidize"="demonize"?

by tt on Dec 31, 2008 4:10 pm • linkreport

Hillman: That sounds like a great explanation of why this is such a tricky, catch-22 topic. DC is not NYC or Paris. That said, it isn't a suburb either. As the population continues to grow so must the availability of transit. The car option, simply put, is the least sustainable option for a major urban area like this. In order to continue to grow, DC needs to put people with the transit-first mentality in positions of power within agencies such as DDOT. If the rest of Klein's resume matches what we know of him so far, I say good pick.

The issues you present stem from the District's lack of available transit (in NE, as you mention, it is particularly problematic), not from the increased availability of it. Poor bus timing, long distances to metro, crummy cabs, etc, will not be solved by increasing the convenience of driving. Such would decrease transit demand, thus decreasing transit funding, thus decreasing transit service and therefore creating more demand to drive. This isn't sustainable in an urban or - as we are learning - even in a suburban area. As it stands, however, we are transitioning to a more transit-oriented city in a rather balanced way, accommodating those that do need cars from time to time while pushing access to and funding for transit.

I have to strongly disagree with your depiction of the topics on this website as being mostly about the "evils of cars." I think the author has a lot of reasonable ideas that would make this city much more accessible, livable and sustainable. I also think the author does a great job of presenting these ideas in a pro-transit/urban-friendly way rather than an anti-car way. The catch-22 to of it all is that increasing access and availability to mass transit comes at a cost to the car-friendliness of the city, and vis-versa. In advocating for one side of this debate, it only makes sense to note the negatives of the opposite side.

As for the dopey hipsters, they would likely be jerks if they were in a car themselves. That they chose to be so while on foot shouldn't make them spokespersons for the transit movement in this city. Think of all the other pro-transit folks you likely drove by that evening who said nothing to you at all. No matter the debate, the shrill voices are always hard to ignore. It is important that we all reach our conclusions regarding complex policy matters despite the shrill voices, not in spite of them. I find it more constructive to listen to the reasonable voices. DA, keep up the great pro-transit work in '09.

by Jimmy D on Dec 31, 2008 4:36 pm • linkreport

"As the population continues to grow so must the availability of transit. The car option, simply put, is the least sustainable option for a major urban area like this."

I agree. But I keep pointing out that the trend in governing and transit is CUTTING. Everyday, more and more transit service is cut.

Before we do away with things that make owning a car somewhat do-able, we should be INCREASING not decreasing transit. But if we pay attention, we will see transit is in fact being cut, everyday.

So you can talk about sustainability and cars all you want, but until there is a service in place that is just as reliable, people won't be persuaded.

by Jazzy on Dec 31, 2008 4:48 pm • linkreport

The catch-22 to of it all is that increasing access and availability to mass transit comes at a cost to the car-friendliness of the city, and vis-versa.

This is the kind of "zero-sum-game"/defeatism thinking that gets us in trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth. It isn't a "one or the other" choice.

As even David has alluded to in his posts many times, that which is good for the non-motorists types can also be good for the motorists among us ... and vice versa. A good example of that is performance parking (or variations thereof) which ensure the public space known as our curbside areas get shared equitably by those going about their business in the public streets ... and doesn't get monopolized by those who could/should be making longterm parking arrangements outside of the public realm. Likewise, in my opinion, though not David's, sufficient off-street (preferably underground) parking ensures that cars can be stored safely and affordably outside the public realm when not in use by people going about their business. Also, good and sufficient mass transit for routes that enough people use on a frequent basis (such as going from residential centers to employment centers) is good for everyone including the motorist who doesn't have a defined and regular 'commute' and must depend on roadways.

The bottom line is that this is the 21st century and while the 19th century worked better in some ways when everyone was within walking/mass transiting distance of everything they needed, the 20th century worked better in other aspects such as allowing a population growth that added something like 100 million people (to an existing 200 million people) in something like a 60 year period. The objective for the 21st century shouldn't be to go back to the 19th century and do away with the transporation and way of life improvements we enjoyed with the 20th century, but instead working to meld the best of both in order to have an overall much better century. One doesn't throw the baby out with the bath water ...

by Lance on Dec 31, 2008 5:05 pm • linkreport

No it's not a zero-sum game, but it certainly is a matter of priorities.

by BeyondDC on Dec 31, 2008 5:34 pm • linkreport

Paul (and others):

I appreciate your response. I too would love for DC to be more transit-friendly. But it ain't. And like it or not, it ain't going to be for the foreseeable future.

The biggest problem is crime. Say what we want, even a three block walk in most of DC is a dangerous proposition. We can multiple our transit projects a dozen-fold and that won't change.

One huge step in the right direction would be to treat our cab fleet as an integral part of public transit, not a make-work program for people with limited job skills.

We should follow the NYC model, with much more stringent requirements for cab safety and modernity, the ability to take credit cards, encouragement of hybrids/electrics, etc.

But we have taken exactly the opposite tack. The DC Taxicab Commisssion is basically a pimp for the existing cab companies. They've actually gone as far as to suggest that no new cab companies will even be allowed to start up in DC. That little bit of protectionism pretty much guarantees that we have the existing substandard fleet forever.

In a big way cabs are the missing link, at least until we can conquer our public safety and lack of transit options.

I do know that not all public transit advocates are anti-car jerks. In fact, I'd argue I'm actually quite pro public transit.

But like it or not the public transit folks in DC are getting a reputation for being pricks.

by Hillman on Dec 31, 2008 6:24 pm • linkreport

You're dead right about the cabs. I avoid them until the absolute point of desperation.

by spookiness on Dec 31, 2008 6:31 pm • linkreport

"Poor bus timing, long distances to metro, crummy cabs, etc, will not be solved by increasing the convenience of driving. Such would decrease transit demand, thus decreasing transit funding,"

But then you are punishing those that must drive because you can't get proper transit options.

I'm not disagreeing with the public policy goals you mention, but so many in the public debate in DC seem to stress 'decreasing the convenience of driving' yet they can't seem to admit we don't actually have legit alternatives in place.

Real cities have learned to accomodate cars even after they've developed much better transit options. They don't think building a parking garage is a moral sin. From the rhetoric in DC, you'd think that building a parking garage is tantamount to genocide or dating your sister.

Punishing drivers without a real alternative seems like just punishing drivers out a sense of elitism and frustration.

by Hillman on Dec 31, 2008 6:32 pm • linkreport

Well, I wish those pricks would actually improve transit. I care less about their personalities than I do their results, and so far, they are not all that impressive.

"Say what we want, even a three block walk in most of DC is a dangerous proposition."

Sorry, but this makes no sense to me. (Didn't DC just get named the most walkable city in the country?)

Taxi cabs - I bet that most of us thought the fare system would never change, but then it did.

by Jazzy on Dec 31, 2008 6:34 pm • linkreport

Yes, parts of DC are quite walkable. Portions of Georgetown (albeit no metro), parts of Capitol Hill, parts of Dupont.

But geographically most of the city simply is not, both because the closest amenity is ten blocks away (sometimes much further) and because of street crime.

Most of NE, SE, and SW have too much crime to be truly walkable.

My NYC friends are constantly astounded by how we just think street crime in DC is the norm.

by Hillman on Dec 31, 2008 7:10 pm • linkreport

While I can't dispute your own personal experience, I think that the crime statistics have really changed this decade.

Much of DC has really changed this decade. It has moved on from the paradigm of the shrinking city reeling from 1968 to a vibrant growing city that is a center of cosmopolitan life in the nation. The political systems and the mindset has not completely adjusted to this new reality and is still in the mode of dealing with the issues of a city that is losing population.

Part of adapting to this new paradigm is embracing a transportation system that has optimal mobility for more people, not fewer people. Cars are great when there's no traffic. Not so much in a growing city with more and more people.

by Cavan on Jan 1, 2009 3:12 am • linkreport

Going back to the original post, I'm thrilled about the prospects of Klein heading up DDOT. When he worked with zipcar he was really pro-active in working with neighborhoods about issues...he even donated zipcars to help with park clean ups. If he does nothing but improve DDOT customer service that will be a huge hurdle, but here's hoping he's able to do more.

As for the other string of posts here, I will just say this. Walkability is subjective. Certainly there are some areas of this town that are unsafe for a variety of reasons (crime, lack of sidewalks, etc.) but overall this is a pretty walkable town if you're willing to actually do it...We're a pretty lazy society and for the most part, walking five blocks isn't going to kill anyone. Now if we can just get DDOT and MPD on board with that.

by Adams Morgan on Jan 1, 2009 10:47 am • linkreport

I think those of you that think crime is under control in DC live in a very specific little bubble of Dupont / Cap Hill / Adams Morgan, etc.

For the rest of the city, that simply ain't the case.

All you need to do is pull up the MPD website stats and see just how much crime there is out there.

Yes, it's better than it was. But that ain't saying much. By comparison, our street crime is far worse than NYC.

by Hillman on Jan 1, 2009 12:09 pm • linkreport

Hillman, as a friend of mine was recently murdered in Adams Morgan, I wouldn't say that I live in a bubble...

by Adams Morgan on Jan 1, 2009 12:16 pm • linkreport

I agree that crime is still high in many parts of the city. I don't begrudge anyone for not wanting to walk far at night in an at risk neighborhood. But, let's recognize that one of the policy tools to improving crime in a neighborhood is to increase pedestrian activity and create more eyes on the street. We should be encouraging pedestrian activity around areas like H Street NE. Hipsters, while condescending at times (LOL), actually are good for eyes on the streets in your 'hood =)

by Paul S on Jan 1, 2009 12:20 pm • linkreport

Hillman, as a homeowner who lives in Southwest (across the street from where a neighborhood man was recently beaten to death by a pack of thugs), I won't dispute that there's too much crime in this neighborhood, but I don't agree that it makes the neighborhood unwalkable. It's a very walkable neighborhood with a crime problem; it isn't some kind of Brazilian urban dystopia where outside of a handful of fortified developments with their own private armies you don't dare to leave the safety of an armored vehicle with its own cordon of bodyguards.

by cminus on Jan 1, 2009 2:56 pm • linkreport

Paul:

You raise a valid point about the unspoken value of hipsters. I never really thought of it that way.

As for crime, I guess I'm just getting older and can't help but compare DC to other cities, where you can walk the streets with a reasonable feeling of safety.

AdamsMorgan, I am sorry to hear about your friend.

by Hillman on Jan 1, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

Gabe Klein is an exciting choice to build on the good bones of this city.

What's amazing about DC is how many people ride transit, walk to work and dont own cars. This means that we have a great start and our city could be a whole lot better if we paid more attention to it - providing better bus service, better cab service, more Zipcars, safer walking & biking conditions. If we built more affordable housing & better quality local-serving retail around Metro stations & along transit corridors, people could save money by owning fewer cars and still have great access to jobs and services.

Check out DC's commute and car ownership statistics here: http://www.smartergrowth.net/anx/index.cfm/3,175,567/dccarfacts.pdf

Did you know that nearly half of the households of Ward 2 (Georgetown-Dupont-Downtown), Ward 1 (Shaw-Adams Morgan Columbia Heights), and Ward 8 (Anacostia-Congress Heights) dont own cars (per 2000 Census)? 38% of Logan Circle residents walk to work. Overall, only Boston has more workers who commute by walking.

by Cheryl Cort on Jan 1, 2009 4:00 pm • linkreport

I think maybe some of the people posting about the negative issues in DC are missing the point of this blog. GGW is all about creating the future of this city.

Yes, we all know DC right now isn't a world-class city like Paris. But where do we go from here? Do we just look what's happening now and say forget about the long-term?

DC is growing, and probably will continue to for a very long time. The truth is DC cannot support even half of its future residents to live auto-dependent lifestyles. There just isn't enough room on the road.

No one on this blog is expecting anyone to walk 10 blocks to the nearest grocery or hardware store. If you live that far from amenities and/or quality transit service, you live in an auto-dependent neighborhood.

The majority of DC residents in the future will be in the urban center, in neighborhoods like Shaw, NoMa, Mount Vernon Triangle, Ballpark District, Southwest Waterfront, Foggy Bottom, Penn Quarter, Poplar Point, U Street and Logan Circle and then in the "centers" of outer neighborhoods like Petworth, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Brookland, Fort Totten and along H Street NE. That's just where the vertical growth is going. That's the future.

So how do we make the urban walking, metro-riding, cycling lifestyles possible and more convenient for this future so that DC is more livable?

I hope to see progress made with Mr. Klein.

by Justin on Jan 1, 2009 5:42 pm • linkreport

I actually think DC is a world-class city like Paris. And it's odd that Hillman thinks DC is unwalkable, when clearly so many people do walk. Walkscore named us the 7th most walkable city in the US.

Hillman, maybe those hipsters yelled at you because you running around calling people "little shits", "pricks" and "pimps". It's not so endearing. And instead of telling me to pull up MPD statistics, why don't you do your own research and then tell us what you find?

by David C on Jan 1, 2009 9:12 pm • linkreport

I'm honored that the Mayor chose the guy who signed David's petition right after me as the new Head DDOT Dood (his current private sector title is "Head Dood;" I love it). Interesting podcast with Klein at http://theleadersspot.com/archives/404 . He talks a little about his experience with, and ideas for improving, DC government near the end.

The Mayor has made a bold, risky choice of a bold, colorful guy. Here's hoping for transformational leadership at DDOT.

by Jonathan Bender on Jan 2, 2009 1:02 am • linkreport

"Hillman, maybe those hipsters yelled at you because you running around calling people "little shits", "pricks" and "pimps"."

I've never, not even once, heard of someone in a car yelling at pedestrians for walking or metro riders for riding.

But it's pretty routine for anti-car hipsters to aggressively challenge people in cars, as was the case in the incident I mentioned. I didn't know those people. They didn't know me. They simply saw me in a car and decided to be aggressive and nasty.

And, um, exactly what independent research do you suggest I do, above and beyond MPD stats, FBI stats, etc., before I determine that DC is a high crime city?

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 8:21 am • linkreport

"No one on this blog is expecting anyone to walk 10 blocks to the nearest grocery or hardware store."

I suspect you may be surprised to find just how many in DC do in fact expect exactly that.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 8:26 am • linkreport

@Jonathan Bender - Thanks for the audio link! I'm really inspired by this bold choice. My gut says that he could be really transformational but it also bets Gabe is pursuing another venture in 3 years. It just sounds like entrepreneurism and looking for the next challenge is in his DNA. Still, I'll gladly take a few years of an sharp outside the box thinker over an old school traffic engineer...

by Paul S on Jan 2, 2009 8:51 am • linkreport

"No one on this blog is expecting anyone to walk 10 blocks to the nearest grocery or hardware store."

I suspect you may be surprised to find just how many in DC do in fact expect exactly that.
I'm not very concerned if you drive, bus or walk that 10 blocks. It is completely up to you. I just don't think we need to subsidize a large parking garage for you if you want to drive. Especially in the case of new grocery stores - let the retailer build the parking and determine the pricing for it.

by Paul S on Jan 2, 2009 9:03 am • linkreport

"DC is growing, and probably will continue to for a very long time. The truth is DC cannot support even half of its future residents to live auto-dependent lifestyles. There just isn't enough room on the road."

DC used to have 300,000 more residents than we have now.

Of course, we used to have streetcars. But our bus system pretty much replaced that.

The difference? I hate to sound like a broken record, but we didn't have the crime that we have now.

Fix the crime and you go a long way toward a less car-dependent city.

I don't claim to be a transit expert, but I can tell you that many in DC will simply never give up their cars in today's unsafe street environment.

More immediate fixes? Zipcar is a terrific program and should be encouraged on a much larger scale, including providing more on-street Zipcar spaces.

Raise the cost of parking meters, dramatically. Here on the Hill many meter spaces are taken up all day by store / restaurant employees, pretty much defeating the purpose of having meters. Yes, the new parking system in place does help, but people still circumvent that just like they do the old style meters.

And designate one side of every street as resident-only parking, every day all day. Enough of this stupidity of allowing 2 hours for commuters, etc. It's ridiculously abused and very hard to enforce.

As for mass transit, the return of light rail / street cars seems to hold probably the most promise.

Last, reform the cab industry. It isn't a make-work program. It's an integral part of the public transit system. Adopt the NYC standards, and allow new cab companies that are run professionally to come into the city. Currently the DC Taxicab Commisssion has adopted a monopolistic policy that stops new cab companies from opening in DC, pretty much guaranteeing us a substandard cab fleet forever.

Many of these fixes (with the exception of actually buildintg light rail) are cheap. In fact, they aren't even revenue-neutral. They would actually enhance DC tax revenue.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 9:06 am • linkreport

An inspired choice, and I hope we all give him a decent honeymoon.

The District has chosen to make DDOT somewhat of a Potemkin agency - with few actual workers and projects bid out to private firms. It's a great way to save time and get rid of the dead wood that accompanies civil service. But there are enormous problems with follow-up. Projects get 95% done, and the last 5% is never completed.

And there is a lack of continuity. The firm that bids the 17th Street streetscape isn't necessarily the firm that wins the 18th Street project, so you get different signage, materials, and no continuity from one block to another. As Michael Beidler pointed out, every time we do a Streetscape in our neighborhood, we seem to have to reinvent the wheel.

We've seen examples of this in recent months on P Street and in East Dupont.

If Gabe is able to get DDOT officials and contractors to talk to each other and work together, it will be progress enough for me. And if he gets them to do that and work with the community, that will be a small miracle.

Of course, I also expect him to work to make the city more walkable, more mass transit friendly, and less dependent on cars. But not to the point of penalizing car owners. Economics and the availability of attractive choices are the two best arguments for not having a car. If safe, reliable mass transit and walkable neighborhoods become a reality, fewer people will choose to own their own cars.

by Mike Silverstein on Jan 2, 2009 9:54 am • linkreport

I was going to stay out of this discussion but this quote finally baited me:

"I've never, not even once, heard of someone in a car yelling at pedestrians for walking"

A horn is a lot louder than a yell. Moreover, a steel cage rolling down the road at 40 miles-an-hour is way more intimidating than a yell. Both those things have been directed at me plenty of times for simply walking within my rights.

Failing to continue coddling those that choose to drive does not equal demonization. Expecting people to bear the full societal costs for their choices and to act commensurate with the risk they place their fellow citizens in is called having a rational and equitable transportation policy.

by Reid on Jan 2, 2009 10:11 am • linkreport

Crime is certainly an issue, though not nearly as bad as it used to be. For example, the murder rate has now dropped to one-third of what was in 1990.

Yes, the population was at one point about 300k people more than it is today. That was in 1950. Not surprisingly, the crime rate was much lower back in the 50s, as it was everywhere in the US.

The number of cars per household back then was also nothing compared to today (where they actually outnumber people per household, oddly enough). Same goes for the number of commuters coming into the District. While the population was around 800k in the District in the 1950s, during the work weeks today the population jumps from about 600k to well over a million.

With the increase in car ownership, the boom in demand and supply of suburban housing, and, to cap it off, the MLK assassination and subsequent riots, DC lost a lot of middle class people and the crime rate increased. Also not too surprising. Fortunately for us, things are finally cooling off. Crime has been relatively static for a fews years after that big drop following the crack epidemic. Things have and will continue to change in this city. I expect the same to be true of transit. As the tax base and population grow in the city, I expect the availability of mass transit to grow as well. As a commenter above noted more succinctly, it is a matter of priority to put transit above car-friendliness. I am all for it.

Again, as for the pedestrians shouting at drivers, I don't see what it adds to the debate. While in your car you may not have noticed the many motorists honking at pedestrians - and sometimes (Bob Novak) hitting them - in crosswalks and other places pedestrians have the right-of-way. We could go back and forth about which side is more obnoxious in our own personal experiences. To claim that it is only pedestrians adding fuel to the animosity suggests you are wearing blinders behind the wheel.

by Jimmy D on Jan 2, 2009 10:15 am • linkreport

Hillman: "And, um, exactly what independent research do you suggest I do, above and beyond MPD stats, FBI stats, etc., before I determine that DC is a high crime city?"

First of all you would need to define "high crime city." The MPD stats would only show me that there is crime. It would not show me that this crime is "high" or "low". For that I would need to compare it to other cities and need an understanding of how that information was gathered etc...

But, that wasn't your claim. So as a former science teacher I will gladly help you learn how to do science (since I think that effectively using the scientific method is one of the 3 or 4 most important things a student should learn).

You've asked the question "Why isn't DC truly walkable?" (actually you never did, but you have an answer, so I assume there was a question). The question, in my opinion is flawed because I think DC is truly walkable but you don't - you should probably define "truly walkable" but I don't want to put words in your mouth. You've done some observation and possibly some research and now you have your hypothesis.

"DC isn't truly walkable because it has too much crime."

Not a bad hypothesis, and one others might agree with - though there is nothing on the MPD website that will back this up. So, now you have to test it. I can think of two ways.

One, gather a great deal of data about walking on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis - and use that to give each neighborhood a walkscore (and not just in DC either). How many people walk? What demographic groups? What times? How far? etc... And then correlate that with crime in those neighborhoods. If your hypothesis is correct you'll see low walkscore where you have high crime. Of course this won't prove anything - correlation does not equal causation. Maybe, as theorized above, walkability drives away crime. Maybe socio-economic factors result in both high crime or low walkability. Nonetheless, you could point to it as a supporting fact.

I'm not sure what you'd get. Some suburban neighborhoods would have no crime and abysmal walk scores. Some urban neighborhoods would have high crime and lots of walking. So it would be interesting.

Another method of testing your hypothesis is to do a double-blind survey of people in which you ask them the reasons they don't walk to transit. That would be a better test, except that people often lie in surveys both to the interviewer and themselves.

Then you could look at your data, draw conclusions and come back here to report your results. If you really wanted to get your science going, you're conclusions would lead to more questions and the whole process could start again.

But what you've done is not given us facts. You given us your opinion stated as fact. Not the same.

If you use the scientific method more you won't say odd things like

"The biggest problem is crime. Say what we want, even a three block walk in most of DC is a dangerous proposition. We can multiple our transit projects a dozen-fold and that won't change.

One huge step in the right direction would be to treat our cab fleet as an integral part of public transit"

Really, crime is the biggest problem and your solution is to change the way we manage cabs?

by David C on Jan 2, 2009 10:29 am • linkreport

Hillman,

With all due respect, I understand that not everyone can live car-free. And I do not expect them to. But please don't tell me that what I do every day of my life (walking and taking transit for 99% of my trips) is impossible in DC. Trust me, it's very possible. It might not be for everyone, but it is certainly possible. As for crime, what decade are you living in? Yes DC has a lot crime, but it's not like I fear venturing outside my house because every time I do so I am certain to attacked or robbed, which is what you seem to think happens to anyone foolish enough to venture outside without a car. (Lest you accuse me of living in a bubble, I live in NE and do most of my errands and shopping there and in SE.) Let's look at some numbers. Let's say I take two walking trips a day (it's usually many more, but I will be conservative). Multiply that by 365 and we have 730 walking trips. Multiply that by 15 and we have 10,950. So over the course of my life in DC, I have taken 10,950 walks. In those 10,950 walks, I have encountered trouble twice. Not bad. Some might say even twice is too many times, but still, that hardly seems the picture of constant and terrible danger. But to hear you tell it, DC is a war zone where only the foolish leave their homes without the protection of a car. Giver me a break!

by rg on Jan 2, 2009 10:49 am • linkreport

I have stayed out of this thread about DC crime because I don't live in the District. I do have many friend who do though, and have never refused to walk from the Metro to their house because of fear of crime. However, I do live in a walkable enclave in Montgomery County that has Metro access. My town also has a reputation in our county for being dangerous. You read stories about crime in the paper. Yet, there are always people walking around on the sidewalks. Somehow life doesn't stand still. Those who choose to drive everywhere do so because of preference or habit. My roommate drives everywhere. He does it because his work pays for his car expenses. It's also his habit. It just doesn't occur to him to take the Metro. He goes all over our town though and never worries about crime. Crime is news because it is rare.

The idea that crime is more prevailant in urban areas was part of the marketing of suburbia back in the mid-20th century. It was tied to fear of "other" people. It was tied to "escape" or something. If you look at statistics, you'll probably fine that crime rates in car-dependent and walkable places are similar, if controlled for socio-economic status. This might have been different in different decades, for instance in the 1980's at the height of the crack epidemic. However, if averaged out across the six decades or so we've had both walkable urban places and car-dependent places, I'd bet we'd see similar crime rates nationwide in both kinds of places when controlled for socio-economic status.

Now, it's impossible for me to back that up with numbers. No one keeps crime statistics according to infrastructural categories. Within jurisdictions such as DC, Arlington, Prince George's, Montgomery, or Alexandria, there are both walkable urban and car-dependent places. It would be incredibly time consuming to prepare the data to match a crime with infrastructural setting. As far as I know, no one does that.

by Cavan on Jan 2, 2009 11:24 am • linkreport

Hillman says "Like it or not, DC ain't NYC or Paris. We have public transit, but for many it simply can't replace a vehicle for all uses."

So, from your way thinking, DC residents should not aspire and work towards building more public transit options in this city because "DC ain't NYC or Paris"?

I don't admire your way of thinking at all. In fact, I think it's exactly the way of thinking that holds this city back in many ways.

If we had more transit options running at a higher frequency, then more people would have the option to leave their cars behind.

This is not and should not be a zero-sum scenario of the car vs. mass transit.

As commenter Justin has stated, this blog is about creating the future of this city - a better future. We should not be limiting our future.

And, Happy New Year!

by otavio on Jan 2, 2009 11:32 am • linkreport

I will keep my thoughts to myself on this broad issue (it's my self-appointed role to always stake out harder core less compromising positions), but agree with both the proponents of walkability as well as the proponents of concerns about safety.

But crime is hardly a DC phenomenon:

http://www.gazette.net/stories/12242008/rocknew215218_32490.shtml

It's much better here than it was 20 and 10 years ago.

Even so, it's not so much better that we can rest on our laurels.

And many people "haven't signed up" for living in the city with a deep understanding of what that commitment entails. For example, read this in _DC North_, the first entry on crime in Petworth, and people deciding to bail because of an increase in shootings:

http://www.capitalcommunitynews.com/publications/dcnorth/2008_December/html/WardReports1208.cfm

Still, it's hard for me to take all the complaints about how bad things are today seriously, because I moved to the city at the beginning of the crack epidemic, and remember the 30 people murdered within 18 months a few blocks from my house in 1987-1988.

But that doesn't mean that just because things are better now that there isn't tremendous room for improvement. And I write about how we should go about doing that from time to time in my own blog.

by Richard Layman on Jan 2, 2009 12:11 pm • linkreport

"If we had more transit options running at a higher frequency, then more people would have the option to leave their cars behind.

This is not and should not be a zero-sum scenario of the car vs. mass transit. "

You are absolutely right.

And I'm all for mass transit. But it simply won't replace the need for cars. And many in the pro-transit world in DC seem to think it will.

I'm more than happy to share public resources to go toward mass transit. For instance, I wish Amtrak budgets would be quadrupled or more.

And I completely understand that car usage has been subsidized, primarily through the building of roads.

But, really, so is Metro. And Amtrak. And bus service. And so on.

The two are going to have to work together. Sometimes it makes sense to encourage mass transit. Sometimes, though, we need to realize that we aren't there yet, and won't be for decades, and we need to fess up to that and plan accordingly.

That's really my only point.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 12:51 pm • linkreport

"A horn is a lot louder than a yell. Moreover, a steel cage rolling down the road at 40 miles-an-hour is way more intimidating than a yell. Both those things have been directed at me plenty of times for simply walking within my rights."

I walk DC streets every day. I rarely if ever get honked at as I'm walking along. Even when I jaywalk.

Perhaps your experience has been different.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 12:53 pm • linkreport

"So, from your way thinking, DC residents should not aspire and work towards building more public transit options in this city because "DC ain't NYC or Paris"?"

I never suggested that. Quite the contrary.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 12:55 pm • linkreport

"It might not be for everyone, but it is certainly possible."

Yet the rhetoric and planning for transit assumes it's possible for everyone.

"As for crime, what decade are you living in? "

The one where my friend was recently mugged coming from, yes, Eastern Market metro.

The one where there was a mugging two blocks from my house last week.

Our robbery rates are double those of NY, and our aggravated assault rates are triple. And a lot of DC residents simply don't bother to report crimes unless they actually get hurt or see a gun, since we've gotten used to having a nonresponsive police department.

Yes, that's changing, but not for everyone in all parts of the city.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 1:10 pm • linkreport

Hillman,

There's a crucial difference between pointing out the evils that cars cause, both in terms of intended and unintended consequences, and in saying 'cars are evil.' This blog has a lot of the former that many confuse (either accidentally or purposefully) as the latter.

You bring up some good points, but aside from some anecdotal evidence, they don't address the major problems that planning for automobility above all else causes.

by Alex B. on Jan 2, 2009 1:18 pm • linkreport

I am disturbed by how many armchair transportation experts and transportation professionals posting on this blog do not seem to understand the transportation needs of residents outside their own small demographic. DC has a diverse population with varying needs and varying physical abilities, many of whom rely on public transportation for a large portion of their transportation needs, but given their responsibilities, physical abilities and circumstances also rely on cars for some of their needs.

While crime is one factor that might limit the ability to walk for certain tasks, and potential for crime is perceived differently based on past experience, physical ability or perceived vulnerability (such as the need to travel with young children, use a cane or carry expensive-looking purchases), there are many other factors that affect the ability to live car-free. It seems that many posting here think that there is no room for those individuals near Metro stations, unless, like David, they have the financial means to afford a house, a car and off-street parking near a Metro station in an neighborhood which is protected from the recommended zoning changes. Instead, we should have transform all the other neighborhoods near Metro to high density housing, sell off the playgrounds to build condominiums, and line the streets with the type of retail favored by this particular group. That seems to be the operative definition here for “walkability.” To the current residents, who might disagree, you simply tell them to move to Herndon if they or their spouse has a job which isn’t Metro accessible, or if they need to use a car to buy groceries for the family or to purchase materials for home repairs, if they think their children should have a playground at the elementary school, if they are elderly or disabled or if they have friends or relatives that they cannot easily visit using public transportation.

To compound the contradictions, some of these “experts” have idiosyncratic trips or commutes, and seem to think that the mass transit system should be altered so that they can have frequent, direct and convenient service on these particular routes, not quite grasping the fact that mass transit is effective for routes that serve many people, and that bicycles, cars and taxis are necessary for the more idiosyncratic routes.

by JW on Jan 2, 2009 4:08 pm • linkreport

JW, walkability is defined by the infrastructure.

A walkable layout has a connected street grid with blocks less than 1/4 mile. A walkable layout does not have huge surface parking lots separating everything. A walkable layout is built at the human scale, not the automobile scale. Walkable places are better when connected by a train so that excess surface parking is not required and people are not dependent on their cars for survival.

Building things at the automobile scale for the automobile decreases walkability. If you build for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. One should not build for cars and traffic. It's too expensive on society. When a society builds for cars and traffic, those who don't drive end up subsidizing those who do. It's both expensive and unfair.

One reason why so many of us advocate for building walkable places in transit-rich environment is so that no one has to deal with the situation you described is not so dire. I'm not against using cars for things like hauling stuff. I'm against building our human settlements in such a way that you are required to turn the key in order to go to the bathroom. Cars should be guests in human places, not humans guests in car places.

I don't know what mental image you have of "walkability" but it's about the form: built for people rather than cars. It's that simple. No need to attack someone because of the section of town where they reside.

by Cavan on Jan 2, 2009 4:23 pm • linkreport

JW: We must be reading different websites. I disagree with your generalizations about the commenters here. Most appear rather thoughtful and deferential to the possibility that they can only speak from their own experiences.

One point of advice: Beginning a comment by insulting others via the use of name-calling and mockery is highly ineffective if your goal is to persuade them to buy into your point. It might work for bullies in face-to-face situations, but the internet has a way of taking the intimidation factor out of words. However, as a reader of your post such was a nice warning to the effect of "take what I say with many grains of salt" - so thanks for that.

by Jimmy D on Jan 2, 2009 4:30 pm • linkreport

I think some readers think this blog is anti-car. I don't see it that way. I see it as against a system that holds the car above all other transportation systems or a system that relies exclusively on cars, or a system that subsidizes cars above other transportation systems.

But anti-car? No. Performance parking is not anti-car. Supporting car sharing (which can meet most of the occasional needs JW mentions) is not anti-car. Being pro car-free living is not anti-car. And this isn't really a car-free blog. It is an anti free car blog. If people want to own a car - and regardless of your problems it remains a choice - that's fine, but they should be expected to pay their way.

I fail to see what in this blog is anti-car.

by David C on Jan 2, 2009 4:36 pm • linkreport

@JW - how many discussions on this site involve redeveloping playgrounds at open schools? The fact that you used the word "playground" twice suggests you think that is a big focus of GGW. I can think of a closed school (Hine) we've discussed. For active schools, Janney Library project which, depending on the characterization may reduce some open space, but overall is aimed at improving the school facility and campus. Generally much of the open space being discussed for development is currently fenced off (McMillan Sand Filtration) or underutilized green space and parking lots around metro not softball fields and see-saws.

Adding mixed income density around commercial corridors and transit hubs is a great way to increase the tax base, private investment, and safety via 'eyes on the streets'. It's a proven revitalization formula in D.C. If you disagree with this approach what revitalization alternatives do you propose? I hope your solutions don't merely spend without raising revenue.

by Paul S on Jan 2, 2009 5:17 pm • linkreport

I don't understand how making negative comments about this blog, the people who read it, and the people who think DC should be changed for the better has a place here.

JW: "Instead, we should... sell off the playgrounds to build condominiums, and line the streets with the type of retail favored by this particular group."

What? How often are there posts on here about creating MORE public space... where is conversation about selling off playgrounds??

It just seems like a few people are coming to this blog will a stereotype already in their minds of a big group of young, know-it-all, bike riding, hipsters clamoring about how "cars are evil man!".

You have the right to think whatever you want but can you just stick to the topic of the actual post??

by Justin on Jan 2, 2009 5:28 pm • linkreport

So JW seems to be one of those tenleytown advocates who on the one hand says "no" to transit oriented development, but then says "we have traffic and parking issues and need public parking garages".

@JW, don't you understand, the idea is to improve infrastructure so there won't be more auto traffic, or at least try to limit the proportion of auto dependency as it correlates to expected population growth, not only in the city, but across the region.

Until the vested long-term residents of places like Brookland, Tenleytown and Friendship Heights understand this, we can expect more of the same mis-characterizations and stereotypes from the old guard, who, quite frankly, won't be around the suffer the fate they are trying to foist on us. (see bailout, federal as a fair comparison)

by William on Jan 2, 2009 6:03 pm • linkreport

The Google Streetview below is near Fort Totten Metro:


View Larger Map

That is an example of what the GGW community would love to see developed - not school playgrounds. In this case Lowe Enterprises will develop some under utilized public land near this KFC and Suntrust branch will be developed to stimulate further growth at this area to stimulate TOD. What about this don't you like JW? And as I mentioned in my previous comment what alternatives do you propose for smart growth that increases the tax base and revitalizes neighborhoods?

by Paul S on Jan 2, 2009 6:15 pm • linkreport

"You bring up some good points, but aside from some anecdotal evidence, they don't address the major problems that planning for automobility above all else causes."

I never advocated planning for automobiles above all else. I've posted repeatedly that we should certainly move toward more use of mass transit.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 6:24 pm • linkreport

"If people want to own a car - and regardless of your problems it remains a choice - that's fine, but they should be expected to pay their way."

Isn't that what my vehicle registration tax is for?

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 6:29 pm • linkreport

"When a society builds for cars and traffic, those who don't drive end up subsidizing those who do. It's both expensive and unfair."

Doesn't the federal highway fund, paid for primarily from gas taxes, pay for a ton of mass transit projects?

And what do all those car taxes pay for?

And is there a single transit system in the US that isn't subsidized? Certainly not Metro.

I'm not arguing against Metro or transit because it's subsidized. It's a necessary thing, much like sewer infrastructure. Or road infrastructure.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 7:16 pm • linkreport

That gas taxes pay for roads is a well discredited assertion. For example

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008264.html

Nor do car taxes plus gas taxes pay for roads. So, car infrastructure is subsidized as is transit, bikes, walking, flying etc...as you state. But it is starting to appear that cars are subsidized MORE than other forms (if gas taxes only pay 16% of the road - and that doesn't add in parking requirements, free on street parking, pollution, law enforcement and other costs/externalities - then it's not doing any better than Metro.)

by David C on Jan 2, 2009 7:25 pm • linkreport

David:

That's a fairly selective example you cite there. It's one stretch of highway, out of the thousands out there.

A few quick Google searches would show that generally the Highway Fund pays for about half of the cost of federally-funded highways (which most are).

And the fund pays for billions in mass transit construction and maintenance.

I'll admit I'm not an expert on the funding percentages and such.

I'm not arguing that cars aren't subsidized. I'm just saying that so is mass transit.

So the argument that car owners are somehow getting a free ride paid for by mass transit users while the reverse is not true is simply not a supportable argument.

by Hillman on Jan 2, 2009 7:51 pm • linkreport

David C, You have called the roads "car infrastructure," but I wonder whether you grow all your own food, or if perhaps you buy groceries, eat in restaurants or even purchase any other goods. Maybe you never ride on a bus and you take the Metro out to a farm or grow your own food, but if not, the trucks that bring the food to our region and then your local grocery or restaurant are using the "car infrastructure." There was a recent New York Times article that looked into a related issue of the associated environmental impact.

The roads are not just a "car infrastructure" but are also an important part of the delivery system for our food and other goods that city residents consume every day.

by Andy on Jan 2, 2009 7:58 pm • linkreport

It won’t surprise regular readers to hear that I find myself agreeing with the spirit of a lot of what JW says. The fact that so far, no one has in any significant, realistic way acknowledged the current trends across the region and the nation to CUT transit and talk about how that affects our desire to increase transit leads me to read Justin’s comment “It just seems like a few people are coming to this blog will a stereotype already in their minds of a big group of young, know-it-all, bike riding, hipsters clamoring about how "cars are evil man!" and think to myself, “yep, he’s right!”

From my reading of this blog, in THIS case, there’s no match of dream to reality.

There’s more I could say on what I think is animating JW, but I’ll leave that to another occasion.

PS: The google image timed out on - the one that Paul posted, I think.

by Jazzy on Jan 2, 2009 8:04 pm • linkreport

I don't know if there is an expert on the percentages. I've heard numbers all over the map, so I'll agree to leave it at both are subsidized to some amount. The next question becomes then, what do we want to subsidize? How do we want things to look?

Andy, that the roads are used to transport goods doesn't change that it's car (and truck) infrastructure. Unless all that food is being brought in by bicycle.

by David C on Jan 2, 2009 8:07 pm • linkreport

“who, quite frankly, won't be around the suffer the fate they are trying to foist on us.”

William, I am confused by this reference. Who, precisely, do you assume will not be around to suffer the fate they are trying to foist on us?

There are the developers, who would like to replace our open space and our vibrant, walkable development that evolved over time with high density, cookie-cutter apartments, putting into place precisely the type of urban renewal that Jane Jacobs would condemn, by claiming that this is TOD. We are left with narrow sidewalks (David thinks that 5 feet is appropriate) and streets lined with 10-story buildings where even ornamental trees will die. The developer takes the profits home to the suburbs.

Then there are the students, singles and young couples who rent or purchase the studio or one-bedroom apartments. Do they stick around after they graduate, or after they move on in their careers or private life and find that they need or want more space or that they do not want to live in a neighborhood where the city has sold off much of its public land, where the school has an apartment building on its former property and lacks outdoor place spaces and where the school, community center and library have no room to expand?

There are chain stores on the first floor, at least for the spaces that are occupied, replacing the local businesses that have been lost, since national chains are the leases that developers need in order to get financing.

There are the current staff of the office of the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, who are hell-bent on selling off our public land at fire-sale prices, frequently also providing the developer with future tax incentives or attractive financing, without any consideration as to whether that public land will be needed by future residents or the impact on our bond rating or future tax revenues.

Finally, you seem to imply that the people who won’t be around to “suffer the fate they are trying to foist on us” are precisely those residents who care about the future of their city, who invested decades in their city and their neighborhoods, and seem to be the only ones who are interested in making the city a desirable place to live, now and in the future. Perhaps, you assume that everyone who has an actual stake in the city’s neighborhoods also has one foot in the grave, but unless you totally destroy our neighborhoods by following a naïve application of transit oriented development, those are precisely the residents who will no bail.

by JW on Jan 5, 2009 2:14 pm • linkreport

Um, yeah, so Gabe Klein. That's cool. (Or am I on the wrong post?)

by Steve on Jan 5, 2009 3:06 pm • linkreport

JW, how is developing the South Dakota Ave at Riggs Road intersection (of which there is an embedded Google Map in my previous comment) destroying the neighborhood? Are you that attached to the unused public space, strip mall shopping center and the KFC at those cross streets? I can certainly understand some discomfort with the Janney School in Tenleytown. However broadly characterizing all new TOD and DMPED projects as bad for the communities and not offering any solutions on how to smartly grow the city isn't helping your credibility.

by Paul S on Jan 5, 2009 4:32 pm • linkreport

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