Greater Greater Washington

One City plan sets ambitious goals, and some feebler ones

Mayor Gray released a "One City Action Plan," a year in the making, which lays out goals and objectives for his administration across almost many areas. It pushes for serious and challenging improvements in education, while in other areas such as transportation, it doesn't reach as high.


Photo by clydeorama on Flickr.

Education

Education has always been a top priority for Mayor Gray, and this plan shows it. It sets some ambitious goals, such as:

  • Raise DCPS's 4-year graduation rate from 53% to 75% by 2017
  • Increase reading and math proficiency from 43% of students to 70% by 2017
  • Have 60% of youth get a college degree or an industry certification by 2014 (up from 35% today)

These goals seem lofty, and it's good to set aggressive goals. At companies I've worked, employees and managers regularly set and reviewed goals for each employee and division. The better places pushed everyone to set "stretch goals," ones which take some extra effort to meet. Managers shouldn't expect employees to achieve every piece of every goal; if they do, the goals are probably too conservative. But if they meet none, the goals are too tough or the employee not performing.

With education, no kids should fall short of proficiency or drop out, and almost everyone needs a college degree or vocational certification to get jobs in the modern economy. But we know that not everyone will. Nevertheless, it's critical that leaders aim high and push hard to get there.

The report cites a study by IFF on improving schools, which many, including Steve Glazerman, have criticized as fatally flawed. District education officials can give parents and potential parents the greatest confidence in the schools' future by moving beyond that study soon and finding better metrics for judging the performance of schools.

Transportation

The transportation section lays out some meaningful priorities but also sets a much lower bar. Its objectives:

  • 84 new Capital Bikeshare stations in 2012
  • 5 new miles of bike lanes by 2014
  • Opening the first streetcar line in 2013
These are all extremely important priorities, but they just recite what DDOT is already doing in the short term, not stretch for the future.

Opening the streetcar line is a "stretch goal" on its own for DDOT, since there's still a lot to do to open the line by 2013especially if "opening" the line means having enough cars to run a reasonable headway. Many people, including Councilmember Tommy Wells, fear that they will end up starting up the line with only 3 cars, force riders to wait too long, and give the streetcar an early reputation for uselessness. It would be nice if this goal mentioned the headways.

The other goals are more conservative. The plan notes that there is already federal funding (likely CMAQ) for the 84 CaBi stations, and even counts 37 that DDOT has already put in, meaning there are 47 to go. This is great, and very important, but not news.

Growing bike lane miles from 56 to 61 is also welcome, but not very significant, especially since Gabe Klein's 2010 DDOT Action Agenda set a goal of 80 miles of bike lanes by 2012. The One City plan specifies putting in the L Street cycle track, but why not include its M Street companion, without which we'll only have a one-way cycle track?

The fact that bike lanes are one of 3 transportation goals in the plan shows that they're a priority, and we shouldn't discount the fact that even one mile or a single block can be a lot of work, but if this wants to be an ambitious vision, it needs to aim higher.

The transportation goals are also very short-term. Each looks no farther out than 2014. It would be great to include higher numbers of CaBi stations, bike lane miles, cycletrack miles in particular, and streetcar lines a number of years out into the future. The education section and others set goals for dates like 2017; why not here?

The sutainability plan set a goal for 2032 of having 75% of trips use biking, walking and transit. It's now about half for commuting trips, and likely lower for other trips. To get there will require more aggressive progress on transportation than this plan sets out.

Economic Development

The mayor makes clear in this document his commitment to a technology innovation hub at St. Elizabeths, which we have discussed recently. That could be a real game changer for the District if it can succeed.

The plan isn't as clear on how to attract more technology jobs; it only cites recent efforts to give money to LivingSocial not to leave and to give a tax break to "tech companies." Ken Archer has argued that both miss the point, and won't create enough incentive for the really important jobs that innovate, create new value, and build "knock-on effects" for the long term.

Another good goal is one to reduce DC's dependence on government jobs. Today, 66% of jobs are in the private sector, and the plan targets 68% by 2013 and 70% by 2021. We should also think about what kind of private sector jobs those are. Government contractor jobs are okay, since if the federal government downsizes it will have to hire more contractors, but tracking and growing the percentage of jobs that aren't even in the government ecosystem, outside of defense contracting and lobbying and all of that, is even better.

The plan calls for a new task force to look at ways to streamline regulations and help businesses; this has the potential to do a lot of good if it gets good people who can think comprehensively about the biggest obstacles for businesses.

Housing

One of the relatively few disappointing pieces of the mayor's budget was the way it raided the Housing Production Trust Fund, which funds loans and other programs for building new affordable housing, to pay for Local Rent Supplement, another important program but one which just gives people money to offset rent. The plan reiterates this as if it were a good accomplishment.

A numerical goal calls for 900 new units of affordable housing by 2014, which DC needs. However, the plan also notes that 1,114 units are in the pipeline, which makes it sound like the goal is already probably in the bag, and if not, there's little the DC government can do at this point. This is another place that could use a stretch goal farther out into the future.

The plan calls for growing DC's population by 3%, about on par with the last year. We can compare this to the sustainability plan, which targets 250,000 new residents by 2032. 3% of our current population is about 18,000; add that number each year and we get 960,000, which beats the goal; with compounding, it's even more (1.09 million).

The question, though, is whether we can just add that many new residents each year without other policy changes. There is a lot of developable land in the pipeline, but it's finite. Without zoning changes to add housing opportunities, DC may have a harder time sustaining that growth.

And much more

There are many more goals in the plan, some excellent, some poor, some just vague. It's great that the Gray administration put together this plan, and set some ambitious goals in some very important areas. Just enumerating priorities matters as well, even when the goals are softer, but future plans would do well to set stretch goals and longer-term metrics for all areas.

David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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Too bad Gray won't be around to take credit for any of this.

by monkeyrotica on Jul 26, 2012 12:30 pm • linkreport

The biggest thing that Gray could do to accomplish these goals would be to resign.

by Rob on Jul 26, 2012 12:35 pm • linkreport

Isn't this the sort of thing that should have been in his campaign platform?

by andrew on Jul 26, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

I'd agree that the number of new bike lane miles is far too low. I think we've picked the low-hanging fruit. The people that were going to bike or thought about and and were pretty confident they could are already doing it. It's time to start going after the "interested but concerned" portion of the population (http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/264746). That means more bike lanes to places people need/want to go. That means dedicated space that is protected from motor vehicle traffic. It also means places to lock/store bikes and encouraging businesses to offer showers and lockers for bike commuters. 5 miles of new lanes in two years is a joke.

by thump on Jul 26, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

Space and population growth won't be an issue for awhile. People seem to forget that DC spent half a century hemorraging population and wasn't until 8 years ago that it reversed.

DC's population is ~620K right now. It was 640K in 1980 and 800K in 1950. DC somehow managed to house all those folks without paving over Rockcreek Park, we can manage to do it again.

Gray...man. This guy really just doesn't know when to quit. It is like he is hoping he can create instant legacy for himself in the last couple months he is in office.

In the Post today he single handedly took credit for 17 private development projects totalling over 17 billion dollars in the District. Too bad one of them was the 7 billion dollar Burnam Place development which has been in the Akridge Pipeline and written about ad infinitium for what...a decade now?

Yeah, "good work" Gray.

Rob had it right. The best thing Gray can do for DC now, is quit. Every day he remains in office is a shocking affront to anyone with a pulse.

by Gray on Jul 26, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

Any goals on the subject of corruption?

Oh wait, that would be the easiest to set a big step in...

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

Gray, I doubt DC could easily get to 800k. Household size was much larger back then. In 1950 there were 3.37 people per household in the US. In DC it's now 2.08. So we need like 60% more households to get there. And we simply can't build homes as small as we used to because of housing standards that require things like indoor plumbing. So, things are different now than they were 60 years ago.

by David C on Jul 26, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

@ David C: I doubt DC could easily get to 800k.

Of course it can. There are plenty of cities with a density that is an order of magnitude higher than DC's. Paris and London show that you don't need all skyscrapers for that.

by Jasper on Jul 26, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

Of course it can...

Operative word is "easily". It will take a long time. We have a lot of housing to build.

by David C on Jul 26, 2012 2:11 pm • linkreport

It is like he is hoping he can create instant legacy for himself in the last couple months he is in office.

And what exactly do you want a sitting mayor to do? Not move forward w/any vision until "D Day?" How does that benefit the city. Instead of having these hissy fits each time there is news about Gray (outside of corruption), it might not be a bad idea to "hope" that your city benefits from the plans put into motion. It should be the goal irrespective of who's in office.

In the Post today he single handedly took credit for 17 private development projects totalling over 17 billion dollars in the District.

It's actually rather consistent w/how all pols operate. Education reform wasn't a Fenty idea. Yet, he took (and was given) all the credit. We credit him (and Klein) for bringing streetcars...and it wasn't his idea. Obama takes credit for bringing the economy back from the brink of disaster. Yet, Bush was the one who got the ball rolling. So yes, this happens all the time..not just w/Gray.

Let's open up our eyes people....

by HogWash on Jul 26, 2012 2:33 pm • linkreport

DavidC,

Well, I can't find any Census Data on the District regarding household size before 1970, but then it was 2.72. As of 2010, it was 2.23, about an 18% differntial over 1970.

While I don't know what it was in 1950, we know that urban household size is typically smaller than suburban or rural, especially during that period so I wouldn't expect DC's numbers in the 50's to be anywhere near the US Average during that time.

Also, while the population of DC decreased from this 1970 to 2000 by 24%, the number of housing units increased by 60,000 15%.

While household size is smaller, it has been made up for by a corresponding number of new housing units. You only mention homes, but tens of thousands of new condominium units (hardly any of those in the District in 1950 and they are certainly counted as housing units) and apartments have been constructed in the past 20 years, and as the price of land continues to increase, more and more mutifamily dwellings will continue to be built.

If we keep the same household size as it was in 2010, it would mean we need 89K new housing units to accomodate 800K people. Thats an increase of 30% over the number of housing units in existence today.

It took DC 47 years (from 1965) to build the last 90K housing units, 10% of those were built since 2005.

According to DC Office of Planning there are 12,369 units under construction and another 39,600 units currently in the planning pipeline. Thats over 51K housing units being built or on paper to be built in the next 15 years.

Add in the tens of thousands of housing units to be built in places that historically had none (Walter Reed, McMillian Filtration Site (that aren't represented in the Office of Plannings numbers above) and you can easily get to the required ~90K new households in DC without breaking a sweat.

by Gray on Jul 26, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

Hogwash,

No, it isn't consistant. I don't remember Anthony Williams or Fenty taking credit for 7 billion dollars worth of development that had been on the books for 10 years before they took office. Please show us where they did.

And yes, Fenty can be credited with the DCPS school reform that occurred. He was the first person to hire a chancellor answerable to only himself rather than the entrenched interests of the Board of Education, and gave her carteblanche. There was more "change" in DCPS in 3 years than in total of the 20 prior.

And only daft folks credit Klein with bringing a street car that had been on the books for 8 years before his arrival. I do however give him full credit for completely mussing it up.

What should a sitting mayor who is a hairs breadth away from federal prison do? Step aside and save the city the embarrasment of having to deal with him and his juvenile execution of a mob scale scandal. Anyone with a shred of honor or decency which Gray himself fancys he has, would do it.

by Gray on Jul 26, 2012 2:48 pm • linkreport

Gray,

Our definitions of "without breaking a sweat" differ. For me, completing every unit currently under construction and all the units currently planned for the next 15 years and another 38,000 units that aren't planned would require some sweating. And I'm not even clear that that will enough since many of those units, as you point out, will be condos and apartments which will likely support smaller households than will houses.

[Also home=condo, house, apartment etc.... So when I say homes I mean condos and apartments too.]

by David C on Jul 26, 2012 3:08 pm • linkreport

I don't remember Anthony Williams or Fenty taking credit for 7 billion dollars worth of development that had been on the books for 10 years before they took office.

You also don't remember me saying that they did.

Fenty can be credited with the DCPS school reform that occurred. He was the first person to hire a chancellor answerable to only himself rather than the entrenched interests of the Board of Education, and gave her carteblanche.

And where did Fenty get that idea from? Anthony Williams. In fact, Fenty voted AGAINST giving then Mayor Williams control of DCPS.

There was more "change" in DCPS in 3 years than in total of the 20 prior.

I would argue that there was more "attention" in 3 years than in total of the 20 prior. Rhee continued the long-standing practice of firing teachers and administrators and built upon Janey's master school rehab plan. What she can single-handedly be credited for is the teacher union's contract.

Further, one of the problems w/the Rhee arguments similar to your own is that they totally dismiss any progress/changes made by previous superintendents. It suggest that "Superwoman" came in and "swept the schools" clean all on her own. That misguided belief does not mesh well w/what we know are facts. The pro-Fenty/Rhee argument also (at least 90% of the time) fails to mention that DCPS superintendents have been victim of the revolving door. Kaya Henderson "might" just end up being the longest serving chief in quite a while. Haven't we had @least 4 different chiefs w/in the past 10 ir so years?

by HogWash on Jul 26, 2012 3:19 pm • linkreport

Rhee continued the long-standing practice of firing teachers and administrators and built upon Janey's master school rehab plan. What she can single-handedly be credited for is the teacher union's contract.

Yes. And before that contract, you basically couldn't fire teachers who worked there for more than 3 years. So I wouldn't say they "continued the practice" so much as "they pushed through the one thing that allowed them to start the practice."

by MLD on Jul 26, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

I agree with HogWash - crediting Fenty with improving education without examining the trends is short-sighted. Test scores were improving just as much or more under Rhee's predecessor. Janey was the one who planned many of the school closures that Rhee took heat/got credit for, and he also introduced the Master Education Plan, set tough academic standards, improved text-book tracking (though unlike Rhee, Janey was willing to remain in his position despite the changes in administration).
WRT Fenty, he organized a lot of media events at the schools that were renovated, although the school modernization bill that made that possible passed before he became mayor. I don't think you can attribute the successes behind DC public schools in the last decade to any one person. Politicians just tend to take credit for things they often have had a minimial role in, Gray included.

by DCster on Jul 26, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

you basically couldn't fire teachers who worked there for more than 3 years.

Is this your opinion or a statement of fact? This was an issue heavily debated during the election and from what I recall, what you suggest here was never true. Even my pro-Rhee friend who was a principle in NE said as much.

I don't think you can attribute the successes behind DC public schools in the last decade to any one person.

Agreed x's 10! That was my consistent argument during that time, that people were basing their opinion on school reform and DCPS history on their preference for Michelle Rhee. Most of the time, the facts never added up. Yet, people, otherwise smart and intelligent people, continued to spread misinformation.

by HogWash on Jul 26, 2012 4:06 pm • linkreport

Anyone with a shred of honor or decency which Gray himself fancys he has, would do it

Well it doesn't look like he is. And it's odd that you would root for the city's lockjam while awaiting D-Day.

by HogWash on Jul 26, 2012 4:08 pm • linkreport

@HogWash
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/articles/784/how-to-fire-a-dcps-teacher

A bunch of hoops that a principal had to jump through that would conceivably be possible if the principal's only job was evaluating teachers and they only wanted to ever get rid of a few teachers.

The mere fact that teachers who actually did no teaching in their classrooms were kept in the system and shuffled around from school to school shows that firing them was too difficult.

by MLD on Jul 26, 2012 4:19 pm • linkreport

Let us not forget that then Councilmember Fenty voted to oppose the legislation that gave the Mayor authority over DCPS, only to become the Mayor to hire Rhee.

Please, way too much credit to Fenty.

by William on Jul 26, 2012 4:30 pm • linkreport

While I don't know what it was in 1950, we know that urban household size is typically smaller than suburban or rural, especially during that period so I wouldn't expect DC's numbers in the 50's to be anywhere near the US Average during that time.

It's a fair approximation though; look how Manhattan has a similar 1950 temporary peak in population which was almost half a million more people than live there today. (but which was of course way off the tenament era 1910 peak)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Manhattan_population.png

by Kolohe on Jul 26, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

The mere fact that teachers who actually did no teaching in their classrooms were kept in the system and shuffled around from school to school shows that firing them was too difficult.

That may have some merit. But I don't recall the union contract (which was settled post-firings) changing that as much as creating a chancellor position w/full administrative authority did.

by HogWash on Jul 26, 2012 5:17 pm • linkreport

Some added thoughts about the numbers in 1950. People forget that almost all of downtown was residential. People lived atop shops and other businesses. The idea of commuters coming to work in office-only buildings was just starting to take hold in a big way. As the idea of a central business district took off in the 60s and 70s, we lost all of that housing; and that's not so easily replaceable.

by Adam L on Jul 26, 2012 5:39 pm • linkreport

@Adam L

This is true but there are lots of places in the city we can transform to look more like Dupont or (residential) Adams Morgan where rowhouses are punctuated by apartment buildings. We just have to convince people that this is OK rather than letting everyone shoot projects down with how they don't "fit" the neighborhood, as if the desirable parts of the city have only one building type.

by MLD on Jul 26, 2012 5:45 pm • linkreport

The plan should include 50 new signs on every street identifying exactly where every crosswalk is,, many times over,, and then a few more times.. more speed hums on every street, 6 new traffic lights on each side of every intersection.
Re-time,again and again ,, every traffic light so no car can actually move at all, we can all sit in continuous back ups mouth to tailpipe contracting cancer and emphasema. Let's just sit and idle at all intersections while we suffocate the whole city in exhaust fumes and asbestos brake linings. More stop signs, more bump out curbs blocking lanes of traffic and endangering bicyclists on every street.If we keep the city council in control of our govt. all motor vehicle traffic can come to a halt, pedestrians can be escorted across the street by Mommies, and all the taxi drivers bankrupted and sent back to asia and africa pennyless or in debt. The metro system will be crippled but covered with advertising instead of serving as a transportation system, let's put one million dollars into a metro crash memorial (though a plaque on the trees at Brookland-CUA metro would b fine)Too bad they are all getting cut down to make way for WMATA's development including a McDonalds and Payless shoe where the beautiful grove of those nuisance trees ussed to be. , thanks Mayor Gray,, you covered DC with asphalt while the sewage backed up into my neighbors basement, and called yourself an environmental visionary. time to mow the lawn,, get the gasoline, and mow, mow, mow,,get ot the noisy oluting leaf blower ,so glad it's a "Green City"

by Dan in DC on Jul 28, 2012 2:53 am • linkreport

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