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Klein aims to build DDOT's credibility

On Monday, Gabe Klein will start his new job as Interim Acting (and, soon, permanent) Director of the District Department of Transportation. He has a tough job. DDOT's public image is very poor, and almost everyone, from progressive transportation advocates on Greater Greater Washington to neighborhood activists focused on their corner's traffic light, are all frustrated with DDOT.

Klein's Facebook picture.

We've seen many bad outcomes from DDOT. At the Fort Totten development we discussed yesterday, DDOT's consultants (outside engineers hired by DDOT) refused to design the intersection of Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue to have a crosswalk on all four sides. The 17th Street Streetscape, like many other streetscape projects, shrunk to a less and less exciting form as neighbors complained about individual elements.

At the same time, we've also seen DDOT fight hard for good transportation policies, like holding the line against anti-walkable curb cuts and gas stations. Some of DDOT's planners have designed terrific improvements to our transportation network, like the giant bulb-outs and contraflow bike lanes at 16th and U. Sometimes they make excellent plans which somehow turn into less when the projects reach implementation, like the reconstruction of Florida and Sherman.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Gabe Klein to discuss his ideas for DDOT. Priority one, he said, is to improve DDOT's customer service. That doesn't necessarily mean doing anything a neighbor asks, but it does mean communicating what DDOT is doing. The agency does quite a lot, he said, and most of it professionally and quickly. But we don't know what they do. We also don't know what they plan to do, or when, as there's no public list of upcoming projects more specific than the very high-level, regional TIP.

By all accounts, Klein understands the need for a transportation policy broader than just moving cars. He signed our petition for a visionary leader. "We need next-generation thinking about transit and development as people issues, [not] car issues," he said. "We also need to give safe streets to pedestrians and cyclists if we want to move people from cars to other modes that are healthier for everyone."

But, Klein cautioned, we shouldn't expect him to turn DC's transportation on its head overnight. DDOT probably won't be taking whole lanes of traffic away from major streets within a year, as NYC did on Broadway. First, Klein explained, he and DDOT must build credibility with the public, the DC Council, and the mayor. He must prove that DDOT can carry out its tasks transparently and effectively. Then, it can begin to plan better transportation that benefits us all.

In DC, where many powerful neighborhood groups weigh in on, and in many cases oppose, any change, that thoughtful, consensus-building approach may well be the best route to make real improvements to transportation.

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. 


One correction re the Fort Totten design -- crosswalks exist at all intersections, on all sides, regardless of whether or not DDOT or its contractors mark them and pedestrian right of way is the same regardless of whether a crosswalk is marked (that is, pedestrians have the right of way at all crosswalks as long as they begin crossing with a green light or, if there is no signal, peds always have right of way -- DC Code 50-2201.28.) In effect, by designing an intersection so that pedestrians cannot safely use a crosswalk, DDOT and its contractors are changing the law and burdening pedestrian rights without legal authority to do so. Not that this is surprising -- almost every unmarked crosswalk in my neighborhood is obstructed by parked cars because it would, of course, be unthinkable to do otherwise, and enforcement of pedestrian rights by the police is pathetic generally and non-existent at unmarked crosswalks.

by Eileen on Jan 28, 2009 8:50 pm • linkreport

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