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“Every street’s going to prioritize pedestrians,” says moveDC’s lovely fine print

Livable streets advocates all over the country are buzzing about DC's far-sighted new transportation plan, called moveDC. Yesterday, Streetsblog sat down to interview some of the people responsible for writing and implementing the plan.

The purple lines are cycletracks. MoveDC has 72 miles of them. Image from DDOT.

MoveDC is an ambitious and wide-ranging plan that calls for overhauling streets to improve walking, biking, and transit. If you want to absorb it all, here's the whole, massive document.

I spoke to Matt Brown, the District Department of Transportation's new acting director; Colleen Hawkinson, strategic planning branch manager at DDOT's Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA); and Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of the PPSA.

What's your favorite part of this plan? What do you brag to other cities about and say, "DC's gonna do this and it's gonna be amazing"?

MB: I'm struck by the comprehensive nature of it all. It speaks to new investments, but it also speaks to state of good repair for what we have, and really trying to maximize the road system we have so that it accommodates all choices of travel.

I don't think it's an all-or-nothing plan. I don't think it's: "We have a vision, we need whatever dollars and without that it's going to fail." Certainly there are dollars that are needed to implement, and we can't realize the full capacity of the plan without doing that.

But I think this is a plan for the future of the District, and also for our agency. I mean, there are recommendations in here about how to prioritize sidewalk repairs better. One of the recommendations is to better prioritize how we make investments with the baseline money that we have.

So I guess it's not one policy element I'm excited about. I'm excited there's so much, and they're interrelated but they're not dependent on each other. We can make a big impact even if we can't build a downtown metro loop, or pick your favorite infrastructure investment from the plan.

SZ: Or a downtown congestion charge!

[All laugh.]

Yeah, I definitely want to talk about that. If that's your most exciting thing, we can talk about that now, or we can talk about it when we get to my most exciting thing.

CH: What I was most excited about was the level of analysis. It's not just a study that says, "Here are some good ideas; let's go and do more studies." I feel like we really have a true sense of what should be going on. And I think it'll even help us as the plan evolves, if things come out and other things go in; I don't think anything will be jarring, because of the baseline analysis we have there.

SZ: In terms of bragging to other cities, I think this idea of complete networks is where we need to go. And this is not a criticism of Complete Streets at all, because I think the premise is the right one, that we need to accommodate multiple users of every street. But in applying that citywide, in some ways Complete Streets bogs us down. Because we don't have the right-of-way. We don't have the space to accommodate everybody.

If you are looking at making a transit improvement and the cyclists say, "Well, where am I in this street?" and if you're not accommodating them in that street, you've failed. I think we've identified complete corridors, or complete networks.

And you don't want streets a quarter of a mile wide.

SZ: Exactly. We have a great urban fabric and we don't want to lose that in the name of providing for everybody to make every choice on every street.

We weren't trying to pit modes against each other. We were trying to say, here's a connected network that addresses the fundamental vision of the transportation system. And then we were able to blend between them. So we ended up with this policy framework, which then translates into infrastructure, that says, "Every street's going to prioritize pedestrians. Every street's going to accommodate vehicles. And every street is going to do something else."

That is, everything above a local neighborhood street. But everything else is going to do something besides just carry cars and people. That might be better transit facilities; it might be better bike facilities; it might be a freight route.

Once you do that, you give yourself flexibility. So ideally, once we start planning for anything, whether it's a bike lane or a transit facility, we're not having to answer the question of, what about this other mode? Because we've tried to de-conflict them. And we can say, well, we're planning for bikes on this street and we're planning for transit on that street. And we'll still evaluate how those interact.

But there is an incredible amount of bike infrastructure. Cycletracks, especially, going from three miles to 72 miles.

SZ: We're at five now!

In that case I think I need to correct a tweet. But, that's stunning. And you're not taking away vehicle capacity?

SZ: Oh, we could. As we did our analysis, very often there would be a choice between vehicular capacity and parking capacity. And we erred in this plan on the side of vehicular capacity. And we did that partly because it gave us some absolutes: At least we're being conservative on a consistent basis. But some of these could result in a reduction in number of lanes, or trade-offs in parking, or it might be that we start with an unprotected bike lane sometimes where in the vision plan we've got a protected bike lane.

But you know, we've done a lot of the easy bike lanes. So a lot of our facilities now will take some other impact. And that's partly been the challenge in the last few years. We were able to quickly deploy a lot when there's not much impact, but as you start to make trade-offs—you know, L and M Streets downtown, there's a trade-off. And that takes more conscious decision-making.

But there is an attraction and a benefit to making protected facilities, and we felt that was something that was important to carry forward.

CH: The number of cycletracks absolutely is stunning, and it's very exciting. But compared to miles of roadway—they will never be equal, but we're just trying to balance out different modes so that people are able to make different choices.

I appreciate that. People didn't used to think about balancing out accommodation for bicycles with roadways. That's a pretty new way of thinking. So, you guys touched on so many things I wanted to get back to and now I can't remember what I wanted to ask next.

SZ: Congestion charge?

OK, let's do it. So, that's something that New York tried to do, but they couldn't get it through the state. We don't have a state government.

SZ: We have another building up there [the US Capitol] that likes to be the state.

Right. So is there a reason to think this is going to go better in DC than in New York? Is there appetite for a congestion charge outside of this building?

SZ: It will take continued engagement and planning. We did an exercise really early on in the planning process and we asked people what types of things they would like to see in the system. But you had to tell us how you would pay for it. And that give us great intelligence.

And did you tell people how much things would cost?

SZ: No, we were mostly trying to put the idea in people's heads that you can't just get everything you want without some trade-offs. So I would say the plurality of answers about how people would pay for things was to tie congestion relief downtown to funding these other items.

People were saying congestion relief should be a funding source?

SZ: Yes. We felt it's a policy approach; it's not really about the funding per se. It's not a huge amount of money, especially in the assumptions that we made.

It really resonated, and we got good feedback through our workshops about it, in theory. We felt it's an important thing to continue to consider.

It's one of those things, like raising the gas tax or any number of other things, that if you have the time and space to speak rationally to people who are thinking openly, you can explain this and it makes so much sense. But it's so quickly misconstrued in the media as just another tax, and people get riled up about it. It's a hard thing to sell.

SZ: Yes, it's been the headline of every story that's been written about the plan so far. And it's this minor component—obviously it's not a minor thing, if it happens, but it's just one thing out of many, many things that are part of the plan. But we understood that might happen.

The interview continues in part two, coming soon!

Crossposted from Streetsblog USA.

Tanya Snyder is the former editor of Streetsblog USA, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 


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My favorite part is that every major street will have space for pedestrians, cars, and something else. Imagine just continually crossing streets full of cycle tracks, bus lanes, and streetcar lines. That's a future I like.

by drumz on Jun 5, 2014 1:13 pm • linkreport

DDOT should be very proud of having done their homework on this before presenting the final version. If anyone attended the workshops, as Sam said in the interview, it was made clear that whatever the future would be would require tradeoffs. So if someone wants to argue there was no community input on this, they have the book of comments right here to show that critic.

When AAA says this would be detrimental to drivers, the fact is that DC residents, many of whom are drivers, agreed with the priorities. So it then becomes a matter of non-DC drivers who object. For which the proper response will be "tough toenails."

I also think it is brilliant to trot out the congestion charge because this will take a light of the heat off the other pieces of the proposal. I could live without that ever being imposed, but let's tout it as a big deal.

by fongfong on Jun 5, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

Unfortunate to see that the asinine loop proposal is still front and center for Metro expansion, when there are much better proposals for core expansion (M STREET) and when it should be abundantly clear to most planners and advocates by now that a loop is one of the worst shapes possible for a transit core.

Also tremendously unfortunate to see that while we talk big and plan big for the great big beautiful tomorrow, WMATA is still upfront and unapologetic about its blatant refusal to do the right thing. They are, by all accounts, locked in on plans to do away with the Blue Line through the death of a thousand cuts.

I doubt anyone from there is reading this or cares what I have to say, but just in case: WMATA, it's still not too late! You can still do the right thing and increase Blue Line service levels to a point back above the minimum acceptable. It's easy: send all Silver trains to New Carrollton instead, and cut Orange/Silver headways back to 9 TPH each.

by Ryan on Jun 5, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

I applaud DDOT for attempting to create a plan that incorporates the wishes of thousands of District residents. My concerns focus on funding and prioritization. Also, as we've seen regarding the installation of certain infrastructure, this map can change under political pressure.

Still, I like the idea that we now have a reference document that we can point to.

@fongfong - that congestion charge will be a monster to get past Council, even more so Congress. Still, I'd rather have it on the books and slowly beat people over the head with it.

@Ryan, I think DDOT is incorporating the WMATA draft proposal, because that's what they had at the moment. While I'm not as down on it as you are, the loop alternative seems to favor visitors more than residents.

by Randall M. on Jun 5, 2014 3:24 pm • linkreport

So far there is no indication that "the loop" will actually function as a loop. There were several posts on here about different ways the services could operate or be reconfigured.


Well, Metro isn't just a DC service, it's shared by Va and Md. as well. And the loop addresses two big problems present today, it adds a third potomac crossing and creates a new downtown trunk tunnel that hits the northern and sourthern edges of downtown which is where DC is going to see a lot of its growth in the coming years.

by drumz on Jun 5, 2014 3:37 pm • linkreport

DDOT has done a tremendous job with Move DC. The public outreach has been outstanding, and based on what I've seen, the final proposal is well considered and reflects legitimate needs today and in coming years. I wasn't initially sure on the path taken--particularly the connect the neighborhoods or get-to-the center scenarios (we need both)--but we've arrived at a good place.

My highlights: congestion charge(!), balancing the modes on key corridors while prioritizing ped/bike/transit before cars, extensive expansion of bike infrastructure, mode neutral transit corridors, regional cooperation, aggressive safety goals, and (importantly) performance targets.

As much as I love the plan, I know we won't get all of it, but if we can get MOST, it will be a tremendous step forward for DC.

Kudos to DDOT's planning team for an excellent job!

by Sherman on Jun 5, 2014 4:36 pm • linkreport

@Ryan, have you read WMATA's justification for the planned loop line? The post also explains the limitations and legal frameworks they are required to work under when creating long range plans. Pay particular attenion to the planner's remarks in the comment section.

I think most of us would agree the current plan isn't ideal. Nearly all of us would rather see a separated Blue Line through Georgetown, down M St, and finally to Union Station but it's not that simple.

by dcmike on Jun 5, 2014 4:43 pm • linkreport

DDOT has indeed done quite a bit of outreach on moveDC, for a number of years, but there is a difference between public input at the general, conceptual stage and public input on a specific proposal. The specific proposal is what people care about, and that only came out a week ago. Basically, DDOT took people's comments, put them into a black box, and this is what came out on the other side.

I would encourage DDOT to make a point of now engaging the public over a longer time period than the 30-60 days contemplated, to further refine a lot of the specifics that they have proposed and so that the public has sufficient time to ask questions. This plan is incredibly important (and arguably beneficial) for the development of transportation in D.C. over the next several decades, and it has already been gestating for years, so strong solicitation of public input at the back end should be a no-brainer.

If DDOT fails to do anything more than perfunctory public outreach at this stage, moveDC will join the red top meters, the visitor parking pass program, the zoning re-write, and a million other D.C. government initiatives that caught people off-guard and got obstructed by procedural complaints.

There's a lot of good ideas in here, but also a lot of seemingly fundamental changes that have never been seriously discussed before. As an example, the plan seems to propose the creation of a street grid on the site of Columbia Plaza, the Watergate, and I-66 in my neighborhood. I emailed someone at DDOT asking for further details on this several days ago and haven't heard back.

I would like to hear about this and other specific implications of the plan on my neighborhood. The District-wide stuff is great, but citywide policies like this are often made or broken at the neighborhood level, by coalitions of people intensely motivated by what they perceive to be the specific impacts of whatever is proposed.

I will invite DDOT to come to one of our ANC meetings to speak about the plan, but I hope that they take the initiative to engage community leaders elsewhere -- leaders who might not be following this issue closely (or at all) but who are nevertheless strongly invested in their neighborhoods.

by Patrick Kennedy on Jun 5, 2014 5:30 pm • linkreport

I'm sorry, but in my opinion Sam Zimbabwe is a naif who is over his head in his current position, and certainly can't fill his predecessor's shoes. I heard him tell a community meeting seeking traffic calming that he basically wants to de-emphasize it in favor of a Manhattan-style grid system ('traffic should flow where it wants to flow'). Never mind that most of DC bears little resemblance to New York City and this view disregards the settled system of street classification as well as the approach that DDOT has taken in recent years. The attendees came away with the impression that he cares far more about traffic movement than protecting pedestrians.

by Jack on Jun 5, 2014 5:32 pm • linkreport

Three more generations must pass before Georgetown gets Metro. Penance. So is is written, so it shall be done.

by NE John on Jun 5, 2014 6:09 pm • linkreport

Many say this is unrealistic. Or that neighborhood resistance would make it nearly impossible. Yet out west, cities like Salt Lake City were able to get a bunch of local municipalities to buy into a coherent light rail system that has been an economic boon to them. This in a market much more heavily stilted towards single family homes. It's an economic argument in the end. We just don't have political leaders able to articulate the needs in both short range and long range terms. Having a vision is at least a start.

by Thayer-D on Jun 5, 2014 8:51 pm • linkreport

NE John, the story that Georgetown rejected Metro is an urban legend that has been debunked.

by David C on Jun 5, 2014 10:25 pm • linkreport

David C An urban legend that started before most stations were planned or built probably isn't baseless

by asffa on Jun 6, 2014 12:22 am • linkreport

@dcmike I haven't, because WMATA hasn't given one. They've explained how and why loop traffic would need to be bi-directional and they've explained about the limitations and legal frameworks they're required to operate under but they haven't given a single damn word of explanation as to why it had to be a loop.

In fact, it doesn't have to be a loop. In fact, half of the loop (the half that does follow M Street and reaches Union Station) is both perfectly serviceable and absolutely critical to the future of the network.

The problem is that the utility of those sections are totally undone by the fact that there's this other section which combines to form a circle, in turn forcing traffic to be uni-directional through this loop and cutting the potential number of trains in half. But, wait, WMATA has the solution - throw in a SECOND entrance to the loop and have trains coming through the other entrance going in the opposite direction around the loop. Wow! Now we have twice as many trains!

Except we could have had the same number of trains if we'd only stuck with a straight line, with a conventional terminal at Union Station, where trains can simply turn back like they do at all the other terminals, and where a high volume of TPH can still be achieved.

In fact, it gets worse - because this asinine loop proposal has effectively zero expansion potential. Commentary by the planners be damned, it's a whole ton more complicated to break up a circle and extend out from one of its stations than it is to just run new traffic from a straight conventional terminal.

They had an alternative - alternative D - which wasn't lighting the world on fire, but it was the best alternative of the bunch by virtue of being the only one that didn't feature a loop of some description or other. Of course, they sandbagged that alternative instead of trying to improve on it, so here we are today.

by Ryan on Jun 6, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

By routing the yellow line onto the loop instead of through L'Enfant, they create a LOT more capacity for green line trains. Given the frenetic pace of development in Navy Yard and Waterfront and Shaw and Columbia Heights and Petworth, and the strong desire to increase development at Anacostia and Congress Heights, one can see the motive DC has to prefer that. Meanwhile the main losers from running the Yellow line on the loop are NoVans. And of course some of them will be able to shift to the (revived) blue line instead. The only real loss to DC is the loss of the Atlas District station. Given the density limits on H Street (lower FAR than in Navy Yard, I believe) and the streetcar, thats a small loss to DC.

Seems to me the ball is in Virginia's court. Keeping the Yellow line to L'Enfant, either by splitting the Yellow line, or by doing a linear seperate blue line instead of a loop, would help NoVans. What Va can put on the table to get a say - A. $$ to fund the crossing B. Acquiescence is the congestion charge.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 6, 2014 9:46 am • linkreport


Well then, what is it based on? Is there even evidence that it "started before most stations were planned or built".

If there is no underlying fact on which an urban legend is based, then it is - by definition - baseless.

by David C on Jun 6, 2014 10:20 am • linkreport

Whether or not the Yellow Line remains coupled with the Blue Line is an entirely separate issue from whether or not the loop should exist.

In fact, because the Blue Line's headways are always going to be constrained by being forced to share with the Yellow Line in VA either way, the easiest thing to do here is to actually keep them coupled through the M Street Subway to Union Station, discarding the rest of the loop as the hot garbage that it really is - doing so ensures that the new core tunnel is being used at full or nearly-full capacity right from Day 1.

by Ryan on Jun 6, 2014 10:24 am • linkreport

Well with a new tunnel the only stations that are constrained in Va. would be Springfield and Van Dorn(and possibly Arlington Cemetary).

What you could do with the loop is basically make it the Yellow line and either have the service branch on the southern end between Springfield and huntington, or you could have it start at springfield, loop around and end at huntington. Or any of the other options.

You don't want to end at union station because it's not close to any metro rail yard. That'd create a throughput problem as well.

by drumz on Jun 6, 2014 10:33 am • linkreport

"Whether or not the Yellow Line remains coupled with the Blue Line is an entirely separate issue from whether or not the loop should exist.
In fact, because the Blue Line's headways are always going to be constrained by being forced to share with the Yellow Line in VA either way, the easiest thing to do here is to actually keep them coupled through the M Street Subway to Union Station"

that means no direct service from NoVa to the eastern parts of downtown at all. A problem for anyone going from NoVa to the booming areas of SW and near SE. I can see where that would be appealing to someone going from Blue line Arlington or Alexandria to the west side of downtown DC, but I don't think NoVa will want that.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jun 6, 2014 10:42 am • linkreport

Back in 2009 rider flows from the inbound Blue/Yellow were split about 60/40 in favor of Blue:

So switching the entire Yellow line to instead run along the new M Street route would inconvenience a lot of people who now use the line to go a different part of downtown.

I haven't seen a coherent argument about why the loop is "hot garbage" other than the fact that it won't be used at 100% capacity from day one. Well, a split Blue Line won't do that period because it is coupled with the Yellow elsewhere; the Yellow line will not be moved away from downtown. Another line will have to be built or full separation will be needed to make all the lines run at full capacity.

by MLD on Jun 6, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

It is not an urban legend as to why GT refused Metro stations. I distinctly remember when that happened and never since thought of that area the same.

by NE John on Jun 6, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

There was some opposition in Georgetown, but that isn't why they don't have a station.

by David C on Jun 6, 2014 2:37 pm • linkreport

Georgetown has two stations: Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn. :-)

by Mr. Carlin on Jun 8, 2014 10:34 pm • linkreport

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