Greater Greater Washington

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Should urbanists be nervous about Vince Gray? Part 4: What the heck happened with the streetcars?

Chairman Vincent Gray is adamant: he supports streetcars. He's always supported streetcars. He never stopped supporting streetcars. He has been to Portland twice to learn about how the streetcars work.


Photo by tracktwentynine.

If that's true, then what happened on May 26 at 2:00 am?

Gray has come about as close as a good boss ever does to pointing the finger at a subordinate. In particular, capital budget director Sarah Campbell, who was worrying streetcar supporters for weeks leading up to the decision.

They feared that Campbell, a member of the Committee of 100, was making the Committee's arguments about "insufficient planning" in meetings with Gray, and while Gray had told fellow Councilmembers and administration officials he supported keeping the streetcar program, that Campbell would successfully incorporate changes in the capital budget.

It also made for a good narrative: "Gray cuts streetcars in the dead of night!" However, budgets often get finalized in the middle of the night at the last minute. And, as Gray pointed out in our coversation, the capital budget is often the last to be resolved. On many of the specifics, any leader relies on staff.

Gray doesn't name Campbell, of course, but calls the streetcar scare a "staff error," and it's obivious which staff. Gray had been hearing for some time the streetcar concern trolls' arguments: the plans aren't done, it doesn't have a beginning or an end, the power systems aren't decided. More importantly, he says he was persuaded in the late-night round of budget changes that the funds for implementation could be delayed a year, with planning still funded, to work out all the outstanding questions.

If you listen to Gray's speech and his exchange with Tommy Wells that morning, it's clear Gray believed this. When Tommy Wells told him that the cuts would imperil the project and federal funds (the Urban Circulator grant which we subsequently didn't receive), Gray replied that they would make any "technical amendments" necessary to keep that from happening.

Wells and other supporters saw continuing funding for the whole project as the necessary element. DC's commitment of local funds for its first phase would, they felt, give the District a leg up in the grants. Between those arguments and the massive public outcry, Gray came to agree and amended the budget to restore the funding.

In our conversation, Gray said that he is ultimately responsible for all decisions that come from his office, and takes responsibility for this one. He should have been more aware of the consequences of this budget change. But nobody can seriously argue Gray isn't knowledgeable about the budget. He's far more knowledgeable than Adrian Fenty; even Fenty himself admits that, saying he focuses on the big picture and leaves details to his staff.

Which brings us to the real question urbanists should be asking in this race. The decision isn't between Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray, since quite honestly, Gray and Fenty both share most elements of a policy agenda, from education reform to Smart Growth and a streetcar network. The key decision is between the Fenty cabinet and the potential Gray cabinet. Who will have better top people?

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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When Tommy Wells told him that the cuts would imperil the project and federal funds (the Urban Circulator grant which we subsequently didn't receive), ...

This one sentence alone should be enough to indicate who is on the side of truth here ... CM Wells ... or the Committee of 100 ...

The District never stood a chance of receiving this grant because of the very lack of planning which to anyone with any knowledge of how capital projects work, knows its happening here. The sad part is that either CM Wells truly and really didn't realize this, or was willing to lie to Chairman Gray to get him to reverse course. Either reason speaks volumes to how the project is being managed by CM Wells et al.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 1:04 pm • linkreport

Ok, so what I get out of this article is that members of the Committee of 100 will likely become senior budget officials in a Gray administration, which of course means that streetcars, bike lanes, you name it will end up on the chopping block at the first opportunity.

If this debacle didn't convince you to vote for Fenty before, it certainly should now.

by Phil on Aug 17, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

The key decision is between the Fenty cabinet and the potential Gray cabinet. Who will have better top people?

At least to me, that's the real question of this election. A lot of talk has been given to Michelle Rhee, but not to other city agencies. From all accounts I've heard, I think Harriet Tregoning would be kept, if she is willing to stay on. But what about Gabe Klein? Given Sarah Campbell's transportation background, I don't think it's too much of a leap to think she may picked to run DDOT with a Gray victory.

by jeff on Aug 17, 2010 1:42 pm • linkreport

What I've loved from the Fenty Administration is a strong number of solid, effective bureaucrats. I don't know if we would get the same from a Gray Administration. So I'm voting Fenty, cause it is through the hands of the cabinet that most changes which affect me are made.

by nick on Aug 17, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

Fenty and Gray do NOT have the same education agenda.

Fenty is hostile to charter schools. Gray is supportive of all public school students and respects the need for funding parity between DCPS and non-DCPS public school students.

Fenty will give the Chancellor free reign and shield DCPS from Council oversight. Gray will support meaningful reform, but will apply accountability principles not just to classroom teachers but to their bosses and their bosses' bosses all the way up the ladder.

Fenty wants the election to be a referendum on Michelle Rhee. Gray thinks the reform can't be held hostage to the career choices of one person.

There is a clear choice.

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 17, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

@jeff But what about Gabe Klein? Given Sarah Campbell's transportation background, I don't think it's too much of a leap to think she may picked to run DDOT with a Gray victory.

So, you acknowledge that Sarah Campbell has a solid transportation background ... including an emphasis on "intermodal surface transportation" ... which is what I hear 'urbanists' want. And you're crediting the Fenty administration with naming Gabe Klein to bring us intermodal surface transportation (eg streetcars and bikelane) .... although Gabe's only 'transportation experience' is positioning a startup company for an IPO stock that's now doing pretty badly ...

Also, hasn't anyone made the connection that Sarah, with all her transportation background and experience, was probably right to advocate that we not move forward until we planned how to connect the dots ... rather just 'wishing it to happen' as counting on that FTA grant evidenced? I.e., I'd bet Sara knew from the start that this plan was nowhere ready for Federal funding ... and that present bad and incomplete plans would only serve to hurt future chances for federal funding ... Never mind also locking us into 'maybe' bad decisions. (I say 'maybe' because given the lack of planning, there's no way to know what is or isn't a good decision. Thus far our 'planning' has been to build a 37 mile $1.5 Billion+ system based on 3 outdated cars we bought in the Czech Republic over 5 years ago ....)

Hmmm ... So, who do you think would make a better DDOT director ... Sarah or Gabe?

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 2:11 pm • linkreport

So the guy who knows more than anyone about the budget, and who processes and plans everything to within an inch of its life, was taken by surprise when his staffer moved $49M the night before the budget vote, and didn't understand the consequences of this act. You'd have to be pretty credulous to believe this. Throwing his staffer under the bus (or streetcar, I guess) is a nice denouement to the whole sorry episode.

I was on the fence regarding the mayor's race until this happened, and now I've got a Fenty sign in my front yard. Not because I feel strongly about streetcars, or because I particularly like Fenty, but because the whole process was typical, old school DC politics. If he' just said "I want the streetcar, but we don't have the money right now" and stuck to his guns, I'd have a lot more respect for the guy. Instead he rolled over like a dog and borrowed the money to keep from making the hard choices.

by jcm on Aug 17, 2010 2:16 pm • linkreport

P.S. I'll bet that David will endorse Gray before all is said and done. Why? Because he'll have proven to himself that the things he says he wants, aren't going to come from the Fenty Administration ... At least not in a working manner. It's one thing to say someone wants something, quite another to be able to pull it off.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 2:17 pm • linkreport

@Lance:

Do we know it was lack of planning that cost DC the Urban Circulator grant? I would think it could be attributed to any number of things (politics, the overall competitiveness of the program, the fact a streetcar would be an add-on to a relatively robust public transportation system versus a place where a streetcar would represent a bigger part of that city's transportation system, etc). I would argue that we don't really know for sure which of these (or combination of these) explanations was the reason DC lost out.

@David
Can't wait for the continuation of this series. I hope you indeed decide to endorse a candidate. I found your endorsements of DC Council candidates a few years ago persuasive and insightful.

by Steven Yates on Aug 17, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport

Gray in fact amended the budget to reverse the decision once he understood the error.

But the decision wasn't reversed, nor was it quite as described. The funding was shifted to other parks and playgrounds. After the outcry, new money was found to fund the streetcar; the old money stayed in playgrounds. The new streetcar funding was almost as much, but not quite as much, as what had been cut and reapportioned. A man as wonky as Gray has been described should know this and wouldn't empower staff to enact major budget alterations. He, and he alone, deserves the responsibility for the cuts.

by OctaviusIII on Aug 17, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

David, the "narrative" that the streetcars were getting pulled is what got a tonne of people to call the Council and pressure them to get it re-instated. I remember checking this site many times that day, first to share the outrage and later the relief.

If we'd just read between the lines of the Gray-Wells conversation, I guess we could have just dialed back on the angst. Should I now call my CM's office to apologize for wasting their time with a message that day, seeing that Gray always intended to keep the program going through 'technical amendments'? Were the callers who reached Gray's office told to chill because the amendments were always meant to come?

And just as well as everyone else, I realize that the streetcars can't be the single decision-point in the Fenty/Gray race. But from a transportation standpoint, this remains a strike against Gray. I might be willing to buy into Gray's future support for a progressive transportation agenda. But a Mad Men'esque "This never happend" is a little difficult to apply to the budget issue.

by HM on Aug 17, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

@Steven Yates I would argue that we don't really know for sure which of these (or combination of these) explanations was the reason DC lost out.

Aren't you making my case that the current DDOT and administration didn't know the lay of the land before strong-arming Chairman Gray to change his budget decision based on the possibility of 'losing' this federal grant?

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 2:35 pm • linkreport

The District never stood a chance of receiving this grant because of the very lack of planning

@Lance:

If "lack of planning" did indeed knock applicants out of the Urban Circulator grant process, then how did the Fort Worth Streetcar Loop win? It appears as if they're only halfway done with their counterpart to the 2003-2005 DC Transit Expansion Alternatives Analysis.

The Transport Politic analysis further suggests that the administration emphasized connections between intercity rail and central business districts--which we already have Metro to do, and which the Benning road bridge wouldn't do, and which Fort Worth's proposed loop would do.

by thm on Aug 17, 2010 2:41 pm • linkreport

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but the streetcar budget decision was for funding the initial segment of the streetcar (Union Station to Oklahoma Ave), while the grant was to have been for the extension east of Kenilworth ("phase 2", if you will).

Sure, adding the money back in didn't guarantee the grant (as wound up being the case), but showed commitment to the project and at least gave us a chance of getting the grant. Not including the money in the budget would have not only prevented completion of the initial segment, but would have given us an ABSOLUTELY ZERO chance of getting the grant.

by Froggie on Aug 17, 2010 2:43 pm • linkreport

If those who are not 100% supportive the way the project has and continues to be handled are "concern trolls," then it seems only fair to label those on the other side of the debate as streetcar fanboys. I think definition #8 is the most fitting:

"a person willing to defend and promote the object of his affection regardless of fact and objectivity."

by Jamie on Aug 17, 2010 2:51 pm • linkreport

The good news is the second Fenty administration will have Ron Moten on board as a friend and chief strategist to Mayor Fenty. ;)

by Trulee Pist on Aug 17, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

Thanks for this, David. i was leaning toward Gray before the streetcars imbroglio, was firmly for Fenty immediately afterward, and have since driften back into the pro-Gray camp.

From an urbanist perspective, I don't think either would be a bad choice. We know already what a second term for Fenty would look like. A Mayor Gray, it appears to me, would likely be very similar on the issues that matter most to GGW, and would be much better on the good-government issues and at fostering citywide comity. I'm fully comfortable with Gray now.

by Matt W on Aug 17, 2010 2:53 pm • linkreport

@Lance

I never said how I would be voting one way or the other, but just stated that it wouldn't be far fetched to think Campbell might get picked for such an appointment. She's certainly qualified, maybe even more so than Klein was. With that said, you don't give him enough credit for his background. Personally, I'm quite happy with the work he's done and the direction he's taking the agency and hope he can continue regardless of the administration.

by jeff on Aug 17, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

@thm If "lack of planning" did indeed knock applicants out of the Urban Circulator grant process, then how did the Fort Worth Streetcar Loop win? It appears as if they're only halfway done with their counterpart to the 2003-2005 DC Transit Expansion Alternatives Analysis.

Maybe, like someone posted on here when this all came down, these grants get given out on the basis of political reasons or a whole host of other reasons. We don't know. I don't know. You don't know. But DDOT and CM Wells should have known ... Or at least not pretended that the whole streetcar system would go down the drain if we didn't have the matching funds for this federal grant that was probably not ours to begin with. I.e., It gets back to the point that currently, DDOT's (and Wells') plans for designing, developing, and funding the streetcar are not well thought out.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 3:12 pm • linkreport

@Lance

Say there was a 10% chance that DC would get one of the grants. As long as what it costs to produce the proposal/application is less than 10% of the grant (in this case that would be $2.5 million, I hope it cost much less than that) it was a good idea to apply for it.

Now I can see if one thinks that the project is rushed and ill planned that funding it just for the sake of the grant would be ill advised. I, however, do not fall in that camp.

by Steven Yates on Aug 17, 2010 3:32 pm • linkreport

@Steven Yates, From what David told us in the posting above, the cost of putting our hat in the rink for a chance at the $25 FTA grant was the city going well over its debt limit to borrow the funding required to maintain construction momentum this year (vs. pushing off that construction to next year after a 12 month extensive planning period.) From what I've been reading in the papers, going over our debt limit cap means that our borrowing expenses (for ALL DC debt) will cost a lot more now because we'd promised Wall Street we'd not do that in order to secure very low interest rate borrowing ... and those interest rates are going to go up now ... by a lot.

Also, in line with your weighting the chance of our getting the funding at 10% ... How do we know it was 10%. I agree that you need to know the chance of getting it because that actually determines the probably benefit of getting it. I.e., like you said, if there's a 10% chance of getting it, as long as our increased costs (extra borrowing costs AND lack of availablity of the funds for other urgent matters that might come up), then it's worth pursuing. BUT how do we know the chance is 10%? What studies were done to determine this? This figure should be available as part of our 'planning'. Is it? Or did you pull the 10% out of the air? What figure did DDOT determine in getting Wells to push for the project construction to continue this year VS WAITING 1 YEAR WHILE WE GOT ANSWERS FOR THESE TYPES OF THINGS?

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 3:51 pm • linkreport

@Lance

I didn't see where David said the application would (did?) put us over the debt cap. I'm having a hard time fathoming that the cost of the grant proposal was the tipping point between credit ratings though. While we are on the subject, does anyone know how much it cost DC to put the proposal forth?

10% was pulled out of the air, though it struck me as a rather reasonable pessimistic estimate. I'm not sure it's worth spending a great deal of resources in determining this number as I don't think it's truly knowable.

And I imagine Tommy Wells thinks that the streetcars were adequately planned by that point, so his decision was between getting it funded now with a chance to get some federal money or wait a year (in Wells's mind, needlessly), pushing back the opening date and miss out on this round of federal dollars. So I don't think DDOT even gave him a number.

by Steven Yates on Aug 17, 2010 4:21 pm • linkreport

Last time I characterized a posting on "urbanists'" view of Gray as facile. DA asked what I meant. I didn't say. Seeing the headline of this post, I suppose one of the things that I object to is the short handedness of referring to yourself and or a group as "urbanist" or "smart growth." It's too short handed, too cutesy and in with the in crowdy. I don't like it at all. And it also strikes me as anti reason.

by Jazzy on Aug 17, 2010 4:32 pm • linkreport

I think the debate about costs is a red-herring. Afterall, even the Mayor considers these dollars to be realtively 'de minimus":

http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/looselips/2010/08/17/fenty-on-peaceoholics-i-dont-need-any-statistics/

I think we should be more concerned about the $82 million (and counting) being spread to fraternity brothers, or the $10 million being given, without accountability, to Ron Moten.

by William on Aug 17, 2010 4:34 pm • linkreport

Fenty is hostile to charter schools. Gray is supportive of all public school students

@Ward 1 Guy:

My take:
Charter schools are amazing/wonderful for students lucky enough to be selected to attend them.
However, the remainder of the public school suffers as a consequence. I would argue that the charter schools should be treated with a heavy eye of skepticism, and that any lessons learned from them should be applied to DCPS at large. Charter schools are not a panacea for DCPS's woes.

The rest of your comment is so bogged down with loaded words that I won't even bother addressing it.

by andrew on Aug 17, 2010 4:37 pm • linkreport

Gabe was the absolute worst choice for a DDOT director I've seen in any of the number of local dc metro and east coast jurisdictions I've worked in over the years. Picking him to run a DDOT would be like hiring a guy to drive a cab who didn't have a driverÂ’s license.

So he worked for car Rental Company that can't make any money, and after that he started a catering company, and whose mose well known claim to fame was catering Fenty's birthday party.

Are we serious? Is this as far as we raise the bar these days in requiring experience and actual qualification for a job? So because someone is a "nice guy" and likes some of the same things we do, we think he is qualified to oversee a department with a 180 million dollar budget, or to manage multi-hundred million dollar heavy highway infrastructure projects, or a multi-billion dollar streetcar project? His simpleton solution to giving anyone in the city a speed bump on their street if they wanted one, a policy which he sheepishly revoked a year later after every council member starting having to spend all their time answering constituent questions on what DDOT was thinking. The PA avenue bike lanes alone illustrated his classic inability to understand the nuances of anything relating to transportation or planning.

And Ward 1, you canÂ’t be supportive of all public school students, and support both charter and public schools. They are complete polar opposites.

The decision has to be made. Are you for restructuring, improving the public school system, or are you going to outsource your education, because you canÂ’t afford to do both.

It costs DC more per student to pay for a charter school kid than it does one of their own. Not to mention, the unfair advantages Charter schools get, namely in being able to simply rid their rolls of problematic students (after the beginning of the school year of course, so they don't have to refund that students prorata share of funding they received).

Half of DCÂ’s school budget goes to pay for charter schools. Half! Think of the program changes, the school renovations and modifications that could be paid for if we didnÂ’t have to pay for two separate programs. Kids in the DCPS system are shortchanged by the more expensive kids in Charter.

The final point is, Gray is BarryÂ…he doesnÂ’t even make any bones about hiding it. The man solicits BarryÂ’s help.

You want the city to return to the embarrassment it was for two decades under Barry, and to forgo all the improvements that have been made to the city and the system since he left, then by all means, vote for Gray.

by nookie on Aug 17, 2010 6:13 pm • linkreport

@Steven, I'm having a hard time fathoming that the cost of the grant proposal was the tipping point between credit ratings though.

http://washington.bizjournals.com/washington/stories/2010/05/31/daily43.html

http://newsroom.dc.gov/show.aspx?agency=cfo&section=2&release=19488&year=2010&file=file.aspx%2frelease%2f19488%2f031610.pdf

http://www.dcfpi.org/put-a-cap-on-it

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 6:29 pm • linkreport

Lance, that doesn't really answer the question being asked, unless I'm misinterpreting one of you. DC went over its debt cap by funding the portion of the streetcars it had previously been expected to fund with or without the grant. The grant would have provided funding to further extend the line, as Froggie described.

Steven seems to be asking whether the process of applying for the federal grant had anything to do with going over the debt cap. Unless you believe that the sole reason the streetcar funding remained in the budget was the existence of the grant proposal, it didn't, and as best I can tell, there is no reason to believe that.

by Nate on Aug 17, 2010 6:54 pm • linkreport

Lance, the only reason DC needed to go over the debt cap was because Gray took the money out that was there for streetcars. Had he never removed that money at 2 am, DC would've been able to apply without borrowing money, period.

The only reason DC had to borrow for this streetcar segment is because of Gray's late night shenanigans. Period.

As far as more planning goes, 12 months of delay would have automatically made DC ineligible for several large pots of federal money - federal money allocated on a one-time basis, stimulus funding, etc. The very notion Gray holds that DC can just press 'pause' for 12 months and still be in the same position is false on its face.

by Ahem. on Aug 17, 2010 7:09 pm • linkreport

@Nate @Lance
Nate's correct, that is what I was asking about.

by Steven Yates on Aug 17, 2010 7:20 pm • linkreport

@Nate Unless you believe that the sole reason the streetcar funding remained in the budget was the existence of the grant proposal, it didn't, and as best I can tell, there is no reason to believe that.

That's not what David is telling us:

When Tommy Wells told him that the cuts would imperil the project and federal funds (the Urban Circulator grant which we subsequently didn't receive), Gray replied that they would make any "technical amendments" necessary to keep that from happening

i.e., that may not be the 'sole' reason, but this statement implies it was a major reason, at the least.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:06 pm • linkreport

@Ahem Lance, the only reason DC needed to go over the debt cap was because Gray took the money out that was there for streetcars. Had he never removed that money at 2 am, DC would've been able to apply without borrowing money, period.

That is absolutely false. Just because Wells had promised his developer friends on H Street NE that he could reallocate money from schools, firehouses and playgrounds to fund the 1st phase of the streetcar system does not equal Gray took the money out that was there for streetcars. It was never 'there' ... Even if Wells had persuaded the Mayor via DDOT to include it in the proposed budget.

Apparently under advice from a knowledgable transportation planner (from what I'm reading in David's posting) the Chairman had decided that it wasn't wise to steal from the schools, firehouses, and playgrounds to fund Well's developer supporters 'development tool'. In the end he still didn't see it making sense ... So, after being strong armed by Well's friends ... as orchestrated by David on this blog as well as by others ... He did the only thing he could do (other than not cave in to you), he dug the money for that 1st leg out of our 'rainy day fund'. He put us in jeopardy of incurring higher interest rates and possibly not even being able to borrow more for things like helping the unemployed and the poor ... which in a recession could be a very real possibility. Yeah, he did wrong. He should have stood up to the well-orchestrated attack on the budget. But at least he made sure the immediate priorities of the schools, firehouses, playgrounds (and other line items) stayed in the budget.

No, simple answer, that money was never 'in the budget'. A 'proposed' budget from the mayor doesn't become a real budget until its approved by the Council.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:16 pm • linkreport

So has anybody else here that reads Greater Greater Lance figured out that Lance actually IS Sarah Campbell? It's beyond obvious at this point if you go back and read the posts. No one else has some of this information. Also, a disgruntled ex-ddot employee from the 1980's, and Committee of 100 member. Time to start using your other aliases Sarah, Lance, or Nookie of course.

by Notlance on Aug 17, 2010 8:18 pm • linkreport

See Lance comments above. Anyone else know Sarah was a transportation planner back in the 80's at ddot? I think let go actually. Lance=Campbell. She is posting incessantly because Gray and David Alpert exposed her as the person that tried to derail the process because of her own twisted motivations with Committee of 100. Of course she tries to take over this influential blog.

by Notlance on Aug 17, 2010 8:25 pm • linkreport

And while we're at it. How many of you know how DDOT is proposing to fund the operating expenses of this leg of the system. They're counting on a good share of federal funding, which we know may or may not happen (as we saw with the FTA grant request), BUT they're also creating a BAD ... Business Assessment District ... where businesses and apartment buildings will be taxed for the priviledge of being near the streetcar line. Of course, that could be argued as being a good thing since why shouldn't those who'll most benefit from that streetcar line pay more toward it than the rest of the citizens and businesses in the District. Nothing wrong with that ... except it's not the whole picture. Certain large and influential developer supporters of Wells ... probably those who thought of this business of putting in a streetcar and creating the BAD to fund it, have 'coincidentally' been given something like $5 MILLION in tax breaks ... timed to coincide with when this assessment would kick in. Now is that fair? Who's going to be left to pay the BAD assessment ... just the mom and pop stores who aren't lucky enough to get $5 MILLION in tax breaks themselves ... and who'll likely end up having to close up shop as a result of this ... Ultimately making their properties available for ... you guessed it ... more development! And who's actually paying the $5 MILLION ... Why us, over course. So, you have a funding mechanism in place where it's made to look like those who'll benefit the most from the development will pay for it ... but, not really. We (the taxpayers) will end up paying for half of it ... And of course, the feds will pay the other half ... if we cross our fingers and hope hard enough. Yeah, that's a plan alright ...

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:27 pm • linkreport

Tommy Wells had nothing to do with the reallocation of money between streetcars, rec centers, etc. That was the Mayor's recommendation, since the Mayor proposes the budget, not the Ward 6 Councilmember.

Some of the money came from a few rec center and firehouse projects, but most of it was from Great Streets projects that could be backfilled with federal money, plus a pot of money that had been set aside for WMATA under the assumption that Congress would authorize its $150 million and DC would have to match it. As we reported here, the FTA then set a slower schedule for the matching, meaning that DC didn't need to make 3 quarters' worth of payments until later, freeing up some money in 2011.

Lance, I know you read all those articles back then. I'm disappointed you seem to be just making up facts about the budget if they're convenient to make the anti-streetcar argument you want to make. It doesn't serve the Committee of 100 well in its argument for "responsible planning" when one of its members is here making irresponsible arguments by claiming things about the budget process that bear no resemblance to reality.

by David Alpert on Aug 17, 2010 8:28 pm • linkreport

@NotLance, I'd suspect David's going to have a good laugh when he reads your paranoidal rant ... Yeah, we're all the same person. After all, there can only be one disgruntled person with a grudge who would disagree with your enlightened revelations. David's going to be having a good laugh because he knows at least myself and Sarah ... and for all I know Nookie (though I don't know who Nookie is ...)

And PS For Sarah's background look at the link in the post by jeff (above) on Aug 17, 2010 1:42 pm

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:30 pm • linkreport

@David That was the Mayor's recommendation, since the Mayor proposes the budget, not the Ward 6 Councilmember.

Are really and truly saying that the Mayor would make this recommendation in a vacuum ... without input either directly from Wells ... or via DDOT? How did DDOT know to put a streetline there to begin with?

As we reported here, the FTA then set a slower schedule for the matching, meaning that DC didn't need to make 3 quarters' worth of payments until later, freeing up some money in 2011.

Just because something can be 'paid later' doesn't mean it doesn't need to be paid ...

David, you're reading the facts, but your conclusions aren't sound. Sorry.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:37 pm • linkreport

First time poster here. I found this article really informative and helpful. Both candidates seem solid on the issues that matter to me, but I do worry on cabinet choices in particular. I really like the work that Harriet Tregoning, Gabe Klein, and other DC agency directors are doing. I am undecided at this point, but if voting Gray means giving up this great team of people who have helped put DC on the map with Portland, San Francisco, Paris, then I may have an easier decision.

by Jake P on Aug 17, 2010 8:41 pm • linkreport

The Mayor weighs a number of budget requests from different agencies and decides how to allocate money. Of course DDOT was a part of that. But you said, or insinuated, that Tommy Wells somehow asked them to cut some rec centers to make a streetcar. That's ridiculous.

As for the WMATA money, the hope is that the feds keep the $150 million a year going for a long time. So DC expects to have to pay $50 million a year for 10 years and hopefully indefinitely. But if it starts a year later, then we have $50 million (really $37.5 since it's only starting 9 months late) in the 2011 capital budget that's unspent, and therefore the city needs to decide what to spend it on.

by David Alpert on Aug 17, 2010 8:42 pm • linkreport

@David if they're convenient to make the anti-streetcar argument you want to make.

So, if we're not 'with you' we're 'against you'? Where have I heard that line of reasoning before .... :)

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:48 pm • linkreport

@David But you said, or insinuated, that Tommy Wells somehow asked them to cut some rec centers to make a streetcar.

Honestly, I don't think Wells cared where that money came from. As long as it came. And that's the problem.

by Lance on Aug 17, 2010 8:51 pm • linkreport


Lance and Jeff,
I try to keep out of this melee, but since so many people, who do not know me, are weighing in on what I think and what I want to be, I thought I should clear the air on two issues:
1. No, I am not Lance. I have lived in Washington DC for 33 years, mostly on Capitol Hill and I have raised two children, who went to DC public schools. I have a long history of transit advocacy at the national and local levels and also with DC transportation and the H Street corridor. If you will look at the transportation plan Scott Kubly is fond of referencing, where restoring the streetcar system was first proposed, you will see my former firm’s name: TransManagement Inc. as a major contributor. The plan won several awards, even though the then-Director had to fight FHWA to be able to do a scenario-based plan. I work for Vince Gray, for several reasons, but one is that he is a very bright and capable individual, who cares deeply for this city. Unlike the competition, he actually understands the finely intertwined human and physical development issues that have to be considered to ensure good urban development rather than the old urban renewal – which also was done in a hurry.

2. And no, Jeff, I have no interest in being the DDOT Director, nor has that been discussed. I have too keen an appreciation for how difficult the job is and how demanding the schedule is under normal circumstances. Seeing close up how challenging our finances will be for the next several years, I am certain these will not be normal circumstances. I have a wedding to give in Brazil and Portuguese to learn in the next 12 months, which are big enough challenges.

My real interest professionally is in finding a stable and reliable, regional funding source for WMATA, one that shares the burden of adequately financing the regional transit system more equitably among the jurisdictions. Adequate and equitable are both issues that need to be tackled soon. That is the debate that should be going on right now. Without getting a better regional funding arrangement, along with management reforms at the agency, we will have a very hard time fulfilling the vision of D.C.Â’s adopted Transportation Plan. I wonÂ’t be weighing back in on this discussion of whether or how I should be shot over streetcars, but I would like to hear ideas on how to tackle the real gorilla in the closet: Metro Finance.

by Sarah on Aug 18, 2010 8:48 am • linkreport

@Sarah, I think the reason most posters on here (including myself) have only a passing interest in WMATA is that it tends to serve the outlying suburban folks much more than us inner urban people. (I.e., It's way too much like a commuter rail-line in the way it operates and where it goes.) And the reason, we're much more interested in seeing streetcars come to DC (and Arlington and other close-in urbanized areas) is that it'll give us the neighborhood to neighborhood options which we, the urban people, need ... vs. the commuter-railroad capabilities which WMATA offers. I know they operate buses too, which serve a more urban need, but because of many aspects stated in previous posts (such as not knowing where the bus is going, and drivers too unfriendly to actually help you figure it out), many of us who would take streetcars, won't take buses.

Personally, I'd rather see DC disentangle itself from the mess that is WMATA, build streetcars (along with Arlington, Bethesda, etc.) and let NoVa and Suburban MD figure out how to pay and operate a system which primarily benefits their residents.

by Lance on Aug 18, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

@Sarah. Pursuing regional WMATA funding that is more equitably shared seems like it is opening a can of worms. I heard Gray say something like 38% of WMATA's (operational?) funds are provided by DC. What are his justifications for reducing this percentage (which I assume is his goal), and will it be strong enough to win the agreement of MD/VA funders? Or would a reduction only result in an across-the-board reduction in funding that would handicap Metro? Perhaps this is a reasonable component of the needed revision in the current management structure, but I would appreciate getting a better sense of what he's thinking in this area.

by Tmichaels on Aug 18, 2010 10:12 am • linkreport

Hi TMichaels, I can't speak for Chairman Gray, and I am used to speaking for myself, so that is how I am answering this question. You should definitely call the campaign and talk with them to get anything other than my view.

First, my own experience of living close in and having run a business with 3-6 staff near Union Station,and having kids who went to school across town at least 4 years of their school experience, makes me think and use Metrorail as a local service. It's how I get to work, when I don't walk. I grant you it is hard getting from near Eastern Market to Union Station, so I am grateful for the new local connection, Circulator. At any rate, that is my orientation.

As to whether we pay too much or too little, I come down on the side of our-share-is-too-big for 599,657 hardy souls to pay when:
Metro benefits the entire region and beyond the actual defined region of 5,350,130. Not to mention the federal government, tourists, local embassies etc.
We represent about 11 percent of the population (not tourists, etc), but are paying 38% of both capital and operating, although each % varies a little bit year to year due to specific projects etc.

Some simple facts from the Hotel Association give you an idea of the broad benefits to tourists, who happen to contribute their $ pretty heavily in the suburbs too.
* 21 million visitors come into the District every year
About half stay in DC hotels and the other half stay in the suburbs in hotels and with family
* Of both these numbers well over 50% take METRO – what would it be like if they tried to drive?
* METRO is viewed by visitors to DC as one of our biggest assets along with free museums and unique sights.

I don't know how we stack up against other top cities in terms of percapita contribution but when I did that analysis for a client in 2003, we were almost 3 times the per capita of the next highest city: New York and then it dropped way off after NYC.

Is the issue a can of worms? Yes, but it is a very expensive can, and as we go forward and learn more about WMATA's real safety and operational needs, we have to find a way to pay for them. Even if there are substantial gains in management reforms and some of us think there are, we are likely to need to fund at a higher level to get us out of the hole WMATA is in. Asking DC to keep paying the big share is really not possible; I don't know where the money comes from. I don't see how it can't depress our ability to pay for the things you and other DC residents want. Even if we paid our current level and then divided up any growth in cost in a more equitable manner, it would improve our funding ability for other things and make us a little more competitive with our WMATA partners.

There has not been much of an opportunity to open the can, but when the line to Dulles is put in operation, we have to. That is why I think this conversation is so important now. It is a simple concept that private capital and public capital share: cost should reflect benefit.

So that is the gist of my view. I should have some fairly good research together later this fall and would be happy to share with you at that time.

by Sarah on Aug 18, 2010 11:13 am • linkreport

Vince Gray didn't make a mistake -- 'his staff' did, see? Just like Iraqistan -- it wasn't an executive decision, it was just an oversight, a snafu, a glitch in the matrix, you see there was this vial of salt, and it was a staffer who did it, nobody is really 'responsible' per se, sometimes things just happen, can't we all get along?

On other matters, DC has one of two DOT chiefs in the entire country that does not fight his/her constituents to the death on every little bike improvement demand. I think DC might be a bit spoiled at this point, but maybe we'll get to find out if bike improvements can still move forward when removing a generally-progressive DOT chief.

by Peter Smith on Aug 18, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith but maybe we'll get to find out if bike improvements can still move forward when removing a generally-progressive DOT chief.

Can you point to one actual 'bike improvement'? Let's see we have bike lanes that protect bikers with nothing more than paint and lead them into situations where they'll get run over by garbage trucks, we have cycle tracks that are similar ... some of which have ended up sharing real estate with pedestrians and tourist needing a median, and we're soon to have a flood of bike trotting inexperienced riders adding to the already very grave problem of cyclists in this town who have never been asked to obey the simplist of rules such as stopping at a red light.

I think we could use some 'bike improvement', but that's definitely not what I've been seeing from this current administration's DDOT ...

by Lance on Aug 18, 2010 12:56 pm • linkreport

>we're soon to have a flood of bike trotting inexperienced riders adding to the already very grave problem of cyclists in this town who have never been asked to obey the simplist of rules such as stopping at a red light.

Ever been on K Street at rush hour? We already have a flood of car-trotting bad drivers in this town who have never been asked to obey the simplest of rules such as stopping at a red light.

Not that two wrongs make a right, but let's not pretend failure to follow traffic regulations is a cyclist problem. It's an everybody on the roads problem.

by BeyondDC on Aug 18, 2010 1:08 pm • linkreport

Thank you David for writing on this. Personally, I would hate to see DC's exciting progress "derailed". I believe that Transportation is a vital link to accomplishing the urban renewal and improvements we need as a community.
Four more years of Gabe Klein!!!

by @eddie on Aug 18, 2010 1:28 pm • linkreport

Where is the money for Vincent Gray's education reform coming from? He wants to create universal toddler care, provide more funding to charter schools, and place more emphasis on community college and UDC. He's either going to raise taxes or not accomplish a fraction of his promises. Because these school reforms aren't going to paid with by redirecting dog park or streetcar money. This will take tens of billions of dollars. Per year! not total!

I prefer the Fenty/Rhee approach of reshuffling the union rather than massively increasing the size of the education program.

by Jason on Aug 18, 2010 4:28 pm • linkreport

@Andrew: Charter schools do not select their students. Anyone can attend. Oversubscribed schools are filled by random lottery. My son's school has kids from all 8 Wards of the city.

@Jason: Charters are not asking for extra money. They just want parity with DCPS. In many cases, they aren't even asking for more money, just the right to bid on excess properties owned by the city. So far, those unused or underutilized properties have been shielded by DCPS or shuttered until the city can convince a developer to take it on much sweeter terms than are being offered to charter schools, which are desperate for the space.

by Ward 1 Guy on Aug 19, 2010 1:51 pm • linkreport

Perecption... There are multiple ways to look at what actually transpired here. What I can't believe is that we are just getting the "correct" story now! I'm not a fan of Fenty's communication methods but this sure looks like a delayed attempt to throw someone under the bus for political gain.

I sure wish Fenty realized in mid-course that it's uncool to publicize teacher firings on CNN but I don't hear him blaming anyone else for where he is now politically. If he would only stop telling us about results and instead tell us he will actually listen and make changes in mid-course. He's got to convince people he cares to listen or it looks like we will get someone who will blame someone else for the lack of success in his administration.

by Frank on Aug 25, 2010 6:54 pm • linkreport

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