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Live chat with NCPC on the federal Comprehensive Plan

Today, we're chatting with NCPC planners about the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for the Nation's Capital, particularly the transportation element.

 Greater Greater Washington live chat: Transportation in the Federal Comprehensive Plan(11/16/2010) 
David Alpert: 
Welcome to our live chat with NCPC planner David Zaidan on the Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan for the Nation's Capital, particularly the transportation element.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:46 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
We'll get started at noon. In the meantime, NCPC has put together a little introductory video:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:47 David Alpert
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:47 
David Alpert: 
Feel free to submit your questions now. We'll try to get to as many of them as we can.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:49 David Alpert
Are you employed by the federal government?
 ( 32% )
 ( 68% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 11:58 
David Alpert: 
Let's get started. David Zaidan is here to talk with us. Welcome David!
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:01 David Alpert
David Z: 
Pleasure being here. Thanks for having me!
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:01 David Z
David Alpert: 
We're talking about the transportation element of the comp plan, which you can read here:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:02 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
David Z, how does the comp plan affect federal agencies' decisions?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:03 David Alpert
David Z: 
The Federal Elements of the Comprehensive Plan provide policy guidance for the operations of the federal establishment in the National Capital Region. It covers areas such as transportation and environment to vistiors and historic preservation. The plan was last published in 2004 and we are beginning a process to update the policies given today's priorities. We also are looking to add a new element—Urban Design— to the Plan. It is the basis for everything we do here at NCPC from reviewing federal development projects to our own planning efforts.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:03 David Z
David Alpert: 
Walk me through a typical federal agency process. Say an agency is looking to move into a new headquarters somewhere. What makes them consider the Comprehensive Plan instead of just doing whatever is cheapest or moving to near where their director lives?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:05 David Alpert
David Z: 
Well, siting is a complex process- but the optimal situation is the agency consults with NCPC and our Comprehensive Plan which identifies certain areas of the city and region as priority areas for federal facilities. Generally, these areas are close to transit locations. Then they would move foward with their own process in selecting a site, considering these priority areas. A good example of this is the new ATF Headquarters which was developed on a site in the NoMa area which is a priority area identified in our Comp Plan. However, there are a host of issues to consider (cost, land availability, etc). But our plan does guide the process.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:10 David Z
David Alpert: 
One element of the comp plan is a set of maximums for parking. It calls for one space per 5 employees in the downtown core, one per 4 in the original "square", one per 3 near Metro, etc. How often do federal agencies comply with these requirements? Is NCPC able to really force them to, or is it more persuasion?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:11 David Alpert
What method of travel do you use most frequently to commute to work?
Drive alone
 ( 5% )
 ( 10% )
Public transportation
 ( 61% )
 ( 24% )
 ( 0% )
 ( 0% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:15 
David Z: 
That is an important part of the Comp Plan where our plan acts as "zoning" for facilities. NCPC was one of the first planning agencies to develop parking maximums for development. Most zoning codes began with minimums. New federal developments must show compliance with these ratios or must show strong justification for why they cannot meet them. Historically, our Commission has been very focused on making sure the facilities meet them. So, generally they have been sucessful.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:15 David Z
[Comment From Ben RossBen Ross: ] 
In my experience, the parking requirement is badly in need of qualification. I have seen the ratios interpreted as referring to the number of on-site parking spaces, rather than the total number of parking spaces provided. Agencies have been allowed to build parking spaces on their own property up to the ratio in the plan, and then rent more spaces in satellite lots. This defeats the entire purpose of the parking ratio and should be explicitly forbidden.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:17 Ben Ross
David Alpert: 
What do you think of this point Ben makes? Do the parking rules need to be strengthened to avoid agencies "cheating" by having satellite lots as well?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:17 David Alpert
David Z: 
Its an interesting point. We do consider all parking spaces that serve a site to be included within the ratio. But really it is an issue of enforcement because if an agency does lease space nearby we often times don't know. However, if it is a satellite lot that promotes a good modal split than we will work with the agency to allow that in their Transportation Management Plan.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:21 David Z
[Comment From Michael PMichael P: ] 
Our office continually fights off requests for more parking citing the NCPC guidelines. People want more parking, but it's given away for free. Does NCPC have guidelines for how parking is allocated, or is that left up to the agency involved?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:22 Michael P
David Z: 
We do have guidelines for how parking is allocated. Generally, priority spaces should be given to sharing/pooling of vehicles. We hope to expand this to include environmentally friendly vehicles such as hybrid cars. When agencies develop their Transportation Mangement Plan they must show how they are giving priority to these types of vehicles.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:25 David Z
David Alpert: 
Speaking of agency TMPs, Michael has another one:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:27 David Alpert
[Comment From Michael PMichael P: ] 
Do federal agencies have to pay for their transit subsidies out of the agency (personnel) budget, or do they get some sort of direct appropriation through OPM or something like that? Is there an incentive for agencies to promote transit?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:27 Michael P
Do you "slug" to work, and if not, would you ever consider doing so if slug lines were more readily available?
Yes, I slug
 ( 0% )
I might if they were more available
 ( 20% )
I wouldn't "slug"
 ( 80% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:29 
David Z: 
I believe there are special funds available from OPM for transit subsidies, but I am not entirely sure. In any event, there are many existing programs that agencies are using to promote transit (smart trip for example) and things like bicycling where employees can be eligible for up to $20 a month reimbursement for biking to work. Beyond that, GSA is working on additional programs to promote transit and that will actually be discussed tonight at our event.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:29 David Z
David Alpert: 
Let's talk more about bicycling. The District and Arlington now have the Capital Bikeshare program. Is that something that could go into the Comp Plan? Can agencies be enticed to locate (and pay for) stations on their property?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:31 David Alpert
David Z: 
I think this is a great direction to head and many agencies are very supportive of Capital Bikeshare. There are some concerns about things such as security and funding for these types of programs, but we can work through these issues to find a solution through the update process. So, I expect to see some policies related to bikesharing come through in the Comp Plan update. We have already heard from agencies saying that they want to be involved with these types of programs.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:35 David Z
David Alpert: 
A few commenters wanted to talk about buildings. It says in the Comp Plan update notice that NCPC is working on a new element around urban design. And there are a few questions about that:
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:37 David Alpert
[Comment From Adam LAdam L: ] 
What can be done on the federal level to liven up Washington's downtown? I know of no other city in the world that maintains a massive downtown infrastructure (roads, parks, utilities, rapid transit system, restaurants, shops) that is only used efficiently 40 hours in a week. Since much of the property is federal, what can be done in the comprehensive plan to make better use of facilities that lie dormant nearly 75% of the time?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:37 Adam L
[Comment From Michael PMichael P: ] 
What is NCPC doing to encourage federal agency buildings to be better neighbors, to incorporate retail that engages the street, to be more permeable to foot traffic so they're not a giant wall that yu have to walk past?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:38 Michael P
David Alpert: 
What issues will this urban design element address?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:38 David Alpert
How often do you telecommute from home?
1-2 days a month
 ( 0% )
3-5 days a month
 ( 0% )
5 days or more a month
 ( 0% )
 ( 67% )
My employer does not have a telecommuting policy
 ( 33% )

Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:40 
David Z: 
Well two points. First, DC's downtown has suffered the same historic decentralization as other cities in the US where residents and night time retail activity has fled to other areas. But, as a downtown resident you can see its resurgence. Going to the Verizon Center and other areas will demonstrate this. I think the second point is, how can federal buildings enhance this activity and make it better. The initial answer is to allow other uses into the builldings at its street level. We have been working with GSA to encourage this and we are seeing progress with GSA choosing to add retail into the ground floor of its headquarters on F Street, NW. What we want to do in the Urban Design Element is take these efforts further and create policies where federal buildings will have to demonstrate how they are promoting activity and enhancing the public space around them.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:49 David Z
David Alpert: 
That's great. Has GSA actually decided to go ahead with retail on its ground floor? Last we heard they were debating whether they had to have too much security. Will security make many agencies nervous about doing ground floor retail?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:50 David Alpert
David Z: 
It is my understanding they are moving forward with that option. Security is always going to be a concern, but through many of our efforts such as the NCPC Security Task Force we are making progress in getting agencies to look at security in a much more pragmatic and holistic manner.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:53 David Z
David Alpert: 
Great. As you go through the comp plan process, what would be helpful for you to hear about from residents and federal employees? How can we influence this process in a constructive way?
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:54 David Alpert
David Z: 
We will be holding public forums such as the one tonight at 5:30 PM as we go through each element. We hope to get ideas from the general public and particularly federal employees at these events. Furthermore, proposed policy ideas will be put before the Commission at their public meetings and will be released for public comment. So, we hope to really hear from everyone on how best to update the plan.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 12:59 David Z
David Alpert: 
Thanks very much. That's all the time we have, and sorry we couldn't get to everyone's questions.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:00 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
Stop by NCPC tonight to give more input on the plan and stay tuned for more coverage on Greater Greater Washington.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:00 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
And thanks to David Zaidan for taking the time to talk with us.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:01 David Alpert
David Z: 
Thanks to Greater Greater Washington for hosting this chat. Please keep an eye on our website and Facebook page for updates on this and other projects. For those who have some questions that didn't get answered or ideas they want to share please feel free to email them to . Hope to see everyone tonight.
Tuesday November 16, 2010 1:02 David Z

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. 


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