Posts about Barack Obama
In your December 2 post, "How Can Obama Do More for DC?" you mentioned that the President, directly or indirectly, controls half of the 12 seats on the National Capital Planning Commission. You recommended that President Obama appoint a District resident to the Commission to ensure representation by someone who lives in Washington and therefore truly cares about the city.
You are correct that three of the seats are occupied by the heads of the largest federal landholding agencies, and that one is appointed from Virginia and one from Maryland as required by law. The law also requires that the third appointee serve at-large. This helps to ensure that those outside the National Capital Region are provided the opportunity to have a say in what transpires in a capital city that belongs to all Americans.
Your post did not mention that four of the Commission's seats are held by District officials (the remaining two seats are held by representatives from the House and Senate). The mayor of the District of Columbia holds a seat, as does the chair of the Council of the District of Columbia. In addition, the mayor appoints two District residents to sit on the Commission. I think it would be fair to say the District is well represented given this equates to one-third of the federal Commission's membership.
The District's four representatives are steadfast supporters of District issues. Their participation, and that of the federal and congressional representatives, ensures a balance of local, federal, and national interests. Were the President to appoint a District resident, then the nation at large would lose its voice in planning for America's capital. That would be unfortunate and at odds with the mission of NCPC.
Yesterday, President Obama and Mayor-Elect Gray met for lunch. According to Gray, Obama said he "wants to do more for the city."
How can he do more? Obviously there are a number of federal programs that give out funding, whether discretionary or formula, and Obama could push for DC in many areas of the federal budget. But the President is very concerned about the deficit, and Congress makes the final budget decisions. What could Obama do for DC that doesn't involve large spending programs?
President Obama already controls a lot of what goes on in DC. He heads the largest employer in the District. Agencies control a great number of buildings downtown. The National Park Service (NPS) controls most of the parkland in the District, from the Mall to individual neighborhood pocket parks.
The President controls, either directly or indirectly, half of the 12 seats on the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC): 3 direct Presidential appointees and 3 ex officio seats for the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior (handled by the Park Service), and General Services Administration (GSA). The Park Service also holds one of the seats on the Zoning Commission.
If these federal agencies, especially Interior and GSA, had strong guidance from the White House and coordinated closely to improve the vitality of DC on and around federal property, they could create some big change. All it really takes is the will to overcome bureucratic inertia.
Here are some specific steps Obama could take right now:
Appoint a high-level DC point person. The simplest item could be a very significant one. There is no one person in the White House in charge of working with the DC government. Obama should appoint such a person at a high enough level to give him or her the power to really coordinate the DC-related work of the cabinet departments and push them to make changes when necessary and when they fit with the President's vision.
Appoint a DC resident to NCPC. Of the 3 Presidential appointees, the law requires one to be from Maryland and one from Virginia. The third appointee is currently Herbert Ames, a real estate agent from South Carolina appointed by President Bush. His term ends next year. The President should pick someone who lives in DC and who truly cares about making the District a better place.
Restrain excessive fortress design at federal facilities. Many federal agencies seem to want their building to be a fortress, partly because everyone is particularly sensitive to security, and partly because it makes agencies feel like they are more important.
Fortunately, NCPC and GSA have been pushing for more federal buildings to engage the street, like the upcoming GSA headquarters modernization which will include ground-floor retail. Require all new or renovated federal facilities in urban areas to contain publicly-accessible retail or food spaces, and avoid a bunker mentality unless it really, truly is necessary.
Direct federal agencies to encourage multimodalism. The President already issued an executive order instructing agencies to try to reduce their carbon footprint. He could specifically push agencies to accommodate bike parking inside their buildings and to put Capital Bikeshare stations outside, for example.
Encouraging transit use is not as simple as encouraging bicycle use. The best thing would be for Congress to extend the increased ceiling for pretax transit benefits, keeping it on an equal footing with the parking benefit. That also means federal workers get a higher transit benefit, helping workers better afford to take transit. Unfortunately, this isn't something Obama can do on his own.
Make St. Elizabeth's a good neighbor. The biggest immediate opportunity for making federal design fit with a community will come at St. Elizabeth's, where DHS is consolidating operations. That will have a lot of security, but there are many ways DHS can also encourage employees to interact with the surrounding community, foster nearby restaurants that are also open to the public, and take transit, streetcar, bike or walk to the complex.
Direct NPS to allow the Circulator and Capital Bikeshare. NPS has exclusive concession contracts for the National Mall and Memorial Parks, including ones for the Tourmobile and for bike rentals. They have been interpreting these contracts to prohibit allowing transit services, including bike transit (Capital Bikeshare), on the Mall.
However, $1 transit service doesn't compete with a $23 tour bus, and a bike meant for under 30 minutes of use to get from one place to another doesn't compete with an all-day bike rental. The White House should instruct NPS to find a way to allow these services immediately.
Direct NPS to treat urban parks differently from rural parks. NPS manages its parks in dense urban areas with the same philosophies as a natural wilderness like Yosemite. People from Colorado primarily wrote the National Mall Plan. But keeping spaces wild is not as paramount of a concern for urban parkland, which needs to contribute to the health of residents.
For example, NPS recently denied permission for DDOT to build a wooden walkway across a part of Fort Totten Park to help people walk to the Metro station. NPS needs a separate division with separate management policies for urban parks, staffed by people with expertise running parks in cities and a passion for making parks good public spaces.
Give DC control over local neighborhood parks. NPS plays a valuable role in our nation (some of my fondest childhood memories are from Minute Man National Historical Park), but it makes no sense that they decide all policy, handle all law enforcement, and have to plow the sidewalks (which they don't do) around most small neighborhood square, circle, and triangle parks throughout the District.
The President could instruct the Park Service to work out a way to turn day to day maintenance and policy of the small parks over to DC while maintaining ownership of the land and NCPC review for permanent changes to the parks. For example, NPS could essentially work out a contract with DC where it outsources park management to DC for these parks.
NPS could pay DC what it spends on those parks, including policing, snow and more. DPR could take over those duties, and handle things like permits for events or retail concessions, but DC wouldn't be able to decide to develop the park into housing, for example.
Local BIDs may also want to contribute to park beautification or "adopt" parks, as they do in many other cities. NPS is currently fairly hostile to public-private partnerships. Turning over the parks' immediate control would make such arrangements possible.
Unify management of lands around the Mall. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall keeps pointing out that nobody can really plan for the contiguous park space people generally call the Mall because control is fragmented between the Park Service, the Smithsonian, the Architect of the Capitol, the Secret Service, the National Gallery, the Commission on Fine Arts, NCPC, DDOT, DC DPR, the various memorial commissions, and more.
Create a board composed of federal, DC and citizen representatives to coordinate policy for the and work with NCPC, which could perhaps staff the commission.
And of course:
Publicly support voting rights. This was one of the primary asks from Gray at the lunch. Obama may have said he supports voting rights, but he has done little to make that a part of the national conversation, and most Americans still don't know that DC residents have no vote in Congress.
Obama should take public steps, whether symbolic like restoring the "Taxation without representation" plates to his limousine or meaningful like asking Congress for legislation, that will generate news cycles around DC voting rights. The Post also editorialized for the President to promise to veto Congressional measures that step on DC home rule.
It's great that President Obama wants to have a positive effect on DC. Fortunately, he is in a position to do so, easily and immediately. He can get started on the above initiatives right away.
President Obama released his FY2011 budget today, and it includes the $150 million federal match for WMATA capital needs.
Last year's budget didn't include the money at first, and area Congressional leaders pushed to add it after the crash. I heard this was an oversight rather than an intentional omission from the new administration.
Streetsblog Capitol Hill dissected more of the budget. It contains sustainability and high-speed rail money, including a rebranded infrastructure bank with $4 billion. It also cuts some programs that tend to be allocated by Congressional earmarks instead of a more objective or executive branch-based process.
Streetsblog, which was in many ways the inspiration for Greater Greater Washington, recently hired Elana Schor to cover federal transportation policy. The debate in Congress over the federal transportation reauthorization is starting to heat up, and the decisions there will greatly affect our region and the entire nation. We'll be carrying many of her articles here on Greater Greater Washington as well. Welcome, Elana! - David
With Congress out of town on its Memorial Day break, the nation's capital is a quiet place to be
Many urbanites remember the last congressional transportation bill as a disappointment that pushed a pro-highways approach while forcing transit projects to compete for a small slice of the federal funding pie. But that 2005 transportation clash brought us some instructive moments that escaped the mainstream media's focus at the time.
As a semi-regular feature on Streetsblog Capitol Hill, I'll be looking back at past transportation debates that have the potential to impact the upcoming re-write. For today's installment, let's look at the "complete streets" amendment that fell six votes short of passage in 2005 but had a pretty crucial sponsor: then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL).
The "complete streets" amendment submitted four years ago was similar to the legislation that was recently re-introduced in both the House and Senate. It would have required state DOTs to account for bike paths and pedestrian access wherever feasible and required metropolitan planning organizations that serve populations of 200,000 or more to appoint a coordinator for bike-and-ped programs.
Obama did not speak in favor of the amendment, but the future president's early endorsement of complete streets principles provides a powerful tool to livable streets advocates working on this year's transportation bill. Few arguments are as effective in Washington as a charge of flip-flopping
What's more, if senators maintained their past positions, the Obama "complete streets" amendment would almost surely pass into law today. Since the proposal lost by six votes in 2005, 11 GOP Senate seats have flipped to the Democratic column (including party-switcher Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania).
Of course, "complete streets" may be included from day one in the Senate's next transportation bill, especially now that the House has added similar language to its climate change legislation. But that would open the door to a GOP amendment striking "complete streets" from the bill, and to the same tired and false rhetoric that Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) used to kill the Obama amendment in 2005:
What this amendment says is: If you are planning a highway from Leftover Shoes to Podunk Junction in the middle of a state with nobody around, you would have to plan for a bike path. We have a lot of roads through our Ozark hills and farmland where the danger is inadequate two-lane highways. People are not going to ride bicycles along those highways. They need the lanes to drive their cars. Putting an additional planning burden on agencies that don't want or need bike paths is another unwarranted mandate.
Cross-posted from Streetsblog.
The House-Senate conference committee kept the Senate bill's lower $8.4 billion transit funding level instead of the House's $12 billion and cut the somewhat mysterious $5.5 billion transportation grants, but they also gave national high-speed rail an enormous boost to $9.3 billion.
Local transit is still going to suffer from painful budget cuts, as the stimulus doesn't rescue plummeting state and local operating budgets. It also won't fund many of the local transit improvements and repairs we badly need. And the $29 billion for roads means many states are going to add new freeways in remote, undeveloped areas despite Obama declaring the era of sprawl over. Still, this is a very pleasant and welcome surprise.
how to spend the stimulus money. Maryland's John Porcari says they'll prioritize repairs over new projects, which is the right choice; VDOT head Pierce Homer wants to pay for repairs and some of the delayed projects, meaning potentially more freeway widenings or new freeways. Most likely, according to COG transportation planner Ronald Kirby, the Purple Line won't get any of this money. Update: Or maybe it will. Nobody really knows yet.
Screw nature: $200 million to repair the Mall's grass and keep the Jefferson Memorial from sinking underwater got cut from the stimulus. MoCo is cutting port-a-potties from Rock Creek Park in winter. And auto manufacturers have confirmed they plan to use public bailout money to keep suing the public for imposing higher clean air standards (via Ryan Avent).
Wires have their high points: That Bombardier wireless streetcar technology looks pretty cool but, writes Manifest Density, it'll probably be quite energy inefficient, likely wasting 20% of the power it consumes.
Thanks for reading, Examiner: It looks like the Examiner noticed GGW's weekend links about the emergency DMV rule for federal judges. Reporter Bill Myers called the DMV, who said "the emergency order sprang from 'a situation' recently," but wouldn't elaborate.
Cut transit and people stop riding transit: Maryland Politics Watch's Marc Korman reluctantly stopped riding MARC after recent service cuts (and falling gas prices). No word yet on whether he's changing his name to I-95 Korman.
Lose the LOS: Streetsblog SF explains how Level Of Service (LOS) warps traffic engineers' thinking and blocked important improvements in San Francisco. city and state planners are trying to dethrone LOS as the primary driver of traffic decisions.
Stop hatin' on K Street: Yglesias points out, "'K Street' is a synedoche for the influence peddling business, but it's also an actual street," which is definitely not full of lobbyists over in the Mount Vernon Triangle. "You wouldn't want to actually crack down on K Street, leaving out all the bad people on other streets but hitting the new Busboys & Poets coffee shop."
Won't Larry Summers please just go away? He already laid the groundwork for the current financial crisis and damaged Harvard's reputation. Now, he's steering President Obama and the stimulus bill away from transit and other infrastructure spending and toward tax cuts.
According to House Transportation Chair James Oberstar (D-MN), the original stimulus proposal had $20 billion more for infrastructure, especially transit, but tax cuts crowded it out. He proposed a 60-40 split between highways and transit, but House and Obama negotiators took away more of the transit, shifting the mix to 75-25. On the Rachel Maddow show Friday, Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) pointed the finger at Summers:
Almost all other economists agree that infrastructure is a better recovery plan than tax cuts. Infrastructure projects let the government guarantee their dollars get spent, not just saved, and then when you're done, the country gets to keep the new infrastructure. An overwhelming majority of Americans support infrastructure spending. But, DeFazio said, tax cuts over infrastructure was "the dictate from on high in the negotiations with Obama's advisers ... I think he's ill-advised by Larry Summers. Larry Summers hates infrastructure."
DeFazio is fighting back, at least a little bit. He's introducing an amendment to add $2 billion in operating assistance to transit, helping our transit agencies stave off painful service cuts at a time when ridership is booming. Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will also be introducing an amendment to add $2 billion in capital investment. If they pass, those two amendments will restore only a small fraction of the $20 billion Summers & co. cut, but they're a start.
The first step for these amendments is the House Rules Committee, which decides which amendments can come to the floor. Rules will discuss these tomorrow. Please call Louise Slaughter, Chair of the Rules Committee, at 202-225-3615 and ask her to bring DeFazio's and Nadler's amendments to the floor.
Ask for a rule that allows it to pass with a majority of House members. Sometimes Rules requires a two-thirds majority for some amendments, which most likely dooms those; we want a majority.
Most of the time, House members disagree and negotiate behind the scenes. When they go public, they send a clear message that this is an important issue that they care about. Oberstar, DeFazio and Nadler are taking a stand. Let's have their backs. Call Slaughter now at 202-225-3615 and ask for Rules to bring both amendments to the floor under a simple majority rule. And tell your fellow readers how the call went in the comments.
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