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Metro has a brilliant solution to its electrical problems

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

In light of the day-long Metrorail shutdown that occurred on March 16th which uncovered major problems with power cables, WMATA is moving forward with a plan to allow the system to operate at partial capacity without electrical power.

Image from FTA.

Over the next three years, 200 Rider-Powered Rail Cars, or RPRCs, will be introduced into Metro's rolling stock. The technology allows transit riders to push a train along the tracks with their feet using strategically-placed incisions in the floor of a rail car.

By running on nothing but the energy and sweat of their riders, WMATA can allow such cars to operate in all conditions, including future power cable inspections or even a system-wide blackout caused by a lack of funding.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said the project will help overcome what he's called a "modern Stone Age family of maintenance problems." The Federal Transit Administration has said the quality of many parts of Metro are most analogous to "a page right out of history."

Artist's rendering of the new RPRCs.

Modifying cars is simple and cheap

The first 86 RPRCs will come from retrofitted 1000-series railcars, which WMATA had been in the process of decommissioning before this decision was reached.

"The same elements that make the 1000-series 'non crashworthy' also make them perfect for turning into trains powered by people," said WMATA spokesperson Hanna Barbera. Welders are already hard at work removing floor plates in front of the seats on 1000-series cars, he said, so that riders can scoot the train to their destination even while sitting and reading the news.

The remaining 114 RPRCs will need to be designed from the ground up as the first rider-powered heavy rail system. WMATA will begin a procurement process and expects bids from industry-leading companies such as Radio Flyer. Expected features include a metronomic drum beat broadcast over the speaker system that will better coordinate the pace of riders.

Public health stands to gain

Local leaders are hailing WMATA's plan as a win for public health. "Requiring metro riders to push their own rail cars through the 117 miles of track will help make the Washington region a global model for cardiovascular health," said Mayor Muriel Bowser of the decision, noting that widespread use of RPRCs in the Metro system might help DC regain the top spot as the fittest city in America.

Much of the cost of rebuilding the subfleet of cars will be covered through event sponsorships. The 2017 Rock N Roll Marathon will be held on Metro's 26.2-mile long Orange Line tracks, eliminating complaints about closed roads and noisy outdoor concerts, while providing Metro's electricians with a bonus workday to upgrade signals and switches.

Reports indicate that Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefield is currently in negotiations with SoulCycle to provide trainers throughout the Metrorail system as additional motivation to riders.

When asked for comment, WMATA Board chairman Jack Evans said, "Yabba dabba doo!"


A regional summit on fixing Metro shows agreement on WMATA's leadership, divisions on its funding

"If we don't do something, ten years from now the system won't be running," said WMATA Board chairman Jack Evans. "The financial situation is dire."

COG chairman Roger Berliner addresses a summit of regional leaders on Metro. Photo by the author.

Evans minced no words while speaking at a summit Wednesday morning on the future of Metro, which has just celebrated its 40th anniversary. Regional leaders, convened by the Council of Governments and Board of Trade, gathered to discuss how to ensure Metro thrives in its next 40 years.

"There's no pride in Metro any more," said Doug Duncan, who served for 12 years as county executive of Montgomery County and now leads the regional Leadership Greater Washington program. "The cars are pigsties," he said, with banana peels and the like everywhere.

Duncan compared the state of Metro, which he said he rides every day, to the early days. So did Evans, who likened riding Metro in 1976 to the Jetsons. But, he noted, if you want to see one of those 1976 cars you don't have to go to the Smithsonian. You just have to hop on one of many running Metro trains.

WMATA is trying to replace the old 1000 series cars, but production from Kawasaki was delayed due to the Japanese tsunami and has remained behind schedule and below quality expectations.

Evans castigated his own baby boomer generation for allowing this situation to develop. "Our generation took our parents' accomplishments and let them go to wreck and ruin," he said. It's not just WMATA; he mentioned the Memorial Bridge, which may have to close to traffic entirely in five years. "I don't want that to be our legacy. I want our generation to leave things better than we found them."

A 1000 series railcar. Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Leaders unite behind Wiedefeld

Speakers across the region and the political spectrum agreed that Paul Wiedefeld is well-equipped to address many of these problems. Pete Rahn, Maryland's Secretary of Transportation, said, "Somehow the board found THE person who can make the changes that must occur." And he urged the WMATA board to let Wiedefeld work, focusing on policy rather than the operations of the agency.

District Department of Transportation Director Leif Dormsjo, who is also a member of the WMATA board, said Wiedefeld has the necessary "back to basics" focus on "safety and reliability." He added, "There was a misdiagnosis about the core problems of Metro a year ago because of a lack of information of what the problems were," but now, the leadership has the right priorities.

Getting those priorities to filter down to all ten thousand WMATA employees is not an easy challenge, however, like the issues with railcar cleanliness Duncan mentioned. Wiedefeld said a big focus of his work will be on the front-line employees. "There has been a disconnect between management and employees," he said, and in past comments has been clear that he thinks management bears much of the blame for that situation.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Show us the money?

There wasn't the same unanimity when the discussion turned to funding Metro. Evans is adamant that Metro needs a substantial infusion of new cash to succeed.

He'd served on the board many years ago while the system was being built and it was a jewel of the Washington area. After being re-appointed last year, he said, DC CFO Jeff DeWitt came into his office and said the finances were "in shambles." Just as one example, WMATA has a $2.5 billion unfunded pension liability.

Evans said that former WMATA General Manager Dick White warned of this very crisis in a report a decade ago. He predicted the agency would hit a wall financially and, Evans said, White's predicted timeline was only off by two months.

The agency will be starting labor negotiations in June, and Evans predicted that will mean labor costs rise (as they have regularly in the past). Labor makes up $1.2 billion of WMATA's $1.8 billion annual operating budget. All labor contracts go to binding arbitration, and since past arbitrators have generously interpreted WMATA's means, salary levels are only somewhat in the board's control.

Evans said he's absolutely opposed to raising fares or cutting service. That just leaves more funding from local and federal governments. Evans proposed the region's governments find another $900 million a year for Metro, and the federal government commit $300 million.

It's not clear other governments will go along. Maryland's Pete Rahn said it will be difficult to get more money until WMATA can "get its own house in order."

Rahn said WMATA already takes up 11% of the state's transportation budget. That's funding the Hogan administration supports because of Metro's importance, but they have also sought to limit spending, such as refusing to pay for Maryland's ridership share of the 5A bus to Dulles Airport.

Evans compared the situation to DC's fiscal straits in the 1990s, when a federally-chartered control board reformed the city's finances. Evans was very involved in that turnaround as a councilmember at the time, and said Metro can reform as well and gain the credibility it needs to win funding.

But, he also warned, this can turn into a catch-22. "We heard, 'get your house in order' before we'll give you money" during the control board era, Evans said. "Then we got our house in order, and they said, 'you don't need money.'"

Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

Governance changes are "a waste of time"

One oft-heard recommendation is to reform the WMATA board. There was widespread agreement that it's probably too large, at 16 members. There have long been debates over whether the board has too many elected officials or not enough of them.

However, several argued this isn't WMATA's biggest problem and changing governance is probably not worth the effort. Dormsjo said when he worked for Maryland, he thought that state's method of appointing board members was the best one. But once he came to DC, he saw the value of DC's method as well.

Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne reminded participants that to change the compact requires DC, Maryland, and Virginia to pass identical legislation, then receive approval from Congress. That's very hard, he said. Recently, there was a very minor compact amendment to let the US Department of Transportation appoint federal board members instead of the General Services Administration; the Virginia House initially voted that proposal down before ultimately agreeing to it.

Evans agreed that trying to amend the compact would be "a waste of time." He said he absolutely thinks the board is too large, and he'd eagerly join any effort to shrink it, but noted that any such change would have winners and losers, and those who lose would not acquiesce quietly.

What's next?

Wiedefeld is intent on tackling WMATA's challenges. "We cannot go on moving from crisis to crisis," he said. But the solution "may be hard on riders and jurisdictions."

Evans agreed. "The only way to get the system fixed is to make unpopular decisions." Whether more shutdowns or finding more money in the budget, fixing Metro will demand political courage from regional leaders. That is, if DC, Maryland, and Virginia can all agree on which courageous step is needed.


At a hearing on DC General, opposition runs the gamut from rational to prejudicial

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has a plan to close DC General and put smaller homeless shelters in all eight wards of the city. There's a lot of opposition, ranging from concerns about shelters going up in dangerous places to positions that seem more about keeping poor minorities out of certain parts of the city.

Photo by Kai Hendry on Flickr.

Everyone agrees that the decrepit DC General Family Shelter needs to go; it's notorious for being a place where families and children share space with mold, mice, raccoons, and bats, along with geysering water mains and collapsing, leaky ceilings.

Bowser's plan is to distribute the 250 beds at DC General across sites across the city, each holding a maximum of 50 people. Over 150 citizens, non-profit leaders, and activists packed the Wilson Building for the DC Council's Thursday, March 17th hearing on the shelter plan. There were over 90 public testimonies over 13 hours, a level of engagement that underscores how much emotion and outrage there is on the matter.

At this point, there are two clear camps: Those who have enough concerns about Bowser's plan that they don't think it should move forward, and those who acknowledge it to be imperfect but who think it should.

The plan doesn't have to be perfect, say supporters

Among the supporters was a group organized by the Washington Interfaith Network, including pastors, citizens from across many wards, and former residents of DC General themselves.

"If everyone nitpicks this proposal," said a former DC General resident, "I am concerned that this plan will fall apart, and DC General Family Shelter will still be standing with families living in horrible conditions."

Councilmember Jack Evans shared the same sentiment in his opening remarks, saying "What I don't want to leave here with, what I don't want to happen today, is that we end up doing nothing. And that is a real possibility."

Opponents present factual and "veiled" arguments

Some people, however, aren't sold on the plan. A number of attendees followed a formula that's familiar for development projects of all kinds, raising concerns about mismanaged taxpayer money, a lack of transparency in the process, and worries about the buildings' designs.

One key argument against it comes from Ward 5, where the current proposal location is in an industrial area, surrounded by a bus depot, strip clubs, and no easy-to-access public transit. Residents, advocacy groups, and Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie all seriously questioned placing 50 some families in such a place.

Other arguments also have some legitimacy. Some of the units are surprisingly expensive, and many of the developers getting contracts are largely known Bowser backers.

But at the hearing, some of these concerns seemed closer to having roots in excluding "other" people from living in certain neighborhoods. Many people started statements with something like, "I am not against homeless people moving into my neighborhood, but...," which Councilmember Elissa Silverman referred to as "veiled challenges."

Other opponents left less up for interpretation: "The same problems that are at DC General are going to be moved across the street [from us]," said one witness.

Inside DC General. Photo from Homeless Children's Playtime Project.

In April, the DC Council will vote on how to move forward.

The issue of how to replace DC General has brought about themes and arguments that commonly surface any time a new development with new housing becomes a possibility for a DC neighborhood. Sifting through moral cover and deflections, as well as veiled attempts to keep "those" people out, is all too familiar territory. Those of us working to reshape a city that historically has warehoused people in overcrowded shelters and on blighted, ignored blocks should take note, and prepare for future hearings.


Officials are blaming people for walking in the street, but they aren't ensuring clear sidewalks

In the snowstorm's aftermath, local officials are telling people not to walk in the streets. But they're not offering any alternatives to those who don't drive.

Photo by Jason Vines on Flickr.

After the snowstorm, something magical happened. People began filling the streets, to play in the snow or to frequent the few businesses that managed to stay open. Across the east coast, people starting documenting their vibrant, yet unplowed, streets with the hashtag #snopenstreets.

Local leaders have been vocal: "Don't walk in the street"

But city and county officials spent much of the weekend admonishing people for walking in the street, and even threatening to fine people for it.

On Twitter, DC Councilmember Jack Evans told people whose only option was to walk to stay inside if there wasn't a clear sidewalk.

Screenshot from the author. Original tweet was deleted.

In an exchange with Greater Greater Washington contributor Gray Kimbrough, Montgomery County officials dismissed concerns about a dangerous situation for pedestrians on a busy street by saying people should just stay off the roads.

In a press conference yesterday, Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker asked people to move their vehicles out of the path of plows, but then went on to ask that neighbors avoid walking in the streets:

"There are people walking in the middle of streets," he said. "It is dangerous. Please, if you don't have to be outside, do not go outside."

In a Washington Post article, DC Police Chief Lanier said that police would cite drivers stuck in the road, but that people could also be fined for walking in the street. "We're going to have to start stepping up and being a little more aggressive about asking our public not to be out, walking in the streets," Lanier said.

At the same time, clear sidewalks aren't a priority

While there is a legitimate need to keep roads clear of vehicles and people so that emergency vehicles and snow plows can pass, those who aren't driving need a way to get around. That's supposed to be clear sidewalks, but efforts to make that happen have been dismal at best.

In DC, police the mayor decided not to fine residents for failing to shovel their sidewalks, even though a new law permits them to do so.

During the Twitter exchange Kimbrough had with Montgomery County, the Montgomery account said the county had not cleared its own sidewalks because the primary focus is on roads for now.

And in many suburban parts of the area, governments don't clear sidewalks on major roads at all, so the responsibility falls to good neighbors.

Drivers shouldn't trump pedestrians after a snow emergency

With restaurants and bars offering specials, sledding hills calling out to kids (and kids at heart), and, you know, people needing supplies after being stuck inside for 48 hours, residents are going to leave their homes no matter what, even with most transit options closed.

But sidewalks aren't cleared, and in many places won't be cleared for days (until the snow melts). So now, with sidewalks impassible, pedestrians are still walking in the street. But cars aren't moving at 6 mph, they're moving at 40 mph. We should make space for our most vulnerable road users first. Otherwise we expose them to unsafe situations.

While the line on Friday and Saturday was generally "stay off the roads," it has since evolved to "If you get stuck and block snowplows, we'll fine you." A message that's basically "it's fine to drive now, just stay out of the way of plows" and that does not stress the importance of slowing down and watching for people walking implies that drivers have more right to mobility than pedestrians in a snow emergency. So does telling people not to walk at all.

Just last night, a snow plow struck a man walking on Georgia Avenue in Montgomery Hills. And two years ago, days after a snowstorm, a driver struck and killed a man on the Sousa Bridge. The pedestrian path had not been cleared. In fact, it had been filled with the snow plowed off the vehicular lanes.

Is this what Vision Zero looks like for our region?


A woman died crossing a street in Glover Park last night

The intersection of Wisconsin Avenue, Calvert Street, and 37th Street NW is dangerous. On Thursday evening a truck driver struck and killed a woman there.

The scene a few hours after the crash. Photo by the author.

There isn't much information yet on exactly what happened or why, and is too soon to jump to conclusions. Some rumors on the Glover Park listserv say that the driver was turning left and did not obey a red arrow. This has not been officially confirmed.

The intersection, looking south from Wisconsin Avenue. Image from Google Maps.

This isn't the only crash involving a pedestrian on Wisconsin Avenue this week or the only fatality on the roads in the region just on Thursday. A car driver injured a pedestrian on Wednesday at Wisconsin and Veazey Street, in Tenleytown. A Montgomery County school bus driver struck and killed a woman crossing a street on Thursday morning near Shady Grove Metro.

Wisconsin Avenue could have been different

Not long ago Wisconsin Avenue went on a diet. DDOT put in a median, added a turn lane, and slowed the traffic. In some parts of the avenue it sometimes took an extra two minutes to drive up the road.

Residents complained. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans complained. Councilmember Mary Cheh, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners at the time, and DDOT bowed to the popular outcry and reversed the change.

In the evening, Glover Park residents talked in person and on email lists about what happened. Some people quickly jumped to assumptions about what the pedestrian may have done. Some assumed she may have not been in the crosswalk and others that she may have walked against the light.

But did the street design contribute? Could the truck driver see adequately? Did he turn left or right on red? Was he driving too fast?

We don't yet know the details of what happened, so we can't say whether the road diet would have helped avoid this tragedy or not. But we do know that a move to make Wisconsin Avenue safer in the past was overturned because drivers wanted to be able to move faster through this neighborhood.

Even if the driver violated another law, like going through a red light, the point of designing streets for safety is to ensure there is more margin for error. Drivers (and pedestrians) won't obey every law at every moment. One violation on either side shouldn't lead to death, especially since it's always the pedestrian's.

In aviation, there's a maxim that any fatal plane crash is always the result of not one, often not two, but multiple things going wrong—a tired pilot AND bad weather AND an otherwise-minor equipment glitch AND a communications mix-up. Without any one of those failures, everything is fine. That's a system where safety is a higher priority. On the roads, a single mistake by a driver can kill an innocent pedestrian.

Correction: The initial version of this article quoted a WUSA9 story which interviewed a man who said the intersection was dangerous. However, this interview actually was about the other crash, at Wisconsin and Veazey. We have removed the quotation.


Mayor Bowser wants to raise DC's parking tax. Here's who would win and who would lose out

In her annual budget, Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed fully funding DC's share of WMATA's costs. Part of that cost would come from a higher sales tax on parking garages and lots. Will the DC Council go along? If it does, who will pay more?

Photo by Trakker on Flickr.

Under Bowser's budget, the tax would rise from 18% to 22%, raising $9.9 million out of the $30.8 million by which DC's payment for Metro transit service will rise this year.

Bowser also wants to raise the general sales tax from 5.75% to 6% and use that money to fight homelessness.

Bowser's staff compiled a set of comparable cities and their parking taxes.

  • San Francisco: 25%
  • Chicago: 22% weekdays, 20% weekends
  • Baltimore: 19%
  • Pittsburgh: 31%
  • Miami: 20%
  • New York: 18.5%
The new rate would put DC around the middle of the pack among cities on this list.

Who pays if rates rise?

Most analysis of the tax, like that from DC's CFO, has assumed that parking rates will rise, and commuters will be the ones paying. Some arguments for the tax cite this as a plus.

For example, unlike many taxes, this will affect both District residents and non-District residents who commute into DC. Past DDOT analysis has estimated that about two-thirds of the vehicles on DC streets during rush hour are from non-residents. Metro service, which the tax money will help fund, also benefits people who live all across the region and not just DC residents.

Also, the federal government subsidizes parking by letting federal and private-sector workers (if their employers offer the program) pay for up to $250 a month of parking out of pre-tax salary. (Sadly, that figure is now only $130 for transit riders).

This means that if garages raise their rates in response to the rising tax, many people will not feel the full brunt of the increase. The money is going to Metro to compensate, in part, for the revenue WMATA lost when the federal transit benefit dropped to $130 in January 2014 and some long-distance riders stopped riding Metro.

Metro riders weathered a price increase of 3% for rail and 9% for bus (and double for bus-and-rail riders). A 4% increase in parking costs is wholly in line with this.

Car cost image from Shutterstock.

But... will rates rise?

This analysis assumes that the tax will drive up parking prices. Economics 101 says that if you impose a tax, it will increase the price of the good, lowering the quantity demanded. Will that happen here?

The parking market is a little different than most markets. For one thing, at least for daily parkers, garages generally post prices and collect cash payments in round numbers which include the tax. This is different from the way it works at a store or restaurant. There's incentive for the garages to keep their prices at a round number of post-tax cash dollars.

Also, parking operators are in the business to make money, so aren't they already charging as much as the market will bear? In other words, if they could raise their prices when there's a new tax, why don't they just raise their prices now regardless?

Well, isn't that true of all markets? But in most markets, competition drives down the prices of goods. If you're making more money than a small profit over and above the cost of providing the service, someone else will enter the market too and try to undercut you.

Parking isn't really a competitive market. In the short run, the supply of parking is absolutely fixed, and there isn't empty land to turn into new parking in central DC. Also, many people also only really want to park in the building where they work, are going to the doctor, etc. and aren't shopping around. That's especially true when a company is buying parking for executives.

These factors make the parking market closer to a monopoly and/or oligopoly, and consequently, the pricing is more at the level that maximizes total revenue in the entire market, a level that's higher than the perfect competition price.

Therefore, there's some reason to conclude that garages already charge as much as people will pay, and can't easily raise rates a few percent.

The other possibility is that garages actually could charge more, but nobody wants to be the first; with the tax, it will trigger a wave of price increases.

A garage in Phiadelphia. Photo by John Donges on Flickr.

Philly parking operators and an expert agree

When Philadelphia was debating the level for its parking tax, the parking operators commissioned an economic analysis that concluded that the burden would fall on them rather than on consumers. It says:

In the short run, a change in the parking tax has no impact on the parking rates paid by the consumer. Consequently, the parking facility operator pays the entire amount of a parking tax increase. Parking facility operators face the same short run problem every day—how to maximize revenue.

In other words, parking operators are already charging as much as they can and the price consumers pay is determined by the number of spaces and the demand for parking, not by the level of taxes. The level of taxation and the other costs of operating a facility do not affect the price charged or the number of spaces available unless the costs are so great that the operator shuts down the facility.

In the long run the story is quite different. An increase in parking taxes discourages the rejuvenation of aging facilities, the replacement of facilities lost to development, and the construction of additional facilities. Thus higher parking taxes will decrease the long-run supply of parking, will increase the cost to the public of parking, and will decrease profits to owners of parking facilities.

Further, should an additional parking facility be required, a higher parking tax implies that the facility will require larger subsidies to develop than it would in the absence of the parking tax increase.

Rick Rybeck, a transportation consultant who previously worked as deputy associate director for transportation policy and planning at DDOT, agreed. He wrote in an email, "For the most part, parking operators are charging the maximum prices that they can charge for parking. If operators are charging the maximum possible price for parking at their location, an increase in sales price will not immediately increase the price of parking."

"Instead, the additional tax will reduce the net revenue to the operator, effectively reducing the base price for parking that the operators collect," Rybeck added. This would just come out of their profit margin, if that margin is large enough (or, depending how the parking deals with buildings are structured, out of the building owner's revenue from leasing the parking to an operator.)

In the long run, this might lead to less incentive to build parking, though DC is not Philadelphia. The Philadelphia report is saying that it might no longer be economically viable to take land in job center areas and use it for surface parking lots or garages. In and around downtown DC, that became the case long ago, and all new parking is underground.

Underground parking is already so expensive to build that developers build what they think is necessary to attract the kinds of tenants they want. According to testimony developers have given at zoning hearings, the revenue from the parking often doesn't cover the cost of building it (though, once it's built, they certainly want to try to sell it).

Maybe a slightly higher parking tax would lead a few companies to rethink exactly how much parking they really need in an area with plentiful transit service.

Jack Evans in a car. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

What will the DC Council do?

The tax increase first has to go to the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which Jack Evans chairs. He is one of the council's most anti-tax members, but is also now the DC Council's voting representative on the WMATA Board and a longtime supporter of keeping Metro strong.

At a recent hearing on WMATA, he said, "I am a big fan of Metro. I served on the baord back in the 1990s and I serve on it again today. Metro is responsible for moving a million people around the area and is critical to the well-being of the metropolitan area."

Evans may not like the tax, but if he wants his committee to remove it, he might have to find the money elsewhere in his committee's budget. More likely, he could try to convince Chairman Phil Mendelson to rearrange the budget in other areas to make up for the money. Evans also opposes the sales tax increase.

In an op-ed in the Georgetowner, Evans wrote,

What is my greatest concern in my initial review of the budget? Proposals to increase our sales and parking taxes. ... This latest [parking tax increase] is a triple whammy. When it's more expensive and difficult to find a parking spot, people are less likely to go out, spend money in the District and generate tax revenue.

Plus, most of these costs get passed on to residents, making it more expensive for people to park near their offices, restaurants and stores. More than a third of those parking in garages are District residents. So, in effect, we are taxing our own people again and again.

Evans makes one strange link when he talks about parking being "more expensive and difficult to find." In truth, more expensive does not mean more difficult. If anything, it's the reverse; more expensive parking means there's more available and it's easier to find. Also, when Evans says a third of affected drivers are District residents, even if drivers do pay more (which isn't certain), two-thirds come from outside DC.

Evans' committee will mark up its section of the DC budget on May 13. After that Chairman Mendelson will propose his own set of changes, and the council will vote on the budget on May 27th.


Cheh keeps oversight of transportation, but Jack Evans will sit on the WMATA Board

Mary Cheh will continue to oversee transportation in the DC Council next year, but will continue to not also represent DC on the WMATA Board; instead, Jack Evans will. Anita Bonds will chair a committee on housing, while David Grosso will take the education gavel from David Catania.

Photo by David Maddison on Flickr.

Council chairman Phil Mendelson just released his recommendations for committee assignments for the next two years.

When Kwame Brown took away Tommy Wells' transportation chairmanship in 2011, he gave the committee to Mary Cheh, but Cheh reportedly did not also want the board seat. Instead, it went to Bowser, but this created significant problems, as WMATA and DDOT then ended up in separate committees. This compounded the already poor coordination between WMATA and DDOT.

While Cheh and Bowser talked plenty, Mary Cheh was not even part of Bowser's committee overseeing WMATA while Bowser was not on Cheh's transportation committee. Evans, at least, will be a member of Cheh's committee, along with Charles Allen, Kenyan McDuffie, and either the Ward 4 or 8 member once they are elected. But WMATA oversight will still not be part of that committee; it will be in Evans' Finance and Revenue committee, which Cheh does not sit on.

Evans sat on (and chaired) the board in the past, which could make it easier for him to step into the role. And, actually, funding is one of if not the top issue for WMATA, meaning Evans could help steer new resources to the agency if he chose. Evans lives in Georgetown, which might get a Metro line if WMATA can get the money, and the line stretches through much of Ward 2.

On the other hand, his role could be bad news for bus priority, since Evans has been suspicious of any city move to dedicate road space to users other than private motor vehicles. Evans also is an opponent of the streetcar (along with Mendelson).

There also should be plenty of spirited debate on other bills before Evans' finance committee, which votes on tax breaks and tax policy. Evans generally strongly favors granting tax breaks to businesses, retailers, and developers, but a new member of his committee, Elissa Silverman, has often criticized DC for giving tax breaks out too readily.

The DC Council has an unusually small number of committees (seven) this period because there are so many new members. Current convention gives every member a committee but not in the member's first council period. Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Charles Allen (Ward 6), and Elissa Silverman (at large) were just elected this November, and there will be vacant seats in both Ward 4 (where Muriel Bowser is resigning to be mayor) and Ward 8 (where Marion Barry just died) until a special election in March.

Vincent Orange will chair a Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs, Yvette Alexander will handle Health and Human Services, and Kenyan McDuffie takes over the Judiciary post. McDuffie used to be a federal prosecutor in Prince George's County and a civil rights attorney at the US Department of Justice; he has shown a lot of concern over recent trends about police and prosecutorial overreach in DC and nationally.

That committee will likely again debate the issue of contributory negligence for bicyclists, where David Grosso, the bill's sponsor, will still not be a member, while Mary Cheh, the swing vote this past year, will remain on the committee along with Jack Evans and Anita Bonds. A Ward 4 or 8 member to be elected will join them after the special election.

Bonds' housing committee includes Silverman, a strong advocate for affordable housing policies, Brianne Nadeau, who ran with affordable housing as a strong part of her platform, Vincent Orange, and Bonds herself, who has championed tax relief for elderly homeowners.

Additional information has been added to this post as the information became available. At one point, an errant paragraph about the WMATA Board, written before the news about Evans' appointment was available, was near the bottom of this story. It has been removed.

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