Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Jack Evans

Pedestrians


"Stay the course" or "pivot"? Gray and Evans disagree about the ill-fated Wisconsin Avenue median

In 2012, DC changed the traffic patterns on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park to make it more friendly to pedestrians, then reversed course following strong complaints from many Georgetown residents including Councilmember Jack Evans. The issue came up in my interviews with Evans and Mayor Vince Gray.


Photo by Abigail Zenner.

I asked every candidate about the way the government can spend a lot of time planning a project, build community support, and still then later run into a lot of people who say they never heard about it or want to block it. Gray brought up this project in his response. He said,


Vincent Gray. Image from the candidate website.
We've seen in some parts of the city when a lane was changed and it was done with the concurrence of the people who lived in that area, who then railed against it in the aftermath and now it's being put back like it was.
I think that you've got to stay the course. I happen to live on a street that was changed, where when people saw a change there was enormous negative reaction to it: Branch Avenue, which went from being two not sufficiently wide lanes on either side of the street, in my opinion—we saw lots of accidents there—to being one lane on either side. There were people that were up in arms. They wanted to put it back like it was. Now, people have adapted. It's taken a number of years, no question about that, but people have adapted.

We have to work with communities around what do these proposals mean for their lives. Make sure there's community input on how we get to the answer. And then once we do, we've got to stay the course if we believe, earnestly, these changes will make life better for folks.

People hate sitting in traffic. The answer is not to give more streets. The answer is to give other options to folks, other ways of traveling, other methods of traveling, and then you've got to swallow hard and stay with it.

Jack Evans disagrees. I asked him specifically about the Glover Park issue, and he said,


Jack Evans. Image from the candidate website.
It was a complete disaster ... Even the ANC chair, Brian Cohen who was the spearhead of it, and Jackie Blumenthal came to the position that it was a complete disaster. It wasn't just me, it was everyone who realized that narrowing Wisconsin Avenue to 1 lane going north in rush hour just wasn't working. You were backing traffic all the way past the Safeway all the way to R Street, and that wasn't working for anybody.

I think the lesson that we take from that is they try something that doesn't work, but can then pivot and maneuver rather than sticking to something that was just causing chaos. What you were doing, as you know, by having that center lane with stripes on it, people were starting to cut around, creating a very dangerous situation. I'm glad that people were starting to recognize that.

To be precise, the plan did not make Wisconsin Avenue 1 lane at rush hour; there was a part-time parking lane people could drive in during rush hour. However, it was 1 lane outside rush hour, and according to Glover Park resident and GGW contributor Abigail Zenner, times like school pick-up around 2-3 pm were worse for traffic than rush hour itself.

What if some of the details like these had worked better, I asked, but drivers still found themselves delayed by a minute or two? Evans said, "If we were talking about a minute or two. We were talking about a half hour."

At one ANC meeting last year, DDOT reported that driving times had increased by 2 minutes. But, Zenner said, "since then I have not been able to get my hands on any more data. My unscientific anecdotal experience also backed up the two minute claim. I have never experienced a half hour back-up, although I have heard a lot of people say things like that."

Evans doesn't buy it. "As you've heard me testify many times, if it was a minute or two we wouldn't be here. Don't take my word for it, take the word of the proponents of the project, Brian, Jackie and others, who came to the conclusion. 80-90% of people in the neighborhood hated it. It was a universally hated idea. "

But, I asked, any change to a roadway will engender significant opposition. How do you differentiate legitimate problems with a project from knee-jerk opposition to change? Evans said,

You have to deal with each individual situation. The 15th Street bike lanes would be an example where we got tons of complaints, but it worked and we kept it in place. We didn't respond to the complaints. It's quieted down, but we still get complaints about the bike lanes. Most people quieted down and now accept it for what it is. The important thing is you have to be able to respond and not take a rigid view.
Evans did complain about the 15th Street lane at first, also, but changed his tune. Part of that might have come from a bike ride I organized to take him around the ward to the various bike lanes (an experience he referenced in the interview). And, indeed, he has not fought the 15th Street lane, or the L and M Street lanes crosstown.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


For DC Mayor: Tommy Wells

Tommy Wells is the best candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He has the strongest vision for the future on transit, housing affordability, education, social services, and many other subjects. We urge voters in the Democratic primary to cast their ballots for Tommy Wells. You can vote in person on April 1, or in early voting starting March 17.


Photo from Tommy Wells on Flickr.

As regular readers know, many editors and contributors grappled—sometimes publiclywith the question of whom to support. A minority of contributors chose current Mayor Vincent Gray in our endorsement poll, but of those almost all did so for strategic game theory reasons while still believing Wells was best on the issues.

That game theory may well have gone out the window Monday with revelations about the 2010 "shadow campaign" for Mayor Gray. However, even before then, the consensus among contributors for Wells was strong.

Wells' strengths

Wells clearly understands the forces that shape our city more deeply and thoroughly than any other mayoral candidate. On transportation, he does not just rattle off a list of projects he helped fund on the council, or give platitudes about schedules, community support, or process. Rather, he has very good insights into what is working well and poorly.

He wants to see important progress but also has a very critical skepticism of simply letting people inside District agencies run wild in what could well be the wrong direction. On transit, he has strongly pushed for better bus service, something that most politicians (including Mayor Gray) either ignore or just pay lip service to.

Wells also believes in good planning, and in particular planning that ensures less fortunate residents are able to stay in the city through affordable housing, affordable transportation, and much more. He proposes many specific ideas, like his "flex buildings" concept (which is far more than just a "slogan" despite the opinion of the Washington Post editorial board).

On education, he was the only candidate who went beyond banal statements like "all neighborhood schools should be good." He is the only candidate willing to explore more significant ways to close the achievement gap, beyond a small laundry list of minor programs.

Many of our contributors were particularly swayed by their feeling that Wells would appoint smart, capable agency heads who would actively formulate a vision and push to realize it. Here were some of their comments:

"The only candidate I see as selecting good appointees or pressuring DDOT and OP to make the right changes is Tommy Wells."

"Wells' vision for the city is inclusive and progressive. He has a track record of hiring stellar public servants to work with him, and I would like to see that play out on a city-wide level, particularly for appointed departmental heads, which has been part of my frustration with Gray as Mayor."

"Wells is the most progressive candidate in the race. Of those with a public service background, he is the only one without some sort of ethics cloud hanging over him. He is not perfect, but he is the best choice in a flawed field."

"He has been the biggest supporter of ... smart growth, equitable transportation policy, good government, strong education, etc., of all of the candidates there over the long term.

No candidate is perfect. No elected official can be a saint (City Paper nicknames aside). We don't, and won't, agree with everything Tommy Wells stands for or would do as mayor. Some supporters were disappointed by his ready defense of the height limit; others befuddled by his vote on the Large Retailer Accountability Act (the "Walmart bill"). But these are issues about which not everyone in the Greater Greater Washington community agrees.

What about Mayor Gray?

It's clear that Gray has championed many issues we care about at Greater Greater Washington. Residents who predicted he would rip out Fenty-era innovations like cycletracks once in office, despite his public statements that he supported bicycle infrastructure, have now come around. The city is moving in a positive direction. One contributor who voted for Gray in the poll wrote,

Shadow campaign aside, Mayor Gray is advancing all of the initiatives that GGW discusses in advocacy. Sustainable DC, which is fully a brainchild of Gray's administration, is a progressive plan that calls for us to begin to make tough decisions as a city. It has been more than a plan, the city is moving forward with specific plans and actions as a result. I'd prefer to stay the course than to lose 1 to 1½ years of momentum for an administration change.
However, contributors had some significant reservations as well (even before this last round of revelations about the shadow campaign). The biggest among those was the quality of Gray's appointments to agencies. Indeed, the main architect of the Sustainable DC plan was planning director Harriet Tregoning, who was one of those Gray kept in office from the Fenty administration, but who recently stepped down.

Gray's record on new appointments has been more disappointing. For example, it is often hard to tell whether DDOT head Terry Bellamy is providing meaningful leadership at that agency, which seems aimless and uncoordinated. Sometimes DDOT pushes forward on important initiatives, but often simply lapses into inaction or lets inertia continue work on bad projects from a past era.

One contributor (who also voted to endorse Gray) wrote,

I'm pretty okay with the policy direction Gray has taken. I am less thrilled with some of his department heads, most of whom seem to have no vision and are bad at managing. I know the most about DDOT, and Bellamy can't even get his internal folks to talk to each other, much less to get some paint down on a bike lane.
Some were far more strongly negative, citing, for instance, the recent homelessness crisis where the Gray administration crammed people in recreation centers in terrible conditions. His strongest critic among our contributors wrote,
Strategic voting for Gray is being floated by folks who don't appear to mind if DC grows into a playground for the wealthy, a future that neither Bowser nor Gray have a plan to prevent and GGW opposes. Gray cut money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund the first 2 years of his administration, something that seems quickly forgotten by those thanking him for his $100 million pledge last year.

He was further to the right of the Chamber of Commerce on the minimum wage, opposing indexing it to inflation, which [the Chamber] supported. And he had no plan for winter at DC General even though it was full when winter began, and in response to the crisis asked for power to keep families out of shelter on freezing nights if DHS claimed it found friends willing take them in for a couple nights.

It's worth noting that any mayor will have some issues where they fall short—certainly Fenty did, and if elected, Wells would too. Still, these are important concerns.

More importantly, even if Gray is the second-best candidate (now perhaps only true if Jeffrey Thompson is lying and Gray really knew nothing of the "shadow campaign"), a strong majority of contributors and editors still felt confident making the endorsement for Tommy Wells.

What about the rest?

Our contributors and editors were not impressed by any other candidate in the field. Jack Evans has made it clear, in his statements and actions, that he stands very firmly against inconveniencing the wealthiest and most powerful Washingtonians, whether in terms of accommodating a wider range of income levels in their neighborhoods, or having to share the road with other modes in a way that causes any appreciable hassle.

Muriel Bowser is trying to rise to the top of DC's political world by being concerned about anything that agitates residents. She has been the quickest of all on the council to introduce resolutions blocking administration action that angered some people—sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.

She is extremely smart and very talented at making statements that sound like she's agreeing with you, such as praising the DC Zoning Update to the rafters with the tiny caveat that she has 4 little quibbles—the only 4 significant policy shifts in the proposal, and the items that some people in the most exclusive neighborhoods of Ward 4 are fighting against the hardest.

Andy Shallal has a lot of good basic values but unfortunately lacks an understanding of the deeper implications of various government actions. It's easy to say that we shouldn't close schools or unfairly give away land to developers, but not as easy to develop a realistic plan for how to get better education and more housing.

Vincent Orange did not follow up to our request for an interview, nor does he have a platform that warrants consideration for mayor. No other candidates appear to have any significant level of support.

Conclusion

Tommy Wells has agreed with the Greater Greater Washington community on many issues during his years in office. But April Fools jokes aside, our endorsement was never a foregone conclusion. We made him jump through the same hoops as anyone else such as the video interviews, asked tough questions, and listened carefully to his responses. Our editorial team vigorously debated the merits of Mayor Gray's candidacy before coming to an endorsement decision.

However, it's clear from looking at the candidates' records, their statements, and recent actions that Tommy Wells is the best mayoral contender. He deserves our support, especially given the latest news about Gray's 2010 campaign but independent of that as well. We hope DC voters in the Democratic primary on April 1, or voting early beginning March 17, will cast their ballots for Tommy Wells.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement based on the responses in the survey and whether there is a clear consensus.

For more information on the mayoral contenders and their views, see our video interviews with the candidates on housing supply, affordable housing, bus lanes, streetcars, charter schools, and middle schools.

You can sign up for more information, volunteer, and/or contribute to Tommy Wells' campaign at tommywells.org.

Also see our other endorsements in the April 1 Democratic primary: Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1, Kenyan McDuffie in Ward 5, and Charles Allen in Ward 6.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


Bowser wants to solve middle school problem by replicating Deal, but Wells says that won't work

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the second of two posts on what the candidates for mayor said about education. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Both Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells say it's crucial to provide families with good choices for middle school. But Bowser's solution is to replicate Ward 3's Deal Middle School across the District, while Wells says that approach shows a "lack of understanding about middle school transformation."

While more and more DC children are attending their neighborhood elementary schools, families often leave the system before middle school because of a lack of desirable options. Bowser and Wells have made improving middle schools a major campaign issue.

"We have to send a strong signal to young families who are choosing DCPS that we're going to have middle school ready for them when the time comes, " Bowser said. "So it will be a strong initiative from our administration to identify those middle schools that need that strong infusion to replicate the successes that we see at Alice Deal."

Wells scoffed at that idea. "Alice Deal is great," he said, but "it's 1200 students or so. Not everybody wants to send their child to a school that large."

Beyond that, Wells said that much of Deal's success has to do with the relative wealth of its student body compared to other DCPS middle schools. "I don't think we can gentrify, or should gentrify, the city as aggressively as what it would take to have an Alice Deal in every neighborhood," he said.

In a separate interview, Bowser disputed the idea that Deal's demographics are at the root of its success.

"I think there are many things that make the school successful," she said. "It has a great building, great leadership, in many cases long-tenured staff that are expert in their fields. Because of its size it has every program offering a family could want, from languages to extracurricular activities, to advanced courses in mathematics and other areas."

Those things, Bowser said, can be replicated elsewhere, although providing them will require additional funding.

Wells would make charters an option

Wells' solution to the middle school problem relies on creating feeder patterns that include both DCPS schools and high-performing charter schools, as others have suggested. Right now there are a number of successful middle-school charters, he said, but parents can't count on being able to send their children to them because neighborhood students aren't guaranteed admission.

Wells said that what's needed is "a mayor than can knit this together," so that a charter middle school could be required to give a preference to "an array of elementary schools," both DPCS and charter.

Under that system, he said, "you know that when you're coming out of, say, Tyler Elementary, you have one school that you can attend as a matter of right, or that there are two or three other charters to choose from where you have first preference."

Can Deal be replicated?

While Bowser is right that some aspects of Deal, such as a greater range of academic offerings, should be available to students across the District, Wells has the better of the argument when he says that much of Deal's success is due to its demographics.

While Deal has a diverse student body, only 23% of its students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced meals (FRM). At most other DCPS middle schools, that proportion is more like 99%.

Because lower-income students generally have far greater academic and behavioral needs, merely replicating Deal's facilities and offerings is unlikely to produce the same results at schools where the vast majority of students are poor.

At those schools, what's needed is a greater emphasis on managing classrooms and ensuring that students master basic skills. And in DC, high-performing charter schools have done a better job than DCPS in providing those necessities to low-income students.

At middle schools like Hardy and Eliot-Hine, on the other hand, where only a little over 50% of the student body qualifies for FRM, Bowser's approach has a better chance of working.

Extended day

Another issue that all 5 candidates addressed was whether DCPS schools should have some form of extended hours. All said they should, and all identified the teachers' union and funding as potential obstacles. But they didn't all necessarily have the same kind of program in mind.

Both Andy Shallal and Mayor Vincent Gray spoke of the need for experimentation. Shallal said different schools should be able to try different approaches, with some extending the school day and others perhaps having more traditional afterschool programs.

Gray talked about an extended-day pilot program that was in 8 DCPS schools last year and noted that 7 of them had increased test scores. He also suggested that a longer school year might be in order, saying that the summer break is a relic of an agrarian society.

"We know that children lose academic gains over the summer," he said.

Jack Evans drew on his own experience as the single parent of triplets to advocate for afterschool programs, but not an extended school day: "I'm saying at 3:30, when they get out of school, have mechanisms in place to help children get their homework done, review, and do whatever is necessary."

He said that he had hired college students to fill that role for his children, and he suggested that college students could be recruited to do it on a larger scale, perhaps even getting college credit for it.

As with the idea of replicating Deal, that model may work for some students, particularly higher-income ones. But students who are below grade level or otherwise at-risk may need a more intensive approach, either by virtue of an extension of the school day itself or as a result of coordination between the school and an afterschool program.

As Evans said, "I'm not sure one size fits all." DC schools have students with widely varying needs, and what works for one child or one school—either in terms of improving the middle school experience or extending the school day—may very well not work for another.

To watch the interviews in their entirety, click on the videos below.

Gray:

Evans:

Bowser:

Wells:

Shallal:

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


Mayoral challengers criticize the Gray administration's streetcar progress

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over the course of a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Love it or hate it, DC is building a streetcar, but there have been a lot of delays in getting it running. We already posted videos of Ward 6 candidates Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson criticizing the slow pace of progress on the first line, which will be in that ward. The mayoral candidates running against Vince Gray had some sharp words as well.

Tommy Wells, the councilmember most closely identified with championing the streetcar, had plenty to say.

I think that it has been managed very poorly by this administration. I know that sounds political, but let's go through why.

It's being run by engineers, and seems to have almost no coordination with the Office of Planning. Ward 5 is told, you're getting a streetcar barn and you're going to like it. Or whether you like it or not, we're putting a streetcar barn in, with very little creativity.

In Seattle, their streetcar barn has affordable housing over it. The most valuable land now is going to be where the streetcar runs. There's no retail plan there showing that we can bring in restaurants or other things facing Benning Road with the streetcar barn behind it. ... I think that the administration has not been creative, has not thought out of the box. There's a way to leverage in amenities along with the streetcar barn.

And then they kept failing at being able to procure streetcars, so finally they had to piggyback on someone else's contract. That's why the streetcars are so late in coming here. And they better not run it without at least 6 streetcars. You need 5 on the tracks and 1 in reserve. Otherwise, it's just a ride at Disneyland that comes by every 30-40 minutes. ...

The other thing was that—my understanding is that the contract for design-build, for finishing off the line, it sat with the Attorney General's office for almost 8 months. This administration, it's like someone poured molasses over the government. I think they're going to get there, but it's not with a sense of urgency. It's not real smart how they're doing it. We're missing an opportunity to do this really creatively.

But we're going to get a streetcar line. We're going to be able to touch it, ride it, so that our residents can see what the future can be like, but it's not as good as it could have been.

Later in the segment, Wells also talked about how important it is for the streetcar to go east of the river, and how he thinks it should never cost more than $1.

Muriel Bowser also talked about DDOT's procurement follies, and says the administration wasn't honest enough with residents:

I'm just as frustrated as I think most people. Mostly, I want somebody to tell the truth. Every month it seems we have a new opening time.

I have no doubt that it's a complicated project. There is nobody more excited than me to figure out all the lessons learned from went wrong in getting this thing going and how we we can fix it, and next time, Mayor Bowser can go out to the community and say, "Listen, this is going to be—dig up your street one time. And we know how we're going to energize it, we know where we're going to turn it around. We know where we're going to store the cars and we know about how long this is going to take."

I think where this mayor and this DDOT director lack credibility is, they won't go out to the community and level with them. And I think people just want to know what gives and what do you need to do to fix it and when can we expect the streetcar to be running.

Andy Shallal was the least enthusiastic about the streetcar, or at least most overtly unenthusiastic. He referred to concerns many H Street business have been voicing that the streetcar will interfere with deliveries.

I think maybe we need to figure it out, use it as an experiment now—it's already built—before we continue to build the rest of what's proposed. I would suggest making sure we understand the challenges that a streetcar is going to bring to a community. I know there's issues with parking that are going to get in the way; deliveries with restaurants, how are those going to happen—many of them don't have alleys and have to depend on deliveries from the front; bicycles and how they cross those tracks.

It's a lot of stuff there. I think we need to really be mindful of how we go about completing the tracks and making sure that whatever we put in place on the H Street corridor is something that's workable and manageable and doesn't create more hassles than it tries to solve.

Later, when we were talking about political obstacles to bus lanes, he suggested doing more projects that make it possible to experiment. He said,
Things like bus lanes are a great way to try something out. What's the worst that can happen? you erase them. As opposed to a trolley, where you've spent millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. You've dug up the street for years, you've caused all this disruption, you've shut down businesses.

Jack Evans was very brief and much less critical. "It's just taking forever. It's on the right track, it's just taking too long to get down the track. ... What we have to do is get the program moving. To be honest with you, with any program it takes forever to get off the ground. And now we have lines built, we have the streetcars, maybe this will be the end but it needs to be moving a little bit faster."

See the full discussions with these candidates:

Wells:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Evans:

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


Wells wants bigger role for charters, others aren't so sure

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the first of two posts on what the candidates for mayor said about education. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

How can we speed the pace of improvement in struggling DCPS schools? Some mayoral candidates say it just takes time, and Andy Shallal says we need to focus more on the effects of poverty. But Tommy Wells wants to bring in successful charter organizations to turn schools around.

"I think sometimes it takes DCPS too long to turn an elementary school around," Wells said, mentioning a period of 3 to 4 years in the case of one school, Tyler. "And we know that there are national-model charter schools across the country that can come in and turn a school around within a year to two years."

Charter authority for Henderson

Wells said that if elected he would give DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson the authority to charter schools herself. (Right now the only body in DC with the authority to issue charters is the Public Charter School Board.) He would then recruit charter networks who have a proven track record of success and bring them in to run failing DCPS schools.

Neighborhood children would still be able to attend those schools as a matter of right. And, he said, "those schools may become traditional DCPS schools again. But we can't wait, we can't close more schools and consign more neighborhoods to not being able to have great schools."

The current administration, Wells said, has been "coasting forward on the work done by the previous administration." He promised that if elected he would court successful charter organizations with the same aggressiveness that he said Mayor Vincent Gray employs in luring businesses such as Microsoft to the District.

Andy Shallal, in contrast, bristled at the suggestion that the charter sector should be encouraged to expand its role in DC. "That really denigrates educators," he said. "It denigrates people that know how to do this stuff."

More resources to fight social ills

The problem, he said, is that "we're asking schools to solve social ills. We're asking teachers to be social workers, mental health specialists, nutritionists, nurses. And that doesn't make sense. And so for us to say, gee, we have no idea how this works, show us No, we know how this works. You put in enough resources, enough wrap-around services, you fire bad people and you hire good people. That's how it works."

Shallal also said that while it's fine to emulate some techniques used by high-performing charters, "you have to understand that charters are self-selecting at some point," because parents who take the initiative to apply may be more engaged than those who don't. In addition, he said, "Charter schools can actually ask a child to leave if they don't match the criteria or the requirements of that charter school. And public schools have to accept them."

Shallal said that what's needed is a commitment to ensure that public schools succeed. "We have basically gone on a tear, closing down schools," he said. "We say schools fail, and the reality is schools don't fail. We fail them. We fail our children."

The three other major candidates essentially said that high-performing charters should be allowed to expand, but they didn't share Wells' enthusiasm for using them to speed the pace of change within DCPS.

In contrast to Wells, Bowser presented the mayor's role in bringing in charters as subordinate to that of the Public Charter School Board, which she said "makes a lot more decisions about which charters come in than the mayor does." Her concern, she said, is to make sure that charters locate where the need is greatest and to ensure that in at least some communities charters give a preference in admissions to neighborhood kids.

Both Gray and Jack Evans said they were supportive of high-performing charter schools, but both were quick to add that DCPS schools need support as well. Like Wells, Evans said that what was needed was a mayor who could "find a way to meld these two systems together."

Asked how the pace of progress could be increased, both Gray and Evans cautioned that change would take time, using almost identical language. "If there were a silver bullet, we would have found it," Evans said.

"I don't think there is a magic solution or a magic bullet or a quick fix," Gray said.

A possible model

Gray did mention with approval a DCPS school that has begun to turn around under an arrangement similar to what Wells is suggesting: Stanton Elementary in Ward 8, which for the past 3 years has been managed by a charter organization, Scholar Academies. According to the school's website, since then math scores have increased by 320% and reading scores by 100%. Those familiar with the school before the takeover say it's now a much calmer, happier place. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of DC Scholars, a charter school that is also managed by Scholar Academies.)

But Gray brought up Stanton not as the wave of the future but as an example of the "multiplicity" of approaches necessary to education reform. "It's yet another innovative approach that is starting to produce substantially increased outcomes for our children," he said. Then he added, "I don't know that we can predict exactly how long it will take."

For those impatient with the pace of reform, those words aren't particularly reassuring. Wells' idea of bringing in charter organizations with proven track records to turn around struggling schools could give the system the jumpstart it needs. Wells mentioned that it can take DCPS 3 or 4 years to turn around a school, but there are quite a few DCPS schools that show no sign of turning around at all.

Those concerned, like Shallal, that charters are selective or that admission is unpredictable should consider that a charter-operated DCPS school would most likely be required to admit all comers, just like a regular DCPS school. That's certainly the case at Stanton. And while Shallal has a good point about the need to address the effects of poverty on students, there's no reason that can't be done at a charter-operated school as well as at a traditional DCPS one.

Can charters do the job?

It's harder to turn a failing school around than to start a school from scratch, and not all charter operators will be willing or able to take on the job. There have been a couple of failed experiments with charter partnerships at the high school level, most notably at Dunbar.

But high schools are particularly tough places to re-invent, and it's important to select a charter operator with experience in turnarounds. The charter organization that came into Dunbar had previously operated a charter traditional public high school in New York that it had started from scratch—and that was application-only.

The experiment at Stanton seems to be working, without the advantages of self-selection or "cherry-picking" that critics say charters enjoy. We may not know exactly why charter organizations can sometimes succeed where DCPS hasn't been able to, but maybe we should give them more opportunities to try.

To watch the interviews in their entirety, click on the videos below:

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


A bus lane for 16th Street? Which mayoral candidates agree?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transit—people have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?

Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)

Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we're successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.

The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can't say, let's widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.

We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.

Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We've not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It's really the last thing they do. They've had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritization—which means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It's about as basic a technology as possible. And they're a bunch of Neanderthals—not to insult Neanderthals. ... It's ridiculous that we can't expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.

Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it's his transportation agency that's put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.

I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.

I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.

We've got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that's going to take time as well.

We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We're increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn't exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.

Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,

I don't know [about the lane], and I've said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There's been really no proposal that's been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.

Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes. Where it doesn't make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.

What I've been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.

Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it's more efficient. We can't put a Metro stop everywhere. We can't put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I'm very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.

Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:

What you'd have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it's a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn't do it all the time. You'd have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there's a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it's something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, "I think it's a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea."

Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.

You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Evans:

Shallal:

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


DC's mayoral candidates voice ideas for affordable housing

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the second of 2 posts on discussions about housing with candidates for mayor. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Mayor Gray has pledged to spend $100 million a year on affordable housing, and recently also agreed to devote half the city's surplus to affordable housing once the rainy day fund gets paid down. What does that money get for DC residents, and is it enough?

Gray touted 47 affordable housing projects that are underway, all across the city, which he said can "buy down" the cost of housing, particularly rental housing. Will those 47 projects make a real dent in our housing problem? He said,

I think it's a significant dent in the housing need in the city, but I think hopefully we'll set a tone in terms of the culture, to say that we've got to have economically diverse housing in the city. The commitment in the housing plan I put together is that we would either create or preserve 10,000 units by 2020.

We already have reached the point where over 2,000 units have been created or are under construction, and the pace is picking up. 10,000 is not going to solve the problem. It is a huge down payment, a huge investment.
I think, too, as opportunities become available in the city with additional resources, I want to continue to invest in housing.

Tommy Wells argued that the government has not made it enough of a priority, especially in public land deals from the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

We have large tracts of land, from the McMillan Reservoir to Walter Reed to Reservation 13 to Poplar Point. If we start with the idea that our city needs affordable housing, then instead of looking at which developer can make money on this and then add on affordable housing—affordable housing on those tracts and those developments have been the secondary priority.

Wells specifically mentioned that DC has not built independent living facilities for seniors. He also suggested DC find more "creative" ways to use buildings, like the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library downtown.

We have real estate on top of MLK Library. The Mies [van der Rohe] bldg was built for 5 stories. The structure is there. That is one of the most desirable places to live in the country. It's also one of the most expensive. If we thought of that as being the possibility of affordable housing for seniors, the place where—I can't think of a better place to live as a senior. You're on top of a library, you have services, medical services, the Y nearby...
He also accused the government of not being "smart" enough with its investments to ensure there is affordable housing in areas that will soon become more desirable. "We need to be land banking today on every route we're planning for the streetcar," he said. "We know the land value is going to go up. We need to be land banking along the streetcar lines so that we don't come back and say, 'Oh gosh, now this is so expensive, we need more cash out of the Housing Production Trust Fund in order to have less housing than we would have had if we had been smart to begin with."

Both Wells and Bowser talked about the problems of preserving affordable housing as well as creating more, and said that even DC's current investment will only do so much. Bowser said,

$100 million will get us little. If we do it for 10 years we'll get 10,000 new units. Our waiting list for public housing closed at 70,000 people. That already demonstrates a gap. We could spend a billion dollars and still have 10,000 people who are still in need of an affordable unit. An affordable housing strategy can't just be about creating units. It has to be about preserving and investing in the units we have.
Bowser also pointed the finger at the Gray administration, which she said has slowed development projects on public land to a "trickle."
When I first got on the council, we were approving city-initiated projects every month. Now it's a trickle of projects that come out of the Deputy Mayor's office. It's a trickle coming out of DHCD. And there's just not enough urgency around the creation of [affordable housing] units, and we need to get more.

More than that, we see projects getting canceled and rolled back. I can't tell you the concern over the Deputy Mayor's office canceling the Park Morton project, or Lincoln Heights. So I can tell you there's interest in developing housing in DC.

Do we have to incentivize it in some parts of the city, yes. Do we have to have some government involvement, absolutely. But I haven't seen at this point anybody saying that I don't want to build anything in DC.

Jack Evans claimed credit for the Housing Production Trust Fund existing in the first place. "Everyone you talk to is going to take credit for that, but the bottom line is, it was a piece of legislation that had been in existence that Mayor Williams, myself, and Councilmember Fenty decided to put in place and fund."

Evans also talked about his efforts to extend rent control, and to provide tax breaks for homeowners.

I championed the tax cap that started out at 25%, went down to 10%, and I'm looking to see if we can even lower it further so that people in the city, all across the city, who own homes won't find themselves in the situation where their property taxes are driving them out. And on the senior level, again I have a bill that moved out of my committee, that if you're a senior citizen and you earn less than 60,000, are 75 years old and lived in your house for 15 years, you don't have to pay property taxes at all. ...

Last night I was over at Thomas house, a senior building, and many of the residents there were talking to me about how they have homes and how helpful this will to be for them to stay in their home instead of going into a retirement home.

Evans mentioned that residents of east of the river neighborhoods say they don't want all the affordable housing over there, but spread throughout the city. He said he wants to put that housing everywhere. When I asked how some would go in Ward 3, west of Rock Creek Park, he said it should happen when there is new construction involving public land, but didn't specify further where that public land might be.

Bowser also brought up this concern from east of the river. She cited Inclusionary Zoning as a way to get affordable housing elsewhere, and seemed confident that initial "kinks" could be worked out.

Andy Shallal would go further and increase the amount of housing DC requires under inclusionary zoning. IZ "asks something from developers that receive so much. We need to ask for much more, much higher percentages." Similarly for public property, he said, "We have to be mindful of how we use that public property, and not just give it away willy nilly, to make this city a pawnshop for developers."

Watch the complete housing discussions with the candidates:

Evans:

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


Where will DC's next 200,000 residents go? The mayoral candidates weigh in

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the first of 2 posts on discussions about housing with candidates for mayor. See all of the posts here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

"We've been a city of 800,000 before, and we're going to be a city of 800,000 again," said Muriel Bowser. "Keep in mind, the city's population at one time was 800,000 people," said Jack Evans. "The city used to have 800,000 people, but we have only 640,000 today," said Andy Shallal.

When talking about growth and development, multiple candidates for mayor brought up this number. In many cases, they were citing it as evidence that there must be plenty of room in the city to add 200,000 new people. How can there not—there used to be!

But the city looked very different in 1950. Families were much larger. A lot of row houses had become boarding houses during World War II. Homeowners lived in one room and rented the rest out to unrelated people. Americans got married younger and had children younger. In short, our existing houses that have one or two empty nesters or a young couple with one child today might have held 5 or even 8 people 60 years ago.

What would our candidates for mayor do about it? Mayor Gray talked about "air rights." Evans and Bowser both pointed to less developed areas of the city; Evans highlighted Shaw, where we were speaking, as a corridor ripe for new housing and retail. He talked about his experience pushing for the Whole Foods, then Fresh Fields, to come into Logan Circle; during the first meeting, Fresh Fields representatives wouldn't even step out of the car, while today that is "the largest-grossing Whole Foods in the chain on a per-square-foot basis."

Bowser referred to her efforts building support for development at places like Walter Reed. She would like to see DC more proactively plan for the housing we need, through citywide and small area plans. She promised to make sure that the Comprehensive Plan, which is up for revision again soon, finds room in the city to grow back to 800,000. That's important, because according to the Office of Planning, even building everything to the limits in the Comp Plan won't be enough for our housing needs after 10-20 years.

Where exactly the housing might go, Bowser was less clear. She also proudly defended her efforts to remove a floor from a proposed building at the Takoma Metro, saying that there needs to be a participatory process to make sure residents are comfortable with a new development. But, I asked, doesn't that mean that every project will get a little smaller, lose a floor, and so on, I asked? Will that prevent us from building enough housing in the aggregate?

She wasn't concerned. "There are going to be some very smart people to make sure [the new residents] will have a place to live." And later, "The thing I know where there is a lot of demand is that the units will be created. In markets where people are looking for housing, and it's profitable for them to create housing, they will."

Tommy Wells criticized most of the thinking on this issue as being very "linear" and "two-dimensional," saying that as our needs change, many people will use space differently. More younger residents are willing to move into smaller spaces because instead of needing to own or rent all the space they'll use, people are "using the collective of shared space that they all pay for together," such as common rooms in buildings and public places like parks in the city.

Meanwhile, he said, offices are also using less space as fewer employees have their own offices, employees spend more time working at home, and people use common areas. Therefore, he said that people at one of the downtown business improvement districts think that some office space can become housing.

Andy Shallal is worried about the trend toward building smaller units. "I think those types of developments [are] overdone throughout the city," he said. "They're temporary housing, because when people get married, have a child, they can't really live in those small spaces. I'm just worried about this rush to build these small units, cookie cutter units, is going to make the city less desirable for families that want to live in larger homes."

Wells has an idea to deal with that:

I've been working with another architecture firm and a major developer to do what I call "flex buildings." With a flex building you can build small apartments, but as your life changes you can aggregate, so if you have a small child or your life changes in another way, you can add above or below or to the side, instead of bldg a fixed infrastructure with 3-bedrooms, 2-bedrooms and 1-bedrooms. That's an old way of thinking. The future of cities like ours is an adaptable way of thinking, not a linear use of space.

Another way to add flexibility is to let people rent out their basements or garages, as has been proposed in the DC Zoning Update. Shallal said, "I think we have to have some flexibility in those types of zoning laws. ... These homes are empty nesters now with one or two people living in a 3-4 story townhouse. For those people who are becoming elderly, maybe they want to have a little income and stay in their home. ... I think it's a great way to keep people who have lived here a long time to be able to stay in the home they've lived in ... rather than building another high-rise of apartments that are overpriced and end up requiring lots of parking."

Bowser isn't on board. She opposes the Accessory Dwelling Unit recommendation in the DC zoning update, though she tried to couch her opposition as minor and generally praised the zoning update. "I think that having our zoning codes not be reviewed in a comprehensive way for 50 years ... I think that they spent a lot of time on a lot of different issues. I think at the end of the day I have only 4 areas I wanted them to ... that's pretty remarkable for a 5 yr process. I think they have looked at all of the concerns."

What she didn't say is that the "only 4 areas" of concern are essentially the major policy recommendations of the zoning update, such as accessory apartments, corner stores, and parking.

Bowser also reiterated her opposition to any changes in the height limit.

I think the Congress should focus on things that we've asked for, and we've asked for budget autonomy. I think Congress should focus on how we unhinge our city from the federal government's budget. We're not a federal agency, we're a city. We collect our own taxes and we should be able to spend our own revenues. ...

You've got to wonder why they are focusing on something that nobody in the city has said—even including the development community, the government, the councilmembers said—that we need or want and the things we do need and have asked for have been totally ignored. You've got to wonder about the motive, don't you?

Mayor Gray, meanwhile, defended his administration's efforts to change the federal Height Act.

What I think wasn't entirely clear was that we weren't proposing a particular change or a specific change in the height limits. What we were proposing was that the District have more control over setting the height limits, which would still give the people of the city a chance, through the Comprehensive Plan, through zoning, through legislation, a chance to be able to address, specifically, proposed height changes.

It was not that we would go out on Rhode Island Avenue and say we were going to have buildings that would be 37 fett tall. It was to say, just like we say with budget autonomy, shouldn't we have greater control over our city, especially areas outside the L'Enfant city? So we've sort of stopped at this stage, and we're working now to try to make sure people are clear about what it that we were proposing. But it wasn't that Building X was not going to become 14 stories higher than what it was.

In fact, Gray became the most energetic and animated just after we'd turned off the cameras, when perhaps he was more relaxed. He told stories about how he'd contacted DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson when Mendelson introduced his resolution against the height limit. It's a home rule issue, not about the heights, he'd tried to convince Mendelson, an argument which didn't go anywhere to Gray's evident frustration.

Tomorrow, we'll look at what the candidates said about public land and subsidized housing. Meanwhile, you can watch the entire exchange on housing with each candidate.

Evans:

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


Get ready for Greater Greater politics coverage

Perhaps you've heard: there is a primary in DC on April 1. Over the next few weeks, Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education will be posting a series of video interviews with the candidates for DC mayor and the DC Council Ward 1, Ward 6, and at-large seats.


Photo by Larry Miller on Flickr.

I spoke with almost all of the candidates over the past 2 weeks, and Martin Moulton recorded the conversation on video. We'll divide it into a series of topical posts for each race, looking at what each candidate for a particular contest said about housing, transportation, education, and more.

As we post each portion, this post will include a link to that segment. Below is the list of races, candidates (arbitrarily, in the order they spoke to me), and topics for posts.

Ward 6 council: Charles Allen, Darrel ThompsonWard 1 council: Jim Graham, Brianne NadeauCouncil at large: John Settles, Nate Bennett-Fleming, Pedro Rubio (and see note below)Mayor: Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Muriel Bowser, Andy Shallal (and see note below)All races:How did we select the candidates to speak to? We polled contributors on which candidates they wanted to hear from, and included anyone that contributors nominated.

Mary Cheh is unopposed for re-election in Ward 3. Kenyan McDuffie's Ward 5 re-election contest appears unlikely to be competitive, and contributors did not feel they needed to hear more about that one. There are no competitive primaries for mayor or council outside of the Democratic Party. Finally, we did not include races for Delegate, Shadow Senator or Shadow Representative, or state party.

Besides the candidates listed here, we reached out to Anita Bonds, Vincent Orange, and Andy Shallal. Shallal was scheduled to speak with me on Thursday, February 13, but the interview was canceled due to the snow and we have not yet been able to reschedule we were subsequently able to talk with him.

Orange returned one voicemail and expressed interest in the interview but never followed up from multiple subsequent attempts to reach him. We never received any response from Bonds to any of our inquiries. We would, however, still be happy to speak to any of these candidates before the relevant interviews go live.

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Politics


Most mayoral challengers oppose reducing parking minimums

At a forum last month, four candidates for DC mayor argued against a proposal by the Office of Planning to relax minimum parking requirements in transit-rich areas of the city. Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells didn't address it directly, though Shallal argued for more parking capacity while Wells argued for reducing parking demand.

The Office of Planning (OP) is proposing changes to the zoning code that would let property owners choose the right amount of parking in the highest density downtown neighborhoods, including developing areas like NoMa and Capitol Riverfront. Elsewhere, the zoning code would require one space per three units in apartment and condominium buildings away from transit corridors and half that near transit.

This proposal is the result of multiple compromises by planning director Harriet Tregoning to satisfy opponents' concerns. If the response of mayoral candidates is any indication, Tregoning's compromises have resulted in only more demands for compromises, an outcome that many predicted.

At the forum, moderator Davis Kennedy, editor of the Northwest Current, asked the following question:

Some have criticized our city planners for reducing the amount of required parking in new apartment buildings in some neighborhoods and for allowing apartments in single family homes. The fear is that it will substantially reduce on street parking availability. Others feel if we did not reduce the new apartment parking requirements, as underground parking is so expensive, it would contribute to much higher rents. What do you think?
Kennedy asked a good question that fairly represented both sides of the issue. Here are the answers of each candidate, with the portions that directly answer the question in bold:

Muriel Bowser:

Bowser directly opposes OP's proposal, then argues that expanding alternative transportation is the better solution:

I think that the Office of Planning got this one wrong, and that's why I introduced emergency legislation that in some cases would limit the expansion of visitor parking. Walking in Georgetown neighborhoods, walking all around ward 2, people tell me that DDOT got it wrong and we stopped it working with your councilmember who joined me in that effort.

This is what I know: our city's roaring. We'll have 200,000 new people here by the year 2040 and not everyone will be able to drive. I approach our transportation system in a balanced way. We have to have excellent public transportation. We have to have excellent bikeshare or bike parking, bike lanes. And we have to have roads that work and the ability to park.

It's very important that we approach our entire transportation system with a balance. We asked the Office of Planning not to eliminate parking minimums, because that was their first plan, but to look at a way to manage it in a better way.

This has become the standard way for elected officials opposing OP's proposal to frame the issue, and Evans and Orange follow suit. But fewer parking requirements and more multimodal streets solve different problems. Reducing parking requirements prevents regulatory-driven overbuilding of parking, which induces greater demand for parking and streets and makes housing less affordable. Bike lanes won't do that.

What's also concerning is that she sees alternative transportation as needed because "not everyone will be able to drive." Everyone I know who uses bike lanes, buses and so on also is able to drive and does whenever they want to.

Jack Evans:

Evans goes the furthest in opposing OP's proposal, saying he would keep the 1958 minimum parking requirements currently in place:

The Office of Planning definitely got this wrong. I agree with keeping the parking requirements just as they are, and I'm joining with Councilmember Bowser and Councilmember Cheh to address that with the Office of Planning. Taking away more parking spaces in this city is a terrible idea.

What we have to do is focus on alternative means of transportation, something I've done in my 22 years on the Council. I served on the Metro Board and was the advocate for not only completing the 103-mile system that currently exists but for expanding Metro and someday we hope to have a Metro in Georgetown.

Secondly, bike lanes—we have more bike lanes in Ward 2 than in all the other wards combined and we will continue to promote bike as another alternative transportation. Light rail—again something this Council has supported, building the light rail system that will connect Georgetown to downtown and to the eastern parts of this city. So the alternative means are very important but keeping the parking as it is is also very critical.

He repeats Bowser's framing by saying that "what we have to do is focus on alternative means of transportation," taking credit for bike lanes in Ward 2 that everyone knows would have happened without him.

Reta Jo Lewis:

Lewis addresses the issue the least directly, offering general arguments for more parking. She says it would be "unacceptable" to "eliminate any parking inside of buildings," but minimum parking requirements apply to new buildings.

I served as the chief of staff in the Department of Public Works when it used to be called DPW. I want you to know that parking is one of the most important things any agency does when it deals with transportation.

Now I live right downtown, right on 5th and Mass. And I've watched everything get built. And what I've watched is not any more parking spaces coming on. And it would be unacceptable to allow our offices of administration to eliminate any parking inside of buildings.

What we have to do is continue to offer a comprehensive strategy, a comprehensive plan, of how residents, not just downtown, but in all of our neighborhoods, especially like Georgetown. In your 2028 Plan you specifically talked about parking. It is fair for us in communities to have parking spaces.

Vincent Orange:

Orange, like Evans, specifically supports the existing minimum residential parking requirement of one space per unit. His unique bit of unhelpful framing is to pit new residents against long-time residents:

I also think that the Office of Planning got this one wrong. There needs to be a proper balance. If you're gonna keep building units, then there at least should be a parking spot per unit. Clearly there needs to be a balance here in the District of Columbia. We're getting more and more residents.

But also that balance has to include those residents that have been here during the bad times, to still be able to be here in the good times, and allowed to travel throughout this city and be able to find parking. So there has to be a balance.

I applaud those that really are really studying this issue, to make sure there are bike lanes, there's light rail, there's transportation needs being addressed by Metro and others. But there has to be a balance. And I believe that balance can only be maintained by when you build units there should be parking associated with those units.

It's at this point that one notices none of the candidates have responded to Kennedy's argument for reducing minimum parking requirements, that it promotes affordable housing that enables long-time residents to stay in DC. Bowser and others have complained about the high rents on 14th Street for example, but part of those rents are needed to pay for minimum parking requirements.

Andy Shallal:

Shallal doesn't address minimum parking requirements, but offers complaints about insufficient parking:

I agree there's a problem, obviously, with parking. Owning a business in the District, it's very difficult as it is. And when my customers tell me they're having a hard time parking, it really makes it even that much more difficult to attract business and keep business.

It's very interesting: often times I will get a lease for a space to be able to open a restaurant, and then all the neighbors get upset because there's no parking there. I have nothing to do with the way that it was zoned and suddenly I am the one that's at fault and needs to find parking for all the people that have to come in.

The other I think we can't really address parking unless we address public transportation. I think that's one of the major issues is the fact that a lot of people want to see the Metro open later, especially on the weekends. They want to see it later. Maybe we can go for 24 hours. A lot of my patrons and my customers, my employees, would like to be able to see that.

The other thing is that increasing the hours of the parking meters is not working for many of my customers and I think we need to bring it back to 6:30.

This is concerning given that Shallal has made affordable housing a central tenet of his campaign. His platform doesn't include any positions on transportation.

His only position on parking that he offers in his response is that parking meters shouldn't be enforced after 6:30pm. However, this a peak period of demand for scarce on-street parking, and pricing on-street parking according to demand would be a better solution.

Tommy Wells:

While Wells is the only candidate to not offer arguments against OP's proposal, he also doesn't argue in support of reducing parking requirements. Instead, he uses the opportunity to argue for his bill to give OP the power to not allow residents of new buildings to receive residential parking permits:

I think that on something like parking, like everything else, we have to work smart. First thing is that if a building does put the parking space in there and everyone gets a residential parking sticker, we're going to wipe out all the neighborhood parking in Georgetown if they have the neighborhood right to park in the neighborhood. We have to be a lot smarter than that.

You know you've adopted a plan in Georgetown that does say that there be a new Metro station here. We'll bring in a streetcar system which I've been a champion of. As the city grows if our businesses are going to survive, and our local businesses, people have to come into Georgetown and out and they all shouldn't come in a car.

One of the bills that I've proposed (which I proposed last time, and this Council killed, and I've re-proposed) is when we have infill development and we put a building in there and they want anything from the government they negotiate that the residents at the building will not get residential parking. We can't build any more residential parking. And so, on the streets, we cannot add more spaces. So its more important to be smart.

While Wells' bill is good, it's disappointing that none of the candidates offered any arguments in support of scaling back parking requirements. Georgetown is a difficult audience with which to discuss minimum parking requirements, but if we are serious about affordable housing and not allowing our city to turn into a car sewer we have to address parking requirements directly instead of changing the subject.

Did you enjoy this article? Greater Greater Washington is running a reader drive to raise funds so we can keep editing and publishing great articles every day. Please help us be sustainable by making a monthly, yearly, or one-time contribution today!

Support us: Monthly   Yearly   One time
Greatest supporter—$250/year
Greater supporter—$100/year
Great supporter—$50/year
Or pick your own amount: $/year
Greatest supporter—$250
Greater supporter—$100
Great supporter—$50
Supporter—$20
Or pick your own amount: $
Want to contribute by mail or another way? Instructions are here.
Contributions to Greater Greater Washington are not tax deductible.

Support Us