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Pedestrians


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.

Parking


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.

Government


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.

Public Spaces


Dupont will get a new park over Connecticut Avenue

Where Connecticut Avenue dives under Dupont Circle, there is a block-long space between Q Street and the circle which residents have long dreamed of covering over to create a park. Now, that is likely to actually happen.


Image by M.V. Jantzen.

Councilmember Jack Evans (ward 2, which includes Dupont) announced at last night's Dupont Circle Citizens' Association meeting that the fiscal year 2015 budget will include $10 million to deck over this area and create a park.

According to Tom Lipinsky, Evans' communications director, Evans asked Chairman Mendelson to add the funding in the final phase of the budget, approved last week. ANC Commissioner Mike Feldstein has been working for some time to build support for the idea, sketch out possible designs, and get rough cost estimates, and he approached Evans about funding the project.

Feldstein said, "The next step is getting advice on what works in parks like that, and getting community input." The park could break ground as early as October if plans can be approved, Lipinsky noted.

Local architect John Jedzinak created a concept sketch for what a park might look like. Feldstein emphasized that this is not an official design, but just something showing various ideas; the real design process (which could use some of these ideas, or others) is yet to come.


Click for larger version.

Besides simply adding park space, which is always valuable, this would better connect the two sides of Connecticut Avenue, and add plenty of room to enjoy food from the eateries nearby. Further, since this would not be National Park Service land, it would be possible to program this space with events much more flexibly than NPS regulations allow for the circle itself.

Behind the buildings on the west side of Dupont Circle is a fairly large surface parking lot, which is a rarity in the neighborhood and not the best use of space when it could have needed housing. However, one argument against developing this space (besides it being up to the property owner) is that the farmers' market uses that parking lot and adjacent 20th Street. This park could possibly become the new site of the farmers' market.

There is a similar block with a sunken road on North Capitol Street between T Street and Rhode Island Avenue. Once this project is complete, it would be a good idea for the council to consider funding a deck park there as well.

Development


Dan Snyder talking with DC, Maryland, and Virginia about new football stadiums

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

DC officials and candidates have long been talking about plans to try and lure the Washington NFL team back to play within the city limits. It was revealed today that, in fact, this is part of a larger deal with Maryland and Virginia to build stadiums for the team in all three jurisdictions.


Photo by inneedofhelp08 on Flickr.

Owner Dan Snyder revealed at a press conference that by spreading the team's home games between the three jurisdictions, he can end some of the squabbling over where the team plays.

Each stadium would be built entirely with team money, provided that the local jurisdictions prepare and deliver the land intact and for free, only as long as they donate approximately $700 million to the team prior to delivery.

This plan will also provide a solution to the controversy about the team name. When playing in DC, the team will use a different name, thereby allowing Snyder to please critics who wanted him to change the name while also retaining the old one, as he had vowed to do.

DC Mayor Vincent Gray said that this would allow the District to gain the "civic spirit" it is looking for, and entice players to live in the District, bringing in tax revenue.

Jack Evans explained that the existence of a stadium will bring economic development to the area. When asked whether this will still happen with the team playing only 2-3 games per year on the site, Evans pointed out that past stadium advocacy has never analyzed whether it matters how many games a team plays, so he is not considering that a factor here as well. "Besides," said Evans, "the difference between 3 games and 8 games is only 5 days, or one week, so it can't matter much."

Councilmember Vincent Orange said he thinks this just might be the thing to bring tourists to DC. In a statement, he said, "The Redskins playing in DC for a couple of weeks each year will mean huge benefits to our city, as having a stadium will give tourists a reason to visit Washington over most any other large American city."

Maryland would also build a new stadium, possibly at National Harbor. It would replace the aging FedEx Field, which at 17 years old is greatly outdated and inadequate to the team's needs. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said that the site would be "transit-oriented," since at least one bus per day will travel to and from the stadium site on game days.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said that the new stadium would bring more tax revenue to Maryland, as many of the players would likely live in Maryland as a result of the stadium.

Virginia lawmakers aren't quite sure where their stadium would go, but one person suggested replacing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport with a new riverfront stadium. He said "the location is great, and it's such a pain for many in Northern Virginia to drive to National instead of Dulles anyway." Such a plan would require adding 12 more highway lanes through Arlington, which a Giles County lawmaker said was surely possible without causing any side effects to any important places.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe didn't take a position on the location or the roadways, but said that since many players will want to live near the stadium, it will be a big asset to the state and whatever area is ultimately chosen for the location.

Since the negotiations have been going on for some time, the Washington Post also revealed that former governor Bob McDonnell had struck a deal with a contracting firm to pay them $1 million per day as a "mobilization fee" until such time as a stadium can be constructed.

Politics


Will the next mayor build a new football stadium?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

There's a lot of popular support inside DC for having the Washington NFL team play its games in the District instead of Landover, Maryland. But at what cost, and is that worth it?


Photo by Aaron G Stock on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray thinks so. He said,

I think it's got economic development potential. We've seen it with the baseball stadium. There were those who were very skeptical about whether the baseball stadium would have any catalytic effect at all. ... We can see what's happening there and I think the stadium and the team both are a factor in that.

And then I think it's something as straightforward as civic spirit.

There are people who believe our Washington team contribute to the psychic health—especially when they win—of the city. And all these years later, the team has been gone now 16, 17 years maybe longer, but I hear people constantly, constantly say to me, "Hey Mayor, when are we going to get the Washington football team back in to the city?"
Gray also believes locating the stadium in the city would lead to more players living in the city, as he said has happened with the Wizards and Capitals: "Far more of those players live in the city than would otherwise be the case if they were practicing outside the District of Columbia," he said.

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember who is also running for mayor, talked about his vision to rebuild RFK stadium as a new, 75,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.

When you mention the football team, people want the team back in the city. And even people in the suburbs want the team back in the city. ... What is a good location for it? Obviously the RFK site makes the most sense ... keeping in mind that it is federal land. ... The law states the only thing that can be constructed on that land is a stadium.
I pointed out that, in fact, the law simply says it should serve a recreational use, not necessarily professional football, but Evans still favors a football stadium.
In the metropolitan region, that is the best site for a football stadium, barring none, because of the transportation. You have the subway right on site, and a bunch of access roads. When then Nationals were playing at that stadium when the Yankees came to town, and we sold out 50-some thousand people at that stadium. We were able to get people in and out very quickly. That's the model you would use for a 75,000-seat stadium: The access, the location, there's so much benefit there. One could argue you could use it for something different, but if you're going to put a stadium in the metropolitan area, that's where you would put it.
Evans also said that the stadium would bring in development, "like we're seeing around Nationals Stadium or over at the Verizon Center." He called the idea a "big economic driver."

Meanwhile, Ward 6 council candidate Charles Allen doesn't think a stadium is the best use of the RFK site (which immediately abuts Ward 6):

I think building a stadium for 8 days out of the year is a bad idea. When you look at that site right now, it's an ocean of asphalt.

There's an amazing proposal called the Capital Riverside Youth Sports Park. We need to have more green space. I want to rip up all that asphalt and replace it with this concept, and have it run all the way to the Anacostia.

It's also an environmental justice issue. Every time we have a storm, every time we pile up snow and call it Mount Fenty, we have a devastating impact on the Anacostia River.


Sketch of proposed Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park. Image from CRYSP.

Allen's opponent, Darrel Thompson, would like to bring the team back to DC, but not at the RFK site. "RFK is not the best site," he said. "We should find another location. ... You've got an awful lot of residents that don't want to see that. We have to make sure we've been listening to the residents."

But, I asked, any potential site would likely have residents opposed. Is it realistic to say the team should come back to the District but not at RFK because residents don't want it there. "We've got to look at all the different options," he responded.

At-large DC Council candidates John Settles and Pedro Rubio would like to see alternate uses for the site, possibly including housing. Settles said, "I look at RFK, and I see too much opportunity. I'd like to redevelop that. It could be a great mixed-use village that has everything from housing to entertainment space to fields to green space."

Rubio said, "As much as I want the Redskins to play in DC, with the traffic that comes with it, the space that's needed for affordable housing, I like them where they are right now. We can use the space for affordable housing, for nonprofits, colleges and schools."

Brianne Nadeau, who is running for council in Ward 1, isn't totally opposed to a stadium deal, but doesn't see it as very realistic to find a deal that's actually good for DC.

I don't think we have a football team owner that's particularly amenable to working with the District in a way that we would benefit. If that changes, I would rethink that. The other thing is with a football team, they take up a lot of space. There's so much parking lot area. ... I think we would have to be creative if we were ever going to do [a stadium]. How do we use it for the other 8 months of the year, and make sure it's the best use of space?
Her opponent, incumbent councilmember Jim Graham, would wait and see if there is every a real proposal. He said, "Dreaming is very important. I think people should continue to have [dreams]. ... When there's something there to hold onto, let's talk about it. There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip in that regard."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Vincent Gray:

Jack Evans:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Brianne Nadeau:

Jim Graham:

Politics


Candidates voice skepticism about a soccer stadium land swap deal

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

Would swapping land at 14th and U for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point be a good deal for DC? Some candidates in the April 1 Democratic primary don't think so, while others want to ensure that a change benefits the affected neighborhoods of Buzzard Point and U Street.


Photo by Chase McAlpine on Flickr.

The Gray administration is negotiating to transfer the Reeves Center municipal office building at 14th and U to developer Akridge, in exchange for Akridge's land in Buzzard Point. This would be one element of a multi-faceted deal to assemble land for a DC United soccer stadium.

The full details of the deal aren't public or may not even be worked out yet, but candidates reacted to what we do know so far. Many think the land swap plan is too complicated.

Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham said, "The numbers that I have seen suggest that we're paying high for a scrappy piece of property in an undesirable area, and underpaying for a government asset in a highly desirable area. Hold an auction for the Reeves building. People tell me you would be amazed how much money would be bid for the property."

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 member who's running for mayor, said, "I wouldn't do it that way. If you start with the premis that building a soccer stadium at that site is a good idea, and I do, the mayor's proposal is too complicated. It's hard to understand, hard to evaluate. People become very distrustful. If I would do it using the Reeves Center—and I'm not saying I would do that—I would just sell the Reeves Center and use the market price to buy the land, rather than trying to do it a way that looks suspicious."

John Settles, running against Anita Bonds for council at large, feels similarly. "I love DC United. I'm a soccer fan and a soccer coach. I don't think swapping the Reeves Center is a good strategy. I'd rather see the city just buy the 2 acres of land." He said that a new project to replace Reeves could represent an opportunity for affordable housing for families, coworking and incubator space for technology companies, and the arts.

Pedro Rubio, also running for the at-large seat, also said he supports the stadium at Buzzard Point, especially since many Latino residents and young people follow the team, but said, "I don't like the land swap." He worries about losing city services at the Reeves Center like the LGBT community center and Office of Latino Affairs.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 councilmember and candidate for mayor, doesn't think the city would be getting a good deal on the land swap, and isn't very supportive of using public resources. for a stadium at all. She said, "If the mayor can make a case for using $150 million of city resources, we have to be assured we're getting what we deserve for the Reeves center, and what I've heard preliminarily makes me nervous."

On the question of whether a $150 million deal makes sense overall, she said, "We have a billionaire owner .... Some people would ask the question, why do we have to give them $150 million? We have a lot of priorities for DC." Though, she noted, "I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District, and there are a lot of District residents who support the team."

Ward 1 candidates want office space at Reeves

Other candidates, especially candidates for individual ward seats, focused on the impacts to individual communities and the best ways to use the land. Both the Reeves Center and the Buzzard Point are in Wards (1 and 6, respectively) with competitive council races.

Both Graham and his Ward 1 challenger, Brianne Nadeau, want to make sure there is office space at 14th and U in any building that would replace Reeves. Graham said, "We've got plenty of luxury condos and rentals. What we don't have is enough daytime commerce. If we lose the Reeves Ctr and those government agencies, that will be very upsetting."

Nadeau said she wants: "to create some dynamic ground-level retail and community space. Even before this deal came about, I had been thinking, what could we do about the Reeves Center? Open up that atrium, create lunch space and music like you see in some cities like Norfolk. For me it's about how do you take this an make it an opportunity."

"The reason I want that is, if you want a commercial corridor that has balanced options, you need an anchor and foot traffic for the daytime retail. ... We fought first for the hotel at 13th and U, and having lost that, we're fighting for the commercial anchor. It's essential we get the best use for the community and not just the best for the city."

As for the overall merit of the deal, Nadeau said she's amenable to city resources helping fund a soccer stadium which could create jobs, so long as "those are good jobs" with a Project Labor Agreement, and opportunities for the workers to unionize.

Ward 6 candidates think about Southwest residents' needs

In Ward 6, Charles Allen wants to ensure that any deal comes with investments for the area, including improving the public housing in the area, and adding parkland. He said, "When the baseball stadium was built, the city build Yards Park. Yards Park brings just as many people into that neighborhood and has been just as catalytic for that neighborhood as the baseball stadium has been. Southwest needs its own version of Yards Park. I think we need to use this as am opportunity to invest in our public space, and invest in our green space, and invest in the river."

Darrell Thompson started his statement being strongly supportive of the potential deal, though as he spoke he also brought up concerns about getting a good deal and making sure immediate neighbors have input. "It's a good idea," he said. "It's a very good idea. ... It first and foremost gives us an opportunity to come back to where we started, providing jobs, job training and apprenticeships for District residents.

"But we also have to make sure it's a good deal for District residents. We have to have input, make sure their concerns are heard. There's a tax structure to this project that's still being worked out. We have to make sure this is a good deal for District taxpayers."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Jim Graham:

Jack Evans:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Muriel Bowser:

Brianne Nadeau:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

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.

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.

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