Posts about Jim Graham
Tommy Wells was awarded oversight over the Committee on Public Works and Transportation in the DC Council today, and also chosen as the DC voting member on the WMATA Board of Directors.
This represents an innovative move by Kwame Brown to demonstrate that he wants progressive action as opposed to the status quo in the coming year. Tommy Wells is the Councilmember most interested in bringing modern transportation practices to DC, including complete streets that balance the needs of drivers, walkers, bikers and transit riders.
While Wells' policies are sometimes seen as very pioneering, Dr. Gridlock's comments about Gabe Klein apply equally to Wells: "There's nothing radical in the bike lanes program, or the streetcar program or the street-parking program, or the pedestrian safety program. What looked to us here like cutting-edge programs would seem like catch-up to people in other big cities."
With the DDOT unified fund dismantled, the Council will play a larger role in reviewing and setting priorities for DDOT. That means the transportation committee will have a strong hand in either pushing DDOT to continue its innovative progress or to stall it, and Wells is the best one to keep things moving.
Councilmembers Jim Graham, Mary Cheh, and Harry Thomas, Jr. will be the other members of the committee. The committee's jurisdiction will not change, except Graham will keep his oversight over alcoholic beverage licensing along with taking over Human Services from Wells.
As chair, Jim Graham did a lot of good work while also being the focus of much controversy. Created a fund for local money to go to pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and moved the Sidewalk Assurance Act through the Council. He passed performance parking legislation, and has been forceful about real enforcement of parking laws. And he personally answers nearly every constituent email that he receives.
Graham also fought hard for DC's interests on a WMATA Board where DC often feels at a disadvantage compared to the suburban interests. (Disclosure: He also appointed me to the Riders' Advisory Council.) His transportation policy staffer, Jonathon Kass, is one of the best in the Council and very progressive. I hope Wells hires Kass without delay for the new committee.
On the other hand, some of Graham's tougher negotiating tactics like using the jurisdictional veto to block even holding a public hearing on certain fare proposals garnered significant criticism from myself and others. He was often seen as favoring transit in Ward 1 over elsewhere in the city, though as the densest ward and one with a low rate of car ownership, the transit brought many benefits.
The announcement did not specify whether Michael Brown will continue as the alternate on the WMATA Board, or whether a different person will take that over. Michael Brown had the worst attendance of all Board members from January to August of this year, but he could be a fine member if he were interested in starting to participate actively.
There could be some benefit for human services advocates to have Jim Graham take over: Graham is very good at fighting for the budget for areas he oversees, and facing deep cuts, human services could use his skill in that area.
On a more disappointing note, Harry Thomas, Jr., DC's biggest cheerleader for unwalkable big box development, will take over the Committee on Economic Development. Councilmembers Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry, and Jack Evans will round out the committee, which doesn't bode well to create pressure for better or more walkable development.
The full list of committee chairs:
- Aging and Community Affairs: Marion Barry (previously Yvette Alexander)
- Economic Development: Harry Thomas, Jr. (previously Kwame Brown)
- Finance and Revenue: Jack Evans
- Government Operations and the Environment: Mary Cheh
- Health: David Catania
- Housing and Workforce Development: Michael Brown
- Human Services: Jim Graham (previously Tommy Wells)
- Libraries, Parks and Recreation: Muriel Bowser (previously Harry Thomas, Jr.)
- Public Safety and the Judiciary: Phil Mendelson
- Public Services and Consumer Affairs: Yvette Alexander (previously Muriel Bowser)
- Public Works and Transportation: Tommy Wells (previously Jim Graham)
The DC Council will vote on three breaks for developers today, on taxes and affordable housing requirements. But if I were a Councilmember, I'd have a really tough time deciding whether any of them are a good deal or not, because we simply don't have enough information.
First is the Adams Morgan hotel tax break. A developer wants a $46 million property tax break to build a 174-room hotel. It would replace empty space owned by a church with something generating hotel taxes and patrons for nearby businesses, but as Lydia DePillis notes, "How do we know that they couldn't make it happen with [less of a break]?"
The giveaway was already reduced from $61 million to $46 million, which apparently still works for the developer. That means the developer was initially asking for more than they needed, and Jim Graham was supporting them. The DC Council would be best off having some independent sense of what it would really take to build a project, but usually they can only take the developer's word for it and decide how much to trust it.
In this case, at least there was some independent analysis by the CFO, which raised some questions like predicting the break would take away from other hotels' revenue and therefore the taxes they pay. Even with the analysis, it's still unclear whether it's a good deal, but at least people have some numbers, which is often not the case.
At the very least, I hope the Council would ask for a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, or a reduction in the number of parking spaces. The project has as more spaces than rooms, and Adams Morgan already has more cars driving around than space on streets. The neighborhood could use more foot traffic, but really doesn't need a lot of people just driving to the hotel only to then drive downtown for their meetings. The hotel needs to plan to have at least a large percentage of its visitors and employees use the many buses that serve the area.
Then there's the Southwest Waterfront deal, which Cheryl Cort wrote about yesterday. A developer promised to build some housing and some office on public land, and agreed to include some low- and moderate-income housing as part of the deal. Now, they want to take some of their office space and convert it to more housing, but without the affordability requirement.
They say that they can't afford to have the same affordable housing in the new portion, and that this change is the only way to get financing for the project. We can believe that it's harder to get financing now and perhaps they need some change, but how much of a change? At the very least, for example, DC could probably insist that the new housing contain some housing at 80% Area Median Income, which is still "workforce" housing for fairly well off families, rather than 100% AMI as the developer has suggested.
But how much negotiating room is there? This is public land, which means that DC ought to try to get the best deal it can. The problem is that we don't know what is the best deal or what's even relatively close. The developer is likely to push for more than they need, figuring they might as well try for a little more. On the other hand, if nothing gets built, it doesn't help DC at all. What's the right balance?
Third, the Union Station payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) will come back today. The Union Station Redevelopment Corporation theoretically owes taxes on the commercial activity happening on their land equivalent to what private properties would pay, but they aren't paying it. This bill would permanently excuse them from the tax in exchange for a much smaller payment.
USRC says that they are already spending lots of money that they wouldn't if they were private, like paying for elevators that get used by Amtrak and the Metro. As with the other two, though, the bigger problem is that we have little way of really evaluating how much of the break is reasonable given USRC's special circumstances, versus how much is just a request for special treatment that a for-profit organization thinks it can get out of elected officials.
The only Councilmembers who seem to know for sure how to vote are those with firm ideological attitudes toward tax breaks. Jack Evans, for example, seems so sure about the Union Station break, despite calling it "dead as a dog" last time, that he plans to introduce it as emergency legislation. There's no word on why there's suddenly an emergency on legislation that's been brewing for months.
Even the most well-meaning Councilmembers find themselves in a serious quandary when these votes come up. Do they push for more, risking that a project might then never materialize? Or do they give the developer what they want, knowing that there's a huge chance that developer will be patting their lobbyists on the back for pulling the wool over the Council's eyes and getting a big windfall out of the public till?
Advocates have called for a fuller analysis of the Waterfront tax break. As DCFPI has suggested, the Council should systematize the process for these breaks to require some analysis of each one and set an overall cap. Perhaps also it's worth requiring that some analysis be conducted afterward, to determine which ones actually paid off and which didn't. That could help watchdog groups create a sort of scorecard for long-serving Councilmembers about how much their tax breaks either added to or detracted from the District's overall fiscal health.
Some tax breaks make sense, while others don't. But right now, our leaders are flying blind, which isn't a good way to make decisions.
In this spring's WMATA budget debate, transit advocates asked for and won a budget that contained "no service cuts." But the actual ideal resolution would have been "almost no service cuts," because in a few spots, bus service needs cutting.
One example is the P1 bus, which makes a one-block loop to stop in front of Federal Center SW Metro on its way down 4th Street across the Mall. Reader Tom Leonard writes,
I just moved to Southwest (from Upper Connecticut NW) and while I usually ride my bike to work, I occasionally ride Metrobus's P1 line.I asked Metro. Bus planner David Erion explained the rationale for these two diversions from the most direct path:
The areas of concern for me are where the bus turns up 10th St from Constitution to Pennsylvania and where the bus drives down 4th St and does a loop (on its way to Anacostia) just to make a stop at the Federal Center SW Metro station. It just seems to be such a waste of time and money, especially the loop because I have only seen one person get on the bus at the Metro station and no one got off.
I was hoping that you all could help me figure out why exactly Metro designed the route in this manner and whether they have data that supports its continued operation.
The P1 route in the PM rush travels east on Constitution Avenue, turns left on 10th Street and right on Pennsylvania to 4th Street where it crosses the Mall, and it has done this for many years. Mr. Leonard's point is why doesn't it just go straight on Constitution to 4th Street. The reason for the existing route is to have a common stop on Pennsylvania near Federal Triangle for P1, P2 and P6, so that riders going to Anacostia have access to all routes at the same stop.The Federal Triangle diversion could make sense or might not. What do you think?
The loop via D, 3rd and C Streets SW was created to serve Federal Center SW Station and to provide for bus-to-bus transfers when many Maryland routes terminated at 3rd & D. Now it serves very few riders. I had planned to eliminate the loop along with the 70-Line change as proposed last winter. Currently, I am reviewing new ride check data to develop a revised proposal for restructuring the P routes.
But it's fairly clear that the Federal Center SW diversion isn't beneficial. And one consequence of the decision to avoid all service changes of any type was that this and other similar pieces of bus routes stayed.
Unfortunately, the DC Board members negotiated for no service cuts whatsoever at the expense of other needs, and in the final accounting DC riders got a bit of a bad deal. In the staff budget proposals, most Metrorail fares went up by 15%, but the maximum fare only went up by 12%. The last staff budget proposal also had a late-night $4 flat fare, which DC didn't want because it was unfair to short-range riders, and increases in the parking fees.
Fairfax wanted to keep the maximum fare low and eliminate the parking fee. DC wanted to get rid of the $4 flat fare. In the end, they both got those, but on top of that, the Board decided to increase the minimum fare another 5¢ beyond what had been proposed, but the maximum fare didn't increase at all. Therefore, short-range riders ended up paying more, but long-range riders were kept harmless.
Why would DC's representatives, Jim Graham and Neil Albert, agree to this unfair set of final changes? Since the negotiations went on behind closed doors, we don't know the dynamics, but when I asked in an email why the DC reps agreed, Neil Albert wrote in an email that it "got all service cuts off the table."
Albert was also not present in those final negotiations. I have long wondered whether, had DC had its team at full strength, if it could have pushed for a fairer balance in the budget.
Greater Greater Washington is the subject of the cover story in this week's City Paper, about how our little ragtag band of bloggers here is getting to be a little bit influential.
If you're visiting us for the first time after finding out about us in the article, welcome! The best way to stay on top of what we're talking about is to subscribe to the RSS feed, sign up for our daily digest email, or follow us on Twitter.
What did you think of the piece?
My favorite bit is Chris Zimmerman's insightful quote about the forces shaping WMATA coverage in the Post and Examiner (though I do think Kytja Weir has been doing a great job), followed by the part about how Richard Longstreth might be able to make a persuasive-sounding case to landmark a pile of dirt. If you don't get the Eleanor Roosevelt reference, it was an allusion to Falkland Chase.
And aw, shucks, Rob Pitingolo.
Is our group too white, as DePillis wonders? It's too bad Dan Reed had decamped for grad school in Philadelphia by the time that Hyattsville meetup happened, else he'd very likely have been there. And we're always happy when Bradley Heard has time to write something. But yes, we're pretty white, as are planners in general, and it'd be really great to increase our diversity.
DePillis is pointing out an issue that I've long known we need to address. Since we don't pay anyone, I'm limited in how much I can influence this. But we're always looking for contributors, of any race, gender, age or other characteristic. The only requirement is quality, and a general fit with our philosophy. Email email@example.com if you'd like to write for us.
Richard Layman also raises a point about the challenge of building relationships with insiders versus attacking them. It's a tough line all journalists walk. In our case, we criticize agencies and officials when warranted, but also try to be be fair and understand the challenges people on the inside face.
When it comes to Jim Graham, I'd just note that I criticized the DC USA parking garage, one of the listed issues, in February 2008, March on bike parking, May twice, June, a New York analogue, March and April 2009 ... you get the idea.
The thing about Jim Graham is that you just have to understand where he's coming from. He's very much a politican, and makes decisions based on what voters want. But that means all you have to do to win is get a lot of Ward 1 voters to support your policy. He also has an absolutely first-rate staffer in charge of transportation, which counts for a lot. Finally, that quote from me at the end of that section is the only one I'd say was a wee bit out of context.
I also have just a few little nitpicks. Remarkably few, actually, given the amount of content in the piece. One of the little Metro-line graphics lists ANCs among the "anti" groups. Sometimes they are anti, but some ANCs are terrific. Last election cycle, a bunch of good candidates won many Ward 3 ANC seats, turning several ANCs from knee-jerk naysayers to constructive participants in neighborhood visioning.
Also, I wish I could take credit for the bag fee, but that one was all amazing legislative legwork by Tommy Wells and his staff.
DePillis's piece is quite balanced, and pretty accurate for an article of its length. As someone who does a fair bit of journalism myself, I know how hard it is to say a lot and be absolutely precise in every tiny, mostly-irrelevant detail.
So what if Drinking Liberally really met in Manhattan, not Brooklyn, or Jaime hadn't quite yet started planning school at the time she started contributing, or if the landmarked Brutalist church at 16th and I is Third Church, not First Church (which is up in Columbia Heights); you're not going to go fundamentally wrong reading it, and DePillis deserves good marks for a tough job well done.
Communication is everything on "Blue Line Realignment," a.k.a. the "Yellow and Orange Line Service Increase"
Metro plans a relatively minor service change that will significantly increase overall system capacity. The way it's framed will either help the change see widespread adoption or else derail the idea, cause enormous customer confusion, or force changes to the Metro map that cause other confusion.
Metro has often called this the "Blue Line Split" or "Blue Line Realignment." It would be better to call it the "Yellow Line Split" or, better yet, the "Yellow and Orange Line Service Increase."
Left: What the Metro map could turn into without restraint.
Right: How Metro could communicate planned changes.
What Metro actually wants to do is to add a few rush hour Yellow and Orange Line trains and remove some Blue Line trains. Riders at Van Dorn Street, Franconia-Springfield, and Benning Road through Largo won't have fewer trains; the new Yellow Line trains will go to Franconia-Springfield (and Greenbelt, actually adding service north of Mt. Vernon Square rush hours), and the new Orange Line trains will go to Largo.
Riders from Franconia and Van Dorn who go to Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom, and Farragut West, or transfer to the Orange Line, might have to wait longer for a train. However, it will give Franconia and Van Dorn riders a one-seat ride to Yellow Line stations, and provide more trains overall for everyone on the Orange Line in Virginia and the Yellow Line in DC and Maryland. Once the Silver Line opens, some of the Orange trains, including the new ones, will become Silver Line trains.
If approved, the change will go into effect next summer. Feel free to debate the merits. But Metro has decided this makes sense overall, and I agree. The bigger issue is communication.
When staff presented this to the WMATA Board on Thursday, members rightly focused on communication. They asked Jim Hughes, Director of Operations Planning and Scheduling, if Metro had a communications plan for this change? Hughes said no. The Board urged staff to develop one right away.
Peter Benjamin pointed out that a service change years ago had been scrapped simply because riders were confused. Anyone know the details? It seems hard to believe it could have been more confusing than this wacky map from 1980-1983, but maybe the sensitivity level changed.
As with the earlier change, the way Metro talks about the change will be critical. In particular, the issue is what color the trains will be. Right now, all presentations talk about "rerouting Blue Line trains." Operationally, this fits how Metro thinks about it, because the trains are leaving Franconia-Springfield, and right now trains leaving Franconia-Springfield are Blue.
Therefore, tables in the presentation to the Board list numbers of "Blue Line to Greenbelt" and "Blue/Yellow to DC through L'Enfant." Having a Blue Line train go over the bridge and up 7th Street would create massive confusion.
I'm almost certain Metro doesn't really expect to call these trains Blue Line trains, but by referring to them in that way in presentations, it confuses observers and journalists, leading to maps like this:
Compared to this, a separate color seems to make a lot of sense. That's the reaction some riders gave in a focus group, and it was the reaction from Jim Graham at the Board meeting. "There are lots of colors left in the rainbow," he said, and suggested pink. And the presentations have encouraged this view by including maps showing the new service as a separate line:
However, creating a new color would be a bad idea. I listed a large number of reasons almost two years ago. Among them is that this new color would only run rush hours, and then only three trains per hour. That would likely lead some riders to wait around for a certain line which isn't coming for hours or until the next day.
It would also make the Metro map much more complex for a service that's only different from the Yellow Line for riders at four stations, which represent only 3% of total riders. Those stations also get few tourists, and tourists are most likely to become confused while regular riders will quickly get used to any change.
Plus, as Peter Benjamin noted, it's not quite right to create a new color for one split service pattern, Yellow Line trains that go to Franconia instead of Huntington, but not for the other one, Orange Line trains that go to Largo. Should that get its own color, too? How about ... burgundy?
And some Red Line trains only go from Grosvenor to Silver Spring. Should they be another color? Couple that with the future Silver Line, and the Metro map might end up looking like this insanity:
There's a much easier way. Just call the trains Yellow Line trains. For almost all their length, they match the Yellow Line. Almost everyone riding them will see no difference. In fact, since the occasional Yellow Line train already goes to Greenbelt, showing the Yellow Line there will clarify these trains as well.
New York used to have a different color for each route, and the ensuing spaghetti map looks not that unlike the crazy rainbow map above. Their biggest innovation was to combine routes that share the same path through the central business district.
DC could easily do the same. A train on the 7th Street subway is either Green or Yellow depending on whether it goes over the Potomac or under the Anacostia. A train on the Foggy Bottom-Capitol Hill line is Orange if it goes to northern Arlington and Fairfax and Blue if it hooks around to the south. That's a straightforward scheme that has the advantage of being the way things already work.
I think the riders south of King Street and east of Stadium-Armory will have little trouble with this scheme. But if Metro thinks it'll be confusing, they could introduce route numbers or letters. That could also encompass the way half the Red Line trains don't run the full length.
Board members criticized the framing of this issue as a "reroute" or "realignment." The latter, in particular, makes it sound like the tracks are moving.
This is an improvement in service. It's going to mean more trains across the Potomac to carry more people. A few people lose out, but there's more capacity. This is a good thing. Metro should talk about this as the service improvement it is.
Since Metro has no communications plan yet, I've created one for them. Here's the flyer I'd recommend posting:
Update: Added a note that this change is planned for summer 2011.
Councilmembers Phil Mendelson (at-large) and Muriel Bowser (ward 4) are expected to introduce amendments (large PDF, pages 3 and 44) modifying the bil, the Current reported.
The bill's author, Mary Cheh, and supporters including Public Works and Transportation Chair Jim Graham have been negotiating on these amendments, reaching an agreement on some but possibly not on others.
Please take a moment to email or call your Councilmember to ask them to keep pedestrian safety paramount when they decide on these amendments. Neighborhood participation and debate over the sidewalk placement and design is appropriate and should be part of the process, but property owners should not get a veto over having a sidewalk on their street.
Sidewalks affect everyone who passes through an area, including nearby residents and visitors, and almost all streets not only serve those who live on that block but others who might be traveling to a park, school, bus stop, or neighbor's house. That's why we call the space on and adjacent to the roadway "public space," not private property.
The Council will consider the bill at 11:00 this morning, so send a quick email now.
Tempers got a little heated at yesterday's WMATA Board meeting, and jurisdictions are deadlocked. Part of the problem was the funding formula, but another part was the way staff presented options.
Two weeks ago, Interim GM Richard Sarles presented a budget that did a fairly nice job of sorting through the many fare and service proposals. It wasn't exactly what anyone wanted, but it was remarkably close.
It kept a few service cuts, mostly appropriate, a few not so much. It raised a lot of fares, mostly fairly, though not as targeted as it should be. It restored some MetroAccess service but kept significant cuts. It was mostly equitable between jurisdictions, if a little bit tilted against bus riders.
The Finance and Administration Committee discussed the budget on April 29 and members suggested possible changes, but they didn't officially endorse any. Then, yesterday, staff presented a new budget proposal. The presentation just listed all of the suggested ideas and their costs.
However, staff also took some, but not all, of the ideas that had been brought up on April 29th, and summed those ideas up into a new fare table entitled "reflecting committee direction" and which increased jurisdictional subsidy requests, including DC's from $12 million to $14.5 million.
The problem with this approach was that instead of letting jurisdictions horse trade for things they want, staff seemingly accepted some of the items but not necessarily the pieces that would be traded for those. And the new collective package was far more unfair to inner jurisdictions than outer jurisdictions.
Board members entered the April 27th meeting with a wish list of items they'd like to change. DC wanted to keep late night service going until 3 am and not charge a flat $4 fare after midnight. Fairfax wanted to get rid of parking increases.
DC's Jim Graham started out with a concrete proposal. He'd keep the late night service and charge a rush hour fare instead of a $4 fare. In exchange, he recommended increasing the peak-of-the-peak charge from 10¢ to 20¢. The late night service mostly benefits DC, Arlington, and Alexandria, though it also benefits suburban riders who ride to locations in DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
The peak of the peak also hits DC, Arlington, and Alexandria riders a bit heavier than others, since being a flat fare, it's a greater percentage for those who ride short trips. The peak of the peak, as formulated, also will miss some riders from Shady Grove, Vienna, and other stations with long rides to the center, because many of those riders get on the train before 7:30 and are still on it when it's crowded downtown. But it's a reasonable tradeoff to make to pay for something that inner jurisdictions want.
Graham also suggested increasing the maximum fare, which does hit suburban riders. CFO Carol Kissall said that wasn't necessary to pay for his suggestions, so he didn't push the idea.
Next, Jeff McKay of Fairfax proposed cutting the parking fees. To pay for it, he suggested reducing the bus-rail transfer discount. Making transfers more expensive would have been a terrible idea, both for Fairfax and DC. It would discourage bus riding and push more Fairfax riders to drive to rail instead of taking bus to rail, even though riding the bus creates less congestion. And it would have harmed many inner jurisdiction residents who ride bus to rail and live nowhere near parking or don't even own cars.
Graham said he was happy to work with Fairfax to find a solution to the parking, but that the bus-rail transfer idea wasn't going to be the answer.
To summarize, now we have something Graham wants, the late-night changes, and something he's willing to do to pay for it that got general asset, the peak of the peak. And we have something McKay wants, the parking, and nothing specific to pay for it that's got broad support. When the meeting adjourned, it sounded like Graham was going to get late night changed and the higher peak of the peak, and McKay was going to need to find a funding source for his parking that wasn't unfair to DC, Arlington, and Alexandria.
Staff promised to research some of the ideas. They did so, and did a nice job of analysis. If they'd just presented a slide showing the costs of each change, the members could have resumed horse trading. But instead, they summed up only three items: the late night, the peak of the peak, and the parking, and ended up not surprisingly with a deficit. They then allocated that deficit to all of the jurisdictions, making DC and Arlington pay just as Fairfax and Maryland were.
This makes no sense. Inner jurisdictions get something and pay something, and outer jurisdictions get something, and everyone pays.
No wonder Jim Graham said that DC would veto the budget as is. To solve this, the Board needs to go back to the Sarles budget, and start horse trading again from there. The peak of the peak seems a fair way to cover the late night. Then, what would cover the parking? There's surely a deal to work out.
Next: Why is Fairfax so obsessed with parking?
The O'Malley Administration has backed off its attempts to reduce capital funding for Metro.
Ann Scott Tyson is reporting that the state will reinstate its FY2010 capital payment of $28 million, and commit to a new agreement maintaining the $5 billion long-term capital program. That's the level of capital spending that had been expected all along until Maryland suddenly pulled the rug out.
In exchange, WMATA officials will provide greater transparency over how it's spending money, and try to speed up its rate of obligating the money toward actual projects. Both of those reforms can only be good for riders, jurisdictions, and Metro alike.
The specific structure of the new capital funding agreement wasn't addressed in the article. The most recently released proposal had only required jurisdictions to match federal funds, but allowed them to make a decision each year about whether to continue or withhold their support. Because of that uncertainty, WMATA would need to secure a line of credit so it could promise to pay for projects, which would cost about $5 million.
One of the advantages of the former Metro Matters agreement was that with the long-term commitments for funds, WMATA could obligate projects knowing the money would come in. The jurisdictions should agree to a similar structure here. The previous agreement did have some weaknesses, in that the projects to be funded had been worked out in 2005 but priorities changed from 2005 to 2010. However, a new agreement could address those problems without also creating dangerous uncertainty.
We'll be monitoring the details, but this is a big victory for transit advocates. Sierra Club, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the Action Committee for Transit, Transit Riders United of Greenbelt, Greater Greater Washington, and many others pushed the O'Malley Administration to take this issue seriously.
The press also did an excellent job of reporting on this issue and its import, particularly Kytja Weir at the Examiner and Bob McCartney, Ann Scott Tyson, Bob "Dr. Gridlock" Thomson and the editorial board at the Washington Post. Board members Jim Graham of DC and Chris Zimmerman of Arlington effectively pushed this issue and kept it on the front burner.
There are plenty of ways Metro can improve, and we will be reporting on some of those soon. The operating budget for FY2011 is not finalized and there are still ways to improve it as well. However, it's also clear that jurisdictions can't shortchange transit. It's too important to the economic health of the region and to so many people who depend upon it every day.
This week you can enjoy more streetcar goodness than ever before. A real streetcar is now open to the public at 9th and H, the streetcar technology seminar is tomorrow, and Tommy Wells is leading a streetcar tour Friday.
This morning, Mayor Fenty, DDOT Director Gabe Klein, Councilmembers Jim Graham and Jack Evans, and Congressman Earl Blumenauer introduced the streetcar at a press conference. It's now open to the public from 11 am to 7 pm today through Friday and 11-5 Saturday at City Center DC, the huge parking lot in the middle of downtown, near 9th and H Streets.
Mayor Fenty presents the streetcars. Photo by the author.
Above, left to right: A representative from the Czech embassy (whose country manufactured the streetcars), WMATA Assistant General Manager for Rail David Kubicek, Councilmember Jim Graham, Councilmember Jack Evans, Mayor Adrian Fenty, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and DDOT Director Gabe Klein.
WMATA brought the car down from Greenbelt. You can sit in the seats and try out the pushbutton-operated doors. It's on real tracks, of course, but with no overhead wires. DDOT is considering building a mockup of the wires as well.
Speaking of wires, tomorrow's Streetcar Technology Seminar could finally reveal some hard details of the various propulsion options. Panelists will discuss the state of the art in technologies and best practices in integrating streetcars into the streetscape.
The panel is Thursday, May 6th, 5-7 pm at the Renaissance Washington DC, 999 9th Street, NW, right near the streetcar itself.
Finally, if you don't check out the streetcar today or before the panel, check it out and then ride along its future route with Councilmember Tommy Wells. He's organizing a streetcar tour at 5:30 pm, followed by a trip on the Old Town Trolley along H Street and ending at SOVA Espresso & Wine, 1359 H Street, NE at 7.
Gabe Klein in front of DDOT's new streetcar logo. Photo by Eric Fidler.
Arlington County has finalized their budget including more money for WMATA, the Post reported this weekend.
County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who is also Arlington's representative on the WMATA Board, specifically talked about transit funding:
"Arlington is saying if the other jurisdictions will step up to the plate, we will be willing to ensure that we don't retract service [and] that we don't cut back on the investment in the infrastructure by raiding the [Metro] capital budget, as is potentially on the table," said [Zimmerman] ... He said he believes Northern Virginia is committed to doing so, but is not sure about the District and Maryland.As Craig noted this morning, Maryland is currently looking at making extra bus cuts rather than increasing their contribution. Interim GM Richard Sarles' budget proposal asks Maryland for $13.9 million, of which $3.5 million will come from the state and somewhat less than $3.8 million could involve bus cuts.
The rest will have to involve state or local money. The Maryland legislature passed a bill to limit taxes for Park and Planning that would cost Prince George's $18 million. According to a source familiar with the situation, a potential deal is in the works for Governor O'Malley to veto it in exchange for the County using some of the local funds it saves to close the WMATA budget gap.
Weir also notes that "The board is using the annual $300 million to displace about $138 million of the local contributions by jurisdictions, says Jack Corbett, of the MetroRiders.org transit group. "Congress intended this as new money, not replacement money," he said.
Congress approved $150 million a year in new capital money as long as it was matched by jurisdictions, one-third from each. Some, including Corbett, expressed fears at the time that jurisdictions would just count some of their existing capital "overmatch" from Metro Matters toward their $50 million. At January's RAC meeting, I specifically asked WMATA Board Chairman and Maryland member Peter Benjamin whether Maryland would do this; he said they would not. Clearly, a lot has changed.
At today's DC Council budget hearing on DDOT, Committee Chairman and DC WMATA Board member Jim Graham strongly emphasized that DC does not want to see the capital budget cut and he is not pleased with the sudden windfall of capital money DC won't be giving WMATA.
Graham also said the WMATA General Counsel has issued an opinion on a technical but important question: Whether Maryland's lack of payment for capital obligations in FY2010 is a "failure to pay" or a "failure to appropriate." Apparently, Metro Matters says that if a jurisdiction doesn't pay what is promised, WMATA can borrow the money on its behalf and charge interest, but if the legislature of that jurisdiction just never appropriates the money, they can't. There was some question about which it was, and for at least some of the money, the General Counsel believes it's a "failure to pay."
I'm trying to get a copy of the letter. As is sadly the case with most of this sordid saga, it was handed out to Board members in executive session. This is a legal opinion so it could be valid, but WMATA management and the Board continue to keep many details from the public.
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