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Park Service inflexibility draws criticism from Congress

Last night, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) brought up the pervasive problems with the National Park Service through an Interior Appropriations amendment. It was withdrawn as an unpermitted earmark, but Reps. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID) both expressed support for ending the Park Service's "one size fits all" approach to urban parks.

You can watch the exchange here:

Norton said:

The National Park Service should develop flexible standards that take into account the unique circumstances and population of individual parks and changing conditions throughout the country, in keeping with Congressional recognition of both conservation and recreation as primary reasons for our parks. The neighborhood parks in the District of Columbia serve a very different function from Yellowstone. Dont Circle park is a central urban community meeting place in the District ...

I have come to the floor because I have tried unsuccessfully to get the Park Service to make small adaptations. perfectly compatible with their mission, to allow for the people in the parks in my own district, and I am certain that other members have found similar roadblocks. For example, the Park Service won't allow bikeshare stations on or near federal parks, and they are not permitting the 3 golf courses in the District of Columbia to be run as a public-private partnership.

Both of these examples have run into the same one-size-fits-all concession concerns. Yet the National Park Service could negotiate concession agreements that accommodate bikeshare in the future. And inflexibility in Park Service insistence on concession contracts that do not allow capital investment, resulting in an astonishing deterioration of invaluable, capital-intensive golf courses in the District, could give way to other approaches, such as public-private partnerships operating under long-term leases that would allow private funding to assist the Park Service with upgrading and maintain these public assets which taxpayers can't possibly by themselves maintain.

Inflexible, one-size-fits-all policies keep Americans from using our parks for compatible purposes such as bike stations or worse, condemn unique iconic resources to inevitable decline.

Moran, whose district includes Arlington, Alexandria, Reston, and southern Fairfax, endorsed the principles behind the amendment, and referred to my Post op-ed:
I think we ought to have a consideration by the Park Service of whether they are sufficiently flexible in dealing with local communities. There was a recent article written in the Washington Post talking about some of the opportunities that exist to bring the community in to local parks, urban parks, where far more people could be involved, people could participate, people could enhance the enjoyment of things that take place. ...

We could find ways to discourage automobiles and encourage bikes. Have bike sharing, for example, on the National Mall so that people could rent bikes and bike around the mall. It wouldn't cause any environmental damage; in fact, it would preserve some of the lawn on our National Mall and I think some people would enjoy it more. They'd get a little exercise.

However, Moran also noted that the amendment could be considered an earmark, which Congress is now not permitting. Simpson, too, said he felt this was an earmark, but that he agreed with Norton's objective and pledged to work with her "in conference" to accomplish this end.

On bike sharing, DDOT has wanted to have a station around Archives Metro for a long time, and in fact maps currently show a planned station there. It's a big hole in the downtown coverage. However, DDOT's Chris Holben said the area is controlled by the Park Service, preventing a station from going into this area.

More broadly, many communities would love to be more involved in local parks, perhaps through a public-private partnership involving local businesses and residents pitching in money and time to help maintain the parks, run events, and bring in concessions that enhance the park for residents and tourists alike.

Such steps would even save money, but require more flexibility by the Park Service on its policies and its concession contracts. So far, the Park Service has resisted efforts by residents and even, apparently, by Congresswoman Norton to make progress. Perhaps with more members of Congress joining in, they'll see the light.

Roads


Moran: I know we can't lay more asphalt, but DC should

Here is the audio of Congressman Jim Moran's appearance on WTOP on Friday, where he complained about DC not being willing to widen the 14th Street bridge and 14th Street itself.


Photo by wyfurasko.

First, starting at 38:03, Moran spends considerable time criticizing the BRAC policy, which will take thousands of defense workers out of perfectly functional office buildings near Metro and relocate them to defense bases like Ft. Belvoir, where there is virtually no transit and the roads can't handle all of the workers driving. Moran is trying to get DOD to help pay for road improvements, but more than that he'd like to persuade them to reverse the policy of moving everyone and keep jobs near Metro. Good for him.

At 47:20, the discussion turns to HOT lanes and Arlington's recent lawsuit against VDOT and FHWA. Moran says of the lanes:

On paper, they make sense, but I can understand Arlington's concern it's going to lead to more congestion. The easier you make it for people to drive the less likely they are to find alternative public trans and ultimately we don't have enough land to lay more asphalt. We have got to put our priority on public transit. That's where the money needs to be, that's where the policy planning needs to be directed.

I'm sympathetic to what Arlington is doing but I think the state is ultimately going to prevail. ... We are not putting enough money into public transit which is where it should be going.

That's a good sentiment. Building more freeway lanes just drives more sprawl and more auto-dependent commuting. Meanwhile, there are plenty of underutilized Metro stations in Fairfax County and lots of development potential on the future Silver Line. Virginia needs to steer its growth there instead of paving the rest of Arlington.

But while Moran seems to understand that more paving isn't the answer in principle, he doesn't connect the dots to actual policies. He continues:

As much as the state of Virginia will put into expanding access to the DC bridges, DC is not cooperating. So you get to those bridges and you're going to have just as much of a backup. A lot of the problem is you need extra lanes on the 14th Street bridge and on some of these other bridges ... And 14th Street needs to be widened.

If DC would listen, they could get some revenue that would go into their transportation needs, because they can get some of the money that you get from these HOT lanes. People pay extra to be able to use HOT lanes, to be able to drive by themselves. And of course that goes against all of our policy, but it's a compromise, just like the lottery is a compromise way to pay for education. This is a compromise way to pay for transportation. But once they get to DC it stops. What DC should do is to widen 14th street bridge, widen 14th street and get some of the revenue that's coming from these HOT lanes. We've suggested it time and again and they just won't listen or let alone act on it.


Widen 14th how? Image
from Google Maps.
First off, Moran is buying the HOT lane boosters' arguments that these lanes will generate piles of money for Virginia to spend on public transportation. There's no evidence that is the case. HOT lane projects that add more lanes don't even pay for the cost of their own construction. As far as we can tell from Maryland SHA's estimates on 270, the HOT lane tolls might not even pay for the cost of running the tollbooths.

We won't know for sure how good or bad an economic deal the HOT lanes are until the Beltway lanes open. But based on other cities' experience, even if the HOT lane generates a lot of money, that will at best just cover the cost of building the lanes in the first place. Widening a freeway to create HOT lanes isn't a way to use one profitable but perhaps undesirable activity (like the lottery) to pay for something else (like education). It's either just a way to make building more lanes a little cheaper, or just a way to sell more lanes to gullible politicians.

Finally, as we discussed yesterday, there's no room for more lanes on 14th Street. 14th Street travels between large buildings (see right). What could Moran possibly be talking about?

What does make sense is allocating the existing lanes more efficiently. As BeyondDC pointed out, there are studies underway about building dedicated bus lanes from the 14th Street bridge up to the K Street transitway. 14th Street is seven lanes for most of that stretch. Even one bus-only lane in the peak direction would move a lot more people.

Tolling some or all of the existing lanes is also an option, and one that really would generate a lot of revenue without billions in costs. Of course, if DC proposed doing that, many Virginia leaders would be decrying a backdoor commuter tax, even though it's not far from the plan Moran thinks DC isn't listening to.

The 395 "HOV lanes" were originally bus-only lanes. Virginia needs simply to start charging for cars on those lanes and/or increase the HOV requirement to ensure that the lanes move efficiently, then connect them to bus-only or congestion priced lanes on 14th Street. Maybe Moran is the one who could benefit from some listening.

Update: I added a few words to clarify that the HOT lane projects which don't pay for themselves are the ones that involve adding new HOT lanes, as opposed to changing existing lanes to HOT lanes. HOT lanes don't raise enough to widen existing freeways. One California project made money, but that involved adding HOT lanes onto land that had been set aside from the start for the lanes. Other projects that converted existing lanes have made money as well, as Froggie pointed out. Neither is the case here.

Transit


Breakfast Links: Fe Fi Fo Fum


Wisconsin Giant site plan

Cleveland Park Giant approved: The DC Zoning Commission has approved the long-proposed Giant redevelopment in Cleveland Park. The vote was unanimous, over the objections of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. (Jaime, DCist)

New push for Metro construction: Virginia Congressmen Gerry Connally and Jim Moran are trying to find support for a $20 million earmark to study a greatly extended Metro system in Virginia. The proposal touches on all three existing Virginia lines, extending the Orange, Blue, and Yellow lines to Centreville, Woodbridge, and Fort Belvoir. If ultimately approved in full, this would represent the largest expansion of Metro beyond the original system in its 30-year history. Commentators argue that these far-flung places (except, perhaps Fort Belvoir) would be better served by peak-service commuter rail, and that inner-core expansion is critical. (WBJ, Gavin B)

Hine redevelopment moving forward: The list of potential redevelopers of Eastern Market's Hine Junior High School, closed since 2007, has been whittled from six to four. The Eastern Market Metro Community Association is holding a meeting from 6pm to 9pm tonight at Tyler School to review the conceptual drawings. The EMMCA has announced that it will use five criteria to assess the proposals: promotion of neighborhood uniqueness, provision of space for a flea market and town square, protection of the neighborhood's "residential" character, attraction of pedestrians and cyclists "but not cars," and accommodations for "community programming." (Thom, DCmud)

Fireworks back on: The DC Fire Chief's ban on fireworks at Nationals Park was short-lived. The displays are now planned to continue, with minor adjustments. Because there hasn't been a home game since Sunday's announcement, the ban did not impact any event at the diamond. (City Paper)

No vote for now: With some in the media announcing it is "dead in the water," Congressional leaders have announced that the DC voting rights bill is on-hold indefinitely, because of a lack of "consensus" on the firearms amendment. In describing the situation, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has stated in an email, "Please understand that we are holding the bill for now, not giving up on voting rights." (Post, Decider)

Streetcar chugging along: Arlington's Columbia Pike streetcar project is hitting another milestone, as the Metro board moves to vote on the project Thursday. The critics, however, remain unsilenced: the head of the Northern Virginia Transportation alliance has complained that "[w]e have billions and billions of needs and to put a couple hundred million dollars in Columbia Pike seems a poor investment at this time." It has not been reported what the NVTA believes would be a better use for scarce transportation dollars. (Examiner)

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Roads


Afternoon Links: University vs. Residents


By ElvertBarnes on Flickr

GUTS, or just GALL? The Georgetown ANC is demanding that Georgetown University stop running most of its GUTS shuttles on Georgetown streets, except on traffic-choked Canal Road and M Street. In particular, buses on Reservoir Road, a four-lane arterial, have drawn the ire of the Commission, with some residents complaining that the buses are "wreaking havoc on Reservoir Road traffic." According to ANC commissioner Ron Lewis, "They're still in our communities and on Reservoir Road in our neighborhood and that is unacceptable." The University is considering complying, operating test-runs of its Dupont Circle shuttle along a Canal Road/Whitehurst Freeway 4.7-mile route, instead of the direct 2.1-mile route it now uses across Q Street.

Major weekend street closures: With the Race for the Cure and the Unifest Celebration going on in the District this weekend, DDOT has announced a slew of street closures. For the Race, streets near the Mall, including Constitution and Independence Avenues will be closed Saturday morning at various times. Independence Avenue will be closed until 5pm. For the Unifest Celebration, a number of roads in the U Street area will be closed starting tonight at 11pm and running through early Sunday morning. (Georgetown Voice, Scott)

Comstock pops a Wiehle: Fairfax County has signed a deal with Comstock Partners to develop a mixed-use project on the site of the future Silver Line station at Wiehle Avenue in Reston. The terminus of Silver Line Phase I, to be operating by 2013, is presently a park-and-ride lot for Fairfax Connector buses. The developers will construct residential, office, and retail "atop" a 2,300-space garage for the Metro station they are also building. (WBJ, Ben)

The candidates, on I-66 The Candidates in Virginia's up-in-the-air Democratic gubernatorial primary have announced their positions on the future of I-66 inside the Beltway. All support some expansion, though to different degrees. "R. Creigh Deeds, the state senator from rural Bath County, and Terry McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, who lives in McLean, said they support widening I-66 through Arlington if it stays within the existing footprint." Brian Moran, brother of Congressman James Moran (D), "supports plans to make 'spot improvements' to the westbound side of I-66, but he offered no opinion on a wholesale widening from four lanes to six." Congressman Gerry Connolly (D) of Fairfax argues that with the current configuration, "it's actually the citizens of Arlington and Falls Church who suffer." (Gavin B, Post)

Rural preservation in Montgomery: Lost amidst the recent urban historic preservation debates is the relationship between rural landowners and preservationists. Montgomery County is considering altering its process for protecting farmsteads. The proposed changes include requiring that a "site would have to meet at least three criteria for historic designation instead of one, and designation would require the votes of four of five members of the Planning Board instead of three. The measure would delete 'high artistic value' as a category for protecting a property, a criterion [County Council Member Michael] Knapp considers 'highly subjective.'" (Post)

Discuss to oppose paying to oppose: The Town of Chevy Chase has announced it won't consider spending additional Town funds to oppose the Purple Line until after it holds public hearings on the question. "In the town's proposed fiscal 2010 budget, there is $14,000 for the town's consultant on the Purple Line, Sam Schwartz, compared to the estimated total of $180,000 scheduled to be paid to Schwartz during the current 2009 fiscal year, which ends June 30. During fiscal 2008, the town spent $250,000 on consultant's fees to Sam Schwartz. On behalf of the town, Schwartz detailed reasons why a rapid bus line on Jones Bridge Road would be more effective than light rail for the Purple Line." (Gazette)

Development


Late night links: familiar battle lines edition


Concept sketch from LCOR proposal for the Tenley-Friendship library. Via ODMPED.
Moran, Oberstar defend transit: Virginia's Burke Connection covered Monday's town hall meeting in Tysons. Oberstar, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, got most of the quotes in the article, defending light rail and criticizing the federal funding formula which ignores many factors. And, like all pro-transit officials, he expressed a clear hope that things will change next year. "Shifting dollars from highway to transit? In this administration, that anathema," Oberstar said.

Smart Growth at Tenley library? The chair of ANC 3E (Tenleytown, AU Heights, and Friendship Heights), Amy McVey, is reporting that DMPED has decided to go ahead with a public-private partnership to develop the Tenley-Friendship Library site. Earlier this year, they solicited proposals for a private developer to build housing along with a new library and/or rebuilding the adjacent school; Ward 3 Vision supported the idea, while some members of the community opposed it. A mixed-use project would better utilize this key corner right by Metro. McVey says they've selected LCOR, but it's not clear how closely the final project will resemble their original submission.

Maryland town keeps out the Muslims: The Frederick County town of Walkersville stopped a Muslim sect from building a religious retreat on the town's largest farm, reports the Post. "Many residents told reporters they were nervous about the prospect of so many Muslims establishing a presence in their community." The landowner is suing, claiming violations of RLUIPA along with many other claims.

Parking


Breakfast links: thanks for emailing tips edition


Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.
Sausage makers talk trains: Northern Virginia's Congressman Jim Moran is holding a town hall on called "From Roads to Rail" on Monday evening, July 7th in Tysons. House Transportation Chairman James Oberstar will speak too. Thanks bfox!

Next, Manhattan? Urban farming has transformed people's diets from imported canned goods to fresh local vegetables in Cuba. Cuba's big agribusiness may be inefficient, but look for more of this in the developed world as energy prices go up and up. From the International Herald Tribune. Thanks Bianchi!

Not another drive-thru: Walgreens is planning to build on a former gas station at Veazey and Connecticut, right by the Van Ness stop, reports reader Steve. The somewhat-good news: they're seeking a variance to build only 27 parking spaces instead of 40 (it should be even fewer). The less-good news: Walgreens gets to keep all the curb cuts the gas station had, and so they're building a drive-through. We should not be building drive-throughs in urban areas, especially not next to Metro stations.

Cardin on transit: Ben Cardin, Delaware's slightly less well known Senator Maryland's newest Senator and a great advocate for transit, gets interviewed by Grist. He talks about the transit component of the Climate Security Act, which he authored (and which failed to pass a Republican filibuster this year). Oops, I confused Carper and Cardin. We have a wealth of pro-transit Senators whose names start with 'Car'.

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