The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about MWCOG

Housing


How can we know if DC is building enough housing?

DC could reach almost a million people in 30 years. What does that mean for the amount of housing DC needs? Or the amount you might pay to rent or buy a place to live? Current population forecasts still don't answer a few key questions that have to be answered to plan for the future.


Photo by E. Krall on Flickr.

DC planners are starting work to amend the city's Comprehensive Plan. Among other things, the Comp Plan sets basic policies for how much new housing can be built. And a recent court case blocked new housing because a map in the Comp Plan didn't show it. That means it's very important to get the plan right.

Everyone needs to live somewhere, so a very logical first step to understanding the city's needs is forecasting how many people want to live there. That's not quite so simple, however.

Forecasting is complex

Many variables go into population forecasts. Regional data analysts disagree about many of them. Still, they've had some success. When the current Comp Plan was first written, a decade ago, it estimated the city's population in 2010 and 2015. It got the 2010 population bang on the nosealmost exactly 600,000. But for 2015, it's wasn't so accurate; the Comp Plan guessed growth would continue to 630,000, but DC actually grew much more, to about 672,000.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) puts out annual growth estimates for all of the jurisdictions in the Washington region. Here's how the Comp Plan's growth estimates track with COG's past and most recent estimates and with reality.


Actual population data from US Census and American Community Survey estimates. Projections from DC Office of Planning, DC CFO, and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The DC Chief Financial Officer also makes some forecasts. The last one tracks closely to COG's, but in 2013 the DC CFO thought growth was about to slow. It hasn't, at least not yet.

The current forecasts answer some questions, but not all

How does COG come up with its forecasts? It calls them "cooperative forecasts" because the first step is for each local jurisdiction to estimate its own growth. Then, COG planners tweak the numbers so the totals better match the overall regional jobs picture, trends about how many children people are having, and so forth.

Those individual jurisdictional estimates mostly come from looking at how much development is in the pipeline and how much room there is under current zoning. It makes some sense—someone is not going to move to DC unless they have a place to live. If 1,000 new housing units will be created and 90% of them will fill up in 2 years with an average of 1.5 people per unit (for example), that means 1,350 new residents.

That's a pretty good way to guess the population if you want to know what's most likely to happen under current policy. It helps with budgeting for the amount of trash pickup you'll need, say, or how many schools to build.

But if you use that number to set zoning policies, you'd be making a circular argument:

  • We think developers will build x housing units.
  • X housing units hold Y people.
  • Therefore, DC will grow by Y people.
[later]
  • We said DC will grow by Y people.
  • Y people fit in X units.
  • We're building X units.
  • Therefore, we're building enough units.

Photo by Tom Magliery on Flickr.

It doesn't work that way. Let's consider a hypothetical city that really doesn't want to grow much but has a booming job market. Call it Atherton.

Atherton has about 7,500 people and very little opportunity to add new housing under zoning. It's zoned for enough new development for 100 new people and that's it. If that policy continues, the new units for those 100 people will get built in the next five years, and then perhaps nothing for many years after that.

Atherton therefore estimates its population will be 7,600 in 2035. Is that right? Well, maybe. That doesn't mean that policy makes any sense if the surrounding area has demand for thousands of new jobs a year and prices in Atherton are going through the roof (as they are, because Atherton is real!)

DC isn't Atherton, and we shouldn't be—but needs more data to avoid it

DC is, of course, not trying to stop all growth, and its forecast predicts some substantial growth. But that forecast still primarily answers the question of what the population will be under current policies. It doesn't tell us a few key things we need to know:

  1. If we don't change current policies, will prices rise faster than people's incomes can keep up?
  2. If we did change policies, what would happen? Would more people move in?
  3. What policies should we pursue if we want both new residents and longtime ones to be able to live in DC, without too-fast price rises or displacement?
These are the questions that DC must explore for the Comprehensive Plan, because the Comp Plan is the ultimate font of the policies that create the pipeline that drives the population estimates.

There aren't official numbers on most of this yet, but I've talked to forecasters who are trying to figure it out. It's not easy. If more housing was getting built, some people would move to DC who otherwise would live in another county or region entirely. Some wouldn't be displaced who otherwise would be. On the other hand, some people might not like the changes and move out.

Will DC run out of room?

DC (and the whole Washington region) is highly desirable, and many people would like to live here but for high and rising housing prices. Others who have lived here for many years are finding themselves priced out through rising rents or taxes associated with swelling real estate appraisals.

There's a growing body of evidence that when cities don't build enough new housing to keep up with demand, that exacerbates the price rise. In DC, proposed new buildings constantly have floors and units slashed off or have strict limits on their size in the first place.

You don't have to believe that removing regulations will magically make housing suddenly affordable for all—I don't—to worry about all the people who can't live in the units that don't get built and the displacement it can cause elsewhere.

Beyond prices rising and displacement happening today, there's reason to worry it will get worse. DC does have a number of large undeveloped sites now, like Walter Reed, McMillan, St. Elizabeths, and Hill East, which can and hopefully will provide a large portion of DC's housing need for the next decade or so. But if demand to live in the city remains strong, these will fill with housing soon; what then?

An Office of Planning 2013 report warned that DC was approaching its maximum buildable limits. The city could run out of space for new housing between 2030 and 2040, the report said.


Graph from the DC Office of Planning's Height Master Plan report, 2013.

It would be helpful for OP to update this graph based on changes since then. The zoning update allowed people to rent out basements and garages ("accessory apartments") in some zones, which added some potential housing; at the same time, DC made zoning more restrictive in many row house areas and downzoned the Lanier Heights neighborhood, which might have moved the red dotted line down somewhat.

Where are the lines now? How has the city's growth tracked against the three scenarios in the above graph? Under various assumptions, how much time is left until the problem gets even worse than it is today?

DC needs an inclusive housing strategy

DC needs a Comprehensive Plan that ensures enough housing so that prices don't rise faster than they need to. Public policies must also ensure that new housing benefits a cross-section of income levels, from the very poor to the middle class and beyond, to prevent displacement and built a city welcoming to all—as Mayor Bowser likes to say, for those who have been here for five generations or five minutes.

To get the policies right requires good data. What do you see in the above analysis? Are there other data sets you think would be helpful? Are there other questions that an updated Comprehensive Plan should address?

Bicycling


DC will swap driving lanes for bike lanes in four key places

Around the District, four new sections of bike lanes and protected bikeways will replace existing driving lanes. These are part of four miles of planned new segments that will close gaps in the city's bike infrastructure.


Photo by Dylan Passmore on Flickr.

They'll focus on four major areas: the Metropolitan Branch Trail, the Klingle Trail, downtown, and Piney Branch Road, near Catholic University.

The projects are part of an amendment the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is submitting to the Transportation Planning Board's long-term plan. DDOT is proposing to complete all of them this year, an undertaking that would cost $1.35 million.

Here's a big-picture look at all of them:


Map from MWCOG.

Metropolitan Branch Trail

Three of the eight projects are related to the Metropolitan Branch Trail. One would cut Blair Rd NW from three lanes to two lanes from Peabody Street to Aspen Street (a total of 0.73 miles) to allow for that section of the trail to be added in.


Blair Road with a protected path. Image from DDOT.

Two other projects would, functionally if not explicitly, extend the trail south from Union Station to the National Mall. One would remove a lane from Louisiana Avenue from Columbus Circle to Constitution Avenue in order to add in a 0.42 mile long protected bikeway. The other would remove two lanes from the stretch of Constitution Avenue that runs from 1st to Pennsylvania Ave NW to add in 0.23 miles of protected bikeway.

Klingle Trail Connection

Another project would remove half the lanes on Klingle Road between the under-construction Klingle Trail at Porter Street and Adams Mill Road. This would allow for 0.31 miles of separated bike lanes on both sides of the street, which will help to connect Mount Pleasant and the new trail.


Image from Google Maps.

East side downtown protected bikeway

The longest project on the list (1.6 miles), this is the bike facility that has been the subject of so much media attention. It would add protected bikeways to 5th, 6th or 9th Street NW.


Image from DDOT.

Closing bike lane gaps

The remaining three projects would close gaps in the current bike network. The first, in Edgewood, would remove a driving lane on 4th St NE between the existing bike lanes that end at Lincoln Road and the existing bike lanes at Harewood Road and add 0.27 miles of bike lane in their place.


Image from Google Maps.

The second would remove one of two driving lanes on the one-way section of Harewood Rd NW on the south side of the Soldier's Home Cemetery and replace it with a separated bike lane (I assume bi-directional). It would be 0.2 miles long between Rock Creek Church Road and North Capitol.


Image from Google Maps.

The last and smallest project, at 0.11 miles, would close a small gap in the bike lanes on Piney Branch Road NW between Georgia Ave and Underwood Street, again by removing a driving lane.


Image from Google Maps.

The Transportation Planning Board has opened a 30-day comment period on these changes.

There are other new bike projects in the works around the region. The I-66 Multimodal Improvement Project includes bike and walking improvements, and a project to extend VRE to Haymarket will include three new stations with "bicycle access." The Crystal City Transit Way (BRT) promises bicycle and pedestrian facilities improvements, and the I-66 Outside the Beltway project notes that Bicycle and Pedestrian accommodations in the corridor are included as part of the Preferred Alternative.

Cross-posted at The WashCycle.

Housing


Muriel Bowser predicts DC holds 800,000 people in 20 years. That requires a lot of new housing.

DC mayor Muriel Bowser appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Tuesday. In response to a question about whether DC is "full," she said DC "is going to keep growing" to 800,000 people in about 20 years. A recent report from George Mason University says it'll take a lot of new housing, of all types and for all income ranges, to get there.


Bowser's appearance on Morning Joe. Click to view the segment.

Here's the exchange, which starts around four minutes into this video:

CNBC's Brian Sullivan: Over the last ten years a number of major corporations—pretty much all the defense organizations, by the way—are either based in DC or around it. DC's population has surged. I have a lot of friends there and I'll speak for you and them: What are you going to do about the traffic? Is DC full? Because it seems full when I'm on the Beltway.

Mayor Bowser: It's not full. We're going to keep growing. Keep in mind that in the fifties we had 800,000 people that lived in DC. We're at about 660,000 now, and probably in the next 20 years we'll get up to 800,000 again. Now we have to be smart, we have to invest in our infrastructure..."

Sullivan: The Silver Line Metro has been expanded. That's nice ...

Bowser: ... And it's going to continue to expand. We're going to invest in our Metro. And part of the things that all of us mayors are talking about is what the Congress can do to help us. It's important that we get a permanent transportation bill and fund it.

Disregarding the whole panel's apparent confusion between the District and the larger region (where the Beltway, Silver Line, and most of the defense companies are located), Bowser's statistic fits with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) recent projections.

How much housing does our area need?

The George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis recently published a report projecting the amount of housing needed in all the jurisdictions in the Washington region over the next ten years. This updates a 2013 report, which Aaron Wiener summarized as saying, "We Need More Housing. Lots More Housing."

Starting with projections including the COG population forecasts, author Jeannette Chapman estimated the numbers of new housing units that each jurisdiction will need, and broke it down among single-family houses (attached, like row houses, and detached), multi-family (like apartment buildings), rental units, and owned units. The report also looks at the need for people in different income ranges, from less than 30% of Area Median Income up to 120% and more.

The bottom line, in Wiener-ese, is: "We Still Need More Housing. Lots More Housing. All Kinds. And All Prices."

Here's a table showing just DC data, which I assembled from various tables in the CRA report:

District of Columbia, 2023
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Total DC75,25041,33022,980139,55049,88023,450103,130316,020
Single-family16,84013,0108,06037,91017,7708,70049,590113,960
Multi-family58,40028,32014,920101,64032,11014,76053,540202,050
Owner13,27012,6407,61033,52021,08010,50066,270131,380
Renter61,97028,69015,370106,03028,80012,95036,860184,640
New units from 2011
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Total DC12,6004,9601,92019,4907,4503,03017,38047,340
Single-family1,791-105-243,6961,3472534,4677,753
Multi-family10,8045,0691,94637,9166,0892,77012,91839,630
Owner3,2781,2421,28413,0814,12196310,01420,884
Renter9,3193,72063428,5793,3132,0687,39626,422
Percent Change from 2011
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Total DC20.1%13.6%9.1%16.2%17.6%14.8%20.3%17.6%
Single-family11.9%-0.8%-0.3%10.8%8.2%3.0%9.9%7.3%
Multi-family22.7%21.8%15.0%59.5%23.4%23.1%31.8%24.4%
Owner32.8%10.9%20.3%64.0%24.3%10.1%17.8%18.9%
Renter17.7%14.9%4.3%36.9%13.0%19.0%25.1%16.7%
Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Sources: 2011 American Community Survey microdata, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and GMU Center for Regional Analysis

Except for single-family housing for people making between 30% and 80% of AMI, DC needs more housing in every box.

The top-line number is 47,340 new units from 2011 to 2023. That's 3,945 units a year over 12 years. But according to this data, DC added only 3,226 units a year on average from 2011-2014, and that was during a massive boom. The average from 2005-2014, which includes the previous boom and the intervening recession, was 2,153 units a year.

Plus, most new units were not in the lower-income affordable ranges, where DC needs to be adding 1,050 units for people under 30% AMI a year and 573 a year for people making 30-80% AMI.

This challenge is not just in DC. Here's a table from the report for the whole region:

Housing needs, 2023
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Dist. of Columbia75,25041,33022,980139,55049,88023,450103,130316,020
Montgomery43,23045,94033,350122,52077,77036,560170,760407,610
Prince George's57,02055,38037,830150,22079,36032,44081,350343,370
Rest of Sub. Md.140,73031,71019,98092,42056,79027,23081,490257,930
Suburban Md.140,980133,03091,150365,160213,93096,220333,6001,008,910
Arlington13,8607,5605,79027,21020,78010,31056,950115,260
Alexandria city9,7108,4506,31024,47016,0906,94032,07079,570
Fairfax241,07036,48024,640102,19086,39042,880213,590445,050
Prince William319,50022,26015,36057,12043,94020,08070,780191,920
Rest of No. Va.440,73038,01028,500107,24071,25035,130154,060367,680
Northern Va.124,860112,76080,600318,220238,460115,350527,4501,199,480
Entire Region341,090287,110194,740822,940502,270235,030964,1802,524,410
Increase from 2011
<30% AMI30-49.9% AMI50-79.9% AMIAll Low Income80-99.9% AMI100-119.9% AMI120%+ AMITotal
Dist. of Columbia12,6004,9601,92019,4907,4503,03017,38047,340
Montgomery5,2906,5503,12014,9607,4004,86020,90048,110
Prince George's13,45011,0906,99031,5405,1901104,78041,620
Rest of Sub. Md.114,7106,7401,81023,2508,8904,98014,45051,580
Suburban Md.33,45024,38011,92069,75021,4809,95040,130141,310
Arlington4,7401701,9106,8204,4401,51011,10023,870
Alexandria city2,7602,3205205,5902,7404906,03014,850
Fairfax22,2404,7601,0308,0209,7506,91015,69040,380
Prince William33,6106,4002,48012,4909,6904,72015,72042,610
Rest of No. Va.411,7907,9107,14026,84012,1908,78052,200100,010
Northern Va.25,13021,55013,08059,76038,80022,420100,740221,720
Entire Region71,19050,89026,920149,00067,73035,400158,260410,380
(1) Includes Frederick County, Calvert County, Charles County, and St. Mary's County
(2) Includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church
(3) Includes the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park
(4) Includes Clarke County, Culpeper County, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, King George County, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, Warren County, and Fredericksburg city
Numbers may not add due to rounding.
Sources: 2011 American Community Survey microdata, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and GMU Center for Regional Analysis

This is still a lot of sprawl

The GMU report considers the Washington region to be very large, spanning all the way to southern Maryland and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, while the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' definition ends at Prince Wiliam. The report estimates a lot of housing and job growth out in those mostly-undeveloped areas; it would be far better to concentrate job and housing growth in the built-up counties and cities, but that would require even more new housing than the high numbers in this report.

On top of that, the GMU report forecasts that a lot of the new workers who fill new jobs in the region will actually live outside of its definition Washington region and commute in. A lot of them commute to jobs outside the more central jurisdictions, but by far the most job growth is in Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George's, and DC, plus a lot in Loudoun and Arlington, in this forecast. Again, people commuting from so far away to these jobs is not ideal, but adding even more housing will reduce the sprawl pressure.

It's not impossible

The region can certainly accommodate these new people. As Bowser noted, DC once had that many people, though this was in an era when people lived in much smaller spaces and had larger families. The bigger obstacle is the widespread opposition to nearly any growth anywhere.

If that continues, displacement will increase and new jobs and housing will get pushed to the edges of the region. The report suggests, however, that it's not just poor workers who will lose out: it's seniors. Baby boomers will retire in great numbers and without jobs, and then make up many of the lower-income households.

DC and the other jurisdictions in the region will need to proactively plan for where this new housing can go, and get community buy-in ahead of time, to make it possible to build the housing the region needs.

Bicycling


New info about who rides a bike in DC will let us make the city even greater for cyclists

There's new data on who rides a bike or walks to work in DC, and it will likely guide future decisions on how to accommodate and encourage bicycle use.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The data comes from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG)'s just-released draft report of all the planned bike and pedestrian improvements coming to the region.

The most striking piece of information from the study is that people who either make a whole lot of money or not much at all are more both more likely to bike or to work than those whose income falls somewhere in the middle.

Rich and poor people are both biking more than average, but it's probably for different reasons


Average incomes of bike commuters. Image from MWCOG.

MWCOG says its income-related findings are consistent with national data.

As the report also has data on what has (and hasn't) changed about cyclist and pedestrian demographics in the DC region, it also tells us that the numbers of people biking or walking to work at the highest and lowest income levels has at least doubled since 2004 in most cases. Meanwhile, numbers have fallen in some of the middle brackets.

The report doesn't speculate that much on why people specifically choose to ride or walk, but it does look at existing barriers, which allows us to do some back of the envelope analysis.

One big factor for most people is the distance they'd have to bike or walk to work. The large number of high-income riders could suggest that people are choosing to live closer to work, while those at the bottom of the spectrum may be biking because of the rising costs of transportation modes.

There's a difference in how often people of different races ride bikes, too


Demographics of bike commuters in the DC region. Image from MWCOG.

In terms of race, the number of white bicycle riders or walkers has held steady while the number of Asian riders and walkers has grown and the number of black and hispanic riders and walkers has declined. This confirms that there's a racial disparity in DC among bicycle riders.

The report doesn't try to explain the cycling and walking rates among different races, or even say if race is a factor. Targeted studies in predominantly black and hispanic neighborhoods could give insight on how to get more people back on to bikes or choosing to walk to work. We know that adding bike infrastructure tends to increase overall usage for bike riding, so it's possible that those neighborhoods simply need more bike lanes or protected bikeways.

Data like this can show us who needs help getting on bikes in the first place, as well as who would benefit from more infrastructure. The more we know, the more focused our future bicycle infrastructure projects will be.

Correction: The original version of this post described the MWCOG data as applying just to bicycling. In fact, the report combines bicycle and walking trips. We have corrected the article.

Weather


Area governments take a small step on carbon emissions, but stall on real action

Greenhouse gas emissions are building in the atmosphere, contributing to climate change that is threatening our world. Our region needs to reduce carbon emissions from all sectors, but the regional Transportation Planning Board still won't commit to a specific target.


Photo by John Quigley/Spectral Q reposted with permission.

In 2008, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) published its climate change report establishing a scientifically-based regional goal to reduce carbon emissions to 80% of 2005 levels by 2050. All 21 local government members of COG reaffirmed the commitment in 2010 when they signed the compact called Region Forward.

But so far, the Transportation Planning Board (TPB), COG's most powerful committee which sets transportation funding priorities, has no plans to meet that target and is actually moving in the opposite direction. TPB staff are quick to note that per capita emissions are declining slightly, but if overall emissions continue to rise until 2050, they will worsen the climate change problem.


Carbon Dioxide emissions from transportation, 2015-2040.

Many leaders want to tackle climate change, but TPB balks

Last week the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' (COG) air quality and climate change committees met together for the first time. They focused on the wide and broadening gap between our region's accepted climate emissions reduction goals and where we are headed within the transportation sector.

The overall tone and broad participation reflected optimism and ambition about taking on this challenge. Many members spoke strongly in favor of moving urgently to tackle transportation emissions, led by Roger Berliner of Montgomery County, Jay Fisette of Arlington, Phil Mendelson of DC, and Tad Aburn of the Maryland Department of the Environment.

They and others repeatedly asked the important question: will TPB accept and plan for the regional goal of an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions from transportation by 2050?

Amongst all the supportive voices, it was difficult to see exactly what was holding the group back from making a more forceful decision. Perhaps it was the way the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Maryland Department of Transportation muddied the waters by raising scenarios that were not relevant to what was being proposed.

When Jay Fisette asked point blank if there was any legal prohibition on TPB adopting a self-defined climate change goal, TPB head Kanti Srikanth answered, "no." But he also said that he was sure "there are stakeholders on TPB that would have a different view."

Mr. Srikanth, until recently the head of planning for the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Northern Virginia District, didn't say so, but those stakeholders most resistant to achieving climate and smart growth goals in COG's transportation plan have long been the departments of transportation of Maryland and Virginia, and some local DOTs.

In the end, a small step

Ultimately the two committees adopted a weak, but still helpful resolution urging that all COG committees adopt the existing 80% reduction target, and created a working group to "explore establishing a target for screening for the regional transportation plan."

Many of the meeting participants had hoped for a more explicit commitment, so the Coalition for Smarter Growth is pressing the TPB to make a specific commitment to reduce CO2 emissions from transportation by 80% using a strategies that link land use changes with greater investment in transit, walking and bicycling.

Our most populous suburban areas hold the key

TPB's recent assessment of the region's transportation projects includes some stunning statistics that show how such an approach can make real progress on reducing emissions from transportation.

For example, the commute mode share for the "regional core" (DC, Arlington, and Alexandria) shows 70% of commute trips today are by walking, cycling, or transit. This is a direct result of mixed-use, walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented community development.


Commute mode share by core, inner suburbs, and outer suburbs.

For what COG terms the "inner suburbs" (Montgomery, Fairfax, and Prince George's), 37% of commute trips today are something other than people driving alone. Not bad, but they also don't show much progress by 2040. For the outer suburbs, it's 21% today and 28% in 2040.

These very populous counties could do much more to shift mode shares and reduce vehicle miles traveled and emissions by accelerating what they are already planning: a combination of transit-oriented development at existing transit stations and transformation of their commercial strip corridors into mixed-use, walkable, transit-oriented communities.

The outer jurisdictions would also benefit from more mixed-use centers. Finally, significant investment in dedicated lane commuter transit service would benefit both the outer and inner areas.

But we'll never move the needle on transportation emissions with our current plans. The regional transportation plan for 2014 includes a whopping 1,200 new lane miles and 25 new grade separated interchanges, compared to just 44 new miles of transit.

Many of those projects would go in the so-called "inner suburbs," and many were conceived years and even decades ago when everyone assumed people would drive more and more every year. Now that it's clear people are driving less, and walking, cycling, and riding transit more, how many of those road projects could be downsized, translated into a dedicated transit lane, or eliminated altogether?

Last week's meeting and resolution were a good start for bringing renewed attention to the actions our region must take to help fight climate change. Now, setting clear CO2 and vehicle miles traveled targets for transportation, and creating a real plan to get us there, are essential. If you think TPB should ensure our regional transportation plans will contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, you can send them an email here.

Demographics


By 2040, DC's population could be close to 900,000

The latest future population projections forecast that by 2040 the District of Columbia will have a population of 883,600. That would far eclipse the historic high of 802,178, from the 1950 census.


Projected population increase from 2010 to 2040, in thousands. Image by COG.

Despite that growth, DC would still rank as only the 4th most populous jurisdiction in the region, behind Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince George's. But the next 26 years could narrow that gap considerably. Demographers project that only Fairfax will add more people than DC. Prince George's will add fewer than half as many.

The forecasts come from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), which is sort of a United Nations for local governments in the DC region.

COG's forecast report has a treasure trove of fascinating demographic info, not only about population, but also jobs and households. For example, by 2040 COG's demographers expect DC to have over 1 million jobs.

Of course, these are only projections. Nobody can predict the future with 100% accuracy. COG's forecasts often fail to predict the biggest peaks during booms and lowest dips during busts. But all in all they've historically been reasonably accurate.

So get ready for more neighbors.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Government


DC-area transportation is not on track to meet climate change goals

The region's governments area currently reviewing new transportation projects to add to their long-range plan. But the list of projects in the queue, if built, will increase carbon emissions rather than lower them.


Analysis of 2013 Constrained Long Range Plan by TPB staff.

Right now, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is conducting its annual review of new projects for the Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP). The CLRP is a comprehensive list of the "regionally significant" transportation projects that TPB member governments realistically believe could be funded over the next few decades.

Projects that Maryland, Virginia, and DC wish to build must go through the CLRP both to be eligible for federal funding, and to go through the federally required air quality conformity process.

While federal air quality rules require the region's transportation projects to meet goals for pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act (Nitrogen Oxide and Volatile Organic Compounds that form ozone, along with particulates (PM2.5)), the TPB does not yet have to regulate carbon dioxide. The transportation projects in the pipeline, if built, would send us far past—that is, in the opposite direction of—our climate change goals.

In 2008, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) set a goal of reducing CO2 emissions 80% by 2050 below 2005 levels. Several initiatives since then have studied ways the transportation sector, which emits 30% of the region's CO2, could meet the goal. There is the 2010 Region Forward plan, the 2010 "What Would it Take?" report, and the 2014 Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.

Yet so far, the TPB has been reluctant to apply these regional goals to the CLRP because it might mean telling Virginia, Maryland or DC to remove or modify some projects. To what end is MWCOG continuing to develop and adopt these reports and plans, if actually implementing them is apparently off the table?

The 2010 "What Would It Take?" report looked at possible approaches to bridge the emissions reduction gap, and identified several important strategies to meet the region's climate goals for transportation including expanding telecommuting, providing monetary incentives for carpooling, increased transit use through bus priority treatments, expanding bicycle and pedestrian trips, and parking cash-out subsidies for employees who do not drive to work but receive free parking at their workplace.


Graph from MWCOG's 2010 What Would It Take report identifies gap in emissions reductions needed above and beyond federal CAFE standards.

The report relied heavily on the hope that the federal government would push harder for cleaner fuels and more efficient vehicles, but recognized that we need to move forward in the meantime to reduce vehicle miles traveled and to dramatically increase trips by walking, cycling, and transit.

Other cities and regions around the world are setting and implementing ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions and we can too. Copenhagen, which has set a goal to become carbon neutral by 2025, expects new fuel types to account for just 18% of its cuts in transportation emissions.

It plans for most of its reductions to come from boosting cycling to account for 50% of all trips, increasing transit ridership by 20%, and optimizing the flow of buses, cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians using improved signalization. Copenhagen also plans to switch its entire public transit fleet to electric vehicles running on clean energy.

Seattle implemented its Climate Action Plan in 2008, which sets a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. In order to tackle its transportation emissions, which comprise 40% of the city's footprint, Seattle has set a goal to reduce emissions from passenger vehicles by 82% by 2030, and to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 20% by 2030. It plans on tripling bicycling trips from 2007 levels by 2017, as well as expanding transit capacity.

Bold goals need not be unrealistic. Already today, 50% of all trips in DC happen by walking, bicycling and transit, and while adding 83,000 residents over the past decade, the city saw vehicle registrations decline. The Sustainable DC plan goal for 75% of all trips in the District to be by walking, cycling, or transit by 2032 seems very achievable.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of square feet of development in Arlington's two Metro corridors have helped to shift a majority of trips in those corridors to walking, bicycling, and transit, while not increasing traffic on surrounding local roads. Across the region, 84% of new office construction is within ¼ mile of a Metrorail station, and suburban leaders are embracing transit-oriented development and proposing new transit lines. Not only do these approaches reduce emissions, they offer an alternative to driving in congestion and have been shown to have health and economic benefits.

That's why it's particularly frustrating that the Council of Governments isn't acting to reevaluate the many legacy projects in the region's long-range transportation plan to address climate change. To do so, we need to shift funding to new transit projects, to meet Metro's capacity needs identified in the Momentum Plan, and to support the region's plans for walkable, transit-oriented development.

The state DOTs, which have the most control over the CLRP, also need to start proposing better projects, while many local cities and counties need to better plan their own patterns of growth.

As the forecasted impacts of climate change continue to worsen, our only option is to act. With the EPA moving to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants under the Clean Air Act, it's only a matter of time before it begins to regulate mobile sources.

We should lead, not wait. We should take fully to heart the reports we have prepared together as a region and implement those plans. Take a second to send in a public comment if you want our region's leaders to take the steps needed to cut our transportation emissions.

Transit


Fix it first, then upgrade, says new regional transportation plan

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board approved the draft Regional Transportation Priorities Plan two weeks ago. It advocates a "fix it first" approach that directs resources towards keeping the transportation assets we have in good shape, rather than building massive new facilities that may be costly to maintain.


Image from MWCOG.

The plan is a significant victory for smart growth advocates because it doesn't call for building any new highways. Maintaining Metro is the highest-scoring strategy overall. The plan calls for new transit facilities including both streetcar and bus rapid transit (BRT) lines, potentially using new express toll lanes on existing highways.

It also recommends capacity improvements like expanding Metro capacity in downtown DC, and focusing growth around existing transportation hubs and employment centers, offering more alternatives to driving. However, it relies on elected officials in local jurisdictions to make it happen.

The plan's supposed to inform future updates to the region's Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP), a more specific list of recommended capital investments, including this year's update. The CLRP's existing baseline includes the Silver and Purple lines, the planned DC streetcar network, and Arlington's Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars.

But first, local governments need to invest in the transportation infrastructure we already have. "The success of all other strategies to improve transportation in our region relies on an existing system that functions properly and is safe," the plan states. That includes Metro trains that run reliably and aren't overcrowded, bus stops that are easy to get to, roads and sidewalks that are smooth, structurally sound bridges, and efficient traffic signals.

Another key aspect of the plan is its focus on the region's activity centers, places like downtown DC or Bethesda that are walkable, bikeable, and well-served by transit. Simply directing more growth to these places can reduce car trips across the region. More people would have the opportunity to live or work there, while those who still chose to live elsewhere would have more options for getting to activity centers.

As MWCOG Principal Transportation Planner John Swanson put it, "We don't just focus on supply-side additions to the system, but also on managing demand."

Creating more activity centers is one of five central long-term strategies of the plan. The others are adding more capacity on the existing transit system, enhancing circulation within activity centers, encouraging BRT and other cost-effective transit services, and more express toll lanes.

At a press event January 15, Swanson emphasized that the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan is part of on ongoing planning process. It "shows why land use matters and why a lot of little decisions like [building better] bus stops matter," Swanson added. "If they aren't accessible and attractive, other work is for naught."

The TPB recommends focusing on "modes that can move more people at lower cost." The plan generally avoids citing specific projects or locations of concern. Rather, it's intended as a guide for state, county, and municipal officials as they determine which transportation projects deserve a share of their limited budgets.

Whether the vision comes true or not will depend on the elected leaders of the member jurisdictions. It will also require restoring citizens' trust in their government, meaning government must demonstrate that it is taking citizen input seriously and is getting the most bang for taxpayers' buck.

Among its other specific suggestions:

  • Local governments should help Metro reach its state of good repair goals outlined in Metro Forward.
  • Give Metro the resources needed to add capacity, including by adding more eight-car trains and increasing pedestrian flow capacity at constrained stations like Union Station.
  • Enhance and expand commuter rail service, primarily by addressing its two biggest constraints: limited capacity at Union Station and over the decrepit Long Bridge, the region's only crossing of the Potomac for commuter, intercity passenger, and freight trains.
  • Make major investments in relatively inexpensive pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. It cites the District's success with new bike lanes and expanding Capital Bikeshare, and says adequate sidewalks and crossing signals are still lacking in much of the region.
  • Alleviate bottlenecks in the highway network by building new on- and off-ramps, extra turn lanes, and adding lanes in limited cases.
  • Grow the network of electric car charging stations to incentivize their use.
  • Make the road network safer and more efficient by such often-overlooked strategies as providing more real-time information to drivers, and by updating existing traffic laws, particularly to offer more protection to pedestrians and bicyclists.
The plan reflects and builds upon the work of the late Ron Kirby, the former MWCOG transportation planning director whose shocking murder in his home two months ago remains unsolved. The document is dedicated in his memory. Kirby chose not to pick sides in the more roads vs. more transit tug-of-war, but he was willing to say we should fix things first.

The TPB's next step is to disseminate the plan to both elected and administrative officials in all member jurisdictions and explain how it works. The plan highlights broad agreement at the regional level, and gives jurisdictions a framework for decision-making.

If it agrees, for example, that maintaining the existing system is the top priority, then its practices should reflect that. Thanks to language in a resolution the TPB adopted on January 15, the RTPP will guide DC, Maryland, and Virginia when they propose projects for inclusion in the CLRP.

"This work fits into a broader picture of what people are asking for," said Todd Turner, TPB member and Bowie city councilmember. "[Once people] see the impact of funding decisions on them, they become more supportive."

Read together with MWCOG's Region Forward plan, its Climate Change Report, and its Activity Centers map, the RTPP should guide the region to a better-managed, more transit-oriented, and more sustainable transportation future.

Transit


As the region's core grows, Metro is forced to plan for the edges

Why isn't Metro planning more rail lines inside the Beltway? One big reason is that political pressure and federal regulations require it and other transit agencies to look only at current zoning and master plans. These predict lots of growth on the suburban fringe, not inside the core where it's actually happening.


Map of Metro expansion from WMATA.

WMATA's new plan for "core capacity" shows this dynamic at work. A new loop through downtown would connect Rosslyn and the Yellow Line bridge, and express tracks would parallel the Orange Line in Arlington.

Critics object that this only solves the problems of suburbanites who travel into the District, like the current bottleneck in the Rosslyn tunnel and the future need to get more train commuters in and out of Union Station. It does little for the District's growing population and nothing at all to support the ongoing urbanization of the inner suburbs.

As the plan's authors point out, they are required to base their plans on an official forecast of future land use prepared by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. This forecast, in practice, is prepared by cobbling together the master plans adopted by local governments, which are not anyone's best guess of the future, but mostly reflect the desires of locally dominant political forces. COG staff makes some adjustments, but they can't eliminate the biases inherent in this process.

The official forecast expects lots of growth in outer suburbs, where plans make room for decades of growth. Closer in, it predicts little change. In built-up areas, land doesn't get rezoned until its owners are thinking about building, because politicians see no advantage in angering anti-growth neighbors without pleasing a developer.

Thus COG foresees that Stafford County's population will grow 95% by 2040, and the District only 28%. In reality, the District is growing faster than Stafford.

COG recognizes this problem, and a few years ago they tried to correct it with an "aspirations" scenario that was supposed to describe a "smart growth" future. That's what WMATA planners are using in their work. But the study did not fix the underlying problem. Fearing that the mere suggestion of massive rezonings would disturb local politics, COG retained the fundamental defect of its other forecasts—the supposed smart growth scenario "maintains the existing or planned neighborhood character."

Portland offers a way to link transit and land use

Are there ways out of this dilemma? Portland, Oregon, found one 20 years ago. The state's environmental laws told regional planners to curb sprawl and reduce auto use. This, the planners knew, couldn't be done without changing the zoning to allow much more building near transit stations.

For local government, this scenario was too hot to handle. Instead, the advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon obtained a federal grant and used the money to hire the same consulting firm that was working for the planning agency. In effect, another scenario was added to the study, but government officials couldn't be accused of plotting zoning changes.

The 1000 Friends report, known as LUTRAQ (for Land Use, Transportation, and Air Quality), won public acclaim and was a key to setting Portland on its current urban course. Perhaps a similar approach could give Metro a vision for the future to match the boldness of the system's first planners.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC