Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Mary Hynes


Bright hopes, some obstacles for Northern Virginia streetcars

Streetcar supporters in Northern Virginia hope to see streetcar lines traversing many of Northern Virginia's cities and counties, linking housing to employment centers within and across jurisdictions, often retracing routes operated decades ago.

A modern streetcar. Photo from Arlington County.

To get streetcars across boundaries, however, the many local governments must coordinate their plans and deal with differences in their abilities to fund projects.

The Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition's top priority this year is supporting Arlington's plans for the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar lines. It also will encourage other cities and counties to consider streetcar options.

Arlington has steadfastly supported a vision of smart growth around transit nodes and multimodal transportation options for a great many years. Thanks to this consistency, their work has paid off in positioning Arlington as a good place to live and work.

By selecting streetcar rather than some variety of enhanced bus service, Arlington is reinforcing its past planning efforts by providing investors and developers along the two corridors with the certainty that only a commitment to a fixed alignment can give.

Arlington and Fairfax counties worked together on plans for high-capacity transit along Columbia Pike for several years, and in July 2012 voted to select streetcar as the preferred option for Columbia Pike and apply for federal funding. Arlington also plans a streetcar line for Crystal City to connect with the Columbia Pike line.

The 5 mile long Columbia Pike line, as currently planned, will cross into Fairfax County, terminating at Skyline. The 2½ mile long Crystal City line, on the other hand, will terminate at Four Mile Run, the boundary between Arlington and Alexandria.

Proposed streetcar alignments in Arlington. Image from Arlington County.

Meanwhile, Alexandria has been studying transit for Route 1 and the Beauregard/Van Dorn transit corridors. NVSC wants to ensure no decisions would preclude using streetcars in those areas.

NVSC also will encourage Fairfax County to expand its streetcar lines beyond Skyline, going either toward Falls Church along Route 7, toward Northern Virginia Community College and the Mark Center east of Skyline, or along Route 1 south of Alexandria. Finally, ongoing studies in various jurisdictions could identify additional corridors suitable for streetcars.

Leaders emphasize need for transit, desire to coordinate

In November, the Northern Virginia Streetcar Coalition hosted a public meeting where leaders from Arlington, Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Falls Church discussed, in a spirited but positive manner, regional cooperation in planning high-capacity transit.

They saw Northern Virginia's future as multimodal, with mixed uses around transit stations. Then-Arlington Board Chair Mary Hynes noted that Virginia commuters to DC must cross Arlington. Without its multi-modal strategy, she said, the county would "become a parking lot."

All of the officials emphasized that the jurisdictions want work together, and have coordinated in many ways. However, due to differences in funds available for transit and each jurisdiction's priorities, it has not always been possible to think regionally in spite of best intentions.

Arlington has been more successful at raising funds for transportation capital projects than its neighbors, partially due to its more balanced ratio of commercial to residential property and its commercial add-on tax for transportation.

Paul Smedberg, a member of the Alexandria City Council, spoke of the need for a streetcar connection to the BRAC-133 building at Mark Center. Fairfax Supervisor Penny Gross said that although extensions to the Columbia Pike line are desirable, it was important to get the first segment built rather than bogging down the whole process by considering alternatives.

Former Falls Church City Council member Dan Maller, standing in for Vice-Mayor David Snyder, noted that he was eager to work with Fairfax on a Route 7 extension to Falls Church. Somewhat reassuringly, Alexandrians learned that they would have continuous transit options to get from their city to Arlington without transferring at Four Mile Runalthough presently these are bus options rather than streetcar options.

As local and regional plans for high-capacity transit develop, decision-makers must think long-term and regionally. Not every transit route is suitable for streetcars, but where cities and counties want environmentally-sound, reliable, clean transportation that also contributes to local economic development, they should consider streetcar lines and ensure they can interoperate across jurisdictional boundaries now and in the future.


New coalition aims to improve regional planning

A new coalition of elected officials, planning professionals, and engaged citizens is hoping to improve coordination of regional planning in the DC area, with the goal of fostering more complete and accessible communities.

Last month, the Region Forward Coalition (RFC) held its inaugural meeting. The coalition is sponsored by the Council of Governments (COG) and is charged with providing policy guidance on regional planning matters, and with advancing the goals set forth in COG's Region Forward plan. The plan was adopted in January, 2010, and is an aggressive vision of regional Smart Growth.

I serve as a coalition member representing Greater Greater Washington, and will report on the group's progress from time to time. GGW was invited as a member because of our ability to reach people who care deeply about regional development. The selection is a testament to the hard work and insight of our community.

The Region Forward report identifies goals in several categories with specific targets relating to accessibility, sustainability, prosperity, and livability. The goals range from minimizing economic disparities and achieving balanced growth throughout the region to maximizing connectivity and walkability.

The report's land use goal sums up the overarching theme very succinctly: "We seek transit-oriented and mixed-use communities emerging in Regional Activity Centers that will capture new employment and household growth."

The purpose of the RFC is to oversee the implementation steps recommended in the Region Forward report, and to advise the COG Board on future regional planning activities. The RFC consists of 80 members representing area jurisdictions, planning committees, and advocacy groups. Prince George's County Council Vice Chair Eric Olson serves as the RFC chair, and Arlington County Board Member Mary Hynes and District of Columbia Planning Director Harriet Tregoning serve as vice chairs.

The author discusses the regional activity center of Woodbridge with Mary Hynes and Robert Brosnan of Arlington County, Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, Greg Goodwin of COG, and other members of the RFC.

Our kickoff meeting offered excellent opportunities for RFC members to engage with each other on a variety of topics, including the question of what's included in the concept of "complete communities." What surprised me the most was the fact that there was a great deal of agreement among participants about the essential elements. These included a variety of transit options to integrate activity centers into the region, a mix of land uses to enhance walkability and livability within the community, and the presence of a variety of economic and social opportunities nearby.

I was also impressed by the initial focus on transit-oriented affordable housing. Too often, large scale planning exercises like this pay only lip services to things like public safety, education, and affordable housing. I look forward to a process that ensures these priorities are factored into planning in a meaningful way.

Alicia Lewis of COG moderates a panel on transit-oriented affordable housing programs

The next step will be to organize working subcommittees that will consider the definition and identification of "regional activity centers," taking baseline measurements of those centers, and developing future planning approaches to help them grow according to the goals identified by the Region Forward plan.

As with any diverse coalition, the goals and needs of members will not always align, but everyone involved is committed to the vision in the Region Forward report. I am excited to be serving with so many outstanding public servants and representatives from such diverse communities, but I am even more excited about strengthening the dialogue between these groups and the GGW community.

It was obvious from the kick off meeting that there is great potential for GGW to have an impact on regional planning through the course of the RFC's work. In the future, we envision live chats, guest posts and other forums to ensure that your voices are heard as we continue planning the future of the greater Washington region.


GAO says clarify WMATA board role, don't restructure

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its long-awaited report on WMATA governance this morning. The report concludes that the board lacks clarity about where its role begins and ends, but rejects some of the drastic structural changes that have been proposed, instead arguing the board can and should fix problems itself.

Photo by Auntie P on Flickr.

An ambiguous definition of the board's role was a common theme in both the Riders' Advisory Council and Board of Trade reports. The board has been accused of micromanaging operations rather than focusing on policy and high-level issues.

The GAO report agreed, and recommends the board clarify its responsibilities as well as conduct regular self-assessments. Fortunately, the board is already doing much of that.

A governance committee, ably led by Mary Hynes of Arlington, has formulated bylaws and procedures for the board which better define its role. This year, after most members turned over and the reports came out criticizing past board actions, the board has indeed started focusing effectively on the high-level decisions that it needs to make to keep Metro running smoothly.

The GAO report says, "These draft bylaws represent a good first step toward addressing some of the concerns discussed in this report but will need to be adopted and then effectively implemented to achieve their desired effect." The report also criticizes past boards for doing a poor job of strategic planning, suggesting the board develop a better plan and then commit to implementing it.

The executives and DOTs of DC, Maryland, and Virginia were waiting to see the GAO report before moving ahead further on structural changes. The Board of Trade report last year suggested removing alternates, giving the governors one extra appointment of their own, creating an added "super-board" above the current board to supervise the board, and changing the jurisdictional veto.

The Riders' Advisory Council, on the other hand, argued that these changes were unnecessary and possibly counterproductive. Its report argued that the problems could be fixed by doing a better job appointing members and by the members developing better policies around these issues. (Disclosure: I was the principal author of the RAC report.)

The GAO took a similar stance to the RAC's report. They wrote:

Our analysis, however, indicates that most of the recommended changes have trade-offsthere are both benefits and drawbacks to them. We compared the various recommendations to leading governance practices, approaches taken by other transit agencies, and the views of board members and stakeholders. Board members and stakeholders indicated that proposed changes to the board's structure and processessuch as eliminating alternate board members, changing the size of the board, or eliminating the jurisdictional vetohave trade-offs, and we did not find consistent support among leading governance practices or other transit agencies that these changes would improve governance.

The [Board of Trade/COG] Governance Task Force recommended that the signatories and the appointing authorities form a WMATA Governance Commission to make improvements to the authority's governance structure and hold the board accountable for its performance. ... Such a commission was viewed by some stakeholders we spoke with as redundant because it would be comprised of most of the same membership that is responsible for appointing the board of directors.

The GAO paid special attention to the federal government's involvement, which includes the General Services Administration appointing a set of federal members. The GAO says that GSA lacks clear procedures for selecting and appointing these members. The GSA replied that while it's true it doesn't have formal procedures, it doesn't think that's interfered with selecting qualified candidates.

Moving forward, this report confirms what's become increasingly clear: WMATA can be fixed without rearranging the organizational structure. Doing that could fix some problems but create others, and would ultimately be a distraction from the work of actually governing better.

Already, we've seen tremendous progress. The NTSB feels safety is improving. Communication has taken huge steps forward with WMATA now tweeting and generally using two-way communication. The board passed a budget that avoided service cuts and without any major acrimony. Local jurisdictions stepped up with needed funding.

Now, we should let the current board and management keep making the strides they have. The executives and DOTs should let this issue rest.

Governor McDonnell did succeed in using the frustration over Metro to let him take away some power from Northern Virginia, giving him a direct appointment to the board who will likely replace Mary Hynes entirely or move her to an alternate position and bump Jeff McKay. Either way, that will be a big loss for Virginian interests, since both have effectively represented their constituents. The legislature should reverse this hasty decision before the appointments are made or renewed at the end of the year.


WMATA Board ponders cutting late-night service

WMATA Board members, including federal representatives and new members from DC and Arlington, expressed a willingness to explore cutting back late-night weekend transit service at their meeting today. The tenor of the debate differed greatly from that of previous years, when Board members pushed hard against even the suggestion of such cuts.

Photo by camera_obscura on Flickr.

This move would save substantial money, but also would impair people's ability to go out in DC, Arlington, and other walkable communities without a car with confidence they can get home affordably.

Such a move risks shifting the DC region away from the "transit culture" that has been developed. On the other hand, if jurisdictions can't contribute more money and WMATA can't find other savings, other cuts could similarly cripple transit and take away vital access for riders.

Maryland's Peter Benjamin asked about providing bus, taxi, or other service as an alternative to rail service, to avoid completely cutting off riders from having transit options. Such a program could blunt the pain of such a cut.

Rail operations head Dave Kubicek said the late-night Friday and Saturday service forces WMATA to pay the equivalent "adding an eighth day of work" each week. Cutting back the hours to midnight from 3 am would effectively give them 45 more days per year to perform track work.

The Board also discussed plans to hold hearings and give the public a chance to weigh in on these issues.

New Board member Mary Hynes from Arlington suggested presenting the idea of earlier closings juxtaposed with whatever can be accomplished in the extra time. "Our goal is Metro 2.0," said Hynes. She argued that if riders knew what could be fixed and how much faster, it could help them decide whether to support late-night cuts.

Unfortunately, this also risks pitting rush-hour only riders, more often those who drive to stations and don't live in walkable areas with ready transit access, against people for whom transit is a 24-7 mobility tool. Federal member Mort Downey already started down that road by talking about how Metro is a "demand-driven" service, organized primarily around the times of peak usage, which also happens to be what matters most to the federal government.

Tom Downs, DC's voting member from the Gray administration, also expressed an interest in exploring this, though he also made very clear that rider input is vital. As Kytja Weir noted on Twitter, cutting late-night service is something Jim Graham constantly fought, often tenaciously and to the irritation of some of his colleagues or the Board of Trade.

We're seeing the effect in this meeting of the new Board. Gone are two of the more vociferous defenders of transit service, and the new members either won't be fighting as hard or haven't yet found their footing to do so. While the Board hasn't necessarily decided to make these cuts and members haven't committed to supporting or opposing them, in the old Board, we'd have heard members making impassioned speeches against this idea the moment it came up.

Or, perhaps members will just be more subtle about it. Another item on the list of potential cuts is Yellow Line service to Fort Totten off-peak, which keeps riders between Mount Vernon Square and Fort Totten from facing very long midday and evening headways. Tommy Wells asked staff to also add Red Line turnbacks at Grosvenor to the list, which represent a potential Montgomery County-only cut to parallel this DC-only cut.

About half of Red Line trains stop at Grosvenor rush hours instead of continuing to Shady Grove. Years past, this happened off-peak as well, but Maryland secured service sending all off-peak trains to Shady Grove and only turning any back during the peak.

If one is on the table, it's fair to put the other on as well, and perhaps a comparable service pattern in Virginia. All would be terrible, however, and the Board needs to look hard at alternatives before jumping to this option.

Update: Tommy Wells criticized this option when talking to reporters after the meeting.


Zimmerman leaving WMATA Board, bag checks starting

Today's WMATA Board meeting revealed several surprises, both disappointing. Chris Zimmerman is stepping down from the board. Also, WMATA will begin random bag checks.

Photo by cliff1066™ on Flickr.

Zimmerman, the member from Arlington for 13 years, was one of the best members, both in transit knowledge and in his responsiveness to riders. Apparently even fellow Board members were unaware of Zimmerman's decision, and praised his long service.

Zimmerman said as he is in line to take over the chairmanship of the Arlington County Board, now was a good time to step down. Update: Mary Hynes will take over Arlington's seat on the board.

Gordon Linton, Montgomery County's alternate member, is also leaving. More changes are likely to come when Vincent Gray makes his picks for the DC mayoral appointees and Rushern Baker for the Prince George's alternate; speculation is that Kwame Brown will also change one or both of the DC Council appointees.

Meanwhile, General Manager Sarles announced that WMATA will ramp up useless security theater in the form of random bag checks. As usual, anyone can just turn around and decline to enter the station instead of having a bag searched.

This will let riders be confident that anyone trying to smuggle contraband into that particular station at that particular moment is instead walking to a different station instead, while having enormous amounts of time and police energy wasted on not catching actual potential terrorists.

TBD summarizes the more meaningful news from the safety committee's meeting: Metro has made good progress on safety incident investigations, and suicides have declined. However, train doors are still occasionally getting opened on the wrong side, and there are more fires but fewer smoke incidents. Also, people keep assaulting bus drivers.

Update: Zimmerman sent a letter which is included below. He announced that Mary Hynes, his colleague on the Arlington County Board, will be taking over the seat.

Today I announced that I will be stepping down from my role as Arlington's representative on the WMATA Board of Directors. On January 1st I will assume the Chairmanship of the Arlington County Board. In view of those responsibilities, and my desire to give greater focus to some of the needs within my county, I have decided that this is a good time for me to pass on the day-to-day duties of Metro representation.

I want to assure you that my commitment to transit and to Metro is as strong as ever, and I will continue to work for improvements to rail, bus, and paratransit services in our region. I will continue to serve on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (which is the governing body for WMATA in Virginia), as well as on the Transportation Planning Board for the National Capital Region, and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

One benefit of this move is that another member will have the opportunity to become immersed in the daily issues involved in the system, increasing the level of direct knowledge about Metro significantly on the Arlington Board. And I am confident that my County will be well-represented, and the region well-served, by the member who will succeed me on the WMATA Board.

My colleague Mary Hynes will take over in January. Mary is an exceptional public official, and she is well-prepared for this role. For the last three years she has served on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, for which she is currently Secretary-Treasurer. Mary has a very personal connection to Metro. For many years, she and her family have lived about a block-and-a-half from the Clarendon Metro station. They have relied upon the system, and seen the changes Metro has brought to the community over the years. Mary is also a very experienced local elected official, having served Arlington since 1995 as a School Board and now a County Board Member. She is known for her responsiveness to constituent's concerns, and for paying close attention to details. Mary is also highly respected for her command of capital budgeting issues. She will be a strong advocate for riders, and a conscientious steward of the agency.

It has been a great privilege serving on the WMATA Board, and I appreciate all the help and support you have given me over the years in this role. I will be, as I have been, an ardent advocate for Metro, its riders, and the jurisdictions it serves. I look forward to continuing to work with all of you. There is much we need to do for the betterment of public transportation in our region, and for a bright future for Metro.

Thank you.

Chris Zimmerman

Arlington County Vice-Chairman
WMATA member

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