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Transit


Without a streetcar, what's next for Columbia Pike, technically and politically?

After a decade of planning, officials in Arlington cancelled the Columbia Pike streetcar this week. If streetcars aren't going to be the answer on there, what might realistically happen instead?


Columbia Pike. Photo by harry_nl on Flickr.

In the wake of the streetcar's cancellation, some have suggested Metrorail, BRT, or light rail. None are likely. The county will probably just end up running articulated ("accordion") buses on Columbia Pike. Voters might be surprised how long that takes, how much it costs, and how little capacity it adds.

It's also time for the anti-streetcar forces to prove that when they claimed they supported better transit, they meant it and weren't just using the issue to divide voters. That means they now have to get involved in finding a solution and making it a reality.

There's tremendous demand for good transit on Columbia Pike. It's already the busiest bus corridor in Virginia, and by 2040 there could be more transit riders on Columbia Pike alone than in the entire Richmond metropolitan area. Doing nothing isn't a viable option.

As we discussed yesterday, Metrorail is (unfortunately) not financially realistic, and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has told Arlington it may not dedicate a lane to transit—if even that were politically possible over drivers' inevitable objections.

So what can happen now?

How soon can Arlington beef up bus service?

Unfortunately, large transit projects take years to plan and, if they cost a significant amount, even longer to fund. The funding process is what really held up the Columbia Pike streetcar; Arlington and Fairfax leaders thought they had the money together in the past, like in 2007, when Virginia handed some taxing authority to a regional authority to build transportation. But then courts ruled the plan unconstitutional, and it took more years to get funding together again, culminating in Governor McAuliffe's pledge this year for the state to pick up a significant amount of the tab.

One plan has gone through some detailed studies: the option called "TSM-2" in the streetcar alternatives analysis. That includes running longer articulated buses on Columbia Pike along with larger bus stops, machines to pay the fare before the bus arrives ("off-vehicle fare collection"), and rebranding the buses as MetroExtra or Metroway.

But even that isn't so simple.

First, WMATA doesn't have any bus storage or maintenance yard in Virginia equipped to handle articulated buses. Arlington will have to find land and build that, just as it would have had to do for a streetcar railyard.

Second, Columbia Pike's pavement isn't strong enough to handle the wear and tear of hundreds of articulated bus trips per day. It wouldn't crumble the first week, but before long Arlington will have to reinforce and repave the street, just like it would have had to do for streetcar tracks.

Finally, a lot of planning work will have to re-done. Just how much is not yet clear. At the very least, contracts and design work that had been progressing will cease, and Arlington will have to prepare new contracts and possibly hire new contractors. At the higher end of the scale, it's possible the entire alternatives analysis process that produced the TSM-2 option will have to start anew, with a different set of constraints.

Whatever the specifics turn out to be, it's definitely not a simple matter of buying some buses and calling it a day. It's going to take years.

That likely won't last for long

The Alternatives Analysis estimated that at current growth rates, ridership will outstrip the capacity for articulated buses before long.

There are three likely scenarios here:

  • Columbia Pike will not grow as leaders and residents hope, in which case it will remain depressed relative to the rest of the county and not need more transit ridership. A streetcar might become necessary to jump-start the economy, or voters will keep letting it languish.
  • It will grow, demand will increase again, and we'll be back where we started. Maybe the county will again consider a higher-capacity streetcar, just years later and at an even higher cost.
  • The AA is totally wrong and everything will be hunky-dory with just articulated buses, as Libby Garvey and others have argued. That's worked with voters, but no transit experts have really said it holds water.
What about dedicated lanes?

Several readers have said they believe that transit is just not worthwhile without dedicated lanes. Certainly dedicated lanes are better, but elected officials have to make a judgment about what is politically possible and what is not.

Columbia Pike used to be a state road (and still is in Fairfax). The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) turned it over to Arlington, but with the condition that the number of lanes open to cars not drop below four—and it's a four-lane road.

It's theoretically possible that a transit-friendly governor in Virginia could order VDOT to change this condition and let Arlington dedicate lanes on Columbia Pike. Or maybe in another decade or two, VDOT will come to that decision naturally.

The McAuliffe administration stuck its neck out in support of the streetcar. After Arlington hung them out to dry, will they take even more of a risk to take lanes away from cars?

And what evidence do we have that the voting bloc that would fight against losing any car lanes is smaller than the bloc who opposed spending money?

It's about politics now

All of the above is, essentially, the calculus that folks inside Arlington government are or will be working through. What should they plan for now? What contracts are necessary?

But this project didn't lose because of insufficient planning. It lost because of politics.

Arlington has long operated on the "Arlington Way," where civic leaders and other residents discuss issues calmly in advisory committees, the staff formulate recommendations, the board debates them, and ultimately passes things usually with unanimity.

This works pretty well when residents are willing to trust their elected leaders and county officials. But that system is now dead. The faction opposed to the current board members told voters that the consensus on the county board was a sign of the board not listening to people, and eroded popular trust in the county board and staff.

The county board has no committees. There's just one political party. The executive isn't independent. Everything is set up around the idea that everyone acts together. But a faction that now represents 40% of the board isn't interested in doing it that way (unless they are in charge, maybe).

If the board members just ask the transportation department to devise some options, recommend them to the board, and pick the best one, some people will still be unhappy with whatever happens. There will still be opportunities to blame Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, and Jay Fisette for not doing it the right way, because there's no perfect way that will satisfy every person.

Transit supporters need to start thinking of this as a political fight and not a transit planning fight.

Streetcar opponents: You won. Now, get something done

Libby Garvey, John Vihstadt, and Peter Rousselot have consistently claimed they are for better mobility on Columbia Pike. They just don't want the streetcar. Well, now the streetcar is gone, so there's no apparent division.

Either they were genuine, in which case they can and will work to make transit better, or they were just using it for political advantage. The trick is to now set things up so that voters will be able to see which it is. (Update: Rousselot, at least, has stated his spending priorities and none of them is transit of any kind on Columbia Pike.)

How about putting Garvey and/or Vihstadt in charge of some sort of committee to analyze transportation on Columbia Pike and recommend solutions? And hold a vote putting the county on record that it does want to ask Virginia for a dedicated lane, and send Garvey down to Richmond to push for it. She sure had nearly boundless energy to meet with state officials to criticize the streetcar; how about doing the same for something that would help Arlington County?

If she succeeds, then that's fantastic! We get better transit. I don't think it'll happen, but I'd love to be proven wrong here. I'd love to be able to praise Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt for making things better instead of just breaking things. Then transit supporters can start seeing them as friends and support their re-election.

But if a dedicated lane can't happen, articulated buses turn out to cost almost as much as the streetcar, and they're still too crowded, then voters should blame them, not Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada who tried to do something and got shot down.

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Politics


The DC council will stay somewhat colorful... literally

Views, backgrounds, and many other factors are important qualities for candidates for office. One that doesn't matter at all: Whether their names are also colors of the rainbow. But it's fun nonetheless to chart how many of DC's elected officials share surnames with parts of the palette.

Orange was the first hue to join the council, as the Ward 5 member in 1999. He left to run for mayor (and lost), but when returned to the council after winning a special election for an at-large seat in 2011. Then, the District reached an all-time high of four chromatic elected officials: Vincent Gray, mayor; Kwame Brown, chairman; and Michael Brown and Orange, at-large councilmembers.

As I noted in a similarly-frivolous post on this topic in 2011, the tally does not count foreign-language names; Carol Schwartz (who was an at-large member from 1985 to 2008) has a name that derives from "schwarz," the German word for black.

Now, with both Browns off the council (both having pled guilty to lawbreaking) and Gray having lost his seat as mayor (in large part because of a federal investigation), Orange would have been again the only official with an RGB formula... except he will have a partner: Elissa Silverman, who won the race to succeed David Catania.

There will also be a special election in 2015 for the Ward 4 member. A few people (whose last names are not colors) are already running, but most say it's far too early to speculate.

One who isn't yet running but might is Robert White, who just gained 7% of the vote in the race Silverman won. If you count first names, there's also Graylan Hagler.

The real vote should depend more on the candidates' views, and in reality will depend even more on whom Muriel Bowser endorses. But a White or Graylan victory would, as an unimportant side effect, again boost the council's chromaticity.

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Politics


Your vote matters beyond just who wins

In DC's race for council at large, voters can cast ballots for two candidates. As often happens in elections of this type, that's sparking the question of whether to "bullet vote" (where you just cast one vote and leave another blank) or use both votes.


Photo by Cassidy Curtis on Flickr.

The vote total certainly decides who wins, but it also matters in other ways. It affects how easily a candidate can build support to run for future office, or how influential that candidate might be in other ways after the election.

Voters will elect two candidates, and since she has the Democratic endorsement, Anita Bonds is widely expected to get one of the two slots. Elissa Silverman and Robert White have led in newspaper, blog, and elected official endorsements for the other slot, making it a fair guess they could end up one and two.

In the council race, we don't have any independent polls because, apparently, the large 15-candidate field was too big for news organizations to easily poll. A September internal poll from Elissa Silverman's campaign put Bonds on top, followed by Silverman, White, and Eugene Puryear. (The poll excluded some candidates, including Kishan Putta.) Still, this is an internal campaign poll, and it came before most newspaper endorsements, before many voters really focused on the race, and before candidates started blanketing the city in mailers.

Greater Greater Washington endorsed both Silverman and White, and some commenters argued that voting for both is tantamount to voting for neither since only one can win.

That's true only if Bonds is a lock and nobody else has a shot at number two. It's a fairly likely scenario, but not the only one. Courtney Snowden also got the Post's endorsement as well as White; Snowden and Khalid Pitts raised more money over the summer.

Certainly, if your sole priority is helping one candidate get elected, you should vote for that candidate and no other who could compete. Or, perhaps, pick that candidate and one considered a longer shot.

Your second vote matters even for someone who won't win

A strong showing that still isn't enough to win can be very valuable.

Silverman is a great example. She placed second (again, after Bonds) in the 2013 special election. Before the election, people didn't know whether she, Patrick Mara, or Matt Frumin would get more votes. Polls were tied between Silverman and Mara, and Frumin was close. In the end, Silverman overperformed expectations.

As a result, she went into this race as a front-runner. Even right after her previous loss, many political insiders reached out to talk about supporting her in the future. And it showed that someone clearly on the liberal side of DC's political spectrum could perform well.

Robert White might win tomorrow—again, one internal campaign poll by a rival before White got the Post, Current, and Greater Greater Washington endorsements doesn't mean that much. However, if he doesn't win but Muriel Bowser does, there will be a special election coming up in Ward 4, where White lives. Should White choose to run, he'll be in a much stronger position if he gained a lot of votes, particularly in Ward 4.

Kishan Putta didn't place on top in our contributor poll, but a number of contributors like him as well. Even if he doesn't win, it will matter if his strongly pro-transit platform helps him overperform expectations. We said in our endorsement that we hope this isn't the last we see of Putta, and how many votes he gets could affect that.

Tommy Wells didn't win the Democratic mayoral nomination, but he made a clear statement with his 12.8% of the vote: even in a race that was, by the end, clearly between Vincent Gray and Muriel Bowser, a pretty big chunk of DC voters liked him so much more than the other two that they would vote for him. Jack Evans, Vincent Orange, and others couldn't claim the same. That did not go unnoticed.

So if you're a DC voter who hasn't early voted, cast two votes tomorrow. If you want to maximize the (perhaps unlikely, but you never know) chance that two people besides Anita Bonds get the two seats, pick Silverman and White. If you don't like Silverman because you are more conservative than she, vote for White and Putta, perhaps. If you want to push the council more to the left, you might select Silverman and Puryear.

You have the power to help decide who is in office with your vote. But you also have the power to decide who gains some more stature in DC's political realm as well. The election decides who wins, but it's also the most accurate poll of all, not just for this race, but for others in the future as well.

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Politics


In some DC neighborhood commission races, urbanism, walkability, and growth are the issues

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) in many DC neighborhoods have a reputation for just being obstacles to any change, but that's not always true. In many parts of the District, ANCs have been a positive force for steps to improve communities. Will this election bring representatives who would continue or arrest those trends?

Each ANC covers one or a few neighborhoods and is divided into Single-Member Districts of about 2,000 residents each. You can find your district at here and a list of candidates here.

All of the regular neighborhood battles crop up in ANCs as well: density, bike lanes, sidewalks, parking. Good ANC commissioners work to shape change for the better instead of block it. They find ways to build consensus for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. They work to make development projects better respond to community needs rather than just oppose them or push to make them smaller. They listen to neighbors, but also recognize that after everyone has a chance to be heard, there comes a time to make a decision and move forward.

Here are a handful of the many ANC races across the city. In these districts, a resident stridently opposed to a change or to a particular project may be challenging a more constructive commissioner, or someone is challenging a more obstructionist incumbent, or two candidates with differing views are vying for an open seat.

3E (Tenleytown)

Many parts of Ward 3, in upper Northwest DC, have warmed up to urban-friendly growth in the past few years and even led with key steps to improve walkability. A lot of that comes from hard work of a few ANC commissioners who face challengers in Tuesday's election.

ANC 3E includes the Wisconsin Avenue corridor from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights. The commission worked out a good deal for a new parking-free building at Brandywine and Wisconsin and endorsed new bicycle boulevards.

Tom Quinn represents 3E04 in Friendship Heights east of Wisconsin Avenue, and received our endorsement two years ago. He has been a champion of smart growth with particularly enthusiastic support for the zoning rewrite. Quinn faces Sandy Shapiro, who has said she would like the physical neighborhood to stay the same and expressed a desire to further delay zoning changes that have been under consideration for six years.

In 3E01 around and west of the Tenleytown Metro, the incumbent is stepping down, and the two candidates present dramatically different views. Anne Wallace has expressed a desire for a mixed-use and multi-modal Tenleytown. In an interview on TenleytownDC, she talked about how much she loves the diversity of the neighborhood and wants to see it thrive.

Her opponent, Kathleen Sweetapple, is running on a platform criticizing the current ANC commissioners and their efforts. She often says she worries about "outside influences," "one-size-fits all approaches" and smart growth strategies that she says do not fit in Tenleytown. Tenleytown needs responsive commissioner, but one who sees neighborhood's issues in connection to the challenges that all of the city faces.

3G (Chevy Chase)

In the leafier parts of Chevy Chase DC, Barnaby Woods, and Hawthorne, ANC3G has been fairly moderate, pushing for positive change instead of outright opposition on a new building at 5333 Connecticut Avenue and strongly supporting pedestrian safety activities.

Carolyn "Callie" Cook, the incumbent in 3G01, dissented from the rest of her ANC to oppose the new residential building at 5333, supporting instead a legal challenge to the by-right building. She testified to keep in place the District's often-abused disability parking placards. Brian Oliver is running against Cook. He is a parent of school-aged children and is interested in school improvements, revitalizing the Connecticut Avenue commercial area, improving parks, the library, and sidewalks.

In 3G06, an open seat, Dan Bradford is a small businessman who has promised a balanced focus on issues like pedestrian safety while seeking to preserve the vitality of the current community. In contrast, Alan Seeber has been a strident opponent of the more progressive elements of the zoning rewrite, and continues to criticize the idea of reduced parking minimums in transit zones. He also promises to fight any increased cross-town bus transit if it runs on roadways through Chevy Chase.


ANCs 3B (left) and 3G (right).

3B (Glover Park)

Farther south in Glover Park, the incumbent in 3B01, Joe Fiorillo brings an honesty and enthusiasm to a diverse district that includes both single-family homes and high-density apartments. Two months ago he voted in favor of a small new development in his district. That move brought him an opponent, Ann Mladinov, who felt that she and her neighbors were not heard in the process.

She's facing no opposition, but it's worth mentioning that GGW contributor and editor Abigail Zenner is on the ballot to represent 3B03. She will surely make as valuable a contribution to the ANC as she has to Greater Greater Washington!


District boundaries for ANC 2B.

2B (Dupont Circle)

Moving eastward, ANC 2B, which spans from the Golden Triangle area to Rock Creek to 14th and U, will be changing substantially between this year and next. Four of the nine members are not running for re-election this year, and two of those districts are contested along with two others where an incumbent faces a challenger.

In 2B02, west of Connecticut Avenue, Daniel Warwick and Jonathan Padget are both vying to succeed Kevin O'Connor, who moved out of the neighborhood. Perhaps reflecting the way this district is rich in transit, bicycling, and walking, both candidates answered a question about parking by discussing ways to reduce parking demand rather than add more parking.

Warwick served as the ANC's Public Policy Fellow recently and also helped start the transportation committee. He has a very deep understanding of many issues, as is clear from his interview on the Short Articles About Long Meetings blog. Padget expressed good ideas as well, but in much less detail, and Warwick's valuable work on the ANC already seems to make him an ideal candidate.

Nicole Mann, who commutes by bicycle every day from north Dupont to H Street, has been an integral part of the ANC's transportation committee, which I also serve on. She is bidding to represent 2B08, as recent ANC chair Will Stephens is stepping down. Meamwhile, Mann's opponent, Robert Sinners, sounded quite pro-car-dependence and anti-new-residents in his SALM interview.

The ANC's chair, Noah Smith, has has done an excellent job as commissioner and chair of the transportation committee. He also drawn a challenger in his district 2B09, Ed Hanlon, who focuses extensively on his complaints about growth and argues for one-side-of-the-street parking which would be very problematic without additional tweaks in Dupont Circle.

In the neighborhood's southeast, commissioner Abigail Nichols in 2B05 has been a regular voice against new housing, nightlife (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not), and other elements of a vibrant, urban neighborhood. Jonathan Jagoda takes a more balanced view of many of these issues.

6B (Capitol Hill)

Last year, we highlighted two key races in southern Capitol Hill's ANC 6B, where residents staunchly opposed to development on the Hine school site were running on an anti-growth platform against Ivan Frishberg and Brian Pate in the two districts closest to the site.

Pate and Frishberg are stepping down this year, but the races in those districts still maintain the same tenor. In 6B05 northeast of 8th and Pennsylvania SE, Steve Hagedorn is running for the seat. Hagedorn has been involved with the ANC already as part of its Hill East Task Force, and as a volunteer with Congressional Cemetery.

He faces Carl Reeverts, one of the leaders of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), which has organized opposition to Hine and is part of litigation trying to block or delay the project. Ellen Opper-Weiner is also stridently against the development and many other changes in the neighborhood.

Just to the west, the race in 6B02 pits Diane Hoskins, a wetlands lobbyist and environmentalist (formerly with the District Department of the Environment) against Jerry Stroufe, another EMMCA leader who ran last year against Frishberg.

And many more!

There are hundreds of ANC seats across the city, many contested, many not. Many have a spirited contest which doesn't turn on policy to the extent that some of these do. And there are far more races worth talking about than we have time or space to discuss.

What ANC races in your area are worth watching?

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Politics


In Maryland and Virginia, vote to build transit

Maryland and Virginia are very different places and not ones to cavalierly bunch together. However, we have one post with both sets of endorsements because the most competitive races in both states are more alike than different: a solid candidate with a beneficial vision faces one who would make it a top priority to kill a major transit project.


Anthony Brown and Alan Howze. Images from the candidates' websites.

These races are for governor of Maryland, where we encourage voters to elect Anthony Brown, and Arlington County Board, where Alan Howze is the right choice.

We also endorse Brian Frosh for attorney general. On ballot questions, our contributors did not have a consensus on Maryland's "transportation lockbox" Question 1. The choice is clear to support Fairfax County's bond measure that will help pay for many bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Maryland

Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (D) hopes to move up to governor. Brown will continue the policies of his predecessor including pushing to build the Purple Line, Baltimore Red Line, and Corridor Cities Transitway busway in the I-270 corridor (and, perhaps, challenge conventional thinking on road design and funding).

Brown also wants to ensure Metro has funding for eight-car trains and other upgrades. His Republican opponent Larry Hogan, meanwhile, has made clear that he wants to halt spending on these transit projects because he thinks they are too expensive... but spend more money on highway projects.

The Purple Line nearly died at the hands of former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. Hogan wants to follow in the same footsteps. While Brown has maintained a lead in the polls, the race is far from decided. A Hogan win would be a disaster for Maryland's transit plans and we urge voters to show up on November 4 to cast ballots for Brown.

Brian Frosh, the Democratic nominee for Maryland Attorney General, has a more comfortable lead but deserves special praise. He played a major role in keeping the Purple Line alive in 1991 even while most elected officials believed the project was unpopular.

For the "lockbox" Question 1, our contributors were nearly evenly split while many simply suggested making no endorsement. You can read Ashley Robbins' summary for some reasons to vote for it and an understanding of why many will not.

Virginia

Virginia state offices are not on the ballot this year, but an Arlington race is all about transit. Alan Howze is facing John Vihstadt in a rematch for Arlington County Board. Vihstadt won a special election this spring where residents angry about county projects had more incentive to turn out while Howze did not run a particularly dynamic campaign. However, the impact on the future of Arlington could be significant, and we again strongly encourage voters to select Howze.

Howze has a good vision for Arlington including concrete ideas to eliminate deaths on the roadways. Meanwhile, Vihstadt has continued to make opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar a core issue. He and other opponents have relentlessly attacked the project that the county has justified in study after study while holding up dubious and misleading alternatives.

A dedicated lane has never been an option on Columbia Pike, and studies have demonstrated how rail can carry many more riders than buses possibly could. Nevertheless, opponents keep touting some amorphous idea of "Bus Rapid Transit" which somehow has the benefits of the expensive, gold standard lines but the costs and footprint of a bare-bones line.

It's not persuasive. This is the GamerGate of Arlington politics. The far more believable alternative is that Vihstadt simply does not want to spend much money on transit. Since transit is massively popular in Arlington, one can't win office opposing it; instead, the only hope is to shout "BOONDOGGLE!" over and over.

Arlington has been an exemplar in our region for the transit-focused direction its leaders have steered. It needs board members who will build on that success; Howze will do so.

In Fairfax County, the proposed $100 million transportation bond measure will pay for many bicycle and pedestrian projects in the newly-passed Bicycle Master Plan and other priorities. Fairfax County has taken strong steps to make what's now a very car-dependent county more accessible on foot or bicycle. This is the right decision, and voters should put money behind that effort to see it through.

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Pedestrians


Vision Zero won't be easy

Both Muriel Bowser and David Catania say they support the idea of "Vision Zero" and the end of traffic deaths and injuries in the District of Columbia. It's an admirable position, but will either be willing to make the unpopular decisions to see it through?


Image from Transportation Alternatives via Streetsblog.

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a new, slower 25 mph speed limit. Nick Paumgarten bemoaned the new limit in The New Yorker, saying it "demonize[s] speed" and suggesting that it contradicts the true, fast-paced nature that is essential to life in New York and to the livelihoods of working New Yorkers, who have to drive through the city for their jobs.

Paumgarten concluded with a quotation from a crane rigger who said, "I'd say it's time to give the city back to the cars." On the other hand, Paumgarten also acknowledged the safety issue here, saying, "Fourteen children were killed by drivers last year. You won't find a citizen who didn't wish that this number were zero."

In response, Brooklyn Spoke's Doug Gordon wrote, "Of course not. But what you will find are a lot of people who don't want to do anything that could make that wish come true."

I believe that both Bowser and Catania support safer streets. Endorsing Vision Zero is a good first step. But safer streets won't come from slogans alone. They require dedicated effort in the face of sustained opposition and an entrenched status quo.

Vision Zero will require spending political capital (in addition to real capital and public money) and could mean lowering speed limits, removing parking spaces, or reducing of travel lanes. Any of these could alienate supporters and anger allies.

Vision Zero, like all other major policy initiatives, won't just happen because we say we want it to happen. A long-term, genuine commitment to Vision Zero could require some unpopular choices. Will either be willing to make them?

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Politics


Alan Howze wants Arlington to adopt Vision Zero

Arlington County Board candidate Alan Howze released a call for Arlington to set a goal of zero pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths from vehicle-related collisions.


Image from Walk San Francisco.

These types of goals have become commonly known as "Vision Zero" after the Swedish campaign of the same name that began in 1997. They represent an important challenge to the belief that casualties from our transportation systems are inevitable and unpreventable.

In the United States, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have adopted Vision Zero policies. DC mayoral candidates David Catania and Muriel Bowser have pledged to establish a program in the District.

Howze lays out a fairly detailed four-pronged action plan:

In order to "make streets safer for all users," Howze calls for identifying neighborhood safety hotpots and to address them within 12 months. He lays out a plan for accelerating safety improvements at the "Intersection of Doom" in Rosslyn and recommends collecting detailed collision data, expanding sidewalks, increasing traffic enforcement and adjusting signal timing to minimize vehicle and pedestrian interactions in intersections.

To "complete safe routes to all Arlington schools," Howze calls for making a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan for each school, creating a coordinated County/APS plan to clear sidewalks and provide safe routes within 24 hours of inclement weather, and designing safe bike infrastructure and policies that accommodate "all bikes, especially those used to transport children". Cyclists who ride regularly with trailers or on cargo bikes know that not all bike infrastructure meets this threshold presently.

Howze wants to "expand the trail and route network" including creating "20 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020," completing bike connectivity along Route 50, working with the National Park Service to "widen the Mt Vernon Trail and separate cyclists and runners and pedestrians," and improve connectivity on the Roosevelt Bridge, Chain Bridge, and Memorial Bridge.

Finally the plan lays out some standard "enhance community involvement" items like "improve county outreach and response processes on street safety issues," "accelerate implementation of neighborhood traffic safety solutions," and "improve opportunities for input by residents on street and safety improvements."

Howze will face incumbent John Vihstadt in the November election. Vihstadt has campaigned primarily on halting Arlington's planned streetcar system.

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Politics


David Catania on Metro, economic development, streetcars, affordable housing, bike lanes, building heights, and more

We chatted with David Catania, DC councilmember at large and an independent candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at noon. Here is a transcript of the discussion.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

David Alpert: Welcome to our chat. I'm here in Catania HQ with Aimee Custis, Ashley Robbins, Jonathan Neeley, and Abigail Zenner. We'll get started in just a minute.

I am going to be asking questions verbally to Mr. Catania, who will answer verbally. Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan will be taking turns typing in his words.

That means that if there are any typos, they are our fault and not Mr. Catania's. We suggested this arrangement to ensure we can get a lot of questions and answers in (it has nothing to do with Mr. Catania's typing ability).

I want to ask as many of your questions as possible. Please tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat and I will be able to post them directly to the chat.

David Alpert: Okay, David Catania is here with us. Let's get started!

Welcome to the chat, Councilmember Catania!

David Catania: Thank you very much! I'm really excited to participate. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I'm eager to get started!

David Alpert: To get started: What makes you the best candidate for mayor of DC?

David Catania: The District of Columbia has had reversals the last twenty years. When I first joined the council, we had a pretty bad budget shortfall. We've worked very had to reverse this trajectory. I have the vision and the values to make that happen.

It's a combination of record and experience coupled with the items I helped champion in my 17 years, and in our vision statement, which you can find at cataniaplatform.com, people can see the specifics of what I'd like to do to secure our city's future.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

David Catania: During this campaign I've been talking a lot about what Mayor Bloomberg has done at Roosevelt Island. Specifically, the partnership between the city and Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology. It's a very ambitious $2 billion program to double the number of engineers and people with Ph.Ds in engineering in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg understood that financial services is a sector of the economy that's shrinking in New York. Doubling the number of engineers and individuals with PhDs in engineering is critical.

In 2000, I authored the New Economy Transformation Act, which included a host of incentives to bring tech companies to the city. We've been successful under this program. There were financial incentives, and other incentives. We've brought over 200 companies to the city. These companies, in order to grow, have to have a work force that permits them to grow, and that means more engineers than we are producing here locally.

Engineers are incredible job multipliers. Every engineer produces 4.2 jobs. In our city, our two largest industries are government and legal services, and these are not growing industries, in fact they're shrinking. The next mayor has to be consumed with how we'll continue to grow our economy, and I propose an increase in new economy companies.

I'd like to see this growth located on the St. Elizabeth's campus, the same campus as Homeland Security. Successful innovation is often the function of a partnership between government, education, and private sector. I see the St. Elizabeth's campus as a focal point for opportunity in our city.

David Alpert: OK, let's talk about transit for a bit. Andrew asked: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail service has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to encourage Metro to provide services that are more useful to DC residents?

David Catania: Many of the issues surrounding late night service with Metro is a function of our underinvestment in maintenance in the past. The system is really under a great deal of duress because of that lack of investment, which means it's often harder for us to keep the system in service.

Some of the ideas that are proposed under the Metro Momentum plan, which include additional pocket tracks and investments, will help with reliability but over the next 25 years will cost quite a bit.

I think there's quite a lot we can do about late night service for public transit across the city. It means greater investments in dedicated bus lanes and extended hours, and it means increasing our maintenance budget for Metro through a dedicated funding service so we're not constantly putting band-aids on a system with a legacy of underinvestment.

David Alpert: You mentioned the streetcar program. Earlier this year, the DC Council diverted much of the funding for the streetcar program to tax cuts. What's your plan to fund the streetcar program, and how soon would you enact it once mayor?

David Catania: I'd like to first explain, I have a long history with the streetcars. It started with Dan Tangherlini in 2002 who was with WMATA and I was a WMATA alternate.

In 2004, the very first streetcar proposed was the Anacostia light rail program. It was budgeted, and shepherded it through not only the Council but also WMATA, and I was there ten years ago for the groundbreaking.

The complications associated with the right of way meant that line was moved to H Street. I think it's important to explain this. When it came time to purchase the first three cars, I was instrumental in identifying the first ten million dollars for the first three cars.

In 2004, Dan Tangherlini and I took a leap of faith and bought the cars before we had a system. I believe that created a momentum for the light rail system that has seen it to fruition.

The council during the six-year capital improvement plan did reduce the nine million dollar investment not by half, but significantly. I'm still dedicated to the entire North-South and East-West lines. It may take a few more years to accomplish than proposed but we have to be flexible with it.

When I'm elected mayor, I'm going to look at ways at capturing increased property values and increased assessments of light rail, so the system can be funded by the virtue of increased property taxes created by the increase in property investment.

At the end of the day, its not about whether we'll build East-West versus North-South. I plan to be a part of completing that commitment.

David Alpert: Years ago, you argued that it was important for the streetcar to start in Ward 8. But a lot of people in Ward 8, including the councilmember, don't support it. Do you still think we should build the streetcar there, and if you're mayor, how will you work with Ward 8 to build support for it?

David Catania: I don't think there was ever any accurate polling to suggest a lot of people don't support it. To the contrary, I think there's a lot of evidence people do support it. And that Ward 8 is one of the most transit-dependent communities in the city.

I stand by that view and I hope we can reengage CSX regarding the right-of-way along the Anacostia. National Harbor is essentially the downtown of Prince George's County and I'd like to be able to connect people to opportunities there.

David Catania: Absolutely. I think we're going to learn some lessons the hard way with how we're approaching light rail on H Street. I think it would have been smarter for us to have designated rights of way down the street rather than on the sides. I think that's going to create safety traffic, transportation, and delivery issues.

We're expecting 170,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. We have to find a way to efficiently and safely and economically transport individuals around the city. I'm a fan of dedicated bus service as light rail, but when I look at he capacity of light rail cars than buses, light rail has double the capacity of buses. There's a great case for efficiency in dedicated lanes for light rail and for the expansion of the system.

David Catania: This is a more than $20 billion expenditure over the next 25 years. I've been very vocal about themed to have a designated funding source for wmata. For all jurisdictions that participate, I think there's great value in certainty. For some that might mean an additional funding source. Before we talk about funding Momentum, we have to talk about our existing capital improvement plans.

I'm sure your readers appreciate that, for instance, when were purchasing the additional cars to fund a eight car service, because we don't have a dedicated funding source, Metro isn't always able to exercise options on procurements. We have to start from scratch.

That's an incredibly inefficient way to purchase cars or other materials for our system. So a dedicated funding source will rationalize our funding with respect to our existing needs. Going forward, I'd hope that dedicated source would lead to additional resources.

I for one would lead that as the mayor of the District of Columbia. Metro is the tie that binds us, and if we don't take care of it, it will lead to our undoing. I'd look at gas tax, I'd look at regional sales tax, and I'd look at capturing value from the properties that are immediately adjacent to Metro stations that bear the greatest benefit from proximity to Metro.

David Alpert: Let's move to housing and development for a bit.

David Catania: The city doesn't have a housing plan, period. And I appreciate the often narrow self interest, but as a mayor, you have to house the whole family. That means there's a focus on individuals below 30% AMI—we need to have a focus on them. We have individuals who require partial assistance, and then we have those who make very good livings but there's still a lack of affordability.

We need to look at a couple of things, one, the city owned land that's in our possession and how we make that available. We look at easing and improving the regulatory ability to get licenses issued and plans approved and that means sitting down with planners and developers about what they're facing. I think we have quite a lot of unallocated federal resources—$110 million for affordable housing that went unused.

Simply put, we lack a plan, and it's one of our biggest challenges. We used to have a really robust HPAP program, a housing purchasing plan. In 2008, we spent nearly $30 million helping individuals purchase their own homes, with up to $70,000 per family in down payment and closing cost assistance.

So, NYC provides a great example on how to provide mixed income housing opportunities. They merge federal resources with local support. In New York, they take their tax-exempt bonds, which we presently don't use all of ours, and we marry them with 30-year exemptions on property tax in exchange for 20% of the units in the building being available to low-income individuals.

So it gives you the opportunity to have mixed income in what are otherwise, higher income buildings. The city's been able to produce thousands of units that aren't strictly market based.

David Alpert: You mentioned city-owned land. The council is now debating whether to require a certain amount of affordable housing in any project built on public land. What do you think about such a requirement?

David Catania: On its face, it's very compelling. But having hard and fast percentages can play mischief in advancing housing generally. For example, when we try to do mixed-income development. It's illustrated in our New Communities projects. We try to create mixed income in communities where there's no demand for middle income, so the entire project stalls because we have these artificial expectations.

In theory, I absolutely support the requirement of low and moderate incomes in housing developments. But we have to look project by project and at the end of the day the financials have to work.

One of the things I want to focus on is that we spend a lot of time talking about new construction and at the same time we're ignoring the avalanche we're facing in the world of preserving existing affordable housing. There are more than 50 buildings under affordability covenants that in the next give years will be released from those covenants.

These are buildings that were financed with federal low income housing tax credits and federal tax-exempt bonds. These buildings lose any limitations on increases in rent, we're facing an avalanche of thousands of units that will lose affordability in the next five years.

I appreciate that we should be focused on building new units but as much attention must be focused on preserving existing units. Up until now, I've seen no plan of this. Recently, I was able to intervene and help the residents of Museum Square keep their apartments, but we need a global solution to these affordability challenges.

David Alpert: AC asks: You've talked a little about existing supply, but a lot of affordable housing advocates in the city are curious to hear you on record about Inclusionary Zoning. Can you tell us where you stand on that program?

David Catania: I supported inclusionary zoning in 2006. Inclusionary zoning is a fantastic principle, but it has yet to produce any meaningful supply. In the first five, six, seven years of inclusionary zoning, fewer than 100 units were created, and I think the real number is closer to 50.

We need to understand more deeply why inclusionary zoning is not producing the supply that we were anticipating and hoping for. So often we can have really terrific ideas that fail in execution, and we need to circle back and examine why that is. Sometimes you need mid-stream corrections.

Utilize a provision in the bill that I authored in 2002, which gives the District the opportunity to purchase when Section 8s are coming out. The reality is that individuals who are in building-based Section 8 apartments are not able to purchase the units, so giving those tenants the opportunity to purchase is to give them something that isn't real. That's what lead me to the district opportunity to purchase so that we can, as a city, manage these purchases. I think it's an indispensable tool and one that's never been used in maintaining affordability.

David Catania: To be clear, in the old city, I don't favor any change to the height requirement. In the rest of the city, I think these issues should be decided by our local legislature and local mayor with input from the population.

I personally am not keen on the notion of raising the height limit in our city. I believe there's plenty of infill capacity in our city to meet needs, but you can never say never. At this point, I don't support it though.

David Alpert: Especially when the height limit restricts the amount of housing near existing transit.

David Catania: One of the things that we can do is expand the quantity of transit. Light rail provides that opportunity. I agree if we were holding steady in our current infrastructure, it does really push greater density around those locations. But if through dedicated bus lanes and an expansion of light rain, we could extend the transit capacity throughout the city, it diminishes the need for intense density around a few locations.

David Catania: I think the community has done an excellent job in putting together this 25-year plan. One of our biggest challenges, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a nearly $50 billion investment and only half the funds have been procured, so we're going to have to get creative in terms of financing.

Financing aside, I think there are a lot of exciting components. The two-year plan has some elements I'd like to move forward with immediately, from Klingle to Anacostia trails. Sidewalk safety and dedicated bus lanes are important. The continued focus on pedestrian safety is important. There are many elements in the two-year plan and the 25-year plan that are exciting.

The challenge is for us to make the investments today and begin planning today for that transition. I'm eager to get started with this execution. We're going to have 140,000 new residents over the next quarter century.

In terms of an organizing philosophy around transportation, there are issues with ethics, engineering, education, and enforcement. Each of them plays a role in building a balanced, community-centric transportation system.

David Alpert: You mentioned a few elements like buses and sidewalks but we haven't gotten to talk yet about bicycles. ChrisRHamilton asked in the last chat: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. While the District is making good incremental progress on becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking and bikeshare so that it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

David Catania: There are many core elements of moveDC that I embrace, including 200 miles of bike lanes. When I go back to the issues of education and enforcement, I think we've done a really terrible job of educating the public on what bikes contribute to our community. Obviously, there are huge environmental benefits from cycling. It also helps dramatically reduce demand for existing roadways—we're up to 14,000 cyclists.

The third area which is rarely talked about is how cycling contributes to the economic development of our city. Many people bike out of economic necessity. But for others—the cost of operating an average medium size sedan in our country is between $8,000 and 9,000 per year. If we can convince more of our residents to forgo that investment and instead use bicycles, they'll spend those thousands of dollars here locally in housing, retail and supporting our local economy. This may be overly simplistic but if you look at 14k cyclists forgoing that 8k a year, there's over $100 million in economic opportunity for our city when we're not buying cars and fighting wars overseas but instead investing in our communities. It's a very powerful economic development tool and we've never communicated that importance to the population.

Long story short, count me in. There are very important tools for our city. The better opportunity is to educate our city as to where they're located.

We can get really into the weeds about how some of our streets are better for bike lanes than others. Our one-way streets that are 30-feet wide provide great opportunities for one lane of traffic, one lane of bikes, and one for parked cars.

I prefer to look at things where we can have win-win instead of zero sum. The bike plan isn't taking anything away from drivers but is in fact is a traffic calming device.

David Alpert: You talked about a win-win and not zero sum, but bike planners have concluded that not everywhere is it possible to build a bike lane without taking away any parking or any travel lane. How do you balance the need to get community input with the fact that at some point, not everyone is going to be on board with everything?

David Catania: It's really a challenge to make generalized answers to hypotheticals. I've made it a practice to cast a wide net and bring people together, and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but that there's a give and take and sometimes you lose in some items and lose in others. I know tough decisions have to be made. But you have to make them.

David Alpert: You've talked in your platform about Vision Zero, the idea that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area's transportation system. How, specifically, would you start taking action on Vision Zero?

David Catania: Sweden has figured out how to reduce their deaths by more than 40% by a combination of engineering and values. I commend both the mayors of San Francisco and New York for executing elements of Vision Zero. I think education is an incredibly important element.

One of the things I like about the Swedish model is the emphasis on simple things. When you open the car door, you open it by using your right hand rather than your left. It actually physically forces a person to turn and get accustomed to looking for a cyclist. That's a simple example.

Through engineering roads that are safer, establishing consistent speed limits depending on the likelihood of pedestrian use, issues of concentration at the most dangerous intersections. The use of engineering and evidence and education to lower incidents. There are ways for us to take elements and execute it right away.

So creating an infrastructure that accommodates those with an underpinning of the value of human life is something I don't think we do here, and we should. Respect for human life and understanding human frailties.

It's looking at educating our population, at re-engaging a traffic enforcement division. The enforcement in our own city is a missing component as well as the underlying respect for human life. Educating pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is critical. And having an enforcement mechanism.

David Alpert: And that's all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us for the chat!

David Catania: I just really appreciate the five of you coming over and going through this trouble. And I appreciate people weighing in with their questions.

We're a growing, vibrant city. For that to continue, we have to pay attention to the fundamentals of not just transportation and housing, but also issues of crime, economic development education, and at the same time we have to be prepared for crises as they come whether they be Ebola or it be changing economics.

And I really appreciate everyone coming today and the opportunity to share with your readers.

David Alpert: Thank you so much to David Catania, to all of you who submitted questions on Twitter, to our super tweeter Abigail, and to our tireless and lightning-fast typists Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan.

Please post your thoughts on Mr. Catania's statements in the comments on the post. And thank you all for joining us today!

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