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Events


Events roundup: Books, bikes, bridges and more

Bikes are in the spotlight this week. Help clean up a bike trail in NE DC, talk bicycle and pedestrian planning in Tenleytown, support bicycle advocacy at BikeFest, and more. It's a busy time of year!


Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

WABA BikeFest: Join other bicycling enthusiasts for WABA's annual fundraiser. Enjoy tacos, drinks, dancing, art, and more while supporting our region's bike advocates at Eastern Market's North Hall on June 13 from 8 pm to midnight. Tickets are $45 for WABA members and $55 for the public.

Bike trail cleanup: The Metropolitan Branch Trail needs some spring cleaning. On Sunday, June 15, from 10 am-12:30 pm, WABA's Trail Ranger team and community volunteers will tame vegetation and clean debris from the trail for smooth summer riding. Volunteers will meet at the Met Branch Trail at 4th and S Street NE. You can RSVP here.

After the jump: see plans for the north-south streetcar and 11th Street Bridge Park, and take a walk in Wheaton.

Meet the 11th Street Bridge Park designers: The field has narrowed to four teams competing to design a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia. Though the designs are not yet complete, each of the four teams will talk about their approaches and early ideas tonight, 6:30-8 pm at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE.

Streetcar planning: DDOT is holding its final round of open house meetings for its study of a future north-south DC streetcar. You can see DDOT's analysis of possible streetcar routes and weigh in. All three meetings last from 3:30-8:30 pm, with overview presentations at 4 and 7 pm. The full schedule is below:

  • South meeting: Tuesday, June 10, at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 2nd floor community room, 1100 4th St SW.
  • North meeting: Thursday, June 12, at the Emery Rec Center, 2nd floor community room, 5701 Georgia Ave NW.
Downtown Wheaton walking tour: The Wheaton Urban District Advisory Committee (WUDAC) invites you to join their annual Wheaton walking tour this Saturday, June 14 at 10 am. The tour will be divided into three parts to encourage community feedback and conclude at 1 pm. RSVP by this Wednesday. Details and RSVP info.

Dead End book talk: This Thursday, June 12, join Ward3Vision to hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, at the Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library (4450 Wisconsin Ave NW) at 7 pm. A lively discussion on walking and biking in cities will follow. Please RSVP.

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Roads


Will DC’s streetcar weary council embrace the ambitious moveDC plan?

In this second installment of Streetsblog's interview with DDOT officials about moveDC, the conversation steered to the practicality of congestion pricing, implementation of the plan, and the elephant in the room: Whether a DC Council that just dramatically cut streetcar funding has the appetite to fund progressive transportation.


Road congestion if moveDC is implemented (left), and if not (right). Image from DDOT.

MoveDC calls for congestion pricing, 69 miles of high-capacity transit in addition to the 22 miles of streetcar already planned, a new downtown Metro loop, 72 miles of protected bike lanes, 136 miles of painted bike lanes, and 135 miles of off-street trails, all over the next 25 years.

In yesterday's interview installment, I talked to Matt Brown, DDOT's new acting director; Colleen Hawkinson, strategic planning branch manager at DDOT's Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA); and Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of the PPSA, about the prospects for the most dramatic changes envisioned in the plan, the pitfalls of a focus on Complete Streets, and the reality that cars will not win every trade-off anymore.

Here we pick up where we left off.

In the plan, there are two side-by-side maps (above) of future road congestion. One with the changes laid out in the plan, and one without. They're very similar. Not identical, but very similar.

SZ: They're not identical. But you have to remember, this removes a lot of vehicular capacity in exchange for some other things. So in order to create the space to provide more options, there was a need to manage the person-carrying capacity of the roadway system. And there were two principles that went along with that.

One is that there's always a way to not pay the charge. The way we modeled it, it's roughly equivalent to a round trip Metro fare.

I thought that was interesting, to basically say you're not going to pay any more to drive than to take the Metro.

SZ: And carpools might be free. But everybody's paying [if they drive alone]. District residents have to pay. And as we look at the whole system, we're accommodating the same number of car trips in a day in 2040 as we are today, even as the District grows by 170,000 residents and a couple hundred thousand jobs.

CH: And we could have made these colors [on the map] pretty much whatever we wanted to. If we add more roads that would be tolled, like Massachusetts Avenue and Connecticut Avenue, we could get different colors in here. But it didn't seem like we needed that to keep the network moving. This seemed to be a sweet spot in terms of the size of the cordon charge.

SZ: In the region, we're starting to get experience with tolls. People ride the ICC, they take 495. They start to see what that means.


The proposed downtown congestion charge zone. Image from DDOT.

I'm curious about the technical aspect of it, if you have that worked out.

SZ: [Shakes head]

There are so many access points. A lot of it's bridges, almost half…

SZ: The Virginia side is.

…But not if someone's coming in on 10th Street. Is it all electronic license plate monitors?

SZ: We don't know. We tried to [include congestion pricing] to model the future, but we haven't tried to figure out all the details yet. I think it's more like a London system than a bridge entry. They have closed-circuit TVs to read every license plate.

But we also continue to look at managing the highway facilities and think about how that would be integrated. So it's not all or nothing.

How much were the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Office of Planning involved in this process?

SZ: We had an agency advisory committee. This doesn't mean endorsement by them, but they were engaged in the process. The Office of Planning more than anybody. District agencies, COG, VDOT and MDOT were on that advisory committee. And Colleen presented the plan to the full Transportation Planning Board in March, as we were still writing it. And this generated some comments.

I hear you chuckle as you say "some comments."

SZ: There were some concerns, and parts they were saying, "I don't think that's going to happen."

What were the parts they were most skeptical about or troubled by?

SZ: I think the congestion charge.

CH: The biggest thing about it is going back to "DC can't tax people driving into the city."

A commuter tax.

CH: Exactly. But it's really not that. The DC residents would pay the same.

MB: It's the same with freeway managed lanes.

You could say the same for parking.

SZ: I think people have.

Oh great. People really compare it to an income tax on commuters?

SZ: That's sort of the knee-jerk response anytime we discuss pricing.

But those are apples and oranges.

CH: And then where is that money going? If it's going toward Metro, which is a regional system...

SZ: From our perspective, providing a way to not pay the chargewalking, biking, taking Metro, taking transit, maybe carpoolingthere are many ways to not pay the charge. Commuter, non-commuter, this is about managing the transportation system.

So everybody was consulted with, even if they didn't necessarily sign on.

SZ: It's not a regional plan. It's a plan for the District. And we looked at not only the comments that other jurisdictions had about our transportation system, but also ways that our transportation system could better connect to things that they are trying to do.

So we looked a lot at Montgomery County's BRT plans and how demand from other parts of the region to connect would feed into the District's transportation system. And a lot of our high-capacity transit corridors try to connect to Montgomery and Prince George's County, to connect with where they've talked about doing higher-capacity. A lot of our trail system and bridge connections try to connect with what Virginia's doing. So I think there's a lot of regional coordination and collaboration around ways to connect the system.

I want to ask about federal land. DC is such a special case. Is it a burden to have to deal with Congress, or to have to deal with federal roadways you can't just redesign? Does that come up a lot?

SZ: It does. It comes up in a lot of different ways, from where we're allowed to spend our resources to, you know, you can sneeze and hit a national park around here.

Yeah, every little corner pocket park is a national park in DC.

SZ: Right, so we're accustomed to the interagency collaboration. We didn't limit ourselves to just District-controlled streets in this, and we did look at some of those links that are controlled by National Park Service or Architect of the Capitol. There aren't that many, especially once you get outside of the historic city.

MB: But there's also CSX, there's Amtrak, there's WMATA. There's any number of partners we have to work with.

But I also think any number of cities across the country would want the direct relationship that DDOT has with [the] Federal Highway [Administration]. We meet with Federal Highway at least every two weeks. We work with them on our projects. We receive funds directly from them, not through a state. Sure, we have our issues, especially with the federal lands. But I think there's tremendous opportunity here.

So it seemed kind of rough that this came out a week after the really bad news about the streetcar, with this reproach from Council Chair Phil Mendelson and the council saying this was mismanaged.

MB: Let me just say: Absolutely not.

What does "absolutely not" mean?

MB: It wasn't timed. Our desire was to get this out as quickly as we can, to do it before people are gone for the summer, to finalize the plan and to document all the work that has gone into this and all those sessions we had with the community. There was no ulterior motive here.

Oh, I'm saying quite the opposite. Right after the council says, "We're not really into giving a whole lot more money into DDOT's big multi-modal plans," you come out with The Big Multi-Modal Plan. That seems to set up an antagonistic relationship with the council. How are you approaching that?

SZ: I don't think it's antagonistic.

MB: I think it's important that we communicate what our vision is. We need to be clear about where we are going.

But how will you approach a council that has just gone on record saying, "We're not interested in giving DDOT more money for grand multi-modal plans"?

MB: Well, for a specific aspect of the 22-mile streetcar system.

Which is part of this as well, plus a million other things.

MB: But if you listen to Mendelson on his face, he's not stopping the streetcar program. He's criticized us for our implementation. But like I said, I think we have to be clear about our vision and we have to talk about things like managed lanes and congestion pricing and dedicated funding streams. We have to have that conversation.

SZ: The funding mechanism they removed was the same funding mechanism they had approved the year before. So that, to me, is more about the tensions in a growing city and the way it was paired with tax cuts made it a difficult either/or. But this [plan] still talks about how that priority streetcar network fits within a larger transportation system and what it's intended to do.

And you feel like the council is still open to having that conversation?

SZ: We have a hearing [this week] on a bill that tries to create an authority to make the streetcar happen faster, at the same time as they just took away funding for it. So I don't pretend to understand exactly what's going through their minds as they do all this.

And then in terms of funding, you said you're open to this being a menu of options, and that they might not order the whole menu. You say you have $22 billion identified for it.

SZ: That'll have to change now.

But even if you got all the funding you project might possibly come in, you still don't quite make it. So is there a sense of where that prioritization would happen? Would that happen within DDOT? Would that happen with the council saying, "We're going to fund this part but not this part?" Is it just obvious, that the downtown metro loop is going to be super-expensive, cordon pricing is going to be super-expensive, so that's going to be at the end of the list?

MB: I think you've hit on one of our challenges, and the next step. Looking at all the recommendations, figuring out what is short term, easy to implement. The more expensive items are obviously ones that require a heavier lift and more funding.

We were talking about taking the plan and turning it into an action plan. I think that's important to operationalize the elements of the plan.

Former DDOT Director Gabe Klein had these action agendas. Seems like he liked to work from that, take something like this as the vision and then...

SZ: But we didn't have this [long-range plan]. We haven't done this since 1997, and then we did it again in 2004 and it got rolled in to the comprehensive plan. And this isn't a static plan where we're going to put it on the shelf and then in 2030 we say, "This is still the plan and we're still going to do it." It's something that gets updated every five or six years.

MB: And that's not unlike the action agenda that was put together for Sustainable DC.

Yes, so how does this dovetail with that?

SZ: Pretty well actually!

Is that something you looked at to ask, "Is this meeting those carbon goals?"

SZ: Yes, and that whole process was very helpful for us. It was just as we were starting to do this that the Sustainable DC plan came out and said, "Here are our transportation goals for sustainability." And we could say, "OK, let's go with that. How do we come in and achieve that?"

We see it as providing an overarching sustainability [framework]. In many ways it's the perfect complement to this.

We've talked to a couple of other cities that are starting major planning efforts that heard about this in one way or another. Portland and Seattle are both starting major transportation plans.

And wanting to go in this sort of direction?

SZ: Well they heard about what we were doing and they were curious about it. And we gave them some advice about what to do and what not to do.

What do you not do?

SZ: I don't know. It was largely a very successful process. I don't know, what do you not do?

[Silence]

CH: That's a good question.

Transit


The H Street streetcar will take even longer to open than many thought. It's past time for DDOT to be more honest

There's more bad news for DC streetcars: The latest estimates show the H Street line may not open until early 2015. This isn't an additional delay, but rather seems to be simply a more genuine timeline of how long the remaining work will take. That's a step forward. Unfortunately, DDOT is still not being fully forthright about what's going on.


DC streetcars at the Anacostia testing & commissioning site. Photo by Dan Malouff.

What's left to do, and how long it will take

The streetcar team sent a construction update yesterday. It said that crews would move the streetcars currently on H Street back to the Anacostia testing and commissioning site for 6 weeks of vehicle maintenance and equipment installation. That was enough for Aaron Wiener at the City Paper to start digging for more details.

Here's a breakdown of what he found out.

First, the maintenance and equipment phase beginning today will last 6 weeks. Six weeks from yesterday is July 16.

Following that, DDOT will conduct final system integration tests. DDOT hasn't said how long that will take. Since we don't have a timeline, let's come back to this later.

Next, DDOT will train its day-to-day streetcar drivers. Each operator will have at least 30 hours of training, but DDOT hasn't said how long this will take overall. Let's come back to this later too.

Following that, the Federal Transit Administration will oversee final safety certification. In other cities with streetcars this takes 90-120 days, although engineers caution it could be more for DC since this is DC's first time doing it. Let's assume 120 days, or 4 months. Starting from July 16, that pushes the streetcar to mid-November.

Once safety certification is complete, passenger service should begin within 30 days. That puts us in December, before we've even accounted for the integration tests or the operator training.

Unless those tasks take no more than about one week each, an opening date after the new year looks unavoidable.

Honest communication will help regain trust

This may not exactly be another delay. Rather, it seems a more honest account of the timeline all along.

Last year, Mayor Gray trumpeted a late 2013 opening that now appears to have never been technically realistic. Was DDOT under orders from the mayor to hide the true timeline? Or maybe DDOT officials felt pressure to give Mayor Gray overly optimistic assumptions, and the mayor never knew the real timeline. Or maybe it's just taken a lot longer than anybody thought.

Either way, having been burned by this, the streetcar team now seems afraid to give many timeline details at all, forcing reporters like Aaron Wiener to try and piece things together.

But fear of missing another deadline is hurting DDOT more than missing deadlines would. Instead of setting expectations for 2015, DDOT officials keep saying they don't know how long work will take. Washingtonians hopeful to ride the streetcar soon have nothing to go on, and assume opening day is at most a month or two away. Every couple of months feels like a fresh delay.

Instead of one clear delay and one negative news cycle, DDOT's lack of communication have resulted in fresh news cycles reporting mounting delays every couple of months. The press has had an ongoing joke about a "race" between the streetcar and the Silver Line for which will open first. (It looks like the Silver Line will "win.")

DDOT may not know exactly how long every task will take, and it's understandable that the timeline needs padding to account for problems. It's taken longer than expected for Oregon Iron Works to build the streetcar vehicles. Officials say the extra-harsh winter slowed some things down. So did historic preservation at Spingarn High School for the maintenance facility (though in a city where preservation has a hand in many big projects, perhaps it shouldn't have been such a surprise).

But officials should have a general idea of roughly how long each task will take. Instead of giving no information at all about integration testing and driver training, officials could share a range. Instead of leaving us to guess how long until the line opens, they should give a range.

Then, if there's a setback that is out of everyone's control, like a lot of snow, honestly reassess the timeline. It doesn't help to insist that the line can open by July 2013 when it's also clear the vehicles won't arrive by then, for instance.

The agency's inability or unwillingness to articulate a realistic timeline is frustrating, and is clearly having a negative effect on streetcar politics. In 2010, a lot of people rose up to defend a streetcar project which seemed just around the corner. Four years later, there's much less enthusiasm to fight for streetcars, in part because DDOT has lost credibility.

DDOT's problem has now become similar to WMATA's. There's a lot of legitimate work to be done, and some understandable reasons why it hasn't been done yet. But problems and bad communication have caused the public to stop trusting the agency, and fear of potential negative stories has led people on the inside to keep quiet even more when they need to be communicating more. That's an enormous problem. Understandable delays sound like excuses when trust doesn't exist.

This is a difficult phase for any project

Infrastructure projects are expensive, time-consuming, hard on the community, and politically challenging. It's common for big projects like this to face obstacles in the home stretch. Costs and criticism have been mounting for years, while benefits remain off in the future.

Having to wait longer to actually benefit from the streetcar is frustrating. Not knowing how long it will take, or hearing timelines which are obviously unrealistic, is especially frustrating. But this difficult time will eventually pass.

Meanwhile, however, while it's still ongoing, DDOT must shed its fear of disappointing people, and begin to communicate with the public as openly and honestly as it possibly can.

Events


Events roundup: Streetcars, H Street, bridges, and dead ends

Celebrate the arrival of June by learning something new. Get involved in the DC streetcar planning process, learn about the intricacies of urban housing markets, explore the history of H Street, and more at events around the region.


Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

Streetcar planning: DDOT is holding its final round of open house meetings for its study of a future north-south DC streetcar. You can see DDOT's analysis of possible streetcar routes and weigh in. All three meetings last from 3:30-8:30 pm, with overview presentations at 4 and 7 pm. The full schedule is:

  • Central meeting: Monday, June 9, at the Banneker Rec Center, 2500 Georgia Ave NW.
  • South meeting: Tuesday, June 10, at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 2nd floor community room, 1100 4th St SW.
  • North meeting: Thursday, June 12, at the Emery Rec Center, 2nd floor community room, 5701 Georgia Ave NW.

Affordable housing panel discussion: Affordable housing has been a popular topic in the news, especially in the Washington area. Possible solutions range from free markets to public housing, but what are the implications of these ideas?

On Thursday, June 5 from 6:30-8:30 pm, Matthew Yglesias from Vox.com, Matt Robinson of MRP Realty, Christopher Bledsoe of Stage 3 Properties, and Chad Ludeman from Post Green Homes/Hybrid Construction will talk about housing costs at Georgetown University's School of Continuing Studies (640 Massachusetts Ave NW). You can RSVP here.

H Street walking tour: There's still one more chance to attend one of the Coalition for Smarter Growth's spring walking tours! This Saturday, June 7, explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the DC Streetcar. The walking tour runs from 10-noon. RSVP soon to secure a spot! Update: the CSG tour is now sold out, and their waitlist is at capacity.

Meet the 11th Street Bridge Park designers: The field has narrowed to four teams competing to design a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge across the Anacostia. They haven't actually done designs yet, but each of the four will talk about their approaches and early ideas on Tuesday, June 10, 6:30-8 at THEARC, 1901 Mississippi Avenue SE.

Dead End book talk: On June 12, hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, at the Tenley-Friendship Library (4450 Wisconsin Ave NW) at 7 pm. A lively discussion on walking and biking in cities will ensue. Please RSVP here.

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page on the web which has more information.

Transit


What happened with the streetcar?

Last Tuesday, DC Council chairman Phil Mendelson announced, less than 24 hours before the only vote on DC's budget, that he was proposing slashing funding for the streetcar. The money would pay for, among other things, a package of tax cuts. What does this mean for the streetcar?


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

It's been difficult to answer that question, because Mayor Gray's budget office and the DC Council budget office don't agree. Especially on Tuesday and Wednesday, with little time to understand the change, dueling analyses clouded the picture. It's starting to come into focus, though questions still remain.

There is still funding to build streetcars at a slow pace. And DC could always fund more lines once a few lines get done. But the Gray administration says Mendelson's change may halt exactly the mechanism the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) hopes will get the project to move faster, stop having so many delays, and get out of the mire it's been in: a partnership with a consortium of companies to design, build, operate, and maintain the streetcar.

Does this affect the H Street streetcar?

It doesn't appear so. The first segment of the streetcar will run from behind Union Station, along H Street and Benning Road to Oklahoma Avenue, near the Anacostia River. That is under active construction and will open ... sometime. I'm hearing maybe the end of 2014. That's frustratingly long and disappointing since until the very end of last year Gray was promising it would open in 2013.

DDOT has already done studies to continue the line to the Minnesota Avenue Metro. According to information from Gray spokesperson Pedro Rebeiro, the budget still has funding that would pay for that segment.

What about the rest of the system?

The day of the budget vote, Rebeiro released this side-by-side comparison arguing that the cuts would leave DC about $100 million short of finishing the line from H Street west to K Street downtown and then to Georgetown.

It's worth noting that the K Street part would get a dedicated lane (for streetcars and buses). There has been a fair amount of criticism of streetcars that only run in mixed traffic for their whole length; this would not do that if the "K Street Transitway" gets built.

Why does the Council budget office say the money isn't necessary?

Chairman Phil Mendelson makes a few arguments, but two main ones. One is that the mayor was putting too much money into the streetcar than the budget could sustain. Gray's budget office wanted to basically look at the amount of revenue DC earned in Fiscal Year 2016 and then of whatever goes above that, into the future, one-quarter would go to the streetcar.

Council budget director Jen Budoff says that this is unsustainable, that a lot of that revenue growth is needed just to pay for rising costs in the base budget and within 5 years this financing system would get so big it would cut into the base budget. Gray's budget director Eric Goulet says Budoff is wrong.

Mendelson's second argument, which got a lot of traction with transportation chair Mary Cheh and at-large councilmember David Grosso, is that DDOT hasn't been spending money at nearly the rate this would bring in. It built up a surplus of about $100 million in accounts (or so says Budoff and Cheh's staff; Goulet says that's not real, while the council folks suspect the administration was just trying to hide it).

Mendelson dedicated about $50 million a year to the streetcar, which he argues is enough to keep the program moving forward.

If DDOT isn't spending money very fast, why does it need more now?

Because DDOT wasn't planning to keep on building streetcars the way it had been. Rather, it was going to drop da bomb. I mean, a DBOMa Design, Build, Operate, and Maintain contract.

A number of transportation design, engineering, and construction firms have joined together in several consortia to bid for this contract. DDOT was going to soon narrow the field to about three. Those three would then start an intensive design process to actually work out how they would build the streetcar system on K Street, a north-south line along or near Georgia Avenue, and a line in Anacostia over the river to Buzzard Point where it would connect with the north-south line.

This would include key questions like how to run streetcars without overhead wires. The H Street line will have them and they're now legal outside of viewsheds, but there's no way wires were going to cross the Mall or North Capitol Street or pass by Farragut Square.

The consortia include streetcar makers who have their own wireless technologies, some with batteries, some with a third rail that only activates when the streetcar runs over it, and more.

But these consortia are going to have to sink millions of dollars into just working out the designs and all of the details. That's par for the course in big construction projects (and profits on the other end cover this risk), but they're not going to bid if they think DC might not hire anyone, or will build only a piece and then pull the plug because it doesn't have the money.

The Gray administration says that DC needs this dedicated revenue stream now to persuade bidders that the city is serious, and that they may have to withdraw or at least strongly curtail the DBOM bidding with the current budget. Mary Cheh, who says she doesn't want to see the DBOM go away, is asking whether that's absolutely necessary, or whether DC could still persuade the consortia to bid, then come up with the money once it's actually time to sign a contract.

But Gray argues that it's going to be very hard to come up with the $800 million over 5 years (for the initial 22-mile system) and more (for the rest of the streetcar vision) in the future. DC won't just repeal the tax cuts in a year. Mendelson has spent a lot of the rest of the money on other things, and DC's debt cap limits how much the city can borrow beyond what's in its capital budget.

Who's right?

Probably both are accurate, from the perspective of each side. It does seem that the full concept of hiring a consortium and turning them loose to build a citywide streetcar network is now less likely, or if it does happen, might be smaller in scope. However, not everyone on the council, even those who support building a streetcar system, is entirely comfortable signing off on that just yet.

Mendelson's idea, and that of the Committee of 100, is that DC needs to first plan everything out in great detail, then have public input on the plans, then get council approval, and then it can get funded. This is a common way of doing government projects.

In business, especially in technology, organizations are moving away from this way of doing things. That's because often it takes so long to design things that it delays a project, and once you actually start building, you learn more about what you need. Companies and governments are notoriously bad at figuring out all of the issues beforehandthis was one big factor in the Healthcare.gov fisasco.

Ken Archer epxlained in detail why a design-build process can work better for governments as well as private industry. But it can cut the public and elected officials out of the process somewhat. If the agency is good about getting input along the way, and we can believe they will make good choices as the project proceeds, it can be a big time-saver.

Unfortunately, DDOT has not established this level of credibility in recent years. Far from it. And that meant public understanding was shallow and support was thin, so when Mendelson wanted to take it away and offered something (tax cuts) which had broad appeal, most didn't put up a fight.

Transit


MoveDC plan proposes more cycletracks, transit, and tolls. Will it become a reality?

The latest draft of DDOT's citywide transportation plan, moveDC, calls for a massive expansion of transit and cycling facilities throughout the District, plus new tolls on car commuters. If it actually becomes the template for DC's transportation, the plan will be one of America's most progressive.


The moveDC plan summary map. All images from DDOT.

DDOT released the latest version of moveDC last Friday, launching a month long public comment period in anticipation of a DC Council hearing on June 27. Following that, the mayor will determine any changes based on the comment period, and adopt a final plan likely this summer.

What's in the plan

Amid the hundreds of specific recommendations in the plan, a few major proposed initiatives stand out:

  • A vastly improved transit network, with 69 miles of streetcars, transit lanes, and improved buses.
  • A new Metrorail subway downtown.
  • A massive increase in new cycling infrastructure, including the densest network of cycletracks this side of Europe.
  • Congestion pricing for cars entering downtown, and traveling on some of DC's biggest highways.
Transit


Proposed high-capacity transit network (both streetcars and bus). Blue is mixed-traffic, red is dedicated transit lanes.

The plan proposes to finish DC's 22-mile streetcar system, then implement a further 47-mile high-capacity transit network that could use a combination of streetcars or buses. That includes 25 miles of dedicated transit lanes, including the much requested 16th Street bus lane.

Although the proposed high capacity transit corridors closely mirror the 37-mile streetcar network originally charted in 2010, there are several new corridors. In addition to 16th Street, moveDC shows routes on Wisconsin Avenue, both North and South Capitol Streets, H and I Streets downtown, and several tweaks and extensions to other corridors.

The plan endorses WMATA's idea for a new loop subway through downtown DC, but explicitly denies that DC can fund that project alone.

MoveDC also shows a network of new high-frequency local bus routes, including Connecticut Avenue, Military Road, Alabama Avenue, and MacArthur Boulevard.

Bicycles

MoveDC also includes a huge expansion of trails and bike lanes, especially cycletracks.


Proposed bike network. The pink lines are cycletracks.

Under the plan, DC would have a whopping 72 miles of cycletracks crisscrossing all over the city. From South Dakota Avenue to Arizona Avenue to Mississippi Avenue, everybody gets a cycletrack.

Meanwhile, moveDC shows major new off-street trails along Massachusetts Avenue, New York Avenue, and the Anacostia Freeway, among others.

Tolls for cars

Congestion pricing is clearly on DDOT's mind, with multiple proposals for new variable tolls in the plan.


Proposed downtown cordon charge zone.

The most aggressive proposal is to a declare a cordon charge to enter downtown in a car. This idea has worked in London and has been discussed in New York and San Francisco, but so far no American city has tried it.

Meanwhile, some of the major car routes into DC would also be converted to managed lanes. Like Maryland's ICC or Virginia's Beltway HOT lanes, managed lanes have variable tolls that rise or fall based on how busy a road is.

MoveDC proposes managed lanes on I-395, I-295, New York Avenue, and Canal Road.

What will the council think?

DDOT has produced a very strong plan, but is it going anywhere? The DC Council will discuss moveDC on June 27, at which time we'll find out if the same people who pulled the rug out from under streetcar funding are interested in progressive policy-making, at least.

Even if DC does adopt this plan, whether the council will actually provide the funds necessary to build it is anybody's guess.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the DC Council will approve or deny this plan. Actually, the mayor has authority to adopt the plan entirely on his own.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Family fun and transit

We just had a beautiful weekend, and another looks to be around the corner. Enjoy the weather with some family-friendly fun, and during the next few weeks, weigh in on transit all around the region.


Photo by tackyjulie on Flickr.

Streetsblog & Greater Greater Washington playdate: On Saturday, May 31, join fellow GGW and Streetsblog readers and their kids for a family playdate at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden from 11-2 You can RSVP here.

Tour de Fat: One of the region's biggest bicycle festivals is also this Saturday, May 31, at Yards Park. It features live music, local vendors, beer and more. The festival is from 10 am to 5 pm, so there's plenty of time to stop by the playdate and the Tour de Fat.

After the jump: Ride around Greenbelt, transit in Montgomery County, transit in DC, transit in Alexandria, and walking at Pentagon City and H Street!

Greenbelt Roosevelt Ride: The Greenbelt Museum is organizing its second annual Roosevelt Ride on Sunday, June 1 at 11 am. See Old Greenbelt, the New Deal-era planned community, on the free bike ride and enjoy a picnic lunch afterward. More information here.

Montgomery transit candidate forum: Candidates for the Montgomery County Council will discuss their views on the future of transit at a transportation forum on Thursday, May 29 from 7-9 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building (One Veterans Place). WAMU's Martin Di Caro will moderate the conversation. Come hear the candidates' ideas just in time for the June 24th primary.

Streetcar planning: DDOT is holding its final round of open house meetings for its study of a future north-south DC streetcar. You can see DDOT's analysis of possible streetcar routes and weigh in. All three meetings last from 3:30-8:30 pm, with overview presentations at 4 and 7 pm. The full schedule is below:

  • Central meeting: Monday, June 9, at the Banneker Rec Center, 2500 Georgia Ave NW.
  • South meeting: Tuesday, June 10, at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 2nd floor community room, 1100 4th St SW.
  • North meeting: Thursday, June 12, at the Emery Rec Center, 2nd floor community room, 5701 Georgia Ave NW.
Benning Road transit: The Federal Highway Administration and DDOT are starting an environmental study for transportation along Benning Road over the bridge and east to the Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road Metro stations. The first meeting, a public scoping meeting, is tonight, Wednesday, May 28 from 6-7:30 pm at the Department of Employment Services Building, 4058 Minnesota Ave. For more information, go here.

King Street multimodal transit study: The Alexandria Waterfront Commission is analyzing the effects of converting the 100 block of King Street to a pedestrian plaza, where the public can meet, eat, and shop. Planning for driving, biking, walking, and other forms of transit is a key part of the process. On Thursday, May 29, come hear about the plan for the area and provide your feedback at a public meeting at Alexandria City Hall (301 King Street), Room 1101.

CSG walking tours: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is leading two more Saturday walking tours in the coming weeks. Come hear about the past and future of Pentagon City, on May 31, and H Street NE, on June 7, while enjoying some spring sunshine.

  • Saturday, May 31: come hear about how recent development projects are transforming Pentagon City into a community that is more than a mall.
  • Saturday, June 7: explore H Street NE and learn about one of DC's most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Plus, get the scoop on the latest addition to the community: the DC Streetcar.
All of the CSG walking tours run from 10-noon. These events fill up quickly, so RSVP to secure a spot!

Do you know an event that should be on the Greater Greater Washington calendar? Send an email to events@ggwash.org with the details and a link to a page about the event on the web.

Budget


Mendelson plans to slash streetcar funding, pay for tax cuts

In his proposal for the DC budget, council chairman Phil Mendelson will propose lowering the streetcar's capital funding from what Mayor Gray has proposed. Mendelson will fund other streetcar-related projects like a new bridge near Union Station, while much of the decrease will fund a package of tax cuts.


Photo by Rena Tom on Flickr.

In a phone conversation, Mendelson said the change will devote about $400 million for the streetcar over five years. The mayor's proposal dedicates about $800 million over five years, rising to $3 billion over ten years.

Mayor Gray's budget director, Eric Goulet, says this is not nearly enough to build the streetcar system as planned, and the change would effectively halt the streetcar program. Mendelson disagrees, and says that he'd like to see a clearer plan from DDOT about how it will spend the money before approving it.

Gray had proposed a system where as DC's revenue increases, 25% of that increase beyond the projected level for 2015 would go into the streetcar. This would ensure the streetcar has an ongoing pool of money, and since the streetcar will supposedly generate economic growth, it can capture some of that benefit.

Mendelson's proposal would change the formula so that it's only 25% of the gain in any specific year. In other words, if revenue rises from 2015 to 2018, Gray's proposal would dedicate a quarter of the difference from 2015 to 2018 to the streetcar, while the Mendelson proposal would instead use a quarter of the difference just from 2017 to 2018.

Councilmember David Grosso, who agrees with Mendelson's plan, emphasized that he does not want to see the streetcar program wither, but he also doesn't think it needs the quantities of money that Gray wants to dedicate. He said there is a $100 million surplus in the streetcar account; therefore, there isn't a need for more. "It's been proven that they aren't spending the money," he said. "You should budget according to what you can actually accomplish and get it done right."

The mayor has disputed the $100 million number as well. That number came from calculations by staff for Mary Cheh, who chairs the transportation committee. But in a letter to the council yesterday, Mayor Gray called this an "incorrect financial analysis"; Gray's budget staff have described it in more colorful terms.

"It's just not sustainable," said Mendelson. Council budget director Jennifer Budoff explained that while the city's revenue increases by about $200 million a year (of which $50 million would go to streetcar under Mayor Gray's plan) the city's budget also increases, often by more than $200 million a year, due to rising costs. Therefore, she said, the streetcar allocation would eat into the base budget after about five years.

Some of the money will go to pay for a new Hopscotch Bridge, the bridge over the railroad tracks north of Union Station which the streetcar will use. That bridge has to be replaced before the line can extend to downtown and Georgetown, and needs about $200 million.

The cuts will also fund a series of tax breaks which will $165 million a year. These are some of the proposals from the Tax Revision Commission which former mayor Tony Williams chaired. Mendelson's budget proposal leaves out a few proposals from that commission, such as a "local services fee" that would charge all DC employers a flat rate per employee (seemingly a backdoor way of getting some revenue from companies that employ out-of-state workers who don't pay any income taxes) and an increase in the sales tax.

The tax breaks will phase in over 5 years. They include a new middle tax bracket for people making $40-60,000 of 7%, then dropping to 6.5%; making single people eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit; a higher standard deduction; a cut to 8.75% for people making $350,000-$1 million (but not those making more); a cut in the business franchise tax; and a higher estate tax exemption that would rise from the current $1 million up to $2 million and later to the federal level of $5.25 million.

The sales tax would still broaden to more businesses, like health clubs and yoga studios, a proposal that these businesses fought heavily in recent years.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which supports a more progressive tax code, supports most of these changes and notes that cuts for low and middle income families, which will cost $123 million, make up about three-quarters of the $165 million tax cut package.

The business tax cut costs $40 million a year, and the estate tax cut will make DC lose out on about $14 million a year from deceased residents.

Cheh said her staff have not been able to look at the proposal, which won't be released to councilmembers until 5 pm today; she only has spoken to Mendelson verbally about the plans thus far and has not formulated a position on the proposal. She emphasized that, if the cuts go through, she will work to ensure the streetcar gets enough money to continue building, and recognizes that a project like this can build up momentum which could be lost if there are too many budget hurdles.

I will update this story as it develops.

History


A 1912 plan would have built a network of streetcar tunnels around the White House

Tom at Ghosts of DC keeps finding fascinating old plans for downtown. This one, from 1912, proposed a network of tunnels for the streetcars, and an underground terminal at 15th Street and New York Avenue.

Streetcars would have descended into the tunnels as they approached downtown. Part of the purpose was to cut down on traffic on the surface streets; another part, not unfamiliar to any who follow DC federal-local transportation debates, was aesthetic.

The plan said the tunnels' effect would be "relieving the congestion of traffic in that part of the city and adding greatly to the appearance and comfort of one of the most important sections of town, in the neighborhood of the Treasury, White House, and Judiciary square."

This was projected to cost $5 million; Tom notes that equals about $120 million today, though it's dangerous to simply adjust such costs for inflation. According to Measuring Worth, a $5 million project in 1912 equals $88 million (if you use the GDP deflator), $521-747 million (if you use wage growth, or $2.2 billion (if you look at the share of GDP).

But the biggest obstacle was the streetcar companies. The Washington Railway and Electric Company and the Capital Traction Company each had their own streetcar systems. Who would control the tunnels? Leaders proposed consolidating the companies (an approach which had been floated before), and then the single surviving company could operate the tunnels.

Senator Joseph Johnston (D-AL) introduced a bill in 1918 to do just this, but the idea moved no further. Tom writes,

Some letters to The Washington Times from Washingtonians mentioned that putting lines underground would be ill-advised because Washington is a tourist town, and people often ride the streetcars for the enjoyment of the views.
In DC, such arguments often do come down to the views. But depending on the century, that could mean keeping views free of streetcars, or preserving the views from the streetcars.
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