Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Tanya Snyder

Tanya Snyder is editor of Streetsblog Capitol Hill, which covers issues of national transportation policy. She previously covered Congress for Pacifica and public radio. She lives car-free in a transit-oriented and bike-friendly neighborhood of Washington, DC. 

How to encourage poorer residents to use bike, car, and ride sharing

Washington's Capital Bikeshare is one of the biggest and most well-established bike-share systems in the nation. Its annual fee of just $75 buys you unlimited free half-hour trips. The system now has 2,500 bicycles at 300 stations in the District and the nearby suburbs.


Capital Bikeshare struggles to draw low-income users, despite outreach efforts, station siting in low-income areas, subsidies, and efforts to include people without bank accounts. Photo by DDOT via ITDP.

It's an incredible money-saver, especially for the 50 percent of users who report driving less and the 60 percent who report taking fewer taxis since joining bike-share. But if it's such a thrifty transportation choice, why are only eight percent of CaBi members low-income, compared to 45 percent who live in households that earn more than $100,000?

CaBi's trouble attracting low-income users is not exceptional. Other transportation services based on the idea that people can economize by accessing a fleet of vehicles instead of buying their ownthink bike-share, car-share, and ride-share serviceshave failed, for the most part, to draw people who stand to gain the most by saving on transportation costs.

Transportation eats up a disproportionate amount of low-income people's household income24 percent for people earning between $5,000 and $30,000 per year. And low-income people tend to face longer commute times than wealthier residents. Transit options between their homes, which are most often in cities, and their jobs, which have in recent years sprawled out to the distant suburbs, are often lacking.

Shared transportation options can provide solutions when transit alone is deficient. But by and large, poor people are not taking advantage of those solutions. The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy looked at the barriers to widespread adoption of these options by low-income people and some possible solutions in a new report, "Connecting Low-Income People to Opportunity with Shared Mobility."

Here's how some services have bucked the larger trend and provided transportation for people on a wider range of the income ladder.

Car-Share

Buffalo Car Share, operating in a city with a median household income of just over $30,000, specifically targets people with low incomes. The result: Nearly two-thirds of BCS members come from households making less than the median, and half its members report incomes of less than $25,000. (These numbers aren't being skewed by high numbers of students, which make up just 10 percent of BCS's membership.)

Attracting high numbers of low-income users isn't a goal of all transportation companies, which are, in the end, searching for profit or at least financial viability. Some car-share companies, like those in Chicago and Philadelphia, lost their mission of inclusivity and access for low-income residents when they were acquired by for-profit businesses.


Philly Carshare started off as a nonprofit, with services targeted for low-income residents, but acquisition by a for-profit company ended all that. Photo by Philadelphia Reflections.

But BCS remains a nonprofit, and its mission explicitly mentions serving low-income residents. To do that, BCS locates cars on affordable housing properties and lets users pay by money order, which allows people without bank accounts to use the service.

Bike-Share

Boston has done a good job attracting low-income residents to the Hubway bike-share system. Low-income people get subsidized annual memberships of just $5, which come with a free helmet. The program has sold over 1,300 subsidized memberships, comprising more than 11 percent of its ridersfar more than most systems.

And while many systems shy away from placing stations in poor areas, fearing either low demand or high liability, Boston has put 14 percent of its Hubway stations in very low-income neighborhoods, with many more in mixed-income areas.

Partnerships with public health initiatives have borne fruit in Boston, too. The Prescribe-a-Bike program, through which doctors can prescribe a subsidized membership to low-income residents as an anti-obesity measure, is essentially a bike-share marketing tactic aimed at poor residents.

Ride-Share

In New York City, dollar vans carry 120,000 riders a day, mostly in ethnic neighborhoods. "These ride-share vans largely serve individuals of the same community, allowing them to cater to cultural preferences, such as playing music in Spanish or Mandarin," ITDP writes. Similarly, an estimated 8 million Latinos in the U.S. use camionetas, or informal ride-share minibus companies, to get around metropolitan areas.


New York City's dollar vans and other vanpool and ride-sharing options do a better job appealing to low-income residents, often serving specific ethnic communities. Photo by Mashable.

ITDP didn't include Uber and Lyft in its report, noting that these are mobile-enabled taxi services, not true ride-share. Surprisingly, low-income people use taxis as much as any other segment of the populationon par with the wealthiest households and far more than middle-income households. As such, subsidies for taxi services could be helpful, along with these other shared-use transportation options.

Barriers

It's not just cost that keeps low-income people away from these services. After all, the costs are often cheaper than owning and driving a private carand even the poorest Americans drive to work at a rate of about 76 percent. Cities are working on addressing the barriers that appear to be keeping low-income people away from shared-use transportation servicesand vice versa.

Some cities have pushed car-share companies to put cars in what Denver officials call "opportunity areas." Denver insisted on locations in those neighborhoods, where at least 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Washington, DC, required Zipcar to set up shop in low-income neighborhoods in exchange for the privilege of using city-owned curbside parking spaces.

Internet access and access to checking accounts and credit cards also present an obstacle for many who might otherwise use services like bike-share, ride-share, or car-share. Some services allow paper applications, and some partner with local credit unions to help would-be members get checking accounts, sometimes with overdraft protection and waived fees.

Information about shared-use transportation options, especially in the appropriate language, is often unavailable in low-income communities. And I'll add that many outreach efforts and subsidy programs are exclusively for public-housing residents, ignoring the many low-income people who live elsewhere.

Demonstrating (and encouraging) demand, providing insurance, and waiving government-imposed car-rental fees for car-share companies call all encourage companies to expand to low-income areas.

One government program that was used to subsidize transportation for low-income peopleboth transit and shared optionswas "consolidated" out of existence in 2012 when Congress eliminated the Department of Transportation's Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program. The program helped low-income commuters traveling from urban centers to suburbs or at off-peak hourssituations poorly served by transit.

Importantly, ITDP recognizes that "increased investment in mass rapid transit, paired with careful land use planning, holds the best promise for sustainable growth of transportation networks," while adding that "shared mobility can extend the reach of public transit and provide alternate routes," often helping solve "last-mile" problems.

This post originally appeared on Streetsblog.

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DDOT wants to ban bikes along streetcar tracks. That's the wrong approach.

Streetcar service could finally begin this year in Washington, DC. Trial runs are already taking place. And the debate about how people on bikes will navigate the tracks is already raging.

Last week, the District Department of Transportation quietly proposed streetcar regulations that would ban bicycling within a streetcar guideway except to cross the street.


Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

Most immediately, that would prohibit bicycles on H Street NE, one of the city's premier nightlife hotspots for young people, many of whom arrive on bikesin part because the area has been underserved by transit until now. There are no fewer than 7 Capital Bikeshare stations along the corridor.

But a bike ban on streetcar corridors could have far broader implications when DC builds out its full streetcar network, which DDOT dreams of building out the network to eight lines over 37 miles throughout the city.

DDOT clarified on its Facebook page that it was proposing to prohibit bikes "in the area of the concrete surrounding the rails (effectively the lane the streetcar is running in)… Not the entire street right-of-way." That means, DDOT says, that cyclists can ride in the left lanewhich would undoubtedly lead to conflicts with cars accustomed to seeing cyclists hugging the right edge. If DDOT is serious about that, perhaps they could paint sharrows to inform drivers that bikes have a right to be in the left lane.

Either way, a bike ban is not the best way to deal with what is, by all accounts, a thorny situation.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association acknowledges that "streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists" but insists that "banning bikes is not an acceptable solution."

It's a "solution" that came up earlier this year in Tucson and in 2012 in Toronto, where a cyclist died when his wheel got stuck in the tracks of a streetcar system that doesn't even run anymore. Lots of cities have struggled to find ways to make the interaction between bicycles and streetcars less perilous.

As someone who has wiped out on streetcar tracks, I can attest that a solution is needed, or else H Street runs the risk of becoming a death trap for people on two wheels, sacrificing one form of sustainable transportation for the sake of another. Luckily, there are lots of options.

First of all, there's no reason for cyclists to eat pavement because of abandoned streetcar tracks. Even if it's expensive to remove the tracks, as cities usually claim, there's no reason they can't fill them in with cement.

Jonathan Maus at BikePortland, in search of a good solution for his city, found a German product called veloSTRAIL, a plastic insert for rail tracks designed to depress under a streetcar wheel but not a bike, but it's designed for a different kind of rail than what they have in Portland.

Streetsblog's own Steven Vance found an even simpler solution years ago. He advocates for rubber flanges in streetcar tracks that are depressed by the weight of a streetcar wheel but not a bike. The only place he knows of where it's used in the U.S. is on the extremely low-traffic Cherry Avenue Bridge track in Chicago that sees no more than a few trains a month. Here's a video that gives a pretty good idea of what it's like to ride on these tracks:

WABA has talked to DDOT about the rubber idea, but it hasn't really taken hold yet. Where streetcar lines haven't been built yet, WABA demands that they be accompanied by separated bike lanes.

DDOT did build contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets NE to divert cyclists away from H Street, but as WABA's Greg Billing notes, "all the stores and restaurants are on H Street," so at some point cyclists will leave those facilities and have to figure out a way to navigate H Street. Billing notes that riding on the sidewalk is a "very contentious issue in the community," but given the astronomical number of crashes that have already happened since the tracks went in, it might be cyclists' best option. After all, riding in the street could send cyclists to the hospital not only with their injuries, Billing said, but with a ticketand insurance might not cover their medical bills if they were breaking the law by riding in the street.

Seattle has also seen a rash of crashes due to streetcar tracks. Although a lawsuit brought by six injured cyclists was ultimately thrown out, it did result in better designs for new lines. The First Hill Streetcar will run in the center lane where there is not a dedicated bike lane, and separate bike lanes will be installed along about a mile of the route. The city also striped a new bike lane along the existing streetcar line. You can see how the city marked a safe 90-degree crossing for cyclists in this Streetfilm.

Other places are trying out far more innovative ideas. In the Netherlands, separate bike lanes are the norm, keeping bicycles out of streetcar tracks, and bike lanes are engineered to always cross the tracks at a right angle. Alta Planning + Design has compiled other best practices and recommendations for bikes and streetcar tracks, mostly focusing on separated bike lanes and center-running streetcar tracks.

Sounds like a good idea for DC's seven unbuilt streetcar lines.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog USA.

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Democrats grudgingly approve a transportation extension bill with a risky timeline

On Tuesday, during the one-hour debate period over the House proposal to extend transportation funding through May 31, lawmaker after lawmaker stood up to condemn the bill. America needs a long-term transportation bill, they said. A short-term stopgap only creates more uncertainty.


Rep. Earl Blumenauer was one of just 10 Democrats to reject the House extension. Image from C-SPAN.

And then they voted for it.

More Democrats than Republicans voted for it, in fact, despite standing up and declaring that "a short term solution is not enough" or that it's "just another kick-the-can-down-the-road approach" or that it's just "a little shuffling around of money so we can pretend… we're not creating more debt." But in the end, the Highway and Transportation Funding Act passed easily, with only 10 Democrats and 45 Republicans voting against it.

Peter Welch of Vermont was one of those no-voting Democrats. During the floor debate, he called the bill an "abdication of our responsibility."

"Some folks are saying we need time to put together a long term bill," he said. "We've had time. What we need is a decision."

Earl Blumenauer is in favor of an extension, but only through the lame duck period after the election. He voted no as well, criticizing Republicans for failing to have a "deliberate, thoughtful process."

"We have not had a single hearing on transportation finance in the Ways and Means Committee all year," he said. "We didn't have one the year before that. We haven't had a hearing in the 43 months that the Republicans have been in charge."

How long will the extension be?

The Senate Finance Committee has passed a largely similar bill, with the same amount of money coming out of slightly different funding sources.

Wyden's bill also failed to include an expiration date. Senator Barbara Boxer is expected to introduce an amendment putting a December 31 date on itso that she would still be chair of the EPW Committee when the real bill gets negotiatedbut the juggernaut is already in motion toward a longer extension until May. By putting enough money in the bill to get there, Wyden was tacitly acceding to that timeline without overtly ruffling Boxer's feathers.

Even President Obama has given the green light to the House bill, though he also insisted that "Congress shouldn't pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he plans to schedule three floor votes before the August recess: the House bill, the Senate Finance Committee bill, and Boxer's December 31 plan.

Boxer, of course, doesn't refer to her own hold on the committee when lobbying for a shorter extension. She just says the longer one is "a really bad idea because the longer the patch, the longer the indecision, the more jobs lost, the more businesses go under."

Besides, now that presidential election seasons last for two years (at least), punting until May could easily bleed into much longer delays. After all, if it's too hard to pass a major spending bill in the run-up to a mid-term election, imagine the resistance to passing one during a presidential race.

A bill under a Republican Senate could be much worse

If the Republicans really do take control of the Senate in January, that means that the bill sent to President Obama's desk will be one crafted and approved by Republicans in both houses.

Control of the Environment and Public Works Committee would shift to Louisiana Republican David Vitter, who has a track record of rejecting any revenue increase, railing against merit-based transportation financing, and working to cut environmental reviews for road projects.

The current House Transportation Committee chair, Bill Shuster, has a better track record of consulting with Democrats than his predecessor, John Mica, but with a Republican Senate, even Shuster might be less invested in bipartisanship.

A Congress with both chambers controlled by Republicans could revive old, rejected ideas like devolving transportation funding to states, closing the Highway Trust Fund's transit account, or eliminating bike/ped funding. That is the scenario set up by yesterday's extension vote with its May 31 sunset.

Oh, and if you're impressed that Congress is addressing this issue well before the September 30 expiration of the current MAP-21 bill, don't be. That bill's funding fixesgimmicks in their own rightdidn't manage to last all the way until its sunset, and the highway account of the Highway Trust Fund is expected to dip into insolvency by the end of next month. US DOT was preparing to start cutting payments to states by 28 percent on August 1. And Congress has only 10 work days left on the legislative calendar before members retreat to their home districts for the month of August.

A version of this post originally appeared on Streetsblog. Since it ran yesterday, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) announced plans to slow the bill unless he can get a vote on two amendments (to devolve funding to states and repeal the Davis-Bacon rules on contractor pay) that do not have bipartisan support.

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Two senators (one of whom is a Republican!) propose a 12-cent gas tax increase

There are several proposals on the table to stave off the impending insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund (which pays for transit, biking, and walking projects too) in two months. Just now, two senators teamed up to announce one that might actually have a chance.


Photo from the Office of Senator Corker.

Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) have proposed increasing the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over two years. The federal gas tax currently stands at 18.4 cents a gallon, where it has been set since 1993, when gas cost $1.16 a gallon. The senators' proposal would also extend some expiring tax cuts as a way to reduce the impact on Americans.

"I know raising the gas tax isn't an easy choice, but we're not elected to make easy decisionswe're elected to make the hard ones," said Murphy. "This modest increase will pay dividends in the long run and I encourage my colleagues to get behind this bipartisan proposal."

This proposalwhile still not introduced as a formal billhas far more potential than anything else that's been offered. President Obama's corporate tax scheme was dead on arrival, even though it had support from the Republican chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp. Rep. Peter DeFazio's idea of a per-barrel oil fee and Sen. Barbara Boxer's idea for a wholesale oil tax don't have Republican support. Neither does Rep. Earl Blumenauer's 15-cent gas tax hike, which was the most logical proposal on the table, until now. What the House Republicans want to do is fund the transportation bill by reducing Saturday postal servicea hare-brained scheme if ever there was one.

What gives this proposal a fighting chance, of course, is Bob Corker's name on it. Not only is Corker a Republican, but he's a respected leader on the Banking Committee. It's also a sign that maybe, just maybe, as we stare down the barrel of a real funding shortfall, members of Congress might find the gumption to do what they all know needs to be done: raise the gas tax.

"In Washington, far too often, we huff and puff about paying for proposals that are unpopular, yet throw future generations under the bus when public pressure mounts on popular proposals that have broad support," said Corker. "Congress should be embarrassed that it has played chicken with the Highway Trust Fund and allowed it to become one of the largest budgeting failures in the federal government. If Americans feel that having modern roads and bridges is important then Congress should have the courage to pay for it."

The CBO has said that a one-cent increase in the gas tax would net $1.5 billion a year. That means this 12-cent increase would bring in exactly the $18 billion needed annually to fund the Senate's six-year transportation bill. And perhaps most importantly, Corker and Murphy propose indexing the tax to inflation so it remains viable in the future.

"A return to stable funding will ensure that our states and communities can repair aging roads, bridges and transit systems and build the infrastructure we need for a growing economy," said James Corless, director of Transportation for America, in a statement. "The alternative is to allow our transportation system to crumble along with an economy hobbled by crapshoot commutes and clogged freight corridors."

The president and CEO of AAA, which just came out in favor of a gas tax increase, agreed. "Many Americans are willing to pay a little more if it will lead to improved transportation and a better commute," said Bob Darbelnet in a statement.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog USA.

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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.

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“Every street’s going to prioritize pedestrians,” says moveDC’s lovely fine print

Livable streets advocates all over the country are buzzing about DC's far-sighted new transportation plan, called moveDC. Yesterday, Streetsblog sat down to interview some of the people responsible for writing and implementing the plan.


The purple lines are cycletracks. MoveDC has 72 miles of them. Image from DDOT.

MoveDC is an ambitious and wide-ranging plan that calls for overhauling streets to improve walking, biking, and transit. If you want to absorb it all, here's the whole, massive document.

I spoke to Matt Brown, the District Department of Transportation'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.

What's your favorite part of this plan? What do you brag to other cities about and say, "DC's gonna do this and it's gonna be amazing"?

MB: I'm struck by the comprehensive nature of it all. It speaks to new investments, but it also speaks to state of good repair for what we have, and really trying to maximize the road system we have so that it accommodates all choices of travel.

I don't think it's an all-or-nothing plan. I don't think it's: "We have a vision, we need whatever dollars and without that it's going to fail." Certainly there are dollars that are needed to implement, and we can't realize the full capacity of the plan without doing that.

But I think this is a plan for the future of the District, and also for our agency. I mean, there are recommendations in here about how to prioritize sidewalk repairs better. One of the recommendations is to better prioritize how we make investments with the baseline money that we have.

So I guess it's not one policy element I'm excited about. I'm excited there's so much, and they're interrelated but they're not dependent on each other. We can make a big impact even if we can't build a downtown metro loop, or pick your favorite infrastructure investment from the plan.

SZ: Or a downtown congestion charge!

[All laugh.]

Yeah, I definitely want to talk about that. If that's your most exciting thing, we can talk about that now, or we can talk about it when we get to my most exciting thing.

CH: What I was most excited about was the level of analysis. It's not just a study that says, "Here are some good ideas; let's go and do more studies." I feel like we really have a true sense of what should be going on. And I think it'll even help us as the plan evolves, if things come out and other things go in; I don't think anything will be jarring, because of the baseline analysis we have there.

SZ: In terms of bragging to other cities, I think this idea of complete networks is where we need to go. And this is not a criticism of Complete Streets at all, because I think the premise is the right one, that we need to accommodate multiple users of every street. But in applying that citywide, in some ways Complete Streets bogs us down. Because we don't have the right-of-way. We don't have the space to accommodate everybody.

If you are looking at making a transit improvement and the cyclists say, "Well, where am I in this street?" and if you're not accommodating them in that street, you've failed. I think we've identified complete corridors, or complete networks.

And you don't want streets a quarter of a mile wide.

SZ: Exactly. We have a great urban fabric and we don't want to lose that in the name of providing for everybody to make every choice on every street.

We weren't trying to pit modes against each other. We were trying to say, here's a connected network that addresses the fundamental vision of the transportation system. And then we were able to blend between them. So we ended up with this policy framework, which then translates into infrastructure, that says, "Every street's going to prioritize pedestrians. Every street's going to accommodate vehicles. And every street is going to do something else."

That is, everything above a local neighborhood street. But everything else is going to do something besides just carry cars and people. That might be better transit facilities; it might be better bike facilities; it might be a freight route.

Once you do that, you give yourself flexibility. So ideally, once we start planning for anything, whether it's a bike lane or a transit facility, we're not having to answer the question of, what about this other mode? Because we've tried to de-conflict them. And we can say, well, we're planning for bikes on this street and we're planning for transit on that street. And we'll still evaluate how those interact.

But there is an incredible amount of bike infrastructure. Cycletracks, especially, going from three miles to 72 miles.

SZ: We're at five now!

In that case I think I need to correct a tweet. But, that's stunning. And you're not taking away vehicle capacity?

SZ: Oh, we could. As we did our analysis, very often there would be a choice between vehicular capacity and parking capacity. And we erred in this plan on the side of vehicular capacity. And we did that partly because it gave us some absolutes: At least we're being conservative on a consistent basis. But some of these could result in a reduction in number of lanes, or trade-offs in parking, or it might be that we start with an unprotected bike lane sometimes where in the vision plan we've got a protected bike lane.

But you know, we've done a lot of the easy bike lanes. So a lot of our facilities now will take some other impact. And that's partly been the challenge in the last few years. We were able to quickly deploy a lot when there's not much impact, but as you start to make trade-offsyou know, L and M Streets downtown, there's a trade-off. And that takes more conscious decision-making.

But there is an attraction and a benefit to making protected facilities, and we felt that was something that was important to carry forward.

CH: The number of cycletracks absolutely is stunning, and it's very exciting. But compared to miles of roadwaythey will never be equal, but we're just trying to balance out different modes so that people are able to make different choices.

I appreciate that. People didn't used to think about balancing out accommodation for bicycles with roadways. That's a pretty new way of thinking. So, you guys touched on so many things I wanted to get back to and now I can't remember what I wanted to ask next.

SZ: Congestion charge?

OK, let's do it. So, that's something that New York tried to do, but they couldn't get it through the state. We don't have a state government.

SZ: We have another building up there [the US Capitol] that likes to be the state.

Right. So is there a reason to think this is going to go better in DC than in New York? Is there appetite for a congestion charge outside of this building?

SZ: It will take continued engagement and planning. We did an exercise really early on in the planning process and we asked people what types of things they would like to see in the system. But you had to tell us how you would pay for it. And that give us great intelligence.

And did you tell people how much things would cost?

SZ: No, we were mostly trying to put the idea in people's heads that you can't just get everything you want without some trade-offs. So I would say the plurality of answers about how people would pay for things was to tie congestion relief downtown to funding these other items.

People were saying congestion relief should be a funding source?

SZ: Yes. We felt it's a policy approach; it's not really about the funding per se. It's not a huge amount of money, especially in the assumptions that we made.

It really resonated, and we got good feedback through our workshops about it, in theory. We felt it's an important thing to continue to consider.

It's one of those things, like raising the gas tax or any number of other things, that if you have the time and space to speak rationally to people who are thinking openly, you can explain this and it makes so much sense. But it's so quickly misconstrued in the media as just another tax, and people get riled up about it. It's a hard thing to sell.

SZ: Yes, it's been the headline of every story that's been written about the plan so far. And it's this minor componentobviously it's not a minor thing, if it happens, but it's just one thing out of many, many things that are part of the plan. But we understood that might happen.

The interview continues in part two, coming soon!

Crossposted from Streetsblog USA.

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Calling all kids! Join us for a GGW/Streetsblog playdate

Cities are great places to raise children, DC in particular. So Greater Greater Washington and Streetsblog are teaming up to host a playdate and family picnic to bring our readers together for some kid-friendly fun.

Instead of another after-work happy hour at a 21+ bar, we want to get to know each other's families and enjoy the great urban outdoors. Streetsbaby Luna and Greater Greater Wunderkind Sophie will be in attendance and can't wait to spill things on you and your children.

The picnic will be at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden (between Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive and 7th and 9th Streets NW) on Saturday, May 31, starting at 11:00 am. We'll try to congregate in the southeast corner, near 7th and Madison, but may shift if it's crowded there. Call 202-460-4376 if you have trouble locating us.

The Sculpture Garden is accessible by every single Metro line, several buses, and the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack. While we suggest transit, bicycling, or walking, you can also drive there, and either spend a lot of time hunting for on-street parking spaces or pay for a private garage.

This will be a not-quite-potluck: If you can, please bring a (non-alcoholic) beverage, chips, cookies or some other snacky side to share, but it's every family for itself on the main course. The Pavilion Café is right there and ready to serve you soups, salads, and sandwiches if you can't be bothered to spend your morning slathering mustard on whole wheat bread.

No one will be turned away for lack of kids. Your definition of family works for us, whatever it may be. And of course, you're welcome to come on your own.

Please RSVP here with the number of people (of any age) you'll be bringing so we have an idea how many folks to expect. We can't wait to see you and meet your family!

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Chevy Chase hires a powerful Congressional chairman's brother to lobby against the Purple Line

In addition to some recent high-profile spins through the revolving door, we now have a new example of ethically questionable influence peddling in Washington: A powerful Congressman's brother working to bring down a transit line in Maryland.


Robert Shuster. Photo from Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.

Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) wields the gavel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committeea post his father held, with great success, before him. Now Shuster's brother, Robert, has been hired by the town of Chevy Chase, Maryland, to help them oppose the construction of a light-rail line.

The Purple Line concept has been under development since 1989, with the state beginning work in earnest in early 2008. The principal opponent to the line, the Columbia Country Club, has dropped its opposition and promised not to bring any lawsuits as a result of a deal to adjust the route.

The Purple Line has faced countless obstacles and defeated them all. Rep. Shuster's brother now has $20,000 a month of Chevy Chase's taxpayer dollars to try to come up one the transit line can't overcome.

According to the Washington Post, Chevy Chase hired Robert Shuster's law firm last month, so far paying a total of $40,000 for two months. The town council is now deciding whether to move from a month-to-month arrangement to an 18-month contract, still for $20,000 a month.

The Post notes that the firm, Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, lists Robert Shuster first as one of four lawyers on the project.

No worries, though: Shuster won't be lobbying. The Post quotes Mayor Pat Burda as saying she didn't even know about the Shuster connection when she first contacted the law firm, and that the town is focused on the Federal Transit Administration, not Congress. She said it in no uncertain terms: "We're not lobbying Congress."

But the pro-Purple Line Action Committee for Transit has found a Congressional lobbying disclosure form from Shuster's firm that "states explicitly that Shuster and his partners are lobbying the House of Representatives and Senate for the Town of Chevy Chase." The form says Shuster and two others will be lobbying on urban development, transportation, and "government issues."

"I do not and will not lobby my brother," Robert Shuster pledged in a statement to the Post. But whether or not Shuster lobbies his brother may be beside the point. A Shuster calling up a member of Congress is going to get his phone call answered, and "in Washington, that's your first goal," said Purple Line advocate Tracey Johnstone.

But what does Chevy Chase seek to get out of Congress anyway? Maryland is in the market for $900 million in federal aid to round out funding for the Purple Line, but they're looking to get it from a New Starts full-funding grant agreement from the FTA, not Congress.

Undoubtedly the town of Chevy Chase, ably represented by the good people at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, will petition the FTA to reject the MTA's request for a New Starts grant. Purple Line opponents always find some legit-sounding reason to block it: endangered amphipods (except, oops, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it's no problem), impact on a nearby trail, the view from a tony golf course clubhouse. They'll certainly come up with a good story to tell the FTA.

But the lobbying disclosure form makes clear that they'll be taking that message to Congress, too. After all, FTA only makes recommendations for New Starts grants. House and Senate appropriations committees make the final decision.

Sure, that's a different committee from the one the other Shuster heads, but "if you think the appropriations committee isn't checking with the chair of T&I about what they're putting in a New Starts grant, you don't know how Congress works," said Joshua Schank of the Eno Center for Transportation.

Earmarks were eliminated in MAP-21, and if that ban continues, there would be no place for an explicit Purple Line funding authorization in the next bill. But there are some possibilities for the next bill to have an impact.

First, Congress could go back to earmarks, though it's unlikely. Second, Congress could make it clear, outside of bill language, that the region is expected to use its urbanized area formula grant money on the Purple Linethough that's a tough demand to make without offering new money. Third, Congress could underfund New Starts altogether, which is entirely possible and even likely, which could hobble the agency's ability to fund the Purple Line. Or, fourth, Congress could slip an amendment into the bill that targets the Purple Linerequiring more studies on endangered amphipods, for example.

Either way, it never hurts to have friends in high places in Washington.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog DC.

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Congressional impasse shuts down DC's trails

DC bicycle commuters woke up this morning to find that one popular rail-trail was closed due to the government shutdown, which took effect at midnight.


Some cyclists are ignoring the barriers erected by the National Park Service and using the Capital Crescent Trail despite the shutdown. Photo by someone named Ricky, who is friends with DC Bike Ambassador Pete Beers.

The Capital Crescent Trail is the most heavily-used rail-trail in the United States, with more than a million users a year. Not just a weekend pleasure-ride spot, the CCT is thick with bicycles during morning rush hour as people use it as a safer and more pleasant bike-commuting alternative to DC's congested streets. Now, the government would give them no choicethough the Washington Area Bicyclist Association reports that there's little enforcement and intrepid bike commuters are using the trail despite the barriers.

Since this important bike route is managed by the National Park Service, it is part of the vast collateral damage of the embarrassing scenario unfolding on Capitol Hill. WABA warned yesterday that "all or part of the heavily-commuted Rock Creek Trail, Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and George Washington Memorial Trail are on NPS property" and could also be shut down, but early reports seem to indicate that they're still open.

The 185-mile C&O Canal trail, which runs from DC's Georgetown neighborhood to Cumberland, is also closed.


The 185-mile C&O Canal Trail, which begins in Washington, DC, is closed. Photo tweeted by Bike Arlington.

All roads are open during the government shutdown, except some leading into national parks, which are closed. In DC, this would include Rock Creek Parkway and other roads through the largest urban national park in the countrybut, curiously, that key car-commuter route is still open. However, Rock Creek Park's Beach Drive is closed to car traffic during the shutdown, so people who enjoy riding their bikes there on weekends, when drivers are normally kept out, will enjoy riding it today. That's one nice trade-off for losing the CCT.

WABA learned about the possible Capital Crescent Trail shutdown yesterday, and bollards were put in place at the entrances to prepare to block trail traffic. The sections of the CCT within Montgomery County remain open, since they are owned by the county, not NPS.

DC has a disproportionate number of city parks under NPS, but certainly the shutdown will prevent people from using other popular off-road trails around the country, like this one in the Philly area. Where else are cyclists and pedestrian commuters being impacted?

Crossposted at DC Streetsblog.

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President Obama proposes a "fix-it-first" program for roads

In last night's State of the Union address, President Obama launched a "Fix-It-First" program to repair aging infrastructure and put people to work.


The "enhanced" State of the Union. Image from whitehouse.gov.

The president even took an indirect jab at officials who would rather build new than fix existing infrastructure, saying, "I know you want these job-creating projects in your district; I've seen all those ribbon-cuttings."

So, tonight, I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.

Obama has proposed infrastructure investment many times before, and always with a heavy tilt toward repair and maintenance, but never such an explicit mandate to "fix it first." By keeping existing transportation infrastructure in good condition, officials can save the public from the expense of unnecessary road expansion projects.

However, he did give a nod to some new infrastructure he'd like to see: notably, high-speed rail.

"Ask any CEO where they'd rather locate and hire," Obama said, "a country with deteriorating roads and bridges or one with high-speed rail and Internet, high-tech schools, self-healing power grids."

The president also proposed a "Partnership to Rebuild America" to attract private capital for infrastructure investment "to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden."

In his speech, Obama spent far more time talking about energy and climate change than transportation.

American-produced wind, solar, and natural gas topped his energy platform, but he wasn't above bragging, "We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years." He delighted in the "natural gas boom" and the fact that his administration has been "cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits."

He calls it his "all-of-the-above plan."

He also asked Congress to come up with a "bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change," like the Climate Stewardship Act, a cap-and-trade bill John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a decade ago.

Then he hedged against Congress's ability to break through gridlockespecially on environmental issues. "If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," he said, pledging to take executive actions to reduce pollution, adapt to climate change, and pursue more sustainable sources of energy. He highlighted the urgency:

Now, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it's too late.

His goal: cutting in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years. Not the energy used, just the energy wasted. I'm not sure how he defines and quantifies wasted energy.

Read his entire speech here or watch the enhanced version, with explanatory graphics, here.

Cross-posted at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

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