Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The irony of transportation demand management planning in DC

In 2005 and 2006, DC engaged in a revision of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Like many people, I particpated in the process, but at a more detailed level and I also wrote about it, and testified a number of times about various provisions in "Mayor's" and "City Council" hearings.

There are a couple aspects of the plan that I had some influence on. For example, in the development process for the plan, I called for the creation of an Arts and Culture element, although the final version is relatively pathetic (a collection of programs but not a plan) so I disavow any connection. (When I pushed arts people on this, I discovered that they were so happy to be acknowledged, that they focused on the acknowledgement to the exclusion of concern about the quality of the final product.)

I called for the creation of a tourism development and management element, which didn't make it into the planning framework at all.

But after the major drafts came out (April 2006, with a July 2006 version) while all the traditional smart growth types testified in favor of the plan because it mentioned "transit oriented development," I was pretty derisive because most of the called for planning provisions for TOD, other than increased density, had no teeth. And transportation demand management provisions did not exist in any substantive form.

I kept testifying about this, and in response, I joke that I changed one word of the DC Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The draft said that TDM planning could happen--only for Planned Unit Development actions, which are but a narrow minor portion of the total opportunities and situations in which TDM should in fact occur--and did not require that it happen, only that it could.

As a result of my frequent testimonies, this provision was changed and now TDM planning is in fact required for PUD zoning matters

Alas, the broader point I made in various testimonies, that TDM needed to be required as a matter of course for all institutions (churches, businesses getting significant deliveries, schools, etc.), as part of comprehensive transportation planning and therefore should be included in the Transportation element of the Comprehensive Plan, did not lead to any revisions of the text for the final version.

So it's kind of funny to see how Greater Greater Washington, in the entry "Leading edge TDM strategies showing the way," talks about all the great TDM requirements advocated by the DC Department of Transportation for a project at 14th and S Streets NW, against the reality that it wouldn't have happened had I not continued to press for strong provisions in the Comprehensive Plan on TDM, in the face of the caving in/wimping out of the traditional "Smart Growth" advocates (people at Downtown DC BID and other smart growth advocacy groups in DC and the region) who chose to focus on the language in the Plan, rather than whether or not the language yielded substantive and real changes and laid out the means for it to happen.

After the approval of the Comp Plan, DDOT hired a transportation demand management planner (and changed the title of Jim Sebastian, formerly pedestrian and bicycle transportation coordinator, to include TDM responsibilities), and after Harriet Tregoning became director of the DC Office of Planning in 2007, the OP added a TDM planner as well.

Note that at the start of the Zoning revision process, I testified at the original hearings that occurred before the actual revision process started, and one of my comments was that DDOT and transportation planning needs to be given the same level of access and participation in Zoning matters as is the Office of Planning--DCOP people sit up there on the dais too, and are called upon to deliver reports on each matter, DDOT is not yet afforded the same level of importance. Hopefully that will change too.

The other thing I testified about repeatedly, and I believe it even more strongly now, is that rather than all the elements of the Comprehensive Plan being considered equal, I believed that the Urban Design Element* should have been considered the #1 element, the overarching element directing how the other elements are organized, coordinated, and interpreted in terms of land use, zoning, and transportation planning matters.

Similarly, the Transportation Element should have been #2, and then the Land Use Element as #3, and the Economic Development Element as #4.

Relatedly, in part because of participating in the Comp. Plan revision process I have since figured out that "Building a Local Economy" is different from how most Economic Development elements are constructed in Comprehensive Plans and someday I am likely to write some journal articles about it.

In the commercial district revitalization planning work I do in other communities, rather than do traditional market studies, my focus is more on broader "destination development," and includes cultural planning including "creative class"/knowledge economy aspects as well as tourism development and management planning, rather than strictly upon more narrowly construed retail planning. Mostly this is because in the present day, most of the opportunities available to communities lie beyond selling more consumer goods to the local market.

Since this work mostly focuses on commercial districts, I haven't had the chance yet to add broader economic development and quality of the local education system as pieces of the overall focus, but as we do projects for larger municipalities--cities or counties instead of more limited commercial districts--the approach will continue to expand.

* Note that a problem with the National Capital Planning Commission's oversight and responsibility for federal planning in DC and the region is that their plans inadequately consider Urban Design as a defining element as well.

That in the city that is based on a formal plan, the L'Enfant Plan!
L'Enfant Plan, Washington, DC

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