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, December 09, 2010

Transpo in DC

(Image: Toy--Anatex City Transportation Activity Wall Panel.)

As the blogosphere lights up over Mayor-Elect Gray's decision to not retain Gabe Klein as director of the DC Department of Transportation, I do agree with Dr. Gridlock, "D.C. transportation after Gabe Klein," in the Post that the types of "progressive" transportation policies that DC is working to implement in DC are not necessarily examples of cutting edge programs. That these programs have been underway for awhile, etc.

From the article:

... But I think he'll wind up being remembered as a administrator who pushed the District toward the mainstream of urban transportation policy. There's nothing radical in the bike lanes program, or the streetcar program or the street-parking program, or the pedestrian safety program.

What looked to us here like cutting-edge programs would seem like catch-up to people in other big cities.

Just within our multi-jurisdictional region, you can see a greater focus over the past decade in each of those areas. It simply makes sense: Urban transportation planners are focused on giving people more choices about how to get around this crowded area. At the same time, they increasingly recognize the tie-in between transportation systems and development opportunities.

There is not one program that is ahead of the leading cities working on such policies, i.e., biking in Portland, Seattle, or NYC; streetcars in Portland or Seattle; transit improvement in San Francisco; etc.

And actually, us transportation geeks saw Dan Tangherlini, who led the calving off of DDOT from DPW, and spearheaded the linking of livability concerns into streetscape rehabilitation projects (first in Georgetown and on 8th Street SE/Barracks Row) in the same light that today's transpo geeks see Gabe Klein.

That being said, there is no question that the various programs--cycletracks, expanded Circulator bus service, having a streetcar sitting out on the Old Convention Center parking lot (actually they should probably have left it there as a permanent display...), bikesharing, etc.--are far more visible under Gabe Klein as director of the department.

And from talking with staffers, they say that the constant focus by Gabe Klein on bringing about more progressive transportation policies has kept them working full-tilt on the various initiatives, and moving the programs (and the city) forward. In the words of one middle level official -- "I have never worked harder, from when I walk into the office until I leave late at night."

(Image: Toy--edushape My Soft World City Block Set.)

Still, Vince Gray is smart as a whip, was an early supporter of streetcars as a Councilman in Ward 7, and I think he understands the value of transit and other sustainable transportation modes to livability and economic development. My understanding is that the planning documents concerning transportation for Mayor-Elect Gray's transition planning recognize this.

I'm sure the decision for who to pick has already been made, but since so many of the comments in the blogosphere say that it's important to have more African-American agency directors, I'd suggest Nathaniel Ford, director of San Francisco's Municipal Transportation Agency.

He is in the running for WMATA GM, which pays better, and moving to DC for the director of DDOT would be somewhat of a lateral move, and may not pay enough (plus, he's in San Francisco!), but MTA there incorporates the local transit agency (MUNI), plus transportation like DC's DDOT, taxis (which in DC is under a separate agency), parking management and enforcement, and traffic enforcement (the division of the police department that handles this is under MTA now). They have an amazing streetscape improvement effort, and given that it is San Francisco, top agency officials are clued into public involvement.

-- Presentation, Sustainable Mobility in San Francisco

At the Council level, the City Paper's Loose Lips column, "Seats of Power: Kwame Brown May Anger Colleagues With Committee Assignments," has speculation too about who will be selected for the various council committees, including the Transportation and Public Works Committee. Long time chair of this committee, Jim Graham, would like to keep the committee. Councilman Tommy Wells, who positions his efforts as Ward 6 Councilmember on "livability and walkability", also wants the committee.

Because CM Wells has a more global perspective and systems approach to the subject, I'd rather see him get the committee, although this difference in approach isn't typically the kind of criterion that influences such choicemaking on the part of the Council Chair.

On the day of the launch of Capital Bikeshare in late September, I ran into a Council staffer and we talked about planning and transportation agency heads, given the election results. Then, we both figured that Gabe Klein was toast, if only to satisfy various complaints of various constituencies that supported Vince Gray in the runup to the primary. The staffer pointed out that while there might be criticism of Harriet Tregoning, she had a great relationship with Vince Gray in his role as Council Chair, and she would be likely to stay on.... We'll see if it's as Planning Director or as Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

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