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.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Go west complaining citizens, go west (to Portland) or east to the east (to Europe), if you want to see streetcars)

Go by StreetcarI didn't get to last night's hearing in Arlington County on streetcars.  Too bad.  According to the Washington Post, "Arlington streetcar forum gets noisy," the meeting was quite raucous.

The funny thing is that in 2009, after a presentation, I commented to Chris Zimmerman, a long-time member of the Arlington County Board and the most knowledgeable elected official in the region when it comes to transit and transportation, that what was interesting to me about Arlington County is that (I thought...) you didn't see the kind of reflexive a-knowledgeable opposition to transit that you get in DC with regard to streetcars or in Montgomery County to the light rail, e.g. as reflected in the 2011 Post article, "Arlington, Fairfax bringing streetcars back to life."

Little did I know how wrong I was.

The Portland streetcar turns left off NW 23rd at LovejoyWhat gets me about the opposition is that I don't understand how anyone who has seen streetcars work in Portland, Oregon (pictured right, photo from the Portland Oregon Daily Photo blog), or San Francisco, or in cities in Europe would come up with the arguments that they do about why streetcars (or light rail) won't work here, for whatever reason, in a metropolitan area that has--when it isn't down for maintenance--a highly (more or less, with qualifications) successful subway system.

Instead, opponents bring up spurious arguments such as:

- streetcars are 19th century technology.  Note so is the automobile, although granted, like streetcars and light rail, the technology has improved over the intervening decades.

The real argument they are making is that streetcars are mass transit and cars are personal transit.  In any case, modern streetcars reflect up-to-date technology and engineering.

- people won't ride streetcars/transit.  This is a pro-automobility argument sure, but in the DC metropolitan area in particular, certain cities and subdistricts within areas such as the Wilson Boulevard corridor in Arlington County and along the red line subway in Montgomery County and of course, DC proper, have some of the highest transit ridership percentages in the U.S. (outside of New York City and San Francisco). I just don't understand how anyone can make that argument with a straight face.

- transit investment isn't an investment to improve throughput (and comfort), it's strictly a giveaway to developers--"Development oriented transit" vs. "transit oriented development."  This is a variant of the fallacious "argument to the person."

All infrastructure investments in mobility improvement, be they for transit, roads for automobiles, ports for ships, airport expansion, etc., benefit nearby landowners and property developers.  That's been the case for hundreds of years.  So what.

Also see the study co-published by the American Public Transportation Association and the National Association of Realtors, The New Real Estate Mantra: Location Near Public Transportation.

- buses are better than streetcars because they are more flexible in the case of road breakdowns.  I will agree that there is a wee bit of truth, but only a little, to this point.  However, uptime in modern streetcar and light rail systems is extremely high, making this argument based on pre-1960 systems irrelevant.  Plus, a bus ride isn't more comfortable than a streetcar ride, and more people will ride streetcars than buses.

Although I will say that I read a quote recently by new anti-streetcar Arlington Board member Mary Garvey, and she made a good point, that the electric wire infrastructure is subject to storm damage, but the other benefits that come from fixed rail service are worth the occasional inconvenience that arises from storm damage.

Furthermore, it's not like the regular road network isn't subject to catastrophic breakdown on a trip basis, which was the subject of yesterday's Dr. Gridlock column.  With dedicated transitways and signal priority, fixed rail transit including streetcars is less subject to such breakdowns.

- streetcars upgrade transit service at the expense of the poor.  I don't understand this argument at all.  It's typically made by "progressives," which must mean that I am becoming conservative, even though I consider myself a progressive/leftist.

The root of the argument is that people need more service, and rail transit costs more than bus service, and since transit service budgets are more subject to decrease than increase, service to the poor will be reduced.

On the other hand, rail service is more reliable and more comfortable, which I think are key equity issues as well.  And by appealing to more choice riders, there is a larger political base of support for transit service anyway, compared to when transit is considered a social service only for the poor.

Still, we need to ensure that this argument doesn't become truth, so that expansion of fixed rail transit service doesn't come at the expense of cutbacks to bus service in areas not served by fixed rail transit.

- improving transit service -- streetcars vs. buses -- is more about gentrification and will displace the poor.  This is an argument that is being made in the context of transit improvements in Columbia Pike in Arlington and Langley Crossroads in Maryland.  It came up in last night's meeting too.  It's a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed simultaneously with transit improvement.

Especially because the examples that streetcar proponents like me tout--service in Portland Oregon, which started in large part as a redevelopment initiative for an old railyard, now called the Pearl District, Nob Hill, and Downtown, or in the South Lake Union district in Seattle--is absolutely about what Dan Tangherlini once called "Development Oriented Transit" rather than the more common term, "Transit Oriented Development."

But it isn't the fault of the transit system, but the result of a market economy that values real estate on the basis of its accessibility, which derives from its level of mobility connectivity.

Better transit means that property is worth more and rents rise.  People of lesser means can't compete.

That means ensure the provision of affordable housing, through portfolio investment and by building more units of affordable housing in new developments.

But like all of these kinds of arguments, the point isn't to use equity-regressive taxation arguments etc. to stop transit or gas taxes, it's to put in place programs and protections so that some people aren't made worse off by the change.

Arguably, over time too, the impoverished have more economic advantages because of their access to more robust transit infrastructure, access to more jobs in more places, and less need to spend money on an automobile (which costs $7,000 to $9,000 per year), etc.

There has been some interesting work in the Seattle area on transit equity issues.  See Puget Sound Regional Equity Network: Principles of Equitable Development.

And I definitely need to read this report from the Dukakis Institute at Northeastern University, Maintaining Diversity In America’s Transit-Rich Neighborhoods: Tools for Equitable Neighborhood Change.  From the report:

• For 64% of the neighborhoods around the new rail stations in the study (that's 27 of 42 total), population grew more quickly than the rest of the metro area.

• 55% of those neighborhoods showed a "dramatic" increase in housing production.

• 62% of those neighborhoods showed a faster increase in owner-occupied units than the rest of the metro area.

• 50% of those neighborhoods showed an increase in the proportion of non-Hispanic white households relative to the rest of the metro area. (The other half showed no change or a decrease.)

• 62% of those neighborhoods showed an increase in median household income; 60 percent showed a boost in the proportion of households with incomes of more than $100,000.

• 74% of the neighborhoods showed rents that increased faster than the rest of the metro area. A full 88 percent had a relative boost in median housing values, too.

One of the problems with streetcars, as opposed to light rail or subway projects, is that they are being done by local jurisdictions as opposed to regional or state transportation authorities, and therefore have fewer access to funds to develop mitigation programming. However, Arlington has been very much focused on equity issues as it relates to Columbia Pike.

But this issue, in a market economy, isn't fully addressable.  Some people, those with the least ability to deal with change, will be worse off.

Does that mean not improve transit?

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At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

excellent posting Richard. Is is astounding how many people have come out against streetcars on Capitol Hill- which was an area that was built BECAUSE of streetcars- and most of the opposition I have heard comes from the "historic preservation" people. This is very sad and shows how far they have drifted from what real HP is all about. Many of these people sound more or just as reactionary or as conservative as people in Loudon County Virginia- and they seem to be saying the same things. They want to have their 3 cars and to be able to park them for free. This is considered a right to these people.

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

A couple points re: Arlington.

1. A lot of the blowback is blowback against Zimmerman. Look I've raised money for him, worked on his campaigns etc, but he has turned into a little dictator who wants to be Arlington Mayor. The arlington mayor doesn't exist.

2. Related to that is the fear about cost controls, etc, which again the zimmerman controlled board has done a piss poor job with. See bus station for 1M etc with 400K in administrative costs. Also see that wasteful elevator in Rosslyn. Pete Rousset's columns are pretty good on this. Also look at his tenure at WMATA.

3. What is driving people's fear is cutbacks in bus service, since the streetcar doesn't go anywhere -- in particular the Pentagon and DC. Doubly so since Brac left CC a dead zone for offices.

4. Is it difficult to understand that people like the cheaper housing and real estate on Columbia Pike?

5. The benefits of up zoning are already there, and Colombia Pike from Glebe to the Pentagon is plenty wide enough to take all sorts of traffic.

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous rg said...

Excellent posting. The arguments against streetcars are all bogus, especially those who fancy themselves champions of the poor. If you really care about the poor, you will fight tirelessly to ensure that every neighborhood has quality transit service, which to me means rail transit. Quality transit spurs gentrification because it is scarce. Similarly, housing near quality transit is expensive because it is scarce.

I have come to the conclusion that the people opposed to streetcars are the people who take taxis or rent cars and do not ride transit when they visit Vienna, Berlin, Paris, etc. That must be the case, because anyone who has ridden a modern tram/streetcar in a European city knows how superior they are to buses: MUCH quieter (the modern ones glide by), much more comfortable and spacious, much smoother ride, etc. , etc., etc. (Here is an experiment for you: go to the Potomac Avenue Metro Station. Poll the people who are traveling downtown. Ask them if they prefer to take the 30 bus or the Metro. Guarantee that 90+ percent prefer Metro. I have that choice daily and I choose Metro 100 percent of the time. Buses have a role in a transit system, but they are slow, loud, uncomfortable, etc.)

You are correct that the opposition is surprising given the fact that we already have a successful rail transit system. But even in DC, only half of workers commute by non-automobile modes. It is a great commute share for transit, bike pedestrian. But it means there are still a lot of people who drive everywhere for everything. I guarantee you that most streetcar opponents are automobile dependents who are not regular transit riders. There may be the one or two transit riders among the bunch, but the majority of them drive everywhere for everything.

At 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

again- I have said this before and will say it again- "RG" for DC Mayor !!!

At 5:54 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

charlie -- wrt 3, it's really two different points, maybe but wrt "going nowhere," but why are the Columbia Pike buses the highest ridership buses in NoVA? Isn't the streetcar mostly just a replacement of those existing routes.

The cutbacks issue is a real one that I think needs to be acknowledged.

1 I lack the specific knowledge...

2 is a legitimate and serious problem...

At 6:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

rg -- sadly I have not been to Europe, but I have ridden the streetcar in Portland and SF, and New Orleans and Toronto and Philadelphia among others.

The New Orleans streetcar (I didn't ride the new Canal St. cars because it was post-Katrina, and I don't know if those cars are air conditioned) looks cool but is so damn uncomfortable.

The others are not.

The ride is so superior.

But I think in all likelihood you are 100% correct wrt the most vociferous opponents of transit. They drive.

Related to your point about Metro vs. bus, I remember in the first round of fare increases a few years ago, bus wasn't increased and the subway was, and some dude had a letter in the paper (I blogged about it), calling Metro riders "second class citizens" because by comparison, but riders didn't get a fare increase.

I made the same point you did, that there was no comparison in terms of quality and reliability (which has declined some as we know) between the ride on subway vs. bus. Hence the justification for a premium price.

Plus the transfer period was decreased by 1/2 hour, which is significant and a kind of price increase.

Note that I was looking at some ephemera I picked up about the start of the Metro, and then there was free transfer between bus and subway and vice versa. However, during the rush hours, there was a 15 cent premium for the subway which had to be paid regardless.

Note that the system, at least at first, didn't run on the weekends.

At 11:28 PM, Anonymous TomQ said...

Richard - thanks for the well written piece.

I'm surprised you didn't touch on this but DDOT at least seems mostly to be focused on streetcars as a means to more economic development and not as a means to improved mobility and higher transit usage. It doesn't make sense to me and if they stick to that position it likely means Connecticut Avenue is never eligible for streetcars and Wisconsin Avenue is also not likely to make the cut but from a transit perspective I suspect those two corridors would only trail 16th Street and Georgia Avenue as being best suited for street cars.

WRT to the gentrification/equity arguments isn't the big problem in the DC region that we have never built enough high quality public transportation to keep up with demand which results in only the wealthy being able to afford housing near Metro?

Of course there is probably enough land to resolve this conundrum near just the underdeveloped Metrorail stations in PG County but there is unfortunately little reason to be hopeful PG will ever get its act together on TOD.

But I've never been convinced DC should be investing in streetcars before fixing and expanding Metrorail.

Obviously Metrorail is much more expensive and hence more difficult to build but it also will serve many more people at higher speeds, cross jurisdictions and create much more economic development and once it is built its operational costs are from everything I've read even better than streetcars.

I'd much rather DC scuttle the streetcars altogether and concentrate on a separate Blue Line (which would almost certainly include a stop on H Street NE and increase transit options out of Union Station) and in the interim focus on bus only lanes on GA/16th/Conn/Wisc which could be accomplished by simply getting rid of parking on all of these streets.

DC will have already had the political fight about removing parking to increase mobility and that will increase ridership which will then make a stronger case for building streetcars because they are a better form of transit.

Last I heard DC is looking at spending about 1.5 billion on streetcars which I presume is in the vicinity of what DC's share would be for building a separated blue line.

But on a very practical level the craziest thing to me about the various streetcar/light rail proposals is that they join the already illogical and disjointed local bus systems in not being connected to one another or at least as currently proposed not crossing jurisdictional lines.

One reason Metrorail works so well is because it is regional and one reason streetcars don't make sense to me is because they will likely all be local.

So I can see the case for light rail in the burbs but have a harder time with it in the city where I think we have the history, density and need for more heavy rail.

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

TomQ -- wow, thanks for this. So much in what you wrote.

While I favor streetcars for neighborhood and transit improvement--both for current riders and to increase the likelihood of capturing more of the many people that rg points out still don't ride transit--you are absolutely right that streetcars ought not to be the city's foremost transit priority.

Unfortunately, the whole basis for streetcars was the acceptance by DC officials, including Dan Tangherlini, that WMATA would never expand the core of the Metrorail service, the so-called separated blue line.

The planning initiative for streetcars started right after WMATA devolved authority for expansion planning to the separate jurisdictions, and they scuttled all their then plans for expansion. This was around 2003, in the midst of a local recession, and budget problems for WMATA.

Arlington maintained mentioning the separated blue line concept in their transpo planning, but DC just f*ing caved.

Now that I know a lot more about planning and transportation planning, I think that was an incredible dereliction of duty on the part of DC Government and DDOT and planning generally.

The most important economic development initiative that DC could do would be WMATA expansion, in a variety of ways.

Streetcars are actually a fine initiative in terms of improving surface transit service.

I think the ED element that you mention is somewhat "spurious" only because, unless DC goes the ArCo route along transit corridors and allows for massive upzoning AND BECAUSE THIS WOULD MEAN REZONING RESIDENTIALLY ZONED LAND FOR HIGH DENSITY MIXED USE, the amount of ec. dev., except in Wards 5, 7, and 8, that will be generated by streetcars is "minimal", like you point out.

Even though the positive impact on livability, especially through reduction in automobile traffic (although it might just maintain the current levels, which could be acceptable in the face of likely increase in motor traffic associated with coming population increases) will be significant, and there will be significant positive ec. impacts, but nothing compared to the impact from WMATA subway access through expansion.

To me that justifies streetcars.

But again, only after getting the separated blue line going.

At 8:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

#2 -- So yes, DC's streetcar planning got even more parochial over time, not acknowledging that interdicting cross-jurisdictional traffic on the city's major arterials that serve as commuter corridors should be a key objective, and so the service should be conceived as cross-jurisdictional.

Back in the planning phase, I pointed out the possibility of such as service out Rhode Island Ave. and/or Michigan Ave./Queens Chapel Rd./Adelphia Road (in past blog entries).

Parochialism got even worse afterwards, to the point where the proposed GA Ave. line didn't go to Silver Spring anymore, but to Takoma. Takoma!!!!

But when you begin to look at the cross-jurisdictional possibilities, then you also have to look at light rail as well, which the city's "streetcar" planning has never done.

And ... heavy rail.

I think that there are light rail opportunities within the ideal mobility system, along with significant expansion of heavy rail.

HOWEVER, getting back to the previous comment, in order to justify Metrorail expansion beyond the separated blue line, like the proposed separated yellow line concept (first opined by Dave Murphy), you need some land use intensification, which again, crashes into the reality that unless you change the zoning a block or two in each direction from GA Ave., with a few exceptions, you don't have a lot of opportunity for significant amounts of additional transit-spurred real estate development. (E.g., look what's happening around Petworth station, which shows the value of connectedness, traditonal urban design, and selectively adding density.)

The lost opportunity where the Walmart will go at Missouri Ave. is a perfect example of what not having better transit connections means to very average developers.

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... but yeah, the basic model of the bus system is on radial corridors emanating from the core. That's how it worked back in the day.

And there wasn't a lot going on in terms of getting to and providing a lot of service in "the suburbs," because they weren't suburbs then so much as they were rural and relatively unpopulated...

Of course, these days, the relative prominence of the respective portions of the metropolitan area have flipped.

So yes, now there is more intra-suburban movement and the need to cross and connect the corridors (gee, I just realized I make the same point in bike planning).

This gets back to my point that we don't do true integrated mass transportation planning at the metropolitan scale here. MWCOG does not do it...

I make the point that the network ought to be planned at three scales: metropolitan; suburban; and center city; with intra-connections as well as subnetworks.

At 8:49 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I was reading the history of the green line on wiki, and I have to say tying this into Richard's perspective is brilliant. I can see why WMATA, after the green line, so FU, we don't want to do any more planning, let the local jurisdictions do it.

And the point we don't have a separated blue line, and instead a chaotic streetcar plan, because of failure at COG level is also brilliant.

IN terms of CP buses,

Yes, they are used. But they aren't being used to move up and down the pike, they are being used to move from places like Annandale, or Baileys, to metro stations and the pentagon. Or downtown.

I don't doubt that with a streetcar, you'll have more people moving up and down the pike as you build more condos there. But it will entail some cutback on bus service and you can see why existing bus users are scared. Arlington has done very little to reassure them either.

At 9:48 AM, Anonymous rg said...

As much as I love streetcars, I agree 100 percent re: a new crosstown subway. It boggles my mind that the District's number one transportation priority is not a new Potomac River tunnel and crosstown subway for a separated Blue Line. It as is if every one of our elected officials is completely ignorant of the fact that the District's competitive advantage versus its regional neighbors is the combination of great urban fabric and high quality transit service. No other area jurisdiction offers it in the quantity and the quality the District does. Given that fact, you would think that the Mayor and at least part of the Council would be focused like a laser on BOTH a new crosstown subway and streetcar/tram service (in dedicated lanes) on key corridors such as GA Ave, RI Ave, 16th Street,WI Ave, MN Ave and crosstown between Brookland and Woodley park via the hospitals. I'm not saying that the 11th Street and South Capitol Street Bridges are not important. They are, but mostly to suburban commuters. They are not especially important to cementing and building on the District's top competitive advantage, which, again, is the combination of great urban fabric and high quality transit. (I do love the super wide sidewalk on the the new "local" 11th Street Bridge, though.)

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Charlie -- as usual you make great points, but WMATA didn't give up responsibility for transit expansion willingly, even after the Green Line experience. Tangherlini and others basically got rid of the department.

-- "Metro Construction Projects Creak to Halt; Economic, Political Changes Cancel Expansion Plans, Spur Job Cuts, Early Retirements," Lyndsey Layton. Washington Post, July 13, 2003. pg. C.01.

At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

rg -- good point about the bridges. I am intending to blog about transpo priorities linking about 5 articles. Inga Saffron's friday column, the beltway piece from the weekend, a piece in the NYT about increases in VMT as the economy improves, the infrastructure Obama announcement, and an article in last week's WSJ about the significant expansion of freight rail.

The basic point is that people don't bat an eye with spending on roads, for little in return, but do for transit, + the lack of a nat. transpo. plans means we don't "force" more optimal decision making with regard to mode choice, and then investment in how to achieve the optimal network.

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

charlie, this is the post article...

Metro headquarters pulsed with big plans. P. Takis Salpeas, the head of construction, was swimming in fresh designs: rail to Tysons and Dulles, a Purple Line that would circle the city, a rail line over the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge, a new subway line through downtown that would finally bring Metro to Georgetown and release the railroad's choke points.

That was two years ago. Today, those plans have largely evaporated, victims of a soured economy and fractured local politics. Metro is not building the next generation of transit -- it is barely able to run its existing system. As construction money dwindles from the current fiscal year through fiscal 2009, Metro's stable of well-regarded architects, engineers and construction managers will be cut from 237 to 23.

"We're just a couple of years away from dismantling this capability," Chief Executive Richard A. White said, referring to Metro's technical capacity to build rail lines, stations and parking facilities and manage multibillion-dollar construction contracts. The jobs to be slashed include systems, civil and structural engineers; architects; contract administrators; and project managers.

Metro has two projects underway -- the New York Avenue station in Northeast on the Red Line and the extension of the Blue Line past the Capital Beltway to Largo -- but without an infusion of construction money, Metro soon will be out of the business of building.

"The fact of the matter is, we can't keep people on if we don't have new projects," said Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman (D), who represents Arlington on the Metro board. The dim prospects have spurred some Metro managers and engineers to retire early in what White is terming a "brain drain."

Metro's reversal of fortune can be traced to several factors. The completion of the original 103-mile system in 2001 ended the steady flow of federal money for construction projects. The softening economy has been draining cash from local governments, making them unable or unwilling to shoulder hefty tabs for new projects.

In Maryland, a pro-transit governor was succeeded by a leader whose top transportation priority is a highway, not a transit system, and whose state struggles in economic distress. And in Virginia, taxpayers rejected a sales tax proposal last year that would have raised billions for transit, including a critical chunk of money for the Dulles International Airport rail project.

"It's the perfect storm," White said, describing the swirl of conditions that have wiped away Metro's expansion plans.

In 1967, the federal government led the District, Maryland and Virginia to develop a vision for a regional transit system. Today, the Washington area lacks a similar political leadership to support the massive investment transit requires.

The federal government paid two-thirds of the $10 billion cost to build "America's subway" but has made no commitments beyond that. "Metro has no political champions," Salpeas said. "Who owns us? Who do we work for?"

Part of what's happening at Metro is a natural progression -- years of construction until the original plans were realized, followed by a transition to operation and maintenance. Other subways built after World War II -- Atlanta's MARTA and San Francisco's BART -- have followed a similar cycle. "Once the project is over, then you scale back to what you need," said Anthony M. Kouneski of the American Public Transportation Association.

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

part 2

But those systems are significantly smaller than Metro's and the dismantling of their construction departments was less traumatic, said Peter Benjamin, a former official at the Federal Transit Administration, who is Metro's assistant general manager of finance. "There isn't anything quite equivalent to building a 103-mile system and stopping," he said. Of the nation's subways, only New York's system carries more daily passengers.

What's more, the public expects Metro to keep growing, White said. "People around here want to believe there'll be Metro everywhere," he said, noting that Metro scores high in opinion polls, that Virginia wants to build rail to Tysons Corner and Dulles and that communities from Georgetown to Oxon Hill want Metro service. "It's really a question of whether there's the political will to do it."

For the time being, Virginia is studying whether to stretch the subway to Tysons Corner, but it is unclear how it would pay for that or an even more expensive extension to Dulles. Maryland is hunting for cheaper alternatives to rail for a Purple Line between Silver Spring and Bethesda and investigating whether buses could do the job.

Although the new Wilson Bridge is being constructed with room to carry a rail line, Maryland is no longer promoting the idea. And the proposal to add a subway line through the heart of the District met its demise as the city and its suburbs clashed over who would benefit and how it would be funded.

If Metro's engineers and construction managers leave, they'll take decades of experience and talent with them, White and others said. The agency has grown proficient at managing multibillion- dollar contracts, and the last segment of the 103-mile system was finished $160 million under budget and a year ahead of schedule. "We've developed this ability to do it faster and better, and now we're going to lose that capability," said Jack Donahue, who oversaw that last segment and is among those retiring early.

The transit system could rebuild its engineering and construction workforce if it were to get construction money at a later date, but that would take time and likely delay projects, industry experts said. "A good engineering staff is very hard to come by," Kouneski said. "When you have a stable workforce, especially in a highly technical area, trying to get that back is costly."

Metro could hire consultants to step in quickly and manage construction projects, but that's not in the best interest of the public, said David Gunn, the Amtrak president who has run Metro and subway systems in Philadelphia, New York and Toronto.

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Part 3

"Consultants have a model -- time is money," Gunn said. "The more time, the more money. Once you get in the hands of the consultants, you're at their mercy. . . . It's really important to have people on your staff who work for the authority, who are pursuing your goals and who drive the project. You want to keep a nucleus of key engineering folks. You need to keep institutional memory."

These days, the bulletin boards in the hallways at Metro are papered with fliers about retirement luncheons. Metro offered an early retirement package for nonunion employees last month. Of the 219 people eligible for the buyout, 112 took it. That's three times the number of retirements in a typical year, Metro officials said.

"I've been here and been a manager long enough that I can read the handwriting on the wall," said Tom Rampe, 58, a senior project manager who opted for early retirement after 15 years. "Within two to three years, they won't have enough work coming down to justify people of my paygrade. If new work doesn't come quickly, I'm not going to be needed."

Donahue also decided to retire early even though, at 55, he barely qualified. "It's very depressing," he said, describing the mood among the men and women who build things at Metro.

Tom Dorrier, an attorney, is leaving Metro after 25 years of handling construction litigation. "There's generally a sense of anxiety," said Dorrier, 60, who is retiring two years earlier than he'd planned. "If I were sending my kids to college, I'd be out looking hard for another job."

Salpeas has tried to postpone layoffs by lending about 40 employees to the D.C. government for short-term city construction projects, but that work is finished. In the next two years, Metro will build eight parking garages in the suburbs and hopes to construct a light rail demonstration project in the District.

White talks of finding new sources of funding, looking for construction money from the private sector and lobbying Congress and the White House for a renewed federal commitment to Metro, which carries hundreds of thousands of federal workers to jobs each day.

But from Salpeas's office, the outlook is bleak. He sits at a polished wood conference table that once belonged to Roy T. Dodge, an Army general who was the first construction manager at Metro.

Resting against one wall are ceremonial shovels used to break ground on the New York Avenue station and the Blue Line extension. The shovels and the table seem like artifacts from a golden age.

"It's a matter of months before we close the shop," Salpeas said. "And who's the loser? The public, because eventually, they'll need to build.

"This area continues to expand and grow. They're going to need Metrorail."

At 2:31 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Richard, thanks. After reading this weekend I actually was in the 18th st lounge the week it opened, and remembering this article in the paper, I am feeling very old.

I don't see Tangherlini's fingerprints. That being said, a major push for the willians/gandhi team was cutting back as much infrastrucure as possible to create budget surpluses in the short term. (it isn't rocket science, and a lot of goverments do this).

However, given your attributions and also Tangherlini's new push to get rid of the FBI building, he may qualify as the most unknown villian for DC in the start of the 21st century.

At 6:52 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, I recall Tangherlini did similar stuff, just later. (This article actually describes what happened under Richard White.)

But there is no question that the streetcars were taken up out of a sense that the separated blue line would never happen. Had a TIF district been created to start funding it back then, we'd maybe be just about ready to open it.

WRT the Silver Line, in a blog entry in 2006, I argued that the Silver Line should have been reconceived as the separated blue line, and used to jump the rest of the routing into DC, with the new bridge crossing.

David Alpert kindly did a map of this for me back then. Of course, the line is shown in silver, for obvious reasons.

Rather than a separated yellow line (a concept first proposed by Dave Murphy that I am now intrigued by), this map shows an city "circle line" proposal, which also provides service to National Harbor and a third line serving Union Station.

At 6:53 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... oh, the brown line concept started with MVJantzen, although in this version it's a combo of his suggestions and mine.


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