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.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

More on the proposed splitting up of DC's Dept. of Transportation by DC City Council

Today's Washington Post has a piece on the matter discussed in the past few entries, "Rival bureaucracies are not the way to manage traffic congestion in Washington, D.C.," and it quotes me--more succinctly than the three blog entries.  From the article:
“Council members do ‘ready, fire, aim’ all the time,” said Richard Layman, author of the blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space. DDOT needs to be reviewed and evaluated, he said, but “a unified agency is required, with a solid master plan.”

“Parking functions need to be consolidated, but within DDOT,” he said. “I’d even consider adding the traffic enforcement unit of the police department.”

Spinning off parking functions into their own agency might address the widespread frustration with confusing street signs that don’t match the meters. But, as Layman pointed out, there’s a downside: “A parking agency as Cheh recommends would privilege motor vehicle use of the public space for car storage.”
It gives me the excuse to do a very brief followup.

First, I have to reconsider the previous blog entry and list seven cities, not five, as peer cities for comparison purposes in terms of the organization of transportation functions and the delivery of transportation services:  London, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto.  That's seven and I listed five. 

Portland and New York City, even though they are outliers for different reasons, should be included because of how the departments are organized and what they do, regardless of physical size, population and other somewhat extraneous factors.

Second, I should have pointed out more clearly that the reason that taxi services haven't been regulated by transportation departments is that most cities started out with streets departments focused on building and maintaining roads.  It wasn't in their DNA to think about transportation more holistically.  So taxi regulation was handled by a different unit of government.  It's only as agencies reconceptualized their responsibilities more broadly--like with parking--have multiple functions begun to be consolidated within a single agency.

Third, with regard to the wacky DC City Council proposal, the basic point is that the best practice transportation agencies--London, New York City, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle--are consolidating transportation functions, not parceling them out to different departments.

And the f*ed politics in Philadelphia and Toronto that get in the way of those cities and how they are managing and executing their transportation functions ought to be something that DC's elected officials and stakeholders consider very carefully before moving further along on this slippery slope of bad policy.

Fourth, reiterating the importance of streets to placemaking and community identity, NotionsCapital calls our attention a Slate article, "How cars conquered the American City and how we can win it back," featuring John Massengale, co-author of Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (they used one of my photos in the book).   From the article:
"Part instruction manual, part history, part manifesto, the book argues that it is the street, more than anything, that shapes the city. In traveling to cities around the world and interviewing residents, pedestrians and businesspeople, Dover and Massengale found a remarkable degree of agreement about which streets are nice and which are not. “If there is so much consensus on what makes a good street,” they ask, “then why are we still building so many bad and ugly ones?”

Again, putting streets into a separate agency from "sustainable transportation" is nonsensical. Either do what SFMTA did, which is make over the "streets" department into a division concerned not just with throughput but quality of life (there the division is called "Livable Streets") or do what TfL did and put non-rail transportation into one department called "Surface Transportation."

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At 2:12 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

what's funny -- and thanks for the reference -- is that DC may have one at the earliest "streetscapes" in the US. So much concern about overhead wires, lighting, etc. Not to mention the delibartely wide avenues and streets.

And the viewshed concept.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

absolutely. You can't say DC was the first planned city. You have Oglethorpe with Savannah and other cities, but in many ways the L'Enfant Plan was a big step forward, especially the radial arterials, which cut the distance for walking (and biking).

E.g., yesterday, a guy was biking faster than me, but turned onto the MBT street route, I stayed on Ft. Totten Drive/Hawaii Ave. etc.

He caught up to me at Monroe St. and said "can I ask you a question?" I replied "it's a 3-4-5 triangle, you went on the 3-4, I went on the 5..."


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