Proposed changes to DC's transportation agency structure as another example of acting without solid planning: Part 2, what should happen to DDOT
The previous blog entry ("Proposed changes to DC's transportation agency structure as another example of acting without solid planning: Part 1, the problem") about the proposed legislation, Bill B20-0759, Transportation Reorganization Act of 2014, to reorganize DC government's transportation functions focused on internal and external issues within the DC Department of Transportation and the government, in particular the executive and legislative branches.
DC is the only city-state in North America and has the ability to organize local government functions in a transformational fashion, because it has unitary government, with local, county, and state functions combined into one and local taxing power (full income tax revenues from residents although it lacks the ability to tax workers who don't live in the city), for a fully urbanized city.
This article focuses on how the transportation functions within DC Government should be (re)organized, but rather than split up the agency it should bulk up even more, but to do so it would need better managers and more managers and the Council and Executive Branch would have to commit to top notch appointments, comparable to Janette Sadik-Khan or Polly Trottenberg in New York City or Peter Handy of Transport for London ("London Calling," Mass Transit Magazine), or Jay Walder of Mass Transit Railway Hong Kong (ex-Transport for London, ex-NY MTA).
1. The biggest problem is that DC's elected officials "don't know what DC wants to or should be" transportation-wise.
DC Primary Transit Network.
At the core of the city, DC has 31 subway stations, and it should be no surprise that virtually all of the neighborhoods served by these stations are successful, and if they have the capacity, are growing either in terms of residential or commercial space, depending on the type of district, even if this wasn't the case as recently as 7 years ago.
Right now there is no consensus within DC's executive and legislative branches about the purpose and priorities of the transportation function within government.
It's not just the lack of a plan, because there is the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which functions as master transportation plan in theory.
Partly it's because the city is both urban and suburban as I have discussed here, "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city" and "Understanding why Upper Northwest DC residents don't buy into the sustainability mobility paradigm."
But it's more than that. With few exceptions, it doesn't seem as if City Council members and other stakeholders get the fact that transit, especially fixed rail transit subway service, is absolutely vital to the city's competitive advantages within the metropolitan area as a place to choose to live, locate businesses, visit, and be entertained. For example the recently touted DC Economic Development Plan barely mentions transit and fails to acknowledge its foundational importance to the city's economy.
I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the various proposals touted by City Councilmembers on transportation matters, from tax exemptions for gas stations to tolls on the 14th Street bridge, special parking privileges for funerals, the "performance parking districts" in neighborhoods, and now the proposed legislation to deconcentrate transportation responsibilities. Most die, but unfortunately many of these bad ideas become law.
2. DC has been able to make bad decisions on transportation because it has a robust foundation produced by the L'Enfant Plan, the concentration of federal government agencies, and the WMATA subway system to fall back on.
L'Enfant Plan, Washington, DC (1791).
As a city, DC is second best in the nation in terms of the number of trips conducted by sustainable means--through walking, biking, and trnasit. NYC is first. After NYC, other cities do better than DC in terms of walking mode share and biking mode share, but in the combination of all three modes DC excels, even though DC isn't particularly dense compared to NYC.
So for all of the talk at how great Portland, Oregon is on sustainable transportation, sure they have more bikers than DC, DC does far better overall on the three modes. The same goes with Arlington County, Virginia. They work very hard to reduce motor vehicle traffic and have done very well. Still, DC does better because of our urban form.
The reasons for this are (1) the grid structure of the L'Enfant plan, which was designed to optimize walking, including the then innovation of radial avenues which shorten the distance between neighborhoods compared to being only able to travel at right angles, (2) the fact the same urban form is equally robust for biking and transit, (3) neighborhoods that are somewhat dense and mixing uses, (4) the concentration of federal agencies and (5) the federal government transit benefit, which is free to employees, and subsidizes travel to work--as many as 65% of all trips to DC's Central Business District are conducted using transit.
3. When DDOT was created. Like many other jurisdictions, for a long time, DC's transportation functions were located within the Department of Public Works. In the late 1990s, a new transportation unit was created within the DPW with the intention of being spun off as a separate agency. When the split happened, it was best practice.
However, parking enforcement remained within the Department of Public Works, the functions of the Department of Motor Vehicles--licensing of drivers, registration of motor vehicles, certification of vehicle safety, handling of residential parking permit issuance--remained within that agency, and the DC Taxicab Commission also continued as a separate agency.
Over time certain functions were brought into the agency, such as public space permitting, which had been handled by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and the management of street trees in the public space was organized within the Urban Forestry Administration.
4. The failures in DDOT are failures in external and internal vision and management by the Legislative and Executive branches. That's what needs to be corrected and a movement of functions to different agencies won't fix anything. Especially if average and sub-average people are appointed as directors and the agencies are underfunded in terms of staff and planning capacity.
5. Making a separate parking agency is a bad idea. Making a separate transit-multimodal agency is a bad idea. An agency devoted to parking will prioritize car storage in the public space rather than optimize the use of this space for multimodal transportation--for example prioritizing parking comes at the expense of dedicated transitways that might take away parking. As it is now, DC policies prioritize the privileges of car owners even at the expense of other residents who may use cars but don't own them.
Despite a separate parking agency being a bad idea, there is no question that DC needs better parking planning (see "Testimony on parking policy in DC") and policy, and it needs to include public and private parking, rather than just focusing on street parking.
Integrating public and private parking into one system could involve providing wayfinding signage on parking inventory, as is done in San Jose, California.
Transit and multimodal planning cannot be divorced from street operations.
And street trees are a key element of placemaking and character qualities of neighborhoods and the city and should be subsumed within DDOT as they are today, in a repositioning towards making streets great places in multiple dimensions. David Barth, one of the nation's pre-eminent parks planners, argues that cities should treat "streets as linear parks."
In that vein, moving street tree responsibilities to DDOE is short-sighted because it ignores how trees and planting strips are character defining elements of neighborhoods and districts within the city.
This entry, "The meta regional transit network," discusses how DC transit planning should be conceptualized. (Note that it's a broader problem than just within DC, see "Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning.")
This entry discusses public realm framework planning as it relates to streets and transit, "Transit, stations, and placemaking." The Smart Transportation Guidebook is also a good resource in how it distinguishes roadside and roadway characteristics and desired traffic operating speed according to land use context and whether the roads are primarily serving community-neighborhood or regional trips.
Right: Interconnected public realm system diagram by David Barth, AECOM.
These entries discusses best practice bicycle planning "Ideas for making cycling irresistible in DC," "Best practice bicycle planning for suburban settings using the "action planning" method," and "Are developers missing the point on eliminating parking minimums?: it's to promote sustainable transportation modes."
The Toronto Walking Strategy is one of the best strategy documents on walking.
This piece discusses the DC transportation planning process, "Resources for becoming a learned participant in the DC master transportation planning process."
6. Yes, certain transportation functions need to be better consolidated and the best examples for DC are San Francisco and London. Instead of breaking apart DDOT, instead the agency needs to be bulked up, comparable in function to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (organization chart below right) or Transport for London.
The difference between the London and San Francisco agencies compared to New York City is that except for ferries, New York City doesn't have any transit responsibilities, which are held by a state agency. You could say that's the same for DC, but DC does offer and plans to expand some transit services, especially streetcar, separate from WMATA, the regional transit agency which provides subway and bus service.
And their transit systems are much much bigger than what DC will ever offer transit-wise separate from WMATA.
TfL is organized into three operating departments and three functional departments. All surface transport (roads, traffic, buses, bicycles, sidewalks-walking, and taxis) is in one unit, rail-- underground and railways--in another, and comprehensive planning is the third operating unit. Legal, finance, and marketing-communications comprise the other three functional departments.
Note that I would even consider the traffic safety unit and motor carrier enforcement functions within a local police department as appropriate for inclusion within a bulked up transportation agency, although I don't think that's done anywhere and not in SF or London. At the very least traffic accident investigation ought to be moved out of police departments, as they tend to have a pro-automobile bias when it comes to accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.
6. Thumbnail recommendations for reorganizing and strengthening DC's transportation functions:
- Merge parking enforcement (ticket writing) responsibilities into DDOT
- But adjudication responsibilities could remain within DMV or not, it doesn't really matter
- At least right now, keep the Taxicab Commission as a separate agency
- But task DDOT (or OP, see below) with planning responsibilities for the agency and make creation of a taxi plan a major priority
- Create a Deputy Mayor for Transportation in charge of DDOT, with DMV and the Taxicab Commission also reporting to this position
- HIRE GREAT PEOPLE FOR DIRECTOR, BUREAU, AND PLANNING POSITIONS
- Create a master transportation plan with a solid goals and policies element that prioritizes sustainable transportation, not unlike how San Francisco has a "Transit First" policy enshrined in the city charter, and comparable to Arlington's goal of "moving more people with less traffic" (extended discussion of "Transit First" in this past blog entry)
- Either unify planning responsibilities within DDOT's planning unit including mass transit and parking responsibilities not under their purview now or merge transportation planning functions into the DC Office of Planning
- REQUIRE MULTIMODAL INFRASTRUCTURE AND BROADER LEVEL OF QUALITY METRICS FOR OPTIMAL THROUGHPUT, rather than prioritizing motor vehicle throughput. Consider making infrastructure employees re-apply for their jobs by demonstrating competency and commitment to executing sustainable transportation priorities. (In the Netherlands and Denmark when they made sustainable transportation a priority, transportation department employees had to conform, not decide whether or not they would include sustainable elements on a case-by-case basis)
- Create a Transportation Commission, with citizen members and government representatives, comparable to the Zoning Commission, with oversight over all transportation functions including planning
- Reorganize the city's transportation operations into a series of "transportation management districts" prioritizing optimal mobility, especially sustainable transportation modes, rather than "parking" as the "performance parking districts" do today
- Keep Urban Forestry within DDOT because the transportation master plan should prioritize streets as defining character elements within neighborhoods and the city along the lines of what I call "Signature Streets" as an element of an integrated public realm framework.
... Arlington’s integration of transportation into all aspects of urban development emphasizes accessibility options and gives priority to the movement of people rather than only vehicles.
-- Arlington County Master Transportation Plan Goals and Policies Element
7. A couple more changes to consider:
- Moving motor carrier and traffic safety functions, including accident investigation, from the police department to the transportation agency
- Addressing the minimal penalties typically imposed on motor vehicle operators for accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists.
Labels: change-innovation-transformation, electoral politics and influence, organizational behavior, organizational development, provision of public services, public realm framework, transportation planning