Government officials (and advocates) typically don't plan for opposition: streetcar edition
This past Sunday was a memorial service for Paul Sprenger, husband of Jane Lang, both of whom were nationally prominent attorneys in the field of gender-, age-, and race-based employment discrimination ("Paul Sprenger, Lawyer Who Fought Discrimination, Dies at 74," New York Times).
It was at the Atlas Performing Arts Center ("Jane Lang, the spark behind H Street's Atlas theater, steps out," Washington Post), which before the involvement of Jane Lang, with the stalwart participation of her husband, had been mouldering for decades. Owned by the H Street Community Development Corporation, the asset was empty and the HSCDC was considering tearing part of it down, for parking.
The commitment to renovate the Atlas in 2002, construction and the subsequent re-opening in 2005/2006 was one of the seminal events fundamental to the current success of revitalization on H Street today.
Commiserating about the streetcar. I was surprised though that at the service, very few "H Street" related people had come, although there were plenty of people affiliated somehow with the Atlas. Most of the attendees seemed to know Paul or Jane in non-H Street contexts.
At the reception, I was talking with one of the "H Street" people I knew, who had worked for the Atlas for a long time.
As is typical in current conversations with people involved in the H Street revitalization effort, we lamented the streetcar "program" -- how the city has managed it poorly, which is why it has taken so long to come to fruition, missed dates for starting service, and all of the opposition that has cropped up as a result, people's complaints, etc.
E.g., one of my points is that if you see tracks and overhead wires, that ought to be a "cue" that streetcars are going to be implemented and that you need to take better care to park between the line and curb.
Expect opposition to land use and transportation change and prepare yourself to respond. But the big thing we discussed is the general opposition that gets expressed about the streetcar.
She says part of it is because people were told things that were not true as it turned out, in terms of when the service would start, where it would go, etc.
For example, planning failures by the government prevented the creation of a better connection with Union Station ("H Street Trolley Won't Get Direct Connection to Union Station," Washington City Paper).
She specifically felt burned by/lied to over and over by DDOT. Because she went out into the community as an advocate for the streetcar, in some respects the misrepresentations ended up seriously hurting her credibility as a representative of the Atlas and as a community member.
(Not a DC sign.)
I said the biggest thing that I learned from being involved in historic preservation in the H Street neighborhood first in 2001, later in Brookland (2007), and through observation, is that the DC Historic Preservation Office does not acknowledge that there will be opposition and doesn't educate advocates about this.
Advocates need to be "instructed" to expect opposition, to plan for it, to have their arguments honed, materials prepared, etc., before they even start to go out in the community with information about why a neighborhood is worth designating and their proposal for the creation of a historic district.
That lesson is extendable to most land use and transportation matters. There will be opposition. Expect it. Plan for it. If you don't plan for it and respond, you will constantly be playing defense.
And likely you will lose.
Planners and other public officials typically don't articulate very well the benefits to residents from specific land use and transportation changes. So many public officials of all types (appointed or elected) are such good speakers on many topics.
The economic return from the H Street streetcar is already considerable. While I wouldn't pick streetcars to be the #1 transit priority of the District of Columbia, there is no question that already--and the service isn't even in operation---hundreds of millions of dollars of real estate development is occurring on H Street now, and it wouldn't be happening without the streetcar.
Basically any project east of 4th Street NE is being built with the expectation of streetcar service.
The Apollo mixed use residential and retail project at 600 H Street NE, will have a Whole Foods supermarket as part of 75,000 s.f. of retail and 430 apartments. The construction value of the project is $189 million.
Besides this project, two others (H Street Connection, Jair Lynch Development Partners at 625 and 645 H Street NE) within a couple blocks of The Apollo represent an investment of at least $270 million. These projects, some of which had been discussed for years, but hadn't moved forward until streetcar service became more certain, are now happening, and total about $460 million in new/re-newed investment.
These particular projects will bring about 130,000 square feet of new retail--in fact a new CVS has already opened--slightly more than 1,100 new housing units and about 2,000 new residents, as well as upgrading a building leased to the DC Government, which will continue to operate it, supporting some office use on the corridor.
So why is it that these returns/benefits aren't being cogently articulated? That's a pretty big economic return for a transit service that hasn't even started.
Especially when other projects, albeit mostly smaller, are also underway or in development. There's even a new proposal for the redevelopment of the single use CVS at the intersection of Bladensburg and Benning Roads.
So why is it that I can articulate such returns--and these are only some of the benefits--while people working on streetcars and planning for the city or its agents seem tongue-tied? And the opponents are still getting more traction than the proponents?
Note that it was witnessing the creation of NoMA Metrorail station as infill development, which opened in 2004, and the multi-billion dollar economic impact on at least five distinct parts of the area--the neighborhood north of H Street; the blocks along 2nd Street NE/Delaware Avenue; NoMA west of the railyard; the area now termed Union Market; and Washington Gateway and the area north of New York Avenue in Eckington--which converted me towards becoming a transportation planner.
When done right, public investment in transportation infrastructure, particularly transit, especially in the context of a robust transit network, has the greatest and fastest return on investment.