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, March 12, 2015

WMATA and the two types of public relations programs


One type is focused on putting lipstick on a pig.

The other is a strategic approach to righting an organization's mis-steps.

My sense is that WMATA's move to hire some public relations firms are more focused on putting out a better story, rather than a strategic rethink.  See "Metro brings in high-powered help to rebuild its image" from the Post.

It happens that in late 2009 I wrote extensively on this issue, making the point that in the aftermath of the Fort Totten crash, where many people died, it is necessary to reconstruct the metropolitan consensus about the role of public transit and by extension WMATA in the community, how to pay for it, etc.

-- St. Louis regional transit planning process as a model for what needs to be done in the DC Metropolitan region"

The Metro Momentum planning initiative from the past couple years, focused on expansion, while important, wasn't aimed at accomplishing what I think is needed.

Recent events:

-- The fire at the L'Enfant Station in January, marked by poor emergency response and one death of a passenger plus many injured

-- the contentious search for a new CEO of the agency, one that is touching off a schism between jurisdictions ("Major rift in Metro's board disrupted search for new chief," Post)

-- the uniformly negative reaction to WMATA's proposal to increase fares (e.g., "Metro's tone deafness has no bounds," Post) in the face of serious service degratdadtion

-- to which WMATA responded by backing off ("Metro Fares Won't Increase This Year, But Service Cuts Still Possible," Washington City Paper)

make that recommendation all the more relevant today.


This document was published before the first segment of the Metrorail system opened in 1976, and was distributed as an advertising insert in the Washington Star.

But I made the point last year as well, in "WMATA 40th anniversary in 2016 as an opportunity for assessment."
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Then, I outlined four points that should be the main thrust of such a process:

1. Rebuilding the regional consensus for transit.
2. Developing a better understanding of the role of transit in economic development.
3. Developing a better understanding of the role of transit in placemaking and community development.
4. How to do better going forward.

But I think the financial element of how to fund the system needs to be a separate element, as should be how to plan and operate transit in the region.

A report produced for Toronto's Metro agency is a good starting point ("Metrolinx Toronto: 25 potential tools to fund transit-transportation infrastructure"). Note that DC's MoveDC transportation planning process does raise some of these issues, but in the DC context, and still not to the extent necessary, judging by the MAJOR DC SCREWUP OVER STREETCARS.

Plus, I've also argued that WMATA shouldn't be the primary transit planner ("(Sort of a repeat) Without the right transportation planning framework, metropolitan areas are screwed, and that includes the DC area.""), that the MPO should be.

So such a process should have at least six elements:

1. Rebuilding the regional consensus for transit.

2. Developing a better understanding of the role of transit in economic development.

3. Developing a better understanding of the role of transit in placemaking and community development.

4. How to plan and operate transit of all types in the metropolitan area, regardless of the mode (subway, railroad, bus, light rail, street, commuter bus, aerial tram, etc.).

5. How to fund transit of all types at the suburban, center city, metropolitan, and regional scales.

6. How to do better going forward.

Note that currently, Chicago and Toronto are undergoing similar discussions about the necessity of changing the way they are providing, funding, and planning transit.

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