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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Transportation Wish List: 2015 edition, part one, the original list

In 2007 and 2008 I produced long "transit/transportation/mobility" wish lists, focused on DC. Someone who happened onto the 2008 list, commented that it's still pretty good, and wondered if I had other ideas.

Here is the 2008 list, edited somewhat, with new items in a follow on entry.


1. Creation of a transit withholding tax assessed on DC-based workers (70% of DC based workers do not live in the city). Depending on the rate, this could generate up to $250 million annually. Such a tax is assessed in certain counties in Oregon to support transit there. It would have to be used solely for transportation system improvements, and yes, that includes roads, but in the interim would likely be focused on transit improvements.

2. Dedicated funding stream for WMATA/transit. Note that this proposal for a transit withholding tax is separate from the Tom Davis initiative to match a $1.5 billion federal contribution to the WMATA system, in return for each of the jurisdictions creating a dedicated funding stream. A dedicated funding stream would merely protect the funding stream for current operations. The idea of a withholding tax is to fund system expansion and significant improvement.

3. Increase the gasoline excise tax at the national level, as well as at the state level in DC, MD, and VA. Regionally, excise taxes have to be increased together, otherwise on the borders, people will cherrypick and buy gas at the place with the lowest prices. Use these funds to support transportation improvements to streets and transit.

Subway, Streetcar, and Railroad Expansion

Transit expansion in the Washington region. Conceptual map produced by David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington. Recognize that heavy rail is expensive. It can pay off when it helps intensify development and density in significant ways, and adds amenities to neighborhoods. DC's core has revitalized in large part because of the presence of transit. By adding more high capacity service at the core, DC will strengthen its competitive advantages vis-a-vis the suburbs in terms of efficient mobility that is not dependent on the automobile.

4. Commitment to the creation of the separated blue line subway, now colored Silver, in the center core of DC should be the number one priority for the use of this money including adding another NoVA tunnel crossing (which Virginia should help pay for).

5. Develop the Brown line as suggested originally by Michael S. Although, this line has changed quite a bit from Michael's original proposal. Instead of putting the line on the already congested red line, we suggest an alternate routing down North Capitol Street, which can provide service to the city's number one destination without high capacity transit, the Washington Hospital Center, as well as to the Armed Forces Retirement Home, which is going to develop a portion of their campus, and other locations.

6. As can be seen from the map, additional infill stations and extensions are included such as those suggested by Alexandria for Potomac Yards (see "Alexandria officials tie development to new stations" from the Examiner) and a Yellow Line station for the Jefferson Memorial. It also adds service on the blue line to Fort Belvoir, and includes an extension of the green line out to BWI Airport and beyond.

7. In building these lines, consider double tunneling or adding a third track so that there can be express service and greater capacity than on the lines currently. (I don't understand why the WMATA system can't run trains as frequently as NYC subways can.)

8. Add those walkway connections between Farragut North and Farragut West, and between Metro Center and Gallery Place (and elsewhere as appropriate with the extended system). David's map shows these.

9. Create a single railroad system for DC-MD-VA. Rather than having two separate systems oriented to commuters, although Maryland is in the process of transforming the MARC system to a 7 day system, with more service later in the evening, the region would be best served by one system that is vastly expanded. (Think of the equivalent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey but for the railroad system.) And connect MARC to SEPTA.  I suggest calling this system the RACER, standing for the Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region
Proposed map of a Washington-Baltimore regional rail system
BeyondDCs conceptual railroad map for one regional railroad system for DC, Maryland and Virginia, including service to parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

10. Yep, build out the streetcar network.

11. Emphasize the cultural heritage tourism aspects of streetcars. For example, the Market Street Railway in San Francisco runs streetcars from many systems around the world. Similarly, heritage streetcars (and/or replicas) can be integrated into the system to provide service at the sub-district level, such as in the H Street commercial district.

12. Tunnelize the Metropolitan Branch railroad line. This is a stretch. It would cost billions and would involve creating tunnels for both the railroad and the subway. But it would allow for adding capacity to that line, which is quickly moving to capacity, and given that the subway line is bracketed by CSX railroad tracks, it can't expand except by having double stacked trains, which we can't do because of the way the tunnels and bridges exist.... (Note that a railroad, maybe CSX, maybe Norfolk Southern, is making their line from Chicago to Richmond capable of carry double stacked containers the whole route. This means adjusting tunnels and bridges...)

Note that this isn't a priority for me, but I think it should be listed nonetheless. It should have been done in the late 1960s when the subway system was built. Now it's too expensive and it wouldn't really create much in the way of new developable land, which would have been able to help fund the change.

13. Water taxi service. David of Washcycle suggested adding Water taxi services between Georgetown and National Harbor, Alexandria, etc. I don't know about that. First, water taxis are different than ferries. I don't know if the distance between say Georgetown and National Harbor or Alexandria is short enough for water taxi service to make sense, and is there enough demand for year-round service? Would there be enough regular riders?  But it should still be explored. Shorter routes, say between National Airport and DC, along the Anacostia, between the Baseball Stadium and the other side of the river, might make sense.

Roads, streets, streetscape, parking

14. Streets as places. This is a major new initiative by the Project for Public Spaces, making streets for people as much as cars, the way it used to be (Streets as Places). Bill Schultheiss, an ANC6A Commissioner and a transportation engineer, has a presentation on "traffic calming" which really is more about "streets as places," although he doesn't term it as such. We need to get him out showing this presentation around the city.

15. Use pavement materials more selectively to manage driving speeds. Cars are engineered to go very fast. Roads are engineered to accommodate cars. Even though the posted speed on DC's major streets--the streets downtown and those through commercial districts and neighborhoods--is 25 mph, the actual pavement installed, concrete or asphalt, enables speeds of 50 mph to 100 mph, regardless of the surrounding context. Too often, people drive to the speed that streets and cars are capable, not to the speed that is appropriate for the context.

Change the road construction materials to match the desired speed conditions, particularly in neighborhoods. It would be the best traffic calming device there is. (I don't know if this can be done on roads that receive federal funding.)

Belgian block!
Belgian block, Monument Avenue, Richmond
Belgian block on Monument Avenue, Richmond

16. Intra-city HOV requirements.   Alexandria has HOV-2 requirements on Washington Blvd. and Rte. 1 during rush hours.  This should be done within DC on certain roads during rush hour periods as well, to reduce the number of single occupancy vehicle trips. Streets such as Rhode Island Avenue, New York Avenue, Constitution Avenue, Independence Avenue, etc., come to mind. (This idea was first proposed by Patrick Hare in an op-ed in the Washington Post in the early 1990s. Change takes a long time. And needs champions.)
HOV 2 Lane in Alexandria
Washington Boulevard, Alexandria.

17. DC is already rolling out new bus shelters and a bike rental system. Keep up the momentum, including more streetscape improvement projects, the creation of bicycle trails including the Metropolitan Branch Trail, etc. But do better signage. Include bike map trail signs and put up bicycle maps in Metro stations and in bus shelters.

18. Take on the parking mafia. Do a parking study of the entire city, comparable to what Seattle did, and change requirements accordingly, including a paradigm of shared parking systems in commercial districts. As a result, Seattle eliminated parking requirements in certain areas, including around transit stations, stating:

Lower parking requirements based on local demand and to support alternative transportation. In Urban Centers and high capacity transit station areas, allow the market rather than the code to determine appropriate parking supply.

19. Speaking of parking and curbside management, change the residential parking permit system in DC to one that emphasizes the privilege, rather than the right, to park. 40% of the people in DC do not own cars. Why should the 60% that do be privileged with practically free parking spaces?

a. Residential parking permits should cost a lot more generally. As you probably know, Prof. Shoup estimates that the value of the public space on the street is about $1800 annually.

b. There should be a limit on how many residential parking permits can be issued per household. Only one car can fit in front of a typical rowhouse. Multiple cars per household should be discouraged.

c. The rate for residential parking permits should go up considerably for each additional permit per household address.

d. Parking permit rates should be weighted according to how large a car is, and its carbon footprint (maybe). One of the big problems I'd say anecdotally is that people in the city may only be buying one car, but it is much much larger than it used to be (an SUV). This further reduces available parking inventory for residents.

Surface Transit System Improvements

20. Improve the bus service. I say do this before thinking about streetcars. We need to make bus service exciting and sexy, in order to boost transit use. I recommend better marketing and wayfinding systems, better bus shelters (coming) and waiting stations, and probably sexier buses, which to my way of thinking, would be double deckers, on routes that could accommodate them. Double deckers are 40 feet long, and more maneuverable than 60 foot articulated buses.

21. Create intra-neighborhood transit (bus) services so that people can get to and from local services, commercial districts, schools, libraries, and to and from transit stations without having to drive. This includes delivery services of "freight" such as groceries. In my transportation and land use paper, I call this "tertiary" service (based on the Arlington model of the primary and secondary transit network, see their transportation plan). And it's not like we don't have a form of this now, at least within the city. Most neighborhoods have access to some bus service, although many people may not use it because it is circutuitous or because they feel that the bus service is beneath them.

22. I don't believe that transit needs to be free, but make intra-neighborhood bus service free. Many clamor for such. But cost isn't the biggest barrier to using transit. And places like Portland have the Fareless Square--funded in part by their transit withholding tax. But I think that equity issues make a downtown oriented fareless square somewhat unfair as the biggest beneficiaries would be the people with jobs downtown, who tend to not be those with the greatest need.

23. Dump what I call political bus service. Many of the shuttles suggested have anemic ridership, and are offered in response to plaintive cries from businesspeople, but don't have an adequate justification from a transportation ridership perspective.

24. Improve all "transit waiting environments" in the city. (See the report from Ohio: Transit waiting environments.) DC's bus shelter program is only for bus shelters. It doesn't impact WMATA bus shelters, and it doesn't impact bus stops that don't have bus shelters.

Improving transit marketing

25. Improve marketing. For the most part transit in the region is promoted in a very stodgy way. Shake things up... Start by changing the graphic design scheme of the buses and Metro signage. Make the buses and signage pop graphically as much as the map already does.

26. DC needs to create "Mobility" stores to market walking, bicycling, and transit to DC residents and commuters, but as a lifestyle, not merely as mode shift for commuters. This extends Arlington's Commuter Store beyond the overwhelming focus on commuters towards encouraging residents (and commuters) to utilize transit, walking, bicycling as the preferred way to get around for all kinds of trips, not just to get to work.
Arlington County Commuter Store

27. Improve wayfinding and transit information. It's okay, but could be a lot better, and transit stations need to be better utilized as "touchpoints" for marketing the use of the transit system, especially for tourists. Bus shelters are a key place for this especial

Transportation Planning

28. Create a transportation plan for the city that isn't wimpy, that addresses parking and curbside management, makes transportation demand management and planning the baseline standard, that sets a goal of reducing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips in the city.

29. Link transportation and land use planning in DC by revising the approach of zoning to mobility-access-land use planning.

30. Make the Department of Transportation planning unit a part of the process in Board of Zoning Adjustment and Zoning Commission matters. Right now, BZA blows off reports from DDOT. They should be a required part of the process and considered just as important as the staff reports provided by the Development Review division of the Office of Planning.

31. Create transportation management districts centered around key commercial districts, and stressing transportation demand management planning, shared parking systems, time shifting freight delivery, shared delivery services for consumers, and include accommodations for bicyclists (lockers, showers, racks on the street, etc.), among other things. Have parking meter revenues go to the TMDs rather than the City's General Fund, for neighborhood-based mobility enhancement. This means encouraging car sharing systems.

Transportation System Management and Advocacy

32. Somehow, the composition of the WMATA board needs to be addressed. I am not sure that having a separately elected board is the right way to go, because since the system is funded by individual jurisdictions, you want those people participating. But the fact is that there isn't enough long range planning and advocacy going on, and many of the decisions made are very political, rather than being oriented to maintaining and extending the best possible transit system that the region can achieve.

33. Transit Advocacy Conference. I have suggested this for awhile. The idea is to push the transit agenda forward in citizen supportive ways. The debacle in Virginia over the Silver Line, contrasted with the success in Montgomery County especially, of getting the Purple Line light rail back on the agenda, shows the value of civic engagement and the occasional massive failure of government controlled processes.

Even bigger issues

34. Somehow, and this would be best done nationally, eliminate free parking. As long as people can park for free, it will be difficult for transit to compete, because people do not calculate the sunk cost of a car into their calculations for the cost of driving vs. transit. Still, for transit to be competitive it means that the system needs to be dense and efficient in order for trips to be quick.

What I am leaving out

35. Congestion charges, or putting tolls on the bridges, or related distractions.

36. And for the most part, this is a DC transportation plan, so it doesn't look at suburban transit expansion, except in certain ways as it impacts DC in very specific ways (i.e., the "new" Silver Line or the Brown Line).



At 10:21 AM, Anonymous rg said...

All excellent ideas that are not going to happen under the current Mayor. She is just not a transit mayor. She comes from the most car-dependent part of the city. She drives everywhere for everything as do most of the people she associates with on a regular basis. Even when she was a regular worker bee, she worked out in the suburbs and drove to work, so she has no experience of using transit on a regular basis. Unless seriously pressed, she will do the bare minimum needed to placate transit advocates, no more. I would be willing to bet that she is not even aware of the fact that drivers are a minority in terms of the District's commute mode share. Even is she is aware, she certainly does not care about the non-car commuting majority that make up her constituents.

It boggles my mind that she, and so many on the Council do not understand that Metro (not brilliant political leadership) is THE reason for the District's reversed fortunes. Sure, the general trend in favor of urban living would have meant that a few District neighborhoods would have experienced a comeback. Georgetown, close-in Capitol Hill, maybe some spread of Dupont towards Logan. But that is about it. Heavy rail transit is what cemented it. Columbia Heights, Petworth, Barney Circle and many other neighborhoods would still suffer from major disinvestment and flight absent the construction of a heavy rail transit system.

Smart leaders would be doubling down on that formula for success and building a new Potomac River crossing and new crosstown subway tunnel AND investing in a streetcar network. The former is especially urgent, given how long it takes to complete such a project in this country. Instead, we get the almost always empty Circulator that runs between Potomac Avenue Metro and Skyland and our political leaders pat themselves on the back for "expanding service" caring so much about the community.

At 10:38 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

ah, now you should read the updated list of new items, especially 1-4.

But I didn't discuss the Circulator issues, except obliquely, with the mention of the King County bus service guidelines.

I hate to admit I haven't read much of MoveDC. It and me didn't have congruent timing.

But theoretically it should lay out a strong foundation and justification for prioritizing sustainable transportation policy as fundamental city policies.

... anyway, the Circulator issue would be lopped into the "political bus service" section of the original list.


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