Mushy vision won't yield great transit
Oops. Forgot the Purple Line points, which are just added to the last item.
David Alpert, founder-editor of Greater Greater Washington, the area's leading "smart growth" blog (which has long since supplanted this one) has a piece, also will be printed in the Washington Post I expect, responding to Aaron Weiner's--the Housing Complex columnist for the Washington City Paper--valedictory on "what Washington should do" written as Aaron leaves WCP to bring neoliberalism to Mother Jones Magazine, says "where are the big transit ideas?" which he says are:
- Build new Metro lines
- At the very least, add some infill stations
- Stop building streetcar lines in mixed traffic
WRT the last point, these days, even building streetcar lines, let alone in mixed traffic, seems to be a "big idea."
-- "A Man, a Plan, a Canard: Panacea," Washington City Paper
-- Beyond Metro, there's no big idea for transit in DC anymore," GGW (lots of comments)
-- same piece in the Washington Post but with almost no comments
First I'd say, read my blog. Although most of my big ideas are pretty old by now. (My criticism of GGW, as the area's leading "urbanism blog" is that it doesn't push theory and practice and vision very far forward.) But I just did an update a few weeks ago, based on a query from Will Handsfield, Transportation Director for the Georgetown Business Improvement District.
-- "Transportation Wish List, 2015: part two, new ideas
-- "Transportation Wish List: 2015 edition, part one," (the original list, from entries in 2007 and 2008)
-- "What it will take to get WMATA out of crisis"
-- "Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning"
-- "A National Mall-focused heritage (replica) streetcar service to serve visitors is a way bigger idea than a parking garage under the Mall"
-- "Night moves: the need for more night time (and weekend) transit service, especially when the subway is closed"
-- "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods"
-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable"
-- "NCPC study on height limit: hearing, comments"
Second, having a brief period working for an executive branch in local government, in Baltimore County, in FY2010 (my ability to stay there was scotched by the fact that the incoming County Executive, after the November 2010 election, didn't retain the planning director, who was trying to find a way to bring me back) was my searing experience learning about how things really work in government, something that most advocates don't appreciate.
In short, only the elected officials really have power, and staff are circumscribed by what is allowed by the executive (or their legislative bosses, if they work for the legislative branch)--you do what you're told.
So to do anything "bold," there are some fundamental and foundational requirements, which are mostly missing in action from the metropolitan area and its jurisdictions:
(1) having a robust regional planning agency, the Metropolitan Planning Organization--in the DC area it is the Transportation Policy Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments -- but DC's is not considered a best practice leader nationally, and has limited vision. By default WMATA is the area's transportation planning agency, and they only care about subway and regional bus services.
(2) great elected officials who understand the value of transit and its centrality to quality of life and commerce both, with an ability to think very long term, about the future, rather than just for today, make hard decisions and "lead" rather than merely follow.
Under the Gray Administration, the heralded "economic development plan" didn't even mention transit as one of the city's key competitive advantages. The DC Chamber of Commerce's leading agenda item concerning mobility is better timing for traffic signals. AAA rails against the city for speed and traffic camera-based ticketing, and bike lanes, which to their way of thinking, takes away vital road space from the automobile.
(3) the ability to pay for transportation infrastructure expansion without relying on the federal government--in a time when the federal government is disconnected and uncommitted to making extra-normal investments in infrastructure for the Washington region of any kind, let alone transit, coming up with money is tough. The areas are poor--not DC because we are a city-state, but we are wasting money big time on unnecessary capital projects, which makes such forward investment very difficult.
Critical Mass 20th Anniversary Ride, San Francisco, streetcars on Market Street. SF Chronicle photo.
Virginia added some financing capacity to Northern Virginia, but it still isn't enough. Maryland has encumbered a lot of their state transportation monies on roads.
I've suggested a transportation withholding tax--they have this in certain counties in Oregon, and in the transit catchment area for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York State. France's version is called the versement transport. In the Paris region, this tax covers 40% of the operational costs of the area's transit systems.
(4) to pay for significant transit expansion, DC would have to authorize an increase in allowable height in Downtown buildings, which would significantly increase the city's commercial property tax base, which would then increase the city's capacity to issue debt without over-taxing the budget
Dan Malouff's proposed map of a Washington-Baltimore regional passenger railroad system dates to the late 1990s.
(5) great planners and leaders of transportation and planning agencies across the region, to push for and make the case for integrating transportation and land use planning, and to take the heat from residents for doing it -- look at the strife over light rail in Suburban Maryland and over streetcars in DC and Arlington County.
E.g., DC has failed to lay out next generation urban design for the Rhode Island and Fort Totten transit catchment areas, which bobbles the opportunity to fully leverage the power of transit to transform communities. Some of the new development at Brookland and Takoma does a better job with this, but has been opposed by the community.
The Monroe Street Market, otherwise a collection of tall, multiunit buildings redefining the core of the Brookland neighborhood, will devote most of a block to rowhouses, when it should have also been multiunit to fully reinforce the new center.
(6) citizens who care about the future and are willing to objectively analyze the reality about mobility -- but with all the problems we've had lately concerning the Purple Line and streetcars, I don't have a lot of confidence... especially because most area residents are imprinted with an automobile centric land use and mobility paradigm, even if they live in the city, even if they think they are progressive (see "DC as a suburban agenda dominated city").
Tom Toles editorial cartoon, 2/10/2012, federal transportation bill.
Off the top of my head transportation ideas to improve quality of life and commerce in DC and Metropolitan Washington
This list is mostly focused on DC, but is extendable to the metropolitan area with appropriate tweaks.
1. Besides building more Metro lines, including the separated blue line, a Yellow Line out Georgia Avenue, and another "Yellow Line" from Fort Totten to White Oak, etc.
2. and infill stations (e.g., I wrote about the Pepco site, bringing back the Oklahoma Avenue station, etc. years before Aaron Weiner)
3. merging MARC and VRE into one regional railroad passenger service I call RACER (Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region), which would include electrification of the tracks between DC and Richmond, contra-flow services between DC and German on the Brunswick line, and services to Pennsylvania and Delaware as well as to DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, which are served by the systems now.
4. and integrating all modes of transit into one comprehensive planning system
5. with high capacity funding (versement transport, new building heights and bonding capacity, etc.)
6. making bus transit sexy including converting major routes to double deck buses (BRT isn't really it, but it is a start)
7. creating an intra-neighborhood transit system so that residents can move between home, commercial districts, supermarkets, schools and transit stations without having to drive
Since the early 1960s, the City-State of Hamburg, Germany has had an integrated planning, scheduling, and fare system for all of the transit services (bus, subway, railroad, ferry) serving the city and neighboring provinces. The organization, HVV (Hamburg Transport Association), does all of the transportation planning for the city-state of Hamburg, and the two adjoining states of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony. Various operators provide services, although Hamburg Hochbahn (subway and bus in Hamburg city) and the Deutsche Bahn suburban commuter railroad system provide the bulk of the services.
8. that is free of charge (like the Tempe Arizona Orbit system)
9. Lower fares, transit passes that are fairly priced, and discounted fares/passes for lower income residents
10. Creating a Night Owl bus service running along the subway station network, when the subway system is closed.
Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center station. LA Times photo.
11. doing amazing things with Union Station (also see next item), that are more amazing than the current plans including the integration of a major visitor center and transportation museum
12. Create a National Mall streetcar-based transit system integrated with visitor (tourism) services. Many European cities have transit lines that double as tourist conveyances. In SF, the Market Street Railway is a great example of what I am thinking about.
Map of the National Mall and Smithsonian Museums, National Park Service.
13. recognizing that transit stations (subway, railroad, and major bus transfer points) are major entrypoints-gateways into neighborhoods and upgrading them appropriately including artistic elements to Metro station bridges and canopies
Tunnel of Lights, Railroad Park, Birmingham, Alabama, "Light Rails" by Bill FitzGibbons. Photograph by Jenna Nicole Photography.
14. Making arterials integral civic architecture including multi-modality (my "Signature Streets" concept)
15. having more "commuter stores" and making them centers for the promotion and adoption of sustainable mobility modes
16. creating dedicated surface transitways (busways) Downtown and on key arterials
17. relatedly, adding a busway from National Airport to the proposed Long Bridge reconstruction to provide 24 hour transit service to the Airport and to provide redundancy for 14th Street Bridge
18. HOV2 requirements during rush hour on some major arterials
HOV-2 sign, Alexandria, Virginia.
19. an annual regional transit advocates-vision conference
20. undergrounding the through traffic elements of certain commuter-centric arterials in the city to speed their movement and take the traffic off the streets, which has debilitating impacts on abutting neighborhoods
21. and this point, resurrected from Mark Jenkins' original article proposing the Purple Line in the 12/4/1987 issue of the City Paper, of having Purple Line-Metrorail-passenger rail intersection stations (like New Carrollton or Silver Spring), potentially in Rockville, Alexandria, etc., become much better "train stations." Rather than the Silver Spring Transit Center being an example of what is possible, look at the new Anaheim Regional Intermodal Transportation Center.
But speaking of the Purple Line. Build it. And create the bi-county authority and transportation renewal district to offload state financing, to get the current Administration to approve it.
-- "To build the Purple Line, perhaps Montgomery and Prince George's Counties will have to create a "Transportation Renewal District" and Development Authority"
And start planning right now for the segment from Alexandria to New Carrollton, with service including National Harbor. Ideally the same could happen from Bethesda west to Tysons.