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, December 15, 2015

Top DC area transportation stories of 2015

[At some point, the numbering becomes arbitrary.]

1.  Gasoline/oil price drop.  While this started as a 2014 story, as the price dropped in half from June 2014 to the end of the year ("Oil Prices: What's Behind the Drop? Simple Economics"), now forecasters argue that low prices are here to stay, given drop in demand, increase in supply.

This impacts the cost-effectiveness of electric vehicles, increases vehicle miles traveled ("VMT Increases 19th Straight Month, Federal Report Shows") and reduces the demand for transit.  VMT has been decreasing on a per capita for some time.

2.  WMATA (DC area Metrorail subway service) tunnel fire at L'Enfant Station in January results in one death, continues to demonstrate safety and other operational failures.  Ridership continues to drop, while nationally, transit ridership is increasing.

In the fall, the US Department of Transportation assumed safety oversight for WMATA.  Later, Secretary Foxx of the US Department of Transportation, said that WMATA has no business working on expansion until it gets its operations right

Washingtonian's December cover story is on Metrorail ("The Infuriating History of How Metro Got So Bad").

3.  Continued degradation of the quality of WMATA's transit service/financial problems/ difficulty in hiring a general manager.  Paul Wiedefeld, who held various top jobs in Maryland, was finally chosen.  During the search process, top USDOT personnel took jobs elsewhere.  Elissa Knove is Deputy CEO of Metrolink in Southern California and Peter Rogoff is the new GM for Sound Transit in Seattle/Puget Sound (New Sound Transit CEO excited by big light-rail expansion," Seattle Times).

4.  In Maryland, Republican Governor Larry Hogan drops the Red Line light rail program for Baltimore City and County and reshapes the state's commitment to and the cost of the proposed Purple Line light rail program in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.  A few months later, plans to improve Baltimore-area bus service are put forward to make up for the dropping of the Red Line.

5.  The May Amtrak crash in North Philadelphia kills 8 and injures more than 200, leading to more calls for Positive Train Control, and problems on the Northeast Corridor line, at least for awhile.  The investigation for causes continues.

6.  The ongoing debacle of the DC Streetcar, in testing for more than one year, when cities like Dallas manage to complete the test phase and start revenue service in 6 weeks, gives automobility opponents of transit a lot to cheer about and anti-government folks the ammunition they need to denigrate the ability of government to perform generally and to construct infrastructure specifically.

Still, more than $500 million in new development is underway or planned on the H Street corridor, which can be attributed to the forthcoming streetcar.

By comparison, the Cincinnati Streetcar construction and launch project has entered its testing phase, although it is not scheduled to launch until September 2016 ("City: 'Live-power' streetcar tests in Downtown Tuesday," Cincinnati Enquirer).  Construction started in 2012.  This is ironic because the Cincinnati project is managed by John Deatrick, former chief engineer for DC Department of Transportation.

Photo by Sarah Ann Jump, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

7.  Tolling expansion.  In Virginia, the commitment is made to extend the I-95 lanes two miles further south to facilitate merging, although some believe it should be extended even further ("Stafford Supervisor rents billboard to get commuters views on traffic," Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star).

Plans to extend HOT access on I-395 ("Virginia to extend I-95/395 HOT lanes north to D.C. line," Washington Post).

Proposals put forward to toll I-66 ("State Approves I-66 Inside the Beltway Plan: Tolls Begin in 2017," Fairfax County) also used by Republican candidates in the 2015 election cycle to lambaste Democratic opponents.  New tolls and proposals for tolls in more places in Hampton Roads (Tolls articles archive, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot).

In Maryland, Governor Hogan cuts toll rates ("Governor Hogan Rolls Back Tolls Statewide," press release) the Inter County Connector begins to see increase usage, and the I-95 ETL toll lanes north of Baltimore experience more usage after opening in December 2014.

8.  Silver Spring Transit Center  (at right) finally opens in late September, without any ribbon cutting, because of the many year delays in opening ("Multiple missed opportunities in the creation of the Silver Spring Transit Center"). It's another example of transit infrastructure construction problems calling into question government performance.

9.  Death and violence associated with Metrobus service in DC (stabbing death at 8th and H Streets NE, shooting death of community journalist Charnice Milton at Pennsylvania and Minnesota Avenues SE while waiting for a bus, shots fired leads to a period of re-routing night-time bus services away from Elvans Road SE).

10.  Dulles Airport continues to lag National and BWI Airports.  Virginia Governor McAuliffe wants to put more money into marketing and other improvements ("Virginia Gov. McAuliffe proposes a $50M boost for Dulles Airport," Washington Post).  WMATA decides not to drop the 5A bus to Dulles, since the Silver Line won't serve the airport for a few more years.

11.  Railroad passenger service expansion moves forward.  Plans to expand Union Station and to improve rail service between DC and Richmond continue to move forward.  DC launches a "State Rail Plan" planning process ("State Rail Planning Initiative in DC"). Virginia Railway Express grows.  Why doesn't the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation DC to Richmond Southeast High Speed Rail planning process hold a meeting in DC?  C100 lawsuit against the Virginia Tunnel CSX expansion project fails.

12.  Biking.  DC proposes legalizing the Idaho Stop for bicycling.  Former Episcopal Bishop gets serious jail time for killing a bicyclist while drunk ("Former Episcopal bishop Heather Cook sentenced to seven years for killing cyclist," Baltimore Sun).  In DC, fines are supposed to go up for certain traffic infractions ("Violate DC traffic laws? It's gonna cost you — a lot," Washington Post).

After 12 years, Andy Clarke steps down as president of League of American Bicyclists (Q&A: The League's outgoing president on state of biking," BikePortland), goes to work for Toole Design, the transportation planning consulting firm based in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Greg Billing succeeds Shane Farthing as director of Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

13.  Richmond hosts UCI Road Racing world championships in September to such success that Discover Richmond Magazine and Richmond Magazine name bicycling as "Richmond's person of the year in 2015." The Virginia Capital Trail, a 55-mile path between Williamsburg and Richmond, is almost fully completed, over a ten year period, along with other bike infrastructure improvements spurred by the Road Championships.

14.  More transit oriented development in Fairfax County in the catchment area of the Silver Line, accompanied with belated acknowledgement of the need to improve pedestrian access around Silver Line transit stations ("U-Va. professor takes steps to measure Tysons’ path to a pedestrian paradise," Washington Post, and ridership below projections ("Silver Line ridership in Tysons well below Metro estimates," WAMU-FM).

15.  Car sharing.  Car2Go expands to Arlington County, Virginia.  Zipcar loses the franchise for car sharing exclusivity on WMATA station grounds to Enterprise Rent-a-car.  In DC and other locations, Car2Go adds a $1 surcharge per trip, capped at $90/year.

16.  More bike infrastructure improvements and planning.  More bikes and stations for bike sharing as Motivate, the successor firm to Alta Bike Share, invests in capacity, improvements, and innovation.  More bike lanes.  DC starts using brighter green paint in bike lanes.  The Potomac Yard trail in Alexandria and Arlington opens.

Montgomery County starts a new bike master planning process, focusing on "comfort."  Prince George's plans the Central Avenue Corridor trail ("Comments on Central Avenue Connector Trail concept") and looks to join in on bike sharing ("Prince George's considers connecting with Capital Bikeshare," Washington Post).  Baltimore, after some failed attempts, looks to launch bike share service as well.  Richmond too.

But why does DC continue to install bike non-compliant sewer grates?  Why was the opportunity to build a cycle track on Military Road missed? ("Lost opportunity to build cycletrack on Military Road").

A Split vehicle on Dupont Circle.

17.  New mobile-enabled transportation services continue to be launched in DC including jitney type services by Bridg and Split, carpooling via Uber, etc.  I don't think they are the "game changers" claimed by the firms, but they do expand choices and facilitate mobility.

Local firm TransitScreen deploys transit information media presentations around the country.

18.  More bike capacity on trains: weekend Penn Line MARC train service and simplified bike service now available on Amtrak along the C&O Canal National Park and Great Allegheny Passage trails between DC and Pittsburgh ("Amtrak Offers More Bike Service on the Capitol Limited").

19.  Gabe Klein, former Director of DC Department of Transportation authors a book, Start-Up City, published by Island Press.

 20.  People continue to die in traffic accidents.  In DC, more pedestrians die than motor vehicle operators and passengers ("Crossing a street in DC can be a dangerous undertaking," Washington Post).

But that makes sense to me, given that the nature of DC's road network means that extremely high speeds--a factor common to a preponderance of accidents nationally--are much less of an issue compared to driving conditions in the suburbs and exurbs.

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At 8:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Gas prices.

On measure of the irrationality of the American consumer -- and I mean that in an anti-economist sense rather than being negative -- is in the short term, people buy more premium gas rather than use the money saved in cheap gas.

Hence premium is at 70 to 80 cents over regular.

I have no doubt that in the longer terms cheaper gas will change behavior.

Also I'd add the "demand" parking plan in Chinatown.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I thought about the parking demand pricing thing, I don't know how big a deal it really is, at least not yet, how much street parking inventory there is in that area, and the expectations by people that they can find parking.

Downtown, the city should really step up and create an integrated parking wayfinding system with dynamic street signage, like in San Jose, CA.

The Downtown BID discussed this many years ago, but I haven't seen public movement towards it.

talking with a DC transportation planner once, he made the good point that as long as street parking is priced so cheaply, there is reduced incentive for the private sector to market and make available parking beyond building tenants.

But that needs to be complemented with information systems.

I don't think there is a map of all the private parking options downtown, which is one element of creating such a system.

The Downtown DC BID has failed to consider this as an element of coordination amongst their transportation functions. Face it, a BID in a Downtown like DC also functions as a "transportation management association."

This is what the Downtown DC BID website says about parking:

Granted, I know that transit is prioritized.

In cities with public parking authorities, of course those agencies produce and maintain such maps. DC doesn't have such an authority.

- a San Jose map,

- case study,

In the 1950s into the 1960s and probably some time into the 1970s, there was a coordinated parking validation program between the retailers and parking garages downtown.

I managed to pick up a little booklet of it. But it'd be hard for me to find right now (I finally figured out how to organize all my papers, but the challenge is now implementing the system over dozens and dozens of piles and boxes). I can't remember if it has a listing of the parking garages too, or just the participating retailers.

anyway, both the parking thing and Vision Zero, time will tell if there is any "meat" behind them and whether or not they rise to the level of such a list.

Two other things I considered including were ArCo's dithering on Columbia Pike, but that's a continuing saga and the Potomac Yard Metrorail station coming in 2020.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt gasoline, I read something that said the average savings per year is under $100. And yes, that many people are spending about 45% of that on "better gas," that they have a kind of "mental gas budget" and they remain somewhat committed to spending that money on gas rather than reprogramming it.

wrt reprogramming, I wonder if there some redirection of "gas money" to using toll roads.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

OK. I didn't realize I have two different brochures, plus the ad. I didn't find the one that I was thinking of, but another one that is specifically a map.

I will try to scan it today. It dates to 1953.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: gas prices, yes I've seen the same literature. I don't believe it, but the delta on premium suggests high demand, and the refinery stocks I track say the same thing.

In the long term maybe. For instance my sister is buying a SUV/CUV. Thanks to CAFE decent milage but is looking at a 40 mile commute.

Parking -- yes, absolutely, agree that once you remove smoke they are just raising some prices downtown. Some places downtown can go higher, some can go lower.

Private garages -- I don't think it is the price of street parking. It is a weird submarket in DC. Early bird, early closing, need attendants and they all have two jobs so they close by 6 or so.

Plus the reluctance (historical) for DC to get into parking garages.

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

s***, wrt gas prices I forgot to mention the increase in car sales, and the increase in the sales of larger vehicles (a la your sister). Although some of that is "forward buying" because of hyper-low interest rates.

wrt parking, "what you said" I refer to as "parking is primarily managed as an amenity for building tenants/the office population" and not for other market segments.

Were there greater demand and revenue and profit for it, more garages would be managed to prioritize it, just like they did back in the day of Bud Doggett (Doggett Parking) and Dominic Antonelli (PMI, Parking Management Inc.).

In part that comes down to street parking and street parking being cheap.

I'd rather people park off-street and we use the scarce street space for dedicated transitways and other sustainable mobility and placemaking priorities.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

not sure if DC had historical reticence to building parking garages. Lobbying by people like Bud Doggett prevented it from happening.

I f*ing hate how MoCo residents tell us that the solution is to build parking garages like in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

It's a lot more complicated than that, and they don't acknowledge past history.

Plus DC just won't move forward and create TMDs and integrated policy and practice for transportation demand management at the sub-city scale. I've been arguing for that for 10+ years.

I was shocked to see how "ad hoc" the "programs" within the "performance parking pilots" were for funding transportation related improvements with the revenues.

Without a basic and robust program, it's hard to get move forward transformational practice.

Maybe the biggest thing we've done is install bike corrals in the street space, instead of just on sidewalks.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... in my other writings though I say MoCo is crippled by having "parking districts," that they have to transform them to TMDs too (although they have TMDs in four areas, but I don't think Wheaton). That would allow for more spending on other than parking structures, and would reduce the ability of buildings to waive participation, because the framework wouldn't just be "how much parking they provide" but how much "multi-modal transportation management" they do or contribute to.

At 10:44 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Yes it was the lobbying by the parking companies which has set back public owned parking.

Do you need it downtown - not really. U st? Absolutely. And it could help with the dread of people driving into DC to take advantage of metro stations.

I see your argument downtown applies 10 years ago before they started charging for parking after 6:30.

RE: larger cars --yes financing pulls demand forward, people do have kid and need something bigger, but again thanks to CAFE a basic CUV gets better mileage than a 1999 Ford Explorer. I remember reading in Harper facts that increasing SUV MPG by 1 in the early 2000 would shave off 1 M/BD of oil demand.

Great roundup BTW.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

So 15 years ago I was really hardcore, f* the car, etc. (Not completely, but pretty hardcore.) I suppose around 2003 and after, including 2005, when I proposed that ANCs develop public space/transportation committees and the city create TMDs (transportation management districts), my thinking had become significantly more nuanced.

E.g., like the parking map I will scan, I identified all the potential shared parking opportunities in and around H Street NE. The problem is that the spaces aren't coordinated, planned together, lack the right business licenses (e.g., church parking lots minimally used during the week, etc.). (I wrote about this in the spring wrt Takoma, same issue. More than 500 spaces in lots. Some public, some not. But not coordinated. Even though Main Street Takoma publishes a map, people are still mostly on their own.)

(Another thing about Downtown DC is the failure to have coordinated valet services, like they do in commercial districts such as North Park Main Street in San Diego.)

... anyway, in a long winded way, I am trying to say that around 2003-2005 I started acknowledging needing to plan for all modes, while working to optimize sustainable modes over the car. But still providing support to the car.

AND YES, on U Street, H Street, in Capitol Hill/Eastern Market, among others, coordinating parking planning, and if necessary building "public parking." And coordinated valet services (something I didn't think about back then, but not til a few years ago).

E.g., DC Government and DDOT both f*ed this up with the forthcoming Hine redevelopment. Yes it's across the street from the Metrorail station, but at the same time, Eastern Market, and the commercial districts on Pennsylvania Ave. and 8th St. SE need more parking, because yes, people are gonna come by car, and you sure as hell don't want them driving around 20 blocks before they find parking. (Plus the two hour restriction for street parking is at least one hour too short at a minimum from supporting retail + eating combination trips.)

But DDOT's report on the project said way too much parking. It was under 200 spaces. Now it's like 75. It's not like it was 1,000 a la DC/USA.

Incredibly short-sighted decision.

wrt H St., despite the lack of planning, they'll muddle through, at least on the western end, because of the big developments on the 300, 600 and 800-900 blocks, and the parking that was/will be built to support the grocery stores going in those buildings.

But at the time the 800/900 block complex was being designed and approved (before 2007, it will break ground next year), the project with the Whole Foods on the north side of the 600 block was not anywhere near being conceptualized, so no parking was expected to materialize there.

The 800/900 block building should have been "required" to provide some public parking, with public subsidy for construction if necessary.

Similarly, if the senior housing building at Florida and Bladensburg ever builds their second building (they have a surface parking lot now), public parking could be incorporated to support the Atlas end of the corridor. Link it with valet and bam, problems people driving around the residential streets looking for parking are eliminated.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I also suggested that to support the concept of mixed use at the single use Walmart site on GA Ave. and to provide shared parking for the other commercial establishments in the vicinity who would lose street parking availability because of the changes to road use in that area, that the city could subsidize the creation of parking at the site that would not be strictly limited to Walmart.

That went nowhere. And street parking has been removed in the area.

(It would have also mitigated the impact from my proposal to remove parking from at least 1/2 of the block of Peabody adjacent to the store. Parking wasn't removed, and driving on that block, because of people entering and leaving the Walmart parking garage, and because of cars queueing on Peabody at the traffic signal, is a clusterf*.... but anticipated, at least by me.)

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

1. The $100M+ a year the DC government pulls is from fines is a negative incentive to really think about TDM and parking.

2. I never viewed cars in a negative light. Surface parking lots -- yes, terrible for urbanism. Some parking garages -- yes requires a lot of nuance.

3. Not a big fan of bikeshare stations on the street. Sometimes it works -- when they are right off a bike lane. Otherwise you're too exposed when docking/undocking. I"m saying that as a bikeshare user, not a driver.

At 5:56 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I hate to admit it but you're right about fines as a motivator for the city. The same is true for parking meter revenues. Both go into the general fund, aren't considered dedicated funds for transportation.

(That's a difference between the Shoup model and how it works generally.)

But for me, fines/tickets are generally an illustration of a system design fault, although yes, some people "break the system" deliberately and get tickets.

People get pissed by tickets, and getting one is a disincentive for returning to a district. There's a fine line between encouraging people to go to "China"town or Capitol Hill or U Street or Georgetown and them getting a big fine because of a ticket.

They won't want to go back.

The city can figure out how to make more money elsewhere/save money than become reliant on ticket monies.

Although College Park makes 10% of its gross revenue on parking meters and fines (for an odd historical reason, private property owners let the city meter and ticket their lots as a way to discourage UMD from parking all day on their lots).

2. wrt bike share on the street I am okay with it because it reduces taking away scarce sidewalk space (in many places in the city the sidewalks aren't wide enough). But that being said they have to be well placed in order to be safe, and yes, they aren't the prettiest.

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard, the Hine project will have about 330 parking spaces. There are only about 180 residential units. There will be plenty of parking available.

Eastern Market does fine now with only on-street parking available.

They're building 330 spaces because that's how many they can fit with two underground levels. Any more would require going deeper, which is a tremendous cost increase. In your ideal world, who's going to pay for that? If you want to harp about the missed opportunity, consider the costs required to execute your plans.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I was basing on memory, and now being pushed, the 75 number is the number of large vehicles that will be able to be accommodated such as those used by weekend vendors.

Part of the issue is providing extranormal accommodations for market vendors on weekends, when before they had parked on a portion of the Hine parking lot. A goodly number of these vehicles are trucks. They need to be parked all day. There aren't enough options for them, especially because the vehicles need to be immediately accessible as they store inventory.

The parking at the Penn building wasn't constructed to accommodate larger vehicles. the surface lot there doesn't have enough capacity for all of the need.

wrt "extra cost," that's why you subsidize it. The point of government is to step in and facilitate improvements that don't typically obtain on a building by building basis, that need to be planned at the scale of a district.

I think it's reasonable for local governments to assist in the development and provision of off street parking in activity districts like Capitol Hill, U Street, Takoma (which will lose a lot of parking at the Metro when the new apartment building is constructed), etc. to support the commercial district.

That's why I keep pushing the concept of transportation management districts, which would facilitate this kind of comprehensive planning and operation at the sub-city scale.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With Hine currently under construction, there is no parking (at the moment) for vendor vans. And things are fine.

It's one thing for the government to subsidize parking in order to make a project happen (as was the case for DC USA), but that was not the case for Hine.

And yes, it is reasonable to 'assist' in the provision of parking here, which is exactly what happened via the zoning for Hine, where the public parking was a specific public amenity of the project. Going beyond that means getting the government involved in the finance of the specific development projects is both much more complex and probably not needed.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

we're going to have to agree to disagree. I agree of course that the amount of parking provided at DCUSA was unneeded. I argued against it at the time. However, unbeknownst to me, Target made it clear they wouldn't proceed without it. At the time they were less experienced with urban locations. Now they are more comfortable with transit as a primary mode for getting people to their stores. (The Walmart on NJ Ave. has an information sign about alternative transportation. It's got to be one of the only such signs at any of their stores.)

While Capitol Hill doesn't require anywhere near that kind of parking, they do need more than is currently available.

Projects are already complicated. A little more complication, in return for better and longer term outcomes is worth the expense. These projects won't be rebuilt in our lifetimes, better to accomplish multiple and better outcomes than substandard ones and hope for the best.


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