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.

Friday, January 08, 2010


Originally uploaded by rllayman
Incredible as it may seem, DC members of the WMATA Board, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham and City Administrator Neal Albert (appointed as the representative of Mayor Adrian Fenty) voted against consideration of fare increases and in favor of massive service cutbacks for the WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) subway and bus system in a board meeting yesterday--according to reporting by David Alpert, in the entry "DC blocks giving riders some choices for budget" in the blog Greater Greater Washington.

DC policy on transit issues should be focused on managing three different consumer market segments when it makes decisions about transit policy:

1. access to the city both for commuters and visitors;
2. transit-dependent resident riders (many bus users)
3. transit-choice resident riders;

for two different goals:

1. mobility generally, especially for people who don't own cars; and
2. optimal management of the transportation _system_ including the positive impact transit provides on the reduction of the number of vehicles traveling to, from, and within the District of Columbia.

The low fare position only addresses the #2 consumer segment, and only exclusively for bus users, even though transit-dependent resident riders are impacted by service cuts to the subway system too.

The problem is that the heavy rail service isn't treated as a premium service in policy, especially its positive impact on reducing vehicle travel to, from, and within the city.

And service cuts, specifically super long headways, wreck the usefulness of the service, especially for choice riders.

A commenter on the GGW story suggested that, given the corruption charges made against a now former staff member, that "Graham is in the pocket of the taxi industry." There may be some truth to it. I don't think so really. Other commenters pointed out that in an election year, politicians will grandstand against fare increases.

But perhaps Councilmember Graham has a constrained view about what transit does, and he fails to recognize that it doesn't matter if the fare is low if you either have no service at all, or have to wait 20-40 minutes for a bus or train.

Don't get me wrong, Jim Graham is responsible for at least two major improvements on the WMATA system--bike racks on buses, and late night hours on Friday and Saturday. But that was a long time ago now (as much as ten years I think for the policy on bike racks).

But good policy choices ten years ago don't make up for dereliction of duty today.

DC officials are being derelict on the responsibility for supporting transit as both an essential service and as the essential component of the city's competitive advantages as a place to live, a place to locate business, and as a place to work.

Graham should go. And frankly, Fenty should go (Albert is his appointee) because of this decision.

It's an election year. Just as Montgomery County's Action Committee for Transit made the Purple Line an election issue in 2006, and today the region is waiting with baited breath for the go ahead, DC citizens need to make transit and transportation the leading issue in the 2010 elections.

With this decision, transportation advocates should come out against Councilmember Jim Graham and Mayor Adrian Fenty because the long term health of the WMATA system is on the line.

(So what if Fenty and Graham support building a streetcar network in the city. It's not enough. One semi-good decision doesn't cancel out one disastrous decision.)

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