Author: Christopher Richter

A Metrorail Closure Raises Region-Wide Question: Where Are The Bus Lanes?

As Metrorail commuters cope with another disruptive track work project on the Red Line — Takoma station is closed through Dec. 10 — some observers say the rail closures are a missed opportunity to demonstrate the value of dedicated bus lanes.

The #WMATA Twitter has boiled with fury at the maddening amount of time it takes for the shuttle buses to bridge the gap in rail service between Silver Spring and Fort Totten stations. On Tuesday, a WAMU reporter took a shuttle during the heart of morning rush hour: traversing 4 miles took 48 minutes, as the packed bus crawled in traffic along with single-occupant cars.

But this is one commuting problem that cannot be necessarily pinned on Metro; the roads are controlled by the municipal- and state-level departments of transportation.

Moreover, the Washington region as a whole almost entirely lacks dedicated bus lanes, even though 600,000 people in the area take buses every day. And it is far behind other major metropolitan areas when it comes to giving buses priority over motorists who drive by themselves.

There are many reasons for this lack of progress. In the District, transportation officials are deliberately taking things slowly to ensure that future projects are effective.

Beyond engineering challenges, funding for extensive infrastructure changes remains an obstacle, especially in Montgomery County. And in both the city and the suburbs, there remains a mindset that taking lanes away from cars for the sake of buses is a bad idea.

“People can’t wrap their heads around that. They are convinced that if you take away a lane it is going to lead to Armageddon on the roads,” said At-Large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich, a long-time proponent of the county’s BRT — Bus Rapid Transit — plans.

Additionally, buses seem to carry a stigma, but that is starting to disappear.

“Some people identify buses as the worst form of transit, but in reality it is one of the backbones of transportation in our region. Forty-five percent of regional transit trips are taken by buses,” said Pete Tomao of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which is lobbying Montgomery County to fulfill its BRT vision.

In 2013, the county approved plans for 82 miles of “gold standard” BRT, but securing funding has proven difficult, and some residents have fought the proposed redesign of the roads. As of now, only 14 miles, all along Route 29, are expected to be ready for express buses by 2020, and only about 40 percent of the lane-miles will be exclusively for buses.

Commuters seeing Red

During rush hour, Metro’s free shuttle buses have been routinely slowed by traffic congestion on the local road system between Silver Spring in Montgomery County and Fort Totten in Northeast Washington. Would a pop-up, experimental bus lane help?

“In theory it’s easy, and then when you get down to the individual corridors it sometimes gets a bit more difficult,” said Sam Zimbabwe, the chief project delivery officer at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).

The main roads between the two Red Line stations do not have bus lanes now, and the transportation agencies on either side of the county-city line were not eager to implement a temporary one for two weeks to help the Metro shuttles move faster.

“I don’t think we want invest time and money and effort in things that will be unsuccessful,” said Zimbabwe, who noted that a pop-up bus lane could have caused even more traffic problems while doing little for buses.

Why not pop-up?

In late 2016, the city of Everett, 4 miles north of Boston, experimented with a pop-up bus lane using cones and signs to replace one mile of curbside parking. It went so well that the city decided to make the bus lane permanent, citing shorter travel times for the corridor’s 10,000 daily bus riders.

In D.C. there are several bus corridors that see at least that many daily riders, yet the District has only one dedicated bus lane – for one-third of a mile along Georgia Avenue Northwest between Barry Place and Florida Avenue. Metro’s 70 line carries about 20,000 people per day along Georgia Avenue.

“It has helped Metro be on time running buses,” Zimbabwe said. “It is a short stretch, but it is the right place. There are a lot of buses there all day. Not every bus corridor is going to be the same, so we just can’t go in with our red paint brush and paint the lanes red as the only solution.”

The District completed its first study for a two-mile bus lane on 16th Street Northwest in 2009, and it will be two to four more years before it is constructed for the benefit of Metro’s S-line buses, which carry close to 20,000 daily passengers.

In the meantime, DDOT has taken smaller steps to get buses moving. “We’ve installed transit signal priority at almost 200 intersections around the city,” Zimbabwe said. And earlier this year DDOT launched a five-year undertaking to re-assess congestion management with the goal of moving more people – not merely vehicles – efficiently.

About 40 percent of all bus service in D.C. travels through downtown, representing about 120,000 daily riders whose commutes depend on being able to move through heavily congested roads that currently have no bus lanes.

Across the river in Alexandria and Arlington, the Metroway bus system, the region’s closest resemblance to Bus Rapid Transit is seeing growing ridership.

Within Alexandria, the Metroway is 2.3 miles (0.7 miles in dedicated lanes) and inside Arlington County, it is 3.7 miles (2 miles in dedicated lanes). Because of the limited priority given to buses, Alexandria needs to deploy only five buses to its portion of the transitway during rush hour to meet rising ridership demand.

Trips have grown since service began in late 2014, from average weekday ridership of 1,500 to 2,400 as of last month. And that total is expected to continue increasing as development takes hold in North Potomac Yard and the Metroway system receives additional dedicated lane-miles – a marriage of land-use and transportation policy designed to maximize the bus system’s efficiency.

Transit advocates say Metroway is an example for the rest of the region to build upon if it wants to remain competitive with other growing metropolitan areas.

“In cities such as Pittsburgh, they can move 3,700 people per hour in a dedicated lane for buses, versus 1,200 people per hour in a lane just for single-occupant vehicles,” said the Coalition for Smarter Growth’s Tomao.

As for Metro, it is working with local governments to implement bus lanes along at least eight major corridors, including the inbound 14th Street Bridge and the new Frederick Douglass Bridge; and, within the District, Florida Avenue/U Street, 18th/19th Streets Northwest, H Street Northwest from 13th Street to North Capitol Street, and K Street from 13th to 23rd Street.

Photo courtesy of Martin Di Caro. Click here to view the original story.

Arlington County Reduces Parking Requirements for Multi-Family Developments on Metro Corridors

In addition to reducing parking requirements to 0.2 to 0.6 spaces per unit for developments “approved by special exception,” the board went a step further by requiring mitigations if developers provide more than 1.65 spaces per unit.

Arlington County has joined a regional movement toward lowering, if not eliminating, off-street parking requirements for multifamily developments that are located along its two major transit corridors, Rosslyn-Ballston and Jefferson Davis Metro. New developments that already have a low 0.8 space per market-rate unit parking requirement can now become more affordable with fewer required parking spaces when “approved by special exception,” according to the County Board’s news release on Nov. 18.

“These guidelines reflect the fact that the increase in transportation options in our Metro corridors means that some new developments will require less parking,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said.

Parking ratios are based on distance from the nearest Metro station entrance and are further reduced for affordable units due to data from the Arlington Choice Voucher Program and 2015 Arlington Resident Transportation Survey that show that lower income residents are less likely to own motor vehicles. [See slide 16 in staff presentation [pdf].

“Reductions of up to 50 percent of the minimum parking ratios will be granted in exchange for elements such as transit infrastructure, expanded bike parking, bike share, and/or car-share amenities on site,” according to the news release.

Should developers wish to provide “excess parking,” i.e., above 1.65 spaces per unit in the corridor, mitigations will be required, either:

  • Tandem or mechanical stacker parking configuration, or
  • Mitigation contribution of $3,060 per space per year for 30 years to be used to support Arlington County programs that encourage the use of biking, walking, transit, and car sharing in project vicinity.

“‘Keeping excess parking . . . has really high costs for the county,’ said Katie Cristol (D), the board’s vice chair, who described the change as ‘not a cudgel, but a series of carrots,'” reports Patricia Sullivan for The Washington Post on Nov. 24  “We’re not trying to badger anybody into a lifestyle that doesn’t match their needs.

However, the guidelines didn’t go over well with many in attendance at the Nov. 18 County Board meeting who appeared to perceive that the change would result in no parking rather than reduced parking provided for tenants, writes Sullivan.

“Please do not discourage young families and parents with kids from living in this area by encouraging a ‘car-free diet’ to an extreme,” said Puja Valiyil, 35, a mother of four.

Speaking in support was Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, who “said that reducing the number of required parking places will give developers and residents ‘better choices.'” writes Sullivan.

For more information on the new guidelines, see Nov. 16 county manager recommendation [pdf].

Other jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area lowering parking requirements cited by Sullivan:

  • The District of Columbia last year rezoned minimum parking requirements for multifamily residences in many areas and reduced parking minimums close to Metro or bus routes in other parts of the city to less than one space for every five units.
  • Fairfax County, Va. limited the maximum number of parking spots at buildings within a quarter-mile of Metro stations in Tysons Corner seven years ago, and is considering lowering the minimum parking requirements near other transit stations.
  • In Montgomery County, Md., multifamily buildings must provide one parking space per bedroom, but less parking is required for affordable units and age-restricted buildings.
  • Prince George’s County, Md., is working on a proposal to remove all minimum parking requirements for buildings near certain regional transit zone.
Hat tip to Jay Warner.
Photo courtesy of f11photo/Shutterstock. Click here to view the original story.

Evaluating Danica Roem’s Transportation Platform

Danica Roem made history earlier this month, running successfully for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates as an openly transgender candidate. Her win was especially sweet given that she defeated Bob Marshall, a 26-year incumbent who once referred to himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and sponsored an anti-trans “bathroom bill” in the previous session.

Roem has pointed out that while Marshall was campaigning on transphobia, she won by running on bread-and-butter issues that matter to her constituents. And in suburban northern Virginia, one of those issues is traffic congestion.

Danica Roem’s political achievement was inspiring and toppled a notorious bigot. But now that she’s in office, is her traffic prescription any good?

Overall, Roem’s transportation platform is pretty typical for America’s car-centric suburbs. Her flagship proposal is to make more room for motor vehicles on congested Route 28 by widening it from four lanes to six and replacing signalized intersections with highway-style interchanges.

I contacted Stewart Schwartz at the Coalition for Smarter Growth to get some more context. While the Route 28 proposal is the type of road expansion project that generates more traffic and sprawl in the long run, her full transportation platform is more nuanced than that.

Roem represents a sprawling county that faces severe congestion pressure as a result of classic planning mistakes. “We are talking about prototypical American suburban landscape,” said Schwartz. “One that has grown up in a rather haphazard way, without a connected street grid, separating retail from residential and office. Certainly as a result of bad land use planning, it suffers from some really terrible traffic problems without easy fixes.”

In her campaign, Roem said she was motivated by the terrible commutes her mother endured daily. She told WTOP, “There isn’t a conservative or progressive, Democratic or Republican way to build a bridge.”

Maybe not, but there is such a thing as smart, fiscally responsible transportation planning that will reduce traffic pressure, and Roem’s road expansion ideas don’t fit the bill. Her I-28 plan is a something-for-nothing proposition: She estimates it will cost $300 million (the three overpasses alone come in at $80 million), and that it can be paid for by tapping the existing toll revenue stream from I-66.

Like most American elected officials, Roem doesn’t support new tolls. That will severely limit any attempt to rein in traffic in Prince William County, where tolling the busiest roads at peak hours is one of the few tools that could actually reduce congestion.

But Roem’s platform includes some good ideas too, with a section of her website devoted to the need for “smarter growth.”

She opposes the construction of the Bi-County Parkway, a highway connection to Loudon County that Virginia leaders had been considering. By focusing on improving the existing roadways, and not building new, Schwartz said, she’s “applying a fix-it-first approach.”

Roem has also given some thought to what transit can do for her district.

She calls for a short western extension of the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), which currently terminates at a park-and-ride station. Roem proposes a rail extension to the Innovation Technology Park, an office park that has had trouble finding tenants.

Roem also wants to tackle the problem of high transit construction costs. She has proposed a state-sponsored investigation, saying “labor unions are much stronger in Europe than here yet our project costs are more expensive. We need to determine why that’s the case with a conclusive, data-driven study and implement what we learn from it.”

So there you have it. At the moment, Roem isn’t what you would call a transportation reformer. She ran promising a road widening that would probably increase sprawl and do nothing in the long run to improve the region’s traffic nightmare. But she’s not a knee-jerk highway booster either and seems to have an open mind about transportation policy solutions. Following her historic win, let’s see how she steers the approach to transportation and land use in northern Virginia.

Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan/Flickr. Click here to view the original story.

Montgomery, Prince George’s Leaders Sign Agreement to Pursue Equitable Growth Along Purple Line

UPDATED – 12:25 p.m. – Montgomery and Prince George’s county leaders promised Tuesday to commit to equitable economic growth along the Purple Line during an event in College Park.

Montgomery Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George’s Executive Rushern Baker described the agreement as a way to protect local businesses and residents located along the light-rail line’s route.

The agreement espouses four goals for local governments and planning boards along the route: help local businesses prosper, expand the local labor force, create housing opportunities for all incomes and promote vibrant, sustainable communities.

The agreement is not legally enforceable, but the leaders said it could provide a moral guide to future leaders who will have to handle the new development and economic growth expected after the Purple Line is completed in 2022.

“Keep in mind this is not a legally binding agreement,” Leggett said. “It rests upon the will, it rests upon the motivations and attitudes of the people who want to see this happen.”

Leggett said that to make the agreement a reality, it will require the people who have pushed for it the past several years to continue to lobby for equitable growth well after the Purple Line is completed.

Local leaders such as Leggett, Baker and University of Maryland, College Park, President Wallace Loh signed the agreement, along with Montgomery County Planning Board Chair Casey Anderson and other regional planners.

Baker related a story about how U Street developed after he started working as a community organizer in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood in 1978. He said the area is now appealing, but it displaced long-time residents and businesses who could no longer afford to live or operate there.

“A lot of good-meaning folks wanted to see the neighborhood stay the same and grow with it,” Baker said about the displacement in that area. “What was missing is what we have today.”

Both Baker and Loh said Prince George’s County and the University of Maryland should grow together.

“It is certainly a moral obligation, it is an institutional obligation to make sure that the community and economic benefits of the Purple Line spread throughout the whole region,” Loh said.

Gustavo Torres of the immigrant advocacy group CASA and Gerrit Knaap, director of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, also signed the agreement Tuesday.

The Purple Line Corridor Coalition, which drafted the agreement, is made up of resident groups such as Safe Silver Spring, business groups such as the Maryland Building Industry Association, local governments, and community organizations such as the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Purple Line Now.

The coalition started work on the agreement in 2014 after the federal government approved the project’s Record of Decision—effectively giving it the green light to move forward.

David Bowers, vice president of Enterprise Community Partners Inc., an affordable-home developer, gave the most passionate speech of the day, urging leaders and community members in the room to make the agreement a reality.

“We can put our heads in the sand and act as if we haven’t seen this in other places—where investment comes and residents and businesses get displaced,” Bowers said. “We know it has happened. You can go 15 minutes down the road to the nation’s capital and look at neighborhood after neighborhood where investments have been made and because there was not sufficient proactive steps taken, you look and say, ‘Wow, a lot of folks who used to live there don’t live there anymore. A lot of businesses that used to be there aren’t there anymore.'”

Bowers said the people in the room Tuesday need to make sure affordable homes along the route can stay affordable and more homes and opportunities for low-income residents become available.

“The question is: Do we have the heart?,” Bowers said. “To make sure the words on this paper, while not legally binding … are compelling enough [that] everyone who wants to stay has the opportunity to do so.”

Once completed, the 16.2-mile light-rail line will stretch from downtown Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s county.

Gov. Larry Hogan broke ground on the project in August. Since then, crews have been clearing trees along the former Georgetown Branch Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring, as well as preparing construction sites along the rest of the route. The state estimates construction to be completed in 2022.

The line is expected to cost about $2.4 billion to construct and is being built under the state’s $5.6 billion, 36-year contract with Purple Line Transit Partners. The private team of construction and finance companies has been tasked with financing, constructing, operating and maintaining the project.

Anderson said Monday that Montgomery County has been proactive in approving master plans in Long Branch, Lyttonsville, Chevy Chase Lake and downtown Bethesda along the light-rail route to protect current communities while also encouraging new development. He noted that the Downtown Bethesda Sector Plan requires 15 percent of new residents to have “moderately-priced dwelling units” (MPDUs), which is more than the 12.5 percent required elsewhere in the county for developments with more than 20 units.

“It’s not just about making sure that people are able to stay in places like Long Branch, where people have lower incomes, but also about creating opportunities for people who have moderate incomes in more affluent areas along the corridor like Bethesda and Chevy Chase,” Anderson said.

“This is zoning, this is land use, this is something that’s within our control,” Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said. “Now, is it also true market forces can only be nudged so far, before they say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re exacting too much from me.’ That’s true, too. You have to find that sweet spot to ensure you exacted everything you can and still allow progress to occur.”

Still, concern remains that the multi-billion-dollar Purple Line will price people out of existing communities if land values increase significantly along the route. Another concern is that five years of construction might put existing stores and shops along the route out of business due to the inconvenience to their longtime customers.

State Sen. Will Smith (D-Silver Spring) is proposing changes to state regulations to potentially enable business owners along the project’s route to be reimbursed for significant losses.

On Tuesday, Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich, a candidate for county executive, expressed his concerns about potential community displacement. Elrich has stood by comments he made at candidate forums when he described anticipated development along the Purple Line route as a form of “ethnic cleansing.”

Elrich first used the loaded term to describe proposed zoning changes in the Long Branch area. He said Tuesday his use of the term helped defeat those proposed zoning changes that could have displaced existing communities in the area.

“The older apartments along the corridor are going to remain vulnerable,” Elrich said. He noted that the agreement signed Tuesday originally was intended to be a compact, but the label was changed after leaders couldn’t agree to changes in law or regulations to protect existing communities.

“Everyone’s words are be vigilant, look forward, be aware, but those have no teeth,” Elrich said. “Absent figuring out what we’re going to do make sure these people don’t get displaced, I think we have a long-term problem.”

He proposed rent stabilization on older buildings to preserve them. If not, owners of land and buildings along the route should be persuaded to pursue goals other than “making large profits,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Andrew Metcalf. Click here to view the original story.

With region’s transportation options, must every apartment have parking space?

Once upon a time, a new apartment or condominium came with one or even two parking spaces, often free, a reflection of America’s love for and dependence on automobiles.

But now, parking in urbanized areas is scarce and expensive, and walkable is in. Bike lanes have gobbled up on-street parking spaces. Short-term car-sharing services such as Zipcar and Car2Go, and paid ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, have sprouted in city and suburb alike.

And municipalities across the country are allowing developers to build apartments, condos and townhouses with far less parking, eager to cut the cost of housing and convinced that fewer spaces are needed.

Arlington County is the latest local government to take action. On Nov. 18, the County Board voted to allow developers of some new projects along the Ballston-Rosslyn and U.S. 1 corridors to cut the parking they provide by as much as 50 percent, so long as they offer bicycle parking, on-site car sharing and unlimited Metrorail or Metrobus passes for residents.

“Keeping excess parking . . . has really high costs for the county,” said Katie Cristol (D), the board’s vice chair, who described the change as “not a cudgel, but a series of carrots. We’re not trying to badger anybody into a lifestyle that doesn’t match their needs.”

 The same thing is happening across the Potomac and in other nearby jurisdictions. The District last year rezoned minimum parking requirements for multifamily residences in many areas and reduced parking minimums close to Metro or bus routes in other parts of the city to less than one space for every five units. Fairfax County limited the maximum number of parking spots at buildings within a quarter-mile of Metro stations in Tysons Corner seven years ago, and is considering lowering the minimum parking requirements near other transit stations.

In Montgomery County, multifamily buildings must provide one parking space per bedroom, but less parking is required for affordable units and age-restricted buildings. Prince George’s County is working on a proposal to remove all minimum parking requirements for buildings near certain regional transit zones.

In Buffalo, minimum parking requirements were eliminated with a zoning ordinance 11 months ago. About one-third of apartments built recently near Seattle’s downtown had no parking, under a decade-old policy to reduce traffic and developers’ costs so they could build more affordable residences.

In Arlington, where the median housing value is $651,400, according to the online real estate company Zillow, and where the cost of entry-level condos has zoomed out of reach of many young professionals, one underground parking spot costs between $30,000 and $60,000 to build, a county report estimated. The board’s new guidelines will allow the county to grant approval to developers of multifamily-housing in the two Metro corridors to build between 0.2 and 0.6 spaces per unit, down from between 0.8 and 1.25 spaces per unit.

Arlington residents pride themselves on living a walkable lifestyle, taking transit whenever possible and bicycling for personal transportation and recreation. But some who testified before the board said the loss of parking spaces would be difficult, especially for those who are less mobile.

“Please do not discourage young families and parents with kids from living in this area by encouraging a ‘car-free diet’ to an extreme,” said Puja Valiyil, 35, a mother of four.

Elfreda Baptist, a resident of Arlington’s Court House neighborhood, said the proposal overlooks the needs of dual-income couples who work outside areas reachable by Metro, as well as the elderly and people with disabilities.

“This will have the biggest impact on the seniors who cannot ride a bike, who need to carry heavy groceries, who feel unsafe to take Metro at night, who have to visit doctors or family or friends outside the Metro area,” she said. “This envisions a Metro corridor filled with young, active, healthy people.”

Others noted that even residents without cars sometimes need parking spaces, to accommodate contractors, caregivers and guests.

Board chair Jay Fisette (D) said the changes will be “incremental and prudent,” and reminded concerned residents that guidelines will not affect existing residential parking. “I think a lot of angst and excitement about this is overblown,” he said.

Many senior citizens and people who live in affordable housing don’t own cars, the report said, and many multifamily residential complexes are near underused commercial parking garages.

Since summer, Arlington has had street-legal electric golf carts that ferry people free of charge along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said that reducing the number of required parking places will give developers and residents “better choices.”

“So people who choose not to have a car don’t end up paying for a lot of unused parking, and we can have some buildings oriented to car owners and drivers,” Cort said.

Photo courtesy of Ozgur Coskun/Getty Images. Click here to view the original story.

With Democratic gains in Virginia election, Metro and regional officials see easier path to dedicated funding

Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam’s victory, along with significant Democratic gains in the state legislature, could help overcome the regional political rifts that have stymied efforts to find a long-term source of dedicated funding for Metro, agency and elected officials said this week.

Amid a political stalemate that pitted the District against its tax-averse neighbors, an unexpectedly large Democratic gain of at least 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates could shift the balance of power in the GOP-controlled chamber, all but erasing one of the steepest roadblocks to dedicated funding.

Metro board member Christian Dorsey described Tuesday’s election results as “a game changer” in the fight for long-term funding. Dorsey, a Democrat who also is a member of the Arlington County Board, said the results mean dedicated funding has gone from having “no shot to having a possibility” in the state.

“It doesn’t guarantee anything, but just to be able to have a realistic opportunity to make the case and hopefully not have institutional resistance to it — that’s more than anybody could have expected 48 hours ago,” Dorsey said Wednesday. “You’re looking at a landscape that is much more favorable than it was a few days ago.”

Northam has said he supports dedicated funding for the transit agency, though he has not advocated a specific funding mechanism. His campaign did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

In a related development, some top area officials signaled it will probably be necessary for the region to adopt stopgap, “bridge funding” for Metro for the fiscal year that begins July 1. That’s because it won’t be politically possible to agree on dedicated funding by then — even with the political shift in the Virginia legislature.

A statement at Wednesday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) marked a setback for the group’s hope that dedicated funding could be approved in the Virginia and Maryland legislative sessions that begin in January.

The COG statement quickly drew criticism from a coalition of business and nonprofit groups, who urged action on the issue in early 2018.

In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has said he will propose a dedicated funding source for Metro when he presents his final budget as governor in December — though he did not explicitly endorse a new tax or say how much additional money he wants to raise. The gesture was viewed then as largely symbolic because of the uncertainty of the election.

Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld says he needs $15.5 billion over 10 years to keep the system safe and reliable. He also says that should include an additional $500 million a year in dedicated funding, on top of what regional governments have been providing, for equipment and maintenance.

A uniform regional sales tax, the mechanism preferred by the District and endorsed by a COG technical panel, was regarded a nonstarter in the GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly as well as among many elected officials of both parties in Northern Virginia.

Tuesday’s results may change that, supporters say, because it will be easier to win approval of some other tax or dedicated funding.

“If [Northam’s] got an almost Democratic-controlled house, that gives him a leg up that [McAuliffe] didn’t have,” Metro board chairman Jack Evans said. “I think that’s a real positive sign, and I’m real happy.”

Republicans retain narrow control of the Virginia Senate, with 21 seats to the Democrats’ 19.

Evans (D), who also is a D.C. Council member, co-introduced council legislation this week for a 0.75 percent sales tax dedicated to Metro. The measure is contingent upon Virginia and Maryland doing the same.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has said he won’t raise taxes for Metro, instead proposed providing the agency with $2 billion over four years, split evenly among the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government. But the plan has been criticized because it is a short-term solution.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) also was optimistic in light of the state election results.

“While they may not yet have seniority, they are supportive of the Democrat positions for more funding, more needed funding for Metro,” Bulova said. “This is a really positive sign and a very positive outcome for Metro — for Metro funding.”

Wiedefeld praised Northam’s stance on dedicated funding in a brief statement this week.

“We are grateful for the Governor Elect’s strong support of Metro’s funding needs and look forward to working with him,” Wiedefeld said.

But Northern Virginia Republicans cautioned that the loss of agency supporters from their side of the aisle could mean that Metro issues won’t have the ear of leadership. GOP losses mean the Republican delegation in Richmond has even less skin in the game when it comes to Metro, Loudoun County Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said.

“It was a tremendous loss, both in terms of past achievements and also in terms of prospects for the future,” Letourneau said. “They were the individuals who I think were most likely to be able to forge compromise and work with Republican leadership in the House and the Senate to find Metro solutions. Without them being there, it’s going to be more challenging.”

The Republican voices on Metro who lost Tuesday include Del. James M. LeMunyon (Fairfax), who was upset by Karrie Delaney (D), and Del. J. Randall Minchew (Loudoun), who fell to Wendy Gooditis (D). Another influential Republican from the area, Del. David B. Albo (Fairfax), announced before the election that he was retiring. Democrat Kathy Tran defeated Republican Lolita Mancheno-Smoak in the race for Albo’s seat.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) was enthusiastic about the potential ramifications of Northam’s win, but said the impact remains to be seen.

“I’m hopeful that the election means that there are people who are much friendlier to the region, and much more receptive to the idea of a dedicated tax,” Mendelson said.

But Mendelson acknowledged that the loss of moderate, Metro-friendly Republicans in Northern Virginia could make it more difficult to gain traction in the legislature — or maybe not.

“If they’re not there, that strategy becomes more difficult. But on the other hand, if the Assembly has flipped, then it’s not an issue. But then there can be Democrats who are reluctant about raising taxes,” Mendelson said. “All that can be said with certainty is that it looks like it will be easier to discuss the dedicated regional tax in Richmond.”

There are a handful of races that are still too close to call.

“Obviously if the Democrats control the House, that’s probably a much different dynamic,” Letourneau said. “They’ll have presumably the ear of their leadership and be able to work on something.”

He said any new funding will almost certainly have to be paired with governance changes, which have been endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats in Richmond. Former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood is expected to recommend a sweeping overhaul of the agency’s governance, including a three-year, five-member “reform board,” in an upcoming study ordered by McAuliffe.

Asked about the urgency of securing dedicated funding by fellow panel members, Dorsey laid out the stakes at the COG meeting Wednesday. “If, at the end of the day, Mr. Wiedefeld doesn’t get what [Metro has] validated are the needs, we have to take very seriously the fact that he may not be there long-term.”

COG’s Metro Strategy Group issued the statement warning that dedicated funding probably won’t be in agreed upon in time for the coming fiscal year. The group, led by Bulova, includes senior officials from the jurisdictions that fund Metro.

The group said its “ultimate goal” remains “a permanent, long-term dedicated funding solution enacted as expeditiously as possible.”

However, should that not happen right away, it said, “It is critical that the region maintains its momentum and commits to a significant down payment — ‘bridge funding’ to mix metaphors a bit — to assure Metro’s capital needs are fully covered in FY 2019.”

The group acknowledged it faces major disagreements over what kind of tax or other mechanism should be adopted to provide dedicated funding.

“We knew this would be a complicated task,” said the statement, delivered by COG Vice Chairman Derrick L. Davis (D), who also chairs the Prince George’s County Council.

The prospect of a one-year delay in approving dedicated funding was criticized by the coalition of business groups and nonprofits that support Metro.

“A one-year funding patch for Metro repairs is shortsighted and does not prioritize the system or a long-term solution,” the coalition said. “Taking action in the legislative sessions starting in January 2018 is critical. We cannot delay until 2019 when the needs today are so urgent.”

The statement was signed by business groups including the Federal City Council, Greater Washington Board of Trade, 2030 Group and Greater Washington Partnership, as well as nonprofits including the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Greater Greater Washington.

“A temporary stopgap measure is simply not sufficient to support the types of changes necessary to bring Metro — and the regional economy as a whole — into the future effectively,” the coalition said. “Voters are expecting our elected leaders to stand up and lead.”

Martine Powers contributed to this report.

Click here to view the original story.

Washington D.C. Tackles Emissions with Dockless Bikes

It’s morning rush hour in the nation’s capital, and bicyclists crowd their lane six deep at an intersection. Clad in spandex and business suits, a few ride the bright green, orange, red or yellow bikes that signal a new phase of city cycling.

These shared bikes are part of an experimental network of dockless cycles.

Officials hope the pilot program changes how people get around. The District of Columbia boasts some positive results in its mission to curb gridlock and reduce pollution — like the most rapid rise in bike commuters among major cycling cities.

At stake are the city’s promises to tackle climate change and improve quality of life for its residents. Cities around the country are grappling with the same challenge as their populations rise: more cars.

Riders of these Skittle-colored new bikes unlock them using a phone app. They cost $1 an hour and can be left anywhere there’s room to drop a kickstand. That means colorful two-wheelers can be seen on sidewalks, on grassy terraces and, sometimes, in trees.

“I just saw this in front of my dorm, and I grabbed it to run to the bank because it’s a nice day and it’s faster,” said James Newell, an 18-year-old Howard University student. He was on an orange Mobike.

The new technology, which originated in China, is not limited to Washington: Seattle and San Francisco began pilots this summer. Dallas is home to three dockless bike-share companies. Boston is negotiating with firms right now.

But the sheer number of options in D.C. has made it ground zero for shared bikes. The wave began in 2007 with Capital Bikeshare, a system of docked cycles. Then came the dockless evolution: LimeBike, Mobike, oFo and Spin are four new privately funded companies. JUMP Mobility’s bikes, also new, have an electric motor, and they lock to pre-existing bike racks.

The five competing companies will duel for ridership over the next six months; they can deploy up to 400 bikes each, per their agreement with D.C. officials.

The city, facing a chicken-and-egg problem, is hoping to get more people on bikes. It is also planning to build 72 miles of protected bike lanes, more than double of what the city offers now.

“The truth is that biking in D.C. is kind of nerve-wracking,” said Alex Morgan, 29, a resident of D.C. and a gear-clad bike commuter who has not yet tried one of the new dockless bikes. “I think it’s better if more people bike so we can get more and better bike lanes and sharrows.”


Each company tells a rider how much carbon emissions they saved in a single ride. It’s not a coincidence.

Transportation is the second-largest source of carbon emissions in the D.C. area, behind buildings. The city aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2032 and 80 percent by 2050.

The gradual development of car alternatives has translated into a freeze on vehicle miles traveled and tailpipe emissions in the metro area over the past decade, according to data from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG).

That’s despite a growing population: The city of Washington has added more than 100,000 people since 2000. Per capita, there’s actually been a regional decrease in transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

But to meet the region’s goals, the trend would have to accelerate significantly.

“We’re doing things that are actually making progress,” said Steve Walz, the director of environmental programs for MWCOG. “It’s a wide mixture of things, ranging from more transit oriented development being put in place, people just don’t need to drive as much, fewer younger people owning vehicles, greater numbers of people walking and biking.”

“We just need to grow the scale,” he added.

In D.C., biking advocates and their government allies have made a concerted effort for at least a decade to get more people on two wheels, and it’s starting to show.

About 4.6 percent of residents get around by bike, according to the American Community Survey, making it second place in major metropolitan areas behind Portland, Ore. The share of bike commuters in D.C. has doubled in the past five years — the fastest growth in the top seven cities for bikers, and the only positive growth in the group from 2015 to 2016.

Yet it would be difficult to estimate if the rise in biking, particularly bike-sharing, can further suppress the city’s emissions, said Susan Shaheen, director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

“There’s so many factors affecting travel behavior,” she said. “What’s going to be super interesting is whether there are different and new users, different usage patterns emerging, and if that is because it is a more cost-effective strategy in light of the docking stations being a high capital expenditure.”

It’s not just bikes. In the city, a third of residents don’t own a car. Thirty-seven percent use public transit to commute.

But the primary method by which residents commute is still the car. That’s still at 40 percent. Moreover, car and Metro commuters from outside the city nearly double the city’s population every day.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director and a founder of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, calls the low share of D.C. residents who drive to work a “success story” but the regional dependence on cars “frustrating.”

“While individual pieces of transit-oriented development are doing better, there is not enough commitment still to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions to where they need to go to save our many poor from flooding in the future,” said Schwartz.

D.C.’s obstacles are several-fold.

First, the funding shortage plaguing the Metro system and the lack of options in some low-income or far-flung neighborhoods make cheap, affordable access to low-carbon mobility more difficult. One requirement of the dockless bike-share pilot is to have them in all eight wards of the city, but the vast majority are concentrated in downtown.

Second, the bikes have kinks, and people take time to adapt.


The dockless bike-shares litter the sidewalks and parks of the city, raising concerns they limit pedestrian mobility or just look ugly. They’ve appeared at the airport and the suburbs, outside the boundaries for the pilot. Some have ended up in strange places — like the roof of a car, up a tree, in a ditch or on balconies. That has spawned a fad among locals, who post pictures on Prince of Petworth, a local blog.

Some bikes have been vandalized or damaged through robbery attempts, bent frames, broken locks or torn baskets.

Similar concerns arose when Capital Bikeshare launched 10 years ago, said Kim Lucas, the program’s coordinator. But its benefits are real. Capital Bikeshare users have logged 18 million rides on 4,000 bikes. The program is planning to expand with at least 99 new stations.

“We see the new dockless bike-shares as a complement to Capital Bikeshare, and we’re excited about that possibility,” said Lucas. “The more options that we have available, the better cities will function as a transportation network.”

She said the city hopes people will use the bikes to link up with public transit, rather than jumping in a car. One of the new companies is even trying to lure motorists away from their cars by offering a different kind of motor: an electric one. JUMP is targeting users who like speed, or those who need to travel farther.

“The cool thing about bike-share in the past is that people who didn’t consider themselves bikers could use it; now, even more so, this product is going to attract an even wider market, because now they have this electric assist,” said Colin Hughes, director of strategic development at JUMP Mobility. “There is a change happening, and it’s small, but it’s snowballing.”

The dockless bike-share companies are not yet releasing their usage data publicly.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at

23 Photo courtesy of Washington Post/Getty Images

Want Metro to work? Empowering citizens at core of grass-roots effort

Civic activists say they are no longer just waiting around for elected officials to agree on desperately needed Metro funding — instead they are educating and empowering citizens to lobby and to advocate for the funding.

ARLINGTON, Va. — A grass-roots effort is underway to push for dedicated funding for Metro.

Civic activists say they are no longer just waiting around for elected officials to agree on desperately needed Metro funding — instead they are educating and empowering citizens to lobby and to advocate for the funding.

On Saturday in Arlington at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the public was invited to a Metro “Fund it and Fix it” call to action forum.

It was organized by the League of Women Voters of the National Capital Area (LWNCA) and the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
The panelists — Director of Strategic Planning at WMATA Allison Davis, Northern Virginia Transportation Commission Executive Director Kate Mattice and Metropolitan Council of Governments Executive Director Chuck Bean — shared their knowledge of Metro at the forum.Edith Snyder with the League of Women Voters is co-chair of the Metro “Fund it and Fix it” committee. The forum is a way to put pressure on area leaders to act to secure dedicated funding for Metro, she said.

“To stop kicking the Metro can down the road and to really help ensure that the Metro is sustainable and reliable long into the future,” she said.

Kathy McGuire, LWNCA president, said the future of the region depends on Metro.

Snyder said she hopes those who attended the forum walk away with information that will allow them to contact their elected officials regularly to advocate for dedicated funding for Metro.

“We want them to feel comfortable doing that whether making phone calls, writing letters or going to visit elected representatives to talk about this issue and how much it matters to them,” she said.

Most elected officials want to do the right thing, said Executive Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth Stewart Schwartz.

“They wouldn’t be serving if they didn’t want to make our region a better place. Our region is also complicated. On the other hand, we think they all need to step up. All three jurisdictions, no matter what party, no matter what parts of their states, they represent and support Metro,” he said.

He added that the D.C. region would not be so successful if it weren’t for Metro. Also, local jurisdictions wouldn’t have the kind of tax base they have without Metro, he added.

A funding solution into 2018 is an urgent need, he said.

Snyder said some 40 years ago, LWNCA basically was formed because of Metro.

“The League has supported Metro all along and is not about to abandon it now,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Edwards/WTOP. Click here to read the original story.

Teleworking may mean Metro’s lackluster ridership numbers are here to stay

For the first time in years, commuters in the Washington region who ride Metro four days a week outnumber those who ride every weekday — a subtle but significant ridership shift that transit officials fear may have long-term implications for the transit agency.

According to data released Tuesday by Metro’s Office of Planning, there has been a steady decline since 2013 in the average number of monthly trips taken by commuters carrying SmarTrip cards — down from 20 trips per month to 18. And data analysts contend that only about 30 percent of Metro’s recent ridership losses are due to people abandoning the system because of reliability and problems with on-time performance.

Instead, the rise of teleworking may have a more significant impact on ridership, confirming theories raised by transit officials in recent months: Rail ridership during morning peak-period hours on Fridays — a typical teleworking day for the federal government — is usually 15 to 20 percent lower than on days in the middle of the week.

That may play an outsize role in the steady ridership decline that Metro has seen in recent years. And it’s a trend that weighs heavily on Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld. Metro must improve service and reliability, he said, but teleworking is a threat to the agency’s finances — and something over which it has no control.

“It’s not even four days a week now,” Wiedefeld said at a recent meeting, citing new numbers from the federal government on rates of teleworking. “People are coming in twice and three times a month. I can’t change that. That’s going to be what it is.”

Monitoring how riders use the system — and on what days of the week frequent commuters travel — is a relatively new ability for Metro, made possible by the introduction of SmarTrip cards that allow Metro to monitor individual cards to learn about the frequency and timing of use. Metro officials say they intend to use that data to drill down into details that could explain exactly why ridership is ebbing — and how to stem the decline.

The data also paints a sobering picture of the future of Metro: Though officials continue to hope that improving reliability and rehabbing the system’s infrastructure may help win back some riders, there is a growing acknowledgment that the numbers may never return to the boom-time ridership of the early 2000s, when it increased dramatically year after year.

Ridership growth reached its apex in 2008, when it peaked at 750,000 average weekday boardings. Now it hovers just over 600,000 average weekday rides.

Metro’s continued lackluster ridership numbers signal a fundamental shift for the agency’s data analysts and planners, who for years have relied on a simple theory: If the local economy is improving and the Washington region is growing in population, then Metro ridership will also grow.

But now, analysts indicated in the report, it’s clear that the old formula doesn’t work anymore. Anticipating growth on Metro has become a lot more complicated.

“[Metro] needed to rebuild its capacity to monitor and forecast ridership using new data and methods,” analysts say in the report.

 They also suggest that ride-share apps such as Uber and Lyft play a major role in Metro’s ridership woes, particularly when it comes to evening rides after rush hour — when longer average waits between trains make door-to-door car service even more attractive.

And a decrease in federal transit benefits several years ago may also have resulted in some portion of the federal workforce opting to use modes of commuting other than public transit.

However, staffers were blunt in noting that unexpected delays, service interruptions, peak-period meltdowns, ill-timed train offloadings and SafeTrack maintenance projects are a significant part of the ridership problem.

“We realize that it will take some time to regain the trust and confidence of customers needed to return to the system,” the planning staff wrote in the report.

The report, which will be presented at Thursday’s board meeting, said large-scale efforts might be the best solution for the ridership decline long-term. It recommends, for example, that regional leaders take more proactive steps to encourage ridership, such as investing in the construction of housing developments near Metro stations.

They also push for infrastructure improvements that can help public transit operate more efficiently and attract riders with shorter, faster rides — such as installing bus-only lanes and instituting traffic-signal prioritization for buses, as well as fostering pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods that encourage people to walk to their nearby Metro station rather than drive.

Aimee Custis, deputy director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Metro’s new data suggests that regional leaders are responsible for doing more to help the transit agency regain popularity.

“There are things that must absolutely be fixed in-house at Metro,” Custis said. “But we also must deal with things that are outside of Metro’s control, or we won’t solve this problem.”

Wiedefeld said recently that he remains hopeful that the long-term prospect of development and construction in the region means that boom times may still be to come for Metro. In particular, he said, the completion of the second stage of the Silver Line could bring thousands of new daily riders to the system.

“It will still be a few years before some of that occurs,” Wiedefeld said. “But as they get rid of those car lots and stuff and build 20-to-30-story buildings . . . that will start to drive the numbers up.”

Click here to view the original story.