Author: Charles Rudner

STATEMENT on DC Court of Appeals McMillan ruling


December 8, 2016



Cheryl Cort, Policy Director

(202) 251-7516


Coalition for Smarter Growth STATEMENT on DC Court of Appeals ruling on McMillan Sand Filtration Site redevelopment

Today, the DC Court of Appeals halted movement on the McMillan Sand Filtration Site redevelopment, vacating the Zoning Commission’s ruling on the planned unit development (PUD). Following the Court of Appeals ruling, Coalition for Smarter Growth Policy Director Cheryl Cort issued the following statement:

“The Appeals Court ruling is a disappointing setback to delivering the city’s largest new park for all of us to enjoy. The ruling also delays much-needed housing and affordable housing, a new grocery store, and the historic restoration of aging structures.

Whatever the next steps to win a mixed-use McMillan development, the Court’s interpretation of the District’s Comprehensive Plan underscores just how important it is for residents to get involved with the ongoing Comprehensive Plan amendment process to clarify the plan as our city’s vision for guiding growth.”


About the Coalition for Smarter Growth 

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at

McMillan redevelopment blocked by D.C. Court of Appeals

The D.C. Court of Appeals vacated the Zoning Commission’s approval of the McMillan Sand Filtration site redevelopment only one day after the groundbreaking, as reported by UrbanTurf. The court’s decision found that the D.C. Zoning Commission did not adequately address how the redevelopment would impact the nearby neighborhoods.

The ruling made by the D.C. Court of Appeals reads:

“In the first order, the Zoning Commission approved Vision McMillan Partner’s application for a planned unit development (PUD) on the site. In the other two orders, the Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation approved permits allowing [Vision McMillan Partners] to demolish certain structures on the site and to subdivide the site. Petitioner Friends of McMillan Park (FOMP) challenges these orders. Specifically, FOMP argues that the project is inconsistent with the District’s Comprehensive Plan and that the Commission failed to adequately explain its conclusions.”

In a statement, the non-profit organization, Friends of McMillan Park, described the ruling as “a great victory for our long efforts.” Friends of McMillan Park has stated that their hope for the property is to only construct a park.

Kirby Vining, treasurer of Friends of McMillan Park, told DCist, “The court is the first time that we’ve had an objective look at what the city is actually doing with this land.”

Despite the win for Friends of McMillan Park, the court doesn’t totally agree with the non-profit. According to DCist, the court believes that in certain cases high-density development could be justified for the 25-acre site..

The delivery for the redevelopment was slated for 2018. Plans involved 531 apartments and a 52,000-square-foot Harris Teeter from Jair Lynch as well as 146 townhouses from EYA. Plans also included an eight-acre park, 17,500-square-foot community center, and roughly 1 million square feet towards medical office space from Trammell Crow.

UPDATE: The Coalition for Smarter Growth Policy Director Cheryl Cort issued the following statement:

“The Appeals Court ruling is a disappointing setback to delivering the city’s largest new park for all of us to enjoy. The ruling also delays much-needed housing and affordable housing, a new grocery store, and the historic restoration of aging structures.

Whatever the next steps to win a mixed-use McMillan development, the Court’s interpretation of the District’s Comprehensive Plan underscores just how important it is for residents to get involved with the ongoing Comprehensive Plan amendment process to clarify the plan as our city’s vision for guiding growth.”

Click here for the original story. 

Wiedefeld Marks One Year As Head of Metro as Rifts Over Long-Term Problems Persist

WASHINGTON — (WMAL) It was one year ago today that Paul Wiedefeld took over possibly the least-coveted job in the transportation world in starting to chart a path forward for the floundering Metro system. Many D.C.-area leaders and transportation experts agree Wiedefeld has given the system some hope, but there is still much to be done both in the short and long term, and many sharp disagreements about the direction still to be ironed out.

“He has been willing to make the tough decisions,” Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly told WMAL. “Which many of his predecessors, frankly, did not do.”

Chief among those tough decisions was the unprecedented move to close the system for an entire day on March 16. The region was given little more than a few hours notice that the system would be shuttered for 24 hours that Wednesday to do an emergency inspection of jumper cables.

“That showed his ability to make tough decisions and stand by them,” Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz told WMAL. “It really established his role as a leader.”

Those same sentiments were expressed when Wiedefeld put together the 10-month track rehabilitation plan known as Safe Track, designed to compress three years’ worth of work into a much shorter time span. It was also seen in some in-the-weeds issues like workforce development. Wiedefeld announced the firing of 20 managers in May, and layoffs to the tune of 500 positions in July in an attempt to turn around the oft-criticized culture of the system.

Some say Wiedefeld’s effort to turn around operations and safety is inspiring other area leaders to finally start tackling the long-term issues that are out of Wiedefeld’s hands, like overhauling how Metro gets its money, and increasing its subsidies to further the system’s improvement.

“We appreciate Paul’s sense of urgency and focus on what needs to be done,” Greater Washington Board of Trade President Jim Dinegar said. “How we’re going to pay for it, how it’s going to be governed and all the rest is a work in progress, but I believe there is a growing sense of urgency.”

That urgency is appreciated by Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who again warned his colleagues of the dire straits ahead.

“We are faced with these staggering costs here,” Evans said during a D.C. Council breakfast Tuesday. “We are looking at $160 million in the next two years in operating costs, and $492 million in capital costs, increases that we have to put into Metro, or not. And the ‘or not’ is, the system’s just going to stop running.”

Evans proceeded to rail against jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia that he says have been dragging their feet on giving Metro what it needs.

“Loudoun County is the richest county in America. Fairfax County is the second-richest county in America. Arlington County is the sixth-richest county in America, and Montgomery County is the eighth-richest county in America,” Evans said. “These are the jurisdictions who can’t afford to pay for Metro.”

Evans’ comments do little to help a system where cross-jurisdictional cooperation is key, Connolly said.

“You can’t be Chairman of Metro and trash your compact partners,” Connolly said. “I have a Republican General Assembly in Richmond I have to sell (an increase in funding) to. And Jack Evans, every time he opens his mouth, makes that job harder.”

Evans made waves two weeks ago when he questioned Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s motivations in refusing to give Metro extra money, insinuating the Republican cares little for constituents in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties since it is a heavily Democratic area. Hogan’s office dismissed those claims, and a spokeswoman questioned Evans’ fitness for the job.

“The system needs strong, balanced, and rational leadership,” the spokeswoman said, “and if this chairman can’t provide it, then it’s time to find someone who can.”

Click here for the original story.

There are four proposals to save Metro. Which might prevail?

There are no fewer than four distinct plans being floated to save Metro. Business leaders and elected officials urge a crusade to repair the transit system by restructuring its board, giving it reliable funding or handing it over to the federal government. They proclaim bravely that failure is not an option.

In fact, experience with similar restructuring efforts suggests that failure is the probable outcome. The same political and economic divisions that have stymied restructuring for the past 40 years persist today.

If the region is to finally fix Metro’s structural weaknesses, analysts say, then force must be exerted on the top elected officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia to get them to act.

One such stimulus for change would be a unified coalition of business leaders, transit advocates and civic organizations. Government and business groups, including the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Federal City Council hope to assemble such a bloc.

It’s especially important that prominent chief executives join the effort, supporters say. Top executives of large companies have the clout needed to persuade legislators in Richmond and Annapolis to ensure dependable revenue for Metro, and possibly transform its board and other governing structures.

“It has to be key industry leaders, CEOs, stepping up and saying, ‘We can’t afford to live in limbo here,’ ” said Bob Buchanan, president of the 2030 Group, a regional business organization. “The status quo continues to be an embarrassment as Metro twists slowly in the wind, and piecemeal efforts aren’t going to do it.”

But many CEOs of major companies in the area are busy with national or global issues rather than local ones, or they prefer to avoid potential political controversies.

Another potential change agent — but less desirable — is Congress. It could appoint a control board or other body to take over Metro — temporarily or permanently — and push through needed changes to save the system.

Metro board Chairman Jack Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member, is among those who has endorsed such plans.

That prospect has lost much of its allure with Republican victories in the recent national election. Much of the GOP prefers to devote transportation dollars to roads, and the party platform approved in July urged phasing out federal transit spending altogether.

“There needs to be a strategic pause in discussion of a control board,” said a senior official in the administration of D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who asked not to be named to speak candidly about a sensitive political issue.

The question to be decided in the coming months is whether the region can overcome its internal differences and coalesce around a common plan. Otherwise, federal intervention becomes more likely.

Two major obstacles loom. First, it will be difficult to get Virginia’s support for increased taxes for Metro, as advocated by the District and Montgomery County. Northern Virginia Democrats said it would probably be necessary for their state to find a different source of fresh revenue, such as highway tolls.

“This all really hinges on Virginia,” said COG Chairman Roger Berliner, who also is a Democratic Montgomery County Council member representing Potomac-Bethesda. “I know we will win in the District. I believe we can win in Maryland.”

A division also has emerged over whether it is necessary to transform Metro’s board and governing structure at the same time that reliable funding is sought.

On one side, Virginia and the Federal City Council say it’s vital to rewrite the Metro compact, the founding document that outlines how Metro is governed and funded. U.S. Reps. John Delaney (D-Md.) and Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) also have proposed revising the compact, albeit to a lesser extent, by requiring Metro board members to have expertise in transit or another relevant discipline.

“There’s no doubt there needs to be governance restructuring,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne said. “It needs a visioning process so we can look at both public and private entities [as guides] and ask, ‘What’s the best structure to run Metro?’ ”

By contrast, the District, the COG and the Board of Trade have sought to avoid a discussion of amending the compact. Although they are open to it if a consensus could be reached, they say they fear that a battle would undercut the higher priority of obtaining a dedicated funding source.

“It runs the risk of being a distraction from the core issues with the system,” the senior District official said. “The riders don’t care who governs Metro. They just want a safe system that gets them to where they need to go.”

There is little time to waste. Officials have said they need a common funding plan by summer. That would allow for a lobbying campaign before the Virginia and Maryland legislative sessions open in early 2018.

Metro’s budget pressures have led some players to think of moving more quickly. The Board of Trade may propose legislation in the Richmond and Annapolis sessions beginning in January to allow the suburban counties to tax themselves to raise money for Metro.

“It probably needs to move faster than originally anticipated,” James C. Dinegar, president of the Board of Trade, said.

Here’s a summary of the four plans:

●Put funding first. The COG and the Board of Trade have been working since spring on a plan to seek a reliable funding stream in exchange for setting performance benchmarks for Metro on safety, reliability and customer satisfaction.

Metro is the only major transit system in the nation that doesn’t obtain a significant amount of its revenue from a tax or other dedicated source.

The proposal got a major boost last month when Bowser publicly urged adoption of a regional sales tax of at least half a penny to fund Metro.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), a strong opponent of higher taxes, initially was cool to the idea. But he later signaled he could go along if Montgomery and Prince George’s wanted to tax themselves to support Metro, as long as the rest of the state wasn’t affected.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has supported a regionwide sales tax for Metro for two years. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) sought to place responsibility on Annapolis. His spokesman noted that the state, rather than the counties, has funded Metro in the recent past, and has “unique authority” to explore sources such as a sales tax.

A major hurdle is Virginia. The Republican-controlled General Assembly opposes tax increases to help Metro. Even Northern Virginia Democrats said they can’t ask their constituents to pay more in sales or property taxes to support transportation.

“That’s something we’ll all be scratching our heads over,” Bulova said.

●Rewrite the compact. The Federal City Council, arguing that dedicated funding alone isn’t enough to save the agency, introduced a proposal this month to radically overhaul Metro’s governance by rewriting the agency’s compact.

The council wants to reduce the size of the 16-member Metro board, among other things, to make it more efficient. It also wants to weaken union protections by dropping the requirement that outside arbitrators decide labor contract disputes. Such mandatory arbitration has had the effect of driving up labor costs.

The proposal to reopen the compact enjoys wide support in the business community, but transit advocates are skeptical.

“You could end up in a complete quagmire, stalemate, unable to come to an agreement on the union issues, on funding formulas,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

●Let the feds take over. Evans, the Metro chairman, has been so frustrated with the board that he called for federal appointees to take control of the agency, either temporarily or permanently.

He has acknowledged that such a scenario is unlikely. He hoped in part to call attention to the structural problem in which board members have split loyalties between their duties to Metro and to the jurisdictions that appoint them.

The Federal City Council urged Congress use the threat of a federal control board as an incentive to force the District, Virginia and Maryland to agree on changes.

Some welcomed that idea as providing necessary leverage. Others said that it risked handing over Metro to people with no stake in the region.

“Congress can’t even pass a budget on time, and we’re going to ask them to make the trains run on time?” said Ronit A. Dancis, president of the Action Committee for Transit, which advocates for improved public transit. “I’m not comfortable with a federal takeover even being a threat.”

Comstock and others said that revising the compact is critical to supporting Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld, who has generally won praise for aggressive changes in his first year in the job.

“We need a new structure with the compact so Paul J. Wiedefeld can do the job that he’s been hired to do,” Comstock said.

Delaney said it’s hard to push through genuine changes because Metro is suffering a gradual decline without a dramatic, one-time crisis requiring immediate action.

“It can kind of limp along for a while, and that’s why you don’t see something being done right away,” Delaney said. “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

Photo credit: Bonnie Jo Mount/Washington Post

Click here for the original story

What board members and the public liked (or didn’t) about the 2016 CLRP Amendment

A review of more than 450 written public comments and more than an hour of in-person public comment and board discussion preceded a final vote by the TPB on November 16 to amend the region’s Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP). Regularly updating the plan is one of the TPB’s primary responsibilities as the federally designated metropolitan planning organization for the region.

This year’s CLRP amendment added five major new projects, including new Express Lanes on I-395, an 11-mile extension of Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter rail, new bus-only lanes on 16th Street in the District of Columbia, and an expansion of the District’s dedicated bicycle-lane network. The amendment also made changes to four major projects already in the plan and included several other smaller additions and changes.

MORE: See all of the major additions and changes in the 2016 CLRP Amendment

5 key CLRP-related actions at the Nov. 16 TPB meeting

The TPB took five formal actions to finalize this year’s CLRP amendment. The actions together pave the way for the TPB to submit the amendment and an update of the region’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for federal review and approval.

  • ACTION #1: Accepted public comments and staff and agency responses to comments.The board reviewed and accepted the more than 450 written comments received during a 30-day comment period that ended November 12. The board also reviewed and accepted a set of “responses” developed by staff and sponsoring agencies explaining how the issues raised have been or will be addressed or directing commenters to other appropriate avenues to share their input. Listen to the full presentation and discussion.
  • ACTION #2: Approved the results of the Air Quality Conformity Analysis. The federally required analysis demonstrated that future vehicle-related emissions of certain smog-forming pollutants will fall sharply in coming years under the plan and remain below approved regional limits. Most of the reductions will be thanks to tighter federal controls on vehicle technology and fuel formulation. Board member Dave Snyder (Falls Church) reminded the board that the region needs to remain committed to achieving further reductions through measures like transportation demand management, since tougher new air quality standards are expected in coming years. Listen to the discussion and vote.
  • ACTION #3: Adopted the 2016 CLRP Amendment. The amendment included five major new projects, changes to four major projects already in the plan, and dozens of other smaller additions and changes. The amendment also reaffirms the hundreds of regionally significant highway, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian projects already in the plan. Four of the 28 board members present voted against the amendment, saying the plan does too little to improve the region’s transportation future. Listen to the discussion and vote or read more analysis below.
  • ACTION #4: Approved the FY 2017-2022 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).The TIP identifies amounts and sources of funding for hundreds of projects programmed for planning, engineering, or construction over the next six years. The TPB updates the TIP every two years, usually in conjunction with an update to the long-range plan. Listen to the presentation and vote.
  • ACTION #5: Approved a certification of the metropolitan transportation planning process. When it approves the TIP, the TPB must also certify that the metropolitan transportation planning process it carries out meets all relevant federal requirements. Some board members expressed some reservations about the certification but ultimately voted to approve it. Listen to the presentation and vote.

A mix of criticism and praise emerged in the final discussion of the 2016 CLRP Amendment

Extensive public comment and board discussion preceded the TPB’s final votes related to the 2016 CLRP Amendment. Staff summarized and presented the more than 450 written comments submitted during a formal 30-day public comment period. Four people presented in-person comments at the beginning of the meeting. And several board members spoke up to express concerns, ask questions, or to explain their support for this year’s amendment.

In the end, the board approved the 2016 CLRP Amendment with broad support, saying that the projects in this year’s amendment were worthwhile and needed. But there was also a sense that the TPB should work toward developing a plan that will more positively impact future travel behavior and travel conditions in the region.
Public comments focused on two main projects but many addressed a range of other issues

In all, the TPB received more than 450 written comments from individuals, businesses, organizations, and governmental representatives during the 30-day comment period that ended November 12. Most focused on two of the proposed additions in this year’s CLRP amendment:

  • I-395 Express Lanes: More than 300 comments addressed the proposed addition of express toll lanes on I-395 in Northern Virginia. All but a few expressed support for the projects, for reasons including improved travel time for all users, the use of private rather than public funding, and that the tolls from the lanes will provide a revenue stream for transit improvements in the corridor. A couple of comments expressed concern about the potential adverse impacts of the lanes on lower-income travelers, while others said that no toll revenue should be used for transit services in the corridor.
  • DC dedicated bicycle-lane network: About 160 comments addressed the District’s plan to expand its dedicated bicycle-lane network by removing travel lanes for automobile traffic on certain road segments throughout the city. Specifically, the comments opposed the addition of bicycle lanes on a portion of 6th Street NW, citing impacts on parking for several nearby churches as well as traffic implications for major downtown event venues. Representatives from the United House of Prayer, one of the churches affected by the 6th Street proposal, provided in-person comments at the TPB’s October meeting highlighting their congregation’s concerns. DDOT officials said the agency would work with church leaders to determine the best routing for the new bike lanes.

MORE: Full summary of all comments received on the 2016 CLRP Amendment

The November 16 meeting also featured in-person public comment from representatives of four area organizations. Kevin McNulty (Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce) and Brandon Shaw (Prince William County Chamber of Commerce) both spoke in favor of the projects slated for inclusion in the 2016 CLRP Amendment, citing the impact the projects will have on the region’s economy. Nancy Smith (Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance) applauded the key road projects in Virginia but said that the region needs a more strategic approach to identifying worthwhile projects that will have a truly regional impact.

Stewart Schwartz (Coalition for Smarter Growth) applauded the transit investments slated to be included in the plan but told board members that transportation investment will only get the region so far in solving its transportation problems. He said that more efficient growth patterns and land-use will be necessary to address regional transportation challenges.

Board member Linda Smyth pressed VDOT on allowing commercial trucks to use I-66 Express Lanes

Last year’s CLRP amendment included the addition of a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) plan to add new express toll lanes to I-66 inside and outside the Capital Beltway. The agency has since said that the private concessionaire that will build and operate the lanes has proposed allowing commercial trucks to use the lanes on the portion of the facility outside the Beltway.

At the November 16 meeting, board member Linda Smyth (Fairfax County) reiterated her ongoing concerns about the air quality, noise, and traffic impacts of allowing commercial truck traffic on the new lanes and pressed VDOT for an analysis of potential impacts.

“I understand what VDOT is saying here, except their analysis is not complete. The environmental analysis should include the impacts on neighborhoods and air quality,” Smyth said. “What they’re looking at essentially is the through-movements of trucks on the express lanes, not where they get off on the ramps and what neighborhoods they then drive through. And that should be part of the analysis.”

VDOT’s Rene’e Hamilton told Smyth that the state will study the effects as part of a reevaluation of the environmental analysis of the project.

“We are going to go through a reevaluation and look at those interchanges and potentially the impacts to neighborhoods around there,” Hamilton said. “We will go back in and look at air, noise, and all the traffic related to any changes,” she said.

Hamilton also explained that the results of that analysis would be taken through a public review and comment process, including bringing it back to the TPB, before VDOT makes a final decision.

“I will look forward to a very comprehensive analysis,” Smyth responded.


Four board members voted against CLRP approval, saying the plan falls short

“I understand the importance of why we do this work, keeping the system going. But I do think it’s important that at least some of us register our frustration that we do not have a CLRP that actually reduces congestion and improves performance by whatever related standards we determine are appropriate.”

That was the sentiment of board member Peter Schwartz (Fauquier County), who along with three other board members voted against adoption of the 2016 CLRP Amendment.

Schwartz, along with two of the other opponents, Marc Elrich (Montgomery County) and Neil Harris (Gaithersburg), cited the CLRP’s failure to improve travel conditions in the region despite tens of billions of dollars in capacity-expanding highway and transit projects.

“Some of us need to say more concretely that we don’t think this is where we really need to be,” Elrich said.

Metro’s Shyam Kannan was responsible for the fourth “nay” vote, saying that the transit agency could not support any amendment to the plan that did not include sufficient funding for Metro’s capital needs, including both reinvestment in existing infrastructure and key expansion projects.

The CLRP amendment ultimately passed with broad support—24 of 28 board members who were present voted in favor of the amendment.

Some board members publicly voiced their intention to cast a “yea” vote, including Jay Fisette (Arlington County), who said that the CLRP amendment process had given localities the chance to work with VDOT to refine the I-395 Express Lanes project.

“This project now includes as a base condition a minimum of $15 million annually for multimodal improvements in the corridor to promote transit use and moving more people and fewer vehicles. That was nowhere a part of the plan earlier,” Fisette said.

Board member Martin Nohe (Prince William County) also voiced his support, bringing a dose of reality to the discussion. Nohe said he agreed with the comments that the region needs a better long-range plan, but that the CLRP isn’t that plan.

“I believe we do need a bigger, multijurisdictional, regional plan that says, ‘Here is what we can do if we had the money,’” he said. “But the fact is, [the CLRP] is what we can do with the money that we have, and therefore I think we should go do it.”

Also publicly voicing their support were board members Cathy Hudgins (Fairfax County), Jonathan Way (City of Manassas), R. Earl Lewis, Jr. (MDOT), and TPB Chairman Tim Lovain (Alexandria).


Next steps for the CLRP

The 2016 CLRP Amendment as adopted will now be submitted for federal review and approval. The TPB will forgo a 2017 plan amendment and instead focus on the next major four-year update of the plan as required by federal law. The update will include revised estimates of available revenue and is expected to include a new “unconstrained” element to highlight projects for which funding has not yet been identified but that area leaders might want to rally support around to find new funding.

Other takeaways from the Nov. 16 TPB meeting…

  • The TPB’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) endorsed Vision Zero. After a briefing on regional traffic safety data at its November 10 meeting, the committee formally endorsed Vision Zero, an effort to eliminate traffic-related bicycle and pedestrian deaths in the region. Read the full CAC report.
  • Recruitment is underway for new CAC members for 2017. Applications to join the CAC for its 2017 term are due December 9. The three incoming TPB officers for 2017 will appoint nine new members to the committee, three from each state-level jurisdiction. Learn more and apply.
  • Chairman Tim Lovain recapped the Nov. 2 traffic incident management conference.The conference brought practitioners and regional leaders together to discuss ways to further improve the region’s already robust traffic incident management practices. Read more about the conference.
  • The TPB’s Long-Range Plan Task Force presented its Phase 1 report. The group is looking at the region’s unmet funding needs and is hoping to identify a limited set of projects with the greatest potential to improve the future performance of the region’s transportation system. The Task Force met just before the November meeting and expects to meet again soon in the new year. Read the full Phase 1 report.
  • COG is leading work on a Metro funding study and establishing a new Metro safety oversight agency. COG Executive Director Chuck Bean updated the board on ongoing work to quantify unmet funding needs for Metro and to facilitate the establishment of the new tristate Metro Safety Commission (MSC). Listen to Bean’s full report.

Picture credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

Click here to read the original story.


RELEASE: Prince George’s adopts cutting-edge urban street designs to support transit-oriented development

November 16, 2016

Cheryl Cort, Coalition for Smarter Growth
(202) 251-7516
Prince George’s adopts cutting-edge urban street designs to support transit-oriented development

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY – On Tuesday, November 15, the Prince George’s County Council voted to adopt state-of-the-practice urban street design standards. The new standards break with old highway rules by allowing the construction of safe, low speed streets that foster walkable streets in business districts and around transit stations.

“We applaud County Executive Rushern Baker and the Prince George’s County Council for adopting such progressive standards to help Metro station areas and other local centers thrive. These bold new street standards will allow transit-oriented development to be served by safer, low-speed streets where walking, bicycling and riding transit are easy options. The new standards also allow on-street parking on a major roadway – a first for the county. All these innovative urban street design standards are essential ingredients to creating successful walkable, transit-oriented business districts,” said Chery Cort, Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Until now, Prince George’s, like many jurisdictions, has used outdated rural road design standards that encourage high travel speeds and difficult crossings for people who are walking. Not only are these rural road standards unnecessarily dangerous in urban areas where people are walking or biking, they are also bad for business. Creating mixed use walkable places is the key to fostering high value transit-oriented development, and thriving traditional town centers. Without streets designed to slow down traffic to reasonable speeds, and create a comfortable walking environment, business districts and Metro stations will fail to thrive as places people will want to be. These new street designs solve this problem.

The new Urban Street Design Standards are intended to be used in the 8 Regional Transit Districts and 26 Local Centers, as established by Plan Prince George’s 2035 that have the necessary transit and transportation infrastructure to support future growth as mixed use centers.

The standards were adopted by the county following a law enacted last year asking the County Executive to provide proposed urban street design standards to the County Council in October 2016.

“The Baker administration took this assignment and ran with it. They have leaped ahead of other jurisdictions with its innovative urban street design standards. This a real boost for making transit-oriented development work with streets designed to encourage more walking, bicycling and riding transit,” said Cort. “Kudos to County Executive Baker and the County Council,” she concluded.


About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington DC region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Its mission is to promote walkable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities, and the land use and transportation policies and investments needed to make those communities flourish. Learn more at

Metroway saved from WMATA budget cuts


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority general manager Paul Wiedefeld will propose his fiscal 2018 operating budget for the beleaguered agency Thursday, and while Alexandria appears to have escaped its worst effects, it will be asked to chip in more money.

Face with a $290 million funding shortfall due in part to declining ridership and escalating costs, Wiedefeld has proposed what he called a “reality check” budget plan. He will present his $1.8 billion proposal to the WMATA board’s finance committee today.

Within that budget, Alexandria is being asked for $39.5 million in fiscal 2018, up from $33 million in the fiscal 2017 budget. The 20 percent hike is consistent with increases asked of other jurisdictions in the region and is part of a total proposed contribution of $251.4 million by Virginia governments. Under Wiedefeld’s plan, D.C. would pay $370.3 million, and Maryland $375.4 million.

Officials with the city’s department of transportation and environmental services did not respond to requests for comment. In an interview in July when the plan to ask jurisdictions for more money first came to light, deputy transportation director Carrie Sanders said any proposal would be considered through the city’s budget process alongside other priorities.

“Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” said Wiedefeld in a statement. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”

Under the plan, bus and off-peak fares increase by 25 cents, and peak rail fares and parking fees at Metrorail stations increase by 10 cents. These fare raises are expected to generate $21 million in net revenue. Approximately 1,000 jobs would also be cut.

The proposal also calls for widening peak train arrivals to every eight minutes on each line, while off-peak arrivals would be reduced too. Metrobus routes deemed to be most inefficient would also be eliminated, with the option to transfer services to the control of local providers.

Last month, it appeared that Alexandria could have been hit hard by the bus route reduction, as the bus rapid transit system Metroway was proposed to be cut by WMATA staff. For a meeting October 13, staff had been asked to prepare a list of Metrobus lines with the highest subsidy per rider, with a total of 20 brought to that budget preparation session.

In an email, WMATA spokeswoman Morgan Dye said the presentation was just for “illustrative purposes,” but the data called into question the future of Metroway, which has been operational since 2014.

Staff found that Metroway receives a subsidy of $7.74 per rider but has 1,633 weekday daily riders, the most of the 20 routes. Annually, Metroway was found to have more than 450,000 riders and an annual subsidy of $3.5 million, both the highest among the 20 on the list.

The plan to cut Metroway was shelved by staffers, who pared their initial list of 20 bus routes that could be eliminated down to 14.

Metroway begins at the Braddock Road Metro station, and uses dedicated bus lanes along U.S. Route 1 between Potomac Avenue and East Glebe Road in the developing Potomac Yard neighborhood of the city. It also uses dedicated lanes through Crystal City, before its northern terminus at the Pentagon City Metro station in Arlington County.

It has been praised for helping move people up and down the corridor as Potomac Yard continues to develop and add new residents, with a Metrorail station in the neighborhood slated to open in 2020.

Even after the station is open, Stewart Schwartz, executive director of transportation and development advocacy group the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the bus route plays a key role and must be given time to keep growing.

“The Metroway is very much still in a ramp-up phase,” Schwartz said. “One interesting angle to this is that often community members will be critical about new development coming online before the transit or other infrastructure. In this case, the transit came online before most of the new development.”

Another proposal by WMATA staff would have closed 20 stations in the Metrorail system during off-peak hours with the lowest rider-ship. That plan would have included the Van Dorn Street and Eisenhower Avenue Metro stations, but has been shelved.

Local leaders said they remain confident in Wiedefeld’s leadership, as WMATA continues to wrestle with significant financial challenges.

“I often wonder whether Paul Wiedefeld would have taken the job if he knew he was getting into,” said U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8) in an interview lat month. “I feel sorry for him because it feels like every week he turns over a new stone and there’s a whole bunch of snakes underneath it.

“But sooner or later, he will get to the point where there are no more stones to turn over , because he’s been reacting very constructively and very responsively every time he finds a new problem.”

The WMATA board will be asked at its December meeting to schedule a public hearing on the budget proposal. The public outreach and comment period begins in January and lasts for a month, and the fiscal 2018 budget is expected to be adopted in March.

Image credit: Chris Teale

Click here to read the original story.

Auto-centric suburb considers making developers pay more for transit, walking

Montgomery County is considering changing how it measures the transportation impact of proposed development, focusing — for the first time — on how accessible new buildings would be to transit rather than how many vehicles they would add to roads.

In areas around Metro stations — including traffic-clogged Friendship Heights and downtown Silver Spring and Bethesda — developers would no longer be required to complete traffic studies. Montgomery planners say that there’s no room to widen roads in more urban areas and that doing so would only make crossing them harder for pedestrians and cyclists.

Planners propose focusing on how many jobs would be reachable within a one-hour walkable transit trip of a new development, rather than the amount of traffic it would generate. Instead of vehicle trips, a development’s potential impact would be measured in “person trips” — whether by car, transit, foot or bike.

As Montgomery planner Pamela Dunn said, “We’re no longer a county that drives everywhere.”

The debate over how to best measure a new development’s impact on the transportation network comes as the County Council updates its Subdivision Staging Policy to ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with growth. Traditionally, the policy has focused on schools and roads as it specifies how growth’s impact should be measured and guides how developers should pay to mitigate them.

Like many suburbs, Montgomery is planning to accommodate population and job growth without worsening its sprawl-induced traffic by pushing for more high-rise development around transit stations.

Although many residents say they’re all for getting cars off the roads, some worry that the county’s vision ignores reality. Some say it’s impractical to expect transit, walking and biking to absorb the bulk of the growth in a suburb where about 75 percent of residents still commute by vehicle and many don’t live or work near a rail station or reliable bus service.

Critics point to a high-rise proposed for downtown Bethesda that would be adjacent to both a Metro Red Line station and a future light-rail Purple Line stop— and still have an 800-space parking garage.

“You can’t leave out the traffic impacts,” said Barney Rush, a council member for the town of Chevy Chase, where single-family homes in long-established neighborhoods abut downtown Bethesda.

Some people coming to new high-rises will still drive, he said, even if they live atop a Metro station.

“They might take Metro to and from work, but they could still be soccer moms or dads driving their kids,” Rush said. “We don’t expect roads to be empty, but we do expect our infrastructure to support the level of development coming.”

 Montgomery planners say traffic-impact studies done in such urban areas rarely predict problems at nearby intersections. When they do, they typically point to solutions — such as adding turn lanes — that would only make them less pedestrian-friendly.

Some residents say the kind of traffic study the county requires, which is no longer considered the industry standard, isn’t sophisticated enough to capture the lengthy backups that occur when saturated intersections close together create near-gridlock. They question whether county officials are considering scrapping traffic tests near Metro stations because more accurate results might make it more difficult or expensive to build the kind of high-rise, transit-oriented development that their long-term growth plans rely on.

Discussions of how to best measure and reduce the burdens that growing communities face as they attempt to move beyond their auto-centric roots are happening across the region.

Across the Potomac River, Fairfax County officials expect that by 2050, traffic-clogged Tysons will get 100,000 new jobs and a fivefold increase in its current residential population of 19,000. Amid the vast parking lots and strip malls that line Routes 123 and 7, new high-rises are quickly sprouting around the area’s two-year-old Metro Silver Line stations. Traffic-mitigation measures required of Tysons developers include reducing the number of single-occupant cars entering or leaving their new buildings, such as by funding vanpools and shuttle services to Metro stations and building mostly smaller roads to create a more urban and walkable street grid.

Even so, some longtime Tysons residents say the new high-rises have already brought significantly more traffic as many of the new residents and workers continue to drive.

Accommodating new building by continuing to focus on traffic congestion “isn’t going to get us to the future we need,” said Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large).

County Council President Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), who also chairs the panel’s planning committee, said improving transportation will mean developers helping to pay for different things in different parts of the county.

“In [downtown] Bethesda, we won’t be building bigger intersections for cars to go through more rapidly,” Floreen said. “But we’ll have a list of what else needs to be done there, like improve sidewalks.”

Montgomery isn’t the only jurisdiction considering a different approach. Pete Tomao, Montgomery advocacy manager for the Coalition For Smarter Growth, a pro-transit group, noted that California recently threw out development-impact standards based on intersection congestion and now considers vehicle miles traveled. California officials have said that measurement better aligns with the state’s environmental goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than helping people drive more.

While developing around transit lines focuses growth and reduces government infrastructure costs, Tomao said, those proposals often become more difficult or costly under traditional traffic-congestion tests. The result: It can become easier and cheaper for developers to build farther out, further adding to unsustainable sprawl.

“The vehicle delay could make a development look bad, but the benefits — people taking transit and walking more — weren’t taken into account,” Tomao said.

Developers say any additional taxes or fees would raise their construction costs. That, they say, could make it harder to secure financing and possibly require them to charge higher rents, which might prompt some businesses and residents to take their jobs and tax dollars elsewhere, such as to Tysons.

“How much can you tax development and still make sure that high-rise apartment buildings or office buildings get built?” said Steve Silverman, a former Montgomery County Council member and economic development director who now consults for developers.

At least one council member said he’s concerned that Montgomery lacks enough frequent and reliable transit service to absorb the amount of high-density growth planned, and there’s little money to provide more.

“If there’s no transit capacity, they’re all drivers,” said Marc Elrich (D-At Large). Traffic “is already horrible. You can’t add more development and not make it worse. It’s just not logical.”

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Image credit: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

Click here for the original story.