Author: Emily Maurer

Updates to the DC Comprehensive Plan Pass!

Updates to the DC Comprehensive Plan Pass!

Photo credit: Ted Eytan, Flickr

On May 18, after five years of advocacy and hard work, the DC Council voted unanimously to approve the amendments to the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. Thanks to all those who have taken action over these five years to convince the city to do more to address our acute need for affordable housing and more homes near transit.  

Working with a terrific group of partners in the Housing Priorities Coalition, with the DC Office of Planning, and with the Council, we fought for and helped create a much better document to guide the future of our city. The updated plan puts a priority on affordable housing, sets a goal of 15% for each part of the city, and highlights the opportunity in Ward 3, which today hosts just 1% of the city’s affordable housing stock.

The Future Land Use Map creates room to build more homes, especially near transit. This reduces pressure on existing housing, and helps those who should be able to be served by the market to find a place to live. At the same time, the plan also better addresses displacement of vulnerable residents. 

The update focuses on bringing racial equity into every land use decision we make. Recognizing that Black families in DC earn a third of what white families earn and have a median family income (MFI) at just 40% of the region’s MFI, the plan refocuses goals, policies, and spending priorities to meet the needs of these families. Until now, DC programs have too often focused on 80% of median family income. 

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We are eager to get on with implementation — ensuring the Council increases public funding for deeply affordable housing, creating local plans to guide neighborhood change, rezoning for more mixed-income housing near transit, and incorporation of racial equity assessments into Zoning Commission decisions. Then we’ll participate in the full rewrite of our Comp Plan, due to start in 2025. 

Thank you for your involvement and contribution to this success! With this milestone behind us, stay with us as we continue our work to build a more sustainable, equitable and vibrant DC.

Testimony to TPB re Climate & Visualize 2045

May 19, 2021 

Dear Chair Allen and TPB Board members: 

You have the opportunity to create a better Visualize 2045, not next time, but now. The region’s  residents and future generations are counting on you, and climate science says that we can’t delay  anymore. At last week’s COG Board meeting, TPB Director Kanti Srikanth said in regard to climate  change and Visualize 2045 that “Every option needs to be pursued as expeditiously as possible to  attain our 2030 goal.” We agree.  

193 of the 199 public comments submitted to TPB ask for sustainable and equitable transportation  investments that prioritize non-auto modes, including land use and demand management strategies.  This is consistent with the COG Voices of the Region survey. 

Please note these two key findings in today’s presentation on TPB’s Climate Change Study Phase 1  Report: 

“At the regional and local levels, the studies show that land use policies that bring housing  and jobs closer together and closer to transit reduce both GHG emissions and vehicle travel.  Travel demand policies such as teleworking are also effective at reducing GHG emissions and  vehicle travel and are also cost-effective.” and that “In contrast to most of the vehicle-related  strategies, many of these policy actions can be implemented in a shorter timeframe  contributing to critical near-term GHG reductions.”  

– The memo notes the promise of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), and we agree.  However, the TCI Program will only reduce on-road emissions by 7% by 2032. TCI clearly states  that substantial reductions depend on jurisdictions, including MPO’s like TPB, adopting  “complementary policies.”  

Given Director Srikanth’s statement that every option needs to be expeditiously pursued, we are  stunned by the staff response to the public comments — that the proposed project list with $40 billion in  highway and road expansion projects is generally consistent with and advances TPB’s climate and equity  goals, and that it is not as relevant to regional climate efforts. 

That is simply not possible. Road expansion fuels more driving and spread out development and diverts  billions of dollars from investing in transit and TOD to reduce emissions and address the region’s racial  and economic inequity. 

TPB’s own studies show we can avoid much proposed highway expansion if the region adopts effective  travel and greenhouse gas reduction strategies, which are travel demand and land use policies that  focus jobs and housing in walkable areas near transit, and expanding transit investments. 

Thank you. 

Stewart Schwartz Bill Pugh 

Executive Director Senior Policy Fellow

CSG Testimony Re: DC-Baltimore Maglev

May 4, 2021 

House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure 

Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials 

2167 Rayburn House Office Building 

45 Independence Ave SW 

Washington, DC 20515 

Hearing: “When Unlimited Potential Meets Limited Resources: The Benefits and Challenges of High-Speed Rail and Emerging Rail Technologies” 

Testimony for May 5, 2021 

Jane Lyons, Maryland Advocacy Manager 

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, the leading organization in the Washington, DC region advocating for walkable, bikeable, inclusive, and transit-oriented communities as the most sustainable and equitable way to grow and provide opportunities for all. We have strong partnerships with business, conservation, and affordable housing organizations, and received the 2017 Regional Partnership Award from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. 

We have been strong supporters of major rail improvements in the Northeast corridor, but are convinced that the proposed Baltimore-Washington Superconducting Magnetic Levitation (SCMAGLEV) project is the wrong technology and design for the Washington-Baltimore corridor and the NE Corridor as a whole. Therefore, we urge you to not provide federal financial support to this project. Instead, we urge significant investments in both the Amtrak and commuter rail improvement programs. 

The project would have a negative impact on racial and social equity. Construction would plow through majority Black Prince George’s County, but the residents of Prince George’s County would not be able to take advantage of the project, since the technology and design speed are such that there will only be stops in DC, at BWI Airport, and at Penn Station in Baltimore. Environmental Justice (EJ) communities would be disproportionately impacted, with 80 percent of impacted parcels located in EJ communities. 

Furthermore, the high projected cost of a one-way ticket sends a signal that this project is for the wealthiest white-collar commuters, not those who will suffer from the damage wrought by the project or those who need more accessible, frequent, and affordable transit. A $60 ticket for the SCMAGLEV would be about seven times more than an existing MARC commuter rail ticket for the same trip ($8) or existing Amtrak Acela ticket ($46). 

We are also concerned about the project’s negative effect on existing taxpayer investments in transit. The project is already diverting attention from repairing and improving our existing MARC and Amtrak infrastructure. If public funding is required for the Maglev, it could divert hundreds of millions of dollars in addition to fare revenue lost due to reduced ridership on Amtrak and MARC. 

The Maglev is a potential public-private partnership, and recent experience with P3s in Maryland and other states suggests that public funding will be required. Given that Maglev is a multi-billion dollar technology yet to be implemented anywhere in the U.S., this project could require significant public funding. 

The limited time savings is also not worth the cost and risk. The Acela Express between DC and Baltimore currently takes 30 minutes. While Maglev would cut time spent on the train in half, it doesn’t account for time spent getting to the station. The average total trip would go from 90 minutes to 75 minutes, which is not worth the risk, nor the costs to equity and environmental quality. 

Investing in the Maryland MARC and Amtrak NE Corridor expansion plans would more effectively serve the transit needs of our region and the NE Corridor. Upgrades to the existing rail system could also more easily be extended to other destinations like New York and Boston, than would be the case with Maglev which would need entirely new right-of-way through the very densely developed Northeast. Existing rail stations are located in more central and well-established transit hubs, like DC’s Union Station. A much more cost-effective solution would be to invest in improving our existing infrastructure and upgrade over time to high-speed rail standards. 

In conclusion, we urge you to pursue upgrades to the nation’s existing rail infrastructure, including high-speed rail, in lieu of the SCMAGLEV. Thank you for your time.

CSG Testimony Re: Virginia 6 Year Plan

May 4, 2021 

Testimony re Virginia 6-Year Plan 2022 – 2027 

For this evening I will focus on the big picture. We will submit more detailed comments by the deadline. 

First, thank you for your leadership in supporting transit in Virginia including funding reduced  fare and free fare initiatives for bus service. Transit is now receiving more funding than it has in  the past, however we believe it should receive far more – as much as 50% of future state  transportation funding in order to support economic opportunity and equity, more efficient  land use and state competitiveness, and fight climate change. 

Second, thank you for your great leadership on Virginia intercity rail. Your analysis showed that  adding another lane the length of I-95 would be both costly and a failure due to induced  demand. Since our Reconnecting Virginia project in 2005, we’ve shown that intercity rail,  transit, and transit-oriented development in the state’s urban crescent should be a top priority. Third, thank you for adoption and implementation of SmartScale which in general is resulting in more effective projects and spending.  

However, we urge you to do more, in light of the existential threat of climate change. Virginia will be heavily impacted by sea level rise and we must limit that rise if we are going to save our  coastal communities including Hampton Roads and the Naval facilities. In addition, we will be  faced with more flooding events, washed out roads and transit facilities, as well as longer  droughts and significant heat events.  

This means you must scale back the extensive road expansion in state plans. New and wider  roads in metro areas fill up in as few as five years and they fuel more auto-dependent  development, more vehicle miles traveled, and more greenhouse gas emissions. “Congestion  relief” is not possible. The science shows electrical vehicles will not be enough. We need to  reduce VMT by at least 20% statewide, and because rural residents have fewer options and  must drive more miles, our metro areas need to reduce VMT even more. We know how to do  this – by focusing development in our cities and towns, and creating transit-oriented  communities (TOCs) in our suburbs. This must be combined with focusing our transportation $  on transit, on local street networks for TOCs and on bike/walk investments. It also means  pricing solutions like parking pricing, and employer transit benefits, and zero transit fares. 

As usual, we strongly disagree with the Northern VA Transportation Alliance whose focus on  the failed metric congestion reduction has done great damage to planning in NOVA. 

Our suburban elected officials must recognize that the auto-dependent land use approvals that  they are granting and the efforts to widen so many roads (even if they have bike/ped paths)  creates more traffic and less than ideal experiences for pedestrians and cyclists. 

For today, I will just mention two items of concern:

495Next – we and our partners urge you to delay action because VA and Md have not studied a  TOC/transit/demand management alternative. The P3 process continues to override fair and  objective alternatives analysis. As it is, the proposal to date has far too little funding for transit,  and extends the provision limiting transit and HOV to 24% of HOT traffic after which the  taxpayers must pay fees to Transurban. 

State of good repair – We appreciate the increased attention to maintenance. But it appears  that you are including capacity expansion, at least for bridges, in your state of good repair  program. If that means additional vehicle lanes, we ask that the relevant portion of the cost due  to capacity expansion not be charged in the SGR category but to the capital funding spent on  road expansion. 

Route 1: We are concerned that the widening of most of Route 1 will create a barrier and make  the road far more dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. So could the proposed  123 and Route 1 interchange.  

Thank you, 

Stewart Schwartz 

Executive Director

CSG statement regarding the Washington, DC region’s deadly roads and too many lives lost

Coalition for Smarter Growth 

Press Release

For Immediate Release:

April 29, 2021

Contact: Stewart Schwartz, 703-599-6437

Statement on the Washington, DC region’s deadly roads and too many lives lost

The Coalition for Smarter Growth shares in the profound sadness and anger at the deadly state of our region’s roads. In the past month, there have been six lives lost in DC alone to preventable traffic crashes: Jim Pagels, Brian Johnson, Evelyn Troyah, Zy’aire Joshua, Waldon Adams, and Rhonda Whitaker. Numerous other fellow residents have been killed in the region’s suburbs including at least four people so far this year in Fairfax: Raymunda Garcia-Hernandez, Christine Caldwell, Ramakant Bhusai, and Choon Yoo. We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of all those lost on the unnecessarily dangerous roads in our region.. 

We commit to working with our partners in the non-profit community and with area officials to address dangerous road conditions and other factors with a goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries.

Despite an overall reduction in vehicle traffic during the pandemic, traffic fatalities soared due to increased speeding and reckless driving. A recent report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association showed that pedestrian deaths have risen 46% over the last decade, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says bicyclists and pedestrians are one-third of traffic fatalities in our region.  Smart Growth America (SGA), in Dangerous by Design, documents the racial and economic disparities in these deaths and serious injuries among pedestrians and cyclists, and the major role of dangerous road designs that favor the speed and movement of cars over the safe movement of people and safe local access to schools, libraries, services, jobs, and transit. SGA has also shown that as a percentage of people walking, it is our suburban arterials that are the most dangerous.

Unfortunately, the presentations at the recent Council of Governments/Transportation Planning Board Vision Zero Arterial Summit confirmed that most area jurisdictions are not doing enough to fix our roads — particularly our suburban arterials — to make them safe places for walking and biking and taking transit. Too many DOTs continue to focus on moving cars, building new roads, and expanding existing roads. Instead, DOTs should be redesigning our existing roads to be humane places that support the growing demand to walk and bike for access to daily needs, to improve our health, and to fight climate change.

We need action now from our local, regional, and state leaders to prevent further loss of life. We wholeheartedly endorse the five recommendations and accompanying detailed actions for DC offered by Nick Sementelli and Conor Shaw in their recent GGWash post, which should be adopted in the surrounding suburbs as well:

1)    Implement emergency road diets on all arterial streets, followed by permanent changes

2)    Reduce speed limits on all roads, and deploy automated enforcement to make those limits real

3)    Reappropriate street space for public transportation, walking, and micromobility

4)    Make safe modes of transportation free and deadly forms of transportation more expensive

5)    More rigorous oversight and regulation of DDOT by the DC Council


There is much to do and among the many necessary actions that need to be taken we also call for all area jurisdictions to:

1)    Provide much more transparency and detail in reporting deaths and serious injuries for pedestrians, cyclists, and other micromobility users on the region’s roads.

a)     Police and transportation agency reporting must include more information about the road design at each site — including the width and speed of the road (both posted and design speed), location and distance between crossing points, type of crosswalk marking, availability of pedestrian refuges, turn radii, location of bus stops compared to crossing points, etc.

b)    All cases should be included in publicly accessible and easily utilized websites.

2)    Shift significant funding from road expansion to retrofitting and redesigning arterial and secondary roads to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists, using Complete Streets principles, and the National Association of City Transportation Officer (NACTO) standards.

3)    Commit to creating Safe Routes to School so every child can walk or bike safely to school.

4)    Invest in an extensive network of protected bicycle lanes and bike/walk trails such that biking and walking to work and to meet daily needs is no longer a high-risk activity.

###

RELEASE: CSG statement regarding the Washington, DC region’s deadly roads and too many lives lost

Coalition for Smarter Growth 

Press Release

For Immediate Release:

April 29, 2021

Contact: Stewart Schwartz, 703-599-6437

Statement on the Washington, DC region’s deadly roads and too many lives lost

The Coalition for Smarter Growth shares in the profound sadness and anger at the deadly state of our region’s roads. In the past month, there have been six lives lost in DC alone to preventable traffic crashes: Jim Pagels, Brian Johnson, Evelyn Troyah, Zy’aire Joshua, Waldon Adams, and Rhonda Whitaker. Numerous other fellow residents have been killed in the region’s suburbs including at least four people so far this year in Fairfax: Raymunda Garcia-Hernandez, Christine Caldwell, Ramakant Bhusai, and Choon Yoo. We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of all those lost on the unnecessarily dangerous roads in our region.. 

We commit to working with our partners in the non-profit community and with area officials to address dangerous road conditions and other factors with a goal of ending traffic deaths and serious injuries.

Despite an overall reduction in vehicle traffic during the pandemic, traffic fatalities soared due to increased speeding and reckless driving. A recent report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association showed that pedestrian deaths have risen 46% over the last decade, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments says bicyclists and pedestrians are one-third of traffic fatalities in our region.  Smart Growth America (SGA), in Dangerous by Design, documents the racial and economic disparities in these deaths and serious injuries among pedestrians and cyclists, and the major role of dangerous road designs that favor the speed and movement of cars over the safe movement of people and safe local access to schools, libraries, services, jobs, and transit. SGA has also shown that as a percentage of people walking, it is our suburban arterials that are the most dangerous.

Unfortunately, the presentations at the recent Council of Governments/Transportation Planning Board Vision Zero Arterial Summit confirmed that most area jurisdictions are not doing enough to fix our roads — particularly our suburban arterials — to make them safe places for walking and biking and taking transit. Too many DOTs continue to focus on moving cars, building new roads, and expanding existing roads. Instead, DOTs should be redesigning our existing roads to be humane places that support the growing demand to walk and bike for access to daily needs, to improve our health, and to fight climate change.

We need action now from our local, regional, and state leaders to prevent further loss of life. We wholeheartedly endorse the five recommendations and accompanying detailed actions for DC offered by Nick Sementelli and Conor Shaw in their recent GGWash post, which should be adopted in the surrounding suburbs as well:

1)    Implement emergency road diets on all arterial streets, followed by permanent changes

2)    Reduce speed limits on all roads, and deploy automated enforcement to make those limits real

3)    Reappropriate street space for public transportation, walking, and micromobility

4)    Make safe modes of transportation free and deadly forms of transportation more expensive

5)    More rigorous oversight and regulation of DDOT by the DC Council


There is much to do and among the many necessary actions that need to be taken we also call for all area jurisdictions to:

1)    Provide much more transparency and detail in reporting deaths and serious injuries for pedestrians, cyclists, and other micromobility users on the region’s roads.

a)     Police and transportation agency reporting must include more information about the road design at each site — including the width and speed of the road (both posted and design speed), location and distance between crossing points, type of crosswalk marking, availability of pedestrian refuges, turn radii, location of bus stops compared to crossing points, etc.

b)    All cases should be included in publicly accessible and easily utilized websites.

2)    Shift significant funding from road expansion to retrofitting and redesigning arterial and secondary roads to be safer for pedestrians and cyclists, using Complete Streets principles, and the National Association of City Transportation Officer (NACTO) standards.

3)    Commit to creating Safe Routes to School so every child can walk or bike safely to school.

4)    Invest in an extensive network of protected bicycle lanes and bike/walk trails such that biking and walking to work and to meet daily needs is no longer a high-risk activity.

###

CSG Testimony Re: Visualize 2045 Climate Commitments

April 21, 2021 

Hon. Charles Allen 

Chair, National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board 

Re: Call for a climate-friendly Visualize 2045 update 

Chair Allen and Board members: 

Tomorrow is the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, and 2030 is just 9 years away. By which time we  must slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. Transportation is our largest emitter and electric vehicles will not be enough. We must reduce VMT by 15 to 25%, and increase non-auto mode  share by 15 to 20%. 

You voted 22 to 0 with 8 abstentions (VDOT changed from No to Abstain) to require that  members “prioritize investments on projects, programs, and policies to reduce greenhouse gas  emissions, prioritize the aspirational strategies, and achieve COG’s land use and equity goals.” 

But in response, your DOT staffs are arguing their road projects reduce VMT and emissions, and without showing how. Building new highways and widening highways and arterials does not reduce VMT or GHG emissions. Nor do HOT lanes. This is because induced demand is a proven  fact. New capacity fills up in just a few years with more vehicle trips and VMT, and sparks more  auto-dependent sprawl. Not to mention the impact of highways in loss of thousands of acres of  forests, more impervious surface and stormwater, and the negative health and equity issues. 

You are the leaders who can and must break us out of business-as-usual and craft a plan that  focuses on TOD and proximity, correcting the E-W jobs divide, transit-first, and local connected  street grids with safe bike/ped networks. 

The DC region can and must be a leader in smart growth and sustainable transportation — starting with a new climate-friendly CLRP. 

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director

Bill Pugh, Senior Policy Fellow