Author: Mitch Margolis

Traffic Board: More Compromise Needed in King Street Bike Lane Proposal

Plans for bike lanes in a short segment of King Street between Russell Road and Janney’s Lane are on hold after Alexandria’s Traffic and Parking Board deferred action of the city’s proposal Monday night.

The majority of speakers at the hearing expressed support for the plan, but many residents along the stretch of King Street said they did not believe the narrowing of travel lanes and the removal of 27 on-street parking spaces to create buffers and install bike lanes would improve safety on the busy roadway.

Speeding in that stretch of King Street is a frequent problem and 30 vehicular crashes have been recorded in the last five years.

The Traffic and Parking Board recommended city staff implement pedestrian improvements of the proposal but come back with a plan for traffic calming and bicycle access that includes more compromise.

“It needs some more work and it needs some meat on it,” Commission Chairman Jay Johnson said of the proposal, which has previously been revised following community input.

Hillary Poole, the city’s Complete Streets coordinator, said the stretch of King is “a critical missing link” in the city’s bicycle facilities network. After hearing concerns from residents, an initial plan that called for the removal of all 37 on-street parking spaces along the stretch was amended to keep 10 spaces and install bicycle sharrows next to the parking.

“We really do feel this plan improves safety when compared to the current conditions,” Poole said. “As professional planners who design these facilities, we do feel like this is safe.”

Poole said the narrowing of the lanes would force traffic to slow down. The changes are in-line with city goals, she said.

Some residents said they believed the plan would actually make the roadway increasingly unsafe by reducing space for vehicles, eliminating the buffer created by parked cars and adding more cyclists into the traffic mix. Some questioned how deliveries and repair personnel could access their homes, while others lamented the loss of some convenient on-street parking for guests.

Parking counts from city staff determined the vast majority of the on-street spaces go unused.

Cyclists from across the city as well as representatives from theWashington Area Bicycle Association and the Coalition for Smarter Growth spoke of a need for bicycle lanes to increase road accessibility for cyclists and to create more transit connections. Several cyclists said they reluctantly bike on the sidewalks on King Street because the roadway poses too many problems.

T.C. Williams science teacher Patrick Earle said the proposed lanes would create a safer passage for students who currently feel it’s unsafe to bike to school.

The Taylor Run Citizens Association advised the board to recommend more work on the proposal with hope of finding a “true compromise.”

Commissioner William Schuyler said it wasn’t the board’s job to pick between two “wildly competing” and “winner-take-all” positions.

Jerry King, president of Alexandria’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said he wasn’t sure the commission weighed Monday’s three hours of testimony in their decision.

“We felt the board had predetermined the outcome of tonight’s hearing,” he said. “There were 38 speakers supporting the proposal and 18 against. That’s two-thirds expressing support for the proposal. … We’ll continue to push because the city has to move forward. We’re not done.”

The feud between residents and cyclists intensified in recent weeks after Frank H. Buckley, a law professor and King Street resident who has called the proposal “anti-car owner” and “anti-homeowner,” penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about the issue. Buckley’s “bike wars” column inspired a news segment from NBC Washington and drew critical responses on cycling advocacy blog Wash Cycle and DC Streets Blog.

Photo courtesy of Drew Hansen. Click here to read the original story. 

Intercounty Connector toll revenue falls short of early forecasts

Maryland officials have said repeatedly that traffic on the Intercounty Connector matches state projections, even as motorists say the controversial toll road continues to feel remarkably underused two years after it opened.

Tolls collected on the highway, between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, do align with state forecasts, but only because those projections were adjusted downward, according to internal state reports obtained under a public records request.

The ICC took in $39.6 million in the past fiscal year — almost dead-on the latest projection but $10 million to $32 million less than forecasts that Maryland lawmakers had in 2005, when they agreed tosignificantly increase the Maryland Transportation Authority’s debt to build it.

“They lowered the bar so now they can step over it,” said Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), a longtime ICC critic. “When you merge onto the ICC, it doesn’t feel like a highway. It feels like an airport runway.”

How many vehicles are using the ICC matters to motorists across Maryland. The $2.5 billion highway, which was hotly debated for decades because of its cost and environmental and community impacts, was the most expensive ever built in the state.

Maryland lawmakers agreed to pay for it by greatly increasing the authority’s debt, including $1 billion worth of bonds and a federal loan backed by all state toll revenue. The state committed to raise tolls statewide, if necessary, to pay them off.

The highway’s massive construction debt also prevents the state from lowering ICC toll rates — $8 for a passenger car making an end-to-end round trip during rush hours — to attract more motorists. Doing so, a recent study found, would lower the 18.8-mile highway’s revenue, requiring motorists statewide to subsidize even more of its costs.

Transportation Authority officials say the ICC is a success. They point to a recent study done by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that found that ICC motorists cut their travel time in half and that traffic on nearby roads had dropped by 5 percent to 10 percent. ICC traffic is growing by an average of 2.6 percent a month, officials said.

Earlier toll revenue estimates were “ballpark” projections made before ICC toll rates were set, state officials said. The projections also didn’t always reflect the need for a three-year “ramp-up” period for motorists to absorb the new road into their travel habits, officials said.

The state’s consultant, Wilbur Smith Associates, lowered ICC revenue projections significantly for the last time in 2010 — by $7 million annually — to reflect the effects of a global recession and rising gas prices, according to the reports.

Even so, state officials said, the ICC’s true financial impact won’t be known for five to 10 years, after traffic has stabilized. The last segment, between Interstate 95 and Route 1, is scheduled to open next year.

“The fact is, you always have [roads] built for a 30-year time frame,” said Bruce Gartner, the authority’s executive secretary. “You don’t build them for day one.”

State, federal subsidies

Motorists on Maryland’s seven other toll highways, bridges and tunnels have faced two toll increases in the past two years, in part to pay off mounting construction debt from the ICC and express toll lanes being built on I-95 north of Baltimore. On some facilities, such as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, tolls more than doubled.

In the past fiscal year, about $1.8 million in toll revenue collected from motorists statewide helped cover the shortfall between the ICC’s toll collections and its annual debt service and operating and maintenance expenses.

ICC debt service also consumed $87.5 million in federal highway funds — 15 percent of Maryland’s total federal highway allotment in the past fiscal year.

“What other dangerous roads or bridges in the state aren’t getting fixed because they’re blowing all this money on the ICC?” said Greg Smith, an anti-ICC activist. “That’s a big question.”

Gartner, of the Transportation Authority, said the agency always intended to subsidize the ICC’s construction debt with toll revenue from across the state. The authority pools toll collections and directs the money to where it’s most needed, whether to build the ICC or repaint the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Robert L. Flanagan, who was state transportation secretary under then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) when the ICC financing plan was approved, said Maryland could not afford the road without using statewide toll revenue and borrowing against future federal highway allotments. For decades, he said, planners had recommended building a highway outside the Capital Beltway to connect Montgomery’s I-270 jobs corridor with I-95 and, beyond that, Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport.

In setting the ICC tolls, Flanagan said, “I think there probably was a decision to maximize revenues rather than maximize the [traffic] flow. . . . That remains a choice. You could reduce the tolls and maximize the flow, but somewhere, somehow you have to pay for those bonds you issued.”

Speed enforcement

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson, a longtime ICC advocate, said the roadway is “underutilized” because motorists unaccustomed to paying tolls were scared off by the ICC’s high rates and visible police patrols. The ICC’s initial speed limit, 55 mph, was raised in March to 60 mph, but Anderson said motorists complain that it’s still too low to pay extra for.

“They had a low speed limit and police swarming it to ticket people who dared exceed that limit,” Anderson said. “People felt like they were paying a lot for the privilege of getting a ticket.”

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery), an ICC supporter who reviewed the financial plan in 2005, said lawmakers were well aware that paying off the ICC’s construction debt would require subsidies from statewide toll revenue and federal highway funds for 10 to 15 years.

“It was not supposed to be self-sustaining,” Madaleno said of the ICC. “If it had to be self-sustaining, the tolls would have to be so high, the project would be a failure.”

But Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a longtime ICC critic, questioned the validity of the toll revenue estimates that lawmakers saw when they agreed to build the road.

State transportation officials “may have been trying to sell the project despite its high costs and significant environmental and community impacts,” Schwartz said. “We shouldn’t be making multibillion-dollar decisions based on wrong data.”

Schwartz said the earlier forecasts missed the fact that the Internet revolution, with its online shopping and videoconferencing, would reduce the need to drive.

Some motorists might save time on the ICC, Schwartz said, “but is it enough people? Clearly there aren’t enough people traveling on it to justify the expenditure.”

Anderson, of AAA, said he believes that the use of the ICC will pick up as the economy recovers.

“I think its time will come,” he said, “but perhaps not as quickly as we thought it would.”

Photo courtesy of Dan Gross. Click here to read the original story.

Plans for express bus system in the works for eastern Montgomery County

Plans are in the works for bus rapid transit along U.S. 29, but officials say it will be at least five years before construction begins.

About 50 people attended a Coalition for Smarter Growth meeting on Nov. 13 at the White Oak Community Recreation Center to learn about the plans for U.S. 29, which are part of a larger plan to improve accessibility and mobility throughout the county. At the meeting, the group updated residents about the county’s current transit corridors functional master plan.

“It definitely doesn’t happen overnight,” said Larry Cole, transportation planner for the Montgomery County Department of Planning.

Cole said major construction on U.S. 29 won’t begin before important steps are taken, such as public outreach, and enough study in each location where the 60-foot-long buses will run.

The plan is to have public transportation with fewer stops and with its own lane in the highway.

Ten corridors, dedicated express highway lanes that serve to minimize travel time and move more people, are included at the rapid transit corridor map.

A Burtonsville station would serve as terminal for U.S. 29, with bus routes from Burtonsville to the Washington, D.C., line and 11 stations along the way among them: Burtonsville’s Park and Ride; Briggs Chaney’s Park and Ride; White Oak Transit Center; U.S. 29 and Fairland Road; U.S. 29 and Tech Road; Lockwood Drive and Oak Leaf Drive; Route 29 and Hillwood Drive; U.S. 29 and MD 193; U.S 29 and Franklin Street; U.S. 29 and Fenton Street and the Silver Spring Transit Center.

The station in Burtonsville would be at Briggs Chaney Road within walking distance from the Eastern Regional Service Center. “The important thing is that the master plan organizes and sees how all these [stops] work together,” Cole said.

According to Chuck Lattuca, manager for the Rapid Transit System Development, officials are studying the layout of highways, corridor lanes, number of stations, and where each station will be in the corridor.

Lattuca said the costs are still unknown, but the rapid transit will “definitely be a lot less expensive than light rail.”

Out of 81 miles dedicated to buses from the proposed rapid transit system, 70 percent will be in dedicated lanes and “the rest will be in some kind of mix traffic,” Lattuca said.

Mark Winston, a member of the Rapid Transit Task Force, said a lot of work needs to be done before construction begins.

“This functional plan is just the beginning. … This is a project that will benefit the community … as people learn more about this they become more comfortable,” Winston said.

According to Cole, it is important that the community understand the timeline of the bus rapid transit project. He said there will be future opportunities for residents to express their concerns and opinions.

“From our perspective as an organization, U.S. 29 should be a top priority in implementing the county’s bus rapid transit plan. The corridor has some of the highest density tracts in the county, [and] has some of the highest concentrations of poverty,” Kelly Blynn of the Coalition for Smarter Growth wrote in an email to The Gazette.

The Montgomery County Council will meet and possibly vote on the proposed Bus Rapid Transit project on Nov. 26.

Click here to read the original story.

Express lane future paved with gold?

During a meeting last month in Falmouth, a Virginia Department of Transportation official was asked a probing question about the Interstate 95 express-lanes project.

Rupert Farley of Spotsylvania County wanted to know what would happen if the high-occupancy toll lanes attract so many vehicles that are allowed to use them free that the company building them doesn’t recoup the money it expects.

“Maybe you can refresh my memory on a point that you did not bring up tonight,” started Rupert Farley, a Spotsylvania resident well known in transportation circles. “If this project is so widely successful that it gets used …by HOV free [traffic], that means Fluor[–Transurban] doesn’t get any income and they start losing money.“At that point, do the taxpayers of Virginia have to start kicking in out of their pockets to subsidize the project?” asked Farley, who is a member of the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Area Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Group.

“No,” said Toymeika Braithwaite, VDOT Megaproject’s express lanes public affairs manager.

“That’s not what I’ve been told,” said Farley, who is also a member of the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Area Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Group.

“If Transurban doesn’t make the money they want to make, it is not up to Virginia taxpayers to subsidize that,” said Toymeika Braithwaite, VDOT Megaproject’s express-lanes public affairs manager.

However, the public–private project contract signed with Transurban Group and Fluor Corp. includes stipulations that could force Virginians to pay the companies if non-toll-paying HOV traffic reach certain thresholds.

The threshold is based on a complicated formula comparing the percentage of free HOV traffic to toll-paying drivers. If the HOV traffic reaches the threshold, the state has to pay the companies 70 percent of the toll rate.

That agreement is no secret; it’s in the contract, which has been online since the summer of 2012.

But those details have flown under the radar since the state struck the deal with Transurban and Fluor on the massive I–95 express-lanes project. And those who attended that October meeting in Stafford County likely had no idea about that part of the contract, which is what Farley was alluding to.

Under the agreement, the companies are paying for most of the nearly $1 billion project, which will extend the current HOV lanes in the median of I–95 to Garrisonville.

State officials have said that without the agreement the express lanes wouldn’t have been built because the state funds weren’t available.

The same has been said of the Interstate 495 express lanes, which have been open for more than a year. The state has the same deal with Transurban and Fluor on those new lanes.

The I–95 express lanes are on target to open by early 2015.

Like the I–495 express lanes, the new I–95 lanes will be electronically tolled. Buses, motorcycles and vehicles carrying at least three people will be able to use them for free.

The companies hope to take in the toll revenues from other motorists and use them first to pay off loans used to build the projects.

After that, the companies hope to ring up profits. The state eventually would also get a percentage of any profits.

Usage of the lanes is no guarantee, though.

The I–495 express lanes, for instance, haven’t drawn much traffic so far. While it was expected to take up to three years for traffic to consistently use the I–495 lanes, thus far they haven’t produced the traffic, or revenue, Transurban expected.

With constant congestion problems on I–95, it’s a good bet drivers who don’t qualify to use free HOV lanes will be open to paying a toll in order to move.

Still, there could be a significant amount of HOV commuter traffic using the lanes. And the more free traffic there is on the express lanes, the lower the profit.

VDOT doesn’t think there will be a problem.

Tamara Rollison, VDOT’s division administrator of communications, said in an email that the companies bear the “risk of traffic volume and revenue. VDOT is not responsible for making up any shortfall that may occur if traffic volume and revenue are below 95 Express’ forecasts.”

She acknowledged the agreement on the HOV threshold, but said it is unlikely to be met.

“Should that happen—VDOT is prepared to compensate 95 Express Lanes LLC,” she said. “While we expect HOV use to grow over time, we don’t think it will climb to the point that the threshold will be exceeded, triggering compensation.”

If HOV traffic does exceed the threshold, Rollison said that would mean the lanes would be “moving tremendously more people than ever expected, which would greatly help ease congestion on the general purpose lanes.”

Another part of the I–95 express-lanes project includes the expansion of bus service and the addition of 3,000 new commuter parking spaces along the corridor.

Despite the benefits of the project, there are still critics of the public–private deals for the express lanes.

Farley is a fan of toll roads, especially those that manage congestion like the express lanes are designed to do.

But he thinks the state got a raw deal.

“It’s unconscionable that they’d sign a contract so one-sided,” he said.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director for Coalition for Smarter Growth, also doesn’t like the express lane deals.

“We have long argued that the closed-door deals by VDOT under the Public–Private Transportation Act for the HOT lanes have compromised good planning, prevented effective analysis of alternatives, and failed to evaluate all of the impacts,” he said in an email. “In addition, the requirement that the taxpayer reimburse the private toll road operator for too many HOV users is counter to the goal we should have of moving more people in the peak hour. In fact, instead of encouraging HOV use, at a certain point VDOT will now have an incentive to discourage HOV use.”

Peter Samuel, who writes for the website, doesn’t see the express lanes as such a bad deal.

“I don’t think it’s too risky,” he said. “I doubt there’s going to be a huge increase in carpooling.”

He believes the companies are taking the bulk of the risk. If the express lanes aren’t profitable, they lose, not the state.

Transurban has already experienced failure with another Virginia toll road.

The Australia-based company lost more than $100 million on the Pocahontas Parkway, Interstate 895, according to TollRoadsNews and other reports.

The toll road failed to generate enough money to cover Transurban’s debt, and earlier this year a consortium of European banks holding that debt became the state’s new partner with the toll road.

Officials said the change wouldn’t affect the toll-road operations.

Regardless of the Pocahontas Parkway problems, Samuel says the I–95 express lanes will be a “good thing for motorists.”

“It gives them another option,” he said. “How well it’ll work out for the investors is another question.”

The same could be said for Virginia taxpayers.

Click here to read the original story.

Testimony to DC Zoning Commission on Zoning Update (ZC 08-06A Subtitle C – Parking & IZ FNL)

We are here to express support for the proposed reductions and removal of parking minimums in Subtitle C.  The current proposal is a compromise that has been considered and revised repeatedly since 2008 due to extensive public input. While we disagree that parking minimums serve a compelling public purpose and believe that they can be harmful, however, we support the compromise proposed in Subtitle C as a greatly improved policy over the status quo.

Leave the 1950s Behind: Curtailing the Harm of Minimum Parking Requirements

One of the most effective ways to reduce traffic, pollution, and housing costs is to encourage a shift to more sustainable transportation modes through reforming parking requirements. Through smarter management and reduced subsidies and requirements for parking, people can better choose if they want to drive and park, or opt for a more sustainable mode of transportation. For over fifty years, the D.C. zoning code has required almost all new construction in the city to include off-street parking even when unnecessary. The 1958 zoning code’s automobile-oriented vision of the city’s needs is no longer appropriate in today’s world of high costs for housing and car ownership, congested roads, and global warming.  In contrast to the 1950s view of the future where riding transit would be replaced by driving, and car ownership would be nearly universal, we live in a different reality today.  Since the 2000s, the country and D.C. have experienced a pronounced drop in the amount that people drive, after decades of increase. While low car ownership rates are associated with lower incomes, car-less by choice is also increasing among households who could afford a car. Today, 38% of D.C. households are car free. Car free living by necessity or choice offers a more affordable option for a large share of D.C. households. Our zoning regulations should recognize this.

Demand for urban living is being reshaped by the desire of the largest American generation, Millennials (born 1983-2000), who are seeking to live in more urban and less automobile dependent places. The revolution in mobile Internet-connected technologies and social networking are making transportation alternatives to not owning a personal vehicle more convenient, allowing a larger share of households to adopt for car free and car-light lifestyles with dramatically reduced rates of driving and individual car ownership. Baby boomers too are seeking more convenient, urbane places as empty nesters and retirees downsize. D.C. has benefited from these trends as our population has grown since 2000, and shot up in the last two years when we added over 30,000 new residents, more than the total added over the last decade. D.C. can accommodate more people living and working in the city, but if they all brought cars, our streets would not be able handle the added traffic.

Evidence of long term trends show declining demand for driving and car ownership, and accelerated demand for living and working in transit-rich, walkable, bikable urban neighborhoods and business districts.  To ensure that D.C. successfully manages its turnaround from a shrinking to growing city, it needs to build on the strengths that are retaining and attracting residents. At the heart of D.C.’s success is its acclaimed walkability, supported by an extensive transit system. Neighborhoods with the greatest walkability and accessibility are attracting most of D.C.’s new residents. Updating the zoning code to better accommodate this demand, will help make housing more affordable, and foster the trend away from individual car ownership and its associated driving and traffic congestion.

Testimony to DC Zoning Commission on Zoning Update (ZC 08-06A Subtitle I – Downtown Parking)

Good evening Chairman Hood and Commissioners:
We wish to express our support for the proposed reforms to the 1958 zoning code which would eliminate
minimum parking requirements from the downtown. We agree with this proposal is particularly
appropriate given the dynamics of the Downtown zone. The area has the highest level of transit service (a
near perfect score of 99 for its transit score, and a 97 Walk Score) in the city, along with high densities
and low rates of car ownership. Thus not artificially increasing the parking supply through minimum
parking requirements builds on the strengths of downtown. We cannot continue significantly grow the
population and number of jobs downtown if we rely on personal vehicles as a leading means of access
and mobility. The streets simply do not have the capacity. Encouraging or requiring parking for
individual vehicles works against optimizing the limited roadway capacity with more efficient travel
modes such as high capacity transit service. It also consumes valuable space.
While the proposed revisions to Subtitle I’s parking regulations allow for the personal vehicle to remain
an important transportation choice for many residents and visitors, the reforms also recognize that a large
share of DC residents do not depend on getting around by owning a personal vehicle. Roughly half of
downtown residents do not own a car, according to the Census. For renters it’s significantly higher (see
Rather than the zoning code attempting to predict how much parking a specific development might need,
we think it best to leave this prediction up to the developer who has a vested interest in the project
succeeding. The justification for the creation of parking minimums in the first place was to prevent
spillover parking demand on public streets. Given that on-street parking for residents is highly limited in
downtown, the case is even clearer for removing parking mandates. Even where there are pockets of RPP
zones, if a new residential development is marketing to a car-owning household, it will build the parking
required to secure the lease or sale since on-street parking would be highly unreliable. The government is
not in a good position to predict how much parking a particular development might need, but retaining a
minimum requirement runs the risk of building too much parking. The harm in building more parking
than people want to buy, rent or use is that it wastes space, increases costs, and subsidizes car ownership
since the full cost of constructing a parking space is often not paid by the user.
Encouraging alternatives to driving and car ownership have many public benefits, thus it’s something that
public policy should support. In addition to the harms of pollution and crashes generated by driving,
traffic congestion downtown calls for a more efficient use of limited public space to provide access to an
increasing number of people traveling into and around downtown. There is only so much room for
vehicles on existing roadways. This limited space should be available to those who need a personal
vehicle for a specific kind of trip or mobility need, or for more efficient modes like transit, walking and
bicycling. For those how do not need to drive a personal car, we should encourage attractive alternatives.
Part of this encouragement means supporting better transit, walking and bicycling. It also means
supporting convenient options like carsharing. Mandating minimum levels of personal vehicle parking
works against these encouragements and adds unnecessary traffic. Parking supply, especially when the
user does not pay the full cost, will generate additional vehicle trips. Thus by limiting and managing the
supply of parking, traffic can be reduced and the efficiency of the transportation system enhanced.
Drivers who need to drive also benefit from this because they will compete for space with fewer
Years of research and experience show that eliminating parking minimums and effectively managing on-
street parking, especially downtown, are appropriate approaches to reducing traffic congestion while
fostering growth and increasing access and travel choices. Many cities have removed parking minimums
from their downtowns. We should recognize that we already have a partial elimination of parking
minimums downtown in that office space is not required to build parking. Despite no minimums,
developers continue to build parking for office workers. We can see that this policy alone does not either
prevent the market from adding to the parking supply. Nor does it adequately address the negative
impacts of encouraging single occupancy vehicle travel in downtown when many drivers could be
encouraged to opt for alternative modes of transportation.
Not only is removing parking requirements a sound approach, we also ask that the Zoning Commission
revisit setting maximums. We appreciate and support the proposal to require modest mitigation measures
if the level of parking supply excessively exceeds the minimum (or what it would be for the zone if the
requirement is removed as for downtown). We agree that the threshold should be twice the base zone
parking requirement, not 1.5 times, and not adding in the transit proximity reduction as part of the
minimum floor.
1956 Lewis report, which formed the basis of the 1958 zoning code, cites the upward trends in car
ownership, increased fuel consumption, and declining transit ridership as reasons for off-street parking
requirements. Today, we see the other end of those trends – declining rates of driving, a downward trend
in fuel consumption, a larger share of young adults not obtaining drivers licenses. i We also see increased
use of transit by DC residents, and bicycle commuting increasing by 2.5 times in recent years. The
percent of car-less households is stable and declining. In 2000, just under 37% of DC households did not
own a car. Despite a huge influx of 60,000 new and more affluent residents, this number remained stable
and inched to 38%. Thus the potential to grow without adding a corresponding number of cars is
Today in DC not owning a car has never been easier. In downtown, transportation choices are many.
Eliminating and reducing parking minimums will help support these choices. Walking to nearby stores is
increasingly an option for more residents in more downtown neighborhoods. Bicycling is better
accommodated on streets enabling more people to take advantage of the opportunity, especially with
bikesharing, and smart phone technology makes transit and taxi services more usable. A variety of
carsharing services offer a driving option when one is needed. Online shopping and home delivery also
offer convenience. I’d recommend buying your baby’s diapers online and have them delivered to your
front door – whether or not you own a car.
A more walkable neighborhood means that more trips can be taken by walking. Shopping trips tend to be
more frequent and the amount purchased each time less than a car-oriented suburban lifestyle where
driving to and from the store can be an unpleasant experience and not feel particularly convenient.
When a trip is best taken by car, there are many options that the 38% of DC households use to get
around. We should seek to help all DC neighborhoods offer the right mix of stores, services, transit
options, carsharing vehicles to allow more DC residents the choice to shed the cost and hassle of personal
car ownership. Downtown is becoming a better place to live. It offers more stores and services than just a
few years ago, and has experienced tremendous growth. We build on the strength of downtown by
seeking to enhance walkability. New vehicle parking will be built in new developments, and existing
excess parking will be better shared, especially with the help of the proposed reforms to the zoning code.
All these positive changes and existing conditions demonstrate that a minimum parking requirement is
unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Thank you for your consideration.

CSG Letter in Support of EYA Takoma Metro Joint Development Agreement

Please accept these comments on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading organization in the Washington, D.C. region dedicated to making the case for smart growth. Our 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.


Will Terry McCauliffe Sign Off on a Notorious Sprawl Project in NoVa?

With Terry McAuliffe about to move in to the Virginia governor’s mansion, it’s unclear what will become of one of the state’s most contested transportation proposals — the Bi-County Parkway, a $440 million highway in the outer D.C. suburbs.

Though it seems likely the current administration of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell will make a forceful push to get approvals sealed before the end of the year, the timeline is tight. Then there’s the big question of how McAuliffe, a Democrat, will manage the controversial proposal.

As planned, the four-lane divided highway would run 10.4 miles north-south between Route 50 and Route 66, two notoriously clogged commuter roads into D.C.

Critics of the Bi-County Parkway — who have been varied and outspoken — warn that the new highway would do little to ease congestion, and would in fact create even more traffic in this mixed region of farmland, cul-de-sacs, and Civil War landmarks. Smart growth advocates see the developers salivating over the project and predict that the road will simply perpetuate the trend of isolating housing from jobs.

“From what we see, all it’s going to encourage is more residential development in an area that lacks sufficient infrastructure,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It’s putting more cars on top of the funnel.”

The proposal is at a critical juncture now, with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) aiming to submit a final environmental impact statement to the feds by the end of the year — before McDonnell leaves.

McDonnell has aggressively pushed the Bi-County Parkway, even going so far as to hire a public relations firm to pitch the project.

“He has fast-tracked the planning and approvals and all that,” said James Bacon of Bacon’s Rebellion, a Virginia public policy blog. “He clearly made it a priority.”

And though several aspects of the project are still tied up in negotiation — particularly due to the government shutdown — many believe McDonnell will make an all-out effort to get Federal Highway Administration sign-off before 2014.

“The McDonnell Administration is flooring the gas pedal… hoping to get final approval before their time runs out,” wrote Morgan Butler, an attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, in an email. “The administration has downplayed (or ignored outright) major community and environmental impacts and given short shrift to alternatives, as they try to get their pet projects to a point of no return before they leave office.”

A study published by SELC and other smart growth and environmental groups this summer, “Rethinking the Bi-County Parkway,” argues that the project won’t help the region’s biggest transportation problem — east-west travel — and will undermine preservation goals for Manassas National Battlefield Park. Instead of the highway, the report recommends transit improvements like extensions for Metro and VRE and an express bus on Route 50. VDOT has not formally analyzed any of those other options.

Critics of the Bi-County Parkway have also worried the project will help resurrect old plans for other roads, like a 45-mile “north-south corridor of significance,” and even a larger “Outer Beltway,” which VDOT has denied.

VDOT’s pitch is that the new highway will ease congestion by increasing connectivity between Loudon and Prince William counties and replacing a route through the battlefield park. Supporters have also said the highway will spur more air cargo activity at Dulles Airport, though a researcher at George Mason University disputed that claim.

So far there’s no definitive indication of how the next administration will deal with the Bi-County Parkway. When the topic came up during election debates, McAuliffe avoided taking a firm stand, saying he needed more facts. McAuliffe’s Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, was more forthright in opposing the proposal, though he expressed support for some type of north-south connector.

For some voters, the issue was enough to bring them over to the “Democrats for Cuccinelli” camp, said Charlie Grymes, chair of the Prince William Conservation Alliance. Even more interesting, he said, was the way it forced some Virginia delegates to mark their positions. Bacon’s Rebellion also noted the unusual camaraderie the issue forged between populist conservatives and liberal smart-growth advocates.

While Cuccinelli’s stance stemmed from his fiscal conservatism, McAuliffe has made it clear that he intends to pour big bucks into transportation. As Politico notes, his campaign played up his support for Virginia’s new law to raise $1.4 billion for infrastructure through increased sales taxes and other fees.

To Bacon, that may make McAuliffe more inclined to support wasteful projects like the Bi-County Parkway.

But The Washington Post also notes that McAuliffe’s platform highlighted “elements that appeal to advocates of livable, walkable communities.”

Schwartz sees the new administration as a fresh opportunity to examine alternatives. With McAuliffe “walking into a transportation agency which enjoys significantly higher levels of funding,” he said, it’s going to be “incumbent to look at how we can spend funds more wisely.”

Also critical will be McAuliffe’s decisions about transportation leadership. Many view the Bi-County Parkway as a pet project of Sean Connaughton, the current transportation secretary.

“Once he’s gone, the project’s going to lose a big backer,” said Bacon. “On the other hand, the political constellation around it won’t disappear.”

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BRT Advocates Urge Council to Make Friendship Heights Connection

The Coalition for Smarter Growth says the County Council needs to extend a bus rapid transit route planned for Wisconsin Avenue south to Friendship Heights.

The proposal took a big hit on Friday, when the Planning Department, which included the BRT line all the way to the D.C. line in its master plan, reversed course and agreed with Council staff that it should stop at a planned Bethesda Metro entrance on Elm Street.

The three-member Transportation Committee was split, producing a 1-1-1 vote for keeping the section of BRT to Friendship Heights, getting rid of it entirely and drawing it as a dotted line to indicate the county would study it if and when D.C. looked at transit of its own for Wisconsin Avenue.

The Coalition, a D.C. based nonprofit advocating for bus rapid transit, put out a press release on Monday urging the full Council to reconsider:

Stopping the route at Bethesda, instead of connecting it an additional 1.5 miles to the D.C. border could shortchange the area and the county in several ways, supporters said.

“With traffic congestion rising and the possibility of local Metro stations shut down for extensive repairs, residents in our area are seeking more options for getting north to Bethesda and beyond, or to Friendship Heights and D.C.” said Chevy Chase resident Ronit Dancis. “BRT would be a great new option for our neighborhoods.”

Residents in the Chevy Chase West neighborhood are opposed to BRT south of Bradley Lane because of safety issues and because they think it would make it more difficult to turn in and out of the neighborhood. Council staff analyst Glenn Orlin dismissed those fears, but said he was against extending BRT into Chevy Chase because he didn’t see who would use it.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth’s release cites developers JBG and the Chevy Chase Land Company as supporters of extending BRT south. Both developers have properties in downtown Bethesda and Friendship Heights. Other supporters include the Friendship Heights Transportation Management District Advisory Committee, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce and Ward 3 Vision, a partner group of the Coalition for Smarter Growth that operates in D.C.

“Cutting short this key route would sever an important transit connection between Montgomery County and D.C., putting more cars on the road and make both Bethesda and Friendship Heights less competitive locations for business,” the Coalition of Smarter Growth’s Kelly Blynn said in the release. “Extending the route has few downsides. The plan proposes wider sidewalks and an improved pedestrian environment, while recommending no changes to the median or street width.

“Connecting the Montgomery Rapid Transit to Friendship Heights will enhance transit connections with D.C and its extensive bus network and the city’s own growing express network. The BRT link on 355 between Bethesda and Friendship Heights is a critical connection that needs to be made,” Blynn said.

The Transportation Committee will host two more worksessions on BRT on Tuesday.

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