Author: Max Potter

Testimony for Seven Corners Task Force

Members of the Seven Corners Task Force:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input and for your hard work on a draft new plan for Seven Corners. We appreciate your commitment to revitalization through creation of a walkable, bikeable, mixed-use and transit-oriented community. Our comments focus on just three issues: the street grid, transit, and affordable housing.

Testimony before the Hon. Phil Mendelson Chairman, Committee of the Whole Regarding: Performance Oversight Hearing for the Office of Planning

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, a regional nonprofit based in D.C. I have worked with the Office of Planning on a variety of issues important to our city for many years including: community plans, development review, and Inclusionary Zoning. I have also been involved in the Comprehensive Plan revision in 2006 which led to the process to update our 1958 zoning code starting in 2007.

D.C. digs itself out from latest snowstorm and deals with icy roads

D.C. digs itself out from latest snowstorm and deals with icy roads

Washington was in motion again Tuesday, one day after an icy snowstorm shut down the region, but many drivers inched along many minimally plowed neighborhood streets and pedestrians did the slip and slide on miles of sidewalks untouched by shovels.

Mother Nature may play out the hand she dealt Monday, trumping snow and ice with warmer weather that’s forecast to arrive Wednesday and continue through the weekend. A major melting should start by Friday, with high temperatures near or above 50 expected for five consecutive days, according to forecasts.

A combination of factors made snow removal challenging in the aftermath of the storm and into Tuesday. Roads normally treated before the first snowfall were left bare Monday because the rain that fell first would have washed the treatment away. The freezing rain that fell next left a crust of ice once the plows cleared the snow. Overnight and into the morning, frigid weather — with temperatures in the single digits most places — inhibited salt’s ability to chew through that ice.

“With the temperatures being so cold, and especially last night, we had a refreeze,” said Carol Terry, a spokeswoman with Prince George’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation. “Some of those areas refroze. So it takes a little more plowing than usual. After it gets so cold, the salt doesn’t even work. We are hoping that it warms up.”

She said that the county’s major roads were in good shape but that residential roads still needed plowing.

Late Tuesday afternoon in the neighborhoods around Catholic University in the District, plow operations had shifted into the “mop up stage” as veteran driver Michael Miller steered his 40,000-pound truck onto the roads. His target was the narrow residential streets. He and other drivers were hoping to clear leftover snow and treat the roads, cleared but still slick,with salt before it refroze overnight, causing even more problems.

It was Miller’s second 12-hour shift. On Monday, he started clearing major roads — Michigan Avenue, North Capitol near and around the university and streets at nearby Washington Hospital Center — at noon, when snowfall and roads were at their worst. Still, Miller, who’s been doing the job for almost three decades, said he’d seen worse. Way worse.

“The main thing is the temperature,” he said. “It got dicey [Monday] evening, when everything that was treated froze up.”

Joan Morris of the Virginia Department of Transportation said that patches of snow and ice remained on the shoulders and turn lanes of some major roadways on Tuesday.

“Typically, we could knock that out in one day,” she said, but when temperatures fell below 20 degrees, salt no longer worked as well to melt ice.

VDOT, which is responsible for all roads and neighborhood streets in Northern Virginia, hoped to clear a path through every subdivision road by the end of the day Tuesday. Curb-to-curb plowing in those neighborhoods, Morris said, would “take them forever.”

Sharon Bulova (D), chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who has been critical of VDOT’s snow removal in the past, said: “This winter, they’ve done a much better job than they’ve ever done before. In the past, there was a lot that we’ve criticized them for. This time, there was nothing to complain about. VDOT has improved their performance in clearing the roads of snow just incredibly.”

Bulova also said that federal and local governments in the region have taken steps to improve the situation by communicating closures the night before and allowing more government employees to work from home, keeping more cars off the road. Federal agencies, in particular, learned an important lesson after a massive traffic jam last year when the government released all of its workers early, at the same time, and drivers spent several hours trying to get home, she said.

The gusty wind that came in with the snow and ice also hindered cleanup operations, officials said.

“Strong winds kept blowing snow back onto roads, requiring crews to repeatedly clear main and emergency routes before plowing neighborhoods,” said Montgomery County spokeswoman Esther Bowring.

This was the 25th storm in Montgomery this winter, which has had a total of 50 inches of ice and snow so far, Bowring said.

“There is that hard, crusty layer that is impossible to remove with just one plow,” she said. “We have been able to get into all the neighborhoods, but we realize that a lot of the neighborhood streets are very packed. So now the crews are going back out and trying to do more to try to make them more passable.”

Loudoun County officials issued an alert Tuesday warning drivers that the roads were still dangerous “because the snow’s consistency is more like ice than powder” and because low temperatures will keep refreezing the surface for several days.

Icy or unshoveled sidewalks posed a particular problem in many places.

“There is no sensible way of clearing snow from sidewalks,” said Akshay Birla, 26, a Columbia Heights resident. “D.C. is such a heavy commuter city, in terms of public transit and walking, as opposed to driving, that it makes sense to have some sort of strategy to make sure that people can get to work.”

Even walking a block from his home to the Giant grocery store on Park Road on Monday was impossible, he said.

Cheryl Cort, the policy director with the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the region as a whole should look at creating a more comprehensive policy for clearing ice and snow from sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.

“We put a lot of resources into clearing roads, but it is left up to individuals to clear sidewalks and intersections to cross. There needs to be more attention to prioritizing pedestrian routes. It’s got to be more than asking property owners to clear the sidewalks.”

Manassas residents face some of the region’s strictest sidewalk-shoveling policies, while just across the city border in Prince William County, there is no law mandating that residents shovel their walks at all.

Manassas residents have 12 hours to shovel their sidewalks once the snow stops — during the day. (For snow that stops overnight, homeowners have until 5 p.m. the next day.) Now that the 12-hour period is over for this storm, city officials are busy leaving notices at homes with snowy walks. There is no fine for failure to comply with the rules, but if residents fail to shovel after receiving a written warning, the city will do it for them — at a cost, Street Maintenance Manager Russ Graham said.

Graham recalled one homeowner’s association that received a bill for almost $1,000 when the city cleared all its sidewalks several years ago. He said that the city has not had to bill an individual homeowner in recent years, though. A warning is usually enough.

Prince George’s officials said they were receiving complaints about icy sidewalks. Inspectors were out Tuesday to warn property owners to clear sidewalks by 3 p.m. Wednesday, said Gary Cunningham, deputy director of the county’s department of permitting, inspections and enforcement.

Read the original article on the Washington Post >>

RELEASE: Another Potomac River Bridge Study?

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Piedmont Environmental Council Sierra Club – Virginia Chapter

FEBRUARY 6, 2014

Contact: Stewart Schwartz, CSG, 703-599-6437 (C)
Chris Miller, PEC, 540-347-2334

Another Potomac River Bridge Study?
Proposed Legislation Could Inject a Hot Potato into Congressional Race

Proposed legislation by Delegates Tom Rust and Randy Minchew threatens to throw a hot potato into the middle of the pending race to succeed Congressman Frank Wolf, igniting a repeat of the neighborhood outcry that followed past bridge proposals. Citing an in-house study quietly initiated by the former Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, the bill (HB1244) would effectively endorse continuation of the Connaughton study and encourage VDOT to recommend a location or locations for new bridges, if needed.

The bill is currently before the House Appropriations Committee which could hear it Friday, February 7th.

The patrons are proposing that the state spend additional staff resources on the study even though the State of Maryland has reiterated its opposition to new bridge crossings in an October 2012 letter to former Secretary Connaughton. Moreover, in 2012, the House Rules committee rejected a similar bill, HJ131, after having confirmed that the State of Maryland remained strongly opposed to new Potomac River bridge crossings.

“Back in 2000 and 2001, after Congressman Wolf funded a federal study of new bridge crossings, the proposed alignments were found to have significant community impacts and generated a firestorm of community opposition,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. Congressman Wolf had the study discontinued, noting that because of existing land uses a new bridge and connecting highways could not be built without significant impact on neighborhoods in the path.

A subsequent “Origin/Destination Study” study in 2003-2004 by VDOT tracked every license plate crossing the American Legion Bridge and those entering and exiting the Beltway from every entrance/exit between Route 50 in Virginia to Georgia Avenue in Maryland. The results showed that very few vehicles were making the so-called “U-shaped” commute from Reston and beyond to the Rockville/Gaithersburg area and vice versa. The vast majority of commutes needed to use the American Legion Bridge and Beltway or were making strictly radial (in-out) trips.

“Based on past studies, we are convinced that these bridges would waste scarce transportation dollars, have no effect on congestion on the Beltway and other major highways, harm water quality and the historic C&O Canal and open up the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve and other rural land to development,” said Douglas Stewart, Transportation Chair for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This region has made a strong commitment to transit and transit-oriented development including investment in the Silver Line and Tysons Corner. Outer Beltways undercut that investment, diverting private development to areas that are far removed from infrastructure and amenities, generating significant new traffic,” said Chris Miller, President of the Piedmont Environmental Council.

In their letter the State of Maryland makes clear that they to not intend to “revisit the years of debate over new crossings of the Potomac River” and instead want to focus on potential improvements to existing crossings including the American Legion Bridge, the Route 301 Henry Nice Bridge and transit on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Since 2012, Fairfax County and Montgomery County elected officials and staffs have been discussing how to improve transit in the American Legion Bridge corridor.

“We believe the proposed studies are unnecessary, wasteful and a diversion of time and attention from fixing the American Legion Bridge corridor and other key commuter corridors with multimodal solutions,” said Schwartz. “The region should continue its focus on implementing key transit projects like the Silver Line, Purple Line, Montgomery County Rapid Transit Network, streetcars and mixed-use transit-oriented development. The benefits will be significant in terms of maximizing transit, walking, biking and carpooling and reducing the number and length of vehicle trips region-wide.”

About 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 needed to make those communities flourish. To learn more, visit the Coalition’s website at



State Transportation Priorities Letter – Establishing a new transportation projects priority list to meet Prince George’s and Maryland’s goals

Dear Executive Baker:
We the undersigned smart growth, environmental, transportation and civic organizations working in Prince George’s County urge you to make the most of the new opportunity offered by the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 to invest in a County that is truly smart, green and growing.

RELEASE: Advocates urge Prince George’s County and state to target funds to transportation projects supporting smart growth

Prince George’s County and regional smart growth advocates sent a letter today to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker urging him to rethink transportation priorities to fulfill the County’s efforts to foster transit-oriented economic development.

Testimony Re: The Public Oversight Roundtable on Parking in the District

We want to commend this committee and the Mayor for advancing a commuter benefits provision in the Sustainable DC Act which would allow workers to opt for pre-tax transit commute benefits or enable workers to receive a transit rather than parking commute benefit offered by his or her employer. We are eager to continue to work with the committee to refine this bill to cover most employers since compliance does not cost the employer anything, and to add a “parking cashout” provision which gives walk and bicycle commuters the option to cashout a parking subsidy if one is provided by the employer.

Planners approve transportation priorities for D.C. region

People who represent the fragmented jurisdictions across the D.C. region agreed Wednesday on a set of priorities for transportation planners.

The plan adopted unanimously by the Transportation Planning Board urges local governments to think regionally in selecting projects, emphasize ones that fix the road and transit network we already have, strengthen public confidence in their decisions and give people more options about how to travel.

The Regional Transportation Priorities Plan attempts to shape planners’ thinking in choosing projects, but it doesn’t name any projects to advance. The lack of specificity frustrates some transportation advocates, including Bob Chase, the president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. He refers to it as an Alice’s Restaurant “You can get anything you want” approach to planning.

Supporters, including Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, see progress in the fact that a planning panel is willing to set regional priorities. Virginia, the District and Maryland have their separate systems for selecting and advancing projects. They are more responsive to local interests than to regional needs. While Schwartz has criticized aspects of the plan, he has supported its emphasis on fixing things first, and on improving the efficiency of the existing road and rail network.

The priorities plan doesn’t affect the underlying structure of local planning. but the formal regional support for its goals could influence upcoming decisions. The power of the Transportation Planning Board lies in the legal need for the jurisdictions to incorporate their projects in the region’s Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan.

The priorities plan now becomes a policy guide for local and state leaders who want to get their projects into the regional long-range plan. Local travelers naturally remain more focused on how they’re going to get home tonight rather than on what the transportation network will look like in a decade or two. But as they back up on the Beltway or squeeze aboard crowded Metro trains, many do wonder if there is any connection between their plight and the planning process.

The plan approved Wednesday is one of those rare documents dedicated to the lateRonald F. Kirby, who as director of transportation planning for the board, guided the development of the document. The dedication says in part: “This plan, which Ron worked tirelessly to develop, is a reflection of his innovative yet pragmatic approach to improving the region’s transportation system and making the region a better place.”

The plan’s priorities are grouped into three areas.

Meet existing obligations. Maintain the region’s existing transportation system. For example: Fix Metro and maintain it in a state of good repair.

Strengthen public confidence and ensure fairness. Pursue greater accountability, efficiency and access to transportation for everyone.

Move more people, more efficiently. Make strategic decisions to lessen crowding and congestion on the region’s roadways and transit system to accommodate growth.

Use this link to see the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan.

Todd Turner, a Bowie city council member and chairman of the priority plan task force, said the existence of such a plan, underpinned by a survey that sought public opinion on these priorities, will help restore public confidence in transportation planning. “But people have to take leadership in their own communities,” he said. In effect, addressing his local government colleagues across the region, he added: “We’re giving you the guidance. It’s up to you to do it.”

Read the original article at Washington Post >>

Photo Credit: Gerald Marineau

Ten Things I Learned at TransportationCamp

TransportationCamp DC ‘14, organized by Mobility Lab, Open Plans, Conveyal, Young Professionals in Transportation, the Transportation Research Board, and the George Mason University School of Public Policy, took place Saturday.

With more than 400 registered attendees (totally sold out), the third-annual conference in D.C. (it happens in other places like Atlanta and San Francisco as well) contained more information than one person could process, and innumerable lessons as well. Still, I’ve managed to enumerate 10 of them, in no particular order:

1. The importance of being an “unconference.” TransportationCamp, as a user-driven conference (or “unconference”), has a collaborative and empowering feel unlike most other typical conferences. As Paul Mackie, my friend and colleague at Mobility Lab, said, “At most conferences, you simply sit and listen to speaker after speaker. TransportationCamp offers inspiration on some aspect of your work that you are currently trying to complete. There will no doubt be tons of apps and products that will result from the networking there.”

2. TransportationCamp = technology. The event – with a Collaboration Site and whose attendees and organizers undoubtedly put stress on Twitter’s and Google Docs’ servers (tweets from the event can be seen at the Twitter hash tag #transpo) – uses technology in ways other organizations can and should emulate.

3. Collaborate, don’t compete. The vibe at the conference was one of tremendous collaboration, unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Mackie concurs, stating, “One small and simple example came from the excellent marketing session. A signup sheet was passed around so that transit marketers can start a listserv to work together towards getting more people educated and excited about transportation options that don’t involve driving alone.”

4. Open up data, and transform organizations. The emphasis on collaboration and opening up datasets is built in to the DNA of the participants at TransportationCamp, who seem determined to transform the old guard of transportation agencies as well. WMATA and DOT (and many others from around the country) were represented at the Camp, boding well for the future of these organizations.

5. “It’s all about the share.” That line was used by one participant at a breakout session I attended on mobility management. The future of transportation is all about the sharing economy: for example, bike sharing, car sharing, and information sharing.

6. Our industry is underfunded. The bang-for-your-buck produced by “transportation demand management” (for example) isn’t a secret, yet I ran across many transportation professionals whose full-time jobs are unrelated to this industry, or who are only part-time employed in our field. We need to lobby harder for funding.

7. We are passionate and idealistic. The fact that many of us at the Camp were essentially unfunded underlines another important issue: we are people who believe in our industry, who are passionate about transportation and technology. And as cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

8. Marketing is essential but not well understood. The marketing session I attended, led by, among others, Alex Baca, communications coordinator of the Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA), brought home the issue that while many of us know how important marketing is, we’re a little in the dark as to how to engage in it. Aimee Custis, communications manager of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, shared some of her valuable experience (among others: include people in photos of transportation), and the above-referenced listserv means members of that break-out group are going to share insights post-Camp as well.

9. Infrastructure is important. Mobility Lab Contributor Kurt Raschke, one of the developers of the OneBusAway infrastructure on display at the event, explained this takeaway to me: “People are far more interested in end results than the elegance of the underlying infrastructure. Our challenge is to make infrastructure something that the average person sees as important and values, because it has a huge long-term impact on sustainability.” Rashke’s infrastructure is one that’s truly open, available as an API for free to developers.

10. Equity issues can be tackled with ingenuity. The intersection between land use and transportation and the way these affect equity and access are issues that keep coming up, but more and more are being addressed by people passionate about the issue. Capital Bikeshare of D.C., for example, is extending memberships to low-income and homeless residents of the city via a partnership with Back on My Feet.

Read the original article at Mobility Lab >>

Photo Credit: M.V. Jantzen