Live Chat with Stewart Schwartz

The Washington Post’s Dr. Gridlock, Robert Thomson, will be online to take all your questions about Metro, traffic throughout the region and other transportation issues.

Also taking your questions is today’s special guest Stewart Schwartz, who is a leading advocate for sustainable development in the D.C. region in his role as executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

Robert Thomson:
Welcome, travelers. I’m going to begin today’s chat with a set of questions for my guest, Stewart Schwartz, about smart growth issues that relate to local travel.

Please join in with your own questions and comments for Stewart.

[Programming note: I see questions about the pope’s visit and about Metro service issues that I think are meant for me, rather than Stewart. I plan to address them on the Dr. Gridlock blog ASAP.]


Stewart Schwartz:

Thank you Dr. Gridlock for having me on today’s chat. I look forward to everyone’s comments and questions.


Robert Thomson:
State and local officials in Virginia who have been searching for ways to prioritize transportation projects have been developing formulas that put a premium on congestion relief.

Many commuters say, Duh, of course that should be the measure of a transportation project’s value. Are they right?


A: Stewart Schwartz
Actually, the highway lobby has sought to force a simplistic focus on “congestion relief” which they imply to mean road expansion.  Yet, we know that “if you build it they will come.” It’s well documented that new highway lanes in metro areas can fill up in as little as five years due to “induced traffic.” The VA General Assembly recognized that “congestion relief” was too simplistic and that we needed a range of solutions, hence the bi-partisan passage of House Bill 2 in 2014, which requires that we set priorities based upon a balance of factors. Congestion relief is still weighted at 45% for NOVA but other factors include improving access to jobs, better land use that reduces the amount of driving, improved safety and reducing air pollution.

Since expanded roads often open the way for more sprawling development and even longer commutes, my group and most local elected officials have sought to focus on reducing the amount we have to drive by creating mixed-use, walkable and transit-focused communities, expanding transit, and ensuring more homes are available closer to jobs. As we’ve seen, demand for these communities is booming.  Every person who can live and/or work in a transit-oriented community can be part of the regional traffic solution because they either don’t need to drive or will drive much less. The internet has also become an important part of the solution, allowing for telework and on-line shopping. But again, those pushing “congestion reduction” are just looking to expand highway lanes and are only looking at the short term. They are failing to look at the bigger picture of how land use, technology, and transit, walking and biking can reduce the amount of driving for the short, medium and long-term.

Robert Thomson:

On Friday, the coalition released a statement in support of the Virginia government’s plan to create HOT lanes at rush hours inside the Beltway.

Many long-distance commuters fear this plan, because of the variable toll that will be imposed in both directions. According to a VDOT estimate made public this month, the morning peak toll could be $7 eastbound and $9 westbound during the afternoon peak.

Is it fair to raise their commuting costs like this?

A: Stewart Schwartz
Commuters are already paying a high cost in lost time with their families and on the job. Those hours stuck in traffic add up when you look at your salary on an hourly basis. The VDOT proposal will improve conditions for everyone, providing a faster more reliable commute. It will guarantee a peak hour speed of at least 45 mph and probably better, making the commute time more consistent and reliable.  It will keep the revenues in public hands so we can invest it in more transit in the corridor (more buses and more railcars), and it will move more people per hour in cars, carpools and transit.

We looked at the estimated peak of the peak toll cost ($7 to $9) in comparison to parking and riding Metro in the corridor and it’s comparable — $8.95 to park and ride from West Falls Church and $10.30 to park and ride from Vienna. So Metro riders are already paying a similar fare.

This is really the best alternative for I-66 inside-the-Beltway. Widening would require years of construction and traffic delays.  It would be very difficult if not impossible to widen from Ballston to the Roosevelt Bridge, with significant harm to people’s homes and neighborhoods. Widening would cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars instead of the $40 million proposed for the tolling equipment and software.  And in the end, where would all of the additional cars go? We aren’t going to widen Constitution Avenue in DC or neighborhood streets at the exits.

By pricing a road which sees so much demand in the peak hours, we can ensure it flows better giving a faster and more reliable commute, and invest in transit, including commuter buses, which will likely prove the cheapest and most comfortable way to go — allowing you to sleep on the ride to work or on the way home, or get a head start on your email inbox, and probably helping to lower your blood pressure in the process.

Robert Thomson

Many commuters on both sides of the Potomac are begging for relief from the tortuous trip on the west side of the Beltway and across the Legion Bridge.

Virginia transportation officials want to talk to their Maryland counterparts about upgrading the Legion Bridge and possibly adding HOT lanes on its approaches.

Does that make sense to you? Why wouldn’t commuters be better off if the two states cooperated on a new bridge west of the Beltway?


A: Stewart Schwartz
 Yes.  It’s good news that VA wants to talk to Md about the American Legion Bridge. My group helped spark the first such discussion between the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and Montgomery  County Council two years ago and we understand they are setting up to talk again,  in addition to VDOT to MDOT discussions. Extending the HOT lanes and adding express bus services in those lanes would allow more people to move in the peak hour to the job centers on each side of the river.

The western bridge would be a waste of a couple of billion dollars. VDOT’s recent bridge study showed just 5% of VA commuters to Md (declining to 4% in 2040) using the Am Legion Bridge are making the so-called U-shaped commute from western Fairfax or Loudoun to upper Montgomery or Frederick.  That means for all others, the Am Legion Bridge is the best route and that traffic fixes need to happen there. Spending $1 to $2 billion upriver would divert scarce taxdollars needed for the Am Legion Bridge.

The VDOT study had some other stunning data in its assessment of all Potomac Bridge crossings from Pt of Rocks in  the NW to the Route 301 Henry Nice Bridge in the south:  during the morning peak, Metro carried 35% of Virginia commuters traveling across the Potomac (26% at the Rosslyn Tunnel and 8% at the Yellow Line bridge).  Another 30% crossed the road bridges into DC. This compares to  14% crossing the Am Legion into Md and just 1% crossing the Pt of Rocks Bridge in northern Loudoun.

So certainly, the Rosslyn Tunnel (going first to 8-car trains and then figuring out the tunnel capacity issue) and the American Legion Bridge should rank light-years ahead of a western Potomac Bridge crossing in our priorities.

Robert Thomson:
Should transit advocates be relieved that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said okay to building the Purple Line?
A: Stewart Schwartz
Yes, but the Governor still has to seal the deal. As the Post recently noted, we don’t know yet if the financial package will come together.  We also want to ensure the cuts he’s making to the project don’t hurt the effectiveness of the service, reducing ridership.

The Governor cut the share the state would contribute to the $2.5 billion project from $700 million to just $170 million.  Montgomery has agreed to contribute an additional $40 million and Prince George’s $20 million on top of the other funds they are investing (a few hundred million).  The feds are expected to contribute $900 million and the remainder would come from the private sector which would have to be paid back over a number of years. We need this deal soon to ensure we get the federal funds and before construction costs rise.

It’s frustrating to see the state contribute so little to the project, when highway projects are typically funded 100% by federal and state funds, and when the Purple Line offers such benefits in economic development and revitalization,  connecting people to jobs, and offering an alternative to the heavy congestion on and inside the Beltway.  But we are glad the Governor made the decision to go forward and we are encouraging him to seal the deal.

Robert Thomson:

There’s a back-and-forth in my reader letters that goes like this:

A traveler writes in to complain about the amount of time spent in traffic. A reader responds by saying that the traveler should live closer to where she works. Another traveler writes back to say, How many times do you expect us to move? People change jobs. Also, spouses may have jobs in vary different locations.

Is it realistic to expect that we can ease our transportation problems by having a great many people live close to their workplaces?

A: Stewart Schwartz
 We simply cannot address our traffic problems without addressing where and how we grow as a region. If we keep spreading out where we live and scattering jobs in isolated office parks, we’ll keep adding to congestion.  Living closer to work is one piece of the solution but we know it won’t work for everyone.

We believe that the first keys to reducing the burdens of traffic are the continued revitalization of the city, and a network of transit-oriented centers and communities. The more people who have the opportunity to live and/or work in a mixed-use transit-oriented center, the more who will have the opportunity to drive less or not at all, improving the roads for those whose living or working situation doesn’t allow them to use transit or live closer to work.

In addition, by concentrating offices in locations with transit  we will increase opportunities for people to use transit or carpool and for workers in a household to commute to the same center. In fact, there is powerful of corporations to Metro and other transit station locations.  84% of new office development is within 1/4 mile of Metro, and 92% of office leases over 20,000 square feet have been within 1/2 mile of a Metro station.  Marriott’s CEO says they will move to a Metro station.  Hilton and Choice hotels have both recently moved to Metro, and others are following.

Millenials and downsizing empty nesters are all seeking out more urban, walkable and transit-accessible homes, and among families, we see strong demand for homes closer in — even if the home sizes are smaller.

It’s also important to consider total housing and transportation costs when choosing a home. A pioneering tool called the Housing + Transportation Cost calculator (H+T) shows that the cost of a long commute can make what seems like a more affordable house 25 or 30 miles from DC less affordable when housing and transportation costs are considered together.

Q: Traffic 

The problem with traffic is one of supply and demand but most of the focus is on the supply.

Yes, we supply tons of roads for all of our cars. We’ll never supply enough. In part, that’s because the road network was designed by idiots. The Bethesda side of the Beltway is filled with turns that slow traffic, ending in a downhill to the bridge. That means Virginia traffic is always going uphill into Maryland and trucks will ALWAYS slow up.

So forget supply for a second. Let’s talk demand. Demand is based on traffic. Traffic is based largely on people. People are based on jobs. In DC, jobs are based on one thing — government.

Why the heck is the entire government based in DC? Dept of Agriculture? Sure, there’s lots of manure in DC, but little agriculture. So, let’s put it in Iowa or someplace similar. Dept of Energy? Texas of course. Put HUD in a city that needs more help — like Baltimore. Dept of Interior in some state that has mining, parks and Native American reservations. Move out seven or eight departments (or all of them) and the Beltway bandits that work with them move to. So do the workers.

We boost the economy of those areas and make DC more livable. It will also put our national security in a better position and won’t make DC a target that could decapitate every single government agency. Dan Gainor Columbia


A: Stewart Schwartz
 I agree, we need a lot more focus on the demand side.  Reducing the amount we have to drive.  The internet is helping, so does transit, transit-oriented development.  Mixed use, walkable development.  And yes, the fed gov has moved agencies to other regions — ideally those will be downtown or near transit their communities. 

Could wave his magic wand and turn every diesel and gas powered vehicle in the US and Canada into a zero emission vehicles it would have no effect on climate change.

Billions of Chinese and Indians polluting to max are the problem. Vehicle choice should be decided by the buying public and not state and Federal govts. Now I am going out and driving my 1970 BMW 2002 with its detuned F2 engine with 285hp, dual carbs and 3%+ CO. Cry greens cry!

A: Stewart Schwartz
We all need to worry about climate change and all do our part, Indian, Chinese, American.  If you worry about your grandkids, then worry about climate change and help do something about it.
Q: Bike Infrastructure

Given the bike resurgence around the world and with progressive cities competing on it (Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Boulder, etc.), why aren’t local DOTs moving more quickly to add bike infrastructure like protected bikeways and parking to our streets to get the “interested but concerned” masses biking?
A: Stewart Schwartz
DC is doing well, but we can do so much more.  I am convinced that protected cycling lanes will create a boom in cycling including new riders, will provide a good commute option for many, help our health, make the roads safer for everyone including drivers and even help traffic by removing conflicts.  DOT’s need to see biking and walking as part of transportation and access to jobs, schools and services.  It’s access that’s important, not just mobility for mobility’s sake.  The DOT’s are improving but more to be done.
Q: I-66 HOT to DC

 Why does the I-66 Inside the Beltway project end at Route 29 in Rosslyn? It would make more since to have free flow traffic into DC across the Roosevelt Bridge to incentivize HOV3 and express bus riders. All the bridges in the eastbound direction are already at a gridlock state. According to MWCOG, Managed Lanes on I-66 in DC is listed as an “Unfunded Capital Need”. Is VDOT coordinating with DDOT on this project?


A: Stewart Schwartz
 I assume VDOT is talking to DDOT.  DDOT is itself studying pricing for the SE/SW freeway and 14th street bridge.  So long as we give better and better transit options, these approaches can make the commuting better — that’s what London and Stockholm have found.
Q: Metro Fail

 Do you believe the Metro system is in a “death spiral“? If so, what does it mean for regional transportation in the coming years?

 A: Stewart Schwartz

 I hope not.  But our elected officials from the Governors and Congress on down need to get unified, get a new General Manager who is also a leader, fix internal structural problems and provide the funding Metro needs.  Failure is not an option.
Q: Demand Management

 Given Arlington’s celebrated success in growing in jobs and residents over the past two decades with no increase in traffic in part because of the success of its TDM program, why do you think the local and State DOTS always reach for the more expensive solutions of infrastructure and technology and adding supply instead of investing in relatively cheap behavior change?
A: Stewart Schwartz
 Like the old adage, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  DOT’s are starting to come along, but still focus too much on highway capacity expansion and don’t give sufficient credit to land use, demand management, local street and bike/ped/transit solutions. 
Q: Smarter Growth

 Mr. Schwartz: In whatever form you could conceive of it, what are your thoughts on a true, mass transit, Circle Line which would provide circumferential travel connecting all of the Metro lines? Thank you, Howard Kaplan
A: Stewart Schwartz
 I think we have to prioritize which segments.  In addition, it might not we one shared circle but different connectors.  For example Tysons to the Red line at the Am Legion Bridge.  Alexandria to National Harbor at the Wilson Bridge.  But perhaps Route 7 from Tysons to Alexandria. 
Q: Silver line

 I’m a DC expat who frequently comes back to the area for business/personal visits. I was really surprised when I traveled out Route 7 along the new Silver line. The road expansion is amazing, I think I counted 6 travel and turn lanes in just one direction at some intersections. It seems like the goals to accommodate drivers and make dense living/commercial areas near the stops are at odds. Are residents really going to enjoy walking across 12 (!) lanes of traffic to go to a restaurant on the other side of Route 7?
A: Stewart Schwartz
The Tysons plan includes a local street network that will be built over time and taming some of the existing roads by removing high speed rights and lefts.  But the big problems are 123 and Route 7 which VDOT and the county have refused to tame.  In fact they widened 7!  This undermines a walkable Tysons.  We have already seen traffic drop 15% on at least one road thanks to the Silver Line.  So they need to commit to turning 7 and 123 into urban boulevards that are safer for all users.

The guy who runs @FixWMATA, Chris Barnes, is attempting to start a riders union. I believe Seattle has one as well, though it’s mainly focused on low-income, student and senior riders. It seems to me to be a necessary step, given the troubles and dangers of Metro. What are your thoughts on an all-inclusive riders union here?

A: Stewart Schwartz
I think transit riders do need to come together.  My organization, CSG, along with Action Committee for Transit and Greater Greater Washington already include many transit riders and supporters.  So we should work together.  There is deep support for better transit in the community.  It consistently polls higher as a transportation solution compared to highway expansion.
Q: I-66 Tolls 24/7?

 Why are they only tolling I-66 inside the beltway during peak hours? It would make more sense to toll 24/7, since the toll is based solely on congestion. If the there is no congestion the toll should be $0.00. If an average speed of 45 mph cannot be maintained, a refund should be issued.
A: Stewart Schwartz
 I think because they were looking for not just a good transportation solution but one that also looked politically.  And ensuring the road remained free outside of peak hours was one of the steps they are recommending. 
Q: Leadership

 Are there truly any visionary elected officials in the D.C. region who get what you are saying Stewart and who push their jurisdictions to do more, more quickly? Other cities like Pittsburg’s Mayor, NYC’s previous Mayor and transportation commissioner? It seems like we have none here that are pushing the envelope.
A: Stewart Schwartz
 We’ve had four DC Mayors in a row who have done and are doing great things. The city is better managed, doing cutting edge transit, bike, pedestrian work, and seeing and extended development boom.  Each Mayor has had a different style but they’ve consistently hired good planners, economic development and transportation officials and are reinvesting in the schools using the growing tax base.  Meanwhile Cong. Connolly when he was Fairfax Chair, his successor Chairman Bulova, County Exec’s Baker and Leggett are all pushing transit-oriented development as their top priority.  Leggett has also pushed forward a plan for an 81 mile BRT system.  We’ve also honored Councilmember Berliner in Montgomery and Board Member Walter Tejada in Arlington for their leadership on smart growth.  But we can always do more and we need unified leadership on Metro

The reality is that for the Washington Metro area, transit accounts for only 15% or so of the overall commuter demand, a figure unlikely to rise in the foreseeable future due to high capital costs and high operating costs – at least at WMATA.

Some 80% of area population and employment growth since the 1980s has occurred outside the Capital Beltway, a trend continuing due to ever higher land costs -resulting in higher housing and office rents in DC and other inner locations.

The Metrorail plan was created in 1960s to serve the then dominant federal workforce then over 90% in DC. Economists have said that the Washington area economy needs to diversify for it to succeed in the future.

Why should taxpayers put funding into a 1960s era Metrorail system when most growth is not occurring in DC and other close in locations?

The office vacancy rate in Crystal City and Rosslyn exceeds 25% and is over 15% in other jurisdictions.

Though advocated by “smart growth” advocates, value capture is not working in reality in most areas. See NY Times article about Hudson Yard redevelopment and tax abatement offered instead of TIF.

What sources of funding do you foresee to build the “Metro Momentum” plan other than an increased sales tax favored by WMATA?


A: Stewart Schwartz
 Sound like the Yogi Berra quote — “no one goes there any more, it’s too crowded.”  DC is booming, adding 83,000 people in a decade with most not owning cars and if they do they don’t drive much.  84% of new office development is within 1/4 mile of Metro stations, 92% of office leases over 20,000 sq ft are within 1/2 mile of Metro.  Marriott wants to move to a Metro station. Millenials want urban places, transit. Everyone wants shorter commutes. To be competitive we need our transit investments and to create great places that are walkable, and ideally have transit.  That’s why you are seeing communities like these popping up all over our suburbs.
Q: Columbia Pike Tranist

 What do you think Arlington should do about transit on the Pike going forward?
A: Stewart Schwartz
Do what they are doing to enhance the bus service — better stops, real time information, off board fare collection etc.  It looks like development will continue apace and they will need a higher capacity transit system, so I could see the streetcar coming back at some point.
Q: Really??

Smarter growth? Most young families with one or both employed by the Feds cant afford to live any closer than Manassas. Sorry they don’t want to live in Prince George’s  or Anne Arundel counties because of higher taxes, higher car insurance, crime, crummy schools, and MD ‘s public university and private university is gawd awful in comparison to VAs.

Moving the FBI to Prince George’s will result in massive lost of expertise. A young family with both parents employed as GS9s with the Feds and one kind can’t afford to live in Arlington, Montgomery or close-in Fairfax.

Outer Prince William, Stafford etc is where they can afford to live. They don’t have the disposable income for toll roads. You liberal Dems just dont have a clue.

A: Stewart Schwartz
Smart growth is actually a movement with a strong fiscal conservative streak.  It’s become profoundly expensive to build all of the new infrastructure in outer areas and leave older areas behind to crumble. And the more we spread out the more it costs per person per mile of infrastructure. We are working on more fiscally sustainable solutions like growing where we already have infrastructure.  Prince George’s is now attracting new development at its 15 underutilized Metro stations and UMD is really stepping it up (I say that as a UVA Wahoo!).  We need balanced economic growth and to stop leaving other places behind.  And we need more housing closer in, so people don’t have to have such long commutes.
Q: Potomac Western Crossing

 The study showed the great difference of traffic load between Point of Rocks and the American Legion Bridge.

They are my two options in getting from home to work and back again (I’m not moving; I’m not the only factor in where I live). I could go either way, but the two-lane roads on either side of the river from Point of Rocks makes that way less predictable in time because if there is one accident, the whole road is blocked.

If MD and VA would increase the lanes on Routes 15 and 28, this route would at least be an option for me when there is an accident on the American Legion.

I’ve been living in the area for decades and have worked all around the Beltway. I’ve seen the Intercounty Connector end up miles north of where it was originally designed. I’ve lived through the frustration of having various groups shut down the option of a river crossing between the two bridges.

The farms and open fields have since become neighborhoods and “towns”. The traffic has come even though the bridge was not built! Let’s do something other than HOT lanes on the American Legion!


A: Stewart Schwartz
Better than more lanes on 15 would be a roundabout solution like that found at Gilberts Corner at 15 and 50.

Re the upriver bridge idea, the first issue is that the study shows only 5% making the “u-shaped commute” with so much more need at the Am Legion.  The second is the cost $1 to $2 billion -including a 10-15 mile highway to I270 from the river.  We need those $ for the Am Legion and the Metro tunnel.  Third, like what happened with the ICC, folks on the Beltway will see no change.  As we grow, the more people and companies we can offer the option to live near transit — with a network of transit oriented communities — the less total driving we’ll have.  People will have more options. 

Q: Gas taxes

 Should go to the roads and not mass transit. Metro and mass transit is a joke that only benefits elected officials, their cronies, fellow Democrats. union workers, unions, and companies who big donors to Democratic candidates. Those of us who live outside the beltway in NOVA just arent benefitting from you pro Green Dem loving group Mr Schwartz. Even if you could wave your magic wand and make every internal combustion and diesel powered vehicle in the SU and Canada zero emission vehicle it would have no effect on global warming. Lets tax mass transit fares at 15%.
A: Stewart Schwartz
 We couldn’t function in our region without Metro.  1 million trips per day.  35% of peak hour commute trips (I believe) and as much as 50% or higher share of trips on some corridors into DC.  It’s in the peak hours that transit really makes a difference.  VRE takes the place of an entire lane of traffic on I-66 and I-95.
Q: Smart Growth

 Why do you want all of us to live in high-rise apartment buildings?
A: Stewart Schwartz
 Who said that?  Mixed use development includes single family, town houses, garden apts, four and five story multifamily as well.  Transit is scaled to the level of density.  And nobody is making anybody live a particular way.  As a capitalist, I look at the marketplace, and right now prices are high for apartments, condos, TH and homes in urban paces because of demand.  And that demand isn’t abating.
Q: Millenials want urban places, transit.

 They want this until they have families. Then they want a nice house in a safe neighborhood with enough space to breathe and good schools. How do I know this? I’m a millennial who just had a kid last year. We’re not special. We’re just having kids later.
A: Stewart Schwartz
Yes, and many are looking toward communities where they and their children can walk to schools, parks, libraries and the store.  Many are looking in older suburbs that may be closer to work.  Meanwhile, empty nesters are downsizing and as they do they are selling their hopes to young families.  The suburbs are also creating more urban places — in Falls Church on Broad Street, White Flint, Reston Town Center, Hyattsville and downsizing empty nesters are going to these places, not just millenials.
Q: I would support a London-style cordon pricing scheme — I cannot support this.

 It is entirely unfair for only those who gain access to DC on 66 to have to pay a toll when no other drivers are penalized for the congestion they cause by driving in the capital.
A: Stewart Schwartz
I mentioned DC is dong a pilot study on the SE/SW freeway. You are right that it’s a good time to have a larger discussion about a priced “cordon.”  Not sure if at the Beltway or into DC, they would have to study it.  But also only if they invest in a lot of transit at the same time — 8 car trains, bus lanes etc like they did in London and Stockholm.
Q: HOT lanes on 66 outside Beltway

 What does your group think of the planned expansion of lanes and then conversion to HOT lanes on 66 outside the Beltway? What do you see as the pros/cons?
A: Stewart Schwartz
We pushed hard to get two different administrations to look at a transit and land use alternative first — express bus, VRE, Metrorail extension combined with rural land conservation and mixed-use, transit-oriented development.  They didn’t agree. 

But the HOT can work and it’s better than trying to build as many as 9 general purpose lanes with major neighborhood destruction.  Pricing of HOT lanes helps balance out peak hour demand.  But it’s only fair if the net revenues go to transit in the corridor. Express buses and future Metro extension.  That gives more people an affordable option and a good chance to work or sleep while on the commute.  This is why we would prefer public ownership rather than private so we can keep control of the net revenues.

The HOT lanes mean less land will be taken with less impact on neighborhoods, but they need to do some more work in a couple of communities to reduce the impacts.

Q: Equality and Smart Growth

I am very much a subscriber to the ideas behind smart growth and transit-oriented development. I have taken Metro and Metrobus to work for 14 years now, and fairly recently paid a fairly substantial premium to buy property located near transit.

What I have noticed over my time in DC, however, is that the increased focus on development in walkable, transit-oriented communities has resulted in a huge distributive effect.

Places that are “close in” to job centers are very unaffordable in this region. A generation ago, a middle class family (e.g., a government employee) could purchase a house in close-in Arlington.

These days, close-in communities like Arlington and DC and notoriously expensive, while farther-flung areas like Springfield and Manassas are where new immigrants and lower-income people must live. Most newer government employees cannot afford to live much closer to DC.

How can planners continue to push close-in development while, it seems, ignoring the increasing problem that the “commuter tax” in time seems to fall more and more on lower income people?

Is there thought being given to the class divide of smart growth, given the nature of public transit as a good for all of the public?

A: Stewart Schwartz

The high demand to live in cities and near transit has created affordability challenges, even as it has brought investment, revitalization, opportunity and safety to once depressed areas.  We need more supply including at the underdeveloped metro stations we still have.  We need to convert strip shopping corridors into more humane, walkable, mixed use places with new transit and more housing.  We need housing trust funds so the public can partner with the private sector to create affordable units and we need inclusionary zoning where developers get density bonuses in return for providing a percentage of affordable units.

Q: Re: “if you build it they will come.”

 I have heard many used the old, “if you build it they will come” logic as a reason to NOT build new roads or widen existing problem spots.

It seems people fear solving a problem because it may lead to more people wanting to use the road. In my opinion, it really leads to people looking for alternate routes and driving on roads that were NOT designed to handle the volume.

How many people drive into DC and could take I-66 if it was open to all traffic but use US-29, 50, and other roads instead?

A: Stewart Schwartz

I-66 would fill up fast and you would sit in gridlock.  Go to the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute which has good studies on induced traffic.
Q: The cost of a long commute can make what seems like a more affordable house 25 or 30 miles from DC less affordable when housing and transportation costs are considered together.

 It’s comments like this from “smart growth” advocates that drive people with families nuts. So for the sake of argument let’s say you’re right, a long commute might make the 400,000 house not worth it. Your recommended choice is to move to DC (or the urban area where you work) to buy the 800,000 house or shove your family of 4 into a one bedroom for 2800 a month in rent? DC schools aren’t great, so by your logic you must force your kids into A. terrible schools B. mercy of a lottery system. OR you’re suggesting that everyone have 160,000 in a downpayment for an 800,000 house. So in your world everyone is rich. Uunder your ideal world you’re either rich or single/married with no children. Thanks for the realistic advice. Realistic being the word my man.
A: Stewart Schwartz
See books called Metropolitics.  We can’t succeed as a region without balanced economic investment and a mix of incomes in our communities.  We shouldn’t be leaving entire communities behind.  Hence we seek to promote investment and mixed income, mixed-use where we have existing infrastructure.
Q: And we need more housing closer in, so people don’t have to have such long commutes.

 Define housing. If developers build more 500 square foot one bedrooms your dream is dead. We need AFFORDABLE (for the middle class, not just the poor) 3 plus bedrooms. If that happens you have a chance for people to continue to live in condos/townhomes/apartments in the inner suburbs or city. If not, they’ll always move out.
A: Stewart Schwartz
We are starting to see some developers build larger units.  In a capitalist economy I believe that developers will spot the trends and needs and adjust.
Q: The future

 I think we should make no larger investment in transit at this point, just patch up what we have for the next 15-20 years.

Hopefully, in that time frame the technological progress will cause the public transportation will largely shift from buses/trains operating relatively rarely on a schedule to small self-driving electric vans which we will request from our mobile devices according to our needs.

They will be smartly assigned based on common or similar destinations of passengers, thus their use and routes will be optimized, unlike airport vans (which are assigned first-come first-served so an unlucky person visits the entire region before getting to their destination).

Being self-driving, they will be relatively cheap (no driver wage) and will be capable of driving within inches of each other on highways, optimizing road use and aerodynamic efficiency. A solution like that, combined with the inevitable move to more and more telework, will make much of today’s discussion moot.

A: Stewart Schwartz
 And with self driving cars and transit vehicles we won’t need as much road space.
Q: many are looking toward communities where they and their children can walk to schools, parks, libraries and the store

That’s undoubtedly true. However they can’t afford it! I don’t understand why you think such townhomes/condos will be affordable for families.

Not everyone makes 500k a year. We can’t afford to live in such a neighborhood because the homes/condos etc are a million dollars. And no, building high rises are not the answer for affordability.

A: Stewart Schwartz
You have to account for transportation costs as well.  Build a mix of housing types.  Provide transit to more communities.  It’s a range of solutions.  I work non-profit, so my wife and I have a smaller space to live near transit, but much lower car costs.
Q: Why do you hate the free market?

 Is it because you want everyone to live in the middle of the city in high-rise apartments, ride their bike to their government job and then rely on the government to take them to other parts of the city via METRO? Some of us like actually driving a car
A: Stewart Schwartz
 Keep driving then.  Lots of others are looking for other choices.  For too long our government has given us only one choice — especially in other parts of the country.  Transit, zipcar, bikeshare, uber are all about choices for folks.  As are different types of communities — not just single family homes, but having options of apartments, condos etc
Stewart Schwartz:
Thanks everyone.  I typed as fast as I could and got to as many as possible.  Let’s continue the conversations and work on solutions together.  See and email me at
Robert Thomson:
Thanks for joining us today. I’ll be back next Monday with a regular show. Meanwhile, look for more discussion about Metro issues, HOT lanes and the pope’s visit on the Dr. Gridlock blog.

Stay safe out there and rejoin me next Monday at noon.

Read this on The Washington Post >>