Tag: Transit

CSG Testimony re Amazon & Affordable Housing

Coalition for Smarter Growth

March 14, 2019

Arlington County Board

Suite #300

2100 Clarendon Blvd

Arlington, VA 22201


Re:  Amazon incentive package and community needs

Dear Chair Dorsey and members of the Board:

The Coalition for Smarter Growth is the leading non-profit in the DC region advocating a network of livable communities – walkable, mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented centers and corridors linked by an expanded transit network including Metrorail, bus, bus rapid transit, light-rail, and street-car as appropriate. Our partnerships span the region’s leading conservation, affordable housing, bicycle/pedestrian, and transit advocacy organizations, as well as progressive architecture, planning and development firms. We are proud that this web of partnerships enabled us to collectively win the first-ever dedicated funding for Metro.

We support Amazon’s decision to locate in Crystal City/Pentagon City. Their decision is a vindication of Arlington’s long-time leadership and implementation of smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD). It is a vindication as well of our regional advocacy for TOD and of the Council of Governments’ Region Forwardvision and Visualize2045transportation plan commitments to TOD. Amazon is also teaming with one of the region’s most successful transit-oriented developers, JBGSmith, who have a record of good design and placemaking, and recently started a workforce housing fund.

Turning now to the proposed incentives program. We join others in the long-standing concerns about the nationwide use of incentives to attract major corporate entities – particularly given so many socio-economic needs in our communities. But we also recognize that both Arlington and the State of Virginia incentives are performance based. Arlington’s incentives are also being drawn from the growth in revenue from the Transient Occupancy Tax, of which 15% will go to Amazon for performance but the remainder to schools, housing and transportation in Arlington. We are pleased that the state transportation investments are among the most progressive seen in the U.S. in that they are focused on transit, bicycle/pedestrian and safe street design investments.

A new area of concern raised by Megan Rhyne of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government must be addressed – that the proposed agreement includes a provision allowing Amazon “at least two-business days to refute, redact or file a lawsuit when someone seeks records of its interaction with the county” (P. Sullivan, Washington Post, 3/15/19). At CSG we have always placed transparency in government at the core of community planning and engagement and strongly support ever greater transparency in FOIA standards and fewer exemptions. Therefore, this provision which Ms. Rhyne says is unusual, should be removed from the agreement.

While we are supporting the Amazon transit-oriented project, we share the significant concerns about housing affordability in Arlington and the region – an issue which admittedly predates Amazon. While Arlington and Alexandria are pledging $150 million toward affordable housing needs over ten years, our understanding is that these are not new, additional funds. It is good that the Virginia Housing Development Authority will be allocating $15 million per year over five years in low interest loans for affordable housing and added $3 million to the statewide Virginia Housing Trust Fund. But this level of investment is also far short of the need. Since Arlington notes that increased revenues will result from Amazon’s investment and associated development and economic activity, we urge the use of a significant portion of those revenues for affordable housing – to double or more the current annual commitments. We urge the same for Alexandria, Fairfax, and the state.

As for the state commitment to affordable housing, we need to point out the discrepancy between $750 million in incentives for Amazon and $50 million for Micron, while only adding $3 million to the state housing trust fund and the five-year, $15 million per year loan program for Northern Virginia. Similarly, the comparison between the billions we spend on highways and interchanges is stunning when compared to how little we are investing in affordable housing. In fact, housing close to jobs and transit IS a transportation solution, reducing vehicle trips and vehicle miles traveled. Investing in affordable housing in smart growth locations creates far more benefits than do our massive highway expenditures, providing family stability, improved health, improved educational outcomes, improved access to jobs and affordable transportation, and reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, we need both much more public funding support from the state and local governments, but also innovative private sector investment in long-term committed affordable housing for 60 percent of area median income and below.

Beyond funding, we concur with many other groups that we need effective preservation strategies for market-rate affordable housing in our diverse neighborhoods that are potentially impacted by the economic development that will come with Amazon. Arlington, DC, Alexandria and advocates at CSG and the member groups of the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance have many ideas for effective tools for both preservation and inclusion of affordable housing, and we need a stronger commitment and an accelerated approach to implementation in each jurisdiction with the full participation of local residents.

Turning back to transportation, and Amazon’s role, we are pleased that Amazon has achieved about a 50% mode share for non-auto commutes in Seattle and has promised that they want to do even better here. We recommend a goal of 65% non-auto mode share. To achieve this, we recommend that Amazon provide transit passes to all employees, and that they minimize on-site parking (as they have discussed) — and price it OR offer equal non-parking benefits to any employee who might be eligible for or offered a parking space but wishes to take transit, walk or bike to work. Include secure bicycle parking, along with showers and lockers for bike commuters.

In addition, the state, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, and local jurisdictions should add other projects to the package of transportation investments including:

  • Connecting Metroway through Alexandria to Fairfax’ Embark Richmond Highway BRT
  • Accelerating the Long Bridge rail project and building the separated bike bridge
  • In the I-395 Corridor provide TOD node-to-node bus rapid transit connections between Fort Belvoir, Springfield, Landmark, Mark Center, Shirlington, Pentagon City/Crystal City and Pentagon (and a Kingstown to Van Dorn to Landmark connection).
  • Expansion of Capital Bikeshare
  • Expansion of dedicated bike lane infrastructure

In conclusion, we support Amazon’s location decision, but we urge you to fix the FOIA issue, to advance these additional transportation projects in partnership with other jurisdictions, AND commit to increasing funding for affordable housing, adopting new tools for preservation and inclusion, and including the community in the development of these strategies and programs.

Thank you.

Stewart Schwartz

Executive Director

STATEMENT: Reaction to WMATA General Manager Wiedefeld’s Metro Repair Plan

May 6, 2016

Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director
(703) 599-6437

Tackling this Challenge — Together

WASHINGTON, DC – In response to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s Metro repair plan statement this morning at Metro Headquarters, Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz issued the following statement.

“We have been impressed by the strong, deliberative leadership of WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. Therefore, as a community and as Metro riders, we need to work together with the GM and the agency to get the job done. We need the roll up the sleeves attitude of Americans who’ve worked together after major natural disasters or mobilized for war.

“While those of us outside the agency will not be turning wrenches, we can support the funding WMATA will need and work with our employers to plan alternative ways to commute. And it won’t work if everyone jumps into their cars. Expanded bus service, telecommuting, flex-time, and carpooling will be critical for longer distance commuters. For those living closer to work, bicycling, bikeshare, and walking will be important additional options. Among our top recommendations is providing the dedicated bus lanes we’ve long needed.

“At the same time, based upon reports, the management and staff at WMATA owe the public a real turnaround in their performance in communications, maintenance, repair, operations, and above all safety. As a former Navy aviator, the revelations about the lack of a safety culture have been a particular concern for me.

“The extended repair times will hopefully give the staff the breathing room they need to make more effective and long-lasting repairs to the system, but this should also be a time for a complete culture change – breaking down the communications barriers between departments and between management and line workers, and infusing safety, customer service, and pride in every member of the team.”

Our specific recommendations include:

  • Much better and more effective customer communications by WMATA including, sufficient advance notice of shutdowns and planned alternatives, reliable travel time and schedule information for both rail and bus service at all times, and transparency about the repair work being done and the results.
  • Funding for the purchase of sufficient buses and hiring of more bus drivers to provide an essential transit alternative during extended shutdowns. But this will not be enough. We should take this opportunity to provide the dedicated bus lanes we have long needed.
  • Enhance and improve other alternative transportation services like expanding bikeshare, accelerating the installation of protected bikeways, and working with local jurisdictions to increase funding to transportation demand management programs including encouraging carpooling and telecommuting.
  • If stations are to be shut down for extended periods for rail repairs, then use the time restore the stations as well – cleaning, repairing damaged tiles, repairing fare gates, installing new lighting, etc. Take the time to restore and enhance the customer experience from the moment they enter the stations.

“Finally, we urge unity among elected officials in backing up the General Manager, and a shared commitment to providing the funding the system will need to complete a full mid-life restoration. Giving up on our Metrorail investment and all of the transportation and economic development benefits it has brought to our region is simply not an option.”

About the Coalition for Smarter Growth

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


RELEASE: Newly-released booster group poll is subjective, simplistic, and of little value to transportation planning in the Washington DC region



April 18, 2016

Stewart Schwartz, Coalition for Smarter Growth, (703) 599-6437
Caroline Taylor, Montgomery Countryside Alliance, (301) 461-9831
Ronit Dancis, Action Committee for Transit, (240) 432-9917
Jim Durham, Alexandria Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, (703) 508-0762
Chris Miller, Piedmont Environmental Council, (703) 507-5790

WASHINGTON, DC — A poll released today by the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTAlliance) and Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTAlliance) is subjective, simplistic and of little value for transportation planning in the DC region, according to several transportation groups around the DC region.

“This new poll completely ignores the number one factor affecting traffic and congestion:  land use.  Furthermore, it presumes that by expanding capacity, we can reduce congestion even though a wide array of transportation studies have shown that induced traffic fills up new capacity in as little as five years in metropolitan areas,” said Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

“By not providing information to the respondents about the role of land use, the problem of induced traffic, and the potential financial and community costs versus benefits of various projects it’s not surprising that the NVTAlliance/SMTAlliance world is like ‘Lake Wobegon’ where all transportation projects end up rating ‘above average’,” concurred Caroline Taylor, Executive Director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance.

Transportation and land use planners have learned that how we lay out our communities has a profound effect on transportation. The farther out we live and the more separated homes are from jobs, schools, retail and services, the more we drive. Expanding I-270 and I-66 in the absence of better land use would likely inspire more growth in rural areas and more long-distance commuting.

In contrast, compact mixed-use communities in DC, Arlington, Alexandria, and at Metro stations in Montgomery, Fairfax, and Prince George’s have much lower rates of driving and very high transit, walk and bike use. Every person who lives or works in a transit-oriented center is a person who drives much less, and has a longer lasting positive impact than road expansion.

“This poll is permeated with the presumption that ‘congestion reduction’ can be achieved and that we just need to spend more on everything to do so. This is the worldview that the NVTAlliance and SMTAlliance have long pushed. Both remain primarily highway booster groups, but have had to adjust their campaigns and brands in acknowledgement of the strong support for transit and transit-oriented development in the DC region – so they now package both roads and transit together,” said Schwartz.

“The problem is, we can’t afford to do everything on the NVTAlliance/SMTAlliance wish lists. We need to make choices, and linking land use with transit is the most effective thing we can do. It’s also in very high demand in the real estate market, including for Marriott Corporation, whose CEO has stated that they will be moving to a Metro station from their suburban office park,” said Ronit Dancis, President of Action Committee for Transit.

Jim Durham, Chair of Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, added, “For jurisdictions like the City of Alexandria, adding more lane miles of roadway is not an option, and when surrounding jurisdictions take that approach, it just increases congestion via induced demand. Land use and transportation alternatives are the only real long-term alternatives.”

“So, in the end,” concluded Schwartz, “we have a poll that says transportation is a top issue, which isn’t surprising in our successful metropolitan region, and that people would like to see less congestion.  But it’s not honest about how unlikely it is we will be able to reduce congestion over the long term through capacity expansion. By not discussing land use, induced traffic, or tradeoffs, costs and alternatives, the poll is more about boosting spending and getting mega-projects built, than about providing an effective, long-term approach to our transportation and land use challenges.”

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

The Montgomery Countryside Alliance promotes sound economic, land-use and transportation policies and programs that preserve the natural environment, open spaces, and rural lands in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve for the benefit of all Washington Metropolitan area residents. Learn more at mocoalliance.org.

Action Committee for Transit has a vision of a Montgomery County where it is easier to travel and more pleasant to live — a county built for people and not for automobiles. We believe fundamental changes are needed in transportation and land use policies to give the people of Montgomery County and Maryland the quality of life we deserve. Learn more at www.actfortransit.org.

Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is a volunteer led organization that promotes walking and biking in Alexandria. Learn more at alexandriabpac.wordpress.com.

Since 1972, The Piedmont Environmental Council has proudly promoted and protected the natural resources, rural economy, history and beauty of the Virginia Piedmont. Learn more about the Piedmont Environmental Council at pecva.org.


Feedback on Potomac Yard Metro: WMATA hosts public forum near proposed Metro station

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) took the Potomac Yard Metro Station discussion outside of City Hall and into the affected neighborhood for the April 30 public hearing at the Corra Kelly Recreation Center. The project had as many detractors in the crowd of local citizens as it did supporters.

Here’s what people want in a new Metro GM

The Metro board’s governance committee is receiving a report Thursday on what government and community leaders, along with riders and other interested parties, had to say about the type of general manager they want the transit authority to pick. The public picked up on the split among the board members over whether Metro needs a transit expert or a management turnaround specialist. These are excerpts from some of the statements presented to the board.

Testimony to WMATA Board Regarding Leadership by Stewart Schwartz

When I last testified before you in February, I outlined how essential Metro has been to the success of our region and stressed that we need the leadership and commitment of all area officials to the system’s success, and a similar commitment from staff to improving system communications, safety, incident response and customer service.

Viewpoint: A smart investment in Maryland

O’Toole may not buy the estimate that the Purple Line will carry 69,000 riders per day by 2030, but that just shows he doesn’t understand our success in linking transit with transit-oriented development. Less than two months after opening, the Silver Line carried 15,000 riders per day, representing more than 60 percent of the 25,000 riders projected after the first year of operation.

D.C. group launches email campaign to save H Street streetcar

“We want to be sure we’re doing what we can to look out for the mobility needs of D.C. residents,” he said. D.C. residents can express their frustration in an email to Bowser sent through the organization’s website. “I believe that the streetcar can be a prominent part of a larger transit investment strategy — with the right modes selected for the right corridors,” the email says.

Save the H Street streetcar, ANC 6A tells Mayor Bowser

An ANC that covers the H Street NE corridor is urging Mayor Muriel Bowser to get the streetcar up and running and expand the system to avoid creating a “useless” service. ANC 6A unanimously voted last night to send a letter to Bowser asking her to save the project. Killing the project would undercut development along H Street, the ANC said.