Posts from the Washington DC Category
In addition to the broad strokes of transportation policy outlined by the White House yesterday, the Obama administration also put out a much more specific proposal: the list of transit expansion projects recommended for funding in fiscal year 2016. Jeff Wood of The Overhead Wire and Talking Headways fame called it “Transit Christmas.”
Though the budget enacted by Congress will no doubt differ from the administration’s budget, these recommendations from the Federal Transit Administration are significant. Many of the projects on last year’s list are now under construction.
Here’s a look at what’s in line for federal funding, starting with the list of grants for large expansion projects from the FTA’s “New Starts” program.
Major projects recommended for funding:
- Los Angeles’ Westside Subway Extension, Section 2 — $100 million
- San Diego’s Midcoast Corridor — $150 million
- Denver’s Southeast Extension –$92 million
- Baltimore Red Line — $100 million
- Maryland Purple Line (Suburban D.C.) — $100 million
- Minneapolis’ Southwest Light Rail — $150 million
- Fort Worth’s TEX commuter Rail — $100 million
The big drama right now surrounds the Purple and Red line projects in Maryland, where newly elected Republican Governor Larry Hogan has threatened to cut off state support for the new transit lines if private partners don’t cover enough of the construction costs.
A second list of smaller projects in mid-sized cities are in line for funding from the FTA’s “Small Starts” program.
Seeing shovel-ready transit projects destroyed by petty politics has been all too common the last few years (see: Scott Walker and Wisconsin high-speed rail, or Chris Christie and the ARC tunnel). Even so, this one’s a doozy.
Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan has the power to halt two major urban transit projects that have the planning and funding all lined up and and are all but ready to go: suburban DC’s 16-mile Purple Line as well as Baltimore’s 14-mile Red Line. More than a decade of planning has gone into each of these transit lines, and each has been awarded a competitive federal New Starts grant for $900 million [PDF], accounting for about a third of the total $5.5 billion combined cost.
Early in his gubernatorial campaign, Hogan promised to kill the projects, saying the money would be better spent on roads and that the western, eastern, and southern parts of the state deserved more attention. But closer to the election he moderated his views, saying the lines were “worth considering.”
Since winning the race, he has mostly kept mum about his intentions. When asked recently about the plans, he demurred, according to the Washington Post.
“They should just keep on guessing, because I’m going to be governor January 21, and we will start talking about policy then,” he said.
Although Hogan won’t take office for a few weeks yet, his indecision is already affecting construction timetables. Bids were due this month for the Purple Line project, but were delayed until March, after the swearing-in.
Maryland spent more than $170 million planning and purchasing right-of-way for the Purple Line and another $230+ million on planning for the Red Line. That work will go to waste if the projects are killed. Plus, because the Red Line has already gone out to bid, the state would be responsible for another $8 million in payments to the engineering firms that have prepared detailed, long-term plans to build the line.
Of the most concern to transit advocates is all the federal funding that would likely be lost if the state were to abandon or dramatically alter the plans at this late stage. In addition to the New Starts grant, the Purple Line has received $900 million in federally backed loans. None of the federal money could be used for other projects in the state.
Business groups in both the DC area and Baltimore strongly support the projects and have been urging the governor to continue with the plan.
Klaus Philipsen, a Baltimore architect who served as a consultant and planner on the Red Line, said dirt could start flying this year in Baltimore. The $2.9 billion Red Line was expected to not just attract new passengers, but greatly expand the usefulness of the city’s existing two rail lines by creating a more extensive network. It was also expected to be a boon for struggling west Baltimore, where intensive community planning processes sought to get the most out of the stations for local neighborhoods.
“The hope is that with the Red Line [Baltimore’s rail transit] would start to become a real system and we’d have a quantum leap in connectivity,” Philipsen told Streetsblog.
As policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation from 2007 to June, 2014, Jon Orcutt shepherded the nation’s largest bike-share system through the earliest stages of planning, a wide-ranging public engagement process, and, last year, the rollout of hundreds of Citi Bike stations.
That makes Orcutt, formerly of Transportation Alternatives and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a leading U.S. expert on bike-share. In a recent exchange about what some cities are passing off as bike-share, Orcutt told he has some concerns about how bike-share systems are being rolled out in cities around the U.S. Intrigued, I asked him to elaborate in an interview.
Here’s what he had to say about what separates a successful bike-share system from one that’s not meeting its potential:
So you’ve come to some conclusions about how certain bike-shares are functioning?
They’re not my conclusions. There’s a fair amount of research out there now and you can see pretty clearly what some of the variables are. There’s a huge variation across cities, especially in the United States.
Can you summarize the research?
The most useful metric is rides per bike per day. You can compare a system with 600 bikes to 6,000 bikes in different size cities pretty easily. You just see, how many rides is it getting?
I’d say the breaking point internationally is about three-and-a-half or four rides. High performing systems are seeing four rides per day on average or more, and then there’s everybody else. A lot of them in the United States are under two.
Uber is celebrating. DC passed an Uber-legalization law that Uber thinks cities the world over should follow. The problem is, most cities have much more tightly regulated taxi industries than DC, with a far higher cost of entry. In those cases, letting Uber get away with providing taxi services while complying with none of the rules is unfair. The taxi companies have been screaming about this for a while now. Uber’s response is something like, “Catch me if you can, old geezer.” DC’s contribution to that conversation strengthens Uber’s position.
In other news, a front group for the oil industry is trying to cause panic among California drivers about a “hidden gas tax” that’s going to hit come January. What they’re really talking about is California’s landmark cap-and-trade law to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which will start including transportation fuels at the beginning of the year. Jeff and I called up Melanie Curry of Streetsblog LA to explain to us a campaign that didn’t seem to really make any sense and she assured us that we’re not crazy; it really doesn’t make any sense.
Stay tuned; our election recap edition will be coming out shortly.
In Washington, DC, if a driver crashes into a person on foot or on a bike, and that person walking or biking is deemed to be even 1 percent at fault, he or she cannot collect any damages from insurance.
Shane Farthing of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and Tracy Hadden Loh of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy put it this way in a story for Greater Greater Washington:
Say you are riding along on your bicycle. Your tail light battery dies one evening, and then a texting driver crashes into you. Can you recover your medical costs from the driver?
Or, say you are on foot and need to cross a street where the nearest crosswalks are far away. But then a drunk driver speeds by and hits you.
Or, you’re biking and get doored. A police officer, confused about the law, incorrectly tickets you for riding too close to parked cars.
In all of those cases, DC’s unjust contributory negligence law would bar you from collecting damages from that drunk or distracted driver.
The DC Council’s Committee on the Judiciary is set to vote on the bill tomorrow. But it’s not looking good.
— Martin Di Caro (@MartinDiCaro) November 6, 2014
In addition to Cheh, bill co-sponsor Tommy Wells sits on the committee, as does mayor-elect Muriel Bowser, who said in a pre-election candidate survey that replacing contributory negligence was an “issue that deserves further consideration.” She has until tomorrow to consider it.
If the bill fails, WABA has pledged to release a scorecard with council members’ votes to hold them accountable for supporting the so-called “one-percent rule.”
Only four states — including neighboring Maryland and Virginia — join DC in holding onto this discriminatory and punitive law. This is the third time the bill has come before the DC Council.
A few key changes to the DC zoning code could help make housing more affordable, streets more walkable, transit more convenient, and healthy foods more accessible. Years of debate and delay have watered down the reforms somewhat, but they still represent substantial progress. And now it looks like they will pass.
Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth files a status report at Greater Greater Washington:
The DC Zoning Commission has been deliberating on the zoning update this week. The commissioners embraced most of the DC Office of Planning’s proposals while even rejecting at least one of OP’s recent steps backward.
Buildings near transit (including priority bus corridors) will be able to have half the parking that’s otherwise required if they are willing to forego residential parking permits. Homeowners will be able to put accessory apartments inside their houses without a special hearing, but will have to go through one to use a carriage house. And corner grocery stores will be able to open in residential row house areas if they sell fresh food.
This is a major milestone in the grueling zoning regulations revision process that began in 2007 just after the DC Council adopted the 2006 Comprehensive Plan. Opponents of the update repeatedly asked the commission and the Office of Planning and for more outreach, more meetings, and more delay. In response, officials stretched out the process and added dozens of meetings, fact sheets, and hearings throughout the city. But the process now has an end in sight.
After a few more discussions, a new draft zoning code will be prepared for the city and presented for public comment. These reforms sound like no-brainers to help increase the number of housing units available at lower prices and reduce the share of valuable transit-accesible land consumed by parked cars.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Indy thinks that Indianapolis should hesitate to gloat about all the riders Pacers Bikeshare is attracting six months after opening. ATL Urbanist reports that Atlanta’s MARTA will use elements of tactical urbanism to incorporate public feedback into the redesign of two stations. And FABB Blog shares new data showing how residents of metro DC are flocking toward transit hubs.
Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.
For the first and second U.S. cities to start building networks of modern protected bike lanes, the payoff seems to have arrived.
In both Washington, DC, and New York City, the rate of bike commuting has doubled since 2009, according to Census figures released Thursday.
Powered by one of the country’s most successful bike-share systems, a solid network of painted lanes, a handful of protected lanes, and the burgeoning bicycle culture that resulted from those changes, Washington’s bike commute mode share vaulted to 4.5 percent in 2013, up from 2.2 percent in 2009. Among major U.S. cities, that estimate would place DC second only to Portland, Oregon, as a bike commuting town.
“DC has been coming up strong for several years,” said Darren Flusche, policy director for the DC-based League of American Bicyclists. “It’s the nation’s capital; I keep waiting for someone to say they’re the nation’s bike capital.”
New York City, meanwhile, has a lower biking rate — just 1.2 percent, up from 0.6 percent in 2009. But that comes out to 46,000 daily bike commuters, about as many as Portland and DC combined. New York added an estimated 10,000 bike commuters in 2013 alone, its fifth straight year of growth.
Flusche credited the Michael Bloomberg administration, led by former Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, for rapidly dedicating space on New York streets for painted or protected bike lanes.
“I think we’re finally seeing the benefits of those decisions made as far back as ’09, ’10, ’11,” Flusche said.
New Census numbers are out, providing fresh data on how Americans are getting to work, and Michael Andersen at BikePortland has noticed a couple of trends.
The mid-size cities best-known for biking haven’t made much progress lately, Andersen writes, while other cities have made rapid gains:
2013 Census estimates released Thursday show the big cities that led the bike spike of the 2000s — Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and, most of all, Portland — all failing to make meaningful changes to their commuting patterns for three years or more.
Meanwhile, the same figures show a new set of cities rising fast — first among them Washington DC.
Every city has places where the buildings present a blank face to the sidewalk. A dark, recessed arcade deadening the pedestrian environment or a soulless concrete wall fronting a windswept plaza.
Consultant Brent Toderian, formerly the planning director for the city of Vancouver, pointed out a cheap and easy solution to this problem. He calls them “blank wall retrofits,” storefronts that can be inserted over blank walls to add sidewalk-facing retail. He tweeted this great example in Calgary, Alberta:
This retrofit fits between the lobby and plaza of the brutalist Westin Calgary and the sidewalk.
“It’s a great technique for dealing with fundamentally flawed architecture that presents blank walls to streets and public places,” Toderian says. “Unlike ‘make-up on a pig’ — e.g. murals — this fundamentally changes the street edge condition. The pig is no longer a pig. It potentially changes un-urban to urban.”
We reached out to our readers to find more success stories. Here’s what they sent us.