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Eleanor Holmes Norton Takes Top Dem Slot on Highways and Transit Panel

Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts was elected to the Senate last month, setting off a chain of events that has led to the appointment of a new ranking member of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee in the House. That new ranking member is DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, pictured here with a DC flag tattooed on her arm, is the new top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee. Photo: We Love DC via thisisbossi

The path from Markey’s victory to Norton’s ascension is a circuitous one. (Larry Ehl did a great job laying it all out a few months ago on Transportation Issues Daily.)

Markey’s move to the Senate opened up the ranking member position on the House Natural Resources Committee. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon was number two there and jumped on the top slot when it opened up. (His departure from the Democratic leadership on transportation is a loss for reformers, as he was a tireless advocate for transit, active transportation, and a strong federal role in transportation funding.)

House Democrats don’t allow members to hold the top position on more than one committee, so DeFazio had to drop his ranking membership on Highways and Transit. Ehl speculated in May that Norton was “very unlikely” to jump on the vacancy, even though she was next in line in terms of seniority, since she would have to drop her ranking membership on the Economic Development and Public Buildings Subcommittee to take it. But she went ahead and did it, and it’s a good thing she did. Eleanor Holmes Norton will be an excellent Highways and Transit ranking member. Here’s why.

On the Highways and Transit panel, Norton is way more Transit than Highways. While DeFazio had a serious soft spot for sustainable transportation, the fact is that his large and mostly rural district relies primarily on roads. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s district — the entire District of Columbia — is entirely urban. DC is home to the second-busiest transit system in the nation, after New York’s subway. Thirty-eight percent of DC residents commute to work on public transportation. Plus, the DC area comes up for public scorn every year when its roads are ranked the most congested by the Texas Transportation Institute. The economic vitality of Norton’s district relies in no small measure on high-quality transportation options.

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Capital Bikeshare Members Reduced Their Driving 4.4 Million Miles Per Year

According to a survey of CaBi members, the average subscriber drove 198 fewer miles per year after joining the bike-share system. Photo: Capital Bikeshare

We’ve noted before that it can be challenging to figure out exactly how much driving is avoided when someone rides a bike. But here we have it straight from the horse’s mouth – nearly 7,000 horses, in fact. According to a November 2012 survey of Capital Bikeshare members, released today, the average subscriber drove 198 miles less per year after joining the system. Multiply that by 22,200 members and that’s 3.7 million pounds of CO2 that won’t get belched into the atmosphere. Nice work, CaBistas!

Some other takeaways from the member survey:

Capital Bikeshare both enhances access to transit and shifts trips away from transit. Almost a quarter of CaBi users had used bike-share to get to the bus in the past month, and 17 percent had used it six or more times to access the metro system. At the same time, transit is the mode most likely to get replaced with bike-share trips: 61 percent of respondents say they ride Metrorail less often and 52 percent ride a bus less often. On the plus side, though, 50 percent drive less often.

For any given trip, if bike-share hadn’t been available, 44 percent would have taken a bus or train, 38 percent would have walked, 5 percent would have ridden their own bike, and 4 percent would have driven.

Bike-share members drive less. According to the survey report, “a quarter (26 percent) reduced their driving miles since joining Capital Bikeshare; 11 percent reduced driving by more than 1,000 miles. Two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents who reported their mileage made no change in driving miles; only 9 percent increased their driving miles.” CaBi members were never big drivers, but they reported driving an average 1,805 miles per year before joining Capital Bikeshare and 1,607 miles per year since joining, “for a reduction of about 198 miles annually” per person – or a cumulative 4.4 million miles.

Of the 4.4 million miles not driven… more than half are commuting miles, which often occur at peak hours. That’s a significant amount of car traffic taken off Washington’s streets by these snazzy red bikes. In total, 58 percent of members use it to go to and from work, and 40 percent commute via bike-share “often.” All together, about half of bike-share trips are work-related.

CaBi saves members money. An average of $15.39 per week, in fact – or about $800 annually, per person.

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Solo Driving Drops in DC as Transit and Biking Soar

Transit's mode share in the DC region grew 30 percent between 2000 and 2011, with growth in every jurisdiction. Image: National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board

We’ve been writing a lot this week about the national shift away from car travel and toward transit, biking, and walking. Yesterday, Washington area officials released new data that indicates the DC region is at the forefront of that trend.

The region added half a million new workers between 2000 and 2011, according to a report by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board [PDF]. During that period, transit was the fastest-growing mode of travel for commuters, soaring from an 11.8 percent mode share to 15.4 percent, nearly a one-third increase. That’s an additional 162,000 regular transit commuters across the greater DC area.

More than half of that increase has occurred since 2007, probably spurred in part by the recession, though undoubtedly helped along by many other factors.

Puzzlingly, the major exception to that rule was among federal government workers: All of their increased transit ridership happened between 2000 and 2007, when mode share jumped from 19 percent to 28 percent, where it remained in 2011. That means transit ridership among federal employees wasn’t affected by the transition from a Republican to a Democratic administration or by the recession.

Region-wide, 65.8 percent of commuters drive alone, a slight drop from 67.2 percent in 2000. Driving alone decreased or stayed the same in every jurisdiction but Prince William County, where admittedly unreliable data shows it rose from 74 percent to 77 percent.

The changes in the region are happening even more intensely in the city of Washington alone. In DC, 40.2 percent of workers commute via transit, compared to 32.3 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, the share of DC workers driving alone shrank from 39 percent to 33.6 percent.

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After Years of Unchecked Sprawl, Employment Inches Closer to the City

To hear some urbanists talk, you’d think the outer suburbs have been abandoned wholesale, lawn-mowers still running with no one to drive them, picket fences left open in the owners’ haste to beat it to the city.

A new Brookings report puts the re-urbanization of America in perspective. During the economic crisis, from 2007 to 2010, job sprawl receded ever so slightly. And not everywhere. Actually, in more than half of the 100 biggest metro areas, job sprawl actually increased — it just increased less than it decreased in the other ones.

All in all, the economy shed jobs virtually everywhere between 2007 and 2010. So the rush to create new jobs in the outer reaches of suburbia halted, because there were no new jobs, period. As it happened, though, urban cores lost a slightly smaller share of their jobs than outer-ring areas.

Report author Elizabeth Kneebone has been tracking job sprawl trends for years, and she says that although there are still more jobs outside cities than in them, the recession has had a notable impact.

“After dropping two percentage points from 2000 to 2007, the share of metropolitan jobs within three miles of downtown stabilized from 2007 to 2010,” she wrote. “However, by 2010 nearly twice the share of jobs was located at least 10 miles away from downtown (43 percent) as within three miles of downtown (23 percent).”

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AAA Still Up to Its Old Tricks Fighting Progressive Transport Policy

A representative of the American Automobile Association was a keynote speaker at this week’s National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., the annual gathering of bicycle advocates. There the organization debuted a heartwarming new video reminding drivers to share the road with cyclists.

A spokesman for AAA says not forcing developers to build an arbitrary amount of parking is "dangerous for D.C." Image: DDOTDC Flickr

Meanwhile, also in D.C., AAA representatives are fighting a series of smart parking reforms. AAA spokesman Lon Anderson told members of the media that a proposal to allow developers to decide how much parking to build, instead of being compelled by law to build a minimum amount, is “a dangerous proposal” that “threatens the future of Washington, D.C.”

Matt Yglesias at Slate annihilates this argument:

Almost 100 percent of Washington-area residents like to sleep on a soft comfortable surface at night. But there’s no regulatory requirement that residential buildings contain mattresses. The lack of mattress mandates doesn’t mean people are forced to sleep on the floor. It means that if people want to sleep on a mattress—and they generally do—they need to go buy one. That’s why there are mattress stores. Insofar as people want to park cars—and lets make no mistake, lots of people want to park cars—they will pay for the privilege, and property developers will provide parking spaces.

What’s at issue here is whether non-parkers should be forced to offer a cross-subsidy to parkers. The case against such a subsidy seems strong. It encourages extra traffic congestion and extra pollution, as well as inducing some kind of deadweight loss in the form of stifled real estate development.

Yglesias also points out that AAA’s assertion that “roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive” is very misleading, since fewer than half of residents of D.C. proper commute by car.

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Making Your City More Walkable? That’s Not “Zoning”

In last week’s Washington Post, Roger K. Lewis, an architect and professor at the University of Maryland, wrote an intriguing column suggesting that it’s time for a big rethink of the concept of zoning, which he says is a relic of the early 20th century:

Zoning traditionally served to separate businesses from residences. Image: Ann Arbor Chronicle

Zoning conventions are no longer conventional. Land-use regulation is still needed, but zoning increasingly has become a conceptually inappropriate term, an obsolete characterization of how we plan and shape growth.

Zoning laws were first conceived at the outset of the industrial era. At the time, the economy was dominated by factories churning out noxious byproducts of all kinds, from sludge to foul fumes to loud noises. The original zoning laws sought to segregate homes from businesses that might be nuisances — a legacy that American cities and towns are still living with:

Traditional zoning first took hold in the early 20th century with a clearly logical intent, as the word implies: to establish and keep apart discretely delineated areas of land use within counties and municipalities. Single-purpose zones ensured separation of incompatible uses such as dwellings and factories.

But that’s not what “zoning” is all about anymore. Lewis’s example — Washington, D.C. — is examining and revising all kinds of long-standing regulations, from minimum parking requirements to its famous height restrictions. These reforms seek to change cities in a way that’s completely distinct from segregating uses. The intent of reducing parking requirements, for instance, is to make places more walkable and reduce housing costs.

Since the way we design and regulate cities is changing so quickly, Lewis suggests that maybe it’s time we had a new word too:

Dropping the word ‘zoning’ necessitates using an alternative vocabulary. It’s time to talk less about zoning restrictions and limits and more about visionary plans, urban design goals and architectural aspirations.

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TTI Urban Mobility Report Bungles Congestion Analysis Yet Again

Check it out, congestion is getting better! Source: TTI

At the risk of repeating ourselves: The Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) got it wrong again.

Their 2012 Urban Mobility Report (using 2011 data) just came out [PDF]. Like every year, they tout their “improved methodology,” but the authors still haven’t made the changes that would make their congestion rankings meaningful in the real world.

Not only that, they continually sound the alarm about how much worse congestion has gotten in the last 30 years, but they fail to note (except in the chart above) that we must be doing something right these past six years because congestion is down significantly from 2005. It probably has something to do with the fact that Americans are driving less.

TTI’s Travel Time Index measures congestion based on how much longer it takes to drive a road in congested conditions than free-flowing conditions. They’ve now upgraded to a Planning Time Index, which appears even less useful. The PTI is a measure of the extra time a traveler would need to allow for to arrive on time for “higher priority events, such as an airline departure, just-in-time shipments, medical appointments or especially important social commitments.”

Extra time to make important trips. Source: TTI

If the PTI for a particular trip is 3.00, a traveler would allow 60 minutes for a trip that typically takes 20 minutes when few cars are on the road. Allowing for a PTI of 3.00 would ensure on-time arrival 19 out of 20 times.

PTIs on freeways vary widely across the nation, from 1.31 (about nine extra minutes for a trip that takes 30 minutes in light traffic) in Pensacola, Florida, to 5.72 (almost three hours for that same half-hour trip) in Washington, D.C.

That number earned DC the nation’s worst congestion ranking this year.

I don’t know how realistic this PTI is — who really allows for nearly three hours to make a half-hour trip? But more important: If you had to budget three hours for a trip that would only take half an hour driving in good conditions, wouldn’t you start to look for other transportation options? However far that “half-hour” trip is (they don’t give mileage) you could probably bike it in less than three hours.

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Confronted With Congestion Pricing, People Clamor for Transit, Gas Tax

Three scenarios for congestion pricing: 1) priced lanes on all major highways, 2) a mileage charge levied on all roads and streets, and 3) priced zones. Image: MWCOG/Brookings

Could a congestion pricing program work in the DC region? Maybe. But first, officials would need to get the public on board — no easy task. A report on the conclusions from five public forums, held in the region between October 2011 and January 2012, suggest that more and better transportation options need to be in place before a congestion charge is levied, so that commuters feel they have options.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, together with the Brookings Institution, found that the 300 people they talked to are skeptical of any government plan to get more money, and are sorely undereducated about how transportation funding works. The study was funded by FHWA as a followup to a 2003 study to determine the technical viability and potential benefits of congestion pricing. Now they want to know the political viability of such an idea.

The biggest barrier to acceptance is the simple fact that people don’t understand transportation. The participants in the study didn’t know that funding was a problem or a cause of many of the inadequacies of the system. They didn’t know how much the gas tax is, that it doesn’t rise with inflation, or that it hasn’t changed in 20 years.

They don’t see themselves and their own driving as contributors to the problem of congestion. They blame construction and other drivers (especially those from “other jurisdictions” — DC and Virginia residents love to beat up on “Maryland drivers”) — anything but their own driving. They assume that congestion pricing can’t work because everyone on the road is there because they have to be. They don’t think they, or their fellow drivers, have choices in travel behavior.

The Washington region is relatively well-served by transit and ride-sharing, so many of them were probably wrong in assuming they don’t have options. Be that as it may, participants were supportive of adding new transportation options. Even the most car-centric people — those who live far outside the urban core and drive alone to work — thought it was important to build more transit and facilities for biking and walking.

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Did Barack Obama’s Election Change the Way Washington Commutes?

Barack and Michelle Obama stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue's center-running two-way bike lane as part of Inauguration festivities. The D.C. area has seen a sharp uptick in transit and biking compared the George W. Bush days. Image: The Atlantic

Barack Obama has been as supportive of transit, biking, and walking as any president, but one of his most transformative actions may not have been any law or funding measure so much as simply getting elected. There’s a compelling case to be made that Obama’s election in 2008 led to significant changes in how people commute in the greater D.C. area.

Since around the time Obama replaced George W. Bush in the White House, metro D.C. has seen a notable shift in car ownership. From 2005 to 2009, the District’s population grew by 15,862 people. Meanwhile, vehicle registrations fell by nearly 15,000. According to the Intelligent Cities Initiative [PDF], that results in about $127 million retained in the local economy each year.

In his book Walkable City, planner Jeff Speck hypothesizes that this change was a direct result of the Obama Administration arriving with a new staff who brought a new set of attitudes about cities and transit. “By my estimate, this all occurred on January 20, 2009 when 15,000 Bushies were replaced by 30,000 Obamans,” Speck wrote. “Many Bush staffers, as a point of pride, lived ‘beyond the beltway’ in red-state Virginia.”

The change in Washington since Obama’s election has been dramatic enough that last week the New York Times took note of “a trendy turn in Obama’s town.” Reporter Rachel A. Swarns bounces around some the hottest joints in the city, from H Street’s Boundary Road to the U Street Music Hall — all of which hosted inaugural celebration parties — and notes, “None of these places existed before 2008.”

She acknowledges, “The city’s population boom and heightened hipness quotient cannot be directly attributed to Mr. Obama’s appeal among younger voters,” but certainly the people who have moved to the D.C. area to work in his administration are a different breed than those who came to work under Bush. They live and move differently, and they appear to have made a mark on the city’s urban character — more urban, less car-bound.

That would help explain why urban homes in the Washington area have retained their values much better than those in the distant suburbs.

We can only wonder what D.C. would look like today if John McCain had won instead.

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Obama Becomes First Prez to Walk Down a Bike Lane on Inauguration Day

The networks were busy tripping over themselves trying to point out all the “firsts” during yesterday’s inauguration ceremonies. But when Barack and Michelle Obama stepped out of the presidential motorcade to greet well wishers on Pennsylvania Avenue, they missed a huge one: Obama is now the first U.S. president to walk down a bike lane during his inauguration.

The center-median, two-way bicycle lane down Pennsylvania was implemented by DDOT back in summer 2010, so this is the first inauguration to feature the new look. Check out this clip from ABC News that shows the president stepping out of his limo and almost right on top of a bike stencil…

We’ve done some Streetfilms featuring some great bicycling from the capital.  Check out this Streetfilm on DC’s Capital BikeShare and this one from the 2011 National Bike Summit, which features many scenes of the Pennsylvania Ave bike lane in action.