DC Defends Livable Streets Improvements as WaPo Declares “War”

227113203_b16474e51a.jpg In an effort to improve safety and mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, Washington, DC has embarked on a number of livable streets reforms (market rate street parking), and is considering others (reclaiming auto-occupied street space for people). Though a recent article in the Washington Post casts these initiatives as a "war" against car commuters, it’s clear that DC officials — like those in many US cities — are in fact acting to level the field following decades of auto dominance, and at a time when driving has become a more expensive, less desirable option.

These realities are lost on many of the suburbanites quoted in the Post story, notably Northern Virginia Congressman James P. Moran Jr., who predicts the District’s economy will dry up as its streets become more people-friendly (an argument also heard — and ultimately rejected — recently in San Francisco, of all places). But one out-of-town legislator has a more tempered view, and offered an insight that also rings true around these parts.

"You’d like me to lambaste the District, but we’re all in the same boat," said Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large). "I am sympathetic to some of these initiatives. But the challenge is finding the right balance. Not everyone can ride Metro or walk to work."

She placed blame for the problem, in part, on the federal government, which offers many of its employees free parking in the city.

While DC can’t stop the feds from giving away parking, it has launched its aforementioned market rate metering program for curbside space, even dedicating a good share of the proceeds to pedestrian and bike improvements. And with no far-flung authority to answer to, the District is free, for example, to use automated traffic enforcement, including red light and speeding cameras.

Left to its own devices to achieve its stated goal of encouraging transit use, biking and walking, it will be interesting to see how this major US city pulls it off, and what other cities, including ours, can learn from it.

Photo of crosswalk flags on Connecticut Ave by billadler/Flickr. DC has one of the highest pedestrian death rates among large US cities.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I’ll place a bet that almost zero percent of the commercial activity in the District is supported by those making a special trip there by automobile for retail or entertainment.

    Were it not for the stadiums and the possiblity that a few people might go out to eat before the games, I’d say zero.

    It’s all supported by residents, people who work there, and tourists, and most of them do not arrive by motor vehicle. And there isn’t a lot of it — most of the retail is out in the ‘burbs, and that’s where most of the people from the ‘burbs go.

  • Tom

    Actually, the WashPost didn’t cast these initiatives as a “war against car commuters.” Here’s the full quote:

    “The District is escalating what some suburban commuters are calling its war against workers who drive into the city.”

    The article wasn’t an op-ed. GreaterGreaterWashington’s evidence-free analysis notwithstanding, the WashPost was simply summarizing the view of a number of NoVa residents.

    Whether or not these NoVa residents are correct in their views, these are still their views.

  • Tom

    Also the views of Maryland commuters, not just NoVa.

  • Alex B.

    Tom,

    I’m sure some commuters from the ‘burbs feel that way. But how many of them are there?

    Basically, the whole article came off as an attempt to make controversy where there isn’t any. You can “some” people to say anything. I don’t think the numbers of “some [angry] suburban commuters” was worthy of the play it got in the Post. Sure, they’re summarizing the view of some residents they talked to. But why are those residents representative of the rest?

  • Ian Turner

    Tom,

    It would be more accurate to say that the Post was summarizing “some of” the residents. In particular, ones who have already chosen to drive into the city. What makes the article an editorial (even if not listed as one) is the choice of whose opinions to summarize. People who live in DC and benefit from pedestrian and air quality improvements, and those who take public transit and stand to benefit from service improvements do not have a voice in the article. Their opinions are not summarized, they are omitted.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

  • Tom

    I agree that the article was poorly evidenced. A public opinion poll of suburban drivers who commute to DC would have been useful. There’s no way to gauge the exact amount of anger without some type of data.

    That said, Eric Weiss was very careful to refer to “some suburban commuters.” Also, the article quotes 5 people in favor of DC’s initiatives, and only 2 people against. In fact, it seemed to lay out both sides very well.

    It also makes perfect sense that suburban MD and NoVa drivers (rightly or wrongly) would be angry with DC’s attempts to move them out of their cars and towards mass transit.

    Thus, while lacking in evidence and methodological rigor, the Post’s article still doesn’t qualify as an op-ed or even as a biased piece of journalism.

    I think the topic of suburban commuter anger over urban policy planning that directly affects their wallets is an important one and worthy of attention in the press.

  • An aside: it seems somewhat unfortunate (ironic, even) that a city wanting to move people to mass transit doesn’t appear to offer discounted rides to persons purchasing long-term metro passes. A friend of mine who recently moved to the DC area posted about it on her blog this week, and I was astounded — I thought that she couldn’t be right. London, NYC, Boston, all offer some form of discount — sometimes very steep — to commuters who buy long-term passes. So I searched the Metro site in vain. Could I have missed something?! Could a city intent on moving people to transit be that miopic?

  • Doug S

    My problem is that the lead for the story is commuter opposition rather than the obvious benefits to pedestrians and cyclists of the proposed changes. As other commenters note, it’s difficult to know how widespread commuter opposition actually is – particularly as rising fuel prices make other options to car travel more attractive.

  • Andrew

    There is an oh-sweet irony between this article and recent actions by the DC Department of Transportation (DDOT).

    While on the one hand, the city espouses a more pedestrian-friendly environment. The recent release of the Master Pedestrian Plan demonstrates a commitment to a more progressive transportation policy.

    On the other, DDOT recently announced the conversion of a 100% effective pedestrian signal to a traditional signal. This decision appears to have been made in response to drivers who found the signal “confusing”. Perhaps a better course of action from DDOT would be to discern the confusing aspects of the signal and implement better practices than to simply abandon the program all together?

    Every time a pedestrian is injured or killed on District streets, the
    public demands action, from police, from the city and ultimately from
    drivers. Tragically 2007 suffered a record year for such injuries and
    fatalities.

    What I find puzzling is that despite a 100% unblemished record of
    both pedestrian and vehicular safety, the agency has chosen to
    abandon the signal in favor of a car-centric solution without any engineering, safety or scientific data to back the change.

    We expect more from the experts, and further expect that decisions like this are made in conjunction with broader societal movements and with data to back the decision, not to cater to the mirco-political whims or the traditional car-centric metrics.

  • Andrew

    Heh, I just noticed that the flickr image used for this entry was of the flag system that the pedestrian signal I referenced, replaced. There were two pedestrian incidents associated with the use of the flags, which is why DDOT installed the pedestrian signal.

    That signal has proven effective for pedestrian safety while not causing any impact of statistical significance (DDOTs words) on the arterial route or the side streets in the area.

    The recent announcement by DDOT is simply baffling to pedestrian safety advocates.

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