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Will Cantor’s loss push congressional Republicans to balk on transportation compromise?

Last night, US House majority leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary to a tea party challenger who painted Cantor as too willing to compromise with Democrats. Cantor’s loss makes this summer’s looming congressional fight over transportation funding all the more unpredictable.


US Highway Trust Fund balance. If Congress doesn’t act soon, money will run out. Image from USDOT.

MAP-21, the federal transportation funding bill, expires in October. But USDOT will begin running out of money in August. Without a bipartisan bill to add new money, federal transportation funding will trickle to a halt.

Transportation wasn’t a major issue in Cantor’s election, but immigration reform was. Cantor mostly opposed immigration reform, but he briefly contemplated compromise, giving his more conservative opponent David Brat an opening to attack.

Some pundits fear that will push every other House Republican away from compromise in general, and grind whatever progress Congress was making on anything to a halt.

From an immigration perspective that probably makes little difference; House Republicans were not going to compromise anyway. But it could make a huge difference for transportation.

Transportation funding was a non-partisan issue in the 20th Century. Every 6 years Congress would pass a transportation bill with broad support from both parties. But in recent years, amid declining gas tax revenue and increasing need for supplemental funding, transportation has become a partisan spark.

Congress seemed primed to act, but now it’s an open question

Up until Cantor’s defeat, the general assumption in the transportation world has been that Congress would do something this summer. “Something” might mean a long term solution like a new bill and new taxes. Or it might mean a band-aid, like an extension of MAP-21 with an infusion of federal general fund dollars. Either way, Congress appeared to be making some progress.

But now? House Republicans might very well cease all legislative activity, and hope to ride out the rest of election season without upsetting their conservative base.

Polls show that raising money for transportation is popular, and voters rarely punish officials for doing so. But that may not matter to Republicans concerned about attacks from the extreme right.

While in Congress, Cantor fought against progressive transportation funding. But in this case his personal vote, and even his leadership on the specifics, might be less important than the simple fact that he was probably willing to advance a bill.

On the other hand, maybe the Republican establishment will take this as a call to arms, and moderate legislators will become more powerful. But that seems unlikely the day after the biggest tea party victory of the season.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: funding, government, people, transportation



If stars align, the Silver Line might open as soon as July 28. But everything’s not perfect yet

WMATA still has not announced an official opening date for the Silver Line. But if crews can work out remaining construction problems quickly, the new Metro line could, potentially, maybe open for passengers as soon as Monday, July 28.


Greensboro Metro Station. Photo from Stephen Barna of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project.

That’s if workers complete all remaining construction as quickly as possible, and there are no hiccups during equipment testing or training, and the weather is good. So far, the last bits of construction aren’t quite on target to wrap up so soon.

The union is ready for a July opening

According to WMATA’s union president Jackie Jeter, Metro has instructed train operators to begin scheduling Silver Line shifts for “simulated service” starting on July 20.

Simulated service is the last step before opening for passengers. It’s a training and testing phase, during which Metro will operate the Silver Line as though it were open, but without carrying passengers.

Simulated service is supposed to take a week, so if it does begin on July 20, and there are no last minute problems, everything could be done and ready to go by the 28th.

This would be a month early, and it may still not happen

According to WMATA’s official schedule, final construction and testing could last through the end of August. To actually finish it all in July would be early, per that timeline.

Will they make it? During WMATA’s weekly conference call with reporters yesterday, Metro deputy general manager Rob Troup not only declined to confirm the July 20 date, but also cautioned that work crews are behind schedule on some of the last tasks.

Most of the remaining issues are minor. Tasks include painting hand rails and checking the public address systems, among others. The largest remaining task may be to correct water drainage problems on the station platforms.

So the July 28 date is by no means guaranteed, and it’s really not a delay if opening slips to August, or even September.

Thanks to good communication, we know what to expect

This timeline jives perfectly with what Troup said when Metro accepted control of the Silver Line on May 27. At the time, he said Metro budgeted 90 days for final testing and construction, but that they might not need the entire time.

WMATA gave the public a realistic range for how long this will take. Now that more detailed rumors are flying, we have the necessary knowledge to evaluate them. We know that July 28 is an achievable but optimistic timeline. We know that if it’s not met and opening comes a month or two later, that’s not a problem.

We know that dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” on a complex infrastructure project like the Silver Line is impossible to completely predict. But we know the Silver Line is getting really, really close.

So I’m tempering my expectations, but I’m still excited.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 10th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: government, metrorail, transportation



The H Street streetcar will take even longer to open than many thought. It’s past time for DDOT to be more honest

There’s more bad news for DC streetcars: The latest estimates show the H Street line may not open until early 2015. This isn’t an additional delay, but rather seems to be simply a more genuine timeline of how long the remaining work will take. That’s a step forward. Unfortunately, DDOT is still not being fully forthright about what’s going on.


DC streetcars at the Anacostia testing & commissioning site.

> Continue reading at Greater Greater Washington

June 5th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: government, streetcar, transportation



MoveDC plan proposes more cycletracks, transit, and tolls. Will it actually happen?

The latest draft of DDOT’s citywide transportation plan, moveDC, calls for a massive expansion of transit and cycling facilities throughout the District, plus new tolls on car commuters. If the District adopts it, the plan will become one of America’s most progressive.


The moveDC plan summary map. All images from DDOT.

DDOT released the latest version of moveDC last Friday, launching a month long public comment period in anticipation of a DC Council hearing on June 27. Following that, the mayor will determine any changes based on the comment period, with final adoption anticipated this summer.

What’s in the plan

Amid the hundreds of specific recommendations in the plan, three major proposed initiatives stand out:

  • A vastly improved transit network, with 69 miles of streetcars, transit lanes, and improved buses, plus a new Metrorail subway downtown.
  • A massive increase in new cycling infrastructure, including the densest network of cycletracks this side of Europe.
  • Congestion pricing for cars entering downtown, and traveling on some of DC’s biggest highways.

Transit


Proposed high-capacity transit network (both streetcars and bus). Blue is mixed-traffic, red is dedicated transit lanes.

The plan proposes to finish DC’s 22-mile streetcar system, then implement a further 47-mile high-capacity transit network that could use a combination of streetcars or buses. That includes 25 miles of dedicated transit lanes, including the much requested 16th Street bus lane.

Although the proposed high capacity transit corridors closely mirror the 37-mile streetcar network originally charted in 2010, there are several new corridors. In addition to 16th Street, moveDC shows routes on Wisconsin Avenue, both North and South Capitol Streets, H and I Streets downtown, and several tweaks and extensions to other corridors.

The plan endorses WMATA’s idea for a new loop subway through downtown DC, but explicitly denies that DC can fund that project alone.

MoveDC also shows a network of new high-frequency local bus routes, including Connecticut Avenue, Military Road, Alabama Avenue, and MacArthur Boulevard.

Bicycles

MoveDC also includes a huge expansion of trails and bike lanes, especially cycletracks.


Proposed bike network. The pink lines are cycletracks.

Under the plan, DC would have a whopping 72 miles of cycletracks crisscrossing all over the city. From South Dakota Avenue to Arizona Avenue to Mississippi Avenue, everybody gets a cycletrack.

Meanwhile, moveDC shows major new off-street trails along Massachusetts Avenue, New York Avenue, and the Anacostia Freeway, among others.

Tolls for cars

Congestion pricing is clearly on DDOT’s mind, with multiple proposals for new variable tolls in the plan.


Proposed downtown cordon charge zone.

The most aggressive proposal is to a declare a cordon charge to enter downtown in a car. This idea has worked in London and has been discussed in New York and San Francisco, but so far no American city has tried it.

Meanwhile, some of the major car routes into DC would also be converted to managed lanes. Like Maryland’s ICC or Virginia’s Beltway HOT lanes, managed lanes have variable tolls that rise or fall based on how busy a road is.

MoveDC proposes managed lanes on I-395, I-295, New York Avenue, and Canal Road.

What will the council think?

DDOT has produced a very strong plan, but is it going anywhere? The DC Council will discuss moveDC on June 27, at which time we’ll find out if the same people who pulled the rug out from under streetcar funding are interested in progressive policy-making, at least.

Even if DC does adopt this plan, whether the council will actually provide the funds necessary to build it is anybody’s guess.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the DC Council will approve or deny this plan. Authority to approve it actually rests solely with the mayor.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 2nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, BRT, bus, government, lightrail, master planning, metrorail, roads/cars, streetcar, transportation



With Metro’s latest step, the Silver Line’s grand opening may be less than 3 months away


Image from WMATA.

Yesterday morning WMATA took control of the Silver Line from construction teams, declaring the line has reached “operational readiness.” Metro now begins a 90-day testing and training period, prior to opening service this summer.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) owns the Silver Line and has been in charge of construction. Yesterday’s action officially transferred day-to-day control, management, and operations of the line to WMATA.

Following testing, opening day for passengers should come a little before or after the 90-day period runs out. The WMATA Board will set the exact date. If testing goes well, August seems the most likely bet.

The Silver Line was originally intended to open in December 2013, but construction delays and technical adjustments have pushed it out to this summer.

But now Metro officials think the delays are over. According to Metro Deputy General Manger Rob Troup, “We would not have reached this [point] if we were not confident of being able to do the testing within the time frame.’’

May 28th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: metrorail, transportation



DC’s most useless park is a parking lot in disguise

Capping an underground parking garage with a public park is such a nice idea. It’s a shame DC’s most prominent example is such a terrible park.


Spirit of Justice Park. Image from Google.

The South Capitol parking crater is undeniably one of DC’s most inappropriately underused plots of land. It’s 6 complete blocks of parking lots, all in a cluster mere steps from the US Capitol.

By all rights these blocks should be active and vital parts of downtown DC. Instead, they’re under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol, and thus off-limits to the normal rules of city building. In the vacuum of capitol complex land management, vast parking lots for Congresspeople and their staffs are a higher priority than housing, amenities, or attractive streetscapes.

So it’s nice that federal planners at least tried to spruce up this neighborhood-sized sea of asphalt with Spirit of Justice Park, a cap atop a two-block section of parking that’s covered with green space.

Unfortunately, it’s a lousy park.

The biggest problem is that rather than sink the parking below grade, the park is raised a level above the sidewalk. As a result, many people only see an imposing wall, and have no idea the park behind it even exists.


The sidewalk in front of the park. Image from Google.

People who actually want to enter and use the park must find one of only four entrances over the entire two-block area. Of the four entrances, two face the congressional office buildings and one faces the street between the two park blocks (though you can’t walk between them directly), leaving only a single entrance on the south side facing away from the capitol complex towards the public city.

Meanwhile, there are no visible entrances facing east nor west.


Entrances to Spirit of Justice Park. Image originally from Google.

That’s not the only problem. With a parking garage directly beneath the grass, the park’s soil is too shallow to support trees large enough to provide shade or protection against wind. The park is uncomfortably hot in the summer, and cold in winter.

Finally, management apparently only cares about capitol complex workers, because the fountains at the center of each block are switched off over the weekend.


Small trees and a dry fountain hidden behind a wall. No people.

The overall message is that the public is barely tolerated in this park, not really welcome, and certainly not a priority. As a result, the public mostly stays away.

A park that’s not used is a useless park. We can do better.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

May 27th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: government, parks, urbandesign



Map shows every DC & Arlington cycletrack

With DC’s M Street and 1st Street cycletracks on the ground, the central city network of protected bike lanes is starting to actually look like a network.


Base map from Google.

This map shows every cycletrack in town. In addition to M Street and 1st Street, there’s L Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, good old reliable 15th Street, and the diminutive R Street lane near the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

For the sake of completion the map also shows Rosslyn’s super tiny cycletrack, which exists mainly to access a popular Capital Bikeshare station.

Between DC’s proposed 70 mile cycltrack network and plans coming together in South Arlington, hopefully future iterations of this map will look even better.

Notice anything missing or wrong?

May 21st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, maps, transportation, Uncategorized



Northern Virginia skyscraper rivalry has a new leader: Fairfax approves 470′ Capital One tower


Proposed Capital One skyscraper. Image from Fairfax.

Last Friday, Fairfax officially approved a new headquarters tower for Capital One in Tysons Corner. At 470 feet tall the new building will be the tallest in the DC region after the Washington Monument.

If that news sounds familiar, it’s because in May of 2013 developers proposed a 435 foot tall building, then the tallest in the region yet. And when Alexandria approved a 396 foot tall tower, that also would’ve been the tallest. Meanwhile, Arlington’s 384 foot tall 1812 North Moore tower recently finished construction, officially taking over the title of region’s tallest skyscraper (for now).

There may not be an explicit competition, but the fact is undeniable: Northern Virginia’s in a full-on skyscraper rivalry. And Tysons is pulling insurmountably ahead.

At 470 feet tall, this new Tysons building will be the first in the DC region to officially eclipse Richmond’s tallest, the 449 foot tall Monroe Building. Baltimore and Virginia Beach each have towers above 500 feet, often considered to be the breaking point for a true skyscraper.


 
  Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

May 20th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: architecture, development



Have some nature: 8 photos from Rock Creek Park

Least controversial statement ever written on BeyondDC: Rock Creek Park is a nice amenity.

All photos by BeyondDC.

May 19th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: galleries, parks



DC’s daytime population is over a million


Downtown DC.

According to a US Census report, the District of Columbia’s daytime population, including commuters, swells to over 1,000,000. The difference between DC’s day and night populations is second greatest in the US.

The report dates from 2010 so the numbers are surely a bit different today. With DC’s (then) nighttime residential population of 584,400, its 1,046,036 daytime population represents a 79% increase. Among US counties, only New York County (Manhattan) has a larger percentage increase.

Arlington looks much the same. Its 26% increase in daytime population is 13th largest nationally. That’s higher than San Francisco on the list.

At the other end of the spectrum, two DC suburbs top the list of places with decreased daytime population. Dale City and Centreville in Northern Virginia both drop by over 40%, making them America’s ultimate bedroom communities. Montgomery County’s Germantown is Maryland’s highest entrant, and clocks in at #20 with a decrease of 31%.

Part of the explanation for this is simply where boundaries are drawn. For example, even though Houston has a large downtown with many commuters, it doesn’t appear on the increased daytime population list because the City of Houston annexed so many of its suburbs that more of its commuters still technically live within the city limits. Likewise, Houston’s Harris County is gigantic and more or less envelopes the entire metropolis, so there’s little difference at the county level either.

Geographically smaller jurisdictions in large metropolitan areas are disproportionately more likely to show up in this data. So it’s not a great comparison of commuting patterns across different metropolitan regions. But it’s nonetheless interesting to know.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

May 16th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: demographics



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