On Monday, Gabe Klein will start his new job as
Acting (and, soon, permanent) Director of the District Department of Transportation. He has a tough job. DDOT’s public image is very poor, and almost everyone, from progressive transportation advocates on Greater Greater Washington to neighborhood activists focused on their corner’s traffic light, are all frustrated with DDOT.
We’ve seen many bad outcomes from DDOT. At the Fort Totten development we discussed yesterday, DDOT’s consultants (outside engineers hired by DDOT) refused to design the intersection of Riggs Road and South Dakota Avenue to have a crosswalk on all four sides. The 17th Street Streetscape, like many other streetscape projects, shrunk to a less and less exciting form as neighbors complained about individual elements.
At the same time, we’ve also seen DDOT fight hard for good transportation policies, like holding the line against anti-walkable curb cuts and gas stations. Some of DDOT’s planners have designed terrific improvements to our transportation network, like the giant bulb-outs and contraflow bike lanes at 16th and U. Sometimes they make excellent plans which somehow turn into less when the projects reach implementation, like the reconstruction of Florida and Sherman.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Gabe Klein to discuss his ideas for DDOT. Priority one, he said, is to improve DDOT’s customer service. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything a neighbor asks, but it does mean communicating what DDOT is doing. The agency does quite a lot, he said, and most of it professionally and quickly. But we don’t know what they do. We also don’t know what they plan to do, or when, as there’s no public list of upcoming projects more specific than the very high-level, regional TIP.
By all accounts, Klein understands the need for a transportation policy broader than just moving cars. He signed our petition for a visionary leader. “We need next-generation thinking about transit and development as people issues, [not] car issues,” he said. “We also need to give safe streets to pedestrians and cyclists if we want to move people from cars to other modes that are healthier for everyone.”
But, Klein cautioned, we shouldn’t expect him to turn DC’s transportation on its head overnight. DDOT probably won’t be taking whole lanes of traffic away from major streets within a year, as NYC did on Broadway. First, Klein explained, he and DDOT must build credibility with the public, the DC Council, and the mayor. He must prove that DDOT can carry out its tasks transparently and effectively. Then, it can begin to plan better transportation that benefits us all.
In DC, where many powerful neighborhood groups weigh in on, and in many cases oppose, any change, that thoughtful, consensus-building approach may well be the best route to make real improvements to transportation.