Sometimes it’s the little things that need the most attention. At last Saturday’s Ward 7 transportation summit, residents offered many productive ideas. One recurring theme was to pay more attention to the low-hanging fruit, small projects that could make a big impact.
The summit, planned and organized by Ward 7 residents Veronica Davis, Neha Bhatt, Kelsi Bracmort, Gregori Stewart, and Sherrie Lawson, focused on ideas from the community to improve transportation.
Attendees left energized and hopeful that more progress is coming regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety, equitable bus service, and better streets.
One of the best-received presentations came from students participating in the mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute, who brought up a number of specific, solvable problems. They recommended reintroducing driver education classes in schools, and having WMATA meet with students to help them understand how the Metro budget works.
Crime against SYEP youth: The pay days for students participating in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) are well-known around the community, which has led to youth being targeted for robbery outside of Metro stations like Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue.
In response to this problem, the students said they would like to see an increased police presence. They also noted that police have a tendency to clump together and talk to each other rather than fully patrol the stations, so the students suggested that police spread out to cover a larger area.
Subsidized fares: SYEP paychecks will be cut by $2 per hour this summer. Therefore, the students recommended having WMATA or the District subsidize transit fares for SYEP participants. At the very least, the presenters asked for subsidized fares during the first two weeks of the program while participants wait for their first paycheck.
Councilmembers Tommy Wells (ward 6) and Muriel Bowser (ward 4, the Council’s representative on the WMATA Board) asked DDOT and WMATA about the cost of a subsidy and what its fiscal impact would be, noting that youth who go to summer school already get a similar transit subsidy.
Youth advisory council: After last year’s summit, WMATA was interested in establishing a youth advisory council to discuss activity on buses. Unfortunately, there had not been follow-up from the local councilmember, Yvette Alexander, to move this forward. At this year’s summit, WMATA reaffirmed their interest in a youth advisory council.
Aging in place: One resident noted that the very young and the very old have unique needs when it comes to transportation, and asked how WMATA can help residents age in place, and how it can better accommodate strollers on buses.
Deaf riders: Other participants said that Ward 7 has an increasing population of the hearing impaired and deaf, and that transit employees should be trained to both recognize deaf customers and help them use the system.
Pedestrian safety: Organizer Neha Bhatt discussed pedestrian safety concerns at Benning Road’s intersections with Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street. She had organized a recent walking tour with Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the committee overseeing transportation, to look at problem intersections.
Capital Bikeshare: WABA executive director Shane Farthing raised the idea of subsidizing bike sharing for residents east of the river, and suggested changing Capital Bikeshare rules to allow younger members. Currently, one must be at least 16 years old to use Capital Bikeshare.
There was also an open house where community members could find information from DDOT, WMATA, Capital Bikeshare, and WABA, as well as discuss ideas with representatives from these groups.
The summit’s two-hour timeframe turned out to be somewhat too short, so presentations and discussion were rushed at the end. The organizers are hoping to reformat for next year to avoid this issue.
Overall, residents came away with a widespread belief that working to pick the low-hanging fruit is a smart way to move forward and begin to bring positive change to Ward 7.