Photo by clydeorama on Flickr.

Mayor Gray released a “One City Action Plan,” a year in the making, which lays out goals and objectives for his administration across almost many areas. It pushes for serious and challenging improvements in education, while in other areas such as transportation, it doesn’t reach as high.


Education has always been a top priority for Mayor Gray, and this plan shows it. It sets some ambitious goals, such as:

  • Raise DCPS’s 4-year graduation rate from 53% to 75% by 2017
  • Increase reading and math proficiency from 43% of students to 70% by 2017
  • Have 60% of youth get a college degree or an industry certification by 2014 (up from 35% today)

These goals seem lofty, and it’s good to set aggressive goals. At companies I’ve worked, employees and managers regularly set and reviewed goals for each employee and division. The better places pushed everyone to set “stretch goals,” ones which take some extra effort to meet. Managers shouldn’t expect employees to achieve every piece of every goal; if they do, the goals are probably too conservative. But if they meet none, the goals are too tough or the employee not performing.

With education, no kids should fall short of proficiency or drop out, and almost everyone needs a college degree or vocational certification to get jobs in the modern economy. But we know that not everyone will. Nevertheless, it’s critical that leaders aim high and push hard to get there.

The report cites a study by IFF on improving schools, which many, including Steve Glazerman, have criticized as fatally flawed. District education officials can give parents and potential parents the greatest confidence in the schools’ future by moving beyond that study soon and finding better metrics for judging the performance of schools.


The transportation section lays out some meaningful priorities but also sets a much lower bar. Its objectives:

  • 84 new Capital Bikeshare stations in 2012
  • 5 new miles of bike lanes by 2014
  • Opening the first streetcar line in 2013

These are all extremely important priorities, but they just recite what DDOT is already doing in the short term, not stretch for the future.

Opening the streetcar line is a “stretch goal” on its own for DDOT, since there’s still a lot to do to open the line by 2013—especially if “opening” the line means having enough cars to run a reasonable headway. Many people, including Councilmember Tommy Wells, fear that they will end up starting up the line with only 3 cars, force riders to wait too long, and give the streetcar an early reputation for uselessness. It would be nice if this goal mentioned the headways.

The other goals are more conservative. The plan notes that there is already federal funding (likely CMAQ) for the 84 CaBi stations, and even counts 37 that DDOT has already put in, meaning there are 47 to go. This is great, and very important, but not news.

Growing bike lane miles from 56 to 61 is also welcome, but not very significant, especially since Gabe Klein’s 2010 DDOT Action Agenda set a goal of 80 miles of bike lanes by 2012. The One City plan specifies putting in the L Street cycle track, but why not include its M Street companion, without which we’ll only have a one-way cycle track?

The fact that bike lanes are one of 3 transportation goals in the plan shows that they’re a priority, and we shouldn’t discount the fact that even one mile or a single block can be a lot of work, but if this wants to be an ambitious vision, it needs to aim higher.

The transportation goals are also very short-term. Each looks no farther out than 2014. It would be great to include higher numbers of CaBi stations, bike lane miles, cycletrack miles in particular, and streetcar lines a number of years out into the future. The education section and others set goals for dates like 2017; why not here?

The sutainability plan set a goal for 2032 of having 75% of trips use biking, walking and transit. It’s now about half for commuting trips, and likely lower for other trips. To get there will require more aggressive progress on transportation than this plan sets out.

Economic Development

The mayor makes clear in this document his commitment to a technology innovation hub at St. Elizabeths, which we have discussed recently. That could be a real game changer for the District if it can succeed.

The plan isn’t as clear on how to attract more technology jobs; it only cites recent efforts to give money to LivingSocial not to leave and to give a tax break to “tech companies.” Ken Archer has argued that both miss the point, and won’t create enough incentive for the really important jobs that innovate, create new value, and build “knock-on effects” for the long term.

Another good goal is one to reduce DC’s dependence on government jobs. Today, 66% of jobs are in the private sector, and the plan targets 68% by 2013 and 70% by 2021. We should also think about what kind of private sector jobs those are. Government contractor jobs are okay, since if the federal government downsizes it will have to hire more contractors, but tracking and growing the percentage of jobs that aren’t even in the government ecosystem, outside of defense contracting and lobbying and all of that, is even better.

The plan calls for a new task force to look at ways to streamline regulations and help businesses; this has the potential to do a lot of good if it gets good people who can think comprehensively about the biggest obstacles for businesses.


One of the relatively few disappointing pieces of the mayor’s budget was the way it raided the Housing Production Trust Fund, which funds loans and other programs for building new affordable housing, to pay for Local Rent Supplement, another important program but one which just gives people money to offset rent. The plan reiterates this as if it were a good accomplishment.

A numerical goal calls for 900 new units of affordable housing by 2014, which DC needs. However, the plan also notes that 1,114 units are in the pipeline, which makes it sound like the goal is already probably in the bag, and if not, there’s little the DC government can do at this point. This is another place that could use a stretch goal farther out into the future.

The plan calls for growing DC’s population by 3%, about on par with the last year. We can compare this to the sustainability plan, which targets 250,000 new residents by 2032. 3% of our current population is about 18,000; add that number each year and we get 960,000, which beats the goal; with compounding, it’s even more (1.09 million).

The question, though, is whether we can just add that many new residents each year without other policy changes. There is a lot of developable land in the pipeline, but it’s finite. Without zoning changes to add housing opportunities, DC may have a harder time sustaining that growth.

And much more

There are many more goals in the plan, some excellent, some poor, some just vague. It’s great that the Gray administration put together this plan, and set some ambitious goals in some very important areas. Just enumerating priorities matters as well, even when the goals are softer, but future plans would do well to set stretch goals and longer-term metrics for all areas.