We chatted with Muriel Bowser, DC councilmember representing Ward 4 and the Democratic nominee for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at 12:30 pm. Here is a transcript of the discussion.
David Alpert: I’m here in Bowser Campaign HQ with GGW editors Aimee Custis, Jonathan Neeley, and Steven Yates along with candidate Bowser.
David Alpert: The way the chat will be working is this. I am going to ask questions to Ms. Bowser based on the questions you’ve posted in comments ahead of time and questions you submit during the chat on Twitter with hashtag #ggwchat.
David Alpert: Ms. Bowser will answer the questions verbally. Aimee and Jonathan will be typing in her answers as fast as they can. So know that any typos or errors are our fault and not hers. In the interests of keeping the chat moving, we’ll type fast and correct typos later as needed.When you see a message from “Muriel Bowser (AC),” that’s Aimee typing Ms. Bowser’s words; “Muriel Bowser (JN)” is Jonathan typing.
David Alpert: So let’s get started! As we go, please suggest your questions! Tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat.
David Alpert: Welcome, Councilmember Bowser!
Muriel Bowser (AC): Thanks for having us, Greater Greater Washington!
David Alpert: Most voters know you in your role as the Ward 4 councilmember. How do you see your role being different if you become mayor?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I actually think being a ward councilmember is the very best preparation for mayor of DC. As a ward councilmember you’re responsible for leading a discrete group of people - in my case 75,000 people, in 20 neighborhoods. You’re evaluated on it month by month and year by year. I’m proud that we have moved that agenda in Ward 4 the last seven years.
Muriel Bowser (AC): As mayor my job will be to set high expectations and hire great people, and focus on the shared agenda for the District that includes investing in our schools citywide, growing our middle class, and making sure that the government has the people and ideas to get the city ready for our growth.
David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?
Muriel Bowser (JN): We’ve talked about, in my priorities plan, having the District sign onto the Vision Zero pledge, which looks at our transportation network to make sure that it’s safe for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians with an eye on taking down serious injuries and fatalities on our roads. That’s very important.
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think that other cities are also doing innovative things with the bus, which I actually think is one of the quickest and most feasible ways to respond to changing transportation needs…
Muriel Bowser (JN): ...signal prioritization and dedicated bus lanes. In our city, we will have a focus on how we improve… we need to have a focus on how we improve east-west connections and better service east of the Anacostia river.
David Alpert: Question from Tracey: You talked about Vision Zero, the effort to achieve zero deaths on the roads. What sort changes to enforcement, speed limits, traffic calming, and policy would you support starting with to achieve Vision Zero?
Muriel Bowser (AC): Well, we know that pedestrian safety and all of the ways to get to a safer transportation network… and you already mentioned the 3 Es: enforcement, education, and evaluation.
Muriel Bowser (JN): I think we do a decent job now with enforcement. I’ve pledged to evaluate our speed and red camera system to make sure that we are placing these cameras in areas that have a public safety purpose. So do we know, for example, where all the dangerous intersections are, and have we deployed the technology necessary to address it?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think that we know DDOT keeps track of the top intersections of concern in the district, and I think we need to have a steady program of to address it.
Muriel Bowser (JN): In some of that is enforcement but it may require actually engineering changes to the intersection. And lastly, we need to do more around education. Drivers need to know the rules of the roads and follow them, bicyclists need to know the rules of the road and follow them, as do pedestrians.
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think we’re actually a lot lighter in that area, DDOT needs to have the resources necessary to educate everyone using our streets, sidewalks, and trails.
David Alpert: You’ve said you want a “visionary, effective” leader for DDOT. What skills and qualities should this person possess?
Muriel Bowser (JN): DDOT touches a lot of aspects of life in the District for residents, visitors, and businesses. I think the DDOT leader, first and foremost, has to think about getting the most out of our transportation capacity.
Muriel Bowser (AC): We are not going to get new roads, but we have a plan to invest in Metro over the next 25 years costing $26b…
Muriel Bowser (JN): We need to get the most out of those public transit investments. I think the next DDOT director must have a commitment and experience with public transportation. Furthermore, I hear all the time from residents that DDOT needs to be more responsive to the care of our roads and making sure there’s a plan and that we stay on plan in replacing roads, bridges, sidewalks, and alleys.
Muriel Bowser (AC): And that’s critically important. DDOT also engages our business community — working with them when we’re building new affordable housing or new restaurants…
Muriel Bowser (JN): ...how can DDOT be more responsive to the business community will also be important to me.
David Alpert: OK, let’s focus on Metro for a little while. Question from cbd: What were your biggest accomplishments as a member of the WMATA board? What do you wish you had accomplished?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think it’s been a great experience being a part of the governing body over Metro. As a governing body, the board is responsible for making sure there’s a great General Manager.
Muriel Bowser (JN): He or she has to have a vision for how Metro catches up with its maintenance program and plans for a state of good repair maintenance program and sets out a vision for how Metro should grow to meet the growing population in the region. Having Metro momentum approved has been very important.
Muriel Bowser (AC): I’ll say also that I’ve chaired the planning and real estate committee at Metro and led the charge to have Metro adopt an affordable housing policy, and develop an affordable housing program…
Muriel Bowser (JN): ... not only in the District but around the region.
David Alpert: You mentioned having a great General Manager. WMATA is now looking for a successor to Richard Sarles. Are there specific skills you think the new GM needs in addition to those Sarles had?
Muriel Bowser (AC): Well, Sarles came to Metro when it was in crisis following a serious tragedy in the system. He brought a sense of confidence and focus on safety that has served the authority well.
Muriel Bowser (JN): The next big challenge is how not to just keep the system running to serve our current needs, but how to grow the system. The next general manager needs to understand how to run a very large transit system, needs to be able to work in a multi-jurisdictional environment…
Muriel Bowser (AC): ...regain confidence in regional funders in the federal government, and be committed to growing the system.
David Alpert: Andrew S. asks: In the several years that I’ve been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA’s much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to change this?
Muriel Bowser (JN): I don’t know that I agree with the statement that changes to bus have had little impact. I can just look in the corridors of Georgia Avenue and 16th street alone, where the addition of Metro extra service has attracted more and more people to the bus.
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think there are more things we can do to make the bus more attractive. People will choose transit when it’s reliable, convenient, and affordable. I think Metro Extra is just one example of the bus being quicker because it has fewer stops…
Muriel Bowser (JN): ...they’re often newer and differently labeled vehicles, and we’ve gotten good feedback from that. So much so that people went on to be even more efficient, and we have to look for even better ways to prioritize the bus in those corridors.
David Alpert: How does Metrobus interact with the Circulator? “Andrew asks: While many of us have enjoyed the success of the Circulator, it’s hard to shake the impression that proposed Circulator expansion is an admission that DC has given up on improving or optimizing existing Metrobus routes.” How do we think about when to expand Circulator versus work with WMATA?
Muriel Bowser (AC): That’s a very good question. We know Circulator was introduced in the District as a way to move people around the Mall. But it’s been a great way to move people around neighborhoods as well…
Muriel Bowser (JN): ...I think it’s important that one doesn’t take away from the efficiency of the other.
David Alpert: The DC council has been expanding the Circulator in the budget, but sometimes DDOT feels that those expansions are not the most appropriate ones. How would you balance this as mayor?
Muriel Bowser (AC): Well, I think we have to have a better way of planning transit service. The most inefficient way to plan is for the legislature to do it.
Muriel Bowser (JN): We need to leave it to the transportation professionals to recommend new bus routes or changes to bus routes. I don’t think we’ve had a government structure to date to change that.
David Alpert: What governance structure do we need? Mary Cheh has proposed creating a DC transit board - is that the answer?
Muriel Bowser (JN): We need some kind of predictable transit—I hesitate to put a label to it. Is it a board? An authority? The idea is that it’s a group who we impanel for transportation planning, and professionals and people involved in the community with some expertise on how transit works and the impact it has on the community.
Muriel Bowser (AC): Any changes should be the subject of some debate. As you know, at Metro, any bus change requires hearings about how it will impact people.
Muriel Bowser (JN): If the District is to get more involved in public transit with our Circulator and our Streetcar, we also have to have a predictable way that transit is equitably distributed around the city.
David Alpert: Kingman Park asks: Under what circumstances would you support restoration of the full funding level of the streetcar, to the point where it will cover the full [planned] 22-mile length?
Muriel Bowser (JN): First of all, let me say this: I’ve been a huge supporter of Streetcar both for its transportation impact and its potential economic development impact in underserved areas. I do think it’s important we get the H Street line running and connected, and learn some lessons and make decisions about how we move forward with the larger proposal that’s on the table.
Muriel Bowser (AC): Are we completely sure about all of the lines on the table? It bears some discussion. But I’ve been very open to figuring out how to make both our transportation and economic development goals work.
David Alpert: Chris H. asks: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, and NYC are just a few examples of mayors doing this. While the District is making good progress in becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking, and bikeshare so it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?
Muriel Bowser (JN): No, I think we should push forward faster on bike facilities, specifically the Metropolitan Branch Trail. That’s been something I think has been stalled because of lack of leadership and will. I want to make that a top priority for completion.
David Alpert: What about the bike lanes and cycletracks on the street?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I support on street bicycle lanes and cycletracks.
David Alpert: DDOT has installed - I don’t remember the exact numbers - a few miles a year of lanes and cycletracks. But the plans call for far more, so do we need to increase, decrease, or maintain the tempo?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think our experience with bike lanes has been largely positive. People in communities see it as a way to move more people on our existing transportation network.
Muriel Bowser (JN): Often times without displacing any other use. Not displacing parking, not displacing access to a business, not displacing anything. I think where leadership and communication will help is when bike facilities do displace other uses. We can do a better job working with the business community and neighborhoods as we move forward with those projects.
Muriel Bowser (AC): But I just think largely, in the 7 years I’ve been on the Council, we’ve installed a lot of bike lanes in ward 4 and they’ve enhanced public safety in a lot of ways.
David Alpert: One time that there has been particular conflict is when bicycle lanes have gone past churches which might use more of the roadway than normal for parking on Sundays. Do you see a way to build peace and understanding on this issue? Specifically, what would you say to each side on these conflicts?
Muriel Bowser (JN): We need to work together to find a way where everybody’s enjoyment of the road can be accommodated.
David Alpert: Let’s switch gears a bit to development and buildings. Myles asks: The Kennedy Street area has many blighted, vacant, underused properties as values rise. Why can nothing be done?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I wonder how long, Myles, have you lived on Kennedy Street?
David Alpert: Meanwhile, one quick comment back on Metro. Matt asks, what about late night and weekend Metro rail service? What can or should be done about the quality of service for residents who depend on transit outside regular commute hours?
David Alpert: (We’ll come back to Myles’ question as soon as we hear back.)
Muriel Bowser (JN): It’s an interesting question: this city is fast becoming a later night city, but it’s not an all night city. So we have invested in late night service on Metro, but we still don’t have a lot of people who use it at all hours of the night.
Muriel Bowser (AC): So we have to decide are we going to put the resources on the early hours when more people are going to use it, or late at night? As ridership changes, we’ll continue to revisit to make sure service matches ridership levels.
Muriel Bowser (JN): Let’s go back to Kennedy Street and talk about the progress that’s been made in seven years. It’s become safer, cleaner, and with community involvement has come together for a plan for how Kennedy Street can be developed. With the increased interest in investment on Georgia Avenue, more private sector interest in developing Kennedy Street is appearing.
Muriel Bowser (AC): Meanwhile, government investment including a multimillion dollar roadway project is also in the works. Lastly, government has made available small business assistance and facade improvements as part of the Great Streets program.
Tweet from Myles G Smith: @MurielBowser: Properties not listed as blighted. Absentee owners not fined. Fines not turned into liens. Liens not turned to sales #GGWchat
David Alpert: Do you have any further comments to Myles’ tweet?
Muriel Bowser (JN): I will say, we do need urgent leadership at DCRA and all of our agencies.
David Alpert: What do you think of pop-ups? Crickey7 asks, somewhat colorfully, “Creative way of increasing square footage in desirable neighborhoods, or Satan’s middle finger?”
David Alpert: (Lots of laughing in the Bowser HQ to that one.)
Muriel Bowser (JN): I’m looking forward to the Zoning Commission’s hearing and recommendations.
David Alpert: BTA asks: What is your position on the McMillan redevelopment?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think McMillan should be redeveloped and I have focused on making sure it’s neighborhood enhancing dev that includes affordable housing, parks space and a jobs center as well as a transportation plan.
David Alpert: Hill Feller asks: Please discuss how you weigh and balance obstacles to more affordable housing like historic preservation and height restrictions with the goal of affordable housing. When historic preservation drives up the cost of housing or limits the construction of new housing, which would you give up, cheaper housing or historic preservation?
David Alpert: (Keep those questions coming with tweets to #ggwchat.)
Muriel Bowser (JN): Well, we have a historic preservation law and we have to abide by it. But I think there are creative ways to have both historic preservation and development. And when we have both an Office of Planning and a historic preservation officer, we want them to work cooperatively with our affordable housing offices as well. more often than not, there can be win-win situations.
David Alpert: BTA and Bob ask: Would the Olympics be good for DC? Why or why not? Do you support taxpayer-funded incentives and infrastructure spending to bring the Olympics to DC?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think the Olympics can be good for DC. I support a private exploration of the benefits. I support investments that would live longer than the games themselves. I think we can look to cities that have been successful at making transit investments that serve long term needs, as affordable housing investments that serve long-term needs. I think what’s important to the District also is that the entire region, if we went in this direction, would support those investments.
David Alpert: Andy asks: Do you feel it is important to keep DC United in the city? Does the stadium deal need to be tweaked or should the parties start from scratch?
Muriel Bowser (JN): I’ve always thought it was important to keep DC United in DC. I think world-class cities like ours support all kinds of things: sports, the arts, having great restaurants and attracting culture all make a city vibrant.
Muriel Bowser (AC): We want United to be in DC. In addition to the 2 hearings — at the Reeves Center and in Southwest, I recommended the Council have an independent 3rd party review to the Mayor’s plan. We expect to get that report back within a few weeks, which will help us know if the appraisals are accurate and can be relied upon, and ...
Muriel Bowser (JN): ...the developers and the mayor were working on this for at least two years, and I think it was important for the Council to have its own review. We expect to get that report back within a couple of weeks, which will help us know if the appraisals are accurate and can be relied on. If the deal is good for the residents of DC, I’m going to be all for it. If it turns out we’re getting a raw deal, and let’s face it, there have been some questions about the swap of the Reeves Center and the property owned by Akridge, it would be incumbent upon all of us to look at that deal closely and make any changes that would make it in the best interest of the residents of DC.
Affordable housing & homelessness
David Alpert: Shawington Times asks, Given that improvements in DC drive up housing costs, what will you do to make housing available to the poor?
Muriel Bowser (AC): In talking about AH, I’ve made a commitment to invest $100m annually which is a position that has been advocated for some time by the CNHED. We’ll also have a focus not only on creating new units but preserving existing housing, and recommit to the New Communities initiative which focuses on transforming public housing units.
Muriel Bowser (JN): Lastly, I’ll say that in talking about affordable housing, you cannot talk about it without also talking about jobs. We can invest in affordable housing but if people don’t have jobs, they won’t be able to afford housing. My priorities plan for the District, I talk about how we refocus the $100 million the government spends on job training to work with DC contractors to train and employ our residents with the most significant barriers to employment.
David Alpert: KBT asks: Why are we moving families back into DC General when Mayor Gray vowed to get families placed elsewhere and eventually close down DC General?
Muriel Bowser (AC): As mayor I want to move toward a plan to close DC General. This will require finding transitional housing across all 8 wards of DC for up to 400 families.
Muriel Bowser (JN): I believe these must be small sites appropriate for families, with proper support services.
David Alpert: Lurker asks: Is there any enacted legislation that you regret voting for?
Muriel Bowser (AC): (thinking)
Muriel Bowser (JN): When you vote on a budget, there are often things that you love and some that you don’t love so much. In this most recent budget, I regret that the yoga tax was included and I regret that the senior property tax credit was not fully implemented as I envisioned.
David Alpert: One more about transportation: What do you think of the moveDC plan which DDOT created over the last year, and if elected mayor, would you continue to move towards implementing it?
Muriel Bowser (JN): I think there are a lot of great things in the MoveDC plan. The proof, though, will be in the implementation. I want to work with DDOT leadership on feasible implementation plans.
David Alpert: You would take it as a foundation for the city’s transportation plan?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I would take it as a foundation, considered as a living document. I appreciate and have participated in some of the community outreach to date around MoveDC.
Muriel Bowser (JN): I think it’s a legitimate plan and I will plan to work with the DDOT leadership on implementation plans and how we get it funded in the capital budget, and deliver on them in a cost-effective way.
David Alpert: A few questions on education before we wrap up.
Tweet from Chris Sondreal: Under Mayoral control, all things #ed come to mayor or a direct appointee. What is DC’s greatest #ed challenge? #ggwchat #edudcision14
Muriel Bowser (JN): Educational equality is our greatest challenge.
David Alpert: How would you address it?
Muriel Bowser (JN): The middle schools. I’m committed to funding four middle schools across the city, which is very important. Also, how do we increase the number of quality, matter of right neighborhood schools? We’ve committed to a Good to Great initiative for our schools with extracurricular activities to regain the confidence of neighborhood parents.
David Alpert: You have said you would not retain the neighborhood school boundary plan from Mayor Gray. That is still your position, yes?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I believe this plan is not ready.
David Alpert: Natalie wrote: You told the Post that in devising a new boundary plan to replace the one adopted by Mayor Gray, you don’t “anticipate that the chancellor of schools will be involved in the boundary process moving forward.” Can you explain why you don’t feel it’s appropriate for the chancellor to have input into new boundaries and feeder patterns for the school system she oversees?
Muriel Bowser (JN): The deputy mayor for education has led the school boundary process, and I anticipate that to be how I would approach it as well.
David Alpert: Can you explain for readers who might not know, do you have specific objections to the boundaries or the process? What are your objections?
Muriel Bowser (JN): My objections are to the boundaries. I very much support what the proposals say about early childhood education and middle schools, but I think the boundaries themselves exacerbate inequality.
Charter neighborhood preference
David Alpert: Ward 1 Guy wrote: You said you support neighborhood preferences for charter school admissions. This is a very different position from your main opponent, David Catania. How would you implement this policy and would it affect existing charter schools or just new ones?
Muriel Bowser (AC): I think I would work with my education team to evaluation how best to implement a neighborhood charter school preference.
That would be a weighted preference, not a line around the school but some weighted preference in the charter school lotteries.
Charter schools still admit students city-wide, but with some preference for children in the neighborhood.
David Alpert: sbc asks, What do you think neighborhood preference for charters would do to residential patterns in the District? How does that affect your support for it?
Muriel Bowser (JN): This question speaks to the need for greater coordination among our public education sectors, both traditional DCPS and our public charter schools—they both are public schools.
Muriel Bowser (AC): How we better coordinate location decisions about charter schools is one of the big issues our charter team will work on.
David Alpert: That’s all the time we have. Any final things you want to say to our readers?
Muriel Bowser (JN): I want to ask your readers to look into our priorities plan for any remaining questions. They can find it at www.murielformayor.com/issues.
David Alpert: CM Bowser says she has a moment to respond to one or two follow-up tweets.
Tweet from Matt' Johnson, AICP: I appreciate Bowser trying to answer my Q, but I wasn’t talking about 2AM, but having to wait 24 minutes at 9P or on Sat afternoon. #ggwchat
Muriel Bowser (AC): Matt’, I recognize a lot of people are frustrated with track work delays. It must be done, but we must better communicate and use better tools to know when the next train is arriving.
David Alpert: Thank you so much, Councilmember Bowser, for chatting with us today.
Muriel Bowser (JN): Thank you!
David Alpert: Please also join us for our chat with David Catania on Wednesday, October 22 from 12-1 pm. Please suggest questions in the comments on http://greatergreaterwashington.org/ or with tag #ggwchat.
David Alpert: Also, you can continue to discuss Ms. Bowser’s comments and your reactions and opinions in the comments: http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/24398/live-chat-with-muriel-bowser/