Photo by AJC1 on Flickr.
DC will have more sidewalks, bike lanes, bus signal priority, real-time screens, many more finished studies, and other changes two years from now, if the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) follows through on a strong new “Action Plan” released today.
The moveDC plan is a forward-thinking, ambitious, and comprehensive vision for transportation across the District over the next 30 years. But will this become reality? Will DDOT start making significant progress on the many recommendations in the plan, or will this sit on a shelf and just be something we look at 28 years from now and lament how little got done?
To put some weight behind the plan, DDOT officials have now created a document that lists projects, studies, and programs they expect the agency to complete in two years.
Some points give very specific, measurable targets. For example:
- Add sidewalks on at least 25 blocks where they are missing today
- Improve pedestrian safety at 20 or more intersections
- Build 15 miles of bicycle lanes or cycletracks
- Complete Klingle and Kenilworth Anacostia Riverwalk Trail projects
- Get Rock Creek and Metropolitan Branch Trail projects at least to “advanced stages of design”
- Install bus lanes on a small piece of Georgia Avenue from Florida Avenue to Barry Place and signal priority on 16th Street
- Put real-time screens in some bus shelters citywide
- Work with WMATA to find at least 10 key spots that delay high-ridership buses and modify the traffic signals
- Finish a project to better time traffic signals for pedestrian, transit, and traffic flow
- Begin the Frederick Douglass (South Capitol Street) bridge construction.
Others call for a number of studies to take place on topics such as:
- Transit improvements, possibly including a bus lane, on 16th Street
- North-south bike routes between 4th and 7th Streets NW
- The 22-mile streetcar system (detailed environmental studies still need to be finished on many of the lines)
- Commuter and freight rail between DC, Maryland, and Virginia
- Dynamic parking pricing downtown
- Roadway congestion pricing
- Transit “brands” (i.e. what is the Circulator, and what is something else?)
Other prongs involve setting up programs and systems of communication, like:
- Working with a BID to set up parklets
- Working with MPD on more and better traffic cameras
- Working with neighborhoods (starting with three) to plan better parking rules
- Working with regional governments to find long-term funding for Metro and other needs
- Setting up more dashboards and releasing more data sets publicly, like public space permits and street trees.
And finally, while actually getting things done is most critical, transportation departments can also lay the groundwork for better decisions in the future by writing manuals and training their staffs about the best practices for pedestrian safety, bicycle infrastructure, transit, and other elements of making a truly multimodal, complete street.
The plan includes a few elements to advance this:
- Revise the Design and Engineering Manual to include new “tools and techniques for multimodal street design”
- Train all DDOT staff on multimodal design using the new manual and “national best practices.”
This is a great set of projects and while every group will likely find something they wish were in here or where the target were more aggressive, if DDOT can actually complete these and the other items in the action plan, DC will move meaningfully toward being safer and more accessible to people on all modes of travel.
What will the next mayor do?
Of course, a lot will depend on whether the next mayor and his or her appointee to head DDOT stick with the plan. They could ensure these projects get finished, slow some down, or abandon this altogether.
Gabe Klein’s DDOT put out an action agenda in 2010 (which, admittedly, was very ambitious); Mayor Gray generally kept up the same initiatives and projects that the previous administration had begun, though many moved forward more slowly than advocates would like.
For example, WABA sounded the alarm in 2011 about the slow pace of new bicycle lanes. The 2005 Bicycle Master Plan called for new bike lanes that would have averaged about 10 miles per year. The 2010 Action Agenda called for adding 30 in just two years. But in 2011, DDOT planned 6.5 miles, designed 4.25 miles, and installed zero, WABA’s Greg Billing wrote at the time.
Since then, the pace has picked up. Since Mayor Gray took office, DDOT has added or “upgraded” 19 miles, said DDOT’s Sam Zimbabwe. This counts new striped bike lanes or cycletracks and any places where painted lanes turned into cycletracks. This year, Zimbabwe said, they’ve done 9 miles.
The Action Agenda sets a goal of 15 miles over two years, for an average of 7.5 per year. That’s more than the recent average, but less than this year, and less than in the 2005 or 2010 plans. Which means it’s probably an okay target as long as DDOT sees it as something to actually achieve rather than a stretch goal where it’s okay to come in close but well under target.
When businesses set goals, they vary on whether the goals should be “stretch goals” where you don’t expect to achieve them all, conservative goals where you need to achieve almost all of them to get a good performance review, or goals so conservative that they don’t mean much because people are afraid to set any target they don’t hit.
Ideally, the next DDOT director will treat these goals as the middle category: tell each department that he or she expects them to actually achieve what’s in this plan. Certainly some things here and there will run into unexpected obstacles, but this plan should be something everyone takes seriously and feels some pressure to achieve in the two-year timeframe.