At the first of eight town hall meetings, held Tuesday evening in Ward 5’s Truxton Circle neighborhood, presumptive Mayor-elect Vincent Gray began to flesh out his plans for taking on the District’s challenges and reemphasized his support for transit, bicycling, and affordable housing.
The enthusiastically supportive crowd harshly criticized the Fenty Administration’s decisions in the areas of education, job creation, housing, and care for the neediest. Gray answered all questions in a straightforward and even-keeled manner, demonstrating his encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s workings.
I was given the opportunity to ask Gray a question about his transportation plans (a Post video contains my question, but not Gray’s answer). I asked him how he would make sure that every DC resident can live a high-quality life either without a car or with minimal use of a car, and asked him to commit to building out the streetcar network and improving Metro rail and bus service and bicycle infrastructure.
“I support streetcars; let me make that clear,” Gray began his answer. He expressed his concern that “we still don’t have a plan” to make sure that the streetcar network interconnects with existing transit nodes (naming Union Station specifically), but declared that “we have a commitment” to build out a 37-mile system.
“There’s no way to sustain ourselves with increasing auto use,” Gray proclaimed, citing worsening traffic congestion and the negative environmental effects associated with car dependence. “One of the ways to get people out of their cars is to have a multimodal transportation system,” he explained.
Gray touted the city’s commitment to maintain a higher level of Metro funding than Maryland and Virginia. He expressed a desire to expand the Circulator bus network, specifically citing service to Anacostia as an improvement. He pointed to express buses as a “great idea.”
He said we need more bike lanes, but that they should be planned in concert with affected residents. The crowd hardly reacted to Gray’s transportation plans, but it erupted in applause when he said that people shouldn’t wake up to find parking spaces on their street replaced by a bike lane without prior knowledge. Examples of situations where the construction of a bike lane has removed many parking spaces are scarce, so it seems to be the specter of such a change in the streetscape, rather than an actual occurrence, that drove the crowd’s reaction.
Answering another attendee’s question on the displacement of poorer residents, Gray said he wants to see new communities developed rapidly in the District, but that the city should use “a number of tools,” inclusionary zoning being one, to make sure that working people—firefighters, police and first responders in particular—are included in newly-built communities. He decried the attitude of NIMBYs who want to see more housing for the homeless, but not in their neighborhoods.
I came to the forum as a new DC resident who, after spending considerable time weighing my choice before the Democratic primary, voted for Fenty. But I never harbored the intensely negative feelings towards Gray that many Fenty supporters did. I came away from last night’s event with increased confidence in Gray’s capability to lead and with hope that the divisions displayed on September 14th can begin to be reconciled.
As Gray said in his opening remarks, “Fixing our budget [shortfall] won’t be easy and it won’t be pleasant. .. We’ll have to reduce budgets [he later declared his openness to tax increases], but we’re going to do it together. The only reason we won’t do it together is if you don’t participate.”