Hi, I’m Ronald Thompson, Jr. (most people call me Ron) and I’m the new Transportation Equity Organizer at Greater Greater Washington.
My family has been in the Washington region for likely as long as the Diamond City has been around. My grandmother, father, and mother were all born and raised here in the District. I am a proud alumnus of Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, the first public high school in the nation for African Americans. After I graduated from Dunbar, I spent my first year of college at the historically black institution of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. I left my Home by the Sea and came home. I am now enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria where I’m studying political science.
As I start this role, I’ve done some reading about the history of transit in the Washington region. Seven years before I was born, Anacostia Station was inaugurated and Metro’s Green Line began service in my eternal home of Ward 8. I find this part of the story of the Green Line extremely depressing, but also informative.
Work began to bring Metrorail service east of the Anacostia River in 1970, and would not come to fruition until 1991. The contours of the back-and-forth about the Green Line look and sound a lot like the discussions we have about class and race today. For me, it all comes back to one question: Who should be at the center of our decisions?
In 1970, the question of who should be at the center should have guided planners and officials as they prepared to bring the Green Line east of the Anacostia. With the gift of hindsight, I conclude that rather than asking residents, “How can we make this accessible and equitable for thousands of people who have been left out of this great transit system?” officials were instead asking each other, “How can we get this done?”
Almost 50 years later, I believe transportation agencies and officials are still almost always driven by the latter question, and the former often takes a backseat to a whole host of other priorities. I see this mentality in the planning and execution of the DC Streetcar, and in WMATA’s decision to cut late night train service with no immediate alternative. I see it in plans from District officials to make the Circulator free at a cost to taxpayers when an overwhelming majority of residents rely upon Metrobus.
There is considerable debate about whether bureaucracies should be focused on getting things done quickly or whether they should be focused on doing things right. As Transportation Equity Organizer, I don’t intend to take part in that debate. What I do intend to do is facilitate the conversations that bureaucracies sometimes fail to have. I want to gather information and listen to people’s stories about how they move around DC. I want to hear from people who too often say that no one is listening to their concerns.
If you want Metrobus stop in front of your house or have a bus stop that’s already there, I want to listen to you. If you have a story to tell about the opening of the Green Line or any other train line, I want to hear about your experience. If you want to tell me how much you love the DC Streetcar or how much you hate it, I am here to listen. If there is a busy intersection that scares the hell out of you whether you bike, walk, bus, or drive, I am here to listen. If you have a crosswalk that you want to paint (I’ve been warned not to paint them myself), I want to hear about it.
My mission is to gather stories from people who are oftentimes overlooked and underrepresented. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and to working together to build a transportation system that serves us all.