Wells campaigning with Brown. Photo by hcwoodward on Flickr.

Tommy Wells was awarded oversight over the Committee on Public Works and Transportation in the DC Council today, and also chosen as the DC voting member on the WMATA Board of Directors.

This represents an innovative move by Kwame Brown to demonstrate that he wants progressive action as opposed to the status quo in the coming year. Tommy Wells is the Councilmember most interested in bringing modern transportation practices to DC, including complete streets that balance the needs of drivers, walkers, bikers and transit riders.

While Wells’ policies are sometimes seen as very pioneering, Dr. Gridlock’s comments about Gabe Klein apply equally to Wells: “There’s nothing radical in the bike lanes program, or the streetcar program or the street-parking program, or the pedestrian safety program. What looked to us here like cutting-edge programs would seem like catch-up to people in other big cities.”

With the DDOT unified fund dismantled, the Council will play a larger role in reviewing and setting priorities for DDOT. That means the transportation committee will have a strong hand in either pushing DDOT to continue its innovative progress or to stall it, and Wells is the best one to keep things moving.

Councilmembers Jim Graham, Mary Cheh, and Harry Thomas, Jr. will be the other members of the committee. The committee’s jurisdiction will not change, except Graham will keep his oversight over alcoholic beverage licensing along with taking over Human Services from Wells.

As chair, Jim Graham did a lot of good work while also being the focus of much controversy. Created a fund for local money to go to pedestrian and bicycle improvements, and moved the Sidewalk Assurance Act through the Council. He passed performance parking legislation, and has been forceful about real enforcement of parking laws. And he personally answers nearly every constituent email that he receives.

Graham also fought hard for DC’s interests on a WMATA Board where DC often feels at a disadvantage compared to the suburban interests. (Disclosure: He also appointed me to the Riders’ Advisory Council.) His transportation policy staffer, Jonathon Kass, is one of the best in the Council and very progressive. I hope Wells hires Kass without delay for the new committee.

On the other hand, some of Graham’s tougher negotiating tactics like using the jurisdictional veto to block even holding a public hearing on certain fare proposals garnered significant criticism from myself and others. He was often seen as favoring transit in Ward 1 over elsewhere in the city, though as the densest ward and one with a low rate of car ownership, the transit brought many benefits.

The announcement did not specify whether Michael Brown will continue as the alternate on the WMATA Board, or whether a different person will take that over. Michael Brown had the worst attendance of all Board members from January to August of this year, but he could be a fine member if he were interested in starting to participate actively.

There could be some benefit for human services advocates to have Jim Graham take over: Graham is very good at fighting for the budget for areas he oversees, and facing deep cuts, human services could use his skill in that area.

On a more disappointing note, Harry Thomas, Jr., DC’s biggest cheerleader for unwalkable big box development, will take over the Committee on Economic Development. Councilmembers Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry, and Jack Evans will round out the committee, which doesn’t bode well to create pressure for better or more walkable development.

The full list of committee chairs:

  • Aging and Community Affairs: Marion Barry (previously Yvette Alexander)
  • Economic Development: Harry Thomas, Jr. (previously Kwame Brown)
  • Finance and Revenue: Jack Evans
  • Government Operations and the Environment: Mary Cheh
  • Health: David Catania
  • Housing and Workforce Development: Michael Brown
  • Human Services: Jim Graham (previously Tommy Wells)
  • Libraries, Parks and Recreation: Muriel Bowser (previously Harry Thomas, Jr.)
  • Public Safety and the Judiciary: Phil Mendelson
  • Public Services and Consumer Affairs: Yvette Alexander (previously Muriel Bowser)
  • Public Works and Transportation: Tommy Wells (previously Jim Graham)