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DC Is Schooling NYC on Improving Pedestrian Safety at Intersections


We wrote last week that New York City allows drivers to park to the edge of crosswalks, which can make it more difficult for pedestrians and motorists to see each other. After we posted that story a reader noted that Washington, DC, does a good job with daylighting intersections.

DC code mandates that curbs remain clear of parked and standing vehicles from 25 to 40 feet from “intersection of curb lines,” though regulations vary depending on whether streets are one- or two-way. Drivers may not legally park or stand within 25 feet of a stop or yield sign. Public and private driveways are given five feet of clearance on each side.

One exception written into the law: Ice cream vendors are allowed to park their trucks “curbside when stopping to make a sale, as close as possible to a pedestrian cross-walk without entering the intersection, and without unduly interfering with the flow of traffic.”

Above is F Street NE at 5th Street NE, a few blocks east of Union Station. Rotate the Google image to see the different treatments for the four corners, all of which have some form of daylighting. Compare that to the images below of restricted sight lines that are typical on New York City residential streets. I’ve driven through the intersection below, and as a motorist you have to edge into the intersection to look for approaching traffic, a potential hazard for all street users.

What would have to happen for parking-obsessed City Council members David Greenfield and Vincent Gentile to call for new rules that would make it safer to walk in NYC by prohibiting parking near intersections?

Streetsblog USA
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Maryland Gov Larry Hogan Plays Chicken With Purple Line Funding

Newly elected Maryland Governor Larry Hogan says he’s putting off bids on the Purple Line light rail project in an attempt to cut costs, but the delay could also jeopardize the whole project by putting federal funding at risk.

The Purple Line would represent a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,'s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

The Purple Line would be a major expansion of Washington, D.C.,’s transit system and would likely lead to a boom in development in the Maryland suburbs. Image: PurpleLineMD

A cloud of uncertainty has been hanging over the Purple Line since Hogan’s election in November. On the campaign trail, the Republican threatened to kill the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade and was expected to break ground this year. Hogan has kept some state funding for the project in his budget, but hasn’t committed to building it.

In his latest announcement, Hogan said he is extending the deadline for bids to construct the Purple Line five months, from March to August. He had already pushed the deadline back two months, before taking office.

The additional time, Hogan argues, will allow firms to revise their proposals to lower costs and save money. His newly appointed transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, will study and review the proposals.

But is this move really about cost containment? Advocates are concerned that Hogan’s foot-dragging will have another effect: jeopardizing federal funding.

Nick Brand, president of the Action Committee for Transit in D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, says Hogan’s new timeline would put the project out to bid in early August instead of March. Then, the state must spend some time reviewing and ranking bids before making a selection. But $100 million in federal funding was appropriated for the fiscal year ending September 30. Even if there are no additional delays, it’s going to be tough to finalize a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration before then, Brand said.

Running past the September date isn’t a dealbreaker, but it will increase uncertainty surrounding the project, according to Brand. “There’s apparently not a fixed deadline for the money to be spent or committed,” he said. But “once you’re into a new fiscal year, the competition is out there saying, ‘Maryland’s not ready but we’re ready.'”

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Streetsblog USA
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Will Maryland Gov-Elect Larry Hogan Kill the Red and Purple Lines?

The Purple Line, which Governor-elect Larry Hogan has threatened to kill, is seen as key to Montgomery County’s long-term economic viability.

Seeing shovel-ready transit projects destroyed by petty politics has been all too common the last few years (see: Scott Walker and Wisconsin high-speed rail, or Chris Christie and the ARC tunnel). Even so, this one’s a doozy.

The fate of two of the country's biggest planned transit projects rest in this man's hands: Maryland Governor-Elect Larry Hogan. Photo: Wikipedia

Larry Hogan. Photo: Wikipedia

Maryland Governor-elect Larry Hogan has the power to halt two major urban transit projects that have the planning and funding all lined up and and are all but ready to go: suburban DC’s 16-mile Purple Line as well as Baltimore’s 14-mile Red Line. More than a decade of planning has gone into each of these transit lines, and each has been awarded a competitive federal New Starts grant for $900 million [PDF], accounting for about a third of the total $5.5 billion combined cost.

Early in his gubernatorial campaign, Hogan promised to kill the projects, saying the money would be better spent on roads and that the western, eastern, and southern parts of the state deserved more attention. But closer to the election he moderated his views, saying the lines were “worth considering.”

Since winning the race, he has mostly kept mum about his intentions. When asked recently about the plans, he demurred, according to the Washington Post.

“They should just keep on guessing, because I’m going to be governor January 21, and we will start talking about policy then,” he said.

Although Hogan won’t take office for a few weeks yet, his indecision is already affecting construction timetables. Bids were due this month for the Purple Line project, but were delayed until March, after the swearing-in.

Maryland spent more than $170 million planning and purchasing right-of-way for the Purple Line and another $230+ million on planning for the Red Line. That work will go to waste if the projects are killed. Plus, because the Red Line has already gone out to bid, the state would be responsible for another $8 million in payments to the engineering firms that have prepared detailed, long-term plans to build the line.

Of the most concern to transit advocates is all the federal funding that would likely be lost if the state were to abandon or dramatically alter the plans at this late stage. In addition to the New Starts grant, the Purple Line has received $900 million in federally backed loans. None of the federal money could be used for other projects in the state.

Business groups in both the DC area and Baltimore strongly support the projects and have been urging the governor to continue with the plan.

Klaus Philipsen, a Baltimore architect who served as a consultant and planner on the Red Line, said dirt could start flying this year in Baltimore. The $2.9 billion Red Line was expected to not just attract new passengers, but greatly expand the usefulness of the city’s existing two rail lines by creating a more extensive network. It was also expected to be a boon for struggling west Baltimore, where intensive community planning processes sought to get the most out of the stations for local neighborhoods.

“The hope is that with the Red Line [Baltimore’s rail transit] would start to become a real system and we’d have a quantum leap in connectivity,” Philipsen told Streetsblog.

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Decades in the Works, D.C.’s Silver Line Opens to Commuters

silver_line_turnstiles

By 10 a.m., more than 9,500 passengers had made trips that started or ended at the five new Silver Line stations today. Photo: @drgridlock/Flickr

Half a century ago, when Dulles International Airport was constructed in the farmlands of Virginia, planners were forming a blueprint for the Washington region’s new Metro system. Back then, they ruled out the idea of stretching the rail line 30 miles beyond the capital through rural counties to connect with the airport. Such a line would serve no purpose for commuters, they said, and would do nothing to help congestion.

But there wasn’t a total absence of foresight regarding the region’s potential explosion. Along with the airport came the Dulles Access Road — and through the center of it, a median reserved for future transit.

The new Silver Line, which officially opened to riders on Saturday after months of delays, runs along that exact path. Ultimately, the 23-mile extension — the largest infrastructure project in the nation – will connect not only to the airport but beyond it to Ashburn, Virginia. The $2.9 billion first phase laid 11.7 miles of new track along five new stations in Tysons Corner and Reston, expanding the Metro system’s mileage by 10 percent.

Today is the first weekday for commuters to try out the new line, which runs east from Reston through the city to Largo Town Center in Maryland. WMATA predicts ridership will be low at first, then eventually reach as many as 25,000 boardings a day. As of 10 a.m. today, more than 9,500 people had passed through the five new stations, the agency said.

It took over five decades for the Silver Line to get here. The last 20 years were particularly contentious, as the project overcame political strife, cost overruns, financing complexities, and construction delays.

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Streetsblog USA
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“Every Street’s Going to Prioritize Pedestrians”: MoveDC’s Lovely Fine Print

Those dotted purple lines are protected bike lane the city plans to build. This is just the downtown zoom, but other maps show plans to build these lanes all over the city. Image: DDOT

Those dotted purple lines are protected bike lane DC plans to build: 72 miles of them, all over the city. This is just the downtown zoom. Other cities, be jealous. Image: DDOT

Livable streets advocates all over the country are buzzing about DC’s far-sighted new transportation plan, called MoveDC. So yesterday Streetsblog sat down with some of the people responsible for writing and implementing the plan. I spoke to Matt Brown, the District Department of Transportation’s new acting director; Colleen Hawkinson, strategic planning branch manager at DDOT’s Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA); and Sam Zimbabwe, associate director of the PPSA.

MoveDC is an ambitious and wide-ranging plan that calls for overhauling streets to improve walking, biking, and transit. If you want to absorb it all, here’s the whole, massive document.

What’s your favorite part of this plan? What do you brag to other cities about and say, “DC’s gonna do this and it’s gonna be amazing”?

DDOT Acting Director Matt Brown. Photo: ##http://ddot.dc.gov/biography/matthew-brown##DDOT##

DDOT Acting Director Matt Brown. Photo: DDOT

MB: I’m struck by the comprehensive nature of it all. It speaks to new investments, but it also speaks to state of good repair for what we have, and really trying to maximize the road system we have so that it accommodates all choices of travel.

I don’t think it’s an all-or-nothing plan. I don’t think it’s: “We have a vision, we need whatever dollars and without that it’s going to fail.” Certainly there are dollars that are needed to implement, and we can’t realize the full capacity of the plan without doing that.

But I think this is a plan for the future of the District, and also for our agency. I mean, there are recommendations in here about how to prioritize sidewalk repairs better. One of the recommendations is to better prioritize how we make investments with the baseline money that we have.

So I guess it’s not one policy element I’m excited about. I’m excited there’s so much, and they’re interrelated but they’re not dependent on each other. We can make a big impact even if we can’t build a downtown metro loop, or pick your favorite infrastructure investment from the plan.

SZ: Or a downtown congestion charge!

[All laugh.]

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Will Bill Bratton Make an Anti-Speeding PSA Like This?


A new anti-speeding PSA from DC police chief Cathy Lanier could be a good model for once and future NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton. Speeding is the leading cause of fatal crashes in New York City, and DC provides a model — starting with a video like this one.

Lanier, standing in front of a bank of screens showing busy roads, gives a stern warning to drivers. “High-speed collisions are much more deadly than other collisions,” she says. The video shows signs with DC’s 25 mph citywide speed limit. “When you have significant speeds involved, typically there are fatalities, and multiple fatalities,” Lanier says.

DDOT director Terry Bellamy and MPD Detective Joe Diliberto join Lanier in the video. “It’s a bad decision that’s made by the operator. Many of these collisions could have been avoided if it wasn’t for the speeding,” Diliberto says. “We’re all working toward zero deaths in DC, because every life counts.”

DC’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths sounds a lot like Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero promise. DC, which has far more extensive automated speed enforcement than NYC, is making the target look achievable. Traffic fatalities have fallen 76 percent since 2001 [PDF], to 19 last year. DC’s current traffic fatality rate is on par with New York’s, but its recent progress has been faster. Last year, when fatalities rose both in New York and nationwide, DC’s continued to drop.

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Check Out the Reaction to Bike-Share Installation Once the Novelty Is Gone

With NYC’s bike-share system in the delicate period where new stations are going in but people can’t yet use the bikes, the city’s press corps is gorging on stories about conflict. The reporters at the Post and CBS2 better enjoy it while it lasts, because once people get used to seeing bike-share in action, these stations are going to be about as newsworthy as bus shelters.

When Capital Bikeshare launched in Washington, DC, public meetings saw the same type of wrangling about station placement that’s happening in NYC today. Certain station locations aroused opposition because some people thought they were too dangerous, or inappropriate for residential blocks, or irresistible to vandals.

Now, two and a half years after the DC region’s bike-share system got off the ground, new stations are just a matter of course. In this video, via Shaun Courtney at the Georgetown Patch, a crew installs one of two stations that arrived in historic Georgetown last week. About 30 seconds in, a silver-haired gentleman walks by and says, “This is great to see. It saves me about five blocks.”

Of course, most New Yorkers might very well be reacting to bike-share in more or less the same way, but while the sight of public bike stations is still so novel and many people remain unsure of how the whole thing will work, it’s the complainers who’ve got the media megaphone.

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While PBA Obstructs Speed Cams, DC Police Union Shows Support

Although maintaining that cameras “are never going to be a replacement for officers,” a prominent police union official told Streetsblog that he strongly supports automated enforcement. “People drive in this town with impunity,” he said. “I’ll take any help we can get at this point to try and reign in some of the problems.”

Without enough officers to pull over speeding drivers, one police union leader says automated enforcement is needed. Photo: ynkefan1/Twitter

Unfortunately for New Yorkers, those words came not from Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch, but from Kristopher Baumann, Chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.

In fact, the DC police union has been a strong supporter of the entire automated enforcement program in the District, which also targets red-light running, blocking the box, failing to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and failure to observe stop signs.

At a DC Council hearing last November, Baumann testified against the council’s efforts to lower fines for violators caught on camera. He implored the council “not to pander to a bunch of people that can’t control themselves behind the wheel and think it’s okay to endanger others.”

Baumann had tough words for people who oppose traffic enforcement cameras. “If they don’t like the automated cameras, follow the rules. Stop endangering other people,” he said. “The idea here is not ‘gotcha’ and we’re going to charge money. It is public safety,” he added. “These cameras do work.”

Since installing speed cameras, DC has seen an 82 percent reduction in speeding that exceeds 10 mph above the limit, according to Richard Retting, the director of safety and research for Sam Schwartz Engineering. Since DC began installing speed cameras, the number of annual traffic fatalities has dropped from 72 in 2001 to 19 last year — a decline of about 74 percent. In 2011, MPD Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier received an award from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for overseeing the nation’s biggest traffic fatality rate drop. In NYC, which has 150 red light cameras but no speed cameras, traffic deaths fell 30 percent in the same period.

The DC police union supports speed cams, according to Baumann, because MPD doesn’t have enough manpower to enforce traffic laws without the automated help. “We’re not out there to enforce the laws, and when that happens, people start disregarding the laws,” Baumann told the council. “That means we have to rely on the cameras.”

When Streetsblog asked if he thought the cameras were being used as an excuse not to hire needed officers, Baumann was unequivocal. “No,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s being used as an excuse.”

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AAA Still Up to Its Old Tricks Fighting Progressive Transport Policy

A representative of the American Automobile Association was a keynote speaker at this week’s National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., the annual gathering of bicycle advocates. There the organization debuted a heartwarming new video reminding drivers to share the road with cyclists.

A spokesman for AAA says not forcing developers to build an arbitrary amount of parking is "dangerous for D.C." Image: DDOTDC Flickr

Meanwhile, also in D.C., AAA representatives are fighting a series of smart parking reforms. AAA spokesman Lon Anderson told members of the media that a proposal to allow developers to decide how much parking to build, instead of being compelled by law to build a minimum amount, is “a dangerous proposal” that “threatens the future of Washington, D.C.”

Matt Yglesias at Slate annihilates this argument:

Almost 100 percent of Washington-area residents like to sleep on a soft comfortable surface at night. But there’s no regulatory requirement that residential buildings contain mattresses. The lack of mattress mandates doesn’t mean people are forced to sleep on the floor. It means that if people want to sleep on a mattress—and they generally do—they need to go buy one. That’s why there are mattress stores. Insofar as people want to park cars—and lets make no mistake, lots of people want to park cars—they will pay for the privilege, and property developers will provide parking spaces.

What’s at issue here is whether non-parkers should be forced to offer a cross-subsidy to parkers. The case against such a subsidy seems strong. It encourages extra traffic congestion and extra pollution, as well as inducing some kind of deadweight loss in the form of stifled real estate development.

Yglesias also points out that AAA’s assertion that “roughly 70 percent of Washington-area commuters drive” is very misleading, since fewer than half of residents of D.C. proper commute by car.

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D.C. Planning Chief Urges New York City to Scrap Parking Minimums

Washington D.C. planning director Harriet Tregoning offered her assistance to New York City in eliminating parking minimums. Photo: Washington City Paper

Yesterday, the Department of City Planning asked experts from around the country how to make a more sustainable zoning code. Their response? Scrap parking minimums.

The recommendation came during a major conference held yesterday by DCP and Harvard University. Top urban thinkers from around the country gathered to discuss how the zoning code can make the city more globally competitive, socially equitable, architecturally significant and environmentally sustainable (for a good recap of the conference, check out the Architect’s Newspaper live blog).

When the conversation turned to suggestions for building a sustainable city, both panelists raised the issue of parking minimums.

“Parking is one of the biggest things,” said Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.’s Office of Planning, as she articulated how zoning can make cities greener. “[Washington has] removed our minimums for most buildings in the downtown and near transit.”

That policy puts D.C. significantly ahead of New York City. While the Manhattan core — admittedly a more populated area than all of Washington — has parking maximums in place, most of the city is still governed by parking minimums, even areas right on top of subway stations.

DCP is considering reducing parking minimums in the “inner ring” of neighborhoods around the Manhattan core, but not eliminating them. So building space for car storage will still be mandatory even in highly walkable and transit-rich neighborhoods like Harlem, while dense, transit-rich areas just a little further removed from downtown, like Washington Heights, may not see any reforms at all.

Tregoning said that D.C. opted to eliminate parking minimums entirely in response to “hard experience.” Having cut parking requirements in half, she explained, “we still had only half the parking used.”

D.C. is also replacing parking minimums with maximums in many places. The city received significant pushback from the public and developers, Tregoning admitted, so they developed a compromise. “You can build more than the maximums, but the first floor of that building has to be level and convertible so that if we’re right and you’re wrong, it can be something useful.”

Tregoning went so far as to offer herself as a resource to New York City should it decide to pursue parking reform. “We should think of ourselves as a band of brothers,” she said. “Why don’t we emulate success?”

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