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What's ahead for D.C. transportation

What's going to change for the District in the likely event that Vincent C. Gray replaces Adrian M. Fenty as mayor? A panel of Post writers Wednesday night previewed the impact on city politics, education, social issues, real estate, economics and transportation in a town hall meeting at the new Shaw library. I took transportation.

While we may be in for a change in mayoral style that involves more task forces and discussion, the city's transportation program is unlikely to undergo a dramatic shift. The D.C. government's priorities, policies and programs are pretty typical of those that 21st century city governments are pursuing.

City governments want to help people get where they're going as quickly and safely as possible through densely packed grid systems of streets, use transportation improvements to encourage economic development and offer alternatives to owning a car. (Real estate writer and editor Elizabeth Razzi noted that giving people opportunities to go car free helps them handle the high cost of urban housing.)

So the District is not alone in trying to improve bus services, add trolleys or light rail, put in bike lanes and improve pedestrian safety. The District's programs to do those things didn't start with Fenty and they won't end with Gray. Bike lanes weren't dreamed up by Fenty to make the world safe for triathletes.

The new mayor will have different ideas about how to implement some of these programs, but I don't foresee radical changes. The District has been fortunate in its choices for transportation director, but the basic goals will remain, no matter who is director.

Yes, there are tensions between neighborhoods and between types of travelers in the District. But transportation politics in the city was not a dominant factor in this election, and nothing compared to what we routinely see in Virginia, and occasionally in Maryland. On many issues about the future of local travel in the D.C. area, city vs. suburbs provides a lot more tension than city interest group vs. city interest group.

The next mayor could adjust elements of the long-term plan for a streetcar network, but he's not going to tear up the tracks laid down along H Street and Benning Road. He's not going to uproot the pilings now in place for the city's biggest transportation project: the construction of a new 11th Street Bridge over the Anacostia River. (Greer Johnson Gillis, the city's deputy chief engineer, told me Wednesday that the bridge is more than 25 percent done.)

And the next mayor is not going to weaken D.C. support for city residents' most important transportation system: Metro. If the transit authority finds itself in another budget crisis, he'll do what other D.C. leaders have done: Push to maintain the city bus routes and keep the fares as low as possible.

By Robert Thomson  | October 21, 2010; 9:55 AM ET
Categories:  District, Transportation Politics  | Tags:  Dr. Gridlock  
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I think that Gray will do a better job than Fenty did of balancing conflicting interests. The yuppies clearly had Fenty in their pocket, and that's not the case with Gray.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | October 21, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

discussion committees


Posted by: getjiggly1 | October 21, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Gray will be fiscally more responsible and will hold the NEXT transportation director accountable to his budget. The city cannot go on business as usual facing a $400 billion budget deficit forecast. Programs are going to be cut. That is just the reality.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 21, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Scratch that...$400 Million...Whew!!!

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 21, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: I think it's entirely possible to use some elements of the transportation program to support a case that the mayor is arrogant, aloof, in the pocket of young urbanists, and so on.

The building blocks for such an argument could include bike lanes, bike sharing programs, streetcars, street parking policy and and the location of Circulator bus routes.

If Gray is somehow the anti-arrogance, anti-yuppie candidate, then those programs should die, or be drastically reduced or dramatically changed, right?

As you saw in my posting, I'm arguing that this won't be the case. The main priorities of the city's transportation program are likely to remain the same. They're similar to the transportation goals of other big cities, because they generally make sense for 21st century city life.

The city, under Fenty, has continued to make big investments in transportation programs that fall outside the arrogant/yuppie argument. Again, I'd cite the 11th Street Bridge reconstruction, the biggest project undertaken by DDOT. That's going to benefit commuters who drive and people who live in neighborhoods on both sides of the Anacostia River. Gillis, the deputy chief engineer, is very proud of the project's involvement with the communities during planning and construction.

The Great Streets projects on South Capitol, Pennsylvania Ave SE and H Street/Benning Road should encourage development in many neighborhoods.

DDOT already is ordering Circulator buses for service east of the river.

I'd like to get your views on what you'd like to see -- or what you expect to see -- out of the District's transportation program in a new administration.

Posted by: Dr_Gridlock | October 21, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

It's the budget, silly...The BUDGET.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | October 22, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

"I'd like to get your views on what you'd like to see -- or what you expect to see -- out of the District's transportation program in a new administration."

I'd like to see bikesharing expanded, but more importantly, it's time to start laying the ground work for a decoupling of the orange and blue lines. Having these two lines share tunnels is going to cause capacity issues in the near future. Getting it fixed will involve expensive and time consuming tunneling. So the time to start planning (both finances and engineering) is now. The sooner we get our act together, the sooner we get in line for federal funding.

Posted by: cranor | October 22, 2010 11:26 PM | Report abuse

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