D.C. transportation after Gabe Klein
Gabe Klein, who announced this morning that he will be leaving his post as the District's transportation director, had a habit of trying new plans, gauging their effectiveness then fixing the problems. That sometimes worked for the city and against him.
But I think he'll wind up being remembered as a administrator who pushed the District toward the mainstream of urban transportation policy. 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.
Just within our multi-jurisdictional region, you can see a greater focus over the past decade in each of those areas. It simply makes sense: Urban transportation planners are focused on giving people more choices about how to get around this crowded area. At the same time, they increasingly recognize the tie-in between transportation systems and development opportunities.
Klein, who will have been on the job for two years when he leaves at the end of the month, was of a mind to do all those things. Because there was so much going on, it became fairly easy to find something not to like. And for those who found Klein's boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, to be arrogant, there were opportunities to see arrogance in some of the transportation programs.
If you thought the bike-riding mayor cared mostly about making the city safe for triathletes, a favorite target would be the expansion of the bike lanes and the Capital Bikeshare system. If you thought Fenty cared mostly about making the city pleasant for young urbanites, a favorite target might be the central-city focus of the Circulator bus system and the placement of streetcar tracks.
Everybody could find something not to like about the street-parking program: The need to haul around at least 16 quarters for a trip to a premium parking zone, the many, sometimes confusing experiments with parking payment systems to relieve that need, and the inconvenience of the late-night and Saturday enforcement hours.
But much of what Klein carried out -- the streetcar program, pedestrian safety experiments, the expansion of Circulator routes -- didn't originate with him or Fenty. They stretch back though this decade and into the '90s.
But Klein was energetic about pursuing those policies and completely bought into the overall goals of increasing mobility and encouraging community development. I predict that people will look back and think that was great. In an era of government retrenchment, somebody was trying something to make life better in a sphere that touches everybody who walks outside the front door.
But when you try something in urban transportation and there's a problem, the problem is likely to be high-profile. One of the best examples was the placement of the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue this year. You couldn't pick a more high-profile place to experiment with bike lanes. When drivers saw the lane striping go down, they howled that they were taking the hit to please a handful of bikers.
Klein told me that when he went down to the avenue and took a look, he saw a safety problem: The cars were straying into the bike lanes because the lanes were so wide the drivers didn't realize they were bike lanes. So Klein had the lanes narrowed. That was a good safety move, and I've heard few complaints since then, but some took it as showing the weakness of the overall program for bike lanes, while even some Klein supporters worried that the city was caving to the car drivers.
When mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray names a new director, will transportation policies change radically? I don't believe so. Planning may become more conservative, and there may be many more meetings to discuss ideas. But I think the programs will pretty much stay in place. They make sense in an urban environment, and Gray has joined other council members in supporting many of the basic concepts.
Transportation policy was not a big issue in the mayoral campaign. After a short-lived dust-up over streetcar funding, Gray went out of his way to express support for the concept of bringing streetcars back.
And there's nothing unusual about a new mayor wanting to assemble his own leadership team.
Prediction: The D.C. government will continue to advance its main transportation programs. Gray will support Metro transit and resist any effort to scale back bus service or raise bus fares. He won't stop building the new 11th Street Bridge, which is the biggest project under DDOT management. He won't tear up the streetcar tracks.
Gray will expand the Circulator bus system east of the Anacostia, something that was in the works under Fenty and Klein. He won't lower the price of street parking and he will support bike and pedestrian safety programs.
And here's one more no-brainer: The next time we have a big winter storm, people will complain that it's taking too long to clear the commuter routes and the neighborhood streets.
All of this -- for better and worse -- is just part of the environment in a 21st century U.S. city.
| December 8, 2010; 1:25 PM ET
Categories: District, Transportation Politics | Tags: DDOT, Dr. Gridlock
Save & Share: Previous: New speed cameras on BW Pkwy.
Next: I-270 N to close overnight
Posted by: CaptainKangaroo | December 8, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: CaptainKangaroo | December 8, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: TheAMT | December 8, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Nosh1 | December 8, 2010 8:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Brooklander | December 8, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: alwayswonderswhy | December 9, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: TheAMT | December 9, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Nosh1 | December 9, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: chet99 | December 9, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: shepDC | December 9, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: ceefer66 | December 9, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JonathanKrall | December 9, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: krickey7 | December 9, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: concernedaboutdc | December 10, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: JonathanKrall | December 10, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse