If You Build a Road, Who Will Come?

SUBTITLE: There is No Plan!  Yet.

It is time … for anyone living and working on or traveling through Capitol Hill to get involved in the Barney Circle & Southeast Boulevard Transportation Study.  Results may determine how we and others (in vehicles, on bicycles, via transit, and as pedestrians) change the way we move through the neighborhoods, especially once across the Anacostia River via the Sousa Bridge and the new 11th Street Bridges.

One central question of the study is: What will be the impacts (good and bad) of having or not having a road (the SE Boulevard of this study) that enables traffic (again, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, transit …) to flow between 11th Street SE and Barney Circle?  Another important question: What are the impacts (good and bad) of converting the current Barney “Circle” into a proper traffic circle with direct feeds from/onto the proposed boulevard, 17th Street, Kentucky and Pennsylvania Avenues, and possibly Park Road?  A 3rd basic question involves understanding how a revised Barney Circle and a boulevard are related in terms of transportation flow.

And, then, there is the idea to place a “bus terminal/parking lot” under the boulevard.  Does DC need such a facility?  If so, this study has to provide the evidence and rationale for placing it in SE Capitol Hill.  We know that folks in Ivy City are objecting to a proposal for one in their neighborhood and Councilmember-at-Large Vincent Orange issued a press release on February 22 expressing his “joy” at DDOT’s examination of placing one at an “obsolete space of the SW Freeway.”  But, politics should not override careful study.

The Study.  This study is being conducted by DDOT under the rules and format defined by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) because federal funds are involved.  The final output of the study will be an Environmental Assessment (EA) that will include a decision on whether and how to proceed.  At this point, the study timetable calls for an EA to be made public by Summer 2013.  Between now and then, there will be at least 2 public meetings as DDOT and its contractor gather and analyze neighborhood information and transportation data and consider public input.

[If you are not familiar with how NEPA governs such studies, read this guide.  In addition to NEPA, DDOT has to conduct a “Section 106” review of any historic properties in the vicinity of the overall study (such as, in the CH Historic District and the proposed Barney Circle Historic District) and make a determination of “adverse impacts” if any.  Here is a link to a citizen guide to Section 106, which is part of the National Historic Preservation Act.]

DDOT held the first public meeting on the study on February 21st.  The intent of this Scoping meeting was to present the basic framework of the study and to gather input from the public as to what people want and don’t want to evolve from the intensive planning process.  To help get the discussions started, DDOT presented 3 basic concepts.  Each concept map had the same ideas for Barney Circle but presented different alignments for the boulevard.

Some residents living just north of the possible route of a boulevard have taken these concepts to be “done deal” plans.  Not true.  Concepts are concepts … discussion provoking ideas.  We have a long way to go before the end of this process.  Here’s what happens over the next 4-6 months (or more): (1) DDOT will present several alternatives at the next public meeting; suggested designs based on what they have heard at and subsequent to the Scoping meeting. (2) Based on public comments on these alternatives, DDOT will release a draft EA for public comment.  (3) A final public meeting will constitute a hearing on the draft EA.  Following this, DDOT will release the Final Document and Decision.

Then and only then, will there be A Plan.

Throughout this highly structured process, anyone can and everyone should continue to provide their ideas and relay their concerns to DDOT.  This input can be done at the public meetings or by sending an email to <barneycircle@prrbiz.com> or directly via the study website on the Meeting 1 Presentation page.  If you want to be on the mailing list to assure you will know when the public meetings are scheduled, send an email to <ddot.awi@dc.gov> or click the link on the study website home page.

ANC6B will be involved in this process throughout.  The Transportation Committee meeting on March 13 had the topic on its agenda.  It heard from 35 or so residents who live east of 11th Street SE and south of Pennsylvania Avenue.  Some appear to have already formed hard decisions on what the study should conclude.

I, for one, am not making any decisions now on where DDOT ought to end up in this study.  I need considerable more data and information and analyses from DDOT.  And, I want to hear from a wide range of residents and businesses on Capitol Hill not just those who will be most directly affected.  I know from experience that these folks tend to have ardent views and their voices can drown out those with different, just as valid, perspectives.  With thoughtful discussion and analysis, we can design a new improved neighborhood out of a complex piece of land.


It’s All About Parking?

As an ANC Commissioner I spend most of my time on parking.  Parking passes, parking enforcement, parking signs, parking this, parking that …

So it is not a surprise to me to see that the recent 6B committee votes in support of the Office of Planning’s draft proposal to remove minimum off site parking requirements in certain zoning categories has caused a storm of protest.  Some of it is quite understandable because residents have come to depend on public space to park their cars.  But some of it is off the mark based on a misunderstanding of the proposals.  Some of it is a bit elitist: I’m inside; now shut the door and don’t let anyone else in.  

These new zoning proposals, of which parking is just one of many issues, are intended to set the stage for the next 40 years of development in DC.  We have trouble predicting what technology will be available years ahead to facilitate the movement of people and goods but we do know that we can’t continue to add vehicles to our roads.  Two really good related reasons why: increasing congestion and increasing pollution.  Plus climate change.  So, yes, an objective of some of the proposals is to reduce the impact of vehicles on all of us now and in the future and one way is to make parking them less attractive.

So, the proposals simply remove existing minimums for new developments, be they one house or multiple units in an apartment building.  A large portion of 6B is in the Capitol Hill Historic District.  Nothing changes for this large area under these new parking proposals because historic district residential zones are already exempt from the off site requirement.  In any case, removing minimums does not mean developers won’t provide any off street parking.

But, changing zoning is not enough.  City officials need to do more.  The current Residential Permit Parking system is sorely in need of an overhall.  Why do we let an unlimited number of vehicles per household pay $35 per year for permits to park curbside?  This, when renting an offsite private space might cost $100 or more per month?

We also need to build more attractive, efficient, reliable transit systems.  Under the MoveDC initiative to plan DC transportation 30 years out, maybe we will do that.

Some think I am “anti-auto” because I don’t own a car and, thus, don’t fully understand the frustration of seeking a parking space.  Not true.  I haven’t owned an automobile for over 40 years.  I sold my beloved racing green TR-4 back when I lived at the base of Russian Hill in San Francisco.  One day I realized that I wasn’t moving my car but, rather electing to walk or take transit to where ever I wanted to go because I didn’t want to have to search for a parking space when I returned home.  When I factored in the cost of that car that mainly sat curbside, I sold it.  And, have been car-less since.  I understand frustration.  What I don’t understand is why frustrated DC “parkers” don’t do what I did.  And, I did it long before people dreamed up neat alternatives like Zipcar, Car2Go, Uber, and so on.

I know that everyone can’t give up their automobiles.  But, more could.