D.C. Council takes up sweeping transportation bill

WASHINGTON — From parking tickets to streetcars and Capital Bikeshare, a D.C. City Council committee began a discussion on Wednesday about overhauling the transportation system in the city.

The Transportation Reorganization Act would remove parking tickets from the Department of Public Works (DPW), adjudication from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and parking policy from the Department of Transportation (DDOT), and would create a new office of Parking Management.

The proposal would also remove streetcar, Capital Bikeshare and D.C. Circulator operations from DDOT and create a new Transit Authority. The D.C. Taxicab Commission would be folded and put into the new agency as well.

“I appreciate the conversation, but I would have preferred it began somewhere else,” says Cheryl Cort, Policy Director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “We would support a transit authority for the operation of streetcars. Operating transit is a complicated task, so we think dedicated focus on that would be a good thing.”

But there is concern that separating parking and transit operations into two separate offices could do more harm than good. Critics are worried about implementing the new moveDC initiative with agencies that don’t consider all modes of getting around at the same time.

“We should be strengthening DDOT, which is quite a young organization, rather than breaking it up and isolating different functions in different offices,” says Cort.

Others agree that cars, bikes, trains, buses and streetcars are all interconnected and should be treated as such.

“Organizations can be large or small. We have companies like GE that are enormous with countless, often unrelated business lines. But CEOs can appoint good managers for the pieces. So I think with good leadership, DDOT can have all these responsibilities under one roof and task people with different elements and have someone make sure everyone talks to each other,” says David Alpert of Greater Greater Washington.

He says ultimately it’s up the Mayor and the City Council to appoint and approve a director who will improve the culture at the organization.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh says she isn’t so concerned about what name gets what responsibility, but that this is a conversation starter on how to make things better for commuters. She says that she wants commuters to get the best service possible, no matter how they get to work.

“I think there is a lot more agreement at the core about how we need to have a comprehensive transportation strategy to address all the ways people get around. At the end of the day, we can think of where, but I think we want to consolidate these functions,” says Cheh.

She adds that DDOT has not been effective in many areas and the conversation should answer questions of why and how.

Councilman Tommy Wells also agrees that the best solution might be to ensure planning is comprehensive, but actual transit operation is separated from DDOT. Wells also believes eliminating the D.C. Taxicab Commission and putting it into a new transit agency is a good idea.

“We’re not going to be able to build a lot more roads. So the future for getting around is bicycles, trains, buses, streetcars, and even Segways. But we’re on our way to building our own transit system, DC owned. DDOT shouldn’t run that. It should be run by a separate entity that implements and operates the system,” says Wells.

But AAA Mid-Atlantic is worried about drivers, arguing that D.C. is leaving them behind. It points to the moveDC document that emphasizes a mission to reduce the amount of people driving cars around the District. But AAA Mid-Atlantic says 60- percent of the trips in the District of Columbia are still in motor vehicles.

“We have to see the whole of transportation, not in different silos, but together in one area where no one is punished,” says John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “You have advocates calling for transit, advocates for Capital Bikeshare, advocates for pedestrians, and motorists are saying don’t exclude us or make us the fall guy. But we do want to see a comprehensive, multi-modal approach that doesn’t have winners or losers. Each mode is equally important.”

The bill will now go before a workgroup that will begin meeting once a week beginning June 18. The group will make a recommendation to the D.C. Council Commitee on the Transportation and the Environment, which will hold another hearing this fall.

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