Time for Action

October 14, 2011

A little bird tells me that a lot of people have something to say about transit. And a lot of it isn’t so good. Here’s a sampling from Wednesday morning’s tweets about Metro: “Late to work thanks to you, @wmata.” “@wmata — guess I’m walking again today.” “I just don’t understand how a regional public transportation provider can be so awful. I get that stuff breaks down, but every day??”

Kvetching can certainly be cathartic, but if folks want real change, they’ll have to do more than fiddle with their phones. “I think getting out of 140 characters is important,” says David Alpert, the 33-year-old founder of the blog Greater Greater Washington, who hopes more people will follow his lead into transit advocacy. Although he’d always been interested in urban policy, it wasn’t until he started the site in 2008 that he opened up lines of communication with other people thinking about transportation, as well as with Metro employees and elected officials.

In those discussions, Alpert got a better understanding of how Metro works — and how it doesn’t. “Metro is complicated and the ways to improve it are complicated,” he says. As problems go, funding is a biggie, Alpert says. There are also issues that fall outside Metro’s reach. If you’d like to see dedicated bus lanes, for example, you’d better talk to the District Department of Transportation. “That’s something Metro can’t snap its fingers and fix,” he adds.

But when it’s something Metro can? He hopes to push for improvements as the D.C. vice chairman on the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council, which is the public’s liaison to the board of directors. If you’d care to join him, Metro recently issued a call for applicants to fill six positions on the all-volunteer council — applications are due by Sunday.

Alpert realizes that’s not realistic for most people, considering the time commitment involved (three to four hours a month) and the fact that there are only 21 seats on the council. But he says you don’t have to be a member to attend meetings or participate in other ways.

“The most important thing to do is make sure elected officials understand the importance of transit, so they’ll fund it,” Alpert says. Another tip: Join up with groups of citizens already trying to make a difference, such as the Action Committee for Transit in Montgomery County, which has been pushing to speed up the construction of a second entrance to the Bethesda station to alleviate crowding and delays.

Or you could just tweet about it. But somehow that doesn’t seem as effective.

Next Moves

You say you want a Rail~Volution? Well good, because the national transit conference is pulling into town Oct. 16-19, and offering attendees a slew of workshops, from “Parking Innovations for Thriving Communities” to “Implementing Streetcar Projects.” Registration for the whole shebang is $475, but it’s free to attend just the local program (Oct. 19, 2-5 p.m., Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, 2660 Woodley Rd. NW), which will deal with issues specific to Washington, such as how to reduce lengthy commutes to jobs. Register here.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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