Terry Bellamy, at the wheel of the District Department of Transportation
Terry Bellamy walks to work. On days when he has meetings farther than a couple of blocks from the D.C. Department of Transportation’s offices atop the Navy Yard Metro station, he might grab one of Capital Bikeshare’s ubiquitous red bikes.
On rare occasions, he’ll drive. He and his wife have even downsized from two cars to one.
Bellamy, who was confirmed last month as the director of DDOT after six months as its interim director, said his style of travel is becoming more common in the District, where almost one-third of the residents don’t own a car.
“We are the incubator of the world. Everybody comes to D.C. to see what we are doing,” he said when Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) nominated him. “We want to continue to bring the new technology to the world here in Washington, D.C.”
Bellamy might soon have to decide whether the city can continue to be an innovator. He’s following the media-savvy tenure of Gabe Klein, a former entrepreneur and extrovert who introduced bike-sharing, installed fancy new parking meters and pushed forward the old-school use of streetcars. Klein’s job, former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) told him, was to shake things up.
Whether Bellamy will be a change agent like Klein, his old boss, or a more traditional department head as his 27 years of experience in the field hint at, may be dictated by budgets and differing mayoral philosophies.
“Personality-wise, we’re different. I wanted some yin to balance my yang,” Klein said in a phone interview from Chicago, where he is the head of that city’s transportation department and has hired some former DDOT employees.
Bellamy “absolutely is forward-thinking and progressive,” Klein said. “The only question is whether he will be allowed to be as innovative as he wants, and whether he will be able to draw in the talent.”
The recent loss of several high-ranking administrators in the 900-employee department made transportation bloggers nervous and wonder whether DDOT’s era of innovation had ended.
Bellamy dismissed the turnover and noted that some have gone into private industry.
“Today, people don’t stay 30 years in one position,” he said. “Yes, we get talent and we lose talent. But even as they move on, we stay in contact and they share. They continue to share.”
A key role
Bellamy, 56, has worked at DDOT since 2008. Under Klein, he played a key role, making sure traditional street and road projects moved forward, ensuring potholes got filled and overseeing $123 million in federal funding for capital projects.
Before moving to the District, he worked for eight years with Arlington County’s transportation department and before that with transportation agencies in North Carolina.
Gray said he and Bellamy are working together “to get people out of vehicles and onto public transit and other means of transportation like streetcars and bikes.”
Gray said he wants the city’s transportation system to continue to evolve “so that it meets the needs of all wards and all communities.”
But many of Bellamy’s goals have a distinctly practical cast.
“One of our key things is we have to maintain our core, make sure we keep our roads, our signals, and make sure our sidewalks are ADA-compliant, and make sure our assets stay at least in good condition,” Bellamy said during a recent interview at DDOT’s M Street SE headquarters.
An era of change
Bellamy is working in an era of change as the city’s gas tax revenue has decreased and habits have changed. Creating a balance in transportation is one of his challenges.
“People are combining trips, not doing as many vehicle miles locally in the city,” Bellamy said. “In the morning, when we have our big peak, it’s not locals generating the traffic, it’s commuters coming into the city.”
The city has also seen substantial growth in Capital Bikeshare, the regional biking program co-founded with Arlington in September. Expansion of the District’s 50 miles of bike lanes will continue, Bellamy said, with four to five miles of new bike lanes in Southeast Washington alone and an additional six miles in the rest of the District, tied, when possible, to resurfacing of streets.
The bicycling community is closely watching what happens, especially after last month, when Bellamy said at a D.C. Council meeting that the city “may not” build a planned corridor of east-west downtown bike lanes.
The comments alarmed bicyclists, who flooded the council and DDOT with phone calls and mail.
Bellamy clarified his comments and said last week that the lanes are under study; a consultant’s report is due in the fall. “What they’re going to tell us is what we did right and what we need to modify,” he said. “The projects we move forward, we’ll do in the spring of next year.”
Shane Farthing, executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, takes a wait-and-see attitude.
“There’s been a bit of a lull in the last six months that I wouldn’t attribute to Mr. Bellamy, but it is his job to pull DDOT out of that lull,” Farthing said. “We want to see the master [transportation] plan updated. . . . We want to emphasize the inclusion of bicycling in every project they do, from resurfacing to rebuilding. . . . We hope director Bellamy is a strong force in pushing DDOT forward.”
Meanwhile, Bellamy is moving ahead on several fronts.
DDOT has ordered 500 bike helmets to provide with Capital Bikeshare rentals, although the details are in the works.
And recent increases in parking meter fees are here to stay. Bellamy considers the cost of using them a way to manage crowded streets — it encourages people to use public transit, park-and-ride options and private off-street garages.
The high-tech meters, some of which are solar-powered, accept credit cards. Gray plans to announce Thursday that parking at all of the city’s 17,000 metered spaces can be paid by cellphone. They will soon be joined by meters that respond to a transponder, like an E-ZPass, which can be installed in a vehicle.
“It takes a long time to take a project from when we’re thinking about it to when we actually fund it and build it,” Bellamy said. “Take the Frederick Douglass Bridge. It’s been planned for the last 15 years. We hope we will deliver it.
“The same thing goes with the 11th Street Bridge. A lot of people did the planning. We’re fortunate we’re going to be delivering it. We’re going to do a grand opening of the Ninth Street Bridge. A lot of people worked on that, too.”