What about traffic in the future? For several reasons, I predict that city traffic congestion will be less than it is today.
Fewer commuter-driven cars will be on city streets because of increased availability and use of transit — heavy rail, light rail, buses, shuttles of various types and water taxis. Streetcars will again be a common sight in D.C., as well as in Arlington, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. And the use of bicycles will continue to increase.
Telecommuting and Internet-based work will grow, and many workers will spend only a few days each week at their workplace. The percentage of one-car and zero-car households will rise substantially, with greater reliance on rental cars. And many cars on D.C. streets will be small, electric powered or hybrid vehicles, further enhancing the city’s environmental quality by using little or no gasoline and eliminating carbon emissions.
Choosing to live near their workplaces, lots of people will more willingly walk greater distances. They will walk for exercise, but also because the urban pedestrian experience will be more visually interesting and attractive. City streets and sidewalks will be better lighted and landscaped, activated with places to shop, eat, sit and spectate.
All these urban enhancements and benefits promise to attract new businesses and new residents. They will keep coming despite high D.C. taxes and high real estate costs. And they will keep coming because of the city’s and region’s stable, relatively recession-resistant economy, fueled largely by the federal government but increasingly by private-sector investment and activity.
They also will come to Washington for non-economic reasons: a favorable, four-season climate, with spring and fall being exceptionally beautiful; countless parks, historic sites and natural landscapes; increasingly vibrant nightlife and excellent restaurants; an expanding, diverse cultural network rivaling New York’s; and a geographic location making Washington convenient for people traveling to and from anywhere on the planet.
Will recurring misbehavior by a few local politicians, so endemic to urban governance across the country, deter people from coming to or staying in D.C.? Not a chance. Fortunately, most citizens know that, for every corrupt politician, there are thousands of public servants doing their jobs honestly and diligently in the interest of making Washington a better city. This is why you should be optimistic about the future of America’s capital.
Roger K. Lewis is a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.