Drivers Feeling Shunned by D.C.

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 6, 2008

The District is escalating what some suburban commuters are calling its war against workers who drive into the city.

The city has changed parts of Constitution Avenue NE from a reversible commuter artery back to a quiet side street and is considering removing the reversible lane on 16th Street NW, a key commuting route from Montgomery County.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration also is studying closing the section of the Interstate 395 tunnel that connects with New York Avenue NW, expanding the use of speed cameras and increasing parking fees and enforcement. Fees for encroaching on a crosswalk would increase from $50 to $500 under a pedestrian safety proposal.

The District is moving toward becoming "the most anti-car city in the country," said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "They see commuters as the enemy."

City officials say that the moves are part of a policy of putting the needs of its residents and businesses before those of suburban commuters and that they are trying to create a walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented metropolis.

Like New York, London, Stockholm and Portland, Ore., District officials said, the city is reclaiming its streets for the people who live there. With billions of dollars invested in the Metro system, there are plenty of ways for commuters to get into the city without bringing exhaust-spewing vehicles with them, officials said.

The city's population practically doubles on workdays because of the influx of federal and other workers. And about 15 million visitors a year come to the city, almost 75 percent by auto, according to AAA.

"This is not about being anti-car, but increasing vehicles into the District is not a sustainable strategy for the city," said Emeka C. Moneme, director of the District Department of Transportation. "We want to encourage transit use, biking and walking."

Improving pedestrian safety is a priority for the city. The District has higher pedestrian death rates than New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles, with 2.7 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Pedestrian injuries rose from 586 in 2000 to 725 in 2006. District officials said the city's broad avenues create wide expanses of asphalt that make it difficult or intimidating for pedestrians to cross.

But some commuters contend that the District is striking back, trying to make life miserable for people who drive into the city because the courts and Congress have not allowed the city to levy a commuter tax. About 305,800 vehicles come into the city every weekday, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

"Is it to raise money or discourage drivers altogether?" commuter Bobby Wehauser of Fort Washington said as he was waiting for his sport-utility vehicle at a downtown garage last week.

Auto commuters have long suspected that the city's speed and red-light cameras, along with its famously aggressive ticketing policies, have more to do with filling city coffers than with safety. The city's new parking meters, for example, can be programmed to charge escalating rates.

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