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D.C. Transportation chief Gabe Klein tried to restore balance in District travel

By Robert Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 5:49 PM

I'm sorry to see Gabe Klein leaving as director of the D.C. transportation department after an energetic two years, which I described on our blog last week. This letter writer has a different view.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You are aptly named, as "gridlock" is more of what Klein and his anti-auto policies have wrought. Expanding bike lanes on major arteries in a commuter city and lessening drivers' ability to get around town apparently is not just the province of the simple-minded "global warming" fanatics who see the automobile as an arch enemy.

Diminishing lanes as auto ownership expands for the pipe dream of having hordes of bike-riding commuters is only part of the agenda they share with Klein.

Nothing better demonstrates the arrogant approach of Klein and the elites than the Capital Bikeshare program. No debate, no discussion, no citizen input.

They also make street parking more expensive and more difficult by yanking out meters and leaving one kiosk-type thing, which is not only confusing but also time-consuming.

Klein and his crowd hate cars, so if they make it incredibly difficult and mind-blowingly expensive to park, then they will wear us down and we will cease driving to and around the District.

If elites in D.C. government make it any more difficult to journey into town, our regional neighbors will stay at home enjoying life and spending money in their local establish-ments. This will have a devast-ating effect on D.C. business.

Must I hassle to enjoy dinner at Clyde's in Georgetown if I can tool out to Tysons Corner unimpeded by childishly willful political impediments as gridlock caused by anti-car traffic engineering and incredibly expensive meters and have the same experience without the annoyance at the Clyde's at Tysons?

The anti-car bias extends to the manipulation of the traffic signals - one light and stop, one light and stop, one light and stop - and to changing the timing of crosswalk lights all over town regardless of the lack of pedestrian traffic.

Klein, like his boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, was great at swanning around articulating his bubble-headed elitist views, but could not meet the most basic realities of his job: We experienced the worst snow removal since the Barry days, and that was one of the few real responsibilities Klein had.

Our new mayor would do well to remember that the needs of the people come first, not some social agenda. The citizenry are not a Petri dish for the elites in which to experiment, but rather families struggling and sacrificing to survive during tough times who pray that government is an angel not an enemy.

- Davis J. Tomasin, District

For most of this decade, the D.C. region failed to make real headway in easing the problem of getting around. The Klein era showed it doesn't have to be that way. Many of the ideas he pushed - streetcars, new styles of pedestrian crossings and bike lanes - didn't originate with him. Some, he said, were "back to the future ideas." But he dusted off those plans, promoted them with the public and advanced them.

His style was to try out a program, see how it worked and then adjust to correct problems. "There's so much that we've worked on," he said. Each time he worked on something that affected how thousands of people get around, he was bound to draw criticism. The best way to avoid problems in your program is not to have a program.

Klein's department made a mistake in the first version of bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue. But that was nothing like the colossal mistake that 20th-century planners made when they tried to retrofit America's streetcar and pedestrian cities for the automobile. Congested cities, in which people have to carefully calculate crosstown trips, were the result.

Klein was trying to restore an old balance that would allow everyone to move around more easily. "People think about having to move X number of cars," he said. "We've tried to think about how we're moving people. . . . We want to provide people with attractive choices."

Then again, sometimes you just need to move the snow. Klein faced a bigger challenge with that last winter than any of his predecessors, and his department held its own in the midst of a natural disaster. The fact that he won't be remembered for the storms is a credit to the department's performance. Instead, he should be remembered for turning transportation plans into realities and then dealing with the consequences.

"I didn't take this job to react to things," he said.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer's name and home community. Write to Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. By e-mail: drgridlock@washpost.com. His blog: washingtonpost.com/drgridlock. On Twitter: drgridlock.

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