It is easy to understand the fascination sailing holds for Douglas N. Schneider Jr., head of the city's two-year-old department of transportation. He relaxes for a minute when he talks about sailing, as if he could see the bay - a blue expanse of water unmarked by Metro construction or bus lanes.
"It's the one thing I have concentrated on making sure I have time to do," said Schneider. "It's like being on another planet. In town everything remind me of problems."
Schneider, 45, a former attorney, has headed the transportation planning agency since July, 1975, when it was created. Since October, 1975, he has served as director of the agency that he helped design, taking on chief responsibility for helping people move around the city.
With the new department and Schneider has come more comprehensive transit planning for the city than ever before, according to most observers. The city has its first director of mass transit and a full-time bike path coordinator, one of only three in the nation, and more attention is being given to alternatives to automobiles.
As director of the transportation department, Schneider serves on the Metro board and regional transportation committees, manages an operating budget that has shrunk to about $24.6 million, supervises approzimately 1,300 employees and copes with cars and traffic violators, street signs, street lights and traffic signals, roadside trees and snow removal and a sky-high pile of other concerns.
"I'm a little frustrated in internal management," he said in a recent interview."We organized a new department, and were given new responsibilities and told to 'go to it.' but at the same time we had budget cuts and position cuts," he said. The department of transportation merged the old departments of highways and traffic and motor vehicles and took on the job of planning more comprehensively.
"We were given a larger assignment and told we would have less to do it with," said Schneider. Budget problems have meant shuffling personnel to cover vacancies created by a freeze on hiring. They have also meant dealing with concerns such as how to implement a reduced budget for street lighting. A recent decision to remove some street ligts produced adverse citizen reaction.
"I really didn't come here to deal with street lights," said Schneider. "I've been more occupied with those kinds of things than I would have liked. I'd rather look at the larger transportation issues."
Schneider's goals include turning the city's streets into something more like chutes than chokes, getting more people onto mass trnasit, making buses and subways work better, closing some streets to make the city more liveable, shunning freeways, and, someday, moving on himself.
Schneider got into the field to transportation largely by accident, although by the time he came to work for the city he had substantial credentials in the area. From Baltimore, he studied law in Michigan. Then he came to Washington.
In Washington he landed a job as an attorney with the Interstate Commerce Committee. "It was wholly dull. I decided in half a day I would have to do something else," he said. He left to go to work for the Air Transport Association.
From the trade association, Schneider went into private practice as an attorney, doing work involved with the Civil Aeronautics Commission. From there he went to the Federal Aviation Authority, and from the FAA to the newly created federal Dapartment of Transportation.
In 1969, Schneider was named general counsel to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission, which regulated bus companies when they were private rather than public. He later became executive director of the commission, then went to work for the city as transportation systems coordinator until 1975.
Since the city's department of transportation was created, Schneider said he sees some progress. "We're moving toward a point of view - and I don't know if I had anything to do with it - in the city that says we have got to exercise more control over the types of traffic and how it moves and the kink of uses our parking and streets are put to," he said.
One person in an auto commuting to work is becoming increasingly unacceptable generally, said Schneider, who commutes by bus from his home in Glover Park.(Schneider has an old van, but he uses it chiefly for weekend outings with his four children.) Two major steps taken by his department are a residential paemit parking program and stepped up enforcement of parking regulations, said Schneider.
However, the residential permit parking program, which would bar commuters from parking during working hours in some neighborhoods, is in abeyance because of a court challenge.The aggressive program of parking and traffic enforcement announced in April by Mayor Walter E. Washington will require funding not yet in hand.
The city is also adding bus lanes alongsides streets and avenues in the city to permit buses to move more swiftly. The bus lanes aid D.C. residents who use the buses and, more generally, benefit the city through more efficient traffic flow and reduced air pollution, he said. They also help suburban commuters who ride the buses, Arlington COunty board chairman and Metro board member Joseph S. Wholey said. "Schneider seems to have the interest of people throughout the metropolitan area in mind," Wholey said.
Schneider's own bus route is down Wisconsin Avenue, which has been selected for bus lanes, but Schneider said the selection was done scientifically, not with his commuting habits as a factor.
Schneider can watch some of the city's transportation problems from the window of his office in the presidential Building at 412 12th Street NW. Looking down at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street, he can watch cars parked illegally in loading zones force trucks to park in traffic lanes. Clogged streets are the result.
"We're being abused by parkers," he said. "There are 790 cars booted a year, and the average booted car owes $235 in tickets. . . in commercial areas downtown we average 10 illegally parked cars per block."
When parking and double parking become severe enough, streets designed to carry four or more lanes of traffic can be reduced to one lane, he said. "Then all your planning and all your calculations about traffic flow might as well be thrown out," he said.
Part of the answer is enforcemetn, and part is more attractive mass transit, he said."We can't all be accommodated in our cars, either in parking or on the streets."
If what's going on around this corner is going on around the city, we're having lots of bad things going on," he said, staring down at the traffic.
Schneider gets generally favorable reviews for the job he has done. "He does his best to advocate the city's point of view but never forgets what the regional perspective is on a given issue," said Walter A. Scheber of the Council of Governments. "I'd rate him high on the list of directors of major urban transportation agencies," said Scheiber, who meets many such officials.
Part of Schneider's job is dealing with dissatisfied members of the public, people disgruntled because of how some decision is affecting their own street or their customary routes through town. Susan Meehan, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the Dupont Circle area, came away from one of those encounters still unhappy.
"I wouldn't say the responsiveness is overwhelming. . . The commissioners said they were not consulted about street light removal, and he dismissed them rather airily. People are sore about that," she said.
On the other hand, though, a group of advisory neighborhood commissioners on Capitol Hill recently applauded the deaprtment of transportation in their newsletter. "We have found one entire department to be consistently cooperative, open, receptive to suggestion and eager to work with us," they said.
Schneider has no plans to leave the job, but he said, "I don't think it is the kind of job you ought to plan to stay in as a career. When you come in, you have some ideas and you try to implement them. But at the same time you're working on that, other things are going on. Some stuff you thought was a good idea six or eitht years ago may be obsolete," he said.
"I think it would be better to move aside and let someone with a fresh set of notions and perspectives come in," he said. Another factor is the pressure of the job and the fact that, because of its demands, "you become too much a single subject person," he said. "I don't think in a job like this you have an opportunity to keep a broad enough perspective. You keep a single minded perspective on your job."