A draft of the District’s long-range transportation plan calls for toll lanes at major entry points into the city and other efforts aimed at keeping vehicles off downtown’s congested streets.
MoveDC, which looks ahead to 2040, envisions a city with a wide transit network that includes a streetcar system, dedicated bus lanes in major commuter corridors, expanded Metrorail service in the downtown core, an active water taxi system and 200 miles of on-street bicycle facilities.
Widening the transportation choices and deterring personal vehicle use are key to meeting the increasing demand for transit in a city that projects 170,000 new residents and 200,000 additional jobs in the next 25 years, D.C. transportation officials say.
“If we continue to grow and don’t try to address vehicular traffic and make improvements, it will choke on ourselves,” said Sam Zimbabwe, associate director for policy and planning at DDOT. “If we did nothing, if we sort of left the system just as it is and we add all those people, we will have some real severe problems.”
Encouraging carpooling and transit use can help make the system more manageable, he said. But recommendations to manage traffic into the city — the main employment center in the region — with measures such as tolls and HOV lanes are likely to be controversial in an area where the car is still king. Smart-growth advocates, however, praised DDOT’s plan and its vision to expand and encourage transit, walking and biking.
“It doesn’t really benefit anyone to have corridors completely congested with a bunch of cars stuck in traffic,” said Cheryl Cort, policy director at the Coalition for Smarter Growth.
“These are big ideas. I don’t think anyone would accuse this plan of thinking small. This is the kind of guidance and vision that we need to really look at how we transform our city, accommodating a lot more commerce and more people living here, and getting around and making our city a better place to live.”
The District is already moving in that direction, D.C. transportation officials say. Washington ranks seventh in the nation among cities in which bicycling to work has gained popularity and second in the number of commuters who walk to work. Since 2000, the percentage of people who bike to work in Washington increased from 1.2 percent to 3.1 percent. In addition, 12.1 percent of workers in Washington now walk to work.
In recent years, Washington has built more than 50 miles of bike lanes, and the popular Capital Bikeshare program, introduced in 2010, puts more than 2,500 bikes on District and suburban streets, with many bicycles being used for commuting.
According to Census Bureau data released this year, 37.8 percent of Washington workers use public transportation and 4.9 percent telecommute.
Looking ahead, DDOT’s plan is in line with goals outlined in Sustainable D.C., a city blueprint to make the District the nation’s “healthiest, greenest and most livable” city within 20 years. As part of that, Sustainable D.C. would like to see 75 percent of D.C. commutes made via transit, bike or walking.
To help reach that goal, moveDC proposes a 22-mile streetcar network, a 47-mile high- capacity transit network, enhancements to Metrorail and more frequent bus service. Major bus corridors such as 16th Street NW are identified in the plan as potential places for dedicated bus lanes.
Water taxis would be added to the mix, with at least six boats during peak hours stopping in Georgetown, the Southwest waterfront and Navy Yard.
Transportation officials say the key will be to increase the choices and also make transit more effective. Many transit users complain about poor reliability, delays and crowding. Because of congestion, for example, buses in some areas move at under 10 mph during rush hour.
“What is frustrating for a lot of transit riders is that the bus trip might take half an hour one day and it might take an hour the next day. You can’t get on the bus sometimes because it is so full,” Zimbabwe said. “Improving the reliability of the transit commute would attract more people to take transit.”
Reliability would improve with the proposed transit right-of-way and expansion of services such as the streetcar system and policies that favor transit, he said.
But dissuading driving could be a challenge in a city in which almost 35 percent of residents drive to work alone and only about 6.2 percent carpool. In addition, thousands of non-residents drive into the city for work each day.
AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said he understands the idea is to change lifestyle and transportation habits, but “we accentuate every other transportation choice and we penalize driving,” he said. “This whole plan is done at the expense of motorists. If you have to pick and choose winners and losers, everybody wins, but only one person loses — the motorists.”
The plan proposes tolls or HOV lanes at major entry points into the District, including the 14th Street bridge from Interstate 395; Interstate 295; Interstate 66 on the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge; Canal Road; and New York Avenue.
Planners who crafted the proposal after a year-long public process say it aims to provide D.C. residents, and non-residents who commute to the District, a guide to a range of choices besides driving.
Residents will have a chance to comment on the plan during a D.C. Council roundtable on June 27 and can provide comments on the plan’s Web site, wemovedc.org. The plan, the first such comprehensive transportation guide in nearly two decades, is expected to be adopted later this summer.
“There is a lot more engagement and planning that needs to be done. You are not going to wake up tomorrow and all of a sudden have to pay to come into downtown,” Zimbabwe said. “But it is something we feel like it is an important dialogue to have about how we continue to have a sustainable transportation system over the next 25 years.”