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D.C. mayor’s budget amplifies goal of reducing car travel in the nation’s capital

The city’s transportation spending plan fixes roadway infrastructure while advancing projects aimed at buses, bikes and pedestrians

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser attends a news conference after touring the construction site atop the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge on May 19. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Among the initiatives and policy priorities in D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s proposed $17.5 billion budget is reducing the use of personal cars in a post-pandemic world while promoting biking and other more sustainable modes of transportation.

The mayor’s spending blueprint for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes tens of millions of dollars for fixing the city’s road infrastructure while advancing projects aimed at buses, bikes and pedestrians.

“As the District reopens and more residents are actively getting to home, work, school, we’re seizing on the opportunity to accelerate our sustainability goals,” Bowser (D) recently told the D.C. Council. “Car-free lanes are a big investment in this budget, as well as a focus on how we can reclaim our streets for public use.”

According to Bowser and budget documents, the city would emphasize improving safety, promoting equity and addressing climate change.

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The council began to deliberate the transportation proposals Thursday, giving high marks to a financial plan they say addresses some of the needs of residents — such as expanded bike and pedestrian infrastructure — while also raising concerns about Bowser’s spending on her signature road-safety initiative: Vision Zero.

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who chairs the panel’s transportation committee, said Bowser’s budget isn’t clear on funding the implementation of the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Act, a package of sweeping road-safety measures passed last year to reduce the growing number of traffic injuries and fatalities in the District. The bill remains largely unfunded.

Bowser has emphasized recent investments to address safety concerns, including $5 million this year to upgrade the city’s automated traffic enforcement system, and adding more speed and red-light cameras to target bad road behaviors. Another $5 million will be spent on fixing dangerous intersections, improving crosswalks and adding more signage.

During the mayor’s presentation of the budget, Cheh said changes are likely after a closer analysis of the mayor’s proposals, but she praised the plan.

“I am pleased to see there are a number of investments to continue to support our economic recovery,” she said. “Overall, this is a very wise budget.”

The budget includes more than $2.3 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan that must be used over the next four years.

Here are some of the initiatives, some of which would stretch over multiple years:

  • $375 million to advance street safety efforts through a number of streetscape and trail projects. The plan calls for 10 new miles of protected bike lanes each year in the next three years. A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge over the Suitland Parkway would connect to the Barry Farm community in Southeast. A deck over one block of Connecticut Ave NW in the Dupont Circle area would create a plaza. Funding to build a bridge and trail in Northeast Washington would connect Kenilworth Park and neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River to the National Arboretum while completing an important piece of a larger trail network. A new South Capitol Street Trail would connect to National Harbor. The proposal also includes a $20 million contribution for the proposed Long Bridge pedestrian and bicycle span over the Potomac River.
  • $439 million for roads, alleys and sidewalks, with a goal to bring them to a state of good repair by 2025.
  • $215 million to replace the H Street Bridge, a key piece in the overall redevelopment of Union Station. The 44-year-old bridge north of Union Station has been deemed deficient. A replacement would eliminate safety concerns and provide infrastructure for the use of high-speed rail in and out of the station.
  • $116 million to build the K Street Transitway, anticipating construction would begin next year and be complete in 2023. The project, which Bowser announced two years ago, would provide protected bus and bike lanes through downtown. Under the plan, K Street would be redesigned between Ninth and 21st streets NW, with two dedicated bus lanes — one in each direction — running down the middle and separated from traffic by raised medians that would have room for passenger waiting areas.
  • $19 million to expand Capital Bikeshare with 80 new stations and the addition of 3,500 electric bikes to the fleet. The District operates 330 stations and 2,500 bikes, the largest share of stations and bikes in the regional bike-sharing system. In 2020, the District introduced 600 e-bikes to the system. Under the plan, every D.C. resident will live within a quarter-mile of a bike station, officials said. The plan also calls for a pilot program of adaptive bikes for people with disabilities.
  • $9 million to advance Bowser’s “reclaim streets for public use” initiatives. Plans call for recurring monthly street closures in the downtown area, including on Black Lives Matter Plaza, Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Seventh Street NW, and F Street NW. The city also would fund an Open Streets event in each ward, with one large event that would close Seventh Street from Florida Avenue to the Wharf. D.C. tried an Open Street event in 2019 on Georgia Avenue, transforming the traffic-jammed street into a walkable, mixed-used public space for one day. Cities across the globe hold Open Streets events, some on a monthly basis, while others are transitioning to permanently restricting car traffic to reduce pollution and promote healthier lifestyles.
  • $63 million for investments in more than “50 priority bus lanes” across the city’s quadrants. Plans include extending the H Street bus-only lanes from 14th Street NW to North Capitol Street, new bus-only lanes on Columbia Road NW between 16th Street and California Street and on Minnesota Avenue SE from Pennsylvania Avenue to East Capitol Street.
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