It has two parts, and I've put the second, non-bike part below the fold
DC's War on Motorists
by Mahlon G. "Lon" Anderson
Managing Director, Public and Government Affairs,
At AAA Mid-Atlantic, we understand that a vibrant city like Washington needs to have a healthy mix of bikers, walkers, mass transit users and motorists, and that finding the right balance is always difficult. We also understand that motorists need to pay for the services they use.
That said, recently the District government, and Mayor Adrian Fenty's budget in particular, have made it clear that it's war on motorists, and that's a huge concern to us and our over 80,000 DC AAA members. The "war" is best illustrated on two fronts: the budget and the bicycle proposals. Let's look at the budget issues first.
But, at the same time, DC is moving aggressively to take lanes away from cars and convert them to bicycle ways (15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue for starters).
Our city is already struggling with its congestion for several reasons:
· The loss of so many alleys that used to be available for deliveries. So now, many delivery trucks just double and triple park in our roadways, snarling our streets daily.
· Increased security has meant lanes, roads and parking spaces have all been taken away around federal buildings because of the terror threat. Remember when Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was a busy national boulevard carrying 29,000 vehicles a day?
· Continued growth in vehicle traffic, especially as the economy rebounds and business and residential revitalization in the city continues.
· Likely further loss of lane space to trolleys that will be installed. FYI, I am a big trolley fan and spent the last day they operated in DC riding the rails with my grandmother, who boldly predicted that "Washington will rue the day it ended this service."
So, in a region that already has the second worst commute in the nation, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's latest study, we are going to further shrink highway capacity for cars and trucks and hand it over to bicycles? Is it realistic to think that, at a time when the residents of Beijing are hanging up their bicycles for cars by the thousands every day, that our residents are going to hang up their cars for bicycles en masse?
So, there you have some of my top concerns about motorists and mobility from my perspective at AAA Mid-Atlantic, and as a life long resident of the region. I will enjoy hearing your thoughts!
Most of his complaint is about other things that have caused congestion, only one of which is the District's doing, and one of which (streetcars) he thinks will cause congestion, but probably won't.
Then he's wrong about shrinking highway capacity. Pennsylvania Avenue, NW is not a highway. Then he gets off on some crazy tangent about how people in Beijing are driving more, as if that is somehow analogous. In almost every city in America, and every city in this region, people are hanging up their cars (or at least parking them) for their bicycles. Bike commuting has doubled in the last 8 years in DC.
All he has is a concern that bike lanes on Penn and other streets will cause congestion when DDOT has models and evidence that they will not. Does it really make sense to cancel bike lanes that can be used 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a fourth lane that probably isn't used more than 10 hours a week?
This is not a war on drivers, it is a policy of making the roads safer for all users.
Oddly, as Early Man points out in the comments elsewhere, AAA is a sponsor of WABA's Bike to Work Day, even though they don't seem to think that people are actually interested in biking to work.
I held a press conference recently down at Freedom Plaza in front of the Wilson Building to protest the budget and its huge reliance on motorists' penalties and fees. I also had two ANC leaders with me to echo our concerns. And having support from ANC leadership was new for us, but it brings home a reality. For years DC government has raised fees on motorists and driving violations and has been able to convince residents that the burdens fell on the other guys—the drivers from Virginia and Maryland. The ANC leaders were at the press conference to say, "not so" and that their constituent--DC residents--are shouldering a lot of these costs.
Here are a few of the fee hikes that have caused me to call motorists DC's newest ATM machine:
· Increase fines for 71 moving violations, such as "speeding, running a red light, running a stop sign, turning from the wrong lane and passing a stopped school bus." If adopted, the higher fines would raise $28 million during the next budget cycle.
· Expand the use of speed and red-light cameras to generate an additional $16 million in revenue.
· Increase parking meter fees for the second consecutive year, and in certain areas increase curb-side rates to $3 per hour to raise an additional $3.6 million. (Let's not forget that parking tickets will likely net over $100 million alone.)
· Jump residential parking permit fees to generate an additional $1.2 million annually.
In our press release we noted:
Critics, including Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Douglass Sloan, ANC 4B and Kelvin Robinson, ANC 6A, say the budget proposal undermines public and traffic safety, lessens confidence in local government and law enforcement efforts, targets drivers, threatens tourism and angers District residents. It is likely more drivers and residents will go to traffic court to fight the fines and fees.
Certainly a major concern about attempting to balance the budget on the backs of motorists needs to involve the potential harm to local businesses and tourism.
Again, quoting from our press release:
"The danger is, this tactic could backfire and hurt the city's tourism and hospitality industry, which generated more than $5.5 billion in visitor spending in 2007, `representing $620 million in new tax dollars' for the District that year," Anderson explained. "Most years, the nation's capital area attracts more than 15 million visitors. Now watch this. Approximately 59 percent of them are here for leisure. Amazingly, 74 percent of leisure travelers drive to the District and 74 percent of them stay here overnight. The District might be killing the goose that lays the golden egg."
So now, I hope, you understand my concern about DC's turning motorists into its latest ATM machine.