Our endorsements for Alexandria mayor and city council

Alexandria will elect its next mayor and all of its six city councilmembers this year. In the June 12 Democratic primary, we endorse Justin Wilson for mayor and John Chapman, Redella “Del” Pepper, Paul Smedberg, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, ​​​​​​Dak Hardwick, and ​Mohamed "Mo" Seifeldein for city council.

Justin Wilson for mayor of Alexandria

Justin Wilson is the current vice-mayor (basically vice-chairman of the council). He is challenging Mayor Allison Silberberg, who won a three-way primary three years ago to unseat long-time mayor Bill Euille and then survived a write-in challenge from Euille. (Click the candidates' names to read their questionnaire responses.)

Like other area jurisdictions, Alexandria has a significant contingent of residents and voters who think that growth and change and a transition toward other modes of travel besides single-passenger vehicles is too much, too fast. Silberberg is the voice of this group, making statements like, "As we redevelop across our city, we need to pursue thoughtful, appropriate development that fits in and is to scale."

While development should of course be thoughtful, we are generally excited about the ways Alexandria has grown rather than alarmed. It has added homes and jobs especially near Metro and on bus corridors, increased walkable retail options, added bicycle facilities, and more.

It's important to understand and respect the views of those who are nervous about these changes, but Greater Greater Washington does not generally agree and we have not been aligned with many of Silberberg's positions on issues.

On her questionnaire, Silberberg said she does not support the city's recent reduction of mandatory parking minimums, stating: “Lack of adequate parking is the number one complaint I hear from residents and businesses, and I do not think reducing commercial parking requirements is a sound business policy.”

Likewise, she opposes changes that would reduce driving lanes for other purposes:

Traffic has increased significantly in the last year or two, including a high volume of cut-through traffic from cars from other jurisdictions. This has become a major quality of life issue in Alexandria, and reducing the travel lanes available to cars along these routes would exacerbate the gridlock and cut-through traffic that our neighborhoods experience on a daily basis.

However, Silberberg does not play the role of an anti-bike zealot. She said, "I support the use of mass transit and other forms of transportation like bikes to reduce our dependence on car travel." When it comes to individual projects, however, she is more hesitant.

In contrast with Silberberg's answers, Wilson has demonstrated support for urbanism in his questionnaire and on the council. He said, “I supported the 'road diet' on King Street and I believe that a road diet can be part of the City's solution to pedestrian safety issues in a few locations in our City.”

For parking minimums, he wrote, “Over decades, we have built underutilized parking in many areas of our City. That parking has come at the expense of open space, affordability and community amenities. It has served to induce more vehicle traffic.”

One contributor wrote of Wilson,

Justin is responsive to constituents in a way that can only be described as superhuman. He takes pleasure in assisting folks through the bureaucracy but also delves into policy issues and takes full command of complexities such as the City budget. He is singularly responsible for getting the forthcoming Potomac Yard Metro station on track and has led on affordable housing, smart growth and economic development. He pushed to get DASH bus on Google maps before any other DC-area transit system. He has also tackled city infrastructure head-on by founding a joint committee of school board and council to handle the ongoing increases in the school population.

On funding for the local housing trust fund, Silberberg favors dedicated funding while Wilson calls “advanced dedication of revenue” a “bad budgetary practice.” But, Wilson said, “I do believe that funding is important in the creation of affordable housing, but that our most powerful tool is the use of our zoning authority. I do not believe we fully leverage our zoning authority in the creation of affordability today.” It seems Alexandria should do both, and use its zoning authority but also somehow ensure that the trust fund gets the resources it needs.

We encourage Alexandria Democrats to nominate Wilson. (In overwhelmingly Democratic Alexandria, as in most inner jurisdictions in the region, the Democratic primary winner is virtually assured of victory in November.)

Today's Alexandria City Council. Image by City of Alexandria.

For Alexandria City Council

The mayor presides over a council with six other members. Wilson is vacating his seat to run for mayor, while incumbent Tim Lovain isn't seeking re-election, meaning at least two faces will be new.

We recommend three incumbents: John Chapman, Redella "Del" Pepper, and Paul Smedberg; and three new candidates: Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Dak Hardwick, and Mohamed "Mo" Seifeldein. We also received responses from incumbent Willie Bailey as well as Canek Aguirre and Robert Ray.

On our head-to-head rating tool, Chapman, Hardwick, Seifeldein, and Smedberg scored clearly higher than Aguirre, Bailey, and Ray; the first group garnered more than 75% of "wins." (Due partly to our error and partly to timing, we didn't have responses loaded in for Bennett-Parker or Pepper, but they gave many excellent responses.)

Smedberg, Pepper, and Chapman all have a history of supporting plans for Bus Rapid Transit and a more extensive network of bike lanes. They also specifically called for additional improvements and planning around Eisenhower Avenue to improve its potential as a transit corridor, and expressed concern and potential solutions for shifts in funding following the redirection of NVTA funds.

Pepper, the longest-serving councilmember who has held the seat since 1985, was before that aide to former mayor Charles Beatley during the creation of the DASH bus system. This providing her with a long-term immersion in these issues. She said, "Alexandria’s Master Plan calls for the creation of three high-capacity transit routes on the eastern and western edges of the City and another along Duke Street. It is my hope we could add another corridor along Eisenhower Avenue." And about city plans to add pedestrian and bicycle facilities, "I am pleased to support this expansion and to vote for funding each year during the City budget cycle."

As a former resident of ARHA, Alexandria's public housing authority, Chapman has personal experience on the implementation end of Alexandria’s affordable housing policy, and has previously attempted to increase the current set aside funding for affordable housing. He wrote, "I need to see that [the city's] plans provide sustainable affordable units and ensure affordability on its sites, and affordability levels as slanted towards our most at risk residents as possible, but still allowing for affordability as various income levels, both as a sustainability tool and a mixed income neighborhood goal."

Smedberg, meanwhile, has a strength from working on regional transit issues both within and outside of Alexandria as chair of the Virginia Railway Express and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. About places to add new homes, he cited Eisenhower West, Beauregard, Arlandria, and the Van Dorn Corridor, and said, "Alexandria's Metro Stations are another area of opportunity for the City. These sites overall are under-developed and might provide opportunity for commercial and residential development."

Dak Hardwick, Mo Seifeldein, and Elizabeth Bennett-Parker responded to our questionnaire with the most thorough answers of non-incumbents, and have clearly given a great deal of thought to these issues and how a place on the city council would allow them to pursue their vision.

Each of the candidates takes a strong stance on improving access to and condition of bike infrastructure. In particular, Hardwick has a clear vision for walkable communities, stating:

As we look to add residents to those areas, one of the key focus areas for me will be to ensure we are adding neighborhood-serving amenities in those emerging communities, allowing those living there to enjoy their neighborhood without having to get in their cars and drive somewhere else; which will in turn attract a diversity of residents at various stages of life.

Bennett-Parker voiced a similar sentiment, but from her own ground-up experience, which highlights the need for bike infrastructure to not just exist, but be functional. "I live near the King Street bike lane that starts at Janneys Lane and commute along King Street every day. The narrowing of the driving lane to add the bike lane has not proven to be a significant issue for drivers. The larger issue with that lane is whether it is useful to cyclists."

Seifeldein's professional background and personal story stand out among a field filled with personal achievement. He is a first generation Sudanese immigrant whose family came to the area to escape war and instability when he was a child. Alongside his siblings he worked to support his family up until college. Following law school, he spent time at The Hague working on human rights issues before returning to Virginia to represent clients who could not afford legal representation, as well as mentoring students at T.C. Williams High School, while eventually opening his own law firm He reflects a large, often underrepresented broad community of immigrants in Northern Virginia.

A common theme of strong candidate responses was the recognition of Alexandria’s unique history and current development trajectory. He covered this well:

To compete regionally, the City must modernize. At the same time, Alexandria has a unique identity given its history as a colonial city. This history is crucial to Alexandria's economic viability as a tourist destination in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Responsible development is the key to successful growth and continued ability to accommodate our growing population. Our population does not just include the growth of single-person households, but also an increase in the number of households with young children.

Of the remaining candidates, Willie Bailey and Canek Aguirre also appear to align with the Greater Greater Washington perspective on transit and housing issues in Alexandria, even though they didn't gain our endorsement. Incumbent Bailey has worked on recent issues such as a 1% meal tax to provide dedicated funding for the local housing trust fund and strongly supports ARHA initiatives. Aguirre has previous experience working in and with the Alexandria City Public Schools, serving as a liaison between students and the administration to bridge cultural and language gaps. He brings a specific representation for a portion of Alexandria’s community that is currently underrepresented in Alexandria politics.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.

Top image: Our picks for Alexandria. Images from the candidates' Twitter profiles or official Alexandria City Council headshots.

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If we support trustworthy development in Prince George’s, let’s nix “call-up”

In Prince George’s, people are skeptical of the county’s development processes — and with some good reason. Residents are wary of pay-to-play politics, and developers think the review process is difficult and hampers efforts to attract high-quality development. The county is completely rewriting its zoning code, which is certainly progress for everyone.

However, this much-needed rewrite may end up being two steps forward, one step back if the maligned “call-up” process is brought into the new zoning code. For some, it’s tempting to keep “call-up” as a way of fighting suspicious or bad development. But if we’re going to move forward as a county, we’ve got to drop this problematic process.

Sign the petition!

The case for “call-up”

The county has an ugly history of pay-to-play, cronyism, and outright corruption in the development review process. Over the past eight years this culture has changed considerably for the better, but perception is important and the county needs to continue to show that it is operating above board.

The “call-up” process essentially allows the county council to re-decide development cases that have already been approved by the Planning Board. The new version of “call-up” is “election,” which was recently was added back into the latest zoning rewrite draft at the request of some councilmembers.

Election is a scaled-back version of “call-up” in that it doesn’t allow the county council to completely undo a Planning Board’s decision, but only allows them to act an appellate court would. It does still allow the county council to “elect” to review a development case even if no party is appealing.

Prince George’s County is unique in having this “call-up” authority. Montgomery County, though still under the jurisdiction of Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), does not have this procedure and instead relies on the system of appellate courts. Montgomery chooses to not mix county politics with individual development decisions, and allows the courts to arbitrate disputes instead.

But Prince George’s County is also unique in that (prior to the upcoming election) the county council has been composed entirely of district representatives with no councilmembers serving at-large. The practical result of both has been each councilmember wielding significant influence over what projects do and don’t happen in their district, again feeding the perception that development review is politicized and the approval process fraught with uncertainties.

Some council members will tell you that they use “call-up” power to promote good projects in their districts while holding off bad ones, which admittedly could be helpful in a jurisdiction where development has historically tilted toward sprawl. But the potential for abuse of this power is obvious, and was a significant factor in the 2015 court ruling against “call-up.”

A number of citizens and elected officials support “call-up” authority for the District Council on the grounds that it provides a check on the planning process. When a community has a problem with a project, a council member can use “call-up” authority to extract changes or to even outright kill a project. While this may look like responsive democracy, this is really an indictment of the planning process. The solution is a better, more inclusive planning process, not giving councilmembers a reset button.

We need a trustworthy planning and development process in the county

Both sides of the “call-up” argument agree that we need a trustworthy county planning and development process. Some well-meaning folks see “call-up” as a tool to fight and correct dubious development decisions.

But “call-up” is a double-edged sword: Any perceived benefit of “call-up” is outweighed by its very real downsides, and ultimately doesn’t address the real problem. The solution to a bad guy with “call-up” powers is not a good guy with “call-up” powers — the solution is building transparency with county officials and staff, and trust with their planning and development decisions.

We all agree that Prince George’s needs a fair and open planning and development process that is inclusive of residents’ voices and that makes them feel like they’ve been heard.

There are many parts of the zoning rewrite that will do this. But rather than holding onto a double-edged process, county residents and officials need to let go and push instead for a zoning rewrite that gives professional planners more deference, provides more opportunities for public input, and raises the bar for quality development. This will go a long way to addressing the county’s current problems and will ultimately result in more of the high-quality projects everyone wants to see.

Join me in being for a trustworthy planning and development structure in Prince George’s County. Sign our petition today! Let’s restore trust in the system, and leave “call-up” and its new cousin “election” out of the picture.

Sign the petition!

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Bloomingdale’s ANC has voted against historic status, but the final decision is still out

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) that includes Bloomingdale in DC has voted against supporting historic status for the neighborhood at a heated meeting this week. The main point of contention was over what the best measure of resident sentiment is: a non-binding postcard survey of homeowners, or the vote of Bloomingdale Civic Association (BCA) members.

Historic designation in DC means a neighborhood’s character will be preserved in its current state, including previous modifications, and future changes will be required to keep with that character. Any changes visible from the street would require approval by the city's Historic Preservation Office, and visible additions like pop-ups, rooftop solar panels, and rooftop decks are often off the table.

The application for historic status in front of DC's Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) was filed by the Bloomingdale Historic Designation Coalition, a group formed by neighbors working with the DC Preservation League, in July 2017. The group, which is unaffiliated with the BCA, moved forward to secure historic status before planned neighborhood meetings, the postcard survey and civic association vote were complete.

Homeowners who participated in the postcard survey, which was went out in December and January, voted 55% against historic designation with 282 in opposition and 234 in favor. However, the BCA followed that up with its own membership vote in March that went the other way, with 79 in favor and 60 opposed.

Historic status lacks broad support

"This ANC commission finds that the more comprehensive postcard survey of property owners... should be given greater weight as a form of direct democracy that does not burden would-be voters based on income or limited voting hours," says the adopted resolution drafted by ANC 5E08 commissioner Horacio Sierra.

A competing resolution, drafted by ANC 5E07 commissioner Bertha Holliday, called for the ANC commissioners to follow the BCA vote, which she said has "more validity" at the meeting on April 17 due to its higher percentage of participants. She argued that only about 18% of Bloomingdale residents participated in the survey, while 80% of civic association members participated in the vote.

Other ANC commissioners at the meeting indicated that the postcard survey was more representative of the community's attitudes than the BCA vote. More people participated in the postcard survey (516 versus 139 people), and a few commissioners pointed out that not everyone has the time or money to join the civic association.

"Reducing the supply doesn't mean new people won't come, it just means the prices will go up faster and higher," said 5E01 commissioner Eddie Garnett, adding that historic designation reduces the supply of housing that negatively impacts affordability.

Residents who spoke at the meeting were also divided. Those who spoke in favor of historic status were concerned about pop-ups and other development pressures on Bloomingdale, while those against worried about how the designation would impact affordability and their ability to modify their homes.

"There is not broad community support," said commissioner Sierra, acknowledging the close nature of both the survey and BCA vote on historic designation.

Eight of the 10 commissioners voted for commissioner Sierra's resolution opposing historic status for Bloomingdale with one, commissioner Holliday, voting against it and one absent.

First Street NW in Bloomingdale. Image by the author.

The historic debate is not done yet

The HPRB will have the final say on whether Bloomingdale will become a historic district or not. The ANC's vote is non-binding and the review board could still deem the neighborhood historic.

Technically, the HPRB makes its decisions based on a broad array of historic criteria, and is not legally required to consider neighborhood or ANC support.

Historically, in most situations where there is a divided community, the applicant — in this case the Bloomingdale Historic Designation Coalition — has withdrawn the application when it is clear there is not broad resident support. This occurred in Eckington in 2016, and Chevy Chase a decade ago. So far, the applicant here has not indicated it will withdraw.

A similar issue faces Kingman Park, where the local civic association is pushing forward with an application for historic designation despite some resident outcry. In January, the board delayed voting on the application, but such a move is rare and it could still approve the application.

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TheBus needs weekend and evening service, but there are no plans to introduce it soon

This post is part of an ongoing series about how Prince George’s County could improve TheBus, its public bus system. You can read the previous post here.

Prince George’s TheBus is currently the only bus system inside the Beltway with no weekend or evening service. Expansion of service beyond weekday daytime is the most common improvement requested by county residents, but there are no plans to implement it in the short-term.

Weekend and evening service are popular requests

TheBus is the only public transit service inside the Beltway, other than VRE commuter rail, that does not operate on nights and weekends. TheBus only operates Monday-Friday — though it does operate on some holidays on which Metro runs weekend service — and service ends by 8 pm or earlier.

In March, DW attended a public meeting where potential recommendations for the county’s Transit Vision Plan (a draft of which will be made public next month) were presented. According to the posters presented at the meeting, weekend service was the most common request in the public input survey, followed by evening service.

Weekend service was also the first priority of over three-quarters of the people who marked their preferences on the comment board at the March 12th meeting. Evening service came in second, followed by improvements to frequency.

At the meeting, posters with recommended changes for each of TheBus’s 29 routes were presented. While evening and Saturday service were suggested as long-term priorities for some of the routes, they were not listed as goals within the five-year horizon of the Transit Vision Plan.

Without weekend and evening service, TheBus will not be a fully functional transit network

By only offering weekday daytime service, TheBus is essentially locked into providing only marginal service, regardless of what an individual route needs. Prince George’s County has a high concentration of lower-wage shift workers, especially in the more transit-dependent inside-the-Beltway communities, whose commutes don’t follow a weekday nine-to-five schedule, and who need to be able to get home after evening shifts and get to work on weekends.

Less Henderson, of Prince George’s Advocates for Community-Based Transit, reports that when she discusses TheBus with riders — particularly in the southern part of the county where she lives — TheBus’s limited hours of operation always come up.

Passengers say they must try to get shifts that fit the schedule for TheBus so they can go home easily. One rider said, "I'm glad I have these [work] hours because if I didn’t, I don’t know what I'd do."

Some say they often have to rely on Uber or Lyft to get home: “I spend at least $15 a night getting home when my son or husband can’t pick me up."

While riders in all jurisdictions do need to contend with the fact that some bus services operate only on weekdays, Prince George’s County is unique in how limited its weekend service is. While some weekend service is provided by non-regional Metrobus routes and by the Central Maryland RTA (which serves Laurel), only 15% of local bus routes in the county operate on Saturdays, and only 11% operate on Sundays.

In comparison, the county with the next-least weekend service, Fairfax, has twice as much: 34% of its local routes operate on Saturday and 33% on Sunday. In Montgomery County, which is also suburban, 50% of local routes operate on Saturdays, and 38% on Sundays.

In the denser jurisdictions, Arlington is closer to Fairfax, with 39% of routes operating on Saturdays and 35% on Sundays. Meanwhile, Alexandria operates 67% of routes on Saturdays and 58% on Sundays, while the District has 63% of its local routes operating on both Saturdays and Sundays.

County-run bus systems and Metrobus non-regional routes are included. The Central Maryland RTA 301 and 302 are also counted for Prince George’s County. Data from pages G-5 to G-13 of the 2018 WMATA budget and from Metrobus system maps. Image by the author.

Transit services have a choice to make, between being a coverage service or a ridership service. By operating as a coverage service, Prince George’s County buses are just another cost in the county budget that are spread out and spread thin. By offering only minimal service with limited hours, TheBus was born into the “death spiral” that is hurting Metrorail as well. Travelers cannot rely on transit unless they know it will be there when they need it, and that the travel times will be reasonable.

TheBus is thus in a chicken-and-egg situation where poor service means the lowest ridership in the region, which weakens the case for improved service. It’s time for the Prince George’s County administration to move TheBus towards becoming ridership service, and not just a cost, for the same reason that every other jurisdiction inside the Beltway offers better transit connections: to create a real mobility option for a greener, more resilient, and livable county.

Not all routes necessarily need their service hours increased, but some would benefit greatly

At present, TheBus runs a large variety of routes with very different ridership levels: some are overcrowded while others are almost unused. Currently, the highest-ridership route, the 32, which runs from Clinton to the Naylor Road Metro station has a daily ridership of 800 passengers, while two routes, the 35S and the 53, have fewer than 40 daily passengers. The average route has a ridership of about 370 passengers.

Data from the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database for 2016. Ridership is counted as “unlinked trips,” i.e. a transfer counts as a second trip.

Based on the average weekday and weekend ridership numbers on the other local bus networks in the DC suburbs, all of which have evening and weekend service, it seems likely that Saturday service on TheBus would get about half the ridership of weekday service, meaning that the busiest routes would have higher Saturday ridership than the average route’s weekday ridership.

While introducing weekend and evening service on very low ridership routes may not make sense, the higher ridership routes need to have it to provide more useful service for riders. This may also help with rush-hour crowding, if people have the option to take shopping and other less-timing-dependent trips at less busy times of day.

Evening service to the County Seat

Two of TheBus’s higher-ridership routes, the 20 (670 riders daily) and the 21 (456 riders daily) are special cases. Both routes serve the county courthouse and administration buildings in Upper Marlboro, connecting them to the Addison Road and New Carrollton Metro stations.

Transit to the county seat in Upper Marlboro is a major problem in Prince George’s County: only about half of county residents could make it to court in time for jury service using public transit. Running these routes in the evening wouldn’t matter for court business, which usually occurs during business hours, but it would solve a different issue.

With the last buses leaving for New Carrollton at 6:05 pm and Addison Road at 6:40 pm, it’s impossible for residents who attend or testify at evening hearings at the county administration building to return home by transit. Providing evening service on the 20 and 21 would be an important way to promote democratic involvement, even if ridership was low. Evening service on the 51, which acts as a circulator between government buildings and satellite parking in Upper Marlboro might also be worthwhile.

On the other hand, given that residential densities in Upper Marlboro and the vicinity are low, and that there is little business there except the county government, weekend service on the outer portions of these routes would be a lower priority than elsewhere in the county.

Difficulties could come from TheBus’s small size

One potential difficulty in adding weekend and evening service to TheBus routes is the system’s small size. Unlike larger bus networks like RideOn, TheBus has only a single garage serving all of its routes. Adding weekend and evening service to even one route would require keeping the garage and dispatching open later, entailing significant fixed costs beyond the usual cost per vehicle-hour of service.

For this reason, when evening and weekend service are introduced, they should be introduced on all of the high-ridership lines at once, and not on a trial basis on only one or two lines. A good start would be to provide weekend service on the 11 highest-ridership lines, all of which have ridership above 400 passengers a day at present.

Taken together, these routes serve about 65% of TheBus’s total ridership and include routes in the northern, central, and southern portions of the county, as well as the routes to Upper Marlboro. That means that no region will be completely deprived of extended service hours.

Prince George’s County has an important question to answer about what the role of TheBus is to be. For TheBus to be an effective contributor to mobility for large numbers of residents, its service needs to be expanded so that its major routes serve all their potential users.While the additional costs of weekend and evening service would not be inconsequential, this service would provide a major improvement to mobility for Prince George’s County residents.

The only real alternative is to give up on serving important routes and use the money to pay for improved local Metrobus service. Since Metrobus charges local jurisdictions significantly more per hour of service than the costs of operating TheBus, that would be a net loss for the county.

GGWash sometimes organizes around issues affecting our region. Should we consider advocacy around this topic? Let us know!


Top image: Make sure you’re home by 8 if you need me! Image by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

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Breakfast links: Virginia blocks Metro tax hikes, so funds may come from other projects

Virginia rejects tax hikes to help pay for Metro

On Wednesday, Republicans in the Virginia House stopped two tax increases that could have accounted for some of the $154 million in annual funding pledged to Metro. Now the funding will be cut from smaller regional road, transit, and other transportation projects instead.  (Robert McCartney / Post)

Researchers gauge the impact of autonomous vehicles on the region’s future

A new University of Maryland project named Presto forecasts the next 20 years of development in the Washington-Baltimore region. The new models will take into account the region as a whole and how it reacts to the rise of autonomous vehicles.  (Katherine Shaver / Post)

By day a parking garage, by night an ‘anything goes’ cycling track

Crystal City's nightlife gets more interesting in March and April when cycling enthusiasts take over empty parking garages and hold a variety of races where anyone is welcome, whether you're looking for a fun time or serious competition.  (Linda Poon / CityLab)

NoVa approves $5 million in sidewalk and trail projects

A host of projects aimed at creating or enhancing sidewalks and trails in Northern Virginia were approved Wednesday, receiving a combined $5 million in funding. VDOT will be running the projects, and hopes to see them finished within the next two years.  (Kristi King / WTOP)

CaBi looks to Roosevelt Island and Gravelly Point for potential expansion

Two new Capital Bikeshare stations may be coming to Roosevelt Island and Gravelly Point in the near future. Arlington County is simply waiting on approval from the National Park Service.  (Bridget Reed Morawski / ARLnow)

Fairfax wants your input for bikeshare study

The City of Fairfax, Fairfax County, GMU, and the Town of Vienna are studying bikeshare options for a arc roughly following Route 123 from Burke Lake Park to Tysons Corner. There will be events throughout the spring and summer to solicit input, and Fairfax City has an online survey you can fill out now.  (City of Fairfax)

Atlanta retools vacant parking lots into community soccer fields

A collaboration between a nonprofit, Atlanta's professional soccer club, and Marta, Atlanta’s public transportation agency, brings you Station Soccer: vacant parking lots next to train stations repurposed into soccer fields to get more kids playing.  (Matthew Hall / The Guardian. Tip: jyindc)

San Antonio grapples with $760 million worth of needed sidewalks

Almost 1,900 miles of San Antonio's streets are missing sidewalks, and adding them could cost $760 million at least. Now there might be a plan to try to tackle the problem, starting with areas most desperately in need of proper infrastructure, such as near schools and hospitals.  (Iris Dimmick / RivardReport)

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Election links: Lazere offers his vision

Ed Lazere offers a contrasting vision for the DC Council Chairman role, the Maryland GOP keeps attacking Aruna Miller but she continues to gain ground, Montgomery County council candidates debate Amazon HQ2, VA-10 Democrats didn't include housing and transportation as key issues, and more in our election link roundup. Want to stay on top of our 2018 election coverage? Sign up for our weekly newsletter!

A man experiencing homelessness wants to get on the ballot for DC mayor
Jeremiah Stanback, a man experiencing homelessness who is running for mayor, withdrew from the Democratic primary after opponents challenged the validity of some of his signatures. He now plans to run as an Independent, and hopes to get his name on the ballot by gathering 3,000 signatures by November. (Paul Schwartzman / Post)

Lazere offers his vision for the role of DC Council Chairman
Ed Lazere offers a contrasting view of the role of the Council Chairman. While Phil Mendelson is famously a dealmaker, Lazere believes the Chair should focus more on visionary leadership and open debate. That said, Lazere also hopes to make real progress on his progressive vision. “Homeless challenges and affordable housing challenges are so great that we have to move to the next level.” Given Lazere’s weak support for additional housing supply this election cycle, it is unclear how he plans to push DC to this next level. (Jeffrey Anderson / District Dig)

Bonds makes her case for reelection
Anita Bonds hit the campaign trail to make the case for her reelection, largely focusing on housing and employment concerns. “We need long-term solutions to affordable housing and to help DC residents to become financially independent and economically strong,” she said. To accomplish this, Bonds wants to expand the Home Purchase Assistance Program, help renters improve their credit scores, take full advantage of any Amazon presence in DC, and supports specific development projects. Bonds was criticized by Marcus Goodwin for comments she made about drugs and black unemployment. (James Wright / Afro)

VA-10 Democratic Primary overview
Democrats summarized where VA-10 Democrats stand on key issues, but unfortunately, housing and transportation did not make the cut. Candidate Dan Helmer does, however, make a nod to the importance of “updated transportation infrastructure” to fight climate change and create jobs. (Blue Virginia)

Maryland GOP continues attacks on Miller...
Maryland state Delegate Aruna Miller, who is running for Congress in Maryland’s 6th District, was the target of another Maryland GOP mailer this week. Last week, Miller was accused of “rolling out the red carpet” for criminals. This week, the GOP claims that Miller is hoping to “bring drug dens to our neighborhoods,” citing her support for drug addiction and infectious disease treatment clinics. Democrats call these attacks desperate dog whistle attempts to protect Republican Amie Hoeber from a strong and compelling female opponent. (Paul Shwartzman / Post)

...But Miller continues to gain ground
The Sierra Club endorsed Miller this week in the eight-way Democratic primary. The environmental advocacy organization, which has 71,000 members and supporters in Maryland, cited Miller’s opposition to both fracking and a planned natural gas pipeline running under the Potomac River in western Maryland. In terms of fundraising, Miller and Potomac businessman David Trone remain ahead of the rest of the pack. That said, Trone is largely self-funding his campaign. (Louis Peck / Bethesda Magazine)

Jealous lands coveted endorsement
The Maryland State Education Association, which has 74,000 members, endorsed Ben Jealous in his effort to prevail in the crowded Democratic primary for the Maryland Gubernatorial election. (Ovetta Wiggins / Post)

Harris backs Alsobrooks in Prince George’s County
Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) endorsed Maryland state’s attorney Angela Alsobrooks in the race for Prince George’s County executive. Harris, who has worked with Alsobrooks to implement a program to reduce recidivism in Prince George’s County, says that Alsobrooks has a “strong track record of getting things done.” (Rachel Chason / Post)

HQ2 debated in Montgomery County
Montgomery County Council District 1 candidates met for a debate hosted by Friends of White Flint. Candidates discussed issues such as what kinds of incentives should be put in place (if any) to lure Amazon HQ2, and just how concerned should Montgomery County leadership be about its debt. Two candidates, Bill Cook and Jim McGee, are against the $5 billion-plus tax incentive package to lure Amazon to Montgomery County. Cook also took a couple of shots at DC, and at Northern Virginia's schools. (Andrew Metcalf / Bethesda Magazine)

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We endorse Brianne Nadeau, Mary Cheh, and Charles Allen

In three of the races for DC Council in the June 19 Democratic primary, Greater Greater Washington’s Elections Committee has decided to endorse Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1, Mary Cheh in Ward 3, and Charles Allen in Ward 6 for renomination based on the strength of their responses to our questionnaire.

We will be making endorsement decisions in, and will post more about, the other DC Council races (chairman, at-large, and Ward 5) in the near future.

Brianne Nadeau for Ward 1

Three of four Democratic candidates in Ward 1 (Columbia Heights, U Street, Adams Morgan, and Mount Pleasant) returned our questionnaire: ANC 1A chair Kent Boese, incumbent councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, and architectural drafter Sheika Reid. Attorney and former magistrate judge Lori Parker did not fill it out and said over email that she "decline[d] to seek our endorsement."

In her one term thus far as Ward 1 councilmember, Nadeau has shown clear support for urbanist issues and policies, and her questionnaire answers reflected this. She mentioned her work (since before she was a councilmember) advocating for a 16th Street bus lane, supporting funding for a 99 bus along the U Street corridor, and working with DDOT to have more protected bike lanes in her ward and across the city.

We also appreciated her support for finding ways to try these innovations more quickly:

DC in general could do a better job of more quickly prototyping and testing bike and bus lanes rather than having them get caught up in the design phase for years. A bus lane can be piloted with nothing more than a few cones – other jurisdictions have seen great success in these kinds of temporary projects that scale up to something more permanent. The bus lanes on Georgia Avenue work great, but it took a long time to get only a couple of blocks put in.

Nadeau has been consistently strong on the DC Comprehensive Plan, calling for amendments to support more housing, more affordable housing, and protections against displacement. Her three challengers, by contrast, have stated their opposition to proposals to change the Comp Plan, a stance which would not only hinder new housing but also leave DC without a clear path forward for affordability and stopping displacement.

While Nadeau clearly won our endorsement, we wanted to write a note about Kent Boese. We appreciate Kent's record as a GGWash contributor and an ANC commissioner in Park View for nearly eight years, including his advocacy on important development projects like the Hebrew Home and Park Morton/Bruce Monroe. He had excellent answers to many of our questions and performed well on our head-to-head rating exercise.

We don’t agree with Boese's position on everything; in addition to his stance on the Comp Plan, he differs from many GGWash contributors on the appropriate role of historic preservation. Nevertheless, had he been running for an open seat or one not occupied by an incumbent with such a strong track record as Nadeau, the decision would not be so clear. We look forward to working with him (and the other candidates, should they continue to be involved in local issues) in the future.

Mary Cheh for Ward 3

In Ward 3 (most of the area west of Rock Creek), sitting Councilmember Mary Cheh is unopposed in the Democratic primary (and likely in the general election). One potential challenger, Jessica Wasserman, took out petitions and filled out our questionnaire as well, but did not ultimately file.

The GGWash Elections Committee decided to endorse Cheh because of her track record and questionnaire responses in support of urbanist goals in DC. In the head-to-head questionnaire rating tool, Cheh's answers won out over two-thirds of the time.

As chair of the DC Council's Committee on Transportation and the Environment, Cheh has been a consistent voice pushing for better transit, more walking and biking facilities, and environmental sustainability. At a recent oversight hearing for the District Department of Transportation Cheh, who frequently bicycles to the office, said "I want DC to be Copenhagen" and asked when DDOT could build a protected bikeway on Connecticut Avenue.

Regarding amendments to the Comp Plan, Cheh said in the questionnaire, “The smartest planning we can do in the Comp Plan would allow and encourage housing where it is most appropriate – near transit and services.” When answering a question about buses and parking, she said, “It is absurd that we dedicate thousands of miles of public right of way to storing private vehicle and very few miles to moving people through the city safely and efficiently.”

We asked Cheh and the other sitting councilmembers about their votes for the Union Market TIF which included $36 million for a parking garage, which all incumbents up for renomination in the Democratic primary, and for that matter all of the council's Democrats, voted in favor of. Cheh said she voted on it reluctantly even though it included parking funding she did not like. “My biggest concern about TIF for parking," she wrote, “is that the world is changing and I am not sure that public parking is a wise investment for the future. However this came to us a package and on balance I was convinced by my colleagues that it was necessary to move the entire redevelopment forward.”

Charles Allen for Ward 6

Charles Allen represents Ward 6 including Capitol Hill, H Street, Shaw, Southwest Waterfront, and the Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard. He responded to our questionnaire, as did his Democratic primary challenger Lisa Hunter, though she also tweeted that she didn't want Greater Greater Washington's endorsement. Republican Michael Bekesha also filled out the questionnaire; we'll be writing about our discussion with him soon.

For the Democratic primary, we are endorsing Charles Allen for re-election.

Allen cited his position as this year's chair of the Transportation Panning Board (TPB) this year and the opportunity this gives him to advocate for bus and bike infrastructure. In that role, he said,

I am proud that I am in a position to help advance many of these investments -- whether building DDOT bus and bike plans into long-term budgets or helping approve the “bicycle beltway” that will make 60 miles of marked trails looping around the region and connecting across the District. Further, as we look to meet the needs in the District for safe and convenient connections, protected bike lanes are necessary to create a north-south mid-city connection, such as on 6th Street NW, and an east-west connection from Southeast through Southwest near M Street and Maine Avenue, SW. And as we look to invest in dedicated bus infrastructure, the District needs to view our ongoing maintenance projects on streets and corridors as opportunities to add these transit connections rather than as discrete capital projects.

This is important, he added, because "there is a stark east-wide divide in our region — and our city — that requires we apply an equity lens to our investments in transportation that connect residents to jobs, schools, and businesses."

As for ways to reduce inequality, Allen wrote, "We must continue to implement progressive economic justice policies, such as an increased minimum wage, paid family leave, and expanded access to child care — policies I have adamantly supported and led. We also must commit to improving adult education, job training, and apprenticeship programs. As a city, we must continue to provide safety-gap measures such as emergency rental housing assistance and rapid rehousing." And he cited his support for the proposed Ward 6 emergency homeless shelter that is part of the plan to close DC General.

Stay tuned for other races

In other races, we plan to speak further with some or all of the candidates. In Ward 5, we want to further consider incumbent councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and attorney Bradley Thomas, two of the four candidates who filled out our questionnaire. We plan to engage with both candidates for council chairman and several at-large contenders, and will post further about these races in the near future.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.

Top image: Images from the candidates' Twitter profiles.

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This vacant site could become 180 affordable homes, but it needs your help

A plan to convert vacant offices into affordable housing in Arlington's Buckingham neighborhood is up for debate this weekend. Opposition is fierce, and now is your chance to speak up in favor. Sign this petition to let the Arlington County Board know you support this badly-needed affordable housing.

Sign the petition!

Last week, GGWash's housing organizer David Whitehead wrote about a plan to redevelop a site in Arlington's Buckingham neighborhood. An old office building that held a branch of the Red Cross would be torn down, and an apartment building would be built in its place. Townhomes would be built on what is currently two single-family homes. Most of the housing would be committed affordable housing for families making around 60% of the Area Median Income (around $66,000 for a family of four).

In a county where rents are very high, a chance to build almost 180 affordable homes is a big opportunity that shouldn't be wasted. But that hasn't stopped opposition from sprouting up. Claims about tree loss, traffic, and changing neighborhood character have dominated recent meetings.

Those complaints are serious, but also at odds with what is planned for the site and Arlington at large. Arlington actually has more trees now than in 2011, traffic levels have dropped across large parts of the county despite massive population growth, and the buildings aren't out of scale with the diverse types of buildings in the area. The area is transit-rich, with several bus lines running right by the planned site and Metro's Ballston station located only about a mile away. Capital Bikeshare has two stations within a block of the site as well.

Buckingham is near the corner of US-50 and Glebe Road, about a mile south of Ballston. It's a diverse neighborhood with a lot of detached homes, town homes, garden apartments, and high rises. What's planned at the Red Cross site is not any different from what is there in the neighborhood today. That's a good thing because the area already has a lot to offer and this proposal adds to that.

Transit options near the site. The Ballston Metro station is about a mile away, and there is frequent bus service as well.  Image by Arlington County.

I lived in the nearby Ballston Park apartments when I first got married. I got to know the area pretty well over a couple of years, but I eventually had to move when the rent was raised to something higher than we could afford at the time. I loved being able to walk to restaurants nearby (like the amazing Ravi Kabob) or to businesses in the dense corridor between Ballston and Rosslyn. If I decided I wanted to ride my bike on the W&OD trail, I would bike right by the proposed site or along other neighborhood streets lined with a mix of housing types.

I'm simply baffled at some of the objections raised by neighbors when everything I know about the area seems to be the total opposite of what they claim. One more apartment building and a few town homes certainly won't "severely damage" or "defile" the neighborhood like some neighbors claimed.

What's proposed will look almost exactly like what is already in Buckingham.  Image by the author.

The next hearing on the project is this Saturday, April 21. If you can make it to the meeting that's great! Email David Whitehead so he can get you resources at dwhitehead@ggwash.org. If you can't go, sign this petition to the Arlington County Board to show support for more housing in a place that would benefit from it.

Sign the petition!

Top image: Rendering of the proposed multifamily, 100% affordable building, which would replace the vacant Red Cross building. Image by Bonstra Haresign Architects used with permission. Image by Bonstra Haresign Architects used with permission.

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Electric scooters join the dockless bikeshare experiment – is it now a revolution?

The pilot period for dockless bikeshare in the District of Columbia hasn’t concluded yet, but it’s already been disrupted by the next innovation – sharable electric scooters — and disrupted again with Uber’s purchase of JUMP last week. GGWash contributors flagged these developments as a particularly significant evolution for the personal mobility space.

Sharable scooters – with extra juice

One of the existing dockless bikeshare companies, LimeBike, has added e-scooters to their fleet, and two new competitors have also entered the motor-assisted personal mobility market: Bird (founded by a former Uber executive) and Waybots. Both of the latter companies are already on the ground in other US cities.

The LimeBike fleet now consists of more than 50% electric scooters (so something close to or over 200 of their 400-vehicle maximum, per the terms of the District’s dockless pilot program), according to Jason Starr, LimeBike’s DC General Manager. Bird spokesperson Kenneth Baer withheld their fleet size for “competitive reasons,” but also because they manage the fleet size dynamically based on demand, so it’s always changing. Similarly, Waybots exec Sanjay Dastoor said their fleet size ranges from 50 to 400. This dynamic supply management is logical for electric equipment in particular, as the companies have to regularly collect the scooters (usually nightly) to charge the batteries.

All of the dockless scooter companies are charging $1 to start and 15 cents per minute, and using equipment capable of up to 15 MPH. However, each scooter type is different. LimeBike scooters can go 37 miles on a single charge, while Bird scooters go only 15 miles (this may help explain Bird's advocacy in California to have all dockless companies commit to removing all of their vehicles from the street every night).

This is a serious trend to watch

While children using scooters for fun or mobility is a common sight in urban areas, the terms of service of all of the dockless e-scooter companies require users to be 18 and older. But are grown-ups really going to get on board these in a big way? According to Starr, “Our scooters have done exceptionally well in DC, especially given the weather conditions since we launched. In fact, from February to March alone, we tripled our DC rides month-over-month.”

Some of this might be novelty. Waybot’s Dastoor pointed out that “many of our users are tourists and visitors to the city who use them for sightseeing and exploring.” However, even that market is big enough in DC and in many other cities for venture capital to take serious note. GGWash contributor Patrick Kennedy guessed that “part of the reason the scooters are popular is nostalgia — the same reason that all of these '90s sitcoms have all of a sudden been brought back and are successful.” Similarly, Brent Bolin sees the attraction of scooters that are “dope for tricks and neighborhood riding.”

The minimal entry price point and easy-to-use equipment clearly distinguish these devices from Segways – and even bicycles. Alex Baca observed that “lots of people don't know how to ride bikes or aren't inclined to pick them back up again. It's great that mobility devices are expanding to provide non-SOV options for people who might want to move more quickly than by foot but don't want to hop on a bike.” Potentially broad appeal to seniors, nostalgic ‘80s kids, and teens alike makes these scooters a multigenerational trend to watch.

Are they safe?

GGWash contributors who have seen the scooters in action immediately raised potential red flags about their safety – for riders and passers-by. Gordon Chaffin said “every scooter user I've seen has been riding them on the sidewalks.” David Cranor pointed out that under DC Code Sect. 50-2201.02(15), these electric scooters are “Personal Mobility Devices,” which means that it’s legal to use them in the street, on sidewalks, and in bike lanes, but that their legal speed limit is 10 MPH.

As DDOT moves towards formalizing regulations for dockless sharing of bikes and personal mobility devices, it’s the right time to take a hard look at the fact that the equipment used by all of these companies is capable of 15 MPH, which is 50% over the legal speed limit (although with an adult male weight load, actual speeds are around 8 to 10 MPH). If these devices are going to be on sidewalks with the most vulnerable users of our public rights of way – pedestrians – then they should be throttled to the legal limit.

A sharing option to watch – and a new private personal mobility option as well?

Scooters address one of the primary criticism about dockless mobility, which is that they are much lower profile when they are left parked at random. While sometimes finding one using the app can feel like looking for a Skulltula in Zelda, their slim stature and smaller profile makes them a bit less invasive in the urban landscape. The e-scooters also go home at night, as companies collect many of the scooters in the evening for charging.

The trend in e-scooters also is a continuation of solutions to the “first/last-mile problem” of getting, say, from home to the Metro and from the Metro to work. For commuters outside of the traditional half-mile transit sweet spot, there are many other solutions: for example, the Commons of McLean apartment complex offers private shuttle vans to and from the McLean Station, and Alexandria offers the free trolley shuttle connecting the King Street Station towards the riverfront. Traditional Capital Bikeshare and dockless bikes also bridge the gap on either end of the commute.

Personal first/last mile solutions have always included “bike and ride,” but bikes are prohibited on Metro during the peak period with the exception of special folding bicycles. Segways are far too bulky and expensive. If you cannot take the vehicle on the Metro, then it only serves one end of the first/last mile problem.

E-scooters have the potential to expand in the sharing model we see, and also in personal ownership. Generally, models run from $400 to about $1,000, depending on specs, from companies such as Segway, E-Twow, and Inmotion (who also manufactures the futuristic unicycle-wheel-things you have have seen rolling around). Because the models are foldable, they can be brought on the Metro and serve both ends of the first/last mile.


New technologies have been changing the mobility space much faster than our urban form can keep up since the car was invented. Electric scooters are a feasible, scalable, inclusive, appealing solution for integrating active mobility into a region where highly walkable, transit-accessible housing is at a premium. However, there is a clear need for new policies and a lot of cultural adjustment in order to completely and safely integrate scooters into our streets.

It is a move in the wrong direction if pedestrians are forced to accommodate scooters, and both scooter users and the walking public would benefit from a rationalization of street priority in law and design in which all other modes defer to pedestrians.

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Breakfast links: Climate change is messing with our health

Climate change is a health risk for Virginians

A new study found that climate change-related phenomena like higher average temperatures, longer allergy seasons, and increased coastal flooding are negatively impacting the health of Virginia residents across the state.  (Patricia Sullivan / Post)

Ethical questions arise over awarding the contract for I-270

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has stopped the contract awarding process for the proposed I-270 and Capital Beltway expansion after the extra-short review process, which would have gone to former employers of top MDOT officials, was called into question.  (Michael Laris / Post)

New Business Improvement Districts are organizing across DC

Dupont Circle will get a new Business Improvement District. It may not be the only one: there are BIDs in the works for Brookland, U Street, Shaw, and H Street.  (Jon Banister / Bisnow)

A DC court is stopping a Dupont building that’s already under construction

The DC Court of Appeals halted construction on a planned residential building with a new sanctuary for the St. Thomas Episcopal Parish over a challenge to the project's zoning variance.  (Morgan Baskin / City Paper)

Bethesda’s new Metro plaza is coming up for review

The developers of a new high-rise are also renovating a public plaza at the Bethesda Metro to have lunch tables and an open lawn. The new plans will go before county and local planners for first approval next week.  (Bethany Rodgers / Bethesda Beat)

DC’s Inspector General found that schools aren’t fixing residency fraud

An audit of the DC school system found that DCPS failed to tackle residency fraud, allowing students who lived out of the city to attend school without recouping the out-of-state tuition in most cases.  (Peter Jamison / Post)

Washingtonians in Ward 7 are petitioning for equal food service

After reporting showed that food delivery services like Postmates and Caviar don't deliver to all DC neighborhoods, residents in Ward 7 are demanding equality of food access from delivery companies.  (Elizabeth O’Gorek / East of the River News)

WMATA hopes to rezone and sell its major DC office

Metro has requested a zoning change for their Chinatown headquarters that would allow a little bit more by-right construction on the site. That would increase the value of the plot, which Metro is looking to sell.  (Nena Perry-Brown / Urban Turf)

Monday’s rainstorm was the first test of new DC sewers

During the rainstorm the new Anacostia River Tunnel held 170 million gallons of sewage that would have otherwise flowed into the Anacostia, drastically reducing the overflow from the city’s old pipes.  (Jacob Fenston / WAMU)

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