Mary Cheh will fund more bike lanes, raise residential parking fees, study decongestion pricing, and not keep Circulator free

Image by the author.

DC would get more public space inspectors, dedicated spaces for dockless scooters, and some progress on a long-delayed bike lane on 6th or 9th streets NW, under a draft budget revision from Councilmember Mary Cheh. Meanwhile, the DC Circulator would no longer be free and people would have to pay more for residential parking permits, especially for cars beyond the first.

DC Council committees are finishing up their budget process for the next fiscal year which begins in October. Each committee is posting draft reports and holding "markup" votes this week, and the report from the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by Cheh (Ward 3), includes some significant changes.

You can read the committee report, which includes the budgetary changes and policy discussion, and Budget Support Act subtitles, which are changes to law that the budget. Some of these reflect recommendations from DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST), the coalition of business, advocacy, and government entities which GGWash manages.

The draft maintains funding for the K Street Transitway, taking the “Dave Thomas Circle” Wendy’s, adding 40 more ticket writers to enforce bike and bus lanes, and more.

Here are the major changes:

New funding

Adding three public space inspectors: There have been many complaints that sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, and streets aren't being repaired or repainted after construction, especially by utility companies. The budget would add three more public space inspectors at a cost of $360,000 a year for four years.

Pushing the Eastern Downtown bikeway: A protected bikeway on either 6th or 9th Street NW through downtown and Shaw has been in limbo for over two years, with 30% designs for both streets but no decision from the mayor's office. The budget urges the administration to get this project moving and allocates $300,000 for finishing the design. That might or might not force a change, but it shows the clear will of the council (presuming it passes in the final budget).

Trying dedicated dockless bike & scooter spaces: A pilot program, budgeted for $115,000, will set up one painted space either in the street or on the sidewalk for scooter parking (and potentially also bikes, though that would require racks) in each of DC's Business Improvement Districts in 2020. DCST has recommended setting up such spaces in the street in order to provide non-problematic places for people to put scooters in busy commercial areas.

Studying (de)congestion pricing: New York is now going to be charging for driving in Manhattan below Central Park. Should DC do something like this? The MoveDC and Sustainable DC plans, the Council of Governments, and the Greater Washington Partnership all have suggested looking into it. DCST has been talking actively with many stakeholders about this possibility, and now Cheh has allocated $475,000 for a study about it next year. We're excited to work with DDOT to get some real serious analyses going of the technical, legal, political, equity, economic, environmental, and other effects and opportunities of trying some kind of policy like this.

Promoting urban agriculture: The report notes that "The Mayor’s recently published Sustainable DC 2.0 Plan aims to put twenty additional acres, including public right of way and rooftops, under cultivation for growing food by 2032." $122,000 would fund a new one-person Office of Urban Agriculture at the Department of Energy and the Environment to "encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agriculture practices in the District."

Rejected mayoral proposals

Not transferring camera enforcement: Mayor Bowser tried, for the second year, to transfer the traffic camera program from the Metropolitan Police Department to DDOT. Proponents argue that DDOT can better align the specifics of the camera program with broader safety goals, treating it (as it should be) as a behavior modification program for safety rather than a matter of crime and punishment.

Cheh doesn't want the transfer, and argues for keeping it at MPD for a few reasons. First, the report says she's not sure moving it to DDOT will make the program better since DDOT can work with MPD now. Second, the CFO is estimating some drop in revenue due to the switch-over. And third, she worries that having tickets come from DDOT instead of the police will make residents take them less seriously.

Not keeping the Circulator free: Mayor Bowser announced a month-long pilot of free fares on the Circulator bus, followed by a plan to keep it free permanently. Cheh's committee takes back the $3.1 million price tag and spends it on some of the other things here.

The report raises several concerns with the change. It was a surprise to just about everyone, and Cheh worries it wasn't very well thought through. It's possible the free Circulator is pulling riders off adjacent Metrobuses rather than truly increasing ridership. There isn't data available about whether the free rides benefit tourists or DC residents. And, Cheh doesn't trust the executive's claims about a 6% ridership increase since the first numbers said it was just a 0.3% increase.

Laws and policies

Raising RPP fees, especially for extra cars: Public space is limited and fees to store cars, currently $35 a year, there are quite low compared to the average $200 per month cost of an off-street space. "There are 7,000 households with three or more cars in the public space, with over 100 households having more than seven cars registered to a single residence."

To raise revenue, therefore, the committee would raise the price of one residential parking permit from $35 to $50, except for seniors over 65. Further, it implements an idea that bills by Jim Graham and Tommy Wells unsuccessfully proposed in 2009 and Topher Matthews discussed in 2011: higher fees for more cars. Under Cheh's proposal the second permit would cost $75, the third $100, and further cars $150. This will require some new software systems at the DMV, which the committee report funds.

Increasing scooter speed limits in the street: The current law limits "personal mobility devices," such as the dockless scooters, to 10 mph, and DDOT has required scooter companies to program the scooters to not exceed that speed. Some (including DCST) argued this was too slow, as it deters people from riding in bike lanes, which are more appropriate spots when they exist than the sidewalks.

A provision in the Budget Support Act would raise the speed limit to 15 mph except for sidewalks, where it would stay 10. In practice, this will mean companies can program the scooters to go 15 mph instead of 10. People who ride over 10 mph on sidewalks would be breaking the law, and could get tickets, which will probably happen approximately as often as drivers get tickets for speeding.

Improving off-hours enforcement: The Department of Public Works tows cars on the streetcar tracks even on Sundays, when normally parking laws aren't enforced. It uses overtime for this, and the Cheh committee report instead moves it to add more staff directly at DPW. Further, Cheh recommends DPW have staff to enforce parking laws generally on Sundays, when unsafe behavior like blocking bus stops or bike lanes or crosswalks still happens, and also at night, where DC's nightlife (and sometimes illegal parking) has grown.

DCST suggested this in our budget letter. Last year, we asked for and received $70,000 to tow cars in the Connecticut Avenue late night pick-up/drop-off zone. Towing late at night is very expensive since it has to be all overtime and requires a supervisor as well as a truck driver. A general DPW program to have some enforcement teams on the clock overnight would be much more efficient.

There are many more smaller items in there. Take a look and post any other items you like (or dislike) in the comments.

Related Letters