Transit Tuesdays: A new year for D.C. transportation in 2012
- (Photo: flickr/s-diddy/_miss-britt_/dylanpassmore)
As 2012 begins, people have reflected on the past year with lists, essays, and more. But what about the state of D.C. transportation in 2012? How has it changed and what's to come? The coming 12 months will bring debate about the new streetcar lines in H Street and elsewhere, about how WMATA delays will occur throughout the system and perhaps, especially, at the Dupont Circle Metro where escalators will close for months, and especially for the District's taxicab industry, which will be undergoing an overhaul that Mayor Vince Gray already touted in his end-of-the-year accomplishments report.
In the past year, many feared for the state of our transit and anticipated a brain drain in light of the new mayoral administration and the District Department of Transportation's new authority. But little happened entirely as expected. I've worked at On Foot for the second half of the year, and in this week's round-up, I'd like to review some of the more notable, troubling, and fascinating developments about 2011 — and wonder whether the new year will bring similar upsets and revelations.
In lieu of the usual Tuesday transit roundup, let's review some of the major issues that have come up in recent months, ones that won't be dying down any time soon:
The slow, troubled end to the Zipcar-DDOT honeymoon: In 2011, Zipcar lost its exclusive control over D.C.'s car-sharing market as the city sold the lion's share of its public curbside spaces to two other car-sharing companies. Zipcar did not take its loss or DDOT's strategy easily ... and e-mails and other passive aggressive moves underscored the new friction. I look forward to seeing how car-sharing will change in the next year as new competition enters the market. How can any new company gain an edge over the established giant that is Zipcar?
Agony and ecstasy over the changes within WMATA: People lamented escalator idleness, train delays, and single-tracking ... but loved that WMATA was, at least, making serious new efforts in communicating with its riders. We also saw a divide between the highest levels of WMATA and the reality within the system. Although WMATA communications may offer a more polished front these days, problems such as station managers asleep on the job, security issues and fighting, and a station manager who publicly decried "these white people who hate Metro" persisted. Those tensions will continue next year amid more Metro track work and a new Metro map that will be rolled out next summer.
Hot emotions over a new proposed anti-harassment bicycling law: When the Washington Area Bicyclist Association released its video of a pick-up driver cursing at and striking cyclist Evan Wilder, the debate over how drivers and bicyclists interact changed completely. Within two months, the D.C. Council held a hearing to consider a new law addressing the violence, and the next year is likely to continue the debate.
Our changing public space: The next year will also bring a continuation of what's changed the look of D.C. in 2011 — more Great Streets, more trees, and more proposed bike lanes. Big events such as the ribbon-cuttings for the Connecticut Avenue median and the 11th Street Bridge Project showed that DDOT is, despite the mayoral changes, still attempting to make a splash with its improvements.
MetroAccess sleeps at the wheel: Our expanding paratransit services for people with disability suffered from much criticism in the final months of 2011, with drivers staging protests over the long schedules and MetroAcces riders complaining of rude dispatchers, delays, and other problems. All will continue to matter throughout 2012 as WMATA debates whether or not it should renew its contract with California-based MetroAccess contractor MV Transportation. The current contract ends in 2013.
Technology wins the day: Whether we're talking the social media connectivity of DDOT's John Lisle, WMATA's Dan Stessel, the efforts of Zipcar to connect with its own Twitter account and even allow car reservations over Facebook, or the kerfuffle over @DCFireEMS, we learned this year that social media matters more than ever, especially for our public officials. This social shift in news was reflected in increasing attention to new technologies. A critical gold star for Metro was finally allowing riders to upload money onto their SmarTrip cards online. DDOT presented interactive online maps. The taxi industry's most emotional issue involves upgrading cabs to accept credit cards. Then of course there's the question of our car's technology, of alternative fuels and electric charging stations, and dynamic new U.S. Department of Transportation car-to-car technology that may be mandatory for all vehicles within two years and change the meaning of traffic safety. We saw this forward-thinking, strategic spirit reach its heights, perhaps, at the national Rail~Volution transit conference held in D.C. earlier this fall. With a future that seems increasingly mired in gridlock and a messy reliance on oil, such planning and focus on technology seems vital.
Capital Bikeshare rides through a triumphant first year: Despite initial critiques involving station cost and bike availability, our first big bike-sharing program rose to celebratory prominence by early fall, with new stations promised, a first birthday party, and the impressive mark of one million rides recorded on the morning of its first birthday. At that September birthday party, DDOT director Terry Bellamy told a crowd to plan for 50 new stations and 500 new bikes in 2012, so don't expect the enthusiasm for the red bikes to die any time soon. Meanwhile, the idea of a publicly supported bikeshare program has earned ire from Republican leaders such as Eric Cantor. Expect more partnerships, more talk of revenue, and perhaps a more coherent system of sponsorships as the system expands both in D.C. and likely to new counties.
Taxi and streetcar madness: As I mentioned upfront, the D.C. government has unveiled an aggressive modernization proposal for our city's cabs, which has already prompted driver outrage, and the streetcar system will become far closer to reality, with officials holding firmly to mid-2013 as the debut deadline for the H Street line. Both have sparked a lot of fire as well as enthusiasm, and the changes coming to both will also alter the face of D.C. transportation and remain a crucial dimension to the new technology and evolution of transit that we're experiencing in our path through the 21st century. We'll also continue, I expect, run into ongoing contention over how to fund the Silver Line and other big transit projects on deck.
Read more daily transportation news at TBD On Foot.
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