- Wikimedia Commons
What will transportation be like for D.C., northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland in 2030? Will there be a killer Purple Line stretching into Maryland, perhaps, or Trolley Cars in the District? Imagine that future year and see if you can think of the priorities that Metro officials and others have discussed. The future of the next 20 years may be mysterious for many of us, but let me suggest another question: Do you think the region's transportation authorities have a sense of long-term transportation priorities and plans?
Here's a sad fact, riders. Based on a recent and fascinating survey of 45 of the region's transportation experts (engineers, urban planners, and traffic experts with generally more than two decades' experience), no one has any faith or sense of the long-term priorities of Metro and other transportation institutions, looking toward 2030. The survey, conducted by the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance and the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance on behalf of the 2030 Group, examines what these experts saw as the region's appropriate priorities and a lack of coherent, consistent vision guiding authorities currently (PDF).
What they called the most striking conclusion was the following: "The vast majority of the very people who should be most informed about regional transportation priorities agree that no such list for the Metropolitan Washington Region exists today." It gets worse from there.
Three of four experts(74.4%) didn't believe National Capital Region had well-defined shortlist of game-changing priorities. The respondents seemed to have a better idea of priorities in suburban Maryland, but the results still strike me as ominous.
What priorities did these experts point to?
Metro maintenance rather than new developments; new and improved bridges and highway connections; bus rapid transit; better, transit-focused use of land.
The makers of the survey advise focusing on those priorities that matter and on which experts have reached a consensus. The survey provides a good regional breakdown, looking at how different transportation experts responded to the priorities of northern Virginia versus the District versus suburban Maryland. The broad takeaway seems to be that there's little regional focus these days, that planning happens in a more haphazard than strategic way.
One thought that strikes me is that it's more difficult now than ever to plan for what the world of transportation will look like in 2030. Yes, transportation authorities do need to have that far-reaching vision, especially regarding issues like maintenance and highway connections. But we can't always predict precisely how the region will grow and change. It's constantly expanding in terms of population, in gentrification, and most challengingly, in the types of technology that create our world of transportation. What will the hybrid buses of D.C. be like in 10 years, for instance, or the capacity of Metro trains? Consider how driving has changed since the advent of GPS.
Some of these advances we can predict more than others, of course. Check out the survey yourself and see what you think. It's a great wake-up call that time's moving fast, and that strategic, long-term thinking (with proper flexibility to accommodate for changes over time) needs to happen consciously and consistently. Without it, no one's moving anywhere.
Update, 4:30 p.m.: As Greater Greater Washington points out, the survey does come from regional business interests and civic groups, which naturally raises questions about its analysis. Fair enough. As Greater Greater Washington also mentions, The Washington Post features a good point from Robert Thomson in which he breaks down the virtues and vices of the source when it comes to the analysis's credibility. Please check that out as well, and I'm sorry for not flagging it earlier. I still think the 2030 report is worth reading and agree with the broader examination of strategy in our thinking about how the Metro is growing--and I also agree that the premise of both the report and that thinking should be rigorously questioned as to how the greater D.C. region moves toward a sustainable, better transportation future.