Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Correction:

The headline initially suggested the city wanted three of every four residents rather than trips to be car-free.

D.C. wants three out of every four trips car-free in 20 years

April 25, 2012 - 09:24 AM
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(Photo: Office of the Mayor)

Mayor Vince Gray unveiled details of his Sustainable D.C. plan yesterday in conjunction with a ribbon-cutting for the latest section of the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. Gray's sustainability plans include some impressive long-range transportation plans — the city's goal for 2032, his office writes, imagines "at least 75% of all trips originating in the city will be by walking, biking, transit, or other clean transportation alternative."

Jesus Christ, talk about a dream of smart growth, no? The mayor's vision focuses on improving pedestrian life, a reliable WMATA system of buses and rails, increased biking supported by Capital Bikeshare (18,000 members now) and expanded infrastructure, and the possibilities inherent in a completed 37-mile streetcar network, the first line of which is expected to open next year. Short term plans include completing more than 80 miles of bike lanes (we have about 55 now), "prioritizing east of the Anacostia River, and completing the Metropolitan Branch Trail," and to "reduce building parking minimums and increase the availability of on-street parking through citywide performance parking districts." Mayor Gray even wore the green bike pin popularized by Congressman Earl Blumenauer and the Bike Caucus. Within 20 years, the city wants three out of every four trips to be car-free.

Is such a dream possible?

What Mayor Gray proposes is actually relatively sensible when you parse the American Community Survey numbers from 2010, the last year available. Those figures suggested that only about four in 10 District residents drive a car to work on any given day. Nearly 59% of the District population chooses to bike, walk, take the Metro, or choose other means to get to work, about 38% of which say they take transit. To achieve 75% car-free commuting in 20 years, the city would have to convince about 15% of residents to commute in other ways. In other words, if we shift fewer than 1% of residents per year to other commuting means, we'll have reached the goal.

Easier said than done, naturally. But countless other modes of transportation are taking off in D.C. The streetcar will likely be one option. Real-time bus arrival signs are on the way, which will encourage bus travel. Car-sharing options, from Zipcar to Car2Go, make giving up automobiles a little easier. Taxicabs, we can hope, will also modernize by 2032. The pedestrian will also benefit from the plans, which call for 40% of the city covered "with a healthy tree canopy" and parks and natural spaces within a 10-minute walk for any resident. That said, our view from today also includes all the obstacles we'll need to overcome — WMATA's "minor" derailment last night doesn't inspire confidence, nor does the procurement battle and repeated delays with the streetcar system or its likely  eventual conflict with the city's biking population. Along with these goals, the mayor says he wants to cut obesity, grow green jobs, and attract and maintain 250,000 residents. It's ambitious and feels rather sudden but on the whole welcome. Why not push for all these changes, from local food to greener transportation, if it's possible to truly move these agendas forward? The rhetoric, at the very least, is potent.

"In just one generation — 20 years — the District of Columbia will be the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States," Mayor Gray declares in his sustainibility manifesto.

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