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D.C. has finally begun making some important hires in recent months, critical to multiple transportation projects in the works. First the District Department of Transportation hired Carl Jackson in January to lead its progressive transportation initiatives, from the streetcar to the Circulator to biking. And last Monday, DDOT's new parking czar Angelo Rao began work. Both positions have a strong bearing on the District's multi-modal plans and future.
Parking in particular will play a crucial role as D.C. struggles to manage its gridlock and transportation priorities. Mayor Vince Gray identified parking as one of the short-term priorities in his Sustainable D.C. plans, which call for three out of four trips to be car-free within 20 years. Of the two short-term actions the city needs: "Reduce building parking minimums and increase the availability of on-street parking through citywide performance parking districts."
Luckily Angelo Rao's sensibilities seem to fit right into the direction that D.C. is heading — although they have apparently provoked controversy in the past.
In a 2009 presentation down in Florida, Rao named his father Giuseppe as his hero and referred to his motto: "If I can't walk or take a streetcar to it, it isn't worth going to." In the presentation, Rao emphasizes right-of-way concerns and pedestrian rights. He shows how the speed of cars coincides with pedestrian fatalities. His slides point to traffic calming measures. "Think pedestrian first," Rao advises, and "share the road."
DDOT announces that Rao comes with 32 years of transportation experience and has worked as transportation director and assistant engineering director for St. Petersburg, Florida; transportation operations manager for Toronto; and as a project engineer for Ontario's Ministry of Transportation. He earned a civil engineering degree from the University of Toronto in 1980. DDOT director Terry Bellamy calls him "a dynamic, proactive and innovative leader with a wide range of experience and expertise" in his announcement of the hire.
Angelo Rao's parking challenges are myriad. The bad include the fallout from the Red Top Parking Meters intended for residents with disabilities — DDOT launched the program this spring and received scathing feedback from the Council and others in the city. Performance parking, as Mayor Vince Gray alluded to, will also be a greater part of D.C.'s transportation landscape soon. The city first kickstarted efforts with the Performance Parking Pilot Zone Act of 2008, which sought to reduce congestion and manage curbside parking by adjusting the rates of parking meters depending on demand and time. The District first tried pilot zones in Columbia Heights and Capitol Hill and this spring, began a pilot on H Street from 3rd Street, NE to 15th Street, NE/Benning Road, NE. The strict enforcement of performance parking harmonizes well with the way D.C. has increased its use of speed and red light cameras, which the mayor says would be welcome all over the city one day. Ostensibly the impetus for the new meters is to reduce gridlock, promote more turnover along our streets, and promote other modes of transportation, but in reality the meters also mean more revenue for our local government. The Columbia Heights pilot zone yielded more than $50,000 in revenue during its first two years but also touted some transportation successes. Only half of the pilot zone blocks were 85% full with cars compared to the blocks with multi-space meters, where all were at least 85% full.
11 years ago, the city of St. Petersburg, Florida laid off Rao as traffic and transportation director after a series of moves that prompted the St. Petersburg Times to call him the "father of parking fiasco" in a 2001 headline. The article describes how he championed $1.56 million worth of "befuddling parking stations" that "confounded motorists" and "so-called neighborhood traffic calming measures -- speed bumps, raised intersections and other vehicle slowing devices -- which also proved controversial." Officials at the time said Rao's termination was a factor of budget rather than due to his "history with controversial issues." One civic association president later suggested to the newspaper that the issues would have been less controversial in a European city and that Rao "did a superb job of educating people on issues, exploring options, communicating, working with neighborhood associations and individuals one on one."
Those livable, walkable priorities and an emphasis on traffic calming appear to have remained a large part of Rao's modus operandi in the years since, and given the direction of D.C., perhaps they'll prove less controversial here? Bellamy, fittingly enough, mentions that Rao will help support and execute the transportation policies of Sustainable D.C.