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Panelists discuss sustainable commuting at Greater Greater Washington event.

Panelists discuss sustainable commuting at Greater Greater Washington event.

Gordon Chaffin/DC Commute Times

DC Transit Experts Talk About Getting Commuters Out of Cars

Greater Greater Washington convened a panel of transportation stakeholders Thursday, Oct. 11 to discuss the what, why, and how of increasing the sustainability of commuting in DC. Transportation is a significant component of the Sustainable DC Plan, first created in 2012 and being updated this year. Panelists represented government, the private sector, and non-profit advocates. Each spoke to small, medium, and large changes necessary to shift a large chunk of DC’s commuters from cars and rideshare to bikes, scooters, and walking.

DC Transportation Stakeholders Focus on Safety, Data, and Civic Outreach

Jeff Marootian, Director of the District Department of Transportation, was the most frequent speaker on the panel and many of the audience questions were directed at DDOT operations. Marootian emphasized the use of data in many of his answers, mentioning how changes to street design and transportation services go through study periods.

Mysiki Valentine, a candidate for ANC Commissioner in Ward 7D and Constituent Services Coordinator for DC Government, emphasized the importance of safety. Valentine lives East of the Anacostia River, where availability and usage of bikes and scooters is much less than in the Monumental, Downtown, and NW corridors. Valentine shared how hesitant his neighbors, especially senior citizens and young children, are to use bikes or even cross the street on foot. He also expressed frustration with the inaction at DDOT, noting the dangerous intersection of 34th Street SE and Benning Road NE. According to Valentine, DDOT did a study there in 2007, and nothing came of it.

Brandon Pollack, Bird’s Director of Civic Engagement, addressed audience questions about the versatility of his company’s scooters. Bird, which just unveiled a second generation model promising greater battery life and durability, faces critiques that its system of maintenance and charging creates more car usage to keep the operation running. Safety also was a concern for attendees. Mysiki Valentine joked that he feared the thought of a senior citizen on a scooter.

Hannah Neagle, WABA’s Vision Zero Community Organizer, outlined several of the community outreach efforts her organization is executing. This challenge, Neagle and other panelists mentioned is that the next batch of sustainable commuters DC needs to attract are less confident or knowledgeable about bikes and scooters. She said that 60 percent of DC commuters are “interested but concerned” about bike commuting.

Valentine echoed the importance of education about the basics. He also doubled down on safety, saying he knows Ward 7 residents who put their bikes on a car to only drive six blocks and park at the Anacostia River Trail. Those residents don’t feel safe riding on the streets connecting their home to the main cycling arteries in DC. Given WABA’s analysis of Vision Zero results in DC, those folks have reason to be cautious.

Sustainable DC 2.0 Plan Includes Ambitious, Even Far-Fetched Goals

The outline of DC’s second sustainability plan contains four ambitious objectives that reduce the environmental harm done by commuting. Each of these targets was discussed during the Greater Greater Washington event.

Target 1: “By 2032, increase use of public transit to 50% of all commuter trips in all wards.”

According to a DC Commute Times analysis of Census, only 32.7 percent of DC commuters used transit in 2017. Transit commuting in DC is becoming *less* popular over time, with 36 percent transit commuting in 2016 and 37.4 percent the year before.

Target 2: “By 2032, increase biking and walking to 25% of all commuter trips in all wards.”

According to our analysis of Census Data, 12.7 percent of DC commuters walked in 2017. That portion has remained stuck between 13 and 11 percent since 2009 and trends don’t indicate improvement. Five percent of DC commuters bike to work. The cycling commute numbers had gone up in DC when Capital Bikeshare and dockless bikes were proliferating. However, these patterns show significantly less bike activity in less wealthy and higher-percentage minority areas of DC.

Target 3: “By 2032, reduce commuter trips made by car to 25%.”

That’s a significant reduction from current levels. In 2017, 34.4 percent of DC commuters drive alone. Slightly fewer people drive now than a decade ago but the trend is fairly stable, between 33 percent in 2016 and 37 percent in 2009. In 2017, 5.2 percent carpooled, down from 7 percent in 2009. All told, 39.6 percent of DC commuters used cars last year.

Target 4: “By 2032, reduce greenhouse gas emissions coming from transportation by 60%.”

DC hopes to achieve this goal with alternative energy upgrades and a mix of enforcement and citizen outreach. The city may “require District Government, and incentivize private businesses, to purchase zero to low-emission fleet vehicles.” They also hope to “fully electrify District-controlled buses, and work with regional bus systems to reduce regional bus emissions.” Included here is a goal to “build a system of electric vehicle charging stations throughout” DC, a topic we’ve written about before.

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