In Praise of Lesser Lesser Lesser Washington

by Marc Scribner on July 19, 2011

in Blog, Features

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A collective cry of outrage could be heard across the D.C. urbanista interwebs upon the announcement that Ward 6 D.C. Councilman Tommy Wells would be losing his chairmanship of the Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee. Unfortunately given the political dynamics (read: lefty-enviro-urban-fetishists have way too much pull in this town!), less is generally more when it comes to transportation policy in Washington, D.C. Wells, in addition to being an anti-gambling nannystater, is well known for being behind many of the District’s wasteful, anti-auto “livability” programs. His official website’s tagline is even “Building a livable, walkable city.” For a brief explanation of why the New Urbanists’ social-engineering  concept of “livability” is just code for “stupid handouts to yuppies,” see my recent post on regarding the federal Department of Transportation’s TIGER 3 grants program.

As the anti-mobility, pro-gentrification-subsidy Greater Greater Washington laments (as I rejoice), this decision is worsening the already low morale among the District Department of Transportation’s most worthless bureaucrats. Chief trolley and bike-share cheerleader Scott Kubly, who announced he will be leaving his post at DDOT, doesn’t appear to have been driven out as a result of Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s committee shakeup. But this latest departure of a Fenty-era apparatchik is making clear that much of the city is sick and tired of local politicians basing transportation and land-use policies around the silly prejudices concerns of wealthy gentrifiers. Ex-Mayor Fenty’s education policy was fingered by many in the clueless media as the culprit for his loss to now-Mayor Gray, as the awful teachers’ union contributed heavily to Gray’s campaign. But ask a resident of Ward 7 or Ward 8 about what annoyed them most about Fenty’s “white-washing”: “bike lanes” are usually at the top of the list.

While I am hardly optimistic about the overall future prospects of the notoriously corrupt D.C. city government, as an advocate for sensible transportation policy that actually enhances residents’ mobility and quality of life, recent steps taken by key city politicians are a breath of fresh air after years of official pandering to well-to-do urbanists.

Lance July 19, 2011 at 11:52 am

Did I write this?

Steve July 19, 2011 at 11:53 am

So Marc, how exactly should we enhance the mobility of DC residents? More lanes? New roads? Less walking? Less biking? What’s possible and feasible? Enlighten us and provide a vision rather than constantly just tossing stones and telling us what you don’t like, mate.

Ward 7 resident July 19, 2011 at 12:09 pm

As an almost 10-year Ward 7 resident who is not in an upper income bracket, and who rides his bike because I can’t afford to get my car fixed…what the hell are you talking about when it comes to bike lanes? We should be at the top of the list promoting this. You spend too much time listening to the old ladies who can’t ride bikes and are afraid of change.
Gentrification in my neighborhood means people moving in who aren’t willing to put up with the bullshit and poor service. This benefits me and my neighbors who have been here for 40, 50, and 60 years. Places to shop, places to eat, and less worry about getting shot or stepping on a used needle is a good thing, trust me.

Marc Scribner July 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm


I do love throwing bombs, but as far as my suggestions go: prohibiting Complete Streets projects, allowing taller buildings, killing rent control, abolishing most or all of DCRA’s functions, instituting variable tolling and modern traffic signal coordination, ending suburban rail expansions, etc.


Ronnie July 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

“instituting variable tolling and modern traffic signal coordination, ending suburban rail expansions, etc.”

So is what you are saying is you want to crisscross DC with freeways so everyone with a car can live in PA and WV and get to work on time?

Marc Scribner July 19, 2011 at 2:46 pm


No, I’m talking about a) tolling highways in the metro area, and b) upgrading traffic signals to reduce congestion in D.C.


Ward 2 Resident July 19, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Ah, yes the old signal priority panacea. It’s like Medicare fraud. If only we could just fix this one thing, then it would all be perfect! The reality is that there’s congestion because there are too many cars. Changing signals would accomplish little except move the problem around. It’s of course no surprise that a CEI hack cares more about burning as much fossil fuel as possible; those oil companies didn’t pay CEI’s bills for nothing!

Stephen Smith July 19, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Seems to me, Marc, like you actually have a fair amount in common with the urbanistas. You both support tolling existing highways and allowing developers to build their own property out more densely, and I seem to recall a recent GGW editorial against the suburban Metrorail expansions. Also, though you didn’t mention it, I’m sure you agree with Tommy Wells’ “performance parking” initiatives (i.e., pricing on-street parking as high as the market can bear).

Will July 20, 2011 at 12:05 am

I happen to work in the signals arena at DDOT. Of course, people don’t appreciate that most of our major corridors already are coordinated, which is why we could clear traffic as quickly as we did on 4th of July to cite one example. Usually the people asking for coordination forget that there are cross streets where people also want to have some green time, and there are pedestrians who need to cross those streets, timed at a rate of 3.5 feet per second. When people tell me I need to coordinate a corridor, it is universally the one they drive on, and they don’t consider that there are demands on the cross streets to their route; it’s classic windshield perspective every time. I’ll admit that there are problem spots here and there that could be improved, but most involve genuine choices of policy and priority, and it’s not a tech issue at all.

In DC we have also made the decision to have most signals (traffic and ped) on a pre-timed system, rather than an actuated system (in-road sensors and push button cross walks). We get criticized on this as well, but it’s a genuine policy choice that has various benefits and costs, which we’ve weighed over and over the past 40 years.

The reality is we make decisions in the interest of safety every time, and in an environment with as many pedestrians as we have, safety means keeping the cars as close to 25 mph as we can and giving pedestrians adequate time to cross. “Speed kills” and “everyone is opportunistic” are about the only two rules you can count on in traffic engineering, and we make decisions accordingly.

Per your comment on congestion pricing, that would work great, we all know it, but our dear neighbors in Maryland and Virginia would never stand for it, and they have votes in congress while we don’t, so no one in my line of work believes its politically possible within the next few years.

Marc Scribner July 20, 2011 at 9:36 am


I’m glad you can read outdated and misleading Sourcewatch profiles. But I fail to see how oil company contributions, presumably ExxonMobil, CEI last received three years before I worked here for departments that I’ve never worked in somehow influences what I write. Those darn Koch Brothers must be behind it, right?


I do. If only they’d shut up about all the trivial anecdotal “evidence” that keeps them up at night and ditched their green-tinged pwoggy thinking, we’d be closer to being on the same page wrt transport and land-use.


Thanks for your comments. What can be done to improve AM/PM peak coordination? And isn’t DDOT supposed to be in a process of optimizing their traffic signals? I recall hearing something like that earlier this year from a TRB meeting attendee. And wrt congestion pricing or tolling period in MD and NoVA, you’re right. There remains bipartisan opposition to doing anything sensible with their roads.

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