How DC’s local transportation trends emerged within TransportationCamp DC

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Last Saturday, we hosted more than 300 people for TransportationCamp DC at George Mason University’s Arlington campus. This “unconference” lends attendees the mic to discuss their transportation passions, ideas, and concerns with other advocates and experts. TCamps are also products of their local context, so here’s a quick glance at some of the issues that emerged—through that specific local lens.

Shabazz Stewart giving keynote on stage at transportation camp with audience in foreground

Shabazz Stuart, CEO of Oonee, delivers the keynote address on civic entrepreneurship at TransportationCamp DC.

Transit

On December 6, the DC Council made national headlines by voting to advance the Metro for DC bill, which would make all WMATA bus rides in the District free and improve those rides by investing $10 million in service and reliability. The bill also left open the possibility to provide all DC residents with $100 a month to ride MetroRail, the fate of which will be decided in 2024 budget talks next year. (DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is not yet supportive of the plan.)

Expert opinions are mixed on the matter and the debate even made its way to an August episode of Freakonomics. Yonah Freemark put out a great Twitter thread on the matter as well.

Meanwhile, transit agencies across the country continue to struggle to recover from the pandemic and find new ways to get things done. As we head into 2023, concerns about transit delay, access, and operations are still at the front of many riders’ and agencies’ minds.

How it came up at Camp: 

  • Layers of transit delay
  • What can we learn from unlimited tickets and fare capping?
  • Making transit the default
  • Measuring transit safety
  • Using cell data in transit planning and operations
  • Incentivizing local orgs to buy transit passes
  • Small transit tech success

Road safety and Vision Zero

On October 27, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser released an update to the District’s Vision Zero plan, the city’s pledge to eliminate all traffic deaths. The update serves as a tacit admission by the city that its original 2015 plan failed to reduce traffic deaths, which have been steadily increasing. The plan also focuses on the impact of traffic violence on more vulnerable and diverse communities, particularly east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8, which also have some of the lowest rates of car ownership in the city. As traffic deaths rise across the country, DC’s focus aligns with the majority of evidence that points to changing road designs to slow vehicle speeds as the most effective (and unused) strategy for reducing traffic deaths.

How it came up at Camp:

  • A panel discussion on data and safety, from TCamp platinum sponsor INRIX.
  • Let’s rethink enforcement
  • How can we best protect/support nondrivers?
  • Why do Complete Streets projects fall apart in the preliminary engineering phase?
  • Colorado needs advice — how to tackle reducing transportation emissions
  • Streets, roads, and stroads

Advocacy and reducing emissions

With a new federal rule on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, new tax incentives for electric vehicles (EVs), a burgeoning plan (and funding) for building out the national rail network, and funds for transit to reduce emissions, it’s no wonder that emissions and EVs are on many people’s minds as we head into 2023.

Advocates continue to mobilize around issues of climate justice and public health, and TransportationCamp is an excellent place for these advocates to expand their circles, offer each other support, and learn new ways to advance their goals.

How it came up at Camp:

  • Power collab: BIPOC and disabled activists fight for climate mobility
  • The national passenger rail landscape (a joint session with T4America staff and Amtrak presenting together)
  • Moving single-passenger gas-powered vehicles to EV
  • Beyond EVs
  • Ask your doctor if hydrogen is right for you
  • Power from the people!!

five panelists on stage discussing data in front of big screens
Our panel discussion on data, organized by our platinum sponsor INRIX.

Closing divides and connecting communities

On October 25, the Montgomery Council approved the county’s new General Plan, entitled Thrive Montgomery 2050. (Montgomery County borders the District of Columbia to the immediate northwest.) This vote came after years of planning, political battles, and protests, largely over the plans to build new and denser housing. But now that the plan has passed, the county will look to implement it by building more walkable communities through denser land use, better transit service, and more bicycle facilities. While the implementation process will take years, the passage of Thrive Montgomery 2050 is a major step forward, and gives local advocates a platform to fight for a smarter county-wide transportation system.

The county has also been the site of a contentious battle over the plan to expand Interstate 270, a priority of Maryland’s former Governor Larry Hogan. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has long opposed the plan and nearly succeeded in killing it in 2021 when he got the Washington Council of Government’s Transportation Planning Board to remove the project from its plans, jeopardizing the ability of the project to gain federal approval. But the Board reversed their decision only five days later, after Hogan acquiesced to including bus priority lanes in the project. On August 25, 2022, the Federal Highway Administration finally approved the project, but the project’s ultimate fate rests with Maryland’s new Governor, Wes Moore, whose opinion on the project is not yet clear.

Montgomery County advocates are fighting hard for land use and transportation decisions to better serve people, but are up against powerful interests that want to continue the same failing approach to address mobility and congestion through incredibly expensive highway investments alone. Advocates across the country can learn lessons from the way local officials leveraged the environmental review process and the importance of supportive statewide leadership, though the final verdict also isn’t in yet.

How it came up at Camp:

  • Calling all Community Connectors!: A discussion on the resources needed to oppose divisive infrastructure
  • Let’s all get on the same page about why highway expansion is idiotic
  • It’s time to move from mobility to access
  • Procedural bike planning
  • How to make cities bike-friendly for kids (led by an eight-year-old!)
  • Gender & transportation

Lastly, for much more on the local DC angle, please turn to our two DC-area Community Sponsors of Transportation Camp DC: Greater Greater Washington organized a heavily attended session all about what’s happening in the DC region on these issues and how to get involved, and longtime Smart Growth America member Coalition for Smarter Growth is the go-to source for advocacy in the greater DC region.

We’ll have some more thoughts and reflections about the incredible day that was Transportation Camp here soon. But we want to say an immense thank you to the 300-plus participants who showed up (about 20 percent of whom proposed or led a session!), our many virtual participants who joined us online, and our incredible sponsors who made it all possible and also kept the costs minimal for participants.

Thanks to our Transportation Camp DC 2023 sponsors!

Continue the conversation in February at the virtual Equity Summit!

Want to keep talking? Join us at the Smart Growth America Equity Summit from February 7-9 for more discussion on the transportation topics that are most important this year. During this three-day virtual event, presenters will discuss keeping equity at the forefront of every smart growth approach—and February 8th focuses entirely on transportation. Join us for a day packed with conversation around reconnecting communities. Learn more and buy your ticket today.

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