Brainstorming Capitol Hill’s Public Space Issues – Part I
by Larry Janezich
Last Thursday night, The Hill Rag pulled together five panelists at a Hill Center community meeting to brainstorm ideas about how public space on Capitol Hill could be or should be used. The panelists included Charles Allen, Ward 6 Councilmember; Matthew Marcou, DDOT Public Space Regulations Division; Meredith Fascett, ANC6D Chair; David Alpert, Greater Greater Washington; and Historic Preservationist Nancy Metzger. Andrew Lightman, managing editor of the Hill Rag, moderated.
The discussion covered a range of topics, most of them related to the operation and parking of vehicles: scooters on sidewalks, enforcement of traffic laws and pedestrian safety, the Resident Parking Permit System, the proliferation of private streets, dump trucks, and the public benefits from Planned Unit Developments. CM Allen summarized the scope of the discussion: “Think about the volume of public space were reserving for cars – parking, storage, travel. We’re fighting over a small scrap of what’s left. How we move forward is our opportunity to have the ability to shape with this looks like for all spaces and all uses.”
Capitol Hill Corner’s takeaway from the discussion:
Scooters – speeds need to be lower than the current 15mph. If we force them off sidewalks, we need to have safe bike lanes for them. Enforcement of scooter regs on sidewalks is difficult if not impossible. The question is how to balance needs of pedestrians and with the desire to reduce the use of cars.
Traffic and pedestrian safety – CM Allen and Alpert found themselves at odds with DDOT’s Marcou. The former say “do whatever it takes” to make the road safe, including four way stops and rebuilding intersections to prioritize pedestrians. Allen had just come from a memorial for one of the ten pedestrians killed by vehicles in DC this year. Enforce traffic regs with more cameras and smaller fines, and deputize residents as enforcers. Allen said DOT “drives me crazy,” in part because they prioritize vehicles over pedestrians. Marcou cited the danger of unintended consequences and adverse reaction from drivers. Allen replied he would “take the heat” for driver reaction in Ward Six and that we should “try things our if – if it doesn’t work, come back and try again.
Public benefits from Planned Unit Developments – There was wide agreement that the most important community benefit for allowing greater height (air space is public space) and density is affordable housing. Also, that there is need for more transparency in the PUD process and more information and help for ANCs from DMPED or the city when they negotiate community benefits with developers. Fascett stressed the need for the establishment of best practices. Alpert urged making affordable housing the highest priority while Metzger said she was nervous about making that a goal for all ANCs. Marcou said that benefits require generational assessment in that they should be long lasting.
Resident Parking Permit System (RPP) – this discussion snuck in as part of the PUD benefits question. Most panelists agreed the RPP system is broken. You can get parking for as many vehicles as you own for $35 a year for each. One proposed solution was mini-parking zones, but Allen said suggesting that at a community meeting resulted in the only time he’d been booed in a meeting. Allen says it’s time to take a big step and look at RPP and acknowledge it’s not working. Fascett pointed to the lack of guest parking for residents of many ANC6D high rise residents who are not eligible for Visitor Parking Permits since their right to an RPP was bargained in the PUD process.
Proliferation of private streets – Fascett called this a very exciting development providing the opportunity to adapt the street to community needs, citing Wharf Street and its “great pedestrian experience.” Another example of a private street is the Hine Project’s reopening of C Street between 7th and 8th Streets, originally intended to be home to the weekend flea markets, a process which is still being worked out. Challenges include managing and enforcing parking and – according to Marcou – maintaining standards which would allow DDOT to take over control of the street if necessary.
Dump Trucks – In overtime after the meeting was scheduled to end, the panel briefly discussed traffic problems caused by the routing of dump trucks at construction projects in Southeast and Southwest.
Among those in the audience were Peter May, Associate Regional Director for Lands and Planning at National Park Service, (who calls the shots on everything that happens in Capitol Hill’s National Park Service Parks: Lincoln, Stanton, Folger, and Marion), as well a number of ANC commissioners and representatives of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society.
In Part II, Capitol Hill Corner asked one attendee – retiring ANC6B06 Commissioner and Planning and Zoning Committee Chair Nick Burger – for his thoughts on the meeting. A following post will summarize that conversation.