Mike Litt, Sierra Club DC Chapter
For the District Department of Transportation Budget Oversight Hearing
Before the Council of the District of Columbia’s
Committee on Transportation & The Environment
14 April 2023
Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony for the budget oversight hearing for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). My name is Mike Litt. I am a car free renter in Ward 6 and Chair of the Sierra Club DC Chapter’s Clean Transportation Subcommittee. Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. Here in DC, we have 3,000 dues-paying members and many thousands of supporters.
According to the District of Columbia's Multimodal Long-Range Transportation Plan, also known as “moveDC”, transportation is the District’s second leading source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 21% of such emissions.
DDOT, therefore, plays a critical role in meeting the District’s mandate for a 60% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2045, as required by the Climate Commitment Amendment Act.
Our national and local carbon reduction goals require both shifting more trips away from vehicles and making sure that vehicle trips—including those on transit vehicles—are powered by clean energy. The District should continually prioritize those areas of highest needs in order to improve the city as a whole.
Please find our recommendations for Mayor Bowser’s proposed FY 2024 budget to make this shift by restoring funding that continues DC’s progress towards a safe and sustainable transportation system – with increased electrification, improved transit service and infrastructure, and heightened bike and pedestrian safety.
2023 will be the first of several difficult budget years for the District of Columbia. The Mayor seeks to remedy this in part by raiding the Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) program, which under the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Amendment Act of 2020 is dedicated to pedestrian, bus, and bike projects, and we urge the Council to maintain that obligation. It is curious that expanded enforcement only now has become a priority when earlier expansion would have saved lives and created resources for now-threatened programs.
Maximizing ATE’s safety impact goes beyond issuing tickets. DC must ensure that dangerous scofflaw drivers do not skirt ATE: DC must secure ticket reciprocity with other states, crack down on expired and forged license plates, and use the Department of Public Works’ impoundment operation to remove repeat offenders. We appreciate the Mayor’s Task Force on ATE, and urge the District to more broadly reconsider its traffic law enforcement strategy.
In the longer term, the Mayor’s “Comeback Plan” seeks to draw 15,000 new residents to downtown DC. Doing so will require remaking downtown’s streets for living, not for commuting: places where people enjoy walking, biking, and lingering, rather than dangerous, high-speed traffic sewers. The $123 million allotted for the K Street Transitway should be deferred until the project can be reshaped to reflect a new vision of downtown.
The Sierra Club’s Energy Resources Policy urges that “Congestion pricing should be applied, when feasible.” DC has commissioned a report on decongestion pricing, and we look forward to seeing this policy raise revenue while cutting traffic congestion, pollution, and crashes.
Mayor Bowser’s proposed FY 2024 budget should provide the funding necessary for the District to meet its climate and clean air goals through electrification of the transportation sector. However, the proposed DDOT budget does not appear to indicate whether there is funding for electric charging infrastructure, either for its own fleet or for private vehicles.
The budget should provide funding to meet the Department of Energy and Environment’s recommendation in the District of Columbia Transportation Electrification Roadmap to “Expand curbside charging access by offering a curbside charging program managed by DDOT by 2024.” Despite the proposed budget cuts to service hours and routes, DDOT should keep its commitment to fully electrifying its DC Circulator fleet. The budget should include necessary funding for electric infrastructure and bus procurement toward this transition.
The budget should also indicate how electrification factors into its Vehicle Fleet capital project.
Bus Priority Projects
Thank you for proposing to increase funding to $114 million over the next six years for DDOT’s Bus Priority and Efficiency Initiative and for increasing funding for it by 89% in FY 2024. We support the Bus Priority Program and its plan for up to 51 projects to improve bus speeds and reliability across all wards. Bus priority is the easiest, fastest way to improve connections between DC neighborhoods and provide equitable transportation options to all DC residents.
- Up-to-date statuses on project web pages;
- Brief descriptions and timelines for each project on the projects map; and
- A list of all bus priority projects, with brief descriptions and timelines for each to help the public assess bus priority progress across the District
The proposed budget reflects funding reductions from the elimination of two Circulator routes and decreases in service hours. It is unclear to what degree DDOT has studied the impacts to riders by such a drastic cut to service. DDOT should publish an impact study and explain how impacted riders will be ensured transit service in the District.
DDOT should also ensure high-frequency service on the DC Circulator. As moveDC explains, transit’s convenience and attractiveness to the public is determined by high-frequency service, defined as an average of every five minutes or better for rail and 10 minutes or better for buses.
We are, therefore, concerned about recommendations in DDOT’s DC Circulator 2020 Transit Development Plan Update, released last July, to change the current service level from every 10 minutes to three different service levels, ranging from 10 - 20 minute frequency. Moving in the opposite direction of high frequency service, toward hard-to-remember schedules and longer wait times, will make it harder for residents to utilize the DC Circulator, potentially forcing them to turn to more expensive and polluting means of transportation. Increasing transit ridership requires improving service, reliability, and safety.
Metro for DC
We commend the Council for passing Metro for D.C., which would provide free Metrobus fares in the District and 24-hour Metrobus service on at least 12 lines, greatly benefiting many residents and increasing ridership.
We urge the Council to work with the Mayor and other stakeholders to ensure there is sufficient funding for Metro for D.C.
Thank you for funding the Benning Road Reconstruction and Streetcar Extension project, which will replace and rehabilitate bridges along Benning Road, providing a much-needed transportation link for Ward 5 and 7 neighborhoods by extending the DC Streetcar to the Benning Road Metrorail station. The rebuilt Benning Road will also make it safer to walk and cycle along what is now a forbidding highway. We look forward to updates, as both its final design phase is anticipated to conclude and its project implementation is anticipated to begin this year. Although overall funding for the project has increased, there is far less funding for FY 2024 than was proposed in the FY 2023 budget. We urge DDOT to ensure this project remains on schedule for completion in 2028.
The H Street Bridge NE Replacement project is needed to address safety concerns about the Hopscotch bridge, which handles streetcars, intercity buses, and crosstown traffic. Nearly $45 million was proposed for spending during FY 2024 in the FY 2023 budget. However, no funding is proposed at all for spending during FY 2024 in the proposed FY 2024 budget. We urge DDOT to prioritize completing the replacement of the H Street Bridge safely, on time, and within budget.
We also support continued funding for the Urban Forestry and Tree Planting projects to help mitigate climate change and reduce heat-related health concerns.
To date, DDOT has seemed to treat Vision Zero as an add-on, rather than the life-or-death matter it actually is. We are hopeful that the Vision Zero 2022 Update will sharpen DDOT’s focus on creating a safe system to reverse the rise in needless traffic fatalities. The proposed budget increase for the Safety & Mobility project should prioritize activities that lower car speeds, improve visibility of cyclists and pedestrians, and reduce the number of miles traveled by vehicles.
We are concerned about the decreased funding and full-time equivalents (FTEs) for the Vision Zero Division in the proposed operating budget, particularly in light of documented shortcomings in the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor's audit of Vision Zero. The proposed FY 2024 budget should ensure funding to implement the audit’s recommendations, including creation of a comprehensive database of recommendations and data that is used to develop a High Injury Network for selecting and assessing projects based on safety and equity. We support the focus on the areas with the most serious crash rates and historic neglect.
Traffic Calming Streetscapes, Bicycle Lanes, and Trails
We support the proposed funding increases for the Streetscapes and Beautification project, which includes the redesign of major intersections and corridors to improve traffic safety, and the Safety & Mobility project, which includes expansion of bicycle lanes and infrastructure. These physical changes to the right of way play an integral part in drawing walkers and riders to trade car trips for zero-emissions modes of travel, protect those travelers who are most vulnerable to injury and death, and improve quality of life for District residents.
We are also pleased to see the significant increase in expanding and operating the Capital Bikeshare program, the increases for bicycle and pedestrian trails, and the expedited start of funding for the Long Bridge Pedestrian & Bicycle Connection project.
We wholeheartedly support the vision of a city that is accessible to cyclists of all ages and skill levels and we believe that protected cycling infrastructure will allow people to significantly reduce their reliance on cars. We thank DDOT for recent progress in installing protected bike lanes on north-south routes across the District and urge it to also ensure such protection on east-west routes.
We would like an update about the District’s pledge last year to create 10 miles of protected bike lanes and exceed its original goal in 2020 to build 20 miles of new protected bike lanes over three years.
In addition to the above multimodal improvements, DDOT should give serious consideration to what it would take to make car-free streets and car-free zones across the District a reality. We are disappointed to see Open Streets funding cut and suggest that perhaps reducing police costs could rejuvenate the events.
Sierra Club policy also “supports transformative strategies that build… affordable housing accessible to all” as integral to “dense, inclusive” low-carbon communities. We are concerned that the Mayor’s budget reduces affordable housing capital funding at this time. Instead, DC should take advantage of lower construction costs and new federal energy-efficiency incentives to ramp up zero-carbon social housing initiatives.
Please let us know how we can help this committee work with the District so that sustainable public transportation, cycling, and walking in the District can take on a greater share of the trips that people make every day.
Thank you again for the opportunity to submit this written testimony.
 D.C. Law 24-176, https://code.dccouncil.gov/us/dc/council/laws/24-176.
 Transportation Electrification Roadmap, https://doee.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddoe/service_content/attachments/Final%20DC%20Roadmap%20sm.pdf, Pages 18, 47, and 96.
 DC Circulator Battery-Electric Bus Pilot Report, https://www.dccirculator.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Final-Electric-Bus-Pilot-Report-v3_8.25.21.pdf
 DC Circulator Transit Development Plan 2020 Update, https://www.dccirculator.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/DC-Circulator-2020-TDP_052022_Final.pdf, Table 50, Page 115.
 Benning Road Bridges and Transportation Improvements Project, https://www.benningproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/DDOT_fact-sheet_0223.pdf, Page 2.
 Lazo, Luz. “DC Wants to double its 24 miles of protected bike lanes. It plans to start with 10 miles this year.” The Washington Post, 3 Feb. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2022/02/03/dc-protected-bike-lanes/.