Expanded Transit, Bicycling, and Electric Transportation Needed in DC

Written Testimony
Mike Litt, Sierra Club DC Chapter
For the District Department of Transportation Performance Oversight Hearing
Before the Council of the District of Columbia’s
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
9 February 2024

Chair Allen, thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony for the performance oversight hearing on 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 Sustainable Transportation Committee. 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 DC’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 goals for a 60% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2045, as required by the Climate Commitment Amendment Act.

Meeting our national and local carbon reduction goals and improving air quality and health 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 making this shift through improved transit service and infrastructure, bike and pedestrian safety, transportation demand management, and increased electrification.

Transit service and infrastructure improvements

Bus Priority projects and Clear Lanes enforcement

Bus priority is the easiest, fastest way to improve connections between DC neighborhoods. We commend the completion of the 8th Street NE Bus Priority Project last August and the M Street SE Corridor Safety Project in January, and the planning progress made for other projects over the last year, toward DDOT’s Bus Priority Plan for 51 projects to improve bus speeds and reliability across all wards. According to the Bus Priority Projects' website, there are currently 12.1 miles of bus lanes built or under construction toward DDOT's goal of 25 bus-lane miles by 2025. As it appears that DDOT will fall short of that goal, we would like to know how many bus-lane miles are currently expected to be built or under construction by 2025 and by when DDOT will have 25 bus lane-miles built or under construction. We support continued resources to ensure DDOT meets its bus priority goals as soon as possible. 

We appreciate the up-to-date statuses on the individual pages for individual projects since last year, when we recommended such updates. We continue to also recommend brief descriptions and timelines for each project on the projects map and a central list of all bus priority projects by ward, with brief descriptions and timelines for each to help the public more easily assess bus priority progress across the District.

Your emergency legislation to start $100 fines to finally enforce the joint DDOT/Metro Clear Lanes Project has been welcome and much-needed relief to improve bus travel times and bus stop safety. We ask DDOT to publish data on changes in illegal and obstructive activity in bus lanes and bus travel times as Clear Lanes enforcement goes into full effect this year. 

We would also like to see an update on DDOT’s program to replace all of the bus shelters in the District with new, modern shelters.

DC Circulator

The proposed FY24 budget included the elimination of two Circulator routes and decreases in service hours, which the DC Council prevented. It was unclear at the time to what degree DDOT had studied the impacts of such drastic cuts to service. Is DDOT considering such cuts again, and if so, has DDOT taken the time to study such impacts and plan for how impacted riders would be ensured transit service? 

DDOT should 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 in July 2022, to change the current service level from every 10 minutes to three different service levels, ranging from 10 - 20 minute frequency. We are wary of moving in the opposite direction of high-frequency service, toward hard-to-remember schedules and longer wait times. Increasing transit ridership requires improving service and reliability. 

Infrastructure Projects

The Sierra Club DC Chapter has long supported the Benning Road Reconstruction and Streetcar Extension project, which, as originally conceived, would replace and rehabilitate bridges along Benning Road, and also provide a much-needed transportation link for Ward 5 and 7 neighborhoods by extending the DC Streetcar to the Benning Road Metrorail station and make it safer to walk and cycle along what is now a forbidding highway. We are, however, concerned that the project appears to be proceeding with the roadway improvements for cars, without the Streetcar extension or safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. We urge this committee to work with DDOT to find the funding so DDOT can procure contracts for all elements of the project.

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. The timeline for the project appears to have been delayed. We urge DDOT to prioritize completing the replacement of the H Street Bridge safely, within budget, and on time to its current schedule of issuing a design-build RFQ and contract award this year and completing the project in 2031.

This committee should also ask DDOT to update the list of Capital Infrastructure Projects and individual project websites. 

Bicycle and pedestrian safety

Protected bike lanes

We thank DDOT for recent progress in installing protected bike lanes, which use barriers to keep bikes separated from cars. 

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 support removing single-occupancy vehicle parking and travel lanes when necessary to speed up the implementation of the protected bike lane network in DC, including plans to install bike lanes on Connecticut Avenue NW north of Calvert Street, Grant Circle NW, Benning Road NE between Oklahoma Avenue and the Benning Road Metro, Southern Avenue SE between 13th Street and Barnaby Road, and to upgrade the bike lanes on Q Street and R Street NW between Massachusetts Avenue and Florida Avenue from shared lanes to protected bike lanes.

In addition to expanding our network of on-street protected bike lanes, we urge expansion of our trail network, which makes it possible to bike to many places across the District and region without needing to share the road with cars at all. 

Vision Zero and safety enforcement

To date, DDOT has seemed to treat Vision Zero as an add-on, rather than the life-or-death matter it actually is. Tragically, 2023 was the District’s deadliest year for traffic fatalities in 16 years, despite the launch of Vision Zero in 2015. Victims included 19 pedestrians, two cyclists, two scooter riders, six motorcyclists, and twenty people in cars. According to the Vision Zero 2022 Update, Wards 7 and 8 bore the brunt with the most crash injuries and fatalities in the District from 2017 - 2021.

We recognize the important progress made in the past year to more than triple the number by March of Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) cameras, which have been shown to provide safety benefits in the District. However, without the ability to enforce fines or take cars with repeat offenses off the road, such expansion of cameras will yield limited results

We appreciate your leadership in advancing legislation that would prioritize booting or towing vehicles with repeat speeding or reckless driving violations, enforce moving violations by drivers (from DC and any state) with large unpaid balances, and limit the speed of those who commit serious speeding crimes. We commend the coordination between committees and effort to integrate data from different agencies to enforce our laws and help restore the social contract when it comes to making our streets safer for all. 

We would like to know if measures currently being pursued have been informed by initial recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE) Equity and Safety, as we understand an initial report was provided to the City Administrator last September before a final report this September.

In addition to enforcement against unsafe driving and fraudulent tags, DDOT should prioritize measures that lower car speeds, improve visibility of cyclists and pedestrians, and reduce the number of miles traveled by vehicles. 

Reduced vehicle miles traveled through demand management 

While improved transit service and safe bike and pedestrian infrastructure are critical for providing people in DC with viable alternatives to cars, car use itself must also be addressed to reflect its true costs.

Congestion pricing

DC has a goal of shifting to 75 percent non-car commuter trips by District residents by 2032. One of DDOT’s policies laid out in moveDC is to “implement congestion management tools to support accessible, reliable, sustainable, efficient, and affordable movement throughout the District.” One such congestion management tool available is congestion pricing, also known as road pricing, which would require drivers to pay to drive into the most congested parts of downtown DC. This would decrease congestion, reduce pollution, and help meet the District’s transportation and climate goals. It would also generate revenue that could be used to fund Metro, which is regularly facing budget shortfalls.

We are disappointed that DDOT continues to not release a congestion pricing study, which the DC Council required to be released in January. The public deserves to see whether decisions by DDOT are being informed by the best available data. We call on this committee to compel DDOT to release the study.

Parking minimums

We support eliminating parking minimums and also encourage the DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to increase parking permit fees. In addition to helping reduce vehicle miles traveled, eliminating parking minimums could also help reduce housing costs. 

Car-free zones

DC should also give serious consideration to what it would take to make permanent car-free streets and car-free zones across the District a reality. We are excited by the direction toward vibrant, weekly car-free corridors your Public Life and Activity Zones Amendment (‘PLAZA’) Act of 2023 would take the District.  


Charging infrastructure 

Transitioning to a zero-emission vehicle future, coupled with reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), will require electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure to meet the District’s goal under the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act of 2018 for at least 25% of registered vehicles in DC to be zero-emission by 2030. Your Comprehensive Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Access, Readiness, and Sustainability Act (B25-0106) would lay the groundwork for that necessary infrastructure. The faster the Council acts to facilitate the transition to EVs, the better.

We appreciate DDOT’s updated timeline in its National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Deployment Plan for using funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and urge DDOT to implement it on time.

DDOT should also revisit the current prohibition on Level 2 charging cords that cross the sidewalk from residences to EVs parked curbside. We ask this committee to require DDOT to explain the reason for its prohibition and conduct a publicly available study on Level 2 home street charging and, if warranted, revise its policy.

DC Circulator

DDOT should keep its commitment to fully electrifying its DC Circulator fleet. According to its pre-hearing responses for this year’s Performance Oversight Hearing, DDOT has to date placed 15 electric buses into service, which is short of the 28 electric buses it had planned to have in circulation in 2023. Is DDOT on track toward its plan of having a 50% electric DC Circulator fleet in 2024? If not, DDOT should update its timeline so that it can still reach its goal of a fully electric fleet by 2030. 

The DC Circulator Battery Electric Bus Pilot Report indicated that DDOT was developing a DC Circulator Sustainability Plan for electrifying its fleet and facilities that was anticipated to be completed in 2022. As it does not appear to have been published yet, this committee should ask for an update about the plan. 


Thank you for making the District Electric Bicycle Incentive Program, which will be open for applications this spring, possible. We also applaud DDOT for adding nearly 700 e-bikes to the Capital Bikeshare fleet last year and planning to increase the number of e-bikes to 2,500 in the coming years.

Coupled with dedicated resources for protected bike lane infrastructure, electric bike rebates, and expanded Bikeshare e-bikes, will help the District reach its climate goals, clean its air, and reduce its dependence on cars. 

Tree Canopy

In addition to managing transportation, DDOT also plays an important role as steward of our public trees. We congratulate DDOT for receiving $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture toward its goal of a 40% tree canopy by 2032. 

According to Casey Tree's 15th Annual Tree Report Card, released last year, the District has done a good job with tree coverage, tree health, and tree planting. However, it has fallen far short of tree protection, with a 50% failing grade in that category. Protecting the trees we already have is critical to restoring our tree canopy, which helps mitigate climate change. All fines for tree law violations should go to the Tree Fund, as required by the Urban Forest Preservation Act.

Please let us know how we can help this committee work with DDOT 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.