Georgetown Needs a Master Transportation Plan

Someday Georgetown is going to have its own Metro stop. GM might be old and retired by then, but it is going to happen. It will revolutionize how people get to and leave Georgetown, finally erasing a decades old short-sighted mistake by Metro planners.

But Georgetown can’t wait until then to better manage its transportation network. And the thing is, people aren’t waiting. Several different groups are working to bring transportation changes to Georgetown. The problem is that they’re not working together and there’s no overarching plan to organize the efforts.

For example, the BID and CAG are working with DDOT on how the streetcar will come to the neighborhood. A completely different working group is working towards bringing performance parking to Georgetown. Yet another group has long term plans to widen the sidewalks along Wisconsin Ave. and possibly M St.

One plan calls for the construction of an in-fill Metro stop between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom (the idea being that using a ventilation duct as the backbone of a new station would be much less expensive than a new Metro line). Others want to tear down the Whitehurst. Yet others want more bike lanes. Others still want transit-only lanes. 

The point is that a lot of ideas are floating around out there. And it doesn’t make sense for any one plan to hold itself up waiting for the others to materialize because then nothing would happen. But all these pieces need to be considered together. For instance, getting rid of a parking lane on M St. might push cars into the side streets. But performance parking can address this. And a new Metro station near Thompson’s Boat House would benefit greatly from having the streetcar use K St., but many want the streetcar on M.

This type of conflict calls for a master transportation plan for the neighborhood that takes all these issues into account. It would make decisions and set goals based upon a consensus of all the stake holders, including the BID, GBA, CAG, Georgetown University, and DDOT. For example, it would decide whether the streetcar should go on M or K, what should ultimately happen with the Whitehurst, how many traffic lanes should we have, etc.

Most of all, we need data. When the idea of taking a parking lane of M St. away for a transit lane gets mentioned, a lot of people get nervous and think this will have a big effect on how people get to Georgetown. But nobody really knows if that’s true. There are approximately 180 street parking spots on M St. How many people can possibly use those spots in a day? A thousand? Two thousand? Now consider the fact that between WMATA and the Circulator there are 704 different buses that travel along M St. on a weekday. It would not take very many people arriving per-bus to easily swamp the number of people using those parking spaces. Should we continue to give up so much road space to so few people, or should those lanes be converted to transit-only so to benefit the majority of people coming here? Or maybe pedestrians swamp both users and widening the sidewalk makes more sense. We don’t know what the numbers are, so we give solutions based upon our own biases and preferences, and GM is no different.

The problem is that only a few years ago DDOT spent a ton of money on a transportation study that was too narrow and whose recommendations DDOT mostly ignored. So that well is likely dry. None of the civic groups in Georgetown have the cash to fund the type of master plan that is necessary. But even lacking a master plan, a working group of all these stake holders should be formed to at least start the discussion and get the parties to see how interconnected all these issues are. And who knows, maybe some transportation planning grad school will be willing to draw up a plan pro bono as part of its coursework.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Georgetown Needs a Master Transportation Plan

  1. Dizzy

    It would be nice, for sure.

    However, I think the flip side is that there is absolutely no way to get “a consensus of all the stake holders, including the BID, GBA, CAG, Georgetown University, and DDOT” – and everybody knows it. The civic and governance structure in DC, and in Georgetown especially, is heavily weighted toward the preservation of the status quo. Waiting until everyone has agreed to one giant overarching plan before doing anything is tantamount to doing nothing.

    So, instead, people and groups pursue their own priorities separately. That way, the opposition they will face will be limited to only those opposed to that specific proposal, rather than everyone who is against at least one of the items in a big master grabbag of changes. There’s also probably some desire to try to “fly under the radar” and get approval while the usual suspects are busy opposing all the other proposed changes, although that obviously wouldn’t work for something as big as taking away the parking lanes on M.

    This would be an instance where real leadership on the part of the city’s chief executive might make a difference and force all parties to come together, compromise, and come up with a truly forward-looking plan for the area. But that ain’t happening.

  2. RNM

    The absence of a Metro stop in Georgetown was not an “oversight” it was part of the core planning for the intent of Metro. It has been my understanding that the Metro system was designed with two major goals, the obvious one of transporting people in and out of the city and the second to create an impetus of development. To the former, Georgetown was not then nor now a major commuting destination as compared with other parts of the downtown. It was also already at 100% build out and weighted down with historic preservation laws that left little room for major redevelopment. Add in the excessive cost and logistical issues involved with creating a station here and it was far from being an “oversight” it was a logical and rational choice. Sure, it would be great to have one…it would also be great to win the lottery.

    As for the concept of creating a master transportation plan for Georgetown, last I checked we were part of the District of Columbia having lost our independent status as a city well over a century ago…and as such wouldn’t it be more of a transportation plan for DC? Yes, this is a Georgetown centric blog, but much of that traffic moving across the Key Bridge, up and down Canal Road, on the Whitehurst Parkway, and through the core of M and Wisconsin Ave is not coming and going to Georgetown but just passing through. As such, planning for Georgetown while ignoring reality creates a ripe opportunity for unintended consequences. As I have suggested here before it sounds like the real goal is to make passage through Georgetown by car so undesirable as to force people to stop doing it. This would effectively eliminate one of the Potomac River crossings and would force more traffic onto other options…creating a problem in other parts of the region and probably causing those of us who live here to suffer more issues with driving through our own neighborhood as well.

    Luckily, the combination of division between ideas, lack of realistic funding and the general difficulty getting anything done in Georgetown works to hamper the short sighted or even non sighted plans from getting off the the hypothetical and into the planning much less execution. Like it or not, we are and will continue to be a car centric society for decades to come. Like it or not, Georgetown continues to be a somewhat attractive destination for people to shop and dine (though maybe not what it was once but also not as bad as it was once), as such people will continue to arrive here in cars. Making that more difficult will ultimately undermine the business core, leading to more vacant storefronts. Sometimes I think that is what a lot of the folks who moved into a city want…to strangle the very place they picked to live until it the difficulty of getting around reduces the traffic to that of a gated suburban enclave. While the Metro did not bypass Georgetown to keep the “riff-raff” out as the old adage goes, it feels a lot like some of the current residents would like to do just that today by making Georgetown an unfriendly destination…unless you are willing to come in their gated compound by their favored modes of transit. Luckily, as with efforts to eradicate rats, trying to socially engineer human behavior on the micro of a Georgetown level will fail. But I am sure it will create no end of discussion, comments and maybe even a few projects good and bad that impact not shape the local transportation flow.

    Ultimately, is it really that hard to get around now? I can ride a bike, I can drive, I can grab a cab, I can jump on a bus and can even walk to a Metro stop. Is the search for a solution necessary if there is not a problem or if the expectations are unrealistic? I don’t play the lottery, should I expect to win the lottery? We live in a city. Yes, there will be traffic, yes there will be noise, yes there will even be rats…if you don’t like it there are some great deals on land in the distant suburbs where quite, light traffic and even rats are less. Keep on pushing that rock up the hill….

  3. Nemo

    There is much truth to RNM’s words. Metro will never have the hundreds of millions necessary to run a subway spur to Georgetown, or to re-route the Blue/Orange line. People will still drive, or try to, not just to Georgetown, but through it enroute to other destinations, for the foreseeable future.

    Having said that, some proposed actions do make sense.
    The cheapest would be to ban parking at all times on “M” Street between Key Bridge and Rock Creek Park, and on Wisconsin Aavenue between “K” and “R” Streets, a ban that could arguably be extended north to Calvert Street. This would make it possible to widen the far-too-narrow sidewalks in those areas, while still leaving an adequate right of way for the inevitable motor traffic. Next, build the trolley. Run it in a loop from Foggy Bottom Station to Tenleytown Station. The removal of all parked cars from much of this route would eliminate some of the congestion that dogged the old Capital Transit street car line that ran up Wisconsin Avenue all the way to Bethesda Circle. Ask the heavy hitters in the BID to underwrite a serious PR campaign featuring the attractions of Georgetown, but emphasizing easy access by public transportation, and finding some subtle way (perhaps subliminal messaging?) to discourage folks from driving to the area. Food for thought.

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  6. FWIW, I argue that creating the separated blue line is the most important economic development initiative that DC could do. Georgetown business interests should be at the forefront of that argument.

    Of course, I agree with you and have probably written that before. It’s pretty amazing that business groups don’t get it, but it’s not surprising, because many of the people live in the suburbs and drive.

    In the forthcoming Multi Modal Planning process for DDOT, you should make this point.

    I had a long conversation with a former planning director for DDOT and she admitted that DDOT hasn’t done a good job of capturing best practice learnings from the various projects, and incorporating them into more robust planning frameworks.

    So in my experience, you are completely at the luck of the draw wrt “the consultants” and whoever is the DDOT project manager to see if you will get robust, visionary results. (Mostly we don’t get either.)

    Probably to educate yourself, it’d be worth reading the Arlington County Master Transpo plan, so you’ll have a better sense for what makes a great plan.

    http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/environmentalservices/dot/planning/mplan/mtp/mtp_draft.aspx

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