Testimony of Laura Miller Brooks
Senior Associate, Federal City Council
Budget Oversight Hearing:
Committee on Transportation and the Environment
Chairperson Mary Cheh
June 10th, 2021
Good morning, Chairperson Cheh and members of the Committee. My name is Laura Miller Brooks and I am the Senior Transportation and Infrastructure Associate at the Federal City Council. It’s my pleasure to testify in support of several investments put forward in Mayor Bowser’s FY22 budget.
The Federal City Council’s work around transportation and the environment has historically focused on long-range transformational investments that enhance the vitality and resiliency of the District, like the founding and continued funding of the Metro system, Union Station and Pennsylvania Avenue’s redevelopment, and many other projects driven by our community. Over the course of the COVID crisis, the FC2 has focused on the fact that today’s actions around reopening and recovery will have long-range impacts, especially in the realm of transportation, use of public space, and infrastructure.
None of us will have succeeded if a recovered DC looks the same as the DC that existed before the pandemic. This is especially true in the realm of transportation and infrastructure, where the Mayor’s budget investments are critical to ensuring an equitable recovery, and in transforming the District into a healthier, greener, more connected, and more vibrant city for everyone.
Today I’m here to testify about the District Department of Transportation as its own agency. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge DDOT’s great work on the crisis and recovery. During a difficult and long year (and some months), DDOT has worked tirelessly to support the small businesses in streamlining the streateries permitting process, plan for a better return to transit with investments in bus and bike infrastructure, to understand the needs of those who relied on safe, reliable transit options through the crisis and to design recovery programs.
Now more than ever we need to be investing in the future growth engines of the economy while we ensure that the proceeds from that growth are more equitable distributed. This is why we were pleased to see the historic investments in the Mayor’s proposed DDOT budget.
We appreciate the Mayor’s proposed investments in the Capital Improvement Plan for DDOT, including H Street Bridge Reconstruction, K Street Transitway, and 11th Street Bridge Park.
H Street Bridge Reconstruction
There is no greater economic development or transportation infrastructure project in the District’s pipeline than Union Station’s redevelopment. The H Street Bridge reconstruction is an enabling and essential piece of the Washington Union Station Expansion Project. The full funding for the project in the FY22 budget demonstrates the District’s support for the $10.7B Station Expansion Project, which will create over 67,000 construction jobs and unlock the ROI of rail investments being made throughout the region. Combined with the Council’s support, fully funding H Street Bridge’s reconstruction in this budget demonstrates the District’s commitment to ensuring that this once in a generation project can be realized, and has long term support.
K Street Transitway
The FC2 is thrilled to see the Mayor’s commitment to completing the K Street Transitway by 2023. This project is a once in a generation opportunity to transform a prominent downtown boulevard in the heart of DC and set the standard for transit priority projects throughout the region. It is also an exemplary transportation investment to accelerate economic recovery — it will create an exciting transportation and innovation district that will increase access to opportunities for residents and give employers more carrots to come back to our critical downtown commercial corridor. We applaud the District Department of Transportation for their work thus far on this project and hope to see more details on these elements confirmed as the project progresses into final design over the coming months.
11th Street Bridge Park
The FC2 applauds the commitment to funding in the 11th Street Bridge Park, and ensuring this project can be realized. The 11th Street Bridge Park is a model for community driven investment and we support this investment to be realized.
Through the COVID crisis, WMATA bus ridership remained at 50-60% of pre-COVID travel (compared to Metrorail’s 10% ridership), proving just how essential the bus is as a lifeline for essential workers and low-income residents. COVID has also demonstrated the value in moving past thinking about transit as just the commute (which pre-COVID, only represented 20% of all transportation trips). In DC, Black and BIPOC residents overwhelmingly make up the demographic group of bus riders. If the District wishes to invest in improving mobility and access for our BIPOC community members, rethinking our bus network, creating a more efficient transit service (in cost and time), and increasing service for those who rely on bus today is a low-cost, high-impact allocation of resources is incredibly impactful. We applaud the Mayor’s incredible FY 22 budget commitments to rapidly accelerate the implementation of DDOT’s Bus Priority Plan and Program, the K St. Transitway, and the electrification of the bus fleet (both the buses, and the charging infrastructure required to support electrification). These investments will support the District in making significant progress on key climate policy objectives, while ensuring a strong, and equitable economic recovery.
The Federal City Council is especially supportive of the proposed $63M investment in the build out of bus lanes and infrastructure components of the Bus Priority Program, and supporting WMATA’s Bus Transformation Project. To ensure we realize the full vision of better bus for this District and a build-out of a high-impact, equitable bus network to serve all residents, DDOT and supporting offices such as the Office of Contracts and Procurement will need high personnel operating capacity in order to process the ARPA funds, and ensure that the program of work made possible by this and future budgets can be fully implemented by 2026. We also urge the Mayor and Council to ensure that the bus priority program, once fully staffed and supported, can reach one hundred percent completion in the years following the ARPA investment dedicated in this year’s CIP budget act by providing funding through FY27 and FY28. Finally, additional funding for bus lane enforcement –both automated and, until we ramp up the efficacy of automated enforcement, in-person enforcement, and tow truck funding — is necessary to ensure this infrastructure is being used effectively and that bus service is increasing efficiency.
Connected Multimodal Network — Trails / PBL Investments
Before the current crisis, too many people were already being killed walking and cycling on our streets. Many felt too unsafe to walk, bike, use scooters, push strollers, or roll in wheelchairs. We faced – and still face – a public health crisis due to pollution and inactivity, and the greatest threat of all, the climate emergency. To capture the “bike boom” momentum of COVID, and as people start, or continue to commute to and from their place of work, we support policies and infrastructure investments that help us achieve our aggressive moveDC modeshift and equity goals.
We applaud the $351 million allocated for streetscapes, trails, and safety improvements that will protect and encourage users of environmentally friendly modes like walking, biking, and using scooters. Physical interventions that protect people on foot, bikes, or scooters will help to encourage the utilization of those modes, especially for passengers who do not typically travel this way. We applaud the benchmarks of this investment in the Mayor’s FY 22 budget by creating 17 new miles of trails, including the South Capitol Street Trail that will create a connection to Maryland’s National Harbor and the completion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail, plus 10 miles of bike lanes per year.
A connected network reflects the capacity of cycling and walking to become an essential underpinning of DC mobility for people of every neighborhood, age, and ability. We urge the Council to support the additional room in the operating budget for maintenance of these new facilities — this is something that is largely in the Mayor’s proposed FY 22 budget but, given the use of federal ARPA funds to catalyze these investments, we want to ensure the assets we’re can be maintained and enjoyed for the long-term by all District residents.
We support the proposed monthly closures on Pennsylvania Ave NW, 7th St NW, 18th St NW and F St NW, following on from the success of the Georgia Ave Open Streets event before the pandemic, and the scale of investment is appropriate for ensuring these are safe, enjoyable, and replicable events. We look forward to more details about how DDOT will engage with communities to make the most of these events, which can play a helpful role in restoring vibrancy and social cohesion in appreciating the public space of the city.
We applaud the innovative, new transportation solutions proposed in the FY22 budget to support recovery.
We support the FY22 budget emphasis on bikeshare; putting every resident within a quarter mile of a rentable bike makes it a viable option for many more people, and we’re likely to see much greater uptake with the addition of 3,500 new e-bikes, which can open up biking as a viable mode for more residents provided accessible pricing. To further support our modeshift goals, we’d encourage greater subsidies and incentives for micromobility operators to increase their fleets, especially for e-bikes, which have transformative potential for achieving a more sustainable transit future.
Streetlight P3 Program
The FC2 supports the conversion of all District streetlights to LED technology, and we support a program like this that demonstrates strong public-private collaboration in the wake of the pandemic, and establishes a city-to-city peer support network to spark civic collaboration and engagement in the recovery.
Georgetown Transit Enhancement
Regional approaches to jobs-building and economic growth will be important in a recovery landscape, and to that end DCST encourages the Council to support building a gondola and electric vehicle charging station in Georgetown to move residents, workers and visitors between Georgetown and Rosslyn, for a cost of about $14 million. We urge the District to acquire the old Georgetown Exxon site and to transform it into a multi-modal transportation center used for Electric Vehicle charging, with the future potential of becoming a gondola or Metro station. The Georgetown BID has developed an interim plan–at no additional cost to the District–to build a multimodal Electric Vehicle charging station with Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (EVI) to simultaneously charge multiple EV buses, shared electric vehicles, cars, electric freight vehicles, e-bikes, and e-scooters. The site could be the first in the District to pilot how EVI investments can catalyze our city’s conversion to e-vehicles. We encourage the District to embrace this high-profile opportunity to showcase the District’s commitment to addressing climate change.
The FC2 is thrilled by the transformative nature of the proposed FY22 DDOT budget and we hope that highlighting the areas that will be particularly beneficial to our future resilience, equity and prosperity, or where opportunities lie that haven’t yet been taken up, has been helpful as this particularly pivotal budget for DC’s future is finalized.
Thank you. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.