Sustainable D.C.


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Transportation infrastructure accounts for 20-40 percent of all urban land. Even in Washington, D.C., which has invested in a range of sustainable transportation options, streets, intersections, and alleys accounts for 22 percent of all land, and once you include parking spaces, that number easily reaches 30 percent. These systems have also enabled the growth of transportation-related GHGs, which now account for 30 percent of all U.S. emissions.

A study by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that if all conditions that accompany densely populated communities were present, such as good transit, proximity to shopping, and recreational activities and a walkable environment, families in that community could reduce vehicle use by 25-30 percent. As a result, comprehensive transportation planning must incorporate community-focused accessibility strategies. Walkable and bikeable communities inspire residents to leave their cars at home.

D.C. should systematically survey and address barriers to walkability (narrow sidewalks, difficult crosswalks, and dangerous intersections) across the city through redesign programs. D.C. should significantly expand its network of bicycle infrastructure and successful bike-share program.

Washington D.C. has some of the highest number of mass transit commuters in the country. However, in comparison with the top biking cities, the total percentage of bike commuters remains low at 3.9 percent, despite the explosive growth of the District’s highly successful bike share program. To encourage increased bicycle use, the District needs to make the bicycle infrastructure appear safer and integrate Metro and bicycle infrastructure. 

As one ASLA member wrote, “Please incorporate bike lanes where the cyclists are protected by parked cars, as opposed to the parked cars being protected by the cyclists.” Another ASLA member saw an opportunity to create one network between Metro and bikeshare: “Integrate the Metro and bicycle networks. This is the only way to really go car-free. Install bike racks in Metro cars in the underused end spaces of the cars, lift the ban on bikes during rush-hour and implement an education program to make people aware of bike etiquette. This could substantially improve sustainable mobility.” District government should also ensure bike-share stations are co-located with Metro stations and accept payment via smart cards and also enable commuters to load SmartTrip benefits. In addition, the District should require ample and secure bike parking within offices and large residential buildings. 

Lastly, to help generate demand for bicycle infrastructure, local businesses should be recognized through “Best Places to Work” programs for giving employees a bicycle or walking benefit or paying for the purchasing of bikes and bike equipment or walking shoes. 

Create safe bicycle infrastructure. Connect the Metro system with bike infrastructure and bikeshare stations. Require secure bike parking within office and residential buildings. The District’s bike-share program should accept SmartTrip cards and offer benefit payments as well. The city should encourage businesses to offer bicycle and walking commuter benefits.

New York, San Francisco, and other cities have pioneered programs to transform streets and parking spaces into open pedestrian plaza. New York City just turned parts of Broadway into permanent pedestrian-only spaces. Also, in a new program, New York City is finding old parking lots and other under-used areas in communities with low per capita open space and turning them into plazas.

On the smaller scale, parklets are safe, people-friendly environments that offer inviting café-style chairs and tables, benches, and trees and plants. These spaces, which can be created for less than $20,000, encourage people to get out of their cars, walk, and interact, which helps build the local economy. In San Francisco, one new parklet increased pedestrian foot traffic by 37 percent. 

Like leading cities such as Vancouver, San Francisco, and New York, Washington, D.C., should implement a set of temporary or permanent pedestrian-only spaces where transportation infrastructure exists. A set of parklet pilot projects could be also initiated. Possible locations for pedestrian-only zones and parklets: Georgetown, Adam’s Morgan, Dupont Circle, or Chinatown.

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