13 ways the region can reach its transportation aspirations

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At a work session prior to the November TPB meeting, subject-matter experts from the TPB’s subcommittees presented recommendations for how to implement five of the seven initiatives from Visualize 2045. The specific project, program, and policy recommendations provide a starting point for ways jurisdictions can begin to implement the seven initiatives.

Explore and learn about the seven aspirational initiatives.

When the TPB endorsed the aspirational initiatives, it called on its member jurisdictions and agencies to commit to fully explore the concepts contained in the initiatives and to act to implement projects, programs, and policies to fully realize potential improvements in the transportation system’s performance.

TPB Chair Charles Allen asked staff to work with subject-matter experts to identify specific actions that TPB members could take—individually and collectively—to make these projects, programs, and policies part of future long-range plans.

TPB subcommittees provided some recommendations at a work session before the November TPB meeting. Three subcommittees, the Regional Public Transportation Subcommittee, the Commuter Connections Subcommittee, and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee all include subject matter experts from state, regional, local jurisdictions, transit agencies, federal agencies, and other transportation planning professionals. They discussed the initiatives at their meetings all year long to come to these recommendations. Five of the seven initiatives were most appropriate for these subcommittees.

  • Expand bus rapid transit and transitways
  • Move more people on Metrorail
  • Increase telecommuting and other options for commuting
  • Improve walk and bike access to transit
  • Complete the National Capital Trail

The other two initiatives, “Bring jobs and housing closer together” and “Expand the express highway network” have been the focus of work outside of the TPB subcommittees. COG’s Planning Directors Technical Advisory Committee took up the initiative focused on land-use and TPB member jurisdictions are actively working on expanding the express highway network.

The initiative focused on expanding BRT and transitways regionwide would add BRT, transitways, and streetcar routes at various locations throughout the region. It would provide local circulation and connect activity centers. (BeyondDC/Flickr)

Expand Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and transitways regionwide

This initiative was the subject of extensive discussions at Regional Public Transportation Subcommittee meetings. The initiative focuses on expanding BRT, transitway, and streetcar systems throughout the region, building routes that are in jurisdictions’ plans but not yet in the TPB’s long-range plan. This initiative would also improve pedestrian access to transit stations and increase the amount of jobs and housing around the transit stations.

The subcommittee recommended that jurisdictions define density standards for BRT service. The region should identify a set of preferred density measures related to transit service, ridership, and land use in the region as a standard for BRT systems.

These standards would aid in mapping out the feasibility of BRT systems in a corridor based on land-use, transit ridership, and other metrics. It would also assist in measuring the progress being made towards the development and implementation of BRT on these corridors. These standards would also support transit signal priority, rush-hour bus lanes, and other bus transit improvements.

Move more people on Metrorail is focused on the core of the system. It assumes replacing 6-car trains with 8-car trains, would add a second Rosslyn station, and a new line across the Potomac River. (TPB)

Move more people on Metrorail

This initiative focuses on actions that would move more people and enhance the customer experience on Metrorail. This initiative calls for running eight-car trains on all Metrorail lines at all times; adding a second Rosslyn station; and adding a new rail line across the Potomac River connecting the District and Virginia through Georgetown to Union Station towards the Waterfront. It also would improve bicycle and pedestrian access to rail stations. These actions will increase ridership.

The subcommittee recommended that the region work together to eliminate the transfer cost between Metrorail and the region’s bus services. This would encourage more people to use Metrorail by lowering total transit fare costs for riders using both Metrorail and bus services. Currently, transfers between most buses are free within two hours, but transfers between Metrorail and bus services are not. Transfers to and from rail only provide a fare discount of $0.50. Reducing the transfer cost to zero would attract more people to use buses to get to and from Metrorail, which would make the region’s transit system more attractive by treating transit as a single mode and would not penalize transit users that need to use buses to get to Metrorail.

Subcommittee members also proposed to cap total fares charged for transit trips per day. This recommendation could be adopted by every jurisdiction that operates bus service, as well as by WMATA. Putting a cap on total fares for a day would make additional transit use more attractive for riders who choose transit over driving and reduce costs for transit-reliant riders or those who have to make several connections, sometimes across multiple services, to get to their destinations.

To provide more telecommuting and other options for commuting would mean developing policies to increase teleworking and more employees recieving transit and carpool subsidies. It would also increase the price of parking for most work trips. (Marco Verch/Flickr)

Provide more telecommuting and other options for commuting

The purpose of this initiative is to develop and examine new policies that would reduce drive alone trips, increase teleworking regionwide, increase the number of employees receiving transit and carpool subsidies, and reduce parking incentives in regional Activity Centers. The Commuter Connections Subcommittee provided a long list of recommendations that would help decrease drive alone trips.

The subcommittee recommended to:

Leverage technology. Technological advancements are creating new ways to influence behavior change. Enhancing existing apps (e.g. CarpoolNow, incenTrip) and programs (e.g. Flextime Rewards) with game modules that consider behavioral economics concepts may further encourage people to change how they get around. Technology would also generate data that would help future planning and programming.

Collaborate with WMATA to promote SmartBenefits. The SmartBenefits program provides employers the opportunity to pay employees tax free for all or part of their transit commute expense or let their employees set aside their own funds pre-tax. Reducing transit commute cost is a proven strategy to increase transit usage. The region should implement a campaign to enroll more employers in the program by providing incentives, including limited and tiered financial incentives designed to offset SmartBenefits’ start-up costs; offering training and outreach efforts to help reduce perceived administrative burden. This time of campaign would also take advantage of WMATA’s investment to upgrade and simplify its on-line SmartBenefits portal.

Flextime & telework resources for mid-size employers. Telework continues to grow in popularity, particularly among large employers, but logistical and perception barriers remain, especially among small and mid-sized employers. The region should develop policy templates for small and mid-size employers to adopt and implement these trip reduction strategies at their work places.

Regional commuter tax benefits. Existing employer tax benefits at the state level such as the Maryland Commuter Tax Credit and Telework VA! Tax credit exist to incentivize employers to offer commuter benefits and provide varying degrees of tax incentives. A standardized system makes them consistent across the region. Collaborative education and marketing would make it easier for employers to implement them. A regional policy would also assist employers with multiple office locations throughout the region to take advantage of the tax benefits in a universal way.

Develop a regional framework for parking cashout policies. Offering employees who receive free parking the cash value of the parking to use for transit has been found to be effective in increasing transit usage. A 2016 FHWA research project found that Washington D.C. employers who offer a cash-out policy in addition to pre-tax transit options can reduce VMT by 11%. The region should pilot test this program with customized cash-out policies to fit the various needs of diverse worksites in the region. The result of the pilot program can be used to inform the development and implementation of the program regionwide.

Price parking appropriately. Advocate to codify “fair-value commuting” within local codes, which would mean higher parking costs at activity centers and especially those that are served by transit and/or HOV lanes. Pricing parking spaces appropriately – perhaps in a dynamic fashion – is expected to deter driving alone and promotes ridesharing or transit usage. Ongoing marketing and outreach activities could market free or reduced-cost carpool parking spots and other drive alone alternatives.

Improving walk and bike access to transit means that there would be safe and convenient access to Metrorail, commuter rail, BRT, and straeetcar stations on foot or by bike. (ArtAround/Flickr)

Improve walk and bike access to transit

The goal of this initiative is to increase walking and biking or “non-motorized” access to high capacity transit stations through improved first- and last-mile connections. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee recommended:

To develop a limited list of transit station areas that are regionally prioritized for pedestrian/ bicycle investments. These prioritized locations will be places where critical gaps in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure currently exist and where demand is great for walking and biking to transit. Improvements in these areas will also improve safety in and around the stations, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists.

Prioritize traffic signal timing, turn lanes, crosswalk locations, and transit priority on roadways surrounding transit stations. These improvements would help people using all modes of transportation. They would also improve safety for people biking and walking, and improve bus reliability.

Expand the TPB’s Transportation Land Use Connections (TLC) Program, which currently provides technical assistance to TPB members for short-term planning activities to develop communities that are multi-modal and mixed-use. Subcommittee members believe that the TLC program has been highly cost-effective and enhancing the program would assist in having more non-motorized projects ready for funding and implementation.

The initiative to complete the National Capital Trail focused on completing a proposed loop of circumferential trail connections circling the core of the Washington region. (TPB)

Complete the National Capital Trail

The purpose of this initiative is to complete a network of bicycle/pedestrian trails encircling the region’s core. This endorsed initiative was originally conceived of as a “bicycle beltway” and the TPB had directed staff to work with local jurisdictions to identify the basic alignment for this facility.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Subcommittee notes that the National Park Service (NPS) worked with the subcommittee to adopt the National Capital Trail (NCT) into its Trail Master Plan. With some of the missing segments of the NCT located within National Park property, this action by the NPS is a significant step towards completing the trail.
One of the basic recommendations related to this initiative is for all appropriate regional jurisdictions and agencies to:

Integrate the missing segments of the National Capital Trail into other highway, transit and other infrastructure projects so that the trail can be completed.

The subcommittee also noted that, thanks to numerous projects that have been built or funded in recent years, the National Capital Trail is well on its way to completion. Therefore, the subcommittee also recommends that the TPB expand the National Capital Trail to the entire TPB region (National Capital Regional Trail), thereby extending the trail to all TPB member jurisdictions.

There has been great interest among the region’s jurisdictions, agencies, and advocacy groups to build on the National Capital Trail, as endorsed by the TPB and adopted by the NPS. The Capital Trails Coalition was established through a public-private partnership to work on this idea. The subcommittee worked with the coalition to develop a framework through which trails from other jurisdictions that are not included in the NCT would be strategically incorporated to form a true regional trail system (National Capital Regional Trail). This work activity is not complete and is in need of a regional sponsor to take on responsibility for finalization. Once complete, this National Capital Regional Trail could represent the region’s prioritized trail network to be considered for local, regional, and state level funding.

Learn more about the Capital Trails Coalition.

The TPB will consider an action plan to help implement the aspirational initiatives at its December meeting.

Learn more about the seven initiatives.

Learn more about Visualize 2045.

Explore an interactive version of Visualize 2045.

Cover photo by Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Flickr

Bike and pedestrian projects in the District of Columbia further regional priorities