By: Raagini Chandra
On Tuesday, Feb. 19th Roosevelt at GW held a Fireside chat by the name of “Who is our Transportation Built For?” We hosted a panel which included David Alpert, Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST); Nancy Augustine, faculty member at George Washington University and research consultant for urban policy, planning, and administration issues; and Andrew Small, freelance writer in Washington DC and author of the CityLab Daily newsletter. The discussion consisted of each panelist speaking about how inclusivity in public transportation affects people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Since 2014, public transit ridership in the District has been on the decline, which is significant considering that D.C. has the second highest ridership in the country, despite the city ardently neglecting to build a subway system until the 1970s. The panel then went on to examine the different types of public transportation offered by the district and how each form affects different groups of people. For example, the District of Columbia's public transportation includes buses and the metro, as well as capital bike-share and scooters which have been increasing in usage over the past years.
Problems with Bikes and Scooters
David Alpert mentioned that despite the benefits of new innovative programs like bike and scooter rentals, newer forms of transport inherently favor young, non-disabled people who tend to be of means. Older, working-class D.C. residents either cannot use these forms of transportation, or they feel deterred from using these newer, more physically-demanding forms of transport. Moreover, the increasing popularity of these newer types of public transportation tend to attract more young, white, upper-middle-class residents to the district in areas that house historically black working-class communities, and so they can, therefore, expedite gentrification. The panelists urged us to remember that while the scooters and bikes are wonderful new forms of public transportation, it is important to realize that there is a problem when those vehicles are the only form of cheap public transportation available to a diverse public.
Problems with Metro and Buses
One of the largest problems with the DC Metro, our panelists elaborated, is how expensive it is to live near Metro stations. According to a report from RentHop, in the areas around 61 of the 91 Metro stops, rents have increased, compared to last year. Panelist Nancy Augustine made sure to note that buses often get stuck in DC’s heavy traffic, and this makes it harder for individuals who cannot afford to live close to the Metro to rely on those buses. Augustine did state that creating bus priority lanes could help with the reliability of buses during high-traffic hours and offered Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, and Seattle as examples of large cities where bus-priority lanes have been effective.
Our D.C. metro system isn’t only affected by being in D.C. since the metro area comprises regions within Maryland and Virginia. It is difficult to effectively provide public transportation changes to both buses and metros since these services stretch across many jurisdictions and encompass numerous ordinances and policies that differ for each municipality. Also, in addition to the disconnect between the Metro and Metrobus system in D.C., our panelists brought attention to the fact that the government penalizes riders for transferring between the bus and rail systems, which doesn’t occur in other large cities such as New York.
The Amazon HQ
One student who attended the discussion asked about the new Amazon headquarters that is being built in Crystal City and asked the panelists to elaborate on how the influx of a younger, wealthier, middle-class would affect the city and transportation system as a whole, seeing as Crystal City is very easily accessible through the metro. Panelist Andrew Small believes that the issue, as far as transportation and gentrification at least, is not actually as problematic as the public seemed to think. He noted that Crystal City and the greater Arlington area already have low-density neighborhoods--mostly empty--around where the Amazon HQ is going to be built. This is due to the fact that Crystal City used to be a hub for military bureaus and agencies that have since left the area. The people left with the businesses, but the infrastructure in Crystal City remains. Although gentrification would affect the neighborhood that still exists— an effect that Small believes is still significant--Amazon’s new HQ wouldn’t uproot an entire community.
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