Maybe it was during a 20-minute, 2-mile taxi ride from Georgetown to downtown D.C., where my average speed was 6 miles per hour. Or maybe it was during a lurching bus ride across K Street that took perhaps half an hour to traverse the same distance. During both trips, city street were jammed with large, single-occupancy vehicles, while buses, delivery trucks, and business vehicles were slowed to a crawl.
Washington, D.C. needs to get serious about downtown congestion. London congestion pricing has been a smashing success, with the Times reporting today on an unexpected benefit: drastically reduced parking costs downtown. Not the mention the significant revenue for public transportation investment. Now officials in Manchester are contemplating a two-ring system that would charge motorists £1-3 to enter the city, depending on the time of day and location. While business types are skeptical (as they usually are) the only evidence they can marshal are opinion polls. That takes us to Paris, a city that has cut auto use by 20 percent in seven years — without London-style congestion pricing. When parking spaces were converted to a dedicated bus route, the residents of the Left Bank neighborhood of Montparnasse held a funeral, predicting the death of the neighborhood. Now the owner of a famous cafe admits “We’ve come to love it,” noting the bus brings workers and customers with improved efficiency. Elsewhere in the city, programs initiated by mayor Bertrand Delanoë are raising the cost of parking, creating dedicated bus and bicycle lanes, making tens of thousands of bikes available for rent, and “civilizing” the city’s most car-friendly streets by cutting lanes and expanding pedestrian space.
D.C.’s attempts are meager in comparison. Increased parking meter prices are only in effect in several neighborhoods. The tiny and highly-hyped bike sharing program still hasn’t launched despite media reports it would start in May. The networking of bicycle lanes and trails is fragmented and far shorter than other U.S. cities. DDOT’s experimental bus and bicycle lane on 9th Street downtown is too short and poorly marked and enforced to make much of a difference.
The solutions to congestion are at hand, all that’s lacking is the resources and political will to do them.