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More and More Are Living Happily Carless in DC

 Accompanying images can be viewed in the March 2017 issue pdf

 By Larry Ray*

 DC’s population has grown to 680,000. And, now, for the third year in a row, Washington ranks as the fittest city in the United States with Minneapolis coming in second, according to the American Fitness Index (AFI). Contributing to this finding might partly be explained by the following:

According to Greater Greater Washington, 88% of DC’s 12,612 new households do not own cars;

37.9% of all DC households do not own cars;

Between 2010 and 2012 the number of car-free households in DC has grown by 14.3%;

According to Wikipedia, DC is second only to New York City (56%) with non-car ownership; (Boston, 37%; Philadelphia, 33%; San Francisco, 31%);

According to the AAA, on an annualized basis it costs about $900 per month to own a car in DC; CBS News estimates that it costs $9,000 per year to own a car;

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments predicts a 60% increase in traffic during the next decade;

DC is the 6th most car-clogged city in the U.S. and number 15 in the world, costing commuters $1,700 per year and equaling 61 hours per year stuck in traffic according to a global traffic scorecard compiled by the data firm Inrix;

Gas stations are disappearing in DC — as reported by the Independent and Franchise Gasoline Station Owners Newsletter, in DC today there are 87 stations in contrast to 119, of a decade ago; http://www.independentgasolinestationowners.com>

We already know that DC is one of the best places to live (US News and Report) and living happily carless in DC is one of the reasons;

Car2Go has over 14,000 vehicles in 26 countries — 600, in the DC area;

The DC Taxi Commission last year was reconstituted and upgraded to become the  Department of For-Hire Vehicles so as to better keep  to keep up-to-date with the shared economy;

Parking in DC is plentiful but if one is looking for cheap parking in downtown, none will be found there — the average hourly rate for public parking is $9-$10 and for 24 hours, be prepared to pay upwards of $35, while monthly parking costs around $250 per month — visit parkme –com for assistance in identifying options;

DC’s “walkability” score is ranked at 84.4, putting it number seven in rank behind New York, San Francisco, and Boston.

Most DC residents are persuaded by the above statistics that one can live happily in DC without owning a car. DC is evolving from a car-centric city into town center hubs which are walkable, cyclable and replete with public transportation. This may be reflective of a national trend — a deliberate shift away from cars. Driving is expensive and bad for the environment. The internet has clearly enabled a growing use of teleworking and telecommuting.

Beyond the above statistics, DC drivers complain bitterly about the difficulties of driving in DC. USA Today rates DC as the eighth worst traffic. One major obstacle is the double and triple parking that goes unabated.

Car2Go

Members love Car2Go. They love being able to use the Car2Go app to reserve the car, start the car, and end the experience. Car2Go is ever-changing. They have just introduced the next-gen smart cars with new benefits such as no more member cars, heated seats, larger trunk and Bluetooth access.

Surprisingly, Car2Go announced it is replacing its iconic blue and white Smart cars with Mercedes-Benz CLA’s and GLA’s in six cities including Washington. The sedans and SUVs are on the smaller size, meant for easy parking. These are not high-end cars but entry level priced around $30,000. They feel that this move makes them more competitive with car rental companies. Customers can rent a little Smart car for $59 per day and the larger cars at $79 per day. The company has 14,000 vehicles in 26 countries.

Walking

Long-time Dupont Circle resident Derwin Ross told The InTowner, “I got rid of my car 15 years ago and have never looked back. I generally walk, but take the 14th Street bus to DCUSA periodically.

One major obstacle to walking are the closed sidewalks. It seems about every other block in DC part of the sidewalk is closed for construction, utility work, emergencies or seemingly at whim. If DC government wants to promote a walkable city, they need to crack down on these whimsical sidewalk closings.

One example is in Columbia Heights at the northwest corner of Monroe and 10th Streets. There sidewalk has been closed for almost a year; although there was no construction for six months until neighbors stepped in with justified complaints about the inconvenience unnecessarily  caused..

Uber

Today, there are more than 1.5 million drivers in Uber’s global fleet. Uber Members love this shared economy service. A long-time Columbia Heights taxi driver declared two years ago that Uber drivers should be held to the same standards and regulations as those which DC taxi drivers are required to comply with. Later on, however, he realized that he meant just the opposite, that drivers should be freed from many of the DC regulations; for example, drivers should not be stopped and fined for a “messy” trunk.

Uber has been controversial in many jurisdictions because it is shaking up the establishment. The company claims that its drivers can make up to $35 per hour.

What about Uber waiting rooms? Valor Development’s about-to-open new project on 16th Street in Mt. Pleasant, The Vintage, will offer such a waiting room for Uber users as an amenity. The room will be outfitted with a fireplace and a monitor offering information on nearby public transit.

(These developers are not the only ones thinking about how to offer amenities to make getting around more convenient. Down in Southwest, the developers of The Wharf  have included a secure bike storage space in their project.)

In the DC metro area Uber recently introduced its new  Driver Destinations service which allows commuters whose only plan is for driving into work and back to be matched with similar riders who will be traveling in the same general direction.

Should DC get ready for Uber’s self-driving taxis? Uber is experimenting with these in Pittsburgh with a fleet of Volvos and Fords. Uber claims that this fleet will eventually be safer, efficient, and maybe even better for the environment.

Bill Gibbons, Communications Director for Uber Technologies, Inc., asserts, “Over time, as people get used to the idea that you can always push a button and get a ride, the need to own a car or buy a second family car goes down.

The American Public Transportation Association  found that people who use ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft and are more likely to  use public transportation and other transit options like Bikeshare or just walk; also, they are less likely to drive a car to work, more likely to postpone purchasing a car, forego buying a car altogether, or they have decided to sell their car.

Streetcar

The 2.2-mile DC Streetcar goes from First and H Streets, NE (just a block away from the northeast corner of the Union Station complex) across H Street and into Benning Road, NE, terminating at Oklahoma Avenue, a half-dozen blocks north of RFK Stadium. Many residents view this project, which started operation on February 27, 2016,  as a political act rather than a wise transportation decision.

Capitol Hill Resident Tim says, “The streetcar is silly. I would not ride it even if it were raining and it stopped in front of me.” This is the first iteration of the DC Street cars since the system was dismantled in 1962, having been started 100 years earlier, to defer to buses. Many still believe that auto manufacturers orchestrated the streetcar dismantling by New York City businessman O. Roy Chalk, who purchased the system in August of 1956.

There still are big plans for a 33-mile streetcar system. Ground was broken in Anacostia but this route is still a long way from completion. Another line would stretch up Georgia Avenue and another along K Street to Georgetown.

Riding the streetcar will be free for the next four years. This inaugural route averages of 3,000 riders daily and is costing $8 million annually. Despite it being free, the streetcar is not much help for non-car owners.

Buses

Columbia Heights resident Kerry had this to say, “I got rid of my car years ago and use many forms of transportation, especially the buses. The buses are generally easy to use and efficient.” And, long-time Dupont Circle resident James Crawford added, From where I live, the G2 and D6 busses take me all over town.”

Quavadus X, another Columbia Heights resident asserts, “I got rid of my car 10 years ago to avoid the erroneous parking tickets. No matter what they say, DC ticket givers do have quotas and they must meet those even if they are erroneous.”

Regrettably, despite the enthusiasm of bus riders, the new Metro budget will cut or modify three-dozen routes to help close a $290 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1st. Bus fares will also increase a quarter, to $2 a ride.

Not to be overlooked are the Circulator buses which are schedules to arrive every 10 minutes. Those routes are operated by a private contractor and have a 90 percent customer approval rating.

Bikeshare & Beyond

Capital Bikeshare is such a great idea, but implementation of the redistribution process seems to be weak, causing the availability of bike often to be undependable. One Columbia Heights neighbor tells this tale: “I left my home at 1:30 p.m. No bikes at Kenyon and 14th; One broken bike at Park and Holmead; no bikes at 14th and Irving; no bikes at 14th and Harvard; one broken bike at 14th and Euclid; no bikes at 14th and Belmont, except one with a flat tire; finally, one useable bike at 14th and U Street. So, I walked past scores of empty bike docks.” So, in the case described, above, this resident walked over a mile while passing approximately 90 empty bike docks.

Outside the downtown area, if one wants to use Bikeshare to get to work, one must get the bike by 7:30 a.m.; if not, one is out of luck until about 2:30 p.m.

Some estimate that there are more private bikes in DC than cars, which may explain the mobile bicycle repair service offered by District Wrench LLC.

Foggy Bottom resident John says, “I ride my bike every day. DC is a bicycle friendly city. Biking can be dangerous. I always drive defensively.” Echoing the comment about biking defensively, Georgetown resident Beth says “I bike defensively assuming that each car will run the red light or make a right turn [across my path] without stopping.”

Surprisingly, one of the dangers to average bicyclists are the reckless bikers — those who speed and pay no attention to traffic rules, including one-way streets. Some estimate that one-third of cyclists could be classified as reckless Woe also to the pedestrians.

[Editor’s note: Back in 2012 and 2013 we published commentaries about the problem of hazards to pedestrians in our “From the Publisher’s Desk” column. A year later we revisited the subject, reporting on specific ideas proposed for dealing with the problem; we have not seen that the city has yet taken steps to alleviate the  pedestrian safety hazards discussed.]

Taxis

Taxicabs have been around in DC for 180 years. DC Taxis now have an application for hailing cabs and to promote low, consistent pricing. Despite this, according to the District’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles, ridership declined 13 percent last year. There exist 6300 taxi licenses with 6, 191 taxis. DC taxis are governed by 100 pages of regulations. Many residents believe all of these regs need to be re-evaluated to taxis can compete with other for-hire vehicles.

The taxi business is ever-changing. Will automated flying taxis be in the future such as they are using in Dubai? Will DC soon see urban gondolas like in France and South American cities of La Paz and Caracas? Constant innovation will surely usher in possibilities not yet anticipated.

*Larry Ray, a resident of Columbia Heights, is a Senior Trainer at the American Management Association (AMA) teaching negotiation, business communication and conflict management. He has served as a former multi-term Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in both Dupont Circle and later in Columbia Heights and as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association. He also has served as a member of the former DC Taxicab Commission.

Copyright © 2017 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.