Friday, March 09, 2007

Here's To You, Mr. Robinson

As promised, the Growler ambled over to George Washington Middle School yesterday to attend the city’s meeting on dedicated transit at Potomac Yard.

We need not linger too long over the technicalities because, as expected, people were still arguing over whether bus rapid transit (BRT) to Braddock Road Metro should run through a dedicated median in the center of US Route 1, or at the east and/or west curbside like traditional transit.

To the uninitiated this issue seems mostly outside Parker-Gray’s turf. The stretch of US Route 1 now proposed as a median transitway runs from S. Glebe Road at the southern end of the Potomac Yard retail mall to somewhere north of the current Monroe Street Bridge -- about 3,000 feet. BRT then will merge into normal traffic, proceed to Braddock Road Metro via First Street, N. Fayette and Madison Streets.

It is the city’s impassioned proposal to run a second leg of BRT from the Braddock Road Metro station to Ft. Belvoir, presumably using N. Henry Street, that has the Growler’s underdivided attention. The idea was floated in the September 2006 draft of the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan and is also included in the draft recommendations of the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force. The upcoming migration of defense jobs to Ft. Belvoir clealry is driving (pun fully intended) the proposal.

This could be damaging to our neighborhood, which has the only stretch of US Route 1 with single family homes localed directly on the street with minimal buffers provided. Several “how-to” scenarios were provided. One called for removing scarce parking spaces to create a dedicated curbside transit lane. Another scenario envisioned keeping parking but creating a dedicated interior transit lane using the center of Patrick or Henry Streets, a variant of the median scenario. If a center lane median solution is implemented (and that's possible given the Potomac Yard scenarios) trucks could be pushed to the outer lanes, those closest to single family homes.

Oh and let's not forget safety. Just this morning, a truck traveling Patrick Street’s outer lane (a no-no) clipped a motorcycle rider, a tragedy that brought traffic to a standstill. But nobody at last night's forum was willing to answer questions about accident records for our section of Route 1.

Residents on Patrick and Henry Streets have long been troubled by vibrations from heavy vehicles, as well as diesel exhaust fumes pumped into their second story windows. Measures were taken perhaps 12-15 years ago to minimize the environmental health effects but they all appear to be in jeopardy now.

Feeling these concerns, the Growler posed a simple question to J. Lawrence Robinson, Planning Commission member and chairman of the Ad Hoc Transportation Task Force:

When will the City hold a public meeting in Parker-Gray with community residents to listen to their concerns and solicit citizens feedback regarding BRT on the rest of Route 1?

In response, the Growler can assure you that the Cranky One has never seen so much waffling this side of Potomac Yard’s IHOP. Mr. Robinson consistently avoided answering the question, insisting instead that people simply attend the Task Force work session next Tuesday (March 13 at 6:30 pm in the Council Work Room at City Hall). Can people even speak at such a meeting? No. Growler has been to a lot of these sessions and while not closed to the public they don't elicit citizen input.

Better yet, stuttered Mr. Robinson, residents could attend the Planning Commission and City Council meetings that will follow to rubber stamp the ad hoc transportation group's recommendations. He also suggested the Growler and others attend the next Braddock Road meeting on March 20.

Like we plan to miss it! Right-o, we can deal with transportation along the Braddock Plan’s other critical shortcoming before it is slam-dunked by Council in April.

Poul Hertel, a Transporation task force member, sputtered that the task force was still in the early early stages (of what?), but offered not even the vaguest timetable (next month? the fall? next year?) for a Parker-Gray meeting.

Alternatively ICCA President Patricia Schubert piped up, claiming she's arranged “everything” with T&ES officials. The Growler was having none of Ms. Schubert’s nonsense. With only seven members and four ICCA officers present at the last civic association meeting, Ms. Schubert would do better to communicate with a couple of tin cans and waxed string. The fact that she sat through this meeting with development attorney Bud Hart at her elbow hardly gave the appearance of an arms-length anything.

The ending to the BRT saga will not be sweet. The Growler happened to notice this morning that P&Z now has posted the final transportation chapter of the draft Braddock Road Small Area Plan. To add injury to indignity, (we’re past insults) the City is proposing a special tax district for properties located within the Braddock Plan to help defray the cost of BRT. Read page 19.

There's only one appropriate response, folks: it's time to let Mr. Robinson and his colleagues on Planning Commission as well as City Council know that we expect a meeting and aren't going to be ignored. There are links on the Growler's site to E-mail these characters. Use them.

So here's to you Mr. Robinson!