Who’s Implementing D.C.’s Bike/Ped Infrastructure? Anyone?

District Department of Transportation (DDOT) project managers are hard at work on a lot of roadway projects, but they’re not in charge of repaving the 15th Street cycle track, or finishing the Metropolitan Branch Trail, or one of many other bicycle projects waiting for action.

The agency segregates its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure into the planning group, which means a lot of projects get done slowly or not at all–and only if the planners take on the role of project manager as well.

Currently, DDOT comprises the Office of the Director and 6 administrations. These are:

  • Infrastructure Project Management Administration (IPMA): Building and repairing roads and bridges
  • Policy, Planning and Sustainability Administration (PPSA): Creating plans, reviewing development proposals
  • Progressive Transportation Services Administration (PTSA): Circulator, streetcars, working with WMATA
  • Public Space Regulations Administration (PSRA): Permits for sidewalk cafes and other uses of public space
  • Transportation Operations Administration (TOA): Traffic signal timing, signs, parking meters, etc.
  • Urban Forestry Administration (UFA): Trees!

Though all administrations overlap with each other at times, only the first two, IPMA and PPSA, are relevant to DDOT’s struggles completing bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

IPMA designs, builds, and maintains transportation-related things, but every person dealing with bike/ped infrastructure is part of PPSA. Those designing and constructing are not responsible for bike/ped work, and the bike/ped people are not in the division that does construction project management or on-the-ground work.

On paper, there is a clear distinction in the administration roles. PPSA “establishes broad strategic goals to guide multi-modal program development, the policies necessary to implement such goals, and ensure compliance through plan review and permitting.” It is meant to be the transportation planning portion of DDOT, conducting such efforts as the MoveDC initiative, reviewing development plans in pre-development review meetings, and doing big-picture planning for all modes of travel.

Meanwhile, IPMA “is responsible for the design, engineering and construction of roadways, bridges, traffic signals and alley projects in the District of Columbia.”

2010 11 16 - 1403 - Washington DC - 15th St Bikeway from P St

In theory, PPSA plans and IMPA implements. That, however, assumes that PPSA also has the authority to set the order of priority for IPMA’s implementation. It does not.

To see how this shakes out with regard to major bike-related projects, one can look to such problematic processes as the completion of the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) or the repaving of the 15th Street cycle track.

The MBT has been planned for many years. Within the District, only the southernmost portion has been built, and construction has been stalled since the opening of that portion since 2010.

To find out why construction has been stalled, you would think to call the responsible project manager. But you won’t find a project manager within IPMA, because the only person assigned to deal with the project is within the broader planning division and has no formal authority over continued design and construction.

Why is the project not moving forward at the implementation stage? No one in the DDOT administration responsible for implementation and project management is assigned to it. Given such a vacuum, staff of the planning administration do push projects forward, but informal, internal advocacy is no substitute for a system designed to get projects done.

The issue with 15th Street is similar. PPSA staff planned the cycletrack, then implemented it through an informal process without an IPMA project manager. This resulted in a successful, well-used piece of infrastructure that now needs major repairs. But because all of DDOT’s bike/ped expertise remains within PPSA, it still falls to PPSA to do implementation-level work that should be on IPMA’s agenda.

The most recent Bicycle Master Plan gave DDOT priority over all bicycling issues rather than requiring each city agency to accommodate the needs of bicyclists. DDOT has further constrained itself by putting all bike/ped expertise in the planning division and by not assigning anyone to the implementation of bike/ped projects.

People often ask WABA why we do not send more budget alerts on DC trail issues. This is why. Budgets are rarely the primary constraint on bike infrastructure in the District. Instead, priority and personnel bandwidth issues mean that no one is made responsible for implementing bike/ped projects once they are planned.

As bike infrastructure in DC has progressed to the point where it’s more than a stripe on the roadto the point where it constitutes a standalone projectso has a portfolio of incomplete and unbuilt trails and cycletracks.

We can’t continue to depend on the informal cajoling of project planners to get IPMA to construct bike/ped projects in a timely manner. Yes, sometimes that cajoling works, as it now has in getting 15th Street repaved. But do we want a system that requires the work of WABA, the dedicated engagement of an ANC commissioner, and the political pressure of two councilmembers to ensure a high-priority project gets done?

This is not a functioning system. DDOT needs to bring individuals with the necessary expertise to IPMA and, once that expertise is in-house, leave prioritization of project timing to PPSA planners.

The current system fails to meet the needs of the bicycling community, will fail to achieve the mayor’s transportation and sustainability goals, and undermines the ability of DDOT’s planning team to actually plan and prioritize.