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Statement of Councilmember David Grosso on pedestrian and cyclist deaths over the weekend

For Immediate Release: 
April 23, 2019
 
Contact:
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Statement of Councilmember David Grosso on pedestrian and cyclist deaths over the weekend

Washington, D.C. – The following is a statement from Councilmember David Grosso on the deaths that occurred on the District of Columbia’s streets over the past weekend:

“This weekend two more people were killed on our streets by speeding cars: Dave Salovesh, while biking on Florida Avenue NE, and Abdul Seck, while walking in Anacostia. I am deeply saddened by these deaths, and my heart goes out to their families and friends. But as an elected official, my thoughts focus on how our local government could better prevent these deaths.

“Mr. Seck was visiting our city from New York, and, like fellow tourists Monica Adams Carlson and Cora Louise Adams who were killed on our streets in December, was a pedestrian. Mr. Salovesh was a long-time advocate for safe streets in our city, and I encountered him often over the years. He was passionate and persistent, but the Mayor and the District Department of Transportation have not listened to his pleas.

“The simple fact is cars are killing us. Since I joined the Council in 2013, we have passed laws and budgets that we believed gave DDOT the necessary tools to create a multimodal transportation network with safe sidewalks and protected bike lanes. The failure to actually complete these improvements is a result of many missed opportunities and deadlines. It’s no surprise to see we are no closer to our Vision Zero goals, especially when we consider that too much emphasis is placed on accommodating the needs of drivers. We need to shift our focus to building streets that cater to all modes of transportation and protect the well-being of our vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists.

“Prioritizing automobiles creates a disastrous cycle for safety. Not only are our current bikers and pedestrians less safe, but potential cyclists and pedestrians opt for riding in cars due to safety concerns. Those additional cars then, in turn, make it even more dangerous for people to walk and bike in our city.

“We need to do more. Dave Salovesh had some ideas, like creating a continuous network of protected bike lanes. We could start there.

“At today's Committee of the Whole meeting, I joined Councilmember Mary Cheh as a co-introducer of her Mandatory Protected Cycling Lane Amendment Act of 2019 to accelerate the construction of protected bike lanes on our streets. I also joined Councilmember Charles Allen to co-introduce emergency legislation to improve safety for pedestrians and bikers by forcing DDOT to complete the Florida Avenue Multimodal Project.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues on whatever new laws and budget language we need to change the status quo in how we design, build and maintain our roadways. It simply should not be physically possible to go so fast on our streets that people can be so easily killed by cars. This means narrowing our roads and intersections and using that newly freed up space for wider sidewalks, bike lanes, plazas, and more.

“Our city has no excuse for the deaths of Dave Salovesh and Abdul Seck. These were not simply tragic accidents, but the inevitable result of prioritizing the speed and convenience of cars by failing to narrow our roads, paint our crosswalks, install stop signs, and make other changes to allow our residents and visitors to safely travel in our city.”

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Grosso urges quick implementation of protected bike lanes on 6th and 9th Streets NW

Councilmember David Grosso sent a letter last week to Director of the D.C. Department of Transportation expressing his disappointment at the lack of progress of protected bike lanes on 6th Street and 9th Street NW between Florida and Pennsylvania Avenues, NW.

Changes in the area, including the reopening of MLK Library and removal of bike and bus lanes, necessitate a speedy implementation of both these protect bike lanes to improve mobility and safety for cyclists on corridors that touch Wards 1, 2, and 6.

You can read the full letter below and here.

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Grosso questions Bowser administration on implementation of changes to Kids Ride Free program

Today, Councilmember David Grosso, chairperson of the Committee on Education, sent a letter to Director of the District Department of Transporation Jeff Marootian, interim Deputy Mayor for Education Ahnna Smith, and City Administrator Rashad Young after constituents reported that hundreds students have not yet received new Kids Ride Free (KRF) SmarTrip cards which provide free access to Metrorail, Metrobus, and D.C. Circulator.

“Recently, I learned that 775 students at D.C. International School need KRF cards, but have not yet received them, and this problem extends to other schools as well. This is unacceptable. The KRF program was created four years ago to ensure our school system is more equitable for students and families in the District of Columbia. Without access to public transportation, I am concerned that many students will not be able to go to school.”

UPDATE: City Administrator Rashad Young responded to Councilmember Grosso on September 25. The letter can be found below.

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Councilmember Grosso expresses concerns to WMATA over cashless payment pilot for 79 express bus route

Earlier this month, Councilmember David Grosso sent a letter to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Chairman Jack Evans lauding WMATA for its attempt to speed up service but expressing his concerns over the impact of the pilot program being undertaken on the 79 express bus route.  This pilot will ban the use of cash payment or SmarTrip reloading and Grosso fears that the change could worsen commute options for riders with disabilities or lower income residents.

"It is very important that we continue efforts to make our buses more efficient and faster, and I have no doubt that this proposed pilot for the 79 bus will show that this reduces overall trip times," Grosso wrote. "However, a speedier bus should not be a result of leaving some of our residents behind."

In the letter, Grosso made several suggestions to provide equitable service to all residents along the route.

WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld responded to Councilmember Grosso with a letter dated June 21, 2018. Wiedefeld confirmed that nearly 10 percent of riders of the express route either paid their fare via cash or reloaded their SmarTrip onboard but did not elaborate on any plans to accommodate those riders beyond already existing options during the pilot.

Councilmember Grosso awaits the result of the pilot program and will continue to monitor its potential expansion to other routes to ensure that WMATA buses remain an option for all residents.

Both letters can be found below.

On June 25, Councilmember Grosso also introduced legislation to stop the trend toward cashless-only payments at local food establishments over concerns about equitable access for residents who are unbanked or underbanked.

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Grosso sends inquiry letter to DDOT on bicycle infrastructure East of the River

Today, Councilmember David Grosso sent a letter to the District Department of Transportation to inquire about studies and plans to bring more bicycle racks to Historic Anacostia. Councilmember Grosso noticed a complete lack of infrastructure for bicyclists while participating in the Peace Walk on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

We will update this post when we receive a response from DDOT.

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Cyclist, Pedestrian Advocates Plan To Hold Council Accountable If Negligence Bill Fails

Sarah Anne Hughes, Nov 6, 2014, DCist

A bill to change a negligence standard that advocates say treats cyclists and pedestrians injured in crashes unfairly may fail in a D.C. Council committee tomorrow. It wouldn't be the first — or second — time.

But if that does happen, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association plans to let the public know which Councilmembers supported getting rid of contributory negligence — and which ones didn't — with a scorecard sent to members and published online.

A bill introduced by Councilmember David Grosso (At-Large) and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells would end the use of contributory negligence in crashes involving vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. Currently, if a pedestrian or cyclist is found to be even one percent at fault in a crash, they cannot recover damages.

"We have a lot of people walking and biking, and they deserve to have the legal and economic protection that [if] they're in a crash that they're compensated for their injuries," WABA's Greg Billing said after a press conference Thursday. "[The insurance lobby doesn't] want to pay people who get hurt."

Shane Farthing, WABA's executive director, said the scorecard is the first of its kind for his group. He noted the disconnect between city leaders who support a transportation plan that puts an emphasis on walking and cycling, but then leave "vulnerable roadway users" without help when they are hurt. "It's unjust and inappropriate," he said. "Our Councilmembers need to be held accountable."

Wells noted at today's press conference that the bill has been introduced "three times on behalf of bicyclists and other vulnerable users of our roadways." He chairs the Council's Committee on the Judiciary, which will hold a hearing on the bill tomorrow.

"I think once again it will fail because of the outside interests of the insurance companies who do not want to pay for the injuries of folks who are in a conflict with a car," he said.

In addition to Wells, Councilmember and mayor-elect Muriel Bowser is on the committee, as are Councilmembers Anita Bonds, Jack Evans and Mary Cheh. In an election survey put out by advocacy group All Walks DC, Bowser said replacing contributory negligence is an "issue that deserves further consideration," while Bonds voiced support for the measure.

"Trial lawyers are concerned this could be the camel's nose under the tent," Wells said. "That it could impact the size of the awards."

Wells said trial lawyers hold "a lot of sway in the John Wilson building."

"We just went through an election cycle, they contribute a lot of money to campaigns," he said. "And that will have an impact."

Grosso noted that, between the first hearing and now, he worked with trial lawyers who expressed concern over the bill to make changes. "There's no reason why this shouldn't move forward, but there's obviously some hesitancy," he said.

When asked how the Council decides between one interest (trial lawyers, insurance companies) and another (cyclists, pedestrians), Grosso said it's partially about the strength of the advocacy. "WABA and others are stepping up," he said, adding that it's a "completely different world" in D.C. than when city's roads were originally designed.

"I don't think it's as much around what these groups can do to move us," Grosso said. "It's about how quickly Councilmembers can change their opinions on how we do things."

Grosso said some Councilmembers are more conservative in their approach than progressive, defined by Grosso as someone who sees the changes happening in the city and moves urgently. "They're willing to wait ... and go over it and go over it for years and years and years," he said. "In my world, we have too many people getting hurt."

While Grosso agrees that all road users need to follow the laws, this issue is about "making sure that people are covered when they're hurt and getting rid of this arcane system."

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D.C. bill would make it easier for cyclists, pedestrians to collect damages

By Luz Lazo November 6, 2014, Washington Post

Advocates for cyclists and pedestrians rallied Thursday morning in support of a D.C. bill that would make it easier for cyclists to collect damages when they’re injured in collisions with vehicles.

Current law recognizes contributory negligence, meaning that if the cyclist or pedestrian is found to be 1 percent at fault in a crash, he or she cannot recover damages.

The legislation, which is up for a vote in a D.C. Council committee on Friday, would end the contributory negligence standard in favor for a comparative negligence scheme. Although the change has great support from the cycling community and other transportation advocates, insurers’ groups say they are concerned about the impact it would have on insurance costs.

Council member Tommy Wells, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety said the change is long overdue, but acknowledged the bill is unlikely to advance out of committee — this is the third time it has been introduced.

“This bill will likely meet the fate of all the others where the insurance lobby has been able to work the council members to get them to vote against it,” Wells said at a Thursday morning news conference. “It takes a more popular uprising to say that voters are more important than money.”
The bill’s sponsor, Council member David Grosso (D-At-Large), said he still hopes the five-member committee will vote in favor of the legislation, but he said he was already prepared to reintroduce the measure in January.

Supporters say the District and four other states are the only remaining jurisdictions in the nation with the “outdated and unjust negligence standard.” When introduced, the bill only covered cyclists, but since its September hearing, it has been expanded to also cover pedestrians and people with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs.

“Fairness, safety and equity are the basic principles of this legislation,” Grosso said. “This amendment significantly enhances the bill, adding a needed layer of protection for those residents who rely on alternate means of transportation to get around the city.”

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association says the bill is “desperately needed,” especially as the number of bike commuters continues to grow in the District. Recent census data suggests that 4.5 percent of working D.C. residents commute by bicycle and 13.6 percent walk to work.

“It is well past time for D.C. to join the majority of states in bringing fairness to the legal system for vulnerable roadway users,” said Shane Farthing, WABA’s executive director.

Farthing said the current law does not work in today’s transportation environment and in a city that encourages people to bike, walk or use public transportation to get around.

“Our city, our leaders can’t support a program… where we get people out of the cars, on the bikes, on their feet, walking around and then when something goes wrong and they get hit they maintain this unjust, unfair legal system that intentionally blames the victim and denies claims, leaving them injured and uncompensated,” he said.

WABA is launching a voting record scorecard with this bill, he said. The group wiill be sending an e-mail tomorrow to thousands its members and supports reporting how each committee member voted.
(The Washington Post has contacted offices of the other four committee members to ask whether they support the bill, but as of this posting had heard back from them.)

Martha Dye, 47, a bike commuter who was injured last year while riding on Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW, said she would be disappointed if the bill dies in committee. When she was hit in February of last year, the insurance company denied her compensation for the injuries she suffered.

“I had the green light, I was in the crosswalk and the car turned right anyway, and hit me and I was hurt,” she said. “I had some nice-looking bruises and my bike was messed up and it cost me several hundred dollars. I went through the process with the insurance company and they said no.”

In a letter, the insurance company told Dye, “Your actions, proceeding when it was not safe to do so, contributed to this loss. In the absence of legal liability, we would not be justified in making settlement. Therefore, we must deny payment of this claim.”

“It is absurd– here I am with the green light and hit by a car and they say there is no liability,” she said. “This needs to change. It is always the pedestrians and the cyclists that are losing out because we are the ones that get hurt in those situations.”

The American Insurance Association says the change is unnecessary and would result in significant cost increases to D.C. drivers.

“There is likely to be a significant cost impact to D.C. drivers, taxpayers, businesses, and the government itself,” said Eric M. Goldberg, vice president of the association.

The association says that auto insurers settle and pay bicyclist claims all the time and that changing the law will result higher premiums for drivers– and could potentially encourage some drivers to drop their insurance.

“In D.C., around one in five drivers is already uninsured,” the group said. “Economically disadvantaged people are most impacted by increases in auto insurance prices – they would be the most likely to drop coverage when it becomes unaffordable. Having more insured drivers benefits everyone.”

Some D.C. residents also oppose the legislation, saying the District should instead address the rising conflicts on the road by enforcing traffic laws fairly among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

“What I do feel needs to be addressed is for cyclists and pedestrians alike to learn to respect and obey the rules of the road,” said Jennifer White who lives in Ward 4. She said she often encounters pedestrians blocking cars and cyclists drifting through red lights, not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, riding the center lanes to avoid sitting in traffic and failing to use hand signals to alert a vehicle that they are turning right.

“They act like they own the road,” she said. “If we are all expected to share the road, then we should all be expected to obey the rules or face the consequences.”

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Councilmember Grosso, Councilmember Wells, Washington Area Bicyclists Association and All Walks DC to hold joint press conference to push for Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Thursday, November 6 at 10am

WASHINGTON, DC— On Friday, November 7, the Committee on the Judiciary & Public Safety will hold a mark-up and vote on B20-884, the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014,” which would remove the harsh and antiquated system of contributory negligence for pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable roadway users who are injured in collisions with motor vehicles. The introduced bill is available here.

 “Pedestrians and bicyclists injured in a crash with a motor vehicle are frequently barred from recovering damages to pay for associated medical bills and damaged property,” said Councilmember Tommy Wells. “The District of Columbia and four other states are the only remaining jurisdictions in the nation with this outdated and unjust negligence standard. I am proud that we are finally taking the steps to change this unfair law.”

“Fairness, safety and equity are the basic principles of this legislation,” said At-Large Councilmember David Grosso who co-introduced the bill with Councilmembers Wells and Cheh. “Based on the testimony we received during the September hearing, the Committee was able to expand the bill to include vulnerable users from pedestrians, cyclists, those in wheelchairs and others.  This amendment significantly enhances the bill, adding a needed layer of protection for those residents who rely on alternate means of transportation to get around the city.”

The Committee worked with the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), the Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC), and All Walks DC to help craft the bill. “It is well past time for DC to join the majority of states in bringing fairness to the legal system for vulnerable roadway users, including bicyclists and pedestrians,” says Shane Farthing, WABA executive director. “The victim-blaming contributory negligence doctrine prevents blocks access to justice for people hoping to recover from roadway crashes and injuries. As bicycling continues to grow in the city, we count on our elected officials to make the necessary legal changes to protect people who bike, and we look forward the passage of this bill.”

"All Walks DC calls upon our elected representatives to make a stand against the legal status quo that protects drivers and insurance companies at the expense of pedestrians,” said Tracy Loh of All Walks DC. “This bill is an opportunity to not only make DC safer, but improve access to real justice for pedestrians who suffer traffic conflicts in our great walking city."

"The Pedestrian Advisory Council advises the Mayor and Council, and in this role we voted to recommend that pedestrians be included in the bill and testified to this at the September hearing," said PAC Chair Jason Broehm. "We're pleased that the bill was amended to do this."

To rally support for the bill, Councilmembers Wells and David Grosso will hold a joint press conference on Thursday, November 6 at 10:00am in Room 123 of the John A. Wilson Building. Wells and Grosso will be joined by All Walks DC and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association which will unveil its official voting record scorecard for DC Councilmembers. B20-884 is the first bill on which Councilmembers’ votes will be graded.

 

PRESS CONFERENCE DETAILS

WHAT:                   Joint Press Conference

WHO:                     DC Councilmember Tommy Wells, DC Councilmember David Grosso, Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA), All Walks DC.

DATE:                     Thursday, November 6, 2014

TIME:                      10:00am

WHERE:                  Room 123

                                John A. Wilson Building

                                1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

                                Washington, DC 20004

 

 Both Councilmembers will be available for questions immediately following the presentation

 

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Grosso Applauds Implementation of the Sustainable D.C. Act

Grosso Applauds Implementation of the Sustainable D.C. Act

 Washington, D.C. - Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) issued the following statement regarding the signing of the Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 and the launch of the District Department of the Environment's (DDOE) Anacostia River Sediment Project:

"The Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 is a comprehensive legislative package that creates a pathway to a sustainable future for the District of Columbia. The legislation supports the District building a benchmarking program by making data on energy and water use more accessible; it creates an environmental literacy program, prohibits the sale or use of polystyrene containers for food service and increases the District's tree canopy by requiring payment to offset the destruction or removal of a tree. I worked closely with advocates and the Committee on Transportation and the Environment to craft an amendment to this legislation, which accelerates the implementation deadline requiring food service ware to be compostable or recyclable by 2017 instead of 2018. The amendment was accepted and will help to put the District one step closer to becoming the most sustainable city in the country. With this legislation we will greatly improve the health and wellness of our residents and protect our natural environment.

Today also marks the launch of DDOE's Anacostia River Sediment Project, which will enable us to identify the hazardous toxins in the river and work toward a plan for removal. Recognizing the urgent need to remediate the river, I worked closely with the Committee to establish a statutory deadline of June 30, 2018 for DDOE to adopt and publish a Record of Decision selecting the remedy for remediation. It is my goal to one day swim and fish in the Anacostia, and through their efforts, DDOE is continuing to work to ensure that this goal is achieved."

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Ensuring fairness for bicyclists involved in collisions

By Nikko Bilitza

Councilmember Grosso recently introduced the “Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Amendment Act of 2014.” This bill would make it easier for cyclists to get compensation for damage sustained in accidents with cars, by ending the legal use of contributory negligence in automobile-bicycle collisions. Contributory negligence is a legal defense that argues that the plaintiff in a negligence case cannot receive compensation if they are even one percent responsible for the damage. For example, Driver A is making a left turn and hits Driver B, who was driving over the speed limit through the intersection.  Driver B sustains injuries and sues Driver A for negligence but loses because Driver B was driving over the speed limit, which contributed to the injury.

Only four states use contributory negligence, a legal defense that is unfair for traffic cases considering that plaintiffs often have to pay off expensive medical bills or vehicle repair bills. This bill will help cyclists who often get the raw end of the deal in traffic cases due to jurors or police misunderstanding how laws apply to cyclists. According to a study by the League of American Bicyclist, only 12% of fatal cyclist accidents resulted in any form of punishment for the driver or compensation for the family of the victim. These cases spurred  Councilmember Grosso to propose legislation switching to a comparative negligence standard, which stipulates that the plaintiff is compensated in proportion to their responsibility for the damage. This change is especially timely, as DDOT and Howard University recently reported a 130% increase in collisions involving cars and cyclists in the District from 2010 to 2012.

Source:  Traffic Safety Statistics Report for the District of Columbia (2010-2012) , D.C. Department of Transportation and Howard University.

Source: Traffic Safety Statistics Report for the District of Columbia (2010-2012), D.C. Department of Transportation and Howard University.

We need to make sure that cyclists affected in these accidents will receive fair and proportional compensation. The Councilmember is pushing to move the bill forward when the Council reconvenes after the summer recess on September 15.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.

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Grosso Reports FY2015 Budget Victories

For Immediate Release:

May 28, 2014

Contact: Dionne Johnson Calhoun

(202) 724-8105

Grosso Reports FY2015 Budget Victories   

Success with priorities in education, workforce development, transportation, homelessness, environment, and more

Washington, D.C. – Today, the D.C. Council held a legislative meeting on the first reading of the FY 2015 Budget Request Act of 2014 and the FY2015 Budget Support Act of 2014. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) worked in committee to ensure inclusion of his top priorities in the budget. 

“The Committee of the Whole put forward a thoughtful and comprehensive budget that will benefit all District residents in the areas of education, workforce development, human services and transportation.  This budget is the result of a lot of hard work and careful considerations and I am pleased to support and vote in favor of it,” said Grosso. 

Grosso’s FY2015 Budget Victories

Tax Revision Commission

From the very beginning, Grosso supported the diligent work of the Tax Revision Commission. He advocated for the inclusion of the Commission’s recommendations in the FY15 budget, and was happy to join his colleagues in passing one of the largest tax relief packages for low & middle class individuals and families in the District’s history. In particular, Grosso advocated for the following:

  • Adding a new individual middle income bracket of $40,000 to 60,000 at 7% in FY15 and later 6.5% in FY16
  • Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to childless workers
  • Raising the standard deduction for single and married filers
  • Reducing the unincorporated and incorporated business franchise tax to 8.25%

 

Public Education

Improving public education has been a priority for Grosso since he first joined the Council. He supported the work of the Committee on Education in the FY15 budget and is especially pleased to support the following enhancements:

  • $1 million for the continuation of the Community Schools grant program, which works to integrate academics, health and social services, youth and community development, and community engagement in our public schools. Grosso strongly supports school being seen as community centers and this funding is vital to the success of the program.
  • A provision requiring D.C. Public Schools to report on its implementation of a restorative justice pilot program next school year. Grosso is committed to pushing our education sector to reexamine school discipline policies in an effort to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Restorative justice programs implemented with fidelity in schools is one way to advance those efforts.
  • Grosso also supports the Committee on Education’s decision to amend the Capital Improvement Plan to align capital funding with those schools that need it most. The additional funding for School Within A School, Logan Elementary, Marie Reed Elementary, Murch Elementary, Orr Elementary, and Watkins Elementary for modernization in FY2015 is important to the continued improvement of these education campuses.
  • Expansion of the school-based mental health program administered by the Department of Behavioral Health. Social-emotional support personnel are especially important for students. Our kids do not leave the stress of their home lives at the school house door. Even the best, highly qualified teacher struggles to teach a child who is only physically present but shut down mentally from stress and trauma.
  • $100,000 to support teen health educators who provide sexual and reproductive health education to their peers.

 

Workforce Development

It is important for the District of Columbia to not only establish a positive climate for businesses, but also for residents who work here or are seeking meaningful work. Grosso was proud to champion and support initiatives to improve workforce development and support District government employees.

  • Grosso worked diligently with the Chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, Kenyan McDuffie, to pass a proposal for 8 weeks of paid family leave for  District government employees in connection with the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or the care of a family member who has a serious medical condition.  This is the most expansive family leave provision in the country.
  • $5.5 million investment in District Workforce Development at the University of the District of Columbia Community College Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning program to ensure that we are supporting workforce development programs that are successful and supporting our residents so that they can secure life-long, meaningful employment that allows them to take care of themselves and their families. 
  • $175,000 for a new employee at the Workforce Investment Council and a technical assistance consultant to conduct a cross-agency study that will track how each District agency allocates their adult literacy and workforce development funding.

 

Food Security & Recreation

Grosso believes we need to bolster our recreation options and efforts toward food security in the District of Columbia and complement the strong, robust health care infrastructure we are establishing. Grosso was pleased that the following initiatives he advocated for and supported were approved:

  • $8,000,000 for the renovation and modernization of the District’s only Therapeutic Recreation Center, which services people with disabilities and is located in Ward 7.  The funding will create additional changing spaces and showers in the women’s locker room, help to replace a badly patched roof and expand the physical size of the facility, which has not been renovated since it was built in 1971.
  • $1.3 million to create a locally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enhancement. With this funding, no resident receiving SNAP benefits will receive less than $30 per month in assistance, greatly increasing food security in the District.
  • $75,000 to support the Summer Food Services program administered by the Department of Parks and Recreation for low-income children participating in summer programming; $63,000 to support school food pantries at low-income schools in the District; $500,000 in capital dollars to support the development of urban farming, new community gardens and edible landscapes at sites across the District.

 

Homelessness Services

Grosso is committed to improving how the District assists our most vulnerable residents, as well as health outcomes in the city. He advocated for and supported the following:

  • $600,000 to hire 10 family case managers for families at D.C. General to assess families, connect them with the appropriate social services, and ultimately assist them in finding permanent housing.
  • $1.3 million to fund key provisions of the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014, including funding for 10 transitional beds and 5 emergency shelter beds for youth aged 24 and younger, and street outreach to identify and assist vulnerable youth.
  • $2 million to fund the Homeless Prevention Program Establishment Act to implement prevention efforts that have proven to be successful in other jurisdictions.
  • $2.3 million to expand the Permanent Supportive Housing Program at the Department of Human Services.
  • $3 million to the tenant-based Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) for homeless families, and those at risk of becoming homeless.
  • New funding for coordinated entry system to connect the homeless population to housing and other wrap around services.
  • $200,000 to conduct a feasibility study for the CCNV individual homeless shelter to determine the housing and service needs of the population and facility.

 

Transportation & the Environment

Having a multi-modal transit friendly city that is the “greenest” in the country is something we should all desire and is a top priority for Grosso. Over the course of this year, he has established quarterly meetings with the District Department of the Environment to discuss his priorities, participated on panel discussions with the DC Environmental Network to address waste management in the District, and just last month joined the Anacostia Watershed Society in a river clean-up targeting 25 sites around the Anacostia watershed.  Grosso was pleased that the following initiatives he supported were including in the FY2015 budget:

  • Budget Support Act language establishing a statutory deadline of June 30, 2018 for the District Department of the Environment to adopt and publish a Record of Decision selecting the remedy for remediation of the contaminated sediment in the Anacostia River.  This commitment ensures that DDOE will work quickly and efficiently so that District residents can swim and fish in the river sooner rather than later.
  • $500,000 to conduct a Comprehensive Rail Study to examine the impact of increased population on current commuter rail, the feasibility of expanded commuter and industrial rail, and the impact of privately-owned rail crossing on current and future rail use.
  • Grosso is pleased to report that the Council will maintain the planned 6-year, $400 million investment in the streetcar project and dedicate $45-$65 million of operating funds to the project annually. The Council adjusted the proposed streetcar PayGo transfer from a fixed to a floating base year. 25% of the District’s revenues generated over the previous year, rather than a locked-in baseline of FY15, will be dedicated to support the construction of the new streetcar.  The provision will be implemented in FY2017.  These changes ensure that District residents will reap the benefits of a comprehensive streetcar system.
  •  $187 million towards the H Street bridge, a critical infrastructure project needed for the completion of the streetcar line.  Full replacement of the H Street bridge will be completed before Fiscal Year 2018.
  • $5 million for the Washington Humane Society, which provides the District’s animal control services, to secure a new location and building.

 

Transparency & Open Government

Grosso is fiercely committed to transparency and open government. To advance these ideals, he was successful in getting the following reporting requirements included in the FY2015 Budget Support Act:

  • By October 1, 2014, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer shall submit a report on recommendations for improving transparency of the agency’s budget, including a plan for implementing improvements by the submission of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget to the Council.
  • With the support of the Chair of the Committee on Health, language was also included in the BSA requiring the Department of Health to begin submitting quarterly reports on all grants administered by the agency. During the performance oversight and budget hearings, we heard testimony from many public witnesses regarding the continuous delays with DOH expending grant money. The quarterly reporting will help improve oversight and hopefully grant funding operations at the agency.
  • Grosso also worked with the Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, to include language requiring the Department of Parks and Recreation to submit reports to the Committee on workforce strategic hiring plan to fill 106 vacancies, the development and implementation of a comprehensive complaint in-take database system to quantify and analyze the number and type of complaints the agency receives and report on the status of a system to produce performance metrics.

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Performance Oversight Hearing recap for March 21, 2014

The winter weather has decided to stick around a little while longer and as a result of the snow, the Committee on Transportation and the Environment rescheduled the performance oversight hearing of the Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC), Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC) and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) several times.  Finally, on Friday, March 21, the hearing got underway, and ran for six hours.

Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC):

  • In FY13, the BAC was unable to access the $10,000 budgeted for them due to a lack of clarity on the process to access the funds.
  • Frequently, the BAC makes recommendations to DDOT as it relates to bike safety and infrastructure.  BAC’s facilities committee is working to develop a mechanism to track their recommendations and whether or not DDOT has made progress to implement them.  The BAC noted that there is still not strong follow-through on the part of DDOT.

Pedestrian Advisory Council (PAC):

  • In FY13, the PAC created the Enforcement & Education Committee as well as the Walking Environment Committee.  These committees work to increase awareness around pedestrian safety.
  • The PAC is continuing their efforts to advocate for more traffic control officers and expressed support for photo enforcement.
  • The PAC still has concerns with the slow progress of DDOT on addressing sidewalk gaps.

District Dept. of Transportation (DDOT):

  • For residents living within the District’s 68.3 square miles, parking can often be a challenge.  DDOT is reviewing the District-wide residential parking program (RPP) and making changes to the wards that were re-districted, as well as updating their files.  The review process is 95% complete.
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to tweet confusing parking signage to DDOT and get a response immediately?  Well Councilmember Grosso recommended this and DDOT explained that they currently receive pictures and complaints via Twitter and emails, as well as, receiving calls through 311.  DDOT officials noted that there is a 311 mobile app that allows users to upload pictures, which are then submitted to DDOT’s work order management system and assigned a ticket number.  DDOT continues to make improvements to streets signs, working block-by-block to fix confusing signage.
  • Food truck advocates expressed that while few signs do exist for street vendors, more are needed and all signs should specify the times for which vendors can park.  DDOT explained that the rollout of the Mobile Roadway Vending (MRV) locations has, overall, been good; however, they are trying to work out a few kinks.  Specifically, DDOT explained that there is a challenge with creating permanent signage (currently they provide temporary signs) because once a permanent sign goes up, it is increasingly more difficult to go back and make any adjustments to them.
  • Safety is always a priority and each year DDOT works to identify 50 dangerous intersection locations, a process that tends to take 2 years to address with the first year dedicated to design plans and the 2nd year devoted to construction.  This year, DDOT is working to provide pavement markings, high visibility signs and more.
  • More construction is on the way!  Councilmember Grosso explained that the intersection located at 4th Street, Massachusetts Avenue and H Street NW is extremely dangerous and confusing.  The Councilmember requested that a traffic control officer be placed at this location; however it won’t happen.  DDOT expressed their concerns with this intersection but stated that in a few weeks massive construction will be taking place at this site.  To assist residents with their daily commutes, DDOT stated that they will be able to produce some site maps informing residents of where major construction is taking place and offering alternative routes.

 

 

 

 

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Performance Oversight Hearings Week in Review February 24-28, 2014

The week of February 24-28, 2014 was an epic one for agency performance oversight hearings at the D.C. Council. Councilmember Grosso set out to attend every oversight hearing for the committees where he is a member—there were 12 hearings, addressing 29 government agencies. We covered all those hearings plus monitored a couple others! Like last week, what follows is a presentation of key moments from some of those hearings.

Quote of the week:

"There are two critical attributes for gaining employment with the Washington Aqueduct—have a fundamental understanding of the pH scale and understand why water is wet.” --Washington Aqueduct General Manager Thomas Jacobus. If that’s you, check out their job openings!

 

Committee on Education

Councilmember Grosso and staff were kept busiest by the Committee on Education, with three days of hearings centered on the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). Two Washington Post articles helped set the agenda on the management of D.C. TAG (Tuition Assistance Grants, for D.C. students who go to state universities outside the District) and DCPS budget reprogramming of capital funds, published immediately prior to the respective hearings. You have to appreciate when the fourth estate also takes on an oversight role, right? Read on for some additional highlights from the hearings.

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

  • High school students who volunteer with the Young Woman’s Project were back this year to testify on the need for D.C. to update its health and sexual education curriculum. “Sexuality is taught where straightness is the norm and anything else is an aberration,” one student testified. The Committee will include language in the FY15 Budget Support Act to ask OSSE to report on the status of health curriculum revisions by October 1.
  • There was a spirited discussion about a little known change regarding student eligibility for free and reduced meals (FARM) that may have an impact on student achievement data. Last year, many D.C. schools moved to “community eligibility” for FARM meaning that if at least 40% of students at a school met the income eligibility requirements for FARM, then the entire school does. The tension arises when FARM data points are also used for student achievement. At schools like Hardy MS where just over 40% of students are FARM eligible, the other 60% of students are now being counted as such. Committee Chairman Catania suggested that this “community eligibility” distinction could distort our student achievement growth data.
  • Speaking of student achievement growth, OSSE agreed to post online all of the school improvement plans that have been approved under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers. It takes a community to turn around a school, so why not let everyone know what we’re working towards. Be on the lookout for those on the OSSE website soon.
  • There needs to be a complete overhaul of the teacher licensure system. Can you believe everything is still paper-based?! Only four people work in the OSSE licensure division and it takes about 8-10 weeks to get approved, which is entirely too long in our opinion.

D.C. Public Schools

  • If you’re a parent looking at schools, you might want to compare DCPS and public charter schools side by side. Once upon a time, DCPS tried to create a common school rating system with the public charter school sector. Unfortunately, the two could not come to an agreement. So there are two systems, and no plans to try again for a unified metric. Which is a shame.
  • We are just months away from the expiration of our federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant and DCPS still hasn’t implemented any turnaround plans under RTTT because they have not been able to receive approval from OSSE to spend the funds in time. Yes, let this knowledge marinate for a second. Millions of dollars are going unspent. But since OSSE committed to post the plans online soon, which implies they must be approved, this ball should finally be rolling.
  • Just before the hearing, the Chancellor and the Mayor released the reprogramming of funding for modernization at schools which had some major “winners” and “losers.” The Chancellor sought to clarify some decisions. She first reported that Payne ES modernization dollars had been restored. Garrison ES was removed from Phase I modernization because the Mayor decided to do a full modernization for Garrison in FY15. The Chancellor also noted that there could be more changes to capital improvement plans to address some critical Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations at schools like Banneker HS, as pointed out by Councilmember Grosso. Going forward, all Phase I school modernizations will address ADA compliance issues.
  • Councilmember Grosso asked Chancellor Henderson about the continuity of leaders and whether the one-year contracts for school administrators is helping or hindering DCPS keep its effective leaders. The Chancellor reported that she is conversations with the CSO (school leader union) about 3-year contracts for school leaders. A BIG move if they can get it to work.
  • Not everyone likes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new healthy nutrition standards for school lunch. Participation rates across DCPS are down because the food isn’t as flavorful. Councilmember Grosso noted that they should consider food trucks—turns out that’s what some of the students have been asking for.

We are certainly looking forward to the Mayor’s FY15 budget to see how DCPS better equalizes the rigor and programming across its middle schools and education campuses. The big money question: is it OK for some more advanced courses like Algebra I to have 3 or 4 students in a classroom, or should those courses be cut?

 

Committee of the Whole

Oversight hearings by the Committee of the Whole covered eight different agencies! However, the Office of Contracts and Procurement had just recently had a hearing, and several other agencies are multi-jurisdictional, so the bulk of energy was put into oversight of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the UDC Community College.  The oversight hearing—covering UDC, the community college, and the law school—was a marathon, clocking in at over six hours.

  • One hurdle that Councilmember Grosso discussed with UDC President Lyons was how the institution can overcome the barriers that it faces for Middle States Accreditation. To that end, UDC recognizes that it must take action to implement its Vision 20/20 Plan, so that it can operate less as a government agency and more like an independent higher education institution. 
  • There was the robust discussion about dual eligibility and how the college plans to engage with DCPS and public charter schools to get our resident students into early college prep courses to earn both high school and college credits. 
  • Another hot topic was retention and graduation rates--UDC currently retains and graduates only about 16% of the students that enroll at the school.  We do not know the percentages of students who transfer out to other institutions or leave higher education altogether.  The University is beginning to track these students better as well as develop plans for retaining more students. 

Although there is a lot of work to be done, the focus and the energy are clearly shifting at UDC from a survival mode mentality to one that is more about thriving and future growth. 

 

Committee on Health

D.C. Office on Aging

  • As part of their FY13 performance goals, D.C. Office on Aging planned to reach 55% of District employees seeking employment through job training and placement but only reached 26.5%. this was due in part to that the tight current job market, where seniors are competing with recent college graduates and grad school alum for the same positions.  Another Office initiative was a collaboration with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to educate seniors about financial abuse and fraud. In response to a question from Councilmember Grosso, the Office on Aging said they are actively addressing issues affecting LGBT seniors and have members of their senior advisory board from the LGBT community.

Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services

  • Councilmember Grosso asked the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services about the little-known fact that the Gray administration changed emergency shelters from being open year-round to only during hypothermia season. This might be part of why D.C. General had such a crunch this winter, among other factors. David also made it clear that he believes D.C. should be helping anyone who is homeless in the city, rather than focusing efforts on additional measures to verify District residency for those seeking shelter.

 

Committee for Transportation and the Environment

Another wide-ranging set of agencies were up before the Transportation and the Environment Committee for oversight hearings.

Department of Environment

  • Public witnesses testifying about Department of Environment (DDOE) echoed Councilmember Grosso’s desire to swim in the Anacostia, alleging that the swimming ban should be removed in certain parts of the river where kayaking and other water activities already take place. Director Anderson was not convinced, but said they would look into the subject, while erring on the side of safety. Additionally:
  • DDOE has finalized storm water regulations—related in part to the green river infrastructure discussed by DC Water (see below), who they are collaborating with on continued clean-up of the Anacostia.
  • DDOE planted over 8,000 trees in the District in FY13, exceeding original targets by almost 100%.
  • Under a contract with DDOE, DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) is tasked with promoting energy efficiency, but has been failing to meet its benchmarks. DDOE is reviewing the contract and considering changes to be made.

Director Anderson stated that priorities for the coming year include implementing the Mayor’s Sustainable D.C. plan, the health of the Anacostia River, and working to resolve issues with the DCSEU.

DC Water & Washington Aqueduct

  • With two-thirds of District sewer overflows dumping into the Anacostia and Potomac, DC Water is working to accelerate its green infrastructure initiative. DC Water and Department of Transportation are exploring which is agency is best suited to implement this initiative, known as the Clean Rivers Project. Remaining challenges notwithstanding, public witness Marchant Wentworth remembered when “condoms were gently flowing out of combined sewer tunnels.”  We’ve come a long way.
  • According to General Manager Thomas Jacobus of the oft-forgotten Washington Aqueduct, the District’s water quality is just as good if not better than any other local jurisdiction.  All water analysis testing will be completed by the end of the month.

Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Big news for the Department of Motor Vehicles when April turns to May--the Georgetown Service Center is scheduled to reopen on April 29, while new driver’s licenses under the D.C. Driver’s Safety Amendment Act will launch May 1, 2014. Don’t plan to get your new license on May Day, however, as due to the large number of residents expected to apply, they will be available by appointment only.
  • In other facilities news, DMV Director Lucinda Babers said that Brentwood Road Test Center “sucks,” and she is working with Department of General Services to identify another location for road testing.
  • Tips for the “wrongly” ticketed: If ever you should receive a parking ticket that you wish to contest, DMV wants you to know that you should NOT pay the ticket first.  Paying the ticket is basically an admission of guilt.  To resolve the matter, contest the ticket.  If you lose and seek to appeal, you must then pay the ticket along with the appeal fee.  If you win on appeal, you will be refunded.

Department of Public Works

  • Bet you didn’t see this coming--due to the heavy snowfall this winter, Department of Public Works has busted their snow budget, going $2 million over their $6.2 million budget. DPW is working with the Budget Office to reallocate additional funds. But even $8 million isn’t enough to get every D.C. street clear of snow after heavy storms, which DPW is trying to address by improving communications among plow drivers and zone captains. Will Spring ever come?
  • When residents aren’t complaining about snow, they’re griping about parking, and DPW indicated that parking enforcers are beginning to take more photos to reduce “keying errors.” Yes, photos! DPW stated that if a parking officer has a high ticket challenge rate they are likely writing bad tickets and the Director will address it.

 

Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs

Over 90 people showed up to testify before the Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs oversight hearing regarding  four major agencies—Department of Employment Services, Department of Small and Local Business Development, Workforce Investment Council and the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Here are some key moments:

  • The majority of attendees spoke about the need for the Chairman and the Council to secure the necessary funding in the budget to fulfill the promise of the new minimum wage and paid sick and safe leave laws. 
  • Councilmember Grosso used his allotted time to question the Department of Employment Services (DOES) Interim Director, Tom Luparello.  His primary focus was to ascertain the metrics used by the Department to measure the performance of their employees and the programs and services that they provide.  Historically, the Office of Program and Performance Monitoring has been understaffed with an underspent budget—we think that is a serious problem for the office that oversees the implementation of policies, procedures, and metrics. Director Luparello stated that they are working on getting this office properly staffed.  He also mentioned that he reviews reports of employees and programs on a daily basis.  It is his goal to review every program and office at DOES to determine and rate performance levels.
  • One positive crossover from the Committee of the Whole oversight hearing for the UDC Community College and DOES is that apparently both groups are working together to find better avenues for improving workforce development needs and funding. 

 

Committee on Finance and Revenue

The Finance and Revenue Committee heard from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) about its latest efforts to prevent and identify fraud. OCFO established the Office of Integrity Oversight to monitor internal controls along with a new Chief Risk Officer.Additionally, OCFO has tightened hiring standards for the Office and is committed to changing company culture to foster a positive work environment because changing attitudes is the first step to decreasing fraud and company waste.

 

Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

Although Councilmember Grosso is not a member of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, we try to keep up with the happenings there due to our commitment to improving the criminal justice system in the District. The oversight hearing on coordination of emergency responses by the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) brought out a number of interesting points regarding recent high profile agency failures.

Fire and Emergency Medical Services

  • FEMS protocol is that every patient must be assessed. In a tragic case where a man died after an ambulance responding to the call said they were “waved off by MPD,” this policy clearly states that they should have responded regardless of MPD actions. Nonetheless, as noted by one union leader, a protocol shouldn’t replace the basic instinct of compassion that is vital to working in the public safety field.
  • The conversation kept returning to issues of dispatch, and how dispatch decisions are made. There was not clarity on whether FEMS has a policy prohibiting self-dispatching (such as an ambulance stopping to help someone who hails them when not already on a call), although under the previous fire chief one employee was allegedly fired for self-dispatching. A former oversight officer for FEMS testified, seeking whistleblower protection, about a number of failures at the agency, including a faulty dispatch priority decision making system. He described witnessing a police officer hit by a car across the street from his station, but then being dispatched to reset a fire alarm in a nearby building while a team from another neighborhood was sent to help the officer. He also outlined other problems from credentialing to medication supplies to lack of oversight within the agency.

Metropolitan Police Department

We looked forward to the oversight hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) after the recent release of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force report as well as the conversations in the city about racial disparities in arrests and marijuana law reform. A few advocates made important testimony and Chief Lanier answered several rounds of questions from Committee Chairman Wells.

  • An ACLU investigation of police complaint processes found that only four in ten police stations kept complaint forms for the Office of Police Complaints, while their inquiries about how to file a complaint against an officer frequently elicited hostile and factually inaccurate responses from officers. This testimony contrasted starkly with Chief Lanier’s later testimony that the best way to improve police interactions with transgender residents is for people to make complaints. Indeed, she testified that the best way to address officer misconduct across the board is by filing reports.
  • Conflicts between bicyclists and car drivers, and associated safety concerns, continue to be an issue for advocates like Washington Area Bicycle Association. While WABA and others suggested that increased enforcement of bicycle laws might help but also emphasized that bicyclists are not the only ones that flout the laws, and encouraged any increase in enforcement to be applied fairly across transportation modes. Chief Lanier rejected suggestions that MPD officers might treat bicyclists less favorably than motorists.
  • On the topic of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force report, Chief Lanier recognized that the transition of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) was not done well. While she agreed that it was rushed and therefore not properly executed, she stood by her decision to decentralize the unit. Chief Lanier also acknowledged that MPD needs stronger training for affiliate members of the GLLU. Although the report documented a steady increase in hate crimes, including against LGBT community, from 2008 to 2011, Chief Lanier testified that hate crimes have gone down in the previous two year. There is still no consensus on whether this reflects actual crime patterns, reporting patterns, or an unclear mix of the two.
  • In response to questions from Committee Chairman Wells about racial disparities in marijuana arrests, Chief Lanier said that racial disparities are nothing new in drug arrests. She further stated that the report from the Washington Committee of Lawyers for Civil Rights on race and marijuana arrests used bad data—data that came from MPD. According to Chief Lanier, 911 calls are what lead to drug arrests. In 2013, MPD received 12 calls regarding marijuana use in Ward 3 versus 500+ in Ward 7, partially explaining racial disparities according to the Chief.

 

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Oversight Hearings Week in Review Feb 17-21

February, March and April are an especially busy time at the D.C. Council between performance oversight hearings for city agencies and hearings on the budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Since most residents don’t have time to watch hours upon hours of Council hearings—many happening simultaneously—we thought we’d be your eyes and ears into what’s happening here at the Wilson Building. We present our week in review!

The hearings last week for committees on which Councilemember Grosso sits all took place on Wednesday, February 19.

Perhaps predictably, the Transportation and the Environment Committee oversight hearing with the DC Taxicab Commission (DCTC) got the most attention in the press—including a mention of a recent experience of Councilmember Grosso’s wife with a cab that had no credit card machine. The Councilmember pressed DCTC chair Ron Linton on the topic, who said that perhaps 10-12% of cabs are “resisting” compliance with the credit card payment mandate. Accessibility was another key issue, particularly as the only public witnesses described the findings of the Disability Advisory Committee for DCTC. We look forward to receiving the Committee’s final report and working to ensure that its recommendations are implemented. Additionally, the Commission is set to issue new regulations for hired car services in the coming year and we will be keeping a close eye on that. The Councilmember asked about this and other items in a follow-up letter after the hearing.

Following the spirited dialogue that took place during the DC Taxicab Commission oversight hearing, the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) hearing was markedly lighter. You can read the follow-up letter that the Couniclmember sent to the Department after the hearing.

  • DPR touted a 90% customer service satisfaction ranking based on special event and customer satisfaction surveys they received.
  • Community advocates praised DPR for their commitment to building new playgrounds and hosting events like the Summer Hiring Fair set for February 22.  This effort is the result of a partnership between DOES and DPR.
  • DPR is working closely with the community to bring the Friendship Park project to life.  This project will include a splash park, a performance stage and more.
  • Questions arose regarding delayed facility openings, unexpected closures and how DPR communicates these issues to the public.
  • And finally, we learned that DPR Park Rangers are in fact, not a police force.  All in a day’s work.

The State Board of Education, the Deputy Mayor for Education and DC Public Library were up in the Committee on Education oversight hearing. From school discipline and early childhood education to facility modernization and maintenance, a lot of issues were covered. Here are a couple highlights from witness testimony and questioning.

  • The Deputy Mayor for Education and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education have partnered with the Department of Employment Services to launch a Reengagement Center for disconnected youth this fall.
  • There are a great number of schools that have critical modernization needs, such as Powell and Garrison, but Councilmember Grosso pressed the Deputy Mayor to encourage the Mayor, D.C. Public Schools, and Department of General Services to revisit the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and at a minimum move up the modernization plans for several schools that are not in compliance with the Americans With Disability Act such as Banneker and Bruce Monroe at Parkview.
  • The State Board of Education will be hiring the new Ombudsman by the end of February. Be on the lookout for that announcement!
  • Advocates for public libraries are expanding their focus beyond the existing DC Public Library branches, and are pushing for a general interest library at the DC Jail. Hard to believe they don’t already have one.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was conducting its oversight hearing with agencies big and small—the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB), the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) and the Alcohol and Beverage Regulatory Administration (ABRA).

Advocates voiced concerns about noise levels from Dupont Circle clubs—exceeding the highest allowable sound level of 50 decibels.   Regulation is a problem because MPD can write a citation with direct evidence, ABRA can enforce noise violations if they come when called, but DCRA is responsible for measuring the sounds waves with one of the TWO meter readers the city owns.  ABRA agreed to work with MPD and DCRA to publish reports about noise violation enforcement and look into getting another meter.

A loophole in the Foreclosure Mediation Program allows mortgage lenders to file lawsuits against homeowners in D.C. Superior Court—and avoid the statutory requirement for a Mediation Certificate.  The Mediation Certificate is intended to protect the lendee from costly litigation and robo-signing fraud.   The certificate is supposed to be required for foreclosures that are non-judicial procedures or lawsuit. 

DCRA spent the last year working to modernize their information technology system.  “Project Dox” was launched in 2013 and 300 business licenses were issued online (about 10% of licenses issued).  DCRA intends to issue at least a quarter of their overall licenses in 2014 online.   They are also implementing a web-portal that will allow cross-agency information sharing. 

Councilmember Grosso adjourned his first hearing—the Chairman had to jet and we just had too many questions to ask. 

Throughout all four oversight hearings, Councilmember Grosso pressed agency heads on transparency and accessibility. He asked each agency about its compliance with federal “508” standards for ensuring that websites are accessible to persons with disabilities including vision impairment. Continuing his effort to ensure information about District boards and commissions is available, the Councilmember also asked each agency about those bodies under its purview. While some agencies are doing better than others in this area, it is clear that our bill to create a centralized list of boards and commissions with all the relevant information is still necessary.

Quote of the Week:

"I won't bore you with the stories of sex on windshields while men enjoy the show from inside their cars, the urination all over our front entrance or the make-shift bar that popped up in the adjoining vacant building’s parking lot for “pre-bar parties” out of a van." –A Dupont Circle resident describing scenes in the neighborhood

Stat of the Week:

In DCPS, less than 50% of African-American boys graduate from high school in four years.

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Despite The Streetcar, D.C. Plans To Replace H Street Bridge

The Hopscotch Bridge connects H Street NE to North Capitol Street while crossing over Amtrak tracks behind Union Station. D.C. officials say it will have to replaced within five years. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44144211@N07/5147592328/

The Hopscotch Bridge connects H Street NE to North Capitol Street while crossing over Amtrak tracks behind Union Station. D.C. officials say it will have to replaced within five years. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44144211@N07/5147592328/

It was two years ago that D.C. officials decided to route a planned streetcar line over the H Street Bridge, allowing for a connection to Union Station. But now they say that the bridge will have to be fully replaced within five years, likely forcing the city to reroute the H Street streetcar line it hopes to start running this year.

The 2.4-mile streetcar route runs up and down H Street and Benning Road NE, and in 2011 city officials decided to run streetcars up and over the bridge — colloquially known as the Hopscotch Bridge — in order to connect to Union Station. But officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation say those tracks will be temporary, and will come down when the city starts replacing the bridge within the next three to five years.

"We always knew that this would be a temporary entrance into Union Station," said Nic Nicholson, DDOT's chief engineer, at a D.C. Council hearing on Friday. "At such time as we could coordinate and replace the bridge, we would have a temporary measure for streetcar as we replace the Hopscotch Bridge."

"We're doing the minimal in that track placement to get service going with the full intention of coming back within the next three to five years and replacing the bridge," he added.

During the hearing, Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) worried that the eventual replacement would only lead to more frustration among H Street residents, who have dealt with streetcar-related construction since 2008.

"My feeling and my fear with this project is that if we don't do it in a systemic, laid-out and planned way, I'm afraid that we're going to lose the faith of the people in getting this done right. This is not a great start," he said.

Nicholson said Amtrak's changing plans for an expanded Union Station and a new high-speed rail line complicated DDOT's original expectation that it could punch a hole through the base of the bridge and avoid running the streetcar over it.

"Once Amtrak started planning and revising its master plan to accommodate that, what came into conflict was our initial plans for our connection of streetcars to Union Station," he said.

The DDOT officials said that the Benning Road Bridge over Kingman Lake and the Anacostia River will also have to replaced, but no streetcar tracks have been placed on that portion of the road for a planned connection to neighborhoods east of the river.

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Safety First Initiative

By Aaron Pritchard, Chief of Staff

Yesterday, WAMU reported that D.C. has a higher rate of pedestrian fatalities than the national average. With the news coverage during the first half of 2013 this should come as no surprise.   On consecutive days along Councilmember Grosso’s commute several pedestrians were hit near Union Station and another just up the street on 4th and Massachusetts NW.   After the second accident he came into the office distraught about the dangerous situation for pedestrians in our city. Our office hatched the “Safety First” initiative on that day in mid-June.

The “Safety First” initiative focuses first on improving the safety of our most vulnerable and common users of transportation – our pedestrians. Yes, many people drive, others take the metro or ride buses, and a growing number of residents bike to work – but pedestrians are everywhere, all day. Grosso’s question was: how could we begin to improve pedestrian safety in the District of Columbia immediately? We started with legislative and oversight efforts focused on pedestrian safety.

First, we inserted Budget Support Act (BSA) language that mandates that DDOT (D.C. Department of Transportation) create a safety nexus for speed cameras throughout the city. Grosso’s theory, created after months of campaign questions about speed camera’s, was that if DDOT were to incorporate speed cameras into its safety calculus, then we could use that analysis to reduce the number of serious pedestrian/car collisions in D.C.  The desired result would be that D.C. residents would trust that when speed cameras are installed, the government was motivated by improving safety, and not just increasing local revenue. D.C. residents support speed cameras, and red light camera’s, in their neighborhoods and on streets near their homes, because they understand that reducing the speed of cars creates safer communities. Our office anticipates that a safety nexus for speed cameras, rather than focusing our limited camera resources on generating revenue, will improve pedestrian safety.

The second idea came when Councilmember Grosso heard about the successful reduction in pedestrian injuries when Traffic Control Officers (TCOs) were deployed in a pilot project on Wisconsin and M Street NW. The officers issued enough tickets to cover the cost of their time working while also improving traffic flow and, most importantly, improving pedestrian safety at the intersection. We had heard of rumors of political and other reasons (not including safety) driving decisions on where TCO’s were located so we included language in the BSA that would require DDOT to identify the top ten most dangerous intersections in D.C. and to prioritize the placement of TCO’s at these intersections.

With TCO’s covering the most dangerous intersections, a secondary impact can be realized in identifying and publicizing the most dangerous intersections in our city. It is Councilmember Grosso’s hope that local activists, once notified of a dangerous intersection in their neighborhood, will pressure the D.C. Council and the Mayor’s office for more safety resources at that location. These efforts may include: educating pedestrians of the dangerous locations; implementing traffic calming devices and enforcing traffic safety laws.

Finally, during the DDOT performance oversight hearing Councilmember Grosso noticed that DDOT was not using pedestrian safety data in their agency performance measures. As a result, they were also not reporting pedestrian safety data in their yearly performance report to the D.C. Council. Councilmember Grosso raised this at the performance and budget hearings noting that pedestrian safety should be a top priority at DDOT and he requested that they include pedestrian safety data in their annual performance measures for the agency. 

Our office recognizes that there are many transportation priorities in D.C. – the streetcar, bike lanes, and other various modes – but we are keenly aware that focusing on pedestrians must also drive DDOT’s policy decisions and performance measures. Everyone, regardless of age, disability, or choice of locomotion is a pedestrian at some point. We must do better to ensure that our pedestrians are our highest priority. DDOT agreed to include pedestrian safety this year in their performance measures as a result of Grosso’s questions.  Our office looks forward to analyzing this data next year in the performance hearings.

Councilmember Grosso’s “Safety First” initiative is just a small first step, but we will continually use it to focus DDOT’s efforts on improving pedestrian safety in D.C. and on making our communities safer places to walk. If you have any suggestions or ideas for improving pedestrian safety, please contact me at apritchard@dccouncil.us .

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.

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