Some call it the political capital of the world. Washington, DC is not just the United States of America’s capital and the seat of the Federal Government. It is the global base for international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Human Rights Campaign, and International Finance Corporation, as well as being home to 177 foreign embassies. A compact city of 69 square miles, Washington, DC's prominence on the global stage belies the growth, change, and development evident at the local level to its nearly 700,000 residents.
In addition to the influence of federal and international institutions, Washington, DC’s local agencies and private firms have undertaken and advanced substantial growth and change within the District over the past several decades with progressive planning and targeted investment and development, both driving and responding to a changing population. Designing and implementing policies, plans, and public spaces that both support and protect a changing demographic of residents - notably, the district has a lower median age than each of the 50 states - and a substantial number of tourists will remain a key charge as Washington, DC looks to its future growth and resilience.
While Washington, DC’s reputation is globally driven by its image as a political powerhouse, it is also rich in local, national and international cultural assets, including museums, memorials and monuments and educational institutions. Established in 1846, the Smithsonian Institution is a consortium of museums and research centers administered by the US Government “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge”. The public has free access to the Smithsonian’s 16 museums, nine research centers and the national zoo. Many other public and private museums further enrich the capital city, which draws close to 20 million visitors each year – close to 30 times the number of residents.
A growing, diversified economy has resulted in a low unemployment rate and high per capita GDP in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The Federal Government accounts for almost 30 percent of jobs in Washington, DC, with many more residents employed in organizations that do business with it. However, the district is experiencing growth in industries not directly related to the government, particularly in fields such as education, finance, and scientific research. As of mid-2018, the District has an unemployment rate higher than the national average at 5.6 percent (compared to 3.9 percent nationally).
Since its foundation, Washington, DC has grown around a carefully-planned city grid of neighbourhoods and commercial centers, a core of government buildings, and connected corridors of large open spaces and public parks. Bounded by Virginia and Maryland, Washington, DC’s projected growth to nearly one million residents in the next thirty years will demand a strategic, comprehensive approach. Planning for this growth while preserving the character that makes Washington, DC unique, provides affordable housing, and invests in high-quality transportation.
Washington, DC’s growth necessitates increasing density, in-fill development and vertical construction. This growth is supported — and shaped — by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), a comprehensive system of rail, bus, and paratransit in the metropolitan area. WMATA Metrorail is the third-busiest rapid transit system in the US, with about 180 million trips a year on its 188 kilometers of track.
In recent years, WMATA has confronted its aging system’s high level of major maintenance to improve safety and reliability on both its rail and bus systems. Billions will be needed in the next 10 years for the 50-year-old system. Capacity limitations are appearing as demand continues to grow. Thirty-eight percent of households in Washington, DC are car-free and an impressive 88 percent of all new households in 2014 did not have a car. City and regional planners must consider how this trend will affect growth and mobility demands.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, and Metropolitan Police Department work to keep residents and visitors safe through leading technology, preventative infrastructure, and deterrents range from building codes to restricted air space.
The DC Office of Planning guides development, preserve and revitalizes neighbourhoods, and advances the District’s strategic goals by performing planning for neighbourhoods, corridors, districts, historic preservation, public facilities, parks and open spaces, and individual sites. The department has taken a long-term view of future growth and development, comprehensively planning on a 20-year horizon for land use, economic development, housing, environmental protection, historic preservation, and transportation. Washington, DC has a robust and comprehensive assortment of documents, policies, and programs that guide land use planning and place-making.
Rapid population growth, increasing per capita income, and gentrification, are intensifying housing pressures in the region. In 2018, Washington, DC was among the top three markets in the country for apartment construction, with approximately 29,000 units under construction on top of the 13,000 units added over the past year. As the city grows by nearly 1,000 residents a month, access to affordable housing for new and long-time residents is a major concern, both in the rental and ownership markets, as most these units tend to be high-end. Further, most new rental developments are clustered in two areas – H Street corridor/NoMA and Southwest/Navy Yard. Recent data suggests that monthly housing costs account for at least a third of household income for almost half of all rental households in Washington, DC.
Four key factors are driving housing trends in Washington, DC. First, an influx of affluent singles and couples are putting extra pressure on the undersupply of affordable housing for low- and middle-income families. Second, restrictive land use policies have contributed to the undersupply of uniform housing stock (e.g., there are an insufficient supply of housing units that are both affordable and can accommodate a family of four). Third, public investments and amenities for communities east of the Anacostia River has lagged, which is where most of the affordable housing is found.
In 2016, the mayor made a commitment to invest CAD130 million a year in the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) to expand and preserve affordable housing. This special revenue fund provides gap financing for projects affordable to low- and moderate-income households. As a result, about 9,000 affordable housing units have been produced using HPTF since 2001. Further, HPTF requires covenants to be placed on properties to keep them affordable (generally 15 years for owner units and 40 for rental units).
In 2015, the Urban Institute published the Affordable Housing Needs Assessment for the District of Columbia, which documented housing needs, recent trends, projected population and housing stock changes, and funding needs and challenges.
The DC Office of Planning collects and organizes data and information about housing and development in the District of Columbia from a variety of sources to help cater for predicted population growth. It considers the issuing of building permits, home price index, purchasing power/median sales price, and development activity database.
Development height restrictions detract from the district’s ability to fully enable and encourage compact development. An 1899 Act that established no building could be taller than the Capitol (88 meters) was amended in 1910 to restrict building heights further. They were to be no more than six meters taller than the width of the street they faced to preserve the light and airy character that Thomas Jefferson envisioned for the city. This law holds today, with a few exceptions on Pennsylvania Avenue. This results in a human-scale city, mostly devoid of large surface parking lots because the value of land is so high. However, it also artificially raises rents downtown by constraining vertical, compact development.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has housing code standards that define safe, habitable, livable conditions landlords must provide to all tenants. There are standards for ventilation, temperature control, safety and security, and structural integrity.
Parks and public space play an important role in recreation, aesthetics, neighbourhood character, and environmental quality for any modern city. The National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington are home to some of the United States’ most beloved public spaces. The long, grassy National Mall is home to iconic monuments, such as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, with the Capitol to the east and White House to the north, respectively. It is also flanked by Smithsonian museums, and the nearby Tidal Basin is encircled by spectacular blossoming cherry trees and paths well-used by tourists and local joggers alike. However, smaller, less known public spaces also abound throughout the district, providing gathering spaces for communities and a refuge from the city’s bustle.
Washington, DC provides multiple public golf courses and a wide variety of sports facilities to its residents. The careful public and private investments in sports and recreational avenues have helped the District achieve economic growth at a faster rate in the last 10 to 20 years. The 20,674 seat Capital One Arena (formerly Verizon Center) is one of the many examples where private investments helped attract others big developments (the Walter E. Washington Convention Center). A report prepared by Downtown DC Business Improvement District (BID) identified that after its construction in 1997, Verizon Center contributed to an accelerated development in the neighborhood, producing additional 52,739 jobs between 1995 and 2013.
The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) produced a Public Realm Design Manual in 2011 with guidelines for roads, sidewalks, parks, plazas and other open spaces that comprise of the arteries and focal points of the urban framework. The goal of this manual was to foster a public realm that is safe, sustainable, and enriching. Today, regulations cover everything from the width of travel lanes to sidewalk cafes while encouraging architectural variety and landscaped areas to create a parkway character.
The Office of Planning's work in urban design includes a series of projects and initiatives to promote the creation of great places and amenities, the preservation of urban excellence in building facades, and site and project design that respond to neighborhood scale and context. Plans are also in place to redevelop the Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium into multi-purpose athletic field and transform the giant parking lots into urban green spaces. It is expected that the construction on the RFK Stadium site will begin in fall 2018.
The Office of Planning has partnered with the District Department of Parks and Recreation on master planning and facility planning services for district-controlled parks. However, the district controls less than 26 percent of parkland in the city because most of it is under federal jurisdiction. Starting with CapitalSpace in 2006, the Office of Planning has worked with federal partners, including the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission, to create a unified vision for the district’s park system.
Recent efforts have focused on restoring Washington, DC’s waterfront and developing it into vibrant destinations characterized by public spaces and parks. The Southwest Waterfront along one mile of the historic Washington Channel is now home to a new mixed-use development called the Wharf, which includes piers and waterside promenades, marinas, recreation activities, markets, restaurants and other developments. On a smaller scale, the District transformed the riverfront along the Potomac at the bottom of Georgetown from a salt truck storage facility to a public park and walking/jogging trail. Similarly, the 1,754-acres Rock Creek Park offers an oasis during spring and fall for hiking, fresh air, and meditation.
Simultaneously, the DC Department of Energy and the Environment has engaged in projects aimed at restoring habitats and waterways. While many smaller projects focus on tributary streams, major efforts have targeted the Potomac River and the Anacostia River. An interstate commission on the Potomac basin continues to funnel funding, research, and education toward restoring the river, while the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership comprises federal, state, and local government agencies dedicated to re-establishing the river’s original ecosystem.
The availability of green space in cities plays a vital role in shaping neighborhood character and environmental quality and preserving biodiversity. At the same time, it provides recreational opportunities to residents. With 3,075 hectares of permanent open space, Washington, DC has one of the highest park areas per resident ratios in the US although 85 percent of it is under federal jurisdiction.
The Comprehensive Plan of 2006 (updated in 2011) is the guiding document for preserving and expanding green space in the district. It emphasizes partnering with various stakeholders to maximize assets. To further this objective, CapitalSpace was created as a consortium of the DC Department of Parks and Recreation, the National Capital Planning Commission, the National Parks Service and the DC Office of Planning.
CapitalSpace’s comprehensive plan (updated in 2018) laid out the policy framework to collaborate with federal authorities in conserving urban parkland. The strategy contained six big ideas, probably the most prominent being to link the Fort Circle Parks by implementing a greenway and making the parks a destination. At the private-sector level, the newly opened Audi Field announced various “green initiatives” to improve the experience for the audience, including recycling, food waste composting, educational materials, and staff training.
While the Urban Forestry Administration oversees standards and specifications for tree removals, plantings, and protection methods, DDOT integrates this information in its projects through the Public Realm Design Manual. The non-profit organization Casey Trees has been restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy in Washington, DC since 2002. In the past 15 years, more than 80,000 trees have been planted citywide in a bid to reach the district’s 40 percent canopy goal by 2032.
Policies are in place that focus on stormwater runoff through landscaping and enhancements to public space design that maximize permeable surfaces. Washington, DC is increasingly implementing a variety of stormwater management techniques in tree pits in the public right-of-way. To preserve the green infrastructure, the DC Water and Sewer Authority has developed a long-term control plan to prevent sewerage overflows.
The authority is considering how some district codes and ordinances related to sidewalks and streets can be modified to mandate green infrastructure retrofit requirements.
The Department of Energy and the Environment sets the Green Area Ratio (GAR), an environmental-sustainability zoning regulation that sets standards for landscape and site design. By increasing green space, the GAR aims to produce cooler temperatures, improve air quality, and reduce stormwater.
The District of Columbia Green Financial Incentives programs targets green roofs, shade trees, stormwater retention and rain gardens. Rebates and incentives range from CAD65 to CAD1,300.
DC Public School (DCPS) has 48,555 students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12 enrolled in 115 schools. The student to teacher ratio in the DCPS system is 1:13, which is better than the national ratio of 1:16. Historically, public schools in Washington, DC have grappled with under-funding. The DCPS school system has had one of the lowest graduation rates in the country. In 2017, the graduation rate was 73 percent and 26 percent of students who started their freshman year with the class of 2018 have withdrawn or transferred out of the DCPS system.
There are 103 private schools in Washington, DC and they serve about 17 percent (18,782) of total students.
In 2007, Washington, DC passed a law that gave the control of its public schools to the Mayor. Each year DCPS works with the Mayor to finalize funds for modernizing and updating the school infrastructure under the Capital Improvement Plan. The plan is then sent to the City Council for approval.
Higher education in DC offers diverse fields of study through public and private institutions. Washington, DC is home to the American University, the George Washington University, Howard University, University of the District of Columbia and a dozen other institutions of higher education. Some of these universities have released masterplans that aim to contribute towards the overall growth of the district and the metropolitan region.
The district is served by 14 public and private hospitals that are open to the public and two military hospitals (Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center).
The DC Department of Health developed the Health Systems Plan in 2017 with the main aim of removing disparities in healthcare. In 2018, a triage nurse was added to the 911 dispatch system to help callers decide whether they should go to an emergency room. The nurse is also able to place callers with non-emergencies in more appropriate care. This program is aimed at reducing the high volume of non-emergency medical requests that overwhelm the 911 system, and will reserve ambulances and medics for true emergencies.
The Department of Health has a comprehensive program for early childhood care. Initiatives such as In Home Parent Education Program ensure the primary childcare education for parents through funding to community organizations. About 10,000 children are born each year and there is a growing influx of millennials in their childbearing years. The Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services has acknowledged that the city is not meeting needs and demands. The cost of childcare in the district is extremely high and serves as a major barrier for many working parents. DC leaders have begun implementing a variety of plans to make childcare more accessible and affordable. This financial year’s budget includes CAD16.3 million towards a plan to create 1,300 new slots for infants and toddlers.
Being the political center of the country, Washington is a major cultural and historical destination. It has a huge network of museums, galleries, art spaces and other cultural assets. DC has a distinct organizational structure for cultural institutions; most of them are operated through the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian consists of 17 museums and galleries and provides state-of-the-art research on social and political history in a local and global context.
Some of the most renowned museums under Smithsonian Institution include the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History and the National Air and Space Museum.
Various plans have been introduced and implemented to expand the cultural assets of the city and to engage broader audience. The three key plans in recent years include the Smithsonian 5-Year Strategic Plan (2022), the DC Cultural Plan, and Creative Capital: The Creative DC Action Agenda. These plans highlight various new initiatives and funding mechanisms are planned to enhance the district’s creative economy. The 2018 DC Cultural Plan puts the focus on arts, culture and heritage in all neighborhoods of the city by supporting local talent.
Washington already experiences growing climate change effects, including more severe storms and hotter temperatures. The District also anticipates that unmitigated climate change will destabilize social, economic, and ecological systems across the planet.
As such, DC seeks to mitigate climate change risk by preventing a two degrees Celsius warming of the planet. To accomplish this, the district set the following goals in its 2013 Sustainable DC Plan:
Reduce GHG emissions by half by 2032 and 80 percent by 2050
Reduce energy use by half by 2032
Increase the use of renewable energy to make up half the energy supply by 2032
While additional discussion of these goals can be found within the Urban Systems section, the District Department of Energy and Environment conducted a 2014 study to quantify climate change risk and identify mitigation strategies. This study also considers how to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions over three planning horizons, 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s.
The 2016 Sustainable DC Plan Update shows considerable progress towards reducing GHG emissions. Between 2006 and 2013, the district emitted 2.3 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, or a 23 percent reduction.
Through its Climate Adaption Plan, the district aims to cope with extreme climate change impacts such as hotter temperatures. The District Department of Energy and Environment has also partnered with city organizations in the city to advance the process of continuous climate change assessment and complete action plans identified in the Climate Change Adaption Plan. For example, it has partnered with C3 Living Design Project to use RELi, a tool that helps assess resiliency on social, economic and environmental fronts.
DC Water has adopted various plans to address Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. The iconic project in this regard is “Clean Rivers” which has reduced the system-wide CSO volume by 96 percent. As part of DC Water’s Clean River Project, the First Street Tunnel was completed in October 2016 to mitigate sewer flooding in the District’s historic neighborhood of Bloomingdale.
By one measure Washington, DC was ranked the 18th most congested city in the world last year. Commuters rely heavily on Metrorail and bus to get to work; 45 percent of commuters use mass transit. Almost three-quarters of workers in Washington, DC come from outside of the district.
DC’s Metrorail, bus, and mobility services are provided by the WMATA, which also serves Maryland and Virginia. The DDOT also operates a bus system and streetcar line in DC.
WMATA is working to improve the safety and reliability of the Metrorail system and is undergoing large-scale rehabilitation work through the SafeTrack accelerated track repair program.
Washington Union Station is the city’s primary hub, with commuter rail and Amtrak passenger rail terminating at the station. It is a major stop along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service. Northeast Regional trains and the Acela high-speed rail line terminate in the District. WSP developed the Master Plan for Union Station.
Commuter rail lines connect commuters living in the greater Washington metropolitan area to DC. MARC commuter rail runs a daily service to and from Maryland and West Virginia and has three lines terminating at Washington Union Station. VRE commuter rail runs daily services between northern Virginia and Washington, DC.
DC has a strong multimodal long-range transportation plan, We Move DC, created by DDOT in October 2014 and establishing goals that extend across levels of government within the District.
We Move DC lays out objectives to update DC’s laws, regulations and policy documents based on transportation goals.
The plan provides objectives for mobility improvements within each geographic area of the city and details how improvements to transit, pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular infrastructure will be implemented in coordination with other departments.
In addition to DDOT, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has plans that lay out long-term priorities for as much as 35 years.
The DC Department of Planning does not have a transit-oriented development (TOD) plan or policy to coordinate and incentivize development around Metro stations or other transit hubs. In fact, the DC Zoning Code does not have a use category for transit-oriented development. However, WMATA has worked on several TOD projects to directly connect buildings to transit stations and build over station areas. Private developers have also built TOD projects in the District to strengthen the density around transit stations.
The DC Department of Transportation has conducted many transportation studies on corridors in the city that integrate land-use considerations into plans for transit, motorist, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Other plans look at the integration of specific transit modes on land use as part of the planning process. The DC Office of Planning’s Streetcar Land Use Study assesses the benefits and challenges of building a streetcar system in the city from both a land use and transportation perspective.
DC’s long-range transportation plan emphasizes modal diversity in planning for transportation system improvements in the district. Every street should accommodate multiple modes, prioritizing pedestrians first and integrating either protected bicycle facilities, dedicated high-capacity surface transit lanes, dedicated freight routes or a combination of these modes.
The transit plan includes expanding commuter rail service, building new streetcar lines, introducing a new water transit service within DC and between DC and neighboring jurisdictions and expanding the bicycle network within the city and between neighboring jurisdictions.
DC’s only existing high-speed rail connection is Amtrak’s Acela line, which operates on the Northeast Corridor between DC and Boston at speeds up to 240 km/h (150 mph) and stops in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Haven and New York City.
A new high-speed rail connection between DC and Richmond is undergoing environmental evaluation. This DC-Richmond rail segment is part of the larger Southeast High Speed Rail project, which will include high-speed rail connections from DC to Jacksonville, Florida, with stops in major cities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Preliminary discussions about a Maglev system connecting DC and Baltimore have taken place.
One of the primary goals of DDOT’s Multimodal Long-Range Transportation Plan is to increase neighborhood accessibility and connectivity. The plan stresses increasing high-capacity transportation options throughout the city and ensuring that transit modes connect to each other to achieve this goal.
DC transit systems use contactless ticketing through the SmarTrip card, a rechargeable card used to pay Metrorail and local bus fares that is integrated with transit systems throughout the region. SmarTrip cards can be used throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area on a host of transit services. This contactless and integrated system eases commuting across jurisdictions and reduces boarding times by moving away from cash payments to cards that are loaded with value at kiosks.
The 2017 DDOT Freight Plan provides recommendations and performance metrics for freight infrastructure and logistics in Washington, DC. Many of the ongoing and short-term projects in this plan are funded through DDOT and FAST Act freight funds. Freight in DC is transported via highway, rail and air, with highways being the dominant mode. Highways connect freight to rail and air freight hubs in and around DC. While DDOT’s plan mentions these multi-modal connections, it does not have plans for creating a multimodal freight hub.
Washington, DC is within 64 kilometers of the Port of Baltimore, which was one of the top 10 ports in the US for dollar value of cargo last year. It ranked first in handling automobiles, light trucks, farm and construction machinery, because of the Midwest’s auto manufacturers. The expansion of the Panama Canal led to a substantial increase in container traffic in the Port of Baltimore because larger ships from Asia are now able to pass through the canal and dock in Baltimore’s deep waters.
Several projects in DC address the National Gateway project’s goals to remove tunnel and other overhead clearance restrictions to allow double-stack train movements between the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. The Virginia Avenue tunnel is currently under expansion to allow double stacking. WSP performed environmental work on this project.
The District Freight Plan recommends conducting a pilot off-peak delivery program in which deliveries are constrained to the period between 7.00 pm and 6.00 am to reduce traffic congestion and delays associated with freight deliveries. DDOT has developed a map with optimal routes for freight trucks traveling through the district and surrounding region. However, the District Freight Plan suggests that freight trucks often do not obey the routes and restrictions in place, which leads to problems with congestion and safety. The plan indicates that DDOT would benefit from a greater understanding of the way shippers use the transportation system and its corridors so they can create a shared system for passengers and freight.
The District Freight Plan also recommends using a Dynamic Truck Routing system based on real-time traffic conditions to take freight trucks through the District. DDOT has already taken steps to implement this system, but still needs to share routing preferences with shipping companies. DDOT is also looking to require carriers to follow designated routes as part of their annual permits.
Three airports serve Washington, DC — the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) Thurgood Marshall Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport. Almost all international flights depart and arrive from the latter two, both of which are more than 40 kilometers from downtown DC.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport handled 23.90 million passengers in 2017. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is only eight kilometers away from downtown DC in Arlington, Virginia, but is unable to accommodate many international flights because of federal limits. The only scheduled international flights allowed to land at the airport are those from airports with US Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facilities.
BWI, almost 50 kilometers north of Washington in Maryland, handled 26 million passengers and 13 international non-stop destinations in 2017. It is connected to Washington, DC through MARC commuter rail. BWI began a CAD78 million expansion of its international terminal this year, adding six new gates.
Washington Dulles International Airport, 40 kilometers to the south of DC in Virginia, handled over 22 million passengers and 57 international non-stop destinations in 2017. The facility has been expanded several times in the past 10 years and construction of a fifth runway is a prospect. WMATA is building a Metrorail line directly to Dulles, which will connect the airport to the greater Washington Metropolitan Region. This line will be owned and operated by WMATA. The airport is currently connected to DC by an express bus linking the airport to a Metrorail station.
In 2005, Washington, DC created a District of Columbia Bicycle Master Plan that proposed a comprehensive network of bicycle lanes and shared-use paths. These recommendations were reaffirmed in the 2014 District of Columbia’s Multimodal Long-Range Transportation Plan, which noted that investments in bicycle infrastructure in the previous decade had increased the number of cyclists and made streets safer.
Between 2005 and 2014, DC increased its bike lane network from 30 kilometers to 111 kilometers. In 2016, CityLab found that nearly 17,000 cyclists, about five percent of DC’s commuters, regularly rode their bikes to work in Washington. That’s nearly triple the mode share it had in 2006, putting it in second place on the list of biking cities in the US.
DDOT updates the district’s bike map annually, with the list proposing additional bike lane expansions. Beyond expanding the network of bike lanes, DDOT continues to improve the quality of existing bike-way and bicycle infrastructure.
Since its beginnings, Washington, DC’s design has focused on being inherently walkable. However, while some parts of the district are known throughout the world for being great places to walk because of the grid network and tree-lined streets, many of the grand avenues are now major arterial roadways that present challenges to pedestrians. On average, the district has about 650 pedestrian accidents a year and about 15 deaths.
To address these challenges, DDOT developed the District’s Pedestrian Master Plan (2009), which identified eight priority pedestrian corridors in the city and made corresponding recommendations.
DC launched the Vision Zero program in 2015 with a goal to end traffic fatalities by 2024. In this plan, DC sets “neighbourhood slow zones”. DDOT has also installed speed cameras across the city to curb speeding through large fines.
In 2017, the district began to move to reduce speed limits on some city streets further, with a DDOT proposal to lower the default 25 miles per hour (mph) speed limit to 20 mph, and establish 15 mph zones around schools, parks, senior centers and youth centers.
DDOT used a public-private partnership to operate its bike share system. Smart Bike DC, the first bike-sharing program in North America, was launched in 2008 with 120 bicycles and 10 automated rental locations. In 2010, DDOT moved to a new regional bike sharing program named Capital Bikeshare, owned by DC but with a private operator and supporting mobile application, with 400 bicycles and 49 stations. By 2018, the system had expanded to 4,300 bikes and nearly 500 stations in the Washington metropolitan area.
DC has about 400,000 parking spaces, about 65 percent on-street.
ParkDC is an initiative to manage and regulate the district’s curbside and parking assets through meters, permit parking and pay-by-phone services. DC has the largest and most successful implementation of pay-by-phone technology (Parkmobile) in the US. About 40 percent of transactions are conducted by paying through a smart phone. DDOT is testing this program in three high-demand areas, which has been successful to date. In 2013, DDOT engaged residents before creating the 2013 Parking Action Agenda and, recently, DC has begun piloting a performance-based parking program to manage on-street parking.
Given the flood of tourists, DDOT regulates tour bus parking in residential neighbourhoods and around major attractions and Metrorail stations.
The district has standard rush hour parking restrictions on priority transit corridors from 7:00am to 9:30am and 4:00pm to 6:30pm.
The 2016 revised zoning regulation relaxed restrictions on dwelling units (accessory apartments) not directly attached to homes to incentivize the adaptive reuse of structures such as garages and historic carriage houses.
A variety of private point-to-point transportation services exist in DC, including taxis, cars for hire and tourist services. However, due to an increase in ride-share services, taxi patronage has fallen by 31 percent.
DC has a plethora of on-demand and ride-share services available throughout the city, giving Zipcar and Uber increasing competition. DDOT has supported the growth of ride-hailing services by piloting a program that removes parking spaces in popular nightlife locations to provide pick-up/drop-off zones for services such as Uber and Lyft.
GetAround and ZipCar provide two very different on-demand, car-sharing models for those who want occasional access to a private vehicle in the District. DDOT has partnered with both traditional and point-to-point car-sharing companies to incentivize car-sharing and establish a low emission and environmentally friendly fleet of cars.
DC began to explore Connected and Autonomous Vehicles last year by collaborating with city leaders from around the world as part of the Bloomberg Aspen Initiative on Cities and Autonomous Vehicles. The Mayor recently traveled to Silicon Valley to pitch the city as a test area for the technology.
The Interagency AV Working Group was set up February 2018 to help to prepare the city, its residents and infrastructure for autonomous vehicles testing and other developments. This group comprises leaders from city agencies focused on transportation, disability rights, environmental issues and public safety.
DDOT also oversaw a pilot program that introduced Starship Technologies’ driverless delivery robots.
DC has established a variety of incentive programs to encourage green driving practices in the district:
Emission testing exemption for electric vehicles
Reduced car registration fees
Alternative fuel vehicle conversion credit of up to CAD25,000
Alternative fuel infrastructure tax credit for half of electric vehicle supply equipment (charging station), up to CAD1,300.
Public charging-station tax credit for up to CAD13,000
In 2010, DDOT launched the Park and Charge Pilot to provide electric vehicle users with the ability to charge at public curbside parking spaces. These chargers are part of the ChargePoint America network which allows users to sign up in advance and receive a card that can then activate network chargers nationwide. Today, there are 100 charging locations in the district as part of this program.
Due to the security needs of and heightened threats to myriad federal and important buildings, such as the White House and Capitol, DC has no-fly zones that ban drones because of sensitive, restricted airspace. Washington’s Flight Restricted Zone stretches about 24 kilometers from Reagan National Airport and bans drone flights not specifically authorized by the FAA. However, hundreds of drones enter these areas, often inadvertently, presenting a constant security challenge.
Therefore, DC is not a strong candidate to use drones/unmanned aerial vehicles for transportation, logistics and delivery.
Through its Comprehensive Plan and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO), DC has created goals and programs to continually improve its digital infrastructure (wireless networks, fiber optics and broadband telecommunications) citywide. The district sees accessible digital connectivity as important to residents and businesses because it is vital to economic development. The district is a strong example of a city that is providing connectivity and infrastructure with an emphasis on equity by making a considerable effort in providing network availability to its poorest communities.
The district’s OCTO is essential to success on this front. The OCTO is responsible for improving, enhancing, securing and expanding wireless technology, communications systems and electronic commerce throughout the city. The OCTO develops and enforces the policies and standards for information technology in the District.
Replacing copper wire with fiber optic cable is essential for any city to support both consumers and businesses as society becomes more dependent on the ability to receive and transmit information.
The district provides a fiber optic wireless service called DC-Net to all government constituents across the city over a secure and exclusive telecommunications platform. Despite only half the public having fiber optic service, independent group Akamai Technologies reports that Washington, DC has the highest average connection speeds in the US.
The district also provides the DC Access program, a free local service to the public in some areas of the city. DC Access does not use fiber optic cable but is still considered highly reliable by consumers. The District has created a City of Access initiative that provides free internet access at free or low-cost computer sites for low-income DC residents. The initiative also aims to expand internet access and technology training in DC neighbourhoods by combining public and private institutional resources.
The availability of Wi-Fi is essential for both personal and business applications. Washington is covered with free public Wi-Fi hotspot sites where anyone with Wi-Fi capable devices can browse the internet using the district’s own wireless network. The district has also developed a streamlined process for providers to install wireless communications facilities on poles throughout the city. These small cells improve the quality of wireless service with faster data coverage and more capacity.
In 2017, Verizon Wireless and Samsung announced that they had selected DC for early 5G tests, in addition to 10 other markets. Washington was selected as a pilot city because of its varied terrain, neighbourhood layouts and population density. While the next-generation 5G is not expected to be commercially available for several more years, Samsung and Verizon said the customer trials would gauge user experiences, evaluate the performance of 5G technologies and help streamline 5G delivery in various environments.
The district has created several Smart Cities initiatives that span multiple departments and areas of interest, and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are crucial to these initiatives bearing fruit. As a result, the city has launched the Pennsylvania Avenue 2040 (PA2040) Project, an initiative to implement IoT technologies along Pennsylvania Avenue. This pilot aims to create models for replication and scalability for the rest of the city.
Along with PA2040, the city has also partnered with 20 other US cities to commit to common principles for the responsible and equitable deployment of the IoT. This includes providing a common framework, ensuring openness and transparency regarding the use of public space, and advancing the public dialogue to ensure these technologies are used in a way that maximizes public benefit.
The district makes a concentrated effort to provide open government data through the Chief Data Officer. In support of the district’s Open Government Initiatives related to data transparency and accountability, government operational data is made available to the public. Web-based applications developed by OCTO have provided both visualized data and raw data for multiple formats. The Open Data DC Catalog shares hundreds of datasets.
There is also a classification system that allows the public to understand when and why some data is not open to the public, which applies a five-point sale. This allows for transparency even if the data is not publicly released.
The district is trying to maintain and improve the digital security of the city. Authorities give priority in their Comprehensive Plan to the notion that such security infrastructure is critical in the 21st century, particularly given the security and information needs of the nation’s capital. The OCTO has established an Information Security Program and Division (ISP Division) responsible for the citywide information security platform and policies as well as credentials for district employees. DC One Card Program manages the district’s credentialing system, used by both employees and residents. Employees and contractors will be granted only the level of access to information and automated systems they need to do their jobs.
The ISP Division says it deploys an effective information security architecture that mitigates the technical vulnerabilities within the DC Wide Area Network serving district agencies, provides a secure network environment for all government buildings and ensures compliance of health information privacy regulations. DC.gov promises that individual identifying information will not be shared, sold or transferred to any third party without prior consent. On its website, the OCTO has listed several cybersecurity recommendations for the general population to follow to prevent a security risk on their own.
There are also programs to use technology throughout the district to improve the physical safety and security of citizens. The Private Security Camera System Incentive Program encourages residents, businesses, non-profits and religious institutions to install security camera systems on their property and register them with the Metropolitan Police Department. To date 9,074 cameras have been funded.
The District Comprehensive Plan’s telecommunications section has an overarching goal to provide high-quality digital infrastructure (wireless networks, fiber optics and broadband telecommunications) to help support economic development, security and education goals
Part of its policy is the accessibility of digital infrastructure. The Connect.DC- Digital Inclusion Initiative provides public computer access and internet access anywhere in the district for people who don’t have access to affordable broadband data or own a computer. The plan delegates the responsibility of carrying out the improvement, enhancements, and expansions to the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO).
DC seeks to modernize the power generation and distribution systems to achieve its climate change goals established within the 2013 Sustainable DC Plan and elaborated further within the Climate Change section.
The Department of Energy and Environment developed the 2016 Clean Energy DC plan to realize these GHG, energy use, and renewable energy targets through a series of strategies, supported by many recommendations, focusing on the role of buildings, the energy supply system and transportation.
While the district does not have a formal goal to secure 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, the Clean Energy DC plan establishes progressive, at present unfunded, recommendations that will be needed for a zero-carbon future. The plan’s renewable supply considerations from outside the district include legal recommendations, such as designing a renewable portfolio standard for 100 percent renewable energy, amending purchase power agreements, and enacting GHG intensity legislation.
Clean Energy DC advances renewable energy supply by providing recommendations to advance regulatory overhaul and strategic planning efforts. Regulatory overhaul focuses on adopting renewable energy generation building code requirements and building performance standards. Planning recommendations include developing a solar proliferation strategy, a centralized solar information and commerce platform, a neighbourhood-scale micro grid energy strategy, and a fossil fuel heating study.
In 2015, the Public Service Commission initiated the regulatory action Formal Case 1130 (FC1130) to modernize the energy delivery system for increased sustainability and will make our system more reliable, efficient, cost-effective and interactive. As such, the 2016 Clean Energy DC plan contains recommendations to develop this program’s scope and schedule, and to cultivate the necessary community involvement. However, Pepco, the district’s energy supplier, has already completed an advanced metering infrastructure project by exchanging more than 99 percent (>296,000) of traditional meters for smart metering.
Washington, DC’s drinking water originates from the Potomac River. Originally built in 1859 by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington Aqueduct transports the Potomac’s Great Falls and Little Falls intakes to the water treatment facilities at the McMillan and Dalecarlia reservoirs. While the Washington Aqueduct originally referred to the physical water conveyance, the Washington Aqueduct technically refers to a federally owned and operated public water supply agency within Baltimore District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As such, the Aqueduct sells water to DC Water, which then manages all aspects of distribution, billing, and customer service within Washington, DC and parts of Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, as well as parts of Virginia’s Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
DC Water collects and treats the district’s wastewater at its 60-hectare Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in the district’s in Southwest Washington, D.C. The plant treats 1.4 billion liters a day with a peak capacity of 4.073 billion liters per day. The district has set the following drinking water-related performance measure targets:
Replace and/or rehabilitate at least 1 percent of linear infrastructure annually
Make 100 percent of district waterways fishable and swimmable
Use 75 percent of the landscape to capture rainwater for filtration or reuse
Decrease total water use by 40 percent.
The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program drives a significant amount of the region’s long-term water infrastructure planning. Also known as a “pollution diet,” the TMDL program sets limits on phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution and establishes Federally enforceable two year milestones. Additionally, Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) permits require the district to reduce impervious surface area. The District incentivizes reducing impervious surfaces through:
2013 Rule on Stormwater Management and Soil Erosion and Sediment Control;
2013 Stormwater Management Guidebook to implement the 2013 rule; and
RiverSmart, a collection of programs that offer financial incentives for residents, non-profits, schools, and communities
A stormwater utility fee which levies a fee based upon a property’s total impervious surface area. This fee partially funds the Clean Rivers Program to reduce combined sewer overflows.
The TMDL program incentivizes proactive watershed planning, especially for Washington D.C.’s two rivers, the Anacostia and the Potomac. While the Potomac River directly supplies the district’s drinking water, the district does not have a plan to make the river fishable and swimmable. However, two organizations help protect the Potomac River’s drinking water sources and ensure the river meets the TMDL requirements: The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) and the Potomac River Basin Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership (Partnership). The ICPRB is an advisory, non-regulatory interstate agency created by an interstate and Washington, DC compact and guided by their 2015 Strategic Plan and Work Plan. The Partnership is a voluntary association of 20 water suppliers and government agencies guided by their 2011 Strategic Plan Update and 2017 Work Plan. See the Public Realm for discussion around the Anacostia River and its water quality goals.
DC Water’s Blue Horizon 2020 strategic plan not only emphasizes the need to improve water quality and meet compliance requirements, but also acknowledging the potential for population trends to stress future water availability. However, climate change-driven precipitation increases may simultaneously placate future water availability concerns and dis-incentivize water conservation efforts. Furthermore, the Department of Energy and Environment’s Climate Ready DC plan acknowledges the need to consider flood risk with replacing infrastructure.
Blue Horizon 2020 also emphasizes the need to enhance operations through innovation and sustainability. To this end, DC Water has recently completed significant, innovative water investments, including:
Completed in 2000, the 950 million USD biological nitrogen removal project to allows Blue Plains to surpass TMDL requirements and attain 4 mg/L nitrogen concentrations.
Completed in 2015, the 470 million USD thermal hydrolysis and anaerobic digester project uses high heat and pressure to cook biosolids and generate methane gas and high-quality compost. The facility captures and uses methane to generate 10 megawatts of electricity, which powers a third of the Blue Plains facility.
Part of the Clean Rivers Program was recently completed, a CAD3.4 billion, 29-kilometer tunnel coupled with green infrastructure designed to manage 200 hectares of impervious surfaces and eliminate 96 percent of storm water overflows across the system.
In 2014, DC passed the Sustainable Solid Waste Management Amendment Act which aimed to achieve 80 percent landfill diversion and 20 percent waste to energy (WTE) conversion and submit annual reporting. To support these laws, the Sustainable DC plan set targets of reducing total waste generation by 15 percent and reusing 20 percent of all construction and demolition waste.
The Interagency Waste Reduction Working Group represents a coalition of DC agencies to implement the Zero Waste DC program and achieve performance targets. DC agency members and their waste responsibilities include:
Department of Public Works (DPW): Manages trash, recycling, and household hazardous waste collection programs, including third-party operators. It collects compost from public schools, loose vacuumed leaves, and the farmer’s market drop-off program.
Department of Energy and Environment: Manages hazardous waste generation, training, permitting and remediation. This includes underground storage tanks, the voluntary clean-up program, lead, mold and pesticides.
Department of General Services (DGS): Construction and maintenance of government buildings.
Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR): Construction and maintenance of recreation facilities. Manages the DC Community Compost Cooperative.
In the 2016 to 2017 financial years, the district diverted 22.98 percent of all residential waste from landfills. To improve the diversion rate, Washington, DC plans to strengthen its recycling, composting and WTE programs.
Six recycling facilities in Maryland and Virginia process 52,289.49 tons of waste, or 22.1 percent of total waste. DPW manages the district’s recycling program, offering recycling collection services from single family homes and apartment buildings with three or fewer living units. Under a 2010 DC law, commercial establishments must maintain an active recycling program, provided through a DPW-permitted waste collection company. Commercial establishments range from apartment buildings, retailers, offices, restaurants, schools, and non-profits, but currently do not include buildings with mixed uses. The 2009 Healthy Schools Act requires DGS to implement a recycling program and other initiatives in DC public schools. Multiple composting facilities produced 5,779 tons of compost, or 2.4 percent of total waste.
DPW composts loose leaves collected through street vacuuming, whereas the DC Public School composts cafeteria waste. DPR also supports the DC Community Compost Cooperative, which includes 50 sites that enable 5,000 residents to compost material from their homes and gardens. Seven landfills in Virginia manage 270,770 tons of trash, or 11.4 percent of total waste. DPW collects trash from single-family homes and apartment buildings with three or fewer living units, and third-party waste companies collect from larger apartment buildings and commercial properties. Since the district deposits its trash in Virginian landfills, Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality and county governments directly manage those waste facilities and potential reclamation efforts.
A big WTE facility located in Lorton, Virginia incinerates 151,908 tons of waste to create energy, or 64.1 percent of total waste. When considering all received waste, this facility processes 3,000 tons per day to produce 80 megawatts of renewable energy.
The district has passed two notable laws to discourage plastic waste:
Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014 immediately prohibited the use of polystyrene food service products and required food service ware to be compostable or recyclable by 2017.
Anacostia River Clean-Up and Protection Act of 2009 requires businesses to impose a five-cent fee for each paper and plastic bag distributed. Revenues are dedicated to the Anacostia River Clean-Up and Protection Fund.