2024 DC Budget Wrap-Up
This week, the DC Council took its final vote on the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget, bringing debate on spending priorities for the fiscal year beginning on October 1 and the next few years to a close. It now moves on to review by the Mayor and Congress.
This budget cycle was particularly challenging due to a tighter financial situation and federal pandemic relief running out. Thanks to lots of work by WABA, our coalition partners, action by so many passionate individuals, and strong leadership from members of the DC Council, we made strong progress on our budget goals and successfully reversed some, but not all, of the Mayor’s cuts and even gained some ground. Thanks to everyone who contributed and spoke up over the past few months!
Here are some of the highlights.
Funding Vision Zero
In recent years, the DC Council has passed multiple visionary street safety laws, yet many of the biggest changes contained in those laws do not take effect until there is funding committed in the annual budget. This includes the requirement that DDOT install protected bike lanes & bus lanes during major street reconstruction if called for in the MoveDC plan, banning right turn on red by default, stricter standards for restoring crosswalks and bike lanes after utility work, prioritizing safety improvements in school zones, driver testing, education programs, and requiring raised crosswalks at more intersections across DC and so much more.
Last year, the Council directed some of the revenue from automated traffic enforcement (ATE) fines into a Vision Zero Implementation Fund. Once sufficiently full, these funds would allow those new safety laws to take full effect. But rather than fund these laws, Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget reversed the funding pipeline, emptied the Vision Zero Implementation Fund, and committed all future ATE revenue to the general fund. Reversing this change is quite difficult because taking this funding back would have required the Council to raise additional revenue through taxes and fees or cut programs.
Thanks to a final amendment by Councilmember Charles Allen, and 10 of his colleagues who voted for it, ATE revenue, above a now-higher threshold, will again be placed in the Vision Zero Implementation Fund to hopefully enact these critical safety laws in a future year. 2024 was supposed to be the year that DC finally reaches zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries, yet without the Mayor’s support, the most impactful provisions of the Council’s Vision Zero laws will remain great ideas sitting in a drawer.
Building DC’s On-Street Low Stress Bike Network
This budget includes sufficient funding to continue the rapid expansion of DC’s network of protected bike lanes and low-stress bikeways. DDOT is committed to its goal of building 10 miles of new protected bikeways (both protected bike lanes and off-street trails) each year, and funding remains for dedicated staff to carry these projects forward through both quick-build redesigns and major reconstruction projects. In addition to many long-term corridor-long projects, which should include new low-stress bikeways and traffic safety improvements, South Dakota Ave NE will receive $1 million for a quick-build road diet, which could serve as a template for more rapid corridor redesigns on other streets.
E-Bike Rebate Program
Following on the heels of successful programs in Denver, Colorado and other cities, DC is on the verge of creating an e-bike rebate program to lower the cost of buying an electric bicycle, especially for lower income residents. The bill to create this program is working its way through the Transportation and Environment Committee and is expected to pass this year. This budget includes funds both to administer this program and $500K for e-bike rebates starting in FY24.
Expanding the DC Trail Network
Except for some cuts in Ward 8, DC’s network of off-street, multi-use trails fared well this budget cycle. Through 2028, over $180 million is committed to building out the planned DC trail network, including many priority projects for the Capital Trail Network. This includes extending the Anacostia River Trail through Kenilworth Park and across the Anacostia River on a new bridge to the Arboretum. It funds completing the Metropolitan Branch Trail from Fort Totten through Takoma to the Maryland line. It funds new connections from the Capital Crescent Trail to Arizona Ave, reconstructing the Arizona Ave pedestrian bridge, and even funds to support a future Palisades Trolley Trail crossing the Foundry Branch Trestle to create new connections to DC’s new high school on MacArthur Blvd.
Ward 8 Trails
At the urging of Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, funding planned for several Ward 8 multi-use trails in the FY2024-FY2029 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) was redirected to support renovating and building recreation centers in southeast DC. The Master Trails Project in the CIP FY2024 funding planned for the Oxon Run Trail and some funding for the Suitland Parkway Trail was moved, as well as the FY2025 funding for the Shepherd Branch Trail. While the bulk of construction funding for the Shepherd Branch Trail and Suitland Parkway Trails still remain in later years, redirecting funds next year will likely mean serious challenges for moving these trail projects forward.
K St NW
After the Bowser Administration radically changed the K St Transitway project at the eleventh hour, removing long-promised protected bike lanes to make more room for parking and driving, WABA urged the Council to delay or defund the project and force it back to the design table. The final budget reduced the budget to $1 million. WABA remains committed to supporting a bus priority project on K Street that improves bus reliability while also providing safe spaces for travel by bike and foot on K Street. To learn more about the project history and WABA’s position, read our recent blog post.
Metro for DC
Though it has changed significantly since first introduced, a major part of the Metro for DC proposal is included in the adopted budget. If DC can work out the details with WMATA, 12 Metrobus routes will run 24/7 in DC starting in January 2024. See DCist for more details.
Ward 8 Traffic Safety Projects
Before finalizing the spending plan, the DC Council voted 9 to 3 to shift $28.79 million from Wheeler Road and Alabama Avenue Streetscape Projects and $1.2 million from the Shepherd Branch Trail to fund a possible new recreation center at Bard High School in Ward 8.
WABA recognizes the grave and escalating impact of violent crime on youth in Ward 8 and supports both investing in more safe spaces for youth recreation, and in safety improvements to dangerous streets so that residents are able to travel around their neighborhoods safely.
We are deeply disappointed to see the Council defund two critical traffic safety projects in Ward 8. DC’s traffic safety data shows with alarming clarity that the risk of being killed or seriously injured in a traffic crash are far higher in Wards 5, 7, and 8, in part due to historic under-investment in safe street design. With this vote, the Council joins the Mayor in willfully canceling proven Vision Zero interventions, in this case, on two streets where funding for redesign are needed most.
Since 2017, 55 people lost their lives in traffic crashes on Ward 8 streets, including nine fatal crashes on Wheeler Road and Alabama Avenue. In response to chronic speeding, aggressive driving, high rate of crashes, and proximity to schools, DDOT designates both streets as high injury corridors and implemented quick-build “tactical” safety upgrades using paint, flex-posts, and crossing beacons and funded both streets for permanent, concrete, upgrades. Without these more durable upgrades and intersection redesigns, reckless drivers will continue to put children, their families, and Ward 8 residents at serious risk. We deeply regret that in sacrificing this investment in street safety, the Council has allowed the inequitable pattern of unsafe streets and inequitable transportation in Ward 8 to continue.